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Thursday 3 November 2022

Reviews: Darkthrone, Dead Cross, Vevaki, Chestcrush (Reviews By Erick Willand, David G, Matt Cook & Matt Bladen)

Darkthrone: Astral Fortress (Peaceville) [Erick Willand]

Darkthrone dropped a new album. It's 10/10. That’s the review, you’re welcome.

All jokes aside…Darkthrone dropped a new album! Have you heard it yet? Ok, ok. I promise I’m done, let’s get on with the actual review of (drum roll…) Astral Fortress!!!

If you include Goatlord, which is really just a demo session with overdubbed vocals, then this is Darkthrone’s 20th album. Over the years since 1991 the enigmatic duo of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have tread the grounds of death metal, black metal, crust punk, and traditional metal and all of that can be felt here, in Astral Fortress land. Opening track Caravan Of Broken Ghosts is cold, and haunting in both guitar sound and vocal approach. The song carries weight and I believe that feeling was absolutely intentional, from riff to solo it’s cold, they feel it and so should you. 

Darkthrone have a habit of not giving a damn and the song length here shows that, a trim would have made this stronger. I still really dig it though, so mission accomplished. Enter then, the Impeccable Caverns Of Satan and a crunchier, thicker tone leads us onward to a caveman run with a chorus that ends with “Maced in the Impeccable Caverns Of Satan” and that’s awesome. Stalagmite Necklace wins for best song title of 2022 and I do not care. This is Darkthrone doing a bit of cave diving ethereal doom complete with echoing vocals and ghostly synth bits. Easily my favorite track.

The Sea Beneath The Seas Of The Sea is a ten minute and ten second song and wins for the silliest song title of 2022. Another song that stretches my patience for length it saves itself by being just plain weird, but in an enjoyable way. Like at exactly 6:00 he breaks out in clean singing and I nearly fall right out of my chair, this is followed by the most power metal bit of music I’ve ever heard Darkthrone produce, complete with synths. 

Kevorkian Times is another weird song with some echoey vocal effects and icey riffs. Interesting use of Doctor Kevorkian’s name for sure and marks this track as one of their more pessimistic songs. Still though it’s a rocker with a proper song length and it fits well with the short instrumental that comes next. Kolbotn, West Of The Vast Forests starts innocently with forest sounds and ice tinkling but quickly sinks into mournful discordant sounds that are more pleasant once they stop.

Now, Eon 2. With its epic opening riff and galloping drum and dare I say…Maidenisms…this track is all Trad Metal and it is blazing with awesomeness. Vocals are kept tight and the guitar leads and is the heart of this song. This is my second favorite track on Astral Fortress.

And like that it’s over. Barely feels like 40:02 and that’s good, I went back for a second listen right after. I’m not going to beat around here, I don’t like the album art this time around. I get it, it’s kind of an inside joke or something but I miss Necro, the spikes, the bullet belts, love to see him return. This is an inside sleeve photo dudes, not an outside photo. The production is sound, the songs fun and memorable and the riffage is strong. I admire that Darkthrone straight do not give a damn and do whatever they want regardless, we need more genuine art like this, just all out no fucks given. I love it. 9/10
Dead Cross – II (Ipecac Records) [David G]

This, the second album from hardcore punk “supergroup” Dead Cross, feels less straightforward than its 27-minute predecessor. Featuring Michael Crain, Mike Patton, Justin Pearson and Dave Lombardo there’s a wealth of talent convened to deliver what feels a more jagged and less punchy grouping of tracks overall. Undoubtedly impacted by Crain’s battle against cancer, there is undoubtedly more tension and anxiety woven into this.

Love Without Love perfectly illustrates those stark moments from the very beginning, leaning into dissonant noise rock with the tension derived from an initially frail sounding sheet of shimmering guitar, underpinned by the stop-start bass drums of Lombardo. Things loll around in the jarring and growing discomfort until the breach occurs, carried out with hysterical screams and staccato mathcore stabs. It’s perhaps the most challenging track of the album, feeling purposely designed to illicit discomfort.

Conversely Animal Espionage opens with a churning riff that teeters more into the conventional. Pearson’s bass seamlessly picks this up, continuing to drive the song forward as Crain’s guitar wanders into more of a scene setting role, eventually winding up into a shrill wail. This is all fronted by Patton’s smooth croon, and as we’ve come to expect from his chameleon-like ability to blend with whatever music he turns his attention to, it looms in a sinister manner rather.

The album is still built around a core of those aggressive hardcore punches, the highlight of these being the sub-two-minute Reign Of Error that comes perilously close to thrash with a main riff that hints at Slayer but ending at a more frantic and tremulous tail. Nightclub Canary is also no slouch and charges aggressively forth with a more confident verve than the rest of the album. Christian Missile Crisis is led by Crain’s taut and anxious vocal approach which adds another layer to the energetic chug-along, in contrast to Patton’s more generally assured style. Even in these tracks you’re likely to find a section or two interjected where the fist gets pulled from your face and is replaced with either a shrieking or wailing expression.

Despite the immediacy of a chunk of the album, there is a depth that takes a few listens to mine, and there is the discomforting mood that requires continued engagement over time. On first inspection it can be hard to fully get how it all sits together, almost sounding messy and unfocused. Luckily the quick hits act effectively to bring the listener back, and from there the opportunity to test those depths. All said, II is well worth the multiple listens. 8/10 

Vevaki - Fornspeki (Season Of Mist) [Matt Cook]

When it comes to Neofolk music, nine out of ten times, the formula is widely accepted: unorthodox instrumentation; a healthy serving of sounds of nature and animals in the wilderness; and adaptable vocal styles which border on the spoken rather than sung. However, with that in mind, there are literally hundreds of years from which to draw inspiration, especially since “folk” connotes traditional art and/or culture which is oftentimes understood as either false or at the very least fabricated. In 2020, Vévaki embraced the Poetic Edda, an Icelandic compilation of Old Norse narrative poems, for their debut of the same name. 

Multi-instrumentalist Will Hunter started the musical project on their own, but now two years later, and with a cast of like-minded artists, Fórnspeki is the follow-up record which incorporates everything that makes Neofolk successful, and then some. Whether it be in the form of birds cawing and crowing in the distance or soft whispers that conjure images of struggling to sneak away and avoid danger, Fórnspeki paints an exhibition’s worth of landscapes. 

Archaic-style drums spurn songs along with throaty, trailing vocals close by. The compositions promote isolated, creative endeavors. In a way, it’s the result of introspective soul-searching that paradoxically provokes the listener to do exactly that. Sigurboði Grétarsson - who contributed to Edda and is now on board full-time - is also accompanied by Gísli Gunnarsson and Hrafnhildur Inga Guðjónsdóttir, further fueling not only the band’s ambition, but capabilities and creative reach.

As subtle as it is, the aforementioned appearance of birds is a driver both for serenity and solace just as much as it is a driver for aggression and danger. Fórnspeki spews out 45 minutes of meaningful, evocative content, both vocally and instrumentally.And with centuries upon centuries of urban legends, myths and anecdotal themes, Vévaki has a seemingly bottomless well from which to extract more and more astounding, ethereal songs. 8/10

Chestcrush – Apechtheia (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Scottish blackened sludge noisemakers Chestcrush return with their second EP (third if you include their EP), this one has a bigger sound than the previous offering harnessing dissonance and ambience to make the tracks sound more haunting and downbeat than previously. 

The title Apechtheia translates to “disgust, repugnance or loathing” all of these ideas can be heard in this three tracks release. Well I say three tracks but the final cut Repression is just some spectral ambiance, which sounds more like an intro/outro or a theme that may link all the songs of a live show together so as not to have gaps. 

Still both Misery. Decline. Death and The Despiser both show this band in a misanthropic new light, still led by band founder Evangelos Vasilakos (pretty much everything), the addition of vocalist Topias Jokipii and drummer Robin Stone, allows Evan to now explore new realms with his music, letting genre shifts of the previous release, become a memory as nihilistic blackened riffs manifest bands such as Mastiff or Anaal Nathrakh, the sheer ferocity of the misery forcing you to listen. 

It seems Chestcrush have nailed their sound here, 28 minutes of music designed to rip the air out your lungs and leave you an empty void. 7/10

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