Welcome to Heavy Metal Spotlight! On here you can find reviews and features about metal bands both known to many, and known to few. Sharing my discoveries, or adding to the discussion about well known metal music is something I deeply enjoy, and I'm delighted that it reaches people who are interested from time to time. Don't forget to like the facebook page to keep up to date more easily with what I'm reviewing, to make suggestions about reviews, and the blog in general, and to annoy me as much as you please. If that doesn't float your boat, you can also suggest bands for me to take a look at in the slightly obsolete suggestions post which I'll keep, despite the facebook page.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

#366 Mesmur - Self Titled

I try to listen to as much music as I can. No matter how well versed you become in a genre - or rather, how well versed you think you are - there's always more. There are constant surprises and new directions to explore. As the year winds down in December, I find myself pondering what the tone of the year as a whole has been for me, in terms of my listening. One genre which sticks out for me is Funeral Doom - I entered January knowing little besides Ahab, and as the months have passed, I've done my best to take more and more on-board, both of death-doom and funeral doom. I bring this up because I hope I'm now sufficiently equipped with background knowledge to review a funeral doom record coherently. The one I have in mind is the self-titled début by United States band Mesmur.

I open by saying that Mesmur do what a funeral-doom band ought to do. This becomes immediately apparent as the listeners find themselves engulfed in mournful, wailing lead-guitar and thick, crushing rhythm, united with clear but thoroughly appropriate production, erasing any worries of the record having the "shaky start" that some débuts do. It is, to state the obvious, both funereal, and doomy - and at that, very well executed. The record is a thorough manifestation of what makes the genre good. It is sorrowful with sincerity, but also otherworldly; it lifts you out of yourself with sonic vastness. The combination of percussive intensity with rolling, reeling riffs creates in the listener the mindset of being underwater - a surreal, sepia reality incongruent with the trappings of the mundane. Emotional content is heightened with evocative lead-work and tastefully restrained keys, which do absolute justice to the record's vision, opposed to being some sort of unwelcome visitor. The juxtaposed claustrophobia and vastness of early Ahab colliding headlong with the emotional depth and heart-rending melancholy and majesty of Evoken, if that gives any kind of comparison. The song-writing skill showcased throughout the album's labyrinthine catacombs of sound is impressive, and delivers immediate enjoyment as the songs progress, much in the way one enjoys beholding a well-crafted object of any sort. 

In a genre of monstrously long records and double-albums, at only 52 minutes, Mesmur's début is a short but sweet affair compared to some. Nonetheless, it feels whole and complete; not a tentative toe dipped into murky waters, but a fully formed realization of vision. It's over before you expect it to be, perhaps, but it does not feel stunted or withered as a work. The creative integrity which shines through in the production, musicianship and song-writing makes it an immediately appealing record. The feel - in terms of atmosphere and immediate musical gratification - of the record is sublime. The melodies themselves aren't always immediately accessible, but not in a sense of them lacking anything - the music is simply quite intricate. There is out-of-the-box thinking afoot, and the record becomes a densely populated, difficult to fathom affair compared to something more simplistic; I realised after several listens that I had been basking in the atmosphere, but still wasn't certain where specific songs began, or ended. The music delivered is music which you feel more than music for you to know. While I listen to the record, its quality speaks volumes, even if I can't fully remember after several listens. I don't see this as a problem, however. The album absorbs you, like a vision, keeping you for 52 minutes - it exists as a whole in my mind, and while each part is definitely itself a superb track, the five united are how the album presented itself to me foremost, and I would suggest that that is how it is best digested.

Mesmur's self-titled is a very strong first appearance by the band - a record which truly embodies the genre it stands-for, delivering what you'd expect, and what you'd want - but more importantly, delivering it well. Very well indeed. At the time of me writing this, there isn't a particularly tangible amount of attention being paid to the band. It won't be long, however, until the metal community encircle this gem, and give it the appreciation it is almost certainly due.

This is an 8/10.

Mesmur on Facebook

Thursday, 4 December 2014

#365 Horrendous - Ecdysis

It's nice to see a band tangibly grow - to see an album which has really managed to make people turn their heads with interest. How familiar with the feeling you are tends to be tied to how long you've been into metal - it takes a few years to delve into the currents and flows, to see where things are going, and to know where the lines between vacuous and justified hype lie. I'm never entirely sure if I'm there, yet. The point being, on the subject of bands which have been trailing a considerable wake of hype and acclaim, I'm something of a latecomer to the work of Horrendous - discovering their début record "The Chills" in light of the acclaim surrounding it, as opposed to originating any sort of hype around it myself. So too, in many ways, for their second work; Ecdysis - in fact, while the record came out mid-October, I've only properly listened to it in the last few weeks. I have, however, been aware of it for longer than that, and now, the time has come to see if my listening experience matches the outright impressive amount of hubbub the record has created throughout the metal community.

Every concious choice of an artist, or a group of creators, as a band is, has an effect on its audience. The first thing which is likely to strike anyone about Ecdysis isn't musical at all, in fact, it's the fact that the band's logo is left off the album's artwork. There are two paths I could take here; first off not reading very much into it - after all, perhaps the logo just didn't lend itself to being superimposed over the artwork the band settled upon - and that's eminently plausible. However, if I read more into it - wrong as I may be - we see an album which visually shrugs away the conventional "artwork and logo" format which typifies metal releases; something which reflects the fact that likewise, sonically, Ecdysis is no ordinary death metal record. Whether or not this is true, it sets the scene rather well for the album's music. "The Chills" was a superb old-school death metal work, and an inspired one, at that. Ecdysis is not quite "more of the same" however - instead, the album represents an expansion of the penchant for ingenuity and experiment on the part of the band - delving deeper and more sprawlingly into the seeds of unique atmosphere and fantastic composition planted by The Chills, which in this record have grown into twisted, unearthly trees.

The beginning of the record introduces the development extremely well; the uncanny, almost underwater feel of the music immediately plain. Horrendous' first record had this feel too - one of outright Lovecraftian difference, but is even more pronounced here. The atmosphere is bolstered by - created from, to a great extent, in fact - the wailing, distinct lead-guitar, harmonies and melodies which the band not only saturate the record with, but justify doing so by the dreamscape which results - while there might be a lot, it certainly isn't too much. It could seem tempting to assume that other elements of the music might suffer for this, but the resultant creation is not actually something rendered unwieldy or unbalanced by the lead-heavy playing - quite the opposite; when the record outright indulges in pure riff-based playing, the listener is urged to relish it even more - and solid riffs they are indeed, reflecting the refreshing song-writing which goes into the album. Ecdysis smoothly traverses everything from traditional, Swedish death-metal inspired passages right through to others which feel, my finite knowledge perhaps showing, like something genuinely exciting and new - certainly, I can't think of a band who have made a record which sounded quite like this one before, and the record is made all the more exciting for it. The record manages to capture being fresh without falling into the pitfalls which always cling close to blazing a trail. It's substantial but not over-long, atmospheric without being over the top, and innovative without having to flirt with gratuitous craziness.

Ecdysis takes a few spins to work its magic - or at least, it did for me. It's quite an incomprehensible record, initially, but with each spin it reveals fresh secrets. Even the first spin, however, will give the listener a taste which they will find themselves racing to delve into again, and of the marks of great records, being able to do that is certainly among them. What's more, there are plenty of other underlying signs that Ecdysis is a legitimate contender to be among the best albums this year, some of which I have tried to express above... and while I probably can't convey that seamlessly in words, I would suggest that the album itself might.

This is a 9/10.

Horrendous on Facebook
Horrendous on Metal Archives

Sunday, 23 November 2014

#364 Desaster - Divine Blasphemies

I spent a while pondering what to review today - there are so many metal bands out there; almost an infinity of them, it sometimes seems, but sometimes it still takes a long time to find something. As the year slowly cools down, I have a growing awareness that I need to start getting my finger-on-the-pulse of how 2014 has shaped-up as a year in metal as a whole - in short, doing some revision, so perhaps I should focus on albums which were released this year. While I do that, however, it needs to be reconciled with the other side of what this site has always been about; reviewing albums whenever they're from. I'm as happy to review something from 2002 as 2014, with little regard for circumstance other than feeling like reviewing it. After deliberation, I settled on doing the latter, by looking at "Divine Blasphemies" by Teutonic black-thrash band Desaster. Why?.. because I can.

Desaster are one of the most consistent - and consistently underrated - entities within black-thrash. Uncompromisingly old-school and familiar, but likewise having claim to an instantly recognisable and distinct style. Nobody really does what Desaster do, in quite the way Desaster do it. Indeed, I could have picked more or less any of their albums as a backdrop against which to air these thoughts. Divine Blasphemies, however, is one which I feel expresses their style well; a striding and confident mid-era work, with some very well pronounced moments of what the band do best. The music is destructive, with the malice and sharpness of the best 1980's extremity, bred with the influences of second-wave black metal woven into the tapestry here and there. The music manages to be very intense regardless of tempo and structure, particularly with the production which the band choose, with truly pounding, clattering percussion emphasising the rushing, vicious aspect of the music whilst simultaneously giving the guitars room to do their ripping, desiccating work. The musicianship in these aspects, in fact, is really what gives Desaster a unique edge, as both the guitar-work, drumming, and indeed vocals, themselves loaded with rage and scything delivery, possess a lot of character, never failing to stand out from the crowd of the band's peers.

The atmosphere you get in a Desaster album - as is well represented here - is a very distinct one, capturing what might seem, on paper, quite a "standard" one; conquering might, and devilish violence... but doing so in a very different way to convention. It does what you expect black-thrash to do, but in a very different and fresh way, compared to the tried-and-tested table of laws to which many bands abide. Desaster's sound is one of great scale, but without being polished - the rawness and frostbitten sound of second-wave black metal is represented in a much more tangible way than it is with many of their peers. It has the regal, almost magnificent sound, and elevates the listener, whilst still sounding extremely faithful to the more overtly oldschool influences bubbling away below the surface - it's tough and visceral, but oddly beautiful and sonically indulgent at the same time. It's a strange blend, to tell the truth, and that is very much one of the things which gives Desaster as a whole the sonic magic that it has. The band are exciting to listen to not just because of their consistency or uniqueness, but because they do something extremely well which very few bands - even if others have tried - could do well.

It's a nice change, I find, to review something a bit more established - something which I've had quite a long time to let simmer. I can really come to some conclusions about what I think of an album like this, free from the mystification of shiny, new 2014 records. Something like this, beyond being a great album in its own right, is also a great palette cleanser. Desaster are a band you can count on to provide solid album after solid album - this one is no exception. It might be hard to explain exactly what it is that makes Desaster so enjoyable, but it's certainly something they've always managed to have.

This record is an 8/10.

Desaster Official Site
Desaster on Facebook
Desaster on Metal-Archives