Cartographs – wilt & blossom

Label: Prime Collective. Release date: 1 March 2019.

Advertisements

I’m not shy to admit this is my favourite release of 2019 so far. wilt & blossom is a suitable title for an album featuring euphoric highs and devastating lows. This album moves me like a blackgaze album would, and CARTOGRAPHS use fragments of blackgaze in their crushing debut album. The Danes borrow from post-rock, experimental and ambient rock, black metal and folk, amongst others to create their own brand of atmospheric music – with dazzling effect.

wilt over time broods as the atmosphere gradually builds up to a CULT OF LUNA-esque passage. The turbulent moments also remind me of Origo-era BURST, so you can probably gauge how powerful CARTOGRAPH’s material can be. There is a post-hardcore edge to the vocals which gives the music such a heart-wrenching and intense dynamic – you can’t let go. ever scaling latches on with its delicate post-rock beginning, exuding the light atmosphere of the first rays of sunshine after a harsh winter. It continues on the rise before lapsing into MAYBESHEWILL-esque riffs; bewitching, captivating…beautiful.

You might remember I wrote about lead single peace was never mine to be found in my last Roundup, stating it as a “stunning example of what’s to come” and it’s reassuring to discover I’m not wrong. The brooding passages and modest intensity is utterly mesmerising. Wearing their ambient metal influences on their sleeve there is a vein of nostalgia running throughout this track and wilt & blossom as a whole, but there is a crisp freshness to CARTOGRAPH’s take on post-rock, threatening to reinvent the genre.

Charming acoustic notes draw you into through the garden gate before a raucous 10 minutes unfold. The climatic riffs are unforgettable, taking you to stratospheric highs before plunging to urgent depths. The pace and execution is perfect for a track of this epic length. When you think you’ve recovered, they hit you with THAT riff again and you collapse into your own despair. CARTOGRAPHS wouldn’t be as heart-wrenching without the raw vocals of Joachim Jensen, but each member is a pivotal component in the CARTOGRAPHS experience.

Second single more string than pearls is another breath-taking example of how the band gel all the textures and instruments into one flawless wall of resounding vehemence. Things calm down a tad with in teal and that irresistible acoustic guitar. Dramatic yet serene, this album is all about opposites clashing together to make something utterly spellbinding.

The song title blossom under leaves conjures the image of hope hiding until the opportune time. The gentle opening minute does reflect this before the optimism is hindered by some spectacular blackgaze. The track continues to climb then dive before it reaches a constant state of post-rock enlightenment, making it a stellar conclusion to such a stunning debut. Last year I raved on about how Danish metal was leading the race, but with the likes of GHOST IRIS and now CARTOGRAPHS releasing excellent albums this year, Denmark might just hold onto the crown for one more year.

Aenimus – Dreamcatcher

Label: Nuclear Blast Records. Release date: 22 February 2019.

California’s AENIMUS have slowly been on the rise since their debut album Transcend Reality, but one thing’s for sure, second album Dreamcatcher will only propel the progressive metal band to new heights. The technicality and ambition on display here will make you think you’re listening to a band well into their metal career, making AENIMUS that little bit more exciting to listen to and to watch grow, because in reality they’re still honing their sound! In an oversaturated scene of so-so bands, groups have to really churn out something special to stand out, luckily AENIMUS have upped their game with this album as it really packs a punch.

The phrase “start as you mean to go on” springs to mind when Before the Eons bursts in. It’s a really technical track but extremely listenable, and the album continues in the same manner. The band channel their inner OPETH and BLACK CROWN INITIATE while BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME-sounds provide the quirkier moments. An uplifting riff and epic solo storms the middle. Delicate guitar work provides a darkly soothing interlude, making this opening track a mesmerising feat. A blistering start.

Eternal sounds like the lovechild of CABAL and SHOKRAN – a terrifying lovechild. The song boasts the first of the spectacular clean vocals on Dreamcatcher. The vocals haven’t been chucked in for the hell of it, oh no, they ramp up the coloassal intensity of the track. This brilliant intensity continues into The Ritual which is a song which would please BEYOND CREATION and BLACK CROWN INITIATE fans. The bass really comes to the fore here, making this track a real progressive and technical beast.

The fantastic orchestral and oriental My Becoming is another one for SHOKRAN fans. Not only do AENIMUS nail the technical aspect of their sound, but they could easily be the masters of melodic tech death if they so wished. This is an absolutely huge track of epic proportions. Next song The Dark Triad is also a bit of a belter. Beginning with a big ol’ groovy riff, this is one song I’d like to see live! The darkness and rich textural depth matches the artwork for Dreamcatcher, you’re also never quite sure what monstrous element is around the corner!

Between Iron and Silver is an ambitious song which is beautifully executed. The dark, brooding moments collapse into passages of sheer magnificence, this won’t be a song you’ll easily forget. The instrumental and orchestral moments on Dreamcatcher are brilliantly composed and deserve a special mention. It is the dark soundscapes such as the ending of Between Iron and Silver which complete the album. We are violently brought back to our senses with the face-ripping riff and ferocious drumming on The Overlook. The vocals almost have the same impact as ARCHSPIRE at the very beginning, the intensity of the whole track is terrifying.

Technical death metal takes over in Caretaker which is one of the heaviest songs on Dreamcatcher. The heavy technicality of AENIMUS is flawless and when the breakdowns crash in you’ll be running for cover. Second Sight is another relentless track. The melodic moments remind me of DISTORTED HARMONY but the illusion is soon shattered by the trenchant end.

Penultimate track Day Zero provides a violently perfect start to the album finale. The terrific title track brings Dreamcatcher to a bewitching and storming conclusion, exactly what an album of this calibre deserves. If you haven’t been blown away by a record yet this year then Dreamcatcher will change all that. AENIMUS seem to masterfully mix progressive and technical metal with elements of deathcore and melodic prog metal into one exciting and unforgettable package. Outstanding.

Ghost Iris – Apple of Discord

Label: Long Branch Records. Release date: 22 February 2019.

Denmark’s GHOST IRIS never disappoint do they? 2017’s Blind World was a superb album and I had no doubts in my mind that the band’s third record Apple of Discord would be anything but spectacular…but bloody hell this record blows everything the band have ever done out of the water. This record is insane!

Apple of Discord begins with the title track, an instrumental song with a classic GHOST IRIS riff and a huge and crisp production. The dreamy riffage is soon obliterated by the absolutely storming The Devil’s Plaything. If there is one thing to note about this album it is frontman Jesper Vicencio’s vocals and how his cleans have become utterly colossal. His outstanding vocals plus the cheeky djent and the intense breakdowns make The Devil’s Plaything an excellent choice for a single. The track and Apple of Discord as a whole sounds a lot more serious and intense than their previous work, and even though there is a decent dollop of melodic passages, it all feels a lot heavier in general.

The riffs are another level on this album and next track Final Tale is no exception from the rule. It is a darkly groovy beast heightened by the catchy chorus. GHOST IRIS have oodles of appeal and seem to be channelling everything that works into a brilliant and concise record. The chunky riffs continue in After The Sun Set Pt. II which will certainly get a few bodies moving when played live. A proper bouncy and ferocious number with an epic chorus – this track is pure fire. 

Beauty in Expiration is already potentially my favourite song of 2019 so far. There is a real ISSUES edge to it in terms of melodies. A brilliantly executed track, Vicencio’s vocals reach new heights and the instrumentation is perfect to say the least. It has the right balance of skull crushing riffs and delicate notes. Everything is just spot on. The same can be said for The Rat and the Snake which is one of the heaviest songs on Apple of Discord with its crushing CABAL-esque atmosphere. This is GHOST IRIS at their most brutal and it’s a truly thrilling experience.

The energetic Heaven Was Pure Hell is a triumph from beginning to end with its huge and catchy melodies and savage breakdowns. The tech fury continues with the brilliant Cowardly Pride. This track wouldn’t sound out of place on Blind World but its awesome melodic death leanings make it more like Blind World 2.0. GHOST IRIS surpass themselves once again with Magenta Moon which is a perfect modern metal song with a brilliant pace and lift to it. The uplifting riffs with the blistering breakdowns creates a masterpiece of a track full of striking contrasts.

Album finale Virus is well and truly an infectious track. A fabulous bouncy and groovy riff greets you before the brutal vocals threaten to tear your face off. It’s a good ol’ stomper which provides a monumental conclusion to a phenomenal album. GHOST IRIS are and remain one of Denmark’s most talented metal bands, but their crossover appeal and incredible talent demonstrated with Apple of Discord will surely threaten the big players worldwide.

Crystal Lake – Helix

Label: Sharptone Records. Release date: 15 February 2019.

Back in 2016 when they released breakthrough album True North, Japan’s CRYSTAL LAKE were a little speck on the tech metal scene. In my review of True North I predicted the album would “propel CRYSTAL LAKE into the metal stratosphere”. The band did indeed progress into the greater metal realm, with worldwide tours and a slot on the main stage at last year’s Tech Fest. The band are slowly but surely getting bigger and gaining momentum and new album Helix will most certainly launch the band to wider audiences. Compared to its predecessor, Helix is a real tour de force with its ferocious consistency.

Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! springs to mind when AEON kicks in. The programmed effects are spot on in this song and Helix as a whole. The opening minute has everything; blast beats, blackened passages, deathcore moments and dark TED MAUL moments. The sound is HUGE. AEON has already surpassed anything CRYSTAL LAKE have done before. So much happens yet it all flows seamlessly, but nothing prepares you for the slamming deathcore riffs and beats and the relentless tech metal at the end. Unbelievable.

Next track Agony is a bit more of a ‘typical’ CRYSTAL LAKE track (think Omega from True North with more melodic moments). The drumming and programming are once again insane, yet the ending is unexpectedly but welcomely soothing which enables you to process the brutality of the album so far. The rap returns in +81 but it’s executed perfectly making the track a disgustingly fun listen. There are some FAITH NO MORE-esque passages with the funky bass and seductive vocals. This is a real party metal anthem and will be stuck in your head for days.

By the time Lost in Forever bludgeons your ears it’s become clear CRYSTAL LAKE are sounding more focussed and mature with Helix and this track continues the brutality but with a more melodic slant. The jumpy riffs sound very much like the energetic guitar work of THE ROYAL which makes for another song to bounce to. Something a bit more unusual happens with Outgrow, with its FAITHLESS-esque passages and the slower pace, but it’s good to catch your breath during a high-octane album.

With its big ol’ swagger of a riff and the distinct vocals, Hail to the Fire becomes a bit of an unforgettable track. There is a real groove straight out of KILL THE KONG before it lapses into more slamming deathcore territory. Lots more interesting snippets happen in Devilcry which is a solid track with a catchy motif. The brutality and melodicness are perfectly balanced here making this track a bit of a dark horse to be Helix‘s best track.

Just Confusing is more ISSUES than CRYSTAL LAKE but somehow it works! The chorus could easily upset some old school BRING ME THE HORIZON FANS (if you get what I mean). CRYSTAL LAKE can even master the new wave of emo and I’m not even mad. The bouncy, tech riffs return with Apollo along with the ferocious drumming. It’s not a particularly memorable track but it’s a fun track all the same (especially with the DISTURBED moments…you’ll see what I mean).

Sanctuary makes sure Helix gets the storming send off it deserves. A straight-up, no-nonsense song, the urgent energy of Sanctuary gets the job done. The riffs are stratospheric and the hypnotic end brings the album to a dramatic close. The crossover appeal of CRYSTAL LAKE cannot be ignored. This is their secret weapon and the biggest threat to their contemporaries. Every metal style they attempt to capture they expertly execute. The quality of their work just keeps on getting better and better. What will the band achieve by their next album? One thing’s for sure, you won’t want to be late to the CRYSTAL LAKE hype.

Minors – Abject Bodies

Label: Holy Roar Records. Release date: 22 February 2019.

This is already a contender for nastiest album of the year. Canada’s MINORS are set to release second album Abject Bodies and it’s the finest slab of noisy, sludgy hardcore you’ll hear all year; it would even make the likes of CONVERGE and WILL HAVEN weep from the bleakness of it. It begins with the dismal title track – a doomy and dissonant instrumental before second track Consumed rips you a new one. Powerviolence bludgens you at the start of the song along with its urgent ‘chorus’. The brilliantly punky vocals make for a more intense listen.

Meanderist continues the angry-as-fuck intensity with its ferocious groove. It really does sound like the lovechild between CURSED and NAILS. It’s a white knuckle ride throughout. The noise seamlessly meanders (pun intended) into Flesh Prison which is a deliciously morbid and darkly groovy track. The sludgy riffs topped with powerviolent tendencies is fantastically striking, making for an all-rounded assault.

A chaotic, grindcore punkfest ensues with the magnificent Boneyard. It sounds exactly what you’d expect a boneyard to sound like; crushing, ugly and complete with unexpected blackened passages. The last half is a stunning chunk of devastating riffage. An outstanding track which is followed by an entirely different beast in the form of Erode. Beginning with a soundscape akin to ISIS or PELICAN, it slowly develops into the sludgy opus it turns out to be. The slow start heightens the sense of incoming catastrophe. The down-tempo continues with the addition of the tortured vocals, making for a downright filthy penultimate track.

The brooding finale Garden of Dismalism is back to the dark and distorted textures. The contorted soundscape builds up to create a chaotic and claustrophobic climax. Abject Bodies is anything but a relaxing listen with an uneasy tension throughout. One thing’s for sure – MINORS are more than an angry hardcore band…their sound is mature, calculated and terrifying. Listen at your own peril.

A Novelist – Folie

Release date: 8 February 2019. Self-release.

A NOVELIST is something of an eclectic project. Formed of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ben Nugent and drummer Alex Babineaux, the quirky duo are on a mission to expand the idea of what death metal can be through free and uncompromised expression. Now, I don’t mean to be a genre snob or anything, but I’d argue the Louisiana-based band are primarily progressive metal as they chuck all sorts of musical styles into the mixing pot. I guess this will make A NOVELIST a talking point in online forums for years to come… Genres and labels aside, second album Folie is a disgustingly impressive effort and each listen exposes a new nugget of intrigue.

Eerie opening track Folie Noire sounds like a hybrid of MARTIN GRECH and KARNIVOOL while the quieter moments of THE FACELESS look on. The slow build up bursts into a dark eruption that DARK TRANQUILITY would be proud of. It’s an interesting start to proceedings but next track Exteriors changes tack. It sounds like I’m listening to mid-noughties Victory Records bands again. The parallels to DARKEST HOUR and BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME cannot be ignored. Just when you think you can guess the direction the song is going in, a new element is thrown in keeping you on your toes.

Third track Tombeau is a little chaotic. The uncomfortable guitar work at the beginning clashes with the harsh vocals but once the song really gets going it is the riffs which carry the song. They truly shine and twinkle here and when the snippets of clean vocals peep through it ends up becoming a bit of a thrill! A similar thing can be said for next track, Apparitions with its mesmerising riffs and hypnotic vocals. It’s an ambitious track with the inclusion of a plethora of weird sounds but it sounds more jazz metal than death metal. If the song was a bit more focussed it would be a masterpiece. The clean vocals really come to the fore here making Apparitions a stunning listen.

Electric organs and harsh vocals shouldn’t really mix but in Acacia Crown somehow the mad genius of A NOVELIST make it work with aplomb. There’s a real energy to this song which is addictive. The energy manifests into a crazy beast in Caveat Lector which begins with EDITORS-esque riffs and jazzy overtones but soon erupts into BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME territory. I would have liked to have seen A NOVELIST push the jazz elements a little more, but they’re forgiven once the smooth vocals croon over the chaos.

Stockholm Blues is much of the same with its groovy jazzy undertones. The riffs in this track and Crestfallen stir a sense of nostalgia in me. There’s something about the guitar work and the vocals which remind me of metal from the late noughties but with a fresh, metallic crunch. It could be the production, it could be their influences, who knows, but it works and it sounds like a passionate endeavour. This is followed by Learning Paralysis which is an outstanding track. Probably the most ‘whole’ song on the album, it has a distinct beginning which returns throughout the track, making it consistent and focussed.

The pace slows a tad for album finale Interiors, but this somehow emphasises the emotions exposed in the song. The vocals have an air of HOPESFALL about them (hence the nostalgia perhaps?) and lots of interesting components throughout the track pile up for an exhilarating conclusion. There is an exciting and unexpected blackened interlude with intense drumming which brings in a new element in Folie. This, along with the stellar vocals make for a thrilling climax.