ANTHEMS FROM THE ABYSS #4
With September already in its dying throes, it's hard to believe this freshly-launched column has been up and running for a little over a month now. Better still, Anthems #4 is by far our biggest and most colourfully varied edition yet, featuring everything from the vicious, coldly entrancing magic of Shining and the deathly savagery of New Zealand aggressors Ulcerate to the madly barrelling, classic noise-mongering of Motörhead. And in our less-than-rosy present circumstances, it's the fittingly brutal, frenzied and eerily beautiful balm for the soul we so sorely need right now. So tune in, crank up the volume and enjoy another weekly round of killer choice cuts handpicked by our intrepid crew of extreme metal scribes.
DISCLAIMER: May contain dangerous levels of fanboy/girling.
'For the God Below' (Redefining Darkness, 2012)
From violently contorted strains of seething, tar-thick distortion and layer upon layer of frigidly chilling tremolo to exquisitely fine lashings of acoustic fretwork, the brilliant and notoriously tortured mind of Shining’s Niklas Kvarforth has birthed more than its share of immersive, compositionally expansive gems. And among the many noteworthy standouts forever etched into the recollection of the Shining-obsessed scribe currently typing up this entry, 'For the God Below's' ingenious melding of ripping aggression and darkly absorbing atmosphere has certainly made something of a lasting impression.
Taken from masterful 2012 opus ‘Redefining Darkness’, the opening portion of this infernal epic sees gossamer-fine wisps of acoustic guitar instantly ensnare the listener with deadly, nimbly orchestrated magnetism. Then, in just a few short but brutally explosive hammer-blasts of aggression, we’re plunged headlong into a blackly turbulent undertow of bass-laden fretwork whose grandiose, sleekly elongated throes audibly bristle with infernal fire. Brimming with bile and black-hearted malice, ghoulishly compelling frontman Kvarforth bellows into the ether like the proverbial man possessed, his every howling accent and syllable utterly awash with feeling. Seamlessly fluid, too, are his rapid-fire transitions back and forth between tenderly crooning melodiousness and jugular-ripping aggression. Spliced with a solo that features some of the most exquisitely crafted riffs ever to grace the extreme metal world, it’s with violently climactic momentum that we’re borne aloft on towering, reverb-laden crescendos that, time after time, take the listener somewhere far removed from this grey and weary mortal realm.
'Beneath, To The Earth' (Self-titled, 2020)
Hailing from Sheffield, Hidden Mothers have just released their debut EP and it’s a blinder! ‘Beneath, To The Earth’ is the opening track and really encapsulates the essence of the band. A delightful blend of blackgaze and post-metal/post-rock that undulates from a raging storm to quiet seas and back again seamlessly. The loud-quiet-loud (or vice versa) dynamic is nothing new, granted, but when bands master it they can conjure wonderful emotional music that will really stick with you and Hidden Mothers have a really good grasp on it. I always feel that even if a genre starts to get flooded, the bands that really mean it will always stand out; the cream always rises to the top, so to speak. It's as simple an equation as emotion in tends to translate to emotion out. Sonic pointers for me are bands like Oathbreaker and Møl, which is never a bad thing in my eyes! Sure, this style is polarising but if you appreciate the style then there is a bucketload to offer here. In fact, just go get the whole EP, it's wicked!
'Visceral Ends' ('Stare Into Death And Be Still', 2020)
Can’t miss an opportunity to wax lyrical about a band who’ve put out the best album I’ve heard this year in ‘Stare Into Death and Be Still’. If you’re not familiar with Ulcerate yet then that needs to be remedied immediately. The New Zealand three-piece are a lurching death metal behemoth and a towering pillar of consistency to boot. ‘Visceral Ends’ may seem like an odd choice of track from the album to talk about, it's neither the most furious track nor the most technical on offer but it is a glorious example of nuanced death metal songwriting and structuring. The technicality of the music is superb yet never becomes impenetrable; the production is dense and heavy whilst maintaining clarity. And there are very few finer drummers than Jamie Saint Merat on this planet. There may be faster, more brutal players out there but there are very few as expressive and very few that make such excellent use of the entire drumkit. And as a sucker for a great outro, the last minute and fifty seconds of this song is a veritable delight!
'Paradise By The Dashboard Light', ('Bat Out of Hell', 1977)
Much as I love the smell of a burnt out Orange amp as it brings the fuzz at a volume normally used to disperse protestors, this week I decided to break out a boxset of Old Grey Whistle Test. Running from 1971 to 1988, with the mandate to feature non-chart music, it showcased many now classic artists, and raised the important question of how the fuck Roxy Music had such a long career. Among top performances from Tom Waits, John Martyn and Lynyrd Skynyrd on the DVD set, nothing tops this one. Meat Loaf is a guilty pleasure of mine. Jim Steinmen used to write songs like I have my sub-sandwich – packed with all the trimmings and extra cheese. Even if the entire moon were made of cheese, it would seem like the offering in an over-priced petrol station sandwich to that spewing from the sparse back set of W11. Rumours that the minimal set was due to Meat Loaf and Karla DeVito chewing the scenery are of course untrue, but this is the reason to watch. The music is a melange of classic rock ’n’ roll musical motifs, combined with the sort of ridiculous and exaggerated acting you can only get away with on musical theatre, as Meat Loaf gets cockblocked by commitment, and yells “FUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKK YOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUU!!!!!!!!!” as his final line as he stomps round the set portraying his huffy alter-ego.
'Ace of Spades' ('Ace of Spades', 1980)
Not strictly a dedicated music program that inspired this list of tracks, but The Young Ones embraced the anarchic spirit of its actors from the alternative comedy scene of the 80s, and cheekily had musical acts on so they would be classed as a variety show and thus receive more funding. While there were some entertaining moments (and Six Below Zero), the band almost known as Bastard scoop the pot and swagger away with this performance. Rick wouldn't approve, but then he's a complete bastard who likes Cliff Richard. Full of crackling energy and defiance too, it's a perfect soundtrack for the students of Scumbag College as they make their haphazard way through King's Cross station, while a rare four-piece edition of Motörhead delivers the ultimate rock song ever written in their own cool way right in their front room. Once in every lifetime...
'Pretend You're Dead' ('Bricks Are Heavy', 1992)
Two things are important in rock 'n' roll: a casual and almost theatrical level of fucking about, and having great tunes. The LA four piece dished up skipfuls of both. 1992 saw them drop the grunge classic 'Bricks Are Heavy', which packs metal riffing, punk rock attitude and deadpan snarkary into a record that doesn't give a fuck about whether you're astonished by them smashing gender norms or not. As for the fucking about, they were world-class non-sequentiers in interviews, responding to a restless Reading crowd throwing mud during technical difficulties with vocalist Donita Sparks yelling "Eat my used tampon, fuckers!" and hurling said sanitary product into the crowd, and this performance on a Channel 4 programme. Not only is it an exuberant performance with jumping all over the place and a trashed drumkit, Donita decides to show the world just how lady-like she is when she drops her trousers to her knees and continues playing as if nothing is amiss aside from a deficit in the underwear department. Presumably a producer thinking of a regulatory body prays her Flying V stays where it is to hide certain parts of her body, while Terry Christian is lost for words amid the anarchic chaos, perhaps worried that this edition of The Word was his last.
AT THE DRIVE-IN
'One Armed Scissor' ('Relationship of Command, 2000)
Seeing rock and metal bands on terrestrial telly was an event in the days when going on the internet involved a tell-tale banshee shriek that alerted the entire house you were more than likely going to attempt to download pictures of naked people. Jools Holland has been a staple of our screens for years, and fulfils the need for non-chart music, and in all honesty was dull as fuck if you were in the mood for, say, a white hot live wire post hardcore performance. And then El Paso outfit At The Drive-In rolled into town. On the media junket for breakthrough and in hindsight, break up album 'Relationship Of Command', they went full out. In its default state this lead single could strip flesh from bone, but faced with the somewhat sterile procession of TV studios, they went for the throat every time. In a blur of limbs and a soundman clearly flying by the seat of his pants only just keeping on top of the acerbic music and Cedric's cryptic approach to melody, lyrics and vocal delivery, it was a complete thrill ride that made everything around it look dreary.
'Oblivion' ('Crack the Skye', 2009)
Misty-eyed nostalgia time, but in a time before the turn of the millennium, finding rock and metal music on terrestrial TV was an event. Every appearance felt like a victory for our outcast tribe. Now no cunt watches TV, and less so music programmes. Top Of The Pops died an undignified death when streaming upended the singles charts, and now the small plastic rectangle can give us access to every genre under the sun. And long may it continue, because aside from being able to access all the delights of yesteryear, it can also bring us stuff like this. Nothing fancy about the performance; just four talented musicians playing their hearts out of one of their career highlights.
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