As far as servicing us with a steady, seemingly unending supply of apocalyptic horrors goes, the year 2020 has done a pretty successful job of ensuring life remains in as troubling and unpredictable a shape as humanly imaginable. So much so, in fact, that the arrival of the spookiest day of the calendar year barely even registered for many of us living forever suspended in this present, perpetual state of darkness and despair. That is, until our right honourable Prime Minister Boris Johnson emerged from the shadows of his worryingly extensive absence from UK television screens on Saturday 31st October to officially confirm rumours of a second national lockdown. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a more fittingly foreboding day on which to announce this next grimly inexorable stint of prolonged isolation and inactivity. But, as we retreat into another tediously sobering episode of death-like silence and solitude, we find ourselves once again seeking comfort in the dusky, distortion-soaked embrace of our favourite extreme metal artists. And so it is that, on this most exceptionally dreary and soul-destroying of Mondays, we proudly present to you our top picks for Anthems from the Abyss #6…
WOODS OF YPRES - 'THE NORTHERN COLD'
With its rich plethora of blackly turbulent aggression, windswept atmospherics and frostbitten outcrops of craggily abrasive sonic terrain, extreme metal has long enjoyed an instinctive affinity with the altogether more hostile features of the natural world. And from the earthy, wetly glistening autumnal richness of Type O Negative’s ‘October Rust’ and the rain-sodden melancholia of My Dying Bride’s ‘A Line of Deathless Kings’ to the icily visceral moonlit territories of Emperor’s ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’, there are certain records that we make an almost perennial habit of revisiting at certain seasonally appropriate points in the year. Among the many enduring favourites of the writer presently penning this fondly nostalgic entry is this coldly immersive epic from Ontario doom metal masters Woods of Ypres.
Despite a career tragically cut short by its creator’s untimely death at the tender age of 31, theirs is a nonetheless expansive and meticulously crafted back catalogue spanning a wealth of various incarnations culminating in the doom-laden mastery of 2011’s ‘Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light’. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to spend a quietly contemplative hour or two in the company of this hauntingly evocative opus, we guarantee you this is one of the most emotionally raw and affecting records you’ll ever have the pleasure of hearing. Yet, prior to this exceptionally poised and melody-rich pinnacle of career-defining perfection, 2007 predecessor ‘Woods III: Deepest Roots & Darkest Blues’ finds visionary frontman and composer David Gold at a decidedly more blackened and acerbic point in his then-fledgling career. Such is the frigid, violently lacerating magic of ‘The Northern Cold’, its frantically accelerating lines of frost-stricken tremolo and battering blasts glistening with reverential nods to black metal’s genre-defining predecessors. Yet, in amongst these generous lashings of murkily cacophonous aggression is no small amount of the distinctive melancholic warmth for which Woods would later become widely admired. And from airily glacial flurries of keyboards that flutter and glimmer like snowflakes born aloft on a gentle winter breeze through to Gold’s sultry, endlessly expressive baritone verses, this track is as rich in nerve-shredding aggression as it is steeped in gorgeously ethereal beauty.
AKHLYS – 'BREATH AND LEVITATION'
I long considered my contribution to Halloween to be some gore-laden death metal as homage to my teenage years and love of totally over-the-top splatter flicks. However, a late night walk with this song totally changed my mind. 'The Dreaming I' is an absolute black metal masterpiece, awash with a foreboding atmosphere and level of sonic evil most bands could only hope to dream about. Opening track 'Breath and Levitation' is an auditory nightmare in the best possible way. The haunting intro conjures up the feel of a desolate wood or dank basement, causing a claustrophobic dread as you take another tentative step into the unknown. Then the song itself bursts into life, like the unleashing of all manner of unspeakable Lovecraftian horrors from the void. The echoey atmospherics in the production bring the song a haunting quality to accompany the shrill guitar work and maniacal vocals. There’s an art to making black metal sound genuinely evil and Akhlys have perfected it.
With a new album very much on the horizon, there isn’t a better time to get yourself accustomed to some of the finest black metal to ever grace this planet. Go ahead...succumb to the madness!
UNDERSMILE – 'SKY BURIAL'
Any band that references The Shining is already onto an instant winner as far as the Dark Matter crew are concerned. I mean, how fucking cool do frontwomen Taz and Hel look hand in hand like the Twins? Not as cool as when they both wield Gibson SGs and lay down a drone-dream mantra chant that shakes the soul. This cut from second album ‘Anhedonia’ is a haunting brooding epic, with the Oxfordshire four piece (completed by equally cool rhythm section Olly and Tom) built on the monolithically grungy doom of ‘Narwhal’, and this haunting cut feels like the very picture of a desolate mountain top strewn with mortal remains. As the cello swirls together with the implacable beats, you know the stillness won’t last, as the Alice In Chains at their lowest harmonies become malice unchained: it’s a storm rages at all under heaven and shakes the very bones of the world. With the same line up recently releasing new material as acoustic counterpart Coma Wall, it’s hopefully only a matter of time before they unleash the follow up long player. Come play with us, listener...for ever and ever and ever…
SOMN – 'THE ALL-DEVOURING'
Post-black metal, atmospheric black metal, blackgaze... Since the world was blessed with the majesty of 'Sunbather' by Deafheaven we’ve been awash with the stuff, to varying degrees of success. Black metal purists often hate the stuff, branding it as hipster rubbish, but I just feel they’re missing out. The good that has come out of this wave of bands has been mind-blowing. Russia has quietly been gathering momentum as something of a force in this collision of sounds and Somn are something of a supergroup, so to speak. Members of Trna, Olhava and Show Me A Dinosaur (don’t let the name put you off, they’re brilliant) get together to produce what was probably one of the finest moments of 2019. The title track here is a fabulous example of what happens when you get this style right, it brings a real emotional reaction, something both caustic and beautiful all at once. It really is music to lay in a darkened room with headphones on and just drown in the lush soundscapes that grace you. This is every bit as vital as the aforementioned 'Sunbather'.
DOG FASHION DISCO – ‘LEPER FRIEND’
Did you ever hear about that band that did the gig at the Addams’ place? They never were quite the same afterwards. OK, so that’s not the real origin story of Dog Fashion Disco, but it wouldn’t surprise us, who thankfully dropped their original name of Hug The Retard. ‘Leper Friend’ heralds the opening of the Marylander’s fourth album. Resembling a depraved Clutch’s take on Mr. Bungle, this track drips with Americana freak show chic. Alongside the chugging power chords and ringmaster frontman’s Todd Smith’s barks, growls and whispers, there’s a madcap circus organ, capering around in a merry dance macabre with the express intent of frightening the ‘norms’ as much as possible. What they’re actually on about is anybody’s guess, but that mystery is part of the charm. It’s a tune that revels in the grotesque, and it’s only the beginning of an album that has the immortal line “don’t fall asleep, or we’ll mutilate your genitals”...
SEND MORE PARAMEDICS - 'ZOMBIE CREW'
Now, this is a tune that would get the blood pumping in even the most desiccated husk, this is a call to arms for everyone who likes to paint the town red, as long as it’s with arterial blood. A celebration of all things re-animated and hungry, Send More Paramedics sprung from a former plague pit (although the locals prefer you called it Leeds), cannibalising 80s hardcore punk and thrash into an exhilarating cut-throat crossover. Although the distinction is purely academic when you’re moshing for your fucking life. With lyrical themes that you could probably have a good stab at guessing from the context if not from the rapid-fire delivery, they’re the embodiment of every single zombie film ever made. While Murderdolls were poncing about covering Billy Idol, this brains-crazed foursome were the real flesh-tearing deal. This also has the best bridge in all of music outside of ‘Ace of Spades’. Altogether now – DO THE ZOMBIE SHUFFLE LIKE AN OLD SCHOOL GHOUL!!!!!