The Mantle

Kuolemanlaakso – Tulijoutsen Review

Kuolemanlaakso – Tulijoutsen Review

“The majesty and grandeur of the Finnish wilderness has been source material for a veritable fuckload of metal bands over the years, with Amorphis and Korpiklaani, being the better known examples. Those untamed forests and pristine lakes apparently beckoned to the folks in Kuolemanlaakso as well, since their sophomore album is a loose conceptual piece focused on the Finnish countryside and the national folklore that featured it so prominently.” Nature-themed doom death from Finland seems like an easy sell. Are you buying?

Alcest – Shelter Review

Alcest – Shelter Review

Alcest’s trek to Shelter has been a long and gorgeous journey. Over the years, Neige has taken his most-loved project from black metal soil and sprouted upward, spinning his branches and leaves into beautiful, soothing soundscapes. His ambitions have long been combated by black metallers that thrive on ugliness and rebellion; Alcest’s inherent prettiness seemed at odds with the genre’s core ethos. Yet it was hard to argue with the results.” Does the beautification of black metal continue on Shelter? How much lush gorgeousness can the blackness take before turning that frown upside down? Valid questions all.

The Ruins of Beverast – Blood Vaults Review

The Ruins of Beverast – Blood Vaults Review

“Here’s something I was really looking forward to! The Ruins of Beverast is a one man solo project from Alexander von Meilenwald, the former drummer of Nagelfar and sometimes drummer in Verdunkeln. Since the Unlock the Shrine debut, Meilenwald has taken his core blackened doom/death sound and increasingly melded it with grim atmospherics, odd, creepy-as-fuck ritual chanting and eerie church music to attain a type of epic horror movie music intended to unsettle and disturb the listener. Each subsequent release dug itself deeper into this construct or terror and unleashed longer, more drawn-out examples of the style, and while the music is the very height of “acquired taste”, it has a terribly compelling power that draws one back.” Do you like really long, creepy blackened doom with tons of occult elements? Who doesn’t, right? Join Steel Druhm as he discusses witches, witch burning, women’s rights and song length.

Landforge – Servitude to Earth

Landforge – Servitude to Earth

Here’s an obscure but intriguing new release that’s been getting a great deal of playtime on the Steel Druhm turntables of late. Landforge is the musical project of one Stephan Carter. As the sole member and performer, he’s created a strange experimental journey, which he refers to as “post-rock/post-metal, with doom influences.” While I don’t quite know what “post-metal” means, Servitude to Earth is an interesting merger of black metal, doom and minimalist post-rock, borrowing elements from bands like Black Sun Aeon, Agalloch and Altar of Plagues.

The Living Fields – Running Out of Daylight Review

The Living Fields – Running Out of Daylight Review

Now this was a tough album to review. I had a devil of a time trying to get through the music and honestly couldn’t even figure out what genre, sub-genre or sub-sub-genre these Chicago progressive metallers belonged in. You see, The Living Fields are so all over the place with their sound on their sophomore release Running Out of Daylight, they utterly defy conventional pigeonholing. At various times during the album’s playtime, they touch on ambient, darkwave, post rock, black metal, death metal, doom metal, folk and power metal. Yes, they cover their bases fully. In some ways these chaps could be called a more linear and rational version of Therion. They have all the same orchestration, pomp and variety and sport multiple vocalists of varying styles. However, they lack Therion’s lunatic charm, off the rails approach and overall entertainment factor. Although far more restrained in their songwriting, their compositions have a cold feeling and lack of cohesion that made it very difficult to get into. While I can’t dispute their creativity and musical ability, this is a strangely distant album that has resisted all my efforts to enjoy it in a meaningful way. It’s also a very challenging album to describe so stick with Steel Druhm and he will do his bestest.

Aurvandil – Yearning Review

Aurvandil – Yearning Review

Steel Druhm has become increasingly disillusioned with black metal over the past year or two. Apparently I’ve reached the saturation point where all the Dimmu Borgir wannabes started to sound just like all the Emperor wannabes and so on ad nauseum. There’s a clear stagnation in the scene and only the best are able to rise above the fetid swamps of mediocrity. Thankfully, into this dark morass comes a beacon of light by the name of Aurvandil with their debut Yearning. Hailing from France, Aurvandril is the brainchild and creation of founder and sole performer Aurvandil (although he apparently used a session drummer here). Mr. A is deeply entrenched in the traditional sounds and ethos of Norwegian blackness and Yearning freely references the great works of Burzum, Emperor and Enslaved while also offering a refreshing take on what came before. Its clearly a sound and style rooted in the 90’s but for whatever reason, the execution feels fresh, engaging and highly impressive. Equal parts punishing and beautifully melodic, it has a sweeping, epic atmosphere that one can’t help but appreciate. It’s good enough to partially offset my black metal malaise so he/they must be doing something right!

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

Agalloch is one of the rare bands whose music can provoke complex emotional reactions and truly move me every time I listen. From the bleak coldness of Pale Folklore to the creepily morose musings on The Mantle and the tense, uneasy nihilism of Ashes Against the Grain, their music overflows with emotion and feeling. Their odd and groundbreaking neo-folk, black metal, post-rock fusion has been a winning concoction time and again. From their small but fierecely dedicated fan base, there has been an almost palpable anticipation for new material from these Oregonian wood gnomes, and finally, they deliver Marrow of the Spirit. It goes without saying that expectations are ridiculously high based on the masterworks that preceded, but can they continue to operate at such a high level? I want to say yes unconditionally, but the truth is more like a yes, with minor qualifications