Three years after the potent “Novus Lux Dominus” LP, the Spanish quartet returns with fiery intent. A spiritual path laid bare. The medium, Cavernous Death Metal.

“Enter the Netherworld” builds and descends slowly into a subterranean crypt. The atmosphere dark and hallowed. A lead guitar, burning black, flickers like a serpent’s tongue. The recurring motif circling it, thick and menacing. “Into Primigenian Darkness” erupts after swearing allegiance to the Sinister Path. That unwavering dedication mirrored in the musical delivery. One that accelerates, at times, with flashes of revelatory Black Flame, only to resume the steady journey downward. “Victory Beyond Death” showcases a more muscular dimension, where blasting passages are broken by a slowly strangled riff, the crawling march the very roots of Death’s tree, stretching, spreading further underground, during long, long years of solitary reflection. “Banished from My Glance” cranks up the battery further. Frenzied moments of enlightened bliss punctuate mundane reality. The other side palpable, within touching distance, if the eager hand scratches, searching below the soil, for those same hidden and meaningful roots.

Flipping over, there is a subtle shift in the ceremonial flavour. Perhaps the more gruelling labour is complete or at the very least, a crucial mystical milestone has been reached. Either way the ritualistic visitation by this “Masked Beast” is enthralling. Languidly, it appears. Hypnotically, it hovers. There is a short, sharp display of absolute strength. Then the vision dissipates leaving a deep impression on the mind’s eye. The remaining two movements feel broadly as vast as they are long. “Where Shadows Move Unseen” adopts alternating swifter and slower strides before climaxing with a customarily expansive solo, the momentum of which hurtles into the grandiose title track. This “Covenant of Death” marks the triumphant end of said adept’s journey. The atmosphere accomplished. Celebratory. What better way to mark that closing circle than with crashing waves of fevered determination towards transmutation. And beyond.

Taking stock of the respective album themes, if “The Lord of New Light” laid their gnarly foundations, “After Fire” deconstructed those inner workings from a linear perspective yet equally as a divine cycle of death and rebirth that could be repeated indefinitely. Brimming with that Faustian Pride, none will be unmoved by defiant Orthodoxy. Where one so visionary moves next with their blackened torch is an intriguing proposition indeed.

Longevity aside, this is only the second full-length album by the Italian trio, which might partially explain why their name has been vaguely familiar when their music is not. Ultimately though, this is a fitting entry point as three of the songs presented here were the focus of a string of EPs in the preceding years. Even without hearing those earlier renditions, it’s difficult to imagine that they might outshine their place in this exemplary body of work. Loosely based on “L’Inferno” from Dante Alighieri’s iconic “La Commedia” the band explores the emotional journey rather than attempting to recreate the horrific chronological descent with Virgil through the nine rings of Hell. That human interpretation of the poem is a personal triumph. The dual language approach to the vocal delivery also warmly welcomed. Totalling ten songs, three are dramatic narrations in Italian, the fourth a fiery instrumental and the remaining six largely clocking above or just below six minutes each. The album feels concise. The flavour is sombre, epic, anguished and exhilarating. Heart strings are pulled taut as tempos change. Piersabato Gambino and Claudio Del Monaco provide a strong rhythmic backbone, while Bruno Masulli, very much front and centre, sings with soul and lead breaks aplenty. Again, their classic sensibilities please without being too pristine or devoid of a rough and ready charm. From the opening charge of “L’Uom S’Etterna” to the growling title track, one before the last, the songs are full of it. “Voices of My Solitude” then feels like an apt close. Melodic. Reflective. Almost elated rather than haunted, eternally. The Epic Doom plane may feel largely desolate yet this a timely reminder of the pillars of greatness.

Led by the former guitarist and vocalist of Sanctuaire, Florent Brunet-Manquat, it begged the question how much of that old spirit would be carried forward into this new entity. But having switched to bass in the intervening years and only assuming responsibility as singer after their first EP, Sacral Night and his place within it, have been evolving in different directions. Gone too are the French lyrics of yore . Eve Ranaudin and Aurore Montebran both guests contributing to the English texts across this compact album. Boasting eight songs proper, only one just reaches the four-minute mark. Tremolo picking fast, percussion pounding, a ghoulish accented delivery binds their urgent craft. The music undoubtedly informed by the occult currents of the past decade. Cloaked in darkness yet illuminated by candelabras, the atmosphere is somewhat mysterious yet the metallic sound still strikingly clear. That juxtaposition is crucial. Piercing the veil in short bursts. The ending of “The Blood Spattered Bride” testimony to that. The lip-smacking rhythmic pulse of “To Conquer” also embellished with thunderous charges. Tempering the blacker shades, the anthemic title track and “The Last Decade And Beyond” stand out as rousing hymns. Expect riffs rather than solos and a series of hard hitters rather than a continuous journey or story of sorts. Thankfully, the synths laden epilogue courtesy of “The Cohort Rites” does provide a certain creepy closure as the curtains are drawn again. All very capable, the challenge will be to deliver that killer blow on their next record. Sacral Night is on the prowl…

Coming sharp on the heels of the “30th Anniversary E.P.” this full-length album carries a decidedly different flavour to its predecessor. That, in part, can be explained by the wholly instrumental nature of this anguished soundtrack. Moreover, Antonio Polidori has channelled it alone thus making “Wail…” a deeply personal and insular journey. A voyage which resonates with “The Reality Before All” in his early discography albeit with disarming clarity. Every aspect audible. There is nowhere to hide. But before launching into the narrative, do soak up the pink, blue and grey hues adorning the irresistible cover art because this very painting by our protagonist’s hand is integral to everything that follows. Look how that spirit appears to be sucking up all of the water while a cracked church might collapse in the tumult at any given moment. Some of the imminent sounds may even have been created within that very church! Rest assured, there is conflict. There is tension. Uncertainty too. Multiple readings of this hour-long expedition probable. Beginning at the beginning, “Pray for Nature” soothes. Eerie yet beautiful, gentle guitar notes mingle with synths. By “The Earth Will Tremble Again” that serenity comes undone. Genuinely disconcerting, discordant keys stab and stab, for a prolonged period, with teeth-grinding regularity. The proverbial fingernails scratching on the blackboard. When the intensity finally abates, a throbbing pulse, perhaps a heartbeat, becomes the rhythmic force for the second half of the movement. An ominous presence strong. Tormenting or tormented, it is difficult to gauge as creepy melodies overlap, accelerate, expand and retract around the core. “Malattia Del Fuoco” is pitched structurally somewhere between the two compositions and having implied sickness, all is not well. Keys and guitar call, respond and merge. Church organs weave through a cacophony of warbling synths. The air thick with smoke. Perhaps elemental forces lurk in the periphery. Spooked out by “La Falce Del Vento” and its bizarre radio transmissions, the electronic evolution evokes memories of a decidedly glorious Italian past. The grandiose middle ground of the recording. As guitars enter the frame, flecks of magical dust illuminate the night sky. Meanwhile, down below, “Ricordi Sotto le Acque” bubbles away. A stirring guitar theme returns. Seeks the stars. Regenerates the soul. Taking another unexpected urgent twist, “Days of Agony” bubbles hard and fast with Germanic fluidity. As it passes, the crisis dissipates and only the lingering guilt of “Culpam Nostram” remains. Back in the crumbling old church, the organ weeps a final lament. This is an emotionally challenging experience. Not everybody will have the resolve to see the path through to the end. Persevere, even a little, and you might discern an alluring magical current, one which invites multiple visitations. Another valuable entry in the Tony Tears canon.

As a grand master of disconcerting psychedelia, Bart De Paepe airdrops the unprepared patient into the very heart of the Twilight Zone. “Pagus Wasiae” is an asylum for the mind. As synths bleep and bloop from every side, helicopter blades slice the air above. Left cowering in the darkened din, knees soiled and fingers clawing at the sodden earth, it must be only a matter of time before the men in white coats return? Unhappily though, if nightmares do not end abruptly, they morph and repeat on similar themes. “De Wase Wolf” displays a softer synth pillow yet with erratic drum beats and swarming electronics there is still no safe path from the woods. Thrown back into a prehistoric delusion, “Bedmar” bubbles on the surface of lysergic lava. Extinct beasts call to their kin through vapid smoke until “Alvinclarvord” cuts through sheets of metal with heavily dosed wah wah guitar. The gentle percussive sprawl underplays the lead with subtle aplomb. With the heat rising and synths simmering quicker, the lid of the pot rattles back and forth over the open fire. Steam escapes. It might burn the skin even if the flames don’t. It’s bad acid and the tribe is leering with hungry eyes.

Whilst not strictly a new name, the cunning translation to Vårt Solsystem from Our Solar System is bound to have thrown some off their tail. That will have been compounded by the fact that “Världsliga Bekymmer” is not available in digital form and as a result is still flying below the radar. Easily my favourite session by the mystical collective, it feels like two magnificent long jams although on closer inspection, both sides are comprised of five songs apiece. They just flow as a rounded whole and wash over the mind accordingly. Opening with an ominous air, the movement promptly becomes bright, breezy and expansive, the morning sun melting the last lingering shadows of twilight. After that prolonged peace, “Fara Å Färde” gives way to discordant keys, scraping, jangling and a plodding rhythmic pulse. Faintly punctuated by what might be some form of lullaby, it’s all very disconcerting. The pace picks up. A siren wails. Now at the heart of some rite, the sorcerers link spiritual hands and dance. Dancing and dancing. Faster and faster. Round they go. Their eyes locked on the sigil. Her voice soars higher as the cone of power is released. Without delay, a martial beat and an organ signal another spell of calm. Ushered in thus, harp and guitar glide to the foreground. Gracefully, they fill the space and soothe it completely. Bliss.

On the theme of reverence, it was with much mirth and delight that we caught wind of a new solo album by Alison O’Donnell. She shone during the United Bible Studies performance in Belfast back in November 2016 and having spent months transfixed by the “Anointed Queen” we wondered what “Climb Sheer the Fields of Peace” would bring. Well, it’s very much a short song-based affair with minimalist instrumentation and her timeless, ageless voice commanding centre stage. “Redbreast in a Rowan Tree” is just that. Naturally, she speaks of Nature, time and again, through crisp and clear poetry. Sometimes the lullaby will bewitch. But really listen to catch the magic unfold. Set to gentle guitar strumming, “In The Snowmelt” is full of it and the layered chorus special. “An Empire in its Glory” and “Pathways” are no less haunting. The lure of those songs, accentuated by a full cast of fellow student guests, is hard to resist. But the church organ accompaniment to “Sylvia’s Deadbolt” or “Green of Heart” make these simple treasures equally poignant. Finally, it would be remiss not to pass comment on “The Pull and Drag Blues” partly because it makes for a strange ending and even more so with the vivid memory of David Colohan’s grimace in mind, as Allison laughed, when queried with them at a subsequent United Bible Studies gig. Perhaps his Yamaha PS-20 piece was intended as a joke that backfired. However, Allison’s delivery underlines her vocal dexterity and Matt Leivers’ fleeting soprano saxophone appearance makes for a welcome flourish.

Solstice is far from an ordinary band and the material presented here is nothing short of extraordinary. As a humble demo, it was intended as a portal to the next full-length album. A moment captured in time to reflect upon the merits of the evolving songs and to inform the final direction they should take on the road ahead. That process, that fine tuning, is a testimony to hard graft and underlines a search for perfection. The results, though initially intended for private consumption alone, speak volumes. Very few demos reach this calibre. Hell, very few albums attain such heights and “To Sol A Thane” easily bettered the vast majority of the competition in the past twelve months. Make that twenty-four months. For me, it may have even eclipsed “Death’s Crown is Victory” MLP. No mean feat. What fool believes that all bands must decline with passing years?
Ostensibly, there are three new offerings if, that is, For All Days…” “…And For None” are two halves of the same whole broken by vinyl parameters alone. The title track comes first. Melody. Crunch. Power. Majesty. It’s all here. The band transcends convention delivering ambitious, considered and epic song writing. Kearns’ voice soars. The guitars spiral. The drums gallop and roll. Then the aforementioned duo paints a different picture, a fitting contrast, like “Blackthorne” of old, yet with a melancholic character all of its own. Kearns shines in the moonlight on a desolate shore. Last of all, with thudding echoes of “Cimmerian Codex” prior to the gallop proper of “White Horse Hill” this hymn unfolds with aplomb. Its course tempered by the traits of either predecessor. But stirring nonetheless. The simple chorus and leads momentous.
Rightly or wrongly, my pervading impression is that “To Sol A Thane” is the new “Drunken Dungeon Sessions” on a grandiose scale. It’s character and presentation utterly sublime. If it foretells another milestone parallel to the greatness of “New Dark Age” my oh my. Certainly their performance at The Fires of Samhain in Dublin 2015 was as spine-tingling and fist-clenching as my memories of the Rosetta Bar gig in Belfast way back in 1999. Solstice is in rude health. This is a new chapter. Another legend in the making…

If you happened to be one of those seventy-eight lucky gits who sourced the first edition you might just recognise the medieval leather-bound handiwork that adorned The Doomsday Cult and Griftegard demos. Yes, Ola Blomkvist is the common denominator and Doom, pure and agonised, is the order of the day. Presenting two songs that span approximately seven to eight minutes apiece, it is a small stained-glass window to their world. Just enough perspective for intrigue and speculation of what may follow. Ushered in by what appeared to be a nameless prelude, “Horkarlar Skall…” Is fleeting, acoustic and solemn. The weighty plod of “Benandanti” carries melancholia courtesy of a moving violin sequence. The guest instrument, if you will, returns periodically throughout the demo and it’s very welcome indeed. A touch of classy character. Beautifully sad. But that’s not all. There is depth to the songwriting. As this first song proper escalates to climax, the surge in speed is dramatic. Locked in, the musicians play for all they’re worth. The vocal performance particularly rousing and the violin doubling up as a rhythm guitar. Inspired. “Between Two Floods” lunges immediately into the heart of the song with further violin accompaniment. But it should be stressed that its role is integrated rather than overbearing. The recurring melodies here shape or reinforce what might be considered a chorus even if that is not the intent vocally. The guitar is still the lead and it’s presence is strong. Classic. Deadly. The shift up a gear towards the finale taut with tension as the double kick underpins it. Do not panic. Alternative versions must surely follow. More importantly, what will their seconding recording bring?

Retaining that DIY ethic, the Finnish quartet returned in a relatively short space of time with three more songs and the trajectory of this little red cassette shell is quite intriguing. Distinctly the same entity, the compositions have been pushed further with more depth and diversity. Both originals are at least ten minutes long with ample air to breath. Crawling along in a spaced out manner, “Days Are Numbered” is difficult to decipher although Alessio’s phased vocals still weave an unusual spell in contrast to the otherwise pervading heaviness. Ominous instrumental passages sprawl to the fore and disperse again. Then as the song meanders towards its mellow close, an unknown male voice whispers what I imagine to be a series of apocalyptic predictions. The calm spills into “Worm” with gentle guitar. Understated, the plucking gradually ushers in a new sun to melt the lingering dusk. When it does, that slow-burn is replaced with what may be their most direct Doom Metal foray. Drive and groove. A feat of rumbling drumming changes the course and the lead guitar closes with cool glide over the rhythm section. Facing the void again, feedback envelops all. Then, only then, comes the proverbial left turn with an unexpected rendition of “Sodomatic Rites” by the murky old Beherit! The driving riff of those fellow Finns is well suited to Dark Origins’ hypnotic tendencies. It’s heads down blackened menace with the drummer snarling into the microphone. Half-expecting an organ refrain akin to “From Beyond” it never comes and the transmission ends abruptly with no further fanfare. Where and when the next sighting will come nobody knows. But keep those radio channels open…

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