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…

Earthling Society was never content to stand still. Never. Digging deeper, harder and farther than most, the band has given birth to a further four records since they graced our humble pages in #1. The law of averages should demand a dip in quality. But can we find it? Join us on this quest and pray tell, can you? “Sweet Chariot” seems an appropriate description for the first chapter of their new book. Visualise it. The organic roll. The gentle ascent. A lush countryside sprawling for miles and miles below. Bathed in pale sunlight, the landscape shimmers as electric guitars wail. Entering the clouds, “All In A Dream” yearns for the pastures left behind. A serenade for a May Queen. Beautiful and serene. Nostalgia blurs and the picture fades. “When A Child Cries…” takes an Eastern hue. Steadily strummed and no less picturesque, the harmonised voices send a shiver down the spine. “… An Angel Sighs” and the sombre tone only just permeates the surface. Make your stand. The title track then comes in two long movements. Equal in length to all that came before. Any sense of whimsy cast aside. Dense. Buzzing. Palpable. This desert is vast. Squealing and fast, the onslaught begins. A terrifying assault. The guitars peel layer after layer of skin. Bone. Mind. Palm trees and the gentle lapping shore will save no scraps of sanity. Still, the cacophony comes. And comes. Even when less abrasive, it’s constant. Then out of nowhere, the shorter second piece, still almost nine minutes long, barrages the senses with alternative methods. Putting the rock back in psychedelic, the shredding guitar is let loose. Wah wahs are go. The bass and drums precisely locked in the groove. But like any accomplished chameleon, the shifting sands present a challenge with endless possibilities. What happens next, needs to be experienced, in full, real time. The journey from “Eddie” to the final close was genuinely unpredictable.

If taken by the United Bible Studies bug, the scarce limitation of their back catalogue can be endlessly frustrating. However, Golden Pavilion recently upgraded the lost “Spoicke” album to a delightful vinyl version. Whilst only three years old at the time of its second pressing, the actual recording took place four years before that again, and by accident, our first contact with it, overshadowed the then new “Rosary Bleeds” LP with which it was twinned. Largely instrumental, the four movements that comprise it are propelled forward by piano, harp, guitars, whistle, electronics and percussion. Like a sweeping soundtrack to a motion picture “Black Matthew I” acts as a portal to the forgotten past, cherished memories, hopes and dreams, not all of which were ever fulfilled. Richard Moult and Áine O’Dwyer loom large on “Hazlehurst Requiem” with stirring piano keys and harp strokes. The wider collective phases in and out as the music swells and transforms. Wordless vocals lift the hymn to the heavens as the climax draws near. Bible Studies at their best, for us, pepper such longer suites with shorter ones. In this case, “The Shore That Fears The Sea” and “Black Matthew II” provide that contrast. The former, is a shorter adaptation of the earlier title track, with David’s deep tone commanding the helm. The latter space of our second Matthew is circled by the higher register of Michael Tanner with Áine again close by…

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.

It’s heartening when a young band delivers a classic sound with genuine conviction and all the more so when that particular style runs off the beaten track. Somewhat akin to the feisty Risen Prophecy, Wildhunt’s take on Thrash is tempered with power, diversity and technical understanding. The opening sequence of “Age of Torment” unashamedly harkens back to the late ’80s and should have you smiling ear to ear like the teenager you never left behind. The guitar tone, those screaming licks, punchy drums and of course that gradual build in pace is guaranteed banging like a maniac in less than ninety seconds. A worthy flagship. But remember, it’s not all flat out thump and with the album spanning the guts of an hour that’s appropriate. By and large, the Austrians favour expansive compositions, with only the catchy compact “Erlkonig” and “The Wild Hunt” of the nine songs proper bowing out in under five minutes. Expect much to absorb along the way from the sharp and snappy vocal delivery to duelling guitars. The melodic resonance of “Terror Right Below” is delightful. “Lifeless Birth” is a rush of blood, with a brief refrain suspended in the middle, before another solo pierces the calm and the heart of the song rolls back in with gusto. Both “Death Spares (N)one” and the inspired “History Deletes Itself” are swept along by furious energy and pounding drums. But the former cannot compete with the latter’s lyricism and infectious flow. Then somewhere in no man’s land lies a pondered acoustic reprise before a barrage of wonderful lead breaks blows away the barbed wire on the other side. “Thrill to Kill” keeps the hooks coming with equal drama and in longest offering, “Crystal Deth” the guitar remains king. It’s almost schizophrenic with layers and labyrinthine rhythms before ultimately winding down on the instrumental title track. Fair to say, “Descending” is earthy, gritty and memorable with thematic depth. Perhaps the album would have benefitted from shaving off a song. But it’s not enough to overlook the power trio. My only query is if the second guitarist will remain a part-time guest or become fully integrated into the machine?

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