Alice in Chains – Rainier Fog
Alice In Chains have always had a timeless quality to them. Although their style is invariably attached to the “Seattle Sound” of the early 1990s, outside of Facelift (1990), they’ve always felt like they were more borne of the scene than beholden to it. Their two most recent outings, the modern masterpiece that is 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue and 2013’s severely underrated The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, each sounded invigorated and showcased material that certainly owed its debt to the grunge movement but didn’t feel at all out of place in the modern era.
…which is a long-winded way of saying that Ranier Fog sounds a bit tired. Maybe it’s just because it’s a slower, more sullen record. There’s nothing in the vein of high impact singles like “Hollow” or “Stone”, let alone “Check My Brain” or “Man in the Box” and “Rooster” before them. “Red Giant” is the heaviest track on the album and a clear highlight. Nevertheless, its dredging main riff stumbles rather than soars, and we’re only ever given a glimpse of the band’s trademark energy on its penultimate track “Never Fade”. There also isn’t really anything on the slower side of things to rival the likes of “Nutshell”, “Choke” or “Your Decision”. “Maybe” comes closest, but even then it’s more trudging than triumphant. Alice in Chains have always been a band defined by darkness, but even at their darkest (i.e. Dirt (1992) and/or the harrowing yet masterful MTV Unplugged (1996)), there’s always been a yearning, life-affirming quality to their work. By contrast, Ranier Fog is simply wallowing—endlessly wrapped up in its own nostalgia.
It’s worth remembering that Alice In Chains have been around for the better part of three decades at this point, and with an average of 4-5 years between releases in their new era, they’re a far more aged and mature entity than even when we last saw them. It’s just that this time they sound aged and mature, which is fine. Ranier Fog is a good album. It’s just one that lacks that expected Alice in Chains spark.
Ranier Fog is out now through BMG, and can be streamed and ordered here.
Lucis Absentia – Gehenna Gate
I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with Sylosis these days. the band appears to be on hold while vocalist/guitarist Josh Middleton is busy bringing absolutely none of his own personality to Architects. It’s understandable why Middleton would want to go all in on the larger act. Sylosis didn’t get anywhere near their due during their decade (plus) of activity. Yet I for one sorely miss them and long to hear where they would have gone next. Or at least I used to, until I came across Lucis Absentia and Gehenna Gate (via one of our wonderful Release Day Roundup posts no less).
Gehenna Gate fills that Sylosis-shaped hole in my heart so perfectly that you’d hardly know they were gone. That’s not at all to take away from Lucis Absentia themselves. For a debut album, this record is absolutely astonishing—excelling in the kind of furious musicianship and precise songwriting you’d expect of a band well into their career, and I honestly think I prefer it to every Sylosis album that’s not called Monolith (2012) at this point. It’s also perhaps a good jumping off point for those, like myself, who find the abundance of technicality on the new Revocation album a touch overwhelming, and would have liked to see where that band would have gone if they’d followed the more melodic, thrash-based direction hinted at on Great is Our Sin (2016), rather than diving headfirst back into tech-death.
The album’s opening title-track goes more places over the course of its seven-and-a-half minutes—from its acoustic opening, throughout its many blast beats and neck-snapping grooves— than most comparable releases do in their entirety and is essentially an absolute masterclass in everything I personally love about metal. What’s truly impressive, however, is that the band manage to keep up this quality and momentum over the entire twelve-track release. There’s a new, monstrous riff around every corner, and the craft with which they are deployed makes sure that each and every one of them is played for full effect, rather than being overwhelmed amid the chaos. Lucis Absentia are, without a doubt, the best new band I’ve come across this year, and if you’re at all interested in the intersection of death and thrash metal, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album.
Gehenna Gate is out now, independently, and is available via the Bandcamp link below.
Ominous Eclipse – Sinister
The press release for Ottawa quartet Ominous Eclipse‘s second full-length Sinister touts it as being “For fans of Gojira, Amon Amarth, Children Of Bodom, Death,[and] Revocation”—an odd assortment of comparisons to be sure, though not entirely inaccurate. Although references to Gojira are scarce, there are constant traces of the other four spread throughout the record’s fifty-minutes. If anything, the list should be reversed, emphasizing its relation to Revocation and Death over the more outlandish comparisons.
Yet, what starts out as a fairly solid-if-conventional melodic-death/thrash-hybrid also hides some further unexpected influences around its back end. From track four onward, the record takes on more a grandiose tone, with the previously four-five minute track lengths extending to around the six-seven-eight-minute mark. “Lost at Sea” is an eight-minute, melodic death epic that really sees the Amon Amarth influence coming to the fore, blended with an almost NWOBHM sensibility. “Breaking the Chains”, with its trudging blackened riff, sounds like something that could have sat comfortably on Immortal‘s Sons of Northern Darkness (2002) or All Shall Fall (2009), while “Eye of the Raven” opens with the kind of sweeping, arpeggio flurry you’d expect of more technically minded extreme metal bands. Finally, “Eye of the Raven” blends old-school Judas Priest song structures and riffing in with a more ambitious melodic black metal template.
Sinister might not be the most polished of releases, but it’s an ambitious and intriguing one and Ominous Eclipse are certainly a band to watch out for in future. If you’re not sold by the record’s earlier numbers, skip to track four (“Lost at Sea”) and see where the rest of it takes you.
Sinister is out also now, independently, and is available via the Bandcamp link below
Palm – To Live is to Die, to Die is to Live
…and now for something entirely less ambitious, though equally exhilarating. Palm (no, not that one; or that one) practice the kind of nasty, frantic hardcore that could be confused for grindcore, if only they’d throw in a few more blast-beats. Think a less-artfully-inclined Converge, or a less-classy and sophisticated take on Every Time I Die and you’re in the right ballpark
The band have previously collaborated with members and associates of Converge, From Ashes Rise, Twitching Tongues and Nails; which should give you a pretty good idea of what they’re all about. Their new release also features guest appearances from Taylor Young of the latter two acts, who also mixed the album, Kai from fellow Japanese hardcore outfit NUMBERNINE and Gridlink and Retortion Terror‘s Takafumi Matsubara. The crossover between hardcore and more extreme varieties is prominent within their make-up, even if they pull up just shy of crossing into full-blown extreme metal territory.
At times Palm could potentially be overlooked as simply another hardcore band playing slayer riffs, but even then they’re not the ones you’d expect and they bring an upbeat intensity to the table that many of their ilk lack. Many times throughout To Live is to Die, to Die is to Live, such as on “Burn the Silence”, they hit upon a frantic vitality that recalls Converge at their trashiest (think “Cutter” / “Cannibals”), and the record as a whole is never short of elating. If you’ve got a spare half-hour up your sleeve and just feel like throwing down, then Palm have got you covered.
To Live is to Die, To Die is to Live is out now through EVP Recordings and can be both purchased and streamed via their Bandcamp page.