Sometimes I listen to albums and mini-movies play in my head. Narratives that to me encapsulate the sound, the feeling, of the music I am listening to. Spectral Voice has been doing this to me for years, with demo after demo of evocative, strangling death-doom that conjures images and stories that transcend the boundaries of my typically limited imagination. Their debut full-length album, Eroded Corridors of Unbeing, is no exception. In fact, it is the apex of everything the band have thus far released. It is cavernous, ethereal, terrifying, expertly performed, compositionally sound, and an utter masterpiece of death-doom glory. This is music that soundtracks nightmares of spiteful aliens, burning space stations, decaying planets, and the coming of the end of all things. It is music constructed for the dark. Prepare yourself accordingly.
Literature has been one of the foremost sources of inspiration for metal lyricism and composition alike, regardless of subgenre. The list of examples is significant—Ernest Hemingway and Cobalt, Georges Bataille and Deathspell Omega, H. P. Lovecraft and seemingly everyone, and so on. Drawing inspiration from a novel is a challenging but relatively structured undertaking; a plot can be interpreted into numerous sonic and lyrical directions but will always follow the same trajectory of its narrative. Poetry contrasts this process by its very nature, as its natural code of symbolic meaning and suggestive prose necessitates musical decoding drawn from a strictly thematic place. Even poems with a decipherable narrative are often told in a verbose, indirect manner that challenges metal lyricists and composers to write with a liberated hand, looking beyond the words on the page to a deeper understanding of the poem's true meaning and mood. Agalloch's interpretation of W. B. Yeats is a stellar example of this process being executed beautifully, as is the latest offering from Ehnahre, a Boston-based avant-garde metal collective who count Kay Dot alumni among their ranks. Their incredible four-part song cycle on The Marrow captures the essence of Theodore Roethke's eponymous poem* through consuming landscapes of avant-garde death-doom that are as ridden with despair as the poet's initial musing on whether or not life is worthwhile.
Metal has an abiding relationship with physical and geographical spaces. From the rolling cascades of the Pacific Northwest to the dense, foreboding forests of Norther Europe, metal has long championed music that not only exists in a specific physical place but is often consumed by it. Think the ice cold tremolo knives of Norwegian black metal, or perhaps the gentler wanderings of folk metal from across the globe, or the oppressively heavy and moderately paced trudging of Bayou sludge. To these ears, these are sounds that are intended to transport and project us into a physical space that often adds further distinction to the thematic and lyrical themes of the music. The same could be said of the music of Incantation, but opposed to feeling like the American East Coast from whence the band originates, the death metal legends have composed music for decades that feels as if it is slowly emerging from a deep, hellish cave. It is reverberating, dripping filth bathed in oppressive guitar work, echoing and cavernous vocals, and a seething, roaring rhythm section that feels like an earthquake. It is a sound shrouded in slow, creeping, all-consuming darkness that feels viscerally physical, and Incantation have molded and transformed this beastly noise into something close to perfection.
A whole host of good oceanic adjectives come to mind when trying to describe Vallenfyre's sound, like "roiling," "crashing," "deep," or "furious." Although these UK extreme metal stalwarts don't play music particularly themed towards deep bodies of water in the same way as, say, The Ocean, their sound burbles and hisses in a similar manner to some forgotten Cambrian trench, oozing and rushing in various degrees through briny swill and hot gas. Fear Those Who Fear Him, the third outing from Vallenfyre, doesn't do much to change this - no big stylistic shift in trajectory has occurred in the three years since Splinters - but hey, when you've got a formula that routinely kicks this much ass, is there any reason to mess with it?
I don’t know about you, but a lot of those “hybrid-genre” bands out there fail to impress me. There are tons of them today, too; bands who consider their music to be some blend of death and doom (death-doom), or black and death (blackened death) or what have you. Granted, some bands can do it right—Behemoth in my mind being the best example—but the ratio of musicians that do it right compared to those who don’t isn’t very proportional. So when a band releases music that manages to tug at a couple of big genres at once successfully, it’s worth paying attention. Kosmokrator is this band, fresh out of Belgium with their debut album/demo (sources vary on what it exactly is) To The Svmmit.
The two bands play off one another well, sharing a common style with enough distinctions between the two to keep the split fresh and engaging as the split switches from Coffins and Ilsa. It is death-doom at its finest, pulverizing, unforgiving, and completely captivating, sacrificing nothing in its pursuit of heaviness, and maintaining two different, unique takes on the style through out.