When it comes to black metal, there are plenty of bands offering their own take on different variations of the genre but it’s a bit rarer to find groups that feel truly unique. Some have done this through complicated song structures and atmospherics, while others have accomplished a different sound by using unconventional instruments. Los Angeles’ Wreche is the latter, as the duo has written black metal with piano and drums as the only instruments. Piano has often played a role in this genre, particularly when it comes to the symphonic variants, but the way it’s used on this group’s self-titled full length feels genuinely different and delivers a rollercoaster ride of emotions. With the album set for release on May 26th from Fragile Branch Recordings, today we’re excited to bring you a premiere of the song Fata Morgana.
Three years have passed since we last heard from Vancouver’s BISON with their 2014 EP “1000 Needles.” In that time, these stoner/sludge metal veterans have made a few notable changes, including recruiting ex-3 Inches of Blood lead guitarist Shane Clark to handle bass duties, as well as deciding to record new material in their hometown instead of abroad. This introspective decision has resulted in a natural progression of their sound that doesn’t undermine what they do best. Now, with the band all set to release their fifth album, “YOU ARE NOT THE OCEAN YOU ARE THE PATIENT” via Pelagic Records, we are pleased to present the album’s walloping opening track, Until The Earth Is Empty.
Until The Earth Is Empty kicks off with a melodic stoner-doom hook that pulls you in like a swiftly ebbing tide. The melody repeats, following up with a meatier version that’s complemented by a midtempo backbeat. Thick, muscular riffs carry you forward through a headbanging verse, as dry shouts shift to hoarse, bestial roars for the chorus — a surging storm of crash cymbals and guitar-hammering quarter notes like boats crashing into jagged rocks. You’ll hear variations on subsequent repeated parts, adding flavor and replayability, ensuring you’ll find something new with each listen of Until The Earth Is Empty, like when the guitars pull back at the start of the second verse in order to let the bass shine. BISON knows how to write a song with stunning momentum, proven by an aggressive palm-muted bridge that leaps into a thundering downbeat solo section that crackles with retro fuzz. The chorus crests up again — all riffs, no vocals, seeming even more primal in its power — before crashing into you with an energetic downbeat version of the mammoth intro melody. Whew!
Until The Earth Is Empty shows that BISON’s return home was not misguided, as it’s shaping up to be among their strongest releases yet. You’ll still get vibes of U.S. stoner/sludge titans High on Fire or even early Mastodon, but these young bucks (calves?) aren’t content to simply imitate — BISON’s honest, authentic songwriting approach has enough inherent heaviness to crush cars into cubes without being reliant on the genre’s tropes. As the release of their fifth album comes ever closer, BISON will be charging full-speed ahead toward what’s sure to be a landmark release for the genre this year.
“YOU ARE NOT THE OCEAN YOU ARE THE PATIENT” releases June 23rd in Europe and July 7th in North America via Pelagic Records.
When it comes to black metal and its related offshoots, you’re more likely to think of countries like Norway and Sweden. But if you’ve been paying attention over the past decade or so, you’ve probably started to notice that more and more quality material has been originating from Germany. Though they don’t get quite as much notoriety as some of the other countries out there, Germany has a considerable amount of talent and the TO staff has put up a round-up of recent black metal and black metal related releases from the country.
Vials of Wrath’s second full length ‘Days Without Names’ first saw release independently on CD and digital formats in September of 15th, but Fragile Branch Recordings has decided to give the atmospheric black metal album a cassette version with modified artwork and a bonus track. Based out of Maryville, Tennessee, this one-man project has been releasing material since 2011 that has incorporated the atmospheric and melodic influences of bands like Agalloch and Panopticon aside some of the more traditional black metal styles. In advance of the cassette reissue, today we’re excited to run an exclusive stream of the bonus track Within the Grey to give you an idea of everything this project has to offer.
When going to see a band live for the first time, it’s easy to let your expectations get the best of you. A band you’ve listened to, especially one whose reputation precedes them, can carry enough baggage to a point where anything less threatens to diminish the experience. So it nearly was for me when I went to see Ghost Bath at the Soda Bar in San Diego.
Ghost Bath has certainly built a name for themselves over the last few years. And although not as zany as other costumed bands by a long shot, I was already guilty of having some preconceived notions to what they’d be like live. Their social media bio sections claim that “Ghost Bath writes and creates music under the assumption that music is an extension of one’s own soul.” That kind of statement, however earnest it may be, created an air of pretentiousness to them that I couldn’t shake.
Don’t get me wrong — I wanted to be on their side. And since they happened to be coming through town, I didn’t want to miss a chance to add ammo to my belt for anyone who wanted to slam them. I just had to see for myself.
Gettin’ Fizzy Wit’ It at the Soda Bar
On El Cajon Boulevard, a few blocks just off the 805 freeway, lies the Soda Bar. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss it the first time — it blends in with the shabby row of closed-down businesses festering along that street. The inside feels even more homely — simply squeeze through the entrance, and you’re immediately flanked by booths on your left and a modest bar on your right. The room wraps around, the stage nestled into a tight back corner, before leading into a darkened corner of the bar, where the only dim light comes from the hazy glow of old game cabinets for “Street Fighter II” and “NFL Blitz.” Believe me, it took considerable effort not to blow my modest merch funds slipping quarters into the arcade all night.
The Soda Bar’s tiny stature reminded me of my old gigging days at other endearing SoCal holes like The Jumping Turtle (RIP) or the Royal Dive. Amplifiers and cabinets stood onstage in rows or stacked on top of each other — the telltale sign of too much gear in too small a venue. Even the word “venue” is generous — hell, the Astronoid merch booth occupied a literal booth. Without a clear central area (the bar effectively divided the place in half), the crowd stood dispersed, not gathering in any one area until the first band began to show signs of playing. The night was about to begin.
Punk with a Groovy Twist
Kicking the night off was Ash Williams (San Diego), who describe themselves as punk with a pinch of black metal. I describe them as the thing that drew the crowd from their dark crevices toward the front of the stage. All joking aside, that’s a genre-fusion I’m all about these days, and I was eager to hear the locals’ take on it. I was expecting to like them quite a bit — and I did, but not exactly for the reasons I anticipated.
Their playing was damned solid — I could feel the power behind the kick as the drummer propelled his bandmates forward with rapid d-beats while the guitarists whirred away with raucous rhythms. The bassist/vocalist manhandled his instrument with impressive tapping passages, while also tapping into both genre’s various vocal stylings of rabid barks and the occasional blackened screech.
I’d done some research on their March full-length “Pulsar,” which had some quality tunes — however, the songs I wasn’t familiar with were the most memorable. I was expecting them to sound like Ancst or Wolf King — or even Cult Cinema, my latest obsession — but I’d failed to identify much of their touted black metal influence on “Pulsar.” But I enjoyed more than a few frostbitten melodies that night, including one standout track that sounded like a Danzig-fronted Darkthrone song.
Ash Williams ended their set with an unexpected yet impressive display of theatrics that had the bassist hopping off the stage and onto the floor. Overall, I was impressed by their energy, as well as the drummer’s half-measure hammer blast. I ended up nabbing a shirt from them — they ended up gaining a fan.
Far-Out Fun or Crash ‘n’ Burn?
I’d found Astronoid (Boston, MA) by way of a top 10 list of 2016 in which the author audaciously picked their 2016 full-length “Air” over Devin Townsend Project’s “Transcendence.” Although nowhere near as artistic in my opinion (“Transcendence” was my AOTY for 2016), I thought “Air” was a worthy attempt at conjoining two seemingly disparate sounds — the dreamy prog production and riffs reminiscent of Hevy Devy himself with high, boyish vocals ripped right from Dashboard Confessional. Like I said — novel at the very least, and I was curious to see how it all came together live.
The crowd had moved closer to the stage, invited by Astronoid’s gentle insistence, and were now just a few feet from the band’s drummer, bassist, and three guitarists. The band was cloaked in darkness — they’d requested the house stage lights turned off — occasionally silhouetted by two rotating floor lights, which cast colorful circles and whimsical star patterns upon the ceiling of the Soda Bar, circling like searchlights in a cloudy sky. Stale, machine-generated fog billowed up from the floor, filling the venue with hazy atmosphere (and even set off the smoke alarm once or twice), which complemented the active lighting nicely. Again — novel ideas, and ones I’m sure they’ll only evolve with time as they play bigger venues. They’d clearly given their live show a lot of thought — and money, as the stacks of Orange crates and expensive guitars attested.
“Let’s have some fun!” vocalist/guitarist Brett Boland declared, and the melodious, airy tones of Incandescent, the opening track off “Air,” began flowing from the house speakers. Right guitarist headbanged with jubilant glee, while left stood locked in a perma-power stance. Drummer was effortless, his translucent kit a familiar playing field. Boland sang in astonishingly perfect unison with pre-recorded harmonies, his voice never cracking or out of key to my humble ears. But for all his talent, I can’t deny how much I selfishly wanted those vocal harmonies to be organic.
Unfortunately, I had a hard time discerning their intricate guitarwork. I’m no soundsmith — I can only guess as to why that was. Perhaps the Soda Bar’s sound system was simply stretched to its capacity, unable to handle Astronoid’s attempts to shoot for stars with three guitars and such robust backing tracks. Either way, the live sound was lacking in a way that didn’t do the purity of “Air” justice — the high-school heartache of songs like Homesick and Up and Atom didn’t pull quite as hard. All in all, I came away from Astronoid impressed more with their well thought-out performance than their overall sound.
Where Death is Most Alive
I’ll be frank: I’m not the biggest fan of Ghost Bath. I’m far from a hater (of which the band has plenty), even after I learned they were from normie North Dakota rather than exotic China. I’d listened to “Moonlover” plenty of times in 2015, but I hadn’t ever been over the moon with it. And with my reaction to the singles off the just-released “Starmourner” varying from listenable to boring, I concluded that overall their music just doesn’t do enough to hold my attention. Seeing them live would be a way to redeem them — that’s usually the best way to experience a band, right? Besides, I’d seen the goofy costumes — I was sure there’d be plenty to see during a Ghost Bath show.
Set up was a succinct affair — I’ve never seen a band get their gear ready with as little pomp and circumstance. Clad in simple black band shirts and sweaters (I appreciated one guitarist’s Carnifex tee), the band went through the routine of plugging in their instruments and testing levels with easy, even disinterested enthusiasm.
Ghost Bath seamlessly transitioned from set-up into set with the saccharine melody of Seraphic, becoming a bit more animated yet holding their collective focus on performing their music. I had wondered when they’d retreat to put on their trademark cloaks (maybe they were in the wash that night) — instead, they played with succinct indifference, rattling off one song after the other without a single word of banter. And although the crowd had noticeably diminished after Astronoid (a fact that still baffles me), they were into it.
Their set went on, cruising through Ambrosial and Happyhouse. The guitarists’ plaintive leads cut through a rumbling, bassy bulwark, pushed forward by relentless blast beats. Seriously, the drummer was on fire that night — I’d seen him warming up before Ash Williams went on, so it was no surprise he could endure Ghost Bath’s longer, drawn-out passages. The vocalist — inarguably the band’s lightning rod for his repetitive, indiscernible wailing — belted out scream after scream. Say what you will about his vocal style du jour, but his delivery and pained expression seemed authentic. If this was their first attempt at theatrics of the night, Ghost Bath was doing it well.
Over time, I became acutely aware of how hard they leaned into shoegaze territory. I’d always, perhaps foolishly, considered them as more distinctly black metal than other similar acts like the obvious Deafheaven, due in large part to their imagery and the way they’ve mysteriously promoted themselves — but it wasn’t until I saw them live, their eyes pointed toward the floor in all-too-obvious shoegaze fashion, that I understood. They weren’t here to engage with the crowd or give us a spectacle — they were here to play music, dammit.
I thought Ghost Bath pulled off the three-guitar sound a bit better than Astronoid, but not by much. Stage right guitar was a dominating force, while stage left seemed to struggle to cut through. Again, I have to wonder how much of that could be blamed on the Soda Bar or even where I was standing (tellingly close to a speaker) — but until I investigate other Soda Bar shows, I’m forever going to denounce the triple guitar sound.
Golden Number closed out the set, and I found it hard to imagine anyone in the room not being grabbed at that point. Where other Ghost Bath songs drag, Golden Number has always commanded my attention. As the reflective piano outro washed over the audience, the members of Ghost Bath left the stage one by one, exiting the venue out the back door. When the last notes subsided, we were left with nothing but a dubious silence. A couple jocular calls of “one more song!” were blurted out, but I left before finding out whether they’d come back or not. Sometimes you have to create your own sense of mystery, you know?
Giving It Up for the Ghost
People create a lot of assumptions based on what they know about a band. You can go into a live music setting with certain expectations, and that can be a bummer when they aren’t met. None of the three bands I saw were quite what I was expecting, but I ended up coming away much more positively from it because I chose to ignore what was in my mind and instead chose to see what was actually in front of my damned eyes.
Ash Williams didn’t nearly deliver on the expectations I’d had for a band with a bit more blackened side. But it’s silly to judge a band based on what they aren’t, and once I got over that I could freely enjoy the energy they brought to the show.
With their Jupiter-sized sound, I was excited to see Astronoid perform live. When that fell victim to mostly muddy guitars and the vocal disenchantment, I could have felt utterly disappointed. But I chose to enjoy what they did well, which was a DIY approach at creating their own unique atmosphere, and at that they effortlessly succeeded. Plenty of bands play to backing vocal tracks (even Devin Townsend has recorded help with his harmonies), and it was naive of me to think Astronoid would do things differently just because their vocals set them apart from so many other metal bands.
Ghost Bath weren’t pretentious, as I’d expected them to be — they just didn’t seem to care much about anything beyond playing their music. One fan got a fist bump from the guitarist — the hard-won worthiness for knowing all their songs well, so they certainly didn’t come across as phony. Bands can categorize themselves however the hell they want, and we can agree or disagree with their self-assessment. At the end of the day, all we have to go off is the music itself.
It’s so easy to overlook artistic vision when you get balls-deep into music journalism. You get wrapped up in the review process, comparing this sound to that band, calling songs “bad” and parts “ineffective.” And, true, bands can have ulterior motives beyond just gettin’ together and jammin’ (I’m lookin’ at you, BabyMetal). But live, all we have is ourselves, the band onstage, and the vibrations clanging the air molecules together. It didn’t matter that Ghost Bath had once claimed they were from China, or built a reputation for a live show — their lack of costumes showed me they didn’t need to rely on theatrics to play a compelling show. If anything, this show reminded me to accept and respect a band’s musical choices and take them as is.
I still don’t think I’d recommend Ghost Bath to everyone, but if they ever come back to the West Coast, I’ll be sure to tell folks to at least dip their toes in. The water’s just fine.
Every month when we put together this highlights list, I go through the entries and try to sense a discernible pattern. But so far it has always been the case that our scribes cover a wide range of sounds where no commonality can be traced. April 2017, is perhaps a first in our monthly highlights series, where the entries tend to eschew towards two particular styles — Tech death and Crust. Though we do have a smattering of other styles included, it’s hard to miss how every other entry in this list either has a crust or tech death connection here. A random coincidence? Or some deep conspiracy by the scribes of Transcending Obscurity? One thing is for sure – these are all excellent releases that you should pay attention to! ~ Shrivatsan R.
Atlanta’s Death of Kings has had plenty of time to perfect their blend of thrash and heavy metal, as they’ve focused on short form releases like demos and EP’s since forming in 2009. Last month the group released the single ‘Hell Comes to Life’, and now they’re finally set to put out their debut full length ‘Kneel Before None’. Set for release June 2nd via Boris Records, it’s clear that the amount of time Death of Kings has spent honing their craft has been put to good use, as the album is full of blisteringly intense riffs and soaring vocals that blur the lines between abrasive thrash screaming/singing and falsetto heavy metal singing. Today we’re premiering the album opener Shadow of the Reaper so you can hear just why these guys are one of the more promising bands to come out of Atlanta in recent memory.
Is there any metal genre that persists as doggedly throughout the ages as thrash? Many young bands attempt to harness the exuberant, no-shits-given attitude of thrash’s golden age era, but far fewer manage to pull off.
Power Trip (Dallas, TX) is not one of those. Their first full-length “Manifest Decimation” sent ripples through the rowdy world of crossover thrash back in 2013 — but I give all the credit to this year’s “Nightmare Logic,” a cunning, concise cut of slammin’ jams that hark back to a time when metal’s ascension seemed unstoppable, for completely recapturing that old sorcery. It’s authentic, executed with a serial killer’s craft, and I knew I’d be crazy to miss seeing it played live.
I had just that chance on April 9th when Power Trip steamrolled through the West Coast on their latest tour. I’d be visiting an old haunt for a tacked-on “after party” of a momentous two-day indie/emo festival themed around “when we were young” — appropriate, then, for a night of thrashy throwback goodness.
Stars on Stage in the Constellation Room
The Constellation Room is a satellite (heh) venue of The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA. I’d spent many late nights there watching the biggest names in power metal perform on the main stage back when it was known as the Galaxy Theatre. The venue was now under new management, and this would be my first time visiting the much-smaller side stage.
After giving twenty bucks to a sketchy parking lot attendant, I sprinted several blocks to the venue, weaving through former (and current?) scene kids, wondering not for the first time whether or not this show would even happen. My skepticism was at an all-time high, but I soon joined a short line in front of the box office, where illegible band logos and long hair overtook the look of dyed hair and lip piercings. I was in the right place after all, among my people.
Once inside, the first thing I noticed was how damn small the Constellation Room was — a single high-ceilinged room, with the stage to the left and tightly packed merch tables to the right. Ahead of me, a wall of alcohol bottles rose high like a bulwark, backlit with the flow of soft, jack-o’-lantern light — the constellations, I guess? As people packed inside, squeezing me up against the back of the merch table, I thought if anything, this would be an intimate experience.
Opening band The Dark (Los Angeles) was readying themselves onstage, itching to play. They blazed through their set of metallic hardcore punk with reverb-heavy vocals and a rock-solid rhythm section. Next up was local group Mizery (San Diego) — older gents in contrast to the younglings in The Dark, but they commanded the stage with the attention deserved to them. They drew a respectable amount of their own fans — the crowd loved them (me included) — pulsing with every tempo shift, shouting along with the lyrics, and just generally going nuts. After that was Destruction Unit (Arizona), a psychedelic punk group whose fat, fuzzy wall of sound didn’t quite get the crowd going. They clearly had a focused vision of what they wanted to accomplish in a live setting — their final moments onstage had the three guitarists removing their gear while it was still plugged in as the drummer whirled around his kit, creating eardrum-hammering feedback and noise like an imploding jet plane. Unfortunately, they seemed part of a different menu than what the audience had come to eat up, and the main course was being served shortly.
A three-piece drum kit was shared among all three opening bands. Cymbals and snare drums were swapped with each, but the kit remained the same, and that persisted when the members of Power Trip came onstage. Yes, those humble Texas boys set up their own gear like small-timers — whether they chose to do it that way out of artistic integrity or as a result of their Dallas-born ethos, I couldn’t really say. Either way, it let me put faces to the band members who were going to explode the Constellation Room like a supernova.
It was past 1 AM — the time the show was supposed to end — but the room buzzed with anticipation. The crowd was ready to move again.
Trippin’ It Old School
Power Trip opened up the show by unleashing Soul Sacrifice, the first song off “Nightmare Logic,” upon the audience. A blast wave of energy rippled through, churning us into a storming sea of swirling, headbanging hair and pumping fists while the whirlpool of martial arts wannabes roiled in the center. A bolt of lightning cracked overhead, and I saw stars — wait, that was just a stage diver whose proximity I’d failed to estimate. We both fell to the floor, but it wasn’t long before I was back in the thick of it, bobbing to the beat like a storm-tossed buoy.
Power Trip surged ahead with Executioner’s Tax, an homage to thrash’s early days with its pounding percussion and infectious riffing. Guitarists Blake and Nick were relentless — downpicking devastation incarnate — as they accented their notes with the crowd’s cries of “SWING OF THE AXE!” Chris and Chris, the drummer and bassist, held the rhythms down with easy aplomb while vocalist Riley Gale spat fire, his hardcore delivery flooding the room with red-hot magma. True to his namesake, he riled the audience up, charging them with electricity every time he shoved the mic into the front row to let them cover the gang vocal parts.
This was a metal show unlike any I’d been to in over a decade, since I first saw Megadeth for the first time in 2004. I’ll admit I’ve spent much of the last ten-ish years watching bands safely from a distance, drinking in the musicianship from afar rather than getting pulverized in the pit. I’d forgotten how much of a character the crowd could be — and what a fucking character it was! Power Tripping people were constantly clambering onstage to hurl themselves into the audience, which ebbed and flowed with the crashing and rumbling of more mosh-worthy crowd-pleasers like Nightmare Logic, Firing Squad, and Manifest Decimation. When intrepid stage divers, drunk on adrenaline (and probably other stuff), would hurl themselves off the stage, taking the mic stand with them, Riley would abandon his spot on center stage and full-body headbang until the stand washed back ashore. One guy even took on vocal duties for a measure, doing his best to do Power Trip proud before diving back into the audience. Looking back, “audience” doesn’t seem like an appropriate term for those animals — where I was, they weren’t passively watching, but were expending a hell of a lot of effort themselves in the name of good, wild fun. I spent a good portion of the show focusing on the crowd, not only to watch for where the next elbow would come from, but because of how into the music they were.
Near the end of the set, Riley took a moment to compliment The Dark, which he said was his favorite band in California. I got the feeling he wasn’t just pandering — although that would certainly be his right. But between that and his down-to-earth onstage antics, moving deftly between each side of the stage to keep the crowd energized, you could get a sense for his genuine enthusiasm.
The crowd-favorite Crossbreaker was the closer, and people began leaping off the stage like goddamn salmon — their final flight before splashing back into the current toward home. And despite the chants for one more encore, the lights turned defiantly on in the Constellation Room, and the spell was broken.
Planning for the Next Trip
Power Trip’s live show, even more so than their excellent album, exemplifies the grassroots-origins of the thrash genre. That wild night in the Constellation Room formed in my mind a perfect fusion of thrash’s aggression and pace with the DIY mentality of hardcore punk. That nonchalant acceptance of “shit happens” with the storm-tossed mic stands; the hostile takeover of the vocals; even sharing stage-time with their fans — that’s all stuff I’ve rarely seen with a big-name band, much less tolerated by one. By comparison, Power Trip setting up their own equipment just half an hour earlier didn’t seem so strange.
Without a doubt, that night in the Constellation Room was hardly even a blip on the shit Power Trip has probably seen during a show, but I was impressed anyway. And although a week later my bruises are finally starting to heal up, watching their set from inside the pit, shoving and getting shoved alike felt like the right place to be. To share a night with a band and its fans, to cut loose and experience the music the way it was meant to be experienced and the culture that surrounds it — that’s what going to live shows is all about, isn’t it?
The show ended at 1:40, and the crowd trickled out and drifted through the remains of the festival. I sprinted back to the now-empty lot my car was parked in to find a parking violation stuck to my window. Swell. At least I didn’t get a serious concussion from a high-flying fan. I won’t hesitate to see Power Trip again when next they come through, but maybe I’ll stay out of the pit this time.
There have always been few labels peddling in doom metal dedicatedly and UK based Aesthetic Death label are one among them. In my early years, I used to refer to them as being Esoteric’s label (as they released majority of the band’s catalog) and in the last decade, have unearthed some absolute gems such as Eibon, Murkrat, Fatim Elisum, Wreck of the Hesperus and more. It made sense to throw more light on the overlooked but extremely high quality and seemingly passionate label and write about some of their newer, more relevant releases. Thanks to the contribution of the fine Transcending Obscurity webzine staff, we’re able to to put together a worthy feature highlighting this doom metal label. ~ Kunal Choksi (Editor-in-Chief)