Splitting Hairs / Hearing Splits (Jan-Jun 2020)
|Written by:||RaduP, Apothecary, nikarg, Abattoir, musclassia|
We regularly review full lengths, collaborations, sometimes even live albums. EPs and demos often get love in our Clandestine Cuts series. Heck, we even review a bunch of stuff that isn't metal. But when was the last time you saw a review of a split album (that Spectral Lore/Mare Cognitum behemoth doesn't count)? Exactly! We are here to make up for that!
Covering the splits released in the first half of the year, with obviously a second article covering the latter half coming once that half is passed. Take a listen to some artists putting out a record together without necessarily collaborating. The annoyance of having two or three Bandcamp streams, often with just one of the sides is worth the effort.
This 40 minute split, which with its length feels a lot closer to a full length than splits often do, brings together two of the best bands the German Ván Records currently has to offer. On the Almyrkvi side, Garðar S. Jónsson continues to prove exactly why he's one of Iceland's most formidable talents at present, continuing to offer up more of the gritty though spacious midtempo black that first grabbed peoples' attention back in 2016. There's a lumbering weight present on both tracks, but still an underlying feeling of grandiosity and harmony that's absolutely mesmerizing. Meanwhile, with his offerings, Alex Von Meilenwald continues exploring the expansive, quasi psychedelic sound that The Ruins Of Beverast established with Exuvia. Only this time it somehow feels even more epic, and to top it all off, as quite a welcome change, the bass is easily the most audible and rumbling on these two tracks than perhaps anything else in the ROB discography. A wonderful match of personalities, this split is a powerful reminder of what makes each of these one manners just so damn good, and an interesting tease as to the sounds they may soon be offering up in greater detail with their next full lengths.
The late 2010s saw a few of the Icelandic black metal bands who had released fairly standard, Deathspell Omega-inspired debut albums really come into their own with more full fledged, atmospheric, and layered sophomore efforts. Carpe Noctem were one of them. Also feeling closer to a full length than is typical for splits, Aldrnari sees the band catapulting off of their previous Vitrun album with a whopping 22 minute track that's continues their penchant for confident, forward marching black metal laced with strange alien ambiance. Carpe Noctem also team up here with their fellow Icelanders in Árstíðir Lífsins, who offer more of a black metal-heavy track than their usual saga-ish neofolk material, but nevertheless conjure a mood equally as majestic and ensnaring in its own right. Replete with soaring chants, beautiful acoustic guitar, and absolutely stellar drumming, their side serves as something of a more meditative counter to the Carpe Noctem one, but together they paint a unique portrait from two of the best the tiny isle of tundras and volcanoes currently features.
Doom metal is a pretty large umbrella term, but everyone with at least some metal knowledge knows that. Anything with a sense of doom and gloom and a snail's pace can be called doom metal. Mourning Beloveth and The Ruins Of Beverast are both doom metal bands, and both of them have soulful and miserable atmosphere created by their doomy and gloomy music, they couldn't be more different in their approach. Mourning Beloveth's "I Saw A Dying Child In Your Arms" stays in mellow territories for most of its runtime, with sorrowful clean vocals and acoustic guitars that complement the doom metal sound, leaving the growls for much later in the song to creating a heart wrecking song. The Ruins Of Beverast's "Don't Walk On The Mass Graves" plays more into atmospheric black metal, into a more disturbing and terrifying atmosphere, complete with chants and samples that feel ghostly and haunting, like the disturbed souls of said mass graves. And yet, they both look at death in the eye and feel extreme sorrow.
Mourning Beloveth side | The Ruins Of Beverast side
This split does not do justice to Nechochwen, not because their folk-infused melodic black metal is not appealing enough but because Panopticon's track is so majestic that it would crush anything put next to it. Nechochwen's contribution is four songs that will appeal to Rotting Christ and Moonsorrow fans, and the tracks "Of Wisdom and Prophecy" and "The Megalith" are inspired by a story called The Legend Of Standing Rock, featured in a book of Indian and pioneer stories.
Interesting theme, but it is eclipsed by "Rune's Heart", whose lyrics are an undisclosed letter written by Austin Lunn to his youngest son, Rune. Dedicated to Lunn's wife (and Rune's mother) Bekah, who also contributes some vocals, it is about the unfair and devastating health ordeal of a two-year-old boy. Beginning with the hospital sounds of a ventilator and a heart monitor, the song proceeds with fiery black metal for about eight minutes followed by a folk acoustic passage to convey feelings of anger, rage, suffering, despair and hopelessness, and does so in the most convincing way. From a strictly songwriting approach, it is impressive how "Rune's Heart" just gets more and more engaging as it progresses and how, after a barrage of mood changes, a feeling of optimism and relief is achieved in the end through the soothing melodies, the choir and the piano. This is one of the greatest Panopticon tracks ever recorded and serves as further proof that Lunn is one of the most important metal songwriters / musicians of our time.
Bandcamp full | Nechochwen side | Panopticon side
Panopticon were never shy to explore their acoustic bluegrass folk side, so a split with the equally acoustic folk Aerial Ruin (who you might know through the Bell Witch connection) was something that makes sense. Obviously completely acoustic, the two sides still find a way to make both sides have a distinct enough feel even if both are filled with haunting awe and grief. Both Aerial Ruin's Erik Moggridge and Panopticon's Austin Lunn do so much with just their voices and just an acoustic guitar (and with Patrick Urban providing some additional strings), mostly through how they're layered. Panopticon's side is quite akin to the americana folk of his previous release, but with two of the four songs being covers of some artists I'm not that familiar with, I can't properly assess how much justice he did them, though I'm not too skeptical that it would not be the case.
Bandcamp full | Panopticon side | Aerial Ruin side
Taake seem to be quite on a roll, releasing two split album in one year (one with Deathcult coming in July). Apparently Taake's Hoest and Whoredom Rife's V. Einride do share sort of a shared bond, whether through the times they toured together or simply through the music they made, so they aptly named their split Pakt. The sound of both bands is obviously tied to the Norwegian black metal sound of old, but that is more the case with Whoredom Rife than Taake, as I've already mentioned about their latest album, but it's very well executed and full of riffs, however I can't deny that I am more into Taake's side, especially in regards to the weirdly melodic guitar playing. To top things off, Taake have also covered Sisters Of Mercy's "Heartland", which makes me wonder why black metal and gothic rock / post-punk don't interact more often considering their knack for dark minimalist music.
Bandcamp full | Whoredom Rife side | Taake side
Gore veterans Exhumed and Death worshippers Gruesome are back with another cemetery soundtrack, titled Twisted Horror. Matt Harvey is the guitarist/vocalist behind both bands, and while I still have trouble appreciating the shtick of Gruesome, as I have explained in this review, I generally enjoy the twisted fun in Exhumed's music because it always serves me the right amount of warm dead flesh to accompany my ice cold beer. This split EP does not do anything to change what you already know about these two bands; Harvey's lead project offers three songs of technical deathgrind drenched in rotting corpse stench, while Gruesome's contribution is two more Leprosy- / Spiritual Healing-mirroring tracks to be added to the ones that appear on the band's full-lengths.
Bandcamp full (Exhumed) | Bandcamp full (Gruesome)
Though neither of them are in any way newcomers, it's still interesting that despite having almost twice as short of a career, Unreqvited have about twice as much material as Sylvaine, with two albums released just this year. Though I did kinda criticize Sylvaine's latest album for sounding a bit too close to Alcest, on this split her two songs are very subdued focusing obviously on her vocals, and very sparse instrumentation of either piano or acoustic guitar. Unreqvited are not as sparse, but they are too devoid of most metal (there is a little bit on the last track), black or otherwise, instead being on the more "epic"-tinged post-rock sound to contrast the vocal-led first side, with the vocals on the second side being relegated to some chorals.
Sylvaine side | Unreqvited side
Unspeakable Axe Records bring another four putrid and relatively recent death metal bands, four years after the previous (and first) installment. This one brings together Fetid Zombie, Ectoplasma, Nucleus, and Temple Of Void, with three of them American and the last being the odd Greeks one out. I was previously aware of the latter two bands, one even having been reviewed by me. Even though I still mostly enjoyed the sides from the bands I was already familiar with, I was pleasantly surprised by both Ectovoid and Fetid Zombie, making 4 Doors To Death II a great one-hour-long slab of rotten death metal in which none of the bands are duds, with some bits delving into doom and black, if that's precisely what are you looking for. I can only hope it won't take another four years for the next installment to come out, but at least compared to it, in this one each band is a lot more distinct, and with just enough deviation from the usual death metal formula for it to be wholly interesting in its entire runtime.
Atavisma and Void Rot are purveyors of doom death metal music with quite similar approach in general view. French group Atavisma are a couple of years "older", with one full length (2018) under their belt. Americans Void Rot are on the other hand ready to unleash their first one this coming September. For the latter this split somehow presents a 3-track warm-up before the 'real deal' comes out worldwide. I remember covering their debut EP two years ago in CCs... a real crusher, and very-well produced output. This split effort continues to reveal a slowly driven death metal beats with a strong scent of darkened, doom vibes on one side. It especially applies to Void Rot part. On the other side the oncoming transitions of the hastened death metal passages and outbursts, which in this particular release can be heard more throughout Atavisma's songs. Despite minor differences, both bands possess fairly deep guttural vocals, adding value to already heavy-sounding album within this sub-genre.
Satanath / Striborg - Prisoners Of The Solar System
This is not even the only split that Striborg released this year, but something about the title Prisoners Of The Solar System seemed very endearing. I am not really the biggest Striborg fan, I'm only vaguely familiar with their discography, and mostly know of them through the Sunn O))) connections, and I have never heard of Satanath before. Both of them being one-man bands with some interest in ambient music, with Satanath being pretty much specifically space ambient on this release. Their side, which comes first, seems like the soundtrack to an old-school sci-fi space horror video game, whereas Striborg's side seems more in line with what I've heard from their recent material, with black metal being interpreted in a more electronic way. And the sounds that it creates do give off the feeling that we indeed live our lives full of things that are pretty insignificant to the rest of the universe, and we will never change that in many lifetimes.
I wasn't precisely sure whether to include this one, since this is a split EP that, despite being released this year, is comprised of two EPs that were both previously released, with Krallice's Wolf in 2019 and Geryon's Astomatous in 2018. Though both of them were released digitally, this split is the first time they are released in physical form, so I guess I can make an exception. Both Krallice and Geryon are extremely technical and forward thinking bands, with the former focusing more on a black metal sound and the later on a more death metal one, but both have more in common among themselves than with most other black or death metal bands, especially since Geryon is made out of two Krallice members, thus sounding a bit more minimalist. Even with the two bands' styles showcased side by side here, the running thread of extremely technical and somewhat cacophonous and chaotic but never random music runs deep within both of them.
Bandcamp full | Krallice side | Geryon side
Mexico's Vinnum Sabbathi, presumably named after the track on Electric Wizard's seminal record Dopethrone, sound pretty much exactly how you would expect a band inspired by the British stoner doom heavyweights to; slow, thick, fuzzy riffs, with audio samples interlaced into the songs. A lot of the heavy lifting on "HEX IV: Cassini's Last Breath" is done by the percussion, whose loose, swinging approach keeps the momentum going through the quieter moments of the track, along with the slick basswork. When the band fully brings the noise, it's right out of the stoner doom textbook, but done in a suitably satisfying manner. Whilst Vinnum Sabbathi's tracks off some solid fuzz to get stuck into, the standout track on Here And Beyond is Comacozer's 20-minute psychedelic odyssey "Sun Of Hyperion". The Australians take their sweet time getting going, with lots of spacious, warbling guitar loosely meandering through the first few minutes of this hypnotic jam. It's almost exactly halfway through when this seemingly aimless noodling eventually culminates in the eruption of some dense, fuzzy riffs, from which point the band sprawl out in the tradition of Earthless and countless other instrumental stoner/psychedelic jam bands, yet "Sun Of Hyperion" remains captivating throughout. Whether a full album of this would hold the same appeal to me remains to be seen, but I found this first encounter thoroughly enjoyable.
Comacozer side | Vinnum Sabbathi side
This has got to be thirty minutes of some of the most anguished sludge you'll ever hear. From the gender dysphoria rage of Body Void to the "it's time to stop releasing splits and start recording a damn full length already" Keeper, both bands showcase their own takes on making music slow and painful, sometimes fast and painful, but only for a limited time. Never not painful. The Body Void track does pick up its pace here and there, and Keeper do that thing where they drop most of the instrumentation and leave the shrieks, so there's plenty to like here other than just crushingly slow doom. This split feels exhausting, but at least each side feels distinct, though it did leave to two members of the two bands collaborating again in Hellish Form.
Bandcamp full | Body Void side | Keeper side
Sangre De Muerdago / Monarch
It's often quite weird to see bands of such different styles on the same record, as here we have Spanish neofolk band Sangre De Muerdago and French drone doom metal band Monarch (also known as Monarch!). But not only do the two bands work through their different sounds, but they actually manage to find some similarities in the droning nature of both sounds, whether the folk or the doom, and the heavy focus on atmosphere with emphasis on ethereal vocals, making it feel like two sides of the same coin. Both songs feel very spiritual, especially considering that the Sangre De Muerdago is literally dedicated to stones and their passage through time, but the contrast in tone between them makes this split more than the sum of its parts.
Sangre De Muerdago side | Monarch side
You will notice that out of all the metal genres, it seems that death metal bands are the ones most keen on doing splits, getting some competition mostly from black metal, but some death metal bands like Anhedonist seem to even release splits well after their disbandment. Dark Descent Records managed to get a hold of a track that was recorded in the Netherwards sessions, and teamed them up with doom death sensation of the moment Spectral Voice. Both bands spew slow cavernous death with huge emphasis on the cavernous sound pretty much in line with how both bands trail-blazed on their respective only full length. Though not even 15 minutes in length, the split shows two songs, one promising, and one a fitting last act.
Adora Vivos / Amiensus - Ami/AV Split
Amiensus aren't strangers to doing releases with other artists, having released both a split and collaboration with Oak Pantheon. Here, the melodic black metallers are sharing this split with fellow Minnesotans Adora Vivos, who employ a more melancholic doom sound on "Silence Awakened", with some melodeath elements in the sound as well. The vocals, harsh and clean, both do their job ably to elevate the mixture of Insomnium-esque melodies combined with more Gothic doom riffing. "Ex Cinere", in contrast, is a subdued vocal-oriented piece, with quiet clean guitar setting the mood for some moving vocal harmonizing. At this point, Amiensus take over with the stirring 10-minute folk meloblack odyssey "Leaves Will Grow Anew", and whilst Adora Vivos's efforts here are enjoyable, Amiensus are the more renowned act here, and it's not hard to see why. This is probably one of their rawer-sounding efforts, with more in the way of harsh vocals and blast beats than I'm used to, but also with more prominent use of strings; for lack of a better reference point, I picked up hints of Becoming-era Abigail Williams at times. Although quite a shift from the lush meloblack sound of their debut (and my introduction to the group) Restoration, they pull of this sound with aplomb, as the progression of "Leaves Will Grow Anew" through its 10-minute runtime is deftly judged as to keep things sounding distinct and fresh without there being a lull in proceedings. It will be interesting to see whether this track is a taster of what is to come later this year with Abreaction or a detour before Amiensus return more to the sound of Restoration and Ascension, but either way if the quality remains similar it should be a solid third record from them.
Adora Vivos side | Amiensus side
Carcinoid / Charnel Altar
I've previously covered Charnel Altar in our Clandestine Cuts series, praising their demo for figuring out the sound of torment. Here they share the record with fellow Aussies Carcinoid, who have already made the transition to the full-length stage, but I wouldn't say that the bands are really that far off from each other in terms of making their brand of black/doom-infused death metal sound like the spewed rot of hell, but the Charnel Altar side sounds considerably more echo-heavy. There's still a bit of work in how the vocals are mastered, but the whole thing sounds swampy, bassy, and so filthy it makes me want to take a shower. I can't wait until Charnel Altar release a full length, and I have extra incentive to relisten to Carcinoid's.
Bandcamp full | Carcinoid side | Charnel Altar side
While Paradise Lost is far from being an underrated band, I can't quite say the same for their often overlooked debut, Lost Paradise, which has a very good chance of being my favorite Paradise Lost album, with its follow-up, Gothic, getting most of the love it deserves. It seems that Entrapment and Grim Fate share my love for the two albums, but two death metal albums showing love for a famous band's most death metal albums isn't that big of a reach. I wasn't aware of either of the two bands before, and while I wasn't blown away by what I heard from either of them, they're still very solid doom death, and I have a slight preference for Entrapment, but surprisingly I liked Grim Fate's rendition of "Rotting Misery" more than Entrapment's one for "Rapture", even though the later has guest vocals from Vanhelgd's "Mattias Frisk".
Grim Fate side | Entrapment side
Wraith and Bastardizer are two bands, the former American and the latter Australian, that are pretty much everything that made Christian moms afraid about metal back when the genre was relevant: devil worshiping, alcohol, loud music and debauchery. Nowadays I doubt anybody is really that offended about either band (though I still wouldn't wear a shirt from either of them in front of my mom), but following the Venom and Toxic Holocaust lineage of making thrash as punky (mostly Wraith) and blackened (mostly Bastardizer) as possible, both bands create a damn fine riff fest that is as blasphemous as it is mosh-worthy, plus it continues Wraith's covering of old punk classics, having covered Misfits's "Death Comes Ripping" on their last record, and GBH's "Sick Boy" on this one. Bastardizer sadly cover no one, but I wouldn't mind them doing so.
Wraith side | Bastardizer side
Vuur & Zijde / Impavida
Though initially getting to know this split through the German DSBM Impavida, whose somewhat psychedelic Antipode was one of the unsung great albums of last year, but I was most surprised by the new Dutch black metal band Vuur & Zijde (Dutch for "Fire & Silk"), which is a trio of members previously involved in Terzij De Horde, Laster and Nusquama, and if you know of my love for Dutch black metal, this is in no way surprising. The split opens with Vuur & Zijde's side, which is some grim and ethereal black metal, and though vocalist F doesn't seem to have been involved with any other metal band yet, her dreamlike clean vocals make me anticipate their upcoming full length even more. Impavida follow the last album's tradition of having either 3-5 minute songs or 14-17 minute ones, and here we get one of each, and contrasted with the more ethereal atmosphere of the first band, Impavida sound more eerie and terrifying, both showcasing the versatility of atmospheric black metal.
Tsalal / Tetragrammacide - Pact Of Eschatological Islamic Spiritual Ordeal
Tsalal and Tetragrammacide are two noise/extreme metal bands from India, at least they claim to be from India, and I really hope we don't get another Ghost Bath situation on our hands. Pact Of Eschatological Islamic Spiritual Ordeal is one hell of a title, and the esoteric impact of the bands' settings make the incredibly noisy music feel more than just some incomprehensible drumming with some semblance of riffs and solos. Tsalal's side especially is one massive noise wall of blasts and guitars, which is sometimes perforated by some grunted vocals and a piercing guitar solo. Tetragrammacide at least tries to let the esoteric hindu folk seep through the noise, and the riffs themselves are a tad bit more decipherable. This isn't music made to sound good. Even by extreme metal standards, this is pretty challenging, but I must admit that Iike Tetragrammacide's side a lot more than Tslalal's.
Anything we miss? What were some of your favorite splits of the year so far?
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