Splitting Hairs / Hearing Splits (Jul-Dec 2023)
|RaduP, nikarg, musclassia, Starvynth
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? Exactly! We are here to make up for that!
Covering the splits that were released in the second half of 2021. 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.
SH.HS 2023 Part 1
SH/HS 2022 Part 2
SH/HS 2022 Part 1
Two of the most exciting and innovative death doom metal bands in the present, Dream Unending and Worm, came together for the best split release of 2023, titled Starpath. Dream Unending's side of the split is more progressive and melodic, and creates a cosmic and ethereal soundscape, giving out a ‘floating’ feeling. Both tracks are over ten minutes long and are largely instrumental, with extensive use of clean guitars. Phil Swanson (Briton Rites, ex-Hour Of 13, ex-Sumerlands), who appeared as guest clean vocalist on Song Of Salvation, returns again here. Worm's contribution is more raw and abrasive, with a blackened twist, and a focus on darker and more gothic soundscapes. The lead guitar parts on all three tracks are splendid and take much inspiration from classic heavy metal, while the synths add to the eerie atmosphere. The diversity of the songwriting, and the contrast between the cleaner and lighter sound of Dream Unending and the swampy and horror-inducing one of Worm make for a split release that is a must-listen for any metal fan, regardless of individual genre preferences.
Bandcamp: Label (full)
Full Of Hell never shied away from experimentation. Even as a grind band, there was something about them that really didn't want to sit still in the same genre mold, releasing a noise EP the same year they released their full length debut. Experiments with noise also included a Merzbow collab, and a bunch of ones with The Body, also leading the band into sludgier directions in which they ended up collaborating with Primitive Man, and now also shoegaze with Nothing. Even though this split is less of a collab, teaming up with a band whose first genre label is "experimental rock" only shows willingness to go the extra mile. The band pushes the sludge even further into drone this time around, complete with some dark ambient and some very idiosyncratic noise layering. The Gasp side is my first contact with the band, and everything from the layering to the way the songs flow feels so alien and hard to grasp and I'll definitely need to spend more time with their music from now on.
Bandcamp: (full) Of Hell
Anna Pest / Argento - Catgirl In The House Of Evil ...And Other Stories
Gonna be honest: not a fan of the name Catgirl In The House Of Evil ...And Other Stories; still, considering the difference in tone of the song titles on their 2021 album (featuring the likes of “Scraping Away At The Edges Of Darkness With Fire”) and this split (opening with “I Hope He Lays Pipe Like An Electrician”), I have to assume that Anna Pest’s new split with Argento has been made with tongue firmly in cheek. Still, the musical content of the songs matters more than their titles, and Anna Pest has once again unleashed an onslaught of various extreme sounds fused together, spanning deathcore, mathcore, and tech-death, and they again find a good balance between full-on aggression, tasty complexity and satisfying groove, particularly on that first song. Argento, the project of Val Loughcrewe (aka Surgeryhead), performs with a similar style, albeit with an additional lean towards The Black Dalhia Murder-style melodeath as well, as can be heard on “Nemesis”, the opening song of their contribution. Both artists make a guest appearance on the third song of the others’ side of the split, and given the overlap in styles between the two, these appearances slot in seamlessly.
Bandcamp: Anna Pest (full)
Five years after their most recent full-length albums, Swedish death metal groups Feral and Crawl join forces on Made As Those Who Are No Longer Alive, which comes with by far the most extensive merch range I've seen on Bandcamp courtesy of Feral. The former band are the more experienced of the two, with 3 albums under their belt compared with Crawl’s one, but in truth it doesn’t make that much difference; this kind of churning tone and death metal is made in abundance by novices and veterans alike. However, the two groups have both worked their ways onto the Transcending Obscurity label, so there’s clearly something above average about each of them. For their efforts, Feral submit a chunky mid-tempo piece in “From The Ancient Tombs” followed by a more barnstorming death metal romper in the form of “Released From The Bondage Of The Earth”; stylistically, both songs are intimately familiar to any Swedish death metal fans, but the group have at least nailed the chainsaw tone, and produced with plenty of beef on this split. Crawl aren’t just a repeat of their labelmates; as noted in Nik’s review of their debut, there’s a punkiness to their sound, which comes through clearly pretty much from the off on “Where The Dead Flesh Whispers”. Its opening punk beat gets their contribution to the split off to a flyer, but later on they move towards a groovier mid-tempo thrash sound, and closing song “Vanity” also traverses the tempo range from punky energy to doomy trudge. If you like old-school Swedish death metal, on Made As Those Who Are No Longer Alive, you get to hear the classic sound in all its glory, as well as with some very slight modifications.
Bandcamp: Label (full)
For sustenance, one needs to consume at least one OSDM split every 6 months, and for this we offer one of the tens of bands named "Burial" (this one is from Italy) teaming up with a band we've covered before and thus we may assume that you're already familiar with them. What did struck me about this split in particular however is that the initial look at the tracklist and the actual experience of listening to it can feel antithetical at points. Only one song is shorter than five minutes, and Night Hag's songs are the shorter ones, but they're also incredibly doomy in that doom death way. Burial (ITA) has both songs being over eight minutes long, and the split's fastest and most pummeling moments are within it. True, it also has the slowest and doomiest moments as well, but that's kinda expected from such long song. While Night Hag delivered some very satiating meat-and-potatoes, it was the Burial (ITA) side that filled me with most excitement.
Bandcamp: Label (full) / Burial side
Zmyrna / Silent Thunder – Saeculum Mysticum
It's always exciting when two projects, which at first glance do not have many similarities, join forces. Zmyrna is a band founded in 2020, consisting of two Czechs and one Slovakian, and their raw but pretty atmospheric black metal can roughly be described as a mixture of Urfaust, Fluisteraars, and Bølzer. On the other hand, Silent Thunder is hailing from Los Angeles, California, and the ambient black metal side project of Lamp Of Murmuur. What both bands have in common is a penchant for the mystical, which, in the case of Silent Thunder, is manifested through a combination of ritualistic, throaty growls, tribal-like drumming, and mesmerizing guitar riffs. Despite the keyboard accompaniment, the two songs sound so raw and unrestrained that they evoke early Bathory recordings. Zmyrna, however, take the mystical, medieval atmosphere a step further by integrating grogorian chants and flutes into their three compositions. Sharp screams and high-pitched shrieks, pain-filled whimpering, howling, moaning, deep grunting, insane laughter, chants, lamentation, bellowing, and thanks to Mgła's Age Of Excuse, even teeth grinding - there's hardly a sound that the human mouth can produce that will not be found on one or more black metal albums. This list can now be complemented by whistling. Yes, whistling. In theory, this sounds neither trve nor cvlt, but precisely for that reason, you must have heard it for yourself, because the casually whistled melody on "Canticum Undecimum" actually turns this track into the absolute highlight of the entire split.
Bandcamp: Zmyrna side / Silent Thunder side
Come to think of it sludge is a pretty old genre, even if a lot of its developments since the 90s might make it seem newer, but its roots being in the 80s thanks to Melvins is something I have to remind myself once in a while. This split doesn't exactly sound like 80s sludge, but three of the four bands here have been around since the 90s, and even the one that came a bit later has been around for two decades, so the straight-forwardness of the sludge metal here feels a bit like a time capsule, and what makes Cadaver Monuments feels even more like a homage to how sludge's lineage can be traced to both punk and metal is that among the cover songs on this record are of a Black Flag song and a Celtic Frost song. The Bandcamp page does a pretty awful job at explaining which song is a cover song, other than the two aforementioned ones, so you could just be minding your own business and suddenly realizing you're listening to a sludge version of a Beatles song.
Bandcamp: Label (full)
Trhä / Sunset
Trhä had a whopping nineteen (19!!!) releases in 2023, with three full-length albums, five EPs, and eleven splits. This is their last split of the year with Sunset, and Trhä’s contribution is a 20-minute track, blending raw black metal with ambient sounds and dungeon synth. Trhä has an undoubtable talent to make music that just flows effortlessly, creating amazing soundscapes through lo-fi recordings. Often touching on blackgaze, this artist is taking what Varg did with Burzum in the ‘90s and applies it in the present, making it brighter and darker all at once, if this makes any sense. The other part of the split is Sunset, which is also a one-person atmospheric black metal project. They released a full-length in 2022, and they have sort of a big wall-of-noise type of sound that makes them feel rawer and more unsettling. It’s an interesting band and the two songs that they contribute here are worth a listen, but, honestly, there is room for improvement in order to reach the level of Trhä's mesmerizing black metal.
Bandcamp: Trhä (full) / Label (full)
The Oracle / Reign A.D. - The Mountain Peaks Of Prophecy
As the depiction of the crucifixion on the cover might indicate, The Mountain Peaks Of Prophecy draws upon biblical inspiration; The Oracle choose the three days between the death and resurrection of Christ as inspiration for their intriguing take on electronic metal. Synth-based soundscapes, which fluctuate between subtle quasi-ambience and more overt intensity, are punctuated by visceral punches of distortion, which make their greatest impact by capping the gradual build of closing song “Day III” with an explosion of volume. Reign A.D. establish a similarly ominous tone during the introductory track of their part of the split, “...And They Will Reign Forever And Ever”, before unleashing a blistering assault of black metal, which at different times can sound discordant or outright melodic. The tone does vary across their songs, as “Silk And Shadows” sees the band withdraw in volume during the verses and lay dramatic tremolo melodies during the choruses, while “The Vipers Knot” overwhelms with sinister atmosphere and relentless drumming. Reign A.D. pushes their experimentation on closing song “Passing Through The River”, a track that brings a fitting end to The Mountain Peaks Of Prophecy by weaving extra drama into proceedings with ominous chanting and dark synth layers.
Bandcamp: Label (full)
Vanessa Funke / Luroga - In The Shadow Of The Lights
Vanessa Funke is quite the prolific musician, accumulating nearly 20 releases in the past 2 years; these include full-length albums, EPs, and (as is relevant to this article) splits. After covering her split with Nymphrenia in the last splits article, there were several to choose from for this edition, from which I chose In The Shadow Of The Lights. On this record, Funke alternates tracks with Luroga from Venezuela, another one-person black metal project. The two projects are not overly dissimilar to one another; Funke’s music leans more towards DSBM, but incorporates trad-influenced uptempo melodic riffs on “End Of The Line” and a conveyor belt of blast-driven tremolo riffs on lengthy opener “Despair”, while Luroga’s efforts veer more towards blackgaze and post-black (there’s a touch of Jesu to “On The Shore Of The Sea I Cried”), but still has a fierceness and lo-fi roughness to the frantic blasting in “The Ogre I Was”.
Bandcamp: Vanessa Funke (full)
Sun Below / Earth Altar - Inter Terra Solis
The prospect of a stoner metal split doesn’t necessarily get the pulse racing these days, but with artwork as lush as that with adorns the cover of Inter Terra Solis, perhaps the contributing bands can be counted upon to deliver music to match. For their part, Sun Below do a better job than most I’ve heard in capturing the essence of early Weedpecker on “Red Giant”, a song that has that lackadaisical vibe, but also some meaty riffs and trippy solos. “Gravity Tide” is bit more predictable as far as stoner doom goes, right down to the psychedelic effects-laden vocals, but they make for a nice enough first half to the split. Their fellow Canadians in Earth Altar arguably show them up, however; the space rock slant on their stoner rock results in some rather satisfying measured builds across their music. Part A, “The Descent”, is a mellow yet pleasantly forward-moving trippy jam of a song with tasty soundscapes, and part B, “The Garden Of Earthly Delights”, is pleasant enough to live up to the landscape on that lush cover art. Sun Below do good work here, but Earth Altar remain compelling and enchanting pretty much throughout.
Bandcamp: Sun Below only / Earth Altar only
The Human Condition / The River
Finally a review where I can say The River side without meaning the Riverside. Funnily enough, The Human Condition's drummer also played drums in The River, with The River's current drummer having played in 40 Watt Sun. Drummers aside, classic doom metal splits aren't as common when compared to other genres, and the drumming on each of these two sides is actually quite competent and interesting by doom metal standards as well. The split is structured in a way that gives each band two songs, one of those being a studio track and one being a live one. The Human Condition is more trudging and heavy with some epic dramatic vocals and melodic solos, whereas The River side (hehe) is more sorrowful and mellow, leaving very little in terms of actual metal-ness and heaviness aside from some lumbering guitar distortion.
Bandcamp: The Human Condition side / The River side
Hallig / Friisk
A double-header of German black metal, this split features two songs each from Hallig and Friisk. Up first, Hallig exhibit their melodic tendencies by laying upbeat guitar melodies above a black/folk riff base on “Empor Aus Nassen Gräbern”; there’s not much in the way of variety across this song’s hefty 10-minute runtime, but the core sound is sufficiently satisfying and aptly produced that it remains enjoyable throughout, and they reserve a darker tone for the more melancholic “Of Stone And Dust”. Friisk, like their compatriots, weave subtle but enjoyable hints of melody into their sound, but they also vary their sound a bit more within songs; “Starvgefall an't Diek” has an unexpected detour into post-rock territory during a mid-song interlude, while closer Mit Wolkendunkel Überzogen has a storytelling feel to it, from the spoken word folkish introduction through to the passionate pained vocals later on. Black metal splits can be dime-a-dozen, but Hallig and Friisk have both brought their A-game to this consistently engaging effort.
Bandcamp: Hallig only / Friisk only
Gom Jabbar / Pissing Contest
“Morbid And Miserable Records presents an experimental noisegrind split”: right off the bat, you know that this is not for the faint-hearted. Two 9-minute compositions that emit chaos from a dense void, the contributions to this split by noise/powerviolence ensemble Gom Jabbar and the distinct yet equally malevolent Pissing Contest, both native (along with Morbid And Miserable Records) to Toledo, Ohio. Gom Jabbar’s effort, “Magic In Numbers”, starts with dark ambience before erupting in a multi-minute assault of utterly frantic grind with distant-sounding, demented vocals; these two extremes alternate until the song’s conclusion, aside from a wildcard saxophone cameo midway through. Pissing Contest submit “X” to the split, a droney sludge effort with a steady tempo; droning distorted backing guitars and faint growled/sung vocals lay the groundwork for a miserable effort whose soundscape is primarily shaped by meandering distortion and soloing on top. It’s hard to say how much someone will ‘enjoy’ this split, but its sheer nastiness certainly makes an impression.
Bandcamp: Label (full)
Náströnd / Helgrind / Hrafnsmerki
I have to admit that I never had Cuban pagan black metal on my bingo card. Something about the sheer prospect of there not being just one but three different viking pagan black metal bands from Cuba of all places seems insanely funny to me, but also incredibly cool to hear metal from places that aren't as expected. Also ironic is how the only other Cuban metal album I listened to is a black metal album released this year. Regardless, the music itself isn't half bad, even if each band has a slightly different take. Náströnd feel more like classic black metal, and there's also something a tad sloppy in the execution. Helgrind actually have a bit more of a melodious take, with some of their melodies being quite folk leaning and having keys and choirs adding to the atmosphere. Hrafnsmerki feels like an in between of the two, with sections incredibly folky and melodic and black metal moments that feel very traditional and raw.
Bandcamp: Label (full)
Anything we miss? What were some of your favorite splits of the year so far?
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