Experimental US crew find new paths through the wreckage
“The attempt to kindle new flames from black metal and doom’s respective pyres with a hefty slosh of post-whatever petroleum proved to be a highly divisive proposition a few years ago. It’s also become such an over-subscribed approach that it now takes something special to truly stand out. One journey through the wastes of Wisconsin-based Bereft’s Prosthetic Records debut, Lands, will rejuvenate your faith. Its 13-minute opener, We Wept, alone all but seals the deal, its initially ponderous oaths climaxing in a percussive burst of withering black metal deceptively concealed within its funereally soulful, balefully crushing preceding passages.
“One of the things I absolutely love is the rawness, atmosphere and desperation that you hear in black metal,” enthuses Alex Linden, one of Bereft’s dual vocalist/guitarists alongside Zach Johnson. “I think the black metal scene in the United States is extremely exciting because the experimentation has helped the genre evolve. We really wanted to try to make this a multi-dimensional band where we incorporate the genres that we’re into and try to do something that will hopefully be a little new.”
With the addition of new live drummer Jerry McDougal, who, according to bassist Cade Gentry “brought an energy to this band we never had before,” Bereft have gone through a physical and sonic reformation since 2014 EP, Lost Ages. Their sound has atrophied, sounding all the better for gathering dust amidst cacophonous catacombs, their bluesy doom degenerating into something altogether more decrepit.
“Some of our favourite moments of Lost Ages were the more riff-heavy passages,” ponders Zach. “We wanted to harness those moments. We wanted to convey a frustration that I feel really comes through.”
Such reinvigorated ire was inspired at least in part by a fruitful recording process. “The most defining moment for me was the surreal feeling when the three of us drove 1,000 miles out to New York without really knowing how it was going to turn out. It turned out better than we could have ever imagined, but it was still scary, entering the unknown like that,” reminisces bassist Cade Gentry.
The recruitment of long- time Dillinger Escape Plan producer Kevin Antreassian was something of a coup for the band, as big fans. “Working with him made the three of us really push ourselves”, says Cade. “He was able to nudge us when we needed it or tell us when something wasn’t working. From day one, we knew it was going to be a blast. Hopefully we can do our next album with him as well!”
Having seen their prospects elevate beyond their wildest dreams, (“Signing with Prosthetic was a huge milestone for us,” attests Alex) Bereft’s eyes are now firmly planted on a future nevertheless uncertain for us all, and it is the bitter resentment of such global dysfunction that fuels the band’s rage. “Lands is heavily inspired by the disgust and contempt we have for the current state of our world. Political systems heavily influenced by religion and a lack of care or empathy for humanity, or the planet we inhabit; everyone suffers,” gnashes Zach. “This album speaks to that suffering.”
Who are they?
LINEUP: Zach Johnson - guitar/vocals, Alex Linden - guitar/vocals, Cade Gentry – bass, Michael Kadner – drums (studio), Jerry McDougal – drums (live)
SOUNDS LIKE: Funeral doom’s dirtier, weirder older brother.
FOR FANS OF: Unearthly Trance, Yellow Eyes, Pallbearer, Ash Borer, The Ruins Of Beverast
CURRENT RELEASE: Lands (Prosthetic, 2017)
Scandic occultists wage war on the modern age
Sweden may not be short of bands plugging into vintage amps and conjuring up dark forces, but when your debut EP proves as immersive as Alastor’s Black Magic three-tracker, the urge to open up your mind and make more room is unavoidable. Yes, there’s a hefty dose of Electric Wizard’s relentlessly kneaded, reverberating riffage, but Alastor sound like they’re at the edge of some terrifying psychic expanse, their abyss gazing back at you, much like the eyes on the EP’s sleeve. Needless to say, the recording wasn’t an entirely smooth ride.
“We went out to a small cabin in the wilderness,” says vocalist/bassist R. “We thought the solitude would do us good, but the isolation really got under our skin. Our drummer started rambling about weird faces in the shadows. It’s a miracle that no one got stabbed. Guess we could’ve made a cool recording for an intro out of that, though!”
Alastor’s live performances might take place in less movie-worthy circumstances, but the air of danger remains a constant. “The atmosphere is nearly as important as the music itself,” explains R. “We want people to feel like they just walked in on some black ritual that extends beyond the common Friday night gig, and to evoke that morbid fascination of the dark and the occult, that uneasy feeling that you are doing something forbidden.”
For all the occult imagery that abounds, and the baleful aroma that pervades their sound, how reflective is it of their personal beliefs, and their lives?
“Alastor is about the occult and unknown as well as hardships of living in the modern society,” says R. “We are being told what to think and how to act from birth, pushing back the darkness we’re all born with to the back of our minds, and it’s left there all our life eating away our feelings, turning us into cold-hearted robots until that beautiful day when we finally get to die. That’s what our music is about. Hopefully one can hear it.”
Who are they?
LINEUP: R (bass/vocals), H (guitar), J (guitar), S (drums)
SOUNDS LIKE: Mantric doom like your spine is broadcasting a signal to the netherworld.
FOR FANS OF: Electric Wizard, Dead Meadow
CURRENT RELEASE: Black Magic (Twin Earth, 2017)
Shadowy Germans dig deep into the void
You won’t see much of Morast, nor will you know their individual names (each individual being referred to by a one letter) so unsurprisingly, when you try to tickle their vocalist and guitarist as being just a bunch of short-haired hardcore guys toying around with black metal, their collective answer simply is to “get a life”.
The question may sound irrelevant to their ears but the fact is that all four members have a quite eclectic background, from stoner rock to sludge or crust. And when asked if they feel they have more in common with Godflesh than, say, Candlemass, they unsurprisingly answer with a laconic, “I’d rather say Winter.”
Formed in the northern eastern part of Germany in 2015, things happened pretty quick for them as within three months, they were committing to tape their first demo, recently reissued on vinyl, and recording a Bathory cover (Armagedon) for a split EP. Said cover was the perfect introduction to their forthcoming debut album, as the short and straight-to-the-point punkish nugget was transformed into a supra-heavy mini-epic worthy of Neurosis – a good summary of what Ancestral Void stands for.
They may have used an old 1824 John Martin painting called Creation Of Light (“We picked it up because it illustrated perfectly the idea of human beings always longing for illumination to fill the void”), and a song like Sakkryfyced earns its weird spelling as “an homage” to cult true black metal squad Katharsis, but the album mostly relies on a slow and trance-inducing tempo that has much to do with Neurosis’s A Sun That Never Sets as Darkthrone’s Panzerfaust.
“Our intention always was to have a heavy, brutal but melancholic sound,” they conclude. “Morast is all about negativity. We are trying to create something dark, obscure and dismal and we just didn’t want to overstrain the stereotype. If someone really needs to pigeon-hole us, let them. We don’t care.”
Who are they?
LINEUP: F. (vocals), J. (guitar), R. (bass), L. (drums)
SOUNDS LIKE: Trance-inducing sludge and black metal, hypercharged with negativity.
FOR FANS OF: Neurosis, Winter, Darkthrone
CURRENT RELEASE: Ancestral Void (Totenmusik/Ván, 2017)