The ungodly cold of Chicago winter began last Sunday. It was horrendous. As I type this, my fingers are still rigid from the half-block walk to and from the corner grocer. I was listening to Paysage d'Hiver. It was glorious. Oh, and happy belated Thanksgiving to our American readers.

Below are a handful of metal-and-related albums/EPs/splits/demos/compilations slated for release on the calendar week of November 29th through December 5th, 2015. I get a little picky about what I cover, so feel free to nicely inform me of anything I missed. Feel free to comment about other stuff, too. Did our American readership enjoy the long weekend as much as I did? Did you listen to anything cool? How about them Black Friday sales? I had my eye on the Nuclear War Now! Black Friday 7" sale, myself….

—Jon Rosenthal



Cloak of Altering - Manifestation | Crucial Blast Records | Avant-Garde Black Metal | Netherlands
Mories has done it again. Immediately following his most recent outings as Gnaw Their Tongues, de Jong's solo project onslaught continues with Cloak of Altering's Manifestation. A successful fusion of black metal's speed and aggression with the brute force and grating machine sounds of early-to-mid industrial music, Manifestation embodies a completely inhuman end of the sound spectrum - oft attempted but rarely so successfully pulled off. Though Cloak of Altering's sound has always been defined as such - a strange confluence of dreamy black metal, early-Coil harshness, and near-IDM electronica - the end result has never been so convincing and frightening as it has on Manifestation. The black metal equivalent of living flesh being torn apart by robots.

Ysengrin/Black Grail - Nigrum Nigris Nigro | Nuclear War Now! Productions/I, Voidhanger Records | Doom/Black/Death Metal / Black Metal | France/Chile
Here's a cool split, pairing the "Hermetic Dark Metal" of France's Ysengrin with the ghostly, synthesizer-driven Black Grail from Chile.
Compared to the Liber Hermitis re-release from earlier this year, Ysengrin sounds like a completely different band. Though still distinctly blackened and unquestionably dark, the synthesizer and keyboard-driven sound, especially when paired with the nuanced, staccato guitar work and lengthy bouts of harsh noise, Ysengrin seems to be a black metal band in industrial metal's clothing. Side A closer "Manifestation & resonances" is especially memorable, resembling a blackened, gothic tribute to the Castlevania soundtrack.

Black Grail offers "El Oro de los Cuervos" (the raven's gold) - a single, lengthy offering of atmospheric, strange, near-psychedelic black metal. At first glance and a cursory listen, Black Grail sounds inoffensive enough - raw, blasting, and spooky - but the devil seems to reside in Black Grail's details. Rife with unconventional harmonies, oddly effected guitars, and change-on-a-dime structure, the fifteen minutes of "El Oro de los Cuervos" twist and turn in a way I could only describe as exciting. I went into this split expecting Ysengrin to emerge victorious, but now I'm not so sure.

No preview. Sorry!

Sunn O))) - Kannon | Southern Lord Records | Drone/Doom Metal | United States
There isn't much more to say about Sunn O))) which hasn't already been said. The "masters" of guitar drone (though they literally formed to continue the sound pioneered on Earth's Earth 2 album), the duo of Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley's heavily distorted wall-of-Sunn amps might rumble your subwoofer, but no amount of vibration could rouse me from the glazed, bored lull in which I found myself mere minutes into Kannon's first track. I consider myself a pretty big fan of their last full-length work, 2008's Monoliths & Dimensions (I won't count Terrestrials and Soused as canon, though both were enjoyable collaborations), whose sudden introduction of musicality into Sunn O)))'s "blank slate" sound spelled endless possibility for expansion, but Kannon shows Sunn O))) stepping back from potential growth for something much more conservative. Though there are the occasional moments of harmonic grandeur and even structure found within the sound miasma, Kannon ultimately falls flat. Shame.

Expander - Laws of Power | Caligari Records | Blackened Crossover/Thrash Metal | United States
This is the pick-me-up I've needed. Raw, sloppy, sludgey metalpunk chaos. A devastating, breakneck array of d-beat riffs, spitting, snarling vocals, and bass which can clearcut a National Park, Expander's debut demo sets a high standard for thrashy punk (or is it punky thrash?). It's about damn time someone attempted something different with that genre, anyway.





VoidCeremony - Cyclical Descent of Causality | Blood Harvest Records | Progressive Death/Black Metal | United States
I'm pretty sure you could have blindfolded me and said Cyclical Descent of Causality was a Dark Millennium demo from before Christian Mertens took over vocal duties and I'd believe you. Though the production is a little on the "porridge"-y side (which is honestly how I enjoy my death metal demos, let's be real here), VoidCeremony's progressive approach to death metal is a dizzying, technical challenge to the backwards-facing, cavernous sound which pervades the genre today.

Vorpal Sword - 10,000 Stab Wounds | Rising Beast Recordings | Raw Black Metal/Punk/Harsh Noise | United States
Fans of polished studio clarity should skip over this one. Vorpal Sword, the latest project of Horus (Moonknight, Dargar, Harassor), is an exercise in digital sound destruction. Blackened punk played through a broken speaker which shoots shards of glass directly into your eardrums. At times, the digital distortion engulfs the sound entirely, reducing Vorpal Sword into a gibbering, writhing mass of fuzz. Those who found solace in Jay Gambit's recent guest column about noise need look no further.

Secrets of the Moon - SUN | Lupus Lounge (Prophecy Productions) | Gothic/Black Metal | Germany
Okay, so Secrets of the Moon is a band I never fully understood. I was in college when Privilegivm came out, and, though all my then-friends enjoyed it (they probably like this one, too!), I was left wanting. Secrets of the Moon was always perfectly competent in songwriting and execution, but it seems like they always just barely missed their mark. Like forgetting to add oregano in pizza sauce - it tastes perfectly fine and works fine on pizza, but it's missing something integral. SUN shows Secrets of the Moon trying something different - branching into the dark chasms of gothic rock. Musically, I will admit to this album being compelling and, dare I say, interesting, but sG's forced, strained-throat clean vocals essentially kill a neat concept in the womb. Part of me wouldn't mind hearing a redux of this album with vocal takes done by Ronny Moorings from Clan of Xymox in sG's place.

Un - The Tomb Of All Things | Black Bow Records | Sludge/Doom Metal | United States
Devastatingly miserable, funereal sludge/doom metal in the vein of Samothrace's debut, Life's Trade (go figure, guitarist and vocalist Monte Mccleery plays bass for Samothrace now). Though very pretty and convincing in its depression - a feat, most sadness sounds so canned - Un takes a little too long to get to the point. I know, I know, they're sludge/doom metal, but if Corrupted could get away with maintaining an air of energy in a single, hour-long song, then….



that means things which aren’t metal

Ramleh - Circular Time | Crucial Blast Records | Psychedelic/Noise/Krautrock | England
The masters of textured, rhythmically intriguing krauty-psych rock return with almost two hours of head-nodding haze. I wrote a little more about this one here.

Amber Asylum - Sin Eater | Prophecy Productions | Darkwave/Chamber Music | United States
Sit back with a warm cup of tea and get cozy - Amber Asylum's subtle, operatic moodiness has returned. Featuring current-and-former members of Grayceon, Giant Squid, Deathgrave, Laudanum, and more, the lush music found on Sin Eater is Grayceon's strong reassertion at the throne of dark chamber music. Sin Eater is apparently set as a precursor to a massive 20-year retrospective, also slated to be released on Prophecy Productions.



Skumring - De Glemte Tider (Remastered) | Secret Quarters | Folk/Funeral Doom Metal | Norway
Okay, so for those of you who do not know, I love Vàli. The elusive Norwegian guitarist's virtuosic approach to pastoral, folky music has always tugged directly on my heartstrings, and with Skumring, Vàli's long-running melodic, lush funeral doom band, my reaction is just the same. Maintaining a vague, albeit much more lugubrious resemblance to fellow countrymen The Third and the Mortal's earliest works, the soaring misery found on Skumring's sole album still goes unmatched. Ten years later, De Glemte Tider is available once more (with newly remastered audio) through the band's own Secret Quarters imprint.



Helheim - raunijaR | Dark Essence Records | Viking/Black Metal | Norway
Now this is more like it. Too often is viking-themed black metal relegated to the corny, "MIDI trumpet" sound of basement dwellers attempting to recreate the grandeur of Hammerheart-era Bathory, but Helheim is a constant reminder that Viking black metal is just that - black metal. Beyond that, I always felt bands solely concentrating on the "epic" themes found in the Edda seemed to be missing the point; Vikings weren't just a religion, these were simple farmers who carved out a civilization using brute force and wit. Helheim successfully captures the brutality of the Viking age while paying homage to the aforementioned "epic" themes.

Witchcraft - Outcast | Nuclear Blast Records | Psychedelic Doom Metal/Hard Rock | Sweden
I will always have a soft spot for the smooth, rocking sounds of Sweden's Witchcraft. Ever since "If Crimson Was Your Colour" graced my ears almost a decade ago, I still find myself returning to Witchcraft. I still have yet to be disappointed. [For once, Jon and I are in 100% agreement. Witchcraft rocks. This Ep will precede a new album, Nucleus to be released in early January.-Ed.].


More From Invisible Oranges