Number One ETERNAL HELCARAXE
Eternal Helcaraxe’s first full-length is deservedly one of the best records to come out of this island this year. Released by Abyss Records, Against All Odds is the Cavan black metallers’ best work to date after the To Whatever End EP and a demo in 2008. The band’s tales of ravaged battlefields and honourable warriors truly comes alive in each of these pummelling, but still melodic slabs, of black metal. Ireland’s bloody and violent history books are consulted for a rather complementary theme to the band’s rigorous and oft unrelenting barrages.
Some notable influences rear their heads too. Fellow countrymen Primordial’s trademark riffing and Nemtheanga’s historically tinged lyrics appear to have had a hefty effect on Eternal Helcaraxe’s overall aesthetic. The flourishes of Scandinavia are easy to pick up on as well, with Enslaved and early Moonsorrow clearly inspiring the band, particularly with the latter’s pagan themes. Influences aside, Eternal Helcaraxe’s devastating and ambitious air is one still somewhat unique to themselves. The trio of vocals are dynamic as they sway between orthodox black metal shrieks to a more guttural, sometimes death metal-like bark or the imposing and grandiose clean vocals dotted sporadically throughout, truly alighting on Invictus, one of the album’s undeniable highlights or As The Snow Gathers, complemented perfectly by imposing string arrangements.
And while Eternal Helcaraxe explores themes morose and blood soaked in their nature, they are still a band that sound totally invigorated and animated; take the almost ebullient close to One Still Stands Here as proof. Healthy levels of melody pinched from genres further afield maintain this album’s dynamism and always keep things interesting like the eerie opening riffs of We Assist Death, but at their heart Eternal Helcaraxe are a black metal band… scratch that, black metal warriors and this is their impassioned victory cry.
Number Two SODB
Writing about this demo has almost become second nature. It’s weird how you can have so much to say about a mere four songs. However, Sodb’s Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin rightfully deserves much of the praise heaped upon it these last few months. For a mere demo, it’s sprawling and captivating black metal that’s almost soothingly melodic at times, or hypnotic rather, but never loses its mammoth heaviness and forward grit. Featuring Johnny King from Altar of Plagues and Abaddon Incarnate on drums as well as members of The Dagda and Putrefaction, there have been numerous examinations of Sodb’s punk aesthetic informing their black metal. The evaluation has almost becoming a little tedious at this point but the point remains and the tenuous brushes of the bands’ influences certainly plays a role in the crafting of Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin.
Equally entrancing as it is daunting, Don Seantalamh a Chuid Féin balances two opposing concepts to near perfect effect from start to finish, with dense atmosphere somewhat reminiscent of the first couple of Drudkh albums or even (vague) Burzum-esque ambience, and judicial use of melody that’s totally engrossing. The confines of the tape give the demo a truly restless feel for the most part. In fact, the production for the most part is spot on; the melody is given room to breathe all the while the eerie darkness is never disrupted.
With luck, it’s only the beginning of what Sodb have to offer. The demo can be streamed HERE.
Number Three THIS TONGUE IS POISON
Unfortunately, Retrospective Dissonance is to be This Tongue Is Poison’s swansong. The melodic hardcore band, drawing influences from ‘90s and early ‘00s screamo bands like Orchid or Pg.99, were always threatening to release a LP to remember. A demo released online last year featured a mere four songs that, despite the lacklustre recording quality, exhibited some deeply passionate and beautifully composed songs that sometimes verged on the chaotic. Scant few lives shows further attested to the band’s talent. Several months later, the band fearlessly expanded on everything the demo threatened with this impressive full-length, put up for streaming, before calling it a day.
The four demo tracks have been re-worked a little and retitled but in the end, the quality of each of the tunes speaks for itself. All are short and the LP only clocks in at 20 minutes, making it a concise and terse listen but no less invigorating and plenty times, powerful. Opening with the title track, This Tongue Is Poison commence with a beautifully melodic intro before erupting into familiar screamo territory, keeping the balance between these two shades is one of Retrospective Dissonance’s biggest strengths. At the same time, riffs and melodies throughout the album are totally unforgettable like Weaker and the chaotic December.
Meanwhile, Sea Serpents reels things in with a moody and pensive verse to open things slowly only to return to familiar terrain once again. Broken Wax then brings the album to a suitable close. It’s, once again, heavy with dejected emotion that’s altogether palpable and weighty, much like the effort as a whole.
It would be easy to list off a couple of influences, like those previously mentioned, and make the obvious comparisons. Granted, the influence and inspiration is clearly there but This Tongue Is Poison still resonate with an energy and vigour that’s simply their own.
Retrospective Dissonance by This Tongue is Poison
Number Four FERN FLOOR
Elder, the debut release from Fern Floor, was issued by Fort Evil Fruit a few months ago and the cassette collects together some of the year’s most beautiful acoustic and folk melodies. With five members and a myriad instruments utilised, Fern Floor’s sound, while sombre and almost disconsolate at times, is rather layered, revealing a new part of itself on every listen.
With members of Sodb, Wreck of the Hesperus, Council of Tanith and The Dagda making up some of the band’s roll call, Fern Floor has a myriad approaches and viewpoints in its grasps that are all focused into this one tape. If there’s anything that Elder has in common with those bands, particularly Sodb and WOTH, it is atmosphere. The opening notes of Anchors, though gorgeously plucked are still somewhat imposing and when the sleek vocal harmonies enter, the air becomes all the more dramatic.
Anneleis is the album’s shimmering centrepiece though – totally captivating in its charming melodies and unassumingly grandiose vibe. Tinkling guitars open first, met soon by pipes and the lush but almost ghostly vocals add a whole new depth to the song. It’s actually a formula repeated throughout the tape, and to wondrous effect, but it’s here on Anneleis that it’s executed to near-perfection. The band accomplish this over and over again on Cartoon Moon and by the closing notes of the affected and intense last track Head of Gas, Heart of Oil play out, you’re left reeling.
The band has only played a handful of shows so far, unfortunately. With luck more new shows will be on the horizon in the new year and maybe even new music. Who knows.
Number Five ON PAIN OF DEATH
Hopeless. Utterly hopeless. That’s how you may feel after listening to On Pain of Death’s Year Naught Doom. The Mayo death-doom band’s album, which is their first and took far too long to finally be released, is a horrific and harrowing triumph for the year. While you have the likes of London’s Indesinence too releasing supreme death-doom albums in 2012, Ireland is not far behind with Year Naught Doom being one of the year’s very best.
Year Naught Doom could be best described as a filthy mire. Moving at a slow, lecherous, and foul pace, the band’s trudging is aurally taxing as the thick wall of guitar grows, heightened by pained vocals that range from deep, skull crushing groans and growls to searing shrieks. The record is one of the most dynamic doom efforts of the year in that while its formula is of course ground well-trod, the band muscles judicial levels of sickly melody into the din to keep things interesting and equally, devastating and the wearying 17 minute It Came From The Bog gathers all the loose ends of the album into one sickening and exhaustive close. Exhausting… but strangely exhilarating.
Number Six ZHORA
ZhOra have been one of Ireland’s best kept secrets. The Tipperary band rightfully take a place on this list for a short three track EP, Feet Nailed To The Ground, released at the very start of the year, which showed us that we have a band with much potential on offer. The evidence is in the vim and intensity seeping from the pores of this effort.
On first listen, the band has an obvious affinity for Mastodon but at times it’s reminiscent of Neurosis sped up a little. The approach works just fine for the band as they peel off riffs aplenty in all three tracks and the deep bellowing vocals twist everything into numbing forms. At the same time, ZhOra sound a little restricted. They have a chaotic and frenzied sound for sure, but for the most part, ZhOra sound like a bull pummelling its horns against a metal gate, trying to tear it down. These three tracks do well to inform us of who they are and what they are all about but here’s hoping they tear down that gate soon.