Wednesday, October 1, 2014

THE TWILIGHT REVUE: Barrens, Conjuro Nuclear, Venowl / Highgate Split, Sempiternal Dusk

BARRENS "Circles" EP
Ambient/Folk/Black Metal

BARRENS hails from Tuscany, Italy and is the remarkable solo debut of musician Luca Dalpiaz. Expertly combining genres such as depressive black metal, ambient, goth and neofolk, BARRENS has the spectral melancholy of XASTHUR infused with the mystical atmosphere of DEAD CAN DANCE. A variety of moods are explored, from cathartic despair to quiet introspection, through dense, lush instrumentation featuring layers of both distorted and acoustic guitars. The vocals alternate between a desperate, whispered rasp, and majestic, billowing harmonies. These 2 compositions, clocking in around 20 minutes total, wash over you in haunting, ethereal waves encrusted in a grim haze of longing and loss. Truly one of my favorite discoveries of late.

Look for an interview with BARRENS, coming soon.

CONJURO NUCLEAR "Conjuro Nuclear"
Black Metal/Darkwave

This is CONJURO NUCLEAR's second release of black metal and darkwave. Unabashed, melodramatic synths reminiscent of 70's and 80's horror film soundtracks combine with simple but driving black metal riffs in a way that is both grim and danceable at the same time. Ventures into punk at times, but really all of the styles are integrated very well, even when the synths dominate the songs. Vocals are a distorted shriek usually buried in the background but they work great for me. These short, punchy songs start to sound a little similar by the end, but the whole release is so much fun it hardly matters.

United States

VENOWL's part of this doom/noise split is one sprawling, fully-improvised composition titled "Vacant Cellar", and it clocks in just over 34 minutes. Extremely bleak atmosphere, like staring through zero, spirit-crushing hopelessness carved out by punishing feedback. Vocals are piercing, like an ice pick on glass, seriously shrill as hell and amazing. I love the part around 15:00 when the drums drop out and the vocals echo over guitar riffs. Just enough restraint utilized to avoid total oblivion as this seething, bilious mass reaches a satisfying conclusion.
Kentucky's HIGHGATE takes a more conventional route, using extreme dynamics to set the mood in their composition titled "Carved Into Winter". The piece is interspersed with segments of dark ambient drone that develop slowly as a lone guitar begins playing a stoic riff. Gradually the other instruments follow in a build-up/release pattern that culminates in an anguished, extended crescendo with tortured vocals. I'm not up to speed (pun intended) on current trends in the doom genre, but to me these guys touch on that special, scuzzy, down-and-out vibe like EYEHATEGOD or GRIEF. Not re-inventing the genre per say, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Cassette edition available from Tartarus Records here.

SEMPITERNAL DUSK "Sempiternal Dusk"
Death Metal/Doom
United States

At last, the long-awaited full-length from this Portland, Oregon band. Originally a 2-piece outfit, the lineup has now expanded as SEMPITERNAL DUSK evolves from what may have been a side-project into a fully-fledged entity. Indeed, these 5 massive compositions find the band truly coming into their own. The riffs at times have a barbaric simplicity that reminds me of USDM pioneers AUTOPSY or IMPETIGO; however SEMPITERNAL DUSK creates far more atmosphere; in fact to me that is one of the achievements of this record. It manages to be primitive and bludgeoning while evoking a grisly mood at the same time. Deep, cavernous vocals emanate across detuned guitars and fantastic drumming. The production is near perfection, everything sits in balance right where it should, achieving refinement without sacrificing the edge. One of my top death metal picks for 2014.

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