Choosing five releases for Only Death Is Real gets harder with each iteration and this fourth column was no different. The list grew greater each time I heard something great but I chose five releases in each column so far and I’m not one to break my own arbitrary rules. Here, then, are five incredible releases that are worth your time and support - there's raw black metal, gorgeous post-metal shades and grindcore with a important message.
AARA - Anthropozän (I&II) (Debemur Morti Productions)
Having formed only last year, Switzerland’s AARA have already released one excellent full-length (So fallen alle Tempel on Naturmacht Productions) before moving to Debemur Morti and putting out this incredible ten minute long EP. It’s quite remarkable how fully formed this band is after such a short time and Anthropozän (I&II) showcases a wonderful regard for melody, for melancholy and for mood. For the duo behind this project - who prefer to use pseudonyms and face the world as elaborately masked apparitions - that mood is one coloured by the movement of time and of humanity and its effects on the world around it.
Anthropozän (I&II) is atmospheric black metal at its core and it uses cascading shades of darkness to fulfill its promise of despair. Vocals are screamed yet sit a little further back in the mix than the sweeping guitars, which carry much of the melody found on this release. Sorrowful waves crash through the first section of the EP and desperation is found in the deathly shrieks of Fluss while the instrumentation (performed by Berg) points the band in a slightly more classical music direction. AARA find their inspiration in the natural world and sounds of thunder marks the transition into part II of Anthropozän, giving the rainfall that follows a wonderfully organic and genuine feel. AARA have achieved much in a short space of time, one can only hope that more greatness will follow.
Aludra - Mass Stellar Graves (Independent/Akashic Envoy Records)
Aludra are another project to have only formed in 2018 and already have a number of excellent releases to their name. Based in Oklahoma and consisting of two members, Aludra write odes to deep space, to black holes and to the absolute darkness that is held within. The energy on Mass Stellar Graves is pure and raw, with visions of death and collapse emanating from the cold tones of the guitars and the dissonant ambience that echoes during “Coma B.” It’s disorienting and reaches further into the dark embrace of the cosmos before the discordant and claustrophobic pulses of “Sagittarius A*” pull you back to reality.
The instrumental tones of “Out of Chaos” allows Mass Stellar Graves to balance out the complete darkness with a section that gives room for breath and for an introspective moment while “Black Void Damnation” twists that serenity in the opposite direction and finds itself spiralling downwards into the abyss. Aludra may be a fairly new name but the creations found within this record and their previous works are those of people who have much to say and they are expressing it with primal energy and cosmic range.
Black Cilice - Transfixion of Spirits (Iron Bonehead Records)
Black Cilice are managing to do the impossible in 2019 - be completely anonymous - which for a project that is so prolific is an incredible achievement in itself. Hailing from Portugal (which is the only concrete information we really have on this band), this one-person entity creates black metal that is raw, cloaked in smoke and disturbingly catchy. First track “Darkness and Fog” is a whirlwind of blastbeats and cycling guitars and hidden beneath the echoing and harsh vocals is a beat that will sink its claws into you and not let go until the very last seconds. It’s a tactic used throughout Transfixion of Spirits as one that will deftly take over your mind so that you come out of the other side as if suddenly awakening from a trance - blinking against the stark sunlight and grasping for something solid and real to take hold of.
Melancholy plays a large part during Transfixion of Spirits and finding those moments is as surprising as those passages are beautiful. “Maze of Spirits” is a stunning movement that takes in sorrow and despair as its main driving force; vocals are harsh, wracked with pain and occasionally reach high into the stratosphere as screams before the song takes a turn into the more upbeat riffs that colour much of the rest of the record, leaving a trail of wonder in its wake and a sense of haunted memory. “Outerbody Incarnation” follows that ghostly myth further to its inevitable end and the song pulses with images of long-forgotten graveyards and lost hope.
Cloud Rat - Pollinator
Michigan’s Cloud Rat have been creating devastating grindcore for almost ten years and in that time have spoken about issues that strike them deeply; feminism, animal rights, and, the topic that seems most prominent here - the destruction of our environment. The title, Pollinator, seems to evoke images of regeneration and of new life and the songs that are contained within tend to speak as to the ravages of humanity on our planet. “Last Leaf,” “Al Di La” and “Perla” are deadly metaphors that create shifting moments of sound while Madison Marshall’s voice lays down lyrics that are deeply affecting. You want to listen to what they have to say and Cloud Rat are not afraid of grabbing you by the throat to scream in your face the words that you need to hear.
It’s not all rage, though, and Pollinator, does include small moments of light and intricacy that is missing in a lot of grind music; the atmospheric outro of “Al Di La” into “Last Leaf” is wonderful, the melody that the ramped up guitars create during “Zula” is delicious and the riffs of “Biome” are sickeningly catchy - Cloud Rat are more interesting than many of the grind scene for the fact that these flourishes feel as much a part of the band’s DNA as the ultra-fast drums or the inhuman guitar speeds and are not tacked on for “cool points,” rather these are the best ways to express their anger or sorrow with the beautiful intro of “Luminescent Cellar”being a great example of such melancholy.
Rosetta - Terra Sola (Independent)
Are Rosetta one of the hardest working bands of our current times? Two EPs this year and an almost two-year touring cycle after the release of 2017s Utopioid would certainly suggest so and with the second of the EPs of 2019 Terra Sola being released with no prior warning (the first being January's Sower of Wind), it would seem that the Philadelphia band could have plenty more where that came from.
The colours of Terra Sola are of the post-metal variety although Rosetta have been playing with more cinematic shades of late and the three songs here move in waves of structured sound, contrasting clean and bellowing vocals and passages of utter elegance. Opening track “Terra Sola” is eleven minutes of dynamic post-metal that takes in moments of hardcore in it’s shouts and cascading guitar riffs while “57844” is swept along in a cloak of serenity for much of its six minutes. Rounding out the EP is the instrumental “Where Is Hope” which plays with electronic textures and rhythms and comes with an aura of sadness so dense that it’s hard to see a way out. The questioning tone is not lost during the song and the exhale of breath that’s let out when it’s all over is one of release.