Welcome to the first Only Death Is Real of 2020, which this time features music from all corners of the earth. The column is a little shorter than usual this time as a few releases are yet to be fully available on bandcamp at the time of writing and including links to purchase the music is an important part of Only Death Is Real. However, it will be a little more frequent this year and I’m sure that finding music to feature in the future will be easy – the hardest part is not being able to talk about everything.
powder! go away - Lost Happiness (Independent)
Powder! go away may be the most strangely monikered band to feature on this column – which is a huge achievement considering it mostly features metal – yet their music is anything but. It is beautiful, cascading post-rock that evokes emotion, reflection and euphoria and their record of 2011, Laika Still Wants To Go Home stands as a favourite even to this day. This Russian project has steadily released music since 2011 yet took a break after 2014 without leaving it clear as to what the status of the band was. Fast forward to late 2019 and the news that they had new music on the way was met with excitement.
Lost Happiness, then, brings all the key moments from powder! go away’s catalogue to the fore and long-time fans may even notice some familiar musical motifs during the stark notes of “Locomotive.” The driving beats of “Basement Party” lead into the radiant rhythms of “Paraglider,” which is bittersweet in its echoing and emotive lead guitars that bring sadness to the fore. Melancholy has long been a base element of powder! go away’s sound, and Lost Happiness has plenty of those bright, painful moments on display that give you a moment to reflect on your own anguish and give it over to something bigger than yourself. It’s a euphoric, cathartic measure that we all need at some points in life – to truly stay within that pain and to realise that it makes us stronger.
Sluagh - Sluagh I (Independent)
Scotland’s Sluagh are a fairly new entity yet the members have played in other projects (Barshasketh, Of Spire and Throne, Haar, Úir) prior to coming together to form this band which gives them a head start in terms of how to put an album together. Sluagh I is a fantastic start, in that respect, as the record moves with an organic flow that speaks to the knowledge of those behind the band. Songs are wonderfully structured and where most black metal bands stay the course of harsh, screamed vocals, Sluagh incorporate low, deep bellows and some clean chant-like lines which add atmosphere to the tracks and give them an edge over their peers.
The luminous guitars of “IV” contrast sharply to the doomed voices of following track “V” and the subtle keys that build tension behind it all are a magnificent touch. The choral lines make an appearance underneath the more rage-filled vocals while the eerie, ecclesiastical organ sounds do much to push through an aura of dread. Sluagh are certainly on the right path and this EP is a superb foundation on which to build.
Thanatonaut - Interstellar (Independent)
Cosmic black metal has seen a significant upsurge in artists over the last few years with bands such as Mare Cognitum, Starless Domain, Mesarthim, Midnight Odyssey, Spectral Lore and Arkhtinn taking the blueprint and pushing it ever further into the outlying realms of space, while we wait for their oft-cited influence, Darkspace to come forth from the shadows to release music again. In the meantime, we have Poland’s Thanatonaut, a band taking that base of cosmic black metal and twisting it to fit their ideas of what lies in wait at the edge of space.
Interstellar clearly owes a huge debt to Darkspace yet their take on the genre moves it into much more philosophical territory; it asks questions as to what is out there, who is out there, is mankind doomed? And while answers are sought throughout, the outcome is clear – we must achieve interstellar travel in order to survive the future and the unknown. It’s a concept that Thanatonaut carries beautifully throughout their debut which is full of oppressive synthesisers, programmed drums and a dense mix that brings darkness in its claustrophobic tendencies, particularly on the closing twenty-one minute monolith that is “Spores,” a song which has constant movement and no room for a pause. It’s cycling waves of sound pulse with a strident beat and where vocals are included, they are spoken in the style of a letter to whoever may find the remains of those lost on this journey to the stars.