From The Abyss / Jools Green looks back at a year of Extreme Metal

2022 has been another superb year for music releases and, even more so, live events. Not quite up to the quantity of pre-Covid-19 levels yet, but we are certainly getting there, with bands keen to get back to doing what they love.

Gigs of the year

The year got off to a great start for me with Anti Nowhere League at Exeter Cavern on 28 January. With a distinct difference between the freezing cold train journey and the red-hot performance by ‘The League’ playing all their best-loved songs in a rammed-to-capacity venue.

Decapitated’s rescheduled gig in Brighton at The Arches on 6 April also didn’t disappoint, but then they never do. A full venue witnessed a superbly delivered set consisting of a mix of tracks from across their discography, including the iconic Day 69.

Possibly my gig of the year happened on 24 April, slightly influenced by the fact that it was the day after my birthday, so, therefore, my official birthday gig. This saw three bands, openers Welsh Black Metal outfit Agrona, followed by Wode, who live, surpass their superb studio work and utterly blew me away with their performance and headliners, the brutally superb Garaea, together delivering an evening of superb Black Metal at Plymouth’s The Underground.

I found myself in Brighton on the 4 June, after booking travel and accommodation, to attend an event that was cancelled. So on a friend’s recommendation, I decided to go to The Pipeline to see regular faces at that venue, Spleen, who describe themselves as a “five-piece alternative, post-punk, queercore group with electro/disco influences and Gothic Sensibilities”.

On paper, this couldn’t have been further removed from my usual Metal background, but it pays to step outside of your comfort zone if Metal can ever be described as that because I found them absolutely enthralling. You can’t fail to be moved by their deeply confessional lyrics delivered powerfully and passionately by their hauntingly charismatic vocalist Oli Spleen. Indeed a hugely enjoyable and serendipitous discovery for me that evening.

The 22 October found me at another rescheduled event, the Plymouth leg of the Helpless Caged In Gold tour, opened by our local rising Thrash outfit Death Assault and which also featured a last-minute support change with Falmouth’s finest, the two-piece Blackened Doom outfit Monolithian supporting Helpless, an ideal replacement given that they share the same bass player, Simon. Three bands I’ve seen before, and all of whom were in absolutely blistering top form this evening.

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Top Albums

Once again, 2022 was a superb year for studio releases. I have struggled to keep it to my ten favourites, all of which here have equal merit for me.

Lawnmower Deth’s Blunt Cutters was my first album review of the year. These Thrash/Crossover titans instantly brought much-needed humour to the new year with this eighteen-track, thirty-four-minute offering, with lyrics that have you sniggering like a school kid whilst headbanging yourself into a frenzy.

Neo-classical Melodic Death Metal band from Chicago, Burned In Effigy, brought a technically superb meld of classical and progressive elements into their album Rex Mortem which was an engaging and easy listen with lyrics that lean towards darker more bleak concepts contrasted by the music, which suggests brightness and optimism giving a clever balance to the album.

Greek Death ‘n’ Rollers Kemerov’s album, Anti-Hero, delivered an aural assault of irresistible brutality. A heady meld of superbly raw, scathing vocals is equally matched by the well-varied drum battery and unrelenting guitarwork, with every track a unique gem, each full of surprises.

Firebreather’s Dwell In The Fog was a superb, ground-shaking, yet groovy offering, with more of a focus on driving, soaring riffs, somewhat in the vein of High On Fire, Inter Arma and Monolord compared to their rawer previous offerings. One of those rare Stoner/Doom offerings that hit the spot for me.

Ukrainian Drone/Doom/Sludge Metal Nonsun’s album Blood And Spirit became a painfully relevant offering. “The album title refers to spiritual struggles through the bloodiest of times,” the band said. “The five tracks, in a sense, are yearnings, or prayers, thrown into the void. What doesn’t kill you… Does it make you stronger? Or leave you even more crippled? When all magic is gone… Is wisdom worth a thing?

“It’s about raising questions rather than giving answers. As the rational mind and willpower fail, a spiritual quest begins. Though initially it was meant to have a more personal meaning, never could we imagine how painfully relevant the album’s title would sound near the time of release.”

For me, it was a very unique offering that sounds, initially like, but isn’t, an instrumental record from a technical perspective. The vocals are delivered in a non-traditional, non-lyrical manner in the form of subtly integrated rumbling, guttural vocalizations and breathy chants that are carefully woven into the very fabric of the tracks, often at a barely perceptible level but adding a huge degree of unnerving dark atmosphere, melding with the lower elements and complementing the higher, often hypnotic riffs. A powerful listen.

I’ve always got a huge amount of time for Chris Reifert’s projects, and with Static Abyss, he promised to deliver, as a new mouthpiece for a rotten age, a dose of eerie Death/Doom Metal depravity. Reifert commented that the album’s themes are to “explore the echoes of insanity manifested through human existence,” and it didn’t disappoint. It is a masterclass in flesh-searing Death/Doom!!

Swedish Death/Heavy/Dark Metal trio Furnace returned with the third part of their sci-fi/horror trilogy Stellarum, masterminded by Rogga Johansson (Paganizer, Massacre) and Peter Svensson (Assassin’s Blade, Void Moon) and created out of their shared love of horror-fantasy concept albums.

Stellarum is an end-to-end epic listen, each track a vital part in the story and each with its own individual merit, but needing the others to paint the full picture. I feared it wouldn’t be as good as Dark Vistas, but it is. Stellarum really is yet another brilliant chapter of a superb trilogy of albums and probably my favourite Rogga project currently.

I was originally drawn to Daidalos, The Expedition because the album’s back story reminded me of a Wilkie Collins book inspired by Franklins Expedition I’d read many years ago. Similarly, mastermind Tobias Püschner had read another book also inspired by Franklin’s ill-fated expedition through the Arctic ice, urging him to create this album. Musically it’s a hugely immersive, utterly fascinating listen that captures the icy atmosphere and the bleakness, desperation and confusion perfectly.

Lord Belial’s Rapture is an album I never thought would happen at one time due to drummer Micke’s ongoing battle with Tinnitus. Still, it did and surpassed both my and many other people’s expectations. An end-to-end superb listen, without a doubt, one of the Black Metal highlights for 2022.

Blood Of Indigo delivered an ambitiously impressive release in the shape of Dawn Of The Shaded World which they described each song as “a carefully crafted dish from a Dark Fantasy Metal buffet. Every song tells its own story and was inspired by our favourite video games,” coming into being after Lindsay Schoolcraft encouraged Alex Centorame to pursue his dream of being a Metal vocalist. The result proved to be impressive, powerful and, at times, orchestrally flamboyant and, overall, a superb listen.

Carrion Vael’s third release, Abhorrent Obsessions, delivered a sound that is as complex as it is brutal, melding a strong Technical Death Metal element with Melodic and traditional Death Metal plus aspects of subtly delivered Slam as well as a symphonic edge. An intriguing mix that sounds mindboggling on paper, but when you listen, you find it works better than you can possibly imagine, so skilfully has it been constructed. I was utterly blown away by the audacious brilliance of this album!

Albums of Merit

(More appropriately, awesome albums I didn’t review)

Venom Inc. – There’s Only Black. For me, the best Venom era was the Demolition years ’89-’92 with Tony Demolition Man’ Dolan. He broke the glass ceiling when he formed Venom Inc. and delivered their first release, Avé, which was my privilege to review in 2017. There’s Only Black pushes beyond that release, brutally driving, hugely addictive and utterly superb.

Helvellyn – The Lore Of The Cloaked Assembly. A superb debut Black Metal release from this Cumbrian quintet, it’s superbly dark, acidic and evil, completed by the vitriolic vocals of D.F. Just one listen is enough to rip out and crush your very soul…. If you have one… which I don’t.

The MetalTalk highlights I worked on

Two stand-out collaborations I worked on, were with our Editor Steve Ritchie. Firstly our interview with Sathonys, of Agathodaimon, regarding their album The Seven, about which he commented, “my focus was to close the gap between our old roots and a modern approach.”

Secondly our interview with Goatooth, from Nonsun from Lviv, Ukraine, which was a moving experience. He commented that “for me, music is not an entertainment thing. It’s more of a spiritual experience. Or, saying more ‘scientifically’, a therapy. I perceive it more in its primal form – as a ritualistic element, a transcendental experience.”

I enjoyed working on both pieces immensely with Steve. We definitely bring out the best of each other’s talents.

Those we lost this year

There have been too many, but the one that impacted me the most was the loss of Taras Lavriv, who was killed in action during the Russo-Ukrainian war. A militant of the Azov Battalion, and also the chief of Dolyna children’s art school, former guitarist for Gravitsapa, Nonsun, Залізний Хрест. R.I.P

Abiding memory of 2022

Being back at gigs, a large part of my “raison d’etre”

2022 in Five Words

Life almost feels normal again.

2023 hopes in Five Words

Great Metal releases and gigs!!

You can read more From The Abyss, with Jools Green, at https://www.metaltalk.net/tag/from-the-abyss.

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