Quick Hits: Auric Records—Excruciation, Babylon Asleep, Heavydeath, and Stig .C. Miller

Auric Records is a label run by Eugenio Meccariello, vocalist of longstanding Swiss metal act Excruciation, and has thus far primarily—though not exclusively—focused on releases featuring said group. I was contacted last month about a handful of interesting split 7"s—all featuring B-sides from Excruciation—and certainly found them worthy of further exploration...

Babylon Asleep/Excruciation, 'Split' (2017)

Babylon Asleep (Germany) opens this affair with the lightly melodic doom/death of "Behind Your Light." A relatively slow and spacious outing, the piece explores a wide range of atmospheric elements and vocal tactics, unexpectedly picking up speed near the four-minute mark to fall into a brief, charging groove. There's some noticeable panning in the mix, which I always enjoy, though the bass presence—while audible—is a bit lacking, so the recording can be left feeling a touch thin on occasion. Still, an intriguing and effective listen from this up-and-coming unit.

Having previously only heard Excruciation's debut outing from 1987, Last Judgement, "Towards the Sun" displays quite a shift in style from those early days of rugged thrash metal (I'm sure this evolution took place many years ago, this is simply my first exposure to it). A very fitting match for Babylon Asleep, here we have some slow to midpaced doom-tinged death metal—complete with a few subtly warped chord bends and dissonant textures to accentuate its unique groove. I quite enjoy the robust-yet-gritty production with distinct separation between left/right guitars, too.

I opted for the high-quality, full-color picture disc 7" in this case—backed by a double-sided black and white lyric insert—all featuring images of Hercules and Orestes painted by John Singer Sargent. Very nice, indeed.

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Heavydeath/Excruciation, 'Split' (2017)

The rather prolific Heavydeath (Sweden) opens this split with "Descending," the most linear of these tracks thus far. Just a strong dose of good, pounding doom/death—arguably with ever-so-slight undercurrents of black metal as well. Meaty production, sinister atmosphere, it's all in place. The band name keeps it simple and to the point, and—at least in this case—so does the music. Good stuff.

Excruciation follows with "Haunted," and again, there's just a unique groove happening here. I'd still call it doom-tinged death metal, but not in an obvious manner, they pursue an interesting approach. Forcefully gruff vocals, hard-hitting palm-muted rhythms, great production that lets the rhythm section punch up the middle while the guitars play off of one another to the sides... very cool. This one's a little more aggressive and direct, but still retains a sense of darkness. Great work.

I went for standard vinyl this time out, and was greeted by a thick black 7" in a matte black dust jacket. The heavy, two-sided black and white sleeve contains somber artwork by Käthe Kollwitz as well as lyrics, credits, etc. All bases covered!

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Stig .C. Miller/Excruciation, 'Split' (2018)

I believe "Rising Son" is the first proper solo release from Stig .C. Miller—of the mighty Amebix and Zygote, of course—and it does not disappoint. Dry acoustic guitar lays the foundation for a metalized form of dark hard rock or something. It certainly boasts the crusty edge and seething atmosphere that one might expect, and is perhaps not terribly far removed from Amebix circa Sonic Mass, but it's more straightforward and stripped down; and—rather than Killing Joke—bits and pieces actually bring to mind classic-era Danzig (musically). Several other tracks are available on Bandcamp, and I'm quite looking forward to checking them out. This is pretty fuckin' excellent.

Excruciation once more takes side B with "City of Smiles." A lengthy, undistorted intro with half-whispered vocals slowly starts to pick up about a minute-and-a-half in, as droning melodies finally break into full-force power chord rhythms around the two-minute mark (though not for long). The piece sways in and out before returning to a churning groove akin to the aforementioned tracks—this time with quite a ripping guitar solo on top. Definitely the band's most diverse of these three outings.

Once again, an ultra-thick black vinyl 7" is housed in a matte black dust jacket inside of a thick, double-sided sleeve that includes lyrics and such. This time around the artwork consists of what are apparently 1800s "ghostmother" portraits. Not bad at all.

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