Age of Strange Cults
I believe it was a tip from Starkweather (subscribe to that Substack for regular recommendations, 'cause social media stinks) that led me to the debut four-song EP from Vienna, Austria's Age of Strange Cults. The instrumental trio would've fit in excellently on the Hydra Head roster, or—closer to home—that of Radar Swarm: think lightly mathy, a little noisy, somewhat droning and exploratory, but mostly churning rhythms and sinewy dissonant accents. Dense yet dry production achieves the perfect balance between the three instruments—bass handles just as much of the driving as guitar, and both are locked right in against the percussion, so everything sounds fantastic. I've seen their work referred to as "post-metal," but I wouldn't go there. It's a take that's heavy and familiar, but simply can't be pigeonholed.
The difficultly-titled ◐ was co-released by Zirkon Music and Toothgnasher Records, which is somewhat odd since it's only on Bandcamp, but whatever it takes to get the word out, I guess! So, name your price and get to it!
I recently saw Clique get a mention on Instagram, where the zany "Slipknot meets Disembodied" identifier was too tough to pass up. Personally, I'd leave Slipknot way the hell out of it, but I do pick up on the Disembodied vibe with Looters in Paradise. Expect dense, gnashing metalcore with grit 'n' groove—it's dark and aggressive and has that tough edge, but also gets a message across, which is always a plus. Sure, they're not exactly breaking new ground, but definitely stand apart and don't sound like the vast majority of what's out there at the moment. Lots of hardcore bands come and go too soon, but I'd expect Clique to start making some noise if they stick around. Tons of potential here, not only musically and lyrically, but in terms of the artistic presentation of the work as well. Good stuff.
Dead Dog Summer
An astute reader recommended that I check out Croatia's Dead Dog Summer, whose debut full-length, A Place of Someday, tackles a really interesting branch of emo that's both driving and melodic, surging and heavy. It doesn't quite venture into "screamo" territory, and despite occasional elements of post-hardcore, doesn't really have that vibe to me either. I dunno, it just feels like "emo"—in a manner that's both sincere and mature, if not wholly traditional. The excellent recording captures the impassioned character of the vocals and utilizes bright guitars, great bass tone/presence, and the percussion is warm and natural. With plenty of breathing room in the mix, nothing feels thin or lacking. This totally reminds me of the kind of stuff I was flipping out about during the mid-2000s from Moonlee Records. Awesome.
A Place of Someday was issued through Geenger Records, but sadly—and surprisingly—is digital-only. While the material is certainly strong enough to deserve some form of tangible release, you can download through Bandcamp or stream on Spotify and the like.
As a huge fan of Ephel Duath's The Painter's Palette, I've been diving deeper into visionary guitarist Davide Tiso's work (Gospel of the Witches, Howling Sycamore, etc.), which recently led me to the progressive extreme metal of Red Rot—a project that also features former Ephel Duath vocalist Luciano Lorusso George. The band's debut album, Mal de Vivre, presents 17 quick tracks—almost all of which are one to three minutes—and while not as "out there" as Ephel Duath, is not exactly straightforward either. It's part experimental and aptly polished math metal that ventures into a form of churning rhythms and serpentine dissonance akin to a more listener-friendly Gorguts. And, shit, there are even a few My Dying Bride-esque tinges of atmospheric doom, which is an especially unique twist within the context of such succinct compositions. I need more time to digest in full, but very cool from the onset.
My preferred format was of course the six-panel digipak CD (with excellent artwork from Niklas Sundin), which is nearly sold out from the band. Mal de Vivre is also available on CD and LP (red or black vinyl) from the label, and you can stream your intangible 0s and 1s through Spotify.
Raleigh, NC's Sparing is back with a new EP of heavy, hard-hitting emo that borders on pop-punk in that classic early-2000s vein. A little bit snotty, a little bit whiny—both totally tolerably—surgingly chunky, yet melodic and tactfully catchy. This is probably the most dead-on I've heard in terms of both the accuracy and quality of recapturing that era. 20 years ago, this EP on Equal Vision or Victory would've been some degree of a "big deal." Very good. More hype: deserved.
No Room Left to Grow is available on both pro CD-R (limited to 100) and 12" (glacier blue or dark teal vinyl) through the generally superb Sunday Drive Records, Bandcamp, and Deathwish Inc. Stream on Spotify. I have to point out, however, that CD sales peaked in 2002, which is right in line with this sound, so... clearly that's the most fitting option!
Wire Lines is back with a new four-song EP that contains two increasingly winding and angular originals plus two Smiths covers. Excellently propulsive basslines rove wildly in the center as guitars circle aside while delivering a smattering of layered riffs and chords—uniquely melodic, and an unusual overall approach that continues to lend the group its own identity. Both of The Smiths covers are quite strong, and it's interesting that portions of the lyrics to closer "What Difference Does it Make?" could apply to longtime Smiths fans now agonizing over Morrissey's continual lean toward unsavory political opinions: "Your prejudice won't keep you warm tonight... I'm feeling very sick and ill today, but I'm still fond of you..."