FRACTURED’s John Mulvaney: ‘Top Ten’ Irish Releases of 2016… Posted: 29/12/2016 by John O'Brien
It wouldn’t be the end of the year without the obligatory ‘Top Ten’ list. So to honour that tradition the Irish Metal Archive reached out and invited John Mulvaney to give us his run down of 2016’s best releases. John is someone with a unique standing in the Irish Metal Underground, being the man who made it his mission to create and direct the superb ‘Fractured’ series which focuses on some of our Island’s best and most extreme underground bands. The series has shed light on an aspect of Irish music and culture which is all but ignored by the mainstream and has garnered much praise during it’s (still ongoing) run. So much so that it was also included in this years IndieCork Film Festival.
10 – Wreck of the Hesperus – Sediment
WRECK OF THE HESPERUS seem to barely operate within the traditional sphere of a ‘band’ these days; playing live no
longer seems to be on the agenda anymore, but I’m glad they are still finding the time to put their decaying brains together to at least record new material. “Sediment” sees the doom aspects of their music pushed out to the furthest reaches of the genre – gone are any discernible riffs and playing , and what we are left with is a challenging, often terrifying slab of cavernous filth.
The release is boiled down to two tracks, both of which break the 20 minute mark. ‘Erosion (Death’s White Lustre)’ leads, with the first of the ‘guest’ vocals – I hesitate on the use of that word, as both Darren Moore’s (of MOURNING BELOVETH) and Emer Brady’s (FERN FLOOR, UNITED BIBLE STUDIES) work here feels completely steeped in the music without a trace of superficiality about it. Uneasy and uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t want it any other way from these guys.
09. Harvester – Harmonic Ruptures
As my own musical taste veers further and further away from traditional metal sounds and song writing, HARVESTER managed to catch me off guard this year with their first full length release. They’re a band that are getting major kudos and the support slots to go with it, but are definitely beating their own path with how they approach their next steps.
What I really liked about “Harmonic Ruptures” was that, despite the fact that you can make easy, obvious comparisons to other bands in terms of their sound, the album is just so damned good that you just can’t help but get caught up in the energy of it all. There’s great, catchy tunes in here, with plenty of depth to keep you coming back. It would have been easy for these guys to overcook the whole thing in the studio, but instead opted for a much more ‘live’ feeling to the whole thing – the guitars could be thicker in places, or some parts tightened up here and there, but that’s where the personality of the record shines through to me. This energy also happens to translate perfectly live – definitely catch them when you can.
08. Slomatics – Future Echo Returns
This might be SLOMATICS fifth full length release, but they seem to only be getting warmed up in terms of pushing their sound and amps to the limit. The Belfast-based sludge/space doomers have added a few new key ingredients to their trademark crushing riffage that only makes them even heavier, somehow.
The sounds are a tad more refined on “Future Echo Returns”. Synthesisers are prominent, as are a more harmonic use of the vocal shouts – things even step down a gear for ‘Ritual Beginnings’, which is a rather thoughtful-sounding spacerock interlude. Don’t let this sense of melody mislead you, though; the album bludgeons you from start to finish. Best played at the loudest volume your speakers can go to before they crumble.
07. Yurt – III Molluskkepokk
YURT are a band who’ve never taken the easy approach with winning over audiences in their ten year existence, and I’m happy to say nothing has changed with their latest release. Their style has always been a hard one to nail down; they take elements of heavy metal, progressive rock, space noodling and punk, and hammer it into a very distinctive shape that can only be called ‘YURT‘.
“Yurt III” is easily their finest release so far; previous albums had exceptional pieces, though this is the first time those pieces gel as a perfectly constructed whole for me. The production lends it the space the music needs to breathe – the instrumentation sounds live, specifically because it is; there are no overdubs here, which only makes it all even more impressive. None of this would mean a fuck if there wasn’t a real flow; from the swirling synths that open on ‘A Lesion in the Chrysalis’ through to the stomping, mind-boggling chaos of ‘Ruptured by the Shrapnel’ you get the real sense of being taken on a journey – a paranoid, cryptic, jagged and lengthy journey – but it’s one I’ve wanted to take many times since the album released.
06. Vircolac – The Cursed Travails of the Demeter
These Dublin-based werewolves are among my favourite of the more recent Irish death metal bands to crawl out of what is fast becoming an incredible scene. Standing side-by-side with heavy hitters MALTHUSIAN and ZOM, VIRCOLAC are striding a very different path – there’s less of the cavernous rot and murkiness and more straight up, old fashioned death metal at play here.
“The Cursed Travails of the Demeter” sees them release their first EP, and a few things have changed from the “Codex Perfida” demo – there’s less atmospheric moments, and instead we are thrown straight into the carnage. What really grabbed me about the earlier release was that willingness to experiment – gentle moments would collide with massive slabs of guitars and Darragh O’Leary’s rasping, vicious vocals, giving weight to the mood and atmosphere of it all. Thankfully that willingness has survived here; Colin Purcell’s drumming is a real highlight throughout, and the EP closer, ‘Betwixt the Devil and the Witches’ is 9 minutes of pure death metal horror; carved from the flesh of Hammer and soaked in the blood of their very own unique sounds. With the band line-up expanded to a five-piece, I look forward to hearing what a horrors a full-length release might contain.
05. Ilenkus – Hunger
Following up on their hugely ambitious second album, “The Crossing”, was never going to be easy for ILENKUS. The release of their aggressive ‘Over The Fire, Under The Smoke’ video saw the band go viral, and it would have seemed logical to many for them to try and cash in on that sort of fleeting success, but one listen to that record tells you everything you need to know about the band.
Collectively; they are far more thoughtful and considered than the ‘post hardcore’ tag would lead you to believe. The new “Hunger” EP sees the band flying away from the lengthy turbulent journey of “The Crossing” as they focus purely on the vicious side of their music, and it’s explosive stuff. Originally conceived to be one long 20 minute piece, what we get here is 4 furious tracks that show an incredible range of styles, with more ideas crammed into one track than most bands manage over the course of an entire album. Technically it’s up there with some of the finest works I’ve heard this year, and it’s further proof that these guys have what it takes to be one of the best metal exports this country has produced. Hunger, indeed.
04. Okus – Scourge
OKUS might possibly be this country’s best kept grind secret, and it still amazes me that fans of the more extreme side of music aren’t familiar with them. Made up of various members of THE DAGDA and FUCKHAMMER, to name a few, these gents have been involved in hardcore and crust for over 30 years, but they show no signs of packing it in with OKUS.
What worked so well about their sound previously is that uneasy mix between the crust/grind breakneck speed and the slow, nasty doom sections – but with “Scourge”, they’ve really pushed themselves beyond what was displayed on their self-titled debut. Gone are the samples and vocal-free interludes, and what’s left is the sound of a band finding their feet and focusing their energy on peeling your face off with a real sense of fury. Everything seems faster, heavier, tighter, but not at the cost of actual songwriting. Even the schizophrenic pacing seems ironed out here; it’s not until the epic ‘Abandon Sun’ that things finally come crashing down into nausea-inducing doom/sludge territory. These guys excite me, and if you get a chance to see them live, they’ll excite you too.
03. Zealot Cult – Karmenian Crypt
In spite of the fact that they seemingly came out of nowhere this year with “Karmenian Crypt”, death metallers ZEALOT CULT have been around for more than 6 years. And with their collective members being involved in heavy and extreme music going back to the 90’s, they are no strangers to the metal scene, especially in their home town of Limerick.
Their previous, self-titled release saw a band that seemingly bares little relation to what we hear now – they had a much more guttural, blast-beat infested sound – and little of that has made it over to the new EP. Instead, what we find is a return to classic-era death metal songwriting; the likes of Death, Obituary and Morbid Angel might be the basic blueprints for what makes up the ZEALOT CULT sound, but the band is better for it – it’s the sound of a band taking the time to find the heart and soul of their music and drive it to its most logical point. All four members are at the top of their game here, and seeing them on the main stage at Siege of Limerick is one of my gigging highlights of 2016. With a full-length release in the works, expect these lads to dominate next year.
02. Unyielding Love – The Sweat of Augury
2016 was a busy year for UNYIELDING LOVE. They seemed to never stop gigging, replaced a drummer and somehow found the time to record “The Sweat of Augury” – a twisted, 20 minute journey to the very darkest of places. The EP shows a real progression from the demo of late 2015; that was a mix of grind and noise tracks, and showcased what the band were doing live perfectly.
The evolution on the EP is apparent immediately; the noise tracks aren’t gone – they’ve just been incorporated into the grind so expertly now that it’s impossible to pull them apart. It’s a terrifying concoction, and when things do pause for breath during the moody ‘The Pregnant Hurt’ it’s only to calm you before leading you further into the slaughter house of the closer, ‘The Sweated Augury’, a brutal five minute conclusion to what might be the most suffocating release of the year.
01. Mourning Beloveth- Rust & Bone
MOURNING BELOVETH have been going for 20 years, in case you weren’t aware. And with “Formless”, the band showed they were a band not afraid to push themselves off into uncharted territory – it was a dense, heavy yet strangely thoughtful double CD release, and possibly one of the finest releases from this country. So following it up can’t have been easy.
But they did something many long-running bands could learn from. Instead of trying to go ‘bigger and better’, they stripped things right back: the album is essentially three songs, with two quieter interludes separating them, the titular ‘Rust’ and ‘Bone’. It’s a crushing, heavy album in terms of not just the music but the philosophical approach taken with the songwriting and lyrics; not many bands could get away with referencing Samuel Beckett, or closing out with an interpretation of a Yeats poem. It’s this self confidence that makes this an essential release. Music wise, the band push their sound onwards, with elements of speedy death metal breaking up the doom-laden opening of ‘Godether’, and the band find themselves in more traditional doom fields with the galloping ‘The Mantle Tomb’, which has possibly the best vocal performance on an Irish metal album, ever. Darren, Frank, Pauric, Brendan and Tim have created something that has real longevity here. Easily my Irish release of the year.
Honourable mentions: Being restricted to ten entries means some excellent releases get pushed down the list, but I wanted to draw attention to all of these which I felt were also well worthy of your ears.
EORDESLJYR‘s ‘Haxan’ album is a challenging and ambitious work that isn’t quite metal, but is a heavy release nonetheless. It’s a much more avant-garde affair than anything above, but if a black metal/jazz/experimental soundtrack to the classic silent film sounds like your bag, I can’t recommend it enough. Another that just missed the list is SOOTHSAYER‘s “At This Great Depth”, simply for the fact that it hadn’t officially released at the time of writing this list (and I haven’t had quite enough time with it) but I imagine it’ll position highly next year – it’s an excellent album from the Cork-based doom merchants. Elsewhere, COSCRADH released their first demo, “MMXVI”, and they are really doing fantastic things live – it’s a specific breed of blackened death, and I look forward to seeing what they do in 2017.