The prevailing narrative of most tragedies suggests that pain and adversity are things we need to work our way through until our suffering is exorcised, and lessons are duly learned. However, as we all know, that narrative is frequently little more than a comforting lie. Because life is often far more complex and cruel than that.
While many of us do pick ourselves up and carry on after a calamity, our physical or emotional scars often don’t heal. Sometimes things that are broken are just too broken to ever be repaired. Sometimes a devastating tragedy is just that: devastating.
Christchurch, New Zealand-based band Stone Angels captured the harsh sound of that truth perfectly on their 2011 debut, Within the Witch (reviewed here)*. *The band originally formed in the months after Christchurch was struck by an earthquake in February 2011; an earthquake that left scores of dead and injured, a city in ruins, and plenty of traumatised citizens. I have no idea if Stone Angels were motivated to express that suffering. Or if their intention was to conjure the hardship and anger of post-quake life. But Within the Witch features catastrophic music that evokes all of that, and more.
Stone Angels mix downtempo and ill-omened sludge and doom with sepulchral soundscapes on Within the Witch. But, for all the album’s gut-wrenching bleakness, and its menacing ambience, it also provides –– like the works of Eyehategod or Primitive Man (or of New Zealand bands like Meth Drinker or Shallow Grave) –– a great deal of catharsis via the ten-tonne filth and noise.
Within the Witch is one of those albums you can use to either cast out or indulge your inner demons. And, as I noted back in 2011, there’s a lot of twisted solace to be found in that*.*
Since Within the Witch’s release, Stone Angels have released a cutthroat cover of Darkthrone’s “In the Shadows of the Horns” on their Bandcamp page, as well as a demo for the track “Signed in Blood”. And, more recently, Stone Angels have issued a new three-track, 14-minute digital release, Live E.P 2015.
Recorded via two room microphones at Christchurch venue The Dux Live in May this year, *Live E.P 2015 *is aptly described as “very raw and honest” by Stone Angel’s vocalist and guitarist SB (Steven Bell). There’s no question that the EP is an unprocessed piece of audio abrasiveness that’s more in keeping with Live in Leipzig than with Live After Death. And whether you’re going to enjoy *Live E.P 2015 *ultimately hinges on whether caustic live recordings appeal.
Thankfully, blood on the strings and lo-fi harshness definitely appeal to me. But, obviously, a coarse two-mic recording isn’t going to suit everyone. If you’re on the fence about that, then keep in mind that all you need to do is crank the volume on *Live E.P 2015 *–– there are gnarled riffs, throat-slit vocals, and plenty of bass swagger in Stone Angels’ darkly melodic and malevolent churns. So, yes, *Live E.P 2015 *is bleeding-raw. But it’s not remotely weak-willed, or deceitful. The band sounds great, and what you get is the brute force of Stone Angels delivering their black-hearted gospel straight from the pulpit. Amen.
If you’ve not listened to Stone Angels before, I’d recommend starting with Within the Witch before you dive into Live E.P 2015 –– and the good news is, both are available on the band’s Bandcamp page for a name-your-price fee. I was also heartened to hear that Stone Angels have upcoming splits with New Zealand bands Shallow Grave and Creeping planned as well. Any new studio recordings from Stone Angels are always very welcome. But it’s also great to hear more from Creeping, who recently released their excellent new album, Revenant (reviewed here). And Shallow Grave’s self-titled debut from 2012 is a phenomenal album that deserves a hell of a lot more attention too (reviewed here).
Check out *Live E.P 2015 *below. And make sure to keep an eye out for further ventures from Stone Angels in the future.