If you read the last post here at Six Noises, you’ll know I’ve already got a long list of New Zealand releases to write about this year. (Pressure’s on, man.) Most of the releases I’ve got lined up are either NZ punk or weird rock LPs and cassettes. But here’s a couple of recent Bandcamp releases from NZ’s underground metal realm that are well worth checking out.
Both bands below are from the city of Christchurch, which — if you’re reading this from offshore — was arguably the birthplace of extreme metal in NZ. (By ‘arguably’ I mean you can argue about whether that’s a fact or an #alternativefact. I’ve got way better things to do.) Christchurch is duly home to a few notable underground NZ metal bands, including the revered death and doom behemoth Sinistrous Diabolus, whose head honcho, Kris Stanley, happens to feature in both bands below.
Cheers for checking out Six Noises, it’s always appreciated, I’ll see you soon with more horrible noise.
Stone Angels: Patterns in the Ashes
Back in 2011, Stone Angels released their formidable full-length debut, Within the Witch. Born, in part, from the tragedy of the earthquakes that hit Christchurch at that time, Within the Witch’s heavyweight tracks were shrouded in an aura of darkness, and were gut-wrenchingly bleak, but the album as a whole was powerfully cathartic. That’s because the sludgy doom metal that Stone Angels creates works in two ways. First, and I’ve said this before, it’s an excellent conduit for purging your troubles. Second, the band’s shadowy sound also provides the perfect setting for indulging your inner demons.
Stone Angels’ latest release, Patterns in the Ashes, adheres to that same premise and constructs a similarly sinister scene. (It also features some diabolic dialogue, sealing an evil pact.) Patterns in the Ashes was recorded back in 2013, and, as with any recording unearthed after sitting in the vaults for years, you’d be right to ask why it’s taken so long to appear. I’ve got no answer to that, and all I can say, assuredly, is that it has nothing to do with the quality of music on offer.
Patterns in the Ashes is a great release; it’s eerie, ominous, and markedly nefarious. Of course, that’s no great surprise. Stone Angels’ vocalist and guitarist Steven Bell clearly knows his way around a hellfire-fuelled riff. He’s joined by bandmates Kris Stanley (backing vocals, bass, and guitar) and Geoff Eyles (drums), two musicians who’ve also had/have key roles in widely respected underground New Zealand metal bands such as Sinistrous Diabolus, Veneficium, Witchrist, and Diocletian.
So what does Patterns in the Ashes bring to the table? Well, in essence, fiendish sludge and doom that’s framed by matching atmospherics. Tracks like “White Light, White Noise II”, “Signed in Blood”, and “For the Glory of None” aren’t just haunted by the spectre of devilry and doom in tonal terms, they also crawl along with a tempo that adds extra emotional weight with every lurching step. That emphasises the pitch-black heart of the songs the further along you travel. And, instrumentally, the band deliver lengthy ill-omened communiqués that increase their oppressive heaviness with every single footfall too.
If you want to find fault with Patterns in the Ashes, there’s the obvious point that a few more songs wouldn’t have gone amiss. (No question, a new full-length from Stone Angels would be a superb.) If NZ bands such as Creeping, Shallow Grave, or Open Tomb have ever appealed, you’ll likely find a lot to enjoy in the slow, forbidding pace of Patterns in the Ashes (and ditto on new full-lengths from those bands too, please!).
Internationally, you could draw comparisons between Stone Angels bands like Electric Wizard, Primitive Man, Indian, or Cough. Point being, Stone Angels make heavy music for a world being torn asunder. You could call it a sonic reflection of the real world outside your door. Or an audio projection of what lies at the corrupt core of life. Either way, and I’m going to go ahead and repeat myself again here, the most important point is that Stone Angels’ music provides a punishing template for very troubled times.
Black Temple: Ritual – Invocation Demo
Black Temple are dead and buried. But the four-piece doom band’s red-raw Ritual – Invocation demo, which was recorded seven years ago with a couple of drum mics, has only recently appeared online. The who, what, and why of Black Temple’s demise are clearly tucked away in the murky memories of all concerned, and sometimes that’s for the best, right? Who doesn’t like a little mystery now and then? That said, the connections between Black Temple and Stone Angels above are pretty clearcut.
Black Temple included Stone Angels members Kris Stanley, Geoff Eyles, and Mike Cheer (who also played in Sinistrous Diabolus alongside Stanley and Eyles). There are further and perhaps more tenuous tendrils of connections between Sinistrous Diabolus, Stone Angels, and Black Temple too. Because, to my ears, Black Temple sound in parts like a cross between Sinistrous Diabolus and Stone Angels.
Admittedly, Black Temple don’t sound as monolithic or as spirit-crushing as Sinistrous Diabolus (but then, what NZ metal band ever has?). But Black Temple roughly conjures a menacing, occult doom ambience like Sinistrous Diabolus. There’s a swagger to a few riffs here and there that accelerates Ritual – Invocation’s slow-baked and gloomy pace on occasion as well. And Stone Angels feature that component in their sound too.
Ritual – Invocation is comprised of audio files that were lost for years then rediscovered and reconstructed, and they’ve had a few layers added on before release. But it’s still a red-raw demo. The sonic weight it brings to bear isn’t as oppressive as the studio recordings of Sinistrous Diabolus or Stone Angels, and nor would you expect it to be. There are audio hurdles to overcome, but even in its rawest form, Ritual – Invocation offers a tantalising glimpse of what could have been on coiling Lovecraftian doomscapes like “The Black Temple” and “Innsmouth”.
It would have been great to hear the songs on Ritual – Invocation fleshed out and upgraded in a studio. Although, obviously, there’s always something to be said for raw recordings from obscure bands, and demos like Ritual – Invocation crucially capture a moment in time. I guess, ultimately, some bands die too quickly, while others live for far too long. As it stands, if you’re interested in NZ metal’s history, or you’re a fan of ‘what could have been’recordings, Ritual – Invocation is well worth checking out.