Down Under(ground): Aotearoa New Zealand Vol 4

New Zealand Bands Apr 19, 2020

Kia ora, welcome to the fourth volume of Down Under(ground): Aotearoa New Zealand. I've been writing about obnoxious NZ music for donkey's years, but this ongoing series is a chance to post more regular round-ups of skull-rattling music from NZ's far-flung shores.

I've been sharing this series around too, with volumes published at European punk and hardcore portal DIY Conspiracy, US metal and metal-adjunct headquarters Last Rites, and right here on my own neglected Southern Hemisphere blog, Six Noises. Essentially, wherever Down Under(ground) is published, the goal remains the same: I just want to introduce fans of noisy music to some of NZ's loudest underground bands. You know, spark a little rowdy romance between the two.

Speaking of which, this volume of Down Under(ground) features a couple of much-anticipated NZ metal releases from Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) black metallers Winter Deluge (spoiler alert: the band's new EP is a 666% certified triumph), and the magnificent new LP from fellow Aucklanders – and acclaimed death metal colossus – Ulcerate.

Also included below is a riotous 7" split featuring a couple of Aotearoa's vilest metalpunk bands; a head-splitting raw punk demo; a no-fi black metal cassette that has zero redeeming audio qualities, but is still a shedload of fun; a big ol' chest-thumping metallic hardcore release; a slam-dunk one-man black metal/crust demo; and, finally, a compilation featuring some of NZ's dankest and doomiest bands.

I'm writing this while NZ, like the rest of the world, is dealing with the unfolding consequences of COVID-19. Things are a little strange out there, but also, it turns out it's the perfect time to be blasting harsh and heavy (and exorcising) music. Fingers crossed some of the music below helps ease your stresses at this dark time.

Stay safe. Be well.

Now, onto more hateful happenings...

Winter Deluge – Degradation Renewal

The latest release from Winter Deluge couldn’t arrive at a better point in humanity's moribund reign. The band clearly hold nothing but contempt for the weak-kneed trappings of modernity, and like all challenging artists, Winter Deluge paint an ugly picture of humankind's failings. In fact, when it comes to forging genuinely misanthropic music, Winter Deluge are master craftsmen of hostile and hate-mongering metal.

Winter Deluge's new five-track EP, Degradation Renewal, bears witness to a world in its final throes, where nature has finally taken its long-overdue and well-deserved revenge. Winter Deluge revel in the perverse pleasures of lighting a final blazing pyre – before we all begin the inexorable crawl towards the darkness. Degradation Renewal is abhorrent and inhospitable; just like all scornful black metal should be. Cut-throat rhythms and scything riffs do battle with raw and atavistic audio terrors, and that's been Winter Deluge's signature style since guitarist Aaron Baylis and his brother and drummer Nathan formed the group in 2005.

Over the years, band members have come and gone, but Winter Deluge have always delivered bitterly cold and trend-free second wave black metal – all blistering-fast riffs, malevolent vocals, and spine-snapping percussion. Winter Deluge's 2006 demo, Vehement Visions of Nihilism, struck the first blow, which was followed by the band's full-length LPs, As the Earth Fades into Obscurity (2012) and Devolution – Decay (2016). Degradation Renewal is Winter Deluge's first release for long-running French label Osmose Productions, and it's encouraging to see the band's latest batch of pestilent tracks being unleashed by a well-respected international label.

Winter Deluge deserve more offshore attention, and Degradation Renewal sees the band upping their game and expanding their range, adding more overt thrash and death metal influences. Winter Deluge's barbaric music summons inhuman chaos while maintaining a razor-edge focus. And Degradation Renewal's opening track, "Mass Grave", is a searing blast of bloodthirsty black/thrash where trenchant blast-beats and lacerating riffs assail vocalist Thomas Meissner's snarls and sneers. Follow-up, "Cold War", brings more violence and venom, reaffirming Winter Deluge’s reputation for writing unrelentingly spiteful songs, and underscoring the band's visceral virtuosity.

Elsewhere, "What We Leave Behind" changes gear, adding more melodic flourishes into an otherwise malicious screed. "Architects of Extinction" sees scorched-earth death metal arise amongst all the pitch-black action, while "Within the Remnants of Humanity" features furious end-times riffs matched to pitiless howls.

Throughout Degradation Renewal, Baylis and fellow guitarist Mort inject speed-metal-worthy solos into blasting walls of ice-cold black metal. Tracks are left sharp albeit jagged, and they've been expertly recorded and mixed at Auckland's Dynamic Rage studio by Raj Singarajah and Cam Sinclair (see Sinclair's similarly savage work with NZ bands like Diocletian, Heresiarch, and Witchrist). Degradation Renewal sounds virulent and vitriolic, but best of all its combination of bone-chilling instrumentation and vocals amplify the EP's nerve-shredding causticity.

If you're going to find fault with Degradation Renewal, it'll likely be because the EP strictly adheres to the spirit of primordial black metal. Certainly, if you're angling for ultra-modern flourishes, Winter Deluge won't be offering you a helping hand. The band aren't interested in any post-this-or-that reimaginings either, and they're definitely not trying to reinterpret black metal for a bright new age.

That doesn't mean Winter Deluge are locked in a reality where second wave black metal plays the only role. As mentioned, the band incorporate primal components from death and thrash metal. However, if you value progression over raw anti-human aggression, then Degradation Renewal isn't for you.

Like the early work of Mayhem, Immortal, and Darkthrone (or like recent groups Winter Deluge have played alongside – see Aura Noir, Marduk, and Nocturnal Graves) Winter Deluge's modus operandi is as belligerent as it is antagonistic. The band's nihilistic approach pays tribute to corrosion and corruption, and Degradation Renewal is a testament to negativity, brimming with bile and loathing.

Degradation Renewal is merciless and villainous. But most of all, it's a triumphant roar of victory, as the world fucking burns.

Bowel Rupture / Pvnisher – S/T

In recent years, the punk and hardcore scenes in Aotearoa have produced rising numbers of extremely heavy genre-blending bands with significant crossover appeal. In fact, these days, there are plenty of NZ punk bands out-metalling local metal groups. Admittedly, that equation often looks a little out of whack because the NZ punk simply scene produces a lot more releases (given its penchant for smashing out raw, DIY recordings) and there are a lot more active homegrown punk labels in NZ too.

Point being, the NZ punk scene produces plenty of metal-fuelled and metal-friendly noise – like the new brain-drilling 7" split featuring Pōneke (Wellington) punks Bowel Rupture and Pvnisher. Bowel Rupture have grown ever more intimidating with every show and every release, and the three bouts of nihilistic nastiness they contribute here – "Intro", "Lividity" and "D&D" – are all unhinged and untamed cacophonies. I've said it before, but Bowel Rupture sound exactly like you'd imagine. The band throw myriad strains of noxious punk and raw death metal into a concrete mixer already overflowing with churning caveman noise. No question, Bowel Rupture's latest tracks are their heaviest/most obnoxious yet.

Deafening duo Pvnisher have also been delivering increasingly sanity-shredding and barbaric-sounding music over time. Their split with Bowel Rupture features some of Pvnisher's most challenging music, and their three contributions – "Nightmare", "The Crusher", and "Outro" – are comprised of blown-out and ear-piercing crust lashed by bleeding-raw black metal. I've mentioned Pvnisher's mind-chiseling momentum before, and it plays a crucial part in summoning and maintaining the relentless horrors their gruesome music evokes.

Pvnisher and Bowel Rupture's split features the best, and certainly the most ferociously confronting, work yet from both bands. Call it sick music for sicker times. Or the soundtrack to end us all. What's important to note is that Pvnisher and Bowel Rupture operate at that point where the border between punk and metal is annihilated by some of the most violent noise around.

(Full disclosure: I had a microscopic role in helping get Pvnisher and Bowel Rupture's split released. So microscopic one of bands forgot I even helped out. Fucking punks, eh. Also, I don't benefit from any digital or online sales of the bands' music. So you can go ahead and trust me when I say you'll not regret pressing play on the ear-wrecking release below.)

Ulcerate – Stare into Death and Be Still

Ulcerate have been on the receiving end of abundant critical acclaim for years, but it's still strange to see the titans of NZ death metal turning up on Rolling Stone’s website in recent times. Obviously, Rolling Stone isn't generally regarded as a reliable gateway into the world of unorthodox death metal. But regardless of their stature or increased visibility, Ulcerate remain a uniquely challenging band.

The group's new album, Stare into Death and Be Still, is touted as offering a new (or perhaps, refreshed) take on Ulcerate's mind-buckling and often claustrophobically intense creativity. According to the press information accompanying the release, Ulcerate's dissonant onslaught is set to be reshaped with "next-level exploration(s) of melody, harmony, and power". And the band's ultra-technical death metal ("with the texture of futurist black metal") is set to be stripped down by the "consummate hand of experience, giving stunning credence to the riff, the song, and the meaning".

That's a lot to take in given Ulcerate's reputation was founded on exhibting stunning torrents of technicality, displaying brute-force production values, and delivering mind-crushing live performances. Are they softening that approach? Have the Ulcerate cast aside complexity in favor of more listener-friendly melodicism?

Well, in a word, no. But also, audible changes are afoot.

As usual, Ulcerate's latest tracks feature concussive percussion, growling vocals, and fierce bursts of titanium-tipped riffs. But Stare into Death and Be Still also finds Ulcerate intensify their most meditative and hypnotic elements, and there are fewer bouts of overwhelming dissonance.

Make no mistake, Ulcerate still sound intimidating. The band's ability to blend unconventional musical gyrations with breathtakingly heavy virtuosity on tracks like "The Lifeless Advance", "Drawn into the Next Void" and "There is No Horizon" remains staggeringly impressive. But there's no denying Stare into Death and Be Still is also a lot warmer-sounding throughout.

Previously, Ulcerate often felt ice-cold and clinical in their attack, but Stare into Death and Be Still feels more resonant, more emotional, and – dare I say it – even more welcoming in parts. Michael Hoggard’s dynamic guitars and Jamie Saint Merat’s intricate percussion construct labyrinthine temples on "Exhale the Ash" and "Inversion", and vocalist Paul Kelland's performance is clearly more nuanced. You'd be hard-pressed to call anything here a radical departure from Ulcerate's previous creative course. But they do take clear evolutionary steps as they weave more otherworldly and atmospheric melodies into Stare into Death and Be Still's otherwise strident songs.

As always, Ulcerate deliver another superb showcase of genius-level musicianship on Stare into Death and Be Still. What's new here is a glimpse into the heart, hell, even the soul, of Ulcerate. Warmer and more emotional tracks forge a closer connection, and if you felt that Ulcerate were too cold or mechanical in the past, Stare into Death and Be Still might be the album to turn you into a diehard fan.

As always, Ulcerate’s most recent release ignores death metal’s rules and regulations. Unparalleled heaviness is combined with a unique vernacular of Ulcerate's own making. Deeper layers broaden the band’s spectrum of musical and conceptual influences, and as you'd expect, Stare into Death and Be Still is painstakingly produced so its most delicate elements shine alongside its most nerve-shredding components.

Stare into Death and Be Still delivers visionary music for the bleakest of times. Aesthetically, Ulcerate remain unrivaled.

Indiscriminate – Violent Ugly Demo

Like in other small underground music scenes, plenty of Pōneke (Wellington) punk musicians play in a number of local bands. All of that action makes for a healthy-looking scene, even if most of the resulting music sounds welcomingly unhealthy. Indiscriminate are a prime example of that, with the band's members also playing in Pōneke groups like Bowel Rupture, Piggery, and Pvnisher. Everyone in Indiscriminate certainly has plenty of experience when it comes to making disagreeable music, and everyone involved puts their migraine-inducing skills to excellent use on Indiscriminate's first demo, Violent Ugly.

Violent Ugly is set for release digitally and on cassette by NZ label Razored Raw – just as soon as NZ's pandemic lockdown is eased. Indiscriminate didn't want to sit on their ferocious tunes until then though, so Violent Ugly is now streaming on YouTube too. Like most of Razored Raw's previous releases, Violent Ugly is strident, uncompromising, and as caustic as battery acid – something Will Killingsworth's mastering at Massachusetts' Dead Air Studios has helped to amplify too.

Violent Ugly starts out with an ear-piercing wail of feedback, which is followed by 11 minutes of out-of-control clatter, clangor, and clamor. Bands like Neverending Mind War, Indignation, and Disclose have been cited as inspirations, and Indiscriminate clearly dig into similarly dissonant pits of raw, hemorrhaging noise.

Even better, Indiscriminate includes two indecipherably bellowing vocalists in the ranks. Throughout Violent Ugly, one serrated voice barks and claws at your sanity, while the other howling voice is as blown-out and disgusting as that exploding head in Scanners.

Obviously, not everyone enjoys the kind of stubbornly unaccommodating music that Indiscriminate deal in. But if you're a fan of (a) hideous squalls of guitar gunk, (b) unintelligible yowls, and (c) utterly merciless percussion, then you'll likely find Violent Ugly to be a pitch-perfect, and perfectly unpalatable, cacophony. Tune in for über-harsh noise. Stick around for lawless audio chaos. As it says on the lid: Violent Ugly is unquestionably violent and ... you guessed it ... ugly as fuck too.

Kaipirau – Patupaiarehe

One-man Pōneke (Wellington) band Kaipirau uploaded their Patupaiarehe demo to Bandcamp on Good Friday. That's perfect timing, considering Patupaiarehe is pitch-black in tone and texture and sounds manifestly unholy. Although, Christian fairytales aren't the center of attention here.

Kaipirau's focus is on indigenous Māori themes – Patupaiarehe being other-worldly beings from Māori mythology who bewitch people with their magical flute playing. That's illustrated on Patupaiarehe's cover, which was drawn by T.M. (aka Tane Morgan, a noted Pōneke tattoo artist) who sings and plays all the instruments here, and he recorded and mastered Patupaiarehe too.

Patupaiarehe starts off with an eerie blast of flute and horn on the demo's title track, which, fittingly, lures you into the song's fathomless depths. What follows is a howling storm of raw and sinister-sounding black metal – that worms its way deep into your marrow – with black 'n' roll's propulsion and a scabrous layer of primordial crust adding more dark elements into the mix.

T.M.'s previous (now defunct) crust band, Molenaar, released a great cassette a few years back – see Hate Not Phobia – and while Patupaiarehe features more bitter and abrasive black metal than outright battering crust, a chaotic mix of extreme punk and metal still burns bright.

A brief interlude leads into Patupaiarehe's final track, "Mokomoko", which is another blown-out, black metal broadside fuelled by ill-omens, throat-scouring vocals, and skin-flaying instrumentation. Kaipirau's debut demo is a strong opening statement, matching ferocious expression with spine-chilling myths. That's resulted in art and music that feels intrinsically rooted in the past, and yet is terrifyingly present. Ka mau te wehi!

Forest Trotter – S/T

Forest Trotter's three-song self-titled debut (four songs if you happen to grab a cassette) is the result of two "fiercely intoxicated punx" deciding to make "anti-authoritarian" black metal. It'd be fair to describe the outcome as inaccessible shitnoise, but don't let that dissuade you – plenty of fans enjoy 'music' that's as comforting as a barb-wire-wrapped catheter.

Really, I'm just giving you fair warning, because Forest Trotter's sub-necro/zero-budget 'production' values make the most bleeding-raw black metal sound like a hi-fi dream come true. That said, there's definitely an audience out there for this ultra-coarse metal (with even worse-sounding synth), no matter how ridiculously crude it is.

The three disgusting tracks on Forest Trotter's debut ("Skeleton", "Snow Frolic" and "Trott Along") are all constructed from hissing fogbanks of primitive instrumentation and indecipherable croaking howls, gurgling in an abyss. Frost Trotter's atonal pursuits are more akin to a cruel torture technique than actual music, but if psychotic noise is what you're after – and you enjoy black metal that sounds like it was recorded in a septic tank – then you're in luck. Frost Trotter's debut is an ear-fucking glimpse into gut-rotting madness. It's perfect for raw-noise devotees. Or for music fans with minds as open as a gaping anus.

Xile – I Am Your God

Auckland heavyweight champs Xile deliver mammoth-sized chunks of hulking hardcore on their I Am Your God debut. If you're a fan of neck-snapping breakdowns and nerve-tweaking pinch harmonics, Xile's bleak battering-ram music will be right up your alley. The band's full-length debut is indebted to well-known and colossal-sounding hardcore bands aplenty, but like scores of contemporary groups exploring hybrid/extreme musical veins, Xile also delve into metalcore, slam, thrash, powerviolence, and death metal.

I am your God tracks, like "Damaged", "Penalty Death", and "Disintegrate", feature just as much thickset metal as they do barreling metallic hardcore. Parts of "Hollow Point" would do Slayer damn proud, and Xile aren't afraid to weave bursts of more orthodox metal into their songs too. In the main, though, the band's machine-gun riffs and squealing solos inevitably lead to those savage breakdowns that all the arm-swinging and karate-kicking kids love. And Xile do a great job of ramping up the tension with their hefty hardcore and throat-ripping vocals before they drop the hammer down.

I am your God is also heavy as hell, with a crisp, crunchy, and punchy production befitting modern-day death-metal-influenced hardcore. If you're a fan of groups like Malevolence or Kublai Khan, there's a lot about Xile's trampling propulsion and ten-tonne intensity that'll prove equally appealing.

Various – Windburn Doomed & Stoned Festival Compilation

The Windburn Doomed & Stoned Festival compilation features 16 bands who were all set to play the two-night Windburn festival in April – at NZ's home of heavy music, Valhalla. Unfortunately, the festival was canned due to the current pandemic, but the Windburn Doomed & Stoned compilation features plenty of heavy-hitting songs.

Opening track, "Feral", is the excellent (and emotionally and sonically heavyweight) debut single from doomy sludge band End Boss. Elsewhere, stoner metal mage's Wolf Wizard tear into "Rotting". Shape-shifting post-everything drone-scapers Opium Eaters contribute the epic and engulfing "Post-Tense". And Planet of the Dead indulge in crushing megalithic doom/cosmic horror escapades on "The Eternal Void".

It's understandable that Windburn was canceled, but it was sad nonetheless. Not least because NZ metal fans sure do love their beard-metal and reality-shaking riffs. (Not to mention every other strain of weedian metal.) Swamp Dweller's raw/dank "Lungsplitter" provides a heavy hit of all of that, while Thousand Limbs' "In der Fremde" delves into deeper psychoactive realities, as does Into Orbit's expansive (and also deeply introspective) "Horus".

In the end, Windburn Doomed & Stoned gathers plenty of well-blitzed and well-baked bands to enjoy whilst you’re whiling away those quarantine hours. Is every band here amazing? Of course not! As on any compilation, there's some absolute dross here too. Also, much like 2018's Doomed & Stoned in New Zealand compilation, a number of NZ's best doom and sludge bands don't feature on Windburn Doomed & Stoned, so don’t mistake the release (or Doomed & Stoned in New Zealand) for a comprehensive survey of the best ditch-weed NZ metal. That said, Windburn Doomed & Stoned is still a solid introduction to buzzing amps, crashing drums, and red-eyed riffs from Aotearoa.

FYI: Windburn Doomed & Stoned is available as a 'name your price' download on Bandcamp. But keep in mind the compilation also serves as a fundraiser for the bands who had planned to play at the festival. Throwing a little moolah their way would be welcomed and appreciated.

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