Starting Tape Wyrm this past year has taught me many important things. First and foremost, it has shown me that amazing and decent music is being released at all hours and days of the year. With that said, most of this music will be either forgotten or appreciated by only a few. There is no way around this fact. Another important lesson learned this year is that the “end of the year” really “ends” at the end of the year. Though the calendar for most musical year end lists wraps around mid December, music does not cease to exist after December 15th. In fact, all forms of media continue to be released despite making it in for consideration. It is now the beginning of January and 2014 feels so old, but despite this, celebrations of greatness can happen at any time. This is especially true for releases that were never destined to be in end of the year publications. This is especially true for the ancient tradition of metal demos.
Demos were once a cornerstone used by bands to send to record labels and interested parties. They were a demonstration of a bands talent before being sponsored and supported by a larger entity. Demos usually lead to splits, maybe to EPs, and then full length albums. While this still happens, the process of just releasing a full length is much more feasible than before. The possibility of a self financed full length is not only conceivable but nearing the norm. This makes demos seem like an artifact of the past. While demos still exist on a professional level, the realm of producing demos has also moved into the aesthetic and even artistic. The nature of putting together seeds that have the potential to blossom is still very real and still very interesting. Instead of being a cornerstone, it has now become a style choice. Demos have an aura of possibility, which makes them desirable. They represent a hypothetical future given the right amount of circumstances. The pilgrimage which ends at a full length starts, for some, at humble beginnings. Demos, for some, are the genesis of potential and future great works.
These demos were some of my favorites this year and are presented in no particular order. They may be just interesting blips on an immense field or the beginnings of an interesting journey. Some of these demos exist on limited cassettes and CDs, or were never intended to exist outside the digital world. some of them are free while others still a modest price. They are all very different and unique, but are interesting for discerning ears. While 2014 is over, I am certain I will run into more interesting 2014 demos for the next couple of years. Maybe some of them will be better and more astounding than all the ones listed here combined.
I know that I just mentioned these are not in any particular order but if I had to play favorites, it would be Swedish death/doom outfit Heavydeath. This is not because their single demo was any better than the rest, it was the fact they released 5 demos, an EP, and a compilation all in the year of 2014. The 5 demos also make up half of ten cataloged demos, which were all completed in the same year. All of these demos, both real and imaginary, make up the longest carpet to Heavydeath’s 2015 debut from Svart records. Heavydeath already comes with momentum being the continuation of Nicklas Rudolfsson and other Runemagick members ,but the care and time this group spent in consistently releasing tapes was fantastic. Add to this the fact that I found both Caligari Records and Heavydeath at the same time and it is impossible not to fall in love with hypnotic rotting doom.
Black doom is an under utilized field despite the fact both parts of its equation can lend itself to a really cool product. Yith is one of these creatures that may be destined to always work in demos. Yith is the fourth demo released by this US creator as a yearly offering to a very small audience. Had it not been for the harrowing artwork, this demo might have gone unnoticed. Luckily for my sake, the music of Yith and all of its emotional turmoil was given a chance to soar, at least in my heart. While the original tape only numbered 50 copies and are now sold out, Yith’s demo is being offered for 1$ digitally, which is near insane for the amount of quality one gets with their purchase. I suggest buying it a couple of times to show support.
I do not think I have been this excited for two songs in a long time. For everything I was discussing about potential, Dutch black metal trio Wederganger has the element of excitement on their side. Along with a competent black metal sound, the 11 minute demo also showcases baritone backing vocals that add an odd, yet somber, anchor to the songs. The ability for the band to not only be traditional in the black metal sound but also offer an unorthodox and effective addition gives hope for a full length. Saying a release is “too short” is usually an easy complement to give your favorite release. Gelderse Drek is too short because the band needs to finish what they started. Otherwise I am going to be really upset.
I think I made mention about the artwork in the original review of The Pits of Tentacled Screams. I think I also mentioned the sound quality, as US based Ritual Chamber intended to mimic the subterranean qualities of their occult obsessed death metal by literally burying under grave soil. While sound quality is an easy target for jokes in the metal world, the simple fact remains that after turning up the volume and paying attention, The Pits of Tentacled Screams is nothing short of fantastic. Give this band a chance and the availability of a shovel and one will not have anywhere to hide.
Sometimes I am more than surprised certain bands and releases did not take off as much as they could have. UK death metal cabal Qrixkuor has all the makings for a full length record that others could get really excited for, including a really hard to pronounce name. Consecration of the Temple embraces a strong, ritualistic worship of death and the occult. Additionally, the band’s echoing vocals make their demo feel like it is being broadcast from the inside of a secret chamber underneath a mausoleum. Similar to Ritual Chamber, Qrixkuor is as of yet unsigned, but I can not see this lasting for long. Regardless, the looming of ancient horrors is strong and overwhelming on this 19 minute release.
I believe I have come to regard certain areas of the globe as strong contenders for heavy metal production. Whenever I see the words New Zealand or Australian combined with black and death metal, I equate it with a good chance the release will be at least interesting. Verberis continues New Zealand’s decimation of the black/death scene, with a release that is both chaotic and focused. Along with the flurry of percussion and looming riffs, the guitar-work on Vastitas is nothing short of impressive. Verberis is a testament to the power and potential of New Zealand devastation.
As an aside, this whole article could have been filled with just the 2014 releases from Fallen Empire. LVTHN was chosen somewhat at random, but is a fine candidate for a label ambassador. Much of the roster for Fallen Empire is US based bedroom black metal, whose creators wish to remain anonymous. Though there are many jokes regarding this aesthetic, LVTHN’s Adversarialism shows just how direct and effective this style can be. The vocals for LVTHN are commanding in their shrillness, while the instrumentation rides on second wave familiarity. What makes LVTHN so effective, however, is the confidence in the music. Adversarialism was followed by a rehearsal tape, a wonderful split with fellow Fallen Empire act Lluvia, and a compilation. Whatever the future holds for LVTHN, it is probably going to come on a limited black and white cassette and appreciated by few.
If any award can be given to a country for its surprising entry into the black metal world, it is Iceland. This is not to say Iceland was absent from the metal world before, rather this year was a flourishing of wonderful releases specifically from Reykjavík. Sinmara, Manniveira, Svartidauði, and the hard to search for 〇 all came out with strong black metal releases. Naðra’s Eitur is as strong as all of these releases and even shines as perhaps the most personal, if no other reason than for its emotional ruin. As opposed to distant black metal covered in fog and haze, Eitur‘s garage production, along with the sometimes uneven vocals, allows the demo to be far from perfect but approachable. Though these qualities may feel like criticism, it is these intimate hooks wthat make Eitur effective, and Iceland a place to keep up with.
If one was listening to all of these demos in order, it is important to vary the experience of black, death, and thrash. While some of this all sounds like formless noise to some, others can be more discerning. While there was much discussion with black and death, Xatatax is refreshing in their doom thrash. This still sounds like I am joking but this US act has made an engaging thrash demo that is only enhanced by the pacing of doom. Combine this with some banshee vocals that sound like they were boiled in a bog and one has a demo that could either be amazing or horrifying. There is a strong possibility of both happening at the same time.
This is another release from Fallen Empire and would have originally been cut if not for the inability to choose between this and LVTHN. Everything that was said about LVTHN goes for Eos, except that this project is Canadian and the music is not as sonically oppressive. What Eos has in place of personal vocals is time. This time is spent constructing hypnotic towers that stretch for 10-15 minutes and warp the reality surrounding. While this all may sound hyperbolic, both LVTHN and Eos take the aesthetic of lo-fi black metal, with all of the jokes attached, and makes engaging music. Combine this with the mystery of its members, and the scarcity of physical media, and the spirit which incubated all those bands in the 80’s and 90’s is being summoned once again.
We are back to black/death with Devouring Star on Caligari Records. Trust me though, this Finish act has the potential to do great things in 2015. In fact, the beginning of February will see the release of their full length from Daemon Worship Productions. If I had to put any money on a band that will soar in the underground focused end of the year lists, it would be this one. This is not to say Devouring Star, with their 3rd gear black/death demolished building sound, does not have the potential to end up on Rolling Stone, rather their style of music will be most appreciated by a specific audience.
Urzeit was a strange entry in 2014. This US black metal trio did a fine job at making harsh toned black metal that had some great underlying sludge and doom undertones. The band, however, was a side project of members in Ash Borer and the relative silence and limited run on this cassette demo was odd, considering the popularity of their respective bands. Additionally, Urzeit seems to be connected, loosely, to sludge doom bands Hell and מזמור. Whatever is going on in Oregon is exciting and slightly frightening.
It was easy to miss Germany’s Ekranoplan due to its placement between the realms of hardcore, sludge, and traditional heavy metal. Unfortunately, this grey area gets overlooked by many people, despite the fact it sometimes is a great incubator for wonderful and teeth clenching sounds. Ekranoplan is still very local, with difficult to access social media still communicated in German. Despite the availability of the band, Demo shows audiences just how powerful crust and grind inspired sludge doom with death growls can be. This band may not breach into a larger audience, but if they do, I will know exactly how I will die.
To end with things is a Chilean demo that went unnoticed by many people, but I sort of understand why. Athanatos is by no means untalented or unentertaining to listen to, rather this drum and guitar duo is just really fucking weird. Unholy Union is black/death just at irregular intervals and spliced between orphaned segments of what sounds like a highlight reel of lost thrash and death metal intros. The product is something that is halfway between bizarre and amazing, that seems to be leaning in a different direction each day. The fact that this music is being made by people named Hateaxes Command and Emperator Semental makes it all the more reason to smile and clutch this demo closer.