Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hivelords - Cavern Apothecary

Both Hivelords' debut, The Cellar Scrolls, and their follow up EP, Grand Cromlech, were ominous and foreboding beacons of dread. The steamy layers of sodden filthy melodies portrayed fears of all sorts of crawling and creepy memories of spiders bursting with offspring, locusts swarming closets of children and the forgotten and unfathomable species of deep and dark crevices. Kevin North, the versatile lead vocalist spits and chews his way through the esoteric subject matters of being one with larvae and he is in full form on their new album, Cavern Apothecary. Where the debut and follow up EP were mostly saturated in an uneasy suffocating dampness, I get the impression that Cavern Apothecary presents a dryer environment and atmosphere populated by beetles and insects-that-go-crunch underfoot instead of the squishy and milky kind of sinews exhibited on "...Scrolls" and "...Cromlech." Hivelords prove they are interested in presenting all forms of miniature horror, no matter how many legs or thoraxes the creatures that make up their aesthetics are made of.

Considering the strength of the songs here, I would argue that Hivelords are positioning themselves to be a major force in the coming years. Opening track "Atavus Lich" is one of the most perfect black metal / sludge / doom tracks I've heard in quite the expanse of time. Highly memorable, precisely produced, the sandy production and grainy atmosphere perfectly suit the dark and dreadful track which includes excellent vocals from North. Where on the first two albums, there was an element of experimentation, there is no more experimentation here; North knows exactly what he is doing, why he is doing it, and what he wants to add to each track. Experimentation is only experimentation when you don't know if something will work. This works. This works hard. "Atavus Lich's" middle section, a rumbling cavernous murk, highlights production qualities which render the combination of Jason Jenigen's percussion and Tyler Butler's bass playing to mimic shaking earth and billowing dust storms. Will Rollem's songwriting is impeccable. Speaking with him at a gig, he came off indifferent about how the songs come about but admitted that he does a lot of the writing. Wherever the songs come from, there is some genius at play here.

With the opening of second song, "Antennae Manifest," a slower intro and song in general, Hivelords prove they've hit their stride in terms of creating their own brand of metal. With constantly evolving structures, interesting and unexpected turns in arrangement - such as a sludgy triad based lead which serves as the song's climax. I'm reminded of the awesome ant and insect related 1974 movie Phase IV, made popular - maybe - by it's inclusion in the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Not only is the music on Cavern Apothecary strangely reminiscent to Brian Gascoigne's minimalist score, but also the album art bears a striking resemblance to many scenes in Phase IV's memorable man vs nature / human ignorance vs insect intelligence thriller.

Following the faster and and slightly less interesting title track, is the album's longest track, "The Growing Overwhelm." To compare to another forgotten 1974 movie, the song starts with a monologue worthy of Zardoz. While not as comedically arousing as a giant stone head chanting about how "The Penis is evil! The Penis shoots Seeds!" we get an explanation of how, for some creatures, the shade is their life-giving light - a correlation to the sun's importance in the lives of humans. At least that's how I took it. Either way, "...Growing" is probably the most sludgy and doomy of the tracks here, with less black metal tremolo picking - though not none, of course - and more long drawn out monolithic chords. The chunky, massive bass tone is clearly on display at moments and is a beautiful example of how to use bass distortion and overdrive: a monstrous heaving heft of low-end caked in rough and crystalline swirling haze. With "The Auraglyph," Hivelords have what I would state as an Anthem. The memorable melodic movement and straight forward percussion rhythms provide a march-like dirge. Live, this is an excellent track to lose your sense of location, mind and awareness too. Like all of Cavern Apothecary's tracks, there is a deep undertone of the Southwestern US in the chosen melodies the same way in which Earth's Hex: Or Printing The Infernal Method had outright desert and canyon overtones. The Auraglyph has the most prominent desert feel of the five tracks but the vibe drifts through all the tracks. A release like this from other bands without a back catalog would normally be classified as luck of the draw but with the solid foundation Hivelords had set for themselves, I don't believe we are witnessing one-time excellence here. This is a necessary listen in my eyes for anyone proposing a best of list this year and If I were making my own list, I very much doubt this wouldn't make an appearance.

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