There's been a real flurry of activity from the Skullflower camp lately, limited edition discs and LPs on labels like Turgid Animal and Noiseville, super limited cd-rs released by the band, European festival dates, even a U.S. date that saw Skullflower headlining the final night at this years No Fun Fest in Brooklyn ( which I sadly had to miss out on...). With all of this activity and the steady flow of new releases that has been coming out from the mighty 'Flower, the one thing that has been becoming more apparent in their music is an inceased fascination with the aesthetics of black metal, traces of which have been creeping into their music for some time now. Back when Tribulation came out in 2006, I could hear those trace elements of blackened buzz buried deep underneath all of the layers of caustic, skull-swallowing guitar roar that album was forged out of, but with the newer Skullflower stuff, and in particular this brand new album Malediction, that black metal influence isn't all that subtle anymore.
Released on Second Layer in a limited edition of 1000 copies, Malediction is noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, it's the first Skullflower album to come out with something approaching a full band in ages, with the core duo of Matt Bower and Lee Stokoe (also of Culver) now joined by a couple of other players. Second, one of those other players is Stuart Dennison, the original Skullflower drummer from the classic late 80's/early 90's era of the band, the era that gave us their essential IIIrd Gatekeeper and Xaman albums. Dennison's involvement here will probably make some of you old school Skullflower fans perk up yer ears, but make no mistake, this is still definitely 21st century Skullflower, the band sculpting massive walls of guitar-heavy blastdrone and nothing near to the crushing noise rock groove of the bands earlier material. But what really makes this album stand out is how Bower and friends have actually harnessed several aspects of black metal for the music on Malediction, delivering three lengthy tracks that follow the band into their most crushing, blackened recording of the past decade.
Three tracks, each running ten to twenty-four minutes in length, and made up of thick, thunderous walls of sound built from wailing, howling vocals drenched in fx, sheets of hypnotic feedback drone, grinding low-end guitar rumble, cello and violin, drums and crashing cymbals, and at first it's very similiar to the mighty amp-rivers of hellish high volume distorto-raga that Bower has explored lately, but as the guitars and drums slowly take shape on the first track "A'arab Zaraq - Ravens Of The Burning Of God ", sinister minor-key riffs coalesce under all of the skree and noise, and the drumming appears in stuttering bursts of speed and chaos, one second hammering out a crude blastbeat, the next unravelling in a cluster of free-jazz percussive clatter. It's like the blazing amp-mantras of the last few Skullflower discs draped over a PCP fueled improv-blastbeat assault that goes on and on and on...
But it's the second track, "Ghost Bitch Of Black Flame", that the band really approaches a kind of mutant free-noise black metal meltdown. Ten minutes of deafening roar sweeps over you as the band stacks endless space rock noodling and crushing buzzsaw ur-chord riffing over an avalanche of heavy drumming, a massive low-end undertow swirling around everything, hideous screamed vocals and gnashing teeth obscured behind a veil of fuzz, the sunblasted acid-rock of Orange Canyon Mind smeared across a cacophony of sub-Beherit riffslop and endless plodding percussion. Pretty goddamn awesome!
The final track "Drenched In Moonsblood (Waxing Gibbous)" is the calmest one on here, but that's pretty relative. The percussion is more muted, mainly huge swells of cymbals and distant tympani-like thunder echoing across a reddened wasteland of smeared organ tones, buried psych-guitar squiggles, howls of anguish drifting without direction, wailing spaced-out feedback, this ominous psychedelic dronescape sprawling out into infinity, dark and evil sounding, kind of an insane hell-vision cribbed from the older psych-drone modes the band found themselves in on albums like Obsidian Shaking Codex and Carved Into Roses.
Gorgeously packaged in a full color six-panel digipack with original artwork from Matt Bower, limited to 1000 copies. Highly recommended!!!