Finnish newcomers Vainaja win the cointoss -- or rather, they intimidate the coin into falling their way. There is something about their entire debut album Kadotetut that comes across as even more evil than one would normally expect from your run-of-the-mill Scandanavian doom. Even the positively benign instrumental opener has the feel of a morbid roller coaster before the first big drop. And then Väärän Ristin Valtakunta hits, and your scrotum falls up into your stomach. The ensuing 33 minutes is dominated by pure Heavy. Plodding rhythms, phlegmatic growling, and (let's be honest) the Finnish language itself all put meat on these dark bones, but the best part of Cormorant is the impressive riffage. Imagine the timelessness of the riffs on Danzig I, but actually scary this time. The band even step up the tempo once or twice on some impossible-to-pronounce track names, and those are great moments, but the fear factor is the reason to want to listen to this album repeatedly. Sometimes you just need a good scare.
Much closer to home, San Franciscan quartet Cormorant's third album Earth Diver is a far more difficult beast to categorize. The comparisons you could draw between them and other bands is similarly legion, but one thing's for certain: the band's lo-fi DYI production aesthetic will remind you of a bunch of bands from at least 10 years ago. And yet, between the sludgy blast beats and unpredicted bits of prog metal pretension, there's a lot of heart and imagination to this rock. Tracks like Waking Sleep and Daughter Of Void demonstrate how the band consistently walk a fine line between familiarity and otherworldliness throughout Earth Diver, with the end result being a suite of music that's more memorable and imaginative than many other opponents in this year's Arsies, and certainly more than the relatively monochromatic Vainaja. Cormorant stare into the abyss, and emerge victorious!
That's it for our first full week of the Arsies! We've covered a lot of territory already (two dozen albums, to be exact), but the best is yet to come. Join us again on Monday morning, when JaPaBo judges Xerath and Vader.