The Black Market: The Month In Metal - February 2013

Welcome to the Black Market, a new space at Stereogum dedicated to talking about and listening to heavy music. By “heavy music” I mean metal, mostly, although that word is vague and meaningless enough to make it useless at this point. Metal is an insular subculture made up of a zillion insular sub-subcultures — to the outsider it all kind of looks and sounds the same; to the enthusiast, microgenres are delineated by nearly invisible parameters. A while back, I was goofing on Judd Apatow and Billie Joe Armstrong for making a joke about “Norwegian death metal” when they clearly meant to say “Norwegian black metal” in a This Is 40 outtake, but in the trenches, those definitions mean something. Until, you know, they don’t. I’d consider the great Decibel Magazine to be the barometer and North Star as far as the metal conversation today goes, and they call their coverage sphere “extreme music.” So they’ll cover stuff like Fucked Up and Swans and Converge — all great not-metal bands — and thus, bands like Fucked Up and Swans and Converge become part of the modern metal fan’s regular diet. Meanwhile, folks with limited or no interest in the metal genre are introduced to more and more of it on the periphery, as bands like Baroness, Torche, and Kvelertak are covered by mainstream music publications.

Of course, Fucked Up and Swans and Converge and Baroness and Torche and Kvelertak are part of Stereogum’s existing coverage sphere, but we haven’t had a space dedicated to exploring heavy music’s deeper reaches since Brandon closed down Haunting The Chapel in July 2011. HTC was a treasure, in my opinion, and it would take a special breed of deluded fool to try to recreate it. I’m not of that particular breed, but I do think Stereogum and Stereogum readers have missed having a forum to discuss and hear heavy music, extreme music, metal, whatever.

How the Black Market evolves remains to be seen, but we’re starting with this: a monthly feature in which a team of Stereogum contributors — Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Doug Moore, and me — will compile a list of, write about, and rank the 15 best metal songs that were released over the course of the month in question. Some background on the team: I met all those guys when I was editor of Invisible Oranges — the great metal blog to which they all still contribute, too — and the four of us worked together to compile Stereogum’s list of 2012′s best metal albums. We all have different tastes, of course, and I hope, over time, you’ll get an idea of how our tastes vary, and how they match up (or don’t) with yours. Each song write-up will be credited to its author, and generally speaking, that song will have been nominated for inclusion here by that author. But it’s a pretty democratic process: We all vote; we all basically agree that what’s on this list really deserves to be here. Beyond that, at the bottom of the page, we’ll run down some additional individual recommendations: things that one of us liked much more than the rest of us did, or things that we all liked to some degree, but not more than the 15 things that made the final list. Our primary criterion is that the music we’re considering for inclusion first surfaced in the month-period we’re covering (this feature will run at the very end of each month, so that we can be as comprehensive in our consideration process as possible). So what follows is a list of songs that premiered, in some form or fashion, on some blog or Bandcamp, in February 2013.

The name we’ve chosen, the Black Market, is not a reference to the Clash or the label, but to Under The Sign Of The Black Mark, the 1986 album by Swedish band Bathory, the individual work most singlehandedly responsible for what would become black metal’s second wave, in whose wake much of modern metal’s culture was spawned. And that culture is vibrant: I can’t think of a single American region or major city without a thriving metal scene, and those are matched by scenes in countries around the world — from Canada to Brazil to Denmark to Japan to Sweden to the Philippines to France to Russia … And of course Norway. And England. And so on, everywhere.

Thanks for reading, listening, caring. Tell us in the comments what you’re listening to, what we should be listening to, whatever. \m/

Michael Nelson

(The above photo — of Immortal frontman Abbath — is courtesy of the great Peter Beste, and you should purchase his classic book of black metal photography, True Norwegian Black Metal.)

15. Altaar – “Dei Absolutte Krav Og Den Absolute Nåde”

Location: Norway

Subgenre: Funeral Doom / Black Metal / Drone

Norway’s Altaar has a little bit of everything going on, from dark ambient drone to a doom-y take on what can most easily be called black metal. There are some industrial undertones beneath the raw and scratchy vocals, and I can’t help but, at times, hear a little bit of Romania’s Negura Bunget here, too. “Dei Absolutte Krav Og Den Absolute Nåde” (beats me) is the second of two songs on Altaar’s self-titled LP, the band’s only offering since a self-released cassette from 2009. At 15 minutes in length, this track is, believe it or not, shorter than the album’s A-side (20 minutes!), but it’s still long enough to suck you into a soundscape that is surreal, pummeling, and likely to result in some head motion. [Indie Recordings] — Wyatt Marshall

14. Cultes Des Ghoules – “The Passion Of A Sorceress”

Location: Poland

Subgenre: Primitive Ritualistic Black Metal

If filth is your favorite flavor, look to Hells Headbangers for your next meal. Time and again, the Ohio label unearths shit-encrusted gems of unimpeachable quality from all corners of the globe, never failing to deliver the grimiest of goods. A perfect Hells Headbangers band, Cultes Des Ghoules play black metal the only way they know how: sloppily, furiously, shittily. A basement-dwelling lunatic bellows over “The Passion Of A Sorceress,” while a dead simple bass-driven riff pounds along, barely changing over the course of 10 minutes. Despite the squalor, there’s a subtle sophistication at play — the arrangement is repetitive but fluid. Drums kick into a double-time clatter when they need to, lifting the song from its miasmic trudge, while samples of rattling chains and Satanic ramblings keep things lively. Sporadic lead guitar provides a glorious splash of red. It’s a hell of a racket. [Hells Headbangers] — Aaron Lariviere

13. Vuyvr – “Disfigured By Hatred”

Location: Switzerland

Subgenre: Black Metal

It’s increasingly hard to gain any traction by playing black metal in the classic Scandinavian mold. That particular vein of creative ore was explored pretty thoroughly by the ’90s pioneers and stripped bare by their many imitators. Even now, though, a crafty band can find gold in that quarry. Vuyvr, which features members of the underrated Swiss bands Impure Wilhelmina and Knut, has done so. Vuyvr’s attack initially feels like any old Immortal knockoff’s — rickety drums blast away beneath minor-key chords while some guy shrieks himself raw. But Vuyvr has a personal touch. Where your stock black metal band would be PERFECTED BY HATRED! or ENTHRONED BY HATRED!, Vuyvr are disfigured by it. Those minor chords chime with a post-punk vulnerability. Instead of icy, inhuman fury, we get the heat of real human emotion. [Throatruiner] — Doug Moore

12. Anciients – “Falling In Line”

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia

Subgenre: Progressive Metal

Who knew there was room for restraint in the realm of progressive metal? (Don’t tell Brain Drill.) “Falling In Line,” from the latest in a string of similarly spelling-challenged acts to cram an unnecessary vowel into their name (see: Altaar, above), succeeds on the strength of seriously tasteful guitar playing within the confines of a “song” that actually feels like a song. It travels wide, covering a large swath of melodic territory without unnecessary wandering, no mean feat in an age where noodling runs rampant. Sure, we get the requisite clean-singing/growl dynamic so common amongst proggish metallurgists, but unlike even genre leaders Enslaved, the combination does not suck. Like Supertramp before them or, uh, the Alan Parsons Project, Anciients harness the power of prog for a greater good, making music you might actually remember. Scratch that — will remember. These guys are gonna be big. [Season Of Mist] — AL

11. Dressed In Streams – “Deep Saffron”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI

Subgenre: Black Metal

“Deep Saffron” is just the sixth song from the lo-fi and synth-heavy Dressed In Streams, and it’s a doozy. The Indian-themed black metal band (maybe a first?) contributed the psychedelic black metal epic to the SVN OKKLT compilation, a double-cassette collection of tracks from a wealth of great underground black metal bands (available here, with a link to a pay-what-you-will download). “Deep Saffron” is arguably the highlight of that absolutely stacked comp. Raspy screams are drowned under layers-upon-layers of guitars, thick noise haze, and the occasional where-did-this-come-from-but-it-works-so-well synth, combining to make an utterly unique and memorable song. Listen on headphones. [Fallen Empire] — WM

10. Wormed – “The Nonlocality Trilemma”

Location: Spain

Subgenre: Zany Technical Death Metal

Death metal’s lunatic fringe loves bands that release one album before breaking up or simply disappearing. Demilich, Human Remains, and Cynic all come to mind. It makes sense that these bands wouldn’t last; playing such demanding music can drain the life out of a musician. Until this year’s Exodromos, Wormed basically fit the bill too — their 2003 album, PlanisphÆrium, arguably marked the apex of low-fret-mashing brutality. It’s crazy how far this band has come during the past 10 years. Wormed’s cricket-fart vocals, which are basically an ambient effect, haven’t changed, but the rest of the band has finally caught up with their sci-fi packaging. Guitars that were once messy cudgels are now postmodern flensing engines, tricked out with wacky pick scrapes and precision-machined arpeggios. It’s thrilling to imagine flesh-and-blood musicians producing these unearthly noises, and more so once you realize that you can actually follow what’s going on. [Willowtip] — DM

09. Aosoth – “An Arrow In Heart”

Location: France

Subgenre: Black Metal

The French black metal scene is full of innovative artists making bold music that barely sounds anything like, y’know, metal: Alcest are shoegazers; Blut Aus Nord are an industrial goth outfit; Peste Noire are making some form of cabaret crustpunk with tubas and pump organs. And they are all fantastic bands! No disrespect! Paris trio Aosoth, on the other hand, deal in the kind of claustrophobic psyche-holocaust din that leaves old ladies searching Yelp for reputable exorcists. Allegedly disciples of the “dangerous and extreme” Satanic sub-sect Order Of The Nine Angles, Aosoth have already produced three increasingly strong and strange LPs, but the title track from their forthcoming IV: An Arrow In Heart represents their greatest leap to date: Its turbulent downtuned guitars buzz like insects — swarming, feeding — but as the tempo shifts, they dissipate and dissolve into vast, wondrous expanses. (This is an edited version of the track; the full version has yet to be released but runs more than 10 minutes.) The deft instrumental displays bring to mind the bizarro work of celebrated countrymen Deathspell Omega, although I might argue that Aosoth at present have more in common with a couple of excellent Swedish bands: Watain and Funeral Mist. Like all those reference points, Aosoth make music that sounds evil, but more notably, sounds great. [Agonia] — MN

08. Inter Arma – “The Survival Fires”

Location: Richmond, VA

Subgenre: Doom / Black Metal

Writing a catchy rock song that runs more than 10 minutes is some trick. Writing a catchy extreme metal song, with all of the genre’s allergies to hooks and accessibility, is an even better one. Inter Arma pulls off this considerable feat with “The Survival Fires,” which my iTunes says is my most-played metal song of 2013 so far. It’s built around a sludge riff that guitarist Trey Dalton apparently tooled around with for six years before including it on the band’s forthcoming LP, Sky Burial. The long gestation shows. That main riff sways and rumbles like a collapsing building, but it’s the supporting details that make the song work so well: Drums work through multiple feels under the same guitar motif; instruments duck in and out of view; vocals ricochet around in caves at the top of the mix. Great songs are worlds unto themselves, and “The Survival Fires” begs to be explored. [Relapse] — DM

07. Darkthrone – “Leave No Cross Unturned”

Location: Norway

Subgenre: “MODERATE METAL WITH SOME UGLY VOCALS” — Fenriz

Last month I wrote like 12 billion words (haha, kidding! It was merely 12 thousand words) on Darkthrone’s massive catalog, which has seen the band evolve from Point A, a capable but unremarkable technical death metal band, to Point B, the seminal act of black metal’s second wave, now to Point F, retro-fetishists who are slowly becoming Saxon. “Leave No Cross Unturned” is the first song to be released from the band’s 16th longplayer, The Underground Resistance, and it very much continues down the trad-metal path set forth upon by the band on their last few releases. The nearly 14-minute track closes the new album; it features Fenriz doing primary vocal duty, which is … an acquired taste, but assuming you can get past (or even enjoy!) his weird mix of King Diamond and Tom G. Warrior mannerisms, you’ll be rewarded: The guitars fucking rock, the production is a nice balance of ragged and full-bodied, and before you’re a third of the way through, all the stuff you were clowning on in the first couple verses is gone, and you’re left with 10+ minutes of some of the band’s mightiest riffs (not exaggerating), not to mention a Nocturno Culto solo introduced by Nocturno Culto with a hearty “Nocturno Culto!” [Peaceville] — MN

06. Nails – “Wide Open Wound”

Location: Southern California

Subgenre: Hardcore / Grindcore

There’s a longstanding tradition of ending a grindcore record on a slow song — after blasting for 12 minutes straight, you slow things down and chug through some proper riffs to show that, you know, you can actually write proper riffs. Nails took that dichotomy and built a band around it, repurposing grind and doom into their own strain of hardcore. Their formula embraces the grindcore tradition and does it one better: They close both sides of their albums with slow songs. This is key to their success, letting you listen for enjoyment rather than sheer punishment. “Wide Open Wound” closes the first side of new LP Abandon All Life in grand style: a thick kill-riff cycles around and back for three minutes straight (an eternity for grind), made somehow heavier (and slightly sillier) as frontman Todd Jones screams “CRUSH, CRUSH, CRUSH.” Simple pleasures. [Southern Lord] — AL

05. Alluring – “Redolent Fire”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI

Subgenre: Funeral Doom

“Redolent Fire” is the second and final song on Alluring’s first demo, The Room, and it by turns dances and crushes. Lively, black metal-esque guitars provide a backdrop for the (unidentified) singer’s deep, booming growl, weaving a complex tapestry both ominous and awe-inspiring. Released on cassette in an edition of 88 copies, “Redolent Fire” retains some lo-fi characteristics even as an MP3 — the guitars sound a little distant, the vocals seem to be pouring forth from some pit (Balrog?), the drums are slightly muted. If you’re not familiar with funeral doom as a genre, the name may sound depressing (and the music often is just that), but Alluring manages to be uplifting and dreadful at the same time. It’s a remarkable opening statement from a band with much more to say. [Colloquial Sound Recordings] — WM

04. KEN Mode – “Counter Culture Complex”

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba

Subgenre: Metalcore / Noise Rock

As the genre tags here suggest, KEN Mode stands at a crossroads where many styles intersect. Five albums into their career, though, the band manipulates all of their many influences with ease. You don’t hear “skronky chord voicing” or “double-bass roll” or “hardcore snarl” when you listen to this song. It’s easier — and more fun — to let KEN Mode’s rhythm section ballistics and sometimes-sassy, sometimes-somber melodies wash over you in bristling gusts. Despite KEN Mode’s recent successes (Juno Award!), frontman Jesse Matthewson continues to grapple with the ramifications of his lifestyle on his lyric sheet — “Counter Culture Complex” is about “mov(ing) on from being a teenager/ young adult to being old enough that you should know better.” Judging by the maturity and power of their forthcoming album, Entrench, KEN Mode knows quite a lot already. [Season Of Mist] ­­– DM

03. Ash Borer – “Oblivion’s Spring”

Location: Arcata, CA

Subgenre: Black Metal

Northern California’s Ash Borer released one of the best metal albums of 2012, and they’re back with another quarter-hour epic of twisting and disorienting black metal. Ash Borer are often compared to a number of other acts from the Northwest corner of the United States — Wolves In The Throne Room and Weakling chief among them — but it’s better to sit back and enjoy Ash Borer’s sprawling compositions in their own right. On “Oblivion’s Spring” — the A-side from the forthcoming Bloodlands 12″ — a picked, curious intro explodes into black metal insanity where tortured raspy vocals are buried underneath layers of feedback and both harsh and melodic guitars. Then Ash Borer are off to the races, going through more than a few rhythmic and thematic shifts — all while essentially harping on just a couple of melodic progressions — before the song’s 15 minutes are up.[Gilead Media] — WM

02. Woe – “Carried By Waves To Remorseless Shores Of The Truth”

Location: Philadelphia

Subgenre: Modern Black Metal / USBM

Pure power. Not what you’d expect from an American black metal band, but that’s what Woe give us here. USBM, as in black metal based out of these occasionally great United States, used to be known mainly as the domain of gloomy one-man bedroom projects — and Woe was once one of these projects. Since then they’ve expanded outward, both in terms of songwriting and membership, morphing into a full band for 2010′s Quietly, Undramatically while incorporating clean vocals. Their latest, Withdrawal, ups the power quotient by a mile. “Carried By Waves To Remorseless Shores of Truth” is black metal played like traditional heavy metal: It’s all about strength, power, domination. Muscular thrash segues into blazing leads; a mid-song solo takes us someplace altogether new (recalling fellow “powerful” USBM act the Howling Wind) before crashing into a monster of a harmonized breakdown. Woe’ve come a long way, baby. [Candlelight] — AL

01. VHÖL – “Grace”

Location: San Francisco, CA

Subgenre: Heavy Metal

Ludicra was one of the great metal bands of the past two decades, and their 2009 album, The Tenant, was their most fully realized work, so their sudden dissolution in 2011 was shocking and sad. The reunion of that band’s two most prominent members — drummer Aesop Dekker (Agalloch) and guitarist John Cobbett (Hammers Of Misfortune) — would have been cause for excitement even without the inclusion of frontman Mike Scheidt, of the mighty Yob, another band whose growing catalog has produced some of recent metal’s most noteworthy works. (Filling out the band is bassist Sigrid Sheie, who also plays alongside Cobbett today as a member of Hammers Of Misfortune.) What it would sound like, though, was anyone’s guess. Dekker is kind of an American version of Darkthrone’s Fenriz: Both play drums, have Wikipedic brains filled with metal trivia, have excellent (if decidedly odd) senses of humor, and act as ambassadors of the genre — both even curate websites dedicated to exposing obscure artists: Fenriz runs Band Of The Week; Aesop, the currently on-hiatus (but essential) Cosmic Hearse. (Aesop is a much better drummer than Fenriz, however, while Fenriz occasionally, um, sings.) And VHÖL synthesize many of the same atavistic influences Darkthrone have incorporated over the years: first-wave black metal; d-beat hardcore; late-’80s Teutonic thrash; King Diamond vocal flourishes. Then they blacken those influences, add some sludge, throw ’em all into the cauldron, and hit “Incinerate.” None of it is new, exactly, and by all rights, it should sound retro. Instead, it sounds classic. [Profound Lore] — MN

///

OTHER STAFF PICKS:

AARON:
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – “Poison Apple
Cerekloth – “Born of the Void
Rotting Christ – “In Yunan – Xibalba
Windhand – “Amaranth
Lantern – “Revenant

DOUG:
Iron Lung – “Pain Directive
Tribulation – “Wanderer In the Outer Darkness
Manilla Road – “The Grey God Passes
Lock-Up – “Infinite In Its Nothingness
Pristina – “The Immoralist
 
MICHAEL:
Imperium Dekadenz – “Der Unweg
Black Boned Angel – The End
Rhinocervs – RH-14
Teith – “Table Of Tourettes
Seven Sisters Of Sleep – “Orphans

WYATT:
Xothist – “A Binding
Jute Gyte – “Detritivore
Délétère – “Une Lampée de Ciguë
Windhand – “Amaranth
Tardigrada – “Leere

Comments (12)
  1. I’ve been meaning to get into newer Metal, and this’ll help a lot.

    This is awesome.

  2. I’ve been listening to the new Darkthrone album, only because after M. Nelson’s assessment of their catalog, I gave listen to most of it. My rookie ears are not really impressed, and maybe M. Nelson’s quick fix overview of enlightening readers what ranked from worst to best set me up for that disappointment, seeing that I became very enamored with the material that’s all “rarrr! rarrrrr!” and this is more like, “uuuuuuahhhhhhhh!”

    It’s also nice to see an inclusion from Poland in here. Poland is such a strange land with music. I always love seeing what weirdness it ensembles for the OFF Festival in Katowice. Judging by all of the stupid things I say here, it should come as no surprise that the blood of the biały orzeł runs deep through these icy veins of mine lol

    • To my non-rookie ears, the new Darkthrone is a blast – not that it’s anything groundbreaking (quite the opposite, it’s a definite throwback to Mercyful Fate, Priest, Frost, even some Motorhead), but the songs are great and played with a ton of energy. I’m thinking it’ll end up on a lot of metal writers’ best-of-2013 lists.

  3. I needed a good dose of that metal. This is great.

  4. Awesome feature. Awesome.

  5. So glad Stereogum is bringing back a column dedicated to metal! Been missing HTC.

  6. Love the idea. Keep it coming.

  7. Thank you for this wonderful article and for introducing so many wonderful bands that I have never heard of before.

    Love VHOL’s fucking space-flying sound, holy shit!

  8. This is good news. A very welcome feature.

  9. Glad to see this column back! Looking forward to more coverage of this gen and its manu sub genres as well.

  10. You ever notice how most black-metal bands look the same? I’ll bet at some point there was a huge black-metal festival where some band member got confused and went onstage with the wrong dudes.

  11. very excited about this new feature. hope it’s not just going to be black metal though.

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