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The Black Market: The Month In Metal – August 2013

Michael Nelson | August 29, 2013 - 12:31 pm

At the beginning of August, I drove eight or so hours — solo — from my home in Brooklyn to Toronto, Ontario to see At The Gates: a Swedish death metal band whose most recent LP, the all-time classic (and one of my favorite records ever) Slaughter Of The Soul, will turn 20 next year. At The Gates initially split up in 1996, reunited in 2007 for a few festival appearances, and have toured very sporadically since then. I wasn’t in attendance when they played two dates in NYC in 2008: an error in judgment that had been eating at me for the last five years. Generally speaking, it seems, when At The Gates do play, it is on another continent, so when I saw they were going to be as close as Toronto for three shows in Canada (and none in the States, presumably due to visa issues), I considered it an essential and unmissable opportunity. Crazy, I know, but hell, it beats spending five years kicking yourself.

And man, you know what? It was totally, totally worth it. When you live in New York City, you sort of come to expect that any band you could possibly want to see will be playing in town at some point over the next six months — and while that’s precisely the No. 1 reason to live in New York City, it can have a desensitizing effect. Not complaining! It’s a zillion times better than the alternative! I’m just saying, for me, driving eight hours each way to finally catch a white whale made the experience that much richer, made me appreciate each detail that much more distinctly and profoundly. It helps that Toronto is just a great city, with really great metal fans, and it especially helps that At The Gates absolutely tore shit up, basically playing a perfect set and coming off as just about the coolest guys you could hope for any band to be. (Only downside: No merch. WTF?) There’s a segment of the metal/critical community that has written off At The Gates for inspiring one of metal’s most dubious and despicable bastard-son genres (metalcore), but that’s like blaming Pearl Jam for Nickelback. Except Pearl Jam never wrote anything as good as “Slaughter Of The Soul.” In Toronto, that song inspired one of the wildest pits I’ve seen at any metal show. And two decades later, eight hours from home, it sounded fucking perfect.

For me, that show was just a small part of what I think has been the best month of the year so far for metal. (And it had already been been a really damn good year up to this point.) When Doug, Wyatt, Aaron, and I compiled the list of August’s best new metal tracks, we found ourselves cutting some personal favorites — stuff that might have cracked the top 10 in a regular month — to make room for shit that was even better. As such, I’ve asked those guys to share some Honorable Mentions in the comments, and I hope they will. Up here, I’ll ride for a few of my own faves that fell on the cutting room floor: the gorgeous new single from Godflesh frontman Justin Broadrick’s Jesu, “Homesick“; the new demo from awesome NYC melodic black metallers Anicon; and the filthy new cut from Cobalt vocalist Philip McSorley’s blacker-than-pitch project Recluse. And that doesn’t even take into account the great new tracks released this month that were simply ineligible for this list because we covered new songs from those bands last month: Vattnet Viskar, Pinkish Black, Carcass

All the aforementioned songs rule. But the hardest-ruling thing I’ve heard all month, maybe all year (yeah, potentially — potentially! — contradicting what I wrote in reference to our No. 1 track below), is Obscure Verses For The Multiverse, the new album from Seattle-via-Colombia black metal duo Inquisition, due out on October 29 via Season Of Mist. I’m not gonna go on about it here and now except to say this: It has done nothing but kick my head in since first hearing it, and if you love the sound of guitars, it is going to kick your head in, too. And I really think it’s going to kick a lot of heads in. There’s nothing dumber than album trailers, but this album actually deserves a trailer. So press play; start salivating:

Finally, another thing that happened in August? Maryland Death Fest announced its first confirmed acts for MDF 2014. Among them: Gorguts, Unleashed, and … At The Gates. Hell yeah I’m gonna be there. You should come, too. The month’s best metal tracks as curated, compiled, and written up by yr dudes are below. Let us know what’s good in the comments.

Michael Nelson


15. Red Fang – “Blood Like Cream”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: Stoner Metal

Red Fang are gonna get a lot of comparisons to labelmates Baroness, and those comparisons are warranted, but the Portland, OR band have even more in common with Florida’s Torche: Both bands play high-gloss, high-impact, catchy-as-all-fuck stoner-sludge that actually probably pairs better with beer than herb (assuming it’s an either/or scenario). “Blood Like Cream” is the first single to be released from Red Fang’s forthcoming third LP, Whales And Leeches (which is out on 10/15 via Relapse); the thing just stomps from the first drum hit, but when it shifts into the brain-frying bridge two-thirds of the way through, it takes flight and soars. [Relapse] –MN


14. Russian Circles – “Deficit”

Location: Chicago
Subgenre: Instrumental Post-metal

Strange though it may seem now, “instrumental post-metal” was an exceedingly common style just half a decade ago. The post-metal crescendo has since drained away (as they all do), leaving a reduced assortment of veteran practitioners clinging to the rocks. Russian Circles are the strongest among the surviving set, but judging by the cover of their forthcoming album, Memorial, even they’ve taken stock of the leaner times. It’s an aerial photograph of a snow-crusted mountain chain, and the sere blue-whites match the music well. “Deficit” is a stern march whose dry tones and sea-shanty opening rhythm gesture vaguely toward black metal. Ultimately, though, Russian Circles’ proclivity for bigger and lusher sounds wins out, and the tune opens up into a busier, beefier romp in its second half. Dave Turncrantz remains one of the best drummers to ever play in this style. Dynamics are the name of the game, and he drives them masterfully. [Sargent House] –Doug Moore


13. Necrophobic – “Splendour Nigri Solis”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: Black Metal

I am loath to throw around new genre tags, because we in the metal world are already in danger of drowning in them. Nonetheless, I’m starting to think that “arena black metal” might be a thing. Hear me out: Black metal as we understand it today got its start as a totally niche style, performed by weird misanthropes for small groups of other weird misanthropes. (Or not performed at all, in many cases.) But as the decades have ticked by, a growing cadre of polished, professional black metal bands has developed whose music and stage show are geared to work best in big, glitzy venues. Thus, arena black metal. Watain are probably the most conspicuous example at the moment, but their countrymen Necrophobic fit the bill too. The two bands have a lot in common, especially now — like Watain’s The Wild Hunt, Necrophobic’s forthcoming The Womb Of Lilitu expands ’90s black metal tropes into giant, vocal-centric blowouts, complete with tricked-out production and epic shred solos. For my money, Necrophobic’s effort is the better of the two, though it likely won’t get as much attention due to their less flamboyant presentation. Listen and root for the underdog. [Season Of Mist] –DM


12. Cleric – “Left Hand Wrath”

Location: Dallas, TX
Subgenre: Death Metal

I get lost sometimes as I listen to these things. Something triggers a memory and I’m gone, floating backwards through time … Ages ago my dad used to take me through the back country of Massachusetts, not far from where I grew up, to a State Reservation called Purgatory Chasm. It was this gaping tectonic rift smack dab in the middle of the woods, a giant hole cut from massive blocks of granite, full of trees, cliffs, and caves. I loved it there, partially because there was something unsettling about the place, probably mostly implied from the name alone, but it cast a certain pallor over the entire experience: from the weight of all that surrounding stone to the idea that time immemorial had ripped the earth to pieces and left this hole as a marker. This is all a longwinded way of saying that listening to Cleric, and their blend of musty death and extra-dimensional drift, gets me thinking of the spaces between those stone cracks, and the accompanying dread that brushes the back of your spine as you peer into the unknown. Thick riffs abound, reminiscent of Dismember and Entombed (“Left Hand Wrath” is an obvious signpost), but like another band on this list, the equally incredible Grave Miasma, it’s the atmosphere between the notes that makes all the difference. [Tofu Carnage] –Aaron Lariviere


11. Seidr – “The Pillars Of Creation”

Location: Louisville, KY
Subgenre: Doom/Sludge/Post-Metal/Neofolk

Seidr’s expansive and ominous 2011 debut For Winter Fire had all the portent and grandeur of a viking funeral; it’s an album made for wilderness exploration and solitary meditation. It was one of that year’s best metal records, and now, the band is set to release its follow-up: the forthcoming Ginnungagap (recorded by Krallice’s Colin Marston), which does much to evolve and advance Seidr’s mighty sound. Seidr comes from the same Louisville scene that produced another of 2013’s finest metal releases, Anagnorisis’s Beyond All Light (frontman Austin Lunn was a founding member of Anagnorisis before departing the band in 2008). And while Beyond All Light’s crusty blackened rage has little in common with Ginnungagap’s empyrean might, both records share a welcoming earthiness and strong melodic underpinnings that invite the listener to explore further and subsequently transport him somewhere else altogether. “The Pillars Of Creation” is Ginnungagap’s second song; it opens in an empty, echoing field of post-rock guitars, and travels wordlessly to a kingdom of climactic doom riffs and low-croaked vocals; when the two sounds converge, the song rockets upward and entirely away from its earthbound origins. [Bindrune Recordings/The Flenser] –MN


10. The Howling Wind – “Alignment Of Celestial Bodies”

Location: Brooklyn
Subgenre: Black Metal

There’s change afoot in the Howling Wind camp. For one, they’ve struck out on their own after three releases with Profound Lore Records, opting instead to self-release their fourth album (available here for $4). Meanwhile there’s a stripped-down approach to the whole affair: Both the production and songwriting feel intentionally coarse, with more muscle and less sheen, not that the Howling Wind were ever especially shiny to begin with. Their last album saw them cover Hellhammer, and that influence feels especially present here, in the best way. “Alignment Of Celestial Bodies” rages throughout, with blown-out vocals and primitive kill riffs strung one after another — and it isn’t till the last minute that guitarist (and, uh, bassist, noisemaker, and vocalist) Ryan Lipynsky’s shred pedigree finally bursts through. We’ve heard what he can do before in countless bands across countless genres — Serpentine Path, Pollution, Villains, Thralldom, and the sorely missed Unearthly Trance, amongst others — and still, those searing leads never fail to stun. [self-released] –AL


09. Ninkharsag – “The Essential Salts Of Human Dust”

Location: England
Subgenre: Black Metal

For a band that plays straightforward black metal so clearly reverent of genre standard bearers like Bathory and Emperor, Ninkharsag sure sounds fresh. “The Essential Salts Of Human Dust” comes barreling straight out the gate, pummeling bolt-gun drums and flange-y guitars leading a charge through three-and-a-half all-too-short minutes. A lot of black metal bands attempt this tried-and-true formula, and a lot of them sound derivative. Ninkharsag doesn’t, which is particularly impressive given that before the soon-to-be-released two-song 7″ that contains “The Essential Salts Of Human Dust” (the first single off a forthcoming full-length), the band only had a three-song demo under its belt. You’ll notice a strong sense of melody throughout that interacts particularly well with the great vocal delivery — the singer’s got just the right amount of rasp and, shit, you can almost understand what he’s saying. Look for their LP, because if it’s anything like this, it’ll rank well come year-end. [Ultha] –Wyatt Marshall


08. Grave – “Venial Sin”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: Swedish Death Metal

Grave may as well be eternal at this point. 29 years into a career playing Swedish fucking death metal, they’re either undead or just unkillable, showing no signs of diminishing in terms of power or perseverance. One of the originals of the Swedish metal scene alongside Entombed, Dismember, and Unleashed, what makes Grave remarkable in 2013 is that they still release vital, vitriolic shit with unnatural frequency. Last year’s full-length Endless Procession Of Souls was more than a return to form — it’s actually one of my favorite death metal albums ever, right alongside the band’s debut, Into The Grave, released some 20 years earlier. Bands this old should not be this good — it’s a wondrous thing when they are. “Venial Sin,” the first track off Grave’s latest EP, Morbid Ascent, gives us Grave at their best: primitive, pounding death charges headfirst into doom territory, slowing to a crawl while the riffs keep on ripping. Meanwhile singer/guitarist/testament-to-unclean-living Ola Lindgren proves he can out-bellow just about everyone as he spits out some especially scathing (and discomfiting) lines about priests and their less-than-holy proclivities. [Century Media] –AL


07. Fyrnask – “Siaidha”

Location: Germany
Subgenre: Black Metal

One-man black metal acts are, generally speaking, not the most outgoing folks, and as such, covering (or even discovering) those projects can be unusually difficult. Take, for example, Fyrnask: the musical identity of a German guy named Fyrnd — just Fyrnd — who’s set to release his second album as Fyrnask, Eldir Nótt, which follows a 2011 LP, Bluostar. Forget anything like touring; he’ll probably never even show his face in photographs (this is as much as you’ll get). And with almost no earthly or virtual presence to speak of, it can become awfully easy to lose a band like Fyrnask in a consonant-heavy swirl of other one-man black metal bands: Fyrdsman, Frykt, and so forth (fyrth?) ad infinitum. And that would be a fucking sin because Eldir Nótt is an absolute revelation, one of the year’s best pure black metal releases. It’s got a rich, full, powerful sound, similar to other obsessive one-man auteurs such as Blut Aus Nord or later Leviathan. Like Wolves In The Throne Room or Altar Of Plagues circa Mammal, the album feels like a thing of nature itself: like Big Sky country in pre-dawn hours, like a flash flood in the desert, like walking headlong into a blizzard. It is, at points, quiet and placid, but even in its fury it feels not like a flurry of blows by which to be beaten down or charged up, but a spectacle to behold. [Temple Of Torturous] –MN


06. Lustre – “Green Worlds”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: Epic Atmospheric Metal

In a month when technical flash-bang, speaker-rattling fuzz and death metal are sure to steal the show, my vote for one of the best of the month is Lustre’s “Green Worlds,” a meandering track from a one-man band out of Sweden that plays what is essentially ambient music — hell, the forthcoming album’s cover is pale green and features a bevy of swans in flight. In a similar vein to Summoning, the epic Casio/Tolkien legends (shout out to Caladan Brood, too), Lustre revels in simple but grandiose compositions. This is deep-space stargazing music, mountain range-crossing shit; it’s not headbanging metal. An elementary and watery keyboard melody guides throughout, a dissonant 16-bit flute will try to throw you off early on, and when those muted guitars kick in, you know you’re listening to something special. Lustre offers a different take on metal, one that lurks in the dark corners of the internet and aspires to something different. Listen at night on a good pair of headphones. [Nordvis] –WM


05. Ulcerate – “Clutching Revulsion”

Location: New Zealand
Subgenre: Technical Death Metal

Whether you like them or not, you have to credit Ulcerate for distinctiveness. Try as I might, I’ve never found another band that sounds quite like them. Even the bands to which they’re most frequently plopped next to — Gorguts, Deathspell Omega, and Neurosis — only occasionally make for sensible comparisons. Ulcerate pushed their twisting-drones-plus-blastbeats abstraction to the limit on their last album, 2011’s The Destroyers Of All. By comparison, their Relapse debut, Vermis constitutes something of a retrenchment; it’s earthier and harks more strongly to the band’s roots in American death metal. And that’s a good thing! Ulcerate have always been a cold, impersonal band, and Destroyers verged on sterile in its rigor. “Weight Of Emptiness” is a great example of the way that death metal fire has partially thawed the band’s clinical ice. That opening stomp is a total grimace-inducer, and drummer/artist/band leader Jamie St. Merat’s percussive fireworks are as jaw-dropping as they’ve ever been. [Relapse] –DM


04. Skeletonwitch – “Burned From Bone”

Location: Athens, OH
Subgenre: Blackened Thrash

Finally! THIS is what we’ve been waiting for from Skeletonwitch — a song that rips right through the speakers and does to your neck what Skeletonwitch does to you every time they take the stage. (Uh, forced contortion?) It’s so easy to root for this band: Every record comes sweat-soaked from the backbreaking work that goes into churning out one after another between impossible tour schedules. But more than that, the music just drips with endless potential, all the while reaching for the ring and coming so close it hurts. With an able production assist from the omnipresent Kurt Ballou (Kvelertak, Black Breath, Trap Them, etc.), Skeletonwitch’s forthcoming Serpents Unleashed finally, seriously, amazingly delivers on the promise of everything they’ve shown up to this point. On lead single “Burned From Bone,” Chance Garnette’s raspy bellow finds the perfect home under a bed of ripping melodic guitars and some of the best Rickenbacker bass tone I’ve heard in ages, while the song itself soars higher and further than ever before. Imagine where they’ll go from here. [Prosthetic] –AL


03. Castevet – “As Fathomed By Beggars And Victims”

Location: Brooklyn
Subgenre: Progressive Metal

It’s hard to write complex music. Duh. It’s exponentially harder, though, to write complex music that flows smoothly, or at least that doesn’t beat you over the head with its complexity. New York City’s Castevet (now featuring Nick McMaster of Krallice on bass) attained this elusive characteristic on their debut, 2010’s excellent Mounds Of Ash, and they use it to incredible effect on “As Fathomed By Beggars And Victims,” from their second LP, the forthcoming Obsian. This tune is a rhythmic and harmonic marvel. The instruments stack contradictory grooves against each other until they form a curious meta-rhythm; quarter notes, eighth notes, and triplets battle each other for dominance as the chord progressions pick their way from one root to the next. But the song never elicits typical complicated-metal descriptors like “angular” or “jarring.” The overall effect is instead moonlit and gauzy, thanks in part to frontman Andrew Hock’s spidery acoustic layering. Obsian will undoubtedly shoot to the top of many a year-end list when it drops on October 15; listen now for a preview. [Profound Lore] –DM


02. Grave Miasma – “Ovation To A Thousand Lost Reveries”

Location: England
Subgenre: Old-school Death Metal

I was hoping a track from Grave Miasma’s forthcoming debut LP, Odori Sepulcrorum, would premiere in time to be included in last month’s Black Market, but it missed by a day. Yeah, it’s great to have it here this month, of course, but it would have been appropriate to contrast in that space the moaning, raw analog production found on the Grave Miasma record with the crystalline sound of the new Carcass LP — because those two English bands could not sound less alike, yet they might be responsible, respectively, for the two best death metal albums of 2013. Odori Sepulcrorum is a nightmarish expedition into a bizarre netherworld; it’s dank and cavernous and lightless. Recorded at London’s Orgone Studios (Ghost’s Opus Eponymous; Primordial’s Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand) using vintage equipment, it’s an album of sound more than song — and the skin-crawling sensations produced by that sound — but the performances are roundly outstanding, especially the guitar leads, which channel Morbid Angel’s Trey Azagthoth at his most hallucinatory. Grave Miasma play a form of primitive death metal that feels genuinely dark and threatening; like the 1980 Italian horror film Cannibal Holocaust, it seems somehow terrifying, timeless, and real. [Profound Lore] –MN


01. Windhand – “Woodbine”

Location: Richmond, VA
Subgenre: Doom/Sludge/Psychedelic

I was listening to Sunbather again recently, and doing so confirmed what I’ve said since first hearing the thing: It’s gonna be my No. 1 album of 2013, no contest. The race for No. 2, though, is pretty tight — but if the year were to end today, Windhand’s incredible forthcoming sophomore album Soma would take home those honors. “Woodbine” was the first track to be released from Soma (followed by the equally incredible “Orchard“), and it’s a hell of a way to get acquainted: Within one second, “Woodbine” has leveled everything in its immediate vicinity, and it spends the next nine minutes crushing everything else. The fuzzed-the-fuck-out guitars have the mass of mountains, and from those heights, riffs descend with the inescapable force of an avalanche. Frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell delivers resin-sticky melodies in spacey, spectral gusts, while the rhythm section just blasts forward, not slowly, but inexorably, in long, powerful strides. [Relapse] –MN