The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – April 2014

By Michael Nelson / April 30, 2014

In last month’s Black Market, we spent a lot of space celebrating the triumphant returns of numerous kings: Agalloch, Triptykon, Thou, Eyehategod … even the mighty Metallica came back to us with their strongest material in decades. We witnessed a similar wave in April, but this time, the old gods were not so beneficent: Three of metal’s biggest bands — Slayer, Judas Priest, and Mastodon — came back from the far reaches, unannounced, bearing gifts of new music. Yet while all those songs were OK, none were worthy of inclusion in this month’s Black Market.

That’s not to say all of metal’s highest-profile acts are absent below — I’d say Autopsy, Trap Them, and Tombs are pretty close to A-list status in our world — but for the most part, the best metal we heard in April came from the underground or the unexpected fringes. Sure, to the readers and curators of the Black Market, bands like Bölzer and A Pregnant Light might be household names, but to the world at large, those artists are still very much waiting to be discovered. And even still, the majority of this month’s list is made up of bands whose names were largely unfamiliar even to us when the month began: Forest Of Tygers, Emptiness, the Oath, Funereal Presence … these bands kind of came out of nowhere. And now, here they are, kicking our asses, owning our headphones, making better music than Slayer and Judas Priest and Mastodon. That’s gotta be a hell of a rush for those bands, no? It’s a hell of a rush to hear it, I can say that much with authority.

Along those lines: I’m not sure if Aaron, Doug, or Wyatt had heard of Nux Vomica prior to this past month, but I had been sleeping on that band since … 2003, apparently. I’m not sure how that happened, not sure where I was or where they were, but anyway, at the beginning of April, a band called Nux Vomica from Portland, OR released their self-titled third LP, and right now, that LP would get my vote for Album Of The Year. (You can read my thoughts on it below.) Of course I’ve only been listening to the thing for a few weeks, and I don’t necessarily expect to feel in December the way I feel on April 30 — especially because Profound Lore just sent me an advance of the fucking insane new Dead Congregation album, and especially especially because the new At The Gates record draws nearer every day. But it’s massively exciting to hear, unexpectedly, an album like Nux Vomica, an album that so completely consumes and exhilarates me. It’s even more exciting to think there is, maybe, better music still to come.

On the subject of the year’s best metal albums: Earlier this month, I wrote a Premature Evaluation of Agalloch’s The Serpent & The Sphere, whose release is imminent (I got a physical copy of the CD in the mail this past Monday, in fact). That will dovetail nicely with Maryland Deathfest, where Agalloch will perform on Friday, May 23 (they were a late booking, added to the bill when Norwegian experimental greats Ulver were forced to drop off). All four of the Black Market dudes — me, Doug Moore, Aaron Lariviere, and Wyatt Marshall — will be at MDF, a very rare opportunity for all of us to be in the same place at the same time, combined with the even rarer opportunity to see Mgla, Necros Christos, Taake, Agalloch, and At The Gates play in succession. We’ll surely talk about the highlights of the festival in next month’s Black Market, but if any of you guys are heading to Bodymore, Murdaland for the event, let us know, and let’s all bang heads to Triptykon together. It’s going to be a hell of a weekend.

Thanks for reading/listening/caring/sharing. See you in Baltimore/at St. Vitus/in the comments section/right here, next month.

Michael


15. Insomnium – “Black Heart Rebellion”

Location: Finland
Subgenre: Depressive Melodeath

We don’t often cover stuff like this — unabashedly modern metal with lead guitars so pristine they sound less like Iron Maiden than “Cliffs Of Dover” — but it’s good to get weird now and again. Before I go any further, do me a favor: Spin this thing blindly, and keep an open mind. Insomnium play a hybrid of depressive modern rock (think Katatonia) and melodic death metal (think Dark Tranquility) that seems to flourish in Finland. Bands like Amorphis, Swallow The Sun, and even Children Of Bodom dabble with these common ingredients to somewhat different effect, but Insomnium have their own spin, naturally: moody, gorgeously melodic music played fast and hard, downbeat pop songs pushed to the limits of intensity. The production is clear and bombastic, the musicianship beyond tight; on paper, none of that appeals to me, but the melodic arrangements are incredible. “Black Heart Rebellion” blasts and breathes across seven minutes, waxing and waning like a force of nature before the outro screams across the sky and into the aether. [From Shadow Of The Dying Sun, out now via Century Media]Aaron




14. Serpentine Path – “Disfigured Colossus”

Location: New York/New Jersey
Subgenre: Death/Doom

The past is prologue for Serpentine Path. If you don’t already know their deal, here’s the short version: All three members of the defunct (and dearly missed) Brooklyn doom band Unearthly Trance play looming death/doom with help from Electric Wizard bassist and Ramesses guitarist Tim Bagshaw, as well as guitarist Stephen Flam of the like-minded NYC act Winter. So yeah, they’re a supergroup, but they’re steadily growing to equal the sum of their parts. Those looking to revisit UT’s glory days would be better off checking out frontman Ryan Lipynsky’s other band, Force & Fire; Serpentine Path perpetually drag themselves through lightless, death metal-tinged trudges that sound more like Winter than any of the members’ other former bands. Not many surprises, but this band have more than enough power to make up the difference. “Disfigured Colossus” is as good a description of their sound as any: It’s huge, obvious, ugly, and more than capable of crushing you like a cockroach. [From Emanations, out 5/27 via Relapse]Doug




13. Obliti Devoravit – “Oblique Diversions”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: Black Metal/Punk

What makes for better nightmare material: sci-fi or Satan? For whatever reason, “Oblique Diversions” got me wondering. The song starts off like the soundtrack to an alien abduction before turning into a foul punk stomper, a plodding bass-heavy war march that’s just wonky enough to give the whole thing a warped feel. The crazed, heavily distorted vocals rule, barking and growling unpredictably like an animal on the defensive until they die out in spent disgust. Obliti Devoravit is the one-man project of TL, a member of the blackened punk bands Aksumite and This Station Of Life, and a key part of the Grand Rapids scene (see: both Ifing and A Pregnant Light, below). “Oblique Diversions” is the title track from Obliti Devoravit’s second release; their self-titled 2013 debut was limited to 100 copies on cassette, and this new one is limited to 77 copies (and available digitally). As you’re clicking “Buy Now,” enjoy the incredible synthed-out guitar tone that intros (and outros) this track, one of the most enjoyably twisted songs I’ve heard this year, nailing an aesthetic all its own. [From Oblique Diversions, out now via Colloquial Sound Recordings]Wyatt




12. Forest Of Tygers – “Tiger Stripe”

Location: Nashville
Subgenre: Black Metal/Hardcore

The two-piece lineup seems to be growing in popularity among metal bands these days. Aside from a few notable exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of the format. Though it does provide certain (mostly logistical) benefits, it also constrains your compositional options — a lot of two-piece metal sounds thin or unfinished as a result. Not so with Forest Of Tygers, whose debut EP makes a racket that many five-pieces would envy. This duo play a distinctly American mix of styles; its chief ingredients are black metal, punk, and the kind of noise rock-inflected hardcore that bands like Botch and Coalesce codified in the late ’90s. Tombs’ early work might be the most obvious point of comparison for the end result, but Forest Of Tygers basically just sound like themselves. Given how snappy and well-composed these four songs are, that’s a good thing — check out the satisfying denouement that concludes “Tiger Stripe.” It’s time to start keeping tabs on this band; their full-length debut will almost certainly rip. [From Bruises EP, out 5/29 via Primitive Violence]Doug




11. Aurvandil – “The Harvest Of Betrayal”

Location: France
Subgenre: Black Metal

Over the last few years, acts like Ash Borer and Fell Voices have led a charge of bands playing longwinded, dense, and hypnotic black metal, turning out songs that regularly reach the 20-minute mark and often sound like endurance tests for the musicians performing them. How long can someone churn out blast beats? A long time, apparently! It’s fitting that Ash Borer’s label, Psychic Violence, first released Aurvandil’s Thrones, an epic of an album that takes the long road. “The Harvest Of Betrayal” offers layer upon layer of noisy, pummeling riffage and relentless furious drumming. Pained primordial howls break the surface — just barely — before drowning back into dark matter. Some black metal lures the listener in over time, delivering a push and pull of tension that builds to something grand — “The Harvest Of Betrayal,” on the other hand, repeatedly assaults you. [From Thrones, out 5/6 via Psychic Violence (cassette)/Eisenwald (CD)]Wyatt




10. Ifing – “Realms Forged”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: Epic Black Metal

Is Grand Rapids, Michigan currently home to the best black metal scene in America? Seems counterintuitive, but the evidence is overwhelming. The country’s best micro-indie label, Colloquial Sound Recordings, operates out of Grand Rapids — and with it, such acts as Obliti Devoravit (see above) and A Pregnant Light (see below). And now, Ifing: a black metal duo (Fritz Petersen and Tim Wicklund) from Grand Rapids set to release their debut LP, Against This Weald, on the Finnish label Blood Music. (Also worth mentioning: The city is home to one of the world’s best craft breweries, too: Founders. Coincidence?) The name Ifing is cribbed from Norse mythology, and the band’s sound is chiefly informed by bands who crib from Norse mythology: Bathory, Winterfylleth, Nokturnal Mortum, Windir. This is epic black metal in the truest sense, rich with medieval-sounding melodies, synth-y atmospherics, and sonic elements of traditional folk, all building to ripping, blizzard-level climaxes. In some ways, Against This Weald reminds me of Aura, the 2013 debut release from the awesome Swiss band Bölzer (um, see below, again): Both are massive, real-as-fuck metal albums that consist of three songs, and both seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere only to sound 100-percent essential upon arrival. I can’t stop listening to them, and I can’t recommend highly enough that you do the same. [From Against This Weald, out 5/27 via Blood Music]Michael




09. Autopsy – “Parasitic Eye”

Location: Oakland, CA
Subgenre: Crusty Doomy Death Metal

You’re probably thinking, “Christ on a crooked crutch, didn’t we get new tunes from Autopsy less than a year ago?” We did. I remember it like it was yesterday, because it was basically yesterday (OK, it was last June) that I was writing about the filthy little ripper “Arch Cadaver” off Autopsy’s second post-reunion album, The Headless Ritual. Well, the original Phil Collins of death metal, singing drummer Chris Reifert, is back and he sounds like the living embodiment of lung cancer. Surprisingly, the entire band sounds great (lung cancer is a good look for this kind of death metal), brimming with vim and vinegar, riding the reunion wave to a new high as if they’ve been practicing or something. The production is clean but meaty, while the performances feel lived-in, comfortably loose but utterly assured. Reifert’s drumming is especially sharp, and we’re treated to the tastiest lead guitars of the band’s career. That’s a recurring theme here: On a technical level, this is easily the most accomplished Autopsy album. They’re still firmly in Mental Funeral mode, but that’s all anyone should want anyway. “Parasitic Eye” sounds almost majestic, right up until the drums fly off the rails and we’re lost in a tornado of flesh, banging and clanging until the song threatens to collapse … then the opening motif returns, and you get that tingle in your spine, and you know you’re onto something good. [From Tourniquets, Hacksaws & Graves, out now via Peaceville]Aaron




08. Trap Them – “Salted Crypts”

Location: Seattle, WA
Subgenre: Metalcore

When Trap Them got their proper start in the mid-aughts, their formula — beefing up Converge-style metalcore with an Entombed guitar tone and an extra dash of grind — was novel and even a little counterintuitive. Seven years later, it’s virtually a subgenre unto itself, with dozens of bands and more than one label messing with permutations of their basic approach. Unsurprisingly, Trap Them still do it better than anyone else. “Salted Crypts,” the first single from Trap Them’s upcoming fourth LP, Blissfucker, demonstrates a feature of their sound that’s become more prominent as the band has aged: Though their fast material is strong, Trap Them really shine when they slow it down to a lurch. This tune begins and ends with a big, mean stomp that showcases how nasty these guys can get when they give their rhythm section and absurd guitar tone some room to breathe. [From Blissufucker, out 6/10 via Prosthetic]Doug




07. The Oath – “Silver And Dust”

Location: Germany
Subgenre: Heavy Metal

Let’s get it out of the way: The Oath take their name from Don’t Break The Oath, the sophomore album by Mercyful Fate, who have inspired a host of bands over the last few years. At a cursory glance, the Oath fall into the same camp, but there are a few key distinctions. First, the female vocals mean we’re not stuck with a neutered falsetto; rather we get a genuinely feminine take on occult heavy metal (while managing to sound nothing like the Devil’s Blood, thankfully); and the riffs are solid gold straight through, with no filler in sight. But singer Linnéa Olsson and guitarist Johanna Sadonis take it a step further, as evidenced by the frequent comparisons they get to another female-led band, ’70s riff-rockers Heart — indeed, the Oath bring a better ear for pop hooks and rock riffs than most metal bands could dream of, not entirely unlike a darker take on prime-era material from the Wilson sisters (Dreamboat Annie rules, guys). “Silver And Dust” is neither the heaviest nor softest thing on their debut album, but it has the best chorus, and sometimes hooks are all you need. This album’s got ‘em in spades. (Last-minute editor’s note: The Oath’s self-titled debut LP came out 4/15, but rumor has it they broke up yesterday.) [From The Oath, out now via Rise Above]Aaron




06. A Pregnant Light – “Ringfinger”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: “Purple Metal”/?

Fun fact: A Pregnant Light has appeared in this column more than any other band to date. That’s partly because APL — aka Grand Rapids, MI’s Damian Master, who also runs Colloquial Sound Recordings and plays in like half a dozen other projects — releases music so frequently. One of the nice things about owning your own label, and releasing music only on Bandcamp and/or limited-edition cassette, is that you don’t have to worry too much about administrative oversight or budgetary constraints. But really, the reason APL is so frequently covered here is because every single thing the guy releases is incredible. “Ringfinger” is one of two new tracks included on Before I Came, a compilation that collects a bunch of out-of-print APL EPs, all of which are essential. But it’s no throwaway. “Ringfinger” is the opening track on Before I Came, and it’s a burner. Master has called APL’s music “purple metal,” i.e., still oppressively dark, but a few shades away from black metal — something more colorful, weirder, more feminine. But “Ringfinger” is an entire spectrum removed from black metal. It’s richly melodic, openly passionate music, with huge Jawbreaker guitars and lascivious Prince lyrics. Hey, maybe there’s still some purple in this metal after all. [From Before I Came, out now via Colloquial Sound Recordings]Michael




05. Funereal Presence – “The Tower Falls”

Location: New York City
Subgenre: Black Metal

I swear, every time I turn around there’s a new black metal renaissance happening and I can’t even keep up. Funereal Presence are the latest in a long line of killer rough and raw black metal bands, filling the void in my heart for new shit in the vein of Cultes des Ghoules, Torture Chain, and even the untouchably exquisite Negative Plane. Funereal Presence share a lot of similarities with Negative Plane, in fact — from the splashy reverb to their penchant for using church bells as musical punctuation — and with good reason: The sole member of Funereal Presence goes by the name Bestial Devotion, and he plays drums in Negative Plane. The vibe here harkens back to a simpler time when black metal had songs, and churches burned on the regular, but there’s a restless spirit of inventiveness that creeps in via chiming guitars overlaid with spacey fingertapping, church organs, bizarrely spooky clean vocals, and other subversive ephemera. And yes, the Negative Plane vibes are strong, which is a fabulous thing, since that band’s been painfully quiet since 2011’s excellent Stained Glass Revelations. [From The Archer Takes Aim, out now via Svr & Ajna Offensive]Aaron




04. Emptiness – “Nothing But The Whole”

Location: Belgium
Subgenre: Death/Black Metal

Up until this year, I had figured Emptiness for one of those middle children of the underground metal world: a talented, distinctive band who, thanks to the fickle dynamics of the pop-culture market, nonetheless fail to gain any traction. Their previous album, 2012’s Error, was an unsung gem — it condensed Immolation’s death metal maelstrom into repetitive, accessible bangers, which is just as weird and engaging in practice as it sounds on paper. Fortunately, Nothing But The Whole seems to be generating more heat than its predecessor already. Its title track is representative of the album’s overall approach: stubbornly cyclic black/death metal stomps still anchor the songs, but they’re tricked out with an array of ethereal production touches and druggy vocal washes that are just as engrossing as the more physical side of the music. In fact, they might be the real center of attention. “Dreamlike” is an overused metaphor among music writers, but unlike the vast majority of stuff in this vein, Nothing But The Whole absolutely merits it. [From Nothing But The Whole, out 5/27 via Dark Descent]Doug




03. Bölzer – “Steppes”

Location: Switzerland
Subgenre: Black Metal

2013 was the Year Of The Riff — no, the year on a whole wasn’t any more riffed-out than any other riffed-out year; 2013 was just the year of the riff. That riff was Bölzer’s “Entranced By The Wolfshook” riff, the bee-buzzing, unpredictably fretboard-jumping stroke of genius that somehow instantly, once heard, drilled itself into the brain for a lifetime. Can they do it again in 2014? Crown a new reign of riffs? “Steppes,” from the band’s forthcoming Soma, is as good an effort as any, a song that’s instantly recognizable as Bölzer — those buzzing guitars are a hallmark, as are those chord progressions that bounce from here to there with rubber-band agility. It’s a hell of a song, and it features a few moments that match the glory of “Wolfshook.” Anyone going to Maryland Deathfest should make sure to catch the Swiss band’s performance — not every band gets to play MDF for their North American debut. [From Soma EP, out TBD via Invictus Productions]Wyatt




02. Nux Vomica – “Sanity Is For The Passive”

Location: Portland, Oregon
Subgenre: Crust/Hardcore/Post-Metal/Melodeath

Portland, OR-based quintet Nux Vomica have been together since 2003, when they formed in the Baltimore underground, an offshoot of anarcho-punk act Wake Up On Fire (who broke up a year after the formation of Nux Vomica, before the latter band relocated to Cascadia). The band’s name is basically a synonym for strychnine, and their new self-titled LP is their third full-length release, following 2007’s A Civilized World and 2009’s Asleep In The Ashes. Anyway, they’ve been around for more than a decade, so I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I hadn’t of them till this year. I’m kind of shocked, too, because Nux Vomica might be my favorite album of 2014. Over the course of three songs, which range from roughly 12 to 20 minutes each, the band delivers one of the most enveloping, transporting, and aurally satisfying listening experiences I can remember. Rhythmically and texturally, Nux Vomica (the album) has an epic breadth — not unlike, say, Sunbather in that regard, although this album is born of almost entirely different influences than that one was: Sunbather blended black metal and shoegaze; Nux Vomica has hints of melodic death metal, doom, crust punk, ambient, sludge, and hardcore. (Both albums, though, are generously melodic and traverse deep valleys of post-rock.) I know triangulation makes for lazy criticism, but if I told you Nux Vomica sounds like At The Gates meets Fucked Up meets Thou, would that help you understand, a little bit, what this album sounds like? Would it make you want to listen to the album? Would it help you to understand why I love the album so much? Lyrically, Nux Vomica (the band) address themes of political/social/cultural injustice, an approach that generally tends to make me a little leery, but I can’t fault any band for giving a shit about the world around them, especially when those lyrics are delivered in songs of such absorbing, vast sonic power. [From Nux Vomica, out now via Relapse]Michael




01. Tombs – “Edge Of Darkness”

Location: Brooklyn
Subgenre: Death Metal/Hardcore

Tombs have been one of the best bands in the country since at least 2011, when they released their outstanding sophomore LP, Path Of Totality (which followed a tremendous 2009 debut, Winter Hours). Then, in 2013, Tombs core members Mike Hill (vocals/guitar) and Andrew Hernandez (drums) replaced former bassist Carson Daniel James with Ben Brand (who also plays guitar in Woe), and added a second guitarist in the form of Garrett Bussanick, who previously played in the great, underrated, genre-destroying NYC metal bands Wetnurse and Flourishing. Those moves, especially the addition of Bussanick, reminded me of the way the old Boss Steinbrenner Yankees used to operate: signing players like Tim Raines and Daryl Strawberry to be fourth outfielders; trading for A-Rod only to have him shift to third base because the team already had Derek Jeter at shortstop. And like those Yankees teams, Tombs are now not only built to win championships, but demolish all comers and establish a dynasty. The band’s forthcoming third LP, Savage Gold, finds the new Tombs lineup locked in, crushing line drives to all fields. Where once Tombs’ music included elements of post-metal and black metal — i.e., an atmospheric, “soft” side — they’re now playing a lean form of hardcore-based death metal (produced by ex-Morbid Angel/current Hate Eternal guitarist Erik Rutan) with a Godflesh-esque industrial chill and a Gorguts-ian avant-tech bent. Savage Gold is a display of power, skill, agility, speed, and endurance — here, too, the baseball metaphor works. And again, just like those old Yankees teams, reworked as they were at every trade deadline and during every offseason, Tombs are still one of the best bands in the country — only now, they’re even better. [From Savage Gold, out 6/10 via Relapse]Michael