The Black Market: The Month In Metal - June 2014

Last week, Grantland published a thoughtful, compelling piece by Steven Hyden titled “The Sad But True Fate Of Pop-Metal.” In his essay, Hyden used the new Mastodon album, Once More ’Round The Sun, as a jumping-off point to lament the paucity (if not void) of contemporary metal in mainstream consciousness, especially relative to the genre’s healthy mainstream presence in every previous generation of pop music. Wrote Hyden:

Not that long ago, pop-friendly metal and hard rock ranked among the most popular music in the world. Up until the early ’00s, you could find ginormously successful examples of this music in the upper reaches of the pop charts going back more than 30 years, starting with the genre’s acknowledged originators, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. No matter how metal and hard rock changed over the years, there was always a version for the pop market. It could have been arena rock (AC/DC’s Back In Black), the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (Def Leppard’s Pyromania), L.A. glam (Quiet Riot’s Metal Health), post-NWOBHM (Def Leppard’s Hysteria), post–L.A. glam (Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction), thrash (Metallica’s …And Justice For All), post-thrash (Metallica’s “Black Album”), grunge (Soundgarden’s Superunknown), rap-rock (Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory), or post-grunge (Creed’s Human Clay). Some of these albums are masterpieces, and some are the opposite of masterpieces. But no matter the style of metal, they sold millions and millions of copies.

Now, hardly anything sells “millions and millions of copies” these days. But metal has been particularly averse to mass acceptance in the past decade. Pop-metal as a concept has been rendered virtually extinct. What happened?

That’s a question that comes up a lot among metal fans of a certain age, i.e., basically anyone old enough to remember the ’80s. Earlier this year, Metalsucks posted an essay called “Why There Will Never Be Another Metal Band As Big as Metallica,” which offered some sound theories; in short: “1. There are too many bands; 2. The internet; 3. Rock radio won’t support metal; 4. Screaming; and 5. Music doesn’t matter as much as it used to.”

It’s no coincidence that Hyden’s list of examples includes Metallica twice and that Metalsucks chose Metallica as their Platonic, messianic, unattainable ideal. Yes, Metallica’s “Black Album” is the best-selling album of the Soundscan era (having now shifted some 16 million units), but even before “Black Album,” Metallica were headlining arenas and festivals, achieving US sales of 3x and 6x (twice) and 8x platinum, and even wrangling a Grammy nomination while playing a form of metal that can accurately be described as “extreme.”

At that point in the mid- to late-’80s, it seemed as though Metallica were merely one of many such forces: Several of the band’s forebears and primary influences — namely Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden — weren’t far removed from their own artistic and commercial peaks, and a handful of likeminded peers were also attaining success in the mainstream — namely Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. And given that context, Hyden or Metalsucks might argue, this conversation doesn’t necessarily have to center on Metallica — you could use any of those other bands and make an equally convincing case.

But here’s the thing: You can’t. Metallica were not emblematic of an era; they were The Best Band In The World. They were the Beatles and the Stones and Led Zeppelin and U2. They were a wholly unique unit whose massive individual talents combined to create something much, much greater than the sum of their parts, and much, much greater than the scene by which they were surrounded. Metallica weren’t one of several; they were a fucking sun around which an entire solar system orbited. There will never be another Metallica for the same reason there will never be another Dylan — because Dylan is not a musician, he is a big bang and a black hole, both a starting point as well as its own, only, logical conclusion.

That’s not hyperbole; if anything, the hard data serves to underscore such distinctions. Consider this: In the years between 2009 – 2011, Metallica took part in a handful of stadium shows called the Big Four, in which they played sets alongside Anthrax, Megadeth, and Slayer. Such a billing would seem to imply all four of those bands were essentially as “big” as one another, but that’s empirically wrong. Megadeth’s best-selling album, 1992′s Countdown To Extinction, was certified 2x platinum in 1994, two years after its release, during a boom era for the music industry; meanwhile, as of today, no Slayer or Anthrax album has ever even reached platinum status. By comparison, Metallica’s last album — Death Magnetic, released in 2009 (at which point record sales industry-wide had reached a stunning new low) — went 2x platinum. So too did the album that preceded Death Magnetic, 2003′s widely reviled St. Anger. 1996′s Load and ’97′s Re-Load? 5x and 4x platinum, respectively. And that was Metallica’s fallow period! Those five albums represent Metallica at their worst! Tour packages aside, there is no Big Four: There are the Four Horsemen and a handful of bands who burst through the barn doors kicked open by those steeds.

Remove Metallica from the equation, then — as we must, as Metallica is a clear outlier — and Hyden’s argument for the demise of metal in the mainstream grows particularly nebulous. Let’s look at the other albums he mentions as past examples of metal’s commercial dominance: Back In Black and Appetite For Destruction are two of 17 albums in the history of the universe to sell more than 15 million copies in the US, and the only other “metal” album on that list is the “Black Album.” Take a step back from that. Something like 75,000 albums are released every year, and over the last seven-plus decades (roughly spanning the “the history of the universe” in terms of the recording industry), only 17 — seven-fucking-teen — are in a class with Back In Black and Appetite For Destruction. And the newest album to join the 15M+ Club came out in 1997!

Quiet Riot, on the other hand, are a footnote, known almost solely for (a) their cover of Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize,” which peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts in 1983, and (b) spawning the career of guitarist Randy Rhoads, whose real notoriety came when he was hired to play in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Yes, Metal Health sold 6 million copies, but Vanilla Ice’s To The Extreme sold 15 million copies, and no one would use To The Extreme as an example of rap’s former glory. (Notably, Quiet Riot’s last charting single came just a year after “Cum On Feel The Noize”: “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” another Slade cover, which peaked at #51 in 1984.) Moving on, the two Def Leppard albums mentioned by Hyden (which went 10x and 12x platinum, respectively) are successful more for their plush, blockbuster-sized sound than their songs — and that sound was the handiwork of producer Mutt Lange, who later applied that exact sound to the albums he produced for his then-wife, Shania Twain: 1995′s The Woman In Me (which was certified 12x platinum), 1997′s Come On Over (15x platinum), and 2002′s Up! (11x platinum).

In that sense, you could point to those Shania Twain albums as an example of metal’s hybridization; Mutt Lange applied sonic elements of pop metal to pop country, and more or less came away with the same product in a vastly different package — and both artistically and commercially, he achieved the same result! But metal’s hybridization predates Shania Twain, just as it predates culture-poisoning waste products like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit and the 1993 Judgment Night soundtrack. It dates back to 1991, when Kurt Cobain chose Andy Wallace to mix Nirvana’s Nevermind specifically and solely because Wallace was the engineer on Slayer’s Reign In Blood. It dates back further, even: to 1986, when Rick Rubin employed Slayer guitarist Kerry King to add a guitar solo to the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” — the same year Rubin encouraged Run-D.M.C. to do a hip-hop cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” (Coincidentally, Rubin also produced Reign In Blood as well as Death Magnetic and Black Sabbath’s 2013 comeback LP, 13.) It dates back further still — to 1983, when Suicidal Tendencies released their self-titled debut album, which combined thrash and punk in new and thrilling ways … to 1979, when KISS released Dynasty, which combined hard rock and disco in crass and clumsy ways …

All of Hyden’s post-Metallica examples are lukewarm, lesser products of that hybridization: Nobody considers Soundgarden, Linkin Park, or Creed to be “metal” in any significant capacity — no more than, say, Pearl Jam, 311, or Nickelback, anyway — and to bemoan or puzzle over the commercial demise of such bands seems like little more than musing on a selective variation of the timeless rockist koan “Are guitars a thing of the past?

The answer, of course, is yes. And, obviously, no. It’s all built into the DNA at this point — your great-great-grandfather might be long gone (RIP) but you still have his eyes. That’s how evolution works. By Hyden’s standards, Bon Jovi surely qualify as a pop-metal band, but are any of Bon Jovi’s ’80s hits really all that different from their 2000 hit “It’s My Life,” which was co-written with money-printing Swedish powerhouse Max Martin? And is “It’s My Life” really all that different from any of the Martin-co-penned hits recorded by Pink over the last few years? Same product, different packaging, same result. Metal is kinda everywhere in pop, really, when you look past the packaging. The title track on country superstar Eric Church’s The Outsiders sounds an awful lot like later Metallica and AC/DC. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way claimed influences including Iron Maiden and KISS; that album featured one song called “Heavy Metal Lover,” and another song — “You And I” — which was produced by none other than Mutt Lange. Speaking of Lady Gaga, the all-girl teenage J-Pop/deathcore group Babymetal aren’t much more than a viral sensation in the States right now, but they’re fucking massive at home in Japan, and starting next month, they’ll be playing US arenas as Gaga’s opening act. Fall Out Boy’s live set includes a drum-off set to Slayer’s “Raining Blood” — which is especially notable as Fall Out Boy’s drummer, Andy Hurley, used to play for Black Market-approved metalcore act Enabler. Arctic Monkeys are headlining festivals behind a deeply Sabbath-influenced album. They might not sell like Quiet Riot in ’83, but as Hyden admits, hardly anything does.

My essential problem with Hyden’s argument is that it focuses so intently on the past that it can’t help ignoring what is actually occurring in the here-and-now. I have the same issue, actually, with Why Do the Heathen Rage?, Drew Daniel’s “queer critique of the shitty ideological disaster area that is black metal,” recorded as the Soft Pink Truth. No one could possibly deny that black metal has long, dark shadows in which bigotry has spread like toxic mold, but Daniel’s “critique” consists of covers of nine songs that are, on average, 21 years old. In the present, on the other hand, seemingly every black metal band in America is made up of vegan, environmentalist, cat-owning craft-beer aficionados who live and work in and around tattoo parlors and coffee shops clustered among this country’s several active Portlandias. The most prominent American black metal band is made up of two smartly dressed San Francisco shorthairs who read the New Yorker and sing K-Ci & JoJo songs on karaoke night at the gay bar. What is the value of the Soft Pink Truth in 2014, when 2013 already produced a pink truth of so many disparate, different textures?

Hyden, too, might do well to consider Deafheaven when he proclaims that metal is missing artists who will “barge into your life and recalibrate your senses the way popular music can.” Sunbather was far and away the best-reviewed album of 2013, per Metacritic (it was Hyden’s favorite album of 2013, too!). Was that the sound of a band “averse to mass acceptance”? How do we define “mainstream,” anyway? No, those reviews did not translate to millions in sales, but million-sellers are deader than guitars right now — the best-selling album of 2013, Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, topped out at 2.43M, falling more than half a mil short of the 3x platinum mark achieved by that other Quiet Riot record — the one that came after the one that had “Cum On Feel The Noize” — which peaked at #15 on the Billboard chart in 1984 and effectively signaled the end of Quiet Riot’s relevance. Did The 20/20 Experience “recalibrate your senses”? It did not recalibrate mine. Sunbather still crushes me, though. Still crushes people other than me, too, I bet. I think that album barged into a hell of a lot of lives last year, and I think it changed a lot of those lives, too.

I do agree, though, with one particular point made by Hyden in his essay: This music will “never make arenas full of foxy, jean-jacketed females swoon.” Because, look, nobody is playing arenas anymore, precisely for the reasons Metalsucks listed as precluding a second coming of Metallica: “1. There are too many bands; 2. The internet; 3. Rock radio won’t support metal; 4. Screaming; and 5. Music doesn’t matter as much as it used to.” But it still fucking matters a lot. I’ve seen Deafheaven four times, and so far, the venues have only gotten bigger. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know if any females were swooning at any of those shows, but I do know this: I saw a lot of women in the pit.

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* * *

I promise you, I talk more about Deafheaven in here than I do in real life (although the dudes with whom I write this column every month — Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, and Doug Moore — might take issue with that claim), and I feel like I should apologize to the Deafheaven guys for constantly projecting my own shit onto them. (Metallica too, for that matter.) There is a vast universe of metal to discuss, and while not every meteor flying around here will crash into you and alter your landscape, I guarantee you won’t be able to avoid getting hit.

The album currently knocking me senseless — YOB’s upcoming Clearing The Path To Ascend, a pretty immediate AOTY contender in my eyes — has yet to see any of its songs premiered for the public, but lots of stuff on the list below delivers similarly high-grade concussions. That’s especially true of the two tracks at the top of this thing, which should probably be ranked #1 and #1A rather than #1 and #2, but we don’t play for ties here, and right now, the ranking as-is feels right. You’ll hear a lot more about the band in the #2 spot over the course of 2014, but man, if you sleep on #1, you will be doing yourself a severe, severe disservice.

Also worth noting: This month produced an insane amount of excellent black metal, so if this month’s list skews unusually black, that’s why; it would have been unfair and inaccurate to omit any of the below-mentioned black metal songs in favor of songs from other subgenres for the sake of diversity. In fact, looking at the whole thing now, it seems like some of those songs are given undeservedly low placement, but it’s also impossible to see a way to shuffle the deck without wrongfully displacing something else. I’m not complaining, though — if anything, I’m reveling.

But before we get to the 15 best new metal tracks released during the month of June, you gotta check out the song embedded a few paragraphs up. It’s Ice-T’s rap-metal band Body Count covering Suicidal Tendencies’ 1983 classic “Institutionalized.” I am 100-percent certain nobody in the world wanted this to happen, and I am also 100-percent certain that I did not want to listen to it, but Aaron kept pushing it on me, so I relented. And once I did, man, I was dying. As an unnecessary cover of a landmark song, it’s way better than it has any right to be, but Ice-T rewrites the lyrics so they’re illustrating the suburban ennui of a middle-aged man in a state of arrested adolescence rather than that of a disaffected teenager, and he delivers something that is both deadly accurate and cry-your-eyes-out hilarious. Check it out, then check out everything else, then hit us back in the comments with your thoughts on all of it, some of it, something else, whatever ya got.

Michael


15. Mastodon – “The Motherload”

Location: Atlanta, GA
Subgenre: Progressive Heavy Rock

Mastodon sits at a crossroads of competing interests. As a major label band, they’re operating in a commercial landscape that no longer supports metal, hard rock, or even straight up rock ’n’ roll in any meaningful way. And as the theoretical genre leader for “underground metal” — they’re one of the few to “graduate” to the big leagues, jumping from Relapse Records to Reprise — they’ve grown too big and in some ways too commercial to be properly supported by their original scene. Theoretically none of this should matter to the music, but listening to Once More ’Round The Sun, you hear a band trying to have it both ways, making strides to appeal to the old fans while pushing further into an imaginary pop landscape where these kind of records still sell. I won’t lie and pretend they always succeed, but when they do, as on “The Motherload,” it can be thrilling. Here the vocal hooks are at their strongest, the riffs retain some of the fire of old, and the prevailing melody leaves everything else in the dust, and suddenly it’s easy to remember why Mastodon got so popular in the first place. Operating in this mode, they feel like a heavier version of latter-day Queens Of The Stone Age, which is strange to hear, but fun as hell. Who knows what the future holds for Mastodon — whether they’ll get weird again or skid further towards the middle of the road — but for the moment, the tension between both worlds is more than enough to fuel some fascinating tunes. [From Once More 'Round The Sun, out now via Reprise]Aaron




14. Anicon – “Blood And Stone”

Location: NYC
Subgenre: Black Metal

Shortly after “Blood And Stone” kicks off, it heads into some of the most anthemic ride-into-the-sunset shit I’ve heard in a while — a bit like the soundtrack to some sort of black metal western. It’s probably a good thing that genre doesn’t exist, but you’ll get the idea here. That anthemic feel gives way to more typical but deft black metal alchemy, where the melody never steps too far out of the limelight. Note the killer vocals — the rasps have depth and a menacing edge, giving the NYC band some real umami. In an increasingly crowded NYC black metal scene, Anicon’s standing out — add them to the likes of Yellow Eyes, Vilkacis, et al., for keeping the underground interesting. [From the Anicon / Belus split LP, out now via the band]Wyatt




13. Lazer/Wulf – “Lagarto”

Location: Atlanta, GA
Subgenre: N/A

Atlanta avant-prog trio Lazer/Wulf had something of a viral moment at SXSW earlier this year, when Lady Gaga crashed their showcase at Beerland and just went nuts with the music — “full-on headbanging, pounding the floor, jerking around all over the place,” per my friend Kim who was in attendance that night. (An aside: This marks the third reference to Lady Gaga in this month’s Black Market, a notable occurrence you won’t likely witness again!) I caught the band a couple nights after that, at Red Eyed Fly, and I’m pretty sure I had a similar physical reaction, somewhat involuntarily. Lazer/Wulf’s live show is one of those spectacles that leaves you whooping and hollering and speaking in tongues: a frenetically wild yet ludicrously tight display of virtuosic jazz-thrash fireworks (almost entirely instrumental except for the occasional off-time yelp and/or mewl). It’s the metal equivalent of watching the Harlem Globetrotters stunt on some stooge team — the stakes aren’t all that high, but the shit they’re doing up there is fucking bananas and so much fun to watch. At this point, Lazer/Wulf are spinning, sliding, and juggling with such confidence that they can just invent absurd new shots and nail them from half court. They upped the degree of difficulty on their new album, The Beast Of Left And Right, by making the thing palindromic. Yes, “palindromic” as in, the album plays the same backwards and forwards. I’m not even sure how that’s possible, much less why anyone would attempt it, but Lazer/Wulf make it look … well, not easy, exactly, because honestly it looks really, really hard. But they make it look pretty goddamn awesome. Sound it, too. [From The Beast Of Left And Right, out 7/15 via Retro Futurist]Michael




12. Fórn – “Dweller On the Threshold”

Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: Doom/Sludge

The beginning of “Dweller On the Threshold” is probably the most badass thing you’ll hear in The Black Market this month, if not this year. It’s gruff, foreboding, and when those phlegm-soaked (barf) vocals kick in, it’s utterly menacing. Really, the vocals are “sick” in that it might be time for a certain somebody to see a doctor. “Dweller On The Threshold” isn’t just a punch in the gut, though — there’s some real atmosphere here, and smart songwriting makes this more than just a knock-down, drag-out bruiser. The track is atmosphere-rich (credit to the production here, too), murky and melancholic despite the fact that the song never strays far from a core of sludge and doom. Some effective use of push-pull tension on the track allows for a crazed black metal-style burst around the 3-minute mark. Again, the vocals there are a highlight — the insane shriek is something straight out of a nightmare. [From The Departure Of Consciousness EP, out in late July or early August via Vendetta]Wyatt




11. Harrassor – “Winter’s Triumph”

Location: Los Angeles
Subgenre: Experimental Black Metal

In a month with more black metal than anyone can safely stomach, Harassor are here with something a little different. I’ve seen these guys play in Los Angeles more times than I remember, and I’ve watched them reinvent themselves just as often. From punkish filth with blood-soaked theatrics to sets full of explosively structured noise, Harassor push their own limits as much as they push ours. With “Winter’s Triumph” they switch gears again … and approach accessibility. Plenty of bands have tried to weld post-punk to black metal, with predictably varied results. Most focus on the prettier side of post-punk, drawing on Chameleons riffs and Disintegration atmosphere. Harassor go the other way and come up roses, mixing rough-hewn Joy Division riffs and a drumbeat that echoes “Love Will Tear Us Apart” with the primitive scuzz of something like early Bathory. If you’ve spent time with Joy Division’s live material, you know that their studio sound was just that — a studio construction polished to a cold shine by producer Martin Hannett. Live, the band sounded much more punk: simple, ugly, haunting, and explosive. Harassor taps that same energy and invents something incredible and seemingly obvious, but something that went unseen, till now. [From Into Unknown Depths, out now via Dais]Aaron




10. Alraune – “The Process Of Self-Immolation”

Location: Nashville, TN
Subgenre: Black Metal

If you follow this column regularly, you’ve heard quite a few bands that sound a bit like Alraune. They play a very American style of black metal in the mode established by Weakling — the lineup is conventional and the production is rugged, but the songwriting involves high compositional aspirations (read: the songs are long). All four of us enjoy the style to one degree or another, so we end up covering a lot of it. Alraune don’t embellish it much, but they possess two vital traits for any effective metal act: an idiosyncratic ear for melody and the ability to hit like a freight train. A lot of bands that play this sort of American black metal forget that Weakling were actually a pretty brutal band, but not these guys. Drummer Tyler Coburn, who also played on this year’s great Yautja album, leads a forceful charge that reminds me a lot of Black Market alums Woe in its rhythmic intensity. The booming production doesn’t hurt either — during blast segments, Coburn’s snare sounds the way a strobe light looks. Throw a killer sense of pacing into the mix and you’ve got an atypically muscular triumph of execution for this corner of the metal world. [From The Process Of Self-Immolation, out now via Profound Lore]Doug




09. Diskord – “Lethargic Regression”

Location: Oslo, Norway
Genre: Death Metal

I can get a little grouchy about new takes on old-school death metal. The genuine article — death metal’s canonic phase during the late ’80s and early ’90s — is my favorite part of the genre’s history, partially because of the wild spirit of invention that animated it. When young contemporary bands recapitulate sounds from that period, they’re contravening that creative spirit; they’re conservative where their heroes were daring. That’s why I appreciate bands like Diskord so much. Over the course of their (surprisingly low-profile) 15-year run, they’ve developed a marvelous ability to twist old-school tropes into exciting new shapes. If you’re familiar with first-gen American death metal bands like Autopsy and Ripping Corpse, you’ll recognize many of the base materials Diskord use: lean, naturalistic tones; scrappy yell-growls; lots of death-circus chromatic riffs. These features serve as staging area for some genuinely adventurous songwriting. Check out the way that “Lethargic Regression” (a jab at Diskord’s less ambitious peers, maybe?), the first single from their upcoming Oscillations mini-LP, constantly jukes and turns inward on itself. The rhythm guitar work approaches the zany technicality of bands like Gorguts and Demilich, but you never need advanced math to know where to headbang. Eyvind Axelson’s prominent bass work is another unconventional touch — his odd burbles sound the way Oscillations’ Rorschach-blot cover looks. The spirit of death lives on here. [From the Oscillations EP, out in August via Australopithecus/Hellthrasher Productions]Doug




08. Mournful Congregation – “Concrescence Of The Sophia”

Location: Adelaide, South Australia
Subgenre: Funeral Doom

The last album released by Australia’s Mournful Congregation, 2011′s The Book Of Kings, was my favorite record of that year (and my review of the album for Invisible Oranges remains the best thing I wrote during my tenure at the site). It’s a contemplative, elegant, accomplished suite of songs; even in a funeral-doom subgenre that regularly achieves beauty through pathos (or vice-versa), The Book Of Kings dealt in an unusually painterly grace: It seemed to derive from Pink Floyd rather than Black Sabbath. This year, the band returned with a two-song EP, Concrescence Of The Sophia, to coincide with a small handful of very rare Stateside tour dates — four shows in all, the first time the band had ever played the East Coast. At two songs and roughly 30 minutes, Concrescence Of The Sophia is a decidedly brief work for Mournful Congregation (by contrast, The Book Of Kings is four songs, nearly 77 minutes long). But it’s impossible not to be awed by the power and dexterity displayed throughout the EP, especially on the 21:42 title track, which is as still and dark as the ocean floor — and as magisterial and mysterious, too. [From the Concrescence Of The Sophia EP, out now via 20 Buck Spin]Michael




07. Mutilation Rites – “Contaminate”

Location: NYC
Subgenre: Black/Thrash/Death/Crust

You can feel the sweat behind these riffs. Mutilation Rites is a band born of labor — of months spent on the road, long hours of rehearsal, incremental refinement through endless repetition, where every part gets worked out through trial and error until it hits as hard as humanly possible. Or maybe I’m imagining that and these guys are just that good, but one look at their tour history seems to suggest the former. The fruits of that labor resonate throughout their sophomore album, Harbinger, which is monstrous, muscular, and meticulously wrought. That muscular presence is one of my favorite things about these guys, and it’s one of the hardest things for bands that play at high tempos to get right. Metal typically focuses on guitars — sick riffs and shreddies, brah — but it’s the rhythm section that adds the real weight. There’s been a recent movement amongst American “black metal” bands to add back the physicality of other metal styles — as seen on recent albums from Tombs, Bastard Sapling (also in this month’s list), Black Anvil, Woe, and others. Mutilation Rites are at the front of that pack, driven in large part by the endless crush of drummer Justin Ennis and bassist Ryan Jones. “Contaminate” takes an imaginary Slayer riff and runs it through every variation on black thrash and d-beat imaginable (there’s even a few seconds of chunky death metal) before locking in and riding one last groove straight into the ground. [From Harbinger, out 7/15 via Prosthetic]Aaron




06. Vuyvr – “Hate is a Black Hole”

Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Subgenre: Black Metal

Of all the black metal bands we covered this month, Vuyvr have the most in common with the famous Norwegian scene of the ’90s — their rickety, rabid attack bears a noticeable resemblance to older works by bands like Immortal and Tsjuder. This is something of an irony, as the lineup’s roots lie in the un-grim metallic hardcore bands Knut and Impure Wilhelmina. Vuyvr knocked it out of the park with last year’s full-length debut Eiskalt (listen here), and have lost no momentum on the new Incinerated Gods EP. “Hate Is A Black Hole” sounds fairly straightforward out the gate, but after about 30 seconds, the band locks into a series of stuttering hits, strung together by an eerie arpeggiated jangle. It’s an odd trick for an otherwise orthodox black metal band, and it launches a sequence of aching melodies that build to a huge stomp at the song’s end. Carving out a singular identity within such a restrictive framework is no easy feat, but Vuyvr have done it. These guys could have quite the career ahead of them if they keep up the pace. [From the Incinerated Gods EP, out now via Throatruiner/Blastbeat Mailmurder]Doug




05. Earth – “From The Zodiacal Light”

Location: Seattle, WA
Subgenre: Drone/Doom

Back in January, Aaron declared that 2014 would be The Year Of Hideous Sludge, thanks to powerful new albums from the likes of Indian, Coffinworm, Lord Mantis, and others. After hearing YOB’s Clearing The Path To Ascend, I suggested perhaps a new narrative had emerged, and we were in fact living in The Year Of Epic Doom — and here I used for additional evidence the new albums from Triptykon, Pallbearer, Profetus, and others. (Thou’s Heretic is sort of doing double duty here.) I’ll point to the upcoming new ones from Electric Wizard and Witch Mountain, too, to bolster my case, but I’m legit surprised to get support from Seattle’s Earth: the definition of a drone band, although their new track, “From The Zodiacal Light,” is pure doom, thanks to guest vocals from Rabia Shaheen Qazi of Rose Windows. Unless I’m mistaken, Earth haven’t employed a vocalist in nearly 25 years, but Qazi is seamlessly incorporated into Earth’s massive sound. She’s not swallowed by it, though — if anything, it sounds like she’s guiding the damn thing. The obvious reference point here is early Jefferson Airplane (or Windhand, if you want to put it in more contemporary terms). Qazi’s voice is big enough not to get carried away by Earth’s inexorable gusts, but she doesn’t just stand there facing down the mighty wind; instead, she howls along with it, giving additional force to a perfect storm. [From Primitive And Deadly, out 9/2 via Southern Lord]Michael




04. Bastard Sapling “Lantern At The End Of Time”

Location: Richmond, VA
Subgenre: Black Metal

Even if Bastard Sapling’s name is new to you, parts of this song may sound familiar. This band shares three current members and one ex-member of Inter Arma, who put out one of my favorite albums of 2013. Like Alraune, they play long-winded American black metal with big ambitions. And on top of that, “Lantern At The End of Time” features guest vocals by Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand, whose 2013 sophomore effort, Soma, racked up a ton of crossover attention. Where Alraune offer a pressurized take on this style of BM, Bastard Sapling seem to have absorbed some of Inter Arma’s cinematic tendencies, best exemplified by Cottrell’s presence on this song. I’m not the biggest fan of the somnambulant melodies she employs in Windhand, but the restrained break she pilots at the 3:40 mark is far and away the most compelling performance I’ve heard from her. That whole segment is really a setup, though, for a blistering instrumental assault from the rest of the band. The riff that begins at 5:40 is pure heavy metal anthem material — a rare fish in these waters. [From Instinct Is Forever, out 7/18 via Forcefield/Gilead Media]Doug




03. Panopticon – “Chase The Grain”

Location: Louisville, KY
Subgenre: Appalachian Black Metal

There’s nothing else in the world that sounds like the music of Panopticon, the seven-year-old project of Louisville, Kentucky’s Austin “Lundr” Lunn (also of Seidr, and formerly of Anagnorisis, who released one of last year’s best metal albums). In his most striking work — most notably Panopticon’s excellent 2012 LP, Kentucky, as well as the band’s forthcoming Roads To The North — Lunn plays a variation of American atmospheric black metal infused with generous elements of Appalachian folk, somehow finding a place where all those seemingly disparate musical worlds coexist organically, as if black metal had always included instruments like banjo and Native American flute. (In fairness, some black metal does include banjo and Native American flute, but Panopticon uses those tools to an entirely different effect.) Lunn is credited with playing both those instruments on Roads To The North, along with drums, guitar, bass, vocals, mandolin, resonator guitar, dobro, and keyboards. He’s also responsible for “samples, recording, art, lyrics, and songs,” but still found room to include a host of collaborators here, including members of bands such as Celestiial, Obsequiae, and Altar Of Plagues, among others — plus “additional keys, orchestral arrangement, percussion, engineering, and producing” from the tireless Colin Marston, of Krallice/Gorguts/Dysrhythmia/Behold The Arctopus, who’s been involved in like half the interesting metal albums released over the past three years. Still, for all its many component pieces, Roads To The North never feels jumbled or overstuffed — instead, it feels like the natural result of a complicated evolutionary process. Lunn is one of the few genuine visionaries in American black metal — it’s easy to imagine a near-future in which he’s credited with spawning numerous sub-subgenres — and Roads To The North might be the most impressive product of his vision yet. [From Roads To The North, out 8/1 via Bindrune/Nordvis]Michael




02. Pallbearer – “The Ghost I Used To Be”

Location: Little Rock, AR
Subgenre: Doom/Funeral Doom

Pallbearer’s debut, Sorrow And Extinction, was our #1 metal album of 2012, and it deserved that honor: Sorrow And Extinction was a great album, of course; a modern landmark for the doom subgenre. But the band’s forthcoming sophomore LP, Foundations Of Burden, is even better. Recorded and mixed by Billy Anderson (who also helmed Agalloch’s awesome The Serpent & The Sphere), Foundations is entirely more confident, more diverse, and more immersive than Sorrow. All the great elements of old Pallbearer are still on display — the dramatic, anthemic hooks, the intricate, intertwined guitars, the rolling, thunderous rhythms, and Brett Campbell’s keening, angelic voice — but here they seem steadier than they did before, as if they are merely the base of the songs rather than the songs’ entire being. Pallbearer are now more comfortable working with alternate textures and rhythms, not to mention bolder vocal dynamics: For his part, Campbell is plainly a stronger vocalist today than he was two years ago, and his towering performances are aided by masterful harmonies, backing vocals, and even some stunning lead vox via guitarist Devin Holt and bassist Joseph D. Rowland. “The Ghost I Used To Be” is the first song from the album to be made public, and a good choice for lead “single”: “Ghost” presents a compelling balance of the band’s beloved Sorrow-era style with some of the harder, faster, sharper, more dramatic elements they have built into their new sound. It’s a fantastic, ferocious song, and it’s not even my favorite track on the album, which should give you an idea just how good this thing is. Not that you need any such context — all on its own “Ghost” offers more than enough evidence of Pallbearer’s continued greatness. [From Foundations Of Burden, out 8/19 via Profound Lore]Michael




01. Sivyj Yar – “Distant Haze Was Arising”

Location: Russia
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

Rarely does a band come from seemingly nowhere to collectively blow us out of the water the way Sivyj Yar did this month. The one-man band was already on our radar — Sivyj Yar is actually a Black Market alum class of December 2013 — but even so, we didn’t see this coming: one of the best songs, if not one of the best albums, of 2014. “Distant Haze Was Arising” — the centerpiece of Sivyj Yar’s forthcoming LP, From The Dead Villages’ Darkness — is just plain gorgeous. It’s an atmospheric black metal masterpiece built on sweeping, rock-solid riffs that seamlessly pull in heart-stopping acoustics, which, in other hands, often seem like a distracting afterthought. Some people hear a bowed instrument in metal and automatically bust out a thumbs down, but even the most cynical hesher would be lying if s/he denied that swelling feeling in the chest that grabs hold the moment “Distant Haze Was Arising” hits its stride. It’s just invigorating. It’s hard to believe Sivyj Yar aren’t a household name already, although you have to think the band’s home base, Russia, hasn’t helped in terms of getting the word out. Hopefully “Distant Haze Was Arising” fixes that. At the Sargeist show this past weekend at St. Vitus, Michael and I were talking about how we wished “Distant Haze” never ended. The outro riff is one for the ages, and when it fades to black, you’ll be ready to dive in all over again. [From From The Dead Villages' Darkness, out this fall via Avantgarde]Wyatt




Comments (72)
  1. The main point of Why Do The Heathen Rage? is not exactly to critique the bands who held those hideous political views, but more the bands that exist now who create music that idolizes those bands’ aesthetics without really addressing the text of their works. It’s a critique of people who don’t address the politics of artists when discussing the art, with black metal as a jumping-off point, and because black metal is just a fun thing to play around with and twist into different sounds.

    • Out of curiosity, what would a band with a noticeable Emperor influence (just for example) have to do to “really address” the fact that Faust committed a hate crime 22 years ago?

      • Well they could address it at all, for starters, instead of just sweeping it under the rug. The metal scene can still be very unwelcoming to minorities (people of color, women, queer folx) and bands who are significantly influenced by the early black metal bands should be leading the charge to change that.

        • Sure, but that doesn’t answer the question. What would it mean to ‘address it at all’ in terms of specific action? How might one ‘lead the charge to change that’? If you play in a band that’s influenced by an old BM band whose members have said or done sketchy things, should you issue a disclaimer stating that you disagree with what the members in question said or did before you play your songs? Should you write lyrics about how Varg Vikernes and Rob Darken are assholes, which nobody will be able to make out because, hey, you’re in a black metal band?

          I’ve seen a lot of comments to this effect around Daniel’s conversation piece — that BM’s historical ties to bigotry etc. “need to be addressed” — but it’s still unclear to me what musicians are supposed to do to comply with this request.

          • I understand the emotion driving this movement, but I personally can’t see it as realistic or even ultimately necessary. Does anyone playing rock music, or anything derived from the blues, need to vocally come out and say they oppose the misogyny of certain early blues musicians? You can take this as far as you want to go, but I don’t think adding a political requirement for every band to say what they do or don’t believe regarding their predecessors would accomplish much of anything, other than to shift focus away from the music onto tangential issues, thereby politicizing art that may not be political in any way.

            I think there’s a misunderstanding at the core of all this: people are assuming that the current generation of metal artists are in any way influenced (or even interested) in the beliefs of a few of the louder bigots who happened to get famous during black metal’s second wave. Those bigots are in no way representative of the scene as a whole, nor were they ever idolized for their beliefs, ever. There’s no uniform code of belief amongst metal fans or musicians, at least not in any larger sense (other than a general anti-religious sentiment, though that’s not uniform or required by any means).

            Anyway, it’s an interesting discussion point. While I may not particularly dig for the Soft Pink Truth’s music, it’s fun to debate the project’s ideological merit.

          • There are many ways to be a vocal ally and if you can’t think of any on your own that’s not my problem.

          • Well then, this has been productive!

          • @miss_merboy

            Doug asks a reasonable question; he’s asking you to offer more than rhetoric when it comes to how current BM bands might distance themselves from their racist/sexist/homophobic forbears. You clearly don’t care enough about the issue to respond. Your ‘contribution’ here does a huge disservice to the position. Congrats.

  2. I cannot believe how many salient points you make in this article. The “Big Four” has always been a myth. I was a metal guy all throughout the late 70′s and into the 80′s. And I can assure you that Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth were just footnotes for me. I dug ‘em all…but it was always all about Metallica. And folks that compare those bands to Metallica’s peak period are delusional.

    But here’s my main problem with metal over the past twenty years. Guttural vocals are off putting. End of subject. I get why people love Deafheaven but the MOMENT that “singing” style starts I turn off. As horribly middle aged as this might make me look (and feel) it’s no different than rap. I can be enjoying a song but the second somebody starts rapping that song is O V E R for me.

    Metal is no longer my thing. I’m old and I’m weird. So the overall straight ahead guitar thing is no longer something I enjoy. But metal will continue to be a fringe musical genre as long as that style of singing dominates the genre. And that’s probably just fine with most metal heads.

    Side note……That Soft Pink Truth album is AWESOME

    • Blochead, you are not alone. That said, lotta good metal bands doing clean vox nowadays. Check that Pallbearer song for starters. You might dig it!

      • Sooo funny….I heard the new Pallbearer track and REALLY REALLY dug it. I haven’t bought a metal album in 20 years but am seriously consider buying their last one. I tried to like that Deafheaven album SO much. My kids absolutely love it. I just can’t get past those vocals.

        Any other REALLY heavy bands out there that skip that vocal style?

        • If you like the shoegaze/metal aspect of Deafheaven but hated the vocals like me, try Lantlos – Melting Sun. Wonderful album with clean vocals.

      • I checked out the Pallbearer song since it was ranked so high in the Top 5 Songs of the Week. Those vocals are quite accessible, especially when compared to Deafheaven.

        The fact I could hear the singer sing the name of the song was just about a first for someone who rarely listens to the genre. Definitely deserved its high spot on the songs list.

    • It’s funny, I like harsh vocals, but only a certain kind. I can’t get into most black metal because screeching and croaking are not for me. Death metal growling can get really silly as well, especially when they start doing the “dying pig” noise. I really only like the hardcore/sludge derived “pissed off shouting” style of harsh vox. To me, harsh vox sound inherently angry, so if the vocalist doesn’t sound genuinely pissed off, they make less sense to me and sound more like an affect. Like, if you read Deafheaven’s lyrics, there’s no reason to be screaming about any of that stuff.

      I’ve been blasting a lot of the new Trap Them this month. Now those guys sound like they despise the entire world!

      • Blissfucker is an awesome album! Sunbather and Blissfucker are oddly similar album names now that I think about it… would be quite funny if that was intentional on Trap Them’s part. Like, “Hey, screw your major key riffs and pink album cover, man.”

      • For me the hardcore-derived, drill instructor harsh vocals are the only ones I can’t get into! The black metal shrieks and death metal guttural gurgling are funny/amusing/absurd but since there’s seems to be some subtext that that hardcore vocals are more “street” or “real” or more legitimate in their expression…and since they remind me of Pantera…they finally cross the line into cringe-inducing. It was the hardest thing for me to get past with, say, Baroness. And there are plenty of others. Funny!

    • Just FYI, the Deafheaven vocal style is not “guttural” — guttural is in a much lower register, from the guts, not high up in the throat.

      • Agreed. And I know amongst the faithful metal community that difference is an enormous one. Whether or not it’s from the belly or from the back of the throat it it’s unintelligible without a lyrics sheet I can’t listen to it.

        • Blochead, I left you a comment below with some recommendations.

        • Opeth has done some great things over the past 20 years including Heritage which has entirely melodic vocals.

          Windhand is a good, recent doom band with melodic vocals.

          Going back quite a few years, Control Denied, which was Chuck Schuldiner’s last work, is essentially Death with a power metal singer.

          Unfortunately, while I, too, would like to hear more melodic vocals in metal, the dirty truth is there really aren’t a lot of very convincing melodic metal vocalists around these days. They tend to sound more like early aughts emo singers than Dio.

    • Try High Spirits and Dawnbringer.. They’ve been listed here in some past months. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed the straight up, straigh ahead heavy metal genre, but that stuff is really great. Also, just from listening to the albums I get the feeling that if I’m lucky enough to ever catch them live, the music and especially the vocals will be just as good live as recorded, which can be a rarity.Oh how many shows end up dissapointing in that way, across genres. Give it go, I see no reason not to love it

  3. Damn, that last song is stunning. The softer parts remind me so much of Tenhi.

  4. Please, no more Deafheaven!

    While it is hard to see such things in real time, I have a feeling that somewhere in the not-too-distant future, if not already, many, if not most, will have a “what were we thinking?” moment regarding this band. Mine came seeing/hearing them live right after Earth a couple of months ago. On record an uneasy peace is rendered between the blast-beats/metal vocals and the Loveless-influenced major-key chord progressions. However, in person, seeing that pretty boy preen around the stage shrieking was patently ridiculous even on its own terms. Following a hypnotic set by Earth it was frankly embarrassing.

    • I definitely agree with you. I enjoyed the album a fair amount, but it had no staying power for me. I liked them but I was pretty confused about all the rave reviews they received. After seeing them live a few months ago, however, they have lost all appeal for me. Probably the worst metal show I’ve been to since I was a young pup.

  5. I look forward to this column every month and it never disappoints! One suggestion though, would it be possible going forward to tag all metal posts outside of The Black Market on Stereogum with ‘metal’ or even ‘blackmarket’ so they’re easier to track down? I would love to be able to find any metal posts I may have missed without having to scroll past pages and pages of Bon Iver, Chromeo and Coldplay.

  6. “…black metal western. It’s probably a good thing that genre doesn’t exist.” Just play Invokation by Horseback while imagining Carl McCoy lassoing every member of Solstafir by their leather dusters, Mr. Nelson… and BELIEVE. http://horseback.bandcamp.com/track/invokation

  7. Lots discussion topics brought up this Month. Here are some day-drunk thoughts:

    I haven’t read Hyden’s piece yet, but I think I’ll probably agree with it. Hard rock bands maintained a good slice of the pop music pie until the beginning of the 2000′s. Soundgarden and Alice In Chains would be considered capital-M “Metal” in any decade before or after the 90′s, while Deftones and System of a Down weren’t exactly toiling in obscurity later in the decade. Also, I’m not sure what mainstream accessibility even entails in on modern rock radio. I would think that (new)Mastodon and Kylesa would fill that niche perfectly, but apparently not.

    On Mastodon, I do like their newer stuff but not as much as I miss the band that made Leviathan.

    I’ll take your word for it that black metal ruled June, since you listen to a lot more metal than I do, and because you’ve done a good job including different genres the past few months.

    Soft Pink Truth doesn’t bother me. I’m not sure if I grok everything he says he’s trying to accomplish with the project, but it gave us Wye Oak singing about fuck hammers, a kinda solid idm Venom cover, and some hilariously outraged youtube comments. Fun for all.

    I have really high hopes for the Panopiticon album after listening to the new track and the split with Falls of Rauros.

    Great week for live music here in North Carolina. I saw Agalloch on Saturday, and I’ll be seeing Swans tomorrow night. Thou are playing Wednesday, but I have to miss it.

    • SWANS. I really wanna talk about SWANS. I have avoided this band like the plague for years now. And no matter how great the reviews are I listen to snippets and just can’t get into it. Cut to this last weekend and I’m in Berkeley and I bought the new one “Too Be Kind”. And I have tried to get into this I mean really, really tried. And it’s not like I sit around and listen to shiiite all day. I love experimental and or weird shit. But I simply cannot get into this music. I don’t get it on a very deep level.

      Please explain it to me like I’m a four year old. Seriously. I need a touchstone and then maybe I can wrap my head around it.

      Throw me a bone here, people.

      • What I get from Swans’ music is a feeling of being bounced around and ground up by immense impersonal forces. It makes you aware of your powerlessness and in awe of everything that you are up against. I’m not entirely sure why, but it makes for cathartic listening if you are in the right mood.

        Musically, it gets repetitive and it gets jammy. If it works for you there is a pretty good build-up, and occasional release, of tension. If it doesn’t work for you it’s just going to sound indulgent and boring, and there’s probably no talking yourself into enjoying it. You may want to try an older record like Children of God, from before when they started recording 30 minute tracks.

      • i wouldnt even consider SWANS remotely metal. however that does not answer your question lol…

        New one sounds very TOOL-ish, very prog, long pieces. either you’ll dig it, or you dont.

        bear in mind back in the 80s they didnt sound like they do now.

        but its ok if you cant get into. its really not for everyday listening.

      • The latest Swans releases are really an all-in-one-sitting affair. They’re movie-length, which kinda rules them out of regular rotation for me, but if you can set aside the time, they are powerful, transportative experiences. They feel like being subjected to primal, sinister forces.

        The Seer feels like some sort of middle-of-the-woods pagan noise ritual for conjuring a hurricane. To Be Kind makes me feel like a lost child in an evil carnival.

        But hey, if it doesn’t make you feel anything, that’s fine too. Plenty of other great music out there.

      • I LOVE Swans but these replies pretty much sum it up. If they are not your thing I don’t think there is anything you can do about it. My best friend, who shares about 95% of my musical taste, simply does not like Swans despite my multiple attempts to help him see the light ( or should I say the darkness). It helps to have an appreciation for repetition, noise, and minimalism. Probably helps to also have a deep depressive streak. I hate to use the word “goth” but I have often thought that Swans were a goth band for people who love heavy musicl but hate goth culture. That still doesn’t quite do it but I appreciate your willingness to try. I know how much it sucks to really want to like a band when you just can’t.

        • I think starting with the latest Swans release is a tough go if you’re not already a fan. The Seer was so visceral and immediate (despite the insane running length) that it made for a perfect introduction for a lot of people, but the new one leans back and takes its time, making it much harder to stay interested if you don’t already love what they’re doing.

          The interesting thing about Swans is their amorphous back catalog. They hardly ever repeat themselves, and most of their albums sound nothing like the reunion albums (the last three). The early stuff was unmitigated brutality in the form of grating post-punk; crushing stuff, but distinctly not metal. From there they shifted into gothic noir, occasionally psychedelic, dark americana mode for a few albums, before returning to heavier, weirder pastures in the early to mid 90s… and then they broke up. A lot of the middle albums are more about the juxtaposition of beauty (Jarboe’s female vocal) and something much uglier (the guitars, and/or Michael Gira’s raving shouts), though it’s a lot more complex than that one dynamic.

          I did a feature on Swans a couple years ago; makes for a decent introduction if you’re interested. As an entry point, I’d probably recommend Children of God or The Great Annihilator since both show the above juxtaposition across some seriously classic tunes, and the heaviness is mitigated by some truly gorgeous moments. I think of Swans as more of a noisy art project than a metal band, really, but the appeal can be similar at times.

          http://www.stereogum.com/1197001/swans-albums-from-worst-to-best/top-stories/lead-story/

  8. For anyone saddened by the lack of death metal, here are a few nuggets of deathy gold that just missed inclusion:

    Gruesome – Matt Harvey of Exhumed put together a new death metal band, and it’s essentially a tribute to Leprosy-era Death. You don’t hear this particular style of throwback death metal all that often, but these guys do it as well as anyone.
    http://gruesomedeathmetal.bandcamp.com/track/savage-land

    Cemetary Lust – crusty, gnarly, and raw as fuck. Hells Headbangers is the only label that could have released this.
    http://hellsheadbangers.bandcamp.com/album/orgies-of-abomination

    Mutilated Veterans – more crusty death (this time war-themed) from Hells Headbangers. Featuring dudes from Machetazo.
    http://mutilatedveterans.bandcamp.com/

    Shards of Humanity – this month is all about duality. Here’s another Leprosy-worshipping OSDM band, with a new album out on Unspeakable Axe, which is Dark Descent’s thrashier sub-label. High quality tunes.
    http://unspeakableaxerecords.bandcamp.com/album/fractured-frequencies

    Algebra – all right, this one’s not death metal. Rather, it’s old school technical thrash (what was once called “techno thrash” before techno became something else entirely). I get a whiff of Coroner from this one; the name is much nerdier than the tunes, no question.
    http://unspeakableaxerecords.bandcamp.com/album/feed-the-ego

    • Thanks man! As someone for whom the general Black Metal aesthetic is basically lost upon (not for lack of trying, believe me) this is exactly what I need this month.

  9. blochead,

    If you want just amazing cleans from a great band, There is an Irish band called Darkest Era who released an album called Severance this month. It’s really incredible. Here’s a lyric video for the opening song. For what It’s worth, it’s my least favorite track on the record.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7SdlW2SfAM

    A lot of people loved the Atlantean Kodex album from last year, and that record was all sung as well. I like Darkest Era better.

  10. Excellent column this month. Love the perspective on the “big 4″. I have 3 things. 1. That Body Count cover was way better than it had any right to be. I remember getting their first album in high school and feeling like I had a real piece of contraband. 2. That Pallbearer song is really growing on me and I still can’t wait to hear the whole thing. 3. Say what you will about the politics behind “Why Do the Heathen Rage?” but that album is fucking brilliant and the cover is amazing. I bought the vinyl on sight!

  11. Try Dawnbringer’s, “Into the Lair of the Sun God” or “Nucleus.”

  12. Thanks to all above……a couple notes
    One last thing….

    That Body Count cover is AMAZING. The write up above is spot on. I was woefully unprepared for just how perfect that thing is. Ice T’s voice has always been off putting to me, on every level. But this song is the absolute perfect place for it. Song of the month.

    • Lots of great recommendations above. Dawnbringer is an absolute must.

      We covered Darkest Era last month (or was it the month before? I forget), and Joseph is right, that absolutely. If you’re particularly interested in the style Pallbearer plays in, I encourage you check out the british band Warning, who laid the groundwork for Pallbearer in a number of ways. The guitars are slow, heavy, and emotive; the singing is entirely clean, but intense. The same singer has a newer project called 40 Watt Sun, also worth a look.

      Here’s Warning’s classic album from 2006.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSCgqOGFiH8

      If you’re open to something a little bit uglier but still reasonably accessible, look into the Irish band Primordial. Darkest Era actually draw on their sound quite a bit (though DE has much more melodic vox), but Primordial has more of a basis in pagan black metal. Primordial’s singer, Alan Averill (sometimes credited A. A. Nemtheanga) toes the line between a harsh vocal and singing, and it makes for an interesting window between both worlds, but he articulates quite well. Take a listen to their 2007 album, To the Nameless Dead:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eeriu2FoUog

      • absolutely *kills, is what I meant to say :-)

      • I keep reading about 40 watt sun. And every critical review I’ve read is glowing. Thanks for the data.

        • gotta second all Aaron’s recommendations as well. Alan Averill is one of the most interesting and convincing vocalists in the entire genre. It helps that frequently his lyrics are quite poetic. Unfortunately I understand that some of his politics are a bit questionable as well, but I don’t really hear them show up in his music.

          If you like Dawnbringer, the man behind that band, Chris Black, has another project, High Spirits, also covered here, that’s incredible.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLCiQz8kzPQ&feature=kp

          And along those lines there’s absolutely a lot of merit in looking into a Sanf Fransisco band called The Hammers of Misfortune. their output is a bit spotty, but every album has at least one incredible song on it, and their sophomore album, The August Engine is… I mean it’s spectacular. To me it’s classic Iron Maiden meets early Queen with a gutter punk sensibility. It’s folkloric, dramatic, progressive and just in-general perfect. It’s a desert island album for me. Here’s a popular song from that record

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i54uXGQO1zQ

          Likewise, this is barely metal, but two years ago Relapse released an album by a band called Royal Thunder, and I think that band is spectacular, swaggery, bluesy, and amazing clean vocals. Like DOWN but fronted by Tina Turner. This song’s great:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kAzByvFGBA

          There’s lots of great metal with clean singing out there, and the trend is GROWING. It just needs to be exposed a little more.

          • @Schafer – Regarding Alan Averill you said “Unfortunately I understand that some of his politics are a bit questionable as well.” Could you elaborate? I wasn’t aware he’d said anything controversial.

  13. I think you are talking past each other. Hyden is including hard rock in his analysis. And any way you look at it, there is no hard rock at the top of the charts anywhere. I think the biggest factor in the disappearance of metal and hard rock from mainstream culture is the fact that there is no mainstream outlet plugging it anymore. Bands popular on rock radio are not heavy at all. Is this in response to heavy songs not testing well? Probably. But why don’t people want to hear those songs?

    The metalsucks analysis is true up to a point, but even those points must have causes. Why has the Internet diminished metal in a way that it hasn’t diminished, say, EDM? Why are there too many metal bands, but not too many DJs? Why is screaming suddenly not cool, when it was pretty cool for a long time? And the question that Sterogum and Grantland should explore in more depth, cause I certainly don’t get it: Why doesn’t music matter as much as it used to?

    • Steven and I went back and forth on this on Twitter a little bit, but I contend part of this is due to the fact that rap and country (the two dominant commercial pop-music “genres”) are intrinsic parts of Black and Southern identities/cultures, respectively, and both have massive media and political machines dedicated to them, whereas hard rock and pop metal are simply genres within pop music. Taylor Swift made $40M last year. Dr. Dre made $620M after the sale of Beats. That stuff doesn’t just happen because those particular artists are more willing to embrace the mainstream than Behemoth. That said, Bon Jovi made nearly $30M last year so there’s an appetite for “hard rock,” no?

      • And it really is cultural! Behemoth is a Polish band, and in Poland, they’re household names: For years, their frontman, Nergal, dated a singer named Doda (the “Polish Britney Spears”) and was a judge on the Polish version of The Voice!

        • More evidence, for the sake of fun: way back in 2010 Keep of Kalessin competed in (and won) a major musical reality competition in Norway, as seen here:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CLIabrWBDQ

          As a rough analogue, that’d be like (early) Abigail Williams winning America’s Got Talent. We clearly live in different worlds.

        • The cultural analysis part of it this explanation is pretty astute. A Finnish friend of mine also noticed the same thing, that cheesy singing competition shows in his country were routinely won by metal singers.

          I think a big part of me is bewildered at how uncool guitar rock is considered by the mainstream these days. Chris DeVille has talked about this a few times on Stereogum too, and the never-say-die rockist in me still really can’t believe it. But for whatever reason, kids just don’t seem to gravitate towards rock music as much as they used to.

          • I mean, the indie world has finally, in the past few years, started to get re-interested in hard rock, punk, and metal, after years and years of synth pop, new new wave, neo folk and multi-instrumental indie pop/rock. So it’ll take the mainstream a little while to catch up.

          • I think it’s really long-tailed these days — lotsa American listeners still love guitar-based stuff but there’s no singular identity for guitar-based music. You’ve got punk and indie-rock and metal and blues rock and grunge-y stuff and jammy stuff and Britpoppy stuff and a bunch of others, and they all have tiny little factions within their own worlds, whereas country and rap are pretty monolithic, which more easily allows for media ubiquity.

          • mr. mayo, where I live, Mastodon’s “The High Road”, which in my opinion would have been a smash alternative rock hit 10 or even 20 years ago, is being played constantly on the NPRish public radio rock station. But it is completely ignored by the commercial mainstream rock station, which is playing boy-band sounding crap like American Authors and Kongos all the time instead. And yet, the commercial rock station still plays tons of old Metallica, Zeppelin, Sabbath, Nirvana and Guns N Roses songs. You would think that people who like those classics would want to hear new music that sounds similar, but the programming directors apparently feel otherwise. To me, “Master of Puppets” segueing into “Best Day of My Life” sounds jarring. Mastodon would make more sense! But the heavy hit song seems to have disappeared from mainstream rock radio playlists.

          • And Mr. Nelson, another good point! Would love to see a little more guitar-based music fan solidarity. Then again, I know more than a few rock fans who have made the move to country because the latter genre now pushes a lot of the same buttons that rock music used to: songs about real life, guitar solos, tailgating, verse chorus verse, etc.

  14. There are a myriad of reasons why hard rock, metal, whatever you want to call guitar driven music has suffered in recent years. And I genuinely think one of them is the whiney ass hard rock of the 90′s. I listen to the most synth pop whiney crap on the planet. And I expect it to be whiney and “woe is me” in nature. It’s part of the schtick. But when all of those bands of the 90′s starting coming out with confessional lyrics like they were The Smiths I just flat turned off. Don’t play a big and chunky riff while crying about how your daddy never really understood you. Metal lived on as an underground thing but as a popular music form these kind of bands really chipped away at it’s credibility. Seether (although not metal they still make for a good example of what I’m talking about here) covering Wham’s “Careless Whisper” is a perfect example. As a card carrying metal head kid of the late 70′s and early 80′s Wham represented EVERYTHING I hated. And now a hard rock band is gonna cover them in non ironic fashion? WEAK. SO WEAK.

    Anyway…I doff my cap to the true metal and it’s minions. I can’t honestly say I’m one of you anymore but I will always love metal. So keep it black, angry, and terrifying.

  15. Always good to have the Mutt Lange-style of production confirmed, since it’s pretty clear he took that sound after working with Def Leppard, transplanted it over to Bryan Adams, and then made a new home for it with Shania Twain, pretty much setting the template for “New Country” (that was already its way with Garth Brooks).

  16. Blochead, here are some more recent clean singing metal essentials that others haven’t mentioned yet. I started very, very gentle:

    System Of A Down – Toxicity (my gateway back into metal after wandering the 90s in the desert)
    Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf
    Kylesa – Ultraviolet
    Baroness – Blue Record
    Mastodon – Crack The Skye
    Torche – Meanderthal
    Ghost – Opus Eponymous
    Tyr – Valkyrja
    In Solitude – Sister
    Subrosa – More Constant Than The Gods
    Ancient Vvisdom – Deathlike
    ASG – Bloodrive
    Year of the Goat – Angel’s Necropolis
    Corsair – Corsair
    Witchcraft – Legend
    Slough Feg – Atavism
    Between The Buried And Me – Colors (if you’re feeling adventurous. It’s like 50/50 clean and growly but so great).

    There’s actually tons and tons of great clean vocal stuff out there. And if you want to dip your toe into the growly stuff, just think of the voice as another instrument intended to convey brutality. Good luck!

    • I totally get the “voice as instrument” thing. I listen to tons of weird ambient thing where the monotonous repeating of a single lyric is the same thing. I’ve been listening to non guitar driven music for so long it’s just a tough hill to try and climb up again.

      I genuinely appreciate your suggestions and many of them are on my short list of metal bands to try and wrap my head around. I’m starting with the following 5 records

      Pallbearer
      Mastodon – Crack The Sky
      Baroness – Blue Record
      Subrosa – More Constant than the Gods
      Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage.

      That French dude Blut Aus Nord is insane good. But just too damn growly for me. LOL

      If any of the above are poor chooses to begin my metal journey with please feel free to let me know.

      • I might also try The Art of Self Defense by High on Fire. Matt Pike’s vocals aren’t necessarily the cleanest, but there’s a lot of melody that comes through in my opinion. As someone who prefers clean vocals for the most part, Matt Pike kind of strikes the perfect metal balance where it’s rough but there’s still some clarity.

        And since I mentioned High on Fire, I should probably mention Holy Mountain by Sleep, which also features Matt Pike on guitar, but a different vocalist.

  17. That Lazer/Wulf track is amazing! Thanks so much!

    Another great column. My go to monthly spot to decide which handful of records I’m going to pick up. I keep an Evernote going with the records I definitely want to buy based on the songs/write up here.

    Quite possibly the best extreme metal writing on the web, too! Can’t thank you enough!

  18. Great piece, at least until the end where yer unhealthy obsession with Deafheaven weakens your point! Glad you at least acknowledge doom, and the upcoming high profile releases from YOB and Pallbearer. But there’s so much more! Try Serpent Venom and Moab for starters. http://fastnbulbous.com/doom-goes-boom-in-june/

  19. Lots of great stuff here!

    Especially Bastard Sapling, Mournful Congregation and Vuyvr!

    I think part of the reason there is a dearth of heavier sounding music in the mainstream is that the attributes that can help something break through in the world of metal are now completely at odds with what works for the mainstream. That is one tricky double gauntlet to run.

  20. This might be the best BM yet! That top four is awe inspiringly awesome.

  21. Not that any of you should give a good goddamn about what I’m listening to but here it comes anyway….

    After YEARS of not listening to guitar driven music I have spent the past week+ listening to METAL for 12 hours a day with no breaks whatsoever I have determined the following:

    There are many, many great heavy bands out there. Baroness and Mastadon really get it. But for me, HIGH ON FIRE is the one, hands down. Pike is a BEAST. I grew up listening to Sabbath, Motorhead, Maiden, Priest, and eventually, early Metallica. High On Fire is a very natural progression of the sound that equals METAL, at least to my ears. Thick slabs of guitar with an absolutely punishing rhythm section.

    Thanks to all for the suggestions. This has been a fun deviation from synth pop.

  22. Wait til you see High on Fire live…they’re a band full of road-dog touring musicians, but they’ve got the songs and the chops to back it up. Truly one of the best in the business. That last album with Kurt Ballou manning the decks was such an unhinged explosion of sound.

    And congrats on finding your watershed moment, welcome to the ranks, infinite hails, et al ;-)

  23. Sivyj Yar seems to be channelling some of the same magic that Lantlos had on .neon and has since abandoned. Love it.

  24. Correction: Judgment Night soundtrack is awesome. http://www.invisibleoranges.com/2011/03/trap-thems-ryan-mckenney-on-judgment-night/

    Also, that Forn track is superb.

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