The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – November 2015

We’re coming down the home stretch, folks. This month’s Black Market will be our last “normal” column of 2015. In December we’ll be running a 50 Best Metal Albums feature that’ll sum up our favorites of the year that was.

As you might guess, the five of us that put together the Black Market every month — that’s Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Ian Chainey, Michael Nelson, and me — have been at work assembling our picks for that feature. And good lord, has that process ever driven home a theme that this column has touched on a lot over this past year: The metal landscape in the early 21st century is incredibly vast, varied, and contentious, to a point that’s hard to really comprehend unless you spend a great deal of time exploring it.

We five have a lot in common when it comes to how we think about the genre; there’s a reason we (almost) all met while working at the long-running Invisible Oranges blog a number of years back, and there’s a reason we’ve all stayed friends since. And yet, despite our great deal of shared experience and other similarities, our year-end ballots look vastly different from one another. Even within the fairly specific part of the metal world we focus on, there’s room for considerable philosophical disagreement about what makes a good song or album. And you know what they say about sectarian conflicts: They’re extra ugly.

This fractiousness, in combination with the decentralized nature of the genre — a grassroots culture that doesn’t rely on individual stars or kingmaking organizations for direction — makes it very difficult to arrive at consensus about virtually anything. That’s part of why we have such a hard time putting the 15 songs that make up this column every month into a numerically ranked order. But this month, we got a moment of respite in the form of some new music that we could all comfortably agree is awesome: the first single from former Immortal main man Abbath’s new solo album, which will come out early next year.

I won’t get into the details of the song itself, since Michael’s taken care of that more than capably below. But it’s worth reflecting for a moment on what a rarity the musician who calls himself Abbath Doom Occulta is: a singular icon from extreme metal’s golden years. Few musicians who’ve operated in that world for as long as Abbath has can boast of such a consistently lauded discography: eight very-good-to-classic albums with Immortal, who are perhaps the most “fun” of the classic Norwegian black metal acts of the ’90s, plus one effort with the more traditionalist metal supergroup I, and a couple of cult ’80s demoes with the death metal band Old Funeral, which once also featured Varg Vikernes. More importantly, almost none are as broadly recognized and beloved as him.

In metal, band identity typically comes before individual musician identity — it’s not uncommon for fans to have no idea what their favorite artists look like, or to not even know who performed the music they listen to. This makes sense. A great deal of metal deals with huge, epic, and therefore impersonal subject matter, and the quotidian human realities that lie behind those imposing themes can disrupt your suspension of disbelief if you look too closely. There’s a reason so many black metal band members use pseudonyms or otherwise remain anonymous. And while Abbath obviously uses a stage name (his real name is Olve Eikemo) and is best known for singing about a fictional fantasyland called Blashyrkh devised by his longtime bandmate Demonaz, his painted and frowny visage feels as familiar and relatable as an old friend’s. Some of the most famous and resonant images from black metal’s heyday involve him and his Immortal collaborators; his unique corpsepaint pattern has become literally iconic. Photoshopping Abbath and other Immortal members into nonsequitur images is so popular that Immortal have their own Know Your Meme page. You can buy dreadlock beads with Abbath corpsepaint, for fuck’s sake. He’s basically the face of the genre, even though he left his flagship band under tense circumstances earlier this year.

But Abbath’s high profile has at least as much to do with his attitude as with his music and appearance. No other black metal musician — aside from perhaps Fenriz of Darkthrone, one of Abbath’s few peers — has so effectively played off black metal’s basic ridiculousness while still practicing it with the utmost intensity. He’s one of the best interview subjects of all time, in any genre: witness his hilarious definition of black metal, his trolling of Varg Vikernes (and his interviewer), or his completely unhinged guitar instructional video for evidence. And despite the shredding aggression that characterizes most of Abbath’s music, he performs with visible, almost childlike glee — his signature stage move is a splay-legged crab walk in time to a blastbeat. This kind of self-consciously silly behavior neatly relieves a tension that frustrates most metal fans at some point — specifically, the cognitive dissonance that arises from serious emotional involvement in an art form that’s at least superficially juvenile much of the time — and allows them to get back to rocking. There’s a reason that our first Black Market column ever opened with his image. The guy is just a treasure in every sense.

He’s also a member of a dying breed. Most metal band dudes of Abbath’s age have committed enough musical or extra-curricular sins that they’ve become hard to really love, and few had his charisma to begin with. The supply of similar heroes from that generation will dwindle precipitously in the coming decade or two. And because most extreme metal styles have been around for decades already, they’re not producing young pioneers the way they used to. And that’s okay — obviously there’s more than enough amazing music coming out of those worlds even in their early maturity. (Way, way, way more than enough, as you’ll see below.) But it’s worth consciously appreciating the existence of guys like Abbath. They remind us that no matter how atomized and obscurantist metal becomes, it’s still capable of bringing people together; and that even in an increasingly lonely and absurd world, there’s a lot of fun to be had. As Abbath might say, “BLECH!”Doug Moore

15. Nar Mattaru – “The End Of The Beginning”

Location: Santiago, Chile
Subgenre: death metal

In Jackie MacMullan’s profile of Kevin Garnett, the forever-intense 21-year NBA vet said, “You can’t teach the beast. It’s either in you or it isn’t. You can’t just go to the store and buy a six-pack of beast.” The beast courses through Chile’s Nar Mattaru, though that’s not readily apparent during “The End Of The Beginning”‘s inauspicious start. There, singer Carlos Artarys barfs a growl and the rest of the trio, Francisco Bravo on guitars and Andrés González on drums, similarly spews midpaced metal that’s chunkier than a carton of milk found in a Sumerian tomb. It’s fine. It’s also a MacGuffin. After that minute, Nar Mattaru is all beast for the next seven. It’s a hell of a contrast. How did “The End Of The Beginning” make the leap from ordinary to an Altered States version of nimble, then ferocious, then crawling death? How is that nasty solo that nasty? Those suddenly unhinged vocals so nutty? Welcome to the wonderfully unanswered question that surfaces again and again during Ancient Atomic Warfare’s run: How the hell did we get here? Well, the beast is part of it, but there’s some weirder magic at play. Of course, you knew this wouldn’t be normal from the start if you spied I, Voidhanger’s name. The out-there label has had another banner year, with Nar Mattaru’s sophomore outing a cherry sitting atop a pile of strange cherries. [From Ancient Atomic Warfare, out 12/7 via I, Voidhanger]Ian

14. Dendritic Arbor – “Cotard Delusion”

Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Subgenre: progressive black metal/grind

The amateur and professional psychologists among you may be familiar with the Cotard delusion, an extremely rare and unsettling mental condition whose suffers believe themselves to be literally or figuratively dead, despite immediate evidence to the contrary. This kind of Wiki-hole-inspiring allusion is pretty much standard fare for Dendritic Arbor, themselves named after a factoid picked up from a RadioLab podcast. It’s an apropos choice of title, as the band’s hectic but strangely cold amalgam of shrieking noise and brain-damaged rhythmic devices will have you feeling more disconnected from the reality of your body than you’d perhaps like. “Cotard Delusion” marks Dendritic Arbor’s second appearance in the Black Market this year — their upcoming Sentient Village – Obsolescent Garden EP looks poised to top May’s full-length debut Romantic Love in terms of quality and intensity. A recent interview suggests that Dendritic Arbor will continue to write and release short-format releases frequently; if they continue to improve each time they hit the studio, the future for this bleak and ambitious outfit could ironically prove quite bright indeed. [From Sentient Village – Obsolescent Garden, out 12/30, self-released]Doug

13. Winterlore – “Ice Of Old Night”

Location: Riverton, UT
Subgenre: black metal

Winterlore’s “Ice Of Old Night” aims pretty squarely at ’90s black metal, the stuff conjured by a bunch of made-up maniacs running around Scandinavian fjords. The Utah band’s sound borrows from a palette of early greats, but what first got me to click play was that familiar and absolutely killer album art. Winterlore, however, is from a new and unlikely fertile ground for black metal: Utah. Something dark has been stirring in the unassuming state, which is now home to a number of wild bands like Gallowbraid and Caladan Brood that channel, spot-on, various subgenres of black metal in fantastic fashion. For extra spice, the bands from in and around Salt Lake City tend to draw inspiration from fantasy and embrace the soaring melodies that accompany that type of material. The SLC bands, though, seem to take it to more epic and stylized heights than many others who similarly found a world of swords and fire compelling. Though Winterlore is on a more straight and narrow path than some of its neighbors, buzzing in and around a couple central melodies with a chainsaw fever, “Ice of Old Night” still saves room for gliding over cliffs and crags. After all, the band includes Thorolf, the man responsible for Ered Wethrin. [From Winterlore, out in 2016]Wyatt

12. Autopsy – “Waiting For The Screams”

Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: death metal

It’s both ironic and fitting that so many classic-era death metal bands refuse to stay dead. Seemingly every band that played even a moderately important role in the style’s late ’80s/early ’90s heyday has returned to activity over the past ten years, if they ever threw in the towel at all. These revivals have produced mixed results, with highlights such as Carcass and Gorguts’s excellent 2013 albums at one end of the gamut and the cringey likes of Obituary’s weird-sounding 2014 LP at the other. Autopsy, who got back in the game in 2008 after splitting in 1995, fall comfortably into the positive side of this spectrum. Their three post-reunion albums and host of interstitial releases have all drawn warm reactions from most Autopsy fans. (It probably helps that drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert, guitarist Danny Coralles, and bassist Joe Allen played together in the decidedly Autopsy-ish band Abscess during the former band’s defunct period.) That said, I personally haven’t been tremendously excited by this newer output, in part because so many contemporary bands have internalized Autopsy’s influence and twisted it into new, exciting shapes. Skull Grinder marks the first time I’ve really felt a newer Autopsy recording, though it’s hard to say why — the band continues to plug away at the same warped and yet thoroughly rock’n’roll vision they established all the way back in 1991 with Mental Funeral, though Reifert sounds even more gloriously unhinged now than they did back then. Perhaps “Waiting For The Screams” is subtly different from its immediate predecessors; perhaps I’m just in the mood for some shitfun. Either way, this record is tearing me apart. Fitting. [From Skull Grinder, out now via Peaceville]Doug

11. Triumvir Foul – “Labyrinthine – The Blood Serpent Unwinds”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: death metal

Even with the volume turned down low, Triumvir Foul’s full-length debut is loud. The Portland trio, which includes two members from Ash Borer, delights in gut-chewing chainsaw distortion and whammy-bar bombing dives. It ain’t subtle, it ain’t complicated, it doesn’t reinvent a thing. It is blissfully single-minded. Tracks like “Labyrinthine – The Blood Serpent Unwinds” barrel ahead unceasingly like some kind of old-school death metal shark. And, jeez, the sound of it all. Carnage, demise, pandemonium. When “Labyrinthine” shakes free of its ear-splitting overture and starts erecting something resembling a structure, it’s still totally indebted to chaotic noise. Ancient tremolos sound as though they are performed by jet engines; other sections could be battle hymns for a war waged by garbage disposals and weed-whackers. Whatever the comparison, fight or flight is engaged. To be sure, there’s a certain thrill tied the intended “oof” a listener might emit when faced with the mania. For some, that boot-to-the-belly is why they’re here; the bruise a barometer of worthwhile death metal. For others, the masochistic destruction of their hearing evokes life-affirming loud noises like heavens-splitting thunder or gale force winds. But that’s delving too deep into armchair psych stuff. Really, Triumvir Foul is the glorious din of metalheads reveling in this style’s unique ability to be the filthiest. If you aren’t into death metal, Triumvir Foul isn’t your ticket in. This is like a pitcher’s duel: strictly for the converted. However, Triumvir Foul is why you’ll eventually stick around once that ticket is punched. [From Triumvir Foul, out 12/11 via Blood Harvest]Ian

10. Luminous Vault – “Deliver The Wound”

Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: industrial death/black metal

There aren’t many bands churning out fresh or particularly compelling industrial metal these days. The best (and worst) of the style existed from the ’90s into the early 2000s, led by, in many ways and in the eyes of many, the English duo Godflesh. But rearing its head late in 2015, here we have Luminous Vault, who have perfectly blended militaristic black/death metal, industrial chugging and horror film creep into an awesome and downright invigorating fresh take on mechanized metal. “Deliver The Wound” finds exceptional balance, elegantly blending gruff staccato riffs with ominous sewer drip, occasionally ceding the spotlight to searing guitar leads. Those guttural vocals are excellent, at one point melting into an exasperated animalistic warble void of syllables. Luminous Vault bills itself as anonymous, but perhaps we’ll learn more about the band in the future. For now, we have just two songs. Both of them are excellent, though “Deliver The Wound” is the one that will most forcefully grab you by the lapels. [From Communion, out now on Graceless Recordings]Wyatt

9. Vektor – “Ultimate Artificer”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: progressive thrash

Vektor is basically the metal band version of those T-shirts that look like Black Flag shirts but actually advertise some other act altogether. (Except not played out and irritating.) Their name, logo, and ’80s retro-future aesthetic all nod explicitly to the groundbreaking Canadian progressive thrash band Voivod, whose use of dissonant chord voicings and other outré musical tactics paved the way for much of extreme metal’s expansion into borderline-avant garde territory during the 1990s. As a result, Vektor routinely get tagged as “Voivod worship”, which they’re probably fine with. But aside from the look and the occasional nerve-tweaking harmony, Vektor’s approach to thrash metal doesn’t actually sound much like Voivod’s. You certainly won’t hear any loose, punky performances or shambolic talk-singing on “Ultimate Artificer” — Vektor shred through their highly melodic compositions in a tightwound, highly compressed fashion that I typically associate with contemporary Scandinavian bands that fall on the line between thrash and black metal, such as Aura Noir and Nekromantheon. (Vocalist Dave DiSanto sings in a nasty screech that wouldn’t be out of place in an Emperor tune.) But the hints of Voivodian melancholy weirdness that color Vektor’s music still set them apart from their current peers — and that’s deeply valuable for any thrash band, given how badly the style has creatively stagnated since its ’80s heyday. Judging by this single, their third album Terminal Redux will focus on stylistic refinement rather than expansion. Given that Vektor’s biggest draw is their gift for writing insanely catchy riffs, they’ve chosen wisely. [From Terminal Redux, out 3/11/2016 via Earache Records]Doug

8. Cauldron – “No Return/In Ruin”

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Subgenre: traditional heavy metal

Trad is harder than it sounds. For instance, anachronisms can spoil the stew. On the other hand, newer outfits have to hold their own against a rich, sprawling history that’s deeply embedded in the personal experiences of fans. It’s trad’s dual-edged sword: One can’t be too similar or dissimilar. To get it right, metalheads need to trust themselves. That’s where Cauldron excels. “No Return/In Ruin,” the first single from the Torontonian trio’s fourth album, In Ruin, is reverent without being a rehash. It’s real, with no sign of the smirk accompanying that check-out-the-kitsch-we’ve-unearthed vibe faux-acolytes tend to unintentionally leak. Ian Chains, also of Chainbreaker, dabs confidentially from a palette of catchy riffs and solos. Jason Decay has an everyman voice and a nose for hooks. Drummer Myles Deck is rock solid, doing more with his understated performance than any over-the-top fill-monster could muster. Together, Cauldron work to be the best Cauldron, but they don’t mess with what’s outside of their scope of experience. Instead of pandering, “No Return/In Ruin” takes on the craftsman-type appeal of true songwriters. The reoccurring melody, like something Mutt Lange would hum in the shower, is placed perfectly without it acting as cloying pizzazz. Also: song rocks. “No Return/In Ruin” is great as a standalone entity, but the video puts it over the top. Documenting people with similar predilections taking pleasure in each other’s company, it plays out as a tribute to becoming comfortable in one’s own skin. [From In Ruin, out 1/8/2016 via The End]Ian

7. Enisum – “Chiusella’s Waters”

Location: Turin, Italy
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Atmospheric black metal bands have been exploring the nexus of depressive black metal and big gorgeous melody for some time, with perhaps no band nailing the sorrowful but soaring sound better than Australia’s Woods Of Desolation. On “Chiusella’s Waters,” Enisum will give any band working in the space a run for their money and, likely, a dose of inspiration. “Chiusella’s Waters” is a stunning, watery piece of work that seamlessly transitions from moments of despondent reflection to all-pistons-firing triumphant blasting. What’s really special here is an Explosions In The Sky-style post-rock edge, with airy melancholy that will appeal to fans beyond our limited borders here. And those restrained, gorgeous clean vocals are something to behold, a cleansing and refreshing pair of voices that I hope to hear again. It’s late in the year, but look to Enisum’s Arpitanian Lands as 2015’s latecomer. [From Arpitanian Lands, out now on Dusktone]Wyatt

6. Drugs Of Faith – “Patriots”

Location: Washington, D.C.
Subgenre: grindcore/noise rock

Most people who pick up the split 7″ that “Patriots” calls home will probably do so because it features new music by Cloud Rat, a grindcore buzz band who frankly do nothing for me. By contrast, I’d place Drugs Of Faith among the most underrated heavy bands around. Fronted by Rich Johnson, a mid-Atlantic scene linchpin who’s also one of several vocalists in grind giants Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Drugs Of Faith basically sound like an extremely nasty noise rock band accelerated to three or four times the standard tempo. Though their rhythm section is airtight, Drugs Of Faith sound like they’re barely in control on “Patriots.” You can thank Johnson’s splay-fingered approach to guitar for that effect; his predilection for hitting as many open strings as possible turns even simple power chord riffs into clattering nightmares. And yet despite the unhinged instrumental vibe and Johnson’s incredibly mean-spirited snarl, “Patriots” crams a number of oddly bright melodies and a truly hostile groove segment into its sub-two-minute runtime. It’s a subtle approach to hookcraft that you might miss if you’re not listening closely, but it imbues Drugs Of Faith’s music with a degree of replay value scarcely seen in these scabby climes. In a just world, these guys would be up there with Johnson’s other band at the top of the grind world. (Full disclosure: my band has released music via Selfmadegod Records, who handled this split.) [From Cloud Rat/Drugs Of Faith split 7″, out now via Selfmadegod]Doug

5. Secrets Of The Moon – “Hole”

Location: Osnabrück, Germany
Subgenre: death rock/black metal

Germany’s Secrets Of The Moon are nominally a black metal band, but over the course of their 20-year existence, they’ve increasingly trended toward goth, death rock, and darkwave. In that regard, they’ve followed a path prominently blazed by Sweden’s Katatonia, but stylistically, SOTM have more in common with Switzerland’s Triptkyon. That should come as no surprise: SOTM’s last album, 2012’s Seven Bells, was engineered and mastered, in part, by Triptykon’s frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer, aka Tom G. Warrior. SOTM’s new one, SUN, goes even further away from the sounds traditionally associated with black metal, to the extent that the designation feels a little dishonest or misleading at this point: They’re way more Christian Death than Satanic Warmaster here. But SUN is a heavy album, and that’s exemplified on the single, “Hole.” This thing lumbers and lurches with a gothic somberness that could be mistaken for elegance. It’s not that, though. “Hole” is a depressive song that finds power in despair, triumph in resignation, beauty in decay. SOTM don’t sound like black metal, but music rarely sounds blacker than this. [From SUN, out 12/4 via Lupus Lounge]Michael

4. Chthe’ilist – “Voidspawn”

Location: Longueuil/McMasterville, Canada
Subgenre: death metal

Death metal bands have always been fond of tongue-twisting references to the occult and horror fiction — the genre’s finest guitarist calls himself Azagthoth, for instance — but few death metal band names evoke their bearers’ sound like the jumble of imposing, insectoid-looking syllables that is “Chthe’ilist.” This Quebecois band has worked at a very deliberate pace for its 5-year run, producing just one demo to date — 2012’s well-regarded Amechth’ntaas’m’rriachth — before the upcoming Le Dernier Crépuscule, their debut LP. Those who’ve been waiting for more from them will be rewarded handsomely for their patience. Like many of their death metal mates on the prolific Canadian label Profound Lore, Chthe’ilist builds on a foundation of genre classics from the ’90s but arrives somewhere unique and timeless. In this case, the legendary Finnish death metal band Demilich — who produced just one LP, the classic Nespithe — serves as a rich source of inspiration, along with a number of other Finnish and eastern American favorites. Demilich’s singular, oddly elliptical riffing style resonates loud and clear on Le Dernier Crépuscule. The angular lope and ensuing stomp that break out a minute into “Voidspawn” could have come from a lost Demilich record, but Chthe’ilist become even more impressive when they switch gears into an atmospheric, depressive lurch in the song’s third act. The wailing, melodic guitar solo that crests this segment is just sublime, and not at all the kind of thing you’d expect from a band that’s otherwise so unfriendly-sounding. [From Le Dernier Crépuscule, out 1/29/2016 via Profound Lore]Doug

3. A Pregnant Light – “Fear Of God”

Subgenre: black metal
Location: Grand Rapids, MI

I don’t think any band has landed on the Black Market more than A Pregnant Light. We don’t mean to cram the same stuff into your ears all the time, but thanks to Damian Master’s prolific output and the frequency with which he smashes it out of the park, here we are again. “Fear Of God” is a gut punch, a screaming comet of unbridled fury and brilliant energy. It’s one of the best songs of the year. The initial rage gives way to a more meditative groove, and a sick guitar slide kicks it into a different gear. But, be sure that the violence returns. Of late, APL had been showing us a more carefully crafted side, putting post-punk and pop hooks together with their own brand of black metal on Neon White, No Longer N 2 U, and last year’s full length, My Game Doesn’t Have A Name. With “Fear Of God,” though, Master returns to the rawer, liquid-hot primordial energy that burned so fiercely on some of APL’s earlier material. [From All Saints Day, out now on Colloquial Sound Recordings]Wyatt

2. Bismuth – “Tethys”

Location: Nottingham, UK
Subgenre: drone/sludge/doom

The one-liner destined to be oft-pasted when Bismuth breaks out is, “Bismuth has long been considered as the element with the highest atomic mass that is stable.” Dry Cough Records, which pulled that nugget from Wikipedia, is right in saying it describes the bass/drum duo from Nottingham well. “Tethys”, the first track from Unavailing, Bismuth’s LP debut, is indeed enormous and well-balanced and a whole thesaurus of synonyms. But, digging deeper, the actual experience is harder to put into words. For 15 minutes, “Tethys” is built up and torn down by Tanya Byrne (bass, vocals) and Joe Rawlings (drums) like many tracks you’ve heard before. That said, for a track so big, both in length and perceived decibels, it’s the little things that make “Tethys” work better. One of Byrne’s bass tones — and there are a few; the James Plotkin engineered album incorporates new layers of heaviness during each cycle — sounds like when Hendrix set his guitar on fire. It’s addictively ugly. Rawlings’s drumming is always on point, even though it’s so slow. Doom and sludge can be kind of ramshackle in the rhythm section because it’s hard to play below your heart rate, but there’s no loss of momentum here. When you expect Byrne and Rawlings to be there, they are, giving “Tethys” a satisfying payoff magnified by each successful meeting. Yet, Bismuth also enjoys the unexpected. “Tethys”‘s final third is a well-earned respite after cooking listeners’ ears for 10 minutes. It’s dynamic, turning Unavailing into the rare doom and sludge album you can jam via headphones without sacrificing the overall experience. There are more dimensions than just wum. Because of the depth and attention to detail, the Unavailing just flies by. The songs are slow, the passage of time is not. It’s loud as hell, except when it’s not. It’s heavy, it’s light. It’s multitudes and magnitudes and many things. And yep, it’s very stable. [From Unavailing, out now via Dry Cough]Ian

Abbath – “Winter Bane”

Location: Bergen, Norway
Subgenre: black metal

It seemed Norway’s seminal and essential Immortal had split back in March, after some ugly legal disputes, when frontman Abbath announced his own eponymous solo project. However, in August, Abbath’s former bandmates, Demonaz and Horgh, revealed they would soldier on under the Immortal banner, sans Abbath, and planned to drop a new LP in 2016. It might be harsh to call such a release “fraudulent” — especially considering Demonaz and Horgh apparently have legal clearance to continue on with the brand — but any version of Immortal without Abbath is, at best, a little bit of a joke. Abbath WAS Immortal. Abbath IS Immortal. Truth be told, though, there’s a good chance Abbath’s fucking killer forthcoming self-titled debut solo album will smother even the prospect of a new Immortal LP. On the eight-song Abbath, the former Immortal frontman has teamed with the great King Ov Hell (of Gorgoroth and God Seed) on bass, and a drummer who goes by the name of Creature, and together, they’ve crafted an album that will open 2016 as the one to beat. It’s relentlessly heavy and fast, with sledgehammer hooks and some totally leftfield choices that help to elevate it several leagues above the field. On lead single “Winter Bane,” those leftfield choices manifest in some absolutely nutty late-’80s-sounding slap bass via King, and it’s a total delight when they burst into the mix. Abbath reminds me a lot of Behemoth’s world-conquering 2014 LP, The Satanist: Both feature the long-awaited returns of legit metal royalty; both are highly theatrical arena-scale black metal with odd experimental flourishes; and both are basically flawless from front to back. “Winter Bane” is as good as anything else on Abbath, and everything on Abbath is better than anything else that came out this month. I’m confident the same will be true of next month, too. And when Abbath officially arrives in January, it will do so just in time to rule over the rest of winter with the ferocity, magnitude, and imminence of an army of White Walkers. Immortal is dead. Long live Abbath. [From Abbath, out 1/22/2016 via Season Of Mist]Michael