Welcome to The Black Market’s fourth year of metal-scrounging. We — that’s Michael Nelson, Wyatt Marshall, Aaron Lariviere, Ian Chainey, and me — have been recuperating since December’s 50 Best Metal Albums Of 2015 feature in preparation for another annum of wringing each other’s throats over the contents of these columns. The bruises from 2015 are pretty much gone now, so it’s time to make some new ones.
The real reason we took the month of December off from doing the column was that December and January are conventionally slow periods for album releases, even in the relentlessly productive world of underground metal. Both engaging new releases and reader interest tend to be thin on the ground during the holidays, so it seemed wise to roll December’s cache into January’s, thereby ensuring a decent combined stock of crucial riffs to share with you all.
Except “a decent combined stock” isn’t what we got. What we got, in both December and January, was a flood of awesome shit. Again. Like pretty much every month, except this time there was close to twice as much material to contend with. So as usual, we bickered and bargained our way down to the paltry 15 songs we present to you here, though I’m not sure my psyche will ever fully recover from the experience. And even then, we had to put off tons of great stuff — Wormed! Inverloch! Urgehal! Skaphe! Aluk Todolo! Other bands with alphabet-soup names! — until next month in order to touch on stuff whose eligibility expires this month. (We stop considering new releases eligible for the column the calendar month after their official release date.)
While suffering the mind-crushing agony that this winnowing process entailed, I came across an editorial entitled “Metal Is Being Killed By Clichés – I Know Because I Am One”, penned by Gama Bomb vocalist Philly Byrne. Gama Bomb is a self-consciously retro thrash metal band who benefited considerably from the late-’00s fad for thrash nostalgia, and I admittedly clicked primarily for the spectacle of watching one of these guys tut-tut about metal’s stale image. But the way the piece opened, in conjunction with a subheader blaring that metal’s tropes are “STRANGLING THE GENRE INTO IRRELEVANCE”, stuck with me:
“Something is wrong with metal. Look around: in most genres we’ve seen major acts spring up in the last decade and make an impact commercially, culturally, on a global scale. I’m not the first to say it: metal is not making new superstars.
There’s no new band who’ll turn up in The Simpsons, who’ll break the internet. The biggest metal newsflash in years was the death of Lemmy. As a genre we’re largely stuck in the mud of the past….The machine isn’t broken. Stars are still made — and seemingly everywhere but metal.”
The rest of Byrne’s piece is mostly well-meaning encouragement for bands and fans to open up to less hackneyed aesthetic choices, which I’m certainly on board with. (Please, no more “death,” “black,” or “dark.”) But the way he (and those headers, which may not have been under his control) frames the issue represents a common line of thinking, especially among those old enough to remember metal’s commercial heyday. By this reasoning, superstars and platinum sales are indices of genre health and relevance; therefore, metal’s failure to reclaim its former place of prominence is a symptom of terminal illness.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept the highly contestable claim that metal is underperforming in terms of sales and visibility relative to its history, taking current market conditions and cultural trends into account. Let’s also accept the claim that every other genre besides metal is still “making new superstars.” Is this state of affairs really evidence that something is wrong, or that the genre is ready for hospice care?
If the only metric of health you’re concerned with is ubiquity, then there may be cause for concern. But if your interest in metal is predicated on other factors, the answer is: No. Everything is cool.
Well, not everything is cool; there are lots of bad/boring metal bands, and lots of bad dudes in both good and bad metal bands, and (probably) no new Metallica for everyone to rally around. But on the balance, the genre is currently enjoying a period of ruddy good health. To substantiate this claim, I present to you the monthly contents of this column.
The artists we cover usually top out around “well known in their genre,” which doesn’t usually generate enough revenue for those who reach that lofty stature to earn a living. And the vast majority of acts we cover are even less popular, and almost certainly lose money on their work. Whether or not you accept Byrne’s premise about superstars and lack thereof, it’s clear that the chances of becoming rich and famous — or even cooler than you were when you started — by playing metal of any stripe is trivially small. But in spite of these well-known facts, more and more and more of these bands appear, constantly, to the point of mind-boggling and unmanageable variety, even within the narrow slice of the genre we focus on here. Try playing this month’s songs by Circle Of Ouroboros and Brutality back-to-back. They don’t sound like kissing cousins; they don’t even sound like they’re from the same fucking dimension.
My point is that people will basically pay for the privilege of making metal records, and they’re doing so in huge numbers all over the world. (To echo Byrne: I Know Because I Am One.) The indispensible metal wiki Metal Archives reports 458,385 active metal musicians today, and I imagine only a tiny fraction of them have clearly broken even on all the expenses involved in making music. And many of them pay in other ways too — in time, in opportunity, in social standing, even in personal safety. There are metal bands from countries where playing metal is punishable by law, for fuck’s sake.
Is it possible that a sick or even dying subculture has produced the insane degree of digressive expansion we’ve seen in metal since its first commercial collapse in the early ’90s, driven almost exclusively by costly engagement from its followers? I would argue the opposite: metal’s shift from a superstar-driven model to a participatory, underground DIY culture should be credited for keeping it around long enough for us to have this discussion in 2016. It’s ridiculous to think of the genre in “whither massive bands?” terms because it’s now explicitly set up to thrive on a smaller scale, where individuals can experiment endlessly without much regard for commercial outcome. This model isn’t geared to generate huge sales or visibility for individual artists, but that doesn’t mean it can’t. And more importantly, it can survive just fine without doing so. That’s cultural resilience, and since we’re talking about survival — metal living, metal dying — it’s the kind of health I think matters most.
At least, I sure hope so. It’s nice having so much to talk about. –Doug Moore
15. Horrified – “Infernal Lands”
Location: Newcastle, UK
Subgenre: death metal
Horrified guitarist Daniel Alderson told Apochs, “Edge Of Sanity are my favourite band and my biggest overall influence in terms of making death metal as rich and musical as possible ….” That’s a decent point of reference for Of Despair, this Newcastle quartet’s second album. On the surface, Horrified have made the jump from the primordial ooze OSDM of their debut to something closer to the, as Doug calls them, blue-cover blackened death of ’90s Swedes like Dissection or Sacramentum. Buzzing guitars are held aloft by archaic synths, and raw shouts are gilded by melodic leads and going-for-it solos. But “Infernal Lands” is catchier and more considered than your typical throwback, which is probably why Horrified found a home on proud old-fart label Stormspell. There are bands that go through the motions because that’s what you do, and then there are those that question the process. Those in the latter camp sound more organic and livelier because they make the sound work for them instead of working for the sound. In a way, it’s a rebirth, and touching up the tried and true is itself a hook. And, to tighten the bow, that’s an Edge Of Sanity-esque quality. It always seemed like Edge Of Sanity’s output was painstakingly designed, that few things weren’t measured by “Why are we doing this?” As Horrified grows, that same drive twists the band’s compositions. “Does this work? Does this work for us?” Their attention to the first question makes Of Despair a bullseye for 1993 – 1996; it’s even ramshackle and messy in all of the right places, not to mention sounding legit thanks to the mix/master by Horrendous’ Damian Herring. Horrified’s commitment to the second question means the band isn’t content to imitate. [From Of Despair, out 3/25 via Stormspell Records] –Ian
14. Entropia – “Mandala”
Location: Oleśnica, Poland
Subgenre: supreme pizza metal
We’re usually pretty committed to nailing down the exact genre niche occupied by the bands we cover, but it’s frankly impossible to figure out exactly which of metal’s endless style descriptors best fits Entropia. The fluttering rhythms and slow blastbeats say ‘black metal,’ the heaving tones and lockstep precision say ‘death metal,’ the pained vocals and rubbery guitar bends say ‘metalcore,’ the trippy overtones and complex structures suggest some kind of post-rock … and in the end, it doesn’t matter which tag fits best. Back in our Invisible Oranges days, Wyatt used to call this kind of thing “supreme pizza metal” because there’s a little of everything on there, and that’s what I’m going with Entropia on Ufonaut. High-concept mutations like this band tend to go long on ambition and short on immediacy, but the circular groove that opens “Mandala” will put a hurting on you straight away — it bears down machinelike, echoing the kill riffs that have made fellow Poles Decapitated so successful, before giving way to a sequence of stern blasts. But it’s not until the song’s final third that things get really interesting. Just when you think Entropia are closing the door on the song with one last heave, zany sci-fi synths festoon the guitars like musical Silly String and drag the whole band back into blasting territory. It shouldn’t work, but man, it fucking kills. Between Entropia and Odraza, Arachnophobia Records is doing some great work digging up under-the-radar black metal gems. [From Ufonaut, out 2/15 via Arachnophobia Records] –Doug
13. Batushka – “Yekteniya 3″
Subgenre: black/doom metal
The cold, creeping power of arcane religious ceremony can instill fear and awe to this day — pity upon the peasant at its mercy in the Dark Ages. Batushka, from Poland, mine a chilling orthodox tradition and brought this work of dark scripture into being in December, conjuring Old Testament and Medieval fears with a mix of profoundly heavy black metal and choir chant. The thrilling guitar leads on “Yekteniya 3″ may initially steal the show, but it’s the chugging undertone pull, accented by the deep, lush tapestry of voices in worship, that drive. And as cold and cryptic as it might seem — the subterranean end of Gregorian chant, music that channels the sonic marrow of massive pillars, stained glass and huddled masses — there are moments when the sky parts. You can almost hear the censer swing. [From Litourgiya, out now on Witching Hour Productions] –Wyatt
12. Brutality – “Sea Of Ignorance”
Location: Tampa, FL
Subgenre: death metal
It’d be a shame if Brutality’s legacy was solely as a Google hit for soon-to-be-discouraged band name hunters. Nearly everyone who hears Screams Of Anguish, the Tampa death metallers’ 1993 full-length debut, comes away saying something like “How have I never heard this before?” And yet for whatever reason, Brutality, despite kicking around since 1987, aren’t mentioned in the same breath as Morrisound hall of famers. But, hey, that’s the music industry, and trying to untangle the mysteries of popularity leads to Georg Cantor-level insanity. Or, you know, plain old dejection, which might account for why Brutality broke up in 1998 and again in 2005. On the bright side though, the tough times have made this comeback sweeter. 2013’s unexpected return to the studio birthed two-song EP Ruins Of Humans. Now we have the wonderfully titled Sea Of Ignorance, Brutali. Sty’s fourth LP and first in nearly 20 years. “Sea Of Ignorance” shows that the hallmarks are still pillars: precision rhythms, Scott Reigel’s no-BS growls, and plenty of nimble leads gliding between molten and melodic. That last part is how Brutality made their mark: dizzying fret pyrotechnics that didn’t overwork the listener. The band could balance ability and listenability like few others. And they still can, even if the membership has changed. While Screams guitarist Don Gates is off pursuing a solo country career, his old partner in shred Jay Fernandez is up to the task. Leads, check. Solos, check. Elsewhere, Jeff Acres holds down the low-end and flutters around exploring new footholds. And newcomer Ruston Grosse injects pep with an excellent feel for Brutality’s rise and fall. It adds up to an experience that’s pleasingly 1993, but doesn’t ignore the hard years in between. Brutality are still hungry. Lack of recognition does that. [From Sea Of Ignorance, out now via Repulsive Echo] –Ian
11. UXO – “Redlegs”
Location: California / Maine
Subgenre: noise rock
UXO qualify for the dreaded “supergroup” tag, but to me, they sound more like the manifestation of a fanboy daydream. The band’s marquee members are dual frontmen Steve Austin of Today Is The Day and Chris Spencer of Unsane, two acts that played starring roles in the influential ’90s noise rock scene. Rumors of a Spencer/Austin collaboration have been floating around for years. (Thus, perhaps, the band name, which is shorthand for “unexploded ordinance.”) While it was always a safe bet that the resultant album would be hard on the ears, it was anyone’s guess how the pair’s extremely distinctive voices, both creative and literal, would mesh. As a big fan of both, it’s something of a relief for me to find that the answer is “extremely well.” UXO’s rhythm section, comprised of Vattnet Viskar bassist Aarne Victorine and Ironboss drummer Patrick Kennedy, lurches and heaves in a manner mostly reminiscent of Unsane, but Austin’s musical personality comes through loud and clear on “Redlegs” in the form of pinched-nerve chordwork and swarming, layered vocals. (Spencer has plenty of his own lead vocal spots, such as previous single “Trauma”.) This kind of project usually feels like a victory lap or an excuse for old friends to pound beers together in the studio, but UXO comes near to matching the intensity of its parent bands. More importantly, it echoes the world-weary melancholy that underpins all of Austin and Spencer’s best works. Life hasn’t been easy on these two, and if this album celebrates anything, it’s that they’re still around to team up. [From UXO, out now via Reptilian Records] –Doug
10. Circle Of Ouroborus – “Maaliskuun Jäät”
Location: Tampere, Finland
Subgenre: folk/black metal
Circle Of Ouroborus have released literally dozens of EPs and albums since 2004, dancing between folk and a quirky black metal along the way. Keeping up can be, frankly, something of a chore. The Finnish duo doesn’t stop, and it isn’t hard for even respectably committed fans to miss a release. “Maaliskuun Jäät” is from a new album, Uskottomien Kirkossa / Tarpeeton, that was quietly released and thankfully caught. Here we see Circle Of Ouroborus navigating, as they often do, a whimsical yet sinister dreamscape where light abounds but shadows creep. Vocals pair a sinister Gollum with an impressionable and melodramatic young Icarus, and a chant bursts above the sub-aquatic guitars to proclaim something — exactly what, we English speakers will never know. The result is gloriously disorienting and disruptive, an instant transport to somewhere other than here. It’s a dream, but a dream you’d want to wake from. [From Uskottomien Kirkossa / Tarpeeton, out now on Final Agony] –Wyatt
9. Altarage – “Womoborous”
Location: Bilbao, Spain
Subgenre: death metal
Altarage’s death metal is the extremity-cubed nuttery that has become label Iron Bonehead’s specialty. Hailing from Bilbao in Basque Country, these anonymous players set their distortion pedals to crush. You could even make a case that NIHL, the band’s debut LP following a 2015 two-song demo, blasts toward a new standard of absurd heaviness. The from-a-turbine timbres and tectonic downpicking will no doubt earn NIHL ‘bestial’ and ‘primal’ and ‘weaponized’ pull-quote badges. But, unlike future-blind bands that are inevitably buried by those same descriptors when the next wave of heavier heavies wash in, Altarage’s potential preservation is aided by other qualities. First off, the production is all-brick-everything loud while still balancing the individual performances. It scrapes off some of the mud without sounding like a compressed mess. NIHL also moves along at a nice clip. “Womborous” lands its haymakers in a comparatively tight 3:50. Even the longer tracks, like the giddily murderous “Drevicet,” don’t stray far from the central concept of riffs plus heft. However, the most important thing Altarage does is banging out actual riffs. An esoteric, free-dissonance experimenter Altarage is not. Instead there are points when they sink into a groove punctuated by feral, buried screams; a High On Fire dragged to Hell, if anything. So when metal thresholds eventually inflate and those rendered obsolete are pruned, there’s a great chance Altarage’s work will hang around. Heavy is an evolving concept. Riffs last. [From NIHIL, out 2/26 via Iron Bonehead] –Ian
8. Latitudes – “Altarpieces” / “Body Within a Body”
Location: London, UK
Old Sunlight: What a perfect title for Latitudes’ wistful, wondrous third LP. Where most metal bands consciously draw from one shade of dark or another, Latitudes turn and face the light. Riffs scatter like refracted starlight, drawing strength and substance from a brighter, more nuanced palette of emotions than you usually find in the heavier genres. I hate to play the “Recommended If You Like” game, but I don’t know a better way to convey enthusiasm for what these guys are doing: picture Vindsval of Blut Aus Nord playing guitar for Pelican and you’re most of the way there. I could pinpoint other details if I really went digging — the band’s bio cites Neurosis and Rush and a slew of others that are probably buried in there, while the sparse vocals hang in the same clean-toned space as recent Alcest albums — but the overall effect is harder to describe. Glistening, crystalline chords splinter into contrails of melodic tremolo riffs; harmonized leads chase each other in tightening circles across long-form, mostly-instrumental song-suites loaded with pockets of space, Mastodon-ian mountains of sludge, occasional synth burbles, and a powerful sense of third-act resolution. “Altarpieces” is the best track on the album, but it’s fully instrumental; start there, and once you’re warmed up to the riffs of glory, try “Body Within A Body” for the full vocal experience. [From Old Sunlight, out now via Debemur Morti] –Aaron
7. Naðra – “Fallið”
Location: Reykjavík, Iceland
Subgenre: black metal
Iceland has, for a few years now, been the buzziest black metal scene — as if what was going on in mainland Scandinavia wasn’t extreme enough, so everyone decided to find a place even more remote and fantastical and frostbitten. But Iceland’s got fire, too. And on the hunk of volcanic rock, black metal bands like Misþyrming and Svartidauði have been fashioning music that rages and boils. (Naðra features members of Misþyrming and Carpe Noctem.) There’s always a bit of a subterranean low end to the stuff, a nod to the eruptions that can and have turned Iceland’s world upside-down throughout history. Of these bands playing with molten rock, Naðra is arguably the best of the bunch. “Fallið” is brutal, primal in its desperation but also regal in its composition and towering in stature. Though “Fallið” explodes out the gate, an extended instrumental section follows, a frazzled and dazed trudge after being blown away. [From Allir vegir til glötunar, out now on Vánagandr / Fallen Empire Records] –Wyatt
6. Ihsahn – “Mass Darkness”
Location: Notodden, Norway
Subgenre: progressive metal
In November, we heard a track called “Winter Bane,” the first single off the self-titled solo debut from former Immortal frontman Abbath. The song was (and is) absolutely fucking awesome — so much so that it wound up claiming the #1 slot in November’s Black Market, and also inspired Doug’s excellent intro essay that month. Immortal were, of course, one of Norway’s seminal black metal bands, alongside Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, Gorgoroth, and a small handful of others. It’s kinda rare for a black metal frontman to go the “eponymous solo project” route, and considering the fact that Abbath is a legitimately great LP, it would have been pretty reasonable to imagine that the erstwhile Immortal singer would enter the new year with a lock on the (thus-far nonexistent) award for “Best 2016 Solo Album By The Ex-Frontman Of An OG Norwegian Black Metal Band.” But at the end of December, the artist known as Ihsahn — who fronted Emperor for that band’s decade-long lifespan — dropped the first single off his own 2016 solo LP (his sixth since 2006), Arktis, and it was immediately, somehow, even better than anything on Abbath. That’s not to take a damn thing away from “Winter Bane” — or the seven songs that surround it on the album from which it’s culled — but the differences between the two songs underscore the totally divergent paths taken by Immortal and Emperor/Ihsahn over the years. Immortal were always the most straightforward, traditionalist band to emerge from Norway’s black metal nascence, and “Winter Bane” feels like another step forward in that particular evolution. Emperor, on the other hand, quickly vaulted into arty progressivism, going ever-further in those outré directions. Ihsahn’s solo albums doubled down on those tendencies, occasionally recalling the jazzy post-rock ambience of latter-day Talk Talk. Unexpectedly, “Mass Darkness” swerves back toward the center, but does so without sacrificing Ihsahn’s signature weirdness. It feels like an avant-garde master’s attempt to wrestle with populist sounds — in this case, NWOBHM-derived melodic death metal and arena-style symphonic black metal. Ihsahn works comfortably within those genres, but never allows their conventions to guide his hand. The progressions here feel absolutely fresh, almost bizarre at points. And you can marvel at his choices while still being absolutely rocked by those riffs, those leads, those melodies, that goddamn chorus. It’s just a great piece of music, and it suggests Abbath has some competition for the crown. Of course, there’s no actual crown, and therefore, no actual competition: just two legends releasing two magnificent albums within two months of one another. It’s only January, and already 2016 is sounding pretty freaking great. [From Arktis, out 3/4 via Candlelight] –Michael
5. Krallice – “Assuming Memory”
Location: Queens, NY
Subgenre: progressive black metal
Krallice recorded Hyperion in July 2013. The fact this band can wait two-and-a-half years to release stuff and that stuff still sounds fresh says a lot. Not only has Krallice’s growing gravitational pull shaped the influences of up-and-comers, they’re still a few strides ahead of today’s field … two-and-a-half years ago. It has been a remarkable run, one that probably won’t be fully appreciated until there’s an endpoint. But why wait? While not as brain-melting as last year’s all-in Ygg huur, Hyperion is still a hell of a thing. Swirling yet interlaced guitars, affecting screams, labyrinthine structures, and rhythms all the way down. Like the rest of their work, Hyperion demands attention. However, devoted attention is not a necessity. This could be a passive study buddy or a steady driving companion. “Assuming Memory”‘s tip of the glacier is interesting enough, the timbres engaging enough, that a deep dig isn’t the only path to enjoyment. Of course, breaking out the microscope enriches the experience. Mick Barr, Colin Marston, Nick McMaster, and Lev Weinstein are so tight at this point you can’t help but uncover hidden elements during each play. At this point, they’re layering albums’ worth of ideas into single tracks. At this point? Sorry, two-and-a-half years ago. Imagine where they are now. [From Hyperion, out now, self-released] –Ian
4. Death Fortress – “Scourge Of Aeons”
Subgenre: black metal
Location: New Jersey
Some of the best black metal is incredibly pompous — arrogant even. It’s full of swaggering menace. Look no further than Abbath for its physical embodiment, Emperor for its namesake. Death Fortress (that name! Lyrical themes including “Power, Domination”!) are nailing the evil-overlord vibe better than anyone right now, mercilessly ruling the realms and unleashing a maelstrom of malevolence upon the masses from their castle stronghold in … New Jersey. “Scourge Of Aeons” storms forth with a militaristic vibe, guitars buzzing all over the place like a crazed horde armed with chainsaws, backed by relentless precision drumming. It wasn’t long ago that Death Fortress were releasing lo-fi tapes, and as furious and fantastic as they were, the hiss hid some of the intricacy that now explodes from every nook and cranny. The result is ravenous, a sonic curse that won’t stop until it covers every inch of the land. [From Deathless March of the Undying, out 3/31 on Fallen Empire Records] –Wyatt
3. Ehnahre – “March Of The Suns”
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Subgenre: experimental metal
Here’s how far afield metal’s gone from its origins: Ehnahre are one of many metal-derived acts that draw heavily on modern classical, jazz, and noise music for inspiration. (Consider the likes of Ulver, Jute Gyte, Portal, and Kayo Dot for other examples.) But over the course of their four-album career, Ehnahre have delved deeper into contemporary music’s outré fringes than pretty much any band aligned with the metal scene. Their new effort Douve reaches so far and so frequently into these bleak, atonal realms that it’s not really accurate to describe it as a metal record per se; Ehnahre have essentially become a holistic experimental band that uses a lot of metal techniques. But regardless of framing, this is an fantastic album — unutterably dark, thoroughly unpredictable, and unique in its lawless exploration of weird sounds both ugly and beautiful. Pianist Jared Redmond, a new addition to the band, does particularly great work in elevating Douve’s frequent and excruciatingly tense quiet passages. This album is very much a continuous piece, which means that excerpting a single representative song is a fool’s errand. The one we’ve got here, “March Of The Suns,” comes closest to capturing Ehnahre’s dexterity in manipulating their array of frightening sounds, but it — and every other song on this 81-minute monster — is just one piece of the puzzle. (The whole thing’s on Bandcamp, fortunately.) Recommended for those who like to be transported by music, but beware: you may never find your way back. [From Douve, out now via Kathexis] –Doug
2. Lycus – “Solar Chamber”
Location: Oakland, CA
Subgenre: funeral doom
In 2013, the Oakland-based funeral-doom quartet Lycus released their debut LP, Tempest, which landed high on our list of that year’s best metal albums. The band’s sophomore effort, Chasms, surpasses its predecessor on every level. Funeral doom is traditionally glacially slow music, almost entirely still at points, but Lycus work in a range of dynamics that defy conventions, and maybe even transcend the genre entirely. Chasms has many superficial signatures of funeral doom — it’s a four-song LP, and its shortest track comes in at 7:27 — but when you listen to the thing, you hear such a variety of textures and tempos that you could easily mistake it for something else entirely. Cascadian black metal? Bathory-derived viking metal? Goth? I hear all that and way more. And that’s a good thing! Lycus are a relatively new band, and they’re fucking with the old formula enough to make this music feel new, too. Still, the best elements of funeral doom — the genre’s towering, mournful bombast; its elegance; its despair — are front-and-center here. And that’s a good thing, too: When this music is done right, it’s an immersive, overwhelming experience. Lycus aren’t just doing it right; they’re doing it better than just about everyone else right now. [From Chasms, out now via Relapse] –Michael
1. Oranssi Pazuzu – “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous”
Location: Tampere/Seinäjoki, Finland
Subgenre: psychedelic black metal
There’s something inherently druggy and dreamlike about black metal, with its emphasis on repetitive structures and broad obsession with all things supernatural and ineffable. No band is pushing that aspect of the genre harder these days than Oranssi Pazuzu, who seem poised to reach a broader audience with their upcoming fourth LP Värähtelijä. “Broader” is relative, of course; this is extremely weird music, a super-stylized supposition of what might’ve happened if black metal’s prime movers had piles of analog synths and Hawkwind records lying around in their rehearsal spaces next to their Charvel axes and Slayer vinyl. The results often exude a comic-book sense of campy villainy, as evidenced by the spiking string patches that dot “Hypnotisoitu Viharukous.” Though it’s probably incidental, this theatrical and somewhat silly aspect of Oranssi Pazuzu’s music shares something with popular but much-derided “symphonic” bands like Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth. But where those acts reach near-Broadway levels of melodrama, this band’s considerably less florid approach tinges the wackiness with real menace. Oranssi Pazuzu’s rhythm section hums and burbles almost entirely in measured, virtually danceable rock rhythms, with lots of wobbling bass vamps and no blasting or double bass to speak of. This restrained approach leaves plenty of room for the band’s complement of guitars and keyboards to expand into vast hum-of-the-universe sheets of sound, lurk balefully in the distance, or take dissonant left turns into stark lunacy. This particular set of effects is more or less unique to Oranssi Pazuzu, and they’re smart enough songwriters to use it in a broad variety of ways on this fascinating and surprisingly approachable album. Here’s hoping this band lands on a well-designed US tour soon; I can only imagine how crazy this shit would sound live. [From Värähtelijä, out 2/26 via Svart Records] –Doug