The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2016

If you look up “dog days of summer,” you might be surprised to find that it has a technical definition. It’s the period of the summer during which the star Sirius rises around the same time that the sun does, which roughly corresponds with the month of July and the first third of August. I was familiar only with the more colloquial meaning of the term, which is: the time of year when most people stop working and fuck off to the beach because it’s too hot to think. This atmospherically mandated relaxation period is typically a great time for listening to metal — few sounds pair with muggy evenings, open windows, grilling foodstuffs, and general benign laziness the way classic styled metal like Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden does. This is a documented fact.

But this year…eh, not so much, at least for me. Humanity is dealing with a lot of scary shit right now; the humid haze that has descended on America’s east coast whiffs of something substantially more sinister than hot dogs and sunscreen. The prevailing mood both domestically and abroad is one of overwhelming tension and internecine political strife. The only consensus point that most here in the States can agree on is that things appear to be going off the rails. It’s hard to get down with the annual sun’n’suds party vibes associated with this time of year under the circumstances, and the same applies for the party-hardy metal sounds that fit them so well. In fact, committing yourself to making, listening to, or writing about music in general feels a little frivolous at this unusually fraught moment.

But weird times call for weird art, and the further-flung reaches of the metal world can provide. This connection may sound a little tenuous, and understandably so. One of the most common criticisms you see people leveling at metal, and especially extreme subgenres like death metal and black metal, is that it’s silly – absurdly theatrical and melodramatic, in fact, which is more or less true. People screaming over crazy jacked-up guitar music is basically hyperbolic and hamfisted by definition, and the subject matter that populates much of the genre certainly does not bespeak seriousness about the important issues of the day. It should also go without saying that the vocal stylings endemic to the genres we cover in this column are not great for conveying sociopolitical messages with anything approaching clarity.

But in spite of these truths, I still think the crazy styles of metal we mostly focus on here have something important to offer right now. At its best, extreme metal wrestles thematically with overwhelming and painful emotions – terror, loathing, despair, lust, vengefulness. In doing so, it can serve a dual purpose for its listeners. First, it can help them learn to deal with these emotions themselves merely by documenting their existence. Such feelings are taboo, and not without reason; they’re dangerous things to spend too much time with, and I’ve frequently worried that listening to tons of metal constitutes wallowing in them. A sizable proportion of metal fans and musicians certainly use it for this purpose, as demonstrated by the genre’s sadly persistent population of bigots and bullies. But in my experience, the vast majority of people who get into extreme metal interpret its bleak preoccupations in a more productive fashion. They know that these dire moods are also unavoidable parts of the human experience, and underground metal provides them with a rare opportunity to drag these emotions into the light. This process can make them less mysterious, less frightening, and ultimately less alluring.

And extreme metal’s emphasis on darkness can also provide some much-welcome catharsis. I don’t usually feel super comfortable making generalizations about other people’s political opinions, but it seems safe to say that a great diversity of people in the world today who feel like their heads are going to explode every time they read the news. If nothing else at all, metal understands that unpleasant sensation, and can provide a safety valve for it, converting it by sheer musical force into something enjoyable and productive. I don’t want to oversell this attribute, because no art – especially no art as prima facie ridiculous as metal – can solve the problems that create such stress. But I do truly believe that metal is uniquely equipped to help cope with them and continue to go about your day without suffering a mental breakdown, and that ain’t nothin’. And while I don’t presume to speak for the other guys who write this column (that’s Ian Chainey, Wyatt Marshall, Aaron Lariviere, and Michael Nelson), I’d be willing to bet that they feel the same way. –Doug Moore

15. Vukari – “Cursus Honorum”

Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: post/atmospheric black metal

Vukari landed on The Black Market two years ago to the day with the track “Riddled With Fear And Doubt,” a gorgeous hook-filled song despite its name. Since then, things have gotten a bit gloomier in camp Vukari. The post-hardcore edge that made for some imminently head-bangable riffed-out bridges in the past has been replaced with a palette drawn more directly from the black metal spectrum. Everything sounds a bit more subterranean; grooves have been traded for all-out blasts in many instances, and a deeper, harsher vocal delivery showcases a wider variety of grit. None of that’s to say the beauty has been zapped from Vukari’s sound — you couldn’t do that if you tried. On “Cursus Honorum” a highlight from their latest excellent album Divination, you’ll hear the hammer hit from the get-go, but the song bleeds jangly minor chord beauty. And when the instrumental bridge begins to build it goes to a different level, merging together lush nocturnal awe and something more sinister and tortured. [From Divination, out now on Bindrune Recordings]Wyatt Marshall

14. Profanatica – “Ordained In Bile”

Location: New Paltz, NY
Subgenre: black/death metal

As a general rule (with a few notable exceptions), the bass guitar gets short shrift in metal, especially on the more extreme end of the spectrum. Legendary examples abound: a lot of second wave black metal took pride in thin, de-bassed tones. Even where the bass is mixed adequately, so many bassists are relegated to rigid root note repetition it’s a shock they don’t die of boredom (hey there, Tom Araya). And the crowning example, perhaps the greatest injustice against the bass: the hopelessly thin, plastic, clicky, harsh production on And Justice For All, where the surviving members of Metallica unloaded their post-traumatic frustration after the death of original bassist Cliff Burton by hazing his replacement, intentionally mixing Jason Newsted’s bass so low as to be inaudible, wasting his time as a player and ours as listeners. I’m exaggerating – AJFA still rules. But it pains me to think how much better it could have been with some throbbing muscle animating that skeletal kick drum. All this is a long way of saying metal has a history of bass-related injustice to atone for; with Lemmy gone, Steve Harris needs all the help he can get. The newest record from long-running, rough-shod black/death pioneers Profanatica, The Curling Flame of Blasphemy offers retribution through punishment, mixing aggressively distorted bass at appropriately blasphemous levels and pairing it with what sounds like a brutally booming floor tom, and the results are horrible, and by extension, wonderful. This isn’t the fat, pillowy bloom of reggae bass; rather, it’s twisted through distortion, mixed loud, played hard. Opening track “Ordained In Bile” sets the tone for the blasphemies to come, with simplistic Incantation-style guitars over a pounding backbeat (singing drummer Paul Ledney was actually a founding member of Incantation back in, like, 1990). But it’s the third song, “Magic And Muhr” where the bass is laid bare, a hideous, cellar-dwelling rumble that hits all the right notes. [From The Curling Flame Of Blasphemy, out now via Hells Headbangers]Aaron Lariviere

13. Monoliths – “The Omnipresence Of Emptiness”

Location: Nottingham, UK
Subgenre: sludge/doom

Monoliths brings together the immense slow and low talents of Tanya Byrne (Bismuth, Megalodoom, Nadir), Henry Davis (Moloch, Nadir), and David Tobin (Ommadon, ex-Snowblood). Instead of Bismuth’s dynamic range, Moloch’s corrosiveness, or Ommadon’s longform minimalistic loudness, Monoliths is just a plain ol’ bludgeoning. Almost obsessively so. The flipside of the trio’s two-song self-titled full-length debut, “The Omnipresence Of Emptiness,” pretty much rides two riffs for its near-17-minute duration. But these are some riffs; deep and heavy, targeting a sludgy sweet spot. The first thing you notice is the distortion. Excess materials fly off Tobin’s guitar tone like the detritus in one of those slow motions shots of a rocket launch. His timbre isn’t the only point of interest, though: Byrne’s bass is this wall’s reinforcement, Davis’s crashing, thumping drums the mix’s glue. And granted, 17 minutes of this sort of immensity could grow tiring for even the doomiest doomer hermetically sealed in a thick cloud of sativa. So, in the grand tradition of Dopesmoker, Monoliths is all about the tiny variations that keep things moving. Tobin and Byrne add all sort of pick-scrapping flourishes and acidic leads while Davis focuses on keeping steady time without being overly repetitious. Think Buried At Sea at their sonic crushing best. Or, hey, think nothing at all and let the ecstasy of diminished hearing wash over you, wave after tympanic terrorizing wave. Once Byrne unleashes her deep growl, you’re either ready for 10 more minutes or you’re consoling your speakers. [From Monoliths, out now via Dry Cough Records]Ian Chainey

12. Fange – “Cour Martiale”

Location: Rennes, France
Subgenre: death/sludge metal

Fange hail from Rennes, France, but their vision of metal relies on touchstones from elsewhere. Their lurching rhythm section recalls thoroughly American sludge bands like Eyehategod, but you could just as easily trace their lineage to Stockholm, Sweden. Guitarist Benjamin Moreau’s got a penchant for staccato riffing and the famed HM-2 distortion pedal, which produces the unique mid-rangey ‘chainsaw’ effect popularized by Stockholm death metal acts (Grave, Entombed) and borrowed lately by US metalcore and grind bands (Trap Them, Nails, half of the bands Kurt Ballou has recorded in the past decade). This heaving landscape offers lots of uniquely ugly vistas; a miasma of eerie electronic noise and unearthly screeches swirls around its jagged peaks. Fange conveniently summarize all of these features themselves on their Facebook: “Entombed jamming with Merzbow & Noothgrush.” The final effect is that of European death metal as experienced in a child’s nightmare: slowed-down and surreal, but inexorable in its movements and blown up to mind-bogglingly huge proportions. I’m reminded a bit of the interrelated (and feuding) Chicago metal bands Lord Mantis and Indian, who also mix sludge with more extreme forms of metal and electronics to create something uncanny. Where those bands reach for black metal, Fange goes to the death metal well, yielding results that hit even harder with no loss in resonance. [From Purge, out now via Throatruiner (Europe) and Deathwish Inc. (USA)]Doug Moore

11. MAKE – “Somnambulist”

Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Subgenre: post-doom metal

About this time last year, North Carolina’s MAKE released their sophomore record, The Golden Veil. That album, which mixed pensive desert vibes with moments of pure caustic rage, introduced the band’s version of psychedelic doom and post-metal to a wider audience — we featured one of its best songs, “The Absurdist” here on The Black Market. Almost a year to the day of The Golden Veil’s release, we had the pleasure of streaming their follow-up, Pilgrimage Of Loathing. Everything that made The Golden Veil great is now both amplified and refined, and MAKE is angrier—and better—than ever. If contemplative instrumental building largely defined The Golden Veil, unbridled fury takes hold on Pilgrimage Of Loathing, and no song better encapsulates the new MAKE than “Somnambulist.” The song towers, lurching with gigantic swells that shift the earth beneath haunting clear guitar leads and corrosive vocals. Uncontrollable anger aside, there are also moments of zen-inducing beauty, when chants lull or picked guitars delicately intertwine. But the horrid repeated screams of “You were wrong” that usher the song out turn things back the other way, the doomed shouts reverberating with the realization of some terrible, fatal decision. [From Pilgrimage Of Loathing, out now on Accident Prone Records]Wyatt Marshall

10. Disfigurement Of Flesh – “Deity Of Hideous Fertility”

Location: Chelyabinsk, Russia
Subgenre: brutal death metal

Slams have graced the Black Market before, but they’re usually stuffed into a genre more generally palatable to, uh, people. Welp, Russia’s Disfigurement Of Flesh is the straight dope. These slams aren’t stepped on, so you’ll know quickly if the brutal death borkanalian life is for you. That said, this trio (plus, surely, an anonymous studio drummer) does this stuff far more efficiently than a lot of others. Deity Of Hideous Fertility is their fourth full-length since 2010, and, if the album-title-sharing first stream is any indication, they’ve figured out what matters while chucking the rest; some sort of Kondo composition-clearing for folks who like big, techy, and propulsive riffs. But brutality enthusiasts needn’t worry: “Fertility” has the all of the requisite components like leaden strides, pinch harmonics, and blasts. The trick is that Flesh clears these bars with a minimal amount BDM throat clearing. Instead, they figure out segues as the tails of sections instead of tacking on unnecessary bridges. That makes “Fertility” a far breezier listen than you’d imagine since you’re not left wallowing in aimless murk while the the drivers figure out where to go. That said, let’s be real: this is all about the riffs and the borks. Guitarist Constantine Chevardin and bassist Rustam Minuraziev’s delectable grooves are addictive. Same goes for Kirill Nazarov’s belched brees, a fine rhythmic accompaniment that diversifies Flesh’s portfolio of headbangable sections. All in all, this is as good and easy as BDM is going to get, so consider “Fertility” your slamciple audition. Did you pass? Are you now attaching a simple “SLAMS” to explain every YouTube embed to your friends? SLAMS. [From Deity Of Hideous Fertility, out 10/7 via Amputated Vein]Ian Chainey

9. Mizmor – “Woe Regains My Substance”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: black/doom metal

The term-of-art “Cascadian Black Metal” was coined to describe/encompass/galvanize a style of black metal that began taking shape in the mid-2000s and hailed primarily from the continental region sometimes called “Cascadia,” aka the Pacific Northwest between Northern California and British Columbia. I’ve seen it written that the genre was birthed by a band from Olympia, Washington called Threnos — whose entire discography consists of a single demo released in 2004 — but I maintain its primogenitor was San Francisco’s Weakling — whose entire discography consists of a single LP released in 2000. Initially, the “Cascadian” modifier made sense, because Pacific Northwestern bands like Wolves In The Throne Room and Agalloch sounded a little bit like one another, and didn’t sound much like anything else. But over time, it grew to encompass bands like Krallice (from Brooklyn) and Panopticon (from Kentucky) and Altar Of Plagues (from Ireland), and it came to describe a sound more so than a scene. But the Cascades are still home to many of the best bands exploring the possibilities of this sound, and one of them is Portland, Oregon’s Mizmor (technically מזמור, but it’s a bitch to Google that, so it’s been Romanized). Mizmor is the solo project from A.L.N., who also plays in Hell and Urzeit, and his forthcoming sophomore LP, Yodh, integrates the Cascadian-sounding stuff with base elements of funeral doom — and while those genres don’t have a lot in common, the one place they overlap is in marathon song length. But Mizmor makes good use of these songs’ double-digit running times, finding unexpected twists and tempo shifts that take the songs both deeper and higher. “Woe Regains My Substance” is a perfect example; it goes hard, it goes quiet, and when it hits the crazy anthemic-prog riff-climax just before the 10:30 mark … well, then it just goes nuts. [From Yodh, out 8/12 via Gilead Media]Michael Nelson

8. Summit – “Hymn Of The Forlorn Wayfarer”

Location: Italy
Subgenre: post-metal

Gabriele Gramaglia, Summit’s solo maestro, fuses the many-rhythms complexity of the Vindsval-influenced with the Justin Broadrick-indebted atmospheric post-metal that has forever tethered together words like “crushing” and “meditative” in the modern metal lexicon. Better still, by grouping these styles, Gramaglia hides tropes behind strengths. Monotony and the stagnation of samey atmospherics, the bane of sludgy post-metal, is banished by the forward momentum inherent in prog and esoteric black metal. Likewise, solid, recognizable grooves make sure wanky pretentiousness is reigned in. It’s a great balancing act, and one especially impressive considering the composer is in his early 20s; old enough to be well-versed in this material, but young enough not to be beholden to longstanding problems. Summit’s full-length debut, The Winds That Forestall Thy Return, like efforts released under Gramaglia’s other solo project The Clearing Path, is best taken in as a whole, though “Pale Moonlight Shadow” is a fine way to get your feet wet, and not just because this is the one with the vocals. Yep, Nicholas McMaster, he of Krallice, Geryon, bands upon bands, has a guest spot that’s all sort of muscle and flame emojis, but “Shadow” also shows off Summit’s deep reservoir of 21st century metal know-how. [From The Winds That Forestall Thy Return, out now via I, Voidhanger]Ian Chainey

7. Thy Catafalque – “Mezolit”

Location: Edinburgh, UK
Subgenre: progressive metal

Last October, we premiered the then-new LP from Hungary’s Thy Catafalque, Sgùrr, and Wyatt did this great writeup of the thing, which included this: “Sgùrr can sometimes sound like 2015’s Mortal Kombat soundtrack. Other times, Thy Catafalque sound like one of the best progressive blackened doom bands in existence. There are passages that seem to borrow from some sort of folk-ish techno paired back-to-back with gritty, pummeling black metal and monumental doom-inspired riffs.” And, like, how could you not want to hear that? How could you not love it? Thy Catafalque are back this year; the one-man band will release an album called Meta in September, and its lead single, “Mezolit,” somehow combines all the Sgùrr sounds highlighted by Wyatt into one song. It ushers you in with this gorgeous doom riff, builds to incorporate haunted-choral vocals and twisting-like-vines leads, and then just blasts off into something else: goth-y clean singing spills over a wall of Smashing Pumpkins-style guitars. It seems impossible to fit all this into six and a half minutes, but even weirder, the song feels like it’s over in two. I’m gonna borrow another line from Wyatt here: “It’s unlike anything you’ll hear this year, skirting around tangents of heavy metal with the kinetic energy of an electron.” Again, he was talking about an album that came out in 2015, but everything he said there still applies here, maybe even more so now. [From Meta, out 9/16 via Season Of Mist]Michael Nelson

6. ColdWorld – “Autumn Shades”

Location: Erfurt, Germany
Subgenre: ambient black metal

Germany’s ColdWorld released a precious few recordings of depressive black metal in the aughts, publishing an EP, demo and a classic full-length’s worth of bleak lo-fi black metal over a three-year period. But that was it. The project went silent, dead, fitting for a band so focused on the end but hardly what anyone wanted. Yet ColdWorld has risen, and in the intervening eight years since its last release, main man Georg has seen a bit of light — there’s a tinge of hope where in the past only despair and a preoccupation with death presided. “Autumn Shades” is a sad song, to be sure, but sonically it’s nearly half a world away from ColdWorld’s only full album, Melancholie². Big sincere melodies swell up front, Georg’s croon is pained and tender (elsewhere on Autumn he rasps maniacally), and the blasts have mellowed, replaced by drums that drive at a more reasonable, reflective speed. It’s a different type of melancholy, one more readily recognizable by those who don’t search out black metal late at night in web forums or on YouTube or Bandcamp. And it’s breathtakingly gorgeous, at its peak on the sublime “Autumn Shades.” [From Autumn, out now on Cold Dimensions]Wyatt Marshall

5. Subterranean Disposition – “Embittered”

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Subgenre: death/doom

For a couple minutes, “Embittered,” the highlight from Subterranean Disposition’s Contagiuum And The Landscapes Of Failure, sounds like it’s going to be another, albeit more texturally intriguing, death/doom song. Then, it drops into a spiky section reminiscent of Starkweather or Today Is The Day before introducing a wonderful, and wonderfully contrasting, guest spot by Gelareh Pour. Hello, left field! Masterminded by Australian Terry Vainoras, Subterranean Disposition’s second album contains many moments that showcase not only Vainoras’s unique vision, but his skills at managing a project. Of course, that latter distinction isn’t the sexiest thing to read. But, whatever, tapping Dan Nahum to handle drums definitely paid dividends thanks to Nahum’s feel for both his instrument and Vainoras’s compositions. Rarely does a session gig sound so synergistic with what the composer is trying to accomplish. And then there is Pour, whose kemanchech, qeychak alto, and vocal contributions take “Embittered” over the top and into the realm of the avant-garde. That Vainoras is so willing to cede the spotlight to other musicians is rare for someone helming a solo project. However, though his awareness is career-lengthening, ultimately his creativity is what keeps you listening for the full 10 minutes. Upon leaving Pour’s sort of spectral section, “Embittered”‘s return to metal sounds so much richer because you now have markers measuring the distance between apocalyptic extremes. Anything could happen inside these poles, making the callbacks and surprises that much more powerful. That’s not an everyday death/doom thing. We missed “Embittered” last month, so we had to get it in this month. [From Contagiuum And The Landscapes Of Failure, out now via Hypnotic Dirge Records]Ian Chainey

4. High Spirits – “Reach For The Glory”

Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: High Energy Rock!!!

Despite the diversity of its subgenres with their myriad tones and rhythms, heavy metal as a broad category (funeral doom excluded) gets the juices flowing unlike any other kind of music. While Doug might turn to Suffocation for the br00tz when he’s crunching his bis at the gym, someone else might go to the blood churning anthems of Forteresse or some totally wild key shredding with Stratovarius. But when it comes to pure adrenaline and good times, nothing coming out these days tops High Spirits. “Reach For The Glory” is a continuous succession of “hell yeah!” moments, offering a sort of heavy metal good clean fun that, for many, will likely recall the feelings that stoked passions for the genre in the first place. It’s all there, in all its ’80s glory — badass power chord righteousness, the epic group chorus, the perfect drop in lead-guitar solos, timeless themes of overcoming challenges in pursuit of immortal glory — music for late nights and feeling alive. That’s what we’re talking about here — I mean, just look at that fucking album art. On their Facebook page, High Spirits calls their style “100% HIGH ENERGY ROCK Music!!!” and they recently announced their upcoming MotivaTour (!!) with the following message: “First leg of the MotivaTour kicks off right after the album release! Read below if you’re curious who else is playing! This is gonna be a BLAST!” The enthusiasm is infectious, and there’s nothing I’d rather listen to soaring into the sunset on a big ol’ 737. [From Motivator, out 9/16 via High Roller Records]Wyatt Marshall

3. Dysrhythmia – “Internal/Eternal”

Location: Queens, NY
Subgenre: progressive instru-metal

New York’s Dysrhythmia sit at the intersection of some important threads in the metal world. The most obvious set involves the band’s personnel. This is the chief songwriting outlet for guitarist Kevin Hufnagel, in collaboration with virtuoso drummer Jeff Eber; the band added bassist Colin Marston to the fold in 2004. Hufnagel and Marston are two of contemporary metal’s finest and most prolific creative voices, and their work together in Dysrhythmia led directly to their current lofty stations as half of progressive death metal overlords Gorguts. These guys seem to release something noteworthy every other month, and 2016 has been no exception. A new Dysrhythmia album on top of this embarrassment of riches might feel gratuitous if Dysrhythmia weren’t just as essential as the rest of these projects. Which brings us to another point of significance for Dysrhythmia: They’re basically ground zero for a lot of the instrumental progressive metal that’s appeared since the turn of the millennium, and they’re still the best at it. The youthful energy their music exudes makes it easy to forget how long they’ve been around for, but Hufnagel and Eber have been at it for almost two decades. That kind of longevity breeds craftsmanship, and Dysrhythmia are true masters of their form. “Internal/Eternal,” the upcoming The Veil Of Control’s first single, makes a good pocket pitch for the band’s considerable overall charms. Driven by a relentlessly looping bass motif that Philip Glass might’ve written after misreading the label on a bottle of iced coffee concentrate, the song offers all of the fiddly technical delights you’d expect from this group of musicians. But the “music” bit comes way before “technical” or even “metal” in terms of relevance here. Hufnagel’s most identifiable trait as a player isn’t chops or intensity, but a uniquely wistful harmonic sensibility that endures no matter how dense the shred gets. That lovely feature of his playing is on full display here, even when his rhythm section drives the pulse up a froth at the tune’s conclusion. [From The Veil Of Control, out 9/23 via Profound Lore]Doug Moore

2. Dark Forest – “The Undying Flame”

Location: Dudley, UK
Subgenre: heavy metal

There probably are finer ways to slice this song from the forthcoming Beyond The Veil, Dark Forest’s fourth full-length: NWOBHM, trad, power metal, etc. But, as lead guitarist Christian Horton said to Ave Noctum, this English quintet’s style is “… just Heavy Metal.” And, really, that’s all you need to scry “The Undying Flame”‘s pleasures. Leads and harmonies are revved up to maximum anthem levels. Belter Josh Winnard sings like his heart will stop if he doesn’t. There’s an irresistible loping, galloping rhythm. Heavy metal. Simple as that. Don’t let anyone write it otherwise. And, as you’d expect, “Flame” is packed full of classic elements. While the chorus that modulates to yearning melancholy is bullet point number one, Winnard’s voice with its tip-of-the-tongue quality and Horton and fellow guitarist Patrick Jenkins’s nailed-it shred skills are also ample proof that “Flame” can hit the needed marks. But, jeeze, does Dark Forest ever work its ass off to go beyond that and be interesting. Check out the way “Flame” dynamically dips and dives, a busy compositional needle stitching a few different feels into a whole. Plus, bassist Paul Thompson and drummer Adam Sidaway inject personality into their performances, shaking off the expected, watered down plod that’s usually the rhythmic downside of sons of sons of sons of heavy metal. In fact, all members add personality, really, making Dark Forest into its own thing instead of yet another thing. It’s the work of five new minds instead of a ghost one from the past. Of course, it rips, too. As heavy metal should. [From Beyond The Veil, out 8/26 via Cruz Del Sur]Ian Chainey

1. Russian Circles – “Mota”

Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: post-metal

“Instrumental metal” is a little bit of an oxymoron. Metallica have one instrumental track on each of their first four LPs, and those tracks are fucking classic and fit perfectly into those albums, but play them back-to-back and they sort of feel aimless, unmoored. Metal is based on evolution, but there’s no clear lineage for the “instrumental” subgenre. John Zorn’s Painkiller? Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien? Buckethead? Yngwie Malmsteen? So it’s kinda striking that, today, there are a lot of bands that might be categorized as “instrumental metal.” The best of the bunch include Earthless, Pelican, and Dysrhythmia, but the very best of them all is Russian Circles, whose upcoming Guidance achieves the one crucial thing achieved by so few of the band’s peers: The music doesn’t sound like a derivation of post-rock or psychedelia or free jazz or ambient; it sounds like metal. It’s really tough to make that work when you don’t have vocals driving the music, but every instrument here manages to stand in for vocals at some point or another. It doesn’t feel like vocals are missing; it just feels like they’ve been delivered with a tool other than the human voice. That’s not to say Russian Circles don’t heavily draw from non-metal genres — you’d have to be deaf not to hear the post-rock in this one — but they don’t start there, and more importantly, they don’t end there. Guidance single “Mota” blasts and whirrs with fury and bursts to razor-edged climaxes, but for me, the song is exemplified by one tiny moment that occurs right after the 5:10 mark: By that point, the whole thing is just blazing when all of a sudden you hear this ghostly wail coming up in the mix — every time I hear it, I brace myself for a deep guttural roar — but it’s a guitar, and as soon as you realize it’s a guitar, the song shifts gears and crushes you with a stomp worthy of Nails or Black Breath or any of those Kurt Ballou-produced Entombed-style tough-guy hardcore bands. That’s not a coincidence: Guidance was produced by Ballou, too, and I’m not sure his ear has ever been put to better use. I am sure, though, that 2016 hasn’t given us too many albums that sound as good as this. [From Guidance, out 8/5 via Sargent House]Michael Nelson

Oh, and one more thing…

Seputus – “Two Great Pale Zeroes”
Location: Ambler, PA
Subgenre: death metal

Seputus features Doug Moore, that Doug Moore — our Doug Moore — on vocals and lyrics. Understandably, he’s way too ethical for Man Does Not Give, Seputus’ debut, to get anywhere near the list. Good for him. I, however, am only (barely) passable at one thing, and that’s passing along good music. So, here’s “Two Great Pale Zeroes.” Though it now has the appearances of a Pyrrhon side-project, as Doug, bassist Erik Malave, and guitarist/programmer/drummer Stephen Schwegler are all current members of the NYC noisemakers, Seputus’ origins date back to 2005. Output: Unreleased tracks, dreams; that kind of stuff. After a few years of inactivity, Schwegler began composing and recording again during his military service. Now, a decade and change after Moore and Schwegler were banging out embryonic scorchers, we have a full album. Surprise: it’s dark, dissonant, pleasingly punishing stuff, with “Zeroes” in particular being a great litmus test for how you’ll handle the rest of the record. After a slithering, squelchy, slim-living opening, the trio brakes hard into a lurch containing rhythms that are equally bewildering and catchy. “Zeroes” then evolves into a steady blast before ending with a groove that’s worth lingering on. It’s there that Doug destroys his voice in service of a riff that sounds like the aural equivalent of coming to terms with existence’s hopelessness. It’s pretty in its own twisted, discordant way, not unlike Caroline Harrison’s cover art. The riff soon fades into a Drumm-y drone that, to me, evokes nostalgia. But not, like, cheap reboot-everything, makes-the-earnest-wince nostalgia. It’s more like an honest nostalgia, one that bubbles up when examining what makes you you. Man Does Not Give is a lifetime of listening to ‘90s death metal, ear-piercing metallic hardcore of a certain ilk, Jouhouian grind, Today Is The Day, and what early Willowtip did to kickstart the tinnitus of a new crop of metalheads. But it’s also the good and bad times in between the listening; all of the tough life stuff that Doug delivers with such conviction and Schwegler dredges up with his riffs and melodic sense. That little moment – and there are tons like it throughout Man — gives this terrifying stuff the humanity that ropes you in. Because it’s you, too. [From Man Does Not Give, out 9/30 via PRC Music]Ian Chainey