If you need a good barometer for the current national mood in the United States, look no further than the Washington Post. Last Wednesday, the Post added a new motto to its masthead, right beneath the familiar gothic font of the paper’s name: “DEMOCRACY DIES IN DARKNESS.”
This is an unusually dark and dramatic sentiment for a prestige paper to put on its web banner. As many observers noted, “DEMOCRACY DIES IN DARKNESS” is also a pretty metal phrase, especially in such a staid context. Slate took this notion and ran with it in a jokey listicle that replaced the new WaPo slogan with the titles of various classic metal albums. (I contest Will Oremus’ assertion that Slipknot’s All Hope Is Gone is a classic metal album, but at least he got The Erosion Of Sanity in there.) The Post changing its banner is obviously pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it highlights a noteworthy phenomenon: At this particular moment, the political conversation mimics the over-the-top grimness of metal imagery to an uncomfortable degree.
This situation has implications for how metal bands operate in the real world. Consider, for example, the last-minute cancellation of a 2/18 performance by the Swedish black metal band Marduk in Oakland, CA, at the request of the municipal police department. Black metal may be a confrontational genre, but this kind of cancellation is nearly unheard of in the States, and it may be an early sign of a sea change in the way the public views a certain type of metal band.
Some background is in order to understand this incident’s significance. Having formed in 1990, Marduk are one of the Scandinavian black metal scene’s longer-running and more commercially visible bands — they’ve been a package tour mainstay for much of their existence. True to convention, the bulk of Marduk’s music is about Satan, metal’s chosen bogeyman since the very beginning. But starting about a decade into their career, Marduk added a second monster to the rotation: Nazis. Marduk’s minor-classic 1999 album Panzer Division Marduk dolls up the standard Satanism of the band’s prior work with a bunch of Third Reich buzzwords, though Jesus remains the primary target of its lyrical ire. (For the record, Panzer Division Marduk was one of the first proper black metal albums I ever owned, and I still love it.) Marduk have returned repeatedly to this well of imagery since, culminating in the release of 2014’s Frontschwein, which more directly poeticizes the Wehrmacht’s exploits during World War II. Frontschwein’s lyrics don’t precisely celebrate their subject matter, but they’re hardly critical of it, either.
Naturally, Marduk’s decision to aestheticize Nazism for fun and profit has periodically caused minor controversies throughout their career. They were banned from performing in Belarus a few years ago on the grounds that their music is “not art,” for instance, though it’s unclear to me whether the Nazi stuff was the operating factor. On the balance, though, they’ve been able to release widely distributed records and tour conventional venues around the world without much serious outcry. The same cannot be said for many stylistic relatives that traffic in similar imagery. Black metal bands with serious ideological ties to neo-Nazi movements — known broadly as NSBM, for national socialist black metal — are typically spurned by mainstream labels, promoters, and fans in a way that Marduk have not been, at least here in the States. Which raises the question: Why not?
The degree to which Marduk’s members actually sympathize with racist and/or authoritarian ideology is unclear based on the evasive answers they give in interviews. (“We get controversies once in a while, but I don’t really care as long as you overcome, and that’s what really mattered to us, to overcome and keep on marching across the world and deliver the message that we do,” says founding guitarist Morgan Håkansson in this interview. Pressed to specify that message, he says “I think it’s very clear if you listen to the music and read the lyrics; everybody should be able to make up their own minds about what it’s really all about, I shouldn’t have to explain it.” Courageous!) I obviously have no special knowledge of Marduk’s innermost feelings, and I’m not interested in trying to divine them by reading every interview the band’s ever done. The relevant consideration for answering the question above isn’t what Marduk really thinks about the Nazi program, but the way most of their listening public perceives their interest in the subject: in short, as a form of edgelordery.
For those lucky enough to be uninitiated, “edgelord” is a term from message board culture, helpfully defined by Urban Dictionary as follows:
A poster on an Internet forum, (particularly 4chan) who expresses opinions which are either strongly nihilistic, (“life has no meaning,” or Tyler Durden’s special snowflake speech from the film Fight Club being probably the two main examples) or contain references to Hitler, Nazism, fascism, or other taboo topics which are deliberately intended to shock or offend readers.
You may be thinking that edgelord logic explains the motives behind an awful lot of metal lyrics, bedecked with Nazi stuff or no. And you’d be right! The desire to antagonize mainstream sensibilities by writing songs about seedy shit is a huge part of metal culture. Consider Marduk’s other major lyrical focus: Satanism. Certain exceptions aside, most overtly Satanic metal bands don’t take Satanism seriously as a spiritual and religious proposition; it’s just a middle finger to the broadly Christian cultural milieu they operate in. Another well-trafficked example: The misogynistic serial killer fantasies popularized in death metal circles by early Cannibal Corpse — which are now treated as in-jokes by both fans and the band themselves. (Current CC frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher is fond of dedicating live performances of this material “to the ladies out there,” typically to cheers from the women in attendance.) Even the specifically Nazi schtick is quite old. Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead was a notorious Nazi paraphernalia collector, for instance. Slayer are an even more obvious example; “Angel Of Death,” one of their signature songs, describes the sadistic Nazi pseudoscientist Josef Mengele in grandiose terms. The song caused a substantial controversy around the band’s supposed Nazi sympathies upon its release which still crops up on occasion. (Some of their other imagery choices don’t help.)
Within this context, it’s easier to see how Marduk have been able to go about their business as a moderately successful pro-level metal band for so long while singing about a subject that so many people consider unusually objectionable. The logic goes like this: “Metal is supposed to be evil and shocking. What is evil and shocking? Satan, sure. What else? Nazis! Nazis are EVIL. Therefore, Nazis = metal.” And in Marduk’s case, there’s a vital distinction underpinning this logic — between fetishizing this stuff for its broadly perceived evilness or shock value, and fetishizing it out of actual ideological sympathy. This distinction seems to have been internalized by both Marduk’s listening public and the actual participants in the debate. It’s worth noting that while guitarist Håkansson has disparaged immigrants on the record at least once, albeit decades ago, his band has not been widely embraced by the NSBM scene. The serious Nazis, too, seem to consider Marduk mere edgelords.
The world’s current most famous edgelord is not a metal guy, of course. It’s Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart editor and white nationalist pundit who was just run out of both his Breitbart job and a CPAC speaking engagement over a YouTube video in which he made comments that his fellow right-wing radicals took as advocating for pedophilia. Of course, pedophilia is not the only loathsome practice that Yiannopoulos has endorsed during his career; his brand was built on ideological belligerence towards women, minorities, and immigrants. But the sincerity of Yiannopoulos’ commitment to such ideas was always in question, by design — he billed himself as a free speech activist, and frequently characterized his repulsive comments as jokes. During Yiannopoulos’ rise, this rhetorical device served a double purpose: It gave him and his supporters an out whenever they wanted to avoid accountability, and it worked towards Yiannopoulos’ real interest, which was merely becoming as famous as possible. (When lefty journalist Laurie Penny asked Yiannopoulos whether he’d prefer total political victory for Donald Trump and personal obscurity for himself, or total liberal victory and immense personal fame, he replied that he’d prefer the latter.) Of course, this tactic proved to have limits; Yiannopoulos eventually crossed a line too far and was rejected by the extremists he’d helped cultivate.
And here we return to Marduk. The Oakland cops asked that the Metro Operahouse cancel Marduk’s appearance specifically because they’d received complaints about the band’s Nazi imagery, and feared a repeat of the violent clashes between Yiannopoulos’ supporters and antifascist demonstrators at nearby UC Berkeley earlier in the month. Another show earlier on the same tour in Austin was targeted by demonstrators for similar reasons.
I bring all of this up not because I’m interested in litigating questions about Marduk’s true politics, or about the social value of shutting down their shows by means of protest. What interests me is the fact that this is happening at all, decades into Marduk’s touring career. It’s an unusually clear example of the rapidly shifting lines of public tolerance for the edgelord tactics Marduk employs. When Panzer Division Marduk came out in ’99, Nazis were reviled but not taken especially seriously as a present-day threat — and so they were easier to use as a titillating embodyment of hypothetical evil. The same goes for Slayer and “Angel Of Death” in 1986. World War II loomed larger in the living cultural memory back then, and Slayer took an awful lot of heat for the song, but they were still ultimately able to skate by as ambiguously insincere provocateurs and become a widely beloved legacy band.
Needless to say, things have changed lately. The Washington Post just felt moved to put “DEMOCRACY DIES IN DARKNESS” on its homepage. Racist authoritarianism is no longer a historical specter; it’s a real and ascendant movement that directly threatens the lives and freedoms of millions all over the world. Hate crimes and intimidation are on the rise in the United States. The past few days alone saw another incidence of grave desecration at a Jewish cemetary, this time in Philadelphia, and yet another rash of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools across the eastern seaboard. Unsurprisingly, metal bands that flirt with Nazism or fascism have found themselves facing rather more scrutiny in recent years than they did previously — witness the public pillorying of Inquisition, or the ejection of Disma from the 2015 Netherlands Deathfest lineup over frontman Craig Pillard’s past association with Nazi-themed music. The targets of these shame campaigns tend to decry their treatment as infringement upon their rights to free speech, but you don’t need to be a lawyer to know that the First Amendment doesn’t protect anyone from civic opprobrium. (Savor also the richly ironic spectacle of tough-guy metal musicians getting mad that their efforts to provoke actually worked.)
The Yiannopoulos incident at Berkeley — in which his speaking engagement was eventually cancelled — was initially regarded as a huge PR coup for him. I’d guess that Marduk feel pretty psyched about about the recent hubbub around their tour for similar reasons, and Håkansson said as much about the band’s Belarusian adventure, calling it a sign of the local government’s “admiration.” Controversy is on brand for them. But how long can they and other bands like them sustain that posture, as the broader political conversation grows ever more arch and severe? All publicity is good publicity, up to a point — but where is that point? I doubt that Marduk will be undone by their Wehrmacht fetish any time soon, and one isolated show cancellation probably doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. But Marduk are a business as well as a band, and it would hurt them if large numbers of people were to decide that the whole Nazi thing feels a little too real these days. When does the edgelord schtick tip over the proverbial edge and into a long fall? That tipping point feels closer now than it has at any time in recent memory.
Back in September of 2016, journalist Salena Zito famously characterized the wildly differing reactions to Donald Trump’s outlandish campaign promises as follows: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” This quip was initially hailed as a profound insight, but became a laugh line after Trump arrived in office and rapidly made clear that his critics should’ve taken him both seriously and literally. Conveniently, this line also captures the way folks have traditionally viewed Marduk-style edgelord maneuvers within heavy metal’s laboratory of radically antagonistic free speech: The fans take it seriously, but not literally, and vice versa. But life imitates art and art imitates life. That oh-so-delicate psychological distinction between perceived provocateurship and sincere ugliness has kept bands like Marduk from being shunted to the fringes up to now, but the distinction might be starting to break down. I wonder whether they, too, are ready to be taken both seriously and literally. –Doug Moore
15. Memoriam – “Surrounded By Death”
Location: Birmingham, UK
Subgenre: death metal
As a Bolt Thrower ultra-fan (easily my favorite band of all time, all genres), for better or worse, I feel like Memoriam was designed specifically for me. Cut from pieces of bands I love (with actual members of Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Sacrilege), roughly molded to resemble those bands (well, mostly Bolt Thrower, with a slightly punkier edge), Memoriam is one of those super groups that isn’t nearly as great as it could be, but nerd that I am, I find it endearing as hell anyway. With Bolt Thrower officially laid to rest, Memoriam is meant to be BT singer Karl Willets’ back-to-basics death metal outlet. His typical “war, war, and only war” lyrical themes are ported over directly, but he does this weird speak-sing thing that sounds a bit different than classic Bolt Thrower, which is mildly off-putting at first but grows on me over time. Original Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale shows up as well, which is actually awesome since we haven’t heard from him in ages, and he still kicks ass. The riffs…sound like dudes from Benediction trying to cover Hail of Bullets and coming close. It’s Bolt Thrower thrice removed — less epic, less timeless, still fun. Look, I’ll come clean. Due to my obsessively lame fandom, there’s no way I won’t love this for what it is, even if it’s entirely unoriginal and occasionally clunky. It’s not Bolt Thrower, but what is? [From For The Fallen, out 3/24 via Nuclear Blast] –Aaron Lariviere
14. Condemned – “Legion”
Location: San Diego, CA
Subgenre: brutal death metal
First, a miracle. A lyric video that wonít make you want to shove your face into a toaster. San Diego’s Condemned, not to be confused with the 12 other metal Condemneds, is the proud owner of that thing, the first taste of new album His Divine Shadow. And, hey, evolution: When we last checked in with this troop on 2011’s Realms Of The Ungodly, it was a quintet hellbent on bringing the blasts, even if those blasts were hard to herd; a cool shirt that didn’t fit. On the one hand, that made Condemned into a brutal death band that killed live in smaller confines. Up close and in punchable range of your face? The surface pleasures of the chaos were exhilarating. On the other, the overflowing insanity never quite landed on record because it needed the visual component and sternum-rattling volume to guide the blade home. Now slimmed down to a four-piece with guitarist Steve Crow the lone holdover and Vile’s Tyson Jupin laying down tighter rhythms, Condemned is back to prove there’s still life in the death metal lurch. The brutal batcrappery has given way to a more controlled momentum a la Immolation. Sure, it’s still nuts and upper-division-math technical. Hand this to a noobling without first donning a poncho and you’ll be washing cerebrospinal fluid out of your clothes for a while. But the added structure, the sense of knowing when squelches gonna squelch, is deeply satisfying. Like, it’s a psychological thing, and one all music grapples with: How do you balance the expected and unexpected? Both need to be there for music to be truly effective. Now on its third album, Condemned is finding where it needs to sit on the seesaw. Solid stuff. Plus, they keep the propulsion-killing digressions to an absolute minimum. Longest song? A comparatively epic 4:33. Nice. [From His Divine Shadow, out 3/10 via < ahref="http://www.indiemerch.com/uniqueleader/">Unique Leader.] –Ian Chainey
13. Planning For Burial – “Somewhere In The Evening”
Location: Wilkes-Barre, PA
Subgenre: post-metal / ambient
Planning for Burial lands in the more experimental reaches of what we cover here, something less identifiably card-carrying metal than other offerings but kindred in spirit. Loss, desperation and solitude are the vibes here, brought to life in lurching orchestration that straddles the worlds of goth, shoegaze, and various subsets of metal. This dirge bleeds despair, but drowned beneath the brooding lockstep march you’ll hear the frantic screams of a tortured soul not content to wallow, even if the sludgy guitars bring things to a crawl. The outlook sure is bleak, and through the gloom is a sad precious beauty that is cherished and, sadly and infuriatingly, long gone. [From Below The House, out 3/10 via The Flenser.] –Wyatt Marshall
12. Svart Crown – “Transsubstantiation”
Location: Nice, France
Subgenre: black/death metal
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Svart Crown are basically France’s answer to American death metal greats Immolation. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it’s not intended that way; they’re elaborating on a beloved and relatively underutilized approach rather than strictly imitating it. Svart Crown have gradually forged a unique identity out of the basic Immo features — fluttering black metal blasts, bouncy groove segments that burst in from nowhere to create maximum whiplash, a dour and magisterial sense of melody — over the course of four increasingly compelling albums, including the upcoming Abreaction. Immolation have just released a worthy new effort of their own in Atonement, but Svart Crown are edging out the old masters at this juncture, as they have been for a cycle or two now. They’ve accomplished this feat by means of aerodynamics and speed. Svart Crown push the tempos hard when they blast, and their guitar work cuts sharp, clean lines. This approach loses some wrecking-ball brutality and dissonance, but it allows Svart Crown to pursue their increasingly active penchant for hooks. Pretty much every part of “Transsubstantiation” could be the catchiest part of an average death or black metal song — a trait which holds throughout, but is especially pronounced here. [From Abreaction, out 3/3 via Century Media.] –Doug Moore
11. Power Trip – “Nightmare Logic”
Location: Dallas, TX
Subgenre: crossover thrash
Behind the scenes this month we had a minor war of words over the nature of crossover thrash. We debated which bands matter and what makes them so good, and why most crossover—including DRI, SOD, COC, plenty more — doesn’t do much of anything for me, while other folks (rightfully) worship those bands. Meanwhile, “second tier” stuff like Nuclear Assault, Leeway, and Cro-Mags’ thrashier but less famous second LP (Best Wishes) rules in an entirely different way, and THAT’s the crossover that speaks to me. Before we get to all that, let’s take a quick trip back to 1989, when a little-known thrash band named Vio-Lence wrote what is, to my mind, the single best thrash album of all time, Eternal Nightmare. I realize hardly anyone would agree with me on this one. Admittedly, the vocals on Eternal Nightmare are laughably bad (in a most excellent way), but the RIFFS, sweet jesus, the riffs go so far beyond anything else the thrash genre has produced you won’t even notice the vox after a song or two. Now, Vio-Lence wasn’t explicitly associated with the crossover scene, but they share vital DNA with the type of crossover I love — the serious-minded stuff, with lyrics about nuclear war and kicking ass, where every riff is a kill riff and the party vibes of the sillier crossover bands are strictly verboten. This is the kind of crossover Power Trip draws from, as opposed to the more common style recently popularized by Municipal Waste and Iron Reagan, which frankly blows in comparison. If you need a single point of reference, Power Trip is the platonic ideal of what Nuclear Assault could have been — if that band wrote better songs and delivered them at maximum force. Nuclear Assault perfected, if you will (and I love Nuclear Assault). Riffs pummel rather than shred; the vocals are muscular and full-throated without going all cartoon beefcake like some of the gruffer hardcore hooligans playing this style back in the day (see Cro-Mags and Leeway, both awesome anyway). Look, listen to this for five seconds and you’ll know, simple as that. If you’re not instantly headbanging, maybe this isn’t for you. [From Nightmare Logic, out now via Southern Lord.] –Aaron Lariviere
10. Ascended Dead – “Subconscious Barbarity”
Location: San Diego, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Are you suffering from OSDM fatigue? Does every conspiratorial horde with OS tendencies now sound the same? Do you mentally retreat into Seven Churches or Scream Bloody Gore riffs whenever someone tells you about a hot new group of 20-somethings who, by golly, are doing it right? Hi, Dr. Stevo Rahmer here to tell you that you’re not alone. OSDM: there’s just…so…much of it. And the overpopulation takes a toll even on the stuff that’s head and shoulders above the crush of mediocre retro metallers. That’s why Ascended Dead is the over-the-pentagram prescription on offer, a relatively spartan rager that plays death metal at thrash-on-crank speeds and has teleported some missing link from the Ice Age to sing for it. This isn’t OSDM, it’s simply, blissfully, DM. In fact, debut album Abhorrent Manifestation is kind of a Dark Descent Records (US distro) and Invictus Productions (Europe) specialty: brutish, nasty death metal that’s old school without sounding, well, old. “Subconscious Barbarity” is your first dose: 206 seconds of no-“F”s in every sense of the “F.” During its quickly mutating outro that burns through a whole notebook of riffs, you may once again feel blood flowing to long dormant death metal muscles. And, yeah, it’s catchy in its hyperspeed, destined-to-deafen-its-infected-host way. This quartet from, where in the world, San Diego knows that the br00fal only sticks when it’s coated in hooks, much like its Metal-Archives-listed relation, Engorged. So, give it a spin, let it leaf-blower out the cobwebs covering the part of your melon dedicated to death metal enjoyment, and reengage. Going forward: abuse when necessary. While you might still feel like you need a nap when the next buzzy OSDM offering arises from some kindergarten graveyard, at least you have 37 minutes of smelling salts in Abhorrent Manifestation. Snort up. Feel things again. [From Abhorrent Manifestation, out 3/17 via Dark Descent.] –Ian Chainey
9. The Flight Of Sleipnir – “Awaken”
Location: Arvada, Colorado
Subgenre: atmospheric doom metal
The Flight Of Sleipnir too often fly under the radar, a shame for such an awesome band that would appeal to so many if only they heard the music. They practice in artful and folksy doom packed with magical leads and monolithic riffs, punctuated by delicate haunting clean vocals and black metal rasps. Stylistic shifts abound, but the transitions happen seamlessly and effortlessly — there’s a practiced ease with which different elements elide and become one, and it lends a rather “chill” vibe to things. “Awaken,” here, has it all and is a good way to get to know the band, showcasing tender plucked interludes that back up to mid-tempo outbursts of thundering doom, though it should be said Flight Of Sleipnir is never trying to blow anyone away with brutal riffs or whatever. 2011’s Essence Of Nine was my introduction to the band, and to this day it remains a favorite and stands as a classic of the style. For newcomers, that and four other prior albums in addition to the new one await. [From Skadi, out now via Eisenwald.] –Wyatt Marshall
8. Sunless – “Gathering At The Skull’s Eye”
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Subgenre: progressive death metal
In the corner of the death metal kingdom that Sunless calls home, there’s a word you see a lot: skronk. Formerly a goofy bit of music critic lingo, “skronk” is now recognized by some of the less reputable online dictionaries — variously as a verb, as in “to produce a raw and discordant sound with electric guitars,” or a noun, as in “popular music of a kind that is experimental and deliberately discordant.” Put those ideas together with death metal and you can probably figure what Sunless sounds like. Or, in ancestry terms: Human Remains and Immolation are their grandparents, Gorguts is the paterfamilias, and the various likes of Portal, Gigan, and Ulcerate are their cool older cousins. This family tree grows more crowded by the day, but Sunless break through the chatter by really committing on the execution side of things. For a freshman LP, Urraca is a real sonic gem — the performances are fluid and graceful, and the Colin Marston production matches clarity and bite in equal measure. (Crucially, bassist Mitch Schooler’s rubbery groove comes through loud and clear, which is a real boon in this style.) More noteworthy, though, is Sunless’ patient songwriting. Many of their fellow skronkmongers commit to chaos and endless rhythmic scramble-drilling, but this band’s default mode is a tense slow burn. The back half of “Gathering At The Skull’s Eye” shows just how much heavy lifting this restrained pace can do — by the end, its strange dissonances feel like they’re coming from within your own dome instead of without. [From Urraca, out now via Bandcamp.] –Doug Moore
7. Nightbringer – “Misrule”
Location: Green Mountain Falls, Colorado
Subgenre: black metal
Listen to those guitars scream. No one does the keening six-string banshee wail quite like Nightbringer. Take the layered black cacophony of Emperor, twist it into jagged form using Deathspell Omega’s dissonant mold, and set it loose in the outer dark of the American West, like brooding mountain starlight rippling through a microdot of mescaline, all anti-cosmic orthodoxy and hallucinatory esoterica at war with natural reality. The closest overall comparison might be the Austrian gods of lunacy Abigor — speaking of, there’s a sick 4-way split from Abigor, Nightbringer, Thy Darkened Shade, and Mortuus coming out about now, and it’s also incredibly weird and cool and worth your time. Back to Nightbringer: their genius lies in the upper frets, in the impossibly clean leads that squeal and arc over the shifting rhythms below. The combined effect is like unnatural, alien light tearing through black swirling clouds, painting the earth in chaotic shadow. It’s an odd trick and an excellent one, not something you’ll likely hear anywhere else. [From Terra Damnata, out 4/14 via Season Of Mist.] –Aaron Lariviere
6. Fange – “Ressac”
Location: Rennes, France
Subgenre: death / doom metal
Hello, Fange’s guitar tone. Yep, few sounds in metal are more satisfying than feeling HM-2-begrimed guitars chewing up your guts. There’s a reason people still try to jack Clandestine’s EQ, and that’s because Boss’ revered distortion pedal, and its affordable BYOC incarnations, continue to enliven and enrich heavy metal sounds. Heck, even staid ones. Example: Besides all of the HM-2core bands that chose chainsaws and befriended Ballou and thus delayed their extinction, Demonic Death Judge cranked out one of the few (and, let’s be honest, there are VERY few) classic sludge albums of the last 10 years simply by stepping in the right direction. But, the HM-2 really shines, as it always has, when it’s utilized by the inventive and the resourceful. That’s the cue to check out what Fange is doing behind that tone. The French quartet’s “Ressac” is “dark sludge” as advertised, occasionally straying into core territory with its beatdown brutalisms. But, the tendrils of harsh noise and the lizard-brain Today is the Day — “Going To Hell” mental breakdowns are something else. Pourrissoir, Fange’s fourth release in as many years, fits in well with the Throatruiner Records crew thanks to an ingenuity that’s interesting independent of its loudness. (Disclosure: Throatruiner will be doing vinyl distribution for Pyrrhon’s next record.) There are long stretches where guitarist Benjamin Moreau and drummer Boris Louvet are freed up to explore the fringe, the pair telepathically unified in pursuit of a song’s darker shade. There’s also an extra-mile-ness present that would make this material sound ferocious even when played acoustically, mainly because Jean-Baptiste Lévêque and Matthias Jungbluth, two violent grit spitters, would still be screaming over it. But Fange ain’t made up of folk strummers, is it? So, coupling those guys with distortion drenched grooves that pull you in via a primal attraction to loud noises? Game over, man. [From Pourrissoir, out 3/18 via Throatruiner Records.] –Ian Chainey
5. Violet Cold – “Anomie”
Location: Baku, Azerbaijan
Subgenre: post-black metal
Violet Cold has released an incredible album of ethereal black metal in the first quarter of each of the last three years now. Two years ago, on Desperate Dreams, saccharine keyboards led the charge in blowing away the atmosphere shielding some sort of floating city in a distant solar system, while Magic Night took a more somber, awestruck, and circumspect view of distant planetary bodies. (And these are but a few of Violet Cold’s 38 releases available on Bandcamp, which range from techno to ambient electronics to noise and to the gorgeous atmospheric black metal we have here.) On Violet Cold’s latest, the one-man band has reached new levels of excellence, producing incredible heartfelt atmospheric black metal that is awe inspiring, deeply moving, and at times breathtaking. Again, this feels like the soundtrack to some distant world, one visited and reluctantly departed, but now it presents itself in high definition and the nostalgia is felt more acutely, brought to life in both sweeping grandeur and delicate detail. On “Anomie,” the title track, Violet Cold works its magic in full force. But the real spell is cast during an instrumental interlude fit for Arabian Desert nights that whisks you away and comes back, enmeshed in searing, soaring blasting in the kind of crescendo that won’t leave you soon. [From Anomie, out now via Bandcamp.] –Wyatt Marshall
4. Imperceptum – “Disintegrating Nebular Storm”
Location: Bremen, Germany
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal / funeral doom
After four decades of endless riff theft and interbreeding, you’d think that every pleasing chocolate-and-peanut-butter combination of sounds metal has to offer would’ve been thoroughly exploited. Somehow they haven’t. Imperceptum, for example, take an approach sounds pretty obvious on paper. Component A comprises icy bedroom black metal, in the atmospheric space-telescope format of Darkspace or Mare Cognitum. Component B consists of funeral doom’s cavernous churn — especially the gurgly death metal vox employed by the likes of Evoken and Esoteric. The pairing is a perfect aesthetic and conceptual match. Space is a void; the grave is a void. Onomatopoeic song runtimes? As above, so below. Cold and dark? Check and check. Reverb? ALL THE FUCKING REVERB. But despite this happy marriage, I can’t think of many bands aiming for the same target that Imperceptum nails so perfectly on The Eternal Path To Nothingness, their second LP. For starters, that album name! And then you’ve got the song title, “Disintegrating Nebular Storm.” The song itself sounds like huge beautiful clouds of incandescent gas tumbling through a region of space haunted by death metal poop monster growls, so yeah, pretty on the nose. The colder and lonelier you can make yourself before listening to this, the better it’ll come across. [From The Eternal Path To Nothingness, out now via Bandcamp.] –Doug Moore
3. Délétère – “III: Horae Leprae”
Location: Québec, Canada
Subgenre: black metal
I try not to bitch about the tribulations of metal writing because this job is pretty chill, and we all do it because we love it. Plus we get free music, which obviously rules and should never be taken lightly. I love metal writing. But allow me to break decorum just this once. You may not realize it (and I genuinely hope that’s the case, because of the efforts of tireless metal writers here and elsewhere), but there’s an epidemic facing black metal. The epidemic is, of course, the utter deluge of unworthy black metal that perpetually floods my inbox like a broken sewer main. Seriously, guys. I get something like 100-200 albums every month — most are some heinous and uninteresting variation of black metal. Not all merit an actual listen (every metal writer develops a finely tuned personal filtering system for exactly this reason), but even so, I probably listen to ~50 shitty BM records for every moderately successful one. Those 50 range from forgettably dull to miserably, painfully, embarrassingly shitty. Sometimes I’m embarrassed someone actually wrote this music and decided to share it with other people, and I’m equally embarrassed that they tricked me into hearing it. Yet the less embarrassing stuff is even more problematic, because you end up wasting 20 minutes before you realize that, no, this is not gonna suddenly get interesting, and yes, this does sound exactly like everything else. Certain characteristics inherent to black metal — a history of successful lo-fi aesthetics; the relative simplicity of the style; the likelihood that bad bands have good cover art (and vice versa) — make this more of an issue here than elsewhere, so we’re basically stuck with it. WITH ALL THAT SAID. At the end of a long day spent perusing disappointing tunes, it comes as a righteous goddamn reward when you stumble across something as instantly remarkable as Quebecois wunderkinds Délétère. From the first note, you’re hit with this monumental guitar hook — a melodic riff swung like a flaming sword into a horde of unworthy enemies. Epic structure, perfect guitars, and a submerged organ combine for the exact opposite of the forgettable dreck that haunts my dreams. “III” is my second favorite track on the new Délétère EP — second only to “II: Le Lai De La Vermine,” which is seriously the best black metal track I’ve heard in ages, so go hunt this fucker down and spin it for yourself — but “III” still rules. Délétère draws on the fatalistic melodic energy of crust punk—I hear shades of Tragedy and Mgła in the leads — and pairs it with an almost religious fury, with incongruous monastic chants and that ever-present church organ, perfectly subverted for infernal purposes. I can’t recommend this highly enough. [From Per Aspera Ad Pestilentiam, out 3/18 on Sepulchral Productions.]
2. Katakomb – “Chained To A Wolf”
Subgenre: black metal
“Chained To A Wolf”: once either the best black metal or PETA-sponsored romance novel title never used. Now it’s Katakomb’s. This Swedish one-man band does the rare great title justice by going all in on the song. We’re talking kitchensink stuff, more layers than Steve Bannon has collars, with nods to orthodox second-wave incoming tides, modern classical dissonances, all kinds of avant-garde leaps, and straight-up ripping riffs. But it’s the hardness of Katakomb’s goings that makes this demo(!) so promising. Where your average DsO clone might bite some discord here and there, Katakomb whips up whole tornadoes of tones that would make even a deaf blue whale’s heart beat faster. Seriously, it’s the aural equivalent of chugging two cans of Cafe Bustelo and then dangling your feet over an observation deck. Noise this nerve-wracking is impressive for the battle tested, let alone a rookie. And the various permutations “Chained” speeds through are also unexpectedly well thought out, not just cheap boo scares or safaris through some nerd’s mp3 collection. Add in the pleasingly seasoned low growl and you’ve got a winner. The B-side? Doesn’t hit the same highs and has some stylistic choices that are “interesting” in the same way your coworker’s screenplay is “interesting,” but, hey, it’s a demo. Brighter days ahead, so get in on the ground floor. And yeah, the label here is key: Iron Bonehead has the nose of a truffle pig when it comes to underground stuff, but this a find even for them. [From Chained To A Wolf, out 4/14 via Iron Bonehead.] –Ian Chainey
1. Falls Of Rauros – “White Granite”
Location: Portland, ME
Subgenre: black / folk metal
Falls Of Rauros have steadily risen to become one of the best atmospheric black metal bands of today, delivering increasingly elaborate, nature-reverent epics over the course of their now 12-year career. Time flies — it’s hard to believe that it’s already been three years since the release of Believe In No Coming Shore, Falls’ fantastic last, and six since The Light That Dwells In Rotten Wood, the album that seemed to turn on a lot of people to the band, myself included. On “White Granite,” Falls returns with the organic understated grandeur that they’ve tightened and refined over time, moving in and out of tender introspective instrumental movements and moments of cathartic, tremelo-picked release. Dual guitar leads pirouette off with panache and circle back into driving melodies, and the vocals are as caustic and urgent as ever. There’s much more to look forward to on the upcoming album, on which Falls continues to channel magic form the mountains, woods, and waters of their native Maine. [From Vigilance Perennial, out 3/31 via Bindrune & Nordvis.] –Wyatt Marshall