Coming into the new year, the five guys who curate the Black Market — Ian Chainey, Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Doug Moore, and me — had a few long discussions on what we might do to improve this feature in 2015 (and beyond). We considered expanding its scope, increasing its frequency, changing its format and/or structure, and pretty much any other possible remodeling options that might make the Black Market better. I feel comfortable speaking for the team when I say this: We all love talking about metal — and we all talk about metal pretty much all the time — and we wanted to make sure that enthusiasm came across here. We wanted to make sure this space reflected not only our tastes, but our conversations: to accurately reflect us, but more importantly, to accurately reflect metal in the moment. This is not a genre that can be comprehensively covered by five people on a once-a-month basis, but we take that as a given. Truthfully, this is not a genre at all: It’s a galaxy of subgenres, and sub-subgenres, and microgenres. And to be comprehensive, you’d need a dozen people working 24-7. So our goal was merely to make the Black Market the best it could be given our constraints.
Non-domestic black metal has a tendency toward the theatrical — Mayhem and Watain are currently co-headlining a US tour providing ample evidence of just that — but few if any black metal acts commit quite as fully (or as weirdly) as English black metal septet (!) A Forest Of Stars. The band presents itself as a Victorian-era secret society, ostensibly a “Gentlemen’s Club” but privately engaging in dark occult practices. I’m not exaggerating. The band’s current bio opens with: “It is the year 1895. The mysterious Gentlemen’s Club of A Forest Of Stars publicizes its fourth opus in the current format of a phonograph cylinder.” The “Gentlemen’s Club” bit is a clever touch, belied immediately by the fact that one of the band’s members is a woman: their flautist/violinist/co-vocalist, who goes by the name Katheryne, Queen Of The Ghosts. (Other members’ aliases: Mr. T.S. Kettleburner, Mr. Titus Lungbutter, Mr. William Wight-Barrow, Mr. John “The Resurrectionist” Bishop, Mister Curse, and the Gentleman.) Their promo pics look like this; their website looks like this (you won’t be surprised to learn it’s filled with easter eggs). Their music is constructed and delivered with equal commitment: A Forest Of Stars play a form of prog/folk/psych black metal that is equal parts Winterfylleth and Eluveitie and … I dunno, Jethro Tull? Eleanor Catton’s 2013 novel The Luminaries? The Metropolitan Museum Of Art exhibit Death Becomes Her? It is a consumingly insane experience. A Forest Of Stars are set to release their fourth LP, Beware The Sword You Cannot See, next month. The entire second half of the album is composed of a “sexpartite” (!) called “Pawn On The Universal Chessboard.” Today, though, we’ve got the opening track, “Drawing Down The Rain,” which you can listen to below. (Below that, you can download it in exchange for an email address.) Check it out.
Red Sparowes were an excellent instrumental post-rock band in the vein of Russian Circles or Pelican, but they had one unusual structural flaw: Their guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle was also a fucking great singer. Who knew? I mean, I guess the members of Red Sparowes figured it out for themselves eventually, because that band split in 2010, and by 2011, Rundle and fellow Sparowes Greg Burns and Dave Clifford had formed a new group, Marriages, this time putting a mic in front of Rundle and building songs as much around her voice as the instruments surrounding it. The initial Marriages lineup featured Rundle singing and playing guitar, Burns on bass and synths, and Clifford on drums, and in 2012, they released a very good EP called Kitsune. (Later that year, Clifford left the band, eventually replaced by new drummer Andrew Clinco.) Marriages played out a lot behind Kitsune, doing a tour with Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe in 2012, and a tour with Deafheaven in 2013. Last year, though, Rundle stepped fully into the spotlight, releasing her solo debut, Some Heavy Ocean. It was a total revelation. On Kitsune, Rundle’s voice was merely one element in a mighty sound, but on Some Heavy Ocean, Rundle’s voice was the mighty sound. Now, Marriages are set to release their debut full-length, Salome, and it is a MASSIVE leap forward — from Red Sparowes, from Kitsune, from Some Heavy Ocean. It’s the best thing any of these guys has ever been involved with, and one of my favorite albums of early 2015. It’s hard to even recognize this version of Marriages as the same band that made Kitsune. That EP was good, but it was blurry and blunt, where Salome is detailed and dynamic. You can spot plenty of influences here, most of them cool and dark and British: Cocteau Twins, Talk Talk, Echo And The Bunnymen, Siouxsie, the Cure, the Sundays, early Verve … Basically Marriages are drawing from some of the best and most iconic music of the ’80s and ’90s, but man, they are owning it, making it immediate, but also timeless.
On that note, if you have not done so already, track down a copy of that Falls Of Rauros record, too. Magnificent.
BURN IN THE HELL YOU BUILT
Doug’s excellent writeup doesn’t need my addendum, but here it is anyway: The note in the press kit that first got me excited about this record was this:
“[Der Weg Einer Freiheit is] the future of German Extreme-Metal” – Mille Petrozza, Kreator
There are a lot of good Belgian metal bands! E.g., we covered the hell out of that Emptiness record last year — they are from Belgium, and they’re great.
I meant to mention this in the intro but forgot, so I’ll do it now. Among the December 2014 releases that got short shrift here (IMO) is Striden Hus, by the Norwegian band Taake. We actually covered its first single, “Det Fins En Prins,” in October’s Black Market, but the album came out too late (mid-December) to be considered for our Top 50 Metal Albums list. If I’d heard it in time, it would have placed HIGH on my ballot. (I actually saw a print ad for the album in this month’s Decibel that spotlighted a pullquote from my writeup of the song. The pullquote in question was, to my mind, fairly generic and even a bit non-commital. If I’d heard the album earlier, I would have written something much more detailed and effusive!) Anyway, the album is a total hook factory — every song is just insanely catchy. I cannot stop listening to it, and if you haven’t heard it, I strongly recommend you do so. This is its opening track and I love it SO MUCH.
I should have said this earlier, btw, but thank you for the kind words — that applies to everyone here who shared kind words. I’m honestly humbled to hear this stuff, and I can sincerely tell you guys that this kind of feedback only makes us work even harder and care even more about the work we do. Thank you!
Yes, also correct, and that would be Doug.
FWIW, Week In Pop is sincerely MY favorite feature on the site, so I take this as high praise!
This is more or less accurate.
I dunno how anyone engages with this column, but in case you might skip it: I am begging you all to watch that Nasty video — it is the weirdest fucking thing I have seen in ages; I have no idea what to make of it (Doug’s writeup does a nice job of trying to parse it). The song crushes, too, so your time will be well spent.