The Black Market: The Month In Metal – June 2013


The Black Market: The Month In Metal – June 2013


Earlier this month, I spent a Saturday afternoon at the Brooklyn metal-themed bar Duff’s: a cluttered dive situated in the basement of an apartment building, illuminated even in the daytime only by red Christmas lights, a 13″ CRT television blasting a gnarled VHS copy of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and the white-on-chrome glow coming from behind the glass of a jukebox filled with old Exodus and Sodom CDs. The place was closed to the public, but I was there with maybe a dozen other NYC-based music critics, some label reps, and Erik Danielsson of Watain, who had been flown in from Sweden to do some interviews and premiere for us his band’s new album, The Wild Hunt.

I don’t normally do listening parties — because I honestly don’t get the point of making an event of having strangers talk over a new record I’m excited to hear — but I went to this one in part because I’ve been a pretty big Watain fan for years now, and I was just kind of floored by the very existence of a “Watain Album Listening Party.” That it occurred a mere two days before Kanye West’s Yeezus listening party only underscored the surreality of the event. Even so, though, it kinda made sense: There’s something special about Watain, something unabashedly ambitious. They seem to take very seriously their place in the history of metal, and they push themselves with every new release, not outward, but upward: They’re not experimenting, in the traditional sense, but they’re progressing by almost religiously re-tracing the paths followed by the masters: Bathory, Slayer, Carcass, Behemoth, Morbid Angel … and, of course, Metallica. Metallica is the blueprint for this sort of striving, and I think every metal fan wonders, on some level, if there will ever be another Metallica, another metal band who pushes upward so hard — with such vision, such power, such fire — that they destroy every barrier before them and achieve something approaching omnipresence. Will it be Mastodon? Will it be Baroness? Will it be Watain?

The main reason I went to the party, though, was because I didn’t know when I’d get a chance to hear The Wild Hunt on my own terms, and I was too excited to wait. As we close out the month, 2013 has officially hit the halfway point, which is an apt moment for taking stock of the year that has already passed as well as the year that remains. The Wild Hunt is one of the second-half releases I’m most excited about, alongside Vattnet Viskar’s Sky Swallower, and Carcass’s Surgical Steel, and Avichi’s Catharsis Absolute, and Windhand’s Soma, and Gorguts’ Colored Sand, and the Twilight record with Thurston Moore, and a bunch of others. But 2013 has already been a really damn good year for metal: We got great records from Deafheaven, and Inter Arma, and Kvelertak, and Woe, and Nails, and Uncle Acid, and Altar Of Plagues, and Anciients, and KEN Mode, and Darkthrone, and ASG, and VHOL … and I’m leaving out a lot, which is really just another indication of how damn good it’s been.

It’s been good in another respect, too: In June, in back-to-back weeks, Queens Of The Stone Age and Black Sabbath, respectively, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 — a career first for both bands. You could (rightly) argue that QOTSA aren’t a metal band, but they’re pretty closely identified with metal just the same. Sabbath, of course, are THE metal band. And Deafheaven debuted at 112 on those charts — which may not seem like much, but I assure you, it is a fucking ton.

Anyway, we did a lot of metal on Stereogum this month, too, including Countdowns of both the QOTSA and Sabbath catalogs (by excellent metal critics Joseph Schafer and Justin Norton, respectively). Black Market bro Doug Moore wrote about the new Gorguts song, which ended up being one of Stereogum’s most-viewed stories in June. (I shit you not: a story about a 24-year-old French Canadian technical death metal band who haven’t put out new music in 12 years.) Finally, I wrote at suicidal length about the 20th birthday of Morbid Angel’s Covenant, which I called “the best death metal album ever” (although not my favorite death metal album ever). It was a claim met with some consternation by metal fans everywhere, including Ryan Adams. But hey, that’s why we’re here, right? To talk about metal? So let’s do it. The 15 best metal songs of June are below. Listen loud; shout back in the comments.

Michael Nelson

15. Revocation – “The Hive”

Location: Boston
Subgenre: Melodic Death Metal/Technical Thrash

Nobody shreds like Revocation. It’s not that they’re the most technical — though they’ve probably got the chops to be — it’s that Revocation actually exercise restraint while tossing off impossible riffs. The problem with most hyper-technical bands: They lack anything resembling taste. Shred begets shred for the sake of indulgence alone, wheedly-deedlies choke out any semblance of a song, and we all lose. Not so with Revocation. Tempos shift incessantly, but they never lose sight of the groove. The rhythm section, including those unrelentingly insane rhythm guitars, feels like a heartbeat on crack – but a heartbeat nonetheless. When they inevitably launch into an interstellar flight of shred-fantasy (as they do at the 2:50 mark) there’s enough of an actual song going on underneath to keep them tethered to this earthly plane, ever so slightly. It’s mechanistic precision built with actual flesh and blood, and it makes all the difference. [Relapse] –Aaron Lariviere

14. (The Lord Weird) Slough Feg – “Laser Enforcer” (Demo)

Location: San Francisco
Subgenre: Traditional Heavy Metal

Nostalgia for heavy metal’s late-’70s/early-’80s salad days is a tough sell for me. I’m a fresh-sounds kinda guy. But even ancient idioms can summon immense power, and some bands lay down that classic gallop with such force that time turns back and meets them halfway. Mike Scalzi of Slough Feg is first among equals in this mighty company. His main outfit has delivered a fresh block of vivacious Di’Anno-era-Maiden-meets-Thin Lizzy jams roughly every two years since 1996, and he did a flawless run of albums with the ’80s-ish prog metallers Hammers Of Misfortune during the first half of the aughts. Though this version of “Laser Enforcer” is only a demo for Feg’s upcoming ninth album, it touches neatly on everything that makes them great: hard-fought performances, a lean analog production to match, Harry Cantwell’s propulsive rock drumming (no double bass here), twin leads galore, and Scalzi’s smoky, inimitable baritone. Plus, it returns to the sci-fi themes that helped make earlier efforts Traveller and Hardworlder so great. Pew pew pew! [Metal Blade] –Doug Moore

13. Lychgate – “Dust Of A Gun Barrel”

Location: England/Europe
Subenre: Doom/Black Metal

A lot of bands try to blend doom metal and black metal, to strike that happy medium between epic crush and blistering blaze, but few do it as well as Europe’s Lychgate do on “Dust of a Gun Barrel.” In a six-minute song, Lychgate fit in curious crawling guitars, acoustics, blast beats, and an instrumental interval to create something dark and brooding that radiates serious occult vibes. Lychgate didn’t appear out of nowhere; the band (operating under another name) was a solo project of Vortigern (The One) for more than a decade before he put together a lineup loaded with vets from bands like Esoteric, Lunar Aurora, and Omega Centauri. With a roster like that, it’s no surprise Lychgate is prone to experimentation across a number of genres, taking from here and there until we get something as awesome as this. [Gilead Media] –Wyatt Marshall

12. A.M.S.G. – “Gnosis Granted From The Bloodline Of Fire”

Location Edmonton, Canada
Subgenre: Old-school True Black Metal

Listening to black metal made in 2013, it can be easy to forget the genre was basically created by violent misanthropes who were actively rebelling against things like “trendy” death metal and the “life-loving atheists” who made up the Church Of Satan. “I believe in a horned devil, a personified Satan. In my opinion all the other forms of Satanism are bullshit,” said genre architect Euronymous, of Norway’s Mayhem, in an interview conducted one week before he was murdered by Burzum’s Varg Vikernes. Black metal was genuinely discordant and abrasive music that endeavored to repel (and repulse) more than engage. The music made by Edmonton’s A.M.S.G. (short for Ad Majorem Satanae Gloriam, which translates to, “For the greater glory of Satan”) bears a lot of sonic similarities to black metal’s primogenitors: it’s raw, dry, primitive, with goblin vocals croaked and belched like an emphysemic death rattle; the big doomy hooks and ripping guitar leads are straight out of the Mercyful Fate songbook. (And then, there are bleats of free-jazz saxophone, which make it all the spookier and more fucked-up.) There are spiritual ties to black metal’s roots, too, beyond the aesthetic ones: The band is helmed by Edmonton-based “black metal terrorist” (!) Angelfukk Witchhammer (!!) who wrote A.M.S.G.’s forthcoming debut LP, Anti-Cosmic Tyranny, while in prison (!!!) for what he calls “building black metal on crime. It was almost like a criminal organization of music … selling drugs and guns all day and then going to band practice” (!!!!). Still, neither heathenism nor retroism automatically equates to good music, but A.M.S.G. — much like similarly shadowy NYC traditionalists Negative Plane — write powerfully strange, magnetically compelling songs that pull down the listener like a lost wanderer into a quicksand pit, and reveal a bizarre, dimly lit, terrifying world beneath the crust. [Profound Lore] –MN

11. Autopsy – “Arch Cadaver”

Location: San Francisco
Subgenre: Death Metal

Way back in the primordial mists of my teenage years, I was only dimly aware of the existence of death metal. As with many things I am dimly aware of, the idea — completely divorced from reality — took root in the back of my head, while my imagination filled in the blanks. I pictured haunted-house melodies and tortured screams over heavy but discernable guitars (since one cannot rightly imagine tech-death until one has heard tech-death). Looking back, my imagination had essentially stumbled onto Autopsy. These days Autopsy’s level of extremity can seem quaint next to extremely extreme acts of the modern variety (like, say, Wormed, but the charm and power of their rotting ways remains as potent as ever. “Arch Cadaver” is the first single from their second album since reuniting in 2009, and the song(s) remain the same: spooky, silly, awesome. [Peaceville] –AL

10. Dressed In Streams – “No Atonement”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: Experimental Black Metal

Some black metal bands throw laser noises and weird synths into the mix, creating a sort of sci-fi or outer-space black metal. That may sound ridiculous — it’s a long way from Norway to NASA — but some of those bands have basically nailed it (Servile Sect comes to mind). Dressed in Streams can’t be called sci-fi or anything, really, but note those lasers right up in front of the band’s relentless chugging blasts. “No Atonement,” the first of two tracks on Dressed In Streams’ newest cassette release, The Search For Blood, feels like a constant and urgent push forward that hurtles headlong to obliteration. Epic riffing breaks it up a bit, and buried sinister rasps provide texture throughout. This is the most aggressive Dressed In Streams song to date: bigger, louder, and badder than ever before. [Colloquial Sound Recordings] –WM

09. Morne – “New Dawn”

Location: Boston
Subgenre: Doom Metal

Can doom metal be “jangly”? That particular buzzword is so frequently associated with up-tempo, low-calorie bands that it seems a strange descriptor for a style obsessed with grim moods and huge bass tones. Still, it befits parts of this Morne tune, whose guitars vacillate between chorus-tinged clean twang and a rougher distorted growl over its 11 minutes. Strangely, even when Morne puts the hammer down, “New Dawn” brings more vibe than force to bear. About halfway through the song, the band adopt an eyes-to-the-sky 6/8 trudge that sounds as much like Joy Division and Disintegration-era the Cure as it does Candlemass or even Neurosis (who, incidentally, covered Joy Division once). There’s some post-rock kicking around in there too; the song’s structure begs for gentle tidal metaphors like “ebb and flow.” But that doesn’t mean “New Dawn” isn’t heavy. It doesn’t crush the life out of you; instead, it drains you dry with its long, cold embrace. [Profound Lore] –DM

08. Watain – “All That May Bleed”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: Epic Black Metal

As black metal evolves into newer and weirder sonic and thematic terrains, Sweden’s fearsome and amazing Watain continue to toil in the same poisoned ground from which the music first grew. The band offers swirling, suffocating, hook-driven black metal that draws from the very best in the genre’s history — Dissection, Immortal, Morbid Angel — with lyrics focusing on rituals, witches, devils, and demons. They’ve become sort of infamous for their stage show — which involves animal carcasses and stinks to high heaven (er, low hell?) — but that infamy has overshadowed their songwriting, which uses classic elements to achieve astonishing results. Beneath the corpsepaint, Watain are meticulous craftsmen; their structural perfectionism seems almost uniquely Swedish. Their fifth LP, The Wild Hunt, is their biggest and most ambitious, even including two songs with clean singing (they sound a bit like late-period Bathory). First single “All That May Bleed,” though, is searing, blood-raising Scandinavian black metal. Of course it’s great. [Century Media] –MN

07. Mammoth Grinder – “Paragon Pusher”

Location: Austin, TX
Subgenre: Death Metal/Thrash Metal/Hardcore Jambalaya

When I started typing this entry up, I got to the genre tag and had to pause. Metal’s mess of subgenres grows notoriously fuzzy around the edges, and Mammoth Grinder is nothing but edges. The styles in which this prolific group of Austin musicians dabble share many common ’80s-era ancestors, and fittingly, Mammoth Grinder isn’t far evolved beyond those ancestors. “Paragon Pusher” shambles along at precisely the pace of a circle pit, an attribute I normally associate with thrash and hardcore, while the keening tremolo riff and bellowed vocals are definitely old-school death. But as usual, the fusion works not because the parts are so distinct, but because they meld into a contiguous, compact, and viscerally thrilling song. Underworlds comes out in late July; bonus points for the cover art by Joe Petagno, who’s done work for a host of great bands that ranges from Led Zeppelin and Motorhead to Marduk and Bal-Sagoth. [20 Buck Spin] –DM

06. Pinkish Black – “Razed To The Ground”

Location: Fort Worth, TX
Subgenre: “Dr. Who Doom-kraut” (c) Trevor de Brauw, Pelican

Pinkish Black released our 17th favorite metal album of 2012 with their self-titled debut: a somber and disquieting no-wave take on doom metal. That album was released on avant-garde indie label Handmade Birds, but in November of last year, it was announced that Pinkish Black had signed to genre powerhouse Century Media, home to such heavyweights as Napalm Death, Arch Enemy, Watain, etc. It was an unexpected pairing, to be sure, but an exciting one: Pinkish Black would benefit from CM’s resources; CM would benefit from the infusion of vital new talent; metal would benefit from having one of its best new bands given such a pedestal. And man do they deserve it. Advances of Pinkish Black’s forthcoming Century Media debut, Razed To The Ground, started circulating late last month, and the thing is an absolute stunner. It’s heavier, more melodic, and more captivating than the band’s excellent 2012 release, and it’s pretty clearly going to place well on lots of Best Of 2013 (Metal Edition) lists. Its title track is three-plus minutes of dense, thundering space-goth, and it rules. [Century Media] –MN

05. Power Trip – “Murderer’s Row”

Location: Dallas, TX
Subgenre: Crossover Thrash

UNGH! The vocal hit at the 25-second mark says it all, like a pelvic thrust to the skull. Every note of Power Trip’s new record oozes force, authority, and power — “Murderer’s Row” in particular. This is retro-thrash of the highest order, where the act of tribute outshines the originators’ work by a few orders of magnitude. Listening is like stepping out of a time machine into an idealized, less-depressing version of the past. Let’s face it, the crossover bands of the ’80s weren’t exactly crapping gold — hardly any of the original records are essential outside of historical importance. When’s the last time you actually listened to Age Of Quarrel? In terms of specific context, Power Trip sound an awful lot like Nuclear Assault … with better riffs, tighter chops, vastly improved production (without sacrificing any filth), and no delusions of singing ability. But they’ve got that same fire and the same righteous indignation that defined the best of the crossover bands, channeled here into something better, honed to an impossible edge. UNGH! [Southern Lord] –AL

04. A Pregnant Light – “The Pregnant Life”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: Experimental Black Metal

Picking a track for this list from A Pregnant Light’s newest demo, Domination Harmony, was like pulling teeth. In the end I went big and chose “The Pregnant Life,” a ripper that echoes the band’s name and highlights everything that makes A Pregnant Light great. (You can, and should, listen to the rest of the album here.) Where to start? “The Pregnant Life” has a strong sense of melody and is loaded with frantic riffing, perfectly timed solos, echoing lo-fi screams, and effortless style. The end result isn’t typical black metal — “The Pregnant Life,” like much of APL’s material, is much too warm, and listen to those guitars! It’s a welcome change for a genre that can at times seem recycled and reliant on certain tropes, and there’s a reason APL is operating under a self-applied new genre tag: purple metal. It fits, and welcomes any would be disparagers — Domination Harmony’s cassette J-card reads, “Better than black.” [Colloquial Sound Recordings] –WM

03. Lycus – “Coma Burn”

Location: Oakland, CA
Subgenre: Funeral Doom

Funeral doom, at its best, taps into something deeper than ordinary metal. These bands live and die by their ability to harness heavy emotion: sadness, longing, hopelessness, failure … It has a smothering effect — the weight of slow, stagnant rhythm guitars with strains of minor key leads that hang and quaver — it’s all meant to drag you down, hit you where it hurts, and force you to feel something. One of my favorite (and least common) funeral doom tricks comes when a band flips the script, letting the clouds break for a split second (which, in funeral doom time, means, like, three minutes). For a fleeting moment you get a glimpse of something resembling hope, a flickering light, perhaps the possibility of escape — and the feeling, the palpable sense of release, is monumental. It’s that moment of cathartic victory right before everyone dies at the end of a Senecan tragedy — awful, but somehow satisfying. And Lycus achieves that here. [20 Buck Spin] –AL

02. Gorguts – “Forgotten Arrow”

Location: Quebec
Subgenre: Avant-garde Death Metal

For a few years in the late ’90s and early ’00s, Gorguts pushed death metal weirdness to the limit. Obscura and From Wisdom To Hate are two of the trippiest, most dissonant death metal recordings ever. But despite the onomatopoeic riffs (clang! skree! whumpf!), Gorguts wrote indelible songs that you could remember, and even yell along to with some practice. They dissolved in the early aughts, but mastermind Luc Lemay reformed the band in 2008 and has been working toward their long-delayed new album ever since. The lineup on Colored Sands, which drops on September 3 in the States, is insane — Dysrhythmia technicians Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston (also of Krallice) on guitar and bass, and virtuoso journeyman John Longstreth on drums. Though Lemay has been Gorguts’ only constant through their 24-year run, the band has never been a dictatorship. You can hear the new group’s fingerprints on “Forgotten Arrows,” like Marston and Hufnagel’s love for chiming natural harmonics and Longstreth’s push-pull blasting. But the key identifier remains: It fuses darkness and light, like all of Gorguts’s best material, which is enough to put Colored Sands in the early running for best metal release of 2013. [Season Of Mist] –DM

01. TOAD – “Howling House”

Location: Phoenix, AZ
Subgenre: Death ‘n’ Roll

So the band is called TOAD, which is ostensibly an acronym for Take Over And Destroy, but as acronymic band names go, it’s closer to N.E.R.D. than ABBA. The words behind the letters are an afterthought; the band is called TOAD. Take Over And Destroy doesn’t even make sense, tactically speaking. Take over or destroy? Sure. But to take over and then destroy is a totally inefficient use of one’s military resources! Of course TOOD is a shitty name for a metal band, whereas TOAD is just a goofy one — intentionally so, in this case. But, you know, it fits, too: Toads are fat, ugly, poisonous things that sometimes have hallucinogenic properties, and the same could be said of TOAD’s music. The Phoenix, AZ sextet have just self-released their debut LP, Take Over And Destroy, which follows a 2011 EP, Rotten Tide. Both releases contain five songs and run roughly the same length of time, making the EP/LP distinction a nominal one. Both releases are terrific, too, but the new one is an absolute crusher. The most obvious comparison is Entombed’s 1993 death ‘n’ roll classic Wolverine Blues — same jet-engine guitar tones; same dirtbike momentum. But TOAD have edges both rougher and smoother than did their Swedish ancestors. Vocalist Andy Leemont (aka Chthon, a reference, appropriately, to either a Marvel Comics character or a Piers Anthony novel) deals in a scorched roar that calls to mind the paint-peeling sludge of Indianapolis noise terrorists Coffinworm. Organist Pete Porter’s contributions give to the songs a vintage horror-movie/swinging black-mass ambience. But what makes TOAD great are the grooves. “Howling House” opens with an ominous strut that quickly explodes into a mosh section worthy of a war zone (or Warzone), complete with hardcore gang chants. The very first time I listened to it — at my desk, over a pair of Skullcandy Hesh headphones — I literally started involuntarily headbanging as soon as those guitars kicked in. (I think I pumped my fist when Leemont let out his little Tom G. Warrior/Tompa Lindberg-inspired “oogh!”) When the song slows up in its second half and goes widescreen-landscape, it’s a swaggering display of sheer power. Front to back, the song is a total adrenaline speedball. It just takes you over, right away. And then? It destroys you. [Take Over And Destroy] –MN

more from Lists