The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2013


The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2013


I was in high school the first time I saw Carcass live, in 1992, on the Gods Of Grind Tour, when they were playing American clubs with Entombed, Cathedral, and Confessor. Carcass were touring behind their 1991 LP, Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious, which is now recognized as one of the best heavy metal albums ever put to tape. At the time, though, it was a total surprise, and for some, not a welcome one: Prior to Necroticism, Carcass had been a grindcore band in the purest sense — fast, incomprehensible, blunt, messy, punishing. Along with Napalm Death, they were both progenitors of the form and its most famous faces. But on their 1991 album, Carcass were exploring melody, nuance, and structure. It was almost a new form of metal, an ectomorphic evolution, and with that, not a single act on the Gods Of Grind bill was by definition a “grind” band. (That’s especially funny because the individual people on that tour really could be called “gods of grind”: the members of Carcass, of course, along with Cathedral, a blues-y doom band formed by frontman Lee Dorian, who’d made his name as the vocalist on Napalm Death’s late-’80s grindcore classics, Scum and From Enslavement To Obliteration).

Necroticism was an important step forward, though, and a remarkable one. It’s not just one of the best metal albums of all time, but it captures what is perhaps the most significant leap taken by any metal band ever. Hell, few bands in all of popular music have grown so much in such a short span, and done so much for their genre in the process. Carcass may not have invented melodic death metal, but Necroticism is one of the first chapters in the textbook, and one of the biggest. Carcass actually surpassed that accomplishment with 1993’s Heartwork — a masterpiece that refined the melodic and technical advances made on Necroticism — before flaming out with ’95’s unloved (and uneven) Swansong, and breaking up.

Carcass reunited in 2007 to do occasional nostalgia tours, but this month, they delivered a surprise that may be even greater than the one that accompanied Necroticism in 1991: They released their first new music in 18 years, a single called “Captive Bolt Pistol,” which was followed by media advances of a new album, Surgical Steel. Of course, new music from an old band does not itself necessarily warrant special mention; what makes Surgical Steel noteworthy — and shocking — is the fact that it’s monumentally awesome. If you were able to remove the music from historical context, you could pretty easily make the argument that it’s Carcass’s finest work. But even stacked alongside Carcass’s genre-defining accomplishments, as well as everything that has happened in metal over the last 18, 20, 21 years, Surgical Steel would be a highlight. It’s immediately, obviously, one of 2013’s best albums. More impressive, maybe: It arrives to ridiculous levels of expectation, and exceeds them, by no small margin, with ease, power, precision, and grace. (Unless you were hoping for a return to the band’s grindcore period, in which case you’re due for a pretty severe letdown.)

There’s more on Carcass and Surgical Steel below, naturally, and at some point over the next month, I’ll probably write at length about the album, but before we get to any of that, just a quick rundown/reminder of what we’re doing here. The Black Market looks back at the preceding month in metal from the perspectives of the column’s contributors: Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Doug Moore, and me. We vote on our favorite new “metal” music from that month, which we condense to 15 songs total, then rank (counting down from 15), and then write about (each blurb is bylined with the initials of its author). It’s kind of important, I think, to note that once an album is represented in this space, we don’t cover new material from that album in future installments. For instance, in last month’s Black Market, we covered songs off the forthcoming LPs from Watain and Gorguts. Both those bands premiered new album tracks in July, and if the rules were different, both those bands would be on this month’s list, too. (That’s not specific to Watain and Gorguts, btw, they just happen to be prominent examples to illustrate this rule in action; that said, you can hear that Watain track here and Gorguts here). But we’re trying to spread the love, and honestly, it’s hard enough already to cut this thing down to 15. Everything on display in this month’s Black Market is pretty goddamn excellent. Check it out, and let us know in the comments what we missed, what you love, what kinda heavy shit dominated your playlists/headphones/speakers in July 2013.

Michael Nelson

15. American Sharks – “XVI”

Location: Austin, TX
Subgenre: Sludge Punk

A heat wave settled on the Northeast the week before last. Temperatures spiked into the high 90s. Walking the streets of New York City felt like plunging through microwaved chowder. (It smelled that way, too.) American Sharks deal with such sultry climes on the regular in Austin, where they’re based. Their music suits the sticky atmosphere — burly, fuzzy rock that’s equally well-suited to block parties as to clammy mosh pits. “XVI” is the kind of song that demands to be described as a jam. American Sharks crank through the namechecks at a furious pace — Torche, Queens Of The Stone Age, Danzig, and various other riffy rumblers — but the song is over before you have time to shotgun a Tecate and crank up the AC. You should really blast this one with the windows down on your way to the beach, but for now, just listen. [The End] –Doug Moore

14. Body Stuff – “Wanted Man”

Location: NYC
Subgenre: Experimental

Body Stuff’s name leaves everything to the imagination, a sort of carte blanche that lets listeners decide how far they’ll let their sick thoughts take them. The same can be said for the band’s massive-weirdo music, which tends to unfurl in one-act bad dreams that end when the ear, and logic, is expecting a resolution or interlude. Body Stuff is the solo project of Curran Reynolds, drummer of noisecore act Today Is The Day and eclectic-metal outfit Wetnurse. In what is no small feat, “Wanted Man” may be the weirdest track on Body Stuff’s delightfully bizarre six-song 7″ (you can, and should, listen to the others here). Unlike so much metal where lyrics take a back seat or are unintelligible, Reynolds’s lyrics are a focal point and tell snippets of stories in a hundred words or less that are as haunting as they are evocative — listen to them and tell me these are the thoughts of a sane person. Add to that an otherworldly blend of drone, metal, post-rock, and more that endlessly loops, rises, and falls over a metronomic beat, and we’re looking at something glorious. [The Path Less Traveled] –Wyatt Marshall

13. All Pigs Must Die – “Primitive Fear”

Location: Boston
Subgenre: Hardcore/Metal

If history is any indication, and it usually is, metal and hardcore will forever cross streams. Crossover thrash, metallic hardcore, and any number of –core suffixed dirty words each exist as a different variation on the same theme — the years sail onward and one hybrid begets another. All Pigs Must Die play the current iteration of crossover, as made popular by Trap Them and Black Breath: call it HM2-core, Entombed-core, Southern Lord Hardcore, whatever blows your hair back. The etymology matters less than the music, and in this case, APMD deliver on the full potential of the bastardization of metal. “Primitive Fear” finds the band exploring moodier textures than most bands playing this style, blasting away before settling into a mid-tempo stomp, ripping through metal riffs and landing in hardcore territory all their own. It’s hard to call anything here “subtle,” but there’s the faintest shade of an experimental streak (befitting their Death in June-lifted moniker), and it goes a long way. [Southern Lord] –Aaron Lariviere

12. Hexer – “II”

Location: Philadelphia
Subgenre: Black Metal

A lot of old-school black metal bands have this harsh and distorted otherworldly quality to them. When those bands came out way back when, they were nothing like anything anyone had ever heard: militaristic and massively evil; stupidly lo-fi and fast; and created by something inhuman, in some deep, dark corner of Europe (or someone’s basement). Hexer, from Philadelphia, nails that vibe of yore. Here on “II” (as on all their tracks, honestly), we’re treated to a four-minute blitz of hypnotic fuzzed-out speed and spite. It’s overflowing with aggression and, if the band ever played live (signs point to no), capable of whipping a room into a frenzy. [Gilead Media] –WM

11. Ephemeros – “All Hail Corrosion”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: Funeral Doom/Epic Sludge

Imagine all the words for all the awful things imaginable, all rolled into one long, ramshackle sentence full of hell and discomfort: dark, dank, horrible stuff ripped from the deepest corner of the foulest sub-basement of your brain. That’s the kind of nameless shit that comes to mind when those vocals and that wall of sound come slamming down over the ringing strains of clean guitar at the top of “All Hail Corrosion.” Put simply, Ephemeros play funeral doom mixed with misanthropic sludge. Behind every booming note there’s a wall of feedback waiting for the chance to rip through and dig its way into your ear. The practical effect is a sense of creeping dread. It shifts the feel from the traditional funeral doom subjects of loss and dejection, landing somewhere closer to disgust. The vocals sound absolutely awful, in the best way. As the song plods onward past the 10-minute mark, it’s as if the band runs out of patience, shakes off its chains, and gets legitimately pissed. The tempo picks up. Riffs coalesce into simple patterns of back and forth aggression. The singer starts to rant and rave, sputtering into the void, screaming his throat hoarse. As a song, it’s certainly not pretty; as an invocation of something vast, shapeless, and horrible, it does the trick. [Seventh Rule] –AL

10. Pelican – “Immutable Dusk”

Location: Chicago
Subgenre: Post-metal

It seems inaccurate at this point to call Chicago’s Pelican a metal band: Their textured instrumental post-rock has more in common with jazz-fusionists the Mahavishnu Orchestra and/or ’90s indie instrumentalists Pell Mell than it does Nachtmystium or Leviathan or Dawnbringer or Avichi or Lord Mantis or Wolvhammer or any other metal band currently associated with the Chicago scene. (Maybe Wrekmeister Harmonies. Maybe.) But just because Pelican aren’t bound by the traditions of their genre doesn’t mean they’re not representing it. You could probably include them among an entire wave of progressive American metal acts, from Deafheaven to Russian Circles, who are exploring atmospherics and instrumental melody in heavy music. “Immutable Dusk” comes from from Pelican’s forthcoming LP, Forever Becoming, their first full-length since 2009. It’s spacious and melodic, crunching and crushing at points, but mostly expansive — exploring vast, varied, and wondrous terrains in its seven minutes. [Southern Lord] –MN

09. Stomach Earth – “Void Angel Ritual”

Location: Salem, MA
Subgenre: Death/Doom Metal

Mike “Gunface” McKenzie is best known for his guitar work in the excellent (but sometimes maligned) technical death metal band the Red Chord. Few remember his other side project, a melodic death metal band called Beyond The Sixth Seal. McKenzie’s growled vocals in that band were absolutely stellar — powerful, diverse, and emotive. Beyond The Sixth Seal tanked years ago, but McKenzie is back behind the mic in Stomach Earth. He’s also behind the guitar, bass, and drums; it’s a solo venture. His layered guttural vox rip as hard as ever, but Stomach Earth takes a radically different musical tack. There’s no tech-shred or harmonized guitars here — instead we’re treated to a gnarly, crawling death metal/doom fusion that makes you want to come up with synonyms for “cave-like.” Yawning? Cavernous? Sepulchral? You decide. [Black Market Activities] –DM

08. Sinister Realm – “Dark Angel Of Fate”

Location: Allentown, PA
Subgenre: True Heavy Metal

Sinister Realm exist somewhere outside of time, with only one purpose: to play Heavy Metal in the most traditional sense. Undiluted, honest, and pure — this is the metal the world needs, if not necessarily the metal the world wants. (I think I just paraphrased Batman.) Lyrics focus on the dark and the fantastic, but there’s an aspirational bent: There’s an emphasis placed on reaching for triumph, on rising to the occasion, on standing strong in the face of fearsome things. Like the similarly excellent Dawnbringer, Sinister Realm plays retro metal as if it’s the only thing they’re capable of playing. Riffs feel comfortable, familiar, but never tired. Choruses go where they should — ever higher — while we lose ourselves to the simple escapism offered by the anthemic lyrics. This was once a well-worn style, back in the days when Manowar was good — many, many moons ago — here it reads less like an affectation and more like a commitment to some kind of inner calling, however silly that might seem from the outside looking in. When singer Alex Kristof breaks into a ragged scream at the end of “Dark Angel Of Fate”, it’s as if his excitement can’t be held in for a split-second longer. It’s deeply uncool, and genuinely awesome. [Shadow Kingdom] –AL

07. 11 Paranoias – “Reapers Ruin”

Location: England
Subgenre: Stoner Doom

If any metal niche is tough to write about, it’s stoner doom. Its presentation is typically goofy and repetitive in a way that doesn’t lend itself to analysis. (Motifs include: weed, drugs, occult stuff, naked ladies, and weed.) On top of that, the music itself tends toward formalism. The distinction between a good stoner doom band and a bad stoner doom band lies mostly in the details. Case in point: 11 Paranoias. A rote description of their sound — bluesy power-chord riffs, slow tempos, huge instrument tones, trippy noise layers — nails down their genre, but does not explain the power of their debut album. You’ve got to look for the little details and elaborations on the core formula to see why it works so well. Bassist/vocalist Adam Richardson (also of Ramesses) contributes plenty musically, but his real coup here is his production job: The rolling, muscular sounds leave headphone-candy contrails as they lurch by. Sound confusing? Well, I tried. Just listen. [Ritual Productions] –DM

06. Yellow Eyes – “Hammer Of Night”

Location: NYC
Subgenre: Black Metal

Yellow Eyes has flown under the radar for some time now, having released a very good full-length and a split last year, both limited to just 100 copies on cassette. The band was right here in New York City, hiding in plain sight — a feat they won’t likely pull off for too much longer. Yellow Eyes delivers no-frills melodic lo-fi black metal with a touch of shoegaze. There’s this gorgeous moment in the middle of “Hammer Of Night” — the title track from the band’s newest full-length — when all the chaotic riffing and blasts slow for a few moments of eyes-closed, nod-along sublime beauty. It’s nice, and I wouldn’t mind savoring the moment a bit longer, but Yellow Eyes doesn’t let you get used to it — they’re soon back to speed, barely audible shrieks, and schizophrenic twists. A tape’s out now on the band’s own label, a 12″ is coming soon on Dead Section records. [Sibir] –WM

05. Vattnet Viskar – “Fog Of Apathy”

Location: New Hampshire
Subgenre: Post-black Metal/USBM

New Hampshire’s Vattnet Viskar were the only metal act to make our list of 2012’s Best New Bands, a spot awarded to them based on the combined strength of their 3-song debut EP and their live show. Both these presentations were startlingly powerful and assured, belying the band’s relative youth. Both also, though, suggested tremendous untapped upside. I got an advance of the band’s forthcoming first full-length album, Sky Swallower, in late May, and it pretty quickly made its way into my honorable mentions for 2013’s Best Albums So Far. I’ve been listening to it regularly since then, and it has only grown in my estimation. Vattnet Viskar are nominally a black metal band, but that appellation captures only a fraction of their sound’s massive scope. Sky Swallower is an album of athletic power and grace. When it is quiet, it is patient, placid, near-still; when it is heavy, it is as breathtaking as a skyscraper demolition. And the band’s use of balance and tension to maximize the effects of those extremes is dazzling; it’s a visceral experience. I don’t know that any one song presents a fair representation of Sky Swallower because the album really demands to be viewed in landscape, not thumbnail — Vattnet Viskar would be ranked even higher on this list if we were discussing Sky Swallower in full, rather than a single sample. That sample, “Fog Of Apathy,” is pretty great just the same. Don’t be misled by the title — there’s nothing foggy or apathetic about the thing. It’s oceanic. [Century Media] –MN

04. Exhumed – “Necrocracy”

Location: San Jose, CA
Subgenre: Death Metal

So much gore! Seriously, with new records from Autopsy, Carcass, and Exhumed, we’re living in the Golden Age of gore metal — and it came from out of nowhere. Exhumed might get overshadowed once the new Carcass drops next month and liquefies our guts en masse, but if that’s the case it’s a damn shame. Necrocracy the album finds Exhumed in top shape, with no evidence of growing pains despite the fact there’s an entirely new lineup behind main-man Matt Harvey. “Necrocracy” the song sees shades of playful experimentation creeping into the Exhumed formula: Things get groovy in the verses, adding a little ’90s bounce to the band’s death rattle ‘n’ roll, before swerving into some noxious Carcass-style harmonized leads a few bars later. The production is thick, dark, and delicious, lending itself perfectly to Exhumed’s rotting ways. [Relapse] –AL

03. Anagnorisis – “Eulerian Path”

Location: Louisville, KY
Subgenre: USBM

It’s been a really good year for black metal, and especially so for American black metal. I feel like I’m hearing new records every week worth getting excited about, and they’re coming from bands at every level, from everywhere in the country. One of my very favorite black metal albums of 2013 is Beyond All Light, from Louisville’s Anagnorisis. The band was formed in 2003, and its initial lineup featured Austin Lunn on vocals and guitar. They released one album, 2007’s excellent (if largely unheard) Overton Trees, after which Lunn left to focus on his one-man project, the now-celebrated Panopticon. Beyond All Light is Anagnorisis’s second full-length, and while losing a musician of Lunn’s ability would probably sink most bands, Anagnorisis have only gotten bigger, heavier, and stronger. Former bassist Zachary Kerr has taken over Lunn’s vocal duties, to the band’s benefit. Kerr’s sludgy, mic-in-mouth scream is violent and immediate — in fact, Beyond All Light features some of the best black metal vocals I’ve heard in a long time. The instrumentation, meanwhile, is thrilling: Anagnorisis play epic, melodic, technically flawless black metal that is somehow also brutal, raw, and kinetic: The whole thing is somehow equal parts Dissection and Nails. It’s elegant and vile and physically captivating in ways that makes everything around it seem inert. [self-released] –MN

02. SubRosa – “Cosey Mo”

Location: Salt Lake City
Subgenre: Progressive Doom Metal

There’s a reason metal band lineups tend to stick to conventional rock instruments. Experiments with non-standard arrangements often spell disaster. (Remember what happened when metal bands started recruiting DJs?) But for those who dare to gamble and win, the payoff is a distinctive sound: the most valuable asset in the overstuffed metal world. SubRosa have gambled and won. They round out their doom metal — generally a conservative style — with a pair of violins and loads of vocal harmonies. “Doom plus strings” isn’t 100% novel; the excellent Bay Area bands Giant Squid and Asunder have taken that tack, among others. But the violins in SubRosa work weirdly; they skirl through vertiginous ascents and dives, often sounding more like pipes than strings. And the band has the songwriting chops to match. “Cosey Mo” launches into a refrain at about the 3-minute mark that you’ll have some trouble getting out of your head. This from the least catchy song on their upcoming third album. [Profound Lore] –DM

01. Carcass – “Captive Bolt Pistol”

Location: England
Subgenre: Melodic Death Metal

In the last installment of the Black Market, I ran down a bunch of second-half 2013 metal albums I was excited about, and included on that list Surgical Steel, the sixth album from English death-metal legends Carcass, and their first in 18 years. To be honest, I didn’t actually expect to see Surgical Steel in 2013, or maybe ever — it seemed more like a pipe dream than a record. But in a year that’s brought us new work from My Bloody Valentine and the Pixies, and reunions of the Replacements and Neutral Milk Hotel — along with similar miracles from seemingly countless others — it seems like just about everything is possible. So here we have the first new Carcass track in almost two full decades. It is a legit HOLY SHIT moment. It’s important to point out, though, that this version of Carcass is without two key members: original drummer Ken Owen — who left due to health concerns, but will, crucially, do guest vocals on Surgical Steel — and guitarist Michael Amott — who joined the band prior to their third album, 1991’s Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious, and who provided important contributions to both that album and its follow-up, 1993’s Heartwork. Both those albums are prominent in the conversation of Best Death Metal Album Ever. (Amott left before Carcass’s fifth album, Swan Song, to start his own band, Arch Enemy. Swan Song is one of the most reviled records in the history of death metal, although I actually, um … like it.) All that said, there’s absolutely no reason not to lose one’s shit listening to “Captive Bolt Pistol” — it’s a killer: Guitars snap and bash like Bigfoot joyously bouncing along and caving in the roofs of a junkyard’s worth of derelict Pontiacs; bright melodic flashes are caught in gusts of speed and twists of rhythm; guitarist Bill Steer kicks out a solo worthy of peak Mustaine. Bassist/vocalist Jeff Walker has said Surgical Steel sounds like the record that should have come between Necroticism and Heartwork; that’s an impossible standard to achieve, but again, seems like a lot of impossible stuff is happening this year. [Nuclear Blast] –MN

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