The Black Market: The Month In Metal – September 2013
Last night, Black Market bro Doug Moore and I — and about 800 other people — squeezed into the 500-capacity Gramercy Theatre to see Carcass. It was the second-to-last show of the UK band’s extremely limited North American “tour” (five shows total) in support of the magnificent Surgical Steel, Carcass’s first new album in 17 years. Old-school Yonkers death metal band Immolation opened, and between sets, the Gramercy PA blasted Metallica’s 1988 classic …And Justice For All. It was, for me, an intensely welcome sound: Just five days before the Carcass show — on my 39th birthday, in fact — I went to see Metallica play an obscenely intimate show at the Apollo in Harlem, a venue roughly 1/50 the size regularly played by Metallica. I wrote about it here (where you can also check out two dozen more pics from the show, like the one at the top of this post, by the super-talented Greg Cristman), but I’ll give you the gist: It was maybe the best show of my life. I’ve seen Metallica in their heyday — and I’ve seen a pretty gluttonous number of legitimately mind-blowing and now-legendary shows by lots of other bands in the decades since Metallica’s heyday (I was at this Radiohead show, for example) — but seeing Metallica in that setting floored and moved me in a way that I have never before experienced. It wasn’t just because they were absolutely amazing (though they were) or because they were playing fucking timeless songs that also happened to have shaped my identity (though this too is true) or even because they were doing so in a tiny and historic venue on my birthday and drinks were free (these are facts!) but because I was totally aware of all these elements and able to fully appreciate them in the moment. It was hugely intoxicating. Yes, literally, but figuratively, too!
Anyway, as Justice played over the PA at Gramercy last night, I found myself almost wistful — not wishing that I were about to see Metallica, but wishing I were still at that Metallica show: It was simply too powerful an experience to be compartmentalized; it was overflowing from the recesses into the fore of my consciousness. Of course, as soon as Carcass took the stage to the haunting and ominous strains of “1985,” those wishes were blown away. Carcass are a GREAT live band with a stacked catalog of songs whose towering grandeur is only revealed in the live setting. The band’s two longstanding members — guitarist Bill Steer and frontman/bassist Jeff Walker — are almost iconic presences on stage: Steer looks like a 22-year-old David Gilmour and plays like a 29-year-old Dave Mustaine; Walker is basically Quint from Jaws. To be in a room with them feels both comfortable and exciting; to watch them annihilate that room is simply astonishing. I saw them in 1992 on the Gods Of Grind tour. This was better.
Prior to Metallica, the best show I had seen in 2013 was At The Gates at the Phoenix Theater in Toronto, at the beginning of August, which I wrote about in last month’s Black Market. It’s no exaggeration to say that Metallica, Carcass, and At The Gates are three of my favorite bands ever, and I love all of them with an almost familial fierceness, a primal bond that exists beyond my capacity for critical reasoning or analysis. But At The Gates is the youngest of those bands, and their last album came out in 1995. More than any other active musical genre (with the possible exception of jazz), metal reveres its elders. This is one of the things I love about metal: its anti-ageism, especially when so much of the culture of popular music is deliberately, almost snidely ageist. Last night, Immolation frontman Ross Dolan joked that the show should have been held not at Gramercy Theatre but the Museum Of Natural History, because both bands are so old. The most recent additions to the lineup of next year’s Maryland Deathfest — the biggest and by far the best metal festival in America — included Florida’s Nocturnus and England’s Cancer, two bands whose best-known albums came out in 1990. And this news was largely met with exhilaration, even by metal fans as young as Doug … who was 3 years old in 1990.
That said, metal’s anti-ageism has a tendency to become reverse-ageism. Metal fans hold on a pedestal the likes of Mercyful Fate and Celtic Frost and Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, but frequently treat young bands with suspicion and derision. The “hipster metal” pejorative has become almost synonymous with “baby band.” This is nothing new. I was around in 1990; I remember Immolation and Cancer and Nocturnus when they first came on the scene. Take it from one who remembers quite clearly: Those bands were considered inconsequential dilutions of their forebears. Except in the case of Nocturnus — the first death metal band to prominently include synths in their music. They were considered traitors and poseurs; they were booed mercilessly when I saw them open for Napalm Death on Long Island in 1991.
I believe this attitude has a potentially chilling effect on the artistic evolution of metal, and is thus dangerous and self-destructive. When Celtic Frost first emerged, they were considered avant-garde! When Darkthrone made A Blaze In The Northern Sky, it was initially rejected by their label who thought it was a joke! Classic sounds become classic over time. I love Metallica more than I love some members of my own family — and what they gave me last week will be with me for the rest of my life — but I know that it’s been more than two decades since they’ve made a great record. And based on their setlist, they know it too. We need new Metallicas. Kids who are in middle school today need bands to grow up with and see when they turn 39.
I’ve found myself banging the Deafheaven drum especially loudly these past few weeks, and I think that’s why. They’re iconoclasts and innovators and, yes, I think Sunbather is a masterpiece. And the backlash has been growing with each new development. Fortunately, Deafheaven are fearless, and they have managed to stare down or ignore the haters. And I want young metalheads — and especially young metal musicians — to follow that lead, to not be cowed by a community that often seems eager to close its doors to newcomers. We don’t need more bands that sound like Celtic Frost; we need more bands that think like Celtic Frost.
To that end, I’m happy to have written about four metal acts in the list of Stereogum’s 40 Best New Bands Of 2013: Noisem, Power Trip, Sadgiqacea, and Yellow Eyes. I’m happy Tom chose Windhand’s Soma as our Album Of The Week on 9/17 — which was perhaps the best new-release week metal has seen in … 25 years? 30? I have no idea. Other great metal albums to drop that day included new ones from Grave Miasma, SubRosa, Pinkish Black, Ulcerate, and Wolvserpent. Oh and Surgical Steel. That thing still rules, too.
Final orders of business before I leave you with the month’s best metal: The guys with whom I write this column every month — Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, and Doug Moore — met and became close friends because we all contributed to the great metal blog Invisible Oranges, which I edited for a year prior to coming to Stereogum. When I left IO, Aaron took over as editor, a torch he later passed to Fred Pessaro, then of Brooklyn Vegan, now at Noisey. When Fred left BV, he necessarily had to leave IO, too. I’m proud to say, though, that he’s left the site in the capable hands of Doug and Wyatt, who have been named IO’s editor and deputy editor, respectively. (They’re still part of the Black Market crew though, not to worry.)
Also, I’m insanely proud to congratulate Doug’s outstanding band, Pyrrhon, for signing with the great Relapse Records, one of the best metal labels in history, whose current and past rosters include many of metal’s finest, most influential, and most exciting bands. I hope to see Doug and Pyrrhon at the Apollo or the Gramercy or the Museum Of Natural History in 30 years. But really, I’m so stoked to see them here, now.
Music below. Tell us what’s what in the comments.
15. Nachtmystium – “Det Som Engang Var” (Burzum Cover)
Subgenre: Black Metal
Back in March, Blake Judd told me he was putting his primary band, Nachtmystium, on hiatus, to focus on his new band, Hate Meditation (and, presumably, to work on the anticipated third album from his black metal supergroup Twilight, their first to feature Thurston Moore as a member). But at some point over the summer, Judd put together a new Nachtmystium lineup, and during July and August, they recorded what will be the band’s seventh LP, reportedly to be titled The World We Left Behind, and to be released in early 2014. Among the songs recorded by the band during those sessions was a cover of Burzum’s “Det Som Engang Var,” from the Norwegian black metal act’s 1993 classic, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss. To be a fan of Burzum is to be fraught with moral conflicts (Craig Hayes recently wrote a fantastic piece on this subject for PopMatters, and I encourage you to read it); that band’s sole member, Varg Vikernes, is of course an unrepentant bigot and murderer. But the influence of the band on black metal is insanely vast — for instance, Deafheaven vocalist George Clarke has called Burzum “the blueprint.” In a note attached to Nachtmystium’s cover of “Det Som Engang Var,” Judd wrote, “Our love for Burzum is purely musical and we do not share any of Varg Vikernes’ personal political or racial ideologies.” At its best, the music is worthy of such conflicts, such love. “Det Som Engang Var” may literally be the best black metal song ever recorded, and Nacht’s fantastic version brings into clear focus the sheer power of its mighty riffs and military percussion. [Century Media] –Michael
14. So Hideous – “My Light”
Subgenre: Black-ish Metal
OK, I’m just gonna come out and say it: I think the new Deafheaven album is overrated. (Michael is filling out my pink slip as I type this.) [EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s all filled out and ready for ya now right here!] It’s not that I think Sunbather is all that bad, per se. It’s just easy for me to envision the same Envy-with-blastbeats shtick done better. And if you ask me, that’s exactly what NYC’s So Hideous have done on the self-released Last Poem/First Light. The fundamental approach here is pretty similar, but with a twist: So Hideous collaborated with the First Light Orchestra, a string-and-vocal ensemble, for most of the tunes on this album. (Notably, they managed to arrange this collab for a self-released record, which is a pretty impressive logistical feat.) It’s usually kind of a disaster when metal bands try to arrange classical instruments for their music, but it works out remarkably well here. So Hideous wisely chose to mix the First Light Orchestra pretty conservatively; the symphonic tracks mostly add depth and scope to the band’s extroverted guitar melodies. Even bassist Chris Cruz’s great blood-and-guts black metal vocals are mixed louder. Deaf-who-ven? [self-released] –Doug Moore
13. Obliteration – “Goat Skull Crown”
Subgenre: Death Metal
Is 2013 the year of death metal? The last few months make it feel like it might be. New material from Carcass, Grave Miasma, Ulcerate, Gigan, and Convulse is sure as hell notable, as are the lesser-known gems from the likes of Prosanctus Inferi and, here, Obliteration. Obliteration’s from the same town as Darkthrone, and brings some of the same sonic ugliness as the hometown heroes. “Goat Skull Crown” is ripping old-school death metal, all-out blasting save for an operatic interlude that storms back to business with an epic call to “Unleash the firebirds!” (\m/.) The whole song, with those freak-out vocals and psychotic speed, seems on the verge of running off the rails. I’m told Obliteration was great at Maryland Death Fest a few years back, and word has it they’ll be back Stateside in early 2014 in support of their forthcoming album, Black Death Horizon. Seems like one not to miss. [Relapse] –Wyatt Marshall
12. Broken Hope – “The Flesh Mechanic”
Subgenre: Death Metal
Two and a half minutes is all it takes for Broken Hope to reestablish their dominance as one of the best brutal death metal bands running — besides recent work from Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation, it’s a title hardly anyone seems to be competing for these days, which somehow makes this bludgeoning rebirth that much better. Broken Hope were always one of the goriest of the gore metal bands — as evidenced by 1991’s classic and aptly titled Swamped In Gore — but since breaking up in 2001 and reforming last year, their command of songcraft has grown exponentially. Jeremy Wagner’s riffs are as fit as ever, pummeling chunks of groove and string-ripping leads rendered in high definition. Meanwhile new vocalist Damien Leski (of fellow Chicago gorehounds Goregasm, filling in for the recently deceased Joe Ptacek) sounds absolutely fucking disgusting, in a good way — like a man vomiting to death. If the past is any indication, and it usually is, you don’t want to know what he’s saying anyway. [Century Media] –Aaron Lariviere
11. House Of Apparition – “I-VII”
Subgenre: Noise/Black Metal
There’s an intersection of noise and black metal in the extreme metal underground; some of the cassette-only bands out there will overlay a song with power electronics, which, along with lo-fi production and the general fidelity issues inherent to tape, create a cacophony that only a die-hard fan can appreciate. House Of Apparition, a one-man band from California, has crafted a formula that artfully feeds both the noise and black metal beasts. On this A-side composed of untitled tracks “I-VII” off House Of Apparition’s first full-length, fuse-shorting and sirens work in and out with punk-influenced black metal. My favorite part of the side begins around 4:40, when a drumbeat starts up a march that builds to an anthemic stomp overlaid with HOA’s crazed rasps. Make sure to stick around for the insane blast of an outro, too. [Nerdcore] –Wyatt
10. Earthless – “Violence Of The Red Sea”
Location: San Diego
Subgenre: Instrumental Face-meltery
In 2009, I went to see Baroness play NYC’s Bowery Ballroom. They were touring for their Blue Record, my favorite album of that year and still my favorite Baroness LP; I had never seen Baroness before, and I couldn’t wait to witness in concert some of the songs that were at that moment more or less owning my life. Before that night, though, I was instructed by several friends and acquaintances to arrive at the venue early enough to see openers Earthless. I took that advice, which wound up having consequences both positive and negative: On one hand, Earthless played one of the best sets I’ve ever seen, absolutely smoking their way through a single instrumental jam that lasted more than half an hour, leaving nearly everyone in the packed room howling wildly, staring in disbelief, and just generally losing our collective shit. On the other hand, Baroness simply could not compare to that display; their set felt staid and static by comparison. I remember thinking, as I left, that no band should voluntarily invite Earthless to serve as an opening act. They don’t warm up the room: They BURN IT DOWN and leave it in ashes. When that’s over, nothing remains. Earthless play an absolutely apocalyptic brand of instrumental stoner-psychedelic-doom that relies on each player basically being a total powerhouse carrying an equal (and very heavy) load; I’d say the closest analogue is probably Jimi Hendrix with the Band Of Gypsies (or the caustic fusion of Miles Davis’s post-Bitches Brew albums such as On The Corner or Big Fun). The power trio are now set to release their third studio album, and first in six years, called From The Ages. Album opener “Violence Of The Red Sea” lays waste to civilization over the course of its 14 insane minutes. And the thing only gets better from there. [Tee Pee] –Michael
09. Atlantean Kodex – “Sol Invictus”
Subgenre: Epic Doom Metal
I’m lucky that I gave Atlantean Kodex a blind listen, because on paper, this band reads like a list of traits that I try to avoid in metal. Operatic clean vocals? Check. Reverbed-out arena rock production? Check. Tons of cantering guitar melody? Check. Extremely long fantasy-themed songs? Check. Lyrics that involve the word “mistletoe”? Double check. Not brutal, guys! And yet, despite how thoroughly un-gritty and un-brutal Atlantean Kodex are, I really like ‘em. This band’s unabashed cheese will at first be tough to swallow for those unfamiliar with the ways of so-called “epic” doom metal, but their ability to elevate a chorus to anthemic stature with well-placed backing harmonies and (surprisingly beefy!) guitar work is just undeniable. And man, does Markus Becker have some pipes. After years and years of listening to guys making barnyard-animal noises into the mic, it’s almost surreal for me to hear such a powerful singing voice on a metal song. I defy you to get all the way through “Sol Invictus” without a single fist-pump. Seriously, just try it. [20 Buck Spin] –Doug
08. Patrons Of The Rotting Gate – “A Perfect Suicide”
Subgenre: Black Metal
Usually, completely unknown bands that turn up in a music writer’s inbox are completely unknown because they’re horrible. (Guys, there are so many horrible bands.) But once in a blue moon, you’ll stumble across an amazing band that’s completely unknown strictly because they’re new. See: Patrons Of The Rotting Gate. This forward-leaning black metal act sprung fully formed from the talented mind of a young Northern Irishman by the name of Andrew Millar, who put together The Rose Coil almost completely by himself in just three months. Writing, tracking, mixing, and mastering an entire album by oneself is impressive no matter what kind of music you’re playing, but The Rose Coil’s degree of complexity and maturity is also pretty astonishing for a debut — it’s emotive, pummeling, technical, and rendered in big, beautiful tones. “A Perfect Suicide” is my favorite jam on the album, but it’s great all the way through; spin the whole thing here, then hit his Bandcamp and nab a pay-what-you-will download. This guy is going places. [self-released] –Doug
07. Hail Of Bullets – “DG-7?
Subgenre: Death Metal
Following in the thoroughly trampled footsteps of bands like Bolt Thrower, Hail Of Bullets play pitch-perfect mid-tempo death metal with a total fixation on war and an utter disregard for lesser human concerns. The focus is single-minded and pure, befitting the straight-ahead crush of guitars and the martial trudge of the rhythm section. On “DG-7,” the second single and longest track taken from their third LP, the band slows down and spreads out: Harmonized guitars announce the epic intent before laying waste with ripping thrash, blasting forward then falling back into formation as the tempo drops for an extended melodic outro. Frontman Martin van Drunen — one of the all-time legends of death metal, having sung on classic records by Pestilence and Asphyx, even filling in for Bolt Thrower for a handful of tours — here sounds impressively hellish and hoarse, his trademark ragged scream almost painful to hear. It doesn’t get much better. [Metal Blade] –Aaron
06. Glorior Belli – “I Asked For Wine, He Gave Me Blood”
Subgenre: Southern-fried Black Metal
American black metal gets all the attention and credit for innovation (in America anyway) but the French scene makes us look like a nation of rigid, rules-minded purists. Even that country’s most prominent black metal bands are total iconoclasts: Alcest sound like Cocteau Twins, Blut Aus Nord sound like Front 242, Deathspell Omega sound like Univers Zero, Peste Noire sound like wine-stinking Parisian gypsy busker-pickpockets … so in France it’s probably not all that weird when a black metal band like Glorior Belli claims a heavy Southern rock influence. And this is not a casually made reference: Glorior Belli’s last album was called The Great Southern Darkness (not a nod to the South of France). To be fair, the band’s conception of Southern rock seems more Eyehategod than Skynryd, but still, this is black metal based in American blues. Remarkably, that inspiration leads not to a disjointed, awkward hybrid (although it probably should), but just plain gnarly, hooky, raw black metal with a good deep groove. “I Asked For Wine, He Gave Me Blood” is the first track to be released from Glorior Belli’s upcoming fifth LP, Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls (a title that CERTAINLY SUGGESTS a disjointed, awkward hybrid). In this case, the “Southern” in question kinda sounds like Southern Lord, as in: the label behind Nails and All Pigs Must Die and Black Breath. The song is hotter than New Orleans in July. Et beaucoup crasseux. [Southern Lord] –Michael
05. Bombus – “Liars”
Subgenre: Hard Rockin’ Heavy Metal
Hard rock in 2013 is a dicey proposition. As a genre, it’s been dead to me so long I’ve essentially forgotten it exists, and both of us, hard rock and I, are probably happier that way. So it’s a genuine thrill to see a band get this hard rock thing so damn right, and even better to see them incorporate plenty of punk and metal in the process. Bombus hail from Gothenburg, Sweden, and like all Swedes (I don’t know how or why this is, only that it is): rock and roll courses through their veins like liquid fire. What we get is a drunken swirl of Motorhead and old Turbonegro riffs (as seen on both advance singles, “Apparatus” and “Enter The Night“), but they’re capable of much more: Traces of Baroness and Kvelertak flit around the edges, adding weight and import while gang vocals keep fists raised and hearts alight. Third track “Liars” ups the intensity while slowing things down, tapping some glorious Gothenburg melodies over the fading strains of the outro — it’s a slow-motion ‘banger for the ages. Fenriz also approves. [Century Media] –Aaron
04. Wolvserpent – “Within The Light Of Fire”
Location: Boise, ID
Subgenre: Blackened Doom
The majority of the music featured in this month’s Black Market is riff-centric. It makes sense — riffs are what 95 percent of metal is all about; they’re the backbone of metal song structure and the stuff that gets heads and crowds moving. Listen to Wolvserpent’s new album, Perigea Antahkarana, and it may seem like the Idaho band is all about atmosphere — they’ve got a serious knack for haunted and brooding soundscapes, and a fondness for lengthy violin intros — but the power of the riff is in there, too. “Within The Light Of Fire” testifies to that. It’s cinematic, a soundtrack to some fucked-up ritualistic sacrifice, but really it’s a chugging monster. Note the killer vocals, and those little cosmic flare-ups that pepper the track. The song builds toward some impending doom, then shuts off. [Relapse] –Wyatt
03. Oranssi Pazuzu – “Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silmän”
Subgenre: Progressive Black Metal
It’s awesome when a band comes out of nowhere and delivers a great album on their first try. But if you’re the kind of person who follows career arcs, it can be even more gratifying when a band nails it after several tries. Oranssi Pazuzu have been really fun to follow in this respect. They’ve tried the same basic idea — mixing black metal with krautrock and loads of Hawkwind-esque spacey electronics — on all three of their records to date, but the results have improved steadily in quality with each effort. 2009’s Muukalainen Puhuu was intriguing in spite of its clumsiness; 2011’s Kosmonument was periodically brilliant but overlong. Valonielu, though, is pretty much unadulterated greatness. Check out how “Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silmän” builds to a crescendo in its second half. It’s tough to play music that’s this weird without coming off as clinical or distant; when vocalist Juho Vanhanen breaks the tension with a mighty “ARRRRRRRGH!,” you know you’re hearing something special. [20 Buck Spin] –Doug
02. Inquisition – “Darkness Flows Towards Unseen Horizons”
Subgenre: Black Metal
You might remember in last month’s Black Market, I spent a couple paragraphs breathlessly gushing about Inquisition’s forthcoming LP, Obscure Verses For The Multiverse, which is, in my opinion, pretty obviously one of the year’s best metal albums. At that point, the band had released to the public only a trailer for Verses, but earlier this month, the Seattle-via-Colombia duo dropped its first actual song, “Darkness Flows Towards Unseen Horizons,” perhaps my favorite track on the record. In fact, the first time I listened to Verses, I skipped back to “Darkness” at least four times before making it through the album even once. That’s not to throw shade on the rest of the record — I think the whole thing is fucking incredible, and there are at least four songs that I like just about as much as “Darkness.” My point is only: This is a great introduction to the thing. Frontman Dagon’s riff game is without peer right now, and he does with one guitar what it takes Iron Maiden three guitarists and a bassist to accomplish. Verses has clearly been inspired by classics (I don’t use that Iron Maiden comparison lightly) and I think it’s destined to become one. One word of warning: You’re possibly better off experiencing the song without watching the lyric video; the words are decidedly pretty … out there. But they exist solely to serve the guitars — a noble calling, to be sure, if a predestined one. Because those guitars rule over everything in the alternate universe from which they have been summoned. And now they’re coming for this one. [Season Of Mist] –Michael
01. In Solitude – “Pallid Hands”
Subgenre: Heavy Metal
Hype is a two-edged sword, no question. With it comes backlash, expectations, and what I can only imagine must be an unbearable amount of pressure. But it also presents a hell of an opportunity if one has the balls to grab it. In Solitude — who grace the cover of this month’s Decibel magazine, and who are set to release their third record, after coming to international prominence on the strength of their last — have no shortage of balls. One of the three recent bands to reach prominence playing what has been labeled “Occult Heavy Metal” (along with Ghost and the Devil’s Blood), these guys hew closest to the source material from which the entire micro-genre has sprung (we speak of Mercyful Fate, of course), though the new album, Sister, comes as a perfectly timed sidestep. Whereas Ghost’s second album collapsed under its own weight, and the Devil’s Blood gave up the ghost by breaking up before their third record, In Solitude here take their sound and pull it all a little closer to the chest — songs are darker but more intimate, the arrangements moodier but ultimately more rewarding. But what’s most striking is singer Pelle Åhman’s emergence as one of the most exciting frontmen of his generation: Whether crooning or howling, his presence haunts the entire record, imbuing it with the kind of tangible feeling you rarely get listening to metal — in any other genre you’d call it “soul.” Second single “Pallid Hands” might be the best on the album: With a killer opening riff torn straight from Pornography-era Cure, it only gets better once Pelle’s voice cuts through the din. [Metal Blade] –Aaron