The Black Market: The Month In Metal – January 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal - January 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – January 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal - January 2014

Earlier this week, Mötley Crüe found themselves a “trending topic” for the first time this millennium when they announced they would break up next year — after some three and a half decades as a band — following, naturally, a lengthy farewell tour. Even accounting for Mötley Crüe’s contemporary relevance (or lack thereof), this is not a story that should have gone viral; its substance is composed of old news. Actually, Mötley Crüe first made the farewell tour/breakup announcement last year, at which point the item disappeared as quickly as it surfaced, probably because, back then, they were ambiguous about the finality of their dissolution. “I’m sure in five, 10 years from now we’ll probably do something again together,” Crüe frontman Vince Neil told Billboard in 2013, when initially breaking the news of his band’s decision to call it quits.

What made this week’s update of last year’s story notable, though, was one crucial addendum: Not only would Mötley Crüe be breaking up, but they would be doing so permanently — officially permanently — and to guarantee they would never return, they staged a press conference where they signed a “cessation of touring agreement.” (According to Rolling Stone, “That legal filing will go into effect at the end of 2015.”) As of 2016, Mötley Crüe will be effectively legally barred from reuniting. In this way, they are unique, and newsworthy, and in an era when every band breakup seems to be no more than a PR event to stoke anticipation for the inevitable reunion, it is actually reassuring to know that one band, at least, is gone forever.

It’s easy for me to say this, of course, because I don’t like Mötley Crüe’s music, and I have never liked Mötley Crüe’s music. (I did, however, love their 2001 autobiography, The Dirt, and I highly, highly recommend it regardless of your feelings for the band.) As a general rule, I’m suspicious of band reunions, but I’ve had enough positive recent experiences that I’m able to welcome them, with some (admitted) ambivalence.

Minus one obvious exception (which maybe wasn’t metal anyway), metal’s biggest stories and successes in 2013 were the products of recent reunions: Gorguts’ Coloured Sand, Carcass’ Surgical Steel, and Black Sabbath’s 13. This is not to suggest that reunions of metal bands are more apt to produce rewarding results than reunions of non-metal bands; if anything, metal bands are less likely to “reunite,” because they never exactly dissolve. Most metal bands that achieve any level of success continue on indefinitely, with one central member owning rights to the name, and a rotating cast of supporting players filling in for brief or even extended periods, to the extent that the concept of a “classic” lineup is almost alien. The most famous example of this is the hugely influential British death/grind group Napalm Death, whose current lineup includes zero original members. (The band’s longest-standing member, bassist Shane Embury, joined Napalm Death a full six years into their existence.) Yet not only are there no calls for a reunion of the “real” Napalm Death who made the 1986 grindcore classic Scum, there are not even accusations of the current Napalm Death being a fraud. (Remarkably, as of today, the band has had an essentially stable lineup for more than 20 years.)

There are countless other similar examples. Seminal and still-active Brazilian thrash band Sepultura has been without either of its founding members — the Cavalera brothers — since 2006, when drummer Igor left the band (frontman Max quit Sepultura in 1996). Last week, it was announced that the classic Swedish death metal band Entombed (featuring one original member) would have to do business as Entombed AD, because another version of the band (featuring two original members, one of whom initially left the band in 2006) had rights to — and would be performing under — the Entombed name. Even last year’s notable reunions were imperfect: Carcass and Black Sabbath reunited sans their original drummers, and Gorguts featured only one original member, frontman and mastermind Luc Lemay.

Which brings us to the issue at hand: This past Monday — on the heels of a couple unsubtle teaser videos — it was announced that the great (legit great) Swedish melodic death metal band At The Gates would release a new album in late 2014, called At War With Reality, their first new music since initially breaking up in 1996, their first album since 1995’s superlative and utterly essential Slaughter Of The Soul. Before I go on, I should note that as reunions go, this one arrives with more promise than most: The reunited At The Gates comprises Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg, Anders Björler, Martin Larsson, Jonas Björler, and Adrian Erlandsson — the same lineup that made the band’s two best albums, Slaughter and the album that preceded it, 1994’s Terminal Spirit Disease. That’s also 4/5 of the band’s original lineup, which came together in 1990, and recorded two albums — 1992’s The Red In The Sky Is Ours and ’93’s With Fear I Kiss The Burning Darkness — before replacing rhythm guitarist Alf Svensson with Larsson. Furthermore, At The Gates first reunited in 2007, and have toured sporadically since then, resulting in a live album and DVD, and some seriously incredible shows.

Last summer, At The Gates played three North American dates, all in Canada. I actually drove, by myself, from Brooklyn to Toronto and back — eight hours each way! — to see them, because I’d missed my chance to do so when they last played New York, in 2008, and because I didn’t know when I’d get another such opportunity. (I wrote about it in last August’s Black Market.) It was worth every hour of driving, and every dollar spent. At The Gates played a flawless set to an enthusiastic crowd in a mid-size room and were on fucking fire the whole time. Of course, even beyond the time and money, my investment in At The Gates delivering such a performance was substantial: Slaughter Of The Soul is one of my favorite records ever in any genre, maybe my favorite metal record, period. (Terminal Spirit Disease is up there, too.) Anything short of momentous would have been a disappointment.

Let me level with you, in case I hadn’t betrayed this much already: I love — irrationally, uncritically love — At The Gates. For starters, Tompa Lindberg is my absolute favorite vocalist in the history of “extreme metal”; he brings a physicality and force to the form that makes a majority percentage of its practitioners seem stiff and awkward by comparison. And frankly, his voice sounds better now than it did in 1995 — not just on old At The Gates material played new in the live setting, but in the studio, too: His vocals on Disfear’s straight-up incredible 2008 LP, Live The Storm, for instance, are the most ferocious of his career. And let’s face it: As great as Disfear happens to be, their non-Tompa members can’t write or play at the level of At The Gates. At their very brief peak, i.e., 1994-’95, At The Gates were as good as prime-era Metallica — or, at least, as good as anything since prime-era Metallica.

Then, just like that, they broke up.

And now, they’re back.

So I’m really, really excited. I’m not even sure excited is the word. I’m, like, intoxicated, delirious, anxious to the point of lightheadedness. When people say they “can’t wait” for something, it’s usually hyperbolic and insincere. Truthfully? We can wait! We’ve got lots of other things to do in the meantime! But in this case, the wait is sort of giving me an ulcer and causing me to hyperventilate. I want new At The Gates music so much … but I need that music to be great. And knowing it’s on the horizon with no way of knowing what awaits us … Look, logically, I know my expectations should be kept in check, but there’s no reasoning with my imagination or emotions. In my heart, I believe At War With Reality will be completely transcendent and triumphant. And if it’s not, I will be heartbroken.

Which means I’m setting myself up for heartbreak, right? It’s been 19 years. The band that made Slaughter Of The Soul ranged in age from 21 to 25 years old. They’re now in their 40s. The game is vastly different, and so too are the then-boys/now-men playing it. And they know this! When At The Gates reformed in 2007, they said it was only to tour, that a new album would not follow. Anders Björler said, “It would be pointless to release something more than ten years after Slaughter of the Soul [and] would just disappoint people.” Later that year, Tompa said, “No new record will be recorded. The legacy of Slaughter Of The Soul will remain intact.”

It means a lot to know that a band you love cares about those things. So many bands disappoint us! So many are so willing to diminish their legacy! I’m not just talking about soulless hack opportunists like Mötley Crüe — whose members would happily trade their credibility for a spot on The Celebrity Apprentice — I mean the true greats. Metallica. Slayer. Megadeth. Maiden. Priest. This is metal, after all. Nothing is sacred. All corpses can be cannabilized.

I know all this, just as I know that if At The Gates were to pull a Morbid Angel on us, I would be devastated and bitter. That is, on my part, ridiculous and insane and immature, I’m aware — but love makes you do ridiculous, insane, immature things. I cannot control my anticipation, and if I were to be let down, I would not be able to control my disappointment. Anyway, yesterday Decibel published a terrific interview with Tompa that addressed my concerns and then some. That is not to say the interview in any way mitigated my anticipation! No, if anything, it inflated my zeal to resemble something like faith. A couple of my favorite quotes:

We feel that we have great and relevant new music in us. And we know how important this next album will be … We could easily go out and continue touring the old stuff successfully for quite a while, I think, but this is us putting ourselves on the line here, and we do that solely because we feel that we need to do this, this material is too strong to say no to.

We set our own bar — and it’s higher than Slaughter Of The Soul and Surgical Steel combined. I know that a lot of people have expectations of what a new At The Gates album would be like, good or bad. But it’s our own expectations that will have to be met at the end of the day, and they are higher than anyone’s out there, I can reassure you that. The pressure is on, but the pressure comes from ourselves more than anyone else.

I cannot adequately express to you here what it meant to me to read those words — I cannot quantify love, so I cannot say those sentiments somehow made my love for At The Gates greater than it was two days ago. But I can say that, in a weird way, they made me realize At The Gates loves us back: They get us; they understand; they care.

Because our December Black Market celebrated our favorite overlooked metal albums of 2013, and thus, did not discuss the new metal released during the month of December, the column’s authors and curators — Doug Moore, Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, and I — decided to include some late-2013 songs in this month’s roundup. That left us with a much larger pool of contenders than usual, and forced us to exclude some outstanding music. (I really wanted to make room for Avichi’s stunning single “Lightweaver,” off their new album Catharsis Absolute, one of my favorite releases of 2014, but the song premiered on November 21, 2013, and was ultimately disqualified. Consider this, then, my endorsement. Don’t miss that record.) Of course, that means we were able to write about some outstanding music, too. Check it out below; let us know in the comments what you’re hearing, what you love.

Michael Nelson

15. Skull Fist – “Hour To Live”

Location: Toronto
Subgenre: Heavy Metal/Speed Metal

There’s a crisis in the metal zone, friends: “fun” has all but vanished round these parts. The ’80s were amazing and terrible in equal measure, in no small part because of the spandex atrocities committed in the name of cock rock and hair metal — but say what you will, those bands knew how to cut loose and have a good time. Skull Fist do, too. I’m usually allergic to bands that come off this silly. But what can I say? When it works, it works. Proudly embracing the absurdity of their band name with their choice of cover art, their laser-eyed skeleton mascot, and their good-time promo pics, my hangups about seriosity in metal fall away the second I hear these dudes play. Shred abounds — unleashed with precision, when needed, never getting in the way of the hooks. And it’s the hooks that dominate Skull Fist’s new album, Chasing The Dream. The latest single “Bad For Good” is all peacock strut, with a perfect bonehead chorus — but I prefer the faster tempo and higher shred quotient of the first single, “Hour To Live.” It’s simple and strong, drawn more from speed metal than glam, and fun as hell without succumbing to the trap of actively trying to be funny. For a band that lists their lyrical themes as “Head-Butting, Heavy Metal, and Rocking,” there’s a glimmer of depth here — as seen in the half-time instrumental bridge that sounds lifted from a lost Skid Row ballad — and it makes all the difference. [Noise Art] –Aaron

14. Délétère – “Milites Pestilentiae”

Location: Quebec
Subgenre: Black Metal

We’ve featured some Quebecois black metal bands on TBM before, and I’ve often mused aloud as to what makes black metal from our French-speaking neighbors to the north so stupidly good. Time and time again, Quebec kills it — Forteresse, Monarque, Ephemer, Gris, Csejthe, Sorcier Des Glaces, Délequescence, Maléfices and more churn out some of the best black metal around with an authenticity that’s unrivaled. (Montreal’s also got one of the best black metal festivals in the form of the killer Messe Des Morts.) The year-old Délétère is one of Quebec’s finest, and “Milites Pestilentiae” is one of the band’s best songs — a gruff, aggressive and lo-fi yet melodic and catchy galloper. If you dig the track, here’s something to look forward to — unlike a lot of tape-only black metal bands, Délétère and their Quebecois peers seem to make a point of playing live, as Délétère did for the first time at this past November’s MDM. [Les Productions Hérétiques] –Wyatt

13. Murmur – “Bull Of Crete”

Location: Chicago
Subgenre: Progressive Black Metal

I really nerded out about this subject when we did the song debut for this tune over at Invisible Oranges, so I’ll just get it out of the way here: Murmur drummer Charlie Werber is one of the most exciting percussionists in metal today. There are a lot of good drummers playing metal, so yeah, that’s high praise. (You may remember his work on the last Surachai album, which we had good things to say about in April 2013’s Black Market.) Of course, drumming alone cannot carry a metal album. Fortunately, Werber’s bandmates are also impressive players, and creative songwriters to boot. Black metal bands have been incorporating elements of ’70s-era prog for two decades now, but rarely have the results worked as smoothly or conveyed as much menace as this album does. “Bull Of Crete” sighs and bellows its way through countless shifts, but still flows like melted butter. Murmur draw you in by making what they’re doing sound easy; you don’t realize your brain is melting until you’re already ensnared. [Season Of Mist] –Doug

12. Corpsessed – “Sovereign”

Location: Finland
Subgenre: Death Metal

Corpse Zest? Whatever. Finnish death metal doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, but the bands of yesteryear — Demigod, Convulse, Purtenance, Demilich, and even early Amorphis — were just as worthy of worship as their neighbors in Sweden. Corpsessed carry the homeland tradition proudly (and putridly) on Abysmal Thresholds, their debut full-length on Dark Descent Records, plumbing the depths for fetid atmosphere and tunneling through grave soil to upturn some limb-ripping classic riffs and barreling Sepultura-style percussive assaults. If you spend a lot of time listening to death metal, you’ll find a lot to love here — the end result, if not an actual classic, is one of the strongest death metal debuts in recent memory. Listen, death metal isn’t about reinvention: It’s about determination and fervor, commitment to tradition, and execution. As long as we’re talking about death metal in the traditional sense, it’s filthy and familiar, reassuringly horrible, and eternally comforting in its resistance to time and trends. Corpsessed deliver the grimy goods. [Dark Descent] –Aaron

11. Nasheim – “Att av ödets trådar väva sorg”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

Woods Of Desolation may be getting the lion’s share of the attention in the upcoming batch of Northern Silence releases due out on February 14, but an informed consumer would save some dough for the incredible Nasheim album, Solens Vemod (props to Ered Wethrin’s Tides Of War, too). Erik Grahn, the lone Swede behind Nasheim, took his time with this one — it’s been seven years since Nasheim’s last release, a single 25-minute track that made up the B-side of a split with Danish black metal one-man band Angantyr. Well, Nasheim’s back, and Grahn’s crafted one of the most expansive, emotive metal albums of the last few years, and that’s no more evident than on “Atta av ödets trådar väva sorg,” the album’s single. Thick, chugging riffs push forward out the gate, leading into a multipart 11-minute beauty that both broods and blasts — it’s dark, but not despairing — and moves between each memorable segment with slick-as-hell transitions. I don’t know if I’ve heard a better outro in a long while, and rarely does an 11-minute song fly by so quickly. [Northern Silence] –Wyatt

10. Coffinworm – “Lust Vs. Vengeance”

Location: Indianapolis, IN
Subgenre: Blackened Doom/Sludge

Indianapolis sludge-doom band Coffinworm came to immediate prominence in 2009, when their first-ever recording, the Great Bringer Of Night demo, somehow wound up getting reviewed by Decibel (among others), who gave it a 9/10 score and called it the best demo of the year. Soon afterward, the band signed with the pioneering Canadian label Profound Lore (Agalloch, YOB, Krallice), who released Coffinworm’s debut LP, When All Became None, a brutal, scathing, hallucinatory record that somehow still found room for melody and craft. That was 2010. They toured sporadically — I saw them in 2011, at the release party for Disma’s celebrated Towards The Megalith, and frankly, Coffinworm blew the guests of honor off the stage. And now, nearly four full years since the release of When All Became None, Coffinworm are set to drop their sophomore LP, IV.I.VIII. It’s the best thing I’ve heard from the band — it’s doomier, blacker, more confident, more engulfing. Like the debut, it’s produced and engineered by Sanford Parker (Twilight, Nachtmystium) who keeps the instrumentation articulate, while the sound is both spacious and suffocating. Vocalist Dave Britts has one of the most powerful, paint-peeling sludge-roars I’ve ever heard, and here, it sounds like nothing so much as the howling, inescapable void. [Profound Lore] –Michael

09. Slough Feg – “Digital Resistance”

Location: San Francisco
Subgenre: Traditional Heavy Metal

I’ve been excited about Digital Resistance, Slough Feg’s ninth studio album, since the demo version of “Laser Enforcer” appeared back in June of 2013. Mike Scalzi’s golden-years preservation project has been remarkably consistent for most of its two-decade run, but 2010’s The Animal Spirit didn’t hum with the same instant-singalong zazz that characterizes the band’s best work. Digital Resistance takes the power back, largely by dialing back the metal aggression in favor of lower-gain guitars and more trilling Thin Lizzy licks. Scalzi is an uncommon figure in the metal world — he’s an outspoken advocate for traditionalist (or backwards, depending on your worldview) musical values, who has nonetheless managed to avoid ghettoization in the cloistered realm of the retro. He uses his bully pulpit to preach his pro-analog, anti-internet message more overtly on Digital Resistance than on any past Feg effort, not least on its title track. But it doesn’t really matter whether you’re sympathetic to Scalzi’s views — even comparatively elliptical songs like this one are plenty tuneful enough to stand on their own. [Metal Blade] –Doug

08. Graveborne – “Tiesi pa?a?ha?n”

Location: Finland
Subgenre: Black Metal

Sometimes a song transcends its surroundings so completely you just have to drop your shit and listen. Graveborne are presumably a damn good band — I’ve listened to their latest record several times through, and I can say without reservation the whole thing kicks ass. But the second track and first single, “Tiese Päähän,” just fucking has it — “it” being whatever it takes to be a neck-breaking black metal song. It isn’t even flashy: Graveborne hits all the right notes effortlessly, knocking it out of the park without even realizing it. If black metal had a Top 40, “Tiese Päähän” would slowly climb the charts as word got around, maybe peaking at number 20, but hanging around for months, like every slow-burn future classic. It might sound like my panties are bursting into flame over something pretty unassuming — at first blush, this is just black metal, after all — but the truth is that most extreme metal isn’t even “song-based” in the traditional sense. It’s typically based on feel, aesthetic, intensity, technicality. Songwriting comes second to everything else. Here we kick off with a melodic blast of tremolo’d leads, played over a wall-to-wall cascade of drums. Melodies emerge slowly and subtly from the first section … and then you’re fist-pumping along to power chords, headbanging to a bastard chorus you never saw coming. The whole thing is over and done before you know it, like all good things, but the beauty of a great song is being able to spin it on repeat, ad infinitum. With “Tiese Päähän” you can’t even help it. [Seance] –Aaron

07. Twilight – “Lungs”

Location: Chicago
Subgenre: Black Metal/Noise

No band in black metal today — including, like, old-school controversy suitors Burzum and Gorgoroth — bring more drama than Chicago-based supergroup Twilight. The writing process for the band’s third album kicked off in earnest when they announced, in July 2013, that none other than Thurston Moore had joined the fold alongside the likes of Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd and Leviathan’s Wrest. (“Now that Sonic Youth’s broken up, and he’s essentially divorced, he’s got plenty of time,” said Judd of his new bandmate.) The official announcement of the album’s release arrived earlier this month — along with news that Judd had not contributed to the final product and would receive no writing or performance credits, and furthermore, Twilight had been dissolved. Whatever went down, it sounds like it was a hot fucking mess, and the album kind of reflects that — but in this case, “hot fucking mess” is high praise. Twilight have never had a signature sound — presumably the result of cramming the kitchen full of chefs who are used to handling the cooking alone — but sans Judd, the forthcoming III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb finds these musicians with an unusual focus, allowing each of them to shine: Thurston’s tendency toward noise terrorism is given ample space here, and sounds fresh in this dank context; vocalist Imperial (from Krieg) lurches and shrieks with Gira-esque intensity; and drummer Wrest is at the top of his considerable game, offering mountainous rhythms that sound a tribal war march, or a street gang jump-in, or a frantic, drug-sick pulse. [Century Media] –Michael

06. Gridlink – “Ketsui”

Location: US/Japan
Subgenre: Grindcore

Gridlink will probably always get contextualized as the latter-days grind project of Discordance Axis vocalist Jon Chang. On one hand, there’s good reason to mention the connection. Discordance Axis wasn’t successful in their day, but their three albums permanently altered the course of the genre by dragging dissonant zigzags, artsy visuals, and intimate lyrics inside its borders. On the other, Gridlink is an excellent band in their own right, and their (sadly posthumous) third album, Longhena, is as potent as any DA effort. “Ketsui” retains the hypercaffeinated pacing and technical precision of Gridlink’s past work, but devotes its scant runtime to driving home a sequence of oddball melodies. (A friend pointed out that the opening lick sounds like a snippet from a game show.) Though the song is over before you know it, you stand a good chance of getting that main riff lodged in your head after even a single exposure. [Handshake, Inc.] –Doug

05. Yellow Eyes – “The Desert Mourns”

Location: Brooklyn
Subgenre: Black Metal

For a relatively new band with minimal web and/or live presence, 2013 was a pretty big year for Brooklyn’s Yellow Eyes. Along with the accolades they received elsewhere, they made Stereogum’s list of the Best New Bands Of 2013 on the strength of their great Hammer Of Night EP — and that EP was eventually named one of our 50 Best Metal Albums Of 2013. They’re opening 2014 with the release of a new two-song EP, and it’s another straight stunner. Both sides of The Desert Mourns 12″ are ferocious, Cascadian-style melodic-atmospheric black metal colossi that build momentum in one direction only to abruptly swing left or right into unexpected and amazing new terrains. If you wanted to make an argument for Yellow Eyes as the best thing happening in USBM today, I’d listen. They’re certainly making a strong enough argument for themselves right here. And you should listen, too. [Sibir Records] –Michael

04. Artificial Brain – “Worm Harvester”

Location: Long Island
Subgenre: Progressive Death Metal

The past has ruled the death metal narrative for a few years now. Seemingly every defunct ’80s and ’90s-era DM band has gotten back together over the past half decade, and a growing proportion of young bands draw entirely on the work of their elders for inspiration. But despite the glut of the old bands releasing new stuff and new bands rehashing old stuff, death metal’s progressive wing has been gathering strength as well. That groundswell became really apparent last year — a revamped Gorguts lineup led a charge that also included smart, forward-looking albums by Gigan, Wormed, Ulcerate, Orbweaver, Abyssal, and several others. If Artificial Brain have anything to say about it, the momentum won’t break any time soon. Though Artificial Brain share a member with Black Market vets Revocation, the most obvious point of comparison is Demilich, a ’90s-era one-album wunderkind whom AB forerunners Biolich paid open tribute to (and briefly toured with). But outside of the similarly burpy vocals and obtuse sci-fi lyrics, Artificial Brain have expanded well beyond the teachings of their former masters. “Worm Harvester” involves plenty of twisting dissonance and meaty trem-picking, as you’d expect. But the real selling point here is Artificial Brain’s careful songwriting and decidedly mournful sense of melody. Playing technical death metal is hard enough; making it catchy is even tougher, but these guys nail it. [Profound Lore] –Doug

03. Behemoth – “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer”

Location: Poland
Subgenre: Death Metal/Black Metal

There’s really no such thing as a “big” black metal band, but Poland’s Behemoth are probably as big as they come. The band has charted a fascinating arc since forming in 1991. Along with Vader, they more or less gave birth to Poland’s extreme metal scene, and they’ve produced a deep catalog of ambitious and audacious records that have also sold well enough to make them actual legitimate stars at home — frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski was at one point engaged to the singer Doda, aka the “queen of Polish music,” aka Poland’s Britney Spears. In August 2010, Nergal was diagnosed with advanced-stage leukemia — reportedly too advanced to be treatable with chemo — which more or less shut down the band entirely. But Nergal fought the disease and, with the help of a bone marrow transplant, beat it. Last year, with Nergal fully recuperated, the band headlined a massive North American tour also featuring the Devil’s Blood, In Solitude, and Watain. Those are three very good bands. But from every account I’ve heard (and based on the one show I witnessed), Behemoth absolutely blew them all off the stage, putting on one of the most transcendent and transformative shows I’ve ever seen. Now, Nergal and Behemoth are back for real, with their 10th album (and first since 2009), The Satanist. It sounds like an artist who is forcefully embracing life, which is no more fully evident than on “Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer”: It’s all climax, all crushing blows, as satisfying a song as can be crammed into five and a half minutes. The very best of Behemoth may be a decade-plus in the past, but the band sounds as vital here as they have at any point, ever. [Metal Blade] –Michael

02. Indian – “Rhetoric Of No”

Location: Chicago
Subgenre: Misanthropic Sludge/Doom

Here we are in January 2014 — don’t the years just fly by like trash in a wind tunnel? For those of us who spend too much time thinking about such things — that is, those of us who scratch an unnameable itch by listening to every scrap of recorded metal possible and writing about the experience — one constant amongst all the passing time is the inevitability that each year has a distinct sense of character. 2012 was the year of female-fronted doom bands. Last year marked death metal’s triumphant return. Only one month in, this year should be too young for trends to reveal themselves, but the narrative already looks clear: This is the year of hideous sludge. Coffinworm already appeared above, and their record is a riot of noise that manages to have fun with itself; Thou has a monster of a wounded masterpiece coming out in March, and you’ll see more of it here soon; and there’s a new one from Lord Mantis, whose drummer also plays with Indian, coming in April from Profound Lore. But From All Purity, the fifth LP from Indian, might be the perfect embodiment of the style, and the purest to boot: There’s nothing pretty here, ever, no respite at any point, just a torrent of bile under a wash of noise. Pounding rhythms mark time while battered electronics squeal; riffs explode in slow motion. But there’s craftsmanship beneath the din, and it pays dividends when you spin the entire album on repeat, which is oddly easy to do for something so intentionally abrasive. Wyatt wrote about “Directional” a few weeks ago over at Invisible Oranges, and it’s a colossal one-riff crusher, but the first single, “Rhetoric Of No,” is even stronger. It starts like a shot, clattering and rattling, until the central riff appears around the two-minute mark and the song resolves into a simple pattern of crush, rinse, and repeat. Music rarely feels this punishing or nihilistic. More, please. [Relapse] –Aaron

01. Woods Of Desolation – “This Autumn Light”

Location: Australia
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

When we premiered the new Woods Of Desolation album, As The Stars, earlier this month, Michael threw down the gauntlet and said that it was the album to beat in 2014. Well, we’re on the cusp of February, and that claim holds true. Sure, it’s only four weeks into the year and we’ve got a lot to look forward to, including forthcoming releases from atmospheric black/gray metal kings Agalloch and freaking Swedish death metal legends At The Gates (see above). We’ll have to see what comes, but I’m pretty confident that when the dust settles, As The Stars will be at or near the top. “This Autumn Light,” the album’s single, shows why — as would any of the album’s other more-than-capable songs (I’m a huge fan of “Withering Field” and “Unfold,” too).

“This Autumn Light” is a tour-de-force of post-rock-conscious atmospheric black metal, a song that’s sorrowful but soars, building something beautiful out of crushing loneliness and despair. It’s rough around the edges and loaded with emotive riffing that rings a bit shoegaze-y. WOD is, at heart, depressive black metal, a style of music usually reserved for one-man bands. Woods is indeed technically a one-man band, but mastermind D brings help to the table when recording — including a killer vocal performance on As The Stars from Old of fellow Australians Drohtnung, whose throaty rasps toil in the middle of the immersive mix.

It might sound crazy, but Woods Of Desolation has been, until very recently (like, less than a month), criminally overlooked. Woods’ last album, 2011’s just-as-good Torn Beyond Reason, barely showed up on any (to my knowledge) year-end lists on biggish metal sites, though it did land at number 21 on Invisible Oranges, where all of us TBM writers have written and/or currently still write. That general lack of recognition was totally nuts. I don’t think anyone will make the same mistake this year. [Northern Silence] –Wyatt

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