The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal - July 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal - July 2014

If you watch MTV’s Catfish — and admit it, you do — you’ve surely experienced a particular reaction to each episode’s respective narrative as it unfolds, usually during the initial interview segment of the “investigation”: How on Earth does the person being catfished not realize he is being catfished? How does a person become so deeply enmeshed in an online relationship so clearly based on lies? How can someone accept obfuscation and omission and deception so openly, when the emotional stakes are so high?

Every case varies, of course, but they all seem to raise those same questions, which can really be condensed into one question: How are these people so gullible? And while there are no clear or complete answers, there are typically two contributing factors, some combination of which provides something that feels like a reason: 1. The person being catfished lacks a degree of technological and/or cultural savvy that the viewer takes for granted (a deficit exploited by the catfish). And 2. The person being catfished wants to believe — and is it not natural to feel that way? — and therefore ignores the signs, accepts the excuses, suspends disbelief. On some level, the person being catfished is programmed to believe. And that too is true of everyone. We don’t scrutinize every bit of information shared with us because to do so would lead to madness; we begin to investigate only when a crime has been committed. And even so, we can only scrutinize the information that is shared with us, not the vast gaps of non-information into which most lies fall.

Of course, catfishing isn’t limited to romantic relationships: Last season, an episode of the show gave us the story of “Lucille And Kidd Cole,” in which a young man used an assortment of social networks and stolen snippets of music to present himself as an up-and-coming producer with ties to Kanye West — and to swindle time, money, labor, and attention from his more ardent supporters. Catfishing also isn’t limited to those events covered on the show Catfish: It happens all the time in real life, to real singletons and real music fans.

And metal fans are especially susceptible to being duped. This is not because metal fans are rubes (although some of you guys, I swear) but because these are the dangers that come with living in this particular neighborhood: both a ghetto and a gated community, with an active police force guarding the borders but almost no security patrolling the streets. Metal fans place a premium on music pushed to extremesfastest/slowest; longest/shortest; weirdest/most traditional, etc. — and that, by nature, leads to a culture that is hyper-competitive and highly elitist. Here’s how that makes us more vulnerable in practice:

1. The market for extreme music is almost hilariously small, and as revenue potential shrinks, so too does the involvement of third-party distribution channels. There’s no reason for an actual, semi-functional, fiscally aware label to be involved in the release of anything limited to an edition of 200 or 100 or 33. As such, metal audiences have become increasingly conditioned to conduct transactions directly with the artists. Make no mistake, in the hugely overwhelming majority of cases, this arrangement is beneficial to both parties — economically, personally, and spiritually — but it can go bad, too. For instance, last year, Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd found himself something of a pariah when news came to light that he had been defrauding customers: setting up direct sales through his social media channels, taking money with the promise of providing goods in return, and then failing to deliver. And while Judd became the poster boy (or T-shirt boy, at least) for such theft by virtue of his visibility, his audacity, and the sheer breadth of his victim base, he’s not alone in failing to fill orders placed by fans. I’ve been waiting for years now on a pair of packages owed to me by the highly regarded underground cassette collective Rhinocervs, whose virtual salespeople shifted from merely unresponsive to “We’re closed for the moment” some time ago.

2. The very same factors that have made metal a more intimate, immediate marketplace have also given rise to a culture of anonymity. Nothing is more extreme (or enticing!) than an artist who does not exist, and when your market is so small that sales are an afterthought, you can call yourself La Sale Famine De Valfunde, or Deathless Maranatha, or IT, and no one is going to out you — because no one really cares! You’re already invisible! Some widely acclaimed and long-standing acts have managed to pull off this trick, too — the great French bands Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega come to mind — but are only able to do so because they never tour and almost never do press. In one of the few recent interviews conducted by Blut Aus Nord’s Vindsval, the artist offered this particular, perfect quote:

This lack of image is definitively not good for the promotion of the project; a lot of magazines refuse to work with us just because we don’t give them proper photos with typical metal postures. But we have always considered that our art was the only important thing — we are not rock stars and we are not important in the process, Blut Aus Nord is a faceless entity, dehumanized and without ego.

As anyone from KISS to Slipknot (to, um, Lana Del Rey) will tell you, though, that anonymity is not so easy to maintain when there is some money to be made. For years, members of the Swedish band Ghost (aka Ghost B.C. for those of us living in more litigious climes) went to enormous, often hilarious lengths to hide their identities. A few weeks ago, however, the band’s frontman, Papa Emeritus II, was inadvertently unmasked by Behemoth frontman Nergal (via Instagram), and revealed to be Tobias Forge, who also sings for the Swedish band Regugnant. That news story went viral, and while the band have thus far admitted nothing publicly, one still-anonymous member of Ghost did say in an interview:

I am very comfortable with the idea of not potentially being anonymous, because, in many ways, we are not anymore … I think there is a way where [anonymity and identity] can coexist. But obviously, that’s up to fans to decide. If knowing who we are destroys everything, OK.

Really, though, knowing who Ghost are shouldn’t destroy anything — because people have known since as far back as 2011 that Forge and Papa Emeritus are one and the same, and anyone who cared enough to look would have found that information pretty quickly. But for the most part, fans played along! And it’s hard to imagine fans choosing this revelation (such as it is) as a reason to discontinue their involvement in the game. The appeal of Ghost’s conceit was not derived from the band members’ anonymity, but their devotion to the theatrics necessary to uphold the illusion of anonymity: their showmanship, their refusal to be ordinary.

Such myth-making has been a part of metal lore for decades; it’s been with us since the days when catfishes were mud sharks. My favorite story is the one about Swedish black metal group Abruptum: one of the only bands ever signed to Deathlike Silence Productions, the label run by Mayhem mastermind Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth. Leading up to the release of Abruptum’s debut LP, Obscuritatem Advoco Amplectére Me, Euronymous took every opportunity to mention the horrifying, “ritualistic” ordeals undergone during the album’s creation. Said Euronymous in one interview: “The guys were torturing each other in the studio. They were whipping, beating, cutting, burning, and pouring boiling water over each other DURING the recording, and you can HEAR it from the music that they were SUFFERING.”

That “torture” story spread and persisted — aided by the fact that Abruptum and Euronymous operated in a pre-internet, media-averse Scandinavian gossip incubator — and gave rise to a legend: The two Abruptum LPs released on Deathlike Silence (two of the label’s nine total releases) are widely considered to be seminal classics, due in no small measure to their fascinatingly extreme backstory. But over the years, a few accounts have emerged suggesting Abruptum’s behavior in the studio was in fact quite a bit less severe than the horrors included in the yarn spun by Euronymous. In a 2002 interview, Obscuritatem’s producer, Dan Swanö, said of the recording sessions in question: “[Abruptum] were really cutting themselves with the knives I had around the studio: The knives were from like 1970, they’d never been sharpened, and I used them to cut metal stuff and whatever. Your average scissors were a lot sharper. They were trying really hard to cut themselves. It didn’t work, so they’re biting each other, ‘Get some blood here man!’ So they start burning themselves, ‘Ow! That hurt!’ It was not what you imagine. It was fun.”

It’s fair, I think, to assume Swanö’s account is closer to the “truth” than Euronymous’, and while the facts have no bearing on Abruptum’s widespread influence on black metal, they could change the experience of listening to Abruptum. There’s quite a wide gulf between “SUFFERING” and “fun,” and anyone delving into the band’s early work hoping to hear the sounds of deranged young men violently mutilating themselves to eventually produce “the audial essence of pure black evil” (as Euronymous described it) might be disappointed to learn those sounds probably peaked with such exclamations as, “Ow! That hurt!”

But Euronymous died two decades ago, and by now, the very confusion associated with the Abruptum story is as compelling as any individual narrative. It’s fun to imagine Euronymous as a Barnum-esque huckster, inventing and/or omitting details to distort the historical record and inflate the legend he created for himself. Today, these mysteries and their subsequent apocrypha are exciting and bizarre extensions of the music, not necessarily traits essential for enjoyment of the music.

Some fabrications, though, don’t feel so harmless. In 2012, the Atlantic ran a feature about an anti-Islamic Iraqi band called Janaza — “believed to be Iraq’s very first female-fronted black-metal band” — the implications of which were astounding: Such an act would literally face execution if their identities were to be discovered. Naturally, the band’s frontwoman, Anahita, “refused to speak on the phone, instead insisting on communicating via Facebook.” Soon after the article’s publication, though, inconsistencies were noted by careful readers, most troublingly the fact that all the photos submitted to the Atlantic by Anahita had been plagiarized. Was Janaza a hoax? Was Anahita a real person, telling a true story, or an outright fabrication? Or something in between? The Atlantic quickly removed the photos from their site; meanwhile, some pundits offered plausible theories for the deception, and someone claiming to be Anahita granted a follow-up interview responding to the naysayers (“It’s really stupid that people outside [Iraq] would really think that we have the power to publish our real photos”). Still, questions linger, and now, two years later, those lingering questions outweigh the existing evidence; even Janaza’s Facebook profile seems to have been wiped from the internet.

Similarly discomfiting is the case of As I Lay Dying, the Christian metal band whose frontman, Tim Lambesis, was recently sentenced to six years in prison for the attempted murder of his estranged wife. Needless to say, the crime committed by Lambesis is vastly more serious and stomach-turning than any of the relatively slight betrayals of trust being discussed here, but Lambesis and Co. were guilty of such minor transgressions, too. In the aftermath of his sentencing, Lambesis revealed in an interview that his band had long ago abandoned their faith, but continued to make music aimed at Christian audiences because the money was good. Moreover, said Lambesis, the same was true of many other so-called Christian bands:

We toured with more “Christian bands” who actually aren’t Christians than bands that are. In 12 years of touring with As I Lay Dying, I would say maybe one in 10 Christian bands we toured with were actually Christian bands. I actually wasn’t the first guy in As I Lay Dying to stop being a Christian. In fact, I think I was the third. The two who remained kind of stopped talking about it, and then I’m pretty sure they dropped it, too. We talked about whether to keep taking money from the “Christian market” [but justified it by saying], “Well, we’re not passing along any bad ideas” … When kids would want to pray with us after shows, I’d be like, “Um, go ahead and pray!” I would just let them pray. I’d say “Amen.”

Perhaps the most egregious example of a band swindling the metal world came in 2002 — at a time when catfishing was almost exclusively reserved for the likes of Nigerian royalty — courtesy of an act called Velvet Cacoon. The Velvet Cacoon story is so insanely convoluted and inherently tangled that even trying to cleanly recount its basic details can lead to madness, but here’s the gist:

A band called Velvet Cacoon formed in Portland, OR, in 2001, made up of two members — SGL (real name: Josh) and LVG (real name: Angela) — but said they had formed in 1996 (lie). They released their debut album, Dextronaut, in 2002, but said the record had initially been released in 1998 (lie), and was preceded by a handful of ultra-rare demos (lie). In 2004, Velvet Cacoon released their second album, Genevieve, for which they did a handful of utterly bullshit-strewn interviews, which included such claims as: The band had previously been a trio (lie), but third member, drummer SKV, had fallen off a cliff and died (lie); their music was made using an instrument called a “dieselharp” (lie); their live shows were bacchanals of “self mutilation, drug use, and bloodletting” (lie); they were a small segment of a larger group of eco-terrorists (lie). In 2005, they released a demo called How The Last Day Came And Stayed Then Faded Into Simulated Rain, the entirety of which, it was later revealed, had been plagiarized: stolen directly from a Portland-based artist named Miranda Lehman.

Around that point, SGL/Josh admitted in an interview that Velvet Cacoon had been little more than some high-concept trolling designed to humiliate black metal fans and pocket their money in the same gesture: “Even the people who hate us can’t stop talking about us. How many bands can cause a reaction like we did? We pushed all the right buttons, and everyone knows it.” Later, he published (and then deleted) a statement online, saying, “The band is a total fraud … We’re utter bastards. We have no respect for anything.”

I couldn’t help but think of Velvet Cacoon last month, when I received press materials for a self-titled, 7-song EP by an act called Myrkur, via Relapse Records. The EP itself was (and is) terrific: melodic, atmospheric black metal — very much in the vein of Ulver’s stone-classic and still-amazing 1994 album, Bergtatt — with tinny, trembling guitars providing a shoreline upon which crashes wave after wave of cascading, choral vocals.

The Myrkur bio provided by Relapse, though, was notably light on, well, bio. It consisted of exactly three sentences, and in those three sentences, only four details that might — generously — be considered “facts”: 1. The name of the project is Myrkur. 2. Myrkur is a “one-woman black metal band.” 3. This self-titled 7-song record would be her debut EP; and 4. This EP was “emerging from the darkness of Scandinavia.” (A second bio was eventually released, specifying Denmark as the dark Scandinavian country from which Myrkur was emerging, but beyond that, no other new details.)

I think I listened to that EP about 10 times the day I received it, and as I fell deeper into the grips of obsession, I scoured the internet for more information about this artist — but found nothing. Which made me … suspicious. All artists have to start somewhere, of course, but an artist this polished, signed to a label as big as Relapse, with no internet presence (beyond a brand-new Facebook page which had, at that point, some 35 or so followers)? Yes, maybe there are some blindingly talented black-metal geniuses locked inside cabins in the darkness of Scandinavia, with neither internet access nor interest in exposure, but none of them are first dipping their toe in the pool by signing a deal with the label home of Baroness and Pig Destroyer. Has that ever happened? Even Ghost had released a 3-song demo and a 7″ single and been endorsed by none other than Fenriz [99] before getting signed. Those early documents are kind of essential! They’re like birth certificates or Social Security cards: They are proof that you are who you say you are, that you are a citizen. They are your credentials and your credibility. (At least Velvet Cacoon had the presence of mind to lie about having released a bunch of demos.)

Anyway, the first song from Myrkur, “Nattens Barn,” premiered online earlier this month, and I wrote about it, sharing in that writeup both my enthusiasm and my skepticism. “I’m not sure if Myrkur is real or any if this is true, because it seems much too good to be true,” I wrote. “But I want it to be true. And either way, the music is real, and it’s really good, and it would be really good regardless of its context.”

Dozens of other blogs picked up “Nattens Barn,” and none of them offered much more information than the breadcrumbs provided in the Myrkur bio. A writer for the blog PostMyRock wrote, “Being a Dane myself and not hearing about it before today, when this release was announced, I was surprised to see that there’s hardly any info on her.” Still, the writer added, “I for one am excited about how this release will turn out!” Within hours, Myrkur’s Facebook following had increased exponentially. Commented one new fan: “You’re like the Lady version of Quorthon” — the highest possible praise! “Superb talents. \m/” Soon after publishing my thoughts on the song, though, I received a few private messages and emails from friends around the industry, offering various rumors about the reality of the Myrkur backstory — none of which, by my estimation, quite synched up with even the bare character sketch that came with the record. The next day, Brooklyn Vegan covered “Nattens Barn,” claiming to have identified “the mystery woman,” but providing to the reader only a couple vague “clues” about her identity, including some blurry photographs and the note, “This is not the first time her music has been featured on Brooklyn Vegan.”

By that point, I had determined the veracity of some of the rumors I’d heard about Mykur. Some, but not all. That said, given what I did know to be true — including the fact that music made by “the mystery woman” behind Myrkur had been covered previously on Brooklyn Vegan (and elsewhere) — I found it hard to accept the backstory being presented to the media, and subsequently, being presented by the media. I also found my opinions on the music changing, perhaps because these new answers brought with them new questions, perhaps because the Myrkur created by my imagination didn’t have much in common with the Mykrur who stood before me in the cold light of day. I finally decided it wasn’t my place to publicly identify anyone who didn’t want her identity known to the public. Nonetheless, I found myself vexed.

My first thought was that we were all being catfished — “we” meaning all of us who care enough about metal to put into words our thoughts on the subject and then share those words with the tiny segment of the world that cares enough to read them. And I didn’t know how to feel about that! On one hand, it hurts to realize you’ve been told a lie — even if you don’t know the substance of that lie, even if that lie falls entirely into one of life’s many vast gaps of non-information. On the other hand, we’re here to talk about the music, because the music is the thing we love, the thing we fall in love with. It shouldn’t matter if the entity called “Myrkur” is in fact one woman living in shadowy Danish isolation or if it is an elaborate, market-tested experiment emerging from the darkness of the Scandinavian studio owned by Max Martin. It shouldn’t matter! The music is the thing that matters. It is through music that we find truth, not the other way around.

Then, though, something else occurred to me, something more insidious: We — metal writers — were not being catfished at all. Or, more accurately, we were being catfished, but only incidentally. It wasn’t our love they were after, just our backing. Really, we were being used to catfish you.

That’s “Nattens Barn,” and I encourage you to listen to it, because I think it’s an excellent song, irrespective of my ambivalence regarding the presentation of its author. The song absolutely deserves to be included in the list below — the list of the 15 best new metal songs released in July, as compiled and written up by the Black Market team of Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Doug Moore, and me — but the confusion that surrounds Myrkur makes ranking the song sort of impossible. It’s not quarantined, just asterisked. So this month, you get an extra song, which seems like a pretty good bargain to me. Let us know what you think about any or all of them in the comments below, and let us know too what we failed to include that’s been on your metal playlists this past month. –Michael

15. Coral Cross – “The Coldest Steel Across Your Face Slides”

Location: NYC/Miami
Subgenre: Hipster Metal

So … yeah. Catfishing is bad! Be proud of who you are! Oh what a tangled web we weave! Etc. THAT SAID I can’t help but wonder how the world might react to Coral Cross if the man behind the music had chosen to cloak himself in some sort of pseudonymic curtain rather than be upfront about his identity. That man is NYC/Miami soft-indie auteur Jorge Elbrecht, who’s been doing production work for the likes of Dinowalrus and Devon Williams of late, and who teamed up with Ariel Pink on some of 2013’s best yacht-rock songs. Not exactly Fenriz in the metal pedigree department! Which means, right, no one is going to take Coral Cross particularly seriously. And on some level, it shouldn’t be taken seriously — anyone who names a song “The Coldest Steel Across Your Face Slides” deserves nothing more (or less) than the knuckled-most fist into his gut thrown. But if you can get past that patronizing bullshit, Elbrecht’s metal outlet delivers some genuinely bizarre, compelling results; Elbrecht’s ghostly voice hovers above rudimentary blackened riffs, given an atavistic gloss that doesn’t quite fit but draws me in even more so for its incongruity. The whole thing marries sheer force, showroom sheen, and foamy diaphaneity in ways I can’t say I’ve ever heard before. It doesn’t fit into any existing metal subgenre or even lend itself to easy hybridization, and it really deserves to be discovered and admired but instead will quickly be dismissed as “hipster metal” simply because of its author’s background — and it’s interesting to imagine how the whole thing might be received if its author’s background were a mystery. (Ironically, Elbrecht’s old project, Lansing-Dreiden, had, like, Andy Kaufman-esque dedication to their own conceit of facelessness.) Honestly, the reaction would probably be “utter indifference” rather than “spiteful indifference” because that’s just how these things go. Which means no matter how he presented the damn thing, the end result would be people missing out. [From the 001 EP, out 8/12 via Mexican Summer]Michael

14. Columns – “Our Creation”

Location: North Carolina
Subgenre: Grindcore/Metalcore

Since its early days as a death metal clearinghouse, the venerable Relapse Records has shifted its focus among metal’s many subgenres a number of times. (Disclaimer: my band is currently signed to Relapse.) One of the label’s briefer but more exciting periods came in the early aughties, when it released a string of albums by the likes of the Dillinger Escape Plan, Burnt By The Sun, Sulaco, and Uphill Battle — bands that blurred the lines between grindcore, hardcore, and the more conventional metal-isms of death and black metal. This particular burst of output was especially meaningful to me as a kid, so I’m pretty much the exact target demographic for the full-length debut by Columns, which reintroduces this scrappy fusion to the Relapse stable. Columns have ties to the filth-loving Relapse of the ’90s by way of guitarist Mike Lehmann, who was a member of the Relapse-signed goregrind unit Hemdale. His work with Columns is way rangier, though — much like Burnt By The Sun’s early work, the songs on Please Explode prefer to knock you off balance with blasts of jagged dissonance before putting the hurt on in earnest with meaty grooves. “Our Creation” is an enjoyable exception; it goes for the ground-and-pound right off the bat with a massive, weirdly catchy lurch. [From Please Explode, out 8/5 via Relapse]Doug

13. Bastard Feast – “Noose Of Smoke”

Location: Portland, Oregon
Subgenre: Blackened Death/Grind

Bastard Feast used to be called Elitist, and while that name matched the arrogant and brutal swagger, they ended up with the right moniker for such a filthy band. Bastard Feast is foul, and on “Noose Of Smoke,” there’s plenty of begrimed sludge to match a pummeling, grinding, death metal core. There’s a good deal of black metal in here, too, and, at moments, you can almost pick out the tune to what would be a pretty satisfying black metal song. It’s always impressive when a band can pull from a number of genres to create some foul concoction of their own that still maintains real character. Bastard Feast nails it, cannibalizing a number of different genres and emerging with an agile chimera. [From Osculum Infame, out now via Season Of Mist]Wyatt

12. Vukari – “Riddled With Fear And Doubt”

Location: Chicago
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal/Post-Rock

As atmospheric black metal and post-rock (and, yes, shoegaze) have become more intimate with one another over the years, it’s become fairly easy to find bands that would qualify as pretty while still maintaining some sort of metal pedigree. Some purists have scoffed — metal is brutal and dark, grim and ugly. Vukari zooms right past “pretty” and aims straight for “gorgeous,” throwing a bit of post-punk riffing-out into the mix with memorable and melancholic melodies. And on “Riddled With Fear And Doubt,” it’s a great combination. The song is loaded with headbangable riffs and plenty of style, making it something of a polished ripper. That refrain should be classified as an opiate. Repeat listening encouraged. [From En To Pan, out now via Vukari] –Wyatt

11. Necros Christos – “Nine Graves”

Location: Berlin, Germany
Subgenre: Cult Death Metal

It’s hard to fully wrap your head around Necros Christos. The band is German; the name is Greek. That name implies a rejection of Christ, if not religion in general, but these guys have filled the Christ-shaped hole in their hearts with the most complex system of invented belief you could imagine. During my tenure as editor of Invisible Oranges, we ran an interview with frontman Mors Dalos Ra, and it’s clear just how deep these unfathomable convictions run. As an atheist, I can’t make sense of it. But when that level of belief lends itself to such a fascinating mélange of incongruous metallic ingredients and the results rip this hard, I’m all for it. “Nine Graves” comes from Necros’ latest EP, a 40-minute banger with much cleaner production than their last album, Doom Of The Occult. The song kicks in with clean, chunky mid-’90s-sounding death metal, but it’s just a feint, albeit a strange one: The core NC sound appears only a moment later, and it’s far rougher, simpler, and more fun, like a gnostic version of Autopsy. Halfway through, they switch gears and the song comes to electric, ecstatic life as harmonized leads appear from nowhere, and the song begins its transformation into something truly great. A Middle Eastern solo wails to the heavens before leading a descent into the laid-back crush of the closing groove. If illogical faith buys us songs as varied and fervently inspired as this one, I’m of a mind to start faking some belief of my own. [From the Nine Graves EP, out now via Sepulchral Voice]Aaron

10. Death Fortress – “King’s Blood”

Location: New Jersey
Subgenre: Black Metal

My respected colleagues here don’t all necessarily feel the same way about this, but there’s a lot to be said for a lo-fi black metal recording. The tinny, basement-recorded feel has its own charms — it’s slightly amateurish but passionate and real, no slick production or jackhammer-on-steroids drums here. Death Fortress’ first demo fell pretty firmly into the lo-fi tape world, a gem unearthed by Fallen Empire, a label we’ve written about here, and admire for its consistency in finding some of the best in underground metal. Since then, Death Fortress has emerged a bit further from the haze with each subsequent release. The band’s new album has pretty clearly forsaken those lo-fi origins, and, to the smug satisfaction of audiophiles everywhere, it’s better for it. “King’s Blood” is awesome, a rich black metal song that’s every bit as pummeling and atmospheric as earlier Death Fortress, but now with greater depth and texture. [From Among The Ranks Of The Unconquerable, out 9/1 via Fallen Empire]Wyatt

09. Slugdge – “Invertahate”

Location: Lancashire, UK
Subgenre: Melodic Death Metal

I love a lot of metal bands with silly names, but even I draw the line somewhere. This band’s name — which commits the double travesties of deliberate misspelling and near-unpronounceability — falls considerably beyond that line. I would never have gotten over it and listened to Gastronomicon if it weren’t for this glowing writeup at Invisible Oranges, but fuck me, am I lucky that I did. Melodic death metal, once such fertile territory, has lain largely fallow for the past decade, but this melodeath crusher sounds fresher than most material I’ve heard in any style this year. Not only are Gastronomicon’s tunes relentlessly catchy, they also don’t forget the “death metal” part of their subgenre — devastating riffs abound here, delivered with an arena-ready production whose girth reminds me of Hypocrisy’s best work. Amazingly, just two guys produce Slugdge’s complex wall of noise: instrumentalist Kev Pearson and vocalist Matt Moss, both also of the goofball death/grind unit Tower Of Wankers. Moss plays an incredibly important role here. On top of a diverse arsenal of growls, he also delivers some absolutely blistering clean choruses that remind me a great deal of fellow British duo Anaal Nathrakh. Slugdge shares another feature with AN: a smart sense of humor. Gastronomicon sports punny song titles like “Salters Of Madness” and “Slimewave Zero” that reflect its well-written lyrics about Lovecraftian interdimensional slug-gods. Yup, this album is about space slugs. Deeply silly? Sure, but that just ups Gastronomicon’s already sky-high fun factor. Get en-mucus’d by that insane chorus at 2:20 in “Invertahate”; when you’re done, check out Gastronomicon in full at Slugdge’s Bandcamp [From Gastronomicon, out now via the band]Doug

08. Take Over And Destroy – “Split Screen”

Location: Arizona
Subgenre: Death ‘N’ Roll

You might know Arizona death ‘n’ roll band Take Over And Destroy by the acronymical version of their handle: TOAD. Or you might remember that the band self-released their debut LP, Endless Night, last summer — or how that album’s fucking amazing lead single, “Howling House,” topped our list of June 2013’s best new metal songs in the Black Market. You might be familiar with them because you saw Endless Night at #30 on our list of 2013’s 50 Best Metal Albums. Or you might have seen them last year when they toured the States with Swedish doom/death band Agrimonia. In any case, you might already know Take Over And Destroy, or you might not know them, but either way, you should skip these words and just hit play on the song below, because it does a better job asserting the band’s awesomeness than I possibly could. While you’re listening, though, you can read this: “Split Screen” is the best song on Take Over And Destroy’s forthcoming second LP (and third release overall, including the 2011 EP, Rotten Tide), Vacant Face. It is, once again, self-released, which means lotsa good labels are sleeping when they should be throwing contracts around. The band are officially no longer going by TOAD, which is probably the right move, although frankly I find both variations of the moniker to accurately represent the group’s massive, gnarly sound, which has the hard, violent kick of peak Entombed, combined with elements of occult doom. It’s physical music, the kind of thing that you feel in your temples and solar plexus. It’s also fun music — it’s catchy and propulsive and inviting; I find myself comparing them frequently to the ass-kicking Norwegian band Kvelertak, or that band’s predecessors, Turbonegro, and I’m pretty certain fans of those bands would also be fans of Take Over And Destroy. But that sort of background isn’t essential — Take Over And Destroy make it real easy to jump right in and start throwing elbows. [From Vacant Face, out 8/19 via Take Over And Destroy]Michael

07. Nightbringer – “Et Nox Illuminatio Mea In Deliciis Meis”

Location: Green Mountain Falls, Colorado
Genre: Orthodox Black Metal

The term “black metal” can mean almost anything these days — sublime post-rock (with screaming), bracing post-punk (with croaking), experimental sound collage (with portentous spoken word), and, occasionally, wordless cosmic twaddle (with synths and not much else). All of these things borrow from black metal, but none really embodies the true spirit of black metal in the traditional sense. (“The True Spirit Of Black Metal” sounds like a sacrilegious holiday musical in the making, doesn’t it?) Orthodox black metal, on the other hand, stands in opposition to black metal dabbling. If black metal has a cold, self-contained center, it’s orthodox black metal, which is sonically ominous, universally Satanic, and disconcertingly intense in its commitment to impenetrable ideology — which is what makes it so fascinating to explore. Nightbringer, an orthodox black metal band from Colorado, play this style as well as anyone. Previous albums sounded a bit like Deathspell Omega due to both bands’ use of dissonant suspended chords, though Nightbringer’s latest, Ego Dominus Tuus (which translates to “I am your Lord”), drops the dissonance in favor of broad-stroke bombast and piercing upper-fret melodics, and the change is welcome. “Et Nox Illuminatio Mea In Deliciis Meis” is a mouthful in more ways than one: It’s a Latin translation of a quote from Psalms (“and night shall be my light in my pleasures”), and it’s nine minutes of Satanic rumination set to triumphant cacophony. Part of what makes orthodox black metal so … orthodox, is its dedication to the subject matter. Essentially, it’s the complete inversion of religious music, but no less spiritual. There’s a morbid appeal to especially fervid art like this, even if you — like me — believe in nothing so abstract. I have no idea what Nightbringer are screaming about here, nor do I need to. You can hear the conviction behind every bent note. [From Ego Dominus Tuus, out 9/30 via Season Of Mist]Aaron

06. Martyrdöd – “Elddop”

Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Subgenre: Crust/D-Beat/Melodic Death Metal

The last album from Sweden’s Martyrdöd, 2012’s Paranoia, was a fire-starting collision of crust punk and melodic death metal with some lead-guitar heroics that occasionally lifted the whole thing to Iron Maiden-levels of fist-pumping anthemry; it landed at #8 on our list of that year’s best metal albums. Now, the band are set to release their fifth album, Elddop, and the new one doesn’t merely improve on the band’s already incredible body of work; it distills Martyrdöd’s sound to its most exciting elements, leaving everything but the highlights on the cutting-room floor. Elddop opens with a few bars of ominous doom, then quickly shifts into ultra-catchy, hard-shredding d-beat, similar to Disfear’s incredible 2008 LP, Live The Storm — but more — and it stays in that gear for the next 45 minutes. Where most metal records right now are either self-consciously mirroring legends of the past or uncomfortably evolving into something not always recognizable as metal, Elddop feels totally fresh and thrillingly new, yet employs only those tools fashioned in the ancient forges. (It’s worth noting that the name Martyrdöd looks and sounds an awful lot like the name Motörhead.) I can’t imagine any generation of metal fan for whom Elddop would seem inappropriate — in many ways, it’s the very essence of metal. Or you could just call it essential. [From Elddop, out now via Southern Lord]Michael

05. Cannibal Corpse – “Sadistic Embodiment”

Location: Tampa, Florida
Subgenre: Death Metal

I have vicious, vivid memories of discovering Cannibal Corpse as a kid. An older kid, Rick Something, brought Tomb Of The Mutilated to study hall, and I spent the afternoon poring over every lyric in growing disgust, until my 13-year-old brain shut down when he played me “Entrails Ripped From A Virgin’s Cunt.” And the sickening artwork brought it to life in the worst way, a lurid splatterpunk fantasy beyond comprehension. What do you even do when faced with imagery like that for the first time? It’s impossible to process, so it sticks in your head — years’ worth of nightmare material generated in minutes. Later that day, a teacher caught Rick with the CD and suspended him for bringing obscene material onto school property. That was my entire perception of the band back then: obscene, terrifying, gross beyond gross. The music was secondary. Twenty years later, they’ve flipped the script. Cannibal Corpse are the biggest death metal band in the world, outselling everyone else by a large margin, and they no longer seem so shocking — in all fairness, the later material with George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher on vocals isn’t vile as much as just violent — and after endless tours and time in the studio, refining and perfecting their craft, the music has become the main draw. “Sadistic Embodiment” screams out of the gate with a classic thrash riff and squealing leads, sounding like golden-age Slayer, which is a very, very good thing, and it only gets nastier from there. Chunky chords grind forward then back; an unnatural harmony coils and unwinds through the bridge, lending texture and understated depth. This is American death metal done to perfection: bloody as hell, but shockingly refined. [From A Skeletal Domain, out 9/16 via Metal Blade]Aaron

04. Witch Mountain – “Psycho Animundi”

Location: Portland, Oregon
Subgenre: Doom

It’s been a big month for stoner bands from the Northwest(ish) unloading trad-style gems. “Psycho Animundi” is a fuzzed-out, bluesy, plodding monster, a triumph of only-in-America psych-occult worthy of a ’70s-style cartoon music video. Not unlike that other Northwest band a couple spots up on this list, Witch Mountain took a career timeout, waiting 10 years before putting out 2011’s South Of Salem. On “Psycho Animundi,” we see a teeny departure from the well-timed big-riff formula, with a pensive acoustic break and outro highlighted by singer Uta Plotkin’s willowy yet forceful vocals (call me crazy, and I’ve said this before about other stuff I think highly of, but it reminds me a little of Portland, Oregon’s Floater). She sings sorcery, an incantation to some retro magic worthy of the band’s name. [From Mobile Of Angels, out 9/30 via Profound Lore] –Wyatt

03. Bölzer – “Labyrinthian Graves”

Location: Switzerland
Subgenre: Death Metal/Heavy Metal

This is how this column works: We cover what we deem to be the best new metal released each month, but once an album has been represented here, it is ineligible to be represented again. That’s our rule, and now, for the first time, we’re breaking it. Of course, Bölzer are a band for whom rules don’t seem to apply. They’ve achieved juggernaut status in the metal world despite having officially released only six songs to date: three on their 2012 demo, Roman Acupuncture, three on their 2013 EP, Aura. This year, they’ll release two more songs — via the Soma EP, which is something of a companion to Aura — one of which, “Steppes,” premiered online in April (and was featured that month in this column). Last week, they revealed Soma’s second track, “Labyrinthian Graves,” and it seemed crazy not to include it here. New Bölzer music is too rare a thing to ignore it when it surfaces, and not only is “Labyrinthian Graves” the first new Bölzer music we’ve heard in months, it’s also the last new Bölzer music we’ll hear this year. As the band discussed in our interview with them, their debut LP is being planned for 2015. “Labyrinthian Graves,” though, is a monstrous conclusion to this 5-track/2-EP cycle. Bölzer are nominally a death metal band, but that designation applies about as much as “thrash metal” does to Metallica, or “black metal” to Bathory: Their scope is simply too grand to be contained by genre. We’ve become somewhat accustomed to artists delivering new music with factory-level efficiency, so it’s unusual to engage with a band whose output is as deliberate at Bölzer’s, but it’s perfectly fair: These songs deserve to be treasured, obsessed over, revered. [From the Soma EP, out 8/5 via Invictus]Michael

02. Sleep – “The Clarity”

Location: Oakland, CA
Subgenre: Stoner/Doom Metal

Sleep are one of those bands whose influence has far outstripped their output. The trope-making “stoner metal” band, Sleep released just two conventional LPs of their signature Black-Sabbath-but-more doom metal during the early ’90s before tracking the legendary riff-worship tome Dopesmoker, which saw the band stretch just a handful of parts into a beastly hourlong jam. Dopesmoker’s release was hampered by a variety of legal issues, and by the time its as-intended version came out in 2003, Sleep had been broken up for five years. Sleep’s end did not silence its members — guitarist Matt Pike went on to his acclaimed role in High On Fire, while bassist Al Cisneros formed the similarly well-regarded OM. And in a sense, Sleep’s dissolution didn’t end Sleep’s sound, either. Legions of like-minded pot devotees have carried forth this band’s spirit, from masters like Electric Wizard and Bongzilla on down to the inept upstart acts that virtually every local metal scene features. And now Pike and Cisneros are making Sleep music again, bolstered this time around by the addition of masterful Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder. Though Cisneros and Pike initially revived Sleep in 2009, this Adult Swim single constitutes their first truly new studio output since the first version of Dopesmoker came out in 1999. (This NPR interview indicates that there may be more new Sleep material in the offing.) And it sounds like … well, Sleep, duh. But tellingly, it actually doesn’t sound a ton like many of the bands that followed in their footsteps. Even when bands inspire a lot of overt imitators, stylistic influence works like a game of telephone — each new iteration mutates a tad, and after a while, significant changes accrue. A lot of stoner metal bands focus on guitar tone: The thicker and more resonant (resin-ant?), the better, often to the exclusion of original aesthetics and memorable riffs. But “The Clarity” is just as sonically intelligible as its name implies, with a tight Marshall guitar tone and an even-handed mix. Instead of deriving its trippiness from a wall of fuzz, the tune smuggles some of the Eastern modality that Cisneros relies on in OM in under the cover of big, plodding Sabbath power chords. Flesh out the basic approach with some nifty production tricks, Pike’s spacey tapping-and-screaming solo, and a classically deadpan Cisneros vocal — about weed, because of course it is — and you’ve got an impeccable case study in the way that mere reproductions pale in comparison to the original work. [From the Adult Swim singles series, out nowDoug

01. Electric Wizard – “I Am Nothing”

Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: Cult Doom

Free will is a myth. We tell ourselves we can choose our own destiny/adventure at any given moment, but the sad truth is every action and choice we make comes from some primal mental computer that runs things behind the scenes, and only lets us think we’re in conscious control. As much as we might like to think we can influence it (and thereby ourselves), this inner pitboss/actuary is little more than a collection of conditioned responses to previous experiences. This is why dieting is hard, until one day it isn’t — why we do things despite telling ourselves repeatedly we don’t want to do them. If you subscribe to this line of thinking, it follows that everything we are exposed to is in some way programming us for later action (or inaction, or both, or whatever). What does this have to do with Electric Wizard, the greatest of the cult doom bands to walk the earth in modern times? Probably nothing, but that won’t stop me from projecting (technically I can’t help it, can I?). Electric Wizard are obsessed with the notion of embedded satanic messages, of cults and mental programming, of long fucking songs loaded with darkly heavy psychedelic pyrotechnics and simple, unavoidable grooves. “I Am Nothing” rides its 11-minute groove into oblivion and out the other side; it’ll leave you seeing stars and thinking thoughts you’ve never thought. Some bands treat their recordings like religious rituals; Electric Wizard are more interested in the sonic equivalent of drugs, from the trip itself to the subsequent addiction. And this message, I think, is pretty clear: It’s fun to take a trip, put acid in your veins. (That’s a line borrowed from a 1000 Homo DJ’s cover of Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut,” who sampled it from a quote by Art Linkletter given shortly after his daughter’s supposed LSD-induced suicide, which seems thematically apropos on at least four levels.) So sit back and listen, because it’s the best thing you’ve heard in ages — and because I’m using the power of suggestion, and now you want to anyway — and see what happens. Your head is gonna bang itself, just you watch. [From Time To Die, out 9/30 via Spinefarm]Aaron

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