The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – September 2014

In July’s Black Market, I wrote a long essay on the ways in which metal bands catfish their fans, and in that piece, I mentioned a number of contemporary examples of this phenomenon, including the “Scandinavian” black-metal auteur Myrkur and the Chicago-based USBM artist Blake Judd, who is best known for his band Nachtmystium. Both these artists deceived their fans in vastly different ways. Myrkur was shady about her origin and identity; her press materials claimed she was a one-woman act from Denmark, although the facts of that EP — specifically that it was being released by one of the biggest metal labels in the world, Relapse, although the artist had zero internet footprint — belied its backstory. Judd, on the other hand, personally interacted with fans via his Facebook account, taking money in exchange for merchandise that invariably never arrived. I don’t mean to equate these two things: Myrkur’s deception was innocent if clumsy, while Judd’s was actual fraud. But both these stories came back to light over the past month, with some resolution.

On September 16, our own Wyatt Marshall did an interview with Myrkur, in which it was finally, officially revealed that the artist was in fact Amalie Bruun, who plays in the NYC-based indie-pop duo Ex Cops, and also works as a professional model who has done ads for Chanel with Martin Scorcese and been profiled in a Stoli video advertorial and Elle Magazine.

A week before that, Neill Jameson (who fronts the band Krieg, and who played alongside Blake Judd in the black metal supergroup Twilight) wrote a tremendous essay for Noisey about his long friendship with Judd, and how it deteriorated over the years — largely due to Judd’s drug addiction — curdling into a state of acrimony, poisoned by theft. Jameson’s piece coincidentally came on the heels of some other Judd news: Over the month of August, Judd shut down, one by one, the official Facebook accounts related to both his musical projects, Nachtmystium and Hate Meditation, and soon after that, his personal page. Then, Nachtmystium’s label, Century Media, announced that it had cut ties with Judd offered to make good on some of his empty, fraudulent promises.

I had written about both these subjects prior to that catfishing column, and after that, I kind of decided I wouldn’t cover them any longer. I couldn’t; I knew too many people involved, and it had become impossible for me to separate those relationships from that coverage. But I wanted to share these updates here, not to provide closure, exactly — as neither story has reached its final chapter — but to acknowledge these developments, and make you aware of them if you weren’t already. Reading Wyatt’s Q&A with Myrkur is optional — Bruun didn’t address her identity, she merely allowed Wyatt to disclose it — but Jameson’s piece is fucking essential: It’s one of the best, most interesting, most heartbreaking things I’ve read all year. I want to summarize it here but I really can’t; it’s too rich with details and anecdotes, too personal, too massive. Just check it out, if you haven’t.

In last month’s Black Market, I promised that the months of September and October would bring a generous percentage of the year’s best metal, and the songs that Aaron Lariviere, Doug Moore, Wyatt, and I have written about below deliver on that promise, I think: new music from At The Gates, Blut Aus Nord, Dawnbringer, Old Man Gloom, and Windhand, for starters. But those are just the household names; it gets even more impressive as you dig deeper. So start digging.

Michael


15. Sanctuary – “Exitium (Anthem Of The Living)”

Location: Seattle
Subgenre: Heavy Metal

“Diehard fans may notice a certain lack of … relentless high-pitched falsetto screams with insane vibrato.” Thus spoke a diehard fan in the text to his hilarious remix of Sanctuary’s first comeback single, taken from their first album in 25 years. It’s weird writing about a band like Sanctuary in the present tense, trying to reconcile the current incarnation with the original, long-dead version that imploded and morphed into a vastly different band (that’d be Nevermore). The old Sanctuary played muscular American-style power metal with a progressive bent borrowed from bands like Fates Warning and Queensrÿche. But the vocals were unreal. Singer Warrel Dane was always versatile and flamboyant, but before he developed the stentorian bellow heard on later Nevermore albums, he had the best banshee wail of all time. While its absence is missed, the new album shows a pleasant evolution: This is Sanctuary ripped out of time and transplanted into the age of modern metal (something they used to sing about), not unlike a stripped-down Nevermore, which is actually a pretty good look. The result is traditional heavy metal recast in a contemporary light: “Exitium (Anthem Of The Living)” is the best track on the album, and probably the closest thing to old Sanctuary. Screams or no, that’s a hell of a chorus. [From The Year the Sun Died, out now via Century Media]Aaron


14. Baring Teeth – “Mountain”

Location: Dallas, TX
Subgenre: Death Metal

Even as golden-era death metal bands (and bands that clearly wish they were golden-era death metal bands) continue to dominate the genre’s landscape, it’s experiencing a left-wing renaissance not seen since the heyday of progressive acts like Atheist, Cynic, and Demilich. Gorguts’ Luc Lemay is this new breed’s patron saint and Ulcerate are its most visible members, but it’s produced many a lesser-known worthy as well. Baring Teeth fall into this category. Their underrated 2011 effort, Atrophy, struck a novel note with its mix of shrieking riffage and lengthy, despondent instrumental passages, but their new second LP, Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins, tops it handily. The band sounds appreciably more confident this time around, and they use their compositional space more efficiently. “Mountain” is an excellent example — it’s brief, hard-hitting, and exceptionally weird, like getting whacked in the face super hard with a cuttlefish. Guitarist Andrew Hawkins, already a distinctive player on Atrophy, has stepped even further away from Lemay’s long shadow here. This style of death metal is admittedly kinda my thing, but Baring Teeth are good enough to merit attention from more than just the connoisseur fan. [From Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins, out 11/25 via Willowtip]Doug


13. Grimoire – “Tragédie Des Ombres”

Location: Quebec
Subgenre: Black Metal

With the addition of Grimoire’s “Tragédie Des Ombres,” the musician behind the one-man band — Fiel — becomes, I think, the most-featured artist on TBM. He’s in a number of the heavy hitters that make up the Quebec black metal scene — Forteresse, Ephemer, and Csejthe — and while he drummed for all of those bands, as Grimoire he helms all stations. I’ve said that the Quebec black metal scene might be my favorite out there before, and Grimoire fits right in with the area’s other luminaries. “Tragédie Des Ombres” navigates in and out of rich, atmospheric mid-tempo riffs and moments of blast-beat glory. The whole thing is painted against a wall of guitars, and in keeping with the Quebecois style, a stripped-down guitar dances on top throughout. It’s one thing to hear the awesome instrumental side of things, but Fiel’s killer set of pipes — both on deep growls and some epic class metal yells — are an unexpected bonus. Someone should have given him a mic sooner. [From L’Aorasie Des Spectres Rêveurs, out 11/24 via Eisenwald]Wyatt


12. Stench – “Road”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: Metal Of Death

The Swedish trio Stench feature two members of Tribulation — guitarist Jonathan Hultén and drummer Johannes Andersson — and like Tribulation, Stench might fall into the hypothetical subgenre (coined by Aaron last month) “The New Wave Of Progressive Old-School Swedish Death Metal.” But where Tribulation’s last album, 2012’s breakthrough The Formulas Of Death, was so expansive that it ventured into jam-band territory, Stench are almost deconstructionists, distilling their influences’ sonic signatures into something much more minimalist and immediate. Their upcoming sophomore album, Ventures, contains a short seven tracks, and each of those tracks builds around its own central riff, swelling and shrinking those progressions to achieve a hypnotic swirl. Hultén, Andersson, and vocalist Mikael Pettersson (as far as I can tell, there’s no bassist) formed Stench in 2007, after which they released the 2009 EP Reborn In Morbidity and the 2010 debut LP In Putrescence. It’s fitting that the title of each subsequent Stench release contains one fewer word than its predecessor: This music has been cut to the bone, and hits all the harder for it. [From Venture, out 10/17 via Agonia]Michael


11. Ashes – “Shifting Mountains”

Location: Devon, England
Subgenre: Black Metal

We’ve written about a number of one-man bands in The Black Market, and they’re an interesting bunch to examine. Out the window goes the idea of creative collaboration that in so many ways defines music as we understand it. Instead we get the output of one individual, and the result is invariably an incredibly personal work. Most of the one-man bands we talk about are of the black metal variety, unsurprising giving the loner status often associated with the genre. But rarely — if ever? — do we encounter a one-man band that’s changed ownership. Ashes did. The band’s sole member is one Davidian, who, for some time, passed the band off to another musician who goes by Abrecan before again taking control of his creation. It seems a bit like the musical equivalent of an open relationship. Anyway, the intriguing backstory only complements Ashes’ compelling music. It’s big, melody-rich atmospheric black metal. On “Shifting Mountains,” rasps are buried, deep, behind majestic, melancholic leads. The mid-tempo, at times leisurely synth-rich track hits beauty and holds the black metal party line. [From Hr?ow, out now via Candlelight] –Wyatt


10. Execration – “Ritual Hypnosis”

Location: Oslo, Norway
Subgenre: Death Metal

A few months back, this column covered the new mini-LP by Norway’s Diskord — a killer death metal band who combine old-school aesthetics with cutting-edge songwriting. This month brings us the third album from Execration, who are Diskord’s closest local peers. Like Diskord, Execration stick like glue to the textural formula that defines the early-’90s death metal sound: dirty guitars, organic drum tones, reverb-y vox, and unpolished, un-ProTools’d performances. But Execration also have a lot more going on musically than their stoic sonic palette initially suggests. They like to punch through sonic defenses with head-down speedpicking before fanning out into loose, eerie arpeggios — Blut Aus Nord payloads inside Autopsy shell casings. “Ritual Hypnosis” is a terse charger by Execration’s standards, with high tempos prevailing throughout, but the signature one-two punch remains. It’s a crushing track, but it’s also a bit of a tease; these guys really shine when they go all slow and evil. [From Morbid Dimensions, out 12/09 via Hell’s Headbangers]Doug


09. Dawnbringer – “Hands Of Death”

Location: Chicago
Subgenre: Traditional Heavy Metal

The upcoming Night Of The Hammer is, to my ear, the weirdest thing yet released by Chris Black under his venerable Dawnbringer handle. It makes some unexpected shifts at points, particularly in Black’s vocal attack, but it’s not just that: The whole thing has this aggressively retro-minded feel that seems extreme even for a noted historian/perfectionist like Black, and it constantly leaves me asking the universe what the hell is he trying to achieve here? Night Of The Hammer feels like a lost proto-extreme metal classic from 1982, and if you packaged the thing with a Lewis-esque backstory, you could probably sell it as just that. But while Black may be obsessed with esoteric and atavistic sounds, he’s not presenting Dawnbringer as retro kitsch. In the hands of a lesser (or less ambitious) artist, Night Of The Hammer would come with cover art reminiscent of this — something that screams: “HEAVY METAL! NOT JUST THE GENRE BUT THE MAGAZINE AND THE PARKING LOT! \m/” Instead, Night Of The Hammer’s actual artwork depicts something entirely different: It’s a stark black-and-white photograph capturing the moment of calculation and calm that precedes a slaughter. The words “Night Of The Hammer,” then, might serve as the local paper’s headline the day after that violence had come to light, or even the title of the In Cold Blood-esque true crime bestseller that would follow. Point is, Night Of The Hammer may sound like a lot of fun on its surface, but don’t be fooled: It is deadly fucking serious. [From Night Of The Hammer, out 10/28 via Profound Lore]Michael


08. Dimesland – “Are They Cannibals?”

Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: Progressive Thrash/Death Metal

The Canadian thrash band Voivod has slowly become one of underground metal’s more “important” bands, as far as influence goes. Their groundbreaking use of jazzy dissonance in metal riffing opened the compositional floodgates for multiple generations of progress-minded metal acts, including contemporary faves like Gorguts and Deathspell Omega. Voivod have also spawned a number of direct stylistic children — most famously the Philly-based black/thrash band Vektor, whose logo is a direct pastiche of Voivod’s. But for my money, Dimesland better channels Voivod’s powerful spirit. This under-the-radar act has just one EP under their belt to date, and their upcoming first LP, Psychogenic Atrophy, doesn’t yet have a release date. But their pedigree is both novel and strong — several members are involved in the long-running art rock institution the Residents, though it’s not clear who. (Naturally.) “Are They Cannibals?” lives up to the association, slinging electrified thrash skronk with a jacked-up modern intensity that reminds me of current Voivod guitarist Daniel Mongrain’s old band Martyr. Keep your ear to the ground for this one. [From Psychogenic Atrophy, the details of which are a total mystery to us]Doug


07. Raspberry Bulbs – “Light Surrounds Me”

Location: NYC
Subgenre: Black Metal/Punk

It’s not too hard to find yourself in a metal vacuum, where everything is discussed vis-à-vis other metal bands. Hey, that’s sort of what we do in this column! And I won’t dismiss the value of debating at length what hits the hardest, but sometimes it takes a peek outside the genre to give the conversation some context. Raspberry Bulbs serves as a good reminder of other ways to go heavy, and they probably should have long since shaken the black metal label they’ve been stuck with since their beginnings. Anyway, “Light Surrounds Me” is a stripped-down barnburner. To quote our own Aaron Lariviere, “the punk is strong with this one,” and a wonky, retro feel pervades. The obnoxious attitude is palpable in singer Marco Del Rio’s (formerly with raw USBM luminaries Bone Awl) phlegmy, barked sneer. Despite the decidedly lo-fi approach and outward unpleasantness of it all, it’s a remarkably enjoyable, tight song — you might even get away with calling it “fun.” [From Privacy, out 11/17 via Blackest Ever Black] –Wyatt


06. Today Is The Day – “Masada”

Location: Maine
Subgenre: Noise Rock/Metal

Today Is The Day are a long-lived chameleon of a band. Originally from Nashville, Tennessee, TITD is effectively the creative domain of vocalist/guitarist Steve Austin (no, not the wrestler) and whomever he sees fit to work with — notably including drummer Brann Dailor and then-bassist Bill Kelliher, who played on TITD’s seminal 1999 effort In The Eyes Of God before forming a band called Mastodon. Since the band’s inception in 1992, it’s developed from arguably the most deranged member of Amphetamine Reptile’s legendary ’90s noise rock roster into a more metal-oriented outfit. Austin’s later output has flirted with a variety of styles, to mixed results: harsh soundscapes on Sadness Will Prevail; death metal and grindcore on Kiss The Pig and Axis of Eden, and arena rock on Pain Is A Warning. For the upcoming Animal Mother — presumably named after Adam Baldwin’s character in Full Metal Jacket — Austin has brought yet another new rhythm section aboard, including Enabler drummer Jeff Lohrber. TITD’s tenth album is something of a retrenchment; its rich tones and tweaked-nerve melodies are reminiscent of the band’s terrifying ’90s work, but Austin still pumps out huge beatdown riffs of the sort that populated Kiss The Pig and Axis Of Eden. See, respectively, the first and second halves of “Masada,” Animal Mother’s lead single. The album proper may be TITD’s best release since the ’90s, though their work always requires substantial digestion before it can be judged accurately. Regardless, it is good to hear one of heavy music’s most distinctive creative voices still wailing away at full force — as layered and effects-drenched as ever. [From Animal Mother, out 10/12 via Southern Lord]Doug


05. Pestilential Shadows – “Mill Of Discord”

Location: Australia
Subgenre: Black Metal

The volume of black metal at our fingertips these days is staggering. According to some quick calculations using Metal Archives (the single greatest resource for metal-related time-wasting), there were 269 black metal albums released in September. Let that number sink in. 269 bands in the same genre, all competing for our diminished attention. As someone who embraces the task of sifting through this endless pile of shit, I can speak to the exhaustion that sets in when you’re drowning in boring black metal. Half the time it’s hard to even pin down why most bands fail: something with the vocals or the drums, the over-use of repetition or the lack of cohesion, or … it doesn’t matter what, it just doesn’t work, and we can’t be bothered to care why. So when a long-running but little-known Australian band sends me their latest album and every one of those details is somehow spot fucking on, I get excited. Pestilential Shadows do a lot of things at once, and they do them all well: The songs are expansive, haunting, evocative, and all the other words we use to describe things that sound pretty beneath a surface layer of noise and screams. For my needs, it’s a pleasure to listen through on repeat. They touch on a number of recent trends without actually giving in to them, and you’ll hear echoes of the melodic brilliance of Woods Of Desolation (with whom they once shared members), or the long-form sprawl of American bands like Ash Borer or Fell Voices, but woven together with a masterful hand. This is the reason I come looking for black metal in the first place. [From Ephemeral, out 10/31 via Seance Records]Aaron


04. Windhand – “Forest Clouds”

Location: Richmond, Virginia
Subgenre: Stoner Doom

Windhand were responsible for two of 2013’s best metal releases — their split with fellow Richmond sludge/doom band Cough, as well as their own sophomore LP, Soma — and earlier this year, frontwoman Dorthia Cottrell guested on the awesome new Bastard Sapling record, Instinct Is Forever. So it was pretty unlikely that Windhand would make a brief return on a super-limited Halloween-themed split 10″ and deliver the strongest work of their career, but here we are. “Forest Clouds” features a faster, sharper, more toned Windhand than the band we heard on Soma, which accounts for much of the song’s considerable might, but it’s Cottrell’s vocals that push it over the top. Where previously Cottrell was a ghostly presence, here she’s a fucking powerhouse, and whether it’s her confidence infecting her band’s or vice-versa, Windhand sound ready to do some real damage in 2015 and beyond. [From the Windhand/Salem’s Pot Halloween split, out 10/31 via Riding Easy]Michael


03. Old Man Gloom – “The Lash”

Location: Massachusetts
Subgenre: Sludge

Aaron Turner’s great post-metal band Isis called it quits in 2010, and his great indie metal label Hydra Head Records effectively shut down in 2012, but the dude has not exactly decreased his workload. He’s got a new label called SIGE, and he makes music with a bunch of other bands, most prominent among them the supergroup Old Man Gloom, which has been kicking since 2001, but went on hiatus for eight years starting in 2004. In 2012, a relaunched Old Man Gloom released their excellent fifth LP, NO, which would end up being one of Hydra Head’s final releases. As of now, it seems reasonable to assume OMG is Turner’s primary vehicle: Not only does the band have a new album on the way, but that album is being released by the venerable Profound Lore Records. Also? That album is a lurching, bone-splintering beast that lives up to its fucking awesome title, The Ape Of God. “The Lash” is the first song to be released from The Ape Of God, and the track’s title, too, reflects the stunning, violent power on display: Play it loud enough (and it demands to be be played loud), it will topple your equilibrium and reset your vertebral column. [From The Ape Of God, out 11/11 via Profound Lore]Michael


02. At The Gates – “At War With Reality”

Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Subgenre: Swedish Death Metal

In the January installment of this franchise, I wrote several billion words about At The Gates, who at that point had just announced they would release a new album, called At War With Reality, in 2014. It would be the fifth album of their career, and their first since 1995’s stone classic Slaughter Of The Soul, which is arguably the best death metal album ever recorded and one of my favorite albums of all time. So man, when I heard that news, I fucking lost it. In that month’s column, I admitted that I could not be expected to be objective about At The Gates — not because I know them or work with them or anything, but because I love their music so much that my opinion was invariably going to be a mess. You can’t really provide a thorough or thoughtful critical analysis of music about which you are either heartbroken (as I would have felt if I didn’t like the band’s new record) or elated (as I would have felt if I did like the band’s new record). And I am not exaggerating when I tell you I spent three-quarters of the year stressing the hell out about this record. So when it finally arrived, and, of course, I loved it … well, I mean, it pretty much made my year. I am not saying At War With Reality is the best album of 2014 — although it’s a hell of a lot closer to the top of the list than it is the middle — but I will say At War With Reality means more to me than any other album this year, and in many ways, it is my favorite album of 2014, for a thousand reasons, both musical and sentimental. As I said in my post about the song, I’m a little disappointed that they chose the title track to introduce At War With Reality to the world at large, because for me, it doesn’t hit as hard as anything else on the album: It doesn’t have the hooks, the grandeur, the snarl, the majesty, the intricacy, or the knee-buckling kick of the album’s best tracks. But it’s still a pretty damn good song. Quite honestly, back in January, I would have settled for less. Today, I’m still amazed that they delivered so much more. [From At War With Reality, out 10/28 via Century Media]Michael


01. Blut Aus Nord – “Paien”

Location: France
Subgenre: Black Metal

According to our own admittedly limited consensus, Blut Aus Nord are the black metal band to beat right now. We named Blut Aus Nord’s last album the 9th best metal release of 2012, and their contribution to a split with P.H.O.B.O.S. the second-best song of May, and now here we are. We’re not playing favorites — as Michael said in his writeup of “Paien” last week, “if you were forced at gunpoint to identify the “best black metal band in the world today,’ you could comfortably nominate France’s Blut Aus Nord and at least not be wrong.” And if you favor one flavor of black metal over another, Blut Aus Nord has perhaps nailed it (or created it) at some point during their nearly 20-year career. In the recent past that’s meant terrifying, warped muscular black metal; disturbing yet alluring industrial black metal; and, back in the day, good old-fashioned hateful black metal with big doses of atmospheric beauty. Here on “Paien,” the French band from creative force Vindsval, now operating as a duo, head into the woods a bit with some of the best atmospheric, pagan-ish black metal around. It’s fucking gorgeous and triumphant — but it’s Blut Aus Nord, so it’s not without innumerable twists, moments of despair, and a circuitous structure that becomes genius with repeat listens. It’s relentlessly fascinating, executed with unsurpassed skill and attention to details that go way beyond decorative flourish. [From Memoria Vetusta III – Saturnian Poetry, out 10/7 via Debemur Morti]Wyatt