The Black Market: The Month In Metal – October 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal - September 2015

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – October 2014

The Black Market: The Month In Metal - September 2015

If you go to the Facebook page of the old-school German thrash metal band Kreator, you’ll see updates posted from every city the band has visited on their current North American tour: Baltimore; Worcester; Montreal … And if you read the comments associated with those updates, you’ll see a whole lot of keyed-up fans sharing their excitement about either the show they just saw or the show they are going to see. But you’ll also see a decent number of frustrated lamentations and/or apologies. Lamentations, for instance, like this:

I wish there were more than two of us in Florida that liked Kreator so they’d come here.

And apologies like this:

Sorry for the tiny crowd, our area only seems to support hipster and local metal.

And then, some lamentation/apology hybrids, like this:

I saw you guys when you toured with Accept at the venue in Seattle. Was embarrassed by the pathetic turnout and the dive you guys had to play in. Seattle metal scene is a joke.

Those are not issues faced by New York City, thank god. When Kreator come to the States, they play NYC, and when Kreator play NYC, the place is on fire. I saw them on this current tour, last Friday night, at the 2,000-capacity Best Buy Theater, and it was packed to the exits — hell, the wait on line at Kreator’s merch table between sets was half an hour long. It was bedlam! It was as energized a room as any I’ve ever witnessed.

There are a few things worth mentioning here, to give some context to that scene: This isn’t a reunion tour or a long-awaited return: Kreator also played NYC in 2013, and before that, in 2012. They’re not doing a special “greatest hits” or “classic material” set, nor are they on the road promoting a new record — their last was 2012’s Phantom Antichrist, which was their 13th studio LP. And while Phantom Antichrist was, in my opinion, an outstanding album (one of the best metal albums released that year, in fact), it wasn’t exactly a media event or even a noteworthy novelty. Kreator have been releasing new music at a fairly regular clip since their 1985 debut, Endless Pain, and except for the four industrial-leaning “experimental” records released by the band during their wilderness period between 1992 – ’99, all Kreator’s albums have been well-received, at least by critics and fans. Commercially, though, these days they’re non-entities: Phantom Antichrist sold 3,900 copies in the US the week of its release — which was actually a substantial increase, percentage-wise, on its predecessor, 2009’s Hordes Of Chaos, which sold only 2,800 copies in the US the week of its release.

But when Kreator play New York City, none of that matters. This is something Taylor Swift has neglected to mention in the communiqués she’s issued as the city’s Global Welcome Ambassador: This is a great metal town. You’ve got the scene people talk about, the scene at St. Vitus and the Acheron (and, um, The Blacklist). But you’ve also got this whole other thing: this thing where, over a random two-week span in October, King Diamond plays Best Buy Theater — a venue he sold out in 30 seconds at $75 a ticket — Judas Priest and Steel Panther play the 18,000-seat Barclays Center, and Kreator play for the third time in three years and the place still looks like this:

I don’t want to misrepresent Kreator here. They’ve got a big international fanbase, and they do ambitious North American tours: This one started in Baltimore on October 23 and will close in Cleveland on November 23, and over the course of that month, it will come to 26 cities. And I have no doubt many of those rooms will be on fire, too. I’m also not congratulating New Yorkers on having especially refined tastes as a group; there are just a lot of people here, which means a larger number of people who do have refined tastes. And it’s an international city: There are a lot of people who came here from places like Europe or South America, where metal is more prominent in the mainstream.

I also don’t want to downplay the vitality of their recent albums; if Kreator were simply a nostalgia act, their reception here would amount to something else entirely. Even so, though, this much can’t be denied: Part of the reason Kreator can still come to NYC and expect this reception is that they are metal royalty, and there’s no other genre I can think of that reveres its elders, that demands respect of its history, quite like metal. There’s a through line that is constantly being drawn and underscored, telling us exactly how we got from Blue Cheer to, I dunno, Babymetal or Unlocking The Truth or Deafheaven or whatever it is that will come to define metal in 2014 and beyond. And if you care about metal, you have to know that stuff by heart, and have an opinion on it — and to some extent, you have to love it, or else why the hell are you here in the first place?

And even though Kreator never “broke through” on any significant level, at least on this continent, they occupy an important point on that line. The three albums Kreator released between 1986 – 1989 bridged the gap between the American thrash bands who were then (as now) playing arenas (i.e., Metallica, Slayer) and the European proto-black metal bands who were both too extreme and too weird for American audiences (i.e., Bathory, Celtic Frost). Moreover, during that short period, Kreator toured the hell out of the States: with Coroner, with Suicidal Tendencies, with Voivod, with D.R.I., playing places like West Hartford, Connecticut, and Reseda, California, and Melbourne, Florida. Those sorts of tours don’t really happen anymore — small metal bands coming from around the world to play small metal clubs in small suburban areas. But a long time ago, they did. And I think that sort of outreach made a deep and lasting impression on the people who were there to appreciate it.

That’s how I found Kreator. My first day of high school was September 5, 1989; four days later, on September 9, 1989, Kreator played a Long Island club called Sundance, in a town called Bay Shore, roughly half an hour from my house. I didn’t go to that show — I didn’t even know who Kreator were, and I was too young anyway — but about a dozen kids from my high school did go, so for much of my freshman year, I saw T-shirts from that tour in the hallways and classrooms, and some of those T-shirts were worn by people who would come to be my friends. In junior high, I had listened to Iron Maiden and Metallica and Anthrax and Slayer, but this was an entirely new world. Kreator represented something mysterious and dangerous, something new and obscure, something scary. But I liked being scared by music, so I investigated. I bought Extreme Aggression, the album whose sleeve art was printed on those T-shirts, the album behind which Kreator was then touring. And that’s where I started. That was my first experience with “extreme metal”; everything followed from there. In a way, for me, Kreator came to represent the very essence of extreme metal: the Platonic ideal of how it should look, sound, feel, and how it should make me feel: terrified and thrilled and white-knuckle excited to hear something new.

Kreator played only one song from Extreme Aggression at last week’s show — their sets rarely look back as much as their fans do. The song they did play was that album’s opener, “Extreme Aggressions.” That’s the first extreme-metal song I ever heard. I was 14 years old. The first moment. Those drums, those guitars, that scream. And that moment, it sounded like this:

Anyway, before we get to the songs, one (pretty important) order of business: This month, we add a new contributor to the Black Market team. His name is Ian Chainey — he was editing the metal blog Invisible Oranges for a while, and during his tenure there, he produced some of the best metal writing I’ve ever read. I’m really proud to have him here with me and Aaron Lariviere and Wyatt Marshall and Doug Moore, and I think it’s gonna help us expand the types of metal we cover in the Black Market and on Stereogum. And I think you’ll like him, too. I hope you’ll join me in welcoming him. And I hope that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you’re wearing Abbath corpsepaint (and carrying that battle axe, too, if circumstances allow). Today’s the day to do it.


15. Grst – “Pondering The Wastes”

Subgenre: Cascadian Black Metal

Earlier this year, the Oregon band Grst released a two-song tribute “album” called Fire Therin, on which they covered the two best songs from Dead As Dreams, the seminal 2000 LP from San Francisco black metal band Weakling. It’s an odd choice but a pretty impressive achievement: Grst delivered fairly straightforward versions of those two tracks, adding a few instrumental flourishes, but mostly polishing up the sound so that you’re able to hear these old songs in a new light. I’ve long been of the belief that Dead As Dreams is the best album ever produced by American black metal, but hearing Grst reanimating those songs, I found myself wondering if it was also something of a pinnacle: not just the best album ever produced by American black metal, but the absolute defining masterpiece to which all followers aspire — and inevitably fall short. Now, Grst release something of their own, although, oddly enough, it’s another remake. This time, they’ve taken four songs “originally conceived in 2009″ (although presumably never released), and “resurrected and reimagined” them. The end result is something pretty spectacular; the band’s new Plague Seed EP is a stunning showcase of their abundant talents, and it makes the prospect of new original material (a 7″ is on the way, I am told) all the more enticing. Weakling spawned a subgenre (“Cascadian Black Metal”) and a legion of disciples, and while it seems impossible to surpass the primogenitors, Grst have already come further than most. [From Plague Seed, out now via Glossolalia]Michael

14. Fen – “Menhir – Supplicant”

Location: London, England
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

To me, Fen have always seemed like a band that appeals to a certain cross-section of Opeth fans and Agalloch fans. You can throw Alcest into that mix, too. That’s not a diss — I absolutely love Agalloch and really like older Opeth and Alcest — and a mentioning those three in describing a band’s sound is akin to knighthood in some circles. But my thinking sort of relegated Fen to a corner that hasn’t been the most interesting to me in some time. You could throw in progressive and post tags when talking about Fen, but on “Menhir – Supplicant” it’s not really necessary. The track’s a beauty. It’s catchy, the vocals have some real bite to them, it’s big in scope and compelling throughout a nearly 12-minute listen. There’s a mournful vibe to “Menhir,” and a few parts — an interlude here and there, the outro — reach into epic territory. [From Carrion Skies, out 11/22 via Code666]Wyatt

13. Ordinance – “Yielding Servitude”

Location: Finland
Subgenre: Black Metal

Ahdistuksen Aihio Productions described Ordinance’s 2008 demo, the band’s only other release, as “… in the tradition of certain Swedish and French acts.” That general summation still applies to Relinquishment, a guitar-centric black metal album with a tonal palette derived from elder black metal artists and local folk music. That said, words are one thing, experiences are another. Why, you could describe Relinquishment’s album cover as a moon occultist convention. That would be accurate except, I mean, look at it. So “Yielding Servitude” is the aural equivalent; dark magic that can’t be properly pinned-down by critic-speak. Guitarist/vocalist Wulture and drummer Impudicus bang and crash through treble-heavy tremolo and arpeggios, both acoustic and electric, layering the guitars until they’re legion. Things get cooking around the four-minute-mark, when Wulture’s picking finds another, nearly banjo-esque gear that buries the triumphant-measuring needle in Moonsorrow by way of Horna territory. But it’s during “Yielding Servitude”‘s three-minute denouement when words fail. Guitars and background drones turn into a devotional ohm that vibrates your being as Wulture’s guttural rattles ominously in the foreground. It’s powerful stuff. Well, I mean, you could describe it as such, but the sensation that races up and down your spine is a more fitting definition. [From Relinquishment, out now via Ahdistuksen Aihio Productions]Ian

12. Cult Of Fire – “Vltava”

Location: Prague
Subgenre: Folk-influenced Black Metal

Prague’s Cult Of Fire were responsible for one of 2013’s best metal albums, ?????? ?? ????? ???????? (gonna have to check the pronunciation on that one): a swirling, immersive black metal record that looked to India for its inspiration, both musical and lyrical. The band is back this year with a two-song EP, ?tvrtá Symfonie Ohn? (translated: “The Fourth Symphony Of Fire”), which returns them to their own roots: The record is dedicated to Czech composer Bed?ich Smetana, as well as the Czech river Vltava and the Slovak river Váh. “Vltava” is a “cover” of Smetana’s song of the same name, and while Cult Of Fire’s recent Indian elements have been replaced here by music of Central European origin, the track showcases the same fierce musicianship, vitality, and commitment as found on the band’s last LP. Once again, it’s a bizarre and intoxicating experience. [From ?tvrtá Symfonie Ohn?, out 12/8 via Iron Bonehead]Michael

11. Haethen – “In The Absence Of The Eternal”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: Black Metal

Black metal comes in many varieties, from the majestic to the putridly necro — and there are reasons to love them all — but some of my favorite black metal is often the kind that invokes a creeping, spectral feeling, the stuff that seeps out from under some rotting log and brings big time bad vibes with it. That’s what Haethen delivers in spades — an atmospheric, woodsy and haunting wave of riffs and ghastly rasps. Haethen’s been quietly at work on the album that includes “Absence” since 2009. The prolonged effort shows in the album’s polish, and in that time a new crop of American black metal bands — Krallice, Panopticon, Vattnet Viskar, and others across a wide variety of styles — have brought fresh perspective and risen to the forefront of a genre that’s traditionally been pretty staunchly European. From that crowd, Haethen doesn’t have a clear standard bearer to follow. I hope they take up the flag on that level, though, as I’d love to hear more music like this. [From Shaped By Aeolian Winds, out 12/1 via Fallen Empire]. –Wyatt

10. Voices – “The FuckTrance”

Location: London, UK
Subgenre: progressive black metal

This marks the second time that Voices have appeared as part of this column in as many years. Their 2013 debut album, From The Human Forest Create A Fuge Of Imaginary Rain, was one of the year’s most overlooked debut records — surprisingly so, given this band’s ties to the defunct but critically acclaimed black/death metal band Akercocke. (At least, such was the case here in the US; I understand that the album made a bigger splash on the other side of the Atlantic.) Where From the Human Forest… saw Voices shed many of Akercocke’s signature eccentricities, London establishes a distinctively bizarre vocabulary of their own. Aside from a clear production and David Grey’s punishing, blast-heavy drumwork, Voices have shed most of their death metal elements. In their place is an unsettling collage of modernist black metal, gothic melodicism, and freaked-out noise. The new album, London, is conceptually devoted to both its titular city and to the object of its narrator’s romantic obsession — song titles like “The Fuck Trance” are among the few holdover idiosyncrasies from the Akercocke days — but you don’t need to read the lyrics for its eerie mood to take hold. This song is one of the more thoroughly ‘metal’ jams on the record; its clattery discord and disorienting layered vocals remind me of something that countrymen Anaal Nathrakh might’ve done in their more courageous early days. As a mourner of Akercocke’s passing, I’m psyched that such an exciting and distinctive unit has arisen from the older band’s ashes. [From London, out 1/27/2015, via Candlelight]Doug

09. Urzeit – “Schädlicher Einfluss”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: Black Metal

“Schädlicher Einfluss” hits like a gut punch — it’s a sordid and swaggering song that’s one of the more badass tracks I’ve heard in some time. It exists somewhere in between the worlds of underground tapes and more readily accessible (read: findable and or listenable) metal. It’s filthy in a way that suggests you might dig it up on a forum, but it’s so well done you would think that it couldn’t be the work of some basement warriors. Urzeit actually comes from some of the Pacific Northwest metal scene’s more seasoned and accomplished vets. Members of Ash Borer make up two-thirds of the band, and the remaining spot is filled by a live member of the monumental doom band Hell. Urzeit doesn’t really sound like either of those bands, though. It does, however, sound pure evil, with buzzing, imperious guitars and phlegmy, animalistic vocals backed by rather restrained drumming that often guides the sound more toward punk than metal. [From Urzeit/Akatharsia, out 11/25 via the band]Wyatt

08. Couch Slut – “Rape Kit 1″

Location: NYC
Subgenre: Noise Rock

Couch Slut’s debut, My Life as a Woman, washes away the pseudo-“Seasick” drunks who profited off this millennium’s earlier noise rock revival. The purposefully shadowy quintet achieves this by restoring noise rock’s key elements: the unexpected and uncomfortable. Couch Slut is a little bit Oxbow — one of the great practitioners of the ‘am I going to die tonight?’ live show — and a little bit Today is the Day during the AmRep years. Their music struts, grooves, and pleasurably lashes out. It’s catharsis through pain, both for the listener and the band. But it’s also smart in the way it sets expectations and subverts them. “Rape Kit” begins with a balanced, grungy arpeggio and then descends into hysteria. The singer plays the part of the id and the super-ego, finding the friction between the two. She can rage like Kiss it Goodbye’s Tim Singer; red-lining her voice and making it waver on, above, and below the note she’s trying to hit, giving her compelling reads a sense of genuine danger. She also wearily sings a resigned melody over the bridge. Each section amplifies the other, finding power in the contrasts. Behind her, the band lurches like it’s fighting with its instruments, ripping and tearing them apart in search of honest feedback squalls and bruising rhythms. All of it is performed by feel. You’ll turn up the volume so you too can feel it. And soon enough, it’s all that you can hear. It’s like when reality unwittingly snaps into focus via a knife’s point. That effect is no small thing, especially since we’ve gotten so used to treating music as omnipresent background noise. Couch Slut, though, gets you to take notice. [From My Life As A Woman, out now via Handshake Inc.]Ian

07. Abigor – “Akrasia – Temptation 3″

Location: Vienna, Austria
Subgenre: Progressive Black Metal

Though progression-minded black metal has achieved a higher profile and a greater degree of cachet over the past few years, the style’s been a laboratory for all kinds of weird and wacky ideas since the early ’90s. Abigor, who formed in 1993, are one of the few oddball acts from that era that are still active and playing black metal — contrast with Ulver, for example, who got their start as an experimental black metal band but who arguably aren’t even playing rock music these days. At ten albums, the Abigor discography can look a little daunting for neophytes. Fortunately, new effort Leytmotif Lucifer offers as viable a point of entry as any album in the band’s lengthy catalog. Though largely rooted in the vicious, blast-heavy industrial black metal that’s characterized their post-2000 work, Leytmotif doesn’t probe the depths of madness quite as deeply as its immediate predecessors, the sprawling Quintessence and the two-song Time is the Sulphur in the Veins of the Saint. As with all quality examples of this style, Abigor temper the weirdness with careful compositional tactics; check out how the blistering first movement of “Akrasia – Temptation 3″ sets up the brooding march that follows. [From Leytmotif Lucifer, out now via Avant Garde Music]Doug

06. Darkspace – “Dark 4.19″

Location: Switzerland
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal/Ambient

Darkspace was first sold to me with the Mel Brooksian one-liner “black metal in space!” I didn’t buy it. The “black metal in space” I previously encountered skipped the vast, unknowable darkness of real space to its detriment, sounding instead like a sad wizard orbiting the soundtrack to Lexx. So it took a Lustmord comparison to finally convince me Darkspace had other intentions. Ambient synthesist Brian Williams was one of the few artists able to approximate the crushing nothingness of a pitch-black sky. While Darkspace was far busier than Lustmord, the band carried the same sense of density, equally pitched to the heavy hum of the universe. That I bought. Fast forward a decade and we “have,” digitally, the band’s fourth album, III I. (If you attended the record release show in Bern, Switzerland, you have one of 230 physical copies. Lucky you.) Guitarist Wroth, who also builds hypnotic walls of blackness in Paysage d’Hiver, knits together past, present, and future riffs with guitarist Zhaaral and bassist Zorgh. They’re accompanied by minimal drum programming, ambient pad sweeps, and early electronic music burbles. At their best, Darkspace is able to make their music breathe like the micropolyphonic choral work of György Ligeti. Closer “Dark 4.20″ is animated by slightly askew torrents of tremolo to create an undulating effect; the gravitational tug of a black hole, perhaps. They follow this section with straight-ahead industrial chugs, sweetening the stew with SETI sounds, legato leads, and all three members’ growls, grunts, and howls. And that’s the sort of push/pull you get with Darkspace: coil and then release. Except the releases keep releasing. It’s crescendo after super nova after crescendo for very dark and spacey 20-minute trips. Black metal. In space. [From Dark Space III I, out now via Avant Garde Music]Ian

05. A Pregnant Light – “Purple Pain”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: “Purple Metal”

It’s been pretty amazing to witness the evolution of A Pregnant Light. The one-man project from Grand Rapids, MI, began its life in 2011 as a post-black metal act in America’s vast, loosely connected cassette-trading underground. Back then, the band’s auteur was a shadowy figure who wouldn’t reveal his identity — he went by the handle Deathless Maranatha, and he ran the DIY label Colloquial Sound Recordings, a collective whose equally anonymous associated members included bands like Aksumite, Bound Bible, and This Station Of Life. The man called Deathless Maranatha played in all those bands, too: In Aksumite, he was credited as Dukula Menelek; in Bound Bible, he went by D; in This Station Of Life, he was credited as Master. At some point over the last couple years, he decided to reveal himself further, identifying himself as Damian Master and establishing a consistently hilarious Twitter presence. And as Master’s public persona has evolved, so too has his music. Master has always referred to A Pregnant Light as purveyors of “purple metal”: Purple, of course, allows for countless hues and degrees warmer than black; I’m not sure, however, APL’s new stuff is really “metal” anymore. There’s metal in there, no question, but there are so many additional ingredients that I can’t quite define a base. Hardcore, shoegaze, pop, noise, post-rock, indie-rock, alt-rock … maybe this is just another shade of purple, and maybe that should come as no surprise from a guy who burst out the gate covering Madonna’s “Live To Tell.” But that’s by no means a bad thing: Master is taking APL somewhere else altogether. [From the “Purple Pain”/”Ultraviolet” 7″, out now via Colloquial Sound Recordings]Michael

04. Inter Arma – “The Cavern”

Location: Richmond, VA
Subgenre: Sludge/Black metal

This genre-agnostic band put out one of the very finest metal albums of 2013 in their sophomore LP Sky Burial (which you can and should listen to here if you haven’t yet heard it) — a monster effort that brought them considerable crossover acclaim, as well as slots on a seemingly endless sequence of tours with such notables as Russian Circles, KEN mode, and Ulcerate. It’d be difficult for any band to follow up such a triumphant creative cycle. In that sense, The Cavern’s timing is unfortunate. Inter Arma actually wrote this one-song “EP” — so styled because it’s actually 45 minutes long — well before Sky Burial’s release. (Here’s a video of the band playing an old version of the song in 2010.) The Cavern therefore doesn’t pick up where the latter’s stylistic innovations left off, which makes it something of an odd follow-up for the band’s breakout album. It is an epic songwriting feat nonetheless. Most of the black metal component that darkened Sky Burial and its run-up EP Destroyer is absent here. That absence reveals an emotionally-charged compositional nucleus of proggy sludge and post-rock, roughly triangulating the midpoint between Neurosis, early Mastodon, and Yob. This towering tune features too many shifts in mood and style to enumerate here, but for me, its outstanding feature is the space it provides for Inter Arma to vamp (and vamp, and vamp) on individual segments. The way they drive that main riff into your skull reminds me of the single-minded devotion of Sleep’s legendary Dopesmoker, and the riff itself justifies the comparison. That’s saying something. [From The Cavern, out now via Relapse]Doug

03. Taake – “Det Fins En Prins”

Location: Norway
Subgenre: Black Metal

It’s been 19 years since Norwegian black metal legend Hoest changed his band’s name from Thule to Taake, and 15 years since Taake’s debut LP, Nattestid Ser Porten Vid, the first piece of a trilogy that would eventually include 2002’s Over Bjoergvin Graater Himmerik and 2005’s Hordalands Doedskvad: three albums that balance overwhelming harshness with amazing melodies. Throw in the occasional mouth harp or banjo solo, and that’s pretty much what Taake deliver every time out. Hoest releases a new Taake album every three years; he’s now released five such LPs, and they range in quality from “excellent” to “absolutely essential.” (Worth noting, too: His unhinged, flamboyant performance at Maryland Death Fest 2014 was one of the festival’s unequivocal highlights.) Taake’s last was 2011’s Noregs Vaapen, which means they’re due for a new one in 2014, and it looks like they’re JUST gonna make that deadline. Stridens Hus, Taake’s sixth full-length, will be out in December, with one song out now to precede it. “Det Fins En Prins” is the third track on the upcoming album, and it’s pretty close to perfect: It mostly works within the long-established sonic parameters of True Norwegian Black Metal — hissed vocals, a blur of hyperspeed, tempo-shifting guitars and drums — but stacks every section with hooks and grooves, and then throws to a crazy wah-soaked solo. It’s no banjo, but it’ll do. [From Stridens Hus, out 12/8 via Dark Essence]Michael

02. Giant Squid – “Thera”

Location: Pacifica, CA
Subgenre: Post-metal

Giant Squid have become something of a pet band for me over the years. Their 2009 masterpiece The Ichthyologist instantly became one of my favorite albums of the new millennium upon its release, and I’ve been proselytizing on behalf of the underrated band responsible for it ever since. In all likelihood, I would’ve stopped doing so if a) Giant Squid had achieved the degree of acclaim they deserve (they haven’t), or b) they had released music that had disappointed me since (they haven’t). Minoans, their first proper full-length since The Ichthyologist, continues that tradition of unrecognized grandeur. Stylistically, this album arises from the same primordial stew as its predecessors: a wash of Neurosis-y sludge, in which floats scraps of Mediterranean world music and dark, gritty Americana. But where The Ichthyologist focused on intimate, personal detail, Minoans pulls back and captures whole panoramas of melancholy— it reflects on the mysterious collapse of the ancient civilization of the same name, using it as a Sophoclean parable for the environmental challenges our own society faces. Minoans features possibly the best lineup the band’s ever had on record, with powerhouse Grayceon drummer Zack Farwell making his debut behind the kit and early-days keyboardist/vocalist Andrew Southard rejoining the group. The latter evidently did a lot of work on the vocal harmonies on this album, and his efforts show; never has the core duo of guitarist/vocalist Aaron Gregory and cellist/vocalist Jackie Gratz used their combined voices to such hair-raising effect as they do on the heartwrenching chorus of “Thera.” Their musical synergy is marvelous to behold, especially when you know that it reflects a domestic parallel — the two are engaged and have a little girl together, who in turn has a writing credit on another song on Minoans. (Gregory once described Giant Squid as “a family band” to me in an interview; that description has become increasingly precise.) I feel like a broken record saying this, but: Giant Squid is one of the best active bands in any style of rock music. Listen or lose out. [From Minoans, out now via Translation Loss]Doug

01. Primordial – “Where Greater Men Have Fallen”

Location: Ireland
Subgenre: Epic Black Metal/Traditional Metal

Smoke drifts through the trees like a premonition. Everywhere the scent of burning pine, so sharp it stings. Tongues of flame lick at rotting timber; an inrush of wind stokes the glow on the horizon. Everything burns. The rains come too late to save anything worth saving, and what’s left in the end? Soggy ash, smoking ruins, devastation wrought. And … scene. This is classic pagan metal imagery, part of a grand lineage passed down through the generations by the Promethean progenitors of this sound, Bathory (see Hammerheart and Blood Fire Death), and given to their spiritual descendants, a role embodied better than anyone by the long-running Irish metal band Primordial. Over the past 20 years — Primordial formed in 1987 but didn’t release an album until 1995’s Imrama — Primoridal have evolved from an almost-black metal band into something far more special, tapping their Celtic roots and drawing on various forms of heavy metal to create a hybrid style like no other. Their latest album, Where Greater Men Have Fallen, marks another leap forward as they borrow the weight and muscle of traditional doom and fuse it with traditional pagan metal (not unlike Agalloch’s The Serpent & The Sphere). It might be their best. Frontman Alan Averill (aka A.A. Nemtheanga) is a firebrand, channeling a mythic vision of humanity’s pain through a personal lens of frustration, resulting in a swaggering, staggering bellow that would sound absurd out of context, but instead comes off absurdly powerful. It’s pure theater, but closer to Macbeth than anything else. The results are beyond what we’ve come to expect from … anything, really. [From Where Greater Men Have Fallen, out 11/25 via Metal Blade.]Aaron

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