The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – November 2014

If you care about metal, you really should subscribe to Decibel, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s not only a source of great writing — not only a place to discover new music and have new light shed upon familiar music — but a barometer for the genre. It’s the authority, the standard, the publication of record. In many ways, all other metal journalism today is either a reaction or alternative to Decibel. That’s not to say I agree with everything written in its pages, but I never feel like anything written in its pages is wrong. Anyway, Decibel’s Best Of 2014 issue dropped in my mailbox last week, and that issue included the magazine’s list of the year’s 40 best albums. I’m gonna go ahead and spoil that list below, so if you’re still waiting for your copy and you want to initially experience the list as it was intended to be read (counted down from #40 to #1, on glossy pages, with writeups for each record), then you should close this page right now, and come back when you’ve had a chance to peep the magazine. (You can buy the print edition here.) But I like to talk about lists, and so do you, so let’s talk about this one:

Decibel’s Top 40 Albums Of 2014:

01. Pallbearer – Foundations Of Burden
02. At The Gates – At War With Reality
03. Horrendous – Ecdysis
04. Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
05. Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
06. Thou – Heathen
07. YOB – Clearing The Path To Ascend
08. Vallenfyre – Splinters
09. Panopticon – Roads To The North
10. Morbus Chron – Sweven
11. Dead Congregation – Promulgation Of The Fall
12. Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds
13. Woods Of Desolation – As The Stars
14. Tombs – Savage Gold
15. Krieg – Transient
16. Iron Reagen – The Tyranny Of Will
17. Cult Of Fire – ?????? ?? ????? ????????
18. Gridlink – Longhenna
19. The Oath – The Oath
20. Behemoth – The Satanist
21. Agalloch – The Serpent & The Sphere
22. Autopsy – Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves
23. Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
24. Beyond Creation – Earthborn Evolution
25. Wreck & Reference – Want
26. Teitanblood – Death
27. Trap Them – Blissfucker
28. Young And In The Way – When Life Comes To Death
29. Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
30. Eyehategod – Eyehategod
31. Cretin – Stranger
32. Midnight – No Mercy For Mayhem
33. Thantifaxath – Sacred White Noise
34. Lord Mantis – Death Mask
35. Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare
36. Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain
37. Solstafir – Otta
38. Execration – Morbid Dimensions
39. Incantation – Dirges Of Elysium
40. Floor – Oblation

I’m actually not going to get into specifics here (although I encourage you to do so in the comments) because we’re doing the Black Market’s Best Albums Of 2014 in December, and I feel like pointing out anything on Decibel’s list — in agreement or disagreement; noting an absence or a particularly interesting inclusion — will serve to spoil our own.

I will say this, though: There are more than a few albums on Decibel’s list that I did not consider to be highlights of 2014. That said, there is almost nothing here that seems blatantly off-base. I can see the argument for each of these records individually; I could probably make the argument if I had to. If anything, Decibel’s list only underscores, for me, the ways in which metal’s stratification has made the genre so difficult to cover comprehensively. There were some lower-visibility metal albums released this year that might not have made Decibel’s Top 200 Albums — if their list extended that far — which were nonetheless, for me, essential. And it’s not like the Decibel list skews particularly mainstream: Every Mastodon and Machine Head on this list is balanced by a Thantifaxath or a Teitanblood. This is a very good list, and this was a very good year for metal. Every year, though, it seems like the genre expands — to the point that, today, the thing we talk about when we talk about metal is not a thing at all, but an artifact of an idea.

Anyway, this is the last month of 2014 for our “Month In Metal” countdowns. The December Black Market will be our albums list, which Aaron Lariviere, Doug Moore, Ian Chainey, Wyatt Marshall, and I are working on now. You will find plenty in there to argue about when it arrives. For now, though, we’ve got Decibel’s list, and 15 new songs, and that should provide plenty to argue about today. Have at it.

Michael

15. Faith No More – “Motherfucker”

Location: San Francisco
Subgenre: Alt-Metal

When Faith No More were at their peak — a period that spanned nearly their entire active recording career, but reached an absolute pinnacle with 1989’s The Real Thing and 1992’s Angel Dust — they were writing songs that didn’t belong to any extant genre. Their biggest hit, “Epic,” is believed by some to be the birthplace of rap-metal, but listen to that song: The “rap” elements aren’t really “rap,” and the “metal” elements aren’t really “metal”; it’s more like a hybrid of Public Image Ltd. and Voivod. Next year, Faith No More will release their first album since 1997’s Album Of The Year, but that’s preceded by the one-off Record Store Day single “Motherfucker.” In the time that has passed between those two events, the universe of metal has expanded a thousandfold, but still, nothing has sounded quite like Faith No More (except for the other bands fronted by FNM vocalist Mike Patton — most prominently, Mr. Bungle, Tomahawk, and Fantômas). “Motherfucker” sounds exactly like Faith No More, although it lacks one important element of the band’s best material, namely, a cohesive song to accompany the sound. But “Motherfucker” should be viewed less as a comeback than a warmup, and as such, it’s an encouraging sign. When the album arrives, it will present its own set of challenges, of course, because that is what Faith No More do: They challenge. And they sound great doing so. [From the “Motherfucker” 7″, out 11/28 via Ipecac]Michael




14. Earth And Pillars – “Rivers”

Location: Italy
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

Everything about Earth And Pillars is massive. Enormous, colossal, you name it, the appropriately named Earth And Pillars sound like the soundtrack to some world-ending maelstrom. It’s so all-consuming and convincingly terrifying that you probably wouldn’t guess that the drums are programmed, or that the band just appeared out of nowhere this month. Hell, the band didn’t even have a page on Metal Archives until this past Sunday. Avantgarde Records has a history of unearthing gems (Sivyj Yar, for one), and Earth And Pillars are another score for the label. Fans of Fell Voices, Ash Borer, and Aurvandil will be right at home with “River,” a nearly 20-minute monster. Layer upon layer of warbling guitars give this a claustrophobic feel, almost like drowning. [From Earth I, out now via Avantgarde Music]Wyatt




13. Desecravity – “Bloody Terpsichorean Art”

Location: Tokyo
Subgenre: Technical Death Metal

A lot of people think that death metal’s more frenetic wing has already reached its logical conclusion. It’s not an unreasonable position. If you consider playing faster and more intensely than the next band the sole hallmark of success, then technical DM has long since hit two physical barriers: its musicians’ handspeed, and its fanbase’s ability to process any more notes per minute. But if you buy into this line of reasoning, you’re liable to miss out on some unbelievable feats of compositional derring-do — like, for instance, the stuttering brain-melt groove that begins at around the 1:45 mark of Desecravity’s “Bloody Terpsichorean Art.” On their sophomore effort, these excellent upstarts arrive at a conclusion that’s previously occurred to American influences like Origin and Hate Eternal; specifically, that extreme skill is a boon, but it’ll only take you so far. Orphic Signs revisits the Immolation-on-fast-forward viciousness of Desecravity’s debut, Implicit Obedience, but tempers it with liberal (and precise) doses of melody, plus a significantly higher percentage of keeper riffs in each song. (When you’ve got this many parts per tune, even the best don’t bat 1.000.) “Terpsichorean,” which means ‘dance-related,’ is an odd word choice for a band whose music couldn’t really be any less danceable. On the other hand, ‘mincing’ is both a kind of footwork and a slice-and-dice food preparation, and Desecravity fit the latter to a tee. This album is sharp enough to chop veggies for you. [From Orphic Signs, out now via Willowtip]Doug




12. Bloodbath – “Church Of Vastitas”

Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Subgenre: Death Metal

Old men inhabiting the headspaces of teenagers is rarely a good idea, though Bloodbath, especially on their fourth album, has grown beyond the band’s original conceit: that of a fun breather between the super-members’ more serious endeavors. Oh, the bowel-spilling chainsaw tone former shredder Dan Swäno used to gush about on Ultimate Metal remains, but the Opeth and Katatonia (and, lest we forget, Witchery) side-project has continued to broaden their songwriting, thanks to know-how picked up during the players’ years in the trenches. The proof is in “Church Of Vastitas,” which pulls a sleight of ear by progressing its Entombed, Carnage, and elder Floridan forebears. A gothy, death/doom foreshadowing gives way to off-kilter riffs that slip and slide asymmetrically, herded along by shuffling drums. That leaves band newbie Nick Holmes, of Paradise Lost fame, to be the listener’s rhythmic surrogate, placing his decrepit cryptkeeper croak in the pocket to act as a guiding handrail. Before you can sink your teeth in, though, the track quits, leaving you wanting more of a song that gets stronger the more it’s replayed. Indeed, Old Nick’s contentious snarl, an approach too way-back in Mister Peabody’s Wayback Machine for those missing old all-stars Mikael Åkerfeldt and Peter Tägtgren, takes on deeper dimensions when you grow accustomed to his subtle read, and the unholy blue-ball buzz begging for an unchained solo or a breakdown starts to meet expectations after instilling them. Those things? Those are old-dog tricks. And that’s the advancement: Instead of trying to forget their adulthood and tap into an age of innocent ignorance, Bloodbath drape the old over what they are now, letting their experience construct new contours. It’s a better look. [From Grand Morbid Funeral, out now via Peaceville]Ian




11. Ellende – “Weltennacht”

Location: Graz, Austria
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

As you listen to “Weltennacht,” it feels like the whole thing is about to explode — there’s the sense that the double-kick hammers are about to go wild any second. They sort of do early on, but it always feels a bit restrained, and for the most part we stay locked in a glorious, mournful mid-tempo groove. That central riff, though, is abandoned for something unexpected. Not that an acoustic interlude is odd in this genre, but around 4:50, when a moment of silence is followed by minimalist, skittish electronic blips and bleeps, you start to realize you’re in some uncharted territory. Then, it gets even stranger — and darker — when a sample plays. It sounds like an argument that culminates in a shooting. After some digging around, I found it’s a sample lifted from a Necro song — yes, the horrorcore rapper — and it’s the audio from the press conference when the Pennsylvanian politician Robert Budd Dwyer killed himself on live television, the day before he was to be sentenced to prison on charges of bribery. Dwyer had claimed he was innocent and had been framed. After the audio fades out, then the song explodes. [From the Weltennacht EP, out in December via Talheim Records]Wyatt




10. Animus Mortis – “Manuscripts”

Location: Santiago, Chile
Subgenre: Progressive Black Metal

Thanks to the internet, regional distinctions between underground metal scenes have more or less gone the way of the dodo. Still, regional stereotypes persist, especially with regard to the hermetic realms of death and black metal. You’d expect Norwegian black metal to hearken back to the genre’s ’90s heyday, just as you’d expect West Coast American black metal to sport big post-rock influences, just as you’d expect South American black metal to attack the listener in the crudest and most primitive way possible, and so forth. Animus Mortis handily defy this last stereotype on their sophomore album, Testimonia. This is unapologetically modern progressive black metal, whose allegiances lie with stern-but-inventive blastbeat slingers like Nightbringer and Aosoth (who are American and French, respectively). Animus Mortis have apparently undergone a major lineup shift over the past two years, leaving vocalist and former guitarist Nicholas Onfray the only long-time member of an otherwise entirely new lineup. His performance in his new role turns out to be Testimonia’s biggest strength — Onfray delivers an adventurous blend of vox that ranges from full-throated howls to Emperor-style cleans to a televangelist’s tremulous harangue. The rest of the band hold up their end of the bargain, too; the guitars ring out mournfully and morph into flesh-rending scourges by turn, and drummer Tempenor pushes the whole edifice forward with his gnarly blasts. [From Testimonia, out now via ATMF]Doug




09. Foscor – “Graceful Pandora”

Location: Barcelona, Spain
Subgenre: Progressive Black Metal

Foscor have a spark setting them apart. At first, you think it’s because they’ve taken a big leap without measuring the landing. Previously a purveyor of avant-garde black metal in the ’90s sense — only in rock and metal can words like “progressive” act as a time capsule — Foscor are now ringing post-hardcore chords, steadily rumbling basslines, and decadent dissonances. So it’s easy to transpose a phantom tension upon “Graceful Pandora,” as if the players were constantly weighing the worth of shredding their kvlt cards. But Foscor aren’t really stepping in fresh snow. “Graceful Pandora” sits comfortably between Enslaved’s Isa and Castevet’s Obsian. The spidery, This Heat riffs, sinewy growls holding together the verses, and thick atmospheric mists are all known quantities. After all, Foscor have seen the blueprints: They’ve covered Enslaved before. The spark, then, emanates from Foscor’s clarity of vision. The band know what they’re doing will work, so they stride confidently toward a conclusion. In a genre where eternalism spirals out of fortuitous accidents, it’s refreshing to get behind a strong leader offering a new perspective by simply cleaning the lens. [From Those Horrors Wither, out now via Alone Records]Ian




08. Usnea – “Healing Through Death”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: Sludge/Funeral Doom

In a year that has already delivered amazing new records from YOB, Pallbearer, Triptykon, Thou, Eyehategod, and Indian (among others), it’s pretty close to impossible to show up in mid-November with an album of sludge/funeral doom and make any sort of impact. But Random Cosmic Violence — the sophomore LP from Portland, OR’s Usnea — arrives with the force of an asteroid, and leaves behind a fucking crater. That metaphor applies in more ways than one: As its title implies, Random Cosmic Violence directs its focus heavenward. Speaking about the record, the band said, “The concept of the album is eponymous to the title; that we are here, not thanks to the intentional mechanisms of some benevolent supreme being or some kind of conscious sentient energy in the universe, but due to random cosmic violence. Celestial bodies have been exploding and bouncing around the universe (possibly multi-verses but the science isn’t conclusive on that yet) and exchanging particles, atoms, energy, transmuting from one form to another, and somehow, on a cold dark rock next to one star out of countless stars, life evolved in all of its earthly forms and here we are…” In that regard, it has a lot in common with another one of this year’s best metal releases (from another Portland, OR-based band): Agalloch’s The Serpent & The Sphere. And like that album, Random Cosmic Violence has a Floydian vastness that both balances and amplifies the overwhelming, crushing heaviness. Like the night sky itself, Random Cosmic Violence is full of terror and awe and ice and fire. [From Random Cosmic Violence, out now via Relapse]Michael




07. Anguish – “Snohammer”

Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Subgenre: Doom/Heavy Metal

Anguish’s trudge feels like it was built from older-sibling-recommendations; those once-magical discoveries made possible by the inherent cool of the cohort born a few years before. There are Candlemass-ian overtures leaping from the speakers; Celtic Frost flurries falling after every Warrior thunderclap; and bridge-less Carnivore shifts, where a neat riff is connected to a neat riff simply by the virtue of both being neat. Mountain, Anguish’s second full-length, is pleasantly out-of-time; even its artwork looks like it was pulled from Heavy-metal-gems.com (a fine resource, though of dubious legality, for the lost and hilarious). The band just delights in not being new: The stomping riffs aren’t pillars to Pro Tools, the drum fills aren’t robotically precise replacements, and vocals aren’t droning auditions for weepy musicals or bouts of dorm ennui. Anguish forcefully club and drag doom back to when the tag meant a slow march to hell rather than a puddle of tears. “Snowhammer”‘s apocalyptic keys, restless tempos, and filthy riffs (plus, oh, that solo) smell like the well-earned musk of decaying cardboard sitting in a bookshelf shrine. In this case, the older sibling is Dark Descent, and losing your weekend in their virtual collection unites Albini’s utopian now with a Proustian past. [From Mountain, out now via Dark Descent]Ian




06. Deep Mountains – “Changtu Island”

Location: Shandong Provence, China
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

One of the rules that guides the Black Market list-making process is that we only consider music released during the previous month. We’re making an exception to that rule this time for Deep Mountains, an incredible atmospheric black metal band from China. Hopefully a listen to “Changtu Island,” which we missed when it came out in late August, will suffice as an explanation as to why we broke our own rule, but we’re also showing some love to a country that isn’t the first place that comes to mind when it comes to heavy metal. Even in the world of hard-to-find and obscure black metal releases, China is decidedly off the map. It’s a shame, because a look around the catalogue of Pest Productions, the Chinese label behind Deep Mountains, shows China has so much to offer. Pest itself is a fascinating label — they’re probably best known for releasing an incredible compilation a few years back that featured Agalloch, Musk Ox, Gallowbraid, Dämmerfarben, Kauan, Fen, Velnias … you get the idea. The series of heavyweight international collaborators and a stable of expertly picked signees from across the globe are enough to make Pest excellent, but for my money the Chinese bands are the stars. Anyway, praise for Pest can be offered elsewhere. Here, dive into the melancholic, hypnotically catchy beauty that is “Changtu Island.” Shoegazers will find a lot to love here, and I strongly encourage checking out Deep Mountains’ Lake Of Solace, their latest album that we also embarrassingly missed earlier this year. [From the “Changtu Island” single, out now via Pest Productions]Wyatt




05. The Crown – “Headhunter”

Location: Trollhättan, Sweden
Subgenre: Thrash/Death ‘N’ Roll

DEATH THRASH LIVES! Kinda. Folks rarely nerd out about the Swedish death thrash scene of the early ’00s, when bands like Darkane, Carnal Forge, and the Haunted took the sagging foundations of melodeath and applied heaps of technicality and piles of BPMs and somehow wound up reinventing thrash, for better or worse. I thought it all ruled pretty hard at the time, but in the annals of metallic history the scene turned out to be mostly inconsequential, mainly memorable for giving us progressively shittier Haunted albums — with one huge exception. This is where I explain how the Crown emerged from their early melodeath days (which still ruled) to become one of the best, largely unsung Swedish metal bands to ever walk the earth, responsible for Deathrace King, one of the best metal albums of all time, the pinnacle of its genre, yadda yadda, the stuff of gods. Tompa Lindberg, of At The Gates fame, sang on a later album, and that was untouchable, too. Anyway, it’s 2014 and the Crown have returned to show us what’s what, or something. The band’s latest single, “Headhunter,” suggests a new approach: Instead of the raging technicality of days past, this is death ‘n’ roll stripped to the bone, dripping exhaust fumes and mangled Motörhead riffs. Not exactly death metal, nor the death thrash of old, but I’ll take it. [From Death Is Not Dead, out 1/12 via Century Media]Aaron




04. Cretin – “Ghost Of Teeth And Hair”

Location: San Jose, CA
Subgenre: Death/Grind

Even when horrified death/grind was at its peak, Cretin’s 2006 debut Freakery seemed like a cut above. That might have something to do with its lineage, counting members of Exhumed, Citizen/Liberteer, and the County Medical Examiners among its mob. Vocalist/guitarist Marissa Martinez, though, also had a knack for evoking the vets, namely Impetigo’s gonzo b-flick cult appeal and Repulsion’s worm-eaten grind, a band she toured with recently. Those touchstones carry over again to Cretin’s lead single from their sophomore LP, a hilariously goofy body horror romp that has the same invitingly warm timbres as an ancient Friday The 13th VHS. The blast, thrash, and grind gallop is accented by Carcass-chomping melo asides and a fun solo from newcomer Elizabeth Schall. Skin-deep, the track is alternately gooey and razor-sharp, two modes in which Cretin still excels. But, holy hell, you’ll need the lyric sheet handy to appreciate the 360 degrees of their cinematic morbidity. You’ll never hear the bells on Queen’s “Bicycle Race” the same way again. [From Stranger, out 12/9 via Relapse]Ian




03. Yellow Eyes – “Stillicide”

Location: Brooklyn
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

Brooklyn’s Yellow Eyes are still operating on the fringes of the American black metal scene, although their growing discography increasingly suggests they belong closer to the top. They were one of 2013’s 40 Best New Bands, and their Hammer Of Night LP found its way onto our list of last year’s 50 Best Metal Albums. The band followed that this past January with a 2-song cassette/12″ called The Desert Mourns, and they’ll close out the year with another such EP. Yellow Eyes have always produced relatively lean songs — even the best atmospheric black metal can tend to meander, but Yellow Eyes strip away much of the music’s drone-ish tendencies in favor of hysterical hooks. And Stillicide is perhaps the most immediate work of the band’s young career. Both of the EP’s two songs are richly complex, yet distilled to an essence: There’s no drift or stasis here, just short builds and long bursts. The B-side, “Heat From Other Days,” was premiered over at Hell Awaits earlier this month; I love that song, too, but I’ve chosen to include the title track here, because I think it hits harder. (“Heat From Other Days” might be the more textured and hypnotic number, though. FWIW I love them both.) Starting the day after Thanksgiving, Yellow Eyes are headed out on a short North American tour with another excellent (and under-recognized) Brooklyn black metal band, Anicon (check the tour dates here). If they’re coming to your town, you should make it a point to attend — I’ve seen both bands several times apiece, and will enthusiastically vouch for both: They’re not only talented composers and performers, but absolutely ferocious live acts. [From the Stillicide EP, out in early 2015 via Prison Tatt (cassette and vinyl) and Sibir Records (vinyl only)]Michael




02. Napalm Death – “Cesspits”

Location: Birmingham, England
Subgenre: Death Metal/Grindcore

Napalm Death are one of those important bands whose historicity doesn’t necessarily sync up with their current reality. Though their name is primarily associated with the early days of purebred grindcore, the contemporary iteration of this band has been doling out a meaty stew consisting of death metal, grind, and thrash for roughly twenty years, with hints of punk and ’80s-era industrial noise serving as garnishes. Napalm Death have become extremely adept at working with this blend, and judging by “Cesspits,” their upcoming 17th effort Apex Predator – Easy Meat will not deviate much from the established recipe. As Ian pointed out to me, the odd sung/screamed opening vocal on this tune may be a sly tribute to the British punk band the Cardiacs, whom Napalm Death have recently covered. From there on it’s textbook post-2000 ND; that is, a 3-minute sequence of increasingly frenetic death/grind riffs that culminates in a hyperpressurized thrash stomp. Napalm Death are simply songwriters working with an established vocabulary at this juncture, but they can still wring every drop of available power from the ol’ script. Bands at this age have no business sounding so vibrant; vocalist Barney Greenway only seems to get stronger with each passing tour cycle. [From Apex Predator – Easy Meat, out 1/27 via Century Media]Doug




01. Witchrist – “Haruspex”

Location: New Zealand
Subgenre: Blackened Death Metal

After Craig Hayes premiered his documentary South Of Heaven: A History of New Zealand Extreme Metal on Radio New Zealand, I asked him — as did everyone else on the blog loop; apologies Craig — if there was a central sound or concept tying New Zealand metallers together. Short answer: Not really. However, he did say this:

“But there’s an old adage about New Zealand being a nation built on ‘number 8′ fencing wire, meaning we’ve got an inventive culture and we’ll build anything, even if we’re short of a few components.”

And that’s part of the appeal of Witchrist on “Haruspex:” its maximized minimalism. Not that the Diocletian-related crew overcrowded their Incantation-esque crawls on their previous two LPs. But “Haruspex” is pleasingly threadbare, boiling down crusty death metal and black metal to its essential elements out of want and necessity; an approach that even gets Okoi “KzR” Jones of Bölzer to dry out his vocals. Here, Jones’ aural nakedness has a workmanlike honesty as he affects a punky, Brainbombs-by-way-of-Pungent Stench gasp along with a from-the-throat shriek. The rest of Witchrist follow suit, clattering and banging around with the unencumbered ambition of real people using metal as a real emotional release, without the missing trends of modernity getting in the way of their exorcism. [From the Vritra 12″, out 12/31 via Iron Bonehead]Ian