The Black Market: The Month In Metal – February 2015
At the very end of January, a few days after last month’s Black Market was published, Tom interviewed Wes Borland — the guitar player in Limp Bizkit who dresses like he accidentally went onstage with the wrong band — and Tom, bless his heart, confronted Borland directly on my behalf, asking him (without my prodding and/or knowledge!) to address my frequently made assertion that nu-metal was a generation-long plague that did inconceivable damage to the metal genre as a whole. I actually edited that interview before we posted it, and in the editing process, I cut a couple sentences from Borland’s answer to that question — not to misrepresent the guy, but to eliminate what seemed to me a sort of random digression (about the Swedish band Meshuggah) that might not translate for a general readership. Anyway, since Black Market readers are presumably familiar with Meshuggah, I’m going to share with you that full, unedited exchange here, with some of my own thoughts below:
TOM: So at Stereogum, there was a little internal debate about who should write the post yesterday. One of the guys who works at the site, Michael, is a big underground metal devotee, and so he was gonna write it originally, and his position was basically like, “Fuck this guy. He destroyed metal in the late ’90s — him and his band and all the other bands — and if he’s uncomfortable with it now, it’s his fault. It’s his fault that metal sucked for years and that it’s only now starting to recover.” What do you say when you’re confronted with a viewpoint like that?
WES: I think metal is so fucking boring that I wanna stab my eyes out with screwdrivers. In the ’90s we tried to do something with metal, to take it into a new direction, based on combining metal bands with stuff that was on the heels of the grunge movement, like Helmet and Primus and even Pantera and the Melvins — taking those Helmet slaughterhouse riffs and combining it with like Carcass riffs and treating it more like a hip-hop Ministry song. That was the thought process at the time, and we didn’t know where it was gonna go. And luckily for [Michael], metal’s right back to being the same as it was then — you know, unless he’s really into technical metal like Meshuggah, which I really appreciate, but I don’t love listening to it. I can handle listening to it for a few minutes, but after that it just starts to sound like a hum to me. But that’s just because it’s not to my taste. So obviously nothing was ruined because it was a time period of just experimenting and going in a certain direction and seeing what guitars did if you did this to them, and songs, and so on and so forth. And at no point were ever claiming to be, like, metal. That was put on us by having that as an influence, and I think that’s funny that he’s even getting that mad about it! [laughs]
First off, I want to say that it was, for me, tremendously gratifying to see that question posed to a member of Limp Bizkit, because they were directly responsible for more damage than any other band of that era. And it was especially gratifying to see it posed to Borland specifically, because more than any other member of that band, Borland seemed to be aware of how bad Limp Bizkit were (and are), and he participated (and participates) in part because it was (and is) hugely profitable to do so. You might recall, Borland actually quit Limp Bizkit in 2001 — two years after the release of the 7x Platinum-selling Significant Other, one year after the release of the 8x Platinum-selling Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water — because he felt he was being dishonest to himself as an artist by playing with the band. As he said at the time:
“Bells start going off, like, ‘This is what it feels like to sell out.’ I’m enjoying all the perks of [Limp Bizkit], but I feel my heart is going black, because this is not what I’m called to do. The little voice inside my head says, ‘You should be somewhere else. You should take the risk. You should let it go.'”
Anyway, prior to his interview with Tom, I felt actual scorn for Borland — he made a lot of money co-opting good art to make bad art, and he didn’t even stand behind the bad art he was making — but after the interview, I felt actual warmth for the guy. He comes across as a kind, thoughtful, generous, wise, and funny human being. I felt kinda bad for harboring all that resentment for all that time, and I’m glad to have a broader perspective today than I did a month ago. I still feel Limp Bizkit were a cancer, intentions aside, and one day when I have a few extra hours to devote to the subject, I’ll write something explicating that assertion: It’s not baseless, I promise, although it may be a bit hysterical. But I can’t do it today, because today, there is a lot of relevant metal to talk about, and I can’t waste time talking about irrelevant metal.
So let’s get to the good stuff. In the comments section of last month’s Black Market, reader inthedeadofknight wrote of our monthly curation process:
I imagine the five [Black Market] guys sitting in a castle dungeon at The Round Table of Darkness wearing their black T-shirts and hashing it all out with pissed off looks on their faces. Sometimes a goblet is thrown, sometimes a broad sword is drawn, but at the end of the month a masterpiece is born, and they all ride their dragons back to Norway and/or Finland until it’s time to reconvene.
That’s exactly right! That’s exactly what it’s like! I mean, minus a few of the more colorful details, but in spirit, that is pretty much how it goes. The five of us — Ian Chainey, Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Doug Moore, and me — throw around a bunch of songs and opinions and insults, and we eventually reach some sort of compromise about what we’ll include in the column, and why, and what won’t make the cut. This month, though, the culling process was brutal. It seems impossible that February is the shortest month, because this February, we were more or less deluged with worthy songs to an almost gluttonous extent. I want to share with you a list of bands whose new music was nominated by one (or more) of us — and in a lighter month, would have made this list no question — but for whatever reason, fell short this month. This list is in alphabetical order, and the artist’s name links off to the song or songs in question, in case you want to hear them (and you should!):
Aksumite, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Call Of The Void, Dephosphorus, Devouring Star, Drudkh, Dynfari, Ensiferum, Ergot, Ethereal Shroud, Fanchon, Fiendlord, Griever, Heavydeath, Imperial Triumphant, Invincible Force, Kalmankantaja, King Woman, KRAKOW, Morgoth, Pallbearer, Primitive Man, Pyramids, Ranger, Royal Thunder, Sumac, Take Over And Destroy, Torche, Trenchgrinder, Ufomammut, Unrest, Urfaust, Void Ritual, and Voivod.
That doesn’t even take into account something like Leviathan, who released two songs from the upcoming Scar Sighted over the course of February, but was ineligible because a song from the album was featured in last month’s Black Market. (I encourage you to read the Stereogum interview with Leviathan’s Jef Whitehead just the same, where you can hear one of those new tracks, “Gardens Of Coprolite.” The Q&A was conducted by Justin M. Norton — a good friend of The Black Market, and a guy whose byline you’ll see on a lot of Decibel cover stories — and it’s excellent.) It also doesn’t take into account the new songs from Lightning Bolt and METZ — noise bands who are heavier than a lot of metal bands, and who we might have included here if there wasn’t so much metal to account for. And it’s all great.
That’s the one thing from the Borland Q&A I do want to address: the idea that metal is “so fucking boring,” and that metal is “right back to being the same as it was” before Limp Bizkit arrived. He’s totally off-base on both counts. Right now, metal is anything but boring; it’s thriving. And it’s so much better today than it was back then; it’s more vital, more diverse, more energetic. If he thinks Meshuggah are at the vanguard of the genre, he’s wrong. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He thinks it’s funny that I get mad about this stuff, but man, I just fucking care. And I think if he paid attention, he’d care, too. He wouldn’t want to stab his eyes out with screwdrivers. He’d want to feast. Oh well, his loss. The rest of us, though? Dig in.
15. Enslaved – “Thurisaz Dreaming”
Subgenre: Progressive Black Metal
Within Enslaved’s discography of 13 full-lengths and the additional handfuls of splits and EPs lies your Enslaved. What I mean is, even though the overriding consensus is Enslaved are a treasure, each record has an equal number of devotees and detractors. Certainly, some celebrate the entire catalog, though most champion a period. For instance, I have a friend who draws the line firmly after Frost. I’m on the other end of the spectrum: Give me Below The Lights or Isa, the albums where Enslaved took a bold blast toward Alpha Centauri; a rather Sid Meier’s Civilization progression for a viking-centric black metal band. The biggest reason my friend and I can’t see eye to eye is an age thing. Because Enslaved are a knot to be unraveled, you typically find your Enslaved when you have the most time to devote to understanding and consuming Enslaved. Yet, unlike other outfits with a similarly varied and continually modernizing catalog, Enslaved have been able to traverse their career without a legacy-smudging release. Sure, some albums may resonate more than others, but to date they haven’t cut an In Flames-esque debacle that chokes the life out of the classics like a creeper vine. And that’s the crazy thing: Pulled back from subjective connections, the band’s fruit-fly-quick evolution, and the endlessly shifting classification game played by progologists, Enslaved are still Enslaved. The Enslaved on the Emperor split and new album, In Times is, ideologically, the same. O.G. member Ivar Bjørnson hinted at that while speaking with Metal Assault regarding Enslaved’s all-over setlists: “Everything for us is based around holistic thoughts. We look at everything from a holistic perspective, our lyrics, our concepts, our own personalities or whatever it may be. And of course, the music also. Sometimes it’s not linear, and that’s what we’re trying to say with our music. It’s more like a [David] Lynch movie where time and place aren’t necessarily on a line. In some places there is a direct connection between a song from ’92 all the way to 2006, and we go from 2012 back to 2000, and so on. It’s more like a chaotic map than anything else.” Fittingly, chaos is how lead single “Thurisaz Dreaming” kicks off, opening with stinging guitars and Grutle Kjellson’s corrosive rasp. It’s rough stuff that’s soon smoothed out by Ice Dale’s David Gilmour lead and, later, Herbrand Larsen’s increasingly Åkerfeldt-ian singing. (Though, let it be known: Ice Dale absolutely slays a sheets-of-sound solo in the track’s final third that demonstrates his all-star versatility.) In a way, it’s all eras of the band in one track. Of course, that’s how Enslaved have always grown: through addition without forsaking the elements that got them there in the first place. That’s a much more human evolution than bands that disappear for years only to come back as completely different people; mostly figuratively, though sometimes literally. So, In Times may no longer be your Enslaved, but Enslaved are still your Enslaved. And they might be yours again. [From In Times, out 3/10 via Nuclear Blast] –Ian
14. Aktor – “Six Silver Suns”
Subgenre: Traditional/Psychedelic Metal
Chris Black, who goes by Professor Black, is no stranger to this column. He’s landed on the list for his work with his classically oriented Dawnbringer and his likewise trad-obsessed High Spirits. For both those groups, a blind taste test might have you believe they are the timeless products of the early ’80s rather than bands responsible for some of the best metal of the past calendar year. So here’s an interesting one: Aktor is a meeting of the minds between Black and Tomi Leppänen and Jussi Lehtisalo, both of the long-running Finnish experimental rock group Circle. The retro spirit is still strong here, with Black-ian riffs and vocals pulled from another decade, but with Aktor we encounter some psychedelic twists and quirks (and synths) pulled from Circle’s history of pushing boundaries wherever they’re found. [From Paranoia, out now via Ektro Records] –Wyatt
13. Gehennah – “Metal Police”
Subgenre: Black ‘N’ Roll
You could say something clever about how your opinion of Gehennah really mirrors how you feel about the future of metal, but I’m pretty sure Gehennah’s fans would only emit a “braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaap” in response because holy shit they are drunk. Formed as a Venom cover band that ended up writing originals, this pub-crawling crew of Swedes remain exactly that on their first batch of recorded material since 2003. Heck, if you wanted to slice the street meat more finely, you could say Metal Police is what would happen if Cronos had a copy of Blood, Guts, And Pussy stuck in his CD player. But the music isn’t really the reason you’d consider stitching a Gehennah patch onto your denim. These guys are metal in a hilariously over-the-top, knuckle-dragging way that plays out like a daydream. I mean, they started Headbangers Against Disco in the ’90s, a movement perfectly encapsulated by the title to Sabbat’s split-series inclusion, “Baby, Disco Is Fuck.” But they’re also kind of serious about their metal — at least, in the “haha, wait, are you serious?” sense. As singer Mr. Violence told Metal Invader, “Metal is serious stuff and should be handled with the care it deserves. You can’t just start a band and bring in a bunch of keyboards and other fancy bullshit. No guitar lessons in the world are gonna teach you how to bang your head. Metal belongs in the streets, not in school.” If you agree, you’ll be vicariously punching poseurs right along to “Metal Police.” Gehennah are every hesher you’ve met at a show … just funnier. And, somehow, more serious, in that they started a band and they’re actually doing it, even if they’re too drunk to remember they have a band a lot of the time. [From Metal Police, out now via Metal Blade] –Ian
12. Délétère – “Laudes – Credo II”
Location: Quebec City, Canada
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal
A couple years back I made the trek up to Montreal’s Messe Des Morts, the multi-day festival that is especially hard to get to for Americans, as in the past it’s started the day after Thanksgiving (this year it’s on Easter). Between bands like Forteresse, Monarque, Chasse Galerie, Ephemer, and more, I’ve been a big fan of what Quebec has been doing in black metal for a number of years. One of the bands I was most excited to see at Messe Des Morts was the local band Délétère, a duo with a couple of incredible demos of majestic but hard-hitting black metal behind them that we’ve featured in The Black Market in the past, including in the very first Black Market two years ago this month. How time flies. Anyway, I ended up missing them due to a late arrival and had to take solace in watching Taake devastate the place, but listening to “Laudes – Credo II” from Délétère’s forthcoming debut LP is a reminder to double down on any future efforts to show up on time. The song is a tear through what makes Délétère excellent — it’s intensely melodic yet decidedly muscular and gruff, with a subterranean low-end. Sinister stuff, and a couple well-timed mid-tempo breaks with choral vocals provide a nice detour from the song’s headlong tilt. [From Les Heures De La Peste, out 4/7 on Sepulchral Productions] — Wyatt]
11. Lucifer – “Anubis”
Subgenre: Traditional Doom
The Oath seemed primed to enjoy a long career. Following a Band Of The Week nod from Fenriz, the straight-up heavy metallers were buzzier than an ungrounded wire running through a hornet hive. But mere weeks after their full-length debut dropped, the outfit split, posting to their Facebook, “The Oath, as we know it, is dead. The constellations are shifting once again. The morning star returns at dawn.” Now, German singer Johanna Sadonis has resurfaced as Lucifer, continuing her mission to play heavy metal the old way with nary a wink. And first single “Anubis,” naturally backed with “Morning Star,” definitely practices that ancient magic. The guitarists, known only in the notes as “The Wizards,” let riffs fly from their old-school amps like whips crack. The tones are also appropriately crunchy and the solos impressive, perhaps hinting at the identities of these technicians. (Wild guess: A song credit goes to Cathedral/Death Penalty riff-master Gaz Jennings, so… ) But Sadonis is the star, giving her lines a “Snowblind” lilt. Unlike other occultists, she isn’t incanting for giggles as metal’s gold dust woman. Here she dives all the way in without a harness, free of the recent fetishization of retro; no smirk, just love. Just a fan, really. And she has the natural ease of someone who has spent decades devouring this style, achieving fluency through adoration. To Sadonis, this means something. Getting it right matters. That shows, the sweat doesn’t. As Lucifer’s Facebook slyly notes, “ABRACADABRA.” And, perhaps in the Serenus Sammonicus sense, maybe that’s meant as more than just a voila. Maybe it’s to ward off whatever caused the Oath’s premature demise. Better luck this time. [From the “Anubis”/”Morning Star” 7″, out 4/7 via Rise Above] –Ian
10. The Haunting Presence – “Arsenic For This Pathetic Existence”
Location: Los Angeles
Subgenre: Black Metal/Death Metal
Of all of the Black Twilight Circle bands, the Haunting Presence is perhaps my favorite. It’s pure filth, nasty blackened death metal so repulsive that lone member THP’s phlegmy snarls seem to spray bile from the speakers. Those vocals don’t sound human — they sound like the sinister grunts of some rabid animal going in for a kill — and on top of the spastic drumming, spiraling guitars, and wild-man solos, it’s a recipe for chaos. At this point, the Crepusculo Negro collective, a cluster of LA-area black metal musicians comprising the bands Volahn, Kallathon, Dolovotre, Blue Hummingbird On The Left, and many more, isn’t exactly new. But since the BTC’s heyday in 2011-2012 when the Haunting Presence released a couple of insane demos, the record on which “Arsenic For This Pathetic Existence” appears (confusingly titled The Haunting Presence like the band’s first two demos) is the most complete work to come from the project. If you like what you hear, be sure to check the album out; it’s one of the more ferocious and primeval recordings you’ll hear this year. [From 2015 MLP, out now via Hells Headbangers] –Wyatt
09. Der Weg Einer Freiheit – “Einkehr”
Location: Würzburg, Germany
Subgenre: Melodic Black Metal
Der Weg Einer Freiheit — “The Way of Freedom” — are a German black metal band that formed in 2008. In a blind taste test, though, I’d have guessed that they formed in Sweden circa 1994. That particular time and place gave rise to a lot of metal niches, but the one I’m thinking of here is a frigid, propulsive brand of black metal that eschews minimalism in favor of clarity, death metal-ish force, and the kind of absurdly majestic melodies that might get you psyched up for an intense cross-country skiing session. Popularized by the likes of Dissection, Dawn, Sacramentum, and many other bands that were fond of blue and purple album covers, this style occasionally gets called “melodic black metal” — which is confusing, since virtually all black metal is at least somewhat melodic. That’s metal subgenre terminology for you, though. Anyhow, this type of thing is near and dear to my heart. It’s largely fallen out of favor with younger bands, but a handful of talented upstarts still practice it — Astrophobos and Thulcandra come to mind. Der Weg Einer Freiheit ply the trade too, and their upcoming third LP, Stellar, is as fine a specimen of hi-fi icewinds as you’re likely to encounter these days. Most of “Einkehr” absolutely rips; drummer Tobias Schuler’s blasts hit so hard that you find yourself leaning toward the speakers for fear of being bowled over, while the glass-cutter guitars slice out sheets of somber harmony. It’s what a music writer would call “an outstanding triumph of execution,” and what a normal person would call “a really fun black metal tune with great riffs.” [From Stellar, out March 23, Season of Mist] — Doug Moore[From Stellar, out 3/23 via Season Of Mist] –Doug
08. Slugdge – “Spore Ensemble”
Location: Lancashire, England
Subgenre: Melodic Death Metal
Slugdge are not a band beholden to the standard rulebook for getting ahead. They (obviously) have a strange name, and a strange lineup to go with it — just a vocalist and a solitary instrumentalist. They naturally don’t play live, thereby denying themselves access to a major source for band revenue. And they don’t have a label or a publicist, ensuring that only those who actively seek out their music will be able to keep tabs on them. These business-end foibles did not stop Slugdge from releasing an absolute monster in their 2014 sophomore album Gastronomicon, which made The Black Market’s best-of list and became one of my most-listened albums of the year. Less than two weeks after Gastronomicon came out, Slugdge posted a song from their upcoming follow-up record … with basically no fanfare, of course. Another preview track appeared in September under similar conditions; the characteristically punny “Spore Ensemble” is the most recent and best of these teasers. Like its predecessors on Gastronomicon, this tune delivers melodic death metal that — unlike most contemporary melodeath — doesn’t skimp on the “death metal” bit. For a DIY studio project, this band sounds absolutely massive and surprisingly organic. Vocalist Matt Moss’s lows are just grisly, and Kev Pearson continues to craft impeccably catchy riffs that still steamroll you like … well, like a giant malevolent slug might. This kind of melodic death metal has antecedents in beefy European acts like Hypocrisy, Edge Of Sanity, and Heartwork-era Carcass, but precious few current champions. Look for Slugdge to take up the banner in their slimy tendrils with their as-yet-unnamed third album later this year. Oh, and labels: SIGN THIS BAND. [From Slugdge’s forthcoming third LP, details TBA] –Doug
07. Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth – “Unnamed”
Whenever I attempt to mount my (admittedly specious) “nu-metal was a plague upon all metal” argument, I’m met with a counterargument suggesting that grunge was equally responsible for metal’s ill health in the ’90s/early-’00s. I disagree. I’ve addressed this before, but the essence of my response is: In many respects, grunge was just an extension of metal; many of the genre’s practitioners were metal artists with metal DNA, and beyond the superficial trappings, their music varied little from traditional metal. It took influence from punk, sure, but so did Slayer and Metallica. Kurt Cobain chose Andy Wallace to mix Nevermind because Wallace was the engineer on Slayer’s Reign In Blood. Soundgarden toured Louder Than Love with progressive metal bands Faith No More and Voivoid; they toured Badmotorfinger with hair-metal gods Guns N’ Roses. And so on. The distinction, I maintain, was nominal. Case in point: The Melvins. Or Alice In Chains. Or TAD. TAD were the Seattle-based group led by Tad Doyle, and once upon a time, they were positioned to be one of grunge’s breakout bands post-Nevermind. The fact that they never actually broke out was a fucking crime, but their ’90s output is loaded with some of the heaviest, catchiest riffs ever produced by any grunge act. If you don’t already own 8-Way Santa and Inhaler, go get them. You’ll thank me. Anyway, after the dissolution of TAD in the late-’90s, Doyle formed the band Hog Molly, who released one album — 2000’s Kung-Fu Cocktail Grip — before splitting. In 2008, Doyle started a new group called Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth with bassist Peggy Doyle and drummer Dave French. That band has been playing out for years, but it’s only now that they’re set to release their self-titled debut album — the first new music from Tad Doyle in a decade and a half. Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth is unabashedly metal, of the doom variety (the subgenre most similar to grunge, and to which grunge is most indebted). It’s being released via Neurot Records, the label run by the great post-metal pioneers Neurosis; Neurot was also responsible for 2014’s best doom metal album (frankly 2014’s best album, period, IMO), YOB’s Clearing The Path To Ascend. And if you like Neurosis or YOB (or TAD, naturally), you would do well to listen to Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth. It’s a HUMONGOUS album that moves slowly but with great agility, surprising grace, and grand down-tuned hooks. Tad Doyle is a ferocious guitarist, and his playing shifts from doom to thrash to trad metal without altering the identity or integrity of the song; his vocals are a textured roar; the rhythm section, meanwhile, just pulverizes. It’s an extraordinary listening experience. Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth was a long time in the making, and you can hear that; it feels like an album that has been baking slowly, rising from the ground, from a little acorn to a mighty oak. It’s here now, and this thing towers. I recommend seeking out the LP, because it shouldn’t be missed. It will be waiting for you in December, on lists of 2015’s best records. Hell, like 8-Way Santa and Inhaler, it will be waiting for you decades from now — because this is not shit that goes away; this is music that lasts forever — and if you sleep on it today, people like me will still be telling you that you slept on something big, something great. Do not sleep. Unless this is what you mean by Sleep. Or, to quote YOB: “Time to wake up.” [From Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth, out now via Neurot] –Michael
06. Enforcer – “Undying Evil”
Subgenre: Trad Metal
My hobby horse these days appears to be separating trad-minded bands doing their own thing from all of the coattail riders that only want to copy. (I didn’t ask to be boring, I just am.) After all, you can be atavistic while formulating a distinct sound. And I think that sums up Enforcer on their fourth full-length, From Beyond. They tug on a lot of ancient threads — Ratt-y vocal hooks, speed metal’s giddy lust for a floored gas pedal, neoclassical/shred melodic contraptions — that they’ve stitched into a whole that can only be called Enforcer at this point. A lot of that is via their payment of dues. Vocalist/guitarist Olof Wikstrand has the kind of confidence four full-length albums provides. He’s had enough time to recognize mistakes and to use his skills to find alternate ways to meet his ends. Basically, he’s worked out how to write for his voice and record for his voice. Same goes for the rest of the band — from Jospeh Tholl’s fret-fireworks to bassist Tobias Lindqvist and drummer Jonas Wikstrand’s propulsive rhythms — equaling a final product that’s certainly familiar, yet certainly of this current era, one shaped by bands more willing to let a multitude of subgenres congeal into a greater whole. But I don’t want to dry Enforcer out on the dissection table. From Beyond is, first and foremost, fun. This is earworm stuff that stays with you long after you park and roll up your windows. It’s also subtly diverse, keeping your interest by mixing and matching metal, like how “Undying Evil” balances its poppy chorus with Mercyful Fate bridges. You could describe this mini-mixtape-as-a-song approach as the best of all worlds, but I get the feeling Enforcer is more into terraforming a new one. [From From Beyond, out 2/27 via Nuclear Blast] –Ian
05. Murg – “Grannen Är Din Fiende”
Subgenre: Black Metal
After 20-plus years of innovation, ’90s second-wave Scandinavian black metal still serves as the gold standard for the genre. And for good reason — when the bands of that era carved out a sound of buzzing bleakness accented with rasps, croaks and minor melodic flourishes, they had a formula with lasting power that could be readily built upon but never clearly bettered. In 2015, Murg is one of the best examples of a young band nailing the classic sound with fresh vigor. “Grannen Är Din Fiende” succeeds in attaining the kind of depth of character present in Scandinavian forerunners like Gorgoroth and Immortal as well as the catchiness and sense for big, hook-y melodies perfected by Taake. It’s awesome, and it comes from a Swedish duo that’s arrived out of nowhere, or, according to press materials, from a rural mining area filled with abandoned mines slowly being reclaimed by ravenous nature. [From Varg & Björn, out 3/30 via Nordvis] –Wyatt
04. Sacral Rage – “En Cima Del Mal”
Subgenre: Speed Metal
Heavy metal is many things to many people. Adolescent power fantasies, calculated noise, fetishized religious subversion, a cry for social justice … you name it. For me it’s an unattainable ideal, and one I chase endlessly: it’s the hunt for the Riff Absolute. Riffs are the bedrock of all rock genres, but the birth of heavy metal brought new awareness to the untapped potential of a string of notes played by a distorted guitar. Originally just a variation on what is known in musical parlance as an ostinato — which just means a repeating motif — the humble riff was reforged by heavy metal into a primal force worthy of obsession and infinite pursuit. Black Sabbath started us on the path, Metallica elevated the art, and roughly 100,000 metal bands followed in their stead, each doing its best to be the, uh, best of the best. Which leads us to the astonishing riff-centric brilliance of Sacral Rage, a Greek speed metal band that has stumbled upon (or, more likely, slavishly labored to create) an album’s worth of ingenious riffs on its debut, Illusions In Infinite Void. The band owes a stylistic debt to forgotten progressive metal legends Watchtower, but Sacral Rage soundly trump their heroes by writing songs you’ll actually want to revisit. Like Watchtower, the vocals are an acquired taste, but air-raid falsetto screams have never had better musical accompaniment than this. “En Cima Del Mal” shows the band at its catchiest: lead guitars writhe over subtle shifts of rhythm, but the hooks are front and center and the heavy metal thunder is strong. Most importantly, the riffs are godlike: explosive, exploratory, and perfectly crafted. [From Illusions In Infinite Void, out 3/10 via Cruz Del Sur] –Aaron
03. Elder – “Legend”
The psychedelic stoner-doom band Elder have been making music since 2006, and over the course of their existence, they’ve released a pair of LPs (2008’s Elder and 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring) as well as an EP (2012’s Spires Burn/Release) and a live album (2013’s Live At Roadburn). So maybe you know Elder already, and maybe you have an opinion based on that back catalog. Or maybe you don’t know Elder, but are content to ignore them, because you’ve been doing fine without them all this time. In either case, you are mistaken. Elder’s soon-to-be-released third album, Lore, is a massive leap forward for the band. That’s not to say they’ve abandoned what made them great — they still write Odyssean epics filled with aching melodies, monumental riffs, and dazzling (truly fucking dazzling) guitar leads — but they’ve brought all those elements into such sharp focus that their collective impact is heightened tenfold. Lore isn’t hazy or monolithic; it’s crystal clear, impeccably crafted, and not just impressive but thrilling. Like Sleep or Earthless — two bands who provide similar thrills using similar tools — Elder are a trio, and each member is a fucking giant. Both halves of the rhythm section, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto, could probably take a 10-minute solo and actually make it pay off à la Cliff Burton or John Bonham. But frontman Nick DiSalvo (who not only sings but plays some drums and keyboards, and of course — my god — those guitars) is a COLOSSUS. I sometimes like to compare metal to baseball, and for DiSalvo, Lore is the equivalent of Pedro Martinez’s 1999 season: a season in which the pitcher not only dominated, but did so with actual artistry and charm and maybe even genius; he seemed superhuman. That’s the level of DiSalvo’s guitar work on Lore. Pedro had lots of other great seasons, too, before and after, but even if he’d only had 1999, people would make a case for him to be elected into the Hall Of Fame, and that case would have merit. Elder have an impressive body of work already, and much more to come, I hope, but Lore is something to behold, something to be awed by, a new apex. [From Lore, out 2/27 via Armageddon Shop] –Michael
02. Dødheimsgard – “Aphelion Void”
Subgenre: Experimental Black Metal
You may not have heard of Dødheimsgard, but if you’re a fan of Norwegian black metal of any stripe, you’ve listened to bands with whom they’ve share members. This long-running act’s Metal Archives page is a mere click or two away from seemingly every legendary black metal band the country has produced — Darkthrone impresario Fenriz was briefly a member of the band, and they also have links to Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Immortal, Aura Noir, Gorgoroth, Ulver, Ved Buens Ende, and so on. But as impressive as this extensive pedigree is, it’s hardly the most interesting thing about Dødheimsgard’s intermittent career, which has roughly tracked the genre’s last 20 years of evolution. After two straight-ahead LPs in the mid-’90s, DHG took a hard left turn with 1999’s 666 International, which was one of the best examples of the Norwegian BM scene’s then-transgressive interest in industrial music. Then they disappeared for eight years before releasing Supervillain Outcast, a poppier (and underrated!) spin on the 666 International sound. And then they fell silent for ANOTHER eight years, to the point that I figured that the band had fallen apart. But they hadn’t, and the upcoming A Umbra Omega is somehow the weirdest and most ambitious album in Dødheimsgard’s catalog. I’ve covered a lot of really weird black metal-ish music for this column, but I’m not even sure how to begin describing the sounds these guys are making now. “Aphelion Void” is both the album’s centerpiece and a representative example of its fellows. Trying to name every mood shift and texture that unfolds over these 15 minutes would be a fool’s errand; suffice to say that it couches prog rock, ambient electronics, folk, and jazz in some absolutely blistering black metal. The experience itself is far more cohesive than it looks on paper, but it’s easy to imagine how this album took most of a decade to write and record. [From A Umbra Omega, out 3/16 via Peaceville] –Doug
01. Tribulation – “In The Dreams Of The Dead”
Subgenre: Psychedelic Melodic Occult Metal Of Death
I won’t pull any punches: Tribulation’s upcoming album, The Children Of The Night, is the best album I’ve heard this year by what feels like an insurmountable margin. I know it’s really early — even when the record is actually released, we’ll still have two-thirds of 2015 ahead of us — and I can’t say I won’t eventually hear something I like more, or that I won’t at some point have played The Children Of The Night so many times that it loses some of its immediacy and glow. But even if it slips (and, frankly, I’ll be surprised if it does), it won’t slip much. The Children Of The Night is almost an objectively great album — like, say, Master Of Puppets — and even when I know its hooks by heart, I’ll never be able to unhear that greatness.
But I’m getting ahead of myself; this thing doesn’t actually arrive till April. So let me backtrack a bit to get us up to today. Tribulation’s family tree has some pretty tangled roots, so I’ll try to clarify only as much as necessary to adequately chronicle their evolution. The band started life in 2001 as Hazard, playing thrash metal. Hazard splintered in 2004: Vocalist Olof Wikstrand and his younger brother, drummer Jonas Wikstrand, went on to form Enforcer (who are, coincidentally, also featured in this month’s Black Market), while Hazard’s guitarists, Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén, along with bassist Johannes Andersson, took on the handle Tribulation, with Andersson assuming vocal duties for the new band. (There’s some additional overlap between the two groups: Olof Wikstrand was Tribulation’s vocalist in their very earliest incarnation, while Zaars played guitar with Enforcer from 2006 – 2011.)
Tribulation’s first two releases — 2006’s Putrid Rebirth EP and 2009’s The Horror LP — are very good examples of a young band playing in a deliberately rigid retro style: old-school death metal. But on their last LP, 2013’s The Formulas Of Death, Tribulation largely abandoned the orthodoxy in favor of a deeply drugged-out, progressive approach to the genre (not unlike the move made a year later by countrymen Morbus Chron on that band’s mind-bending Sweven). The Formulas Of Death is a pretty great record, and if Tribulation had continued to pursue that path — getting weirder, further shunning tradition and form — they would have surely made another pretty great record.
Instead, they decided “pretty great” wasn’t good enough: Tribulation focused their experimental tendencies, building them into or around or atop songs that were equally ambitious. Or maybe the songs grew from the experimentation; it’s impossible to say. The final product, The Children Of The Night, reveals no seams, no traces of its process. It is fully formed upon arrival, and it is a flawless, breathtaking work. It’s like the Chrysler Building: It looks like a gigantic fucking jewel in the sky — it is a ridiculously beautiful and otherworldly piece of art amid a skyline of gray sameness — but it is also a goddamn building — a thing of structure and stone that has stood for nearly a century and will stand for centuries to come. In total, The Children Of The Night comprises 10 songs and comes in at some 57 minutes, and there is not a wasted second. Every song has a hook (or several) that might be the best hook I’ve heard this year. Every song has an Olympian guitar lead. The progressions throughout are totally unexpected and always satisfying. It almost feels like a miracle.
There are plenty of reference points here — Gothenburg death metal, Swedish black metal of the Dissection/Watain school, Agalloch, Deep Purple, Mercyful Fate, John Carpenter, Goblin, Pink Floyd — but none of them adequately conjure the immense spectrum or spectacle of The Children Of The Night. I’ll put it this way, and this is the best way I can put it: I listen to so many albums every year that I can’t begin to count them all, much less remember them all. Hearing something like The Children Of The Night is the reward I get for listening to all those records, the reason I listen to all those records. I find a lot of worthless rocks and of course some gems, but it’s pretty rare that I come across a diamond like this.
It’s kind of frustrating to talk about this record and have only one song to share. You’ll listen to that song — lead single “In The Dreams Of The Dead” — and you’ll know you’re listening to something special, but you won’t know how it fits into the much, much greater whole; it can’t fully prepare you for The Children Of The Night (it’s maybe my fifth favorite song on the record, and this record is all songs, although my inclination is just to listen straight through from beginning to end). But you’ll hear more soon, and we can talk about it more then. For now, this is all you’ve got. It’s enough. [From The Children Of The Night, out 4/14 via Century Media] –Michael