The Black Market: The Month In Metal – March 2015

It seemed like every day of March brought with it a new controversy or calamity worthy of coverage here: There was the Ghost Bath hoax; the revelation that Lars Ulrich was to blame for the absence of bass on …And Justice For All; the bizarre dissolution of Lord Mantis; the Liturgy album and its concurrent stream of notable quotes (e.g., “I didn’t make a record that tells a story; it’s a story that tells a record. I wanted to make the most important thing possible — to invent a new philosophy that goes with a new music and a new way of making art and living life”); the ugly breakup of the mighty Immortal; and — of course — the news that H&M had created a line of black metal-inspired Coachella duds, which was ALSO revealed to be a hoax.

And then, of course, there was a goddamn gluttony of music. Like last month, this list could have gone to about 50 before we hit a song that wasn’t actually worth talking about (or listening to). All credit is due to the crew — Ian Chainey, Aaron Larivieire, Wyatt Marshall, and Doug Moore — who curated this behemoth. Oh, on that note: There was the debut of some new music from Behemoth frontman Nergal’s upcoming acoustic record, which sounds … how can I put this? … not as immediately essential as The Satanist. But everything below is completely essential. Yeah, March gave us a lot of metal news and noise to talk about, but it gave us a whole lot a lot more metal music to just, you know, listen to. So … listen.


15. Dendritic Arbor – “Murmuration End”

Location: Pittsburgh
Subgenre: Black Metal/Grindcore

I’ve been looking forward to a Dendritic Arbor full-length since I first heard the band’s name through the heavy metal grapevine a little over a year ago. The name refers to the tree-branch-like structures found on neuron cells — a weirdly pretty biological quirk that also makes me feel a little uncomfortable if I think about it for too long. The band certainly delivers on the discomfort, though there’s little conventional beauty to be found in “Murmuration End.” Dendritic Arbor sit at the rarely visited intersection of extremely dissonant black metal and technically ambitious grindcore. Wild chord shapes and croaked vox clatter around in what sounds like an abandoned reverb factory on this tune, but the rhythm section delivers with a turn-on-a-dime immediacy rarely heard in purebred black metal. Fortunately, the riffs are good enough — and stick around for long enough — that you’re liable to remember them, which is a real challenge for such knotty material. Topon Das of long-running Canadian grinders Fuck The Facts evidently added the sparse ambient noise that begins this track, but that’s honestly the least interesting component of the scary racket this promising band is making. [From Romantic Love, out 5/5 via Grimoire Records]Doug

14. Crom Dubh – “Cutting Teeth II”

Location: London
Subgenre: Black Metal

Heimweh, the title of this black metal quartet’s LP debut, is a German-derived word meaning “homesickness.” Four minutes into “Cutting Teeth II,” you hear heimweh. The Englishmen combine gruff vocals and sturdy trems to deliver a wistful take on a progression that’s kind of Pachelbel’s Canon. In other words, it yearns. It’s Proustian memory, that nearly autonomic response to an unexpected stimulus that sinks your heart and tightens your throat. It’s a timbre we’ve come to expect from German black metal, which is probably why and how a British band named after an Irish mythological figure made its way to Vàn Records. “Cutting Teeth II” also skips UKBM’s recent penchant for the wispy and twinkly side of post-rock, as Crom Dubh favors the blast of an adrenaline-fueled Weakling. Replays drive home the viciousness of their reflectiveness. Heaviness and heimweh aren’t easy traits to balance, yet Crom Dubh is steadied by a forceful rhythm section. That thrashier thump allows the band to extend beyond their boarders and tap into a universal feeling. [From Heimweh, out now via Vàn Records]Ian

13. Ashbringer – “With Vacant Eyes”

Location: Minnesota
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

Bandcamp is a fun place to find new music — the professional-looking platform offers seats at the table and the chance to make some money to bands that may not have the means to shout about a new release from the rooftops. That said, looking around Bandcamp is a hit-or-miss endeavor, a bit like tape-digging without the actual tapes. Here we have a gem from the Bandcamp depths. “Ethereal Aura Pt. II” is from the debut album of the one-man band Ashbringer, and with it, Ashbringer join the swelling ranks of folksy atmospheric black metal. The genre can feel oversaturated at times, an overgrown forest of acoustic interludes and 12-minute songs that may leave you with a headache, if not a rash. Ashbringer, though, do it right, bridging the worlds of landscape atmospheric black metal played by bands like Wolves In The Throne Room and the comparative playfulness of Falls Of Rauros. The real fun on “Ethereal” gets going around 2:30, when a bouncy bass line and some synths travel a bit off the beaten path, but for those that like it a bit more on the stoic and epic side, the second half of the track will provide a fix. [From Vacant, out now via Ashbringer.] –Wyatt

12. Minsk – “When The Walls Fell”

Location: Peoria, Illinois
Subgenre: Post-Metal

Minsk sound like a band out of time. Which feels a little strange to say/write, because during their original run, Minsk were inescapably of their time. Formed in Illinois at the beginning of the ’00s, Minsk played a significant role in the rise — and eventual saturation — of “post-metal,” the crescendo-oriented subgenre codified by Neurosis and ISIS in the late ’90s and strip-mined by scads of imitators during the decade that followed. The post-metal explosion permanently altered the genre as a whole, but post-metal itself is no longer ubiquitous. Minsk’s lineup looks different, too — their highest-profile member, the musician/producer Sanford Parker, has left the band, though he’s stuck around in a production capacity on The Crash And The Draw. Just about the only thing that hasn’t changed for Minsk is their approach to making music, which somehow remains in full flower despite the band’s long silence. The Crash And The Draw revisits and expands upon the features that made this band appealing in the first place, from its meticulously layered vocals to its masterful dynamic sensibility. Post-metal bands always get saddled with wave/tide metaphors, but the way that “When the Walls Fell” gradually rotates between restraint and aggression until it reaches its emotional climax really does evoke some cyclical force of nature — a force that remains as powerful as it’s ever been. [From The Crash And The Draw, out 4/7 via Relapse]Doug

11. Vallendusk – “Windswept Plain”

Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal

One of the things that people went bonkers for about Ghost Bath’s “Golden Number” were those awesome major scale guitar leads that sounded like they were pulled from an overenthusiastic Lord Of The Rings YouTube fan tribute. As you might expect from the band name and song title, Vallendusk often seize that same swelling feeling on “Windswept Plain” while throwing in some of the brooding elements of Agalloch and the swing of Amon Amarth and Ensiferum. This is epic and catchy stuff that’s likely to appeal to fans of a variety of styles. Vallendusk is from Indonesia, typically a land of brutal death and grind, and the band are putting out their next record on Northern Silence after previous releases on Pest Productions. That label pedigree is the same as North Dakota’s Ghost Bath, who caused a ruckus last month for bizarrely claiming to be from China. With this one, however, we don’t have to worry about provenance issues, and, even better, Vallendusk’s Homeward Path has more than one good song. [From Homeward Path, out in June on Northern Silence] –Wyatt

10. Ad Nauseam – “My Buried Dream”

Location: Italy
Subgenre: Technical Death Metal

Lavadome Productions’ breakout year continues. Following the molten Heaving Earth, the Czech label has strengthened its foundation with Italy’s Ad Nauseam, a tech-death quartet that swaps the style’s usual clinical sterilization for something far more organic. Similar to Diskord, Ad Nauseam’s progressive inclinations sound, well, real. That’s not to say “My Buried Dream”‘s complexity doesn’t cause vertigo. It’s nuts. After all, Ad Nauseam’s debut, Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est, is the product of players obsessing over Obscura, especially the drummer and the surely Mark McGwire-sized forearms he has earned as a result. Oddball leads, atypical rhythms, Bartok-ian sounds, and all-of-the-fills are linked together by a jazzy syncopation. But Ad Nauseam don’t make it sound like a computer is calculating the trigger. The warm and full production is like something you’d hear in the ’70s, and there’s a sort of interplay, a connection, suggesting the performers are looking each other in the eyes. Of course, the selling point is the music. Five minutes in, “My Buried Dream” pays off with a section that has the emotional weight of Rune, Willowtip’s forgotten jewel. Yep, just your usual organic and emotionally resonant tech death. [From Nihil Quam Vacuitas Ordinatum Est, out 3/31 via Lavadome Productions]Ian

09. Lugubrum – “Herval”

Location: Ghent, Belgium
Subgenre: Boersk Blek Metle

You read that style tag right. “Boersk Blek Metle” is Flemish (the language of Lugubrum’s native Flanders) for “farmer black metal,” and Lugubrum uses the term as shorthand for their incredibly idiosyncratic and distinctive style. With roots that stretch back to the early ’90s, this prolific act is arguably Belgium’s most significant BM export. And for once, the self-applied genre tag actually sort of fits — Lugubrum’s metal is earthy, rough-hewn, overtly preoccupied with booze, and possessed of some truly odd local flavor. In fact, if it weren’t for the “black metal” tag all over most Lugubrum coverage, it’d be hard to say just what this band is doing. “Herval”, the title track from Lugubrum’s 11th album, certainly doesn’t fit neatly into any boxes. After announcing itself with a galloping trad-metal riff, it drops into an oddball surf rock interlude that the band seemingly plays for laughs for a full two minutes. Then it’s back to that first riff, which the band builds up into a blast-driven ripper for a few more minutes as though nothing odd had happened. It’s bizarre choice from a bizarre band, but you gotta roll with the local traditions when you’re on somebody else’s turf, and Lugubrum are nothing if not at home in their mottled skins. [From Herval, out summer 2015 via Aphelion Productions]Doug

08. Moon – “As Stars Merge With Ice”

Location: Australia
Subgenre: Black Metal

On the surface, Australia seems like an unlikely place of origin for bleak, frigid black metal, but it’s actually home to a number of projects that churn it out with particular conviction. We’ve covered some of Moon’s compatriots before, including Drowning The Light, who are closing in on 15 years of releasing murky and melodic lo-fi hisses from the depths, and Woods Of Desolation, who had a breakout year in 2014 with the incredibly catchy As The Stars. Moon, who have surfed below our radar since 2008, has more in common with the former. “As Stars Merge With Ice” has the unsettling deep-space atmosphere promised by the song title, with a warped and cold hypnotic quality from another dimension. Though the song is something of a heavy hitter, with production that highlights piston drums, the cavernous vocals and ominous synth bass layer give the 10-minute track an impressionistic smear, a menacing mixture of deep blues and black. [From Render Of The Veils, out soon via Moon.] –Wyatt

07. Akhlys – “Consummation”

Location: Colorado
Subgenre: Progressive Black Metal

Akhlys got their start as Nightbringer bassist Kyle “Naas Alcameth” Spanswick’s dark-ambient side project, but the music is dark ambient no more. Akhlys is a band now, in that Spanswick’s working with a drummer and playing rock instruments, and in that their upcoming Debemur Morti debut The Dreaming I consists primarily of black metal. Unsurprisingly, darkness and ambience still play big roles here. “Consummation” sounds quite a lot like Akhlys’ parent band; this is stern, massive-sounding BM that has far more in common with the European ‘orthodox’ orbit than with any of the heterogeneous approaches associated with American black metal. But Akhlys also deviates meaningfully from the Nightbringer template. The latter abandoned much of their prior interest in dissonance and musical space in exchange for relentless speed and melody on last year’s Ego Dominus Tuus, but the outré tactics have survived in Akhlys’ varied pacing and warbly riffing. They pair nicely with Spanswick’s residual ambient influence, creating a listening experience that feels less rooted in a specific time and place — fitting for a project that’s lyrically devoted to dream interpretation. [From The Dreaming I, out 4/22 via Debemur Morti]Doug

06. Malthusian – “Forms Become Vapour”

Location: Dublin
Subgenre: Death Metal

Back when old-school death metal was simply death metal, the thing that made the good stuff great was that it strove to be catchy. You have to think Malthusian remembered and internalized this. In fact, guitarist and vocalist Andy Cunningham had this to say to Swirls Of Noise regarding the composition of the band’s break-out 2013 demo: “Being obscure and chaotic is great but it is a bigger challenge to try to sound chaotic and weird but still have memorable songs.” This is something the Irish four-piece have experimented with in their other bands, such as Mourning Beloveth, Abaddon Incarnate, Wreck Of The Hesperus, and Altar Of Plagues. However, Malthusian’s drive to turn brutal oddities into earworms has hit a new level on the lead “single” from EP Below The Hengiform. “Forms Become Vapor” lurches to the beat of a different beast, recalling the earthquake herks and jerks of Immolation by way of Incantation without echoing those institutions. But for all of the dissonance and uncomfortable clattering, these riffs are built to endure multiple replays. Everything has been carefully plotted, as if the movement behind the tumble of each distorted tone was rigorously tested. That said, Malthusian doesn’t over-complicate their tumult. This isn’t the Rube Goldberg machine that most tech-death has become. No, “Forms Become Vapor” is rather economical in a way, efficiently navigating itself into your memory. And it’ll stay there, a testament to how hard this band has worked to make enjoying esoteric death metal so easy. [From Below The Hengiform, out 4/6 via Invictus Productions]Ian

05. Macabre Omen – “I See, The Sea”

Location: Greece (since relocated to London)
Subenre: Hellenic Black Metal

I hate trying to describe things that come this close to perfection. Like, what combination of hyperbole and orgiastic descriptors will trigger a reader’s impulse to click play? I have no clue. The monthly multi-blurb format runs the risk of wearing out the power of our words. Right now I’m taking the oblique approach, where I avoid describing anything — it’s a ploy to get your curiosity to override your irritation that I’m not actually saying anything worthwhile. Fine, fine, I give up; I’ll at least try, if you promise to do your part and listen to this thing, which is fantastic. OK, so if you’re reading this, you hopefully have some familiarity with Bathory. (If not, there’s no time like now.) Bathory were a lot of things to a lot of people, but in their middle phase, where Quorthon was churning out classic after classic like Blood Fire Death, Hammerheart, and Twilight Of The Gods, the defining characteristics were mythic power and ragged fury. Macabre Omen channel that combination better than any band in recent memory. Coming from someone who occasionally leaves the house wearing this Bathory backpatch, that’s high praise. Macabre Omen actually belong to a long-running scene of their own: Along with fellow Greek legends Rotting Christ and Varathron (both incredible), Macabre Omen are one of the original Hellenic black metal bands, having formed in 1994. They only sporadically release music, but what little exists is brilliant. Hellenic black metal stands in melodic opposition to the more caustic sounds of their Scandinavian counterparts; classic heavy metal trades blows with gothic melancholy, and black metal subsumes both into something unique to Greece. “I See, The Sea” channels everything I’ve just mentioned — Bathory, Hellenic black metal, and a sense of triumph — into one of the best songs of the year. Play it loud. [From Gods Of War, out now via Vàn Records] –Aaron

04. Defeated Sanity – “Generosity Of The Deceased”

Location: Berlin, Germany
Subgenre: Brutal Death Metal

All metal styles have their limits, but few are as constrictive as brutal death metal — a greasy corner of the broader death metal genre that celebrates guttural atavism to the exclusion of just about everything else. Its adherence to the strictures of shredding and slamming doesn’t allow much room for individuation, but that hardly bothers Defeated Sanity, who are more interested in achieving BDM’s Platonic ideal than in pushing its boundaries. This cut, a one-off from a split 7″ with the like-minded American band Mortal Decay, sounds exactly like you’d expect a new Defeated Sanity song to sound — a violent but carefully balanced sequence of baffling technical passages and pugilistic breakdowns, topped with incomprehensible vocal gurgles and performed flawlessly. (Bear in mind while you listen that Defeated Sanity track their music live as a group, rather than instrument-by-instrument as most metal bands do.) Defeated Sanity obviously have chops out the wazoo, but those skills serve an almost minimalistic purpose: projecting sheer, unadulterated force. You probably won’t remember the riffs, but you will remember feeling like you just got run over by a Bagger 288. [From Mortal Decay / Defeated Sanity, out now on Goatgrind Records]Doug

03. Au-Dessus – “III”

Location: Vilnius, Lithuania
Subgenre: Black Metal

Au-Dessus offer up an alternative take on what a black metal band that’s prone to experimentation can sound like. Yes, they are a little on the “post” side of the genre, but you won’t hear any Deafheaven or skronk for the sake of skronk here — there are moments of “III” that are more in line with, say, the French masters Blut Aus Nord, albeit a bit more straightforward. On “III,” fantastic drumming, awesome guitar tone, and clever time changes build into a cohesive whole that borrows from a variety of genres. That creative genre-hopping is perhaps even more evident across the rest of Au-Dessus’ excellent debut EP, but “III” will give you an idea of the band’s tendency to push the boundaries. It’s compelling and refreshing, and Au-Dessus’ knack for crafting songs that are both creative and electrifying solidifies them as a band to watch. This feels like urban music, black metal for and from the city. [From Au-Dessus, out now via Witching Hour Productions]Wyatt

02. Acid King – “Silent Pictures”

Location: San Francisco
Subgenre: Stoner Doom

Acid King frontwoman Lori S. knows how to bend a guitar string until she finds that feel-good frequency. Bassist Mark Lamb and drummer Joey Osbourne know how to ride a stoner-doom groove. Put them together and you get “Silent Pictures,” a nine-minute celebration of a band at the height of its powers. On the whole, Acid King still sound uncannily like a pack of motorcycles, but “Silent Pictures,” as Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere’s album art suggests, transcends their previous work. It satisfies stoner-doom fanatics like a deep stretch, making up for the tightening 10-year gap between III and their forthcoming fourth album. Lori’s playing soars when she’s not engaged in tug-of-war with her amp, delivering a riff begging for your hummed accompaniment. The rhythm section is the secret weapon, ably supporting each other while supplying their own lead-worthy points of interest. But the true highlight is that Acid King is unhurried. They believe in their skills, knowing they don’t need to augment stoner doom’s natural slowness with showy proggy braincandy. When Lori responds to her riff with a from-the-third-eye bluesy howl and then partners with it like a duet, it’s straight-up American doom at its purest. Finland’s Svart Records must’ve thought so, too. Maybe it’s time for us to win these San Franciscans back. [From Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere, out 4/17 via Svart Records]Ian

01. Obsequiae – “Autumnal Pyre”

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Subgenre: Dark / Pagan / Medieval Metal

Obsequiae are one of the best, and perhaps least recognized, bands of this young century. In 2011, they quietly released their debut, Suspended In The Brume Of Eos, to little fanfare. I found it by way of a great interview posted by Cosmo Lee on Invisible Oranges. That album has been in my listening rotation ever since. What’s most striking about Obsequiae isn’t so much the diversity of influences (which are easy to trace), or even the cumulative effect (which is nothing short of brilliant). No, it’s the way the sound metastasizes in your head after even a cursory listen. It’s like the buried transmission in Videodrome; once it’s in there, it’s in for good, pulling strings behind the scenes, demanding repeat listens. Nothing else scratches the itch. Obsequiae take a medieval approach to heavy metal, relying exclusively on melodic riffing in the Dorian mode. The guitars are in constant union, harmonized and swirling, a tone poem of woodsmoke and wind. There’s a faint whiff of metallicized folk, reminiscent of early In Flames or Dark Tranquility, but this isn’t death metal. Meanwhile, you’ll hear shades of all manner of outré black metal forms: Hellenic black metal melodicism (à la prime-era Rotting Christ), the Misty Mountain grandeur of Summoning, or maybe the pagan crush of early Empyrium. The closest overall analogue might be Agalloch, whose fans should find a lot to love here, yet this is clearly something else altogether. The song title itself, “Autumnal Pyre,” describes the sound, and the rustic appeal, better than anything I’m capable of. [From Aria Of Vernal Tombs, out 5/12 via 20 Buck Spin] –Aaron