As it does every year, the month of April brought with it Record Store Day. And this year, as you might have heard, Record Store Day’s best-selling item was not a record at all, but a cassette: a lovingly detailed replica of Metallica’s 1982 demo, No Life ‘Til Leather. That was the demo that landed Metallica their first record deal, and all the songs on that demo were eventually re-recorded and included on Metallica’s timeless debut album, Kill ‘Em All. (The song called “The Mechanix” was re-written and re-christened “The Four Horsemen,” because the original lyrics were written by guitarist Dave Mustaine, who was ejected from Metallica prior to the recording of Kill ‘Em All. Also, the original lyrics are terrible.)
Several lifetimes ago, when I was a freshman in high school, I bought an unsanctioned bootleg CD copy of No Life ‘Til Leather. It had insanely badass Frazetta-esque cover art (which was also unsanctioned and had presumably just been lifted from an old issue of Heavy Metal magazine). It was one of my most cherished possessions. Even today, I listen to No Life ‘Til Leather on a surprisingly frequent basis. I don’t know if it’s the best demo ever made, but it’s the best demo I’ve ever heard. As far as I’m concerned, no metal singer has ever sounded better than James Hetfield did here:
That was a different Metallica than the one that eventually made Kill ‘Em All: It featured Mustaine instead of Kirk Hammett on lead guitar, and Ron McGovney instead of Cliff Burton on bass. But Metallica’s real leaps came after Kill ‘Em All, and with those leaps, so to came their greatest successes — and eventually, their greatest failures. Still, that first batch of songs remains unusually potent. A couple years ago, Black Market writer Doug Moore did a fantastic Counting Down feature on Metallica’s catalog. He had Kill ‘Em All at #4, though he admitted it could just as easily have been at #1 — each of the four albums at the top of that list are essential, all-time classics. Here’s a little bit of what Doug had to say about Metallica’s debut:
Kill ‘Em All often feels like a punk record. The riffs are simple, the performances are loose (by Metallica’s standards), the tones are wiry, and the pacing is breathless. Metallica’s decision to fuse the dexterity of contemporary British metal (think Iron Maiden and Diamond Head) with the frenzied intensity of the hardcore punk that populated their home state played no small role in the birth of thrash metal as an independent genre. When I need to quicken my pulse, I still reach for Kill ‘Em All.
Beyond their Record Store Day success, Metallica were in the news quite a bit this past month. On April 22, Metallica producer Bob Rock was featured on the Talk Is Jericho podcast, and in that interview, Rock revealed that Hetfield aspired to sound like Chris Isaak on Metallica’s 1991 “Black Album.” Said Rock: “[Hetfield] played me a Chris Isaak record, and he said, ‘On “Nothing Else Matters” and “The Unforgiven,” I want to sing. How do you sing like this?'”
A week prior to that, Kirk Hammett was featured on The Jasta Show podcast, and in that interview, Hammett revealed that he’d lost an iPhone on which he’d saved some 250 riffs for the next Metallica album. The phone had not been backed up anywhere, and as such, the enormous majority of those riffs were gone. Said Hammett: “To try to remember those riffs? I can only remember, like, eight of ‘em. So I just chalked it down to maybe it just wasn’t meant to be and I’ll just move forward with it.” He did say, though, that the new album was proceeding smoothly, and he compared it to 1988’s And Justice For All, 2008’s Death Magnetic, and the 2014 one-off song, “Lords Of Summer.”
Finally, at Lou Reed’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony on April 19, Reed’s widow Laurie Anderson revealed that DAVID FUCKING BOWIE was a huge fan of Lulu, the largely unloved album Reed made with Metallica in 2011. Said Anderson:
“[A]fter Lou’s death, David Bowie made a big point of saying to me, ‘Listen, [Lulu] is Lou’s greatest work. This is his masterpiece. Just wait, it will be like [Reed’s 1973 album] Berlin. It will take everyone a while to catch up.'”
In that way, Bowie echoed statements made by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich soon after Reed’s death. As Lars wrote in the Guardian in memory of Reed:
Twenty-five years from now, you’re going to have millions of people claiming they owned [Lulu] or loved it when it came out, of course neither will be true. I think it’s going to age well — when I played it yesterday it sounded fucking awesome. In some ways it’s almost cooler that people didn’t embrace it, because it makes it more ours, it’s our project, our record, and this was never made for the masses and the masses didn’t take to it. It makes it more precious for those who were involved.
Individually, those are all interesting, even charming stories, but for some reason, reading them in succession, they bother the hell out of me. James Hetfield never should have tried to sing like Chris Isaak — Hetfield had been the greatest metal vocalist who ever lived, and the changes he made on “Black Album” reduced him to something much less than that. Also? It’s probably a blessing that Hammett lost that phone, because the thought of Metallica sorting through 250 random (and admittedly unmemorable!) riffs while trying to write a new record is deeply depressing, and suggests a band without any sort of vision. Also? Nobody should be retconning Lulu, because that album was garbage. I don’t mind that it exists, I don’t mind that David Bowie loves it, but I shudder to think about Metallica writing a new album, bouncing around Lulu-level-horrible ideas during those writing sessions, and then pursuing those ideas with the misguided belief that they’re penning a future classic, doomed to be misunderstood in its time. Finally: It is a bummer to hear that the next Metallica album will sound like some combination of …And Justice For All, Death Magnetic, and “Lords Of Summer” — because Justice is a towering monument, but Death Magnetic and “Lords Of Summer” are already weak attempts to replicate the sound of Justice. We don’t need more of that.
I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: The best thing Metallica have done since Justice is last year’s “Ronnie Rising,” a medley of four songs originally recorded by Ronnie James Dio’s old band Rainbow.
On “Ronnie Rising,” Metallica return to the NWOBHM style that inspired Kill ‘Em All, and immediately they sound vital, inspired, ferocious. They sound like a world-beater. And it bums me out that they’ll do things like “Ronnie Rising” or the No Life ‘Til Leather RSD cassette as larks, throwaways, but when they get into the studio to do something significant, they’re making Lulu and “Lords Of Summer.” I don’t get it. I’ll always love Metallica no matter what, but I’ll never understand why they keep trying to remake Justice but they won’t sit down for a week and bang out eight songs in the style of “Motorbreath.” They could do it! And it would be awesome.
Anyway! Rant: over. Month of April: also over. And as we do at the end of every month, Ian Chainey, Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Doug Moore, and I put together a list of the 15 best new metal songs we heard this month. I’m gonna stop talking about Metallica now so we talk about this stuff instead. Let’s talk about all of it and everything else in the comments.
15. Encyrcle – “Bloodbasker”
Subgenre: Nocturnal Speed Metal
Denmark’s Encyrcle are another retro newcomer reenacting the glory days. However, “Bloodbasker” doesn’t sound like it’s been skewed by a 30-year-old game of telephone. This five-piece band’s speed metal is on point, bringing to mind Abattoir and Exciter, along with speed metal-related classics like Overkill and Raven, without opening a dull and dusty time capsule of sacrosanct riffs. Nope, this is still vital, cutting stuff. Encyrcle have sharpened their sound with a whetstone ensorcelled by darkness. The band refers to its tried-and-true energy as “nocturnal speed metal.” Indeed, the punked-up gallops, chunky breakdowns, gang shouts, and punctuated-by-a-jabbed-pointer-finger singing are a touch eviler. Or, stated with more charisma by drummer Anders Edalis to Bringer Of Death Zine: “An adventurous and unpredictable, eclectic mix of bipolar, fierce, melancholic music, executed either fast or less fast.” Given that summer is coming, it’s worth auditioning Encyrcle as a future BBQ soundtrack. They have a food angle, too. Edalis, again: “Besides Encyrcle, the members have a Nachos-cult called ‘Illuminachos.’ The recipe is quite fantastic and secret. No kidding here.” [From Encyrcle, out 6/2 via Unspeakable Axe] –Ian
14. Tidemouth – “Vaccinate”
Location: Los Angeles
Subgenre: Blackened Punk
“Vaccinate” hits like a cheese-grater to the face. It’s an ugly little monster with a big bite, and while it wouldn’t land squarely in the “metal” column, there’s enough riffage and other dark stuff going on in here to at least land it in the periphery. I called it blackened punk in the “subgenre” field above, and the stripped-down rawness mixed with the dissonant guitars kind of brings to mind a mix of the lo-fi punk of Raspberry Bulbs and maybe even the death ‘n’ roll wonkiness of Take Over And Destroy. (Tidemouth, for their part, call their sound “Heavy Cure.”) “Vaccinate” drives forward in a tortured forced march, only taking breaks here and there for vocalist Mikey — a step away from a total meltdown — to take a little breather. It’s good anguished stuff, corrosive yet decidedly listenable. [From Velvet And Stone, out 6/9 via Melotov Records.] –Wyatt
13. Arcturus – “The Arcturian Sign”
Subgenre: Avant-Garde Metal
Arcturus’ first album in 10 years starts with an aimless warm-up before dropping in the kind of techno belch that normally sets up a scene at a vampire dance club. Then, “The Arcturian Sign” transmogrifies a few more times until a recognizable space-pirate strut clears the deck for singer ICS Vortex’s cocky high-wire act. If this is your initial encounter with the Norwegian group that’s related to a majority of black metal staples, you’re allowed to let a WTF slip. Arcturus are weird, and not in a necessarily critic-pardoned way. Ever since the symphonic midnight melancholy of the comparatively straightforward (but not really) Aspera Hiems Symfonia, Arcturus have been, well, alien. While adored by many, Arcturus also haven’t been easy to fall in love with. The two other Garm-era albums, La Masquerade Infernale and The Sham Mirrors, almost seemed like exercises in what the band could sneak by unsuspecting metalheads; many winks, many nudges, many nods. For the now-initiated that’s part of the appeal, but that trial-by-huh? usually began as a bewildering mess of contradictions that only clicked if you worked hard to figure out why anyone would pledge fandom. The pleasures were rarely immediate, and sometimes you had to wonder if they’d appear at all. However, once you finally decrypted Arcturus, the affirming hooks awaited. Though “The Arcturian Sign” isn’t as nutso as prior transmissions, that old Arcturian rule still applies. Five or so plays in, Hellhammer’s drum triggers, along with the Forbidden Planet bleeps and bloops, give way to Sverd’s gorgeous synth-string arrangements and plenty of freshly excavated memorable melodies. Sure, we’re in a golden era of never having to revisit things you don’t like, but sometimes a replay is warranted. And given Arcturus’ release schedule, you’ve got some time to figure this one out. Probably the other ones, too. [From Arcturian, out 5/12 via Prophecy Productions] –Ian
12. Sorrow Plagues – “Corroding Soul”
Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal
A certain brand of black metal, somewhere between ambient and atmospheric black metal, is so sonically smeared it’s often difficult to pick out individual parts. To a lot of listeners, that’s maddening — an immediate turnoff and something akin to an insult to musicianship. A lite version of the style might be last year’s breakout LP from Woods Of Desolation, As The Stars; a closer example would be WOD’s excellent predecessor Forest Mysticism. Anyway, if what you hear on “Corroding Soul” speaks to you, ignore the naysayers and embrace the impressionistic and blurry sound. “Corroding Soul” is a mournful thing of beauty, nighttime music for zoning out and getting lost. The snare drum, often the most audibly identifiable element of the song, and a buried lead guitar will serve as your guide. Way down there, beneath the swelling keys, translucent fuzz, and all the other layers of sound, are heavily distorted vocals. Put it all together, and you’re looking at one gorgeous song. [From An Eternity Of Solitude, out now via Sorrow Plagues] –Wyatt
11. KEN Mode – “Those Tight Jeans”
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
In February’s Black Market, I mentioned that we had discussed including new music from the noise-rock bands Lightning Bolt and METZ, both of whom had released songs that month, but neither of whom could accurately be considered “metal.” The music made by those bands shares many traits with the music called metal — speed, heaviness, abrasiveness, dissonance, etc. — but there’s a microscopic yet somehow vital distinction. An attempt to define that distinction could occupy its own essay, but that will have to wait. I’m only mentioning it because I think Winnipeg’s KEN Mode, who always walked the line, have finally crossed it on their new album, Success. Surely that was at least in part intentional, and some of it probably happened organically in the recording process. Success was engineered by Steve Albini, and KEN Mode must have hired Albini with the expectation that he’d help harness their noisiest elements. In any case, Success sounds like an Albini-assisted project; specifically, it sounds like the records Albini made with bands like the Jesus Lizard and Mclusky. Those bands are great! But they’re not metal. Neither is KEN Mode — not anymore (if they ever were). Still, we made the call to include them this month, because Success is coming out on an unambiguously metal label (Season Of Mist) and because KEN Mode are inextricably tied to the metal scene, especially as far as their coverage in the media is concerned. These are minor, ephemeral disclaimers. The music, fortunately, displays no such ambivalence. Success is an outright punisher, as heavy as anything you’ll hear this year, no matter how you choose to catalog it. [From Success, out 6/16 via Season Of Mist] –Michael
10. Maruta – “Stand In Defeat”
Subgenre: Death Metal/Grindcore
When Maruta broke up in 2011, they had just completed a classic grindcore-band career arc. Over their six-year run, they released two demos, a quality debut LP called In Narcosis in 2008, and the truly outstanding Forward Into Regression just before they dissolved. Most grindcore bands scarcely get past the demos-and-split-7″s phase, so by the standards of the style, these guys had plenty of time to say their piece. But Maruta are no standard grindcore band, and they’ve got more than enough ideas to pack their upcoming third LP to the gills. This stuff gets the “grind” tag largely by virtue of the breakneck pace at which they crank out their clipped tunes. (Average runtime: 100 seconds.) Content-wise, though, Maruta have a lot more in common with death metal’s most deranged wing than with grindcore’s primitive power-chord fixation — most Maruta riffs are absurd sequences of tortured pick squeals and squawking chords that would make any guitarist’s fret hand ache. Remain Dystopian requires plenty of work to process, but it’s also incredibly satisfying if you manage to keep pace. Ever listened to Gorguts and found yourself wishing they’d play faster and drop the pretty parts? Ever wanted to put your ears and brain through a brutal circuit workout? Consider “Stand In Defeat” your WOD; partake and feel cleansed. [From Remain Dystopian, out 6/2 via Relapse] –Doug
09. Abyssal – “I Am The Alpha And The Omega”
Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: Death Metal
“I Am The Alpha And The Omega” is cavernous. It crawls. It’s equal parts black metal and death metal with doomy tendencies. Abyssal are these things, and yet they’re not what you’ve come to expect. The UK trio are now more refined than their peers. They’ve learned to hone their delivery for maximum impact. The melodies are tighter, reined in. “I Am The Alpha And The Omega” could easily double its run time given the amount of ideas it churns through. Instead, it’s an action-packed six minutes without the usual bloat caused by perfunctory transitions. Abyssal’s prior albums — both available on Bandcamp — were excellent exercises in unfurling atmosphere. “I Am The Alpha And The Omega” feels more like a song. It drives with purpose toward crescendos. Rather than needing to be in the mood for Abyssal, by the end of “I Am The Alpha And The Omega,” you’re in the mood for more. In interviews, the trio have lamented their much-remarked anonymity, saying it should be all about the music instead of the names. This time, they’re right. [From Antikatastaseis, out 6/23 via Profound Lore] –Ian
08. Bell Witch – “Judgement, In Fire: I – Garden (Of Blooming Ash)”
Subgenre: Funeral Doom
At first drone, Bell Witch’s “Judgement, In Fire: I – Garden (Of Blooming Ash)” is a feat of doom-gineering. No surprise, since king of the crush, Billy Anderson, has a production credit on Four Phantoms. As expected, Anderson gives the bass/drum duo’s sophomore LP an extra dimension of intimidating sonic density. During this song’s opening, Dylan Desmond’s bass sizzles like burning flesh, Adrian Guerra’s drums boom like fireworks shot off during a thunderstorm. But a closer listen showcases Bell Witch and Anderson’s ingenuity. The subtle details are as immense as the track’s heft. Check out the way sustained tones evolve thanks to clever studio craft and canny playing. And the evolution produces movement, making for a funeral doom track that doesn’t drag. That sense of motion belies the on-paper-endurance-test of “Judgement, In Fire: I – Garden (Of Blooming Ash)”‘s 10-minute running time, an epic stretch that includes seven minutes of patient, relatively quiet restraint. The meditative, world-weary lament turns its minimal components into something striking and wholly engrossing. That a band known for its instrumental inventiveness, particularly Desmond’s all-over-the-fret-board playing, can deliver its greatest emotional wallop at its sparest and softest is yet another feat. [From Four Phantoms, out now via Profound Lore] –Ian
07. Violet Cold – “Desperate Dreams”
Subgenre: Euphoric Black Metal
Offering an example of yet another new subgenre that would make Quorthon turn in his grave, “Desperate Dreams” is self-described as “euphoric black metal.” While that might elicit (to put it mildly) contempt from purists, Violet Cold’s take on the genre is worth listening to. And, though you may be loathe to admit it, it’s awesome. Here, sugary sweet keyboards pulled straight from an Owl City song overlay top-notch atmospheric black metal built for soaring into the sunset. The lively drums and desperate vocals work in and out of full-on blasts and memorable refrains remarkably well, inducing heads to nod and pulling heartstrings. If you thought Ghost Bath’s “Golden Number” was uplifting, you’ll find “Desperate Dreams” downright celebratory. Everything about this is all the more impressive, and unlikely, given that Violet Cold isn’t even a metal band. The one man experimental project from Azerbaijan (!) has, in the last two years, released 28 singles and EPs that fall under genres as diverse as witchhouse, minimal techno, neoclassical, indie electro, ambient, sludge, grind, jazz, and more — seriously, almost everything. The wizard behind Violet Cold — whose only expressed interest on Facebook is “Space” — is one Emin Guliyev. Blast off. [From Desperate Dreams, out now via Violet Cold] –Wyatt
06. Antigama – “Used To”
Location: Warsaw, Poland
By all rights, Antigama should be widely recognized as Europe’s answer to Pig Destroyer. Like their better-known American peers, Antigama got their start about 15 years ago as a comparatively straight-ahead grind act before coming into their own over a long string of LPs and short-format releases. Of the two, Antigama may have strayed even further from the grind template; aside from their short songs and penchant for vicious blasts, these guys may have left the genre behind entirely. The violent groove that opens “Used To” could easily have been written by any number of late-’90s/early-’00s metallic hardcore bands — think of Converge and their dissonant ilk — if it weren’t for vocalist ?ukasz Myszkowski’s death metal bark and the absolutely blistering speed that the band lays on near the song’s end. But despite the thick dissonance at play here, Antigama’s music doesn’t tax the listener the way this month’s entry from American grinders Maruta does. The production is bright and clear, and even the band’s nastiest riffs are often paired with melodic bookends. The Insolent is Antigama’s seventh LP and 24th release overall, and the band sounds as young and hungry as ever. Few bands have pushed themselves so hard for so long. [From The Insolent, out 5/7 via Selfmadegod] –Doug
05. Midnight Odyssey – “Magica”
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Subgenre: Atmospheric Black Metal
I often find myself talking here about Australia’s knack for producing some of the best murky atmospheric black metal out there, and that was before Midnight Odyssey landed in our crosshairs. “Magica,” the one-man band’s contribution to a split 7″ with fellow Brisbane band Spire, is equal parts deep-space horror and imperialistic pomposity, more in line with Drowning The Light or Moon than something like Woods Of Desolation. The song’s mid-tempo strut is accentuated by big keyboard swells; deep growls backed by ominous groans give the track — one of my favorites of the year so far — some gravity. In the relatively short sweep of black metal history, the genre has traditionally focused on darkness below. I increasingly find myself running into bands focused on the cold unknowns above, however, and the material is rich. You wouldn’t want to hear this crackling through your radio as the engines fail and the lights flicker out. [From Magica/Scienta, out now on Séance Records] –Wyatt
04. The Armed – “Forever Scum”
The Armed are a band from Detroit who are pretty hard to pin down. I don’t just mean their music resists categorization — though it does (and I’ll get to that in a sec) — but it’s uniquely difficult to determine the identities of the people in the band at any given moment. For what it’s worth, the Armed formed from the ashes of another Detroit band called Slicer Dicer, and for a while at least, as far as I can tell, the Armed featured three members of Slicer Dicer: Chris Elkjar, Tony Wolski, and Aaron Jones. The band’s upcoming sophomore LP — which has no title — features drummer Nick Yacyschyn (who also plays in SUMAC and Baptists), although the Armed never seem to have a consistent drummer. Their new LP was recorded by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, who’s worked on similar-sounding records by bands like Nails, Disfear, Black Breath, and roughly 10,000 others. That’s all I know about the personnel. On to the categorization problem: The Armed self-identify as “punk” but they’re way more “the shape of punk to come” than the Ramones (or Wire!). They’re frequently tagged as “hardcore,” “metalcore,” or “math rock,” but none of those things really describe “Forever Scum,” the first single from that upcoming untitled record. The multiple tags I used in the subgenre field above seem slightly more apt, but the band would surely disagree, and anyway, that’s a pretty wide mix of sounds — way more than should be crammed into a song that runs a brisk 2:20. Sonically, the best comparison I can come up with is Nux Vomica’s self-titled 2014 behemoth, except those songs were roughly six to ten times longer than this one. Not a bad thing: “Forever Scum” doesn’t bother building up speed; it just hits you with maximum impact, then scrams. That Nux Vomica record was one of the best things I heard last year, and “Forever Scum” feels like a powerful distillation of its most potent elements. I can’t imagine the rest of the record is this good, but I can’t wait to find out. [From the Armed’s currently untitled LP, out 6/23 via No Rest Until Ruin] –Michael
03. Blurring – “The Devil I Know”
Location: Rochester, NY
Blurring pick up where Watchmaker left off, exploring the bombed-out common ground between black metal and grind’s respective versions of unrelenting aggression. “The Devil I Know” is thicket of blasts, rasps, and quick, noisy riffs, each facet drawing blood. Blurring swing a big club, but if you dig down you’ll also find Blurring have a big brain. The two-guitar attack of Matt Colbert and Scott D’Agostino, both formerly of the under-appreciated Kalibas, is as fascinating as it is violent. One plays around the other, forging a thorny interplay that’s engaging on a note-by-note level. The same set of smarts applies to the low-end: Bassist Dan Lilker (Brutal Truth, Nuclear Assault, all of the bands), is enjoying his retirement by sweating out catchy, grindy grooves with rhythm-section partner and frequent bandmate Erik Burke. The musicianship is, for lack of a better word, neat. Conversely, Mark Welden’s charred vocal cords are lizard-brain crack. You can almost feel his eyes narrowing as he bears down to deliver more blackened bile, the immediacy of which stokes Blurring’s fire. On the whole, “The Devil I Know” is the kind of chaos we hoped would occur when Kalibas and Brutal Truth members came together for demos, then an EP. But, of course, Blurring is more than bracing grind. This is the next step we’ve expected a lot of bands to take. It’s just that this is where Blurring’s LP run has started. [From Blurring, out 5/7 via Handshake Inc.] –Ian
02. False – “Hedgecraft”
Subgenre: Black Metal
False are doing something special here on “Hedgecraft,” turning a 13-minute black metal song into something of a banger. Too often when you cross the 10-minute mark, this music can become a chore; those interludes might be fun to play, but for the listener it can feel like time to fast forward. None of that here — this song, which moves at about a million miles a minute, never lets up. A lot of the excitement on “Hedgecraft” is due to the solid black ‘n’ roll approach, but what starts as a fist-in-the-air rager turns into something more. It’s full-on epic, bringing elements of black metal, thrash, and classic heavy metal under one roof. For those who are tech-inclined, there are plenty of interesting time shifts and transitions. The crusty, throaty vocals from frontwoman Rachel give the whole thing some heft, and the song is mixed in a way that gives it a gritty, bare-bones feel. I’m not sure I’ve seen it done quite like this before. With “Hedgecraft” alone, False have gone from being a promising underground gem to one of the most exciting black metal bands in America. [From Untitled, out 6/16 via Gilead Media] –Wyatt
01. Valkyrie – “Wintry Plains”
Subgenre: Stoner/Sludge/Psychedelic Metal
It’s been too long since Baroness’ last album, 2012’s Yellow & Green. The delay is totally understandable, of course — Baroness were involved in a horrible bus accident that left them physically and psychically shattered — but that doesn’t sate one’s hunger to hear more of the Georgia band’s dizzying twin-guitar pyrotechnics and epic sludge riffs. Valkyrie’s Shadows, however, is a hearty, filling meal that will appeal to exactly those tastes.
Valkyrie were formed in Virginia in 2002 by guitarists/brothers Jake and Peter Adams, the latter of whom joined Baroness in 2008, and played lead on that band’s last two albums, Yellow & Green and 2009’s Blue. Valkyrie had released two albums in the aughts (their self-titled debut in 2006 and Man Of Two Visions in 2007), but they went on something of a hiatus after Peter hooked up with Baroness. Now, though, they’re set to release their third full-length, Shadows. Whether the return is related to Baroness’ slow recovery or would have occurred organically either way, it’s hard to greet this with anything but open arms, and hard to hear it as anything but a triumph.
Valkyrie’s bio points out some supposed differences between Peter’s two projects, saying, “Where Baroness focuses more on the proggy and poppy side of metal, Valkyrie is all about Southern-fried and whiskey-soaked hard-rockin’ guitar jams.” But I honestly think those designations do a disservice to both bands. Baroness do have prog and pop elements, and Valkyrie do have swampy Southern rock influences … but I can hear plenty of prog and pop in Valkyrie’s music, too — and plenty of Southern rock in Baroness’ music, for that matter — and a whole lot more beyond those things. Shadows may posit itself as “the perfect summer heavy rock record,” and it may in fact be the perfect summer heavy rock record, but it doesn’t feel like a clumsy, drunken thing; it doesn’t pander or play to the cheap seats. It’s a deftly performed, richly textured record full of godhead riffs, doomy melodies, and — as you’d expect — fucking ridiculous guitars (and guitar-bass-drums interplay, too; I don’t mean to pay short shrift to drummer Warren Hawkins or bassist Alan Fary). “Wintry Plains” unloads a few metric tons of stoner thunder, but right before the 4-minute mark, it takes a turn into some pastoral terrain, like something you might hear in one of Zeppelin’s gentle psych-folk numbers. It’s a bounty of delicious, sumptuous sounds. Shadows isn’t a stop-gap between Baroness records; it’s every bit as creative and satisfying as the music made by Peter Adams’ other band. Frankly, I wouldn’t necessarily disagree if you told me you thought it was better than the music made by Peter Adams’ other band. [From Shadows, out 5/19 via Relapse] –Michael