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The Black Market: The Month In Metal – May 2015

Before we get started with this month’s column, a quick programming note: For scheduling reasons, Black Market founder and Stereogum editor Michael Nelson has passed the torch. In his stead, I (Doug Moore) will be kicking off each month’s clutch of tunes. Michael is among the sharpest writers and analysts in music — I’ve happily worked under his watch since his run as editor of the venerable metal blog Invisible Oranges in 2011 — so I’ve got some sizeable shoes to fill. Not to worry, though, as he’ll still be involved in curating and editing the column behind the scenes.

In fact, Michael and I had an long conversation and planning session for this month’s edition on the ride down to Maryland Deathfest, which swamped central Baltimore with sweaty riff nerds for the thirteenth year running over Memorial Day weekend. I’ve attended part or all of every fest since 2007, and it’s changed a lot over the years. The “death” part of the title was more literal back then, as death metal bands dominated lineups that dabbled only in closely related subgenres like grindcore. The setting felt more insular, too — the fest typically ran for two days long until 2008, and didn’t expand into its current multi-venue format until 2013. (I strongly recommend reading Michael’s takes on MDF 2013 and MDF 2014, if you haven’t already.)

It wasn’t until the past few years that Maryland Deathfest grew into something that more closely resembles a true large-scale music festival. It now runs from Thursday through Sunday on every Memorial Day weekend, and it sprawls across three separate venues: a massive, two-stage parking-lot venue for traditional-ish metal bands; a punk/hardcore stage at the 1,000-cap Baltimore Soundstage; and a late-night metal stage at the 1,500-cap Ram’s Head Live. This year’s official lineup featured 90 bands that cumulatively represent most branches of metal’s family tree, though styles involving blastbeats still got the lion’s share of slots. And when you consider the constellation of pre-shows, side shows, secret shows, afterparties, and other peripheral events associated with MDF 2015, you’re probably up in the range of 150 bands or more.

Because of this epic scope, it’s tempting to regard Maryland Deathfest as some sort of annual defining moment for underground metal in America. Europe’s long tradition of outdoor music festivals guarantees the existence of huge metal gatherings like Germany’s Wacken Open Air, but MDF is currently the only such yearly blowout in the United States. Its founding promoters, Evan Harting and Ryan Taylor, are obsessive underground fans with a knack for booking bands just as they’re about to blow up, expo style. Meanwhile, the diverse lineups of the past few years have given MDF a holistic feel. It’s a big-tent metal festival now, and in America, it’s THE metal festival.

But even MDF with its hundred-odd bands showcases a pretty insignificant portion of what’s going on in metal right now, and it feels pretty damn scattered. One past iteration of the fest involved a literal huge tent, but no actual or metaphorical sheet of canvas on this earth is big enough to house every worthy part of the genre. The recent MDFs have more closely resembled an archipelago of smaller events, organized by genre preference, than one big group party. And that’s not just because it’s physically impossible to catch every band — most MDF attendees wouldn’t even want to.

Here’s an example: Along with Michael and I, fellow Black Market bros Aaron Lariviere and Wyatt Marshall attended this year’s fest. (In a fit of reasonableness, our comrade Ian Chainey chose not to fly all the way across the continent for the privilege of frying in a parking lot all weekend.) But while I hung out with all three of ‘em, I didn’t spend more than fifteen minutes actually watching bands with them. Our tastes vary wildly, and while MDF accommodated all of our interests, it did so separately. (Also, have you ever drunkenly tried to find other drunk people in a crowd of several thousand drunk people who all dress the same?)

This fragmentation frustrates possessive fans (“WHY ISN’T THERE MORE [subgenre] THIS YEAR?!?”), along with efforts to talk about “where metal is going” in broad definitive terms. But it’s also one of the genre’s greatest strengths. Metal is a true grassroots culture. Its lack of social cachet and dismal commercial prospects mean that few of its practitioners care about money or recognition. The barriers to entry are low — you don’t need a music degree, fancy equipment, or lots of other people to make it — and it’s become culturally decentralized. The mid-sized band with a cult following is king. Mass-appeal bands still break out now and then, but they no longer dominate the landscape; not since the ’90s has a metal band really achieved superstardom. Metal is also conceptually decentralized now. It’s virtually impossible to clearly circumscribe or define the genre as a whole, and fans challenge its canon of received wisdom constantly.

And in such a chaotic and permissive environment, pretty much anything goes. There’s no one driving narrative or absolute rulebook. Even the most ungainly and off-putting stylistic mutations can score a few fans. Sometimes, they score a few thousand. You can try to figure out what’s gonna get huge next, or you can get lost in little pocket worlds and spend years devouring records without bumping into the next Judas Priest or Pantera. Many folks happily opt for the latter. That’s why metal enjoys such an insane diversity of styles and sounds; that’s why it’s grown and changed constantly since Richard Nixon was president; that’s why we keep coming back, riff after riff, year after year.

And that, I think, is the spirit that drives both Maryland Deathfest and this column. MDF may have grown into a giant shindig, but at its most basic level, it’s still just a couple of guys celebrating the parts of metal they like best — thus its laudable ongoing practice of spotlighting cult favorites and niche upstarts. The Black Market works pretty much the same way. It’s not a survey so much as a set of core samples. Every month, each of us five — Michael, Aaron, Wyatt, Ian, and I — pick a promising spot, drill down into the substrate, and describe what we find. Here’s what we came up with this time. It’s all good, and some of it’s great. But we’re just five guys, and maybe you found something you like more. If so, share it. Anything goes. –Doug

15. A God Or An Other – “Eden Devoured”

Location: Seattle, Washington
Subgenre: black metal

A God Or An Other have all the superficial hallmarks of “Cascadian black metal,” also known as “black metal that sounds kinda like Wolves In The Throne Room.” They’re from Seattle. They’re wearing knit caps and what looks like flannel in their Metal Archives band pic. They write very long songs. The cover of their new split album has pine trees and a friggin’ owl on it. They even self-apply the term on their Bandcamp. But if you guessed that they sound like most other such bands, you’d be … well, basically right. I don’t have a lot of love left for this style after the past decade-ish of entries, but something about these guys caught my fancy on their 2013 LP Towers Of Silence, and it’s held on through the current splitter The Great Northern. They’re strong songwriters, as evidenced here, but the delivery is probably what hooks me. Rather than howling semi-audibly at you from some distant mountainside at night during a snowstorm, A God Or An Other creep right up in your face so you get covered in little spit flecks when they start screaming. Their instrumental tones pack a wallop, and while they’re plenty tight, they play with a punk abandon that pedalboard-centric black metal bands often lack. Example: the blast/lurch segment that closes “Eden Devoured”, which is gnarly as hell. It fits that the Vatican, who occupy the other half of this split, play some blown-out mutation of ’90s metallic hardcore. [From The Great Northern, out now, self-released]Doug

14. Chaotorynth – “Incompleteness”

Location: Wicklow, Ireland
Subgenre: blackened death metal

Starting a solo project means no one can tell you “No.” No dissenting bassists hunting for a credit, no singers begging to do more singing; you’re free to follow your muse. Conversely, no one can tell you “No.” That means your flights of fancy are rarely edited, usually leaving you with an indulgent mess of unkillable darlings. So it’s surprising that Dudley Grant’s Chaotorynth flows so well. Here, discordant black metal syncs with dissonant death metal, and anything difficult is bookended by neck-engaging chugs. “Incompleteness” is anything but, distilling Deathspell Omega and the staccato/legato push/pull of math-y metal down to their active ingredients. But the way Grant strings these sections together is what sells Chaotorynth. He excels at building expectations and subverting them, just not in a way that comes off as unearned. Check out “Incompleteness”‘s 15-second opening: three contrasting attacks all aiming for the same goal, each increasing the payload of the others. Some people just have a real knack for organization. Glad no one is getting in Grant’s way. [from Axiomatic Limitation, out now, self-released]Ian

13. Kalmankantaja – “Yön Alttarilla”

Location: Hyvinkää, Finland
Subgenre: depressive black metal

For some, speed is an essential element of black metal, the buzzing intensity being one of the primary reasons for listening in the first place. “Yön Alttarilla,” which moves at a comparative crawl, is probably not for those people. The sixteen-minute song lulls from mournful passage to mournful passage, crossing imperceptible barriers as a riff alters slightly or a sorrowful lead emerges from behind a frigid haze. There’s a lot to love here — the pitch-perfect ’90s guitars, the deftly arranged and understated vocals, the fuzzy mix in general — and if you like what you hear, take a look at any of the one-man project’s ten-plus releases in the past four years, some of which move at a quicker clip. “Yön Alttarilla,” though, is meditative, a slow-moving thing of beauty from some place time forgot. When it turns to the outro, with a picked melody and buried clean vocals, the song becomes downright gorgeous. [From Muinanen, out now on Patologian Laboratorio]Wyatt

12. Lychgate – “An Acousmatic Guardian”

Location: London, United Kingdom
Subgenre: abnormal black metal

Let’s not mince words: We catch shit fairly often around these parts for covering too much black metal. People can and should criticize as they see fit, especially if it’s in service of creating something better and not just shouting to shout. We listen, we care, and we hear you; really, we do. Balance is important. Which is to say that when we continue to cover things that bear the “black” label, there was serious deliberation behind it, that it was something we all personally enjoy and that we hope you will enjoy, too. But — and there’s always a big old “but” when you’re about to feebly rebut a valid critique — there is an underlying assumption behind that criticism, and I’m not convinced it has legs: That assumption is, of course, that all black metal sounds the same, or even remotely similar. I could write you a treatise disproving this point, citing only Dissection and Darkthrone, but it’s more fun just to share this latest mutation of form from Lychgate. “An Acousmatic Guardian” is garish and unwieldy, lilting and bizarre, jarring and unnatural. It’s a rasping, gasping beast built from church organs, carnivalesque drums, and shreddy guitars, confident in its own skin even as it careens off the walls. Hell, there’s a mid-song all-piano interlude that goes from crystalline Phillip Glass to batshit Rachmaninoff when the guitars crash back in. Yet despite all that restless invention, the vocals and the cumulative effect keep the proceedings recognizably black metal. I don’t know how they do it, but I keep listening on repeat. [From An Antidote For The Glass Pill, out 8/18 via Blood Music]Aaron

11. Fuck The Facts – “The Deafening Applause”

Location: Gatineau, Canada
Subgenre: grindcore

Playing grind for a living usually means you’re not making much of a living. So the bands that stick with it are the bands who love it and love learning how to be good at it, creating a class of vets that’s pound-for-pound one of metal’s strongest. Now in their sixteenth year, Fuck The Facts lives both sides of that grind-as-a-career-choice coin. They’re now a top-tier outfit that has evolved from noisy one-man-band beginnings to a full quintet, uniting classic grind with a myriad of styles, from the keyboard-heavy Legacy Of Hopelessness to Stigmata-High Five’s chunky death/grind tech to Amer’s crustiness. But, despite heaps of praise, they didn’t push enough units for Relapse to re-up their commitment. If you’re a grinder, those are the familiarly heartbreaking breaks. Still, Fuck The Facts’ passion has remained undiminished. The side of their split with the punky Fistfuck is a pint of DIY piss and vinegar, finding the band in fatless ripper mode. Mel Mongeon’s lacerating screams lash with a whip’s efficiency, and Marc Bourgon’s low-end complement fits like gear teeth. O.G. founder Topon Das and fellow guitarist Johnny Ibay unload trepanning riffs at a machine-gun speed, boosted by Mathieu Vilandre’s blasts. When “The Deafening Applause” chugs to a close with Bourgon’s grunt of “your cheers nullify all hope,” it hits a little deeper because, well, Fuck The Facts is still here. [from Fuck The Facts/Fistfuck, out now via PRC Music]Ian

10. Vorde – “Seven Forms”

Location: Brooklyn, NY
Subgenre: black metal

Vorde’s a bit of an oddball, a mix of medieval and psychedelic vibes with an end product that sounds a bit like a mix between a Lovecraftian nightmare and a trip to Dracula’s dungeon. The whole idea might not work so well if it weren’t meshed so well with rock-solid, blistering black metal. When “Seven Forms” gets going after a spiraling, sort of haunted waltz intro, it rips. A sinister undercurrent runs throughout the punishing rush, and the singer, with his croaked oms, sounds as if he’s emerged from some wormhole, here to chase you down and drag you back to wherever he came from. In the past, Vorde wasn’t always this hard-hitting; now, they’ve found their groove, and aspects of earlier recordings shine through in a production that is murky yet transparent. We can now appreciate the subtle characteristics of a guitar flange, the incredible ferocity of the drumming, the haunted warble of a keyboard. It’s excellent. [From Vorde/Predatory Light, out in June on Psychic Violence]Wyatt

09. High On Fire – “The Black Plot”

Location: Oakland, California
Subgenre: doom/thrash metal

Whether or not you’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road, you’ve probably heard of the Doof Wagon: a rolling rock concert that accompanies one of the flick’s bloodthirsty scavenger tribes, featuring a huge stack of amps and a guy who looks like Voldo from Soul Calibur riffing out on a flamethrower/guitar hybrid. The Doof Wagon’s in-film music sounds like an ’80s hard-rock guitarist jamming with Chinese thunder drummers, but it really should’ve sounded exactly like High On Fire, who are the bog standard for highway-friendly heavy metal in 2015. More than almost any other band, High On Fire epitomize a strain of thought that wishes metal had never moved past Motörhead, Slayer, Frank Frazetta imagery, or 200 beats per minute; the thrills they provide are both as predictable and as viscerally satisfying as an action flick’s. If you’ve heard any of this band’s past three or four records, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what to expect from “The Black Plot.” But given High On Fire’s Platonic perfection of this form, it’d be nuts for them to change now. After all, metal needs institutions, and it doesn’t produce many of them these days. The biggest shift this time around turns up in the lyrics, which are apparently about ancient aliens. But there’s partying, too! “Dude, if I was some sort of alien or fallen angel who disagreed with God, I’d be like, ‘Dude, I’m going to fuck every girl on this planet that I can! Because they’re hot!'” says main man Matt Pike in this Rolling Stone interview. Never change, dude. [From Luminiferous, out 6/23 via eOne Music]Doug

08. Okazai Fragments – “Huddled Masses”

Location: Calgary, Canada
Subgenre: progressive death metal

These upstarts play a quirky style of death metal that, unlike most such niches, has a clear-cut birthday — June 23, 1998, when Gorguts released their opus Obscura. Death metal had been flirting with extreme dissonance and extended guitar techniques for years by then, but Obscura broke away from the main canon and into a realm of its own…where it resided more or less alone for about a decade while other musicians scrambled to catch up. But catch up they did, and over the past five-odd years, skronky death metal has grown into a thriving microgenre. This growth poses a problem for younger practitioners like Okazai Fragments: The magician’s bag of bizarre anti-melodies associated with the style are no longer shocking, so other attributes must carry the day. These guys solve this problem with a combination of austerity and ferocity. Their debut album, Abandoned, is basically a hefty EP, with eight songs that average less than three minutes a pop. There’s no atmospheric self-indulgence to be found anywhere here; just stern bursts of alien riffage. Though this material is clearly rooted in death metal, the delivery owes a lot to forward-thinking grind acts like Maruta and (early) Cephalic Carnage — vocalist Sean Farren’s burpy gutturals are especially reminiscent of CC vocalist Leonard Leal. Proggy death metal of any stripe can feel academic, but Okazai Fragments bring the heat from start to finish here. Spin two-minute ripper “Huddled Masses” for proof, and then check out the rest of the album on their Bandcamp. [From Abandoned, out 5/1, self-released]Doug

07. Vanum – “Realm Of Ascension”

Location: USA
Subgenre: black metal

Vanum comes from Kyle Morgan and Michael Rekevics, two figures who have been leading forces in US black metal for some time. Morgan is best known as the singer and guitarist for Ash Borer, the prominent atmospheric black metal band from California, and he runs the small influential label Psychic Violence; Rekevics drums in Fell Voices, a kindred spirit to Ash Borer, and plays in the equally awesome bands Vorde (see elsewhere on this list), Vilkacis, and the sorely missed Ruin Lust. Given that history, we’d expect a lot from Vanum, and the duo delivers. On “Realm Of Ascension,” sweeping, mournful melody is king while the song works in and out of midtempo grooves and headlong blasts on a backbone of relentless and lively drumming. It’s raw and pained, and as with many Rekevics projects, you get the feeling that playing this music must be both emotionally and physically exhausting. Of the bands mentioned above, I feel that Vanum has most in common with Vilkacis, who similarly craft melody-forward and memorable songs that feel as if they were etched in stone to be played and marveled at by future generations. [From Realm Of Sacrifice, out 6/23 via Profound Lore]Wyatt

06. Undergang – “Kogt I Blod”

Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Subgenre: caveman death metal

Somewhere someone labeled these guys “old school death” and completely missed the point. Undergang play next-level death metal, so far beyond what mortal ears can effectively understand that it wraps back around again and starts to sound stupid, in a good way. I’m not kidding when I call this idiotically brilliant. It’s everything that ever made Obituary great mixed with everything that still makes Autopsy horribly good. But riff after riff, this is better than anything made in the olden days. Doug pointed out that Undergang actually sounds a lot like Coffins; while he’s right, Coffins lack the nuance necessary to write something as special as “Kogt I Blod.” It’s the sequencing of riffs, the push and pull that keeps us tumbling forward, and more than anything, it’s the details that make this thing shine. Listen to the little tinkling cymbal fill in between the pseudo-breakdown riff at 4:18 — that shit slays me. Anyone who doesn’t listen to death metal all day every day (even nights and weekends) might not recognize what makes this different from the new Entrails album (also good, but nowhere near this awesome), but for those of us that do, this is fucking mastery of form. And every song on the new album rules this hard or harder. Make no mistake: Undergang just shat out one of the best death metal releases of the year. [From Døden Læger Alle Sår, out 7/10 via Dark Descent]Aaron

05. Encenathrakh – “Thraicev”

Location: Queens, New York/”Columbus, Ohio”
Subgenre: Technical/brutal death metal

Depending on who you ask, Encenathrakh is either an all-star ensemble playing improvised tech or just some death-obsessed lifers from Columbus, Ohio. Metal PR obfuscation post-Velvet Cacoon usually doesn’t go well, but this is a smart choice. First, funny answers are fun. Secondly, “improvised,” in the metal sphere, carries a lot of baggage, so you might as well suck out the pretension with disinformation, thus prepping two normally-opposed fan bases to give this a shot. Because, really, there’s nothing pretentious about Encenathrakh. It’s just bold, bestial nonsense. Both Mick Barr (Krallice, Orthrelm, Crom-Tech, all of the shred) and Colin Marston (Behold… the Arctopus, Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, Krallice, plus or minus a million), if the supergroup theory is to be believed, rip, rage, and gnaw through busy riffs sounding like Profound Lore’s entire back catalog played at the same time. If that’s not nutty enough, there’s Paulo Henri Paguntalan’s vocals (Copremesis, Andromorphus Rexalia) and Weasel Walter’s drumming (The Flying Luttenbachers). Walter’s ambidextrous attack is all ultra-violent flying fills. Paulo’s gutturals are impressively varied, a chameleon of belches and uvula-rattling growls. When the four are at top speed, their ESP alone is engrossing. Listening to how these players recalibrate on a dime to better suit one another is worth the tinnitus. But don’t think this is some jazz dork noodling. Encenathrakh is primarily a giddily visceral slaughtering performed in the name of oversized extremity for brutality’s sake. If they are underground Ohioans, they’ve been listening to a hell of a lot of Last Days Of Humanity. So, which backstory is legit? Doesn’t matter. The only true thing you can say about Encenathrakh is that people who like Encenathrakh will love Encenathrakh and everyone else will hate it. The difference between this and other recent releases is you won’t know which camp you’ll fall into by only reading the bio. [from Encenathrakh, out now via P2]Ian

04. Wiegedood – “Kwaad Bloed”

Location: Ghent, Belgium
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

I tend to group this generation of black metal into two rough categories: the stripped-down and the refined. I don’t mean to isolate the two or to favor one over the other, but I’m often drawn to the stripped-down kind, where raw emotion holds sway over the complex side of things. But perhaps best is when bands nail both languages — an amalgam that captures both the sweeping feeling that defies pinpoint definition and the clinical exactitude of carefully articulated aggression. Blut Aus Nord hops back and forth between both camps, but straddles the line on our number one album of last year, Memoria Vestuta III: Saturnian Poetry; Altar Of Plagues likewise is a band that has delivered on both fronts. Wiegedood, a new band from three veterans, does too, and “Kwaad Bloed” is a tour de force that channels feelings of despair and triumph into a punishing package of furious drumming, compelling guitar work, and pleasing time shifts. The song, full of headbanging moments, tracks in at seven minutes, a length I’d encourage other aspiring atmospheric black metal bands to consider. A bit of background: Wiegedood is comprised of members of Amenra, Rise And Fall, and Oathbreaker, three Belgian bands that collectively occupy various spaces across a heavy music spectrum that includes hardcore, post-, black and doom metal. In English, the word Wiegedood seemed like a pretty funny word. It actually translates to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. [from De Doden Hebben Het Goed, out now on Consouling Sounds]Wyatt

03. Shape Of Despair – “Descending Inner Night”

Location: Helsinki, Finland
Subgenre: funeral doom

Kathy Nightingale: What did you come here for anyway?
Sally Sparrow: I love old things. They make me feel sad.
Kathy Nightingale: What’s good about sad?
Sally Sparrow: It’s happy for deep people.

That overly precious exchange from the “Blink” episode of the Dr. Who reboot ends up nailing the appeal of Finnish funeral doom. It’s sad. It feels great. Shape Of Despair is all about evoking the familiar burden of hopelessness, continuing to further what Thergothon and Skeptiscm started. It’s just too bad their release frequency is slower than their sprawling riffs. Monotony Fields is their first full-length since 2004, demonstrating how time can slip away when your bandmates have other engagements. (In this case, Finntroll, Impaled Nazarene, Rapture, and on and on. Finland: land of bands.) Yet, Monotony Fields’ on-the-surface execution suggests no time has passed. Shape Of Despair still luxuriates in the lachrymose gothic-tinged lushness of their prior dirges. Guitars churn, bass tones quake, keyboards encoffin dour melodies, and pounding drums pace the procession. If there’s a change, it’s that the band sounds tighter, bucking the subliminal expectations of the album’s title. 10-minute trudges usually aren’t this smooth, nor do they normally pay off all of their indulgences. The key here is the catchiness. Guitarist/keyboardist Jarno Salomaa hinted at this innate trait when recounting what got him into the slow, low, and sad to Doom Metal.com: “I think Metallica was the reason, playing their Garage Days EP in slow motion … maybe it stuck in my head too well back then or something.” Of course, the emotional chord Shape Of Despair strikes rings the loudest. When Natalie Koskinen mourns over “Descending Inner Night”‘s final section, the enveloping misery is strangely comforting. [From Monotony Fields, out 6/16 via Season Of Mist]Ian

02. Jute Gyte – “Lugubrious Games (Sans Frontières)”

Location: Missouri
Subgenre: avant-garde black metal

Jute Gyte — a one-man band better known as Adam Kalmbach — last turned up in the Black Market back in February of 2014. The album we covered in that installation, Vast Chains, ended up in our Best Metal Albums Of 2014 feature. June’s Ship Of Theseus will be Kalmbach’s third full-length album since Vast Chains. (It’s preceded by 2014’s Ressentiment and this year’s electronic Dialectics, the latter of which we decided didn’t make sense for the column.) That’s just how Jute Gyte roll, though. Aside from the breakneck pace at which he produces music, Kalmbach is lately best known for his use of microtones in the eerie, cerebral black metal he produces. For the most part, the in-between intervals produces a queasy alienating effect, which makes sense for a guy who writes lyrics mostly about revulsion and meaninglessness. But on “Lugubrious Games (Sans Frontières),” those same tactics produce a different effect — there’s melancholy melody in there, or at least some alien parody of it. The song alternately drifts and stomps, like a My Dying Bride tune heard through a black hole, until climaxing in a terrifying vocal call-and-response sequence. This might be my favorite Jute Gyte tune to date, and believe me, there are a lot to choose from. [From Ship Of Theseus, out 6/1 via Jeshimoth Productions]Doug

01. Paradise Lost – “Beneath Broken Earth”

Location: Halifax, United Kingdom
Subgenre: gothic/death/doom metal

Time has been kind to Paradise Lost, then as now. Their first album, 1990’s Lost Paradise, birthed an entire genre unto itself (death/doom), and then they moved right along, restless and ever improving. With a trio of untouchable classics that intermingled metal and gothic rock in various formulations — 1991’s Gothic, 1993’s Icon, and 1995’s Draconian Times —  prime-era Paradise Lost is the stuff of gods. Singer/stentorian dreamboat Nick Holmes shifted his death growl to a hilariously good James Hetfield impression, and the riffs followed suit in terms of greatness. And just like that, in the wake of several near-perfect metal albums, they gave it all up; 1998’s One Second effectively abandoned metal for goth-inflected rock indebted to Sisters Of Mercy and Depeche Mode (they even covered The Smiths). And it was good! Really good, depending on who you ask. More non-metal followed; the quality remained high, but metalheads were understandably depressed. So it was a ridiculous treat when Paradise Lost randomly rediscovered their metal roots and came back as strong as ever on 2005’s self-titled album, which was followed by a string of modern classics including 2007’s In Requiem, 2009’s Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us, and 2012’s Tragic Idol. Here we are in 2015, staring down the barrel of something majestic, miserable, and magical in the form of the heaviest pure doom track Paradise Lost has written in decades. I could rave about the album as a whole: about Adrien Erlandsson of At The Gates fame and his phenomenal drum tone; about the positive influence of having both Gregor Mackintosh and Nick Holmes playing legit death metal in Vallenfyre and Bloodbath respectively (and both bands were phenomenal at Maryland Deathfest this past weekend); or the fact that one of metal’s best bands is once again one of our best metal bands. Or you could just listen to this thing for yourself. [From The Plague Within, out 6/1 via Century Media] –Aaron