June was not especially kind to big-name metal bands. Its brightest moment for such acts came courtesy of Iron Maiden, who announced the impending release of their upcoming 16th studio album. It’s good to see Maiden back in action, especially given that vocalist Bruce Dickinson has freshly entered remission from cancer.
However, as far as I could tell, this positive news didn’t gain as much traction as three bleaker tales about metal’s titans:
1. This year’s Metal Alliance tour, which starred ’90s death metal stalwarts Deicide and Entombed, dissolved in spectacular fashion. “Financial problems” — which is usually code for “poor ticket sales” — led its organizers to boot Entombed from the bill and drop the “Metal Alliance” brand name. Then, two supporting acts bailed for separate reasons. Finally, the last few dates of the tour were cancelled outright. Harsh words were exchanged.
2. Fellow old-guard death metal greats Morbid Angel underwent a 75% personnel turnover after guitarist and songwriter Trey Azagthoth kicked out bassist/vocalist Dave Vincent, guitarist Thor “Destructhor” Myhren, and drummer Tim Yeung — i.e., the entire band. Bassist/vocalist Steve Tucker, who’s been in Morbid Angel twice before, has rejoined. The other two lineup slots remain empty. This news follows several years of trying times for Morbid Angel, who provoked the lasting (and justifiable) ire of their fanbase with 2011’s industrial-tinged disaster Illud Divinum Insanus.
3. Slayer, who themselves have lost half their original lineup under conditions of considerable drama, released the first finalized song from their new album, Repentless. (Is that a real word? Some sources believe so, but I remain unconvinced.) Repentless is Slayer’s first new album in six years and their only album to date without deceased guitarist/songwriter Jeff Hanneman, so this tune comes at a crucial moment for them. But though Slayer has one of the most devoted fanbases in the world, even their faithful couldn’t summon up much more than polite applause for the new tune’s rote riffing and Tom Araya’s lyrics about “hat[ing] the fucking scene.” The other teaser track from Repentless, a demo version of “When The Stillness Comes”, didn’t fare much better.
It’s been frustrating to watch these scenarios unfold, and not just because of my affection for the golden-years works by the bands involved. All four of these bands changed the faces of their respective genres in their early days, but based on recent track record alone, it’s hard to tell why they still rate at all. None of them has released a classic in the past 20 years, and many fans wouldn’t credit any of them with even a good album since Morbid Angel’s 2000 LP, Gateways To Annihilation. (Deicide’s 2006 effort, The Stench Of Redemption, also earned some plaudits.) All four have committed serious missteps over that same period, from Illud Divinum Insanus to Deicide’s previous tour meltdown to the ultimate indignity suffered by Entombed early last year. The dark times seem to roll ever onward for these acts, but nobody seems willing to look away, myself included. Metal fans do revere their elders, after all, perhaps to a fault.
This pattern — band records great records during their heady underground days; band breaks big; band proceeds to spend years or decades flailing around publicly while their fans rubberneck — happens all over the popular music landscape, but it strikes me as disproportionately common in the metal world. The ur-example is Metallica, whose post-1990 parade of atrocities needs no retelling. Most of their ’80s thrash peers went through similarly dark phases during the ’90s, and many of them never really recovered. (The sordid later histories of Anthrax and Megadeth make Slayer’s recent fumblings look pretty forgivable.) Celtic Frost suffered a version of this fate when they released their “hair” album Cold Lake, as did Carcass with Swansong. A large portion of Dimmu Borgir’s early fanbase would include them in this company, as would the same fan demographics for Fear Factory, Sepultura, and the Dillinger Escape Plan. Mastodon arguably constitutes another recent high-visibility example; they’re two albums into a run of dubious pop-prog, and guitarist Brent Hinds recently blurted out that he “fucking hate[s] heavy metal” in a Guitar Player interview. And there are plenty more case studies available.
It’s tempting to condemn bands like these for their failures and to rail against their stubborn presence in the press cycle. But when you look at the overall picture their members face, it’s tough not to feel a little bad for them. Fact is, they’re kind of stuck where they are. Once you commit to life as a full-time touring musician for a while, there’s really no going back — unless you can segue into some other music industry-related job or have a previous career to fall back on, you’re probably looking at barbacking jobs and manual labor as soon as you quit the road. (Or advertising, if you’re so inclined.) And the guys in the bands we’re discussing have been at it for a quarter century or more! I can’t imagine they have much on their CVs beyond “touring musician.” It’s understandable that so many folks in their position hold on to their tour-cycle spots for dear life, even years after their creative wells have gone dry. For most of them, life as part of a nostalgia act is much preferable to the likely alternatives.
And that so many of these bands lose their way creatively after a few years on the pro touring circuit is understandable too. Most metal bands write their great early works under conditions of material and cultural privation. You start with no money, no fanbase, no institutional support, a vanishingly small shot at even modest commercial success, and nothing to keep you going aside from your belief in your own vision. You have to really, really love the music you’re making to endure this crucible, which I suspect is a big part of why underground metal produces so many impassioned, distinctive voices. It must be insanely difficult to sustain that kind of creative ferocity once your band stops being a cherished release from your job and becomes your job: a workaday obligation consisting of contract negotiations, all-day press schedules, and endless hours schlepping from venue to venue while on tour for the majority of the year.
All of this is a very roundabout way for me to bring up this month’s crop of Black Market tunes, which relies heavily on the fruits of obscurity’s strictures. If you’ve been keeping tabs on metal goings-on in recent years, you’ll recognize a handful of names, like Cattle Decapitation, Myrkur, and Hate Eternal (who were also involved in the Deicide/Entombed tour catastrophe). But for the most part, the other Black Market bros — Wyatt Marshall, Aaron Lariviere, Ian Chainey, Michael Nelson, and I — fell for tunes by bands that might charitably be called “pre-professional.” They range from “well-regarded in some circles, but definitely still in day-job mode” to “unknown to virtually anyone but their friends and family.” And these songs are fucking great! We had to hold off on covering some other awesome albums by little-known bands this month, because there was too much good stuff and we had to write up records we wouldn’t get another chance to touch on! And it seems like this happens damn near every month. It’d be nice to see some of these acts rewarded with some fame and fortune. But on the other hand, perhaps we — and they — should be careful what we wish for. –Doug
15. Bleak – “Death By 1000 Cuts”
Location: Syracuse, NY
Depending on whom you ask, the much-maligned “metalcore” subgenre is either (a) the province of whining, eyeliner-clad tools who want nothing more in this than a Mayhem Festival opening slot, or (b) an elaborate musical excuse that psychotic steroid monsters fall back on when they feel like pummeling each other half to death in public. If you were to tar Bleak with one of these brushes, it’d certainly be the latter — as “Death By 1000 Cuts” handily demonstrates, this band lays down grooves with a thudding imperiousness that many a death metal band would envy. If you’re trying to get ignorant, this music will serve you well. But Bleak rewards the more thoughtful listener, too. As with better-known recent metalcore acts like Gaza and KEN Mode, all of the macho stomping shares space with a needling noise-rock influence by way of such past smarties as Botch and Kiss It Goodbye. (Incidentally, Gaza descendants Cult Leader also released an EP this month.) Bleak’s path is well-trod one at this point, but it hasn’t seen a ton of foot traffic in recent years, and it’s still rewarding to follow if you’ve got affection for its past pioneers — or if you just want to hear some sounds that’ll make you want to headbutt a brick wall. [From We Deserve Our Failures, out 8/14 via Hex Records] –Doug
14. Claymorean – “Gods Of Chaos”
Location: Lazarevac, Serbia
Subgenre: trad/power metal
Metal’s renewability and universality is what keeps it vital. Tropes and controversies come and go; that is, if they even leave. But for every eye-rolling moment of ineptitude making you question why you got that tattoo, you know you’ll inevitably be reunited with the good stuff. It’s just that sometimes the origin of the good stuff is a surprise. So, yeah, you probably didn’t pick Serbia as a producer of Manilla Road-inspired rippers. Claymorean, who have been kicking around under various names since 1994, play traditional power metal with the emphasis on tradition. This is stuff for folks who haven’t torn off a page of their Far Side daily calendar since 1988, making it an appropriate addition to Stormspell’s roster. Unbroken is all galloping rhythms, leads flashing like unsheathed broadswords, and vocals as confident as Frank Frazetta brushstrokes. And, like the quintet’s influences (whom they’re not above covering), Claymorean can smelt a catchy chorus that lasts longer than a titanium jawbreaker. The chorus from “Gods Of Chaos” has one of those exuberantly powerful displays of, uh, pure power metal. It drives home that no matter where you live or who you are, there’s a community out there banging their heads the same way. [From Unbroken, out now via Stormspell Records] –Ian
13. Serpent’s Lair – “Circumambulating The Stillborn”
Location: Sjælland, Denmark
Subgenre: black metal
We’ve come to expect raw and filthy underground black metal from Fallen Empire, the small American record label that started out releasing lo-fi tapes from a New Jersey bedroom just a couple years ago. Early on, the stuff FE was releasing was so dirty and consciously regressive that not too many saw the gems for what they were. But as Fallen Empire has embraced cleaner recordings and moved away from tape-only releases, its output is catching more ears. So, if you’re not familiar with America’s best underground label, let Serpent’s Lair’s “Circumambulating The Stillborn” serve as your introduction. Serpent Lair throws down “Circumambulating” like a gauntlet — it’s a challenge, a filthy slab of putrid black metal to the face. The muscular vocals up the ante on an already aggressive and abrasive track. It’s the kind of out-of-control black metal played by another notable act, Svartidaudi, a subterranean monster born from fire rather than the icy grimness that so many black metal acts embrace. [From Circumambulating The Stillborn, out soon via Fallen Empire Records and Duplicate Records] –Wyatt
12. Scythian – “Beyond The Dust”
Location: London, UK
Genre: epic death/thrash for the ages
Hell’s Headbangers: a name to carve into your arm if ever there was one. Few labels command my instant attention for every release — Profound Lore, Dark Descent, and Cruz Del Sur are among them — but Hell’s Headbangers might be my favorite. It’s hard to articulate why that is, except that I love what they do, and the bands they unearth are as musically potent as they are aesthetically perfect. Bands like Midnight, Speedwolf, Cultes Des Ghoules, Acid Witch, Deiphago, Witch Cross, and Inquisition sound nothing alike but share a commitment to filth-crusted excellence that transcends subgenres. Scythian is as much of a standout as any of its labelmates, and naturally sounds like none of them. Instead, Scythian play a pitch-perfect stew of caveman thrash and proto-death intensity, elevated and brought to life by a healthy dose of Viking-era Bathory. Hallowed-hall acoustics and bursts of mountain-top manly clean singing do a nice job of punctuating the otherwise righteous thrash. There’s even a whiff of the classic Greek black metal bands — as in the unholy triune of Rotting Christ, Varathron, and Necromantia — which is becoming a micro-trend for 2015 (see also recent excellent albums from Obsequiae and Macabre Omen). Feast thine ears on glory. [From Hubris In Excelsis, out 8/21 via Hell’s Headbangers] –Aaron
11. Lycanthrophy – “Drain And Throw Away”
Location: Žďár nad Sázavou, Czech Republic
Lycanthrophy — note the atypical second ‘h’ — have been churning out uncompromising grindcore for some 17 years now, but I suspect that much of their potential American fanbase hadn’t heard of them until their appearance at this year’s Maryland Deathfest. That’s not just because they hail from the far-away grind incubator that is the Czech Republic; they’ve also relied almost exclusively on split releases with other relatively below-the-radar acts to propagate their material, with just two LPs under their belt to date. That’s hardly an unusual career arc in the grind world, but such short-format output is less likely to attract international press and distribution than more substantive releases are. That’s a shame, because Lycanthrophy play this kind of unflinching, frill-free grind about as well as humanly possible. Theirs is a sternly traditionalist approach — so much so that you won’t even find much death metal influence in their catalog — but the band gives the hoary tropes life with the sheer intensity of their performances. If you long for the return of latter-day grind luminaries like Insect Warfare and Wormrot, these guys are for you. They share this 10″ split mini-LP with the Afternoon Gentlemen of Leeds, UK, whose riff-oriented abuses balance out Lycanthrophy’s frenetic tendencies nicely. [From Lycanthrophy/The Afternoon Gentlemen Split 10″, out 7/5 via Dead Heroes]–Doug
10. Disloyal – “The Chastener”
Location: Kętrzyn, Poland
Subgenre: death metal
Disloyal’s Godless is filled with grooves reminding you why you listen to metal. You know, those Morbid Angel-derived world-enders. But unlike blog-bound load-blowing modern metallers, Disloyal does more. There are jackhammer chugs equalling those of their Polish brethren, wackadoo solos sounding like Guitar Centers attacked by graboids, and playful, mathematical syncopations of the Decapitated persuasion. These aren’t necessarily unique traits, though it’s rare to hear a band care more about the composition than the riff. Disloyal lay these sections down like stones in a walkway, leading the listener to a satisfying conclusion. Others treat a good groove like a baited hook to snag drive-by streamers. Disloyal pick their spots, instant gratification be damned. With 18 years in the game, they’ve learned patience. After Azagthothian pinches and Immolation churns, they’ll shake a groove awake only if the tension is ripe. It’s a treat. You savor it. Then it’s time to build up to the next one. [From Godless, out now via Ghastly Music] –Ian
09. Amestigon – “Hochpolung”
Subgenre: black metal
Amestigon nicely blend straightforward ripping black metal with something more outré and experimental, winding their way through labyrinthine songs that can at times feel like a journey. What can you do? When all of your songs go more than 10 minutes in length (one on the new album clocks in at over 19), you’ve got plenty of time to try out some different vibes. On “358,” headlong rushes give way to arduous Sisyphean builds that unravel into ponderous brooding, audio clips and choral chanting. Amestigon’s got an interesting history; they formed in 1995 but didn’t put out a full album until 2010, and the band has been closely linked to its fellow Austrians Abigor throughout its existence, sharing and swapping members. Among them was the elusive Silenius, one-half of the Tolkien-inspired epic black metal band Summoning, who provides guest vocals on the title track of Amestigon’s new album, their second full-length Thier. The album is excellent, a supremely high-quality and innovative work well worth your time. [From Thier, out now via World Terror Committee] –Wyatt
08. Putridity – “Conceived Through Vermination”
Location: Ivrea/Turin/Piedmont, Italy
Subgenre: technical slamming brutality
The kind of brutal death metal that Putridity plays gets me tied up in knots sometimes. In some senses, it’s extremely cerebral stuff. It requires a huge amount of physical dexterity and mental precision to execute; Putridity’s albums are basically just long through-composed sequences of blasts, chugs, and vocal gurgles, all delivered crisply at insane speeds. It’s also totally uncompromising from an aesthetic standpoint — as a friend pointed out to me, they’ve got more in common with harsh noise than they do with rock music in many ways. Putridity’s new album, Ignominious Atonement, is also apparently a concept album — “about the ill of procreation. It’s a regurgitation of black filthy water, immortalized in four scenarios and freely inspired by David Lynch’s Eraserhead,” says Alessandro Cravero. Sounds pretty brainy! And yet, even though this music is extremely high-tech and even high-concept, the final effect is incredibly primal and direct. Like, absurdly so. For all its complexity, “Conceived Through Vermination” is total goddamn gorilla music. Listening to Putridity doesn’t make you want to sit in your study leafing through Derrida; it makes you want to punch people’s faces inside out. Is it smart? Is it dumb? Is it “avant-dumb,” as I’ve heard this style called on occasion? Who cares! It fucking rules, and that’s what counts. [From Ignominious Atonement, out 8/18 via Willowtip] –Doug
07. Cattle Decapitation – “Cannibalistic Invasivorism”
Location: San Diego, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Let’s not beat around the bloody bush. Cattle Decapitation sucked when they were starting out. Their first EP/short-album-thing, Human Jerky, opened with a pointless sample from the movie Ghostbusters that was still more compelling than the sloppy grind-by-numbers jams that followed. I remember hearing their first proper album Homovore a million moons ago (in the year 2000!) and having the distinct epiphany that I was listening to terrible music. This was a band full of vegetarians cracking unfunny jokes about eating humans and lurching through serrated grind riffs more likely to elicit a headache than headbanging. A lot can change in 15 years. When Cattle Decap signed to Metal Blade in 2002, they made pains to become an actual metal band, edging towards a rudimentary take on modern death metal, with better riffs and something approaching melody. The result was album three, To Serve Man. It wasn’t great, but it was better. Album four, Humanure, brought tighter musicianship, even more death metal, and the most repulsive album cover I have ever seen. More albums came and went and it was clear Cattle Decapitation were not giving up, so they continued to hone their craft. Despite prior improvements in production, songwriting, and overall execution, nothing suggested 2012’s Monolith of Inhumanity would be half the album it turned out to be. Suddenly this band of SoCal goons was writing vital, incendiary, forward-thinking metal. Vocalist Travis Ryan always had a powerful range of gutturals and screams, but his bizarre choice to screech out melodic choruses (sounding like Gilbert Gottfried with his balls in a vice) paid major dividends, pushing Cattle Decap to the top of the modern metal heap, where they remain. “Cannibalistic Invasivorism” was recorded for their latest album, but didn’t make the cut — which is interesting, considering this is the best thing they’ve ever done. No clean singing this time around, just a rolling explosion of brutal thrash (forgotten thrash gods Demolition Hammer come to mind), insanely deep guttural vocals, moody lead guitars, and one of the most ridiculous staccato breakdowns ever to surface in a song this good. If everything Cattle Decapitation releases is an improvement upon that which came before, the new album will rule pretty fucking hard. [From the Decibel flexi series, out now] –Aaron
06. Myrkur – “Onde Børn”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Amalie Bruun took a pretty big risk enlisting Ulver’s Kristoffer “Garm” Rygg as producer for Myrkur’s full-length debut, M. The upside? A mutually beneficial artistic collaboration resulting in (at least) a great album. The secondary upside? An alliance that would eliminate any suspicions of dilettantism. The downside? A narrative that would shift focus away from Bruun’s achievements and transfer majority ownership of the music to Garm. To Bruun’s credit, she steered into the skid. Garm’s influence can be felt throughout M; the sheer magnitude of sound on display here reflects his decades exploring the possibilities of not only black metal but post-rock and modern classical. As a result, M sounds better suited to caverns and cathedrals than clubs. Perhaps it’s better, though, to ask not what Garm did for Myrkur, but what Myrkur did for Garm. By hiring the man to helm a black metal project, he was encouraged to return to his roots, to the one thing he did better than anyone else. M is a tremendously diverse album — no two songs sound alike — but no song brings to mind Bergtatt-era Ulver (i.e., best-era Ulver) more than “Onde Børn,” an absolute tour de force that sounds like it was intended as an update to Ulver’s timeless debut. Bruun’s voice is better suited to the choral stuff than Garm’s ever was, and here, she juxtaposes those soft textures over ripping guitars like freshly fallen snow over jagged rock formations. You don’t even recognize the inherent risks when they pay these sorts of dividends. You only wonder, why aren’t more bands doing this? Well, for one thing: They can’t. Also: They wouldn’t even dare to try. [From M, out 8/21 via Relapse] –Michael
05. Make – “The Absurdist”
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
“The Absurdist” is a thing of beauty, a chill and meditative builder that saves the metal stuff for the end. I know this is a metal column and all, but I’m drawn to the first five minutes here, where watery, ponderous guitars dance around restrained half-chanted vocals. It’s all about atmosphere — it’s a walk alone through the woods, some oh-my-god-coming-to-terms, and, around minute five, a brutal cathartic release. That progression is not a new formula by any means, but Make just does it so damn well. The vibe is certainly helped by the production job provided by the esteemed James Plotkin, he of Khanate, OLD, Jodis and more, the man who’s mixed SunnO))), ISIS, Cave In, Thou, Saint Vitus, Voivod and many, many more. (Fun fact — looks like he also mastered the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack for vinyl.) Anyway, if you just have to have some screams (or, as Aaron says, “br00tz”) in your metal, “The Absurdist” delivers in spades, when all that niceness gives way in one fell swoop to tortured, thundering rage. [From The Golden Veil, out 7/20 via Bandcamp] –Wyatt
04. Author & Punisher – “Callous And Hoof”
Location: San Diego, CA
Tristan Shone knows how to put on a show. His doom and drone inventions are genius, the kind of clever devices gracing the magazine centerfolds sitting next to your shop teacher’s toilet. Watching him manipulate his extensions is a thrilling rebuttal to anyone thinking music has lost forward momentum. But Author & Punisher’s industrial doom hasn’t always hit the sweet spot. Enter producer Phil Anselmo. Whatever your opinion on Anselmo, it’s hard to deny his ability to sniff out a hook in the heaviest of soil. Author & Punisher is all the richer for Phil’s ear. With another sound-obsessive on board, Shone’s creations now ooze sonic details. The deeper down you go, the more details catch your attention, like a plinko board played by a Cenobite. However, Shone’s calling card of ferocious, mechanized destruction hasn’t been lost amid the the ear candy. When “Callous And Hoof” gets moving with a pumping propulsion matching a xenomorph doing a Gene Simmons impression, you pull all the way back to admire the magnitude. It’s weighty, “holy shit” stuff. That said, the track’s most powerful moment might be its quietest, when Shone’s machinery is stripped of effects. It’s then you hear the evolutionary unnerving growl of a frenzied animal preparing to bite. [From Melk En Honing, out 6/30 via Housecore Records] –Ian
03. Corrupted – “喪失：Loss”
Location: Osaka, Japan
Corrupted connects with people. That’s how a publicity-eschewing Japanese band which sometimes sings in Spanish has amassed a following. Of course, a lot of bands connect with people. That’s kind of music’s thing. But Corrupted always seemed different. There was something about them that made you want to weather their, to borrow a term from Kevin Drumm, sheer hellish miasma. Their thunderous, crawling crust-doom out-booms nihilistic progenitors. Their expansive tone poems are exercises in epic meditation, baptizing with both a cool breeze and raging fire over hour-long marathons. Regardless of the format, they’ve always been tough to handle. But they connect. Violent, ugly, beautiful, soulful; human. So, so human. Surprise 7″ 喪失：Loss is exactly that, the aural epitome of human loss. The A-side is distorted teeth-gnashing and primal screams of hopelessness. The B-side is ghostly dark ambient, sounding like Thomas Köner’s trapped in a well with the Gyuto Monks. 喪失：Loss is the initial, all-encompassing anger of heartbreak followed by that empty, long-lasting daze when something you perceived as permanent is permanently erased and your brain doesn’t know how to fill the void. Frustratingly, both sides end prematurely. But that’s the way, isn’t it? Everything ends before you’re ready. [From 喪失：Loss, out now via Crust War] –Ian
02. Khemmis – “Torn Asunder”
Location: Denver, CO
Genre: doom metal
Doom is, and forever will be, the simplest of the heavy metals. But while any cellar dweller with an SG and a tower of tubes can tune low and strum slow, few do it well. Drummers will tell you it’s far harder to play slow than fast because any fluctuation in timing (referred to as “feel” when it works) is obvious to the listener, and often distracting, which might explain why there’s nothing harder to sit through than a shitty doom band. On the other hand, slow tempos give a superior drummer the opportunity to shine — when the “feel” is there, there’s nothing better (see: Black Sabbath). Fortunately, we live in a great age for doom, where stellar albums arrive as we need them, not before, and all with the perfect degree of “feel.” Twice we’ve seen Pallbearer revitalize clean-sung doom, and the world is better for it. Windhand released one of the best doom albums in years with 2013’s Soma, and they’re set to release another one later this year. Meanwhile, earlier this year we got the perfect hybrid of epic-doom and trad metal from Crypt Sermon. Khemmis sounds a bit like each of those bands but takes a more aggressive approach to melodicism: the clean vocals are cleaner, and the lead guitars are insane. The band describes themselves as “a doom metal Iron Maiden”, which isn’t inaccurate. Attempting to go any further than that, to describe the minutiae of something as simple as a doom track, would only diminish its power, so I won’t bother. Suffice it to say, this is the doom album of the summer. [From Absolution, out 7/7 via 20 Buck Spin] –Aaron
01. Hate Eternal – “The Stygian Deep”
Location: St. Petersburg, FL
Subgenre: death metal
Hate Eternal frontman Erik Rutan may bear the strongest death metal pedigree of any living human. He’s probably best known these days as the driving force behind Florida’s well-regarded Mana Studios, where he’s engineered albums by such extreme metal mainstays as Cannibal Corpse, Goatwhore, Vital Remains, and Tombs. (Plus, uh, the Mountain Goats.) But for death metal dorks, Rutan’s discography as a musician far outshines his considerable recording prowess. After earning his bona fides playing guitar in the short-lived but wildly inventive early DM act Ripping Corpse, Rutan spent several years in and out of death metal OGs Morbid Angel, where he effortlessly traded leads with MA mastermind Trey Azagthoth — who’s arguably the genre’s premiere soloist — and contributed songwriting to the great mid-period albums Domination and Gateways to Annihilation. Between those late-’90s stints, Rutan founded Hate Eternal, whose five albums since have established a gold standard of intensity by which countless younger bands have measured themselves. Incredibly, their upcoming sixth LP Infernus may their fastest album to date, thanks to a jawdropping performance by new skinsman Chason Westmoreland. His blinding speed will no doubt please HE’s many technique-oriented fans, but it’s the songwriting here — which is their strongest since I, Monarch — that should really get people excited. Hate Eternal may be standard-bearers for the mindblowing physicality of ‘modern’ death metal, but their successes have all relied on catchy, traditionalist songcraft. “The Stygian Deep” throws this essential element of the HE sound into stark relief. It’s got no shortage of crazy blasting and shredding, but all the brutal noise serves to drive home the somber melodic sensibility that has colored Hate Eternal’s sound since the beginning. And Jesus Christ, the fucking riffs — this is what death metal is all about. [From Infernus, out 8/21 via Season Of Mist] –Doug