The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2015

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2015

If you read the Black Market regularly, you will no doubt be shocked — shocked! — to hear the following: July was a fucking crazy month for metal. I could probably let this fact pass without comment, as the Black Market crew (Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Ian Chainey, Michael Nelson, and I) struggles to winnow down bumper crops of worthy music to just 15 songs pretty much every month. But even after two and a half years of working on this column (and many years as a metal writer in one capacity or another prior to that), the market-force-defying torrent of engaging metal records that spills ceaselessly out of the world’s basements and low-rent studios still strikes me as pretty incredible.

There’s reason to think that the coming months will be busier still for new metal releases. This month, we had so much good stuff to contend with that we’ve already started penciling in nominations for next month’s column — a first for us. And the competition in August, September, and October will probably be even fiercer than it was in July. A disproportionate quantity of high-profile releases seem to come out in the harvest months of each year. Perhaps that’s the result of canny bands angling to stay fresh in the minds of critics during the ever-expanding (and increasingly dreaded) Best-Of-20XX listicle season, or perhaps labels try to earn a year-end revenue bump that will defray operating costs during the barren late winter. Or maybe I’m just imagining it.

The point is that there’s a lot of event releases coming up in the next few months. A few examples that don’t appear in the main body of this month’s column:

  • Deafheaven announced the title and release date for their third album, New Bermuda, which will come out this October. I have no interest in Deafheaven, but TBM editor emeritus Michael Nelson is an ardent fan, and surely many of you are, too. New Bermuda certainly won’t want for coverage in my absence, if history is anything to go by.
  • At the opposite end of the coolness spectrum, death metal zealots Nile will release their eighth album, What Should Not Be Unearthed, at the end of August. Much to my and fellow Nile nerd Aaron’s surprise, it’s the best thing they’ve recorded in a decade. A leadoff single titled “Call To Destruction” dropped a few days ago, and you’re almost guaranteed to see something from What Should Not Be Unearthed high in the rankings next month.
  • Meanwhile, Black Market staff favorites Cobalt have ditched bigoted vocalist Phil McSorley in favor of ex-Lord Mantis frontman Charlie Fell — who’s only marginally less inclined to court controversy — and recorded a new album titled Slow Forever. That change constitutes a 50% lineup turnover for the two-piece. But given that instrumentalist Erik Wunder crafted virtually all of Cobalt’s classics Eater Of Birds and Gin, and that Fell is an outstanding vocalist in his own right, there’s reason to expect great things. Slow Forever doesn’t have a release date yet, but one hopes it’ll make it to stores before the end of 2015.
  • In the original draft of this intro, the fourth entry in this list of future bombshells was the fifth LP from NYC prog-black metal staples Krallice. After a long quiet period, Krallice recently booked a series of local live appearances — for the purpose, I assumed, of stress-testing some material for a new album. I caught one of those sets on Monday (you can watch it yourself in full here), and afterwards wrote a whole thing about how much their approach has changed and how stoked I was to get my hands on the upcoming record some time this fall. But lo: It’s no longer “upcoming”! Krallice released the album, called Ygg Huur, directly to Bandcamp yesterday. (It’s digital-only for now, but a CD version will be available in September, and Gilead Media will release an LP version later in the fall.) Ordinarily I’d just postpone writing about a last-minute release like this one until the following month, but Ygg Huur already seems one of the year’s best metal records, so it muscled its way into this month’s power rankings anyway. (Even though that meant scrapping about half of this intro right before I was planning to submit it. Thanks a lot, ya jerks!)

So yeah: it’s a war to fill this space the with the most deserving tunes, down to the last damn second. You can bet you’ll see a few honorable mentions from us in the comments, and you should share your own as well. It’s only gonna get crazier from here.

Doug Moore

15. Locrian — “An Index Of Air”

Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: experimental/black/drone

One of the recurrent joys of contributing to a long-running column like this one is watching your favorite bands cycle back around, releasing new material every few years, giving you the chance to revisit a band in writing. I wrote about Locrian’s “Eternal Return” way back in May of 2013, and here we are again with “An Index Of Air” from their latest LP. It’s not unlike stopping in on an old friend: You catch up on everything that’s happened in the interim, inevitably notice a few new wrinkles, then you spiral off and reflect on mortality, because what is change but death stretched across the ribs of time? (Tangent: read this for a similar effect.) Anyway. I’ve sat on this album for a couple of months now, letting it soak into the deeper recesses of my skull before attempting to capture it in words, which isn’t easy. It’s powerful, colorful stuff: visceral and lively in a way Locrian’s earliest drone material never was, but it retains some of the old flavor — waves of synthetic noise crest over, under, and around ripping melodic guitar leads brought to life by flesh-and-blood hands; live drums straight from the practice space stomp along to synth transmissions from Omega Centauri or somewhere similarly spacey. Listening with headphones, you get the unsettling feeling of a synapse misfiring and registering two contradictory sensations at once: vast, airless grandeur, and sweaty, intimate humanity. I keep trying to describe these songs in simpler terms, but it never works. The mysteries of Locrian run deep. [From Infinite Dissolution, out now via Relapse]Aaron

14. Sadistic Ritual – “Funeral Raid”

Location: Atlanta, GA
Subgenre: thrash

“This just feels like thrash” is usually the kind of ill-conceived phrase best timed to clear air between bong tokes. However, Atlanta quartet Sadistic Ritual might make you say such things with clear-headed conviction. Sure enough, “Funeral Raid” feels like straight-ahead thrash, from the this-riff-needs-another-riff construction to the blood-spilling solos to the runaway tempos. With two members of the equally promising Haunting aboard, the band’s Edge Of The Knife EP hurdles recent rethrash imitators by nailing the hard-to-describe vibe of thrash’s cream. Lines can be easily drawn to style-guide providers, but Sadistic Ritual, well, feels realer than weekend warrior karaoke. On longer cuts, such as the shred-satiating “Executioner,” there’s something underneath the familiar guitar crunch and well-timed, chunky-plus-punky breakdowns suggesting the band has its own voice. And there’s an inkling they’ll never sacrifice thrash’s indomitable qualities as they continue to refine it. Hell, nailing the sound is hard enough. On top of that, Edge Of The Knife feels right. But, bigger than its bona fides, it’s fun, too. [From Edge Of The Knife, out now via Unspeakable Axe]Ian

13. Hell – “SubOdin”

Location: Salem, OR
Subgenre: sludge/doom metal

Of all metal’s disparate subgenres, doom metal and its offshoots impose the fewest barriers to entry for aspiring musicians. Most of it is structurally simple relative to further-flung branches of the metal family tree, and its slow tempos and emphasis on repetition make it easy to play. Ironically, these same qualities mean that doom requires immense attention to detail and control to really hit home — it’s an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master kind of affair. Hell’s sole musician, M.S.W., is a master. This 7″ is Hell’s first solo release since his great III LP in 2012, and though it’s only 13 minutes long, it’s one of the most rewarding doom recordings I’ve heard this year. (Its chief competition comes from Indesinence’s excellent new album, which we touched on earlier this month.) The base components for its A-side “SubOdin” are familiar: a trudging pace, syrupy tones, moments of vaguely bluesy dissonance, and so forth. But there’s a whole lot of devil in its details. M.S.W. employs careful performance and production touches — a distant pick scrape here, a deliberately lagging tempo there, intensive vocal distortion throughout — to envelop this song in an air of occult menace more often associated with black metal. On-again/off-again collaborator T.A.S.’s inarticulate shrieks certainly further the effect. The riffs themselves are great, of course, as they must be for doom to have a prayer of succeeding the way this stuff does. Here’s hoping that a fourth LP is in the offing from this underrated band. [From SubOdin/Inscriptus, out now via Pesanta Urfolk]Doug

12. Windfaerer – “Celestial Supremacy”

Location: New Jersey
Subgenre: folk/black metal

Acoustic intros like that which leads into “Celestial Supremacy” usually make me wary, but the riff that follows very shortly after dispels any fears. And, as you listen to “Celestial Supremacy,” you see that Windfaerer borrows fun elements from a variety of more playful genres than all the grim frowny music we typically cover here in the Black Market. Those glimpses of superhero solos are great, as are the understated Viking riffs, more obvious folksy elements and other quirks that pop up now and then in this memorable, hard-hitting atmospheric black metal triumph, which clocks in at a digestible 6:47. It’s a righteous track, expertly executed and with enough ups and downs to convincingly pull you into its epic outlook. Rarely does something built for soaring above windswept plains hit this hard. [From Tenebrosum, out 9/22 via Bandcamp]Wyatt

11. Spectral Wound — “Under A Purple Moon”

Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Subgenre: black metal

Some of Finland’s most distinguished and recognizable black metal bears the imprint of Shatraug, the incredibly prolific guitarist who crafts the trademark morbid and majestic eliding riffs for Behexen, Sargeist, Horna (who have a new album coming out), and others. As Shatraug has helped lead the charge in developing a sound that now comes to mind as uniquely Finnish, so too have bands from Quebec like Forteresse, Chasse Galerie, and Délétère crafted a cold, melodic, and lo-fi sound that feels distinctly Quebecois. There is nothing that dictates that a band from a geographic region needs to have an element of terroir in its sound, but it’s interesting that these two regions often have identifiable tones or quirks. Given this type of attention to detail, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Spectral Wound, a Montreal band, has so expertly pulled off an incredibly compelling and exciting take on “raw and straightforward black metal indebted to the Finnish masters.” The album’s opener, “Under A Purple Moon,” bears all of the decaying grandeur of the finest Finnish black metal while ripping through a perilously catchy tour de force. [From Terra Nullius, out now on Media Tree Recordings]Wyatt

10. Cruciamentum – “Piety Carved from Flesh”

Location: Stoke-on-Trent/Birmingham/London, UK
Subgenre: death metal

In an interview with Lunatic Of Blogs Creation, Cruciamentum creator D.L. answered how he’d describe his band’s sound to people who hadn’t heard death metal: “I wouldn’t waste my time. We’re not here to convert anyone.” Perfect. That said, if there is an album out this year to coax you into exploring the cavernous environs of violent underground death metal, maybe it’s going to be Charnel Passages. Not that tracks like lead offering “Piety Carved From Flesh” make concessions for those needing an assist; they simply do the things death metal (particularly from the UK) should do well. There are big, savory riffs, throaty growls, and well-balanced blasts. There aren’t any penalty elements standing in the way. You don’t have to fight through murk, labor to accept lazily unresolved progressions, or play influence bingo to stay awake. “Piety Carved From Flesh” is easy to love without downsizing death metal’s prime attributes. If you’re already a convert, great, here’s a reason to stay converted. If not, maybe this is the first step. [From Charnel Passages, out 9/4 via Profound Lore]Ian

9. One Master – “At The Hour Of Saturn” and “A Cursed And Dismal Mind”

Location: Connecticut/New York, USA
Subgenre: black metal

There’s a certain type of black metal that I will consistently choose above all others. It has no name but “black metal,” but to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart’s timeless chestnut about obscenity, I know it when I hear it. Bands like Torture Chain, Funereal Presence, False, Mare Cognitum, Spectral Lore…only a few share sonic similarities, but they all scratch the same unnameable itch. Songs are long, roughshod, and driven by moody hooks. One Master check all the boxes and then some — their new album, Reclusive Blasphemy, is 36 haunted minutes of power. I’ve probably listened a dozen times straight through since getting my hands on it. The riffs are crusty, searing, and weirdly evocative. Just listening makes me want to use words like “crepuscular” and talk about the dull gleam of a rusting blade, disconnected thoughts and images bound up in the aesthetic of five near-perfect songs. I’m bending the rules and including two tracks here, because you really should hear both (then go buy the white vinyl while you can). [From Reclusive Blasphemy, out now via Eternal Death]Aaron

8. Windhand – “Two Urns”

Location: Richmond, VA
Subgenre: stoner/doom metal

Look, I hate to be That Guy, but you really gotta listen to “Two Urns” on headphones. Nah, not earbuds: headphones. I know, I am being That Guy, and I do hate it. So please recognize that I am embarrassed by this display of rockist pomposity, and please understand that I wouldn’t volunteer for such embarrassment if I didn’t think it was worth it. And it is worth it. The song sounds great through speakers, sure, but the sheer mass of the thing just flattens you. Not an objectionable experience! But not the optimal experience, either. Because in flattening you, the song also flattens itself. However, when there’s no air separating your skull from the music, it’s a whole ‘nother world; you’re able to understand its scale from an entirely new vantage. It’s like the difference between looking at the face of the Empire State Building from the sidewalk on the corner of 34th and 5th and looking at the face of the Empire State Building from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Most stoner-doom bands rely solely on size; they employ size to obscure limitations elsewhere: technique, melody, songcraft, voice. But Windhand’s strengths include technique, melody, songcraft, and voice — and “Two Urns” is a magnificent showcase for the band’s myriad abilities. You have to immerse yourself, though. You have to drown in it. And while you’re inside, underneath, you’re able to discern every detail; you’re able to recognize these carefully crafted pieces as individual elements, as well as components of the greater whole. But going deep doesn’t mean sacrificing your perspective on the big picture: the size, the scale, the grandeur, the mass. If anything, it sounds so much bigger. [From Grief’s Eternal Flower, out 9/21 via Relapse]Michael

7. Infera Bruo – “Astrogenesis”

Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: black metal

On Encyclopaedia Metallum, Infera Bruo is tagged as “progressive black metal.” This isn’t wrong, but it isn’t accurate, and not only because “progressive” is an oft-invoked music descriptor usually describing nothing. Instead, think of Infera Bruo this way: The Boston quartet bridges eras. On the whole, In Conjuration, their second LP, has that limber and creatively fertile ’90s feel. There’s a sense of discovery present, like stargazing set to music, just with tasteful synths and sound effects acting like pinpricks of light instead of garish supernovas. Yet, when “Astrogenesis” bends into a bridge, microscopic dissonances collide while modern musicianship tangles together. These bridges sound so natural to our ears because we’ve been trained by the last 20 years of progression to appreciate them. These bridges work so well because Infera Bruo sandwiches them between sandpaper sections matching the energy of pre-progression starting points. It’s a smoothly moving, all-worlds approach naturally building its own tension by staying within itself. In Conjuration is what the subgenre life cycle is these days, an undying, roiling mass of what you’re currently observing and what you’re not, all pushing and pulling and existing at the same time. It’s not progressive, it just is. Orthodox it ain’t, but in its way it’s as much yesterday’s black metal as it is today’s. [From In Conjuration, out now via Bindrune Recordings]Ian

6. Wolfheart – “Aeon of Cold”

Location: Kouvola/Myrskylä, Finland
Subgenre: melodic death metal

There’s a worthy backstory here, but let’s put it off for a moment. Press play and bear with me. You hear that lonely piano tinkling in your ear? This is your one chance to do this right: Adjust your volume control upward NOW. You have exactly 30 seconds to get in position. This is the obligatory warmup, the grace period, the album-opening intro that sets the stage for the onslaught to come. I won’t lie and pretend the piano is especially great, but what comes after fucking slays. Ahhhh, presumably you just got there — but keep the volume up anyway; let the blasting wash over you. If you did this correctly, you should have experienced something akin to the opening moments of Ride The Lightning, and your ass is likely grass. Now for that backstory: Wolfheart started out as a solo project in 2013, releasing an instant melodeath classic in the form of debut LP Winterborn, which was written, played, and sung almost entirely by Tuomas Saukkonen (drums and all). To this day hardly anyone knows it, but it’s a monster and worth hunting down. The closest point of reference is probably Insomnium, or maybe Amon Amarth — but Wolfheart is less static than either band, generally weirder and more adventurous. Listen for the break at 2:30: that piano comes back, but now it feels somehow appropriate, a breath of cold air where you wouldn’t think to find one. The piano motif shifts, a lead guitar hangs in midair… aaaaaaand the song crashes back down and we’re drowning under one of the biggest melodic death metal riffs I’ve heard in years. Glorious. [From Shadow World, out 8/21 via Spinefarm]Aaron

5. Fluisteraars – “Stille Wateren”

Location: Bennekom, Gelderland, the Netherlands
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

If you’re here, there’s a chance it’s because metal makes you feel powerful. Now, if you say that out loud in the wrong setting, it can sound ridiculous. That might be why we sometimes choose skeptical distance over baser emotions, as if our 21st-century selves shouldn’t be so swayed by loud noises. Dutch trio Fluisteraars, particularly on “Stille Wateren,” make one hell of a loud noise, though. 2:08 into this 11-minute “single edit,” Fluisteraars ramps up tension with a repetitive, cyclical, atmospheric black metal riff which matures into one of those half-time, surveying-from-the-mountaintop panoramas. That’s the pseudo-clinical, hack-writer dissection. In the moment, it makes you want to scream into a blizzard. The band’s previous album, Dromers, trafficked in similar exercises in epicness while maintaining a low-end-appreciating production more in line with drummer Mink Koops’s Bong Breaker and Galg. While Dromers was good — a warm shower of sound exemplifying black metal’s ability to stir emotion by amplifying mysticism and minimalism — “Stille Wateren” is something else. Here, three people focus their energy into one unified, incredible force. It overpowers a listener’s buffers, charging through your nervous system, uncaging your instincts. Words don’t really do it justice. Your unguarded expression? That’ll do just fine. [From Luwte, out 9/25 via Eisenwald Tonschmiede]Ian

4. Moonknight — “Helplessness”

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Subgenre: depressive black metal

Moonknight churns out an odd take on black metal — it feels like a fuzzy, lo-fi hypnotic march. The project is the work of James Brown III, also known for Harassor, and the two couldn’t be much more different. While Harassor spits out vile, punk-heavy black metal, Moonknight dives deep into despondent and contemplative atmosphere. “Helplessness” first stands out for its excellent twangy tremolos, and almost immediately after for the stomping imperialism of an absolutely sick and crushing central riff. It’s one of my favorite black metal songs of the year, and it makes a strong case for turning down the BPMs. In its measured simplicity, “Helplessness” breathes better, allowing the mesmerizing procession to fully take hold and lead you to some dark and distant place. [From Valinor, out now via Rising Beast]Wyatt

3. Adversarial – “Eonik Spiritual Warfare”

Location: Toronto, ON, Canada
Subgenre: black/death metal

Black/death is almost a misnomer in 2015. At this stage, it’s taken on a life of its own, divorced from its black and death metal parentage, metastasized into something new and worse. As with any full-blooded genre, it has outer limits: At one end you have a “popular” band like Behemoth, which is all muscle and majesty over a blasting backdrop. At the other end, you have “war metal”: bands like Blasphemy, Black Witchery, and Revenge, who sound like they’ve been dipped in shit, wrapped in bullet belts, and locked in a closet to puke out murky, lo-fi noise. War metal is its own animal, but once you peel back the production (or lack thereof), the crude riffs and blasts actually follow the rough format of the cleaner black/death bands to the point where you can trace some tenuous thread of lineage. All this is a lengthy preamble: Adversarial might be my favorite black/death band. They’re closer to the war metal extreme in terms of savagery, but the music strikes a fair balance between both worlds. With shittier production, you could mistake a lot of this for standard blastabuse; fortunately, the execution here is clear, tight, and explosive. “Eonik Spiritual Warfare” opens with the expected relentless assault, but something brilliant comes at 2:21: you get a glimpse of a buried melodic riff and the whole song comes into focus. There’s refined songcraft beneath the noise, like a bottle of bordeaux submerged in a bathtub of clotting blood. That’s an awful analogy, but I’m drinking red wine as I write this, so it stays. [From Death, Endless Nothing, And The Black Knife Of Nihilism, out 8/21 via Dark Descent]Aaron

2. Mgla – “Exercises In Futility II”

Location: Cracow, Poland
Subgenre: black metal

It’s tough to pin down exactly what makes Mgla so special. They play fairly straightforward, riff-based black metal, with all the expected trappings — spare instrumental tones, tremolo-picked suspensions, mournful arpeggios, reverby snarling, blah blah. Lots of bands ply this particular trade, but Mgla do it better than nearly all of them. It’s frustrating to chalk up such a surfeit of personality and emotional resonance to intangible clichés like “songcraft” and “attitude,” but whatever it is, Mgla have it in spades. Their last LP, 2012’s With Hearts Towards None, was a minor masterpiece of orthodox black metal, driven by drummer Maciej Kowalski’s baroque rhythms and elevated skyward by mastermind Miko?aj ?entara’s gift for wringing the most grandiose emotion possible out of every harmony and transition. Both it and its predecessor Groza are structured as album-length suites broken up into numbered movements, and both got a lot of mileage out of cleverly revisiting motifs throughout their runtimes. Exercises In Futility, their upcoming third LP, appears to share this approach, which means that it’s not really intended for single-track consumption of this sort. That “Exercises In Futility II” hits so hard, even with this handicap, says a lot about Mgla’s firepower. This is fierce, epic, triumphant-sounding shit — almost painfully so at times. But despite its straining emotional tenor, “II” retains the icy core of negativity that characterizes all of the best black metal. It also benefits from some pretty great impressionistic lyrics. [From Exercises In Futility, out late summer via No Solace & Northern Heritage]Doug

1. Krallice – “Tyranny Of Thought”

Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: progressive metal

You can’t fault Krallice for their work ethic. Though they’ve been quiet for the last few years, they cranked out four good-to-great albums between 2008 and 2012. That pace is virtually unheard of for such heady music. Krallice’s members have hardly been twiddling their thumbs in the interim since, either: affiliated bands such as Gorguts, Castevet, Encenethrakh, Geryon, Anicon, Gath Šm?nê, and Indricothere have all released new music during Krallice’s downtime, to say nothing of guitarist Mick Barr’s constant solo output. But as consistently interesting as Krallice have been, their music has often felt a little academic to me — primarily focused on exploring abstract aesthetic quandaries that lie at black metal’s fringes. (Which is true, in a sense. Barr and fellow guitarist Colin Marston originally founded Krallice as a one-off experiment in messing with that genre’s tropes.)

Whatever philosophical concerns preoccupied Krallice in the past, they’ve been resolved. Those first four albums all sound of a piece, and in fact, much of the first three were written early on by Marston and Barr as guitar demos. But on Ygg Huur, these gifted musicians have stepped outside their idiom and written music that feels as intuitive as it does cerebral. Counterpoint-riddled black metal riffs still form the core of Krallice’s sound, but a holistic range of metal influences have crept in. Chief among them: death metal. All four of these guys have deep backgrounds in off-kilter DM, and the new material seethes with its lurching menace. And that’s just the most obvious tweak — Krallice now traffic in thrash riffs, crazed runs that recall Marston’s work in Dysrhythmia, stacks of ear-shredding dissonance, and even ’80s-style harmonized guitar heroics. In short, it sounds like Krallice are just having fun and throwing whatever riffs they feel like playing into the mix. Fortunately, those riffs are really really fucking good.

This interdisciplinary approach is a lot to process, but Ygg Huur’s six tracks clock in at a manageable 36 minutes. That’s an average song length of just 6 minutes, compared to their prior career average of 10:21. And despite its density, Ygg Huur a blast to listen to. It’s too early for me to say where this is gonna sit relative to Krallice’s back catalog in the long run, but it feels as exciting as anything they’ve released since they first burst upon the scene seven years ago. [From Ygg Huur, out now via Bandcamp, LP version via Gilead Media this fall]Doug

more from The Black Market: The Month In Metal