The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – August 2015

When the other Black Market guys and I set about assembling this month’s column, we ran into a philosophical disagreement about whether a certain band qualified for inclusion. This is standard for us — we have this kind of dispute just about every month. But where the subjects of these debates are usually metal-ish bands that hang around the genre’s fringes, this month’s musical football lies at the very heart of metal culture: Iron Maiden, who released “Speed Of Light,” the first single from their upcoming 16th album, a few weeks back.

We went back and forth for a while about whether we should include that song in this month’s list, despite the fact that we all agreed that the song itself falls somewhere between “pretty good” and “acceptable.” (I personally lean toward the latter; my enthusiasm for Maiden’s recorded work, considerable though it is, peters out after 1988’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.) And really, it wouldn’t be that nuts to include “Speed Of Light” on the strength of the Maiden name alone. That’s just the kind of gravity that Maiden has — even well past their prime, their works are major subcultural events. If you haven’t heard it and are so inclined, you can check out “Speed of Light” here.

We ultimately chose not to include the track because of our collective lukewarmness. Which worked out great for everybody — instead of one of us writing a clothespin blurb about “Speed Of Light” in here, Michael ended up writing a truly spectacular essay about Iron Maiden’s status as a cultural touchstone whose power can reach just about anyone, regardless of their background. If you haven’t read it yet, you should do so ASAP. (That piece touches on “Speed Of Light” too, and says much of what we would’ve probably said about it had it made the cut.)

Fittingly, Michael’s essay summed up another important reason that I didn’t want to include Maiden in this month’s Black Market, which is this: Maiden are a ubiquitous icon, and I view this column as a space for delving into metal’s countless substrata, not for celebrating ubiquitous icons.

Michael and I differ on this point to some degree, which might be a generational thing — he actually remembers bands like Maiden and Metallica when they were in their prime, and so is inclined to look on their career arcs with more kindness. By contrast, I didn’t hear either until about 2000, when nu-metal still dominated the metal conversation, Bruce Dickinson had only just rejoined Maiden, and Metallica’s most recent LP of originals was ReLoad. As a consequence, my natural inclination is to root for the underdog.

Here’s why I’ve stuck with that tendency even as I’ve aged and gained more perspective: Even the most invisible, broadly ignored metal band has the potential to change your life, in the same way that Iron Maiden and Metallica and all the other classics still do when people hear them for the first time. The truth is that most of them won’t — but that doesn’t actually matter, in the long run. One of the things I enjoy most about digging into metal is its cumulative effect: the way its throngs of individual acts form a single, buzzing, continuous whole, a decades-long collective conversation/argument/celebration of the power of the riff that expands your horizons and exposes you to the ideas of wild weirdos from all over the world, even as it rewards you over and over again with the highly personal thrill of discovery.

This is a different kind of power from that which the big boys hold, but it’s equally potent and valuable in my book. And I think the other Black Market bros — Ian Chainey, Wyatt Marshall, Aaron, and even Michael — would agree to one extent or another. That’s why this stuff has kinda taken over all of our lives. And fortunately, I don’t have to make this case on my own. The music can speak plenty well for itself. —Doug Moore

15. Axis – “Discouraged”

Location: Orlando, FL
Subgenre: metalcore

Yes, this is metalcore, a term that justifiably gives most metal fans who were paying attention between 2000 and 2010 major douche chills. But! As I’ve argued around here before, there’s a good kind of metalcore. The good kind of metalcore hits hard, sounds huge, loves dissonance, hates clean choruses and Swedish riffs, and mostly comes from the ’90s. If you think fondly of hateful Philly bands like Starkweather and Turmoil; if you were down with Converge and Coalesce back when they played mathy chugga-chugga-stop breakdowns; if you wish Botch, Burnt By The Sun, and Kiss It Goodbye had released more music: congratulations! You have the chutzpah to appreciate the good kind of metalcore. The way this style hinges on monster grooves and meathead aggression has a lot in common with certain strains of death metal, but it’s altogether grittier and less nerdy than just about anything in the DM realm. Axis pretty much stick to the established template for this kinda thing on Show Your Greed, but they are so goddamn good at it — the production conveys a perfect naturalistic heft, the vocals are unfailingly nasty (no “I’m sensitive, too” clean singing here), and every single riff will make you want to flip your desk over and mosh around your office like a jacked-up ding dong. “Discouraged” just happens to be the single here, but all 26 minutes (the right runtime!) of Show Your Greed are unadulterated joy. This kind of music is frustrating to write about, since it’s 90% about muscle and guts and only 10% about brains, so just listen. You’ll know if you’re down within the first 30 seconds. [From Show Your Greed, out 9/4 via Good Fight Music]Doug

14. Rocka Rollas – “Demigod”

Location: Gävle, Sweden
Subgenre: speed metal

Sweden’s Rocka Rollas is a good fit for the Internet even if the band’s speed metal, along with its equally reverent related projects, is tried, true, and traditional. Guitarist/mastermind Cederick Forsberg works quickly, shredding up song after song of personalized epics recalling the Noise Records Germanic elite. The 26-year-old has built up a big discography in a short time. Choice selections: Rocka Rollas is the bombastic, every-chorus-needs-a-choir one; Breitenhold the ripping one; and Blazon Stone the one flying the Jolly Roger. Forsberg is also self-aware, telling Battle Helm in regards to his dustier predilections, “Nah, I know it’s a cliché. But Manowar was cliché already at their second album and that’s not a concern for me. I like cheese.” But, most important, in this streaming reality where an artist can never rest, Forsberg lives this stuff. “Music is the thing I’m best at,” he said to Sounds from Apocalypse, “I basically suck at everything else in the world.” “Demigod,” a preview of the forthcoming Pagan Ritual, is labored-over perfectionism retaining a first-time spark. Guitars strafe the sky, choruses swell, rhythms romp, and solos singe; all elements tweaked and smoothed until it feels just right. It nails the needs and wants. It’s another step forward, as well. Compare Pagan Ritual’s three ahead-of-schedule tracks to Rocka Rollas’ debut, the one mostly concerned with incorporating the word “steel” whenever possible. Now, complex choruses are more assured, deftly modulating to stoke or snuff tension. The musicianship has room to breathe, too. True, Rocka Rollas was formed to fill a void, to make more metal like the metal these guys love and similar-minded fans love to listen to. But Forsberg and company aren’t content to just connect the dots. Rocka Rollas doesn’t need to be this good, but it is, and the quartet strives to be better. Luckily, it’ll take only a few page refreshes until we hear where they’re going next. [From Pagan Ritual, out 9/15 via Stormspell Records]Ian

13. Tsjuder – “Djevelens Mesterverk”

Location: Oslo, Norway
Subgenre: black metal

We’ve heard the “too much black metal” cries from some commenters, but surely they didn’t mean Tsjuder. After all, it isn’t everyday we get killer music from some of the early Norwegian misanthropists who helped start this whole mess. With “Djevelens Mesterverk,” Tsjuder are in fine thrashy form, militant and buzzing with mechanized vigor. The production is well handled, a bit rough around the edges to capture some of the magic and menace of yore. It’s worth noting that while Tsjuder certainly aren’t reinventing the wheel here, they definitely aren’t fucking it up, either. And that’s true of a lot of the Norwegian black metal bands that are still around today, with some notable exceptions like, say, Dimmu Borgir or Burzum. If they’re still recording these days, for the large part, they haven’t screwed the pooch the way some fan favorite ’90s bands from other genres have. Though, as Doug points out regarding some of the black metal forerunners, “on the other hand, a lot of them went to fucking jail, which is pretty clearly worse.” [From Antiliv, out September 18 via Season of Mist]Wyatt

12. Lluvia – “Vientos de Olvido”

Location: Léon, Mexico
Subgenre: black metal

It doesn’t feel right to simply call “Vientos de Olvido” a song. It feels more like a movement, a declaration of war, or a harbinger of the apocalypse. The way it begins — everything dropping in all at once, obliterating the sound of gently falling rain — is brutal. From there, it’s a headlong rush hellbent on a single mission, which, seemingly, is to kill everything. You get the idea, but nevertheless, it’s always a moment of awe when you are confronted with music so incredibly heavy, engrossing and malevolent. This, you think, is the true spirit of black metal. Lluvia has always had it, ever since the one-man project (operating originally under the nom de guerre The Rain In Endless Fall) released its debut and took up the banner for the underground label Fallen Empire. But Lluvia’s never had this much stopping power — prepare to be blown away. [From Eternidad Solemne, out now via Fallen Empire (vinyl), Amor Fati (vinyl), and GreySun (cassette)]Wyatt

11. Shrine Of Insanabilis – “Ruina”

Location: Germany? No one knows (sp0o0o0o0o0o0oky)
Subgenre: black metal

Shrine Of Insanabilis’s tremolos are like the aftermath of an exploded cactus: it’s not the one quill that kills, it’s the thousands. That’s not something that comes through on first pummeling. “Ruina,” initially, is unrelenting in that professional W.T.C. Productions way, though Shrine of Insanabilis is more ferocious than most. Whatever the black metal version of Wheaties is, this anonymous group has been eating it. “Ruina” is muscular and mean, foregoing ponderous introspection for the pleasure of causing maximum damage. Even Disciples of the Void’s 58-second intro, “End All,” with its dropped-dinner-plate dissonance, doesn’t futz around. (Respites “(………..)” and “Omega,” are brief onslaught timeouts, though they’re suitably creepy, so they get a pass.) But, instead of throwing the entire battalion at a listener, Shrine of Insanabilis is relishes the skirmishes painting a battle’s bigger picture. Underneath the thirst for blood is an efficient and canny rise and fall, including an unobstructed chug made all the more powerful because the players don’t try to do too much. That’s the theme, really: Shrine of Insanabilis gets out of its way when its job is done so you can enjoy what they’ve made. There are no lemme-try-somethings, no mulligans. Each well-crafted section sits atop the other, sturdily constructing a vertiginous monument to hearing loss. [From Disciples Of The Void, out 9/22 via W.T.C. Productions]Ian

10. Gnaw Their Tongues – “From The Black Mouth Of Spite”

Location: Drachten, Netherlands
Subgenre: noise/industrial/black metal

Black metal has a tradition of lonely auteur musicians that runs all the way back to genre O.G. Quorthon banging out Bathory albums mostly by himself in the mid-’80s. To this day, one-man bands produce some of black metal’s most exciting music — Leviathan and Jute Gyte, who’ve both put out great records this year, come to mind. Maurice “Mories” de Jong, the incredibly prolific musician behind Gnaw Their Tongues and several other projects (notably Cloak of Altering and De Magia Veterum), has well earned his place in this antisocial company. With 15+ solo LP credits, countless short-format releases, and numerous contributing-member credits to his name, de Jong is a relentless creative force with an equally unforgiving vision. His works as Gnaw Their Tongues and De Magia Veterum in particular are rooted in black metal, but dabble in harsh noise and industrial’s bleakest fringes in their pursuit of extremely spooky ugliness. This approach is always imposing, but it can also be tedious if you’re not in the mood for self-flagellation. Abyss of Longing Throats, on the other hand, tempers its darkness with a compositional sense of purpose that outstrips anything I’ve heard from de Jong in the past. If you can survive the mass of stark negativity and electronic noise that comprises most of “From The Black Mouth Of Spite,” you’ll be rewarded with two minutes of genuinely transcendent harmonic resolution. And personally, I enjoy those first four minutes even more. [From Abyss of Longing Throats, out now via Crucial Blast]Doug

9. Necroblaspheme – “Le Discours Du Bitume”

Location: Paris, France
Subgenre: death metal

One of the reasons we cover so much death metal here — and one of the reasons that it’s my favorite among metal’s subgenres — is because it allows for such a range of weird, singular approaches. From the idiotically simple to the preposterously complex, from borderline amusical to thoroughly melodic, just about anything with low growling, double bass, and a sufficiently thick guitar tone can pass for death metal. And you don’t always need all three features to make the cut! (Strangely, death metal also deserves its reputation as the province of hidebound traditionalists. THINGS GET TENSE SOMETIMES.) Even within this aesthetic free-for-all, Necroblaspheme stick out for their genuine strangeness. You’d expect a band with a name like ‘Necroblaspheme’ to play some painfully orthodox occult-themed death metal in the American east coast tradition, complete with pentagram album covers and an inverted cross logo and pseudonymous band members decked out in spikey armor and so forth. And you would be completely wrong. Necroblaspheme’s most recent available band photo looks like this. They’re fond of extremely unusual album art. Their song titles are both jokey and weird as shit: their last few releases have featured tunes entitled “”??? > I “”, “I, Shemale”, “The Great Dead Moose”, and “2H40min A.M.”. And if it wasn’t for all the giant sheet-metal guitars, mean-spirited drumming, and genuinely psychotic growled vox, you could confuse a lot of their music for melodic, melancholy guitar rock. This band has successfully covered the mopiest Simon & Garfunkel song ever, for fuck’s sake. And yet, somehow, Necroblaspheme are death fucking metal to the core. Judging by “Le Discours Du Bitume,” the lead single from their first new recording in four years, not much has changed in their clusterfuck of seemingly contradictory signifiers. The cover art is weird. The title is totally inscrutable — Google Translate tells me that it means something like “Asphalt’s Speech.” The vocals and drumming are incredibly intense and aggressive. The guitars keen mournfully even as they beat your head in. The song is fucking great, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Let’s get weird. [From Belleville, out 9/14/ self-released]Doug

8. Grift – “Svaltorna”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Black metal is typically associated with speed, but some of the best in the genre comes when things are slowed down a bit. Grift’s “Svaltorna” is a prime example — what starts as a ponderous mid-tempo groove turns into a sorrowful foundation for howls of loneliness and grief. (We really do operate in a funny milieu when what I just wrote actually qualifies as praise.) The bleak vibe and catchy song is the work of one Erik Gärdefors, and “Svaltorna” is from his debut full-length, an immersive and cinematic album that’s a highlight of the year. It will sit well with fans of Agalloch, cold weather, and introspection, and, for those who require it, Grift delivers full speed, lightly folk-inflected black metal that stands with the best of them. [From Syner, out 9/18 via Nordvis]Wyatt

7. Satan – “The Devil’s Infantry”

Location: Newcastle, England
Subgenre: NWOBHM / traditional heavy metal

You might recognize Satan’s logo from the breast pocket of James Hetfield’s excellent patch vest. Or maybe you’re not a bizarre obsessive like me, and you hadn’t seen that yet (if not, go take your medicine and watch Through the Never). Regardless, Satan technically fall under the NWOBHM banner, meaning they formed in the late ’70s, they play some variant of traditional heavy metal, and they’re rather British. This describes thousands of bands, ranging from Iron Maiden to Angel Witch, from early Def Leppard to Tygers of Pan Tang…and then there was Satan, out at the edge of the scene with a sound of their own, operating on another level in terms of songwriting. Their first album, released in 1983 and playfully/awkwardly titled Court In The Act, is probably one of the best, least-known NWOBHM albums of all time, and it established their bizarre legal-themed heavy metal (something that I find oddly comforting as I make my way through law school). The guitars were surprisingly technical, but fairly clean and not especially heavy; near-shreddy melodic passages flow over rolling, rollicking drums and the sometimes-soaring, always-manly vocals of Brian Ross. The music is hard to describe because Satan sound so little like their contemporaries. They released another album in the later ’80s, then changed their name and eventually vanished. Half the band went on to form the legendary folk metal band Skyclad, with vocalist Martin Walkyier from the late, great British thrash band Sabbat. Meanwhile, Satan lay dormant, quietly accumulating a cult following around their fantastic debut, until the band randomly resurfaced in 2013 to release what has quickly become one of my favorite trad metal albums of all time, Life Sentence. I actually prefer Life Sentence to Court in the Act (blasphemy); it’s great to see them continue the legal theme several decades onward. Two years later, we’re getting a taste of their second comeback album, Atom by Atom — judging by the cover art, the legal theme continues. “The Devil’s Infantry” picks up where the last album left off: squirrelly leads chase a carnivalesque melody in circles, while Brian Ross shouts through a uniquely Satan-like chorus. The weirdness has not faded with time. This isn’t their most immediate track, but you can feel the same punkish, left-of-center melodicism that characterizes their best work. I can’t wait to hear the rest of this thing. [From Atom By Atom, out 10/2 via Listenable Records] —Aaron

6. Tyranny – “Sunless Deluge”

Location: Lahti, Finland
Subgenre: funeral doom

Writing about funeral doom? Not ideal. On the screen, a band like Tyranny garners the same rote plaudits and descriptors. Huge. Crushing. Claustrophobic. Pinning the butterfly is even more mundane: slow, down-tuned dirges evoking the end. Adding a fitting visual into the mix for flavor? Like what? The scene from Evil Dead II when Ash is sucked into the hole, slowed down to fit the space between strums? All of the above is accurate, but it doesn’t quite capture, well, anything, does it? So, more than most metal styles, funeral doom is about the feels. “Sunless Deluge” feels like a long, sleepless night scored by a storm, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime weather event making a strong case tomorrow will never come. The reaction Tyranny is dealing with isn’t fear, but the emptiness accompanying the realization of insignificance, that existence has, up to this point, meant little and now — suddenly — little is left. To put a different spin on it, it’s the long stare of powerlessness following a terminal diagnosis. “Sunless Deluge” is cathartic in its agony, though:it doesn’t inflict pain, it helps you carry the burden. This intense relatability is thanks to the performances. Lauri Lindqvist’s vocals are even more downtrodden than on Tyranny’s previous LP, 2005’s Tides of Awakening. On Aeons in Tectonic Interment, he’s like a damaged and despondent Demilich. Tyranny’s other half, Matti Mäkelä, streaks guitar leads across the canvass in a distinct shade of sleep-deprived paranoia. Together, they tap into something universal, something we’re usually not comfortable talking about. “Sunless Deluge” eventually trudges into a crescendo, an unexpected epiphany of hurt. You’ll just have to feel it for yourself. [From Aeons In Tectonic Interment, out 9/18 via Dark Descent]Ian

5. Horrendous – “Sum Of All Failures”

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Subgenre: melodic death metal

Horrendous were responsible for my favorite song of 2014: a track called “Titan,” which closed their sophomore LP, Ecdysis, one of my favorite albums of 2014. I called that LP a “modern classic”; I compared it to Ride The Lightning, for god’s sake. I didn’t expect Horrendous to be back a year later with their third full-length, and when I found out they were returning so quickly, I anticipated Ecdysis’ follow-up would feel rushed or minor or obligatory. Why are they doing this? I asked myself. Why aren’t they taking their time to properly craft a suitably triumphant return? I assumed the band’s forthcoming Anareta would feel like a second-rate Ecdysis — which would still be better than most bands’ best work, IMHO, but a disappointing development just the same. I’m pretty happy to admit that I was dead wrong. I’m shocked to find myself saying this, but Anareta isn’t just better than I expected it to be — it’s actually better than Ecdysis. Horrendous still deal in the same sort of filthy, amp-destroying Gothenburg-style guitar tones that Entombed made famous 25 years ago on Left Hand Path, but Horrendous’ instrumental abilities (or at least their expression thereof) have grown tenfold. But Anareta doesn’t lose itself in tech-wizardry at the expense of melodic songcraft; it actually uses tech-wizardry in the service of melodic songcraft. Few other bands do this so well, and the ones that do — Carcass, At The Gates, Pestilence … even Death, if it’s not completely sacrilegious of me to mention that name in this context — are among the very best and most beloved bands in the history of death metal. I’m convinced Horrendous will one day be included among those ranks. They might belong there right now. [From Anareta, out 10/27 via Dark Descent Records]Michael

4. Deafheaven – “Brought To The Water”

Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: post-black metal

I haven’t heard New Bermuda yet, so even though I kinda lost my shit talking about it last week, I actually can’t vouch for the thing. I almost don’t want it to be great, because … well, Deafheaven are a divisive band among metal fans, and I’m afraid my very vocal enthusiasm for the group’s music is gonna start costing me some friendships. But guys? “Brought To The Water” is SO GREAT. It’s also the most metal song Deafheaven have ever recorded: Guitarist/songwriter Kerry McCoy has loaded the thing with thundering thrash riffs and shredding guitar lines that provide a powerful counterbalance to the band’s trademark sweeping anthemic beauty; George Clarke’s traditional black-metal vocals are better suited to this setting than they were to Sunbather’s pillowy grandeur; and the whole thing feels harder, angrier, and earthier than anything in Deafheaven’s back catalog (which includes Sunbather, 2011 debut LP, Roads To Judah, and a terrific 2010 demo). On that note, I have a few predictions. If this is indicative of New Bermuda’s overall sound, then I predict the album won’t connect with as wide an audience as did Sunbather, because it’s been a long time since the American mainstream embraced thrash in any form. (Countdown To Extinction? That was 1992. Maybe The Great Southern Trendkill? That was ’96.) On the other hand, if this is indicative of New Bermuda’s overall sound, then I also predict Deafheaven will become slightly less divisive among metal fans, because it’s pretty hard to argue with the pure metal on display here. I could be wrong about that, though; maybe they’ll become more divisive for precisely that reason. In any case, if this is indicative of New Bermuda’s overall sound, then I predict the album will be a fucking masterpiece. Yeah, I know. Another one. [From New Bermuda, out 10/2 via Anti Records]Michael

3. Cantique Lépreux – “La Meute”

Location: Montreal, Québec, Canada
Subgenre: black metal

We’ve largely been starved of new music from Québec’s black metal scene since last March, when four of the province’s best — Forteresse, Monarque, Chasse-Galerie and Csejthe — each contributed a song to the excellent double 7″ Legendes. But as has happened before, a new band from Quebec has appeared out of nowhere with an absolutely crushing song to remind me why I think Québec produces the best black metal being released today. “La Meute” is unreal, an understated epic that pummels away behind a trilling lead guitar in a fashion that calls to mind Ephemer and Forteresse. There is zero information about Cantique Lépreux — “Leper’s Hymn” — out there, so who knows? We may end up finding out that the band shares members with some of the other bands I’ve mentioned already. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s that Cantique Lépreux has captured the marrow that seems to run in black metal bands from Quebec, a timeless quality and sense of mission. Cantique Lépreux’s debut is my most anticipated album of the rest of the year. [From Cendres Célestes, out September 2015]Wyatt

2. Howls Of Ebb – “Standing On Bedlam, Burning In Bliss”

Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: experimental psychedelic death metal

You’ve probably never heard anything quite like this before. Using the word “experimental” as a modifier for a familiar genre tag usually means one of two things: (1) the band in question plays some slightly weird variation of an existing genre (think: Blut Aus Nord as “experimental black metal”) or (2) said band is so fucking weird you can’t really describe it, so you may as well just listen and let the weirdness wash over you. Howls of Ebb definitely fall into the second camp. Because I take my sacred duties as a chronicler of metal very seriously, I will bravely attempt to describe the maddening mess by listing a random smattering of possible ingredients. Let’s take a trip; you can click along at home. We’ll start with a base of ’70s kraut/prog/noise: one part freeform krautrock (like, say, Xhol’s classic live album, Hau-RUK); add some adventurous noise from the likes of experimental visionaries This Heat; and a dash of Univers Zero’s stark existential hell. To keep things moist, modern, and metallic, liberally borrow the same ritualistic, mystic-metal throb as Oranssi Pazuzu. We’re missing death metal, so lift a faint rotting whiff of Demilich’s squealing squelch for seasoning. Oh! Black metal! I forgot that that’s all we do around here: add the crumpled velvet trappings of Mortuary Drape and stir the pot with the basement-dwelling horror of Cultes Des Ghoules. There we have it: a bubbling pile of disparate shit left to bake under an alien sun, and spread across a three-song, 35-minute EP. Listen to the first song at minimum. Your curiosity and patience will be rewarded. [From The Marrow Veil, out now via I, Voidhanger]Aaron

1. Nile – “In The Name Of Amun”

Location: Greenville, South Carolina
Subgenre: brutal / technical death metal

Nile are thoroughly unloved by most fans of cool metal and unfairly underappreciated by most everyone else, despite countless contributions to the death metal genre. Fuck all that noise. Now that most of the old gods have fallen, as far as I’m concerned, these guys are probably our greatest living death metal band. For starters, no band did more to keep underground metal alive and moving forward at the turn of century, when the stinking brown cloud of nu-metal threatened to smother all hope for music. Nile’s first four albums are classics of form and execution, unparalleled in squirming technicality and churning Phrygian brutality. The guitars sound like a bone drill ripping through your skull one layer at a time; the drums are all over the map, too technical to describe with words. Let’s not forget the omnipresent theme underpinning the songs: every song is about Egyptian history, with a particular emphasis on ancient Egypt and the real and imaginary (horrible) things that happened there. The Egyptian theme is typically where casual listeners sign off. I get it, I do. It’s a shtick. Despite the band playing it serious and researching their subject matter to freakish lengths (often including essay-like detail in their liner notes), viewed outside the microcosm of nerdish death metal, it’s pretty fucking silly. That silliness was compounded when Nile let the quality of their recorded output slip, first on 2007’s Ithyphallic, then again on their most recent album, 2012’s At the Gate of Sethu, which was thin on production and even thinner on ideas. Three years have passed, during which Nile retreated to their catacombs of black sand or whatever, and honed their craft to ungodly levels. The new album, What Must Not Be Unearthed, sheds the technicality of past releases and relaxes into crushing grooves and screaming melodic leads, and it is absolutely one of the best things the band has ever touched. iTunes tells me I’ve listened to this thing a few dozen times already; I already know every riff and most of the lyrics. This is easily my favorite death metal album of the year, and this track, “In the Name of Amun,” is its finest moment. We open with mystical mumbo jumbo atmospherics, then the guitars roll in like a wave of devastation — the kind that levels cities. Not coincidentally, that’s the lyrical theme. The churning palm-muted guitars ratchet up the tension until a lead guitar cuts through like a flaming arrow and transforms this into a headbanging anthem unlike any you’ve heard. Somewhere in there someone starts soloing furiously, spraying notes like a drip painting made with a slashed wrist. But the best comes last: the soloing bleeds out as the central riff returns over pounding orchestral timpani. It’s the climax of a gladiator movie…which grinds to a halt as the guitar drops into a doomy chromatic lurch. The vocals launch into a lunatic rant, raving about killing people “by the tens of thousands”, destroying lives and property so utterly that no one can rebuild. “EVERY RESOURCE OF LIFE I HAVE DENIED THEM!” It shouldn’t work; none of it should. It’s an absurd idea tacked onto an already audacious song, but the gleeful cruelty paired with huge production and perfectly wrought riffs locks into a wicked equilibrium. No one writes death metal at this level. [From What Should Not Be Unearthed, out now via Nuclear Blast]Aaron