The Black Market: The Month In Metal – April 2016

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – April 2016

One of the themes that keeps cropping up in this column is the current underground metal scene’s creative fertility. I keep turning to this subject because I’m boring and like to repeat myself, but ALSO because it’s remarkably and inescapably true. As writers trying to catalog even a fraction of the worthy fruit of this endless harvest, we constantly face the risk of missing something amazing if we should blink. It’s a good problem to have.

In April, I blinked and missed things. More accurately, I was out of town and out of commission for a little over two weeks, and I missed a lot of awesome shit. During that period, new music appeared from rising stars (Inter Arma, Vektor), established powers (Kvelertak, Candlemass, Withered), personal weirdo faves (Virus, Defeated Sanity), and even metal-adjacent but not strictly \m/ METAL \m/ essentials (Swans). And that’s just a selection of the new offerings from bands I was already familiar with and expected to hear from — the known unknowns, if you will. Who knows what further radness escaped my attention entirely? (Feel free to answer that question in the comments.)

So I’ve been scrambling to catch up, and as a result, my thoughts about this April in metal remain a formless jumble. Instead of their vomitous mass, I present for your consideration this video. It’s of the brutal death metal band Brodequin, a not-quite-legendary but still beloved early-’00s act, playing a reunion show over the weekend. Make sure you pay attention to the drummer:

You might respond by asking, “What drummer?” And indeed, nobody’s playing a drum kit up there. Instead, drummer Jon Engman taps out Brodequin’s brutal blasts on a MIDI controller connected to an iPod Touch. (The band’s stringed instruments are evidently also running through iOS modelers, rather than actual amps.)

Programmed drums are nothing new for metal, but it’s extremely unusual to see a guy live-sampling the drum parts for a death metal band in this fashion. I’ve seen the avant-garde violinist Joey Molinaro do something similar with his feet while covering classic grindcore live, and Tristan Shone of the great doom metal-ish project Author & Punisher relies entirely on hand-operated MIDI controllers for his sound. But Brodequin’s brazen setup here, wherein a guy just wails away on a sampler and a credible death metal drum performance comes out, is unique as far as I know. (Again, correct me if I’m wrong.)

It’s also awesome, for the following reasons:

First, it constitutes a fascinating workaround to a physical limitation on Engman’s part. He evidently suffers from back problems that prevent him from replicating the conventional death metal drumming he contributed to Brodequin’s studio work, and the fact that he found another way to generate such a distinctive set of sounds without using his original instrument is extremely impressive. (You can see an up-close video of him jamming the MIDI controller drums from a few years ago here.) And he’s not just getting by; he’s killing it. Look at how fast he’s going on that thing!

Second, Engman’s approach is actually somewhat less bullshitty than a lot of death metal drum performances are these days. As the genre has come to emphasize speed and technicality more and more, many death metal drummers have compensated by resorting to drum triggers. You can attach these little digital boxes to your drums and wire them to the venue’s PA. Then, when you hit one of your drums, a sample of that drum plays over the PA, effectively replacing the drum’s acoustic sound with a pristine digital version. This practice allows drummers to generate impossibly clear and even-sounding performances at speeds they’d never otherwise be able to manage…but also reduces the drum kit itself to a stage prop. Some death metal drummers have begun to coyly acknowledge this bit of rock’n’roll trickery by replacing their kick drums — the most commonly triggered part of the kit — with obvious sample pads. Engman’s technique, though, strips away the farce entirely. He’s acknowledging and embracing the artificiality of modern death metal drumming, while still turning in a remarkable physical performance.

And third, it’s insane! Only a true maniac would even think of trying to replicate live death metal drums with a friggin’ MIDI pad, much less to pull it off on this level. And it’s fucking awesome that someone’s doing it! You don’t have to love Brodequin, or even death metal, to appreciate this gloriously absurd feat — it’s a showcase of someone’s indominable devotion to their art.

And this kind of thing is just par for the course in the underground metal world. Even after a decade and a half of digging, I still routinely come across performances like this one — examples of musicians just going fucking wild in totally unique fashion, no matter what obstacles lie in their path. Metal may produce a lot of redundant and unimaginative trash, but this kind of shit? Novelty of this sort guarantees that no matter what, metal will never, ever get boring. And lo, the lot of us Black Market guys — Michael Nelson, Aaron Lariviere, Wyatt Marshall, Ian Chainey, and me — never have any trouble filling this column every month.

Speaking of, a quick note on this month’s song rundown: I’m not the only one whose life interfered with metal bingeing in April, and so we didn’t get to cover all 15 of our honorees in advance as we have in the past few installments. About half these songs haven’t been written up on Stereogum before, so make sure you check’em all out. Blink and you might miss something. –Doug Moore

15. Candlemass – “Death Thy Lover”

Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Subgenre: doom metal

In late 2015, it was announced that Candlemass was, once again, more than just a live band. “Death Thy Lover” leads off a four-song EP sharing the same title to help ring in Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’s birthicus. The track isn’t quite in line with Candlemass’s towering ’80s work — albums so important to epic doom metal that inspired bands are inevitably tagged “Candlemassian” in the same way people call tissues Kleenexes — but the band knows that, with founder/primary songwriter/bassist Leif Edling saying, “The chorus is pretty poppy, if I can use that word — I would never have imagined I would use a term like that to describe anything Candlemass — but the main riff is very metal … ” And, you know, for a recording that most fans thought wouldn’t happen, it’s pretty solid. Longtime guitar team Lars “Lasse” Johansson and Mats “Mappe” Björkman have plenty of opportunities to rip, shred, and crawl. Drummer Jan Lindh and Edling hammer down the grooves, both adding a touch of Deep Purple to the doom. Mats Levén’s singing is pleasingly sandpapery and soaring, and he’s given a bridge to strut out a little Coverdale. Plus, the production finds the right place between crunch and whomp, no doubt dialing in the mix settings for Napalm and AFM releases for the next few years. Sure, the chorus is more Masterplan than “Crystal Ball“, but it’s nice to have a big name back in the game. [From Death Thy Lover, out 6/3 on Napalm Records]Ian Chainey

14. Cough – “Dead Among The Roses”

Location: Richmond, VA
Subgenre: sludge

Sludge is like the classic board game of metal subgenres: easy to learn, but hard to master. Its formal and aesthetic simplicity make it a breeze to get into for new listeners and only slightly more challenging for musicians to perform, but its limited vocabulary and relative popularity ensure that it produces more redundant dreck than virtually any other metal subgenre — which is saying something. As a result, the line between “this band rules” and “I have heard this exact riff played by other bands 10,000,000 times / I never want to see the word ‘weed’ in a band name again” can be exceedingly thin in this realm. It is thus extra impressive that Cough fall so clearly and obviously on the “this rules” side of the line. This slow-burning Richmond unit has ties to the better-known Windhand in the form of shared bassist Parker Chandler, but I’d take Cough any day if I had to pick between ‘em. Still They Pray, Cough’s upcoming third LP and first full-length release since 2010, makes a strong case for them as the best straight-ahead stoner sludge band in the game today. True, they’re basically executing Electric Wizard’s playbook: long, digressive songs built on huge amps; resinated and resonant power chords sketching out bluesy riffs; textural solos and slow fades. (Electric Wizard main man Jus Osborn produced the album, fittingly.) But Cough summon a sense of pained melancholy that recalls other meanings of “execution.” David Cisco’s tortured vocals give Cough an emotive edge that many bands in this vein lack; his miserable howling on “Dead Among The Roses” reminds that psychedelic experiences often comes with a dark side. [From Still They Pray, out 6/3 on Relapse]Doug Moore

13. Sanctuaire – “Graver Sur Les Pierres, Les Souvenirs D’Hier”

Location: Quebec, Canada
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Sanctuaire first arrived in 2014 from the mind of one of Quebec’s most prolific black metal practitioners, Monarque Helserkr, the man behind the eponymous two-man band Monarque. Monarque, the band and the person, are pillars of the small Quebec black metal scene. Around those parts, Helserkr has played with or been the driving force behind underground gems like Ephemer, Déliquescence, Sui Caedere and many more. He’s also graced the stage with Forteresse. Fun fact: Stereogum’s own Mike Nelson and I caught him live with his Forteresse compatriots years back — before we knew each other! — in the basement of Santos Party House, Andrew W.K.’s venue on New York City’s Lower East Side. Whereas Monarque-the-band’s songs tend to evoke icy majesty, Sanctuaire carry echoes of ancient battlefields. A lot of Sanctuaire’s material is ambient, mournful synth soundscapes for grim gray days and valleys strewn with carrion. On the new “Graver Sur Les Pierres, Les Souvenirs D’Hier” — from an upcoming LP called Le Sang Sur L’Acier — those ambient elements underlie a mournful and epic black metal ripper. Acoustics strum and drums boom behind a lead guitar driving ever forward and a chorus that sounds like a war cry. By the end, there’s only the sound of the wind, the scrape of a sword pulled from a sheath, and a chant for the dead. [From Le Sang Sur L’Acier, out on TBA on Tour De Garde]Wyatt Marshall

12. Pyramido – “Att bida sin tid”

Location: Malmo, Sweden
Subgenre: sludge/post-metal

I lobbied to include Pyramido in this month’s column for two reasons. The first is because this is good. Though the Swedish quintet has grown to play the sort of sludge/doom we now associate with post-metal, the output is earthier and livelier than the aural naps usually lumped under that tag. Once a noted groover sating those with the munchies for weighty riffs, Pyramido caught the dirge and are now relying more on their hardcore ancestry. Of course, the membership has the history to back that up. Singer Ronnie Källbäck was doing the raw-throated roar thing on Burst’s first EP. But it runs deeper than the résumé. Listen to how bassist Dan Widing, once of the sadly underappreciated Crowpath, sneaks in a few extra notes to keep the tempo from lagging. And guitarists Dan Hedlund and Henrik Wendel have a fantastic interplay, swapping legato and staccato roles, or both holding complementary notes forming soundwave tides tinged with melancholy. Finally, drummer Viktor Forss is versatile, strengthening Vatten’s songs with a strong snap or martial timekeeping. Slow songs, hardcore kineticism. Good. OK, second reason: Pyramido is right smack in my nostalgia danger zone. To me, this is 2001-2002 and that makes me, in the words of Marcel Proust, all shitted up with wistfulness. It was then that I discovered bands created by people who looked like me. In turn, that fostered a brief belief that anything was possible because, holy crap, here was evidence of my peers actually doing it. Light switch, flipped. Dam, burst. World, smaller. Suddenly, sheltered little me had a friend in Sweden named Magnus who was sending me MP3s of Breach, Burst, and Purusam over ICQ. (Magnus, if you’re reading this, I hope you’re okay. Also, I don’t have ICQ anymore because no one does.) I’m not going to say this “saved me” or anything like that, but it did provide a needed corrective that this long stretch of misery called life had the occasional rest stop. Anyway, those are my reasons. I can explain one, I feel the other. [From Vatten, out now on Halo Of Flies / Absolute Contempt]Ian Chainey

11. Germ – “Escape”

Location: Wollongong, Australia
Subgenre: post-black metal

On Germ’s newest album, Escape, the one-man band that in the past played electronica-laced post-black metal is taking a bleaker approach. I haven’t heard the whole thing, but, so far, gone are the blips and bleeps and techno drums — a wearier outlook remains, and Germ is better for it. On the mid-tempo “Escape,” tortured vocals howl on top of lush swells of layered guitars and raw emotion. This type of metal — loosely described as depressive black metal — is frequently and, perhaps confusingly, gorgeous. “Escape” certainly is. Those with a keen ear may draw similarities to some of Australia’s best like Austere, or Woods Of Desolation. If you knew those three bands then you already know this, but the man behind Germ, Tim Yatras, has played with them all. That was in the past, though, and with Germ, and on “Escape,” we see Yatras continue to mine a silver-lined type of sadness, moving at mid-tempo through various stages of grief. Rarely has sorrow been so sweet. [From Escape, out now on Prophecy Productions]Wyatt Marshall

10. Cadaveric Fumes – “Extatic Extirpation”

Location: Rennes, France
Subgenre: death metal

Cadaveric Fumes are going to be really something in a couple years. That sounds backhanded, but even the band acknowledges as much, with guitarist Wenceslas Carrieu, also of the ripping Venefixion, telling Transcending Obscurity, “We started to compose Dimensions Obscure a long time ago now, so it still has a lot of the early Cadaveric Fumes vibe, which obviously is a bit outdated for us today.” Of course, it isn’t like Dimensions Obscure is your run-of-the-mill OSDM experience. The French quartet has packed this three-song, 26-minute EP with left turns aplenty like Goblin-esque mood setters and sweeping Tangerine Dream transporters. Plus, even the death metal meat has a whiff of the weird. “Extatic Extirpation” is schooled in the ways of Demilich, taking an already twisted riff and giving it a rhythm that’s like Shub-Niggurath bouncing a superball. The fact that Carrieu and bandmates Reuben Muntrand (bass) and Léo Brard (drums) can gel so well on this stuff can’t be ignored, because it’s not like a feel for the off-kilter can be faked. But, Cadaveric Fumes doesn’t ditch the hooks, nor does it blast towards an undiscovered style. Quite the opposite. Carrieu, again to Transcending Obscurity: “I’m not a shredder, I like when things are well-composed yet simple, straight-forward and catchy as well. I like the smell of an old cranked tube amp, wahs and fuzzes.” So, even the wild, psych-laden 14-minute closer, “Where Darkness Reigns Pristine,” is grounded in a recognizable, easily digestible sound. In fact, all of Dimensions Obscure’s extravagances are stabilized by solid, classic sections. Riffs are stripped to their essence, and Romain Gibet absolutely nails his growls, summoning early ’90s masters. The operative word is “balance.” Bands learn that over time, usually when the fires have already burned the brightest. Cadaveric Fumes, though? It’s just starting to smoke. [From Dimensions Obscure, out 5/2 on Blood Harvest]Ian Chainey

9. Withered – “Downward”

Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Subgenre: death/black metal

Good things come to those who wait, as Withered guitarist and vocalist Mike Thompson can tell you. This blackened death metal act’s sole remanining member has kept the ball rolling for 13 years, slowly and steadily building a unique sound and a sizable cult following along the way. The bulk of Withered’s recorded activity transpired between 2005 and 2010 — a crucial period for metal that saw growth both in the creative breadth of the blast-happy underground and in interest from beyond the genre’s conventional territory. But while Withered’s three LPs contributed to these trends, the band never really capitalized on them — they fell silent after 2010’s Dualities, as members turned over and a fourth LP slowly gestated under Thompson’s patient watch. Now, after six years, a new iteration of Withered is finally releasing Grief Relic. The lineup that appears on this album verges on supergroup status; Thompson’s got a co-frontman in fellow guitarist/vocalist Ethan McCarthy, also of Primitive Man, while prog-metal linchpin Colin Marston wails away on bass. (Longtime drummer Beau Brandon retains his spot behind the kit.) Ironically, these high-profile additions have not dramatically shifted Withered’s artistic direction; Grief Relic constitutes a compact and knotty 39-minute expansion upon the approach established by their late-aughts LPs. Withered have always trafficked heavily in thrumming walls of trem-picking, and they summon that imposing rhythmic stormfront throughout Grief Relic, as the gnashing intro to “Downward” ferociously demonstrates. But while Thompson and company’s riff-writing still balances melody and nastiness, the two approaches flow seamlessly into each other now — moments of consonance punctuate brutal drubbings, and melodies zig where your ear expects them to zag. It’s a smarter and more sophisticated version of Withered, staking out territory in a more expansive landscape. [From Grief Relic, out 5/27 on Season Of Mist]Doug Moore

8. Astronoid – “Air”

Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: shoegaze metal

I have a tendency sometimes, when writing about a song or album or band that I’m really excited about, to take a big windup — to get really macro and/or metaphorical — before delivering the pitch and actually talking about the music in question. (No, no, it’s true.) But I want to make sure I don’t bury the lede on this one, so before I say anything else: Air — the debut LP (following two EPs) from Boston five-piece Astronoid — is one of my favorite albums of 2016. It’s a delight, a triumph, a fucking revelation. If you’ll forgive me, I’m gonna get real reductive for just a second, as much as it bothers me to do so: It’s an album for people who would love Deafheaven if only that band sang instead of screamed; an album for people who would be really into Mew if that band just kicked ass instead of being super goddamn weird so much of the time. And if you — like me — already love Deafheaven and Mew, then it’s definitely an album for you, too. I wanted to clear up all that right away, because there’s some stuff here that might otherwise prove to be a superficial deterrent. The band’s name, for example — Astronoid — sounds a little bit like that of Los Angeles prog-stoners Intronaut. The title of Astronoid’s debut album — Air — immediately brings to mind the French synth-lounge duo Air, and coupled with that cover art, it might make one think of a ’90s ambient compilation CD. Now, Astronoid sound like a lot of things — a lot of things at once, in fact — but they don’t sound like any of those things. If Air had been recorded on a four-track, it would resemble Australian depressive black metal band Woods Of Desolation, for instance…BUT it was recorded by two guys with sound recording degrees — singer/guitarist Brett Boland and bassist Dan Schwartz — and it sounds like a million bucks. If its vocals were delivered as a ghostly howl, you might compare it to the music made by Pacific Northwest progressive metal titans Agalloch…BUT Astronoid deal exclusively in clear, textured clean vocals, high in the mix and rich with harmonies. If the band’s instrumentation were less aggressive, if it were a purely ethereal drift, Air might sound like Sigur Rós or Slowdive…BUT this music is powered by a dynamic three-guitar assault and some pummeling double kick drum. This is metal. Or is it? Air is coming out on the excellent Finnish metal label Blood Music (Lychgate, Negur? Bunget), and Astronoid have some connection with the face-stomping New Hampshire post-metal band Vattnet Viskar (Boland was behind the boards for that band’s 2011 demo, its 2012 EP, and its 2013 debut LP, Sky Swallower; also, Astronoid drummer Matt St. Jean played with Vattnet for a little while). Furthermore, Astronoid name-check influences like Devin Towsend and Cynic — metal for metal nerds, to be sure — and all that combined with the soaring, solo-heavy, super-anthemic music adds up to metal, no question about it…BUT you could just as easily slot this music in with post-rock or shoegaze or even Smashing Pumpkins-style alt-bombast and it would make sense. If you dig that stuff, there’s a good shot you’ll dig this, too. I’m inclined to claim this one for my team, but I don’t care how you categorize it: This album is fucking incredible and you need to hear it. [From Air, out 6/10 on Blood Music]Michael Nelson

7. Zealotry – “Cybernetic Eucharist”

Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Subgenre: progressive death metal

Death metal: the purest form of extreme metal, the least friendly to new listeners, the final destination of any true metallic journey (at least for those who don’t wimp out along the way), and my personal favorite heavy genre. So if you’re anything like me — weak to the charms of fabulous, formless death — you’re experiencing the same delirious glee as we watch the death metal scene explode in a burst of creativity. I mean, c’mon: the caliber of death metal coming out in 2016 is unthinkable, possibly the single best year we’ve seen since 1991. From the absurdly technical (Wormed) to the steadfastly traditional (Interment), from crawling, sprawling death/doom (Inverloch) to mind-expanding maximalism (Gorguts’ 30-minute, single-song EP), every variation and sub-mutation is well represented. All this while a crop of newer bands carve out a sound all their own: drawing from Immolation, Demilich, older Gorguts, and a slew of weirder acts, bands like Chthe’ilist, Reptilian, Nucleus, and now Zealotry (who un-coincidentally share a guitarist with Chthe’ilist) are shifting focus to the fringe zones, probing the more experimental edges of death. Every one of these bands is fantastic; Zealotry might be the best of the lot, or to put it another way, Zealotry’s second LP, The Last Witness, might be the most interesting manifestation of the new style. Call it kitchen-sink death metal; call it whatever you want (chaotic death?). Riffs are circuitous, technical but unpolished, progressive in theory and hideous in execution, like jagged space debris caught in an unknowable orbit. There are melodies, if you can call them that, but they’re hard to pin down, a blurry smear of diminished scales, angles, and abstractions meant to disorient. As unpleasant as all that sounds, Zealotry understand the virtues of pacing and variety: we get short bangers laced with haunting octave leads (“Arc Of Eradication”), epic psychedelic death freakouts loaded with cosmic synths and space choirs (“Progeny Omega”), and a drawn-out denouement with harmonized clean acoustics and an incongruous burst of cello (“Silence”), reminiscent of Gorguts’ recent masterwork, Colored Sands. There’s a feast here if you’ve got the stomach. [From The Last Witness, out now on the band]Aaron Lariviere

6. Uada – “Devoid of Light”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: black metal

I’m not sure if this is actually true, but I feel like if I were to hear 10 new black metal bands I’d be able to accurately guess whether they were from the United States or abroad more than half the time. There’s something in the aural marrow of bands from the US that gives them away even if they’re playing in a style that originated in another country, and I think it’s something a lot of bands fall into subconsciously rather than on purpose. That’s not a bad thing! Black metal from the United States is arguably the best in the world right now. I’d probably guess wrong with Uada, though, a new band from Portland, Oregon that’s garnished high praise from the likes of Agalloch’s John Haughm — Mr. Atmospheric Black Metal From the Northwest — and who released one of the breakout black metal albums of the year this month. “Devoid of Light” channels Inquisition and Mgla, though it’s got some of the organic quality that comes to mind when we’re talking about the Oregon area. But the low-end heft of Uada stands out, with muscular stomping and subterranean vocals — and the way it’s juxtaposed with more traditional atmospheric leads and wails sets Uada apart. Who cares where they’re from? This is great. [From Devoid Of Light, out now on Eisenwald Tonschmiede]Wyatt Marshall

5. Kvelertak – “Berserkr”

Location: Rogaland, Norway
Subgenre: black’n’roll

Look, I already wrote about 4,000 words about Kvelertak’s forthcoming third album, Nattesferd, and there’s really not much more I can say about the thing. I love it. I think its lead single, “1985,” is the worst song in Kvelertak’s catalog, and I still think this is their best album, front to back. You can read what I wrote, if you’re looking for that sort of thing, or you can skip that and just listen to second single, “Berserkr,” which is excellent. I honestly wish you could hear the whole damn thing so we could talk about it right now, but I don’t make the rules. In two weeks it won’t matter. For now, this is all ya got. [From Nattesferd, out 5/13 on Roadrunner Records]Michael Nelson

4. Vektor – “LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: thrash metal

Vektor’s forthcoming third LP, Terminal Redux, is pure fire: unreal thrash riffs ripped through the veil of space-time, like a last-ditch transmission from a dying planet shot through a wormhole at ludicrous speed, piercing the heart of the sun and tearing out the other side — sound transformed into perfect destructive force. Forgive the hyperbole; If I sound overexcited, it’s because we haven’t seen extreme thrash this vital in decades. Actually, with few exceptions, thrash in 2016 is pretty much dead; what little there is leans hard toward slavish retro-fetishism, more about tones then tunes. Meanwhile, this Philadelphia quartet can write and play circles around their peers. The guitars are godlike, spinning off in contrails of creative expression without sacrificing impact, pairing the progressive leanings of Watchtower, Atheist, and later Dark Angel with the blunt force of Kreator and Destruction, with just a whiff of the kind of earworm thrash melodies you rarely see outside the first four Metallica records. But more important than their influences is what the band does with them, and Vektor channel an impossible amount of talent and ideas into actual songs: chord progressions resonate on an emotional level even while they dazzle with harmonic complexity; rhythmic shifts increase tension, generating forward motion through a constant headlong tumble; riffs fly by at warp speed, but nothing is wasted, everything serves some greater purpose. And we’ve got a track from Terminal Redux to premiere for you today. “LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease)” starts strong and practically explodes by song’s end. The first half starts with a frenzy of high-speed shred riffs, but the band is only warming up, still building momentum. At the three-minute mark, we hit a detour: a chunky, stuttering syncopated breakdown, like a hologram version of Voivod covering Slayer, nerdy and tough at the same time. At the five-minute mark, the song just fucking bursts into flame like a meteor hitting atmosphere: the double-bass kicks like a Gatling gun and the guitars lash out at full force, laying waste to everything that’s come before… and the song only gets better from there. I could go on. You should listen. [From Terminal Redux, out 5/6 on Earache]Aaron Lariviere

3. Behexen – “Chalice of the Abyssal Water”

Location: Hämeenlinna/Tampere, Findland
Subgenre: black metal

The blurry and frantic low-end introductory riff on “Chalice Of The Abyssal Water” undulates in a seemingly nonsensical manner. Its initial lack of reason is unsettling—what beast moves like that? It’s the aural equivalent of watching the weirdly mechanical but animalistic inner workings of an anthill, millipedes fighting, or even the skittish movement of an F1 car as it jumps on a track instead of turning like a car’s supposed to. It doesn’t seem to be something from a world we know. Finland’s Behexen never has been, though they sure know how to entice us into theirs when they see fit. They are, after all, guided by the majestic lead guitars of Shatraug, the evil genius who’s gifted us the infectious eliding hooks in both Horna and Sargeist for some time. And those searing leads soar high here, offering a frenetic opportunity to lose your shit. They then give way to thrashy sweeps, gritty trench grinding and melodic respites. It all comes together with finesse, though, a masterful flick of the wrist from Shatraug before unleashing this monster into the world. [From The Poisonous Path, out 5/27 on Debemur Morti Productions]Wyatt Marshall

2. Virus – “Steamer”

Location: Oslo, Norway
Subgenre: experimental rock/metal

“Steamer” sits in the middle of Memento Collider, Virus’s fourth album. Singer/guitarist Czral has a god-mode C.V., first surfacing as drummer on demos for Norwegian legends Satyricon and Ulver before hitting his multi-instrumentalist stride in Ved Buens Ende. The latter’s 1995 full-length, Written In Waters, is like a secret handshake for metal weirdos. Not that Carheart, Virus’ 2003 debut about cars and dogs, was any less out-there. And, when Decibel asked Czral for a comment on his newest work, he called it, “a tribute to extinct instincts and Chernobyl Wildlife.” Noted. However, it’s not like Czral is beholden to only the bleak and bizarre. Under the name “Aggressor,” he has been leading blackened thrashers Aura Noir since 1993. He’s also the guitarist for Inferno. That duality makes Czral interesting. He, much like any real person, allows himself to be eclectic. He ably bounces between classic redlined aggression and the vertigo-tinged thrill of experimentation. The thing is, neither side dominates. It’s not really a matter of compartmentalization — each interest has a way of informing the other — but it’s definitely a display of ambidexterity. Not that that was the reason to go into this blind. But, when playing armchair musicologist and thinking about how Czral’s humanity factors into the way he disperses his prodigious talent, it’s easy to overlook “Steamer”‘s standalone pleasures. There’s Czral’s cool, controlled vocal, sometimes backed by a wistful maybe-theremin. There’s the clean-ish guitar that’s fringed with the fry of radiation. There’s the equally hooky and knotty basswork provided by Plenum, a returning member whose other gig, Manimalism, is one of the more interesting projects to surface lately. There’s Einar Sjursø’s subtly massive drumming, perfectly providing the right snap to every rise and fall. There are nearly eight minutes of grooves patiently fighting over the title of “that groove.” There is and there are and there is and there are. Really, “Steamer” just is a lot of things. So many, it’s hard to focus on the important stuff unless you heard that stuff first. [From Memento Collider, out 6/3 on Karisma Records]Ian Chainey

1. Inter Arma – “Transfiguration”

Location: Richmond, VA
Subgenre: black metal / death metal / sludge

Richmond, Virginia boasts one of the country’s most active and interesting metal scenes, and that community has been cultivated over decades. GWAR hail from RVA, and every summer, the city plays host to that band’s annual “GWAR B-Q” metal meetup/festival/bacchanalia. Lamb Of God and Municipal Waste are from Richmond, too. And over the last few years, RVA has been exporting excellent new metal acts at a higher rate per capita than any other city in the nation — it’s a crop that includes groups like Windhand, Cough, and Bastard Sapling. But Richmond’s brightest young stars are Inter Arma, whose 2013 breakout sophomore LP, Sky Burial, came in at #9 on our list of the year’s 50 Best Metal Albums. They followed that with a 45-minute single-track “EP” called The Cavern, which found its way into the highest reaches of our October 2014 Black Market (wherein we count down the best metal songs of the month in question), despite being uncategorizable enough to merit ineligibility. (“It’s not really a song, per se; it’s an EP…but it’s one track…but it’s the same length as the entirety of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas…”) For Inter Arma, though, “uncategorizable” is the law of the land. The sound they’ve honed is a fine blend of sludge, doom, and post-metal, full of spacious atmosphere and big climaxes… but their insane new song, “Transfiguration,” recalls avant-surrealists Leviathan and Morbid Angel: bands who deal in melodically spare, hypnotically nightmarish variations of black and death metal, respectively. “Transfiguration” is the first single off Inter Arma’s forthcoming LP, Paradise Gallows, whose runtime is 71+ minutes; the album includes “the band’s first-ever foray into clean vocals”; and the whole thing lands in July. The 9-minutes-and-change of “Transfiguration” won’t be enough to tide you over till midsummer, but it’ll sure as hell whet your appetite. [From The Paradise Gallows, out 7/8 on Relapse]Michael Nelson

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