The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – June 2016

At the very beginning of this month, Stereogum ran a Band To Watch feature on the progressive metal band Astronoid. Black Market contributor/editor emeritus Michael Nelson wrote the piece, and did a far better job describing their approach than I ever could:

Astronoid’s debut LP, Air, is rooted in climactic major-key post/black metal — think Deafheaven or Woods Of Desolation — filled with blast beats and blazing solos, but where nearly all other bands of that ilk approach singing only in the form of screams, hisses, whispers, and roars, Astronoid deal in clean, textured, multi-layered vocals. They write soaring, aching, gigantic melodies that recall My Bloody Valentine, Mew, Slowdive, and Sigur Rós. The combination of those attacks — the shredding, thrilling instrumentation and the powerful, beautiful singing — isn’t entirely new, of course. You’ll hear it, to some extent or another, on albums like Ulver’s 1995 masterpiece, Bergtatt, and the 2009 self-titled (and sole) LP from Amesoeurs, among others. But you’ve never heard it done like this before. Listening to Air, I hear shades of all the aforementioned groups, as well as a host of others: Explosions In The Sky, Envy, Fuck Buttons, Fang Island, the Smashing Pumpkins, Red House Painters, Bends-era Radiohead, Agalloch, Japandroids, even Jimmy Eat World and Andrew W.K.

If you’ve not heard Astronoid (which you can do here), you can at least imagine from this description that they are an accessible, populist band by the standards of the extreme metal world. That means they’re guaranteed to piss certain people off. For a variety of reasons, broad swathes of metal’s core fanbase treats bands of Astronoid’s sort — up-and-comers who use aspects of the metal template to make novel hybrid music that appeals to casual fans — as gentrifying interlopers. There’s a lot of armchair psychoanalysis to be done in the name of explaining this tendency, but for now, suffice it to say that Astronoid are gonna get that cold-shoulder treatment too, if they haven’t experienced it already.

Personally, I’m not feeling the band’s music. Regardless of craftsmanship, the endlessly swelling joy waves Astronoid aim to evoke aren’t something I really want from a metal band. I find myself on the naysaying side of the divide with bands like Astronoid most of the time, but I’m still glad that they’re around. In fact, it seems to me that the very existence of the thriving underground metal world arguably depends on such gentler bands to an extent.

That claim sounds excessive in the context of a still-teensy-weensy band like Astronoid, and it’s a tough pill to swallow for a community of people who pride themselves on operating outside of the mainstream. Still, it makes a fair amount of intuitive sense from a historical perspective. “Serious” metal fans have vigilantly watched the genre’s borders for the ever-prophesied poseur hordes at least since the ’80s, typically to hilarious results. To the extent that said hordes have ever materialized, they’ve arrived in the guise of trendy boom-and-bust subgenres — hair metal in the ’80s, nu-metal in the ’90s, metalcore in the ’00s, and indie-inflected “hipster metal” bands today, such as Astronoid — that have played vital roles in retaining a place for metal in the broader public consciousness.

People sneer at these styles, rightly at times, but each has nonetheless introduced new generations of wide-eyed young people to the wonders of guitar distortion, palm muting, and ridiculously stylized vocals. And introducing lots of people to basic elements of metal is a boon to the wackadoo underground shit we typically go hard after in this column, because metal is sufficiently off-putting at first blush that only a fraction of people who hear even the accessible sort will be able to stomach it, and only a fraction of those people will really fall in love with the stuff and follow the rabbit hole all the way down.

Metal is basically like hot sauce in this way. You can’t jump straight into eating the exotic specialty-store nuclear ghost pepper shit, because the untempered palate will experience its flavor as a form of incomprehensible self-torture that only the depraved would volunteer for. You gotta start with Tabasco and Cholula and Frank’s Red Hot, and work your way up from there if you wanna figure out that world. For most people, sticking with Tabasco and Cholula and Frank’s Red Hot is fine, because they’re not wired to become hot sauce fanatics. But if you’re the kind of person who can explain the Scoville heat scale from memory and you want customer demand to support a bustling market for nuclear ghost pepper hot sauce, it’s in your interest for more people to try Tabasco.

None of this stuff is new, but it bears repeating once in a while. Metal is essentially driven by a subculture of people dedicated to it, and subcultures aren’t self-sustaining — they need to draw in new people to survive. Astronoid are just one amongst many bands who’ve helped this process along, and that’s valuable to me if it helps engender the kind of music that we Black Marketers (that’s Michael, Ian Chainey, Wyatt Marshall, Aaron Lariviere, and me) settled on this month. Unsurprisingly, it gets mighty spicy down there. Hope your palate’s ready. –Doug Moore

15. Imperium Dekadenz – “Only Fragments Of Light”

Location: Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany
Subgenre: black metal

Readers of the Black Market should feel right at home listening to Imperium Dekadenz — hook-laden, vaguely pagan, atmospheric black metal is comfort food for most of us, and rightly so. It’s easy to listen to, hits hard enough (but not too hard), and it scratches the black metal itch while delivering sweet melodic release. Imperium Dekadenz have a particularly silly band name (a running theme in this genre; see below; e.g. what the fuck is a “Wode”), but they deliver the goods as well as anyone and you should absolutely listen to them. I won’t waste your time overselling what they do when we both know exactly what this is going to sound like: Writing about their last album back in 2013, I said they “specialize in gorgeous, widescreen grandeur — playing epic black metal by way of Disintegration,” and that holds true in 2016. What’s insane is that we now live in a world where it’s easy to take this stuff for granted. This year alone we’ve seen stellar records from the likes of Harakiri For The Sky, Forteresse, Uada, Wode, Fuath, Draugnim, and Nadra, which is to say we live in wondrous times. If you like any (or all) of those bands, look no further. [From Dis Manibvs, out 8/26 via Season Of Mist]Aaron Lariviere

14. Godstopper – “Shoulder”

Location: Toronto, Canada
Subgenre: noise rock

Like most things late ’80s/early ’90s, noise rock is back in a big way right now. And like most things that come back in a big way, noise rock tends to lose something of its original spirit in the revivalist format — most often, the missing piece is appealing and idiosyncratic songcraft. Feedback and skronking aside, the best noise rock acts never forgot that they were, y’know, rock acts, and wrote idiomatic tunes you could remember after the album ended. In contrast to many of their latter-day peers, Toronto’s Godstopper have increasingly chosen to double down on melody over fuzz — funky timings and Melvins-esque trudges serve to support maddeningly earwormy vocal hooks, rather than bullying them out of the way. This approach pays major dividends on “Shoulder,” the first single from the upcoming Who Tries Anymore 12″ EP. (Do album titles get any more ’90s-y?) There’s a lot of compositional bells and whistles on deck here, from a chugging chorus riff that feels like it’s perpetually interrupting itself to a left-turn Thin Lizzy guitar lick that King Buzzo would surely appreciate. But the part that’ll really suck you in is the sublime vocal harmonies that frontman Mike Simpson layers over the song like fishnet over a boulder. [From Who Tries Anymore, out 7/8 via Hex Records]Doug Moore

13. Numenorean – “Thirst”

Location: Calgary, Canada
Subgenre: post-black metal

Calgary’s Numenorean self-categorize as “post-black metal,” a term that is often used interchangeably with “atmospheric black metal” — but to me, the Canadian five-piece belong more to the atavistic subgenre called “depressive suicidal black metal.” These days, you don’t see many bands claiming the DSBM tag — probably because they’ve mostly realized that it’s hard enough to get people to listen to tsunami-sized, tremelo-picked scream/blast epics that last longer than your standard student film even without advertising the fact that the music evokes/inspires “depressive/suicidal” feelings. The irony is, depressive suicidal black metal often sounds anything but. The subgenre deals in sweeping, pulse-raising, triumphant-sounding anthems. (It’s no accident that many of these artists are compared to Explosions In The Sky, a band that got famous soundtracking a heart-in-throat football movie.) Beyond its cinematic qualities, this style is typified by song structures that tend to feel chaotic or dreamlike, an unhinged and arhythmic vocal delivery (a sort of ambient banshee-wail), and utterly unintelligible lyrics addressing themes such as futility, isolation, and despair. Numenorean are a young band; their forthcoming LP, Home, is their debut, and it’s preceded only by a two-song demo released in 2014. Yet they do this stuff with rare confidence and craftsmanship; their songs shift terrains with fluidity, power, and grace, moving with furious speed to gorgeous melodic climaxes that somehow feel both unexpected as a car crash and inevitable as a sunrise. These tricks aren’t easy to pull off, but nobody listens to this kind of music for degree of difficulty; they listen because it’s stirring, evocative, exciting. They listen because it hits a nerve or a sweet spot or a deeply buried, deeply personal truth. And Numenorean hit hard. [From Home, out 7/22 via Season Of Mist]Michael Nelson

12. Revocation – “Monolithic Ignorance”

Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: technical death/thrash metal

Revocation are essentially survivors of a mass extinction. When they first appeared in 2006 as an offshoot of an earlier band called Cryptic Warning, the style they play —  sleek, technical death/thrash metal with a gleaming modern presentation — was at the apex of its popularity. The future looked like an unbroken stretch of harmonized twin-guitar leads and quantized kick drums. It was not to last, of course. By the end of the last decade, death metal had experienced a backlash against all the processed speed and melody, and had largely retreated into more primitive territory. But some acts that got their footholds during those years have thrived in the period since, thanks to a combination of hard work in the studio and even harder touring. Great Is Our Sin is Revocation’s sixth album in an eight-year span, during which they’ve also pursued an exhausting package-tour schedule over much of the globe. And surprisingly, it’s their punchiest and most aggressive album since their early days — fewer middle tempos, less emphasis on extended soloing, and a whole lot more low-fret pummeling. It could not come at a better time. After so many years spent meandering around in the endless poop caverns enshrined by the old-school death metal aesthetic, a sizable proportion of the fanbase seems to have regained interest in cleanly productions, lock-tight performances, and extended melody — witness the growing popularity of bands like Horrendous and even Fallujah. Great Is Our Sin delivers these goods in spades. “Monolithic Ignorance” barrels through a thrashy verse-chorus exchange in its first half before settling into an extended instrumental bridge that blasts straight upwards into the sad-boy prog stratosphere. The relentless album / road cycle that Revocation maintains tends to enervate extreme metal bands, but these guys sound fiercer than ever. [From Great Is Our Sin, out 7/22 via Metal Blade]Doug Moore

11. Defeated Sanity – “Into The Soil”

Location: Berlin, Germany
Subgenre: brutal death metal

Death metal culture involves a lot of entertaining idiosycrasies, but my current favorites involve brutal death metal, the Hulked-out subgenre that Germany’s Defeated Sanity occupies. The entire edifice is a paradox: it’s technically smart but conceptually idiotic, vile but hilarious, strictly for adults and yet juvenile as hell. The best brutal death metal bands recognize all these crossed wires and play with them. Defeated Sanity have become past masters of this bizarre balancing act. This strangely brainy unit has historically employed 21st-century sophistication to achieve caveman effects, and their new album Disposal Of The Dead // Dharmata spotlights that tension in bizarre fashion. Originally billed as “a split album with ourselves,” Disposal Of The Dead // Dharmata consists of two EP-length halves. The first, Disposal Of The Dead, consists of the ridiculously punishing brutal death metal Defeated Sanity is already known for, boiled down to its simplest and most animalistic elements. Dharmata, by contrast, takes a hard left turn — it’s fluid, fusiony extreme metal in the style of ’90s pioneers such as Atheist and Cynic. Defeated Sanity are good enough at the prog-death thing to pursue a successful career along those lines, but it’s the primitive thudding of Disposal Of The Dead that really capitalizes on the band’s strengths. Like certain species of club-friendly electronic music, this material is basically a bunch of wildly unnatural, bass-heavy rhythmic noises set up to make you say “Ooooh SHIT!” and then jump around in ludicrous fashion when certain transitional moments arrive. “Into The Soil” packs about ten potential “Ooooh SHIT!” spots into its 4 minutes, but my personal favorite comes at 3:42, when the slammy groove from the song’s opening salvo metamorphoses into an even slammier version of itself. It’s a meta-slam! Defeated Sanity are kings of the meta-slam, and they’re kings of bringing counterintuitive guttural joy to your lucky ears. [From Disposal Of The Dead // Dharmata, out 7/22 via Willowtip Records]Doug Moore

10. Indricothere – “XX”

Location: Queens, NY
Subgenre: tech/prog metal

Does anyone need more evidence that Colin Marston is a riff factory? No? Welp, here’s some anyway. When he’s not busy running his destination recording studio Menegroth or contributing to his own projects — Gorguts and Krallice, both of whom have noteworthy records out this year, and Dysrhythmia, who have one on the way, among others — he finds time to record solo material as Indricothere. (The rest of us spend those hours sleeping.) A lot of Indricothere’s material is synth-driven ambient music, but 2007’s self-titled and this month’s III are both instrumental metal albums with programmed drums. III in particular is about as hectic as Marston’s work gets, consisting largely of absurd video game FX riffs that you might find in his other instrumental tech-metal project Behold The Arctopus, and thickened with a big dollop of brutal death metal. (Drummer Lille Gruber of Defeated Sanity, mentioned directly above, was for a time rumored to have signed on for an upcoming Behold The Arctopus records. This material would suit his skill set.) This music is essentially what the guy makes for fun whenever he gets a break from his busy schedule of shredding and documenting others shredding, so the vibe here is playful — the way “XX” segues smoothly from guttural chugging to a quirky tapping segment might as well come with a visible wink. It’ll take a while to figure out whether these 25 extremely dense minutes harbor any deep secrets for you, but if not, they can still dazzle like fireworks. How seasonal! [From III, out now via Bandcamp]Doug Moore

9. Fates Warning – “From The Rooftops”

Location: Hartford, CT
Subgenre: progressive metal

Weird thing to say about a band so popular: Did you know there’s a new Fates Warning album on the way? If you didn’t, it’s not your fault. It’s not InsideOut Music or Fates Warning’s fault, either. Because, unless the recently installed spyware on Michael Wuensch’s computer is finally ready to broadcast to the masses, prog with power metal genes just doesn’t get much coverage here in the States. Well, not anymore. Fates once charted — like on a real Billboard chart — some real stunners back when people could dent such a thing with Texas Instrument-divined time signatures and exotic chords. Now, the 32-year-old Fates, the band behind freakin’ Awaken The Guardian, doesn’t get many words on our side of the net.* Not an admonishment, just a sad reality. So, here are some words, then: Theories Of Flight, like 2013’s Darkness In A Different Light, is good. Exuding a late-career casual virtuosity, Fates continue to pump out catchy, subtly ambitious tracks à la Parallels that are tinged ever-so-slightly by A Pleasant Shade Of Gray’s melancholy. Guitarist and sole original member Jim Matheos is having himself a decade, adding Theories to a 21st century C.V. that includes a stellar album with old Fates alum John Arch. Where bands of a similar vintage sound flabby, Matheos and fellow guitarist Frank Aresti are still sharp, executing solos and riffs that never loose the thread. Same goes for bassist Joey Vera who is dead steady up the middle. Plus, drummer Bobby Jarzombek turns in his typical monstrous performance. But special shout out to singer Ray Adler. After earning his acrobatic medals on No Exit, Adler’s voice has aged wonderfully. His singing, on “From The Rooftops” especially, is Fates’s most immediate hook. And regardless of whether this is “metal enough” or “too commercial” or whatever, that feeling in Adler’s voice is why you now know there’s a new Fates Warning album on the way. [From Theories Of Flight, out 7/1 via InsideOut Music]Ian Chainey

*Whether they care is another matter. Theories is guaranteed to outsell everything on this list combined. Not a bad consolation prize.

8. Moonknight – “Weakhearted”

Location: Louisville, KY
Subgenre: black metal

Moonknight play a deeply melodic lo-fi brand of black metal, and in the past, their music has sported a somewhat militaristic edge. Beneath fuzzy riffs that zoomed in and out of focus, a simplistic staccato beat kept marching time while highly distorted vocals wailed away. The effect was something otherworldly, like the songs came through a wormhole, changed by their cosmic journey or otherwise originating from a world where laws of physics work a bit differently. Moonknight’s new EP, Zhora, is more contemplative, ambitious, and beautiful. First off, it’s a higher quality recording, so everything comes through a bit clearer, allowing details to emerge. That said, things are still fuzzy. But the uncertainty created by the distorted and smudged guitars now comes with an even bigger emphasis on melody and harmony, with cleaner guitars coming into play alongside accents like piano and tambourine. And while Zhora is a black metal record, it’s played with a restraint that lets melancholy bleed out. You can hear a bit of shoegaze in there, and vocals that were menacing in the past are now cathartic and almost tender. It’s fantastic, and Zhora is one of the best metal releases of the year, a magnificent step forward from sole member James Brown III, also of Harassor. “Weakhearted,” one of the most straight-forward black metal tracks on the album, starts Zhora off, banging away furiously before stepping back for a blissful breather. [From Zhora, out now via Rising Beast]Wyatt Marshall

7. Anicon – “In Shadow And Amber”

Location: Brooklyn, NY
Subgenre: black metal

“In Shadow And Amber” is the first stream from Exegeses. It’s built around killer black metal riffs. These riffs, as killer black metal riffs often do, sound like cold winds rushing down mountains. Definitely cool, but there’s more there. Nolan Voss and Owen Rundquist (Trenchgrinder) flavor these riffs with wonderful bends and slides, giving character to a timbre that grabs at what people are searching for in this genre, whether the music or searcher is old or new. On a note by note level, “Amber” is labyrinthine, abstract to the max. Voss and Rundquist’s twisting riffs are one thing, but check out how Alexander DeMaria’s bass lines fulfill expectations as often as subverting them. Lev Weinstein, also of Krallice, Bloody Panda, Geryon, many others, drums like he’s attacking from all angles. At the microscopic level, “Amber” is inextricable knots all the way down. But when you pull back, “Amber” isn’t complicated at all, is it? The riffs stick in your head like simple hooks. The more becomes a digestible less, though both weigh the same. [From Exegeses, out 7/7 via Gilead Media and Avantgarde Music]Ian Chainey

6. Internal Suffering – “Unleash The Antarctic Colossus”

Location: Colombia (Now located in Spain)
Subgenre: brutal death metal

Cyclonic Void Of Power, Internal Suffering’s fifth full-length and first in about a decade, runs deeper than the typical blast of brutal death metal. Split into three chapters, these 10 songs plus one cold Lovecraftian ode form a conceptual whole. Tracks are sprinkled with lines like “Cosmic cataclysms, empyrean catastrophes/ State of duality!” And the music matches the abundant harvest of lyric sheet exclamation points, smartly, catchily, stacking riff atop riff atop riff. Internal Suffering’s confidence and comfort with the material is a key contributing factor for why this works. Take “Unleash The Antarctic Colossus”, the latest peek during the year-long run-up to Power’s release. The way the opening minutes flip between spiky and smooth, chunky and supersonic, is an old death metal trick. But newcomers Wilson “Brigadier” Henao (drums) and Michael Tarazona (guitars, since replaced by Diego Alonso) sound assured, nailing both parts with a pleasing looseness. In fact, that’s one of Power’s best attributes: It sounds human. [From Cyclonic Void of Power, out now via Unique Leader]Ian Chainey

5. Harakiri For The Sky – “Funeral Dreams”

Location: Vienna/Salzburg, Austria
Subgenre: post-black metal

I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but the cover art accompanying Harakiri For The Sky’s upcoming III: Trauma bears more than a slight resemblance to that of Agalloch’s classic 2002 sophomore album, The Mantle. Even if the visual similarity is entirely coincidental, however, the members of HFTS would almost certainly cite Agalloch as a musical influence. HFTS formed in Austria in 2011 — the same year Deafheaven (another likely HFTS forebear) dropped their debut LP, Roads To Judah — and since then, they’ve released a pair of full-lengths: 2012’s self-titled LP and 2014’s Aokigahara. Which means people have been recommending HFTS to me for at least four years now. Because, y’know, I love Deafheaven and Agalloch, so it stands to reason I’d love these guys, too, right? And, to be fair, I listened and I liked ‘em OK, but my appreciation never approached “love.” Until now. III: Trauma is hands down one of my favorite black metal albums this year. Understand, it’s black metal of a very particular variety: melancholic and bombastic, rigidly constructed and almost mathematically precise, with elements of folk and post-rock and hints of melodic death metal. There’s not a single stray note or errant snare hit to be found on Trauma; the dedication to craft here is nothing short of extraordinary. Of course, that sort of perfectionism wouldn’t be worth a damn thing if it weren’t employed in the service of the songs — and these songs are works of breathtaking beauty and melodic dynamism, using their tonal shifts and cascading riffs to wring maximum emotional impact at every new turn. My favorite song on III: Trauma is “Funeral Dreams.” It’s nine minutes long but I could hang with this one at twice that length (I usually listen to it three or four times in a row, in fact). Every melodic motif introduced at any point seems to return as the song builds to one (or more) of its many climaxes. I sometimes try to untangle each section to figure out how they built the damn thing, but I usually just feel my head going fuzzy and my heart racing and my pace building to a gallop if not a sprint. Not everybody goes in for this sort of black metal — it’s graceful and bold and unapologetically catchy (but still heavy as fuck when the blasts kick in and the big riffs connect) — so it may not be your thing. But man, it is definitely my thing, and I’m so thankful to have it. Now you’ve got it, too. [From III: Trauma, out 7/22 via Art Of Propaganda]Michael Nelson

4. Blood Incantation – “Chaoplasm”

Location: Denver, CO
Subgenre: experimental death metal

SPACE: the great unknown; the uncaring abyss, threatening death and brutal indifference, always and forever. DEATH: the only thing more awful and unknowable. Drawing on both themes, Blood Incantation stare into the void and tear through the veil, burning away the atmosphere like so much fuel, carving impossible riffs into what might be the best death metal record of the year. These guys start on familiar soil: with an innocuous nod to their namesake, Blood Incantation drop subterranean Incantation riffs and bowel-thrumming guttural growls into the expected format, and if that’s all they did I wouldn’t be jumping up and down right now. The Incantation riffs are just bedrock, the building blocks laid bare, the same way a lonesome atom isn’t much to look at before you split that fucker and punch a hole in the sky. But across 34 minutes, Blood Incantation’s debut LP Starspawn shreds expectations, blasting off in a hundred directions at once, channeling everything from the cosmic extremes of Timeghoul and Sarpanitum all the way to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side psychedelia. Screaming leads cut a swath through the churn of atonal rhythm guitars, blending the bright melodicism of late-period with the alien tones of Horrendous, which is to say this shit is top grade. A few of the longer, weirder songs venture outside the comfort zone of metal, citing un-brutal but excellent things like Failure, Sonic Youth, and Fields of the Nephilim. Starspawn is that much richer for its unexpected textures. “Chaoplasm” is the most straightforward “death metal” song on the record and the least overtly experimental, but it’s still loaded with perfect details. The early riffs gets progressively better as the drums bash faster; the first breakthrough comes when those unbelievable leads cut through the din. The galloping riff at 3:30 is insane; a few seconds later the vocal impersonates a black hole, threatening to swallow the whole song, and it’s one of the best tricks I’ve ever heard on a death metal record. Use this song as a starting point, but do us both a solid and get your hands on the album as soon as humanly possible. [From Starspawn, out 8/19 on Dark Descent Records]Aaron Lariviere

3. Jute Gyte – “Like The Woodcutter Sawing His Hands”

Location: Missouri
Subgenre: experimental black metal

If you get the sense that we bring up Jute Gyte a lot in our metal coverage, it’s only because we’re given a lot to talk about. The working name for Missourian composer Adam Kalmbach, Jute Gyte has produced at least one full-length album per year, every year since Kalmbach started using the moniker as a teenager in 2006. In the past two years alone, he’s produced three outstanding black metal albums that we’ve touched on; you may remember last year’s Ship Of Theseus appearing high in our Best Metal Albums feature. Kalmbach is best known for using a microtonal guitar in his one-man black metal efforts, but much of his discography consists of various experimental iterations of harsh noise, electronica, and ambient music. Jute Gyte has largely pursued these styles independently, on separate albums, with only philosophically minded bleakness and a relentless urge to subvert conventional form tying it all together. On Perdurance, Jute Gyte’s first release of 2016, these threads converge to incredible effect. Not since the project’s earliest days has Kalmbach deployed so many of his compositional and tonal tools at once, and his work has certainly come a long way since. While the bulk of the material consists of the looking-glass black metal that has become Jute Gyte’s public calling card, the painful metallic grind now falls away in mid-song regularly, creating fissures that glitchy textures seethe up to fill. These elements sometimes overlap, creating truly alien sonic spaces like the mottled void of “Like The Woodcutter Sawing His Hands.” [From Perduranc, out now via Bandcamp]Doug Moore

2. Sivyj Yar – “The Unmourned Past”

Location: Vyritsa, Russia
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Russia’s Sivyj Yar have consistently put out some of the best atmospheric black metal albums of recent vintage, releasing beauties annually for the past three years. The band paints a weary pastoral picture — cold gray days after the harvest with a long winter ahead. Sivyj Yar’s PR rep only brought it to my attention recently, but it turns out that the albums linked above were actually conceived of as a series called “The Peasant Trilogy,” which consists of three LPs bookended by two EPs. Now, the saga of the oft-forgotten poor who work the land is coming to an end on The Unmourned Past, with the title track closing the book on the series as a whole. “The Unmourned Past” is sorrowful but bright, a mid-tempo track that features the bowed instruments and organic-sounding bass that have largely characterized “The Peasant Trilogy,” which has featured numerous heart-swelling masterpieces that play as much to the soul as the ears. Sivyj Yar’s architect, Vladimir, kicks off the song with a wild-eyed solo, and his howls are as pained and earnest as ever. But when it all comes to an end there’s a sense of peace to it, as if after so much toil there’s a reward of well-earned rest. The album artwork features Aleksey Ganin, a “peasant poet” like his friend, the better-known Sergey Yesenin, who took his own life at the age of 30 near the end of 1925, writing a farewell poem in his own blood when no ink was available. Ganin likewise died in 1925, executed at 31, I am told, by the Bolsheviks for his criticisms of Soviet politics and how they interfered with traditional agrarian life. There is scant information to be found about Ganin, though his poetry lives on as lyrics on some songs on Sivyj Yar’s Burial Shrouds. [From The Unmourned Past, out now via Avantgarde Music]Wyatt Marshall

The Unmourned Past is out 6/21 via Avantgarde Music

1. Hammers Of Misfortune – “Dead Revolution”

Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: progressive metal

Hammers Of Misfortune are the principal songwriting concern of San Francisco-based guitarist John Cobbett. At this point in this career, Cobbett’s probably better known for his work with the influential black metal band Ludicra and the supergroup Vhol, which features fellow members of both Ludicra and HOM. This strikes me as a little weird, as Hammers Of Misfortune are the longest-running, the most accessible, and frankly the best band in the guy’s oeuvre. Hammers Of Misfortune traffick in a vintage style that, despite its venerable roots, usually goes by the name “progressive metal.” In this case, “progressive metal” sounds like a point of triangulation between Iron Maiden, ’80s Metallica, ’70s Pink Floyd, and Queen’s burliest numbers. Those are weighty reference points, and most bands that draw them would crumble under the resultant comparisons. But Hammers are genuinely making music on that level — as with these forerunners, they have an uncanny ability to wrap up lofty concepts and complex compositions in painfully emotive, insanely catchy packaging. This last bit is especially unusual in the contemporary metal scene, where sophistication and accessibility often seem inversely proportional. You might even call Hammers “fun,” if Cobbett’s harmonic sensibility and beautifully elegiac lyrics weren’t so poignant. This politically driven melancholy plays a big role in Hammers Of Misfortune’s knack for making everything old sound new again. As with its predecessor, 2011’s excellent 17th Street, the band’s upcoming sixth LP Dead Revolution revolves around the ugly consequences of San Francisco’s ongoing gentrification. “The better world you were trying to build is / Laughing in your face,” sings vocalist Joe Hutton on the album’s absolute burner of a title track, which by itself serves as a substantial argument for Cobbett’s place among the best songwriters working in heavy metal today. [From Dead Revolution, out now on Metal Blade]Doug Moore