The end of the summer doldrums always brings tidings of many noteworthy metal releases, as record label employees return from their beach vacations and say, “Oh shit, we better get these things out the door in time for magazines to put them on year-end lists!” This year’s crop has included new music from a ton of exciting and beloved bands, on top of the usual mountain of obscure curios: stalwarts like Darkthrone, Meshuggah, the Dillinger Escape Plan, and Neurosis (in teaser form, at least); recently established powers such as SubRosa, Trap Them, and Ulcerate; and fringe-y favorites like Alcest, Car Bomb, and 40 Watt Sun. We’re not even gonna be able to include all this stuff this month!
So, of course, the topic on every metal fan’s lips/fingertips throughout August was:
Yea, for Metallica hath released a song from their upcoming album, and lo! Every metal fan in the world feels the urge to form an opinion and comment publicly on it. So let it be written (on social media); so let it be done.
To which you might quite reasonably respond: “But why? Metallica hasn’t been good since (insert previous decade), and ‘Hardwired’ is not such great shakes.” (It’s really not!) Or: “But why? You’ve already said, at excruciating length, that you don’t put over-the-hill legacy bands in the column.” And either way, you would have a point. Every time Metallica does anything, and I find myself thinking about them — which is often — I also find myself wondering why on Earth I’m still paying even half-assed attention to a band that hasn’t done anything I’ve enjoyed since the Reagan administration. But if you love metal, you just can’t get around or away from Metallica, no matter what you think of them.
As much as you all surely want to read another elaborate exegesis of latter-day Metallica, I’m more interested in why even disgruntled fans like me keep tabs on them — aside from their massive PR budget, of course — because it speaks to something fundamental about the way people tend to experience metal. Over the weekend, Black Market duder Ian Chainey wrote a long, fascinating Facebook post comparing his reaction to “Hardwired” to his response to the new Darkthrone single, “Tundra Leech.” He nailed the heart of the matter, so I’ll just quote to save thinking:
I knew Metallica long before I could separate the PERSON from the BAND from the CONCEPT. It was before I knew how tough adulthood is; before I knew that no matter how close you are to someone or something, we all grow apart because the context always changes; before I knew real disappointments, depression, downfalls, etc. In a way, then, I’m still beholden to a sort of childlike logic with Metallica. My conception of them just stuck like a broken clock, the same way I think of old pets or things I used to treasure. It’s not that Metallica should always be “Battery,” it’s that they should always be the FEELING I had when first listening to “Battery.” They are gods, and gods (sorry Greeks/Romans/most religions) are infallible. Metallica, though, like all of us, have been proven to be very fallible. Cognitive dissonance, commence. Output: a context too messed up for me to ever like Metallica again. It’s a scar now, not a wound. Kinda don’t want to reopen it.
Let’s distill this down. This is how I listen to classic Darkthrone and classic Metallica.
Classic Darkthrone: Man, this is good music. I like good music. That is something I value as an adult.
Classic Metallica: Man, remember that time I sat in my yard and listened to this thing all day? I wish my parents were still around.
I’d wager that quite a lot of metal people feel this way about Metallica, and it’s a big part of why their post-’80s material has received such a harsh reception from their core fanbase. Load, St. Anger, and Lulu neither sound like “Battery” nor feel like “Battery,” so people who want to feel that feeling again instead experience only betrayal.
But a similar dynamic likely affects the way people think about Darkthrone, and many of the other well-known bands that makes up metal’s pantheon of elders, strictly because of the young age at which first contact occurred. Metal is a youth culture first and foremost, after all. Metallica have reached exponentially more impressionable ears than a band like Darkthrone, of course, but any legit-great metal band can evoke that first-spin “whoa!” reaction in a kid with the right mindset. The preponderance of black metal bands we cover in this column suggests that a lot of people heard Darkthrone’s early classics for the first time during their teen years, and felt that same feeling: that the bottom of the world had dropped out; that no rules really govern music, or anything else; that the world is far bigger, scarier, and more wondrous than previously dreamed.
That rush of recognition is what makes lifelong fans of metal — or of any art form, really — and it’s always a mixed blessing. One of its key ingredients is intellectual immaturity; you have to be at least a little naïve to really internalize the high, to welcome it into the core of your being, rather than registering it as a novelty among many banal novelties. And when you do, love for the music doesn’t come alone. It brings a bunch of emotional baggage with it, in the form of possessiveness and expectations.
And so these first-contact bands become little parts of you, like childhood friends do. Your delicate relationship with them, predicated on that original “whoa!” moment, can turn sour if one of the parties doesn’t manage it well. Darkthrone has kept the faith in this sense according to most of their fans, but Metallica has disappointed, like a lot. They’re famous for it at this point! And yet nobody ever really gives up on them. Just like that fuckup you’ve known since middle school, you still see them in warm sepia even as they infuriate you repeatedly. You give them more and more chances, against your better judgment, until you finally find yourself developing an in-depth opinion on “Hardwired,” the new song by a band that has done pretty much fuck-all for you since the internet was a new thing.
This is a senseless way to behave, of course, but it’s extremely hard to resist. And this process can make people extremely sour and conservative about not just metal, but music in general. I suspect that everyone who’s ever said “THERE’S NO GOOD MUSIC COMING OUT THESE DAYS” in public has victimized themselves in this fashion many times over.
The best way to get away from this dynamic, in my humble opinion, is to consciously reorient your focus towards the vast quantity of new stuff that isn’t tied to an anvil’s worth of childhood context and absurd expectation. The reason metal is so good at generating those “whoa!” moments is because it offers virtually endless possiblities for exploration. Like English, the language it relies so heavily on, it’s a postmodern chameleon of a style, capable of subsuming virtually any idea into its corpus. It should go without saying that once you’ve got a sense of the greater thing, you’re unlikely to experience that childlike wonderment again. But that’s just getting older; it hurts, but looking ahead keeps you young. There’s always plenty left to see. –Doug Moore
15. Hands Of Thieves – “Wrath Weaver”
Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: blackened death/doom
Hands Of Thieves are tagged as “blackened death/doom,” and, you know what, no complaints. Rejoice: an accurate tag. “Wrath Weaver,” the first track on Feasting On Dark Intentions, the debut from this anonymous Portland-based group, crawls in a suitably necro way. The guitars are heavy and chunky, yet charred-black, reaper-like dissonance always hangs overhead. This blackened death/doom duality permeates everything, really: Vocals range from Asphyx-ian throatclearing to incensed insanity; the rhythms lock into both pummeling grooves and dizzy blasts. “Weaver” is a real one-plus-one thing; black metal meets death/doom head on without Hands needing to nerf the styles to Tetris them together. And when both styles’ dominant feelings are intertwined, it’s a heck of a thing. Later on in “Weaver,” the singer lets loose a possessed howl over deep distortion. Moments like that render a lot of weaker, trepidatious tag-sharers that much more flaccid. However, what doesn’t come through in that tag is how much Thieves love riffs. A ponderous slog “Weaver” is not. Instead, imagine a riff-obsessed act like Swarm Of The Lotus treated in the same mental hospital as Silencer. Just, you know, death/doomy. What starts as a showcase for slow strums that seep out like smoke from a fog-machine soon blooms into quite the headbanger that burrows into spot-hitting grooves. Feasting only gets more interesting from there. [From Feasting On Dark Intentions, out 9/11 via Transylvanian Tapes] –Ian Chainey
14. Marsh Dweller – “The Dull Earth”
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Subgenre: melodic black metal
Fuck. If you put me in a focus group and told me to lift riffs from sweet bands to craft the perfect metal record just for me, this is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Sole member and Marsh Dweller mastermind John Kerr cooks up pagan black metal + melodic death + traditional heavy metal, casually blended to the ideal consistency, bereft of shittiness, dripping with dual guitars and medieval motifs, leaving the rough edges intact for added character. Notwithstanding the slightly unwieldy band name, Marsh Dweller have found my sweet spot. I could sit here and dissect every riff and reference for you — namedropping my actual favorite things like Aeternus, Agalloch, Hades, and Obsequiae (Tanner from Obsequiae actually plays the guitar solo here), plus classics like Jester Race-era In Flames and Viking-period Bathory — and you might get the idea. Melody clearly rules the day. Honestly, I feel like I’m not even capable of properly intellectualizing this thing because it just hits too damn close to home. So this is me shirking my duties: Just listen to “The Dull Earth” and you’ll get it. [From The Weight Of Sunlight, out now via Eihwaz Recordings] –Aaron Lariviere
13. Grift – “Källan”
Location: Västra Götaland County, Sweden
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
When people wonder aloud as to why Scandinavia produces so many metal bands, you’ll often hear about the harsh, cold landscape or the days on end of darkness that come in winter. That very well may be, but of those bands that in some way draw music from the atmosphere and pull it from the earth, perhaps none captures the sting of the frigid air or the grit of the frozen soil and the marrow of northern existence as well as Sweden’s Grift. Grift play pretty music for tortured souls, weary songs fit for those gorgeous desolate landscapes and solitude, and “Kallan” encapsulates the spirit from its sorrowful accordion-backed picked intro to its hurtling tragic finish. But desperation and regret forcefully and vividly come to the fore with mastermind Eric Gärdefors’ absolutely searing vocals that howl and bleed with anguish and stand in contrast to guitar leads that seem to bear a sense of resolve in spite of it all. As a whole, it’s really quite cinematic, and “Källan” is a story shot in sepia tone, looking back on what was and what was lost. [From Betrayed By The Sun/Häringar, out 9/16 on Nordvis and Season of Mist] –Wyatt Marshall
12. The Dillinger Escape Plan – “Limerent Death”
Location: Morris Plains, NJ
Any metal band that’s risen from underground roots to anything even approaching commercial viability can tell you that success comes with a price. This holds especially true for a band like the Dillinger Escape Plan, who made their name around the turn of the millennium as avatars of the unhinged metal/hardcore hybrid known most commonly as “mathcore.” Though the band has never completely abandoned the wild-eyed stuttering sound they first made famous with 1999’s Calculating Infinity, they have since become a different group both literally and figuratively. Only guitarist Ben Weinman remains from the early years — every other position in the band has been filled by at least three people, depending on how you count — and his songwriting has increasingly relied on poppy influences from the likes of Faith No More and Nine Inch Nails to bolster the flailing technicality the band is best known for. And it’s worked. The Dillinger Escape Plan have become a substantial commercial and cultural force, in spite of many unapproachable and frankly crazy-sounding core traits. (The only comparably weird metal band that has achieved a similar degree of success is Meshuggah, who have likewise inspired an entire subgenre of acolytes.) But again, not without a price. TDEP have lost the esteem of many older fans even while recruiting legions of new ones, and touring in relentless fashion exacts a toll too — which is no doubt part of why the band recently announced its intention to wind down after releasing Disassociation later this year. It’s notoriously difficult for musicians to abandon successful projects, and opting to dissolve Dillinger despite the band’s ongoing popularity must’ve been an extremely difficult decision for Weinman and its other long-tenured members (specifically, vocalist Greg Puciato and bassist Liam Wilson). However, there’s a consolation prize for this loss — lead single “Limerent Death,” which captures more of the salad-days Dillinger mania than any recording the band has produced in a decade. Even the song’s titular reference to limerence recalls the stalkerish fixations of Calculating Infinity, and Puciato’s vocal tantrum in the song’s closing setpiece is genuinely upsetting. Oh, while we’re on the subject: Make sure you catch TDEP live on tour while you still can. It’s a singular spectacle that no band on earth can match. [From Disassociation, out 10/14 via Party Smasher Inc.] –Doug Moore
11. Trap Them – “Luster Pendulums”
Location: Seattle, WA
Subgenre: hardcore / grindcore
The guitar tone most famously associated with projects recorded by Kurt Ballou — that Entombed-derived chainsaw-distorted heat-blast — has long since outlived its novelty. We’re now at a point where you don’t have to hear the new NAILS record to feel like you’ve heard the new NAILS record. Of course, Ballou’s arsenal consists of way more weapons than just that one (listen to the new Russian Circles joint for recent evidence), but even so that remains his nuke. And when it’s deployed in the right setting, it still destroys. Trap Them have been working with Ballou for forever now, and they rarely (if ever?) turn off the HM2 pedal, but they’ve taken that sound to such an extreme that it almost comes off like a whole new thing. These guitars don’t even sound like string instruments; they sound like a church organ plus a drum line plus a field recording from inside a beehive. That noise is a tactile thing, and it’s spiked with pure chaos: tough-guy/D-beat vocals fire-breathed over grindcore blasts delivered with a deep groove. Yeah, you’ve heard it before. But man it feels so fucking good, why wouldn’t you want to hear more? [From Crown Feral, out 9/23 via Prosthetic Records] –Michael Nelson
10. 40 Watt Sun – “Beyond You”
Location: London, UK
Subgenre: post-doom un-metal
There’s a garbage genre tag if ever I wrote one. In reality, this is pure slowcore — downbeat rock played low and slow, not even remotely “heavy” but still heavy, if you catch my drift — the type of thing you’d expect from Red House Painters, Low, or Codeine. It’s easy to listen to “Beyond You,” our first glimpse at the new 40 Watt Sun album, and wait for the hammer to fall — the moment where the gain kicks in, the sun goes black, and our ears happily implode. It never happens. Instead, we get a plaintive vocal over a downtrodden guitar, nothing flashy; heartache set to simmer. At the 5:30 mark — right where we expect the heavy riff to finally drop — the clouds break and we get something completely different. Chords shift, a gust of hope blows in, and the vocals just soar. I’ve listened to this track probably thirty times, and every time, this is what I’m waiting for. It’s a subtle payload, but it gets me. One reason I’m covering it here, in our monthly metal column, is the band’s history: Singer/guitarist Patrick Walker and drummer Christian Leitch both played in the legendary doom band Warning, which produced at least one perfect metal record in 2006’s Watching From A Distance. Warning eventually dissolved; Walker and Leitch reemerged as 40 Watt Sun, picking up the emotive threads of Warning and carrying it slightly further from traditional heavy metal while keeping the heavy guitars intact. By all accounts, the new album sheds those guitars completely. Sometimes it’s depressing to watch a great metal band “go soft,” but c’mon. We’re all adults here, and this is fantastic. [From Wider Than The Sky, out 10/14 via Svart Records and Radiance Records] –Aaron Lariviere
9. Auroch – “He Wreaths The Cross”
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Subgenre: death metal
“He Wreaths The Cross,” the first stream from Auroch’s third album, Mute Books, goes hard. You kind of knew that coming in if you were previously familiar with the Mitochondrion-related Vancouver trio. But, the hardness of its going is still eyebrow raising. Though the death/thrash timbres from the early demos have been replaced by bruising blackened death metal (guitarist/vocalist S.M. is the only member left from the early days), vestiges of that old attitude continue to permeate Auroch’s attack. There’s a certain thrash ferocity here, along with brief dives down into the bracing messiness of punk. That’s not to say “Cross” isn’t all-caps HEAVY or bolded death. It’s just that these elements increase the force of the impact. It blocks the B.S. Where another band might spend a few minutes laying a chuggy foundation with plenty of pinching, Auroch barrel ahead for an action-packed, head-spinning three minutes, proving that something rightly described as “labyrinthine” doesn’t necessarily have to be long. Imagine, say, a version of Cryptopsy more focused on immediacy, or if cult favorites Appalling Spawn discovered a darker sort of mysticism. “Goes hard” more than suffices, though. Even after many plays, “Cross” still spits out surprises due to the complex musicianship and its death-metal-all-the-way-down depth. All told, you’ll end up spending a lot longer than three minutes with this one. [From Mute Books, out 10/21 via Profound Lore] –Ian Chainey
8. Mare Cognitum – “The First Point Of Aries”
Location: Lake Forest, CA
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
More and more metal bands have been turning to the cosmos for inspiration in recent years, realizing that what flies above in the great unknown might be far more interesting — and menacing — than what lies beneath. Everyone from Inquisition to Mesarthim are astronomers (more from the latter soon), and, hell, we used the word “cosmic” three times in our June edition of the Black Market. The one-man band Mare Cognitum is an early practitioner of what might be called cosmic black metal, and on excellent past albums, Mare Cognitum has blended atmospheric space vibes, radical guitars, and blistering black metal into intricate and deeply rich songs that managed to capture both a sense of awe inspired by outer space and the fury of the forces at play in the unknown. This month, we were gifted with new music from two new Mare Cognitum recordings. On “Crimson Abyss: NGC 2238,” taken from a split with the likeminded band Aureole, Mare Cognitum seems more clearly focused on the dark side of what might lurk in deep space. Sargeist-like riffs buzzsaw through the void, and some of the technical laser-precision on past albums has been replaced with a more gruffly aggressive and muscular stance. Here, on “The First Point Of Aries,” Mare Cognitum fires with precision, channeling the more awe-inspiring elegance of planetary bodies, galaxies, and the unbelievable workings of physics. In exploring the cosmos, Mare Cognitum has found something both sinister and wonderful. In exploring the cosmos, Mare Cognitum has found things both sinister and wonderful. [From Lumeniferous Aether, out 9/16 via I, Voidhanger and later on vinyl on Fallen Empire Records] –Wyatt Marshall
7. Cognizant – “Ennui”
Location: Dallas, TX
If you enjoy blastbeats, you gotta know about Bryan Fajardo. It’s that simple. This Dallas-based grindcore drummer is one of the most intense players in any extreme metal style — he just finished a stint filling in live for Rotten Sound’s Sami Latva, whom I went on about at length a few months ago, and he’s one of the tiny handful of humans equipped to do so. Fajardo’s own studio résumé reads like a list of grindcore notables itself, featuring the likes of Gridlink, Noisear, Kill The Client, and Phobia. Cognizant, his newest band, continues this lengthy winning streak. Formerly known as Amygdala, this band’s vision of grind focuses more on bladelike sharpness than brute force. Short tunes and shredding tempos abound, but they do more than swing a testosterone wrecking ball. Guitarist Irving Lopez and Alex Moore use spacious, keening chords to project a weirdly melancholy energy which, in conjunction with the band’s sci-fi lyrical themes, reminds me of Artificial Brain if they were to compress all their songs down to less than 3 minutes. Suffice it to say that these guys are putting a lot more thought into their songwriting than the average grind act, and they’re a live powerhouse to boot. It’s mostly been a slow year for grind, so this precision strike of a debut LP hits especially hard. [From Cognizant, out now via the band] –Doug Moore
6. Alcest “Oiseaux De Proie”
Location: Paris, France
Subgenre: post-black metal
Even at its earliest and ugliest moments, black metal always had the capacity to be beautiful and wondrous: Filosofem and Bergtatt are two of the prettiest records in my collection, in any genre. But France’s Alcest were the first black metal band to make beauty and wonder the whole point. They paved a lane for countless others to barrel down; without Alcest, you wouldn’t have Deafheaven, and Deafheaven would be the first to admit it. But Alcest followed that road to its logical conclusion on 2014’s Shelter, making an album that was simply very pretty without any of the menace or nastiness required to still be called “black metal.” Not a bad thing, honestly! Having reached that terminus, though, they had to choose a new direction. So what did they do? They turned around. And holy fuck, they somehow found a point on the path that they’d missed the first time through and it is AMAZING. “Oiseaux De Proie” is the first single off their upcoming LP, Kodama, and it’s an astonishing blend of everything I ever wanted in music, presented in a way I’ve never quite heard it before. The song is arcing and graceful and glimmering, yet it roars like a cavalcade of Harleys and blasts like a January hailstorm and feels like a 20-year-old basement demo you just discovered and can’t believe even exists. I never expect new Alcest music to be a disappointment, but when I first came to Kodama, I was preparing myself for a minor work, a variation on the previous theme. I did not expect them to come out with this. There’s no fucking way I could have prepared myself for this. [From Kodama, out 9/30 via Prophecy] –Michael Nelson
5. Ulcerate – “Extinguished Light”
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Subgenre: progressive death metal
Whoever said style over substance is a bad thing had a shitty imagination. Art can easily operate as a pure stylistic exercise and succeed. Hell, done correctly — with conviction, without compromise, to incredible effect — style is substance. Authors like Djuna Barnes, Blake Butler, and James Joyce; filmmakers like Jodorowsky, Tarkovsky, and hundreds of others all happily sacrifice plot, character, and other feeble human concerns in the name of aesthetics — often with fascinating, punishing results. This is art as a function of style, divorced from traditional narrative and emotional expectations, where that absence is an aesthetic choice, often meant to disorient, alienate, or at least force a new perspective. Plenty of folks can’t stand this stuff; I gravitate to it, and I suspect a lot of folks with extreme tastes do as well. On to the band at hand: Ulcerate ostensibly play death metal, but they do it in such singular, tunnel-vision fashion that you get hardly anything to grab onto: just dissonant chords with weirdly pristine production, the ebb and flow of blasting drums, cold aesthetic purity. Considering the band has stuck to this template for four albums straight — this album, Shrines of Paralysis, is their fifth; their first, Of Fracture and Failure, had a different singer and a slightly different vibe — this is clearly a choice. The effect is death metal that feels like something else: alien tones at odd angles, like some strange death metal cousin to Meshuggah’s technical thrash. Like Meshuggah, Ulcerate are essentially a genre unto themselves, less concerned with writing actual songs than subjecting listeners to a particular experience. No one does it better. It’s not quite mood music, not really; instead, it makes me think of textures and abstract themes. Stuff like plate glass walls and scattered light; hyperbaric decompression and what an arterial gas embolism would feel like; heady shit like heat death and the entropy gap and other discomfiting things I can’t quite comprehend. Other bands occasionally mine these same sounds and sensations — Gorguts’ excellent Colored Sands LP transplanted this onto more traditional riff-based songwriting — but no one else does it with this level of uncompromising aesthetic commitment. [From Shrines Of Paralysis, out 10/28 via Relapse] –Aaron Lariviere
4. Medevil – “Machination Factory”
Location: Chilliwack, Canada
Subgenre: traditional heavy metal
It’s worth going into Medevil’s Conductor Of Storms with as little context as possible. That’s a sneaky way of asking you to hit play. So, do that. Back? First impression? If you’re a fan of traditional heavy metal, “Machination Factory” is like plopping down in beloved recliner; worn in all of the right spots and comfortably lived in. From Liam Collingwood’s Mark The Shark meets Udo rasp to Gary Cordsen and Brett Gibbs’ dusty riffs and killer solos, this Canadian quintet can sure unfurl a classic jam. So, naturally, questions arise. How long has Medevil been around? This is their debut. They formed in 2014. But, surely, the members have been in other, classic bands, yeah? Perhaps they have been in other bands, but none of the epic ’80s rumblers you’re probably checking Metal-Archives connections for. None of the ’90s ever-so-slightly-proggy ones, either. But these guys are older, right? I mean, that dad joke of a name … No! Surprise, they’re not ancient. For real, check out how young these pups are. And, that’s the big reveal, the thing that kind of changes Medevil’s future potential calculus. Because “Machination Factory” isn’t a young person’s approximation of traditional heavy metal, domesticated by modern concessions meant to smooth out the listening experience for people who generally don’t like traditional heavy metal. Narp, it is traditional heavy metal, to the point where you have to wonder if this self-released peach has found its way into the inboxes of Stormspell or High Roller. And, the reason this works so well is because Medevil don’t consciously try to be a traditional heavy metal band. Look, bassist Eric Wesa and drummer Ross Collingwood flow way better than ye olde hamfisted ’80s battery, but they play with the kind of feel suggesting this stuff is just in their bones. They’re not trying to be traditional heavy metal, or trying to show up traditional metal with modern knowhow, they just are traditional heavy metal. Someone in this band has an older family member with a killer record collection, and that passer down of sacred metal has done a really good thing. All in all, the fact that these guys are here now is damn heartening. In a sea of throwback smirks, regurgitated hairballs, and millennial whoops, we can still get a Medevil. [From Conductor of Storms, out now via the band] –Ian Chainey
3. Darkthrone – “Tundra Leech”
Location: Vinterbro, Norway
Subgenre: “MODERATE METAL WITH SOME UGLY VOCALS”
Darkthrone are maybe the most beloved black metal band in history; they’re progenitors of the form, they have a thousand albums, and they’re still vital after two and a half decades of activity. Everybody loves Darkthrone — maybe not as much as everybody loves Iron Maiden (even Darkthrone love Iron Maiden), but the phenomenon is similar, and similarly special. So it’s kinda weird that there’s no such thing, really, as “the Darkthrone sound.” I guess you could argue that “the Darkthrone sound” is the “necro” studio approach, which they more or less invented, and which has been a crucial (if not universally embraced) component of black metal’s evolution. But if you consider the actual songs, you don’t hear anything resembling stylistic consistency: Soulside Journey doesn’t sound anything like Panzerfaust. Panzerfaust doesn’t sound anything like Plaguewielder. Plaguewielder doesn’t sound anything like The Underground Resistance. And none of them sound anything like Goatlord. (Nothing in history sounds anything like Goatlord.) So you really never know what you’re gonna get from a new Darkthone album. That’s part of what makes the prospect of a new Darkthone album so exciting. When announcing the band’s upcoming thousand-and-first LP, Arctic Thunder, drummer/co-founder/icon Fenriz offered a statement including this:
Hi folks, it’s time to talk a bit about our new album — and as I don’t like to talk or write about music much I can say that it is more serious and primitive than usual. Vocals are only done by Ted [aka frontman/co-founder/icon Nocturno Culto –ed.] as I thought this would create a more solemn/introvert atmosphere.
Two things about that: 1) I gotta assume Fenriz was being sarcastic about the “I don’t like to talk or write about music much” thing, because this is patently if not hilariously untrue. 2) It’s not a bad thing that Fenriz left the vocals to Culto, because when Fenriz does vocals (as he has increasingly on newer Darkthrone albums), they sound fucking insane: like a rural American bar band doing cover versions of songs from King Diamond’s The Eye or something. In that sense, Arctic Thunder lead single “Tundra Leech” does have a “more solemn/introvert atmosphere” than the last few Darkthrone LPs, although it’s a far cry from the isolationist bleakness of Transilvanian Hunger. These are meaty, timeless riffs, bashed out in a style that Steve Albini would find too raw, over which Culto raggedly croaks vague metal-archetypal lunacy (“CRAWL TOWARDS/ YOUR OWN DISSECTION”). It kicks ass, of course. There may not be such a thing as “the Darkthrone sound,” but it would be impossible to mistake this for anyone but Darkthrone. [From Arctic Thunder, out 10/14 via Peaceville] –Michael Nelson
2. SubRosa – “Killing Rapture”
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
With all of its emphasis on slow tempos and huge riffs, doom metal and its immediate relatives (especially sludge and post-metal) conventionally get the nod for “heaviest” metal subgenres. Heaviness as a concept means many different things to many people in the metal world, but most interpretations boil down to “heavy” as shorthand for overwhelming, inexorable physical force. Doom metal, with its monster amp setups and piledriving repetition, is basically set up around achieving this effect. Ironically, doom’s open tempos and manageable structures also allow it to cover more emotional ground and incorporate outside influences more easily — even when doing so involves ratcheting back the sonic tonnage. Salt Lake City’s SubRosa have built an impressive career around exploring doom’s more literate and sensitive side. Their last two albums, 2011’s No Help For The Mighty Ones and 2013’s More Constant Than The Gods, grafted elements of chamber music (most notably in the form of two electric violins) and somber Americana onto looming doom structures, to masterful effect. SubRosa delve deeper into this vein than ever before on the upcoming For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages. Though all of SubRosa’s albums tend towards Opethian sprawl, this one features some of their most ambitious and elaborate cuts to date — two songs surpass the 15-minute mark, and a third clocks in over 13. That makes “Killing Rapture” one of its more compact tracks, and it’s as good of an opportunity as any to familiarize yourself with the band’s melancholy charms. SubRosa specialize in wistful, cinematic evocations of sorrow, but they can also put together a hell of a driving build-and release setpiece, as evidenced by this tune’s second half. [From For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages, out now via Profound Lore] –Doug Moore
1. Cult of Fire – “Death”
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Subgenre: black metal
Cult Of Fire put out one of the best black metal albums of 2013, one that has been both remembered and perhaps limited in its ability to attract more casual listeners thanks to its name: ?????? ?? ????? ????????. That, Google says, is Hindi, and translates as “Ascetic Meditations Of Death.” On that album, the band from the Czech Republic — which performs live in creepy, elaborate robes — convincingly conjured dark magic from the Indian Subcontinent. Their new song, “Death,” is something different, though Cult Of Fire are just as dense and intricate and awesome as ever, and they still look to India for thematic inspiration. The song begins with a maniacal and cavernous blast, but the buzzing war horns that trumpet with intimidating imperial pomposity also betray a more contemplative and mournful side. Soon, “Death” pulls back to a vast, gorgeous, jangling expanse, where bells toll and spirits soar. Note that magical electric flourish when the song kicks back into a higher gear, and hold on for a powerful, sweeping ride. [From Life, Sex, Death, out 9/15 via Beyond Eyes] –Wyatt Marshall