The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – May 2017

We usually kick off the Black Market with one of my standard 8,000-word screeds about whatever happened to irritate me during the preceding four weeks, but here’s the deal: I got totally reamed by scheduling this month. I don’t have 8,000 words of irritation in me! So let’s keep it short. How’s about we check in with one reason the crops failed at my ire farm this month: Maryland Deathfest.

MDF, as it’s more commonly known, is a long-running extreme metal festival that’s further begrimed downtown Baltimore every Memorial Day weekend since 2003. It’s grown over that period into the United States’ foremost annual metal festival — a gritty, urbanized revision of bloated European field parties like Germany’s Wacken Metalfest. MDF is a DIY operation that once trafficked strictly in small-scale death metal and grindcore festivities, but it’s diversified over time. By 2014, it had developed into a sprawling affair that typically ran for close to a week, featuring a huge multi-stage parking lot venue, multiple clubs, tons of unofficial side shows, and a roster of performers that touched on virtually all of metal’s various niches (and even reached outside of them on occasion). We’ve frequently used MDF as a convenient barometer for the state of metal in America — perhaps an unfair degree of significance to place on a fest that remains principally the fiefdom of its two hardworking founders, but that’s what happens when you’re the only game in town.

This year’s MDF was a different affair from its immediate predecessors. Most obviously, it was substantially smaller — the organizers dropped the parking lot component of the thing entirely, condensing the festivities into a pair of large clubs that formerly served as its secondary venues. It was narrower, too, featuring more straight-up brutality and fewer metal legacy acts, doom bands, and other types of music not predicated on vicious blastbeats. In short, it looked less like a Nationally Significant Heavy Metal Culture Event and more like a grimy party for people who have strong opinions about the relative merits of Scum’s demo edition and final release.

A lot of folks I know attend MDF at least semi-regularly, and many of them were dismayed by these changes. A handful of errant op-eds arguing that the festival is way over the hill did the metal blog rounds. Black Market showrunner emeritus Michael Nelson even used this format shift as a datapoint way back at the end of 2016, while arguing that metal is entering a broad period of cultural retrenchment. And as far as MDF goes, retrenchment is clearly part of the motivation here — a smaller festival is easier to manage and a safer financial bet.

However, as a fairly seasoned attendee (2007 was my first year, and 2016 was the only installment I’ve completely missed since), I was psyched by the news that the fest would be shrinking. And having thoroughly enjoyed the updated festival itself, I feel vindicated.

There’s no question that MDF is less of an epic, expansive experience in its new format than it’s been over the past few years. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, for a broad variety of reasons. For instance: Virtually every band that played MDF’s outdoor venue of yore sounded like shit. That’s not the fest’s fault; it’s just almost impossible to make extreme metal sound like much more than a lot of very loud kick drums and screeching in a giant asphalt parking lot bounded on three sides by elevated concrete. It was also impossible to provide adequate access to free water at the same venue, which is a dangerous problem at an event involving thousands of people binge-drinking all day in the sun. (Bonus reasons: Standing around outdoors for days in the late Maryland spring, which usually consists of 90-degree heat or 65-degree rain, can suck. So can relieving yourself in a portajohn after several days of thousands of metal fans doing the same.) A third issue: The individual venues used to be prohibitively far apart, making it difficult to duck between them and catch overlapping sets. The new format removed this problem; you could plausibly see at least part of every single band that played the main festival without using a car. The fest’s aesthetic also felt more cohesive this year. Its raison d’être has historically been simple: death metal, grindcore, and black metal, roughly in that order. This year’s event strayed further from that niche than the early years did, but broadly speaking, MDF 2017 felt substantially more of a piece with my memories of its salad days than the last few years have. And my personal experience with it suggests that the changes worked, business-wise — I was there for all four days and saw crowded rooms for most of the weekend.

These all seem like unambiguous improvements to the fest’s quality, at least for people who are primarily concerned with the music portion of the event. Still, there’s plenty of room for reasonable disagreement about the relative merits of various MDF formats. But the tenor of the conversation around this year’s event brings one more thought to mind. Suppose it’s true that metal is about to experience — or perhaps already is experiencing — a contraction, and that this year’s smaller MDF is a symptom. If so, it’s nothing new, and might even be for the best. Metal has always experienced periodic cultural recessions and depressions, cycling into thorough uncoolness and shedding large numbers of casual fans at least two or three times since its birth in the late ’60s. It would be very sad for an awful lot of people, including me personally, if a slump in public interest in metal were to eventually trivialize or kill MDF. But not all systems were meant to grow forever, and shedding fat can prove healthy. Metal is a niche culture, after all, and it’s produced some of its greatest bursts of creativity after being forced underground. That’s what drove MDF’s scuzzy genesis, and it may spawn more beloved institutions yet. –Doug Moore

15. Logic Of Denial – “Euphoric Abhorrent Synthesis”

Location: Italy
Subgenre: brutal death metal

If creating good music is all about finding a balance between fulfilling expectations and voila-ing surprises, Italy’s Logic Of Denial use the common elements of brutal death metal, and the customary reactions to those elements, to help position the fulcrum. In the same way as fellow pinch harmonic harvesters Malignancy, this quartet conditions listeners to anticipate an eternal forward momentum. No matter what else is swirling within, songs like “Euphoric Abhorrent Synthesis” feel like a stretch of road that’s all green lights. That’s a good thing because, jeez, that “what else” is bananas. So, let’s pull way back for a sec and just marvel at the packrat-like accumulation of br00ful timbres on this thing: blasts, busy guitars, bass hits, and vocal effects that sound like some kind of night terror tenant whipping its flagella through the air. If the thing in The Thing needed a training montage soundtrack, this would be it. But bigger than Denial’s addiction to splitting ears is the band’s love of pulling the rug out from under the listener. Check out the way “Euphoric Abhorrent Synthesis” telegraphs a groove part, even seemingly delivering on that promise for a second, and then teleports back to the plane of blasts and crazy runs instead. It’s a tease, but it gives Aftermath, Denial’s third full-length, a spark that by-the-numbers reenactors lack. Of course, even after you internalize the sleight of slam, the speed and LOUDNESS offer more than enough of an adrenaline rush to carry you through. [From Aftermath, out 6/9 via Comatose Music.]Ian Chainey

14. River Black – “#victim”

Location: Red Bank, NJ
Subgenre: metalcore

There’s no getting around it: “#victim” is kind of a cringe-y song title. The song itself is about narcissistic internet slacktivism, which is about as get-off-my-lawn as metal subject matter can get. But though this self-titled LP is River Black’s debut recording, the members have earned their curmudgeonliness. This is essentially a reboot of the defunct metalcore band Burnt By The Sun — one of the best products of a ’90s-era niche scene of jagged insanity that also produced bands like Converge, Coalesce, and Botch. (Drummer Dave Witte is also one of metal’s consummate journeymen; he currently earns his keep as a member of Municipal Waste, but he’s also done time in underground favorites like Human Remains and Discordance Axis and has loads of side projects, including another in this column.) Burnt By The Sun were always the most overtly political of these bands, thanks to vocalist Mike Olender’s idiosyncratic worldview and activist background, and easily the most sonically brutal. River Black continue both traditions, albeit with a heavier emphasis on bludgeoning groove over the tricky rhythms that BBTS once used to leaven their stomping. Even in such a colorful ensemble, the outstanding player here is guitarist John Adubato. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he’s one of the most underrated riff writers in metal history, and his substantial skills are on display on “#victim,” doling out rubbery and subtly melodic grooves that flow together seamlessly. Wait for the band to really dig in after the vocal break at about 1:35 — that’s the kind of chemistry that had me excited for this bunch to get back together. [From River Black, out 7/7 via Season Of Mist.]Doug Moore

13. Illustrations – “Pestilence”

Location: Texas
Subgenre: experimental hardcore

As much as the stigma around “crossing streams” has dissipated in recent years, hardcore and metal still have an uneasy relationship. With few exceptions (namely crossover thrash), hardcore is generally seen as a contaminant within the metal world: Incorporate hardcore elements into a metal framework and the tunes instantly become hardcore and cease to be metal. Yet the inverse isn’t true: Hardcore has been borrowing from metal from the beginning without losing any of its “core” identity. You can trace the lineage all the way back to Black Flag’s experiments on My War and the legendary Faith/Void split (Void were already melding punk and thrash with ferocious success), and it’s continued through dozens of genre variations, up to and including metalcore and its (hideous) cousin deathcore. It always struck me as strange but notable that Metal Archives has a near-universal ban on hardcore; at the end of the day, metal is a genre of purity tests and exclusion. Does any of this matter? Only to the extent that the symbiotic (or parasitic) relationship between hardcore and metal music remains essentially intact even as that distinction has partially dissolved within the listening audience. Other than that, all the handwringing is pretty funny. Illustrations are an interesting test case: As a self-identified hardcore band (they even put “hc” in their URL), their new LP, Acts Of God, borrows heavily from black and death metal. But it also casts a wide net. Tracks swerve from quiet post-punk and goth atmospherics to near-emo melodic bits with little separation, while the next track might jump from black metal blasting to an Integrity riff… only to fold in some haunting saxophone courtesy of Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont. Viewed in context of the overall album, every individual act of juxtaposition combines for a surprisingly eclectic, weirdly exciting record that rips as hard as most metal but offers something entirely different. These guys are currently unsigned (to my knowledge), so check out the Bandcamp and throw ‘em some support if you’re feeling it. [From Acts Of God, out now via the band.]Aaron Lariviere

12. Emyn Muil – “Far Umbar”

Location: Cassano delle Murge, Italy
Subgenre: epic Casio black metal

Metal fans are a self-selecting bunch as a whole, but when it comes to music like Emyn Muil’s, the herds are much thinner. Practicing in the vein of the legendary Summoning, Emyn Muil plays epic black metal set in Middle Earth. The style has its own unique instrumentation: war drums that boom across the plains, tambourines shaking out a shuffling rhythm, horns and other solemn horn-like things, a distant, triumphant guitar lead, and, of course, powerful rasps escaping from the bowels of Mordor. Again, not for everyone, but for some, “Far Umbar” will stir the embers of the soul. Much of what you hear comes from a keyboard, a charm of the style that has endeared bands like Emyn Muil, Summoning, and Caladan Brood to headphone dreamers wherever they may be found. [From Elenion Ancalima, out now via Northern Silence Productions.]Wyatt Marshall

11. Mutoid Man – “Bandages”

Location: Brooklyn, NY
Subgenre: progressive sludge metal

Do you love Cave In as much as I do? For the uninitiated, Mutoid Man are the latest project from Cave In frontman Steve Brodsky, here accompanied by Ben Koller of Converge on drums and Nick Cageao, best known as the sound engineer at Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar, on bass. But let’s revisit the greatness of Cave In for a minute. From the melting pot metalcore of Until Your Heart Stops to Jupiter’s Floydian expanse, not to mention the unfairly underrated alt-rock mastery of Antenna and the whiplash-inducing turn back to heavier sounds that came later — I love it all. Cave In were one of the bands most responsible for my personal development (de-evolution, whatever) into an open-minded metalhead, exerting a massive influence over my listening habits back when I was an impressionable pup. In the intervening years since I first saw them — at a basement show at UMass Amherst in 1999 (alongside Mosquito Control/Red Sea-era Isis), just as the band was unshackling itself from hardcore and metal with the visionary Creative Eclipses EP — I had forgotten just how much Steve Brodsky’s songwriting meant to me. That is, until I heard Mutoid Man’s latest, which is both a panoramic overview of metal in most of its forms (and mutations) and a phenomenal slice of pop songwriting. Brodsky’s gifts are multifold, but chief among them is his ability to make anything he plays feel both intricate and effortless (he’s a ridiculously good guitarist), his ability to seamlessly slide from one genre to the next (classic rock meets thrash frequently and fearlessly throughout War Moans), and his ability to write songs that connect. “Bandages” is perhaps the least representative track on the new album — it’s an alt-rock power ballad that turns into something approximating metal, like something the Smashing Pumpkins might have done on Mellon Collie, complete with a vocal assist from Chelsea Wolfe — but it’s one of my favorites. We kick off with quietly gorgeous guitars, a plaintive vocal that could fit comfortably on an Oasis record (that’s a compliment), and an arrangement that increasingly builds steam, gets heavy, and explodes into a fuzz solo for the ages. Do yourself a favor and check out the rest of the album on their Bandcamp; the record is wildly diverse and far too much fun to miss. [From War Moans, out 6/2 via Sargent House.]Aaron Lariviere

10. Blurring – “Casket Black”

Location: Rochester, NY
Subgenre: grindcore / black metal

Blurring are a newish band with deep roots in the surprisingly fertile Rochester metal scene. Here’s the condensed history, which is still a lot: Blurring are the successor band to a cult-classic ’00s grindcore band called Kalibas, featuring both of that band’s guitarists and drummer Erik Burke. Burke also played guitar in Lethargy, a similarly under-the-radar weirdo grind act whose demise in the ’90s made way for drummer Brann Dailor and guitarist Bill Kelliher to join Today Is The Day and then Mastodon. Burke has also played with grind legends Brutal Truth and Napalm Death. Bassist Danny Lilker is a legend himself; he’s been in Anthrax, Brutal Truth, S.O.D., and too many other noteworthy bands to count. (Behold his epic Metal Archives page for the full staggering display.) That’s an awful lot of weighty names attached to a band that’s almost completely unknown — the Bandcamp page for their excellent 2015 album still has 10 CDs in stock out of a run of 75! — but it’s hard to imagine that the members care. Blurring have “passion project” written all over them; the label that released the new Cloud Burner EP is literally called “Music For Us.” And all to the band’s betterment. Blurring’s music for Blurring goes at least as hard as any of the members’ (extremely fast) past bands, and substantially further afield idea-wise. Kalibas involved a lot of wild, scrambly rhythms that Burke continues to deploy left and right here, but the guitars zagged where once they zigged. The new vibe revolves around ravenous black metal tremolo patterns of the icy Immortal variety, retold by William Burroughs — all the familiar shapes have been sliced to shreds and reassembled in disorienting new patterns. It’s a wild, nasty, gnashing listen, but not in the dead-eyed way of most dissonant extreme metal — you can hear the players having fun, playing to impress each other, and the oneupmanship makes for a strangely joyful listen. [From Cloud Burner, out now via Music For Us.]Doug Moore

9. Wode – “Temple Interment”

Location: Manchester, UK
Subgenre: black metal

Wode’s debut full-length last year introduced us to their aggressive and melodic brand of black metal, a style that elided genres a bit and evoked the Gothenburg school of death metal in sound and feel. On their new album, Wode have returned with a bigger bite and a more intense fury, and though the Wode of 2016 are in there somewhere, this is a different animal. “Temple Interment” is four minutes of barely controlled chaos, with frantic guitars circling and ravenous, gnashing vocals spewing throughout. It pummels, and though there is plenty of shreddy noodling going on — there’s barely time to come up for air — never does the track lose its purposeful aim. A pulsing, fiery explosion from beginning to end. [From Servants Of The Countercosmos, out now via Avantgarde Music.]Wyatt Marshall

8. ASP – “Black Reflection”

Location: Tampa, FL
Subgenre: black metal

Few things are sweeter than uncovering demos documenting bands that are nearly ripe and ready to rip. To wit, Tampa’s ASP are impressively ruthless on Demo I: Acrimonious Spiritual Provocation. Opener “Black Reflection” is a little death-y, a little thrash-y, and definitely blackened. And, yeah, it sure goes hard. But there’s also a nimbleness to the riffs, craftiness to the whammy bar dives, and energetic interplay between the rhythms. So, either ASP are anonymously staffed by notable players or we’re catching the first glimpse of a group with a notable future. That’s a fun duality: a veteran-status handle on the material contrasted by the punky fervor of a band that’s hungry as hell. Considering the latter, dissecting the particulars of ASP feels like it’s missing the point, like holding a press conference after a bar fight. Their bestial energy lives in the moment, straightening your spine and rekindling long-lost ancestral reflexes during the recording’s runtime. It’d be a shame, though, not to dig into those death-by-one-thousand-cuts riffs; the ones where it’s like getting trapped in a wind tunnel with phalanx of cacti. To ASP: Get a tour package going with, like, Hellfire Deathcult or something and spread the plague while young band exuberance still reigns. To everyone else: Get in on the ground floor. [From Demo I: Acrimonious Spiritual Provocation, out now via .]Ian Chainey

7. Rope Sect – “Fallen Nation”

Location: Germany
Subgenre: death rock / metal

Rope Sect fall on the periphery of what we typically cover, but they are certainly in the spirit of this column. Death-obsessed and morose, Rope Sect open their debut offering with the virtually flawless “Fallen Nation.” It’s doomed love at first sight. Big guitars guide it along, with low open chords exhaling during the refrain, while a jangly lead and deep deadpan vocals bring the goth elements. Suave and enticing, “Fallen Nation” is a siren song celebrating stylish demise. What little information there is about Rope Sect, a three-piece, indicates that they are from Germany — naturally nocturnal Berliners perhaps. To provide a few metal-ish sign posts to bands that might be familiar to readers of this column, some have compared Rope Sect to Beastmilk, others something of a distant cousin of Ghost, which is more of a stretch. If this strikes a chord, rejoice: Personae Ingratae is full of similarly catchy, dark, glorious hits. [From Personae Ingratae, out now via Caligari Records.]Wyatt Marshall

6. Necrot – “The Blade”

Location: Oakland, CA
Subgenre: death metal

The rhythmic twitch of a newly minted corpse; dead flesh convulsing in rotting parody of life; this is death metal boiled down to the bones. Having spent the past several days elbow deep in every variety of death metal at Maryland Deathfest — such delights included Gorgasm, Cryptopsy, Vader, Autopsy, Father Befouled, Encoffination, Necropsy, Exhumed, Grave, Morbid Angel (with Steve Tucker, fuck yeah), and dozens more of every style and inclination — my ears may be damaged, but they’re absolutely fine-tuned for this stuff. Where weaker minds might quail before the onslaught, becoming numb to the noise or — even worse — bored with brutality, true deathfiends (i.e., nerds) rise to the occasion by plunging into the depths, emerging engorged with putrescent wisdom, or something. You do get a pretty good ear for picking out distinguishing characteristics after listening closely to hours of the stuff, so I feel newly confident in my ability to recognize greatness in death metal. Armed with such (useless) knowledge, I can say with (blindly arrogant) confidence that Necrot’s debut LP, Blood Offerings, is probably the best OSDM of the year, with a perfect balance of compositional subtlety and idiot aggression manifested through riff after dying riff. Necrot share members with fellow death luminaries Vastum; where Vastum go further afield with stranger riffing and a lyrical obsession with sexual deviance, Necrot bring the same appreciation of fine detail to a more thuggishly traditional sound, and the results rule hard. I hear echoes of all my death metal favorites: Grave, Bolt Thrower, Asphyx, and even a hint of Evisceration Plague-era Cannibal Corpse in the frequent warbling hammer-on leads, which lends some welcome unfamiliarity to the more traditional OSDM pummel (see track 3, “Shadows And Light,” for the best example of never-ending hammer-ons). “The Blade” takes a simpler path, chugging through an Asphyx-ian pogo-trudge of a verse that continually cuts loose with a ripping tremolo chorus. But over the course of its six minutes, the song works itself into a frenzy before ripping free at 4:04 with one of my favorite moments in recent death metal. Top it off with some sick melodic solos and a pummeling outro, and this deathfiend is more than satisfied. [From Blood Offerings, out 6/9 via Tankcrimes.]Aaron Lariviere

5. No Faith – “Permanent Weapons”

Location: Amherst, MA
Subgenre: powerviolence

No Faith dropped their self-titled debut in 2012, right when two Blogspot-curated styles, the rebirth of powerviolence and mysterious guy hardcore, had peaked. The album still sounds like its cover looks: a raging fire rendered in high-contrast black and white. And, at the time, it kind of split the difference between the best aspects between the aforementioned “scenes”: the fury, the speed, the noise, the intended discomfort. Five years later, as one would expect, the punk landscape looks different. Stuff like former member Sean Duram’s appropriately named SQRM has crept back into the deep underground while the rate of non-derpy powerviolence created by people who haven’t been around for decades has slowed considerably. Put more succinctly: burnout. Given those (admittedly subjectively measured) conditions, you could say it’s a surprise that No Faith’s second album, Forced Subservience, sounds so fresh and hits so hard. Then again, given the roster, it’s not much of a surprise at all. Matt McKeown (Vaccine) and Will Killingsworth (a bunch of influential bedrock bands; Dead Air Studios) are now joined by Jeff Hartford and, blastbeat please, Dave Witte. From the 35-second avalanche of pounding rhythms and grooves that barrel though opener “Permanent Weapons” to the more measured devastation of closer “Freedom And Truth” 22 tracks and 28 minutes later, No Faith’s sonic onslaught is tenaciously unrelenting. Part of that has to do with economy and efficiency of the songwriting and playing. There’s a Wire-esque approach to repetition in that if it doesn’t need to be repeated, it’s not. Even the noise, as in harsh noise, is reined in. It doesn’t spill over into indulgence. Instead, the generated squalls are used like spider silk; more often resembling the marbling of meat instead of occupying space as standalone bathroom breaks. That level of compositional smarts — that something so aggressive and angry and loud is also so considered — fits in with the members’ histories. But knowing where they’ve been, and where this genre has been, doesn’t lessen the power behind this punch. It’s what a lot of people are feeling right now expressed succinctly in sound. Tighter, leaner, way more cathartic, Subservience far exceeds No Faith’s debut. More than that, it proves that powerviolence still has something left to say. Naturally, it’s saying it on Iron Lung’s label. [From Forced Subservience, out now via Iron Lung Records.]Ian Chainey

4. Diphenylchloroarsine – “Festering Fungus Infestation”

Location: Norway / Czech Republic
Subgenre: “biochemical sludge slam”

Beware: You’re back in the Slam Zone now. We use this part of the column to punish our readers for their sins. If you’re not into that kind of thing, mosey on. But if you are in the market for some “BIOCHEMICAL SLUDGE SLAM,” you will surely want to hear in detail about Diphenylchloroarsine, the finest in death metal for people who stayed awake during high school chemistry. (The band name refers to an obscure WWI-era chemical weapon.) Or maybe not. This music is about as simplistic and primal as metal can get, in fact. There aren’t many details to even relate! Aside from the absurd chemical theme, this international project sticks monkishly to the pursuit of a Platonic ideal, as all great brutal death metal bands do. And even within that extremely narrow field, the highly specific target fits the thematic schtick. Unlike most peer output, Post Apocalyptic Human Annihilation moves at two speeds: slow and slower. The occasional blastbeats — the component that usually sets up brutal death metal’s signature car-crash payoff — are totally perfunctory here and seemingly get less airtime than even the horror-flick samples. Instead, Diphenylchloroarsine give you a 55-minute swirly in a backed-up toilet full of gooey, viscous slams, each slower and dumber the last. The vocals: intestinal. The guitar tone: turgid with bass and compression. The lyrics: What are lyrics? The entertainment factor: pretty much off the charts. If you find yourself enjoying this degeneracy, you may also find yourself questioning your quality as a human being. But it passes, I promise! [From Post Apocalyptic Human Annihilation, out now via Rotten Music.]Doug Moore

3. Condor – “You Can’t Escape The Fire”

Location: Norway
Subgenre: death metal

Norway’s Condor hold a Kolbotn Thrashers Union card. A sampler of other members: Darkthrone, Nekromantheon, Obliteration, and Infernö. That should give you an idea of sophomore album Unstoppable Power’s red-line blackened thrash sound. Of course, on the page and tablature-deep, that might not look like much. There are, after all, a lot of acts that mine a similar metal vein. But if there’s ever an argument for the importance of performance and charisma, Condor are it. This trio straight slays, fueled by the fire that burns deep in the hearts of metal diehards. Not only does it go above and beyond the call of duty in all things speed and giddy pugnacity, it somehow hits its marks. Sure, sloppy thrash has its merits, but it doesn’t compare to a band that can properly load a bandolier of ammunition into its machine-gun riffs. In that respect, Power has the same psychic payoff as completing a long-ass run in a rhythm game. But Condor are also subtly varied. Granted, this is a varied in a micro sense. Everything here sits within the same general hypothetical timespan: as if the bands that bridged NWOBHM/speed metal and the chunkier/knottier thrash that walked out of the ooze were fully cognizant of Bathory. Still though, individual tracks are different, distinguishable: Some do the thrash riff adventure thing to great effect while others hit the road like Saxon snorting a foul-line-thick clump of crank. All of it is good to great, but “Chained Victims” is the catchiest thing on offer. Not only does it have guitarist Magnus Garathun’s earwormiest hook, but it’s one of Christoffer Bråthen’s more caustic, therefore fun, vocal performances. Drummer Øyvind Kvam is also a hell of a herder. All in all, there are few things in metal like a well-executed thrasher. It’s like the heavens clearing after a long depression. Rejoice. Here’s your summer album. [From Unstoppable Power, out now via High Roller Records / Rush Of Power.]Ian Chainey

2. Amnutseba – “I/II/IV/V”

Location: Paris, France
Subgenre: black/death metal

Amnutseba’s debut demo, at least as it is posted on Bandcamp, is divided into four songs but streams as one continuous track, so consider this four-parter extra bang for your buck. There’s a lot going on here. The meandering buzzing that kicks off the demo sounds a bit like a swarm of killer bees, and that’s the general tone as “I” sways with the throes of grandiose misfortune, a soundtrack befitting the fall of civilization in a silent film. Elsewhere on the demo, Amnutseba deliver something of a devils’ ballroom dance full of quirks and macabre twangs and riffs that, in a certain light, could even be linked to sunny surf-rock provenance. The split between the two approaches is about even, and where the two meet there’s an odd synergy, where black metal blasting and death metal undertow collide with a Mad Hatter’s sense of melody. It’s unnerving in all the right ways. [From Demo, out now via Caligari Records.]Wyatt Marshall

1. Sabbath Assembly – “Angels Trumpets”

Location: New York / Texas
Subgenre: progressive metal

Trying to describe the latest from Sabbath Assembly, my vocabulary practically fails. It’s a combination of disparate moods and modes, intricate webs of melody and menace, one left turn after another. It’s all rather hard to parse — and that’s what makes it so fascinating. On Rites Of Passage, the band’s fifth proper LP, Sabbath Assembly go all-in on the “assembly” part of their name, stitching together something new and alien from a patchwork of haunted prog, wiry heavy metal, and ethereal post-punk, which makes sense considering the players involved. Rites Of Passage features the snarling pipes of Jamie Myers, formerly of Hammers Of Misfortune; Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia, Gorguts, and Vaura on guitar; Ron Varod of Kayo Dot and Psalm Zero on second guitar; Johnny DeBlase of punk/free-jazz weirdos Many Arms on bass; and drummer and original bandleader Dave Nuss, formerly of forgotten Texan thrash weirdos Angkor Wat, who was responsible for much of the earlier Sabbath Assembly material. The record feels like an act of epic cross-pollination, the result of multiple idiosyncratic musicians stretching out, breathing polyamorous life into complex arrangements, while an unseen hand guides the songs to greatness. And it’s pitch-perfect, riffs and vocals subsumed into one of the best and weirdest records of the year. “Angels Trumpets” eases in with delicate, almost diaphanous clean guitars, like Vini Reilly playing in the rain… And then it all goes sideways, not once but several times, in rapid succession: A heavy metal curtain crashes down and we could be in Candlemass territory, but instead the riff resolves in a freakishly dissonant chord. Myers’ vicious vocal barks obscure orders and the guitars spiral out of control. This is probably the heaviest track on the album, at least in bursts, and it’s also one of the gentlest, alongside prior single “Does Love Die” (check out that excellent video here). After all, this is the rare band that can blend the tones and tunes of Gorguts, Wovenhand, and Cocteau Twins and still come up roses. More of this, please, always and forever. [From Rites Of Passage, out now via Svart Records.]Aaron Lariviere