Summer is a great time for heavy metal. The combination of warm weather, long car trips, alcohol, and lots of hanging around outdoors basically begs for loud, strident music, and metal can obviously provide. Ironically, the height of summer is also something of a lazy time for the business dimension of metal culture — even record label slaves and PR flacks like to fuck off to the beach for a while during the hottest parts of the year, which means that there are generally fewer noteworthy releases in mid-summer than in the spring or fall. The endless torrent of worthy metal recordings continues even through July and August, to be clear. It’s just marginally less overwhelming than it is for most of the year.
I tried to take advantage of this restful period by spending some time with some classic metal albums that I’d lately neglected, but…well, things got a little out of hand. We live in the internet’s world now, and even idle browsing can lead you down bottomless rabbitholes of absurdity. My doom was sealed in this way a few months ago, when a friend pointed out that YouTube has a feature that allows you to manually control video playback speed. Applied to music, this feature lets you hear familiar songs at much higher or lower speeds than originally intended, though slowing down music using this setting tends to produce a lot of unpleasant digital distortion. Fortunately, 33rpm rips of 45rpm vinyl records are also prevalent on YouTube, so it’s easy to find less painfully granulated slowdown cuts of most well-known albums.
So this month, instead of laboring for hours on the sort of jeremiad that usually fills this space, I goofed around listening to famous metal records at the wrong speeds on the internet. I am thus a known bum, and for this I sincerely apologize. But, in the spirit of summertime creative loafing, I’d like to share a few of the gems I discovered in this rather wasteful process. It’s no secret that simply changing tempos and overall pitches can substantially alter the character of a recording — some subgenres specifically rely on such techniques. (Or, as fellow TBMer Ian Chainey put it: “It is called ‘house.'”) But metal bands are extremely reliant on timbre and tempo to achieve their specific effects, so it’s impressive just how zany and distinct from the source material some of these transformations can get.
Before you behold the fruits of my summertime laziness, be advised: You can change the playback speed by clicking the gear on the bottom of each YouTube window and clicking the “Speed” dropdown. But remember to switch the speed back to the standard setting for the 33rpm tracks in order to enjoy the full effect; if you play them back at faster than normal speed, you end up with a pitch-shifted version of track at the original speed, which is rarely as interesting as the slow version.
Celtic Frost’s Cold Lake at 150% speed = a good record
Cold Lake holds a prominent but dubious place in metal history — it marks the moment that Celtic Frost, one of the earliest and most influential extreme metal bands, jumped the shark in an attempt to achieve crossover success. Frost fans tend to make out Cold Lake to be a genuinely unlistenable disaster, à la Morbid Angel’s Ilud Divinum Insanus or any album that Metallica released after 1990. But while its leaden hair metal stylings definitely don’t stand up to its predecessors in the CF catalog, Cold Lake was always a little more musically tolerable than purists would like to admit. And it turns out that if they’d only played it 50% faster, it would’ve been a pretty solid recording — the rawk ‘n’ plod that dominates the original becomes a peppy, NWOBHM-ish lope, and the riffs suddenly develop a serious bite. Even Tom G. Warrior’s ill-advised cooing takes on a sardonic punk snarl at this tempo.
Motörhead’s “Ace Of Spades” at 125% speed = Rancid
Seriously, compare with this Rancid song played at normal speed and tell me the resemblance isn’t striking. I have no explanation for this bewildering phenomenon aside from the fact that both Lemmy and Tim Armstrong sing like drunk pirates.
Slayer’s Reign In Blood at 33rpm = High On Fire
This one, on the other hand, makes plenty of sense. The core of High On Fire’s sound is basically Slayer riffs as performed by a big fat stoned ogre using a meat guitar. Going from 45rpm to 33rpm provides the requisite pitch shift to evoke Matt Pike’s goopy vocal and guitar tones, and his disdain for actually playing in an identifiable scale while soloing comes straight from Slayer’s playbook. The past is prologue!
Incantation’s Mortal Throne Of Nazarene at 150% speed = Morbid Angel
This example goes to show just how close various schools of American death metal really are to each other. Morbid Angel’s calling card is otherworldly, psychedelic technicality, while Incantation exemplify a much more primal and sludgy approach to the genre. But it turns out that if you just speed up classic-era Incantation a bunch, you end up with something that sounds an awful lot like the Morbid Angel opus Covenant, albeit without quite as many bells and whistles.
Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness at 33rpm = Aaron Lariviere’s metal collection
Strangely, if you slow down early Morbid Angel, you do not get something that sounds like Incantation. Instead, you get what amounts to a very grimy, murky thrash album characterized by sloppy tom fills and some truly bizarre production flourishes. I could see this coming out on Hell’s Headbangers or Nuclear War Now!, sporting a DIY hand-drawn Baphomet album cover and a band name like Goatfuck Feces or Infërnääl Bärf. And if it did, The Black Market’s very own Aaron Lariviere would not sleep until he convinced me to put it in the column. In fact, this hypothetical album probably exists and Aaron likely has a copy (on cassette, natch).
Death’s Symbolic at 33rpm = sick-ass Scandinavian death/doom
Death’s later output is far more cerebral than visceral, so you’d think that slowing it down and sludging up the tonality would just ruin the affair. Strangely, it actually works great — the approachably melodic riff style that Death used during this era take on a certain melancholy drama at more stately tempos, and slowing down the needling thrashy rhythms makes them way more brutal. This version of Death could’ve done a split with early Amorphis, Sentenced, or even dISEMBOWELMENT without sounding out of place. I would buy that album!
Disgorge’s Consume The Forsaken at 125% = Putridity
This is pretty much a master summary of brutal death metal’s evolution over the past 15 years: It’s gotten faster and that’s about it. Disgorge, a relatively early stalwart of the style, were already playing at absurd speeds around the turn of the millennium. It’s not a huge shock to find that bands currently on the cutting edge of brutal death metal are basically just doing the same thing, plus about 50bpm.
Putridity’s Ignominious Atonement at 200% speed = still Putridity
Turns out that playing ever faster hits a point of diminishing returns after a certain point. Listening to Putridity is an exercise in being alternately baffled and bludgeoned by a series of cruel and arbitrary noises, so playing their music back even twice as fast as intended hardly changes the experience.
Rings Of Saturn’s “Inadequate” at 150% speed = video-game power-up sound effects
Rings Of Saturn are not a good band, and there are no revealing insights to take away from this one; the way their flashy tapping parts sound at high speeds just cracks me up. It’s like a metal band version of those wall-to-wall coin rooms in the old Mario games where you had to run through collecting dough as fast as possible. Cha-ching!
Napalm Death’s From Enslavement To Obliteration at 75% speed = early Swans; FETO at 150% speed = Insect Warfare
This one is my favorite because it covers at least three decades of grindcore history in a single go. From Enslavement To Obliteration is arguably the definitive document of classic grindcore, but even Napalm Death were standing on the shoulders of giants when they made it. ND drummer Mick Harris coined the term “grindcore” itself to describe not his own frenetic blastbeat technique, but the murderous crawl of Filth-era Swans, whose gruesome aesthetic would have a lasting impact on grind in particular and on DIY underground metal in general. If you play back FETO opener “Evolved As One” at 75% speed, the results basically amount to a lost Filth B-side. But FETO is also the source material for a whole army of contemporary grindcore traditionalists. If you speed playback up to 150% of the original speed after “Evolved As One” wraps up, the results could be confused for the fastest material by ND descendants like Insect Warfare, P.L.F., and Wormrot.
I could keep going with this pretty much forever, but I’d rather turn the tiller over to you guys. Does Deafheaven turn into Neurosis at 33rpm? How do At The Gates sound with blastbeats instead of Slayer tempos? It’s the summer — what else is there to do? –Doug Moore
15. Execration – “Nekrocosm”
Location: Oslo, Norway
Subgenre: death metal
Most death metal bands have pretty simple career arcs — they tend to flame out after a few albums, or play around with a few different ideas before settling into a groove and doing basically the same thing over and over until the band croaks. But once in a while, the stars will align (in, like…a pentagram or something, probably), and a DM squad that once toiled in the underground will find themselves abruptly elevated to a greater level of visibility and, crucially, financial backing. When all the conditions are right, this can produce one of death metal’s great novelties: the Arena Death Metal Record. This rare beast typically bears a notable resemblance to the more gruesome works that preceded it, but filters their ideas through a catchier, bigger-budget lens — more melody, simpler songs, and a plusher production. Notable past examples of the Arena Death Metal Record include Morbid Angel’s Domination, Carcass’ Heartwork, At The Gates’ Slaughter Of The Soul, and Entombed’s Wolverine Blues. You don’t see many albums in this vein nowadays, as the era of dark-horse breakout death metal bands ended around the time when ska was viable on mainstream radio. I’m expounding on this pet theory at length because I absolutely love a lot of these albums, and Return To The Void, Execration’s fourth LP, is a rare modern example. A few other Scandinavian death metal bands have effected similar transitions recently, notably including Morbus Chron and Tribulation, but Return To The Void is my favorite specimen of the lot. It retains much of what has made Execration so charming since their proper debut in 2008: a foundation of gnarled ’80s death metal modeled largely on Autopsy, an ambitious sense of scope, and a love of spooky, trebly chord voicings popular among the corpsepainted set. Though these features prevail, they feel entirely different here, in large part thanks to Tom “Thrawn” Kvålsvoll’s burly and detailed production — a massive drum-forward sound that will take some getting used to for fans of the band’s skeletal-sounding prior works, but which sounds great turned up loud. And the songs themselves encourage volume-cranking, as all extremely catchy death metal does. “Nekrocosm” is the banger supreme on an album largely characterized by bangers. Will Return To The Void go down in history the way Heartwork or Slaughter Of The Soul did? Probably not; that era is long over, and Execration’s fundamental approach is still not particularly cuddly by death metal standards. But when you hear them transition from this tune’s mighty one-off chorus to a winding bridge a minute and a half in, it’s easy to convince yourself that it could. [From Return To The Void, out now via Metal Blade.] –Doug Moore
14. DeRais – “White Night”
Subgenre: doom metal
In the strictest sense, DeRais are an instrumental funeral doom band. Two of the four songs on these Germans’ debut, Of Angel’s Seed And Devil’s Harvest, go long, far exceeding the 15-minute mark. The music is suffocating in its atmosphere: a discordant trudge with brief moments of dour melody. Tones are often held until they ache. Slow build-ups are paid off by faster, more fevered crescendos that occasionally deputize synths to increase the crush. In other words, funeral dooooooooooooooooooom. Ah, but DeRais add wrinkles. First, the guitars have an HM-2-y crunch that’s more FDA Rekotz than Solitude Productions. Second, the pacing on Harvest is a highlight. Funeral doom has a tendency to float around like a feather caught in a room’s air stream. DeRais drive toward their conclusions in a fashion that’s closer to the handful of post-whatever sludge/doom tunes that actually work (think Abandon). And third: The way the band integrates samples into “Hellbless” and “White Night,” the two aforementioned longform crushers, is clever in that the samples become the vocals. Granted, this sort of approach is not new to metal, but this level of execution is rare. Instead of using the samples as ear candy or scene-setting prologues, DeRais treat them like mini-movies to be soundtracked. The music amplifies the power of the sample and vice versa until both elements become one. The final product is something a replacement-level metal vocalist probably couldn’t equal. It also, depending on what level you believe in total freedom of expression, could be considered controversial. “Hellbless” uses snippets of the Anneliese Michel exorcism recordings, while “White Night” contains an edit of the Peoples Temple “Death Tape.” These sample sources document real events that presaged grave consequences. Michel, who very likely was severely mentally ill, died in 1976 due to, at least in part, the well-meaning but totally delusional abuse meted out by her parents and priests. In 1978, over 900 people, a third of them children, perished in Jonestown after being compelled by their leader to engage in “revolutionary suicide.” And, take note, both samples feature not just the voices of the perpetrators but those of the victims. Soooooo, yeah, there’s a debate to be had concerning the morality of real-deal recordings of tragedies and crimes appearing in for-profit art. Considering I’m a certified doofus, that’s a debate I’m ill-equipped to lead. Worth mulling over on your own? Definitely. For the record, I rationalized Harvest like this: DeRais’ promo photo on Metal Archives — featuring silhouettes of the nameless members blurred to the point that they’re Gaussian ghosts — includes the phrase “Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” If we believe that alludes to the Massacre at Béziers, that would help us create an overarching theme of religious fanaticism/hysteria echoed by the samples, suggesting a motivating purpose that’s greater than edgelords making a buck off of dark shit. DeRais, then, are an indictment of that kind of hysteria, sympathizing with its victims while exposing the leadership that fosters its growth. Plus, it’s not like a sample drops and someone lets loose a pig squeal that can only be translated by a hyperactive 360 lyric video. All things considered, the application of said samples is as respectful as metal can get. But, hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s exploitative. Funeral doom ain’t history or journalism. If you don’t want to grapple with that kind of memento mori in your metal, you’ve been warned. [From Of Angel’s Seed And Devil’s Harvest, out now via Ván Records.] –Ian Chainey
13. Solbrud – “Forfald”
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
“Forfald” is the rare atmospheric black metal epic over the 10-minute mark that nails it out of the park with every movement. It’s expansive without becoming boring, heartfelt without being cloying, and memorable throughout its entirety — three strengths that, if you listen to enough of the genre, become more and more appreciated with experience. The opening movement establishes a driven energy while also imparting the song’s weighty sense of purpose, a burden that is brought to life later in acoustic breaks and cinematic expanses of mournful, relentless riffing. Though the vampiric vocals and blistering pace invoke the harsh bite of a whipping winter wind, there’s warmth here, too, that brings the song to life and softens the edges. The song is equally suited for following each progression with keen anticipation and immersing oneself in its grand sweeping scope. [From Vemod, out now via Indisciplinarian.] –Wyatt Marshall
12. Vacivus – “Oubliette”
Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: death metal
It seems like an awful lot of my life, at least the portion devoted to writing about all things heavy, is devoted to distinguishing the finer points of death metal variants. Riff structures, choice of scales and modes, density of production, points of influence as affected by point of origin…vivisection on a micro scale repeated multiple times per month, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Yet occasionally when I undertake the monthly ritual of parsing and fetishizing metallic accouterments, I feel like my brain does an inadvertent dolly zoom, pulling back for an out-of-body moment where I see myself scrutinizing buzzsaw tones or barking death coughs or whatever, and it all seems pretty dumb. I sometimes wonder if readers actually care where these songs and bands fit into the greater universe of metal, or whether it’s enough to know that a given piece of music rules hard. For example, British death metal bros and recent Profound Lore signees Vacivus have produced an album that rules hard. Having listened to their latest LP, Temple Of The Abyss, many times through without being forced to do so, I can say with confidence that this is excellent death metal. I could break this down a bit, compare them to fellow British travelers like Grave Miasma, link them to bands they share members with (Cruciamentum), or trace key influences back to the source (Incantation for sure) — but none of that really informs why this thing rips so fucking hard. Lots of bands sound like this. Casual ties or similarities to other great bands isn’t much of an indicator of greatness anymore, not when there’s a legitimate glut of competent death metal haunting the airwaves. No, this record deserves your attention because it’s a marvel of songwriting and execution. Morbid tones, perfectly balanced production (the ratio of filth to clarity is spot-on), fluid arrangements, phenomenally tight and expressive drumming…all packed down into a comfortably familiar, perfectly realized chunk of brutal music. I realize that’s a big old pile of hyperbole, and I guess I don’t care. Regardless of where Vacivus gets these ideas or what the band actually sounds like, the reason I love this record is for its collection of individually awesome moments. The cycle of drum-roll breaks at 2:38: kills me every time. The screaming leads that follow: excellent. Cap it off with a final gear-shift into headbanging mode, and I am sold, heart and mind. Forget the background noise; just listen. [From Temple Of The Abyss, out 9/27 via Profound Lore Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
11. Arctos – “Dawn… Sons Of Death”
Location: Alberta, Canada
Subgenre: black metal
Much of the Canadian black metal we’ve covered in this column has hailed from Quebec, where a core group of practitioners has developed a style informed by the Canadian wilderness and Quebecois identity, the latter not without a zeal for independence. But Canada is vast, and its terrain unforgiving across provincial lines. Arcots play music “inspired by the Godless wastelands of Northern Alberta as well as the jagged monoliths of the Canadian Rockies.” Sounds like a nice place to live. But harsh landscapes make for striking beauty — when “Dawn… Sons Of Death” fully launches, it does so with the fury of a maelstrom, one loaded with undertows of heart-swelling melodies that never distract from the full-blown forward urgency. The vocal delivery at times recalls the phlegmy gurgle of Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne, and it similarly keeps up a quick and wordy assault. The overall result is refined, pummeling, and memorable. [From A Spire Silent, out now via Bandcamp.] –Wyatt Marshall
10. Haunter – “Echo-Chambered Corroboration (Echelon Reassignment)”
Location: San Antonio, TX
Subgenre: progressive black metal
Ever had one of those nightmares where you’re being chased by some murky, ill-defined horror that seems to close in on you faster in direct proportion to how quickly you flee? Haunter projects this vibe in exquisite detail. This young and extremely promising act sports a name that evokes penny-dreadful schlock, which is odd given how deadly serious the material feels. But the juxtaposition itself makes sense; this is fundamentally black metal, which always marries the apocalyptic to the goofy. That tag doesn’t bear much weight in these granular days, though, and Haunter’s doing something highly specific: a night terror of a sound that wends through the creepy liminal space between death metal, black metal, and ambient music. The king of this unhospitable and disorienting realm is Leviathan, and Haunter has evolved many similar traits — vocalist and bassist Bradley Tiffin’s scraped-out shrieking is particularly reminiscent of Leviathan’s best work. But Haunter’s affect is flatter, their relentless cycling through ideas far crueler to human ears. Consider “Echo-Chambered Correlation (Echelon Reassignment),” a whopper of a name to befit a whopper of a song off their new split with Black Vice. Proceeding through the many transitions and riff elaborations that comprise it feels like being wrenched from one plane of reality to the next. So, y’know, ouch. But somehow, in spite of its many off-putting qualities and generally antagonistic presentation, this music is beautiful. The sequence of squalid arpeggios that comprise the eye of this song’s storm suggest an unmistakable wistfulness — the voice of a human soul, howling in the awful wilderness. [From Haunter / Black Vice, out now via Red River Family Records.] –Doug Moore
9. Flying Fortress – “Fast Mover”
Location: Pembroke, Canada
Subgenre: Heavy metal, punk
Flying Fortress, a Canadian bass/drums duo, are thoroughly punk and metal. That the two styles are equally proportioned is the strange thing. Even dabblers with experience on either side the of divide usually end up leaning one direction. (English Dogs were pretty thrash once they got thrashing, etc.) Fortress, though, are both things to such a crazy degree. “Fast Mover,” for instance, has speed metal roots but, man, bassist/vocalist Brandon Wars’ voice is something else. His tone has way more in common with Hüsker Dü circa Land Speed Record than what you’d expect once you hear that downed-power-line-in-a-swimming-pool bass töne. But Wars is also kinda NWOBHM-y. And crusty. And crossover-y. And stoner-y. And, well, a lot of things. On the whole, there’s a chameleon quality at work here, with style origins shifting depending on how/when you hear them. The riffs could be punk or metal. Steel Rider’s expressive and busy drumming could be punk or metal. All of it could be punk or metal. Of course, gotta ask: Does that even matter? Well, no. (Real talk: The blogger compulsion to categorize ossified when streaming services became ubiquitous. Hi, bad writer in thrall to tradition, over here.) And besides, the “what” kinda gets in the way of what BITCHWIND, the band’s second album, is. A grand experiment to unify the kingdoms with 50/50 precision it is not. Nah, it’s more the sound of two homies who have spent a couple decades playing together, their idiosyncrasies and polygenre interests incrementally commingling until a singular form was finally produced. After all, Wars and Rider have been at it at least since Goat Horn — a band that sounded like if Anvil did doom — so the 10,000 hours required for maximum voice discoverage were probably banked ages ago. But that still isn’t “it.” It is much, much simpler than that: BITCHWIND is just plain good and catchy, showcasing two dudes’ knack for finding or accentuating hooks in song sections others would gloss over. If “Bastards Keep Bleeding” didn’t already do it, a faithfully crusty cover of Inepsy’s “Who’s Next” certainly drills that point into your skull. Have fun humming all of this forever. [From BITCHWIND, out 10/10 via Uncle D Records.] –Ian Chainey
8. Lonely Star – “Haunted Kingdom”
Location: Watertown, NY
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
The opening bars of Lonely Star’s “Haunted Kingdom” catch a nice mid-tempo swing, and for an attuned ear those sad uptempo chords will signify something else — we are in Neige country, here, where mystical blues and ethereal greens complement and soften the black in “black metal.” But we’re also in the Lustre universe, where swelling keys create plush beds for galaxy gazing and star worship. The excellent fully blown-out vocals are but a passing element on this song (for more visit the rest of Lonely Star’s EP), but in exchange we are treated to memorable swaths of melancholic riffing and blastbeats, poignant breaks, and the occasional women’s choir. It makes for nostalgic stuff geared toward feelings of mourning and revelatory awe, a soundtrack for still nights awash in moonlight. For background, Lonely Star is entirely the work of a woman from upstate New York who, in the span of a year or so, has released several care-laden and contemplative short recordings of increasing scope and complexity. [From The Ritualist, out now via Bandcamp.] –Wyatt Marshall
7. Desultory – “Beneath The Bleeding Sky”
Subgenre: melodic death metal
I’m not sure why, but Desultory’s first two albums seem to get short shrift when folks talk about the “classics” of Swedish death metal. Formed in 1989, these guys were around for the glory years of Swedish death, when Entombed, Dismember, Grave, and Unleashed were dropping classics left and right, and Desultory’s first two albums — 1993’s Into Eternity and its immediate 1994 follow-up Bitterness — deserve a place on the same top shelf. Desultory were always slightly more melodic than their closest peers, prefiguring early melodeath classics like At the Gates’ Terminal Spirit Disease and In Flames’ Lunar Strain by a year or so, but they were probably closer to a catchier version of early Entombed, not too far off from where Dismember would go on 1995’s Massive Killing Capacity (though significantly better than that record), right in line with Edge Of Sanity’s Unorthodox or The Spectral Sorrows (but mercifully devoid of lame clean singing). I realize this is all painfully referential and nerdy. If anything, I just want you to realize these guys are absolutely worth discovering if you haven’t yet heard them — dig out the first two records, skip the third one (which went down the worst death ‘n’ roll path imaginable, not unlike Entombed’s late ’90s nadir, Same Difference), and prepare your ears for one of the best late-career comeback records I’ve heard in years: Through Aching Aeons, out now, streaming in full here. Technically, Desultory’s first comeback happened in 2010, and that album was surprisingly solid; for my money, the new one goes even further, with some of the best riffs and arrangements of their career. They’re even more of a melodeath band at this point, without sacrificing the aggressive edge that puts them more in line with later Dismember than At The Gates or In Flames. Best of all worlds, basically. Check out “Beneath The Bleeding Sky”: Unhinged drums ensure maximum impact; inventive and exploratory guitars churn through vicious semi-melodic riffs while delivering zero cheese. But it’s the chorus riff at 1:19 (and again at 3:46), where the lead guitar carves into your subconscious, that catapults this thing from “excellent” to “classic.” The whole album is bursting with these perfect moments (also see closing track “Our Departure” for a heartrending denouement). Very few death metal bands can strike the balance between atmospheric hooks and eyewatering intensity half this well, and the few that could haven’t done it this well since the mid-’90s. Don’t miss this. [From Through Aching Aeons, out now via Pulverised Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
6. Afterbirth – “Sifting Through The Sands Of The Unholy”
Location: Long Island, NY
Subgenre: death metal
Now fronted by Will Smith (whose 2017 MVP highlight reel already included new stuff from Artificial Brain and Buckshot Facelift), Long Island’s Afterbirth have finally put out a full-length. And sure, while a title like The Time Traveler’s Dilemma forebodes mega-prog-dork pretensions (even though it’s appropriate; more on that in a sec), fear not. Instead of some insufferable Arjen Anthony Lucassen-styled fromage, here rumbles subtly brainy brutal death metal that doesn’t lose sight of its core responsibility: rifffffffffffffsssssssssss. That sworn oath to drop a devastator about once per song reins in a lot of the exploratory wank. True, the map detailing terrain that Afterbirth travel is a heck of a lot larger than expected: The bridges between the centerpiece riffs are covered in cosmic dust; math rock and post-punk feels scurry around in the background; and modulations to major keys spur on euphoric states of bipolar mania. (The excellent “Multiverse Dementia” is the song, but the available-at-press-time “Sifting Through The Sands Of The Unholy” ain’t no slouch.) But all of that interlocks into a brutal death jigsaw puzzle pieced together by a band that doesn’t sacrifice songs for the cleverness of divergent parts. Really neat, really smart, really kicks your ass. For those in the know, then, how the heck is this Afterbirth? Youngin’ Smith aside, three-fourths of this band were previously stuck in LEGENDARY DEATH METAL DEMO purgatory on the back of the 1994 four-song Psychopathic Embryotomy. While nimbler/catchier than a lot of its peers, it was still a gore-soaked slammer. And then Afterbirth was put on ice… for nearly 20 years. Not to go full Clickhole, but… wow. Based on that criteria, imagine how astronomically tiny the odds of getting a Dilemma must have been. To bear that out, how crazy do these two hypotheticals sound? 1. Long-dead demo band returns and doesn’t lay a turd. 2. Slammer transforms into progressive monster that’s an actual progression on what’s happening today. Question to Afterbirth: Uh, what other butterflies did alternate future yous step on, dudes? [From The Time Traveler’s Dilemma, out now via Unique Leader Records.] –Ian Chainey
5. The Lurking Fear – “Vortex Spawn”
Subgenre: death metal
A weird subplot in the story of death metal: Nothing ever stays dead. For a bunch of guys so superficially concerned with the final threshold, death metal’s O.G. musicians have demonstrated a surprising resilience in their middle age. Many bands that made their bones in the classic era are still going strong, and a large proportion of the genre stalwarts that broke up in their prime have resurrected themselves. Among the biggest names in this latter set is At The Gates, the band that basically codified the archetypal melodic death metal sound in the ’90s, spawning a trillion Unearth-y ’00s metalcore bands in the process. At The Gates broke up in 1996 and eventually got back together to release 2014’s At War With Reality — a genuinely huge event in a metal landscape that had been reshaped by ATG’s original run. Opinions varied on At War With Reality. Some absolutely loved it, including this column’s esteemed founder; I found it to be in keeping with At The Gates’ catalog, but their classic albums bear an urgency that it lacks. In some ways, Out Of The Voiceless Grave by The Lurking Fear is the album I wish At War With Reality had been. The Lurking Fear is an old-guys-revisit-the-salad-days supergroup of a sort that has become very familiar in death metal lately — it’s fronted by ATG vocalist Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg, one of metal’s most distinctive voices, along with fellow lifer pals from the death metal band God Macabre and the d-beat groups Disfear and Skitsystem, both of whom Lindberg has also sung for. The template here will be familiar to ATG fans: short, blinding bursts of gnashing, characteristically Swedish kills riffs pegged to Slayer-esque dashing drums. The Lurking Fear aren’t quite as melodic as At The Gates. Instead, they skew mean and frenetic, simply batting you around the room like a toy. So many albums by extreme metal’s winter lions feel perfunctory and rote; this one, for all of its familiarities, still radiates a warm (and ironic) liveliness. [From Out Of The Voiceless Grave, out 8/11 via Century Media.] –Doug Moore
4. Grey Aura – “El Greco In Toledo”
Location: Utrecht, Netherlands
Subgenre: experimental black metal
Grey Aura’s weirdness is oddly alluring, an unsettling case of art house delirium that one could perhaps ascribe to the effects of heat stroke or staring at the sun for too long. The wide-ranging yet compact “El Greco In Toledo” holds enough shape, though, to take hold of the ear, and unusual scales, instrumentation (namely, a trombone), and production work together create the band’s strange tableau. Surely this isn’t for everyone, but for those willing to embrace some outré sounds that derive from elements of folk, jazz and more, “El Greco In Toledo” offers both thrills and moments of surreal satisfaction. Fans of Circle Of Ouroboros should find a lot to like here in this weird, twisted work — Grey Aura play by different rules, assuming different tones and tempos, diving into the song’s namesake’s distorted version of reality. [From 1: Gelige, Traumatische Zielsverrukking, out now via Bandcamp.] –Wyatt Marshall
3. Altarage – “Spearheaderon”
Location: Bilbao, Spain
Subgenre: blackened death metal
Striking while the popularity iron is as hot as it can get for cacophonous black-slash-death metal that treats distortion and dissonance like bricks and mortar, Spain’s Altarage will follow up their 2016 debut NIHL with Endinghent, an eight-track LP set to be released in October. Those addled by an OCD variant concerning sequential numbering, rejoice: This anonymized-by-hoods quartet’s Metal Archives discography is starting to have a bang-bang look that hasn’t been en vogue for a few decades. And while pessimists may fret about sophomore album clichés (the rehash burnout of too-quick turnarounds, deescalated aggressiveness of the creatively satiated, etc.), lead stream “Spearheaderon” is pretty promising. That means on 12.5 percent of Endinghen at least, Altarage still sound like Altarage. “Spearheaderon” is a noise-riff-centric beast of pure propulsion ridden by a singer that sounds like Lemmy vaped battery acid. The only time when the tumult takes a break is when Altarage groove to such a degree that you have to wonder if they’re getting kickbacks from the Chiropractic Illuminati. So, if there’s a difference between “Spearheaderon” and NIHL, it’s in the production. The sound is cleaner, which has its pros and cons. Pro: You can hear all of the elements more clearly. It turns out the riffs are pretty good and more in the Crowpath-mold than previously imagined. We also discover that the drums, too, have some style and flair and aren’t just a murk machinegun. Nice. Con: “Spearheaderon” doesn’t have nearly the same visceral impact as “Drevicet,” a track responsible for a lot of box-fan installations in listeners’ bedrooms. Still, whatever, this rips. Glad you’re back, (None). See you again in 2018. [From Endinghent, out 10/13 via Season Of Mist.] –Ian Chainey
2. Jute Gyte – “Fauna Of Mirros”
Location: Joplin, MO
Subgenre: experimental black metal
If you thought you were gonna get through a whole year of this column without some asshole (and by “some asshole” I mean me; it’s always me) telling you to listen to a new Jute Gyte record, then buddy, you thought wrong. JG auteur Adam Kalmbach retains his claim to the one-man black metal batting title with Oviri, his 27th LP overall and the most recent in a long streak of increasingly inventive and compelling works. Jute Gyte used to be a heterodox project, alternating between bent black metal and various species of electronic music, with only Kamlbach’s penchant for noise and profound sense of alienation serving as throughlines. Recently, though, those lines have begun to converge — last year’s Perdurance achieved particularly great things by overtly intertwining these formerly distinct threads. Oviri does likewise, but ties different knots. It features fewer overtly non-metal sections, instead forcing the black metal element through a horrific series of compositional threshers until it becomes nearly unrecognizable. One of Kalmbach’s compositional signatures in his electronic work is a procedural approach to writing — achieving extremely abstract and alien effects by making compositional choices according to prefabricated rules, rather than stringing ideas out according to creative intuition. Oviri leans heavily on this approach, perhaps more so than any previous Jute Gyte metal recording; according to Kalmbach’s always-informative release notes, one segment of album opener “Democritus Laughing” was composed by literally assigning notes to a 24-sided die and then rolling it repeatedly. You would think this stochastic approach would produce a gibberishy final product, but somehow it does not. As always, the self-consciously cerebral nature of Jute Gyte’s music fails to mask the pain and loneliness that drives its creator. I chose “Fauna Of Mirrors” somewhat arbitrarily from the six lengthy compositons that make up this album — not with a 6-sided die, unfortunately — but it does benefit from a classic hallmark of Jute Gyte’s vestigial heavy metal roots: a totally sick opening riff. As one Bandcamp fan put it, “Best music rolled by dices ever.” [From Oviri, out now via Bandcamp.] –Doug Moore
1. Boris – “Memento Mori”
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Subgenre: psychedelic doom / sludge / shoegaze
Full disclosure: I’m not the most knowledgeable on Boris’ 80+ (!) release back catalog. I’ve heard the early bowel-tickling, amp-worshipping drone stuff (kinda neat, kinda boring), and I’ve heard some of the mid-period stuff that made them momentary Pitchfork darlings (see 2006 highlight Pink). I’ve also seen ‘em live a few times, which is enough to realize these guys are capable of serious brilliance, even as their restlessly schizophrenic discography jumps from head-scratching weirdness (they did an EP with the singer of the Cult, for example) to shockingly perfect new combinations of sound. The new album, Dear, is the first one in years that I’ve really spent time with, and it falls squarely in the latter category, blending thick doom and grueling sludge with minimalistic shoegaze, in turns crushing and tender. If I knew the band better I might know precisely how this slots into the larger mosaic of their career, but I don’t, so I won’t pretend to: all I know is Dear, the band’s 26th full-length album (or thereabouts), makes for a wonderful entry-point into a daunting catalog. As much as it feels like a cohesive release, the band never sits still, burning through pure doom-riffing workouts (“The Power”); rumbling drone exorcisms (“DEADSONG”); fractured dream pop minimalism that makes me want to use words like gauzy, gossamer, and gorgeous (“Beyond”; heavy shoegaze bliss (“Biotope”, one of the best moments on the record); and epic combinations of the above, which are somehow even more striking for their sprawling audacity (“Dystopia -Vanishing Point-“, a 12-minute behemoth that explodes with screaming leads, like latter-day J. Mascis at his best). The track I’m sharing here, “Memento Mori,” is one of the more straightforward “metal” tracks, but it’s this perfectly contained world unto itself: as heavy, cinematic, and haunting as anything I’ve heard this year. Doom chords latch onto a gallows-trudge of a drumbeat, but the darkness is deceptive: a mellotron fades in, slowly inverting the mood, and Takeshi’s vocals are warm, heartfelt, and chest-swelling — then the song drops away for an unexpectedly quiet finish. It’s hard to describe the actual combination of sounds because it seems so simple on the surface. I’m not quite sure what they tap into to make a song this achingly perfect, but this is the real thing, just like the rest of the album — the kind of music we rarely hear, sonically deep with an even deeper emotional core, heartbreaking and gorgeous despite all the clang and clamor. [From Dear, out now via Sargent House.] –Aaron Lariviere