The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – September 2017

Every year around this time, two things start happening in thee world ov metal. First, the pace of releases upgrades from “torrent” to “cataract” as labels start unloading their reserve of would-be critical darlings. (We have judged a lot of riffs over the past four weeks.) Second, metal people of all stripes start waxing poetical about the change of the seasons. Metal people love seasons, especially when they’re shifting noticeably, and especially around this time of year. This makes some intuitive sense; the death of summer traditionally comes with some spooky vibes that metal likes to capitalize on, more or less overtly. There’s a strain of romantic (and yes, sometimes nationalistic) pastorality that runs through certain strains of metal which also resonates particularly with the harvest months. And given black metal’s famed obsession with cold and wüüüds, there’s a built-in connection to wintry times in the culture as well.

But overall, the strong synaesthetic association that metal folks seem to feel between seasons and the music — sweltering death metal and peppy trad shit in the summer, sepia-toned folky shit in the fall, frigid trem-ing in the winter, etc. — has always struck me as slightly odd. Aside from the aforementioned Halloween thing and the occasional Christmas connection, metal doesn’t usually have much in the way of explicit ties to the calendar milestones and festivals that make up the societal element of seasonal change. It’s also, strictly speaking, an actively non-seasonal activity, in the sense that the physical process of performing metal usually goes best in the temperate confines of climate control. (I watched a bunch of technical death metal bands soldier through their hand-cramping compositions in an unheated loading dock on a literally freezing March night earlier this year. It was so cold in the show area that the attendees were mostly dressed like ski resort chairlift operators. The musicians did not look happy to be there.) Even some of the most clear-cut seasonal associations in metal — the joy of blasting Iron Maiden out of a car in the summertime, or the broad association of black metal with “coldness” — are more metaphorical than literal. The sound of two guitars shredding out a series of Aeolian tremolo harmonies isn’t actually cold; we’re just conditioned by Immortal to think of it that way.

But these seasonal associations persist, at least among the metal folks that I know, and I bring them up because I have a slightly crackpot theory as to why. It has to do with the way that people actually experience the seasons: specifically, inside their own heads. Beyond the familiar public-space rhythms of holiday pageantry and the ubiquitous marketing cycles that go with them, the seasons themselves principally manifest as a collection of sensory perceptions — the heady scent of fresh pollen; the surprise chill of an autumn breeze in September; the quietude that fresh snow brings; the unearthly rattle of cicadas making the most of summer heat. These experiences are highly personal and subjective, which is why some people tend to make a way bigger deal out of them than others. Since they’re relatively subtle, you’re most likely to take notice of them when you’re alone. For many, this tendency plays out in the form of seasonal changes in mood.

And this solipsistic, internal quality of seasons lines up neatly with the way that most metal fans tend to experience the stuff — which is, again, alone. Extreme metal in particular has traveled an awful long way from metal’s populist, crowd-pleasing roots; rarely do the kind of sounds we focus on here make it into the playlist for virtually any kind of public space aside from actual live performances. Instead, metal mostly works its wonders on audiences of one — since blastbeat appreciators are spread quite thin on the ground, they primarily listen to the stuff in circumstances that won’t cause other people to bitch about the racket. (I might be extrapolating too far from my own experience growing up in a suburb and then living around a long string of non-brutal sorts, but the stealth metalhead jamming riffs in the econobox on the way to work is definitely a common phenomenon.) And in such individualist circumstances — schlepping from place to place, or enjoying a quiet evening at home — both the personal experience of seasonal weather and the choice of soundtrack tend to loom the largest.

And metal is extremely well-equipped to soundtrack these introspective moments. Older fans tend to rend garb and gnash teeth over the way that broad swathes of the genre have lost interest in mass appeal, but all the zillions of takes on jillions of micro-styles have their upsides. Among them is extreme flexibility, to the point where “modularity” might be a better term of art. Once you’ve figured out how to enjoy extreme metal more broadly, it becomes possible to find a version of it that will aesthetically fit not only the particularities of seasonal weather change in your area but also your personal subjective experience of that weather, down to whatever obscure leftover resonances it might have from your childhood. So, in that sense, it’s almost a matter of course that metal people obsess over the seasons and the music’s relation to them. We’re talking about an extremely sentimental bunch who are generally predisposed towards romanticizing the banal — the whole emotional tenor of the enterprise and the micro-level specificity with which it appeals to fans both play right into the effect.

Not to say that this whole effect is terribly important to metal culture, or even to the practice of enjoying the stuff casually. It’s just fascinating to me for its weirdness, which I experience firsthand all the time. This September, it’s Verge’s The Process Of Self-Becoming that’s blasting me with autumnal vibes; its lyrics have literally nothing to do with the fall or with seasons whatsoever, but something about its achey chord progressions evokes the wistfulness that I feel so often at this time of year. Your mileage will vary, of course — depends on the weather outside you, and the climate within you. –Doug Moore

15. Yautja – “Dead Soil”

Location: Nashville, TN
Subgenre: grind / sludge / metalcore

Yautja, from Nashville not Prime, deals in reactor riffs, in that these grind/core/sludge constructions could probably power one. No, that’s dumb, maybe “monuments to relatable chaos and fury and heaviness” would be more apt? Nope, not it, still dumb. Clichés seem to slide off a band like Yautja. So, maybe…these riffs tell a story? Sigh, okay. To that end, “Dead Soil,” a 2012 split inclusion now set to sit on a named-the-same EP collecting out of print bangers, spins its yarn with ruthless efficiency. The trio first blasts in bursts. The hammering stuns, but the playing is lithe, not machine-like. There’s a truer, realer vitality here that other bands of this ilk tend to trade out for market-approved brutality or one-note, age-specific emotional appeals. Then: “nothing.” Really though: “NOTHING!” Over and over, “nothing” is roared. (Full line: “You steal, destroy, rebuild, and wait for nothing.”) There’s one last try to reestablish normalcy. After that, the tempo slows, like the realization of “nothing” — the futility — has spread with the inevitability of a poison. Soon the buzz of bass and guitar becomes more infrequent. Drums pound until they don’t. Once unexpected, the unavoidable now looms. Project whatever personal hangup you want to upon this track, it’ll soak it up. In a way, that’s what has made Yautja so successful so far: you could work out some stuff while listening to either of the newer Songs without sacrificing the primal pleasures of a loud, visceral musical experience. People really connect with this band for that reason. Nod your head, feel some things. You could say “Dead Soil” is that in 80 seconds. However, like the sneaky diversity of Yautja’s oeuvre, that’s not really it, is it? Five years old, still sounds fresh, still shrugging off categorization by targeting something deeper than artifice. [From Dead Soil, out 11/10 via Anti-Corp.]Ian Chainey

14. Tetragrammacide – “Cyberserking Strategic Kalpa-Terminator (Advanced Acausality Increment Mechanism)”

Location: India
Subgenre: black/death/noise

Hoodies and gasmasks. Buzzing flies. Esoteric noise and grueling black/death paired for maximum psychic warfare, set to unrelenting blasts. If you’re the type of maniac who clamors for maximum pain, more more more, harder and faster, Tetragrammacide would like a word. It’s not that they’re especially hard to listen to — there are discernible riffs, even things resembling melodies, and the production is surprisingly clear considering the aesthetic — but the presentation of all the elements, visual and sonic, are just so blown-out and ridiculous in combination, unlike much of anything in their depths of hilarious brutality. Exhibit one: the visuals. I invite you to gaze upon the batshit press photo, replete with retro Xerox war metal vibes and weird shamanic esoterica; also, the schizophrenic glory of the album art. Exhibit two: the visionary pseudo-intellectual gobbledygook song titles. The first single, as you can see, is called “Cyberserking Strategic Kalpa-Terminator (Advanced Acausality Increment Mechanism).” The second, “Hyperspatial Mandala of Intuitive Latencies / Prognosticators of Transyuggothian Metareasoning”, is just as good. Exhibit three: just listen to this shit. There are riffs buried under the din, but the intensity is on 11 from the word go. It’s hard to capture ultraviolence on tape that doesn’t just annihilate the listener, but this one somehow keeps me coming back for repeat listens, even when it feels like my ear drums are being peeled from the inside. Nonsense times call for nonsense tunes. [From Primal Incinerators Of Moral Matrix, out 11/3 via Iron Bonehead.]Aaron Lariviere

13. Woeful Silence – “Echoes Of The Past”

Location: Winterthur, Switzerland
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Woeful Silence sears deep with “Echoes Of The Past,” maintaining a delicate sense of mourning across a song with more than a smidge of prettily-picked guitar work and thundering crescendos. Though the mid-tempo track is sweeping in scope, at times a sense of deliberate carefulness in the playing becomes evident—such that the ear notices the measured execution at the molecular level that drives the grand whole more easily than usual. From what I can tell, Woeful Silence should have had ample time to think things through rather carefully in writing “Echoes Of The Past.” The one-man project has just two songs to its name, one from a split cassette released back in 2014 and, now, this song, also from a joint-effort release. Hopefully the next one doesn’t require a three-year waiting period—Woeful Silence whips together captivating, memorable stuff. [From Woeful Silence/Euphrasia, out now on Cruel Bones.]Wyatt Marshall

12. Portrait – “To Die For”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: heavy metal

Heavy metal — in the traditional gilded-codpiece-beneath-flapping-loincloth sense — doesn’t have to be a tired rehash of dead ideas. Rewind back past the last few decades of hollow aesthetic fetishism, and there’s mountains of precedent for this. For example, when a world-weary Judas Priest took a hard left turn towards thrash on 1990’s violent masterwork Painkiller, traditional heavy metal got the speedball it desperately needed, a classic record was born, and an aging band was momentarily on top of the world, metallicly speaking. Similarly, when Chuck Schuldiner broke free of his death metal shackles, stepping away from Death to form the progressive power metal act Control Denied, he had the germ of a perfect idea to marry his evolving progressive death aesthetic with righteous, chest-thumping heavy metal. Even if The Fragile Art of Existence is messy around the edges, it’s clearly driven by its own ambition, which lends enough animating force to make it a fascinating listen even now. Which brings us to the ferocious new album from Portrait, melding thrashing, almost-death-metal guitars (think Heartwork) with explosive choruses, earnest balladry, hints of early black metal (ala Mercyful Fate, mostly), and even some fiery prog—without sacrificing an ounce of heavy metal thunder. Strip away the expected heavy metal tropes and accoutrements, and you find a heart of filigreed steel—intricate and strange, but pure metal nonetheless. I could have easily picked any track off the band’s fourth album, Burn the World, including the scorching title track, the 9-minute multi-part closer “Pure of Heart” (loaded with tasty clean arpeggios), or the total ’80s crush of “Martyrs” (not unlike the muscular riffgasm of last year’s Sumerlands record). Instead I picked “To Die For,” which has my favorite chorus and otherwise rips hard. You may as well just stream the whole thing here. [From Burn The World, out now on Metal Blade.]Aaron Lariviere

11. Sacred Son – “Apocalyptic Winter”

Location: London, UK
Subgenre: black metal

Sacred Son is so awesome. On the one hand, “Apocalyptic Winter” is one of the most badass black metal tracks you’ll hear this year, full of booming passages of epic riffing, absolutely filthy breaks, and a pitch-perfect sense for when to pull out righteous tricks from across the metal canon. It is all executed to perfection. On the other hand, you’ve got the cover art of the year, an Instagram-filtered (Lark? Valencia?) shot of our boy Sacred Son smiling for the camera on a cliff above a sun-washed harbor, with his totally sick logo to his left. It’s very LA, and the irreverence of the whole thing in the world of black metal will surely divide some listeners. However, perhaps it is best to let the cover serve as a wink to compliment the killer tracks — after all, he may literally be winking behind those Ray-Bans. [From Sacred Son, out now via Bandcamp and Tenebrae Sumus.]Wyatt Marshall

10. Cannibal Corpse – “Code Of The Slashers”

Location: Tampa, FL
Subgenre: extremely death metal

Cannibal Corpse occupy a very strange place in the death metal world. They’re probably the best-known band in the genre, thanks in part to their famous Ace Ventura guest appearance but in much larger part to their relentless work ethic and consistency — they’re about to release their staggering 14th album since 1990, and not a one of them is worse than “pretty good!” They’re also one of the most influential death metal acts — they helped wrench it in a more cruelly technical and lyrically depraved direction at a pivotal moment in the genre’s history. (If you’ve ever wondered ugh, why do these bands all have to sing about raping corpses?, you can thank original CC vocalist Chris Barnes.) They’re pretty much the death metal institution par excellence, and yet they seem to have few real partisans among DM dweebs — people will go to the fucking mat on behalf of peers like Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Incantation, and so forth, but Cannibal Corpse themselves are often treated like a piece of the furniture. My theory is that death metal people are so biased towards obscurity that the genre’s most visible and reliable band actually loses cachet for essentially being too obvious to settle for, but that’s not really important. Whether or not they’re taken for granted by the full-blown nerds, Cannibal Corpse is so popular for a reason — they’re an ageless riff factory, playing at a higher level as they approach their 30th year than most bands can manage at their absolute pinnacle. Understandably, these guys are basically just plugging away at a sound they really perfected some time around 1999’s Bloodthirst at this point. But like most bands that make it to their 3rd decade without ever blowing it, they have godlike powers in their chosen domain. The opening riff to “Code Of The Slashers” is a gloriously idiotic three-chord womping, the kind of borderline-minimalist shit that literally any death metal band could play but that only Cannibal Corpse could blow up to the ridiculous scale that you get here. The song kicks into a vicious Slayer-on-crack thrash feel for most of its runtime, but man, I could listen to that opener/closer riff for a day straight. At a moment when every institution in American life seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse, there’s something nigh comforting about finding that death metal’s most perennial murder machine remains in full working order. [From Red Before Black, out 11/3 via Metal Blade.]Doug Moore

9. Howls Of Ebb/Khthoniik Cerviiks – “Bellowed/Spiiral Spiire Stiigmata”

Location: San Francisco/Germany
Subgenre: blackened death metal

How about this for a split: one side a farewell, the other a breakout. Howls of Ebb, the Bay Area duo who have delighted bored metalheads with its, to steal a line from Doug, “steampunk power armor” sound is dunzo. Khthoniik Cerviiks, the cryptic arachnid of German trio with a penchant for tapping the i key twice, is now finding out how best to harness its manic energy. That gives With Gangrene Edges/Voiidwarp some extra contextual drama. Not that the music is lacking. While, structurally, HoB’s Edges side isn’t as wild in the Beefheartian bugfuck way as its last two LPs, the band puts in overtime in the atmosphere department. Example: opener “Babel’s Catechism”‘s main riff sounds like Aerosmith’s “Back in the Saddle” as reinterpreted by a 1920s séance-conducting mystic. On the whole, it’s like Nuggets for LSD-damaged, void-staring magicians. “Bellowed” is the highlight of the bunch because it’s the most that, where the expected riffomancy is swathed in all kinds of aural fog. (Shame we burned “post-metal” on atmospheric sludge, right?) HoB’s innings ends in the same way it probably began: disembodied voices emanating from a mist. Rest in power. Meanwhile, Khthoniik Cerviiks is on to something here. Zach Duvall over at Last Rites connects its longform death skronk to Voivod. If not that, think maybe a !.T.O.O.H.! more explicitly influenced by black metal. Don’t think there’s a wrong answer. What’s right is the band’s evolution in the composition department. Listen to how progressions don’t quite resolve, keeping the listener on edge. This effect is squared by the brief moments of consonance zapped like a sadistic dog collar by wicked dissonance. That irrepressible, uncomfortable energy keeps nine-minute epics from feeling like nine-minute widdly metal songs. Shit zooms by, and Khthoniik Cerviiks knows it. “Come to the Subeth” contains a micro-second solo shows how restless this band is becoming when asked to clip on the manacles of recognizable metal forms. HoB was restless, too. Was. Guess that’s the ex post facto lesson: enjoy brilliance in the moment. [From With Gangrene Edges/Voiidwar (split), out now via Iron Bonehead / I, Voidhanger.]Ian Chainey

8. Squalus – “He Ate The Light”

Location: Pacifica, CA
Subgenre: “fishing shanty” metal

Squalus is basically an offshoot of Giant Squid, a dearly-missed sludge metal oddity that we wrote about a bunch of times in this space over the years. Giant Squid broke up about a year after the release of their 2014 opus Minoans, primarily to ease the logistical stresses that guitarist Aaron Gregory and cellist Jackie Gratz face as they raise a family together. (Gregory is also a member of the new band Khôrada alongside 3/4 of Agalloch; the group will have about finished up tracking their debut recording when this post runs.) After the breakup, the remaining members of Giant Squid ended up moving on as Squalus. This new permutation unsurprisingly shares a lot of features with its predecessor, most obviously Gregory’s nautical obsession and inimitable voice. It also turns down the gravitas and jacks up the heaviness in the Squid template. Gregory switches to a second bass guitar, turning the band’s string attack into a massive aqueous churn that Andy Southard’s zany keyboard sounds skim atop like a cartoon flying fish. On their debut The Great Fish, Squalus juxtaposes the grittier textures with a hard left turn in the lyrics department — Gregory replaces his melancholy, contemplative mythmaking approach with growled dialogue taken directly from the Spielberg classic Jaws, a longtime source of inspiration that he has clearly wanted to quote at length on record for years. (Their Metal Archives page comically lists Jaws author Peter Benchley as a band member.) The most dramatic example of this bizarre and entertaining technique is “The USS Indianapolis”, a recital of a dramatic monologue by Robert Shaw’s character Quint which describes the catastrophic real-life World War II sinking of a Navy cruiser which had recently delivered components of the Hiroshima bomb. But as a long-time Giant Squid stan, my favorite tune on The Great Fish is “We Ate The Light.” With Gregory deploying his signature incantatory wail at full force and a guest cello spot that’s surely Gratz’s handiwork, it’s a rollicking family reunion of a tune that climaxes with a line from Jaws’s most explosive moment. [From The Great Fish, out now via Translation Loss.]Doug Moore

7. Chaos Moon – “The Pillar, The Fall, And The Key I”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: black metal

“The Pillar, The Fall, And The Key” starts with Chaos Moon spotlighting, and therefore letting the listener examine, each element of Eschaton Mémoire’s rigging. It’s super clever, not only setting a baseline that later sections will adhere to or subvert, but allowing the listener to track how these elements move throughout and influence the entirety of the piece. That this band is now worldbuilding through overture is an indicator of how much Esoterica, Moon’s main man who also does time in Krieg and Skáphe, has grown as a composer and performer since entering the USBM scene in 2004. But, while that kinda smarts will keep Mémoire occupying hard drive space connected to your player of choice years into the future, the surface pleasures, read: radness, of the aforementioned elements is the main event. Here are some things: Eric Baker’s wild screams, cumulonimbus tone clouds, ripping riffing, killer drumming, a melancholic melodic palette that’s somehow ice cold and analogue warm; again, rad. All of that will inevitably draw comparisons to Wrest, he of Leviathan, Lurker of Chalice, and others. There is a connection: Mémoire’s warped cover art is a Whitehead special and Wrest has also rubbed shoulders with Esoterica in Martröð. But fraternity and proximity don’t necessarily equal influence, and as soon as Mémoire gets moving, barreling towards resplendently dark black metal grandeur rather than psychologically devastating desolation, it’s clear that any similarity is more a RIYL and not a direct, one-to-one correlation. What’s also clear is this ain’t a record that can be confined to blurbs, as it easily overflows any imposed word count thanks to its Mahlerian density. The layers are…many. So, let’s pick two:

  1. The omnipresent wax and wane of the sweeping, woooooosh is uncommonly well-conceived and implemented. In fact, that the mass of tones – guitars, synths, kitchen sinks – is executed so well it almost acts like a lead, almost like counterpoint. Moon doesn’t lazily rely on dark ambient xenochrony, making frail compositions seem sturdier by encasing them in arbitrarily Hecker-ized turds. No, the atmosphere is in partnership with what’s raging at ground level, accentuating and infusing it with extra purpose.
  2. Let’s meditate a little bit longer on the drumming: daaaaaamn. It’s a masterclass in death metal force applied to blackened propulsion. That brawn helps Moon scale up and tear down monolithic crescendos on demand, allowing the band to get the hell out when sections start to go stale.

Cool stuff. Oh yeah, forgot to mention: This titan of sound? Just two people. [From Eschaton Mémoire, out 11/17 via Blood Music/Fallen Empire Records.]Ian Chainey

6. Gnaw – “Septic”

Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: noise rock / doom

After the influential experimental doom unit Khanate broke up in 2006, the band’s scabrous shrieker Alan Dubin started a new band called Gnaw. Khanate’s later records explored spacious, sere soundscapes that depended far more on space and texture than full-bore volume to achieve their intensity; Gnaw initially put an electronic noise spin on this approach, churning out unbearably tense and seething slow burners that presaged the current popularity of hip metal/noise fusion acts like The Body as far back as 2009’s This Face. On Cutting Pieces, their third LP, Gnaw’s lineup has expanded to include fellow noise auteur Dana Schechter (Insect Ark, Angels Of Light) on lap steel guitar. Schecter joins multi-instrumentalist Carter Thornton and electronics specialist Jun Mizumachi in the unconventional wing of Gnaw’s personnel, which might have you expecting an even more textural and restrained listening experience (by metal standards, anyway) than their past releases. Cutting Pieces will be quite the opposite, if “Septic” is anything to go by — it’s the most propulsive and punishing tune in their discography, and the most fun for my money. It’s hard to tell exactly which of the five instrumentalists is making what noise here, but the overall effect is as gnarly as noise rock can get, with horrifying blasts of feedback and static bracing up a driving rhythm-section churn and Dubin’s unmistakeable snarl. Well, almost unmistakeable — vocalist Stefania Alos Pedretti of the like-minded Italian act OvO puts in a guest appearance here and makes her own pained rasping difficult to differentiate from Dubin’s. [From Cutting Piece, out 10/27 via Translation Loss.]Doug Moore

5. JoDöden – “Bottenlös”

Location: Sweden
Subgenre: avant folk/black metal

JoDöden’s “Bottenlös” is one of the more unusual entries to grace the column this year. The track weaves progressive folk with progressive black metal, with the latter adopting the upbeat lilt of the former. This woodsy type of metal is accompanied by lyrics that sound as if they were roughly hewn from gnarled tree stumps. Given the complexity of what is going on, it all goes down incredibly smoothly, like a practiced acrobat making a near-impossible routine look natural. Elsewhere the twists and turns take a more prominent role, but it never seems like noodling. Perhaps some readers will recognize JoDöden from his other band, Sorgeldom, which offers a more traditional though still somewhat eccentric take on atmospheric black metal. Both are well worth your time. [From Sittandes i sjön med vatten över huvudet, out now via Nordvis.]Wyatt Marshall

4. Bell Witch – “Mirror Reaper” (excerpt)

Location: Seattle, WA
Subgenre: funeral doom

If you told me one of the most emotionally resonant and rewarding metal records of the year would come by way of a guitar-free (!), 83-minute (!!), single-track (!!!) funeral doom album from a bass-and-drums two-piece, I don’t know if I’d laugh, but I certainly wouldn’t believe you. Yet here we are. It goes without saying it’s impossible to get a true sense of this thing from the 10-minute streaming excerpt, but you’ll have to make do until the LP drops on 10/20. Even taken as a whole, listening to all 83 minutes at once—which is a bona fide experience unlike anything else in metal—Mirror Reaper is too much to take in, too sprawling and expansive to fully wrap your head around and properly absorb. Instead, you take it as it comes, stretching far beyond the horizon, watching it unfold piece by piece—epic doom at an operatic scale, presented in the aural equivalent of IMAX. At 83 minutes, where the quiet parts can last almost 20 minutes on their own and feel almost surreal, this is the musical equivalent of a Tarkovsky film. Perhaps because of its length and pacing, it feels deeply cinematic, a longform meditation of dynamic extremes, evoking shattered plains, dead cities, ancient starlight, and anything else your subconscious can cobble together (the unreal cover art makes for a perfect starting point). Musically, it’s a wonder that stunted doom rhythms and distorted bass can be this evocative, but the band wields space itself as a third instrument, allowing melodies to breathe and reverberate, so your mind can fill in the gaps. Bell Witch have explored similar sounds for a few albums now, but Mirror Reaper goes exponentially further, both in scope and beauty. Somewhere around the 50-minute mark the band throttles back the distortion, and the clean singing they first alluded to half an hour earlier finally emerges into the light. I gather some of the vocals are actually older recordings of founding drummer and vocalist Adrian Guerra, who passed away in 2016, shortly after he left the band. Even without knowledge of the backstory, the weight of that loss is palpable in the aching melodies left to waver and decay over empty space. But throughout that 20-minute quiet section, as clean vocals gradually layer over undulating bass chords, the singing swells into a choir of swirling clouds, gathering momentum towards inescapable resolution—and there’s a distinct sense of release when the noise comes slamming back home for the final coda. This is funeral doom animated by grief, stretched to its absolute breaking point, stitched together into something colossal and new. Seek it out. [From Mirror Reaper, out 10/20 via Profound Lore.]Aaron Lariviere

3. Yellow Eyes – “Velvet On The Horns”

Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Yellow Eyes has been critically acclaimed since they started releasing music on cassette five years ago, and though the praise has echoed louder and louder, the band maintains a decidedly underground position. I recall when I got my copy of Hammer of Night, a tape that came wrapped in a hand-knit sleeve made from some sort of burlap material. The band’s ambition and poise were evident from hitting play — here was intricate, melodic, atmospheric black metal made in NYC that stood up to the best of the genre. Not much has changed in that regard, but you will find a little more sonic clarity as Yellow Eyes has moved their music to other formats and some additional firepower with Michael Rekevics (Fell Voices, Vilkacis, Vanum, etc.) behind the kit. On “Velvet on the Horns,” Yellow Eyes creates a stunning tableau that is both alluring and unnerving at once, full of topsy-turvy twists and satisfying, if fleeting, resolutions. The whole vision of it is remarkable, and you are left with the distinct impression that this whole album is going to be one hell of a ride. [From Immersion Trench Reverie, out 10/20 on Gilead Media.]Wyatt Marshall

2. Verge – “Moral II – The Pride In Despair”

Location: Finland
Subgenre: black metal

Verge, a Finnish five-piece, isn’t a tough nut to crack but it’s hard to explain why the meat tastes so good. The Process of Self-Becoming is both a despondency-dealer in the grand tradition of blasting depresso black metal and a hulking, progressive monster, lacing up big-ass Gordian knots of time signatures and riffs. That these dual-nature traits are balanced is neat. That the transition between them is fairly seamless is kind of bonkers. At one point, Process is like something out of Shatraug’s playbook. The next, wrists are slit with a DSBM razor; next, downer Code; next, Vuyvr and all its offshoots; and so on. The important thing is that Verge’s scene changes aren’t telegraphed. You’re just sort of plopped down in fresh snow, somehow…without teleportation sickness…somehow. Process is hypnotic in that way; not in the trance sense, but in the ‘lost time,’ ‘how did I get here?’ one. Granted, a band that wears a lot of faces isn’t exactly breaking news in 2017. Artists have utilized different styles as contrasts for as long as there have been styles. But Verge doesn’t contrast styles, it finds point of comparison. That makes Process an easier listen than this blurb suggests; it’s downright easy-breezy as far as cathartic explorations of infinite sadness tied to the erosion of morality go. (Sadness, you say? “Nothing to be done/ Yet nowhere to rest/ I have given everything/ But that which gives always remains.” Yep.) Plus, clever, catchy, and surprising moments abound. One in particular: “Religious I – The Bedrock Gives Way” has an accordion break that swallows you up and spits you back out ready and rested for the dream-like sojourn to the song’s conclusion. It’s just that… how to explain this… you aren’t surprised by that section in the moment, only after you reflect upon the journey later. In real time, Verge’s songwriting and playing – that drive to find the point of comparison, to transform unlike to like – makes that leap feel like a step. [From The Process Of Self-Becoming, out now via I, Voidhanger.]Ian Chainey

1. With The Dead – “Isolation”

Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: stoner doom

With the increasingly rapid pace of life on Earth circa 2017, I’ve come to depend on the sluggish anti-rush of doom when my brain needs to unwind. Sure, I could throw on Red House Painters or Codeine or whatever normal people listen to when they want to suck the life out of a room, but the right combination of low tempos, ultra low tunings, and absurdly thick riffs hits the spot hard and fast. Paired with your depressant of choice, this hellish life is suddenly bearable. With The Dead — the latest project from long-time Cathedral frontman (and one-time Napalm Death screamer) Lee Dorrian and guitarist Tim Bagshaw (currently of Serpentine Path; formerly of Electric Wizard and Ramesses) — push harder and deeper than the most of their doom peers, without succumbing to the aimless drift that renders drone bands flaccid and boring, which means these guys are the perfect non-narcotic treatment for the 2017 blues. Riffs shudder and churn like dying animals caught in drying concrete; Lee’s lethargic vocals cycle through downtrodden patterns, often focusing on a single word as a mantra of defeat (see “Isolation” above). And if all that sounds dreary, the drums provide the necessary spike in the vein to keep us from nodding off, bashing out surprisingly furious fills considering the drop-tempo proceedings. There’s not a lot more to say: doom is deceptively hard to nail, and these guys fucking nail it. [From Love From With The Dead, out now via Rise Above Records.]Aaron Lariviere