The Black Market: The Month In Metal – October 2017
Since the 2016 election, the American political press has taken an unprecedented interest in tech giants like Facebook and Google. A lot of this interest has been purpose-specific, rooted in the role that these companies played in disseminating both domestic rumors and Russian efforts to influence voter behavior. (Lawyers from Facebook, Google, and Twitter will testify before Congress on this subject the day after this column runs.) But once journalists started looking at the mechanisms that drove these processes, many found that only holistic accounts of what these companies really are and how they’ve permeated modern life could really convey the story.
Facebook in particular has been under much more thorough scrutiny than it’s experienced in the past. October saw a rash of major magazine pieces trying to make sense of the company’s political valences and even the role it aims to play in society. The latter piece, a Max Read work in New York Magazine, found an answer: in the titular metaphor from David Foster Wallace’s famed “This Is Water” speech, Facebook wants to be the water:
Rotate further and it’s a declaration that Facebook is assuming a level of power at once of the state and beyond it, as a sovereign, self-regulating, suprastate entity within which states themselves operate. Planetary technical systems like Facebook, David Banks, a SUNY Albany professor who studies large technical systems, told me, “don’t want to be in an environment” — natural, legal, political, social — “they want to be the environment.” Facebook, this announcement seemed to imply, was an environment in which democracy takes place; a “natural” force not unlike democracy itself.
In late September, the sociologist and technology theorist Zeynep Tufekci gave a TED Talk entitled “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.” In keeping with the title, Tufekci offered a dramatic articulation of the mind-bending power that Facebook holds over its users, including a disturbing anecdote in which a computer scientist found that he could predict the onset of clinical mania from social media posts before their sufferers were diagnosed. She concluded with a memorable (and pretty metal!) call to arms:
We need to restructure the whole way our digital technology operates… If we take seriously how these systems that we depend on for so much operate, I don’t see how we can postpone this conversation anymore. These structures are organizing how we function and they’re controlling what we can and we cannot do. And many of these ad-financed platforms, they boast that they’re free. In this context, that means that we are the product that’s being sold.
In this dramatic and essential conversation, wherein the basic mechanics of civic life are at stake, it’s easy to lose sight of all the smaller but still important ways that these companies have thoroughly colonized the culture.
Here’s an example: I personally cannot quit Facebook.
I don’t mean that I’m literally incapable, or that I’m simply too addicted to it to stop. (Though I am addicted.) But as a touring metal musician who serves as the primary public contact point for my mostly DIY band, Facebook is nearly indispensable. We keep our fans informed about what we’re doing primarily using Facebook. It’s our best option for self-publicizing new album releases — we’ve self-released music to Bandcamp and only told people about it using that medium, with decent results — and the most convenient way to promote tour appearances. (We have a Facebook ad for an upcoming tour running as I write this.) Facebook events have more or less displaced conventional flyering for small-time gig promotion in this fashion.
Facebook has absorbed other standard functions within the music world too. Even without its public PR capacities, I’d essentially be stuck with it because it’s the platform on which a lot of DIY tours are organized in the first place. Many venues, promoters, and even other bands are quicker to answer booking inquiries via Facebook than they are through email or other means. It’s also useful for keeping in casual contact with various folks active in the metal/punk/etc. community, which tends to lead to opportunities for your band. Even if I weren’t a musician myself, Facebook would be extremely useful for the process that produces this column — most metal bands maintain some kind of presence there, and it’s a great place to pick up on grapevine news and recommendations that don’t make it into the conventional PR channels operated by labels and publicists. (I’m also required to use Facebook for my day job, which is a whole other story.)
Could I opt out of all this if I really, really wanted to? Sure, strictly speaking. Many metal bands and other DIY musical sorts have found ways to operate without using Facebook — usually by relying on other social media platforms, or simply by not touring very much. But it’s costly and often a pretty big hassle, given that Facebook has become the default platform for these things. (Unsurprisingly, a lot of punk and metal bands deliberately avoid it for political or philosophical reasons.) As a friend put it recently: social media has become kind of like health insurance. You can choose to forego it if you really insist, but at what cost?
This dynamic obviously isn’t unique to metal musicians, or even to musicians as a class of creative people. But it has troubling implications for any enthusiasm-driven counterculture, especially one that defines itself as loudly in opposition to the status quo as underground metal tends to. The first articulation of this discomfort I remember seeing came in an Invisible Oranges post that ran back in 2010, which made a case that social media-abetted overshare is kind of undignified for a death metal band:
Now few bands are mysteries. Long before albums come out, bands post studio video blogs. They tweet and request Facebook fandom incessantly. The rise of video as a marketing tool — YouTube videos are much more engaging than MP3 streams — means that bands’ imagery now comes served on a plate.
This is double-edged. Take a band like Immolation, who were historically under-exposed until their signing to Nuclear Blast last year . This was unfortunate, but it elevated their mystique for me….Now Nuclear Blast, who have perhaps metal’s most vigorous marketing department, have the band doing a series of making-of videos. Immolation also posted an exhaustive seven-part studio blog for Decibel. It’s a lot of fuss to make over writing music on a laptop.
It’s also strange to see Dolan and guitarist Bob Vigna, the band masterminds, as such average Joes. They’re clean-cut, standing in a sterile room under fluorescent lights, and in general not being Metal Overlords. One hears the computer demos for the new album Majesty And Decay, which just came out. The tones are small; the drums are rinky-dink. Talk about myth busting!
(Note the word “engaging,” which neatly foreshadows Facebook’s use of “engagement” to describe user interaction with items in their newsfeed; digital publishers across the land are “pivoting to video because Facebook claims users engage with videos more, and therefore insists that everyone make them.)
This complaint inevitably seems a little quaint, seven years’ worth of metal bands tweeting about their van farts later. But if the particulars of the critique have aged, its basic substance — that Facebook and other social media platforms encourage unbecoming behavior — remains prescient. These platforms are set up with very specific goals in mind: getting users to spend as much time on them as possible, and to interact with each other as much as possible. The sorts of behaviors that these goals incentivize are well-known at this point. Anything that evokes a strong emotional reaction performs well, and so outrage and vituperation rule the day. In such an environment, there’s literally no such thing as bad publicity.
How does this dynamic affect a community like underground metal? For an example, recall the curious case of Ghost Bath. Musically, Ghost Bath are essentially a Deafheaven knockoff with a few trivial adjustments. But their origin story — a one-man atmospheric black metal band from Chongqing City, China! — drew a lot of eyes, and the band built substantial online hype around the early 2015 release of Moonlover. (We covered it.) The thing is, Ghost Bath aren’t actually from China; the band is actually a bunch of extremely white guys from North Dakota. When the band’s deceit about their origins came to light, they were subjected to a (deserved) indignation dogpile on the same social media platforms that elevated them in the first place. And the punishment for this dishonesty was…a recording contract with the large European metal indie Nuclear Blast, and about 45,000 Facebook likes. (For scale, Inter Arma — a hard-touring and critically lauded band who released our metal album of the year for 2016 — has about 21,000 Facebook likes.)
Ironically, the Black Market ran a column about this sort of catfishing technique in metal in 2014, six months before we’d cover Ghost Bath. But its primary subject was a different act — specifically Myrkur, another not-really-one-person black metal act with a falsified backstory and a creepy racial element to her schtick. Myrkur has roughly 283,000 Facebook likes and is currently preparing to join the prestigious annual Decibel Magazine tour for 2018, which gives you an idea of how much the online opprobrium she’s faced has hurt her career. This pattern — bald-faced lying or provocative comments leading to an online outrage cycle leading to greater visibility for the provocateur — may sound familiar at this late date.
And these follower numbers matter, of course, despite how imprecise they are as metrics for real popularity. All kinds of players in the music industry take social media stats extremely seriously as indices of fan interest; bands have been scoring recording deals and tour slots off their strong socials since the Myspace days. Every level of the business side of music is easier to navigate if you at least look like a popular band on the internet, even if there’s virtually nothing else to substantiate it.
So how does an up-and-coming band juice up this stat? One way is to manufacture controversy by, say, lying creatively about your background. Another way is to essentially buy improvement by paying to promote posts as Facebook ads. Actually, this second step is more or less essential if you want anyone to see the stuff you post from your band page. Facebook has slowly choked off the organic traffic to posts from professional pages; after years of relying on the platform to communicate with their audiences and patrons to the exclusion of other means, even small-time bands, venues, and labels have had little choice but to pony up cash in exchange for mere visibility in recent years. Given the hilaribad fiscal prospects of virtually all underground metal and the precarious personal finances of many of its practitioners, this is quite a feat. Recall the Zeynep Tufekci assertion that “we are the product that’s being sold.” Facebook’s means of influencing user behavior is often subtle to the point of invisibility, but maybe we needn’t always dig so deep to see it in action. How many industries can claim a product that pays for the privilege of being trafficked — and, in doing so, serves to feed ever more grist into the mill that drives the whole venture? And this cycle reinforces itself; the more people invest real-life resources in Facebook as a means of communication, the stronger the social pressure to use it becomes, and the more there is to miss out on by avoiding it.
A lot of people will probably respond to all this by saying, “so what?” And if you regard heavy metal as a hucksterish musical genre predicated mostly on titillation and flash, then there’s probably nothing about these dynamics that looks at all amiss. This view is, after all, the traditional canny perspective on metal’s nature, and there’s something to it whether you like it or not. Ghost Bath worked, after all.
But most metal musicians and fans do not view themselves as a bunch of dumb marks who are happy to be blindly shepherded from one “it” band to the next by a bunch of algorithms and the marketing stunts they enable. Whatever their other political and cultural leanings, metal people tend to consider themselves highly sophisticated consumers, deeply particular about the specifics of music an art form and broadly immune to the kind of tacky tricks and marketing flimflam used to promote more plebeian styles. This contrarian individualism about taste and the meritocratic ideas about success that accompany it are a huge, central aspect of metal’s self-perception; it’s the keystone in the vaunted border that separates it from mainstream pop culture. But in reality, metal mostly works just like all the other genres its fans are inclined to look down on — according to the ruthless logic of the attention economy.
This whole issue is obviously pretty small potatoes in the larger scheme of implications from this subject. And it must be conceded that Facebook does make life easier for musicians and fans in many respects; even my rinky-dink band has been able to accomplish quite a lot by plonking away at it. But to return to the health insurance analogy, preferring to retain coverage is not itself an endorsement of the extant healthcare system. It seems worth reflecting a bit on the fact that this subculture of supposed iconoclasts, rebels, and outsiders is in large part leasing its discourse space from a giant corporation that doesn’t give the slightest fuck about its wellbeing.
This situation is essentially a collective-action problem; Facebook has all the leverage because it’s almost unimaginable that its users would act in concert to move elsewhere or negotiate with it. But if nothing else, metal is a good space in which to imagine alternate versions of the world. I don’t see many good ways out of this state of affairs in the short term, and certainly won’t be quitting Facebook myself any time soon. (Sigh.) For now, it’s useful just to do the surprisingly tough work required to wrap your head around the situation as it stands — to observe that the underground is actually living in the pupil of 1,000 eyes. –Doug Moore
15. Morbid Angel – “Piles Of Little Arms”
Location: Tampa, FL
Subgenre: death metal
If Metallica has an analogue in the world of death metal, it’s clearly Morbid Angel. Easily one of the most popular and influential bands in the style, Morbid Angel are the erratic counterpoint to the ever-reliable Cannibal Corpse, whom we wrote about last month. After a phenomenal early run of material in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Morbid Angel’s trajectory peaked with 1993’s Covenant, a landmark that I still reach for whenever someone asks me what death metal sounds like. Its successors were more divisive, alienating sectors of the MA fanbase with ever-so-slight pop sensibilities (Domination), strange production choices (Formulas Fatal To The Flesh and Gateways To Annihilation), and bizarre artistic effluvia (the mess of pointless drum and guitar solos that ends Heretic). Unlike Metallica’s rapid descent into self-parody after The Black Album, Morbid Angel retained their dignity through this stretch — I’ll gladly defend all of these albums, including Heretic. The shit didn’t really hit the fan until 2011’s Ilud Divinum Insanus. Original bassist/vocalist Dave Vincent returned from his post-Domination absence to front this pungently dated industrial-tinged trainwreck, featuring such grim and menacing cuts as “Too Extreme!” and “Radikult.” Morbid Angel’s fans received Ilud Divinum Insanus about as well as ’80s-era Metallica fans received St. Anger, and guitarist/mastermind Trey Azagthoth fired the entire lineup that appeared on it not long after its touring cycle concluded. Six years later, Gateways/Formulas-era frontman Steve Tucker is back in the picture, and in further ‘tallica-esque fashion, Morbid Angel is returning somewhat apologetically to their brutal roots. “Piles Of Little Arms,” the first single from the upcoming Kingdoms Disdained, could be a leftover from the Formulas sessions — it’s a knotty ripper that doesn’t reach the 4-minute mark, rendered with stark digital clarity and some very loud kick drums. People who didn’t like this look on Morbid Angel the first time around won’t like it any more now, but it preserves in full the most vital features of their late-’90s-era sound: the insane speed, the serpentine song structures, and Azagthoth’s totally alien and inimitable guitar work. If Kingdoms Disdained has at least three or four more songs on this level, I’ll call it a win. Hey, it worked for Metallica! [From Kingdoms Disdained, out 12/1 via Silver Lining Music.] –Doug Moore
14. Lucifer’s Hammer – “The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death / Justice Denied”
Location: Santiago, Chile
Subgenre: heavy metal
Perhaps it’s unwise to judge a band by its leather jackets, but friends, this is what Chile’s Lucifer’s Hammer looks like. These duders’ sartorial predilection is less a play for greater trad-minded heavy metal acceptance and more a promise that Victory is Mine, the well-earned mini-album following last year’s Beyond the Omens, is going to bring some freakin’ riffffffffffffffffffffs. “The Valley of the Shadow of Death / Justice Denied” does exactly that, tearing through galloping bangers aplenty. Granted, some of Lucifer’s Hammer’s work gets caught within in the gravitational pull of the Fenriz “Gangland” Conundrum, but the power trio’s quirks are what end up differentiating it from other rippers. The vocals always seem to be racing the progressions to see which finishes first. It’s almost like these players are itching to get to the sections where they can finally go adventuring in the land of riff. That’s just relatable as hell. Look, let’s not front like this is the most crucial record in existence. That said, it’s fun and well-executed, the two most important benchmarks. (Bonus points due to rarity: the drumming is powerful, not ramshackle.) As Doug has said, since there’s already decades upon decades of related data in the archives, the only accurate critical measuring stick that remains this side of the ’80s is whether you’d have a good time if you stumbled into a respective band’s set. Here, looks don’t deceive. [From Victory Is Mine, out 11/24 via Shadow Kingdom.] –Ian Chainey
13. Wending Tide – “Cascading Auburn II”
Location: Auckland, NZ
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Wending Tide’s debut EP practices in the “endless crescendo” style of black metal that has become ever more popular in recent years. Perhaps the grandmaster of the genre would be the peerless Violet Cold, but a disciple features in the Black Market every few months or so, almost always (probably always) at my insistence. Wending Tide is a great example — all searing guitars and full-blast drums, maniacal trilling aiming endlessly toward some pinnacle that is almost always just out of reach. The first two minutes take care of the heft; the rest is for blissfully pretty and bright guitar work, sweet stuff meant that is sometimes tinged with regret. Though the playing is tight, the overall impression is smeared and awash in euphoria. [From The Painter, out now via Naturmacht Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
12. Wormwood – “Infinite Darkness”
Location: Boston, MA
Some of my favorite memories, captured ages ago, are of late nights walking the streets of Boston. Hood up and headphones cranked, listening to punishing Boston bands, while the wind whips between buildings out of spite, ripping right through your clothes. The cracked sidewalks and battered streets somehow seemed to reflect the intensity of the noise in my headphones — the centuries of violent history, not to mention the city’s longstanding racial and ethnic divisions, absurd wealth stratification, and lunatic sports fans — and it feels like stepping into a perfectly hellish feedback loop meant for this exact experience. Boston is one of my favorite places, but it could be a vicious town, at least in my day — somehow every night brought a fistfight, every show a new injury. I remember once going to a party where someone threw a vacuum cleaner out a third story window. Boston’s that kind of town, and often worse. Muggings, beatings, stabbings, shootings…bottles thrown by drunk jocks in Mission Hill; coming home to a smashed window and a missing Playstation; waking up to a literal dumpster fire behind my apartment…I mean, I’m focusing on the negative for effect, but all these things happened. The city could be lovely, especially during daylight hours, but there was always something swirling in the background, and that’s the feeling that rises in the back of my head when I listen to Boston metal and hardcore bands even now. I bring all this up mostly because I like ruminating on Boston as this playfully malevolent entity that manifests as a corrosive metaphysical stain, but also because Wormwood is a Boston band made up of dudes who’ve played in Boston bands for years — bands like Cast Iron Hike, Doomriders, Phantom Glue, and the Red Chord — so I like to imagine something of that character seeps into the tunes. Musically, Wormwood will probably sound familiar to you — this is sludge, after all — but the execution is tops all around, and there’s something uniquely dynamic in the verse/chorus arrangements that I don’t often hear in metal. Picture the heavy parts of the heaviest Neurosis records juxtaposed with quietly ominous clean bits that sound like the darkest parts of Spiderland or something. An air of lethargic gloom permeates the verses (in a good way), adding that much more weight to the chorus riff when it hits like a kick to the back of the head. Brings me right back. [From Mooncurse, out now via Magic Bullet Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
11. Blut Aus Nord – “Apostasis”
Location: Mondeville, France
Subgenre: experimental black metal
Among all of black metal’s storied auteurs, Blut Aus Nord’s Vindsval probably has the strongest claim to the throne of Broadest-Minded Dude. Over their 20-plus-year run, Blut Aus Nord has pursued a dizzying array of artistic threads. Conventional second-wave BM (Ultima Thulee), baroque melodic musings (the Memoria Vetusta albums), hysterical claustrophobic wailing (The Work Which Transforms God), and abstracted industrial maze music (MoRT some of the 777 albums) have all passed through the canon. When one creative voice produces so many revelations by so many different means, it can become the victim of vicious expectations — anything less than a stunning new evolution will draw fire simply for failing to surprise. So it seems to have gone for Deus Salutis Meae, Blut Aus Nord’s latest work. In general, this one falls into the “claustrophobic wailing” channel of BAN output; the album is dotted with eerie noise interludes, but the metal material that makes up its bulk is essentially in the style of The Work Which Transforms God, their most famous and arguably best record. This familiarity seems to breed contempt for some listeners, but I’m basically always gonna show up for BAN playing in this style — they remain utterly singular practitioners of the sound, and the execution is outrageous. The nest of crazy divebomb solos and spooky chanting on “Apostasis” alone are worth the price of admission. I actually like the idea that this is a “lazy” Blut Aus Nord record, like Vindsval is just jamming this stuff out on an unplugged axe with his feet up on a porch somewhere in Normandy. [From Deus Salutis Meae, out now via Debemur Morti.] –Doug Moore
10. Brandon Seabrook’s Needle Driver – “Entropic Vacuum Party”
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Instead of typical “virtuoso” mystic horseshit, Brandon Seabrook, a noted guitar and banjo shredder, offers delightfully aware interview answers that are singularly poetic and everyman pragmatic. Example: “Guitar is totally different from Banjo. Guitar can sustain for epochs in the hands of the mighty. Tenor banjo has virtually no sustain. There are 323 ways to play D-flat major 7 #5 on guitar and 4 ways to play it on banjo. They both get you into constellation of relationship problems. Music is complicated.” Music is complicated! Imagine any guitar mag-fêted dork saying that. So, this should be the point where we bridge into making the case that Seabrook’s new Needle Driver exhibits a similar quality. Not sure it’s that easy. “Entropic Vacum Party” is a lot of things mainly because it does a lot of things. Augmented by the particularly game Johnny Deblase (bass) and Allison Miller (drums, one of the performances of the year), “Party,” at points, sounds like Greg Ginn or Mark Shippy trying to fight out of a RIO/fusion song. Other points, not so much. For instance, while noise rock and the spikier/jazzier variety of math rock is “Party”‘s most common roost, it’s also metallic; a fogless Howls of Ebb if herded by Colin Marston, or something. That’s the trap: You could write a lot of regretful, sticker-ready one-liners about each of the divergent/yet interconnected sections, even if “guitar trio” seems like the only legitimate descriptor. Ultimately, trying to explain Needle Driver without the needed technical vocabulary is tough because it does many heady things. This album was reportedly composed and practiced for years and it sounds like it. But you kind of get the feeling that Seabrook went into this wanting to rock. Report: it rocks. For an outro, after some Derek Bailey Noises, “Party” flattens you with a Riff. Satisfying. However, that preceding section is a lot of fun to dissect, too; also satisfying! In sum, despite being bewildering and therefore not everyone’s cup of complex time signatures, Needle Driver feels like the experience of enjoying music – even down to reading evocative song titles — shot out into a million different directions. Kinda meta. Definitely complicated. But when it rocks, which is often, pretty simple, too. [From Needle Driver, out now via Nefarious Industries.] –Ian Chainey
9. Eneferens – “Chrysanthemum”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
With its mournful lead and powerful and stylish riff undercurrent, the opening passage of “Chrysanthemum” calls to mind Tales From The Thousand Lakes/Elegy-era Amorphis. (If that reference doesn’t check, it’s high praise, and I envy you the experience of diving into what was for me a metal gateway band.) The pacing is perfection — no rush here, a space to take a breath and let the reverberations of a poignant suspended note that calls to mind the solemnity of some northern forest ripple. Even the gruff and hearty vocals bear a passing resemblance to those of then Amorphis vocalist Tomi Koivusaari. But “Chrysantheum” is more intentionally epic and contemplative in scope, and the curveball around two minutes in, where all out blasting takes front and center and things become, for a bit, quite sinister, is where the comparison more or less ends. Eneferens is also expert in poignant instrumentals, and a good bit comes in at the end, rounding out what is a deftly crafted song capable of evoking a mix of emotions. Though the album containing “Chrysantheum” was technically released last year in a very small pressing, it is now getting the wider release it deserves. [From In The Hours Beneath, out now via Bindrune Recordings and Nordvis.] –Wyatt Marshall
8. The Spirit – “The Great Mortality”
Subgenre: melodic black/death
I love discovering bands like this: some rando German band with a generic name, unassuming cover art, and an absolute mastery of their chosen micro-niche. In this case, The Spirit owe their vibe to a largely forgotten corner of early ’90s Swedish metal, where black and death metal cross-pollinated in weird and wonderful ways that largely fell by the wayside as the twin genres continued to stratify (and in some ways ossify) in the ensuing decades. Think of bands like Necrophobic, Unanimated, and even Dissection and you’re on the right track — bands that prioritize earworm melodicism over genre purity (even as they clearly fall closer to the black metal camp overall, but who’s counting). Regardless, more than the style itself, what sets this thing apart is the band’s absurdly tight execution paired with the necessary vision and songwriting acumen that elevates this record beyond the slavish recreation it might have been in lesser hands. Bear with me for an oddball comparison, if you will: in a lot of ways, these guys remind me of Horrendous and the way that band first appeared on the scene, with an almost too-obvious band name, an unassuming first LP (2012’s The Chills) with a pedestrian facsimile of Dan Seagrave artwork and painfully straightforward lyrics…all of which utterly belied the band’s musical brilliance. Fortunately for Horrendous, they were signed to Dark Descent — one of the best labels running — and a handful of us heard the record and raved about it. The Spirit, on the other hand, are signed to a label with no prior releases, no cultural cachet, and apparently no website. Thus it’s on us to give this thing it’s due; you know what to do. [From Sounds From The Vortex, out now on Eternal Echoes.] –Aaron Lariviere
7. Genevieve – “No For An Answer”
Subgenre: death metal
“No For an Answer,” the first stream from Genevieve’s Regressionism, is a great track for the streaming era. Not that it is calibrated for the mainstream masses. No, this Maryland-based death metal quartet marches with the skronk patrol, that breed of noise-informed brutalizers who take as much from the avant-garde as they do classic blargh. However, Genevieve is particularly ripe for drive-by Bandcamp sampling because “No For an Answer” finds the prime middle ground between attention-grabbing first-play catchiness and tenth-spin repeatability. The deal is this: At the dermal layer, you get discordant lurches, throat-searing screams, sternum-rattling blasts, speaker-endangering riffs; all the death metal things that degenerates enjoy. But, man, the story that Genevieve spins below the din is really something. To that end, dig into the 36-second opener. A lot of bands use something like that as a throwaway, little more than street magician bullshit to make the inevitable VERY LOUD contrast sound all the louder. Genevieve though, like last month’s Chaos Moon, uses those initial themes and progressions throughout the rest of “Answer,” but not in a way that’s straight recapitulation. Instead, what’s stated up top gets twisted to hell. The last minute-and-a-half really drives that home. There, the subtle widdle that closed the intro pops back up. Instead of its once logical, near-consonance, it’s transformed: wild, stumbling, ill at ease. It burbles and bubbles under confident, chant-like singing. Ah, but that voice will soon change, too. Listen to the way frustration begins to bloom. That resentment metastasizes until, at the end of the track, madness reigns. On the whole, “No For an Answer” is like listening to how a lifetime of nos – disappointments and false promises – erodes a person’s psyche. That Genevieve painstakingly plots these points via the immediately satisfying crush of dirge-ridden death metal is pretty neat. [From Regressionism, out 11/24 via Grimoire Records.] –Ian Chainey
6. Anicon – “All In Time”
Location: New York City, NY
Subgenre: black metal
Anicon has been a NYC black metal stalwart for the better part of a decade now, which is pretty hard to believe given that it feels like it was not that long ago that they began appearing on area bills as the local black metal band that offered the kind of excitement that so often seemed to come from out of state or out of country. Yet here we are, and the energy the band generates with its melodic riff-tastic assault hasn’t lost a beat. The song’s arc is easy to get behind, with spastic fury interspersed between side-to-side swings that should generate motion in even the most stubborn and sourest rooted-to-the-floor nihilist blocking your view. Anicon in part still feels decidedly underground thanks to their choice of release format — typically demos and splits, with just one full album to their name. On that note, I would be remiss not to mention the excellent other side of this split, on which Forest of Tygers rages and pummels with “Mongers,” a song that blends various elements of metal and hardcore into a furious package. [From Anicon/Forest Of Tygers, out now via Acteon Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
5. Arkhon Infaustus – “The Precipice Where Souls Slither”
Location: Paris, France
Subgenre: black/death metal
Arkhon Infaustus originally threw in the towel after 2007’s Orthodoxyn. I don’t remember too much public grieving over their departure at the time, even though Orthodoxyn was clearly a standout work. Ten years later, this band’s relatively low public profile seems even stranger to me. Arkhon Infaustus sits at the intersection of two more obvious throughlines: an adventurous species of black metal practiced by fellow Frenchmen like Antaeus and mid-period Deathspell Omega, once known as “orthodox black metal” for its highfalutin take on Satanism; and Immolation’s dour, clanging death metal. These two sounds have a lot in common in the first place — they both involve serious technical proficiency, gnarly chord voicings, and grandiose moments of melodic tension release. Combining them makes a lot of intuitive sense, but Arkhon Infaustus were among the first bands to intermingle them so thoroughly. You can assess the wisdom of this approach by examining the rosters of prominent metal labels like Season Of Mist, Profound Lore, Dark Descent, and Debemur Morti, all of which have hosted follow-ons to the Arkhon Infaustus sound. After ten years of everyone from Svart Crown to Mitochondrion tooling around in this space, the revived Arkhon Infaustus doesn’t sound quite like the revelation they once were. But they do sound fucking good — better than almost any of their descendants, in fact, because their core songwriting and execution skills are just as outstanding as their signature aesthetic. “The Precipice Where Souls Slither” (!) is a masterwork of line-‘em-up/knock-‘em-down setpieces, with frenetic blasting sections setting up multiple dramatic descents into somber trudges. Both the source EP Passing The Nekromanteion and their back catalog are well worth your time; just don’t ask me to explain their fucking band photos. [From Passing The Nekromanteion, out now via Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions.] –Doug Moore
4. All Pigs Must Die – “Hostage Animal”
Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: metallic hardcore
I’m going to assume you’re the kind of assiduous reader that read my Wormwood blurb above and internalized all the stuff I was saying about Boston, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. For the less assiduous among you, just assume Boston is a ridiculous place where a lot of fights happen and you’re basically there. Even more than Wormwood, APMD embody the type of seething violence I like to hear from my favorite Boston bands, and they’ve made incredible strides since forming in 2010. Back when they formed, these guys were a buzzed-about supergroup that basically became the epitome of the Southern Lord hardcore sound — for better or worse — which was an especially polished mashup of hardcore, stripped-down Swedish death, and bursts of grindcore aggression, largely inspired by Trap Them and Cursed. The first album and the EP that came before were solid, if not especially original, though the production was relatively phenomenal even then. Seven years later, All Pigs Must Die are still going, and with their third album, Hostage Animal, they’ve effectively eclipsed their influences. As Trap Them prepare to lay down the mantle — if the flyers are to be believed, they play their final show next month (in Boston, of all places) — and APMD are waiting in the wings, ready to carry on and destroy. Hell, Trap Them’s guitarist Brian Izzi just signed on as APMD’s second guitarist, so these guys are clearly the band to beat. For the uninitiated, APMD were formed as something of a Boston hardcore supergroup, lifting their name from a Death in June album, and featuring drummer Ben Koller of Converge, vocalist Kevin Baker of The Hope Conspiracy, and Adam Wentworth and Matt Woods of Bloodhorse. I honestly never pegged this band for greatness, but here we are: Hostage Animal is a monster, and the title track rips as hard as anything I’ve heard this year. They unleash the grindcore artillery early on, and it’s shocking how much this sounds like Converge from just the drums alone. This is one of the less expansive tracks on the record, and it’s not fully illustrative of the breadth of this thing (check out “End Without End” to hear something approximating psychedelic hardcore) but I’ll be damned if the bridge guitar doesn’t slay me every time, and the song practically catches fire after that. [From Hostage Animal, out now via Southern Lord.] –Aaron Lariviere
3. Friendship – “Life Sentence”
Location: Chiba Prefecture, Japan
Japan’s Friendship plays a metallized take on powerviolence-y hardcore. Punch combinations are landed (frenzied blasts) to make way for sleeper holds (sludgy, sometimes groovy slomo sections); a song/album construction that is older than Infest. And yet, when a particularly strong practitioner steps into the ring, you know why the approach persists. Hatred, Friendship’s debut LP following the repress EP collection I&II released earlier this year, smokes. But, tracks like “Life Sentence” also showcase a riff dexterity and subtle multi-section mastery that evades a lot of genre-adjacent HM-2 steppers. “Sentence”‘s beginning is a quick, d-beatish tumble; effectively ruthless and vice versa. The quarter-speed ending is actually catchy. The transition between the two is like the tablecloth trick: it just happens. Other bands would labor over a way to get the listener from Point A to Point B. Friendship realizes that you don’t need much connective tissue if Point A and Point B both kick ass. And that’s the takeaway: While fast/slow, particularly punk-fast and sludge-slow, is one of the dustier tropes, to be a legitimate two-tool threat is still rare. Friendship’s ability to be batshit but exude balance is actually best evidenced by its seven-minute cover of a sub-two-minute Converge song, but “Sentence,” excepting maybe “€ompton,” is the most thrilling thing currently streaming under the band’s name. [From Hatred, out 11/3 via Southern Lord and Sentient Ruin.] –Ian Chainey
2. Arkhtinn – “I”
Subgenre: black metal
Arkhtinn has now released five recordings titled, sequentially in order of release, I, II, III, IV, and V. Each of these albums features two songs that clock in at or above twenty minutes titled “I” and “II,” and the artwork for each album depicts a mountain set against a backdrop of a starry night sky. That’s the formula, but the music is anything but formulaic: Arkhtinn evokes the chaotic magic of a wormhole, the expansive wonder the cosmos, and the chugging, explosive violence of black metal at its best. Unlike most every other black metal song that’s the better part of a half hour and comes from an album graced with celestial artwork — the kind that often fall into extended passages of meditative atmospherics — this “I” is loaded with hooks and powerful, structured instrumentation worthy of head motion. The haunted castle/celestial keyboards hearken to both black metal of yore and contemporaries in the space black metal, uh, space. I’ll leave it at that, but I do encourage readers who, with fourteen other songs in this list to work through have a hearty serving of metal before them, to save room for this extraordinary work. [From V, out now via Fallen Empire Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
1. Code – “Plot Of Skinned Heavens”
Location: London, UK
Subgenre: progressive black metal
When I am king, Code’s first two albums will be required listening for every kid who shows the slightest interest in left-of-center heavy music. 2005’s Noveau Gloaming and 2009’s Resplendent Grotesque are both flawless exercises in melancholy, evocative black metal, progressive in inclination but totally focused on unforgettable songcraft. If you have not heard these albums, go listen to them ASAP; they’re easily two of their decade’s best metal albums in any style. Code lost their immensely talented vocalist Kvohst, an Akerfeldt-esque monster at both grisly howling and proper singing, a couple of years after Resplendent Grotesque. His replacement Wacian has the vocal chops to fill Kvohst’s shoes, but still sounded a little ginger on 2013’s Augur Nox, his nonetheless very solid first outing with the band. But then Code took a weird, multi-release left turn into full-blown prog rock, a locale to which I could not follow them. “Plot Of Skinned Heavens,” the lead single from an upcoming EP called Under the Subgleam, sees the glorious return of the classic Code sound, and I am all in for this shit. Wacian has fully risen to the challenge posed by his predecessor’s lingering legacy; his harsh vocals, previously the lesser of his two modes, sound absolutely deranged and rabid on this tune. But more importantly, the songwriting is total Code glory, a patient, resonant build that eventually climaxes with a stratospheric but morose chorus after a genuinely heroic guitar solo. You can just about hear the dispiriting London rain coming down on the building where they recorded this song. Under The Subgleam looks to be a tantalizingly short recording, but if this song is a sign of things to come, then watch the fuck out. [From Under The Subgleam, out 11/3 via Apocalyptic Witchcrat.] –Doug Moore