The Black Market: The Month In Metal – November 2017

Justina Villanueva

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – November 2017

Justina Villanueva

On October 5, the NYC-based progressive metal band Krallice announced on Facebook that they’d be releasing two albums in the coming months. Here’s the full text:

“the 7th Krallice album is complete. titled “Loüm”. featuring Dave Edwardson on lead vocals, lead synths, and lead lyrics for the entirety of the album. cover art is being handled by Carl Auge. digital will be released in about 2 weeks, give or take, with preorders for CDs, LPs and shirts. the 8th Krallice album is also complete and will be available for preorder at the same time. digital will be released a month or so after that. CDs will be handled by Hathenter. LPs will be handled by Gilead Media. available shortly at no teasers, no advance tracks, no lyric videos.”

This is about as perfunctory as such announcements get, even in underground metal. Most bands with a substantial following will commit to some version of the traditional press cycle around any new release: a months-long concatenation of announcements, teaser clips, song premieres, advance interviews, widely-distributed promos, track-by-track commentaries, and so on. For Krallice, the above post is actually more than the average fanfare. In recent years, at least since 2015’s Ygg Huur, the band has taken to dumping their new works on Bandcamp without any warning at all. They’ve released five excellent records during this 30-month period — more than many bands manage in a whole career. (More on Loüm and Go Be Forgotten, the two new Krallice albums, in the list below.)

This approach to releasing albums — no press, no supporting tour afterwards, naught but a couple of area shows, if that — is common for hobby acts with no real fanbase or access to resources. But Krallice started their career in the late ’00s as something of a media darling, generating crossover interest alongside breakouts like Wolves In The Throne Room and Liturgy. They have more than enough stature both within and beyond the metal world to justify a full-bore PR assault. But they don’t bother, primarily because they find the process cumbersome and therefore don’t feel like it. Instead, they pin the lifecycle of their releases to their natural creative rhythm: writing in the cold months of the winter and spring, recording over the summer, and releasing the end result whenever it’s convenient in the fall. The specific timing of these writing and recording sessions shifts around from album to album, but Krallice seem to have found a process that meshes comfortably with their busy lives. The band’s disdain for all the ballyhooing that usually goes with album releases has facilitated this aggressive schedule. All that shit takes time, and ever-productive Krallice ain’t got it.

Other factors play into Krallice’s relentless pace, some of which are fairly specific to them. Guitarist Colin Marston is a renowned engineer with his own studio, which eliminates the need to secure a recording budget from a label. (Full disclosure: Colin recorded my band’s most recent album and has mastered most of our preceding work.) All four members are world-class musicians, which means that they can write and record extremely challenging material quickly. The band prefers lean and raw aesthetics, which further accelerates the production process. And given that Krallice have enjoyed a substantial following since their early years, they can rely on basic name recognition to draw in listeners.

Regardless, theirs is a replicable model for other hardworking sorts, even those who don’t enjoy so many advantages. Off the top of my head, Black Market favorites Jute Gyte and Slugdge are among the growing number of quality underground metal acts that reject the standard scheduling imposed by labels, press cycles, and touring in favor of just hustling albums out the door and onto the internet whenever the time seems right. There’s something innately charming about this sort of approach — it’s efficient and unpretentious, which are both major virtues in underground music. It also comes with the element of surprise, which is doubly valuable when you’re cranking out tons of material. The volume of output it allows for is itself the real prize, of course. The bands named here are making albums that merit dozens of repeat listens; listeners will enjoy parsing the stuff for years to come.

But bands pursuing this freewheeling approach do lose something in the bargain. As ridiculous as the PR dog and pony show for independent metal bands can seem, and as dire as the touring prospects for the vast bulk of such bands are, that stuff works — it drives visibility, at least up to a point, and thus it drives sales. That’s why even smaller indie metal labels whose output reaches tiny audiences encourage their bands to get into that side of the game, and it’s why so many bands torch their own personal finances to do so. These tactics, though expensive and time-consuming, increase the return on investment for individual albums, even as they soak up significant energies from the participants. If you want to build a proper career in metal, where you actually make your money off the stuff, you pretty much have to go whole hog on this process.

But a melancholy truth underpins Krallice’s decision to reject that approach: there are vanishingly few proper careers in underground metal, even for towering talents; bands frequently break themselves trying to obtain them, even if they do everything “right”; and the rare career niches that do exist offer such meager rewards that they’re hardly worth pursuing. Krallice acts like a hobby band because Krallice basically is a hobby band, even though they’re a phenomenal unit playing at the absolute highest levels of the genre. The members have consciously chosen to optimize for creative efficiency and freedom over profitability or fame, and it’s easy to see why. (Consider, for instance, the fate of Wolves In The Throne Room, who pursued a much more conventional up-and-coming-band path and who are now struggling to match their own early recorded successes.)

The model that Krallice et al pursue clearly isn’t right for every band. It requires a lot of discipline and resourcefulness to execute successfully, whatever “success” means in this context. But then, so does the conventional road through diligent self-promotion and endless touring. At the very least, the growing proportion of truly excellent acts that choose to circumvent the methods of metal’s commercialized past are sending a useful message to younger bands: keeping the scale of your operation small is no dishonor. It’s a sacrifice of a sort, but the conventional alternative comes with its own costs too. And besides, this is heavy metal we’re talking about. People get into this shit to go totally apeshit, not to draw a steady paycheck. If you take that idea seriously, no price for artistic liberty is too great. Right? –Doug Moore

15. Haunt – “Luminous Eyes”

Location: Fresno, CA
Subgenre: heavy metal

Strip away the context — singer of a (relatively, thus marginally) more famous band strikes out on his own, free from external constraints, to make sweet heavy metal by himself. I’m not mentioning the band because I don’t think it bears on why Haunt succeeds. There’s another biographical detail — that of parentage and ties to “rock royalty” — that matters even less. I’m mentioning these details (and intentionally downplaying them) because they relate to the way bands are not only expected but effectively required to market themselves if they want to capture a shred of the consuming public’s listening bandwidth in 2017. And I guess I’m being an old man bemoaning the state of everything, pining for the lost days where uncalculated mystery added charm, and occasionally depth, to records. Listening to Haunt in a vacuum, like I did when I first clicked play on their Bandcamp page, it’s not hard to picture a band of teenage dirtbags bashing out chords in a garage strewn with posters and Rolling Rock empties, dreaming of leaving their shit town for the city (any city, anywhere but here), and these kids, bereft of technical know-how but blessed with heart and endless hours of practice (because there’s nothing else to do in a shit town but die or dream of leaving), they unwittingly record the perfect slice of pop-metal, in the form of a four-song EP that just nails it in every way that counts. Hooks, twin guitars, gritty production, that intangible air of overlooked and unattained greatness: this thing is rough around the edges but right, the kind of art retro-minded perfectionists in the 21st century often strive for and rarely attain. Now, we know this is the product of one dude who plays everything himself, not unlike the similarly gifted Chris Black and his High Spirits project, but this sounds much less like a solo project due to the quality of the playing. That’s a good thing, because it makes it easier to strip away the context and invent your own, like I just did. Knowing what we know, fully aware of the packaging and biographical minutiae that grabs attention but robs mystique, our perception is too easily colored, rendering awesome tunes somehow hollow, calculated, less awesome. So forget all that. Click play and resist the urge to Google. Live free and taste glory. [From Luminous Eyes, out 1/19 via Shadow King.]Aaron Lariviere

14. Insalubrity – “Hypovolemic Shock By Nosocomial Infection”

Location: Ecuador
Subgenre: brutal death metal

If there’s a San Junipero-esque outpost filled with burnt out metalheads desperately trying to chase the long-forgotten sensation of “extreme,” it’s no doubt soundtracked by the strain of DGAF brutal death metal that, surprisingly, is having a pretty strong 2017. That’s the thing about metal’s breadth: no matter the state of the greater landscape, at least one genre is having a heyday. Your particular halcyon architects in this severed neck of the woods include names like Deracinated, the reawakened Animals Killing People, and 7 H. Target. Now welcome Ecuador’s Insalubrity to the golden wave, a quintet conjoining the sonic mayhem of Necrholocaust-era Disgorge with Last Days of Humanity when it was in hold-my-beer mode. “Hypovolemic Shock by Nosocomial Infection,” the lone track on a 2017 promo peek, is three minutes of depraved noise aimed at numb degenerates, but…in a good way. The hallmarks of basement BDM are there: battalion-of-industrial-shredders guitar/bass tones, sarlacc pit belches, the kind of pinging drums that must still haunt Jeremy Morse’s dreams. What puts it over the top is the band’s energy: everything is played with reckless, ruthless abandon. Note: The songwriting does border on canny — infernal hails, intense slowdown contrast — depending on your definition of that word, though any attempt at applying structure to “Hypovolemic” misses the point. It was spewed upon this plane to allow a particularly conditioned listener luxuriate in a warm bath of gore and chaos. Achievement unlocked. Suffice to say, not for everyone; and the fact we somehow smuggled this into Stereogum’s tag database is still hil-ar-ious. But if you’re lethargically moping around in death metal’s endgame, this’ll at least test your limits and capacity for future bugfuckery. Per Metal Law (it’s the law), one day this will sound quaint. For now, give it your tired, your bored, your oversaturated sick fucks still yearning to slam. [From Promo 2017, out now via Reality Fade Records.]Ian Chainey

13. Chepang – “Auda”

Location: Nepal/USA
Subgenre: grindcore

After years of goofball dreck getting exposure bucks solely because the mundanely askew supposedly drives web traffic, a lot of us now exhibit this unfortunate kneejerk reaction to irregular band configurations: extreme cynicism. Here, then, is Nepalese grind band Chepang’s disseminated lineup: two vocalists, two drummers, one apparently much-dubbed guitarist. Cue ‘hmmm’ for dramatic effect: Hmmm. And yet, in a rug pull surprising no one because this is a list of highlights, DADHELO — A Tale of Wildfire, Chepang’s debut LP following a buzzed-about EP, is legit. It’s even, gonna say it, rather orthodox in its grind approach. Indeed, DADHELO is so of a piece with upper crust blasts of the earthier variety that the grind-curious could use it as a do-I-even-like-this-iteration? barometer. Noisear-styled dissonant chords, Phoenix Bodies/Roskopp punk parts, solos that sound like an over-caffeinated Kerry King, a whole heap of yellin’; all of the dope stuff that lights a brighter spark than your least favorite major indie’s collection of HM-2s goosed by desiccated d-beats. Plus, longtime grinders will definitely dig the more unique flavors: Nepalese (or adjacent; excuse the typical American cultural ignorance) pop ballad samples, the eight-limbed avalanche of percussion, etc. Given that Chepang ably clears the go-hard hurdle and is six-pack solid when it comes to ticking the subsubgenre’s boxes, it’s no surprise it was scooped up by Nerve Altar, more and more the prime grind depot now that Blastasfuk seems to be hibernating. And yeah, you kinda wish that the wall-of-kitchen-sinks intensity of the album’s intro was sustained throughout, but considering that Chepang is at, like, 2000s Phobia level this quickly, it’s easy to think grand things are ahead. Cynicism stowed. [From DADHELO – A Tale of Wildfire, out now via Nerve Altar.]Ian Chainey

12. Thy Light – “A Crawling Worm in a World of Lies”

Location: Limeira, São Paulo, Brazil
Subgenre: depressive black metal

Thy Light’s Suici.De.pression was first released as a demo back in 2007. A half decade later, it was re-released by China’s Pest Productions, a label with a knack for hunting down and churning out remarkable underground atmospheric and depressive black metal wherever it is to be found. Now it is seeing a third release from Eisenwald and Fallen Empire, two more of black metal’s finest labels. The history or re-releases is a testament to the staying power of this remarkable and somewhat strange album that has been a gem of the genre for years and, now, seems to be quite the trendsetting album. Readers of this column might recognize the expansive, tortured, and celebratory sound of highly-lauded bands such as Woods of Desolation on “A Crawling Worm in a World of Lies,” as well as the synth-driven wonder, awe, and even playfulness that characterizes much of the work of Mesarthim and others. Connecting the dots further, Suici.De.pression’s very first release was on a label based out of Australia that also released the first album from Forest Mysticism, a band by none other than D., the man behind Woods of Desolation. If memory serves me right, that label, Ruin Productions, was run by D. himself. The underground weaves a strange web. [From Suici.De.pression, out 12/8 on Fallen Empire Records and Eisenwald.]Wyatt Marshall

11. Sect – “Stripes”

Location: USA / Canada
Subgenre: hardcore / grindcore

Punk rock is not a style that generally ages gracefully, and supergroups involving members of beloved bands of yore rarely fulfill the promise of their collective CVs. Sect aggressively buck this trend. With members of Cursed, Earth Crisis, Racetraitor, and Catharsis on board, this group of dudes can credibly claim to have directly inspired a lot of what’s happened in hardcore over the past decade or two, especially when it comes to their label Southern Lord’s output. Ironically, the sound Sect pursues is very much of the present moment: a terse, ugly, grindcore-ish attack, executed with veteran aplomb and ‘roided out with a thick Swedeath guitar tone. It’s easy to imagine the basic Sect formula from a few points of reference — think of Rotten Sound with way less of a lead foot, Trap Them without the squiggly Converge parts, or a version of Nails whose irascibility wasn’t so contrived and gimmicky. Sect enjoy total command of this approach as an instrumental unit, but ex-Cursed / Burning Love vocalist Chris Colohan is the MVP. Delivered in an unmistakeable pained sneer, Colohan’s cynical musings on capitalism’s seedy underbelly sometimes scanned as paranoiac when Cursed was around in the ’00s. Today they feel prophetic, and he summons the same lyrical gravity in Sect. “Stripes” appears to address the private prison industry, but its closing line could apply to a great deal of modern American life: “Can you see the stars through the iron bars tonight?” [From No Cure For Death, out now via Southern Lord.]Doug Moore

10. Hertless – “Restless”

Location: Scotland
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Hertless effortlessly blends despondence with a wide-angle outlook, capturing a vibe that addresses the disaffected who want something more out of a shackled existence. You’ll hear persistent grungy undertones here, with warped picking buzzing uneasily in the back of the mind throughout and generating a general malaise that ultimately distracts from what might be considered bright spots. Befitting the mood, there are moments of soulgazing, but when it’s all pistons firing in a mid-tempo march “Restless” takes off, grey-washing everything with a fuzzed anguish. A deft hand makes it all possible — no over-stepping boundaries, no over-the-top theatrics, no hysterical wails. As a whole, it’s both bleak and catchy, a smeared, quiet anthem for the disillusioned. [From Lifeless, out now via Bandcamp.]Wyatt Marshall

9. Druid Lord – “House Of Dripping Gore”

Location: Orlando, FL
Subgenre: death/doom metal

When I throw this record on, I see a slideshow of ghastly, incoherent shit flickering through the theater of my mind: screams split the night as an axe splits a skull. A pool of blood-brown gore spreads, sticky to the touch, impossible to wash off hands, knees, or tools. With each ragged breath, the stench of decay overwhelms the olfactory nerve: the sharp tang of old cheese and fresh bile wafts through a musty root cellar, like a graveyard for rotting gym socks and spoiled meat. Fingers squelch as you dig through blood-wet grave soil with your bare hands, the chill in the air burning your lungs as you toil to conceal your dark work and escape detection. You get the idea. Druid Lord, a fairly newish band (circa 2010) playing an oldish style, capture this mood perfectly: that of a charnel house splashed with garish light and buckets of blood, Hammer horror visuals and Grand Guignol themes set to a pounding soundtrack of Celtic Frost and Autopsy, only slower. Think later Hooded Menace with more OOGHs or Acid Witch with less cheese. Leads scream in harmony, and our spirits rise. Chunky rhythm guitars coil and release, chugging in time to your demise, or something. This is death/doom of the most headbangable variety, guaranteed to produce a sardonic grin or your money back. I could go on, but why? [From Grotesque Offerings, out 1/19 via Hells Headbangers.]Aaron Lariviere

8. Summoning – “With Doom I Come”

Location: Vienna, Austria
Subgenre: dungeon-ambient/atmospheric black metal

Do you pine for a lost age that never was? On wings of song and misty memory, does your soul take flight to the tinkling strains of a synth harp over claptrap Casio beats? Accompany me, friends, to another time and place, where heavy metal chose a different path than it did in our world. I’ll be honest: if this is your first experience with Summoning, you’re probably gonna be confused when you throw this thing on. Programmed drums, very artificial-sounding synth strings and woodland instruments, with a hint of distorted guitar and raspy black vocals all swirl into something…weird and wonderful, if you’re a nerd like me. One of my favorite things about the metal genre is that it produces ridiculous shit like this: atmospheric black metal with hardly any metal and more than a fair share of Mortiis-style dungeon synth ambient, with a liberal helping of Lord Of The Rings samples against a backdrop of manly chanting. Have I lost you yet? Good, let’s plunge deeper into the nerdery. Summoning hail from Austria, emerging from the same scene and occasionally sharing members with Abigor (another sick band), and they rapidly abandoned the sloppy but traditional black metal of their debut Lugburz (which means “Dark Tower” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s black speech, scoring bonus points for a rare 2-for-1 fantasy reference). But it was on the follow-up, Minas Morgul, released in 1995, that the band found its synth-drenched voice and hit its epic stride. In the years since, the guitars have grown less prominent and the vocal approach has shifted a little bit, but really not a lot has changed. At this point, Summoning is a one-band sub-subgenre unto itself, inspiring a few outright imitators like Lustre and Caladan Brood, both great bands in their own right, though clearly indebted to their forebears. “On Doom I Ride” is the first taste of Summoning’s first album in 5 years…and it’s a long track, clocking in at over 11 minutes. The production is as rough as ever — just listen to that hideous sampled tambourine! Pure glory. The guitars are even more submerged than usual, but this sounds like Summoning, sure as anything. Look, if you’re curious about these guys, I recommend starting with their absolute best stuff off Stronghold or Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame>, then circle back to the new stuff and be wiser for the journey. [From With Doom We Come, out 1/5 via Napalm.]Aaron Lariviere

7. Thantifaxath – “Cursed Numbers”

Location: Toronto, Canada
Subgenre: Black metal

That modern classical and experimental metal have become frequent bedmates isn’t shocking given the core traits that get the two to respectively swipe right: adventurousness, comfort with (or the fetishization of) being an impoverished outsider, etc. However, though it’s nice that music school heshers are now more likely to own a Penderecki LP, the worst aspects of either pursuit can reign when two become one: namely, the tunes produced are sterile exercises in academic excess. In other words, heartless, ponderous bullshit. So, if you skipped Toronto’s black metallers Thantifaxath (like I did) because you thought you knew the score: YOU DONE SCREWED UP. Void Masquerading as Matter, the anonymous trio’s newest EP, is so…human. It feels warm to the touch, real, even though it does some very inhuman things. For instance, take one of the sustained microtonal runs near the end of “Cursed Numbers:” how they do that? Void contains a lot of “whoa” moments, where the sudden realization that you’re listening to some bonkers musicianship overpowers your faculties. That said, instead of dryly cataloging grey matter detonations, can we just marvel at how these four songs (and 36 minutes is really the optimal length for a band of this ilk) are suffused with feeling? Breathe in, breathe out: marveled. Okay, let’s analyze. There are a couple reasons why authentically resonate emotion abounds. One is Thantifaxath’s keen understanding of the dynamics of songwriting, using the push of deferred resolution to its advantage. “Self-Devouring Womb” has a few buildups where the tension mounts unbearably. It gets under your skin, even during passive listens. But, yeah, the other reason, the one that really delivers the payload, is how the human voice is just naturally affecting. The vocal performances here are charismatic, lending some real hurt to what could’ve been typical black metal theatrics or torpid vampire disaffection. But nothing drives home the power of the voice to a greater degree than the “Requiem“-esque choral title track. Though rich with alien dissonances, it burrows deep inside of you because you’re hearing fellow humans. Soon, those voices melt together into the bewilderingly unrecognizable and one’s reaction is hard to categorize. Revulsion? Discomfort? Curious intrigue? All of that? Point is, you feel something. Powerful. [From Void Masquerading As Mater, out now via Dark Descent.]Ian Chainey

6. Cân Bardd – “A Gift For Nature”

Location: Switzerland
Subgenre: atmostpheric black metal

In terms of pure over-the-top fantastical atmospheric black metal, we haven’t had anything quite like Cân Bardd on the column in a little while. Prepare thyself — here be flutes and keyboards galore. Yes, this is mountain metal on full-blast, all windswept terrain, ancient prophecies, and heroic quests rolled into one soaring track. But really, this song rips as much as anything, flexing its muscles as a righteous banger on the back of epic orchestration. The vocals are a highlight, with a hefty scream accompanied by some low-end from Mordor from time to time, as are the absolutely thunderous, lively drums. Not much is out there about Cân Bardd; the band claims to be from Switzerland but operates under a Welsh name — a new one for me. We’ll look to fill in some of the details next time. [From a forthcoming release, out March 2018 on Northern Silence Productions.]Wyatt Marshall

5. Godflesh – “Be God”

Location: Birmingham, UK
Subgenre: industrial metal

When Godflesh first appeared in 1988 following Justin K. Broadrick’s departure from Napalm Death, they must have sounded like the future of extreme metal. Grating guitars set to an onslaught of mechanized industrial beats, fusing caustic energy and harsh noise into a cohesive, hellish whole that sounded legitimately extreme in a way nothing in metal had before (besides, perhaps uncoincidentally, early Napalm Death). It was the sound of civilization collapsing inward, one assembly line at a time. Revisiting the first EP and the seminal Streetcleaner LP that followed, they lose little in the way of visceral impact, but they’re clearly relics of their time: it’s not hard to recognize this was just a mashup of Swans guitars and Public Enemy beats, but at the time it would have been incomprehensibly alien. And now that we have a functioning Godflesh again, somehow alive and well and releasing records in 2017, it’s fascinating to see how the band’s role has shifted in the intervening 30 years. Way back when, Godflesh was animated by a rejection of the excesses of modern life. The future remained a dystopian vision on the horizon, painted vividly in the cyberpunk musings of William Gibson, John Shirley, and a few others, but the mundane technology of the day was effectively primitive — VHS had just won the war with Betamax, and audio cassettes were still a viable sonic alternative to longboxed CDs. To take nihilistic metal and fuse it with futuristic noise meant something entirely different then than it does now. Back then it was about horror, anger, and fear. The title of the latest Godflesh album, Post Self hints at where the band finds itself in 2017: the future is already here; technology came and swallowed us alive, even if we can’t see it. Godflesh in the present is the sound of living in the cloud, our personalities reflected and refracted by the technology that defines us. It captures our numb acceptance of living through the singularity in real-time, and what it means to live in a world invisibly shaped by AI and information wars, cyber threats and drone strikes, 3D-printed organs, genetic engineering, autonomous vehicles, mass surveillance, systematic dehumanization through fragmentation, which is a long way of describing a world where everything is possible and nothing is knowable. The new record shifts gears repeatedly, but my favorite track, “Be God,” captures the suffocating feeling of life in 2017 unlike anything I’ve heard. The guitars are nearly shapeless over a liquid bassline, while a wristwatch ticks away in the background like a bomb, the perfect mantra for destabilized living. It’s as noisy as anything they’ve done, and somehow soothing. [From Post Self, out now via Avalanche Recordings.]Aaron Lariviere

4. Svartidauði – “Depleted Pathways”

Location: Kópavogur/Reykjavík, Iceland
Subgenre: black metal

Icelandic black metal bands rarely take the straight and narrow route, preferring instead to writhe their ways through different layers of subterranean sonic horrors. Riffs stop and start, twisting and slipping forward, and there’s almost always a profound, cavernous heaviness to it all. It’s a style that brings in a wide draw of fans, and one that’s kept the scene in the forefront of innovative black metal in recent years, as you may have heard. And among their compatriots, Svartidauði make a case as the most interesting Icelandic black metal band out there. From the start, nothing is preordained on “Depleted Pathways,” a song where guitar flourishes are the stuff of nightmares and the air is heavy with discordant reverberations. Those guitars hurtle forward, buzzing and warbling with frenetic chaos, and the pummeling drums seem to come from everywhere. The groaning, muscular vocals take the horror factor to an entire place entirely. When it comes to creating a nightmarish atmosphere, few do it quite as convincingly as Svartidauði. [From Untitled, out now via Ván Records.]Wyatt Marshall

3. Portal – “Phreqs”

Location: Australia
Subgenre: death metal

The entire press pitch that came with the promo for the new Portal album reads as follows: “ION is the fifth full-length album from Australian death metal enigma PORTAL.” It’s refreshing to see Portal described so succinctly. Most discussion of this band tends to bury the actual music and focus on all the crazy shit their schtick entails: the anonymous band members, the 8-string guitars, the impenetrably gooey productions, the creative headwear, et cetera. But the real reason people give a shit about Portal is because they’re one of the most singular songwriting entities that death metal has produced in the past 20 years. Portal keep the faith on Ion, which is something of a back-to-basics affair for them. Gone is the rich low end and ridiculous downtuning of Vexovoid and the mushiness of Swarth and Outré; gone too, seemingly, is the bass guitar entirely. Ion features a simple, clear production that highlights the manic, semi-improvisational looseness of Horror Illogium and Aphotic Mote’s insectile riffing. And man, those two are seriously going off on this thing; Ion is the fastest, most jittery Portal record since the 2003 LP debut Seepia. Between all these factors — the speed, the unadorned tones, the trebly bite of Ion’s whole presentation — it’s easier than ever to hear just how absolutely bonkers the songs themselves are. Death and black metal have really gone off the deep end into weirdness over the past 20-odd years, and at this point there are an awful lot of bands out there that use Portal as a source of inspiration. But still, after all this time, nobody else has replicated this band’s scrawling sense of pacing and rickety-wooden-rollercoaster vertigo. As for vocalist The Curator, he’s in fine gasping form, doing what he always does. Bonus: his subtly goofy sensibility comes through in this tune’s punny song title. (And hey, check it out — I got all the way through this blurb without once talking about caverns!) [From Ion, out 1/26 via Profound Lore.]Doug Moore

2. Cleric – “Lunger”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: avant-garde metalcore

Well, damn. What Philly’s Cleric has accomplished on its long-awaited second album, Retrocasual, is really…damn. It’s… like…through-composed avant-garde metal that renders most ambitious technical metalcore albums moot because…it’s…all of them at once…and a lot more. Or something. Yeah, this sudden inability to encapsulate a musical experience is obviously not a good look for a supposed music writer (though given this blurb’s byline, who are we kidding, right), but what’s the proper reaction here? Retrocasual is not an album that’s well-suited for the 21st century release cycle. (1) It’s impossible to immediately digest due to its intimidatingly large cache of twists and turns that no doubt ruined the sleep cycles of band members and studio engineers alike, (2) its suite-styled 79 minutes makes it effectively stream-proof, and (3) it’s just goddamn deep, like albums upon albums upon albums all the way down. On a more patient planet, we wouldn’t even approach discussing this thing until 2019. And that’s good! Refreshing, even! Think of how many more albums we’d like (conversely: hate) if we just let ‘em breathe. So, if you’ve ever had even a cursory appreciation for joints like Irony is a Dead Scene or wanted a wilder Breathing Is Irrelevant that owned a more diverse record collection, log some months with Retrocasual, friend, PR-mandated calendar year be damned. But, if you’re still like “…nah,” here we go: “Lunger.” Honestly, you’re better off waiting to listen to Retrocasual in full, but let’s try to crack this nut. Beginning with the kind of groove that elder Meshuggah has unfortunately forsaken, “Lunger” soon goes full space cadet with the sound effects. But listen to the mix, how the bleeps and bloops pan around in 3-D fashion. Jump cut: a stumbling jazz where the piano is set to Monk time. Then, like, two LPs of Until Your Heart Stops played at different speeds. Then, blast off. Then, the blast off blasts off with an extended snare roll that’s a John Longstreth wet dream. Then, all of the juds on the Lament Configuration are fed through an algorithm that really should be analyzed by SETI. I could go on, but why? Because, folks, we’re not even halfway finished with one of the shorter songs. Holy shit. And somehow, despite terabytes of data per second, this flows better than Cleric’s last awe-inducer, Regressions. Words fail, Doug legit should’ve sent a poet. I don’t know. You may hate this. I may end up hating this. But, right now? Total, blissful sensory overload. Like staring into the sun…for your ears. Let’s just reconvene next century. [From Retrocausal, out 12/8 via Web Of Mimicry.]Ian Chainey

1. Krallice – “Loüm”

Location: Queens, NY
Subgenre: progressive/experimental metal

Krallice enjoy a highly distinctive creative idiom; once you’re familiar with the way they sound, there’s really no mistaking them for any other band. The basic tenets of that idiom are impressive enough by themselves. Using the sprawling, digressive black metal of one-off legends Weakling as a starting point, Krallice made their name exploring the compositional limits of extreme metal more broadly, finding creative ways to integrate all kinds of discombobulating repetition and harmonic counterpoint into the genre’s framework. After thoroughly mining that approach up through 2012’s Years Past Matter, Krallice took a few years off and then shifted gears substantially. Their work since 2015’s Ygg Huur has deviated ever further from the longform prog-BM of their initial phase, incorporating larger and larger doses of death metal, “brutal prog,” grindcore, and seemingly whatever else crosses the band’s mind during composition sessions. But despite these changes, Krallice still sounds exactly like Krallice, and nobody else. Even as the band radically reimagines its songwriting approach, the core ingredients — the incessant knotty interplay of Mick Barr and Colin Marston’s guitar lines, the almost post-punk twang of Nick McMaster’s bass tone, Lev Weinstein’s militant precision even at ridiculous speed — remain constant from their early days. It is highly impressive for any extreme metal act with such an uncompromising and clearly delineated sonic footprint to exhibit this kind of versatility. I can’t really think of another good example of a band pursuing this many different directions so quickly and so effectively.

There are actually two Krallice albums we’re highlighting here, since they both came out roughly during the time period we’re drawing on for this month’s column: Loüm, which features Neurosis bassist Dave Edwardson on lead vox and occasional synths, and Go Be Forgotten, which also features a heavy synth presence courtesy of Marston (who’s shown off his synth chops before). Releasing the two so close together pretty much guarantees comparisons between them. The easy demarcation would classify Loüm as “the crazy, shreddy one” and Go Be Forgotten as “the chiller, melodic one,” but there’s actually a substantial amount of overlap between the two stylistically. However, the absolute batshittery of Edwardson’s presence on Loüm — Marston evidently cold-pitched him on a collaboration after running into him in the backstage area of a festival — makes it a little more headline-worthy, so that’s the one we’re rolling with here. Its title track explores much of the absolutely nutso range that Krallice have developed, so buckle up: the tense, unpredictable dynamics of its first section eventually give way to one of the most explosive melodic crescendos the band has ever composed, which in turn sours into totally insane dissonant blasting. Edwardson, for his part, has one of the most distinctive voices in all of heavy music and proves here that Neurosis kinda blew it by semi-retiring him as a singer for most of the past 15 years. His gritty synth work also adds tension to the song’s quieter moments, but it’s really the instrumental unit’s feats of strength and flexibility that earn the spotlight here. Those who prefer the more staid harmonics of Krallice’s earlier work are likely to enjoy Go Be Forgotten more than the teeth-grinding madness that occupies most of Loüm, but really, both of these phenomenal albums are essential listening. [From Loüm, out now via the band.]Doug Moore

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