To start, a confession: I still daydream about being a professional baseball player. Indeed, despite blowing out my arm decades ago messing around with the world’s straightest slider, every June I await the surely inevitable call that I was picked in the 39th round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Oh, but things are way lamer than you might perceive. Deep breath, here it comes: Instead of warging out to an alternate dimension where I’m tossing a perfecto in Game 7 or whacking my 3,000th hit into the gap, I’m usually thinking about what walk-up music I’d choose.
The answer, of course, is Nile’s “Ramses Bringer Of War,” complete with its Holst-pilfering, cheap-ass synths. Not only would it infuriate pace-of-play advocates, but think of the spectacle: fantasy me, built like Aaron Judge but looking like Abbath, raising my arms and rolling my eyes back into my skull as Karl Sanders roars. The crowd goes wild. The pitcher plunks me. I dust myself off, and me and my league-leading on-base percentage strut to first base.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about — and judging by this year’s cratering attendance numbers, that would be most of you — the classic baseball stadium ambiance of yore is now shot-through with a player-generated playlist. Gone is the music monopoly held by the lone organist, though they are making a comeback. Instead, just like your social media feed of midlife-crisis-suffering high school friends, many DJs have since appeared. This great piece in The Mercury News colors in the history and specifics, but suffice to say, every modern player either has or is A/B testing a signature song that will signal their arrival when they come up to bat or take the mound to pitch. When it works, the track becomes inextricably tied to the player. I can’t think of Mariano Rivera without hearing “Enter Sandman.” But the practice is also so de rigueur, players are prone to use it as a vector for shitplaylisting.
So, given that walk-up music has been thoroughly normalized and individualized, you’d probably expect to hear some metal of the Black Market variety at least occasionally.* The numbers do seem right: When rosters expand to 40 players in September, there are 1,200 possible metalheads at the big-league level. However, despite metal being tailor-made for aggro peacocking, the majors are apparently largely bereft of heshers. mlbPlateMusic.com is one of a few places where you can get multiple seasons worth of walk-up track IDs and…welp, it’s bleak.
While it’s possible that mlbPlateMusic’s community can’t recognize when someone digs in to the dulcet harmonies of “Hammer Smashed Face,” what has hit the site, predictably, is like the shared Spotify of a high school weight room. Ignoring popular music that actually has cultural cachet, when it comes to heavier fare, basic-ass post-grunge and the more bro-dude, dirt-bike-exhaust-smelling strains of metalcore abound. Beyond that, of the 11 players who have been caught walking up to Metallica, only three used something that existed pre-Black Album. The Motörhead sightings are encouraging until you realize that it’s because it’s Triple H’s theme. Sabbath? “Iron Man.” Priest? “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” Brett Pill used “I’m Broken.” Brett, who hurt you? No, seriously, we need to make a DL transaction.
Still, somewhere in between Led Zeppelin getting listed more times than “Zoso” was inscribed in my middle school Trapper Keeper, you can spy a few possible headbangers sinking to our low. According to MLB’s official Walk Up Database that charts the predilections of players for this current season, Cleveland pitcher Trevor Bauer warms up to Amon Amarth while the Washington National’s Ryan Madson waives off the bullpen cart to Khemmis. You can also hear strands of “Master of Puppets” in Pittsburgh courtesy of George Kontos. Promising, but not quite Black Market material.
Then there’s Gordon Beckham, who is back up in the bigs with the Seattle Mariners. He hasn’t logged a track in the database yet, but he does have a history. Bleacher Report listicled the veteran infielder swinging to “Seek And Destroy” in 2012. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like much, especially as Beckham’s previous jam was the Outfield’s “Your Love.” But, what pray tell is this on Beckham’s mlbPateMusic.com page? Hails, “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due.” Could there be more on the way? Hey, maybe Jerry Dipoto is working on acquiring the right Dark Angel track.
That said, while Beckham’s budding thrash mixtape is promising, it doesn’t measure up to our true savior. In 2017, catcher Tom Murphy somehow got the Colorado Rockies to play Slayer’s “South Of Heaven.”
“Slayer was my first heavy metal concert that I went to,” Murphy told me through the golden-throated Josh Suchon, my mouthpiece and the announcer for the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Rockies’s Triple-A affiliate and where Murphy started this season. “It felt comfortable, felt like it had been a part of me for a long time. I went with something that I knew really well and got me going.”
Murphy went to school at the University at Buffalo, a city with a notably heavy history, building the kind of robust résumé that led to him getting drafted in the third round in 2012. At the time, he was also surrounded by metalheads. “Pretty much everybody that I went to college with, that was our lifting music no matter what,” Murphy reminisced. “My best friend, Jason Kanzler, and I supported it really hard.”
When Murphy reported to the minor leagues, though, the metalheads were missing: “Dustin Garneau is the only other guy who I’ve met that knew the same music that I did and enjoyed it.” Garneau, a fellow catcher, has logged 250 big-league at bats and is currently plying his trade in the Chicago White Sox organization. mlbPlateMusic says he strolled up to the deathcore-ish Wage War last year.
But a paucity of fellow troopers didn’t stop Murphy from blasting metal whenever he could. When asked if he ever tried to get Slayer into the clubhouse rotation, he said, “I tried a lot of times. Back in Double-A we used to have ‘Tommy Tuesdays’ when we’d play metal music the entire time and I think probably batted like .700 that year.”
While that Splendid Splinter average is obviously an exaggeration, there’s some truth to the legend. From 2013 – 2015, across stints in Tulsa and New Britain, Murphy slugged a ripe .513 on Tuesdays, including a two-homer, six-RBI smiting of the Harrisburg Senators on May 5, 2015. Coincidentally (or not), he would crack Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list in 2016. Play metal, hit nukes. You’d think Billy Beane would’ve looked into this already.
Murphy has continued to rake, burnishing his reputation with a strong start to 2018 while he awaits a spot with the Rockies to open back up. Off the field, he’s a dad with another kiddo on the way. “My daughter calls it ‘Daddy Bear’s Music,'” Murphy mused when asked if marriage and fatherhood had changed his listening habits, “I’m sure my son will feel the same way.” Like a lot of us, he’s a lifer, hearing something in metal that most don’t. “I like deep meaning, I like talent. To me, that’s where metal comes in. It’s the talent involved and the meaning behind the songs.” Unlike a lot of us, he has a promising baseball career ahead of him. His rookie status is intact, but he has had more than a cup of coffee in the Show, already amassing the highest bWAR of any Slayer fan I know. And that might be reason enough for me to lay my fantasies to rest and live vicariously through Tommy Tuesdays. If you’re reading, dude, check out some Nile. For…uh…reasons. –Ian Chainey
*Yes, I know, there are logical explanations for why you don’t. I’m not a crazy person who is like, “Well, I’m pretty sure people would love Abruptum if they just played it on the radio.” Instead of exhaustively chasing every Swanö side-project, baseball players were busy perfecting their craft under the guidance of Tom Emanski (or, you know, desperately trying to leave their impoverished surroundings so they could earn enough money to improve the lives of their descendants’ descendants). And I’m sure if someone wanted a more unconventional song, MLB would instantly drop the hammer. Plus, as this piece by Huey “Corpsegrinder” Lewis can attest, most metal would probably sound horrendous on fidelity-destroying PA systems that barf darts of weaponized treble into open-air concrete pits. It would be dope to make people listen to Portal until you realize that no one would actually hear it. The most you’d accomplish is that all children in attendance under 10 would leave with a commemorative headache. “Honey, what’s that hum? Oh, it must be the dying gasp of misappropriated tax dollars.” I get it. This is also like when someone hands you an AUX cord at a party and you play Moonsorrow and everyone is like “Hey there friend, we all just want to listen to Cardi.” I get that, too.
10. Urfaust – “Trail Of The Conscience Of The Dead”
Location: Asten, Netherlands
Subgenre: black metal
First and foremost, the song. Clocking in at nearly 13 minutes, “Trail of the Conscience of the Dead” has enough space for Urfaust to successfully unspool the kind of psilocybin drift it has tinkered with in the latter-half of its career. The elements that enthralled weirdo black metal depots like Aquarius Records are still there: IX’s lugubrious leads contrasted by his trademark crooning (think, like, Mark the Shark practicing Dean Martin in the shower, or something) and VRDRBR’s steady, doomy drumming. But, as “Trail” matures, things go panoramic, closing out with the 24 frames per second sweep and swell of additional strings. It’s a great mini-journey on an…ahem…album I don’t really like all that much. Yeah, I mean, The Constellatory Practice, the Dutch duo’s fifth full-length, is…fine. It’s a grower, requiring a close, devoted listen for it to flower; less passive shamanistic guide, more salvia experience. Your closed-eye visuals may vary, but I drink way too much coffee for the other five tracks to really land with me. In any other genre, this wouldn’t be a biggy as I’d buy the song I liked and move on. However, in metal? Perhaps my age is showing here, but metal, to me, is album-only listening. Really, does metal even have a RapCaviar equivalent? Are we it? Even this very column, which ostensibly measures the “month in metal” in song-sized units, isn’t really about just the track, in that we’re not divorcing streams completely from the greater context. Like, 80 percent of what appears here is largely because the album on which said songs reside is good. And, since I’m forever cursed to be miles up my own ass, I have thoughts. Let me play this out in a different example: Germany’s Alkaloid dropped its sophomore album this month. Most of it sounds like playthrough video vets trying to, as Aaron put it, shoehorn Yes’s 90125 into progressive death metal. Thanks, but hell no. And yet, the second song, “As Decreed by Laws Unwritten,” is a decent eight minutes of Steve Tucker-ian trudge. Because it’s trapped within an album I don’t like, I’m probably never going to listen to it again, let alone feature it here. Too bad…because I’m the loser there. And yet, any fix to this scenario, such as a mixtape or addendum post adopting similar orphans, also feels deeply unsatisfying. There’s something about a sustained, singular vibe that inhibits one from cutting up album-sized wholes even if rotten spots abound, which is probably why catching bands with expansive, spotty discographies on tour is still essential. This mindset, though, leaves standout studio tracks like “Trail” in the dust, which is pretty dumb because it’s pretty good and could stand alone just fine. [From The Constellatory Practice, out now via Ván Records.] –Ian Chainey
9. Shrine Of The Serpents – “Hailing The Enshrined”
Location: Portland, OR
Something magical happens to death metal when you drop the tempo to a morbid crawl — riffs break apart like misshapen continents, decaying chords leave a trail of oscillating residue, and everything gets heavier. As the space grows between notes, a sense of gloom encroaches. Shadows swallow the light. Hope curls up on the floor like an especially sad cat and DIES. You get the point — this is death/doom, also known as the realm of suffocating bummer vibes and cold syrup riffs. Bearing a hilariously phallic moniker that could only crawl out of the dankest corners of extreme metal, Shrine of the Serpent (or as I like to call them, Temple of the Dong—though nobody’s going hungry here) understand well the dynamics of death/doom. Sharing members with the woefully underappreciated Aldebaran, plus Graves at Sea, Triumvir Foul, and Ephemeros, these guys draw from a well of dark experience to, uh, make dark tunes. The real question is how many lame references to DARK THINGS can I squeeze into one stupid blurb? Probably not enough to do this one justice, so let’s save some breath for the suffering to come. [From Entropic Disillusion, out now via Memento Mori.] –Aaron Lariviere
8. Stimulant – “Pollution”
Location: Buffalo, NY
Subgenre: grindcore, powerviolence
The bar demarcating the barrier of entry for grindy powerviolence is so low most graboids could clear it. Hell, you could probably Discogs yourself right now and discover you sleepwalked your way into a demo without even knowing it. However, to be good at this stuff? Unexpectedly super difficult, like how any barroom idiot can toss a dart but professionals tap into some kind of god-secreted energy stream of pure truth to help guide their actions (also known as “practice”). And wouldn’t you know it, that sums up Stimulant, a very good vocal-trading duo consisting of Thomas Leyh (drums) and Ian Wiedrick (guitar). In mostly sub-two-minute chunks, Stimulant rips through the requisite blasts and slowdown breakdowns with aplomb, making good on its name by infusing the tumult with an uncommon exuberance. There’s even room for ingenuity, as “Pollution”‘s stops and starts are strung together with springy riffs. The second side of this split spotlights the last ride of Water Torture, a twin-bass assault that crushes with Man is the Bastard force. How about this for a quirk, though: Same band as Stimulant, pretty much, with bassist Matt Goodrich being the difference. Kind of neat, really; what was and what is collected on one all-new, actually-coherent document. And, unlike the deluge of material unceasingly spat out of this style, it’s legit, free of the pretender-identifying irksome elements that might as well be musical mosquitos (thank you crusty gutter Jesus, no Spazz voice). There’s even good harsh noise, as “Torched Turf”‘s finale puts you to bed atop waves of squiggly, numbing distortion. Atypically excellent all around. [From Stimulant / Water Torture – Split LP, out now via Nerve Altar.] –Ian Chainey
7. Sárr – “Ávitun”
Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
“Ávitun” depicts a world in gray, with buzzing riffs that zap virtually all color wherever it could creep in. In that sense, “Ávitun” finds itself in the depressive camp of black metal, and though there are certainly tortured howls that invoke the idea of a deeply personal existential crisis, this is different — there is a mechanical quality to the song, a piston-powered repetitiveness that removes all but the last vestiges of human agency. Only toward the end, when the drumming is allowed to breathe and ease up a bit, does an obvious personal touch show in the form of a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. This kind of thing might not be for everyone, but if, say, you have ever enjoyed the rust-tinted glory of Moonknight, you’ll begin to hear and see within the monotony of “Ávitun” a kaleidoscopic array of silver magic. [From Ávitun, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
6. Yob – “Our Raw Heart”
Location: Eugene, OR
Subgenre: doom / sludge
YOB. I just like saying the name these days. It’s weirdly comforting, this short declarative burst — YOB! — a name that hardly means anything on its own but somehow signifies so much. 22 years into its career, Yob has come to stand for something unique in metal: an inseparable blend of incongruous styles, like bitter black tea with a swirl of cream, sneering atonal sludge wrapped around a cloudburst of emotion. The latest album is a 73-minute meditation on pain. Mike Scheidt has said as much in interviews. As such, it’s an oddly structured record — three melodic songs (loosely in the mold of the last album) butt up against some of the thorniest, least pleasant material of their career. It’s not the best thing they’ve done, nor their worst — it lacks the cohesion of their career highlights like The Unreal Never Lived, The Great Cessation, or Clearing The Path To Ascend — but it has one of my favorite Yob moments of any album. “Beauty In Falling Leaves” is the centerpiece of the record and its emotional core, 16 and a half minutes that finds the band in its most vulnerable mode. It’s contemplative and steady, almost quiet, a long march to the horizon across a dusty plateau. When the earth gives way, the song takes flight: screaming through thin air, upward, outward, through the pain and out the other side, then down, down, and back to earth in a cascade of falling leaves, wearing a cloak of new flesh but somehow wiser, at peace with the cycle of death and rebirth and all the pain that comes between. It’s really something. We can’t embed that track here till tomorrow, so you’ll have to make do with the title track for now. But do me a favor and listen when you get the chance. [From Our Raw Heart, out 6/8 via Relapse Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
6. Elysian Blaze – “The Virtue Of Suffering”
Location: Adelaide, Australia
Subgenre: black metal
Following an intro that could have you wondering if you’re listening to Explosions In The Sky, the monumental grandeur of “The Virtue Of Suffering” becomes quickly evident. The orchestral, regal slow-burn wrath is unlike anything that’s appeared in some time, and what evolves over the next 16 minutes is nearly overwhelming in scope; the song captures unfathomable rage, with earth-shattering low-end and cavernous screams heralding both doom and redemption. Few works in this genre really qualify as a movement, but “The Virtue of Suffering” is certainly near the top of the list. Mutatiis, the singular force behind Elysian Blaze, hadn’t released any new music since 2012, telling Invisible Oranges that efforts to record a follow-up to Blood Geometry hadn’t worked yet, though material for a new full-length had been written. “The Virtue Of Suffering” is then an offering to patient fans and a cleansing of creator’s block that portends new material on the horizon. [From The Virtue Of Suffering, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
4. Varathron – “Ouroboros Dweller (The Dweller Of Barathrum)”
Location: Ioannina, Greece
Subgenre: black metal
The longer I stay in the metal game, the more I’ve come to appreciate and identify with the quest for the platonic ideal, especially as it relates to narrow subgenres. On one hand, there’s a thrill in smashing out new sounds from genre hybrids yet unseen. On the other, as one’s understanding of genre tropes grows — including the ability to pick out regional details like Greek black metal’s stew of teenage blasphemy, chintzy Casio symphonies, and the dried bones of antiquity — watching longstanding bands refine their approach over decades, circling the subgenre ideal until it exists as a thing unto itself…well, there’s magic there, too. A flood of warm nostalgia combines with the tingling sensation that comes with seeing a subtle thing teased out, captured on tape, and given artistic life. Which brings me to my belabored point: For my money, Varathron’s latest album could be the ur-text of Hellenic black metal. This right here, this perfect blend of melodicism, atmosphere, and genre conventions, could be the defining moment where Varathron outstrips their better known peers in Rotting Christ and Necromantia, take the crown of shadows and claim their prize, which is fawning praise from nerds like me and probably 12 extra bucks in merch sales. There is little justice in life or metal, but let’s at least give credit where it’s due — this record kills, and you should hear it. [From Patriarchs Of Evil, out now via Agonia Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
3. Forest Mysticism – “Hearken”
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Subgenre: black metal
In February’s Black Market, I was pleased to share a track from Unfelled, a new project from D., the force behind the atmospheric black metal powerhouse Woods Of Desolation. The arrival of Unfelled — and a sister side-project Remete that appeared at the same time and sees a new release this month, as well — marked the first time we had heard new music from D. since the triumphant and deeply moving Woods Of Desolation album As The Stars nearly five years earlier. Now, just a few months after the introduction of two new projects, D. has returned with new music from another of his projects, Forest Mysticism, which hadn’t been actively recording new music since 2011. Forest Mysticism is an underground gem — in its guitar work, it has the searing timelessness that has drawn so many to Woods Of Desolation. But Forest Mysticism is gruffer and more primitive, and on title track “Hearken” the riffs are thrashily banged out on the double quick, with throaty vocals barking menacingly on a forward-leaning track. Elsewhere on the somewhat lo-fi EP, Forest Mysticism is more contemplative — here, it is a fire starter. [From Hearken, out now via Cold Ways.] –Wyatt Marshall
2. Ritual Necromancy – “Disinterred Horror”
Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: death metal
It’s good to try new things from time to time, even when said new things resemble old things. Ritual Necromancy — whose name manages to evoke everything and nothing at once, because it’s so generically gnar-metal it almost sounds quaint — manage to destroy all expectations of what an ostensibly old school death metal album can deliver in 2018. It’s no huge surprise considering the pedigree: they share members with fellow Black Market favorites Ascended Dead, Vassafor, Knelt Rote, and Rites of Thy Degringolade, although they take a different stylistic tack here. Fans of Incantation will recognize the approach. But for my money, Ritual Necromancy’s second LP, Disinterred Horror, hits a hell of a lot harder than anything since Incantation’s late ’90s heyday (and recent Incantation records rule pretty hard anyway). The production is powerful, clear, and destructive: guitars grind back and forth, rending flesh from bone; drums smash those bones into wet dust; and whatever’s left is burned alive by the blast furnace vocals of bassist/singer/guy-with-cool-last-name Justin Friday. Did I mention the doom? Every so often these guys throw their guitars at the wall and flip the script, slowing to a crawl in order to go all-out death/doom. If you’re reading along, you’re probably detecting an unexpected theme this month: killer Oregonian bands with silly names playing hellacious doom. Here, at least, the doom is a respite from the frontal assault. If you can stomach it, take a gander at the full-bore clatter of the title track, “Disinterred Horror.” Pounding blasts alternate with squealing breakdowns, death and doom locked in mortal embrace, with your ears as victim and victor at once. I had the great fortune to catch these guys live at MDF this past weekend, and they were every bit as vicious. Do yourself a solid and seek them out. [From Disinterred Horror, out now via Dark Descent Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
1. Délétère – “Cantus I – Teredinis Lepra”
Location: Québec, Canada
Subgenre: black metal
Among Québec’s best metal bands, Délétère has always set itself apart with grimy, subterranean qualities. Whereas their fellow French-Canadians have often looked to local history and wilderness to craft memorable atmospheric black metal, Délétère has drawn upon its own inspirations — leprosy, pestilence, rot, dark mysticism — to create a uniquely muscular and menacing brand of black metal. In typical Québec fashion, though, “Cantus I – Terednis Lepra” is a work of melodic beauty, with a full-on axe attack loaded with raging riffs and constant trilling coming from seemingly all sides. But this song is darker, and it also pummels. Those kicks — just one element of the incredible drumming performance on the track — are both invigorating and almost nauseating. Phleghmy vocals grate the eardrums, and the occasional high-pitched echo-back vocals and warped choir pieces add to a twisted feeling of unease, evoking images of torch-lit rituals. It’s best to stop there, though, as this one runs wild, thrashing and raging relentlessly, and will no doubt lead your imagination to conjure its own dark thoughts. [From De Horae Leprae, out 6/15 via Sepulchral Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall