Henrik Drake, Ph.D., is a researcher at Linnaeus University. His name has appeared atop numerous papers this year with titles like “Incorporation of Metals into Calcite in a Deep Anoxic Granite Aquifer,” “Fungi in Deep Subsurface Environments,” and “The role of anaerobic fungi in fundamental biogeochemical cycles in the deep biosphere.” He has multiple multi-year projects in the works studying “methane consumption in the crystalline bedrock.” He is no doubt extremely busy.
I emailed him to ask about a death metal album.
I know Henrik Drake as the bassist for Anata, a Swedish tech death band that last released an album in 2006. That record, The Conductor’s Departure, remains a favorite. The culmination of Anata’s fascination with polyphony, Departure is like a string quartet shaped into a death metal band, with guitarists Fredrik Schölin and Andreas Allenmark interweaving independent melodies while Drake pulls double duty as a third thread and batterymate to the dexterous rhythms of drummer Conny Pettersson.
And yet, for all of its braininess, it retains an earthy quality, emphasizing hooks while getting brutal with the best of them. Needless to say, it holds up because it has few peers. I could listen to it forever. But I wanted to ask Drake about the album after this one.
In 2008, Pettersson posted this to Anata’s official band forum on SMN News:
Finally the day has come. Earache have given us the green light to record and the studio engineer are micing my drums as I write this. I will write a sort of a studio diary next week that will be posted on the Earache website. Now I have to focus. Wish me luck.
A few months later, excerpts were available:
Anata proudly present two excerpts from the upcoming album, both of these from the track entitled ‘Greed conquers all.’ The album will be released on Earache later this year, and we hope that you will find these clips appetizing…
And then…welp, not much…unless you were in the band, I guess. A post pleading for updates in 2009 received news that Anata and Earache weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. Come 2012, as reported by Heavy Blog is Heavy, a “Digby” at Earache responded to a fan’s inquiry by contesting that Anata had essentially ghosted on the label for years and then offered an unmixed instrumental album for release. Earache, which feels the need to operate its own rebuttal blog, used the hashtag “#splitup” in an Anata-referencing Facebook post.
Heavy Blog is Heavy and MetalSucks then spied an “HD” in the comments who refuted Earache’s version of events. A subsequent MetalSucks piece in 2014 detailed a post by Drake on Anata’s Facebook page that said the “album will be released [eventually].” A Facebook update in June 2016 echoed this, stating that “mastering of the long awaited album will take place in July.” And then…welp, here we are, me sending emails asking about a “lost album.”
To me, a lost album is one that either has been shelved or lingered in varying states of completion for a significant amount of time following an initial “get ready for new stuff!” announcement. For a certain type of obsessive fan such as myself, these albums take on a legendary air. Perhaps there are psychological reasons for that: curiosity has been linked to the dopamine reward system and irrational optimism stokes an intense bias fostering unwavering belief in favorites. Maybe it’s just my OCD tendencies at play, a conspiracy theory-esque insatiable desire to take control and ownership over a process that will forever be outside my grasp.
Regardless, each passing year only seems to grow the legend, making a lost album’s vacancy in an artist’s discography all the more maddening. In my own experience, this leads to some asshole-y behavior as annoyance overflows and I publicly complain about an artist’s seeming inaction without (a) knowing what is actually causing the delay and (b) considering the potential ripple effects of the pressure I’ve applied. Learning about the former in order to diminish the latter was exactly why I wanted to reach out to Drake directly. His reply inspired me to check on two other lost album cold cases that have long been on my mind.
“The album is more or less done,” Drake emailed back. “Fredrik has spent so much time on this record. People may think we have not done anything but sit and wait, but Fredrik has worked on this recording a lot with mixing and so on to make it as good as possible but a lot of personal issues have come in between.” Drake also said that labels were interested, a point of contention that had been proposed in the past as an additional hurdle needing to be cleared.
Part of me was understandably stoked: It’s done? It’s real? I thought, recognizing a Gollum-like tenor to my interior monologue. But I couldn’t help but read into “personal issues,” sensing the underlying weariness, feeling less than enthused that I’ve probably gone on record joking about Anata’s decade-long absence.
Drake touched on this a bit while answering a different question: “We have always been aiming to release this album. Things have just not gone our way … over the years. We know a lot of fans are waiting for it and are frustrated. We are sorry for this.” From an extremely online fan’s perspective, album updates that ultimately don’t bear fruit can be a tough thing to swallow. I mean…maybe that’s worth an apology, if one ever needs to apologize for not making death metal.
I asked if there was a disconnect between a fan’s conception of a creator and what is actually going on in a creator’s day-to-day. “Probably,” Drake answered, “and we all have jobs, kids, families, etc. to take care of. It is a bit different from when we were touring and releasing a lot. Death metal doesn’t pay our bills. Also, we lost Andreas from the band, which had [an effect], of course.”
I’ve asked this again and again this year, but how are a fan’s expectations formed? If expectations are forged in a vacuum where unreproducible contextual metadata like time and place don’t matter, that might be one thing. But what if my expectations are something else…say an illogical hope that hearing a beloved band’s new material will restore a part of myself that has since eroded?
As I said about Sleep, it’s rare that band and fan grow in tandem. To expect otherwise denies the creators their humanity, intentionally obscuring all of the icky life stuff that happens between albums, the mess that tidy narratives and timelines tend to purge. People do indeed get jobs, have kids, have families, etc.; their priorities change. Their health changes. James Murphy wants to make a second Disincarnate album, but, because of reoccurring medical issues and a busy work schedule, he’s been dealt a tough hand. But…would I even know that unless I cared enough to look?
I asked Petr Tománek, a founder of Lykathea Aflame, how he was doing. “For me as an analytical, deep thinking and sincere person, [this is] one of the tough questions, to which the answer could become an essay on my life up to now. :) But to put it simply, I AM. I am observing life and learning, going through all that emotional variedness arising from confrontation of self with the outside world. Sometimes in great and positive vibes, sometimes in less great and positive ones.” This is the most Lykathea Aflame answer. Tománek followed it up with “…and I am working with full focus on the successor of Elvenefris.”
In 2000, members of Czech brutal death grinders Appalling Spawn rebranded and released Elvenefris, a true classic of out-there, progressive death metal. In the fashion of its former incarnation, it absolutely rips with an atypical technical adeptness that is all its own. But Elvenefris also has an expanded sound palette that is unlike anything before or since. Encyclopaedia Metallum lists Lykathea Aflame’s lyrical themes as “Spirituality, Hope, Philosophy, Salvation.” The album sounds like that, just, you know, with death growls and crazy drumming. It closes with an 11-minute, synth-heavy, meditative instrumental; a Laraajiian encore to a, let’s not forget, death metal record. On the whole, Elvenefris is a combination of things that should be too rare to live but ends up flourishing, blasting a big-ass beam of light into the darkness. It’s one of my all-timers. And I always wondered if there was going to be another one.
So too have the tireless keepers of the aforementioned Encyclopaedia Metallum page, who dutifully detail the news over the years, including that the quartet slimmed down to a duo counting Tománek and drummer Tomáö Corn, who also plays in Cult of Fire and Death Karma. (Plenty of other diehard fans abound, some working for labels. In 2012, lovingly constructed remasters by Blood Music introduced both Appalling Spawn’s discography and Elvenefris to a new legion of listeners.) But whenever I drop by the page for updates, the yellow “On hold” status always seems to subdue hope that more material is on the way.
Tománek answered all of my questions with the same studiousness and deep self-reflection found in his music, returning a Word document that ran over three pages (which you can read in full here). I asked if he’d ever felt pressure to deliver a follow-up to Elvenefris, to which he responded, “No, I do not feel any. I always work in accordance with my inner voice … I am not getting confronted with the outside world’s expectations which is allowing me to stay free in my music expressions. Elvenefris was once made and there will never be Elvenefris II. There is a new time for something new to be born.” As for when that time might be, Tománek slipped this in later: “But the status is that more and more music is done and completed and we plan to go to studio to make two promo songs this year.”
The bulk of our conversation, though, centered more on a person’s path in life and following one’s own truth. He tells me he’s not active on social media. His writing exudes a sense of warmth and peace. It’s hard for me to not conflate the two. However, I was probably most struck by what he wrote when I asked if there was anything he wished he could tell his younger self:
I am learning in general on my journey through life so I cannot come up with anything particular. I would also not tell anything to my younger self as I was always acting in communion with my inner guidance and all what I went through was exactly what I needed to go through.
This sentiment also popped up in my conversations with Curran Reynolds and Gene Fowler, two-fifths of NYC’s Wetnurse, once a noisy and charismatic-as-hell live wire that mushed many heavy sounds together into a dramatic whole. In a Pitchfork review for Wetnurse’s second full-length Invisible City, Cosmo Lee (a writer we should…bring back) wrote that “They’re punk, they’re metal, they’re classic rock; they’re the ‘all of the above’ that makes New York City frustratingly wonderful.” Invisible City was also what I needed, Fowler’s singing a proxy for the internal yell that I tried to stifle with a smile as I increasingly regretted my occupancy in various prisons of my own making. I’ve been better, I’ve been worse, but Invisible City is always there even though the band is no longer.
“It has unfolded the way it had to,” Reynolds wrote in an email reply, recapping the band’s lifecycle. Busy with Body Stuff and PR gig The Chain (which represents Aeviterne, a Wetnurse relation we covered in April), he took time out his day to confirm something I had heard making the rounds: “There’s a third Wetnurse album that was almost fully tracked and never released. Certain people who know about that still ask us about that third album.” And ask they do. Fowler replied “OMG YES” when I inquired if people reached out to him frequently for a status. So…what is the status, then? Reynolds: “Track some vocals, put the songs in order, final mix, master it, put some cover art on it.” Is that time coming? Well, Fowler chipped this in:
People have been asking for the status for a decade it seems. I refer to my favorite band PORTISHEAD who ironically went down this same exact path. They released their third album 10 years after the second. Does life imitate art? The release of our album is equivalent to opening an aged cask of bourbon or wine. To have an authentic “throwback” sound, it had to sit. I was selfish. I didn’t want “the movie to end.” Everything does. So now is a perfect time to open that bottle and let the credits roll.
Albums are kind of weird when you think about them: little temporal oddities that are eternalism in action; a fleeting moment that lasts for as long as the album is available to be listened to. They’re a marker of existence that may or may not even still be applicable to the creator when other people uncover them. And, in metal and punk particularly, there’s an inherent instability to the band dynamic, where you can only teeter on the edge for so long before it smooths out and becomes a parking lot or you step back to establish residency elsewhere. This was something that Reynolds alluded to later when I asked if it was weird for a 2011 recording to be considered “new” by people who haven’t yet heard it.
Yeah it represents the 2011 me, not the 2018 me. After recording that album I went on to become a better drummer and then to quit drums entirely and start writing songs and singing. We’re seven years down the road now, it’s a whole different scene for all of us. That album is a snapshot of a very specific time and place and set of circumstances, as all albums are. That said, I think it is a wonderful thing. It’s the pinnacle of a decade’s worth of work. There’s all kinds of feelings sealed up in that thing – still real and relevant to a listener today, even if they are the feelings of our younger selves – and it would be nice to unlock that and share that with people.
Which, of course, leads us back to my new (creepy?) preoccupation: asking people what they’d tell their younger selves. To Reynolds, specifically, I asked what he would pass on to the bands he now helps. Part of his answer included this:
Recognizing the temporary nature of things. Recognizing good chemistry and making the most of it while it’s there. Recognizing that enthusiasm has a time limit, motivation has a time limit. These are beautiful forces that are temporary. If you can harness these forces and make something out of them, you’ve won. Toward the end of Wetnurse’s run, we labored over songwriting because we really wanted to make art that was special. I think you can go so far in that perfectionist direction, but you might run out of time.
Fowler offered this inside one of his answers:
Our first shows I was 20 years old sneaking into the bars to play our sets. I would hide with all the gear…. So, I would tell young me, “Keep hiding and enjoy the ride!” because, growing up with this band, these guys taught me how to rise with the tide, and always see the sun.
Keep hiding and enjoy the ride. I kind of love that. I’m glad I asked. -Ian Chainey
10. Wombbath – “Born Of Filth”
Location: Sala, Sweden
Subgenre: death metal
Despite the plaintive cries of my colleagues, I can assure you only death metal matters this month; thus I give unto you a pile of death metal and nothing but — starting with the hideously named Wombbath. (Whatever it’s supposed to mean, I’d rather not know, thanks.) Formed in 1990 in Sala, Sweden, Wombbath were mostly forgotten for decades after releasing an unsung, semi-classic LP of chunky death metal back in 1993 called Internal Caustic Torments. In their first incarnation, they sounded less like standard-issue Swedish death à la Dismember and closer to the rudimentary filth of lesser-known American bands like Baphomet and Rottrevore, or even the British gods of middling death, Benediction. But the winds of death were changing in the early ’90s. By 1994, Wombbath shifted gears entirely to embrace the death ‘n’ roll stylings of Entombed’s Wolverine Blues and the idiot grooves of Grave’s Soulless. If it was a race to the bottom, Wombbath were determined to win, naming their sole death ‘n’ roll EP…Lavatory, which was pretty accurate as titles go. And then they vanished, as most third-tier death metal bands tend to do after their natural expiration date. Cut to 21 years later and who should reemerge clad in rags and sewage, on Dark Descent no less, but the slumbering “legends,” hellbent on wreaking unholy hell with an LP that sounded much more generically Swedish (buzzsaw galore), and yet…it kinda ruled? Gone were all but one original member, but Wombbath suddenly had fire and riffs and merciless hooks. Which brings us to now, as Wombbath unveil their second post-reunion album and go one further, absolutely crushing the production and grafting on some righteous melodeathian fat choruses and grooves fit for slaughter. I was torn between several tracks to include here, but “Born of Filth” has my favorite melodic break at 1:34, and it’s a hell of a thing. Now go take a wombbath. [From The Great Desolation, out now via Soulseller Records.] -Aaron Lariviere
9. Sorrow Plagues – “Vista”
Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
For pure epic landscape atmospheric black metal, few, if any, do it better than Sorrow Plagues. And with legendary terrain drone footage in mind, special mention must go to “Vista,” another work of pure beauty from David Lovejoy, the singular force behind the project. Prepare to soar, and ready yourself for jaw dropping grandeur, the kind that causes the heart to race…jumpstarted, of course, by the awesome power of precision blasts of double kicks. The track is every bit worthy of its name and what one would expect from Sorrow Plagues, an inspired journey soundtracked by skybound synths, poignant interludes, and the occasional wild, radical solo. One envies Lovejoy the opportunity to witness whatever nature inspired this song for a split album celebrating untouched wilderness. [From Mater Natura Excelsa, out now via Flowing Downward.] -Wyatt Marshall
8. Closet Witch – “Blood Orange”
Subgenre: grind, hardcore
Closet Witch is a grindy hardcore quartet hailing from Iowa. Well, kind of. The Iowa part is accurate enough, but figuring out a way to properly express the power it pumps out on its self-titled full-length debut is tricky. It definitely dusts screamy artifacts with a powerful blast of grind. I am also reasonably confident that if the unhinged parts of Converge records make your body and/or face do things, your body and/or face will do things when you hear tracks like opener “Blood Orange.” This is science. But, instead of comparisons, it probably makes more sense to lean on more evocative descriptors. Lead singer Mollie Piatetsky described her band to The Partae this way: “Chaotic, Emotional, LOUD.” Bingo. “Blood Orange” is chaotic, emotional, LOUD, confidently churning through a ton of ideas before settling on a killer groove to close things out. “Blood Orange” also feels…how to say this…lived, less studio creation, more a distillation of experience packed full of primary-sourced input. Where other outfits sound like they guesstimate the impact of bedroom riffs with the precision of a first-time open-mic comic, Closet Witch’s frenetic pace feels battle-tested, honed by the instant appraisal of the faces starring back at them at each tour stop. Of course, Closet Witch’s membership is blessed with the talent to compose stuff this satisfying. But this band also pays attention, which is a hell of an auxiliary virtue to possess. [From Closet Witch, out now via Halo of Flies Records and Sassbologna Records.] -Ian Chainey
7. Mutilation Rites – “Born Of Filth”
Location: New York City, NY
Subgenre: death metal
Yessssss. Mutilation Rites play death metal now, which means a lot of things, but I’m mainly stoked because they now fit my “Death In June” theme for the month. But seriously, Mutilation Rites switching teams to the deathside feels significant. If you were to, say, troll the depths of Metal Archives and read reviews of previous MR albums, like this one from one H_P Buttcraft, you’d see much lively discussion of the specific type of black metal these guys were known for, which Master Buttcraft accurately describes as the kind that “straddles the line between black metal that is accessible and Black Metal that are [sic] for die-hards only.” I highlight this mostly because it’s funny, but also because when a band does this — up and swaps genre without even issuing a bold press release rebranding themselves as death metal strategists or something — it’s as if they’ve wiped clean the slate, as if history itself has been erased. Past albums suddenly belong to another band; reality feels askew; reviews of said albums, including Buttcraft’s, no longer serve much purpose except as cautionary tales of impermanence and forgotten timelines. This is the kind of shocking and unimportant micro-drama I choose to fixate on these days as the world becomes increasingly saturated with images of pain, because it helps me avoid thinking about global warming, pocket-sized dystopia generators masquerading as phones, children sacrificed in the name of distraction…so thanks for bearing with me. Fortunately for all of us, Mutilation Rites are ridiculously good at death metal. The old stuff was good and getting increasingly better, but you won’t even miss it. Suddenly the guttural vocals make more sense, thickly muscled riffs wrap around the pounding rhythm section like bloody rope, everything lashed to the same throbbing core, lurching along to the perfect pogo death march that puts a sardonic smile on my face every time. [From Chasm, out 7/20 via Gilead Media.] -Aaron Lariviere
6. Immortal – “Northern Chaos Gods”
Location: Os / Bergen, Norway
Subgenre: black metal
Okay. Immortal. If you’re brand new here…you have some catching up to do. I mean, recounting the entire history of Immortal inside a teaser blurb would finally land me, a longtime offender, in wordcount jail. To pique your interest, let’s just say there’s a reason these Norwegians are the most meme-ified crew in metal. And, really, who am I to deny you the fun of applying for your own visa to Blashyrkh, the land where you can argue with some frostbitten wight over which album is the real one. That said, in order to properly add enough drama to the upcoming reveal, I do need to recount a few things. All in all, this is some real corpsepainted Cocaine and Rhinestones shit that’s worth perusing in full but has the kind of sprawl that would make George R. R. Martin’s heart give out. However, it’s worth noting that:
- Guitarist and co-founder Demonaz stepped down from tremolo duties in 1997 due to acute tendinitis. Lead croaker, bassist, and other co-founder Abbath took up the guitar in his stead. Demonaz continued to write lyrics and appear in videos.
- Immortal broke up in 2003 due to “personal reasons.” This break gave us I. Demonaz wrote the lyrics.
- Adhering to the grand tradition of legacy bands, Immortal reformed to play shows in 2007. New music followed.
- In 2014, and on the precipice of submitting a new album to Nuclear Blast, Abbath tried to take over the rights to the band name based on his belief that Demonaz and drummer Horgh (a constant since 1996) had quit.
- In 2015, Abbath, foiled in his trademark takeover, quit and started recording under his own name, presumably without Demonaz’s input. Last we heard out of this camp, there was controversy over a proposed Carl Jung†concept album.
- Demonaz and Horgh announced that a new Immortal album was forming on the horizon. Peter Tögtgren, he of Hypocrisy and Immortal’s knob turner of choice since At the Heart of Winter, played session bass. Demonaz, on the band’s homepage: “I recovered from an arm operation around 2014 and started to make the first guitar riffs for our new album Northern Chaos Gods in 2015. It was a relief to focus on music again and enter the studio to record guitars for the new album, as well as singing my own lyrics.”
tl;dr: Co-founder leaves over name dispute. Guitarist, stuck on the shelf for years because he played fast, comes off the DL to play fast and sing.
Got it? Great, not even the half of it. But it’s enough to answer this: Knowing what you know about how these sort of late-career endeavors pan out, what do you think new song “Northern Chaos Gods” sounds like? It sounds like Immortal, stupid. That’s it. That’s the big reveal: Immortal sounds like Immortal. Demonaz sounds like Demonaz (and better than†Demonaz?). Horgh sounds like Horgh. All told, “Northern Chaos Gods” is shockingly legit and surprisingly necro, a frigid blast of icewinds that will freeze any wimp too scared to scale the mountains of might. Like there was any doubt. [From Northern Chaos Gods, out 7/6 via Nuclear Blast.] -Ian Chainey
5. Vilkacis – “In The Night’s Grip”
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Subgenre: black metal
The marriage of some idea of dark beauty and fury has been at the core of melody-forward black metal for as long as the genre has been a thing. But with “In the Night’s Grip,” Vilkacis have found new dizzying heights of that union’s bliss — few tracks hit this hard, few sear so effortlessly into the skin. For fans of this style, Michael Rekevics is more or less a household name at this point, serving as a driving force behind notable US black metal acts such as Fell Voices, Vanum, and Vorde, and more recently joining up with Yellow Eyes to lend one of Brooklyn’s best extra stopping power from behind the kit. On “In the Night’s Grip” he exquisitely brings together timeless leads, raw bellows, and passages of infectious, righteous grooves. It’s as awe-inspiring as it is invigorating. [From Turia/Vilkacis Split, out now via Psychic Violence and Haeresis Noviomagi.] -Wyatt Marshall
4. Pa Vesh En – “Last Episode”
Subgenre: black metal
Pa Vesh En practices the dark art of lo-fi or raw black metal, a subgenre that rarely graces this list due to its tendency to come off as either unintelligible or unlistenable to all but the most masochistic of ears. But beneath the thick muck of purposefully poor production, there’s something awesome to behold on “Last Episode.” An ominous sample that opens the track portends trouble ahead — and a brief passage of sparse riffing delivers — but it also signals a departure from the usual confines of the style. Soon, a clearing opens, announced by uncharacteristically clear guitars, and the song is ultimately oddly alluring. True to genre norms, though, Pa Vesh En is a one-man-band — beyond that, there’s nothing to know about the project. NB — this song requires decent headphones. [From Pa Vesh En/Temple Moon Split, out 8/17 via Iron Bonehead Productions.] -Wyatt Marshall
3. Tomb Mold – “Manor Of Infinite Forms”
Location: Toronto, Canada
Subgenre: death metal
Third in the glorious trash heap that is my month of deathly death metal, we have Tomb Mold, a Canadian death metal band willing to set aside their Canadian manners to grunt like a dying boar over particularly ripping riffs. There’s a ramshackle quality to the guitar tone, the filthy bass, the casket rattling drums — something about that combination has a cumulative effect, like bleeding to death from a papercut. First I get a little lightheaded, then the clatter takes hold of my motor functions, and next thing I know I’m flailing to the beat, Saint Vitus dancing to a fluttering arrhythmia and loving it. The title track to Tomb Mold’s second LP, Manor of Infinite Forms, starts off unassuming enough. A cut-rate Slayer lead points the way before the band finds its churlish groove, tumbling head over heels like a dog trying to murder its tail…until the drums slam home, blasting full force…then somehow blasting faster. A wave of screaming death hits like a firehose, mild breeze turns to microburst, and boy does it blow your hair back like nothing else. Leads slice through the noise like razors, trailing ribbons of blood and clinging tissue, as thick chords knock you back and forth — and this keeps getting better. Your guts clench and release; knuckles go white; involuntary headbanging sets in. Considering I’ve spent my entire month listening to death metal, and mostly the old-school varietals, you’d think this might get old. Not even close. Tomb Mold uses familiar tools to be sure, reaching deep into the Autopsy bag of tricks for a hint of deliquescent doom here, a whiff of rotting melody there, but the carcass is far greater than the sum of its parts. [From Manor of Infinite Forms, out now via 20 Buck Spin.] -Aaron Lariviere
2. Turia – “Tuchtroede”
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Turia are something of a mirage. The band often evokes desert vibes, and though they positively rip, there’s a sort of surreal distance between the listener and the music — while mischievous guitar leads beguile and subtly draw you in, what you’re hearing is just out of reach. “Tuchtroede” is just such a song, one that deepens Turia’s mystique by somehow coming off as a rather chill experience despite all of the pummeling, raging, and shrieking one would expect from inclusion in this column. Though perhaps some of the effortless mystique can be chalked up to a stripped-down northern European sense of style, with purpose-driven drumming that provide the song clean lines around which jangly guitars dance, the rest seems to be due to some enigmatic magic. [From Turia/Vilkacis Split, out now via Psychic Violence and Haeresis Noviomagi.] -Wyatt Marshall
1. Burial Invocation – “Phantasmagoric Transcendence”
Location: Ankara / Istanbul, Turkey
Subgenre: death metal
I was at lunch with non-metal colleagues the other day, and I found myself trying to articulate the appeal of death metal. Trying to rationalize an otherwise irrational fixation to folks who don’t necessarily equate “music” with tuneless chainsaw duels set to belching…was not easy. Despite talking and writing about this stuff for years — never mind listening to death metal incessantly, compulsively even, to the detriment of lesser hobbies — given the chance to present a coherent sales pitch to curious minds, I blinked. Instead, I said something accurate but incomplete, talking about the physicality of the music paired with the sense of discovery that comes when you overcome the ear’s natural aversion to harsh vocals. What I didn’t explain, because it would have been hard to articulate in a two-minute conversation over fries, is the role this ridiculous music plays in my overstuffed life: it offers escape, but not just any. Extreme metal in general — but death metal in particular — drowns out the dull roar of daily life with exquisite noise. Riffs align, atmosphere billows around you like an aura of purple-black smoke, and it’s like stumbling into an alley drenched in lengthening shadows as the world winks out behind you. Take the new Burial Invocation album, one of the best and most evocative death metal records of the year: press play on the first single, “Phantasmagoric Transcendence,” and the band spends eight-and-a-half minutes parting the curtains of reality. Serpentine riffs coil like tendrils of smoke, not unlike the Dan Seagrave cover art†for the band’s latest LP, Abiogenesis, where something eldritch and weird swirls in the sky. When I listen to this stuff, it takes me somewhere else, someplace half-lost to memory, just a glimpse of the rich internal fantasy life I seem to remember having as a kid, a place between dream and nightmare, bright colors and shadows in stark relief. That palace of memory carries a convoluted juxtaposition of mystery, horror, and breathless wonder, like a Clive Barker novel you can’t quite place but you remember the feel of somehow. This is why I’ll always reach for the psychedelic, cosmic/anti-cosmic strains of death metal (think Mithras or Blood Incantation) over the cheap, splattery thrills of Cannibal Corpse, and it’s why I adore the new Burial Invocation so, so much. “Phantasmagoric Transcendence” is a good way to describe the accomplishment. Using an ostensibly old-school approach to riffing, they cast aside expectations for song lengths and go deep, with harmonic structures expanding outward until riff patterns feel like a series of overlapping circles growing increasingly wide, making room for melody, rich chordwork, and sprawling atmospherics — but always with a hint of menace, darkness at the edge of every flickering light. When the dual harmonies descend around the seven-minute mark, I’m done for. Chills up the spine, haunted to the core, pulled right out of my body and into the aether. It’s a reminder that maybe there is something more to the world than just corporeal boredom, something you understood once but forgot, that school and work and biological imperatives and growing up to be trapped in the mundane isn’t the course we have to take, but a choice, and one we can wind back if we work at it. I know metal doesn’t equate to escape for everyone. But if you’re anything like me, the fact that I just wrote the above in one breathless burst while listening to this thing straight through should tell you something. [From Abiogenesis, out 7/6 via Dark Descent Records.] -Aaron Lariviere