All right, nerds. Jenovavirus. Demo #1. Check this out:
Doug hipped me to this Japanese three-piece earlier this month, knowing its outré take on slamming brutal death metal would blow my brain to bits. Indeed, it done blowns it. The Wormed-y cybernetic wooshes? The overflowing Noah’s Ark of atypical vocal tics? The beastly slams that are a siren’s call to all degenerates? I’m hooked. Obsessed. Where can I buy this? I need to own this.
Ah, but there’s the issue: I can’t buy this. At least, maybe not yet. We’ll get to that in a second, but let’s back up.
Here’s what I know, and this is going to go threadbare real quick: Jenovavirus produced an unknown number of Demo #1 CDrs in 2006. This got the attention of Germany’s Revenge Productions which distributed the demo and planned to put out the band’s debut full-length. But then Jenovavirus went dark and dropped contact with the label.
“Every now and then somebody contacts me to ask about them and what happened,” Dani Revenge emailed to me. “Or if I still have a demo for sale. Well, I have no infos at all.” Dead end. So, in order to reconstruct the rest of this story, know that I’ll be using internet-bullshit as mortar. Legendary metal bands have been made legendary with less.
Jenovavirus’ Encyclopaedia Metallum page states that 13 additional songs were demoed, presumably for its aforementioned full-length, but the group broke up before laying down final versions. (I can’t find a source for this via Google or Internet Archive.) It also notes that after the fracture, members would resurface in Blunt Force Trauma. This seems likely. And yet…strange.
Like Jenovavirus, Blunt Force Trauma is a trio, though it’s unclear who assumed which pseudonym in the prior project. (Blunt Force Trauma’s Twitter didn’t respond to my requests for comment.) They formed in 2006, the same year Jenovavirus split. Unlike their predecessor, Blunt Force Trauma managed to release a full-length, 2012’s Vengeance For Nothing on the reliable Macabre Mementos Records. It’s pretty OK, reminding me of one-time labelmate Vomit Remnants in that it reminds me of a heavier Dying Fetus. I like it just fine, it’s better than 90% of what hits Slam Worldwide. But, and this is the strange bit, it isn’t weird. Not one bit, the objective absurdity of brutal death metal tropes aside. What the heck happened? How and why was the weird sucked out? What’s that story?
So, yeah, this has all of the cult-shit trappings, doesn’t it? Mystery! Intrigue! And, because I can’t buy this and don’t want to mine Ethereum for some sketchy file sharing site, scarcity! Add in that Demo #1 currently carries a sterling 95% rating on Encyclopaedia Metallum based on four reviews. For good reason. Thirteen years later, it still sounds fresh.
Understandably, these conditions have fostered something of a demand for the physical product. The have/want ratio on Discogs for Demo #1 is at 16:67. It would seem the want side is willing to pay a lot, too. On July 7, 2017, a near mint copy sold on Discogs for €75.00. Hi, yes, Dani? Do you have any demos for sale?
Finally, last April, Jenovavirus’ heat got hotter: a “new” song titled “Quickinqbioneralstinger” hit the web before it quickly vanished. Was this one of the 13 songs supposedly sitting in the vault? Given the speed in which it was baleeted out of existence, was the song even real? Didn’t matter, it just seemed to increase the long-dead band’s mystique. And, while the YouTube upload embedded above isn’t exactly doing Midori Takada numbers, the rest of the data we have — obscure stunner with a rare release that sold at least once for big bucks — means that this sucker is ripe for reissue. Right?
Metal reissues have been something of a preoccupation of mine. A handful of new-to-me represses reliably rock my world every year. (For instance, Aaron and I lost our shit to Аспид’s Кровоизлияние, a glittering jewel of thrash dug up by the treasurer hunters at Metal Race Records.) The tales they tell, about how documents of existence can be lost and found again, is very much my shit. But, I’m also fascinating by why people are attracted to reissuing records in the first place. In a way, the act is like a more extreme version of this column, throwing massive amounts of time and money down a hole just so other people can hear what you dig. (Sometimes, what you dig is yours and yours alone. Music myopia is funny like that.) But I’ve also come to think of releasing reissues as kind of altruistic, not only allowing music nerds to play the role of the benevolent archivist, but empowering them to right a cosmic wrong in this increasingly cold and illogical universe. You, mortal, can bring something back.
“I want the band to be able to tell their own story,” Lee Dorrian told me in 2014 about Rise Above Relics, a label focused on getting hard rock bangers from the ’60s and ’70s back in the hands of music lovers. “I think in 20 years time, it’s going to be a lot harder to write about this. I don’t like to say things like the people from these bands are still alive, because they are still alive, but in 20 or 30 years time there’s going to be fewer of these people around, and the chances are their story is not going to be accurate. I want them to make sure their story is accurate.” He detailed what kind of effort that accuracy actually entailed:
You have to track down the original members. You have to source the copyright of the recordings. Then you have to try and get together the best possible audio sources you can find, whether they’re tape or mint vinyl or acetates. You have to get everything mastered and cleaned up; I mean that’s nothing, that’s the easy stuff. Getting together the sleeve notes and the booklet and trying to scrape together as much memorabilia as you can. Trying to get any clippings, any photographs, everything that you can possibly find that exists. It takes forever. And I always do the layout myself. If you’re doing a 40-page booklet in a CD, the layout takes me forever.
Because it takes that much work, because you need to live and breath the album you’re reissuing, it sure helps if the reissuer has a story to tell, too.
“I knew of Blood Money since the late ’80s when I came upon a copy of Battlescarred in an imports shop here in Rio de Janeiro,” Marquee Records head Armando emailed to me. “Back then we were under military dictatorship and anything coming from abroad was really rare, especially music. I really liked the raw production and energy from that band and since then it is one of my favorite NWOBHM albums.”
Armando put out remastered editions of Blood Money’s two full-lengths, 1986’s Red, Raw And Bleeding! and 1987’s Battlescarred, in 2015. Both rule and, full disclosure, were albums I thought about reissuing once upon a time. But I didn’t get past the fantasy stage because I’m a dipshit and didn’t know the next step beyond falling in love with the music. Armando, on the other hand, had the experience: “I released another NWOBHM gem, Preyer’s Terminator, and the response was really good. I then had the idea of looking for any info regarding the whereabouts of Blood Money. I managed to find some band members on Facebook and we start rolling the ball. The hardest part was finding the bonus tracks that are included on the reissues.”
As Armando alluded to, the six degrees of social media has made tracking the creators down easier, but the usual all-too-human foibles can still arise. Speaking of reissue snags in general, he wrote, “Most of the labels still active as Metal Blade and Century Media are really easy to deal with, the problem usually are with bands when some of the members don’t get along anymore or have really crazy ideas about the market nowadays….”
That said, from Armando’s perspective, if one keeps their expectations in check, there is a good market for getting out of print albums back out there. “Well, reissuing OOP material is, financially, way more profitable as you are already working with something that is already known.” But it’s not just the music that’s known, is it? It’s the important contextual stuff, too. Thanks to the internet, people have the answers. What happened to the artists? What happened to the scene? Was what they produced ahead of its time or stellar encapsulation of its era? Of course, there’s another contextual question that’s worth grappling with, especially in regards to the internet: Did the artist even want to be remembered?
In that light, I kind of get the feeling that if Jenovavirus wanted Demo #1 back in the world, it would’ve come out ages ago. (Unless the shadowy three are coordinating a return with the launch date of the Final Fantasy VII remake, in which case see you 2020.) Then again, maybe I’m blowing this all out of proportion. Maybe the sizable horde fiending for this classic is just me and a few other feedback loop doofuses creating a stink over something that’s, uh, not that memorable and therefore no one wants to put in the work to put it back out. Maybe that’s the story. Maybe…no one else…actually cares.
With that in mind, I wanted to run Demo #1 by some experts to see if they thought it was a viable reissue candidate. I knew the exact experts. I shot an email to the gentlemen behind the Heavy Hole Podcast, an ultra-engaging weekly exploration of extreme metal hosted by Tom, Justin, and Will from Artificial Brain and Buckshot Facelift. Tom hit me back: “Some super weird stuff and I dig it. It’s certainly unique enough to expand it’s audience with a reissue.” Whew.
“To me, a good reissue is taking something underappreciated and getting it in circulation,” Tom responded when I asked what made a worthwhile repress in his mind. “I don’t really care about Metal Blade reissuing Butchered At Birth every few years. Something like Jenovavirus would grab my attention. Definitely a gamble for the label in question but turning that corner of obscurity tells a story.” As far as what he’d like to see reissued, Tom name-checked Warface’s Insanity Of The Obsessed and Gorbage’s final two demos.
Wait, hold up: Gorbage? The fuck is Gorbage? Friends, surprises like that one are the whole reason why I’m still in the game.
Gorbage was straight out of Nova Scotia, Canada, starting life as a crusty grinder in 1989 as Abhorrent, switching names to one of the better death metal monikers I’ve ever seen, and growing increasingly brutal across four demos. If you have to listen to one, try on the last one, 1996’s Green Solution?
Songs like “Encephalic Ghoul,” with its pummeling groove and eccentric stank, are clear signs that this band was going to be something. Of course, it wasn’t…until Gorbage’s discography popped up on Bandcamp.
“To be completely honest I was just looking back at some of the old Gorbage demos and decided to launch them on Bandcamp for shits and giggles,” vocalist/guitarist Gerald Smith emailed to me. These days, Smith sits behind the kit for bands like the ripping Burnt Church and long-running Existench. However, he still had fond memories of his former employer. “We’ve been defunct for over 20 years and have all moved on to other projects. It was really just a nostalgia trip but also a means to let people hear the tunes we used to play all those years ago.”
While people may have missed the chance to grab a DIY cassette back in the day, new listeners are definitely hearing Gorbage now. “The renewed interest is pretty amazing considering the length of time we’ve been split up,” Smith wrote, “but, really, the way technology has changed since back in our day, it’s not all that surprising. Extreme metal took a slight nose dive in the mid ’90s but it’s back with a vengeance and has a bigger fan base than ever.”
And yes, Gorbage might be back with a vengeance, too. The band is hashing out the details of a reissue. If that comes to pass, Gorbage’s decades-long absence from the stage might come to and end as well. “Nick [Wombolt] and I are talking about a possible reunion show in support of the CD. There’s a lot rust that needs to be scraped off, so to speak, as we haven’t touched the material in 20 plus years. If Bob [Bustin] is on board it’s a definite possibility we may hit the stage one more time for the hell of it.”
When it comes to Jenovavirus? I don’t think I’m ever going to see that one. Gorbage, though? Gorbage back. That story ain’t over. –Ian Chainey
10. Concrete Winds – “Infant Gallow”
“VORUM is dead! CONCRETE WINDS is deadly!” reads the Bandcamp bio, and that’s really all the backstory you need. (Feel free to brush up on the classics here and here, if you need a refresher.) Rather than using words to try and describe how the new stuff sounds, I have decided by mental decree it would be more fun to compile a list of brutal things I’m reminded of when I throw this on.
Sonically: Dark Angel giving violent birth to Demolition Hammer. Also, lesser known ripping German stuff, like the tuneless thrash of Protector fed through the grinding filth of early Atrocity (but never forget: later Atrocity is, in fact, an atrocity).
Visually: the iconic boardroom scene from the director’s cut of Robocop, where ED-209 fires approximately 8,000 bullets into an unfortunate human target for what might be the longest 15 seconds in cinematic history. Concrete Winds does that too.
Physically: this gets a bit abstract, but years ago I read an obscene little horror novel called Wetbones, written by cyberpunk-turned-splatterpunk visionary John Shirley (whose early work was a major influence on a young William Gibson). As for the book, I can’t in good conscience recommend it, even if this song somehow makes me think of it. It’s hideously violent, tawdry, and vicious in ways that go beyond the most extreme content we consume in the context of this column. But Shirley’s gift, if you want to call it that, is that he could actually write. More than that: when he wants to, he can make you feel. Long passages of extreme violence take on a hallucinatory quality, until a subtle detail snaps you back to reality, and suddenly you’re experiencing the pain on the page. There’s a scene in Wetbones where someone is essentially turned inside out. I remember reading it while riding the subway back from class one night, reaching that passage and having to put the book down. It felt a little bit like seasickness, like synapse overload that triggered a bodily response; reading had become physical. Back to the task at hand: every time “Infant Gallow” rolls up on the kill riff at 1:46, I get hit with a similar wave of visceral physicality, only in this case it’s not so horrible.
9. Tristengrav – “Becoming”
Location: Patras, Greece
Subgenre: black metal / punk
Tristengrav nails a punk and black metal divide that’s as invigorating as it is wonky. The refrain on this goofy monster is a d-beat-driven earworm loaded with guitar squeals and vocal hits, but nearly all bets are off elsewhere. At times it’s a black metal ripper, other times it’s an Addams-family-style traipse around the manor. The result is refreshing — an unpredictable, head-bob inducing song that doesn’t take itself too seriously and, because of it, is all the better. I can’t say I’d have guessed Tristengrav hails from Greece, but the band, with a previous demo under its belt, seems to have a knack for subverting expectations. The demo is out on the esteemed Caligari Records, a label that both in name and taste (with prior signings including the inimitable nocturnal post-punks Rope Sect) has become a natural home for this kind of amazing goth-fueled fire. [From II – Nychavge, out now via Caligari Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
8. Sūrya – “Black Snake Prophecy”
Location: London, United Kingdom
Subgenre: atmospheric doom
Sūrya’s “Black Snake Prophecy” builds from unease into a captivating march, and each additional measure marks a hardening of resolve. This kind of mission-driven metal is powerful, chilling stuff when done right; another standout operating in this vein that comes to mind is the excellent MAKE. Both bands carry the banners for their causes held high, MAKE, their politics, and Sūrya an anguished environmentalism. “Black Snake Prophecy” ends as a forthright mission statement — as the singer bellows “we can’t drink oil,” the drive of the song becomes clear. In its promotional materials, the band says it “wrote [the forthcoming album] as an outpouring of pain we feel in the face of the destruction of our planet.” Drawing from such inspiration, there is plenty to rage against. [From Solastagia, out 7/26 via Argonaut Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
7. Darkthrone – “The Key Is Inside The Wall”
Location: Vinterbro / Trysil, Norway
Subgenre: black metal
Besides, you know, the music, one of my favorite parts of any Darkthrone album rollout is the interviews even though band mouthpiece Fenriz finds them exhausting. “It’s like a chore of creativity,” he told Kerrang!, “and that can surely explain a lot of the weird answers I have given from time to time.” (Yeah man, same.) And yet, those answers never fail to deepen the listening experience for me. Reading Fenriz on Fenriz is like receiving notes from a friend who just sent you a mixtape. It makes everything more personal. Sometimes, you’re even transported right into Fenriz and Nocturno Culto’s headspace. “I was thinking it sounded like Ratt Invasion Of Your Privacy-era or something from Ozzy’s The Ultimate Sin,” Fenriz said to Consequence Of Sound regarding the opening riff of “Hardship Of The Scots” that everyone pegged for AC/DC, “but I, in all honesty, just made that riff.” That makes all of Old Star, Darkthrone’s 18th album, click. Here be two guys just making the riffs.
Like its predecessor, 2016’s Arctic Thunder, Old Star spins the wayback dials for about 1988 and delivers a lovingly rendered composite of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto’s metal diet. “Slow thrash” is offset by even slower Candlemass, Celtic Frost trades barbs with Bathory, and the cult shit that has found a home in Fenriz’s Spotify playlist is consciously elevated to the same plateau as the aforementioned all-timer touchstones. However, these are just vague vibe descriptors. Darkthrone, after all, is just making the riff, and if the riff sounds uncannily like something else, it’s because it has seeped into the marrow through longterm exposure.
This six-song set closes with “The Key Is Inside The Wall,” a bleak and blackened crawling conclusion. Like the five tracks that preceded it, it invites its own comparisons based on the recent listening you’ve logged. To me, this thing is smothered in Hot Curry and Wine grime and Into Glory Ride-era dirtbag doom if that band could be ever be cool enough to employ Nocturno’s Warrior rasp. I don’t know if that’s what Darkthrone was going for. I doubt it. They were probably gunning for heavy metal, which encompasses all of that. “I am more a preservationist perhaps,” Fenriz said in that Consequence Of Sound piece, “JUST MAKING METAL, I guess.” Dude, you guess? Old Star is proof that Darkthrone knows. [From Old Star, out now via Peaceville Records.] –Ian Chainey
6. Skáphe / Wormlust – “Vaxvængir Vonar”
Location: Philadelphia, PA / Reykjavík, Iceland
Subgenre: black metal
When there’s nothing left to explore, no bucolic bridges left to burn, too many bands look backwards to give us more of the same. Rehash and repeat. Treading down the same old path is often enough for listeners content to relive a simulacrum of past success, but just barely. From a creator’s perspective, if you’re the type that actually cares, mining your own back catalog for inspiration is probably about as appealing as eating your own remains. But there are other options. Take this thing: a bloodshot hallucination of a 2-song, 35-minute collaboration between Skáphe and Wormlust. For the unfamiliar, these are already two of the weirder bands flitting around the experimental outer edges of the US and Icelandic black metal scenes. Members of both bands have interacted in various projects for years, including in Guðveiki and Martröð, producing several shades of weirdness across a range of unpalatable blackish genres, and generally kicking ass in the process. Here, what’s so striking is how they retain the flavor of both bands to produce something painfully intense and still reasonably coherent (in spite of itself). There’s the apocalyptic smear of Wormlust — very much missed in the six long years since their last album, The Feral Wisdom — alongside the glittering atonality of Skáphe. Both bands generally operate in the same sonic and metaphysical orbit of outsider black metal, so the pairing makes sense a certain amount of sense, but there’s a feeling that both bands are stretching beyond their natural limits, landing somewhere more interesting. “Vaxvængir Vonar,” the longer of the two songs, feels like a system in constant decay. Rhythms constantly fall apart without stopping, rolling from order to chaos; the song hangs in a state of disquiet only to cohere a minute later and head off in a new direction. Guitars feel broken, diseased tones on a meandering track, but still capable of twisting back towards a semblance of melody. If you found yourself reaching for the latest Esoctrilihum, give this one a whirl. [From Kosmískur hryllingur, out now via Mystískaos.] –Aaron Lariviere
5. Andavald – “Undir skyggðarhaldi”
Location: Reykjavík, Iceland
Subgenre: black metal
The record label Fallen Empire unearthed dozens of underground gems over its nearly 10 year run, but the one-man operation that brought us incredible demos and debuts from the likes of Tchornobog, Arkhtinn, Skáphe, and Death Fortress shuttered at the end of 2018. It’s hard to assess how Fallen Empire’s absence will be felt — it’s hard to point to a label that brought as many truly obscure acts and sounds into our small realm of critical acclaim — but, at this point, many of the label’s better known acts will comfortably find homes elsewhere. While the label will be missed, from Fallen Empire’s ashes Mystískaos, FE’s sister label, has risen, and, with its first batch of releases that are rolling out now, is picking up where FE left off. Andavald, a band that like some of FE’s more celebrated alumni hails from Iceland, conjures the kind of twisted, tortured, and fiery black metal the island has become known for. It’s excellent, and carries a torch for a label that changed the underground American metal landscape. [From Undir skyggðarhaldi, out now via Mystískaos.] –Wyatt Marshall
4. Immortal Bird – “Anger Breeds Contempt”
Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: black / death / sludge / grind
Sometimes when it’s late at night and I’m writing, or more accurately, when I’m trying to write but the words won’t come, and I don’t have any beer on hand to numb the pain of living and make writing easy, I like to flip open a book and see what I find. Maybe a word or image sparks an idea. Maybe it gets me out of my head long enough so the words can fall out before I realize what happened. Maybe, just maybe, in a fit of apophenia, I will stumble onto the Perfect Thing that aligns just so with the subject of my writing, and this glorious concurrence will tip us all off that the reality generators need more RAM, and wow, just wow.
Tonight, I’m sitting down to listen and blurb into existence the latest from Immortal Bird — probably my album of the summer, but for reasons I’m struggling to articulate, hence the difficulty putting pen to page. So I reach over to the first thing on the shelf, which happens to be a book of French poetry (ooh la la), and flip to a poem at random. At the same time, I press play on “Anger Breeds Contempt,” the first track and first single off the new album. A thickly mastered chord reaches out and cracks my skull, and the vitriol is already flowing from the first. I gaze down at my book of poems, feeling dumb, wishing I could just write a normal blurb like a normal person, and I read the title of poem #72: “Vat of Hatred.” Huh. The imperceptible hum of cosmic gears turning; the first tickle of synchronicity scratches my subconscious.
Riffs and drums and throat-ripped vocals continue to barrel down. Immortal Bird doesn’t subscribe to any particular metal genre, instead plucking violent bits from across the spectrum. For the moment it sounds like death metal, which is always welcome and almost soothing when it hits this hard. Reading on: “Hate is the leaking vat of Danaides; Even baffled Vengeance, his shoulders hard and red; Exerts himself in vain to fill the puzzling space; With buckets full of blood and tears drained from the dead.” Huh! I’m no good at reading poetry and gleaning any kind of meaning from it, but the obvious grotesquerie dovetails nicely with the violence being done to my ears. According to the vast web of knowledge that lives behind the screen, the Danaides were the fifty daughters of Danaus, figures from Greek mythology who were to marry the fifty sons of Danaus’ twin brother Aegyptus (good name), and all but one of the fifty daughters slaughtered their would-be husbands on their wedding night, severing their heads for added effect. Gnarly.
I don’t have a lyric sheet, so I won’t try to ascribe any actual intent to the songs, but this all feels somehow right. It’s not hard to imagine the titular contempt channeled into figurative violence. Even when the song breaks into a momentary clean passage, the melody feels twisted, warped with an undercurrent of spite that leads back to a violent climax. Or maybe I’m just exhausted and projecting. Great record either way. [From Thrive On Neglect, out 7/5 via 20 Buck Spin.] –Aaron Lariviere
3. Wormed – “Remote Void”
Location: Madrid, Spain
Subgenre: brutal death metal
When Doug premiered a track off of Wormed’s prior album, 2016’s excellent Krighsu, it felt like we were getting away with something, like we done did some Banksy shit. Stereogum has always been a home to metal, but, yo, we got WORMED to the front page. What up, Kero Kero Bonito fans, here’s brutal death metal. And not just any brutal death metal, but wackadoo, sci-fi-obsessed, legit bad ass brutal death metal; brain-splattering riffs, full-on gutturals, no concessions made to people who don’t like brutal death metal brutal death metal.
Three years later, it doesn’t seem that incongruous anymore. Not that Stereogum is, like, awash in Cenotaph and Cerebral Effusion news items, but Wormed, much like Nile and Defeated Sanity, has transcended the niche confines of the BDM tag to the point where I might actually talk to another human about it without that person immediately thinking I’m a total reprobate…until I bring up, like, Despondency or whatever.
“Remote Void,” the first song on the forthcoming four-song EP Metaportal, once again demonstrates that Wormed is the work of wickedly clever composers, not just in the deathly arts, but in music, full stop. Disgorge in Space is still the Spanish quartet’s skeleton, but it does so much to play with expectations without interrupting the flow. There’s a quintessential Wormed bounce happening around 1:34, a twangy guitar signaling an imminent slam. But, instead of the groove, the band hits hyperdrive. Similarly, after a few minutes of ear-searing complexity, the song gets sucked into a blurry near-melodic wormhole for the outro. This section might even be normal-person-palatable, which, in itself, is unexpected. These I-see-you tweaks keep Wormed sounding vital.
But, to be clear, Wormed does not cater to you. This is still Wormed through and through, the same band that shook up the slamiverse with 2003’s atmosphere-rich Planisphærium. O.G. members Phlegeton (vocals/effects) and Guillemoth (bass) along with long-running guitarist Migueloud and new drummer V-Kazar (Krighsu drummer G-Calero died in March 2018 at the, guh, age of 27) are so consumed by their uncompromising vision of pairing brutal death metal with a sci-fi narrative that the union naturally repels audience-pleasing fake shit. Anything that does not fit Wormed’s nerdy needs are jettisoned, which includes traditional genre signifiers and stuff that would probably increase its mainstream profile. Conversely, it’s that commitment to just being Wormed, a smart band with sick riffs that’s comfortable in its oddball skin, that has broken them through. Band is no joke. [From Metaportal, out 7/19 via Season Of Mist.] –Ian Chainey
2. Bhleg – “Sorlande Sky”
Location: Gothenberg, Sweden
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Taken from a split with the similarly sylvan Nechochwen, Bhleg’s “Sorlande sky” is one of the best nature-reverent black metal tracks to come by in some time. It’s got woodland atmospheric chops to swing with the best of them, Nechochwen included — to give you an idea, a mouth harp shows up pretty early on during an interlude. But of course, all the bows and whistles (of which there are many, tastefully) can’t save a folkish black metal track without a solid spine of intriguing riffs, and Bhleg keeps you hooked with an engrossing push and pull that ensures there’s skin in the game until the end. Undoubtedly, Bhleg’s name itself deserves a mention. The satisfying single-syllable croak seems the perfect vocalization of some primordial, guttural font of black metal essence. Yet it’s more than just a well-articulated grunt — it means “to burn,” or something similar, in Proto-Indo-European languages. [From Sorlande sky / Majestic Transulcence, out now via Nordvis.] –Wyatt Marshall
1. Murk Rider – “Descent”
Location: Baywood-Los Osos, CA
Subgenre: blackened psychedelic sludge
One of the few pure moments of joy in life, especially a life as grim as one spent slaving over metal blurbs, is the quiet thrill of discovery when you find a band like this. Murk Rider are unsigned and unheard, but fully competent and highly ridiculous. The lack of hype means your first listen is untainted, and the greatness can unfold properly, like a psychedelic revelation. Right now, this very thing that I’m writing and forcing you to read is explaining away the thrill, diminishing the magic in real time. If you want to skip the blurbage and cut straight to the tunes, I’ll understand. (Also, who cares. Nothing matters.)
If you’re still with me, let’s spoil this thing properly: go take a look at the seemingly bad, secretly brilliant cover art. If you are a righteous person who has lived an appropriately cultured life, you know exactly who that is wielding the spear, clutching the Valkyrie, and projecting an unshakeable aura of strength and detachment from earthly trappings. If you don’t know who it is, I forgive you — that’s none other than Phil Lynott, fallen basslord and spectral troubadour of Thin Lizzy, of course. Only here he’s dressed as Wotan in all his glory, saying farewell to his errant daughter, Brunhilde, in the classic final scene of Wagner’s Die Walküre. (Visit our friends at No Clean Singing if you want the backstory.)
If your brain can somehow reconcile all of that, it means you’re ready for the music, which is basically all of the above mixed with extreme metal and stretched to the compositional breaking point. We’re talking 3 songs across 80 minutes, and never a dull moment. The core sound is a crashing wave of volcanic black sludge, with frantic leads circling a surging rhythm section…until the clatter breaks apart, as it often does, and pulls back to the ululating drift of a gentle clean guitar. Imagine Inter Arma writing the soundtrack to Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain and you’re halfway there.
Strange details creep in around the edges: field recordings of crackling fire, subterranean streams, rolling thunder. Hand percussion punctuates the ending of “Descent,” building tension before a final firestorm of guitar. The second song, “Journey,” features a long passage of folkish, forlorn female vocals, unaccompanied but for the sounds of running water. Later, nearing the album’s end, a new character appears and reads a poem in Spanish. Underneath the boyish voice, an acoustic guitar traces quiet circles while layers of strange vocals pile up to produce the weirdest combination of sounds I’ve heard all year. Whatever this is, it’s far outside the realm of the ordinary; the metal bits are unrelenting and the rest is insane. But it holds together. There’s a unifying vision that slowly takes shape as you listen — like a dome behind the stars, marking out constellations, ascribing order to an absurd universe. [From Exile Of Shadows, out now via the band.] –Aaron Lariviere