The Black Market

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – July 2019

If you’re reading this, it’s either (a) July and nothing is going on, (b) other stories fell apart, or (c) I have died and my computer is running an emergency AI program named intro.exe based on the fact that I didn’t hit my slam playcount threshold. So, in lieu of a mailbag or whatever else writers run when they’re crushed by depression and can only watch Nickelodeon documentaries, here’s a stupid question to explore: Can metal, and I mean Black Market metal, ever have a Song Of The Summer?

The mothership dropped its crowd-sourced Song Of The Summer top 10 yesterday, something it does annually since 2013. If you have never stomped a digital boot outside this column, it’s worth perusing. In general, I feel like these things are a practical joke that we play on ourselves to be enjoyed 20 years later, much like how instantly-dated high fashion is a way to eventually get back at rich people. This one is a fun exercise, though, and I now feel like I can say something to regular humans that isn’t “oh no, where is your bathroom, I’m sorry.” So, indulge your poptimist side, click through, and sample 10 songs people actually like that aren’t metal because metal will never have another horse in the Song Of The Summer race. It hasn’t for a long-ass time.

This isn’t to say that metal doesn’t have summer songs. There are whole genres that sound and feel like summer to me: trad, speed metal, NWOBHM, thrash, stoner doom, and on and on. Heck, put your favorite summer songs in the comments and maybe some righteous soul will construct a killer playlist packed tighter with summer delights than Joey Chestnut’s colon. Mine is “Dogs With Jobs.”

To reiterate, summery songs aren’t the issue. The issue is that, even going way back, “Song Of The Summer” tends to be a quantifiable distinction. These days it’s tracked “officially” in a Billboard singles chart that’s derived from some unholy calculus that presumably includes the Hot 100. I don’t want to get too deep into the whole Hot 100 thing, that’s the domain of smarter people. I also get that by relying on an American chart as our authoritative source, this is now an American-centric conversation. I mean, like, Doro probably has a #1 hit in Germany every other week. Norway’s Song Of The Summer has been Abbath tumbling out of a thawing ice block for 10 straight years, or something. Europe, we get it, enjoy all of the metal festivals. However, suffice to say, metal hasn’t been in the USA USA USA Song Of The Summer conversation in a couple decades.

Check this out. Here’s a list of songs from bands in the Encyclopaedia Metallum that have cracked the Hot 100’s top 10.

Def Leppard – “Love Bites” (#1)
Def Leppard – “Pour Some Sugar On Me” (#2)
Def Leppard – “Armageddon It” (#3)
Deep Purple – “Hush” (#4)
Deep Purple – “Smoke On The Water” (#4)
Scorpions – “Wind Of Change” (#4)
Skid Row – “18 And Life” (#4)
Quiet Riot – “Cum On Feel The Noize” (#5)
Mötley Crüe – “Dr. Feelgood” (#6)
Skid Row – “I Remember You” (#6)
Mötley Crüe – “Without You” (#8)
Faith No More – “Epic” (#9)
Queensrÿche – “Silent Lucidity” (#9)
Def Leppard – “Hysteria” (#10)
Metallica – “Until It Sleeps” (#10)

I might be missing some other dubiously metal hard rock band that a Metal-Archives mod just approved for reasons that baffle the mind. (Don’t get me started. How is Krokus in the Encyclopaedia Metallum but AC/DC is not? Life is a goddamn mystery.) However, I’m pretty sure that’s it for your Heavy Metal Hit Parade. The big takeaway then is, easily, “UNTIL IT SLEEPS,” LOL! How in the hell! Normal people suck so bad at metal! Seriously though, look at that list. The iHeartMedia Borg hivemind just assimilated this column and was like, “Whew! Classic rock division: Thursday is programmed!” Also, not a lot of Black Market-applicable metal in there, right?

And that’s kind of the thing. The Song Of The Summer should be so big, so unwieldy in its popular omnipresence, that it’s just part of the atmosphere. It’s like head lice in kindergarten, the shared experience that you don’t really want but unites you with your peers anyway. That’s the key: Other people need to share in the joy/misery so it can act as social lubrication.

Black Market metal is never going to cross over like that because, first and foremost, it’s not a singles format. Iron Maiden, one of the most popular metal bands in the world: never had a song in the Hot 100. Judas Priest? Only got to #67. Beyond that, though, Black Market metal is so niche and so specialized, often with an insurmountable per-requisite of burning your social life to nerdily study it until it clicks. This tends to, you know, diminish your potential audience. Besides, even if we expand our metal scope to include the rare popular examples of “metal” listed above, there’s what, one song that had the juice to be a Song Of The Summer contender? One! Since metal was born in 1970! And it doesn’t even count because “Love Bites” hit #1 in October.

Of course, the rebuttal to that is my definition of the Song Of The Summer is too narrow, that, Hey, whatever man, it’s 2019! You can pick your own Song Of The Summer. That is, in fact, what the Stereogum users did, even if they ended up with what will likely be the Song Of The Summer. But even thinking about this at a smaller, more individual level, I guess a song that you share with friends could create the same oppressive connective tissue, a spider web for catching indelible summer memories that will just make you even colder in the winter. As an example, thanks to a clutch New Standard Elite discount on its digital discography, we’ve been enjoying a Summer of Slam behind the scenes. That’s now Summer 2019 to me. Turns out, brutal death metal can fend off heat stroke. Who knew? (I am not a doctor, please consult a large crystal before crab walking.)

Still, even though we have that experience, it’s not like we’ve settled on one song to rule them all because that would require consensus, and when you get down to extreme metal at this column’s level, does that kind of consensus exist? Forget the legendary demo bands we all must agree on, we’re talking new songs here. I don’t think it does.

To test that, I asked your Black Market makers for their metal Song Of The Summer to see if we had any crossover. This was very scientific and rigorous, using a massive sample size of three. See if you can pin a name to each of these selections: Idle Hands’ “Give Me to the Night.” Spectral Lore’s “No Excuses for Fascist Sympathy.” Wormed’s “Remote Void.” So, yeah, even though we are all up in each other’s shit on the reg, laughing at the same people eating shit on Bird Graveyard, reading the same dispiriting crime blotter entries in PEOPLE, and wondering how the heck this guy didn’t look in the box, we don’t have the same Song Of The Summer.

I think there are reasons for that, not all tied back to the modern erosion of the monoculture that monopolistic platforms are trying to fill. A lot of those reasons are exclusively metal, like how metal is so vast but with (comparatively, don’t get mad) so few listeners that even the more populous styles look like settlements in The Postman. There’s also that everyone’s metal journey is a little different, that after the intro bands get you in the door, the configuration of your touchstones and reference points are yours alone. There’s also that wild-westy sense of freedom, the innate contrarian nature, that instinctively pushes us away from the conventional even if that convention is between you and one other person. (Regretfully, that can metastasize into the kind of lame elitism shit that drives Jamey Jasta to decide Twitter is his trigger and he’s here to fucking pull it. Not quite David Simon, sir. But…would metal ever rise from the primordial ooze of outsider music without that spark of elitism? Think about that on the toilet.)

Anyway, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a lot of consensus in the metal underground and I just don’t see it because I don’t have friends. So, for me to really mine the data on that, there would … have to be a place that published … an overlong list of new metal songs for people to pick over. A “market” of metal, you might say. Yeahhhh. We could name it … “Market Of Metal.” I like it. Someone should make that. –Ian Chainey

10. Memoriam – “Shell Shock”

Location: Birmingham, England
Subgenre: death metal

FINALLY. After a middling debut and a painfully weak follow-up, Memoriam did the unthinkable and turned it around for album three, resurrecting the spirit of Bolt Thrower and making me obnoxiously happy in the process. For the unfamiliar, Memoriam is the closest thing we have to Bolt Thrower in 2019. After Bolt Thrower’s latter-day drummer Martin “Kiddie” Kearns died unexpectedly in 2015, the band officially dissolved. Memoriam formed the following year as a tribute to their fallen friend, comprised of BT singer Karl Willetts, original BT drummer Andy Whale (who played on the first 5 albums and left in 1994), Frank Healy of fellow travelers Benediction, Sacrilege, and Cerebral Fix (all sick bands), and a younger guitarist, Scott Fairfax, who’s also served time in recent incarnations of Cerebral Fix and Benediction. The band was meant to carry on where Bolt Thrower left off, playing stolid, mid-tempo British death of yore, with a crust punk edge. Sounds good on paper! Sadly, album one didn’t quite deliver the goods: there were a few good riffs but the overall package fell miles short of actual Bolt Thrower; worst of all, Karl sounded tired, insisting on doing this weird speak/sing thing that never quite sat properly in the mix. If album one was underwhelming but passably fine, album two was a knife to the guts, a colossal step backwards and one of the most disappointing records I’ve heard in years. The production was horrid — depressingly thin and functionally useless, the death metal equivalent of single-ply Scott toilet paper (WHY DOES THIS EXIST). Karl’s voice somehow sounded even worse, and track lengths needlessly stretched past the breaking point. Bolt Thrower was well and truly dead; Memoriam was but a pale shadow. Fast forward a single year, and there’s a remarkable change on their third album, Requiem for Mankind. Most immediately noticeable: the production is massive, in line with Bolt Thrower’s final and arguably best album, Those Once Loyal; huge credit to longtime Napalm Death producer Russ Russell, who apparently knows what he’s doing and deserves a medal for righting a grave metallic injustice. Even more importantly: there are no weak riffs, and the execution is spot on. Karl sounds worlds better, fit to swallow a tank and crap thunder, having dispensed with the speak-sing thing that wasn’t doing him any favors. He still sounds pretty old — counterpoint: he always sounded old — but the spirit behind those old bones sounds positively rejuvenated. While the rhythm guitars feel subtly different than Bolt Thrower proper, with a slightly more pedestrian sense of groove, the leads capture just enough of Bolt Thrower’s haunted majesty to trigger a flood of memories. I’ll take it. [From Requiem For Mankind, out now via Nuclear Blast.]Aaron Lariviere

9. Grenouille – “Les Vierges De Grasse”

Location: France
Subgenre: brutal death metal

Grenouille, a new three-piece from France, play brutal death metal in the unceasingly blasty and scuzzy fashion that you’ve come to expect me, a sewer-dwelling reprobate, to pitch to you, a person that — just going by the numbers here — probably doesn’t have black mold growing on their brain. So, yeah, you already know which side of the yay/nay BDM boarder you’re on when I write something like: Extraction de l’essence, the band’s debut EP, is like getting tattooed on your temple with a power drill while you’re strapped to a rolling office chair in the back of a U-Haul speeding down the Long Island Expressway. In other words, pretty great! And normally I’d leave it at that, but much like the classic Zappa Onion article, I think this is the right release if you haven’t gotten bitten by the BDM bug yet. (Please go to the hospital if you have been bitten by the BDM bug.) To the Citizens of Nay, check this out: P2, home to other ear-punishers such as Encenathrakh, describes Grenouille more accurately (read: better) as “Patrick Süskind+Brodequin,” demonstrating that there’s loads more ambition here than a gang of internet-connected doofs squeezing out big chungus riffs. Grenouille’s shtick is indeed Süskind’s 1985 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and that makes for some pretty dope lyrical turns (though in the way that early Obituary had “lyrics,” I guess, because bassist Michele J.’s vox sounds like a human leaf blower throughout). “The city of Grasse driven to hysteria as the population discovers that there is an assassin among its members,” goes the English translation of a line in “Les Vierges de Grasse,” probably belched forth before Sophie A. (drums) and Anne L. (guitars) descend into that track’s sick slow down. There you go, smarts and br00fs in equal supply.

Ah, but then there’s the spectacle. Really, the reason that Grenouille won out over other contenders in an unusually strong Summer of Slam is the packaging. Vanna, show the degenerates what they’ve won:

• Virgin labels on the cassettes [encased] with a sealed plastic sleeve and sticker
• Housed in matte black 4 bar boxes (5¼ x 3¾ x 1. Top: 5⅜ x 3⅞ x ⅝)
• Padded with human hair
• With a handmade booklet with a bookmark ribbon
• Perfumed created by Anne L. specifically for the release with the assistance of EGEAU
• Each release is personalized with the owner’s name hand-written and hand-numbered
• Wrapped in 40lbs Kraft paper and ribboned with twine
• 100 copies made
• only 99 are available for the public

Not to trot out the typical physical-releases-are-better party line, but show me a Spotify playlist padded with human hair. I dare you. I am not a cop. [From Extraction de l’essence, out now via P2.]Ian Chainey

8. Antigone’s Fate – “Morgengrauen”

Location: Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Antigone’s Fate pair a sombre and even depressive atmospheric black-metal pallet with heroic vocals, a combination that shouldn’t work as well as it does. In fact, though the one-man band generally gets the atmo black metal tag, there are so many different styles mixed in on “Morgengrauen,” from power metal to folk metal, it’s hard to pin this one down. And with so many different vocal deliveries popping up across the track’s nine minutes, the track feels genuinely operatic at times (paging Tobias Sammet). All that might not sound like your (or anyone’s) cup of tea, but give it a shot — the result is something else, an epic that goes from down and out to soaring above the clouds. [From Zum Horizont…, out 9/20 via Northern Silence Productions.]Wyatt Marshall

7. Devourment – “Cognitive Sedation Butchery”

Location: Dallas, TX
Subgenre: brutal death metal

Nine times out of 10 I’ll take quality riffs over brutality. In my ordered little world, this approach to life and music is enough to keep me happily headbanging, satisfied in the knowledge that my mental energy is reserved for bands that deserve it. Bands that write thoughtfully sick riffs — not just violence for violence’ sake. Bands that deploy slaytanic leads that actually lead somewhere, in the service of moderately discernible songs that let me smugly scowl to myself and quietly nod along. As a mindful consumer of death metal, I can comfortably set aside the baser instincts that lead less critical listeners to chase ever heavier sounds down the rabbit hole of mindless slams and diminishing returns. I’m content to leave the trash to the animals. Usually. Until I come face to face with something like this: something so stupidly brutal it makes me spit diet lemonade straight into my mechanical keyboard, and it takes every ounce of restraint not to tear off my button-down shirt and flip my standing desk. I’m plenty familiar with Devourment — the first few albums are reasonably intense slamming death, whereas the last one sounds like generic Dying Fetus and sucked — but this is something else. The production is absurdly blown out, every instrument caked in filth and distortion, and the mix just feels way too hot, like Dave Fridmann locked in a hot car with a crack pipe and a RAT pedal. The riffs are barely riffs, but they’re so overwhelmingly thick nothing else matters. The blasts are nonsense, nonmusical bursts of noise that only serve to tenderize your inner ear before the slams show up and collapse your skull. All this time I thought I liked actual music. My life is a lie. Slams are the truth. [From Obscene Majesty, out 8/16 via Relapse Records.]Aaron Lariviere

6. Cerebral Rot – “Swamped In Festering Excrementia”

Location: Seattle, WA
Subgenre: death metal

Slumped against my desk after an endless day’s work, collapsing inward like a rotting zucchini amid scattered post-its, I somehow summon the strength to open Microsoft Word, first step in the process of vomiting forth a fresh blurb. The hated cursor appears, blinking against a backdrop of empty whiteness; I sigh and press play on Cerebral Rot’s debut LP, Odious Descent Into Decay. I’m tired. My brain is a wretched puddle of blehhhh. As the idiot sounds of malevolent death seep into my guts, it dawns on me that this might be the ideal state to receive the chudly gifts of Cerebral Rot. “Swamped In Festering Excrementia” lurches to life with all the panache you’d expect from a song about drowning in sewage. Sodden chords stumble forward and back, cycling through the simplest death/doom progression imaginable. Then an ERUPTION of squick: a wet gurgle bursts upward like a depth charge in a freshly used toilet, and we’re off to the mid-tempo races. Cerebral Rot — a newish band from Seattle and the latest in the line of 20 Buck Spin’s old school death metal devotees — play a particularly crude version of OSDM, one that prioritizes sonic filth over speed and tenebrous textures over precision, although they know when to change tempo when the song demands it. Paired with sparse but surprisingly tasty leads, this helps situate Cerebral Rot in the grand hierarchy right alongside similarly sick bands like Undergang, who in turn revel in the putrid tones and tempos of their rough and tumble forebears like Rottrevore and Purtenance. These are good bands that make consistently foul sounds. In my defeated state this is exactly what I need, and just about all my brain can process. Cerebral Rot indeed. [From Odious Descent Into Decay, out 8/16 via 20 Buck Spin.]Aaron Lariviere

5. Flesh Of The Stars – “Rites”

Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: doom metal

When Pallbearer’s Sorrow And Extinction came out in 2012, it ushered in a new wave of doom fans who found total righteousness in the band’s huge fuzzy guitar leads and heroic, mountain-splitting wails from a voice seemingly pulled from the annals of heavy metal lore. Those fans, and anyone else looking for an absolutely epic dose of doom, should devote some of their riff worship toward Flesh Of The Stars. Like Pallbearer, the Chicago band goes big on the dueling fuzzed out leads, pairing them with gorgeous, nostalgic vocals. The band dwells in melancholy, pulling on heartstrings with poignant choruses, which, on “Rites,” feature a proper choir treatment. I’m sure some who have listened to the band’s new album, Mercy, would prefer the 22-minute opening track be featured here. But “Rites,” which backs it up, packs an equally enduring punch and, alongside elements of psych and folk, throws in some Ghost haunted-chapel vibes to boot. But that said, “Rites” is practically an arbitrary choice — any track on the album deserves your time. [From Mercy, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

4. Aara – “Anthropozän (I&II)”

Location: Switzerland
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Aara landed on the Black Market back in March with their incredible track “Aare,” an absolutely monolithic and haunting work of anthemic atmospheric black metal. With its church bells and monastic chanting and earworm guitar leads, on “Aare” the Swiss duo created a uniquely gothic sound, one that bears an epic gravitas that is ready-made to echo off medieval masonry. The track was the kind of band-defining work (in sound and name) that sets expectations of what’s to come — you should absolutely go listen to it if you haven’t heard it. Less than six months later, Aara have returned with a new single, and they bring with them the ringing, mournful guitar tone that in part lent their first release such surreal power. “Anthropozän (I&II)” is more of a movement than a song, with several cinematic breaks throughout. But the incredible riffs, alongside the pitch-perfect shrieks, draw the listener in and out of Aara’s regal, monumental madness. [From Anthropozän, out now via Debemur Morti Productions.]Wyatt Marshall

3. Serpent Column – “Promise Of The Polis”

Location: United States
Subgenre: black metal

“Promise Of The Polis” from Serpent Column’s upcoming album Mirror In Darkness is insane — the track veers off the rails just seconds in, and the whiplash doesn’t really relent until six crazed minutes later. It can be overwhelming. A frenzied delirium characterizes the song, if the word “song” even really applies here. Whatever you want to call this amazing thing, you’ll hear that it features some of the most intense drumming and guitar work we’ve seen in some time, with the instruments employed as weapons as often as they are noisemakers. The occasional bursts of supercharged drumming, alongside the savage sawing riffs, dizzying buzzing guitars, and menacing, phlegmy screams create moments of crisis again and again throughout the track. Yes, Serpent Column, who channel inspiration from Hellenic history and mythology, have somehow become wilder since their debut album first appeared on the Black Market in 2017. While the twisted logic that drives the project is as indecipherable as ever, “Promise Of The Polis” is even more abrasive, brash, distorted, and in your face than what’s come before. This is just the first track on Mirror In Darkness — one can only imagine where the album goes from here. [From Mirror In Darkness, out 9/9 via Mystiskaos.]Wyatt Marshall

2. No One Knows What The Dead Think – “YoRHa”

Location: United States / Japan
Subgenre: grindcore

“All I want to do is play fast,” singer Jon Chang emailed to Disposable Underground a couple years back. “That’s all Rob wants to do also.”

Rob is influential guitarist Rob Marton, who played with Chang and drummer Dave Witte in Discordance Axis before an ear injury cut short his shredding career in the early 2000s. Already beloved when they split in 2001, Discordance Axis, even while absent, became something like a post-Scum pillar in a style where groups and players don’t burn bright for long. The band’s final full-length transmission, the Inalienable Dreamless, is still a landmark of grind creativity and ingenuity. It turns 19 next month.

Jon Chang spent a lot of those years striding forever forward, cutting vital ass-kickers with Mortalized’s Takafumi Matsubara and all-star support in Gridlink and Hayaino Daisuki. But, after five releases between the two projects, the other definition of “the grind” caught up to him in 2014. “Going in to [Gridlink’s Longhena],” a seemingly zonked Chang told BraveWords, “Takafumi had told me this was probably going to be his last grindcore record, and I said I kinda felt the same way.” As our Aaron has said, man can only grind for so long.

So, yeah, it was a bit of surprise when No One Knows What The Dead Think surfaced in December 2017 with an instrumental version of one new track credited to two wait-what names. “Essentially, Rob Marton has made enough of a recovery over the years to write 7-8 compositions and about 12 months ago, he visited and played them for me,” Chang wrote in the accompanying Facebook post, adding “…I was sincere about moving onto other things. Pretty much, the only one I would come back for, was Rob.”

Never known for rushing, Chang and Marton’s comeback took the time it needed to come together, but holy shit it’s real, here, and therefore not War Chalking. To fill out the trio, they enlisted former Cohol drummer Kyosuke Nakano to expertly handle the requisite grind “golden ratio” of “75% blast parts, 20% thrash parts, and 5% slow parts.” “YoRHa,” with title and lyrics inspired by NieR:Automata, hit the web last month. It’s the opener to a self-titled album that measures eight tracks, one recognizable Kurosawa sample, and one Discordance Axis “hard reboot.” It clocks in at a comparatively epic 18 minutes. It rules. Of course it does.

The best thing I can say about No One Knows What The Dead Think is that it sounds like it has always been around without really sounding like what these dudes have done before. There’s a certain familiarity to hearing Chang’s heart-stopping screeches rip through careening blasts and Marton’s unique sense of melody brilliantly stuttering and bouncing in and around the pocket. (Nakano, deserving of his own sentence, plays his ass off.) Listen to it long enough and you start to think in its cadences and repetitions, a mental stuck groove; same as it ever was. That said, there’s something else here. I don’t want to spew some hack shit like “experience” or “wisdom,” because I’m not sure what it is yet. Years of future plays will need to unlock whatever that new thing is. But, clearly, DA 2.0 this is not.

The key to what that quality might be is probably found in the “Dominion” cover. The version that appeared on Ulterior nearly 25 years ago, Discordance Axis’ first “true” song by Chang’s account, is almost self-consciously concerned with being heavy. This 21st century take is free of that, shining with a newfound vibrancy and clarity, like decades of rough life shit turned “Dominion” into a diamond. Indeed, the trio’s playing, while urgent and tight because grind demands that, feels…at peace with itself, comfortable in its own skin. If this is the “definitive ending” the liner notes suggest, then so be it. It’s a hell of a finale, one on Chang and Marton’s terms. “Slow death is even worse,” says Hisashi Igawa in the “Mount Fuji In Red” vignette of Kurosawa’s Dreams. Naturally, this ending is fast as fuck. [From No One Knows What The Dead Think, out 9/20 via Willowtip Records.]Ian Chainey

1. A Pregnant Light – “Broken Play”

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: post-punk / thrash / black metal

I had it all planned out: a midsummer’s feast of death metal and nothing but. My July contributions were to be four death metal tracks ranging from pounding OSDM to brutal slams, with nary a hint of melody or weakness. But it wasn’t to be, clearly; the latest from A Pregnant Light is too perfect to ignore. In turns anthemic, explosive, corrosive, and hopeful, APL’s second full-length is a genreless hybrid with a dash of everything, a riot of colors and shifting tones. There’s chiming post-punk and rough-hewn hardcore, hints of speed metal and violent crossover, and of course the emotive black metal that’s been the backbone of APL for the better part of 25 releases. For the uninitiated, A Pregnant Light is the shapeshifting alter ego of Damian Master, and the flagship “band” of his label Colloquial Sound Recordings. There’s a persistent character that permeates his work with APL: a restless combination of wit, ego, and heartache, given shape by a unifying visual aesthetic that owes more to Factory Records than Deathlike Silence. Despite having wildly different influences, Master’s earnestness and conviction reminds me a bit of some other idiosyncratic visionaries — guys like Chris Black, the driving force behind Dawnbringer, High Spirits, and others, and someone who puts an intensely personal stamp on his music, no matter which metal subgenre he’s experimenting with. Or even someone much further afield like Lawrence of the cult jangle pop band Felt, who makes music that sounds exactly nothing like APL, but whom I like to imagine shares a similar vision of what music and clean visuals can do when forced through the lens of a single mind, pretensions be damned. That’s all to say there’s real depth here, real ambition, and real heart, and it manifests in fascinating ways across the new record. “Broken Play” sets aside the warmth we’re accustomed to and serves up a ferocious thrash workout, complete with morbid harmonies ripped from the “South Of Heaven” playbook. I even hear a whiff of Vio-Lence’s immortally ripping Eternal Nightmare, something I never thought I’d say about A Pregnant Light. It’s a legitimately intense song on a record full of sharp contrasts, but it’s the emotional and melodic breadth of the album that makes it hit so hard. If you, like me, have been searching for the album of the summer that hits just so — I think we’ve finally found it. [From Broken Play, out now via Colloquial Sound Recordings.]Aaron Lariviere