The Black Market: The Month In Metal – August 2019

Edward Johnson

The Black Market: The Month In Metal – August 2019

Edward Johnson

All right, here’s how all of this started. I don’t know if I should start here, as I realize what I’m about to unleash will get me tried at the ICC in the Hague. But, since YouTube has archived everything and thus empowered me to embed this without your consent, we have to start here. I’m sorry for whatever former and future memories this virulent mind-muncher will obliterate. Let the outbreak commence:

What just burrowed deep within your brain meat is the opening theme to the Fishmasters, an extremely DIY TV show created by Carl Edge and Kevin Graves that first aired on California station KSBY from 1993 to 2001 in the coveted 1AM time slot. At its best — that being when it wasn’t engaging in ultra-cringey-even-in-its-time toilet-book jokes — Fishmasters was kind of like its late-night stoner contemporary Space Ghost Coast To Coast, subverting expectations not only by deconstructing its source, folksy man-in-boat series like Bill Dance Outdoors, but itself. Not quite as deeply weird as 1991’s Fishing With John, Fishmasters is still packed with anti-humor that purposely alienates outsiders while speaking directly to a microscopic fringe that embraces it with a cultist zeal. Also, it’s often dumb as hell. I wonder if there’s a music genre like that.

Anyway, the song. I’m only really here for this song, in all of its earwormy “fish-MASTERRRrrrs” glory. And I could’ve capitalized on that. This intro could’ve easily been a countdown of the best metal TV themes of all time, with Fishmasters eventually out-dueling a Cinderella run from, like, SWAT Kats. Boom, done. We could’ve gone on with our lives and listened to this Tool album while ignoring the supremely sketchy stuff and taken a nap. But no, I’m burdened by a try-hard demon that never stops yelling in my head like a pitch-shifted Zaza Pachulia. So, instead of dredging up a video of the Aquila theme, I’m going to ask you the same seemingly innocuous question that popped into my melon when I first heard this irrepressible banger many months ago:

Why aren’t there more metal songs about fishing?

Ian, you’re thinking, maybe even in a Zaza voice, what’s going on in your life, dude? Look, it’s complicated, everything is crazy, I need to find a lawyer for the freaking Hague. But hear me out. Metal and fishing seem like a natural pair, right? Heck, black metal is particularly well-suited to cast a line. I mean, one pursuit is a mostly solitary activity that encourages drinking and helps you connect with nature and the other is fishing. The Kalevala has one of the great one-that-got-away tales, too. However, it wasn’t until recently that metal truly heeded the directions of one of the Sega’s hits.

Of course, you wouldn’t know it initially if you searched in the expected places. An Encyclopaedia Metallum search for songs with “*fish*” in the title turns up 875 results. Seems like a lot. That said, if we delete duplicates and sort out erroneous entries containing words like “selfish”, “wolfish”, “elfish”, and the name “Albert Fish”, we’re left with around 450. Even after taking the guts out, it ain’t the cleanest data, though.

Yeahhh, most of what remains isn’t…uh…fishing related. See Assück’s “Fish Factory” for the least-NSFW example. Then there are songs in the vein of Jig-Ai’s “Impaled By Swordfish” and Kalibas’s “Fishing With Dynamite.” Cool songs, Kalibas is chronically underappreciated to boot, but I’ve checked the American Sportfishing Association’s website and neither seem to be standardized or, uh, encouraged techniques. So, for every promising bite like Hemoragy’s “Fishing Among Metalheads” (which, sigh, isn’t streaming), there’s Orange Goblin’s “Song Of The Purple Mushroom Fish.” Needless to say, this data set sucks. We caught and we shall release.

Ah, but if we switch to searching “lyrical themes” instead, we get a better percentage of applicable results, even though this exercise comes with the same caveats as all of my other Metal-Archives deep dives. Using the previous sorting method outlined above (and ignoring, ugh, “spear-fishing” in this context), we’re left with 10 bands that list “fish” or “fishing” as a dominate theme. Not surprisingly, all hail from either coastal cities, regions with strong cultural attachments to fishing, or Omaha, Nebraska. Worry not, the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department has you covered. The more noteworthy thing, though, is not where but when these bands were hatched. The oldest band of the bunch is Kalmah, which solidified its post-Ancestor incarnation in 1998. The rest come from this side of the 2000s. Six started swimming within the last seven years.

Wait…hold up: Did I actually do my job for once…by accident? Did I make it to a trend early? Is this a new metal genre spawning before my very eyes?

“I haven’t thought before how many bands have lyrics [about] fishing. In our case it comes quite naturally,” Ville Rautio emailed to me. Rautio is the guitarist in Suotana, a melo-black metal band from Rovaniemi, Finland. The sextet released its second album, Land of the Ending Time, last year. “Troutrace,” the album’s first proper ripper, begins with a great couplet of another topic occupying the minds of many: “Polluted waters/ Achievements of our fathers.”

“I would say that ‘fishing’ holds a bigger meaning than just to fish,” Rautio wrote. “Some people go fishing just to have a good time and relax with few or more drinks in the woods. The fishing is just small part of the whole thing but they still say that they’re going fishing.” That a catch-all word can encompass both an act and the culture/rituals surrounding it will no doubt be familiar to metalheads. For Rautio, it also helps to frame the music. “When talking about Suotana we have songs like ‘Troutrace’ and ‘King Pikes’ that have quite fishy themes. Most of the songs hold themes from fishing at least in the metaphorical way.”

Naturally, Suotana has its share of anglers. “Me and our current bassist Rauli Alaruikka are the fishermen of our band,” Rautio said before sharing what draws the two to the sport. “For me in terms of fishing it’s the challenge that engages me and maybe that’s why I do almost only fly fishing. Nice way to do it, [harder] and harder for yourself to catch a fish, but at the same time so much more rewarding.” Intentionally harder, you say? Everyone in an underground metal band is now nodding their heads.

Japan’s Edward Johnson, a power metal five-piece whose members have all adopted the Johnson surname, is attracted to that sort of adversity as well, choosing to focus on the man vs. beast drama that plays out each time a fisherman casts a line or sets a net. “We call our style ‘Fisherman Metal,’ the genre of heavy metal which describes the heroic way of life of sea fishermen,” the band said in an email, explaining that they also saw metal as the perfect vehicle to restore the reputation of fishermen.

“Japan is the island country, so fishing has been the major industry of Japan [since] ancient times,” the band wrote. “Japan is also a world leading fish eating country. From the point of view of food culture like sushi, fishing and Japanese mentality are strongly connected. By contrast, some Japanese doesn’t have good image about fishermen. They say ‘fishermen are stinky, dirty, uncool.’ But we knew how cool and respectable fishermen are, through studying fisheries and meeting with fishermen.”

Indeed, Edward Johnson formed when the members were students at Hokkaido University in Hakodate. “…we majored [in] fisheries sciences. We faced fishing from an academic point of view, like oceanography and taxonomy of fish. In order to study, we actually rode on the ship each month to analyze the sea water. Also, we stayed at [a] fishing village and went fishing.”

The history of Hakodate also played an important role in the band’s gestation. “About 400 years ago, Hakodate was one of the few port towns [that] was allowed to [trade] commerce with foreign countries,” they said. “Since then, Hakodate has been the place where Japanese culture and foreign culture[s] mix. Even today, that mixed culture can be seen on the traditional architecture. So, the town [where] we mixed fishing and metal is where [the] fishing industry’s flourishing, and where different culture[s have] mix[ed] since old time[s].”

Lately, Edward Johnson has been touring in support of its third EP, Fisherman’s Everyday. Not only does the record showcase the band’s enthusiasm for the kind of metal they fell for as kids, but their flair for creative visuals. “There was no other band all over the world to put real cutout art into the CD jacket, until we did in Fisherman’s Everyday. We’re so proud of making CD packaging into an art piece.”

That knack for a spectacle extends to Edward Johnson’s live shows, too: “Japanese fishermen have tradition to raise [a] flag [on] their boats after making a big haul. Following the tradition, we wave a big flag on the stage like Iron Maiden at the end of our show, and express the joy and appreciation. Fans really love this performance,” the band wrote, adding, “And one of our next move[s] is collaborating with fish dealers and actual fishermen. For example, we purchase fish from dealers and fishermen, and sell them [at venues] with our merch (actually we sold a bonito on July 13th at [a venue] in Tokyo, and it was so popular).”

While trading follow-up emails with Suotana’s Ville Rautio, I was struck by something that he wrote regarding how his music took shape: “In 2005 when I started to write music for Suotana, I listened Kalmah quite a lot,” Rautio remembered. “They had some lyrics about fish/fishing, hunting and so on. Today I think back then it showed me that it’s ‘okay’ to do lyrics about that kind of ‘not so general’ theme.”

That’s relatable. I think that’s how I find inspiration, that the contextual metadata that I’ve accrued over time gives me permission to explore. Sometimes, it’s totally subconscious, like you never know what’s going to do it. Rautio listens to a lot of Kalmah, I watch a lot of, *winces*, Fishmasters. And then, suddenly: HUH.

Edward Johnson happened to touch on the same thing while answering a question about the “attractiveness of fishing”: “…there is exciting battle with invisible games. The fact that we can never see the body of [the] fish until we catch it evokes fighting instincts in us.”

We can never see the body of the fish until we catch it. I kind of love that. What a hell of a place to start. –Ian Chainey

10. Witch Vomit – “Buried Deep In A Bottomless Grave”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: death metal

As your resident spud committed to all things old school and deathlike, it is my duty to alert you to the Pittsburgh label 20 Buck Spin’s concerted effort to flood the market with admirably sick OSDM records suitable for patchvests and newcomers alike. Just this year we’ve seen countless crepuscular offerings emerge from a single source — each in a similar, and similarly sick, mold. From reading these very pages, you might be familiar with Cerebral Rot’s Odious Descent Into Decay, Ossuarium’s Living Tomb, and of course Tomb Mold’s Planetary Clairvoyance, all of which we’ve covered here, because death is eternal and I’m a sucker for this stuff. This month we have not one but two offerings from 20 Buck Spin’s New Wave of Old School Spuds (I dub thee NWOOSS) in the column: I caught a faceful of Witch Vomit and Wyatt landed Vastum, each with their own take on the familiar sounds of ripping death. Witch Vomit combine the rotting ways of Autopsy with the blitzkrieg buzz of better-era Entombed to sound like…a million other OSDM bands — drunk on riffs and high on corpse fumes, which is really all I could ask for. But no, I’m doing these guys a disservice: Witch Vomit’s latest LP is pretty incredible for what it is, approaching the unhallowed territory of post-modern death savants like Undergang, where the referential reverence of past masters collapses into something ferociously spudlike and pure. Title track “Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave” is a nearly instrumental sequence of kill riffs strung together with assorted OOGHs and BLECHs to really get the blood pumping. I can’t ask for anything more. [From Buried Deep in a Bottomless Grave, out now via 20 Buck Spin.]Aaron Lariviere

9. Netherbird – “Saturnine Ancestry”

Location: Stockholm, Sweden
Subgenre: melodic black metal

“Saturnine Ancestry” is the kind of big, beefy anthemic black metal track that only the Swedes seem able to produce, a hair-flying ripper loaded with epic leads that’s ready for a festival stage — in daylight, even. It’s more Valhalla than down below (hear the thunder roll in the beginning and see the hats), and comparisons to big name bands like Amon Amarth are both apt and relevant (Netherbird’s drummer is formerly of Sweden’s most celebrated and commercially viable extreme metal outfit of the last decade). Netherbird wasn’t always this way; the band began sounding more like Cradle of Filth, but here, on the band’s fifth full-length, Netherbird is a different animal. “Saturnine Ancestry” rocks, big, and there isn’t a moment when the track loses its forward momentum or heroic posture. [From Into the Vast Uncharted, out 9/27 via Eisenwald.]Wyatt Marshall

8. Vastum – “Reveries In Autophagia”

Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: death metal

“Reveries in Autophagia” is the kind of putridly heavy track that is so awesomely, stupidly metal that nearly anyone with a modicum of interest in the broader genre would find it hard to ignore. The low-end is so satisfying, and it taps into the primal part of the riff brain — there are moments when the full-body rumblings feel like gravity is intensifying and melting you into the floor. And when those riffs first pick up and begin to work in mischievous melody alongside subterranean blasts, it sounds like some sort of guttural death metal machine gun. While eerie, bestial unease is the prevailing sentiment on the track, there are moments when it’s almost playful, a sort of gross humor. I can’t think of a much better song to wallow in as summer belches out its last blasts of hot, humid, and foul air. [From Orificial Purge, out 10/25 via 20 Buck Spin.]Wyatt Marshall

7. Fawn Limbs – “Odium Pitch”

Location: Finland / Pennsylvania, US
Subgenre: grindcore

Fawn Limbs: Eeli Helin (vox, guitar, noise), Lee Fisher (drums), Samuel Smith (bass). Hell of a pedigree. Fisher drummed in O.G. Willowtip HoFers Commit Suicide — give Synthetics a spin, hear next year’s death metal from 15 years ago — and is now ripping it up in Alphanumeric. Samuel Smith’s sterling C.V. includes Artificial Brain, Aeviterne, and hopefully, sometime…*taps watch*…anytime, more than two Gath Šmânê songs. Eeli Helin, on the other hand, is new to me, but holy shit, do I know him now. Because, this is the real deal. Harm Remissions, the trio’s first LP after a few EPs and a single (those conveniently collected here), is kind of like if Assück was reborn (backwards) and outfitted with Omni Consumer Products tech. “Odium Pitch,” the album’s opener, starts with wild superball-in-the-space-station rhythms that give way to Meshuggah gang shouts (metal, put this shit back in circulation, please) before closing with the churn of immensely heavy thrummmmms. Two minutes, twenty-nine seconds. Been on repeat. It’s like a different song every time. So. Much. Data. Oh, hey, PSA: There are 12 more after. [From Harm Remissions, out now via the band and Sludgelord Records.]Ian Chainey

6. Alcest – “Protection”

Location: Paris, France
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

We’ve seen a softer side of Alcest in recent years, with frontman Neige exploring the more tranquil locales of the blue-green fantastical dreamworld in the mind’s eye that he says serves as the font of inspiration for the band. While the past three Alcest albums are certainly things of beauty, for those who got to know the band before or around the time of 2012’s Écailles de Lune, with it’s perfect balance of ethereal watery guitars and invigorating riffing and comparatively bolder production, there’s been an Alcest itch the later offerings haven’t quite scratched with their soothing mellow tones. The wait has ended, though — the big riffs are back, and “Protection,” shot through with a dose of adrenaline, is the most exciting Alcest song in years. You’ll know something’s different right away. The tempo and anticipatory build that opens the track perk the ears, and it’s not long before the song opens up and breathes, with Neige’s ghostly yet determined vocals guiding a build up that eventually leads to passages of blessed out riffing backing cathartic screams. It’s the kind of stuff we haven’t heard from Alcest since a song like “Percée’s De Lumière” (for my money, Alcest’s finest), and a perfect balance of the competing forces that have always defined Neige’s work and made it so compelling. [From Spiritual Instinct, out 10/25 via Nuclear Blast.]Wyatt Marshall

5. Vitriol – “Crowned In Retaliation”

Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: death metal

Here in the metal zone we often speak of “heavy” things — extremity, brutality, violence, you name it. We do it in part because it’s expected, and it can be fun to lean into the role. But it’s just as often exhausting to trot out the same tired lines month after month, year after year, ad nauseam, ad infinitum, ad mortem. To write about metal is to string hyperbole like bloody tinsel, salting the earth with morbid descriptions, torturing unfortunate adverbs to death so that readers might feel a subtle stirring of the lizard brain, something to give a feeble approximation of the experience of actually listening to whatever loud/fast/scary metal variant we’re riding for that week. It’s a game we both play: we pretend our words mean something, that we’re not just regurgitating clichés; you pretend to care. In the end the only real draw is the music anyway. It wouldn’t be hard to do it for Vitriol: they tick every box for musical extremity. Harder, faster, and uglier than most, I could run with this a thousand ways. But Vitriol have gone and done something that actually sets them apart. Rather than trying to polish some prose to capture the intangible appeal, you just need to see it for yourself. Watch the playthrough video under this blurb. See if you don’t feel something, if your heart doesn’t punch your ribcage when guitarist Kyle Rasmussen grits his teeth and tears into the strings. His commitment to the song, to the instrument, to the act of forcing this singular idea into the world is palpable. It’s extremely technical music imbued with a ferocity I’ve never seen before. It’s viscerally intense and arresting to watch, and it’s not a fluke. Here’s another one from earlier this year. And one more from last year. Nothing I say here says as much as 10 seconds of these guys murdering their instruments on tape, so get to watching already. [From To Bathe from the Throat of Cowardice, out 9/6 via Century Media Records.]Aaron Lariviere

4. Jute Gyte – “Dissected Grace”

Location: Springfield, MO
Subgenre: black metal / ambient

We’ve written about Jute Gyte a few times, so you know the deal: microtonal black metal painstakingly constructed by the brainy Adam Kalmbach. Need receipts on the brainy claim? Spy these liner notes: “Several tracks on this album draw from the aleatorically generated 24-note series 0, 22, 14, 21, 2, 16, 8, 3, 18, 9, 4, 7, 19, 20, 5, 12, 1, 11, 13, 15, 10, 17, 23, 6.” There are your lotto numbers for the week. And, per usual, new album Birefringence, Kalmbach’s 29th LP under the Jute Gyte name, has its share of Bandcamp recommendations that are only positives when uttered in the darker corners of metal and electronic music. “Kind of sounds like HP Lovecraft vomiting,” writes Todd Wakefield. “When I first heard Oviri, a couple of years ago (or rather parts of it), I nearly threw up,” comments Brian3737. Awesome. Grab some grub and let’s do this.

In all seriousness, Birefringence is a real achievement for a project that has already achieved so much. I think it’s Jute Gyte’s best work, as the strengthened songwriting might even be undeniable to people who would normally want nothing to do with this stuff. To that end, the beginning of “Dissected Grace” is kind of catchy, like if Swervedriver threw it all away for serialism and complex time signatures. Is it going to cross over, then? Well, In suitably Jute Gyte fashion, the song descends into a maelstrom of ordered chaos, apparently finding inspiration in “William Blake’s Europe: A Prophecy.” So you’re telling me there’s a chance.

Here’s the thing: While I might write about the Blake stuff and the dense theory stuff because it’s interesting to my blogger-brain, I don’t think you have to know that to enjoy it. You don’t have to know about any of this stuff. (Take it from me, an idiot.) I mean, you could spend a few years here just at a surface level without grappling in any way with the whys and the hows. It just comes down to the sounds. Few people in our neck of contemporary music are making noises like this; that somehow, in 2019 when no sound should be new, Jute Gyte manages to conjure new shit. Receipts: Behold closer “New Plastic,” featuring “four guitars in which all pitches, rhythms, and ~372 effect parameters are serialized.” It’s like a panacea for banality. Real talk: It made me feel something in a waiting room. Not quite a vomit plaudit, but hey. [From Birefringence, out now via the band.]Ian Chainey

3. Capilla Ardiente – “The Crimson Fortress”

Location: Santiago, Chile
Subgenre: epic doom metal

I’m kicking myself for sleeping on this band. Within the first minute of the first track off The Siege, the second LP by Chilean doom gods Capilla Ardiente, I knew I had a perfect album in my hands. I wish I could play you the whole record right now so we could bask in the unspeakable glory of doom together, united by the power of absurdly sick riffs. This is epic doom done the Candlemass way, the Solitude Aeternus way — crushing tritones and red-eyed leads set to soaring vocals, tragedy and triumph on an operatic scale calling from the mists of memory. Imagine a dead hero’s casket encased in steel, its literal and metaphorical weight enough to crush a kingdom. “The Crimson Fortress” is admittedly the simplest, most straightforward thing on the album, the sonic equivalent of a battered broadsword hung from a smoke-blackened mantel. While it’s more or less traditional in form, the song is still laced with exploratory details that reach beyond the band’s core set of influences (behold! fretless bass). I’m slightly bummed they didn’t lead with “The Open Arms, the Open Wounds” or “The Spell of Concealment,” two of my favorite doom songs in eons, both of which get explicitly weird and unleash unspeakably sick riffs upon unsuspecting eardrums. But the simplicity of the first single still feels ineffably right. Subtle rhythmic shifts and sneaky progressive bits keep you feeling uneasy, looking over your shoulder as the riffhammer swings endlessly down, down, down, and you feel the irresistible pull from without and within: you are cursed to live, doomed to headbang. [From The Siege, out 9/13 via High Roller Records.]Aaron Lariviere

2. Mystagogue – “The Gift Of Grief Upon The Black Earth”

Location: The Netherlands
Subgenre: black metal

Black metal bands come in many shades, but one thing they often have in common across the spectrum is a tendency to be longwinded. Where there’s an opportunity for a bridge from one vector of sinister riffing to another they often build it, and if we’re talking atmospheric black metal, the need to explore a motif until it is thoroughly exhausted can feel like a mandate. Alongside these directors’ cuts, Mystagogue’s “The Gift of Grief Upon The Black Earth” makes a case for an economy of riffage (if not verbiage) in the genre. In under two and a half minutes, the track packs as much invigorating guitarwork and atmospheric grandeur as some of the genre’s towering works — it’s a thrashy, punkish, ruthlessly efficient gut punch with multiple fist-raising passages that demands repeat listens. The band, a duo, comes from members of the excellent experimental atmospheric black metal band Laster and Gnaw Their Tongues, a cacophonous hyper-prolific solo project from Maurice de Jong. Alongside the incredible stuff coming from bands like Fluisteraars, Turia, Solar Temple, and more, the Netherlands has been fertile ground for fantastic black metal of late. [From And the Darkness Was Cast Out Into the Wilderness, out now via Vendetta Records.]Wyatt Marshall

1. Haunter – “Spoils Vultured Upon Sole Deletion”

Location: San Antonio, TX
Subgenre: black metal

If this is where extreme metal is headed, this world might be worth saving. Drawing on a few generations of strangeness from the likes of Krallice, mid-period Blut Aus Nord, Palace of Worms, and a glistening heap of recent I, Voidhanger bands, Haunter emerge fully formed and insane, a shambling mass of strange turns and weirdly listenable riffs. Given how far black metal has mutated in the last few years, this isn’t as immediately shocking as it might have sounded a decade ago, but Haunter harness the schizophrenic impulses of a band like Esoctrilihum (much loved by this column, and by me, for good reason) and transmogrify the hideousness into something almost soothing. “Spoils Vultured Upon Sole Deletion” — whatever the hell that means — veers from caterwauling aggression to crystalline clean guitars, and the change feels like slipping between worlds. Like waking from a nightmare of disembodied eyes and gnashing teeth to find yourself floating in a subterranean lake, awash in eerie bioluminescent light from the worms covering the walls. My favorite moment comes after a discursive burst of nightmare prog, right around 3:30 — everything drops out and an unaccompanied death metal guitar rips free from the song’s underbelly, warping the structure of the song into something unrecognizable, like a distended limb that takes on a life of its own. There’s a persistent throughline of melody, but the band does everything imaginable to obscure that fact, to bury it and twist it out of shape, only to dig it up and shove it in your face. I don’t know what the hell this is, but it’s great. [From Sacramental Death Qualia, out 9/13 via I, Voidhanger Records.]Aaron Lariviere

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