Before I re-watched Trick Or Treat for last year’s intro on Black Roses and heavy metal cinema, I thought about this 1986 movie in two ways:
- As a cheeseball Nightmare On Elm Street horror comedy knockoff forever tethered to the era in which it was made.
- As a curious nexus between hundreds of cultural touchstones. For instance, if you ever wanted to connect King Diamond to The Red Shoe Diaries in fewer than six degrees, this flick is your tollbooth.
These two ways aren’t necessarily wrong. Trick Or Treat is definitely both of those things. We will get into both of those things. However, if I may, knowing full well that I’m probably going back to rehab after typing this, I would like to now propose a third way to think of this movie:
Trick Or Treat is a sneaky-smart movie with an incredible backstory that understands the motivations of metalheads better than most.
Somehow, I am not alone in thinking this. Outside of the people who made this movie and their mothers, there is a small but growing cult that adores this 98-minute, Fastway-scored romp centered on teenage metal fan Eddie “Ragman” Weinbauer and Sammi Curr, the vindictive metaller that Weinbauer brings back to life by playing Curr’s final record backwards.
“I still get that feeling of spookiness, of the feeling and vibe of Halloween when I watch it,” Tony Leicht, the proprietor of Trick Or Treat fan site SammiCurr.com emailed to me. “I’m older now, but whenever I watch the film, I’m a teenager again. Not many movies can repeatedly take you back in time like that.”
Leicht, who also shreds it up in the horror-themed band Witching Hour, first caught Trick Or Treat during its original theatrical run. “I was a teenage metalhead when the movie came out, and it totally spoke to all of us metalheads,” he remembered. “These days it comes off as a little campy, but in 1986, it ‘spoke’ to you…all the danger and a little evil of ‘The Devil’s Music’ that society considered metal music back in the day. This was at the height of the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) and the whole ‘Satanic Panic’ where parents thought that heavy metal music was going to corrupt the Earth. Not any of the other problems in the world, but a style of music!”
Now, every Halloween, Leicht tries to add another detail-rich piece to the web’s foremost Trick Or Treat shrine, filling out the movie’s history with the occasional retrospectives that surface elsewhere and the interviews he has conducted himself. “There’s no way in hell when I saw that move back in 1986 that I ever, EVER thought I’d be able to talk with the people that made the film,” he wrote. “It’s been amazing.” In turn, the information he has collected tells the tale of an improbable movie that’s better than it’s usually remembered.
The Wilmington, North Carolina-based De Laurentiis Entertainment Group scheduled its first slate of movies for the summer of 1986. Founded by the legendary movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, DEG went public that May, raising $240 million. In June, the company’s first feature debuted, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shoot-’em-up and future gubernatorial campaign ad Raw Deal. Eleven movies would follow before the end of the year, some acclaimed (Blue Velvet, Manhunter), some less so (My Little Pony: The Movie and the wheelbarrow-full-of-coke Stephen King extravaganza Maximum Overdrive). But if there was one thing that was consistent, it was that most underperformed. In response, the stock tanked. By August 1987, even after the modest box office success of Evil Dead II, the Los Angeles Times reported that DEG was in the red to the tune of $16.5 million.
But that self-own calamity was far off into the future when DEG’s play for 1986’s Halloween bucks was greenlit. Fresh off of A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, line producer Joel Soisson received a call from De Laurentiis. “He calls me,” Soisson said to Star-News’s Brian Tucker in 2011, “and says, ‘You come and work with me now. I want you to make Trick And Treat.’” Heck of a title, but the story that De Laurentiis was pitching wasn’t all the way baked, summarized in the same piece as, “a Stephen King story about a guy going door to door with a pumpkin on his head.” (Incidentally, DEG would back the unrelated Stan Winston feature Pumpkinhead in 1988.) Soisson, who would co-produce Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for DEG in the near future, voiced his displeasure, so De Laurentiis presented something like a blank check: “He says, ‘OK, you think it’s awful. Tell me what you want and I make it. Just give you a few million dollars.’”
“Joe Rice, my agent and close friend had heard there was a writer’s ‘cattle-call’ issued by the old Dino De Laurentis film group,” Rhet Topham told SammiCurr.com in 2011. “Two of their producers, Michael [Murphey] and Joel Soisson had a title (Trick Or Treat) and a budget, but no script. I spent a weekend coming up with the idea, then went to pitch it. Halfway through my story of metalhead Eddie Weinbauer and Sammi Curr, the two producers stopped me and said that this was the story they wanted to make. We spent several weeks working out the screenplay, then went into production. Trick Or Treat was literally sold on a one-line pitch; Kid plays record backwards to unleash revengeful ghost rocker.”
Topham, a metalhead himself who also penned 1988’s 976-EVIL, modeled the main character on someone he knew well. “Eddie is me. No doubt. My middle name is Eddie. His dress, his look, his composure, his experiences, his insight, spontaneity and chameleon-like ability to disappear in the middle of a crowd if need be…” With the story set, the search was on for a director.
As reported in issue #59 of Fangoria, Soisson and Murphey took a chance meeting with actor Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti, Never Cry Wolf, and Starman) thanks to a recommendation from a friend. “It was the kind of meeting where it starts off and you allow 45 minutes for it and you wind up sitting all afternoon,” Murphey said. “We really felt that he had a sense because he recognized parts of the treatment that we felt were weak and he had the same sort of sense of humor that we do.” Trick Or Treat would be Smith’s directorial debut, kicking off a parallel career that would one day lead him to, I shit you not, Air Bud in 1997.
With Smith on board, the film’s tone took a turn from the serious into its final horror comedy form. “One day the producers convinced me that this movie, that the spirit of the thing, it’s true zeitgeist, was more about kicking back, grabbing a six-pack, maybe a bong, and watching Eddie scramble to re-cork the genie’s bottle he ultimately unleashed,” Topham remembered. But, even as the movie crept towards Freddy Krueger territory based on De Laurentiis’s insistence, the metalhead feels and then-timely PMRC-skewering remained.
“The heavy metal stuff is something that we’re just slightly doing a takeoff on in that Sammi is a pretty extreme character,” Smith said. “He’s biting the head off a snake and spitting out the blood. It’s pretty gruesome, but not so different from what W.A.S.P. and these other groups are doing. We’re satirizing the censorship side of the battle much more pointedly. I hope we’re making a point with this, even though it’s sort of a rock ’n’ roll monster movie.”
That nod to W.A.S.P.? Well, where there’s smoke: Movieweb’s Ryan J. Downey passed along the item that Blackie Lawless was once in the mix for the Sammi Curr. That role, though, would go to Tony Fields, a former Solid Gold dancer. Fields’ most notable movie appearance up to that point was Al DeLuca in Richard Attenborough’s 1985 adaptation of A Chorus Line, though you can spot him in music videos for “Beat It,” “Thriller,” and Queen’s transcendentally horny “Body Language.” After Trick Or Treat, Fields found his way into some other roles, but never had a chance to truly capitalize on the raw charisma he oozed, dying in 1995 from complications related to HIV. An annual tribute is performed at his high school.
For Eddie, Marc Price (“Skippy” from Family Ties) had the right look. “Frankly he was kind of a nerdy guy; he had this older adolescence, baby fat, goofy look that you could believe that he was sort of an outcast,” Soisson told Star-News. But Price also had a comedic spark and developed a great rapport with his director: “[Smith] played Toad (in American Graffiti), nerdy characters, and here was this nerdy kid,” Price said, also to Star-News. “What a great director for an actor because he was an actor first.”
The other kid stars were Lisa Orgolini as Leslie Graham, Weinbauer’s crush, and Doug Savant, then coming off of Teen Wolf but destined to be Matt Fielding in Melrose Place, as jock asshole and head tormentor Tim Hainey.
The surprise of the group was the scene-stealing Glen Morgan as Weinbauer’s lone school friend, the nerdy Roger Mockus. A friend of Murphey and Soisson, Morgan got involved doing uncredited punch up with his writing partner James Wong. As he relayed to Vulture in 2014, the producers pushed Morgan to audition and Smith gave him the part. It would be his only acting role. These days, he’s better known for his work on the X-Files, Final Destination, and the eternally underrated Space: Above And Beyond, among over 20 other producing and writing credits.
While metalheads like Lawless reportedly took a pass due to concerns over the comedic tinge of the material, two rockers did end up punching a time card. Gene Simmons, trying far harder than he did in Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park, played the Wolfman Jack-esque disc jockey Norman “Nuke” Taurog. And as the clean-cut morality-enforcing Rev. Aaron Gilstrom? Ozzy Osborne. “I felt it was better not to give Ozzy scripted lines because what he came up with was much more interesting than the script,” Smith said. “We probably got about 45 minutes of material out of Ozzy.” So did the Alamo.
Ah, and then there’s the soundtrack. The true keystone of any heavy metal movie, the producers turned to Fast Eddie Clarke’s post-Motörhead blooze rawk project Fastway. “Someone that knew more about heavy metal than I did made that connection and said, ‘Look, you got your struggling heavy metal band and could use some exposure? We need a soundtrack album, what do you think?” Soisson recalled.
Fastway, then two records removed from their certified gold debut, took the gig and chipped in seven originals (the tie-in album was padded with two previously released tracks). “I was talking to the director and I read the script and he would call me up and go, ‘Look, I need a kind of tune that does such and such….’” guitarist Clarke told Teeth of the Divine in 2012. “So, I was being slightly directed as to how to write the material for the particular theme; he didn’t want it too fast or too slow.” Instead of stifling, Clarke found that method freeing: “…it was very interesting writing like that because it’s not too musician-y. You know when you’re a musician you want everything to sound as fancy as possible so people listen to it and go ‘oh fantastic!’ But doing it this way we kept it very simple.” Singer Dave King, though, wasn’t impressed. It would be his final record with the band. His next gig? Flogging Molly. (Clarke passed away in 2018 from pneumonia. Everyone in the “classic” Motörhead lineup is now dead. Sucks.)
With all of the boxes checked including an incredible prosthetic version of Curr’s gargoyle mascot Skeezix designed by effects artist Kevin Yagher, filming began in DEG’s backyard, Wilmington, North Carolina, with a $3.5 million budget. De Laurentiis had a Catholic priest bless the set.
Trick Or Treat was released on October 24, 1986, the same day as C. Thomas Howell’s Soul Man. Reviews were tepid. New York Times’s Janet Maslin called it “rather sweet,” the Los Angeles Times said it was “…far too lame for loyal head-bangers, who can see much scarier stuff at a Slayer concert.” Take note, Kerry King groupies! But the movie would face a far bigger foe than critics. It got buried that weekend by the cultural juggernaut that was Crocodile Dundee, then in its fifth week of release. Still, according to IMDB, Trick Or Treat made a respectable $2,912,687, ultimately grossing $6,797,218. It hit VHS rental shelves in 1987. And then…well, when was the last time you saw it, if ever?
“It’s one of those movies that you either get it, or you don’t,” Tony Leicht wrote to me. “Those who get it, they love it and understand what it was about and the spirit and social climate of when it was made. People who don’t get it see it as some campy, cheesy B-movie. That’s sad to me, because they’re missing the point.”
So, what is the point? Well, wake up, sleepyheads. It’s party time.
The NSFW embed of Trick Or Treat above, which I’m going to guess is a rip of the West Germany version based on the “RAGMAN” title card, opens with an over-the-top Hammer horror voice-over reciting some of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. Yeah. It’s one heck of a tonal head fake, especially as that voice never returns. Instead, the next one you hear after the camera explores our protagonist’s bedroom to a pulsating Fastway song is Eddie Weinbauer’s inner monologue as he writes his idol Sammi Curr a letter. Weinbauer assumes his idealized identity: Ragman.
In hands other than Charles Martin Smith’s, this would be a lazy bit of exposition, but when contrasted (or perhaps compared) to Faustus and then matched with scenes of Weinbauer’s bullying and general outsider status in school, it works, quickly establishing his tormentors, love interest, and general remoteness. It’s not the beginning of Up, but it’s pretty damn competent.
Smith and cinematographer Robert Elswit, then 21 years away from winning an Oscar for There Will Be Blood, move their camera in interesting ways. I love how it pans down a busy school stairwell to find our Eddie sitting under it, his peers literally walking over him. And the infamous locker room scene, where a de-toweled Weinbauer is tricked into interrupting a volleyball practice is snappily edited by Jane Schwartz Jaffe. Also, it is, perhaps, the best visual representation of what it’s like to write on the internet.
“But you know something? The one thing that holds me together is you,” Weinbauer writes after one-sidedly commiserating with Curr over how the town council denied the rock star permission to play his old high school’s Halloween Party Festival. “You. You did it, man. You went to this fucking school and you rose above it. Now you’re on top. And you can just look down at the anthill and smile.” Curr will never receive the letter, though. As Weinbauer soon finds out while watching the news, Curr has died in a hotel fire.
Needing to grieve with someone who understands, Weinbauer heads to WZLP, the local radio station where fellow headbanger DJ Norman “Nuke” Taurog is starting his shift. “He did leave us some great songs, though, didn’t he?” Nuke offers his beleaguered teenage friend. “He spoke to us.” Ragman, whose hair and facial features eerily echo his hero, counters: “He still does.”
Taken aback, Nuke tries to puncture Weinbauer’s naïve rock-trope immortality fantasy. After all, Taurog knew the real Curr, the ugly side of the angry Curr. But, despite the jaded DJ’s rebuttals, Ragman isn’t having it. Sensing that no admonishment will get through, Nuke offers Weinbauer something that might ease the pain. It’s an acetate of Curr’s final album, Songs In The Key Of Death. Nuke is going to play it at midnight on Halloween per Curr’s instructions. But, since Nuke recorded it to tape, he wants Weinbauer to have the record. “He’s in here,” Nuke says, his eyes wide with conspiratorial mischief.
Great stuff, but, one killer sight gag aside, the movie never reaches these same heights, playing out the rest of its run time about how you’d expect. Weinbauer spins the record and receives a backmasked transmission from beyond, instructing him how to take vengeance upon his bullies. A few more plays and Curr briefly returns to corporal form, gaining more power wherever his final album is played. It’s up to Weinbauer and, to a far lesser extent, Leslie (more on that in a bit) to defeat what they’ve wrought: the resurrected rock hero is really an asshole out to destroy the world. It’s like the story of Morrissey, really.
Of course, I’m legally bound by Metal Law to point out the set design. Aside from posters of Curr’s twisted visage, there’s a lot of legit metal artifacts lying around Weinbauer’s room. His walls are bedecked in Judas Priest merch and his record collection is pretty decent, featuring wax from Impaler, Exciter, Savatage, and…do I spy Possessed’s Seven Churches? I think I do.
But, as Leicht suggests, some of the other visuals have aged worse than a Six Feet Under song. The dream sequence scene featuring Curr’s hotel room inferno, with Sammi within a ring of fire and two robed figures flailing around like tube men behind him, looks like Sunn O))) exploded. Also, during the movie’s climax, the monster who can travel through radio waves and the electric grid is stopped by…a well-placed toilet. Does Gutalax know about this? Finally, to compound the cringe that metastasizes within most movies once they’ve cleared three decades, the diversity here amounts to someone playing a Whodini tape at a school dance. And the women are pretty much relegated to being sex objects, nags, or scolds. Leslie receives the greatest character arc of them all, which amounts to, Hey, I guess I feel bad for this guy…who is kind of cute. Not so good.
Naturally, I understand if that stuff is tough for people to overcome, if divorced from its context, the movie is just a little too dusty. But I keep coming back to the vibe of Trick Or Treat’s first act, how it so wholly captures a metalhead’s loneliness, especially during the formative period when we’re susceptible to the kayfabe charms of magical realism. That beginning nails a recognizable duality, of feeling a power within the obsession that normal people mock you for. It’s a portrait of someone who wants so badly to belong to something, to apprentice themselves to something bigger than themselves in order to better their current surroundings. But escapism only lasts so long before the reality of their situation comes rushing back in.
This movie, this sneaky-smart Faustus-ass movie that, holy shit, you didn’t expect to be reading this much about today, also understands the ridiculousness of all of this, the knowing, heavily-referential wink familiar to every metalhead. “Trick Or Treat is filled with inside jokes — so many that I couldn’t believe they made it to screen,” Rhett Topham told Tony Leicht. “But the one people ask me about the most is Sammi Curr’s nickname for Eddie: ‘Ragman.’ It’s on [Weinbauer’s] car license plate. What does it mean? Here it is, then, the secret revealed: ‘A Ragman’ is an anagram for ‘anagram.’ Hello, Dan Brown?” –Ian Chainey
10. Dødsdrift – “Vorboten”
Location: Northern Germany, Germany
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Dødsdrift writes songs that capture all the emotion of a black metal epic and bottles it up in tidy tracks that mercifully come in around the three- to five-minute range. I went on about the virtues of brevity in certain situations a couple months back while writing about the incredible debut EP from Mystagogue, and the appreciation has only intensified. “Vorboten” rips out the gate, navigates a truly compelling emotional ride, and even manages to include a drum-forward interlude in under 3:30. Chalk it up to German efficiency or something. Though the track centers on depressive metal melodies, the bold production choices and phlegmy vocals seem to likewise prioritize getting to the point — rather than wallow in the hazy and muted lo-fi atmosphere favored by many bands operating in similar space, Dødsdrift is a more confrontational listen. [From Weltenszission, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
9. Blasphematory – “Furthest From Salvation”
Location: New Jersey
Subgenre: death metal
After releasing three full-lengths in 2018 with his New Jersey co-conspirators in Death Fortress, Massive Retaliation, and Siege Column, the Garden State metal attacker Joe Aversario finally gets on the board in 2019 with one of his 10 other active bands. Welcome to the big time, Blasphematory! Yes, the name is like a drunk Glen Benton turned off autocorrect. Doesn’t matter. The band – and please note that I am a professional (lol) music writer – rules. That’s expected given the crew: Aversario harming guitars and microphones, Chris Warhead (Abazagorath) punishing the drums. If you’re familiar with those names, the rest of this thing kinda writes itself. If not, this is what you need to know: Depths Of The Obscurity, their nine-song debut, is a brutish banger of subterranean sewer death metal. Warhead’s powerful drumming and Aversario’s immediately recognizable pumped-up chug and lightning-strike squeals greatly enhance what could’ve been by-the-blergh old school filth. However, I wouldn’t call Blasphematory OSDM, or at least pigeonhole it with the bands currently collected under that term. This is something else, mainly because it’s solely concerned with being itself. Tracks like “Furthest from Salvation,” which unspools groove and groove, sound like an early death metal adopter touched a haunted whammy bar, was cursed with Dead Zone foresight, and suddenly knew where the escalation of heaviness would eventually end up. Again, what am I doing? This kind of punishment doesn’t need this much writing! A much shorter, Wyatt-style blurb: Rips.
Note: For Nihil Verum Nisi Mors diehards who picked up the identically titled four-song EP back in February, those four songs do appear here. However, they’ve been rerecorded by a band possessed. Goes way harder. Just a heads up. [From Depths Of The Obscurity, out now via Nihil Verum Nisi Mors.] –Ian Chainey
8. Teitanblood – “Inhuman Utterings”
Location: Madrid, Spain
Subgenre: black metal / death metal
All hail Teitanblood — the name evokes such feeling! Teitanblood: gods of the blackened kill riff, we throw ourselves at your cloven feet, sacrificial lambs before the gift of your spiteful axework. Teitanblood: committed adherents to the lost art of unnecessary interludes and multiple intros, your cruelty knows no bounds, denying us riff pleasures for multiple tracks and many minutes, only to unleash hell like a blood-geyser, drowning our sorrows with your lustful emissions. Punishment divine! For when the guitars arrive — a maddening blaze of black thrashing death rolling across the countryside like a swarm of hateful locusts — nothing else matters. The minutes spent waiting melt away like fat over flame, and we are the blackened flesh beneath. War metal is usually shapeless mush — riffless misery masquerading as meaningful mystery — relying on toilet-paper production to obscure the steaming mound below. But Teitanblood throw caution to the breeze, more than confident in the quality of their offerings, and more than willing to cast off the cloak of lame production to bare it all. After setting the mood with a suitably long intro — enough to get the blood flowing, and a little more for good measure — they peel off their leather pants and slap their turgid riffs on a dinner plate, clear as day, in all their glory. Shapely riffs indeed! Surely we’re unworthy. [From The Baneful Choir, out now via Norma Evangelium Diaboli.] –Aaron Lariviere
7. Echushkya – “Ara II: The Baths Of Ðirona”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Echushkya arrives shrouded in mystery, playing a style of raw atmospheric black metal with a medieval heart. The artwork, reminiscent of castle metal masters Obsequiae, and incredible song titles jump out from the fray. Whatever arcane invented mythology allows for tracks like “Ara II: The Baths Of Ðirona” and “Blazing Pool Of Tshe Gold-Limned Conch” is worth a closer look and listen. Echushkya does not disappoint, with melodic narratives guided by a lead guitar that is both regal and beguiling, treading troubled and sinister paths and only occasionally catching light and a sense of resolution. Where does this curious work — from a band with a name reminiscent of the much-lauded and mysterious (and multiplicitous) Batushka but seemingly in a language not recognized by Google, with a ready-set mythos serving as source material — come from? Why, from one Andrew Lampe in Ohio, of all places. Headphones are a must, here, to pick out the accomplished playing, melodic flourishes, satisfyingly buried rasp, and all the other intricacies of the song’s strange enchantment. [From Ara II, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
6. Profetus – “The Sadness Of Time Passing”
Location: Tampere, Finland
Subgenre: funeral doom
The organ sets the tone, and we know we’re here for a funeral. Paired with crashing waves of guitar and an endlessly bellowing vocal, it’s a sound that’s classically Finnish, drawing heavily from all-time greats like Skepticism, Thergothon, and Shape of Despair. Profetus share members with Tyranny, another legend from the Finnish funeral doom scene, although the constant use of this particular organ lends a certain warmth to the affair that sets them apart from their peers. Call me crazy; I find this stuff immensely soothing. The drums plod along, gently pushing the guitars along a downward track, punctuated by the slow crash of cymbals and the anguished cries of something dead or dying. Beneath it all like a pulsing wind, an omnipresent melody seems to come from every direction at once — seeping around and between the instruments, you start to hear it even when it’s not there, as if it lives inside you now. Like the push and pull of the tides, it’s timeless, formless, and overwhelming, as pure an experience as you’ll find in metal this year. [From The Sadness Of Time Passing, out now via Avantgarde Music.] –Aaron Lariviere
5. Child Abuse – “Imaginary Enemy”
Location: New York
Subgenre: noise rock / prog
Yeahhh, doing research for this band on the office computer was probably a mistake. So. Child Abuse. The band has been around for 15 years now, still wearing the name that former member Luke Calzonetti once justified to the Washington Post like so: “When we started, Oran [Canfield] was playing a real small drum set and I was playing this crappy Casio keyboard, which I’m still playing, and [the name] seemed really descriptive. It was like this real brutal children’s music.” Get it? Your work’s keystroke logger probably doesn’t, which, unfortunately, aligns it with most of the music listening public. Child Abuse should be huge because it’s brilliant, but it’s not because we live in this dogshit timeline. Imaginary Enemy, the trio’s fourth full-length, is another characteristically zero-fucks fermented turducken of antagonistic styles, except…you know…smart. The title track opens the album with insane effects that sound like Pauline Oliveros trying to fight her way out of a ringtone. Then, blast-off: noise rock and grind jump into a prog-jazz bounce house. Canfield, Eric Lau (keyboards, vocals), and Tim Dahl (bass, vocals) really lock in here, sniffing out perfect repetitious grooves and then testing exciting ways to spill out of them. Somehow, those grooves are relaxing, get you moving, and cause irreparable brain damage. Here’s one for the sticker, then: It’s like Lightning Bolt for people who drink Thunderbird. But writing about this stuff is so beyond the point. Child Abuse needs to be experienced (*re-reads that four or five times*), provided that you’re into pugilistic music that wants to give you a workout. Eric Paul of Arab on Radar has a guest spot because of course he does. I’m pitching this to you because of course I am. [From Imaginary Enemy, out now via SKiN GRAFT Records.] –Ian Chainey
4. Vultur – “Drowned In Gangrenous Blood”
Location: Athens, Greece
Subgenre: death metal
It’s official: of the 40ish blurbs I’ve written this year, not one, not two, but THREE bands chose to name themselves after the foulest of birds, the carrion-picking, crimson baldy we know and loathe as the vulture. Hot on the heels of Vulture and Vultures Vengeance, who play thrash and speed metal respectively, here comes…Vultur sans the “e”, who play an especially malodorous strain of old school death. Fresh from the sewers of Athens and sharing members with fellow death chuds Ectoplasma (both bands have new albums out on Halloween), Vultur care nothing for innovation, but they still steer clear of the typical Stockholm tones in pursuit of something darker, harder, and altogether less pleasant. The same way the spudlords in Undergang boil down the bones of Bolt Thrower and Autopsy riffs to strip away all semblance of higher thought, leaving only the essence of death and a bunch of rotting chunks, Vultur draw deeply on Dismember and Cannibal Corpse only to regurgitate a festering puree of simple-minded punishment. There’s plenty of Swedish-influenced death in the mix, most notably the ripping trem riffs, but the commitment to tuneless Floridian intensity makes all the difference. We’re not too far afield of dark classics like Fornever Laid to Rest or early Bloodbath (maybe the less melodic stuff on Nightmares Made Flesh). “Drowned In Gangrenous Blood” sounds exactly as the name suggests: satisfyingly foul. [From Drowned In Gangrenous Blood, out now via Memento Mori.] –Aaron Lariviere
3. Vukari – “Abrasive Hallucinations (Reality Hemorrhaging)”
Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Vukari’s a third-timer here on The Black Market, and with each new release the Chicago band achieves a higher plane. In picking a track from their latest album, Aevum, to feature here, you might as well draw straws. From the lurching, explosive album opener “Abrasive Hallucinations” to the pensive mid-tempo anticipation of “The True King Is Dead” to the soaring, surging chaotic beauty of “Curiosity And Obsession,” you can’t fail to hear that Vukari is on something special on this one. On “Abrasive Hallucinations,” guitars both saw and dance, furious drumming rips down the walls and bombs out the floor, and screams grate at the edge of sanity and portend doom. With a masterful mix that accentuates the weight of each suspended note and bolsters the stopping power of every blast, Aevum demands your attention, moving beyond a listen to something more primal and inundating. Black metal bands often aim for some mix of beauty and anguish or aggression. Vukari has found an incredibly potent blend. [From Aevum, out now via Vendetta Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
2. Imperium Dekadenz – “When We Are Forgotten”
Location: Berlin, Germany
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Imperium Dekadenz’s latest, When We Are Forgotten, is a towering, refined and forceful album that sets a bar for big stage black metal in the current era. The title track is stunning — and that it serves as the call-to-arms kickoff for an album that is so gripping from start to finish only amplifies the dark power that pulses through it. The thrash-and-roll riff with a western twinge that opens up the track has all the vigor and hooks of the best of Taake, and as the song transmutes into a transcendental epic it unfolds wide-angle synth-bathed vistas that sear the irises. The clean vocals — solemn, the kind of incantations that would boom from a colossus — are flawless and so are the various shades of rasp on display, each of which grates in its own exquisite way, with distortion applied here and there in a tasteful nod to the Dimmu Borgirs of the world. The production here pushes “When We Are Forgotten” over the top, with perfectly timed booming hits that cause the stomach to drop out. I can’t get enough of this song, or this album. It’s ironic that Imperium Dekadenz has, while producing thundering, earth-shaking works, quietly become one of the best metal bands in action. [From When We Are Forgotten, out now via Napalm Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
1. Blood Incantation – “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)”
Location: Denver, CO
Subgenre: death metal
Upon first hearing “Inner Paths (To Outer Space),” I didn’t know what to think. For months there’d been rumblings about how Blood Incantation’s second LP, Hidden History Of The Human Race, was supposed to be a quantum leap beyond the early stuff — experimental and psychedelic, complete with a mind-bending 18-minute track! — the kind of transcendental masterpiece that changes death metal forever and mops the floor with lesser bands. Even as much as I worshiped the fully-formed first album, Starspawn, something about the prospect of radical change had me worried. There was the matter of the cover art, which is simultaneously extremely sweet for fans of classic SF like me (it’s a Bruce Pennington print originally used for a Brian Aldiss short story collection) but an odd fit for this style of death metal, leading to countless memes I’m too lazy to repost here). And the conspiracy-minded song titles had me concerned about the band’s weed consumption impacting their judgement. When “Inner Paths” finally arrived, it felt more like an overwrought intro or maybe an interstitial piece of something much larger. Hmm. From the Klaus Schulze-sounding space burbles to the watery, psychedelic guitars juxtaposed against proggy bass and spoken word, it all takes its sweet time…. Then, after building steam for a few minutes, we finally crash home with some properly explosive death riffing and a single, drawn-out belch…before the metal fades and we drift into the backmasked aether. All of this is fine in a vacuum, but not quite the rebirth of death we were promised. So when the full promo copy eventually landed in my inbox, I was thrilled to discover “Inner Paths” is in fact just a weird interstitial piece of something much larger. It works splendidly in context: it’s track three of four, and it’s essentially a long warm-up for the towering but surprisingly riff-driven 18-minute monolith that makes up the B-side of the album, which is long as hell but neither slow nor boring. Taken as a whole, Hidden History Of The Human Race goes a step beyond Starspawn…which makes it one of the best records of the year, and in all likelihood, one of the best death metal records of the decade. It’s plenty experimental and obviously audacious (18-minute songs don’t just grow on trees), but this is ripping death first and foremost. All the weirder bits exist to serve the songs, whether it’s a brief synth excursion or acoustic guitar comedown, and they add depth and texture within the broader context of the record. None of this obscures the fact that Blood Incantation are better at death metal than just about anyone. If you need a reference point, think Tucker-era Morbid Angel with a better ear for songcraft and a penchant for off-kilter Immolation grooves, which are often the best part of the song. The band has this recurring trick where they turn on a dime, change rhythm and instantly lock into a violent groove, gnashing back and forth over a queasy Immolation riff, grinding it into space dust before changing tack and finding something new to reinvent, like an unexpected, hyper-melodic Chuck Schuldiner-sounding lead guitar or a controlled burst of death prog that would make Atheist proud. There’s so much here to unpack, but just preorder it already. [From Hidden History of the Human Race, out 11/22 via Century Media Records and Dark Descent Records.] –Aaron Lariviere