First, some housekeeping. Our year-end list is going to run sometime next week. Like last year’s edition, it will be a top 10, one informally titled The Past 11 Months In Metal; To Dark Fortress, Please Don’t Release An Album In December Again, Thanks For Everything. Our second annual best-of-the-rest blowout will follow at the end of December, taking the place of that month’s column. Included in that best-of-the-rest mess will be a 2019 year-end list decided by you, the readers. I’ll detail how that might work the next time you catch us.
Back in September, Michael Nelson, our former leader and the person who can blame for me being here, was let go in a layoff that claimed six other employees across Spin, Stereogum, and Vibe. Billboard reported that these “decisions were made in conjunction with a pivot in business and content strategy.” (It’s worth pointing out, as Digital Music News’s Marsha Silva did, that Billboard and the three Spin Media Group brands have the same parent company, Valence Media.) I can report that this is a bummer.
This is all in keeping with the present reality of working in media, especially online, especially in entertainment. Gone are the days when you could plant decades-long roots behind a typewriter. The bleakness of the recent employment numbers bears that out. According to a Business Insider piece published one day after the Spin Media Group layoffs, more than 7,200 industry-related jobs have been axed this year, up significantly from “some 5,000 media jobs were cut from the market from 2014 to 2017.” All career counselors agree: It’s…uh…not a good time to be writer. Which, you know, is too bad, because it’s the right time to try to be a great one.
As the column slams along into its seventh year of existence, this has always been in the back of my mind. Recent events, though, have forced it to the forefront. Even if one wants to think of metal as an “escape,” a low-stakes breather from whatever apocalypse we’re all living through in excruciating slow motion, it’s still important that I get the coverage right. The decisions I make in compiling and structuring this column have knock-on effects. This is something that Michael understood from the start.
The first Black Market ran on February 27, 2013. Michael wrote the intro while Doug Moore, Wyatt Marshall, and Aaron Lariviere filled out the rest of the four-person blurb team. (You didn’t get me until October 2014, after I flamed out at Invisible Oranges and promised myself that I’d never write again. Whoops.) That debut column, clocking in at a breezy 3,000 words, contains a lot of the raw fuel that still powers the Black Market today. “Metal is an insular subculture made up of a zillion insular sub-subcultures,” Michael wrote. “To the outsider it all kind of looks and sounds the same; to the enthusiast, microgenres are delineated by nearly invisible parameters.”
Even after passing the intro baton to Doug and then to me, Michael was always part of the Black Market. It wasn’t just because he edited the slop I sent him. When the column is cooking, it continues to echo Michael’s voice, primarily his curiosity and ability to align the context behind those aforementioned invisible parameters.
Still, Michael’s talents were unique. He translated bewildering, alienating, and uncomfortable music into something real and tangible. He demonstrated how metal fit into and shaped the societies and cultures that surrounded it. That made him a great ambassador at Stereogum. If he was the first person who exposed you to metal, you were in good hands. You felt like his recommendations were honest, informed by the depth of his reporting and research.
That was something that you could see across a lot of Michael’s work. His investigation into VNYL was deservedly picked up by Longform.org. My favorite thing he did is this bonkers trip down the get-wet rabbit hole that is Andrew W.K. Paging through his posts, I can see how much his voice has influenced mine. When I write something like “here’s the thing,” I’m doing a Nelson, trying to cut to the bone, to get straight to the truth of the topic. If you’re familiar with my discursive ramblings, you know I wear that voice like a kid wears his father’s suit. I’ll always try it on, though. There’s something powerful about it. And that’s part of the reason, when I got the news that Michael was laid off, I decided to re-read his music business column, But Who’s Buying.
“Is there even such a thing as good news anymore?” So begins a July 2016 deep dive into the dubious metrics employed by the data and insights company Nielsen. It’s a great opener; bracing, pushing the reader into freezing water. That’s what you came for. You’d get this clear-eyed deep take that would studiously unpack industry bullshit, the kind of purposely anodyne capitalistic patois that big-business-brain jocks blurt out because they don’t think anyone is actually listening. Michael did the hard stuff and made reading about it easy.
Michael’s layoff preceded the sudden unemployment of another group of writers who had the same aim. On 10/28, Barry Petchesky, deputy editor of Deadspin, was fired for not adhering to a “stick to sports” email memo sent by the G/O Media brass backed by the private equity firm Great Hill Partners. This occurred barely two months after previous editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell left due to “months of being undermined by G/O Media management.” The remaining Deadspin staff resigned following Petchesky’s ouster. “Reporting sports with integrity requires knowing that there’s no way to wall off the games from the world outside,” Petchesky wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “To anyone who knows anything about sports or cares about the world outside the arena, the notion that sports should or even can be covered merely by box scores and transaction wires is absurd.”
“From the outset, [G/O Media] CEO Jim Spanfeller has worked to undermine a successful site by curtailing its most well-read coverage because it makes him personally uncomfortable,” the GMG union said in a statement posted to Twitter, perhaps referring to Laura Wagner’s excellent “This Is How Things Work Now At G/O Media” — which Spanfeller tried to discredit before publication — and Greenwell’s equally great exit piece “The Adults In The Room.” “This is not what journalism looks like, and this is not what editorial independence looks like. ‘Stick to sports’ is and always been a thinly veiled euphemism for ‘don’t speak truth to power.’ In addition to being bad business, Spanfeller’s actions are morally reprehensible.”
The Los Angeles Times’ Kim Janssen backed up the bad-business claim, rebutting the G/O Media narrative that non-sports stories under-performed. Deadspin readers, it seemed, really did want more context than just box scores. I was a reader and I sure do. Now that Zombie Deadspin no longer fills that need, there’s a hole in my media consumption, one that I have yet to fill because I haven’t developed a similar level of trust with other outlets. It’s not that I want to be told what to think, but I like to have my assumptions challenged by enthusiasts who can research and report out issues far deeper than I can. I always want the bigger picture.
I’d like to think that same desire to get a warts-and-all, 360-degree view extends to metalheads, but that might just be a similar character trait shared among the readers that come here. Anecdotally, it seems that certain pockets within the fanbase have their own “stick to sports” analog: “but the riffs.” Once a jokey moral justification for enjoying sketchy stuff, the term now stands in for an entrenched belief that all metal should be apolitical to better facilitate a comfortable escape from reality. Or, hey, other end goals that are more insidious.
This is something Michael already grappled with in our 2016 year-end feature:
There’s the big, blaring, obvious stuff, of course, the stuff we want to ignore: the fact that metal topographically bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a certain kleptocratic Manchurian Candidate president-elect of questionable integrity. It’s often boorish, vulgar, sexist, suspicious of outsiders, possibly illiterate, and white as a sheet. There’s also the fact that a fair-sized number of metal fans tend to fall into one of two fundamentally oppositional but equally repugnant demographics: (1) shitkicking separatists who like to listen to loud music while they lift, and (2) soft-ass woke bros who would nonetheless prefer to keep politics removed from a form of entertainment they see as a role-playing respite from their desk jobs.
I’m not implying that describes all metal fans, or even a majority of metal fans. I’m definitely not implying that describes you — in fact, if you’re here, I’m pretty sure you aren’t part of either of those factions. I just think it would be kinda weird to deliberately look away from all that at this particular moment. I’m also a big First Amendment proponent, and I think metal bands, and fans, and everyone else should have the inalienable right to say whatever the fuck they want, irrespective of how I feel about the content of their speech. But that “everyone” includes me, and here’s what I want to say: I’m not here for either the rage-stewing sewer rats or the big-baby boys who are too delicate to deal with reality. If that makes me unfit to write about metal anymore — and maybe it does — then so be it. I can’t say I’ve done more good than harm here. I’m OK walking away from this battle, because there are plenty of others that need soldiers.
If you haven’t read that intro in a while, it’s worth revisiting. Three years later, it still holds up because it feels so rare, an atypical example of metal writing. The piece closes with Michael excoriating Metallica, one of his favorite bands, for meekly separating music from politics as a business strategy. He makes it clear that that is the easy, cynical thing to do. Metallica is essentially making a “stick to sports” decision.
It doesn’t take much of a leap to make the connection, especially after Michael quotes James Hetfield’s weaselly take that his band is just trying to “connect with people,” who I infer aren’t people so much as kayfabe-demanding strawmen who buy concert tickets. Michael also catches Lars Ulrich espousing the same brand of self-interested, faux-utilitarianism as ESPN, G/O Media, and the like: “If you break down what Metallica does in its simplest form, it’s write — or at least try to write — fucking great rock songs,” Ulrich told Vulture. “Once you go beyond that and into more specific social or political relevance, I get uncomfortable.”
And that’s what “stick to sports,” “but the riffs,” and related terms boil down: comfort. It’s a desire to keep the rich comfortably rich, the powerful comfortably powerful, and the self-obsessed comfortably inoculated against empathy. That comfort is preserved by withholding information and suppressing conflicting viewpoints. Ta-Nehisi Coates, in a recent New York Times op-ed, pointed this out about the backlash to “cancel culture.” An old tool, previously belonging exclusively to those with means, is now demonized because it’s punching up. “Thus any sober assessment of this history must conclude that the present objections to cancel culture are not so much concerned with the weapon,” Coates observes, “as the kind of people who now seek to wield it.”
I know that some people will have a kneejerk reaction that what I’m writing is stupid. Or that I’m trying to ruin metal. Or that I’m a weak false or whatever cosplay-fascist MadLibs term is currently used to roast online idiots like me. But, like Michael, I’m not saying that people are required to engage with the politics of a band or scene. I’m not instituting a Burzum hoodie buyback program. I legit do not care about what you enjoy. I don’t want to ruin your shit. Live your life. What I am saying is that it’s worth recognizing the intent behind “stick to sports” and “but the riffs.” That those terms aren’t really about owning the phantom SJWs that crawl through Nergal’s nightmares. That they’re not really about 20-year-olds persevering a lab-grown nostalgia for an imaginary time they never lived through, back when metal apparently wasn’t a constantly contested space. Well, I mean, they’re kind of about that. There’s something deeper there, though, an entire outside world that can’t be walled off by sick riffs. When I cover metal, I need to engage with that so I can understand the bigger picture. It’s not because I’m trying to inject politics into metal, but because the politics are already there.
Music writing has an easy route to success and self-preservation and that’s focusing solely on the music. After all, a lot of coverage is predicated on one’s access, in maintaining a comfort level with players and PR gatekeepers. Metal is that and more so, as its players are sometimes its writers and its writers sometimes its PR gatekeepers. It can be a turd-ouroboros of eternal back-scratching. Additionally, because editorial oversight is often slim and fact-checking non-existent, the path of least resistance often looks pretty appealing as everyone around you gets canned. Unfortunately, that destination has been twisted to fit the Boschian hellworld that is this current fork of the internet. As Cody Delistraty put it in Aeon, the internet-reared “happiness ruse” prioritizes a “disturbing and very new version of ‘happiness’ that holds that bad feelings must be avoided at all costs.”
The way the Black Market is structured makes it seem like a good-feelings mill. Makes sense: Our scope of coverage is generally what we like. We are primarily in the good news business in that, the odd intro here and there aside, it’s exceedingly rare that we take on something that we don’t like. Aaron’s traditional execution-hiding-in-a-year-end-blurb aside, we don’t often go back to correct the record when something doesn’t live up to our expectations. That Nile record we were really looking forward to? Hey! Not so great!
But, like Deadspin readers, I know Black Market readers care about the bigger picture. I can see it. We ran a blurb on Aoratos earlier this year. That outfit is related to Nightbringer through the multi-instrumentalist Naas Alcameth. One of Nightbringer’s vocalists and lyricists is ar-Ra’d al-Iblis, who said the following about a recording session location in a 2017 Bardo Methodology interview: “Above the centre is an air pipe shaped like a swastika, which somehow made me think of it as if I was standing at the very centre of the universe, spreading the divine word across every corner of it. Or something like that.”
Or…something like that. That is some deeply cloak-brained shit, something that Bardo has a knack for drawing out of its interview subjects. I’ve been doing this long enough that I read that quote as Edgelord 101 material. I don’t know if there’s much behind it besides it being galactically stupid. (That said, I’ll add that incompetence and malevolence often feel the same and aren’t mutually exclusive.) As I’m not part of a targeted group, my perception is skewed and I could very well be wrong. Regardless, enough readers were sketched out to mention it in the comments. To me, it felt like I violated their trust.
In response, I could whine that Nightbringer is a degree removed from Aoratos, the band we were covering, so a weird aside in an interview from a non-member is immaterial. I could also say that Aoratos is probably “apolitical” based on the information readily at my disposal. Hey, “but the riffs,” bros. That’s a slippery slope, though, one that spills out into a swamp of chuds with object permanence issues that can’t admit that they screwed up.
Point is, it’s something I should’ve researched. I missed it. And I appreciate the heads up. I’m not a particularly enlightened or worldly individual, which is a nice, self-care way of saying I’m wrong all of the time and only excel at fucking my life up. So, I need to see comments like that to be a better writer. I have a responsibility to vet inclusions and disclose the tough stuff, to give you the big picture, warts and all, so you can inform your decisions. What you do with that info is up to you. Getting that bigger picture in focus is sometimes hard — unless, you know, you’re Doug; shouts to Doug — but it’s the right thing to do. There’s always more than just the riffs. There always is. If you don’t think so, then you’re not the enthusiast.
That’s something that kept popping up in Michael’s writing, that there was more to all of this than what could be found on the surface and we should be digging for it. Like, I don’t want to canonize Michael as a saint here and delete his humanity in the process. We disagreed on stuff. For instance, you may have noticed the conspicuous absence of Deafheaven around these parts starting in, oh, January 2018. But we didn’t disagree on what good, responsible metal coverage looked like. He, in fact, taught me that. Here’s the thing: I’m going to miss that. I’m going to miss him. –Ian Chainey
10. Forest Of Tygers – “Lord Of Fear”
Location: Nashville, TN
Subgenre: black metal
Forest Of Tygers are a Nashville-based duo belonging to the Valosiks: Jim Valosik on guitar, vox, and “soundscapes”, Rachel Valosik on drums. I Will Die Of Violence, their first full-length, reminds me of Fawn Limbs in that it transposes the energy of good metalcore to another genre, in this case black metal, and lets the two styles entwine and twist into something else entirely. Also, it’s…kind of in the Portraits Of Past zone with Serpent Column since it’s so riff-centric in a spidery post-hardcore way, but this comparison is probably more my influence than theirs. Whatever. Really, doesn’t matter. Any categorization attempts are burned away as soon as this thing detonates. In full Jack FM voice, I kindly ask you to hold a bucket under my chin as my jowls are rendered by these riffs. The seven-minute title track is the centerpiece here and is one you should jam if you’re on the fence. It balances the band’s more shredful inclinations with some well-earned moments of quietude. But I’d like to point the spotlight on “Lord Of Fear,” a sub-three-minute rager that includes a guest spot from Bleed The Pigs’s Kayla Phillips. (Phillips made some neat-ass noise under her Pulsatile Tinnitus guise earlier this year. Just wanted to sneak that in.) Most of “Fear” sits on the core side of the divide, utilizing Disfear-era Converge riffs to great effect, but the song heads out on a blackened peregrination for its final third. That section is all kinds of metal feels: facing the cold wind head on, arms outstretched, standing atop a mountain type material. [From I Will Die Of Violence, out now via Acteon Records.] –Ian Chainey
9. Krukh – “Черный Свет II”
Location: St. Louis, MO
Subgenre: black metal
Krukh have a unique talent for corralling chaos, and on “Черный Свет II” the band conjure the spirit of an Uruk-hai war march with snarling, mud-mashing violence. The song seethes bestial energy, flexing with brutish strength and diffusing malice like steam rising from the backs of agitated animals. Everything is a bit askew. An undulating shredder riff underpins the song, but the instrumentation is muted and off-kilter, and the whole thing feels as if it would careen off course if it weren’t for a steadying hand to keep it in between the lanes. Vocals arrive in a chorus of snarls, sneers, grunts, and bellows. Krukh come in part from the prolific Markov Soroka, the man behind Tchornobog, Aureole, Drown (formerly Slow), and others. His penchant for swirling energy is evident in Krukh, too. On Черный Свет Soroka and his bandmate N. Salimbayev mine the vein first opened on the band’s 2018 debut, unearthing new strata of darkness as they spiral ever downward. [From Черный Свет, out now via Vigor Deconstruct.] –Wyatt Marshall
8. Anges de la Mort – “Anges de La Mort”
Location: Montreal, Canada
Subgenre: black metal
The big bluesy riff that drives the self-titled track on Anges de la Mort’s self-titled debut is black metal gold. It’s loaded with classic frosty Scandinavian menace and it’s got just the right amount of frenzied playfulness — a quality unique to the genre that can both force a smile and whip a show space into a maelstrom. Not to continue ad nauseam, but the depth of this big crunchy riff is something special. Its millefeuille quality no doubt benefits from the deft touch of Joel Grind, the ever-busy frontman of thrash vets Toxic Holocaust with a small phonebook’s worth of production credits — serving everybody from Exhumed and Uada to Dee Snider and the Cavalera Conspiracy — to his name. As the prime mover in this ripper of the track, the riff is surrounded by all the right accoutrements — it hits the gas at just the right moments and pulls back from the brink just in time. What we are left with, then, is something close to the ideal: a modern black metal track that takes the best of the genre cornerstones and builds a fresh, inspired thrasher. [From Anges de la Mort, out now via Les Productions Hérétiques.] –Wyatt Marshall
7. Jardim De Flores – “분노에 찬 눈”
Location: South Korea
Been a strong year for grind. Korean trio Jardim De Flores rips shit up on par with the others having, uh, rubbed shoulders with some of the others. Drummer Hoonee has two credits on Takafumi Matsubara’s previously listed solo album. Indeed, Jardim De Flores sprints along in that sort of vein, splicing Mortalized with early Discordance Axis. Moon, the vocalist, does a pretty good Jon Chang, pairing searing screeches with low roars. And Youngjun plays like an early Rob Marton. So, given those comps, you can intuit that is less of a stumbling blur and actually pretty tight. That tightness is why this works. Even though it’s upper-hundreds BPM madness, it’s carefully plotted, everything tied to Hoonee’s athletic drumming. If slowed down, this would still rip because it fits together well. That said, ain’t complaining about the quickness. The longest track on this seven-song EP is the closer which clocks in at a glacially epic 59 seconds. So, yes, you could play this EP 34 times while watching Avengers: Endgame…which would go a long way towards keeping me awake. Because, damn, did I mention this rips? “분노에 찬 눈” only lets up to fit in some fills, never taking its foot off the gas. More grind releases should double as popcorn timers. [From Defloraison, out now via Nerve Altar.] –Ian Chainey
6. Aggressive Perfector – “Turbo Evil”
Location: Manchester, England
Subgenre: speed metal / thrash metal / heavy metal
The night before Thanksgiving, all through my brain
Danced visions of horror and riffs that bring pain
The kids were asleep; me, I cracked a beer
A Metallica-themed tallboy, to bring metal-themed cheer
The swill warmed my bones but left my heart cold
I need death and sick riffs! My soul screams to be sold!
The crushed can in my fist lights a fire in my belly
For riffs so white-hot, my eyes burst into jelly
Alive for once, and inspired, I reach for my Lenovo
Wait for stupid Windows to load and fire up a promo
Aggressive Perfector, like the Slayer song, eh?
This looks dumb but who cares, get a move on, click play
Oh shit. This is it, the hot riffs that I need!
Turbo evil: heavy metal laced with speed
Dudes from Wode, apparently, who would have guessed
Think early Slayer or Venom, but sicker than the rest
There’s something to this — violent melodic supremacy
Metallic release attained, now join me in this dark revelry
“A force of evil comes alive, through the dead of night
The pentagram — symbol of my unholy plight
Stricken victim paralyzed with fear inside
Your time is up
So fight for your life
‘Cause I’m feeling…evil tonight!” [From Havoc at the Midnight Hour, out now via Dying Victims Productions.] –Aaron Lariviere
5. Teeth – “Cretin”
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Kind of amazing that no Encyclopaedia Metallum-worthy entity has previously snagged “Teeth.” Maybe it was reserved for the Sixteenth Six-Tooth Son Of Fourteen Four-Regional Dimensions (Still Unnamed). No matter, this Californian quintet owns it now. And, yeah, the name fits in that, wait for it, Teeth rip and grinds and tears you apart. The other sticker-ready explanation for this one is the similarly low-tuning Our Place Of Worship Is Silence but with a bunch of Gorguts and Morbid Angel (Ulcerate for the younger crowd?) bits spot welded on. Lead stream “Cretin” sums up that churn well in a zero-fat, smidgen-over-three-minute package. That brevity is a selling point. Goes for the entire record, really. The Curse Of Entropy, the band’s second LP and first with badass drummer Alejandro Aranda, measures a very Deicide-ian 10 songs in 30 minutes. Yep, Teeth waste no time, only repeating sections if structure demands it. That lends the more outré elements of dissonance a kinetic energy that goes well with the calorie-munching drumming. Of course, speaking solely as a death metal obsessive, it sure doesn’t hurt that the vocals — performed by guitarists Erol Ulug, Justin Moore, and Mr. Gorguts himself, Luc Lemay, on “Husk” — spew some truly foul emissions across the ever-shifting canvas. Bonus points awarded to bassist Peter King whose playing and tone sounds like a jaeger running the entirety of the wide receiver route tree. [From The Curse Of Entropy, out now via Translation Loss Records.] –Ian Chainey
4. Into Coffin – “Unconquered Light Of Nothingness”
Location: Marburg, Germany
Subgenre: death metal / doom metal
EXT. CEMETERY — NIGHT
The crescent moon shines down on a hillside covered in fog-shrouded graves. A figure of indeterminate gender, wearing a Hooded Menace hoodie, meanders through the graveyard without a care in the world. Suddenly a rasping, disembodied voice breaks the silence.
Suddenly alert, but more intrigued than scared, the figure scans the surrounding area…and nearly stumbles into an open grave. At the bottom, a rough-hewn wooden coffin has been tossed haphazardly, lid lifted to display an utterly filthy — but empty — interior. No sign of the voice’s origin.
“Jeez, you’re persistent. You want me to…get in the coffin?”
“Why, what’s down there?”
<<<Such sights and sounds.>>>
“I dunno, it looks — wait, are those worms?”
<<<To sate your hunger.>>>
There’s something hypnotic about the voice. The figure seems weirdly at ease. Curious, perhaps. Or compliant.
“I guess that makes sense.”
The figure hops down, slips on the muddy interior and falls flat-backed into the coffin. The figure is startled but starts to laugh.
“So what do we do down here?”
“And then what?”
The lid snaps shut. From everywhere at once comes a horrific noise. The figure keeps laughing.
“This rules. What is this ungodly racket?”
<<<Into Coffin.>>> [From Unconquered Abysses, out now via Terror From Hell Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
3. Obliti Devoravit – “Summer Sun”
Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Subgenre: black metal
Obliti Devoravit is one of the gems on Damian Master’s (A Pregnant Light/Aksumite/Alluring/etc.) Colloquial Sound Recordings, his underground black metal-centric cassette-first label that has been putting out genre expanding demos and top tier full-lengths for nearly a decade. From Tim Lenger, the bassist in Aksumite who also provides backing for several other CSR artists, Obliti Devoravit carves a special slice of punishingly heavy, punkish, and tortured black metal. As a bass man first, Lenger allows the lurch to take hold, rolling the track from side to side as a mounting sense of unease builds to a boil all around. Wailing guitars mourn throughout, clouding the air with dread. As ever, Obliti Devoravit forces an introspective listen. The careful pace, the hypnotic riff, and the buried desperate screams force thoughts inwards, where undiagnosed horrors are as real as any the world itself can present. [From O.D., out now via Colloquial Sound Recordings.] –Wyatt Marshall
2. Eos – “Arraché D’ailleurs”
Location: Quebec City, Canada
Subgenre: black metal
Eos put out a very promising demo in the early days of the underground label Fallen Empire (RIP), showcasing a haunted style of raw-ish black metal that writhed in eerie dissonance and tortured soul-searching as often as it exploded in chaotic barrages of mean riffs and blasts. Other than a track on Fallen Empire’s Svn Okkvlt compilation, that was all there was to know about Eos — a total of four tracks followed by silence since 2014. Now, half a decade later, Eos returns on a split with their compatriots Malebranche (check their excellent side out, too), and they have brought a refined take on that earlier promising demo, channeling dark premonitions into a blizzard that both whips violently and offers the occasional unsettling quiet respite. As is often the case with black metal from Québec, this is cold music for cold weather. The majesty of winter is both lauded and feared, and frigid riffs freeze at first then lead to delirium. [From Eos – Malebranche, out now via Les Productions Hérétiques.] –Wyatt Marshall
1. Esoteric – “Consuming Lies”
Location: Birmingham, England
Subgenre: funeral doom
Despite the slow start, it’s been a banner year for doom, particularly the slow and hideous variety utterly embodied by a band like Esoteric. We’ve already seen phenomenal new records from Profetus and Slow…and now this. Esoteric tend to resurface every few years, typically with an obscenely long, all-encompassing monstrosity of a double-disc album — all but two of their seven albums to date have stretched across two discs, and their newest is a casual 98 minutes. But A Pyrrhic Victory is their first release in eight years, during which time frontman Greg Chandler kept busy with his other (much weirder, and sadly less satisfying) band Lychgate, and it’s been a painful wait. Fortunately, the new one absolutely slays and makes an instant play for AOTY. It’s certainly one of the biggest albums of the year, in a way that’s hard to describe: it’s an overwhelming experience in every sense of the word. It may not have that unbearable sensation of nut-crushing heaviness that’s more of a mixing trick than anything, and one that became pretty common in funeral doom circles for a while. But every song feels like an impossible journey, a world unto itself, filled with strange corners and unexpected emotions. This is funeral doom, of course, so they hit the expected beats, but they don’t stop there. Low, slow guitars mostly fixate on the crush rather than the grind, and wailing leads share center stage with the guttural croak of a vocal. But they’re not afraid to cast aside the form and chug through several minutes of searing death, and the record rules much harder for every experiment that appears. Keyboards abound, and there’s no shortage of tonal shifts or atmospheric moments to provide a momentary reprieve when you need it. There’s a keen sense of flow throughout the tracks, and even on a 30-minute behemoth like the opening track, the album never drags. Unlike the last Evoken record — which should have slayed but collapsed under the weight of overwrought keyboards and clunky clean vocals — everything here works, no matter how far afield they wander. “Consuming Lies” is one of the shorter tracks at 15 minutes, but it takes some of the best left turns. Buy this. [From A Pyrrhic Existence, out now via Season of Mist.] –Aaron Lariviere
BONUS. Body Stuff – “New York In The Rain”
Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: post-punk / avant-garde / industrial metal
Curran Reynolds has appeared in the intro twice, which means he’s in the Friends Of The Column Collective; a FOTCCer, if you will (*rereads* a fot-ker? Hm). So, as I just wrote a long-ass intro on the integrity of metal coverage, Body Stuff, his project with fellow Today Is The Day alum Ryan Jones, finds itself in the bonus section. That said, I definitely hoped you scrolled this far because…Curran…my dude…what the heck. “New York In The Rain” is the batshittiest track on a batshitty EP, this one titled Body Stuff 3 because it’s the thir — you get it. Anyway, yes, this song. Beginning with a Pure Moods synth sweep, “New York” soon flips between catchy piano poking and a gritty chug worthy of an Ola Englund expose. Curran sings some cool couplets with real gutter goth chutzpah: “Can we go back down the hole? From the bottom the view was beautiful.” And then…there are gutturals? And then…there’s a synth trombone solo? And then…there’s the video below, which is like if someone tried to tape a Godflesh video but a Sisters Of Mercy one bled through. I dig it. All of these and thens shouldn’t come together into a cohesive whole, and yet these dudes pull it off. It’s like an ‘80s FM radio signal was beamed into space, bounced back to Earth, and fried the pirate radio tower owned by metalheads on an industrial bender. It’s a real shame that Aquarius Records is no more, because Body Stuff would’ve found a loving home within the List, attracting all manner of music weirdos. Get strange and get with this. [From Body Stuff 3, out 1/10 via The Chain.] –Ian Chainey