There are only two things I’m capable of writing with any degree of honesty.
1. Hey. It’s, uh, been a month.
You’ve no doubt had the same kind of month. The near-universality of the baseline experience allows me to cut to the chase here. We’re all living through COVID-19’s reign in excruciating real time. You know what’s up. And yet, do any us know which way is up now? The past few weeks have felt like getting ragdolled around in an avalanche of increasingly bleak push notifications. So many lives either have been or are going to be upended. Anything that is not that feels so insignificant.
That paragraph was true but more abstract, more of a gut-feel premonition when I wrote it two weeks ago. Now, with my feeds full of harrowing first-hand accounts from patients and health care providers, maddening stories of institutions either failing to properly recognize the threat or not caring because it affects the disenfranchised, and friends out of work and fretting about the near future, it reads like the most obvious shit.
Metal has been touched by COVID-19 because everything has been touched by COVID-19. Rolling Stone reported on March 22 that Testament’s Chuck Billy tested positive for the virus, Exodus/Slayer’s Gary Holt was showing symptoms, and Death Angel’s Will Carroll was in the ICU with an undisclosed illness. Billy then told SiriusXM’s Trunk Nation that Carroll was on a ventilator. On March 28, Blabbermouth, which is now heavy with “holy shit” headlines that prick like sharp burrs within the usual fluff, posted that Lou “L.A.” Kouvaris, the original Riot guitarist, had died. “No cause of death has been revealed,” the post read, “but RIOT’s manager Giles Lavery said Lou developed symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, over a week ago.”
Most of March has been a dynamic symphony of “fucks.” Angrily shouted ones, end-of-your-rope ones, ones that are reflexively pulled out of you whenever you think too many steps ahead. I’ve sighed fucks out of disbelief, at how things that happened right before this watershed moment have since been imbued with a sort of radioactive cosmic irony. Careers changing, leases ending, jumping back into dating, that kind of stuff. It’s all comparatively minor in the grand scheme of catastrophic healthcare collapse and mass layoffs, but it’s still like…fuuuuuuck. If there’s a specific species of “fuck” within this wilted fuck-bouquet that applies to the artists and labels that were once mapping out routine album release cycles, it’s probably that one.
Take Wolfheart. The Finnish melodeath band was gearing up to tour behind its new record, Wolves of Karelia. Judging by the PR I received, frontman Tuomas Saukkonen was prepared to chat about the album’s theme, the Winter War, and … environmental sustainability as it relates to his day-job as a gardener/landscaper. Ah yes, that other big global crisis that has now been relegated to the back burner. As you might’ve guessed, the tour is off and most of the expected album build-up will likely get buried.
Wolfheart has acclimated. In place of a tour, there will be a “virtual concert” held on April 9. There’s the option to buy tickets through Indiegogo. This is similar to what Friendship and Kurokuma did, consolidating their European tour to a single YouTube stream that had a link out to a GoFundMe collection plate. It’s not ideal, but what the hell can be now?
In the short term, music fans have been doing their part to help lessen the sting of scuttled tours and record releases. On March 20, Bandcamp dropped its percentage cut of sales, letting all cash flow directly to artists and labels. This spurred fans to buy 800,000 items that totaled $4.3m. The same desire to help lift flagging spirits has flowed the other way, too.
“We are all going through it right now,” Transylvanian Tapes’s owner said in a message sent to subscribers. “I understand times are tough. For me personally one of the few things I have always depended on in good times and bad times is music. Music holds such an immense and powerful place in my life and existence, and I am sure I am not alone in this.”
The Oakland label is now offering all of its digital releases for name-your-price. Or, its entire discography of 62 albums for a base price of $1.67. Considering its underground label status, one that, I can say from experience, probably can’t handle much variance in income without reconsidering its future, that rate cut is a hell of a lot more meaningful than castle-bound celebs crooning into the void and other try-hard shit that exists solely to look like it’s trying hard.
Of course, whether any of this will continue to be feasible for the coming months is beside the point. Those are bridges we’ll all have to cross when we get to them, and I have a real bad feeling that some of the creative forces that The Black Market covers aren’t going to make it to the other side. For now, though, artists are figuring out how to navigate this new normal where nothing is normal and anything proven to work has a sickeningly short half-life.
That said, the mere act of trying to figure it out feels hopeful. There are high schoolers up my street who have a garage band. During quieter nights, I can hear them plugging away at “Ace of Spades” and the like. It’s dope, the kids are alright. I live out in the sticks where there are two DIY spaces that announce shows via Instagram stories and hang on for dear life thanks to donations, so this is no small thing. I hadn’t heard them much this winter. However, as I was driving back from the ransacked grocery store this weekend, I saw that they were jamming with the garage door open. No audience. I then noticed all of the parked cars. Were they having a drive-in concert? Maybe I imagined it, the byproduct of cabin fever delirium. But, for the first time in a long time, I thought, Fuck yeah. –Ian Chainey
Okay, as you can see from your browser’s vertical scroll, we done blowns up the column format. As bands aplenty with already precarious finances have been screwed by the current circumstances, we didn’t think it was fair to highlight only 10 releases. Instead, here’s the majority of what we pitched to each other this month. All of these releases should be streaming in full. Staff selections have an embed, but all of the albums are worth clicking through. If you like something, you know what to do. If you heard something else that was awesome, please comment that below.
Also, Aaron, unfortunately, couldn’t be a part of this one, so we have a special guest blurber this month. See if you can figure out who it is.
Altar Of Gore – Obscure & Obscene Gods (Nihil Verum Nisi Mors)
No mosh, no trend, no polish, no other band members: only death metal most primitive. Starts and ends at main man TG’s brainstem. Respect New Jersey or prepare for combat. –Doug Moore
Amnutseba – Emanatism (Iron Bonehead)
Nightmarish waves of weird and warped black metal from Paris, emerging into the dim light of dusk still reeking of the catacombs. As sinister and unsettling as it is intricate, a rite of spring from another dimension. –Wyatt Marshall
Ascended Dead / Evil Priest – Nexus of the Black Flame / Revealing My Obscurity (Invictus Productions)
Me, an idiot, slept on Ascended Dead’s debut. Mulligan: Three minutes of the rippingest riffs until Engorged reforms. On the flip, Peru’s Evil Priest spits up thrashy death of the Combat Records kind. –Ian Chainey
Autumnfall – Autumnfall – Demo-20 (Self-released)
Whipping atmospheric black metal that pulls back for moments of big, memorable wide-angle beauty. –Wyatt Marshall
Candlemass – The Pendulum (Napalm Records)
Sweden’s doom greats doing doom good. Enough bewitching cries and castle riffs to take you back in time. –Wyatt Marshall
Chepang X Takafumi Matsubara – Tortoiseshell Cat Vs. Rhino (GCBT Records)
NJ’s Chepang – already a variable-lineup collective – dump grind god Takafumi Matsubara’s improvised noodles all over their blasts. Why not? Structure is a prison; grindcore is free. –Doug Moore
Demonic Death Judge – The Trail (Suicide Records)
Check out the big brain on this Finnish stoner/sludge quartet. Once known for its chainsaw tone that I’ve cited ad nauseam, now a clever progster hiding under big ol’ groovers. More hooks than a cenobite fishing. –Ian Chainey
Ehnahre – Quatrain (independent)
Boston metal’s most obscurantist sons go full noise, turning in one yawning hellscape per band member. Hard to truly explain what to expect, but “grimy as fuck” and “no riffs” are a good start. –Doug Moore
Eternal Champion – Terminus Est (Sword Worship)
Curious! Trad band transforms into “sword & synth.” Sounds like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop rolling nat 20s. “This is some nerdy ass larping shit,” says Bandcamp user Kelly Brigance. An endorsement. –Ian Chainey
Failed Treatment – Inevitable Failure of Brilliant Black Organs (Self-released)
Goregrind from Japan with a formaldehyde stench. Think Dead Infection plus Butcher ABC. Classic, in a sense. –Ian Chainey
Grift – BUDET (Nordvis Produktion)
Sorrowful black metal hewn from Swedish wood. Organic and, for a band with a name that translates to “Grief,” highly catchy. –Wyatt Marshall
Hällas – Conundrum (Napalm Records)
Late ‘70s prog filtered through NWOSHM. Nails both vibes while carving out its own catchy space. Up in full on Spotify. –Ian Chainey
Hangatyr – kalt (Self-released)
An energetic atmospheric axe attack underpins painfully raw vocals on this moody, accomplished album out of central Germany. Deceptively heavy. –Wyatt Marshall
Internal Rot – Grieving Birth (Iron Lung Records / Blastasfuk Grindcore)
Blastafuk back! Ruthless orthodox grind from Aussie three-piece. Connected to a ton of other badasses like Faceless Burial, Rawhead, Roskopp, and Agents of Abhorrence. –Ian Chainey
Invictus – The Catacombs of Fear (F.D.A. Records / Obliteration Records)
Japanese trio taking a stab at ‘90s death. Done good. As Bandcamp user Unhallowed Remains points out, there’s some strong Winds of Creation energy on this. –Ian Chainey
Kimura – Kimura (Self-released)
Half the fun is figuring out how this Argentinian three-piece makes this racket. Grind, but ran through many effects, like if a bygone Assuck tour partner plugged into Melt Banana’s pedalboard. –Ian Chainey
Konvent – Puritan Masochism (Napalm Records)
Burly Danish death/doom that has just a touch of Cathedral in the guitars. Up in full on Spotify. –Ian Chainey
Krallice – The Wheel (Self-released)
NYC’s brain-metal mainstays get back on their shred shit via this short, sharp ripper. With the city under quarantine and no reason to go outside, expect 17 new albums from these guys by the fall. –Doug Moore
Lithopædia – Promo 2020 (New Standard Elite)
Third demo from this LA trio. Not reinventing the BDM wheel, but who cares when the blast and slam parts are this solid. Epicardiectomy fans will slurp this up. –Ian Chainey
Mamaleek – Come & See (The Flenser)
An unusual blend of jazz, prog, indie and black metal from a pair of brothers. By turns unsettling and bright, a totally unique release. –Wyatt Marshall
Meurtrières – Meurtrières (Self-released)
Big riff French trad metal, suitable for both nighttime summer drives and tabletop quests in distant lands. –Wyatt Marshall
Molested Divinity – Unearthing the Void (New Standard Elite)
Seeing the name Batu Çetin (Cenotaph, Drain of Impurity) should hip you to the sound, but still startlingly stank-face heavy and laser-precise brutal death metal. Lot going on here, all of it smokes. –Ian Chainey
Moonknight – Discernment(Rising Beast)
Surreal, disorienting, and gorgeous atmospheric black metal out of Kentucky. A work of smeared sad beauty that is among Moonknight’s finest work. –Wyatt Marshall
Nekrovault – Totenzug: Festering Peregrination (Ván Records)
A big Aaron thumbs up of approval in absentia. Heavy-ass death/doom with a focus on the former. Selling point is the Celtic Frost weirdness. –Ian Chainey
Nimbifer – Demo II (Self-released)
Relentless ripping black metal bursting with energy and regal flourishes. Nails tried and true tenants of the underground while also surprising at every turn. –Wyatt Marshall
Nite – Darkness Silence Mirror Flame (Creator-Destructor Records)
High-polish kings-of-heavy-metal rippers ‘n’ chuggers with fist pumping dual axe attacks, overlaid with throaty black-metal style vocals. Just the right amount of darkness overlaid upon the timeless foundations of the genre. A band to watch. –Wyatt Marshall
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void (New Standard Elite)
Yes, granted my verbose ass is writing this, but not a band that can be micro-blebbed. Prog-metal titan. Last album? 1996. Still digesting, but scratches the itch. Maybe Aaron will go deep on this at some point. Stream it here. Sup, Helm. –Ian Chainey
Raspberry Bulbs – Before The Age Of Mirrors (Relapse Records)
NYC’s Raspberry Bulbs return with some of their scuzziest metal-punk to date, upping the hook-factor while doubling down on their unique degenerate surf and stomp. –Wyatt Marshall
RAW – Languish (Brutal Mind)
Brutal Mind has been pumping out solid slammers for a bit and RAW is one of the label’s finer sickos. Once this pandemic has passed, can we address the jewelcase shortage in Jakarta, please? –Ian Chainey
Ruin Lust – Choir of Babel (20 Buck Spin)
Ugly, bestial, cavernous — and superb — blackened death metal from NYC featuring members of Vorde, Vilkacis, et. al (it’s a Mike Rekevics joint). The second album since the band’s 2019 revival. –Wyatt Marshall
Sentient Divide – Haunted By Cruelty (Conclave of the Bloodless Dawn / Expansion Abyss)
Second album from this ultra-solid spud that tosses riff after riff by you like Mariano. Apparently there’s french horn up in this. –Ian Chainey
Serpent Column – Endless Detainment (Mystískaos)
Fresh off besting DSO at their own game; now mimicking Converge in fast-forward on a broken cassette deck. Window dressing says “BM,” riffs say “IMA FUCKIN KILL YOU.” –Doug Moore
Smoulder – Dream Quest Ends (Cruz del Sur Music)
Fresh off its Shower Beer win, Smoulder strikes while hot, dropping a tasty EP of two originals and one outstanding Manilla Road cover. Latter is worth the price. –Ian Chainey
Spirit Possession – 2020 Demo (Vexations Records)
Wild-eyed black metal from Portland with a punk edge that rips with blind rage between finding unsettling hooks. Invigorating and deranged. –Wyatt Marshall
Sutrah – Dream Quest Ends (The Artisan Era)
Techy prog death metallers that up the atmospherics on this EP. Quebcois three-piece cited Lykathea Aflame on their much-lauded debut Dunes. This stares even deeper into that third-eye. –Ian Chainey
Triage – Triage (Self-released)
Three dudes from Kill the Client. Fajardo’s drumming, as always, is a highlight, giving this deathly grind some thrashy swing. –Ian Chainey
Trichomoniasis – Terminal Inversion (New Standard Elite)
Epically crass, sardonic brutal death metal squashed messily into a grind template. Nothing going on here sounds like a rock instrument. Don’t image search this band name. –Doug Moore
Tzun Tzu – The Forbidden City (Lavadome)
Tzun Tzu hearkens to a glorious past…the late 1990s, when the median DM fan didn’t find Hate Eternal too brutal to process. The Orientalism is cringey, but the riffs are serious. –Doug Moore
Unmerciful – Wrath Encompassed (Willowtip)
Under-the-radar Origin offshoot turn in their third LP, reminding us what Origin should’ve been up to for the past decade. Sounds just like it says on the tin. But behold, they got songs! –Doug Moore
Velnias – Scion of Aether (Eisenwald)
Mountain-moving riffs and cavernous roars inserted into lively, body-moving compositions shot through with a sense of destiny. Energetic bass lends a woodsy quality that stands in contrast to the album’s sky-splitting scope. –Wyatt Marshall
Vituperate – Dies Mali (New Standard Elite)
Slightly angular scuzzball slam. Drums sound like a stampede of dryers filled with tennis shoes. –Ian Chainey
Vomi Noir – Les Myasmes de la Deliquescence (B.O.G. Records)
Pierre, of Braindead Zine fame, is joined here by two others for a grimy, groovy update on Reek of Putrefaction. Sounds like an ulcer feels. –Ian Chainey
Walk Through Fire – Vår Avgrund (Wolves and Vibrancy Records)
Featuring Ufuk Demir of Abandon, the best post-metal band you’ve never listened to. Another dismal offering that sounds like Unsane rolled a funeral doomer. Stoked to be depressed to this. –Ian Chainey
Yacopsae – timeo ergo sum (Abusive Noise Tapes)
Do you miss the feeling of ripping through a filthy alleyway doing 50mph on a dirt bike with no helmet? Yacopsae can’t get you there, but try doing better while you’re stuck inside. –Doug Moore
YUH – YUH DEMO (independent)
YUH have successfully learned and then unlearned how to play their instruments – high praise! Not “punk rock” per se, but that timeless antagonism is strong in them. –Doug Moore
ZyanosE – Total End of Existence (Zyanose Records / Distort Reality / D-Takt & Råpunk Records)
Good timing on the title. Really though, this seems to be the last active release for the Japanese noise-punks. Shame if true. Sound can be summed up no better than the title of its LP debut: Insane Noise Raid. –Ian Chainey
Correction: The first version of this column included a Grifteskymfning album. The band is releasing its other 2020 album on Darker Than Black, a record label with a long history of NSBM in its discography.