The Month In Metal – May 2020

The Month In Metal – May 2020

Heads up: Wyatt is grabbing the intro reins this month as he takes a deep dive into the Netherlands’ flourishing black metal scene.

Turia’s Degen Van Licht shimmers into focus, materializing out of hazy delirious heat. What emerges is a strange beast; it’s jagged at the edges, a jangly maelstrom that marches and roars forward. Within the crashing tumult is a blooming series of fractals, melodic flourishes on guitar, each stealing brief awestruck moments like a restless body of water catching flashes of light on an oppressively bright day. Emerging on the other end of the album, it’s hard to say what just happened. Between fixating on detail and the shifting contours, 45 minutes go by in a trance.

The album, Turia’s latest and third in full, radiates both hair-raising energy and meditative enlightenment. And though the Netherlands is separated from the birthplace of black metal as we know it by the North Sea, Degen Van Licht sounds as if it came from a world away. The cryptic and cold tenets of the genre have mutated in the south, and key practitioners are painting with broader, often brighter strokes as they craft their largely instrumental works. This small Dutch school has commanded an outsized share of attention and acclaim of late. Turia’s Degen Van Licht, released alongside Fluisteraars’ Bloem in March, and both are masterful. But a spotlight first locked on a burgeoning Dutch black metal scene in 2018, when Turia and Fluisteraars released a split together titled De Oord.

The split arrived as part of a flood of Dutch black metal releases alongside albums from Iskandr and Solar Temple. At the time, it wasn’t immediately clear that the collective output, some of the most exciting atmospheric black metal being created, was the work of so few musicians — that all four bands came from such a small family tree. Mink Koops, the guitarist, bassist, drummer, and chief songwriter for Fluisteraars, also plays in Galg, Solar Temple, and Nusquama alongside Turia’s O. O, a multi-instrumentalist, has his hands in nearly a dozen projects, appearing alongside Turia’s drummer, J, and its vocalist, T — not necessarily all together — in several of them.

Aside from the members of Fluisteraars, almost all of the musicians that comprise the collection of bands in the scene simply go by initials. Tracing the involvement of individual members across projects is a bit like playing a dizzying game of Scrabble, with cross-pollination not making things any easier. There’s J, O, and T in Turia; Iskandr is the work of O, with some session work and production from Koops on the latest album; Nusauama features T, O, and M (Koops again) alongside S and N of the band Laster, from Utrecht; Solar Temple is the work of M and O, both creative engines with apparently endless fuel; Imperial Cult is R, O, and T. You could follow the Encyclopaedia Metallum thread as it weaves through 10-plus bands staffed by alternate members of the same small crew.

The Fluisteraars and Turia split De Oord, which clocks in at over 30 minutes, features just one monumental song from each band. Fluisteraars’ contribution, “Overloos,” pays tribute to the Rhine river, which intersects the band’s home town; Turia’s “Aan Den Golven Der Aarde Geofferd” sings of the Waal, which similarly defines the band’s birthplace, Nijmegen. “De Oord” is an old Dutch word for the place where the two rivers meet.

“I met O when I was asked to play drums for a death metal band where he was doing bass and vocals. This was around the time that [Fluisteraars] released Dromers, I think,” Koops told me. “J came by to play my drums when we were having a rehearsal break. He asked me if I could teach him how to do blastbeats.”

Koops had been playing guitar and drumming since around the age of seven, starting with a four-string toy-like guitar. “Apparently I was not always happy with that thing, because at my parents’ house there is still a picture on the wall of the guitar in a trash can,” he said. Koops was less discerning, though, when it came to his choice of percussive instruments. “I used to drum on cardboard boxes and pots and pans until my grandfather gave me a little toy snare drum.”

After graduating to a real guitar, Koops had a strict guitar teacher, who didn’t fail to notice when he hadn’t been practicing. As chance would have it, Nusauama’s Horizon Onheemt, on which he drummed, and Turia’s Degen van Licht, which he helped record, were tracked in the studio where he had guitar lessons, and his teacher’s guitars were still there.

Koops spent a lot of time with his grandparents, frequently outdoors, biking and hiking. Over time, he developed an interest in metal, appreciating the immersive atmosphere conjured by bands like Dissection, Mayhem, and Dimmu Borgir. “The mystery and the combination of mysticism and nature appealed to me,” Koops said. “Later, I began to listen to more pagan and folk things like Thyrfing and Falkenbach.”

At home, Koops’ father, a music fanatic, had bands like the Rolling Stones, Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin on heavy rotation. “At a young age I didn’t like all this, of course, but when I got older I started playing records with my father,” Koops said. “As a result, my taste in music became broader and I started looking for more and more old music. The fact that this music was made way back before I was born really fascinated me. This search has never really stopped since then … I think that this combination of many different music styles and nature has greatly influenced my way of approaching music.” You can occasionally hear this retro warmth and stripped down production on Fluisteraars’ recordings.

When the desire to play metal music grew, he couldn’t find any like-minded individuals and began to record music on his own. “It was there that the idea arose to do as much as possible yourself and to master both instruments better,” he said, a principle reflected on his Metal Archives page. A reputation took hold.

“I met Bob (Fluisteraars’ singer) when I cycled through the village and he asked if I was Mink, and said that he heard I played the guitar. He started singing some Rammstein-like riffs and asked if I could play that.

“Not much later, we met Asher by the local skatepark. He played bass guitar and also listened to metal. That was the moment that Fluisteraars was born.”

In the young scene, Fluisteraars — Dutch for “Whispers” — and its mastermind Koops are comparatively elder statesmen. The band from the town of Bennekom, then comprised of Koops, vocalist Bob Mollema, and bassist Asher De Vries had already put out two small-batch cassette demos on the French label Cold Void Emanations when other bands that would embrace a new style of black metal were just beginning to form.

“When we started Fluisteraars there was no music scene in Bennekom,” Koops said. “In the neighboring villages there was a small punk scene and some death metal bands, but that was not our thing.”

The early Fluisteraars demos are raw but clearly show a creative force on the rise. The grand melodic ambition in the guitar work, which would fully bloom on Dromers, is readily apparent, if not quite as immersive, and Mollema’s vocals are deployed more frequently. Then and now, Mollema’s distinctive and unusually expressive rasp provides a menacing shot in the arm to Fluisteraars’ music, but it is used more sparingly these days. Koops’ approach to the guitar is engrossing and focused on a sort of blanketing power. He creates an immense, immersive world of riffs — never allowing a solo to break up the atmosphere — but alternates between hard-driving pushes and expansive pullbacks. There’s a playful sense of curiosity and wonder in his guitarwork that the bass accentuates, and it guides and entices you forward while hinting at possible discovery and danger around the corner. Only Mollema’s gritty, forceful narration and exasperated cathartic howls, with its perfect timbre for the job, seem able to cut through the rich instrumental topography and create a balance from above.

These elements gelled on the band’s debut LP, 2014’s Dromers. Comprised of just three songs, it features as many cloud-parting, time-stopping moments as many bands in the genre hope to achieve in a career. It also cemented the band’s tendency to go long — the three songs clock in at over 35 minutes in total. Dromers was released on the German label Eisenwald, a black metal tastemaker with global reach.

“The Netherlands did have some very successful bands at the time (both artistically and commercially) such as the Devil’s Blood and Urfaust, but they were not really an inspiration to our music — maybe only in the sense that it could be possible for a Dutch band to get international recognition,” Turia said, speaking collectively as a band. “Seeing [Fluisteraars’] breakthrough success with Dromers back in 2014 was great…. We all come from very similar backgrounds and live in about the same area of the Netherlands, so it was very cool to see our friends releasing such a successful album.”

In the years leading up to the release of Dromers, the musicians that would eventually form Turia were laying the groundwork for their own musical ambitions in nearby Nijmegen, in the east of the Netherlands near the German border. After meeting in high school, a collective of sorts began to take shape that eventually would form the basis of Haeresis Noviomagi, a record label and creative hub at the core of a new Dutch black metal scene.

“Nijmegen had a small but had a very active DIY scene at the time. This drove us to form bands early on,” Turia said. “We were listening to all kinds of stuff, from Black Sabbath to the classic Norwegian black metal albums, but also more experimental stuff like Neurosis and Sunn O))). Not only metal of course, also folk and electronic music, just anything that had dark undertones.”

One of the first bands to emerge from the Haeresis Noviomagi circle was Lubbert Das, a black metal band featuring O and J of Turia that released its debut EP under the Haeresis banner in 2015. Lubbert Das’ music is raw and violent, but it shares DNA and flashes of a common guitar dialect with Fluisteraars, Turia, and other bands that would soon emerge.

“There is a certain trademark in the sound, if you look at projects that share similar members, similar ideas or tastes — specifically if you look at guitar work and certain aspects of songwriting,” Nico, the owner and operator of the German label Eisenwald said. “However, I think that each artist has their own ID and ability to create the tones to their expression.

Following the release of Dromers, Eisenwald would play a critical role in spreading the Dutch sound. To date, the label and Haeresis Noviomagi have published music from Turia, Iskandr, Nusquama, Solar Temple, and more, with Eisenwald handling vinyl and CD production and HN releasing cassettes.

“I only realized that the scene was taking big steps when we released Solar Temple, Iskandr, and the Turia / Fluisteraars split at the same time,” Koops said. “Then people started to talk about the Dutch black metal scene.”

Listening to the collective work of these bands, a kind of regional sound takes shape, tapping into an eastern Dutch terroir. At the foundational level, individual songs are typically immersive and experiential, at times bordering on hypnotic. Structural elements that would give a song a sort of linear narrative are usually sketched loosely. Inundating, trebly, jangly guitars are characteristic, solos are not, and even at their darkest moments bright light shines through. For some bands, there’s a tendency for warbling lone, prophetic guitar notes to hang in the air, like harbingers of doom (Iskandr, Solar Temple) or a dangling, siren-like false hope (Turia, Solar Temple). In the hands of Turia, this effect can come off as Morricone-esque, with a spaghetti western flare. Vocals are infrequent and distant, pained and forceful screams, drums are almost constantly pummeling and raw. Solar Temple is perhaps the strangest and most hypnotic of the group, spurred on by feverish obsession, while Imperial Cult is the heaviest and darkest. Iskandr has some of the grandest, hookiest, forceful melodies, while Nusquama, a favorite for many, sort of assumes the role of a supergroup.

“I think [the Dutch sound] is a very natural thing,” Nico of Eisenwald said. “it is stripped down yet sparkling in its essence. You could call it a purposefully simplified splendor.”

“The Netherlands is a very urbanized and pretty diverse country, without a lot of distinctive natural areas or singular cultural traditions,” one of the members of Turia said. “This has meant bands look for their thematic content in varying areas: the occult and satanic traditions, medieval times, old Germanic and Frisian myths, rural naturalism and folktales, urban decay and depression. What drives the scene at the moment to release so much new music is a tendency towards communal support systems, and a tendency towards productivity and recording quite prolifically.

“Like me, O had an enormous drive to make music and he always did this very tastefully and in an honest way,” Koops said, who watched as O formed Turia with J and T after their early death metal band broke up. “They asked me to come over to see their first gig in a small rehearsal room in Nijmegen. I immediately loved their music. J is a rough diamond on the drums and a lot of fun to watch! And T has these crazy loud screams … I thought Bob sang loud, but nothing was further from the truth.”

Turia has built their sound around their punishing live show, capturing the maelstrom on record. “From the first album Dor until today, all Turia music is recorded live in the studio, all of us performing at the same time,” Turia said. “Of course, there are some overdubs later on, but the main song remains intact: no click tracks, no sneaky effects, just raw performance as the backbone of the production. The challenge, however, is to capture this actual live sound pressure. The sound of the amps running loud in the room, the drums getting beaten up.”

“I’d been aware of Fluisteraars for years but it wasn’t until meeting Turia that I really registered the phenomenon of what was happening in the Dutch black metal scene,” Michael Rekevics, whose work in Vilkacis, Vanum, Vorde, Fell Voices, Ruin Lust, Yellow Eyes, and more rivals that of O and others of the Haeresis Noviomagi circle in prolificness. On the way to play the Kings Of Black Metal festival in Germany with Yellow Eyes in 2016, Vilkacis’ tour got off to a rough start: the band’s van burst into flames on the side of the Autobahn on the second day. Thankfully, the gear was saved, and they narrowly made it to the festival to play their set on time.

“After playing, we set up merch and tried to take care of business while still processing the fucking madness,” Rekevics said. “This was the second day of our first European tour … The last thing any of us wanted to do was deal with punishing nerds. Amidst a particularly exhausting rush (‘Can I try on one of each shirt design in multiple sizes?’ ‘What kind of ink was this printed with?’ ‘What kind of wood is the tape box made of?’ ‘No, I definitely don’t think that is maple,’ etc., etc.) J, the drummer of Turia, came up in a fucking hilariously smooth way. Confidently, assured, he offered me a cigarette.”

J would soon ask if Vilkacis would be interested in doing a split with Turia. Rekevics had never heard of them. After hanging out after the show and being introduced to O and T, and again meeting up with Turia in Amsterdam and Antwerp later on tour, the split was a done deal. To date, Vilkacis is the only non-Dutch band to feature on the Haeresis Noviomagi label.

“The more I learned and the more I heard, initially Turia and Lubbert Das, and then project after project –Iskandr, Nusquama, Solar Temple — the more I identified with and admired what it is that they are doing,” Rekevics said. “I feel as though they are tapping into something similar to what we were searching for and exploring with Fell Voices, but there is also something entirely distinct and unique to their sensibility.”

Fell Voices songs are monumental and immersive, and often cross the 20-minute mark. The band, along with the affiliated Ash Borer, helped define a new kind of experiential, stripped down atmospheric black metal in the US starting in the late 2000s. Like Turia, Fluisteraars, Solar Temple, and others in the Dutch scene, it’s music that is demanding but also exerts a strong gravitational pull as it goes on. It’s polar opposite and directly antithetical in virtually every way to the concept of a “hit” in popular music, metal or otherwise.

“We are of the opinion that a lot of music and movies nowadays are very focused on keeping you constantly highly and emotionally moved,” Turia said. “Something that takes its time and doesn’t fear silence and emptiness jumps out to people.”

Acknowledging the earlier spaghetti Western comparison, Turia sees engrossing, rapt attention born from isolation. “The openness of the landscapes and sets, the small cast of characters, the total desolateness of the all-encompassing desert,” Turia said. “The small gesture, the facial expression, the sudden sounds of gunfire: Everything is more vibrant and pronounced when performed in this vacuum-like context.”

You’ll experience those edge of the seat moments listening to Turia and Fluisteraars, during a transition from eerie quiet to exploding sonic fireworks signaled with the single hit of a snare, or when buzzing energy lingers as reverb fizzles back into weighty anticipatory silence. Careful listening bears rewards, with different layers of brilliance to be found based on the angle of approach.

“It’s extraordinary that they are being recognized and acknowledged for what it is they are doing internationally,” Rekevics said, remarking on the Dutch scene. “Far too often this sort of profound and nuanced art gets overlooked in favor of something easier, or more immediately satisfying.” –Wyatt Marshall

10. Vader – “Into Oblivion”

Location: Olsztyn, Poland
Subgenre: death/thrash

There’s not much to say about Vader at this point. After 37 years and something like 16 albums, they do what they always do: blasting out ripping death that owes more to Slayer than anything. Built on simple thrash patterns, songs are typically short and fast, blunt little stubs meant to kick ass and walk away. It’s more about precision than evolution, tightening the rhythmic screws to get closer and closer to their ultimate form, chasing the abstract ideal of mindless death thrash, whatever it is. I find bands like this fascinating. That they continue to hammer away, cranking out records as a justification to tour, but never once letting up. I’ve listened to their discography straight through four or five times — it’s unnaturally consistent, which makes it interesting in its own right and weirdly fun to subject yourself to. Their worst albums still rule. They’re the rare band whose re-recordings are as good as the originals, if not better. Less committed metalheads might write off the whole enterprise as generic, and they’d be missing the point. This isn’t poetry. There’s no need to experiment with form. Consider it a violent exercise in restraint. [From Solitude In Madness, out now via Nuclear Blast.]Aaron Lariviere

9. Eremit – “Beheading The Innumerous”

Location: Osnabrück, Germany
Subgenre: sludge / doom

It has been a sneaky good year for the slow and low stuff so far: Dirt Woman dropped my album of the summer back when I foolishly thought there was going to be one; Resent twisted a squall of feedback into one of the nastier monuments to Grief-y sludge that I’ve encountered in a bit; and Relic Point maximized its panoramic chuggery, giving Admiral Angry a Cult Of Luna-esque expansiveness. But, I’ve been coming back most often to Desert of Ghouls, Eremit’s new two-song EP that caught me in the middle of a Manowar binge. The German trio does a sort of sword-and-sandals type of epically crawling, atmospherically rich doom sludge. They favor a rather spartan compositional approach, content to wring all they can out of beefy juds, pounding drums, and charred roars. “For me, I love the thickness and physicality that comes with doom,” vocalist and guitarist Moritz Fabian said to the Metal Wanderlust early last year while making the rounds for Eremit’s LP debut, Carrier Of Weight. “The darkness itself and the drowning in it, are for me, not comparable to other [metal] genres.” That comes through on “Beheading The Innumerous,” a track bursting with the kind of wums that could even crack a smile on the face of the deafest Buried At Sea obsessive. Really, if you don’t have access to a subwoofer, you’re missing out. This is music that needs to be felt. But, worry not, this isn’t a tone dork exercise. Eremit’s songwriting hit the right marks hard. The way the telegraphed riff kicks in at 6:39 is a well-worn doom trick, but these three perform it with so much gusto that the result is filthy enough to earn them jail time in most lands governed by theocracies. Bonus: The band’s concept twiddles certain knobs within the nerd-center of my brain. “Eremit as a band is telling a continuous story of a lonesome Eremit (German for hermit) who is sailing on a seemingly endless ocean,” Fabian said. Still, Eremit’s reason for being is the riff. I can report that when they swing it like a big-ass sword, it feels right as hell. Count me among the innumerous. [From Desert Of Ghouls, out 7/17 via Transcending Obscurity Records.]Ian Chainey

8. Umbrae Vitae – “Ethereal Emptiness”

Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: death metal

Umbra Vitae comes with a pedigree, with Jacob Bannon (Converge, etc.) doing duties on vocals and members/former members of the Red Chord, Uncle Acid And The Deadbeats, Job For A Cowboy, Hatebreed et al. joining forces to dive into crisp, modern death metal. “Ethereal Emptiness” is a polished ripper, with a maniacal Bannon a barking menace atop artful chugging that meanders curiously before pummeling a point into submission. It’s rather remarkable what the song packs into three minutes — an atmospheric intro lays the ground for subsequent brutality, which ultimately gives way to a memorable dual guitar outro that points to unknown sounds ahead. As a single bearing the banner for a new project — the track breaks ground on their debut album following an instrumental — you’d be hard pressed to find a better kick-off. [From Shadow of Life, out now via Deathwish Inc..]Wyatt Marshall

7. Okkultokrati – “Loathe Forever”

Location: Oslo, Norway
Subgenre: punk / black metal

For my money, “Loathe Forever” is as good as it gets when it comes to blackened punk. It’s an invigorating shot to the arm, racing from the get-go and driven by big meaty hooks. The snarling vocals are feral and seethingly obnoxious, a stiff upper lip sneer that plays perfectly off the bluesy, black and roll two-step beneath. The track would work as a stripped down ripper, but the big-stage mentality and the overlay of some spooky synths take this to a different level. Okkultokrati make a case for heavy metal barbecue song of the summer here, one that sounds killer on headphones or coming from tinny speakers propped on top of a case of cold ones. A well-timed release. [From La Ilden Lyse, out now via Southern Lord Recordings.]Wyatt Marshall

6. Tyrant – “Hereafter”

Location: Pasadena, CA
Subgenre: heavy metal

Ancient, mostly forgotten doom spuds emerge from nowhere with a beast of a comeback, casting long NWOBHM-shaded shadows from the brutal wilds of Southern California. Just to be clear — this is not the same Tyrant that formed in Los Angeles in 1978, that also played an early variant of doom and would later change their name to Saint Vitus. (Nor should they be confused with any of the other 21 bands listed on Metal Archives under the name “Tyrant.”) No, this Tyrant formed in Pasadena, also in 1978, and they play a slightly different style of doom. It’s more to my liking than Saint Vitus’ stoner murk, if I’m being honest; this Tyrant exudes dark overtones, with a riff-first focus in line with US trad and power metal bands like Omen, Cirith Ungol, and Brocas Helm. But where the early stuff had a lot in common with speed metal due to the vocal style — courtesy of original singer Glen May, who settled into a nice Venom rasp but wasn’t afraid to go full-on banshee when called upon — the new stuff is more squarely doom. In fact, if you’re wondering why this sounds suspiciously like a ramshackle take on Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus, that’s because Robert Lowe, of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus, is now handling vocals. (In 2014, Rob famously described himself as “the best vocalist [Candlemass] ever had.” Which is … certainly a claim.) Tyrant was always pretty close to fantastic, originally rounding out the more traditional side of Metal Blade’s early ‘80s roster. 1987’s Too Late To Pray is a near classic, and their 1985 debut, Legions Of The Dead is still great fun, if definitely a product of its time. But the new direction suits them, and the riffs are stronger than ever. Title track “Hereafter” is the requisite mid-album epic, complete with somber acoustics, a stately, plodding rhythm, and a lyrical nod to one of Candlemass’ best songs. It starts slow, but stick with it. The chorus riff is a crack of heavy metal thunder, untouchable, and one for the ages. [From Hereafter, out now via Shadow Kingdom Records.]Aaron Lariviere

5. Defeated Sanity – “Propelled Into Sacrilege”

Location: Berlin, Germany
Subgenre: brutal death metal

I’ve listened to The Sanguinary Impetus, Defeated Sanity’s forthcoming sixth full-length, about 10 times now. I feel like I’ve heard a different album each play-through. There’s just so much data contained within these songs. They’re, like, absurdly technical lenticulars, shifting depending on where you focus. The vocals are one whole album. Guitars another. Bass another. Drums … Jesus, these drums … many, many more albums. Still, same as it ever was? From Psalms Of The Moribund on, the German death metallers have made a point of pushing past their boundaries. I’m not sure any other band in this sphere would be brave and/or committed enough to tack a Cynic love note onto a burly slammer like Defeated Sanity did on its previous LP, Disposal Of The Dead // Dharmata. The Sanguinary Impetus has that same sort of playfulness, that near-singular ability to pull at the edges of brutal death metal like it’s taffy and reform it into an immediately recognizable sound. Here, though, the slimmed-down three-piece — drummer extraordinaire Lille Gruber has taken on guitars with some guest help, Josh Welshman is back behind the mic following his introduction on the Into The Soil DVD and Chapters Of Repugnance repress bonus bits, and Jacob Schmidt is still bassing it up — has gone wilder while delivering a document that’s somehow more coherent. Early tracks, such as the opener “Phytodigestion,” have a Behold The Arctopus-type widdly restlessness to them, sounding highly composed and improvised all at once. Makes a bit of sense since Colin Marston mixed and mastered it, additionally adding some guitars per the liner notes. (Speaking of, the production here is really something, almost like the listener has been Innerspaced and placed atop Lille Gruber’s kick drum. The music seems to happen all around you. No idea how Marston got that kind of spatial depth. Headphones recommended.) The last three tracks stretch out the brutality, allowing the band to luxuriate in some sturdy slams that still feel like they mutate after every downstroke. The lead stream, “Propelled Into Sacrilege,” is pulled from the latter cohort, showcasing another advanced study in cutting up 100 Suffocation songs and ingeniously flipping them into place like they’re part of a brutal death Rubik’s Cube. That The Sanguinary Impetus hangs together despite its million moving parts is something. But the fact that it does that and is catchy is the thing, a friendly reminder that you can make it in brutal death metal by trying real hard and not relying on derpy deathcore memes. Finally, if the lyrics up on Encyclopaedia Metallum are legit, I think this song is about polar bears. So that’s cool. [From The Sanguinary Impetus, out 7/24 via Willowtip Records.]Ian Chainey

4. Vuur & Zijde – “Zonnestorm”

Location: The Netherlands
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Vuur & Zijde’s debut is another stunning work of atmospheric black metal coming out of the Netherlands, yet another expansion of the tangled, fascinating web of the eastern Dutch scene. Featuring N of Nusquaama and Laster, “Zonnestrom” is as enticing an introduction to a band as I’ve heard in ages. Lush, otherworldly dancing guitars that melt in and out of tune offer a rich base for the sirenesque wails of F, which are both alluring and damning (like the rest of the Dutch in this circle, initials are the way of the road in Vuur & Zijde). Curious, picked, jangly guitars drip into the song like flashes of eerie starlight, and raw relentless drumming are characteristic. With just three tracks to its name, the band is another Dutch band driving black metal further into the unknown. [From Vuur & Zijde / Impavida, out now via Prophecy Productions.]Wyatt Marshall

3. Grief & Bliss – “A Walking Void”

Location: Los Angeles, CA
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

The solo atmospheric black metal project Sadness is no stranger to the Black Market, landing on the column regularly with gorgeous soul-stirring songs full of both hope and beguiling darkness. Sadness could very well be featured here — the project is part of an incredible four-way split titled Hiraeth out this month alongside the bands Soulless (Indonesia), In Autumnus (Scotland), and LA’s Grief & Bliss. In fact, any of the bands on Hiraeth could, and you should listen to it front to back. All four thrive on the juxtaposition of pretty, contemplative instrumental quiet and crashing black metal catharsis. But Grief & Bliss (formerly just “Grief”) achieves a special kind of dreamy, shoegazey wonder. On “A Walking Void,” Grief absolutely nails a balance of cloud-parting brilliance and earthbound turmoil, locking it all down with one of the more satisfying choruses in some time. You’ll hear some of the best of Alcest, Woods Of Desolation, Violet Cold, and even the airy the airy heights of Astronoid. Enjoy one of the best songs of the year. [From Hiraeth, out now via the bands.]Wyatt Marshall

2. Couch Slut – “I’m 14”

Location: Brooklyn, NY
Subgenre: noise rock

Couch Slut’s third full-length, Take A Chance On Rock ‘N’ Roll, reaffirms that noise rock can be one of music’s best vectors for storytelling. Where a band like Black Helicopter would slow-roll sardonic epics, though, Couch Slut is now twisting the knife with vicious economy. “I’m 14” is 59 words long; nearly tweet-sized. And yet, it fully fleshes out song’s character and context, delivering an immobilizing gut punch thanks to killer wordplay.

I open the gate
Cocaine and some other shit
I just turned 14
The manager pierces my clit
My mom doesn’t know
Just where I go once I’m dropped off
I’m on so much pills
I get in exchange for sucking cock
I open The Gate
By director Tibor Takács
In which two young friends
Discover an evil dimension

Shit. I’ve been thinking about that song since the NY quintet surprise-dropped this album at the beginning of this month. And, yeah, I’m burying the lede here: Rock ‘N’ Roll is Couch Slut’s strongest musical work. Absolute top of its game. These nine tracks, including the 48-second piano interstitial by Wiley DeWeese, turn up the inherent tension and unease within the band’s metallized churn. In my mind, it’s because Couch Slut has doubled down on a horror-movie-esque duality. Megan O’s howls and Kevin Wunderlich and Amy Mills’ guitars feel like they could go off the rails like a Lynchian storyline at any time, dipping and diving and tumbling around. On the other hand, the rhythm section, Kevin Hall (bass) and Theo Nobel (drums), keeps pushing everything forward with the unceasing propulsion of a Michael Myers monster. It just won’t stop. This contrast is unnerving as heck, like a watching-a-car-crash-in-slow-motion sensation of dread, that you’re about to see some fucked up shit and there’s nothing you can do about it. On paper, that’s what a lot of noise rock aims to do, but, oh, Couch Slut is inventive. “I’m 14” ends with Mills playing trumpet against a foreboding arpeggio and Hall’s thick bass bzzzzt. At first it sounds like you did the wrong drugs to Sketches Of Spain, a sense of mounting trepidation tickling your amygdala that everything is about go sidewise. Then, when the section’s repetitions swallow you up, disarming you, the trumpet lines start to spin. It’s like you’re having a seizure and you know you’re alone. That attention to atmosphere makes Couch Slut’s already next-level ability to interject absurdity even more surreal. “Someplace Cheap,” the album closer that’s bound to be remembered, builds and builds with deadpan spoken word spinning a horrifically real tale of helplessness, and ends with such a WTF that all you can do is just sit there, wide-eyed, in silence. [From Take A Chance On Rock ‘N’ Roll, out now via Gilead Media.]Ian Chainey

1. Esoctrilihum – “Thritônh (2nd Passage: The Colour Of Death)”

Location: France
Subgenre: black metal

Whatever we’re calling the Quarantimes now, this stumbling homebound purgatory, we can safely say these are bad times. Beyond just the worst of it — sickness and death, looming economic cataclysm, the rise of functionally suicidal protest movements, and the fact that almost six months in, there’s still no plan or believable path forward — there’s a stream of second- and third-order consequences that, even for those of us tucked away indoors, continue to crop up in new and miserable ways, just to keep things interesting.

A personal example: With parenting and working now rolled together into an exhausting jumble of unmet obligations, there is no longer time for anything else. The time I used to reserve to consume piles of incoming metal has mostly fallen away, which makes this monthly writeup a lot harder (never mind finding time to write). Add to that the breakdown of the very concept of time, and you’ve got yourself a party (in reverse). Now I think of “time” not just as an abstract unit of temporal space, but as a thing I once had and took for granted, the absence of which forecloses the possibility of fun; time, precious time, waiting in the wings like some ghostly spirit animal of the Before Times, whose memory taunts me like a goat-footed balloonman, whistling far and wee. Hey, maybe we’ve all come unstuck in time, like Billy Pilgrim, but we can’t see it yet; maybe this is our Dresden. (And so it goes.)

Anyway. If it sounds like I’m coming apart at the seams, I probably am, and I’m accelerating the decline by committing my entire (miniscule) listening bandwidth to this thing, Esoctrilihum’s fifth album, Eternity Of Shaog. If you follow this column, you have an inkling of what to expect. Past Esoctrilihums were…shambling mounds of experimental black/death, overstuffed and overwhelming, far too intense for casual listening but fascinating in a Ulysses kind of way (not outright impenetrable like Finnegan’s Wake). It’s a chitinous stew of claustrophobic death, odd instrumentation, and esoteric nonsense that probably doesn’t even make sense to its solitary creator, who is French and goes by “Asthâghul,” because he is mysterious but flamboyant (i.e., French).

This time around Lord Trilihum dialed back the “density” knob just a hair, and the impact is profound. With an inrush of air, the riffs feel almost human; songs begin to breathe. Over there, that’s a melody you can actually hear with your ears, whereas before you’d kind of imagine it was happening, maybe tell yourself a little story about the melodic line that may or may not exist; this time it’s right up front, clawing through the earwax and doing things to your brain. And there’s so much more organic instrumentation happening, suddenly we’re edging into full-blown symphonic territory. On “Thritônh (2nd Passage: The Colour Of Death)” — a goodly name — I’m pretty sure that’s an oboe that pops up in the middle, for added gravitas.

The sum total is just as weird and wonderful as prior releases, but stripping away a couple layers of complexity makes it easier to grab hold of, easier to position within the broader universe of metal. Behold: shades of Botanist and Lychgate, certainly a whiff of Emperor, maybe some Abigor — all good things. What we lose in sensory overload, we gain in creature comforts, like hooks and songcraft. It’s a fair trade. If time is on the verge of collapse, and we have to spend an eternity somewhere — you could do worse than here. See you in Shaog. [From Eternity Of Shaog, out now via I, Voidhanger Records.]Aaron Lariviere

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