The Month In Metal – July 2020
In 1999, Thomas Andresen said the following to the Russian webzine Vae Solis: “[It was] a good name for us at that time.”
You might recognize Andresen as a member of Algol, a Norwegian band that united ‘90s waves of death metal and black metal on its sole full-length, Entering The Woods Of Enchantment. Or, you might know him as the voice of the reconstituted Fester, another black-plus-death early adopter that was exhumed in 2012 for A Celebration Of Death.
Both of those groups have okay names. Algol, in particular, is uniquely nerdy no matter which disambiguation adventure you choose. Maybe that’s why Andresen was fond of it, stating in the same interview that “the last guitar player we had (Kjell) tried to [change the name], but no way I would let him do it. ALGOL will be with me and die with me.”
Considering how painful the band naming process can be, I don’t blame anyone for taking a “from my cold, dead hands” stance when they find a name that works for them. Isn’t that right, Entombed? However, when Andresen said it was “a good name for us at the time,” he wasn’t referencing Algol. No, he was talking about Algol’s previous incarnation: Buttocks.
I’ll let that sink in.
Buttocks wasn’t even the first band named Buttocks. That honor goes to West German punk band the Buttocks. That Buttocks released a posthumous compilation in 1985 titled Fuckin’ In The Buttocks. There’s an earlier example of a musical buttocks on the books: Charlies, a lightly prog Yardbirds-y rocker from Finland, named its 1970s sophomore outing Buttocks. Imagine not even grabbing Buttocks first.
How did the death metal Buttocks settle on its name, then? According to Andresen: “Well, the first name we had was SEANCE, a really good but not very original name. At that time we also [played] a lot more [hardcore] music. We had SEANCE for about 3-4 months. Then the singer [left] and we changed the name to BUTTOCKS.”
Hm. Andresen and company landed on Seance in 1989, a year before the Swedish salt-rubbers adopted it. The only other Seances I can find that held the name earlier were the Swiss EBM entity Séance, gothy British post-punkers Seventh Séance, and, maybe, Pittsburgh power metal quintet Seance. Maybe: The power metal Seance was also minted in 1989, but the quintet didn’t release anything until 1992, and then … who knows. Its one, surprisingly solid, EP Pray For Me is it. Since it’s a repress candidate, someone should convene a meeting and try to contact them.
Anyway, while it’s possible that 1980s Norway was swimming in bar bands named Seance, the available fossil record shows that Andresen’s crew probably could’ve stuck it out with its first choice if they didn’t mind the non-metal antecedents. I mean, why not, there are 20 metal bands named Cerberus.
Instead, they powered on with Buttocks, releasing four demos between 1990 and 1991. The last one, Urcemurcel Turkus, is even pretty good for what it is. In a fairer world, it would’ve earned Buttocks a backing. Ah, but the band was named B-U-T-T-O-C-K-S.
“In the beginning many bands [are] insecure about the way they shall go; so were we,” Andresen said. “It started out as [a] fun band and developed into a bit more serious one.” (I emailed both Fester and its previous PR team. I was unable to reach Andresen for comment.) When it came time to buckle down, to hunt for greater success without the burden of Buttocks, the band became Algol.
Here’s the thing: While the path to and from Buttocks is one of the more inscrutable journeys I’ve come across lately, it’s not that unusual of a name for a metal band. I mean, metalheads reliably chip in a few entries into A.V. Club’s “Worst Band Names” series. Of course, metal isn’t the only genre plagued with goofball names. Hello, Sniff ‘N’ The Tears. But, since metal already has such a high barrier of ludicrousness that listeners need to scale to in order to enjoy its sound and presentation, names that would sink bands in more commercially minded genres are allowed to persist. Metal bands with bad names get signed. Metal bands with bad names release albums. Metal bands with bad names have careers. It doesn’t seem like it’s much of a penalty. To an extent, it’s just another element of the overall heavy metal experience.
Indeed, when constructing this very column, we typically come across a handful of Buttockses every month. A sampling of July’s abundant harvest: Nug, Undeath, Amateur Podiatry, Fuckopalypse, and Latrines. Would you namecheck any of those bands on a blind date? (“Actually, in its liner notes, Latrines nods to Georges Bataille, who you may know as the author of The Solar Anus. Hey, don’t leave, the breadsticks just got here!”) And yet, some of those bands are good.
Because of this not uncommon disconnect between band name and music quality, I’ve become so inured to bad names that they rarely catch my attention. To wit, I was legitimately excited to learn there’s a new Arsebreed album on the horizon. Granted, as the Name Of The Year Bracket reliably demonstrates, this is all subjective. Maybe you think Arsebreed is a great name. Whatever. The point, though, is that the ridiculousness of that one doesn’t even register anymore.
This is the way of life in a culture where the biggest band is named Metallica and proto-metal forebears include Sir Lord Baltimore and Vanilla Fudge, names that were lovably dumb long before it felt like metal was scraping the bottom of the coffin for original monikers. I just expect metal bands, in their never-ending quest to escalate extremity and relive the past, to land on some pretty bad names. As a consequence, it’s like I’m blind to band names. Well, most of them.
How did I get like this? Do band names in metal matter? And what happens when you choose to opt out, settling on a symbol instead of a name? To help answer these questions, I reached out to Anthony Shore.
Shore is the “Chief Operative” of Operative Words, an agency he started in 2009. The bungalow elevator pitch is that he helps interested parties name themselves and their products. In other words, he’s a professional namer and has been working within that space for over 25 years. The gig, though, is a bit more complicated than abracadabra-ing appellations, involving additional elements such as teasing out “novel descriptors,” constructing “nomenclature systems,” and performing tasks like “global trademark and domain screening.” Nevertheless, as human nature demands, you now want to see Shore’s goods: Yum! Brands, the corporation that operates KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, the Habit Burger Grill, and WingStreet, is one of his. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, the series of semiconductors that became a smartphone staple, was a naming project he helped direct. There are literally hundreds more.
“I’m proud of some names I’ve done lately,” Shore tells me over Zoom. “A company that used to be called Software Motor Company is now called Turntide. They make super efficient motors. If the engines were to be deployed across the globe, they would immediately have an impact on climate change. It’s really hard to come up with a name in the category of energy efficiency or sustainability. It’s kind of like metal band naming where you’ve got really tight parameters and the challenge is to find something different.”
Shore’s naming process, which was detailed in a New York Times Magazine piece in 2015, is exhaustive. Leaning on his educational background in linguistics and its computational cousin, he comes up with hundreds if not thousands of names for every project, utilizing tools ranging from in-depth interviews with clients to artificial intelligence (AI) to old-school creative techniques that are like brain games for word nerds. “To name well, you must name abundantly,” is the first line in his blog post “How To Name: Explore Concepts, Not Words.” It might as well be his operating principle. He’ll go to great lengths to get a good name.
“I’m a big believer in technology, software as an adjunct to creative thinking,” Shore answers after I ask how he uses artificial intelligence. “I like relying on software to help me discover things that my one wee brain could not discover itself.”
As an example, Shore walks me through the different facets of a computer-based approach. “Let’s say I like the word ‘gray.’ I can call up a database of 30 billion words and say, ‘Why don’t you tell me 5,000 nouns that pair with the word gray in real-world usage.’”
“That, in and of itself, is wildly inspirational, because it’s showing me all of these different ways that gray has naturally paired with other words,” Shore says. “And some of them are going to be trite or so commonplace that they’re boring. But other associations may not be. You’re tapping into the minds of millions because this database is based on real-world text output of how people have talked or typed.”
That sorted database is just the start. Shore will combine the words he has found with other promising candidates pulled by the same method. He’ll then concatenate the lot, creating a fresh list of names adhering to a trainable logic that he’ll upload into a neural network. “The neural net looks at these combinations and words and it starts coming up with its own ideas. It’s seeking to mimic, but not duplicate, what I fed it in the first place. It’s coming up with new ideas that are original and yet they’re based on something that has already been done. And so the neural net offers the opportunity to do a corpora exploration, an exploration of how words associate and collocate with real-world speech.” By adjusting the neural net’s “temperature,” or its “relative creativity,” he can refine the output.
Not that Shore is bound only to AI. He demonstrates how one could achieve the same effect with pen, paper, and a resource like WordNet, Princeton University’s lexical database for English. I listen as he leaps from word category to word category, node to node, like a linguistics version of an Uncharted game, quickly transforming “sadness” into “catatonia.” “By going up and down, by looking at what other nodes you can explore, you can open up entire worlds of associations,” he says. “You’re discovering entire domains of meanings and words that are all related.”
Still, while these processes can help hurdle the word fatigue endemic in industries prone to mimic proven successes, choosing a good name is a trickier procedure. “Naming is difficult and it’s fraught,” Shore reminds me. “It’s very easy for naming projects to run off the rails.” And, I have to think that’s because of the underlying complexities of names in general.
In “What’s In A Name?,” a three-part series that ran on the New York Times’ Opinionator in 2012, Errol Morris dives into names, the associations we attach to them, and how they’re used to either substantiate or subvert identity. In the first piece, Morris unpacks an interesting thought-nugget found in philosopher John Stuart Mill’s 1843 work A System Of Logic: Ratiocinative And Inductive. Mill lays the groundwork for his argument by quoting Thomas Hobbes. Here’s Hobbes’ hot take from his 1655 book De Corpore:
A Name is a word taken at pleasure to serve for a mark, which may raise in our mind a thought like to some thought we had before, and which being pronounced to others, may be to them a sign of what thought the speaker had before in his mind.
And here’s Mill’s million dollar question: “Are names more properly said to be the names of things, or of our ideas of things?”
As Errol Morris points out, John Stuart Mill thinks names are just the names of things. Morris pulls these quotes as evidence: “Proper names are not connotative: they denote the individuals who are called by them; but they do not indicate or imply any attributes as belonging to those individuals.” And then Mill winds up for the knockout blow: “Proper names are attached to the objects themselves, and are not dependent upon the continuance of any attribute of the object.”
And it’s like, sure, John Stuart Mill. I guess so. No matter the associations that a name takes on, the name is still the name of the thing. And, if something changes, the name doesn’t necessarily have to change, although I bet Batushka could offer some insight here. Fine. Makes sense.
I would, uh, sure like to wear my Isis shirt out in public again, though.
“Names are fluid,” Shore reminds me before I can bore him with my Mosquito Control laments. “Another way to look at it is that names are absorbent. Names absorb the qualities and associations of the things that they refer to.”
So … are band names really not connotative? This is when something as elemental as naming becomes a bit of a brain sprain.
Consider the following sentence: “Decayed Flesh sounds like classic Suffocation.” My intention is to use Suffocation’s name as a stand-in for the identifiable stylistic elements of its music. “Suffocation,” in this sense, means a grimy, brutal death metal sound. By modifying that name with “classic,” it also becomes shorthand for a value judgment. In turn, by aligning Decayed Flesh with Suffocation, it elevates Decayed Flesh’s perceived standing.
Now, I could make that same statement by delving into the music theory behind why I think Decayed Flesh is good, and I would be a much better writer if I did. That said, provided that you and I know Suffocation’s music and appreciate its “classic” period, I can approximate the same effect with two words. There’s a lot of data packed in that name if our assumptions align, which is why FFO and RIYL sticker marketing is effective.
Here’s my [*extremely Lil Wayne voice*] Millian question, then: Does the example above demonstrate that Suffocation has name recognition or is its name simply an easier way to convey that Suffocation has great music recognition? Hold on, let me run that through the galaxy brain filter. Which is more important in metal: Name recognition or music recognition?
I tend to think that music recognition is more important. Let me now back away from that extremely controversial opinion.
- I’ll concede that I’m being irrationally optimistic since I’m basically saying that good, important music will eventually be recognized. It would be nice if that world existed, right?
- I have to reiterate that this take, and in fact anything written in this intro, only holds true for metal and metal band names. How names and identity function in others spaces is a different bag of beans.
- I’m an idiot.
With that out of the way, it’s also worth making an important distinction: To me, name recognition is often a byproduct of music recognition. While inextricably linked, the two are not synonymous. Bands that court controversy or focus on theatrics can gain name recognition without having music recognition. You can know of and appreciate GWAR without having heard a shred of its music. But, by and large, we know bands’ names because we know their music. In a longterm sense, the quality of the name isn’t as important.
That’s not to say that careers can’t be hamstrung by a bad name. Italy’s Gory Blister has been making competent technical death metal for decades. Its first two albums are pretty good. Its name sucks. (Yes, to be fair, we did name a band Fatty Carbuncle and my given first name is pronounced like a drunk struggling to read an eye chart. Touché.) It sucks so badly, I wouldn’t be surprised if it keeps people from listening to the band. To put it another way, that’s when a name is important: onboarding new listeners, inspiring that initial instance of engagement. There’s so much music, why would you waste time on a band with a name that not only doesn’t grab you, but woefully misses the mark unless it comes to you via a convincing recommendation? (Again, first two albums.)
However, is that the fault of the name alone? Could it also be a failure of marketing and other exposure-widening avenues? Because, anecdotally, it feels like metalheads will acclimate to ridiculous names if the music is good enough and will normalize bad names if that music is influential enough. If that’s accurate, then band names aren’t “good” or “bad” so much as they are familiar or unfamiliar.
To drive this home, take a look at Empath, a visualized “band similarity index.” If you’re not a heavy metal convert, this must look like a Scrabble dictionary for sadists. And yet, the bigger, bolder names are so familiar to your average metalhead that they’re no longer proper nouns but whole chapters in certain styles’ stories. It’s the smaller names, then, the ones that haven’t reached the same commonality within the community, that look weird. What is “A Million Dead Birds Laughing”? That band’s fanbase knows, though, and if the group breaks out and becomes influential enough, so will the rest of us.
“Words have different associations and have different import at different levels,” Shore explains to me. “So, to a single person, they’re going to have their own idiosyncratic associations with their name based on their own experiences. Then, there may be a group of people around them that collectively have certain associations with a name. If you keep expanding that circle outward, you’re going to find that these associations become more and more complex. It’s something that’s governed at the individual level, group level, tribe level, community level, society level, language level, and all of these different levels. You’re going to find that the shades of meanings are different.”
Later, Shore sums it up like this: “Your familiarity will help you see nuance.”
Some bands successfully leverage a listener’s familiarity, telegraphing what they’re trying to get across through their name. Think of all of the bands that derive their name from influential song or album titles. But, I also wonder if that kind of familiarity can backfire.
For example, I got a promo for Evil Warriors’ new EP, Schattenbringer. Based on the band name alone, I had the German four-piece pegged as a rehash thrash band that maybe mixed in some elements of death metal. There’s a reason for that. At the time I’m writing this, 173 bands in the Encyclopaedia Metallum have a two-word band name that starts with “evil.” 67 of those have a variant of “thrash” listed within their genre tags. 61 have “death metal.” (The pool of two-word names that end with “warriors” is much smaller, counting only 14 bands. Of those, the leading genre is, as expected, power metal.) For your appraisal, here’s Schattenbringer:
While Evil Warriors’ Encyclopaedia Metallum genre is “Death/Thrash/Black Metal,” which is cheating and probably a vestigial categorization held over from its demo days, Schattenbringer sounds to me like straight-up black metal. And, I’ve got to say, this still flummoxes me. How are you guys named Evil Warriors! I almost skipped this!
So, much to the delight of John Stuart Mill’s ghost, I have to ask: Is my familiarity Evil Warriors’ fault? No. These aren’t associations that the name has absorbed so much as they’re associations I’ve absorbed by way of cultural forces. You can see this more clearly in band names that look weird to English speakers but make sense in their native tongues. the the Myth is a perfect example of this. I guess a supremely savvy band could try to control for an intended listener’s familiarity when choosing a name, but these kinds of complications are why I don’t blame bands that try to skip the naming step altogether.
(0), a Danish quintet, released SkamHan on Napalm Records this year. It’s a neat mix of post-metal and black metal with its own flavor of avant-garde inclinations. When I ask over email why (0), a name the group writes out in its Bandcamp URL as “parentes0parentes,” the band answers, “Because we felt that (0) was the closest to a void band name we could get.”
The origin of (0) can be traced back to a philosophical discussion that the band had upon forming. “We asked ourselves this question: Why do band names even exist? The answer would be about things that have nothing to do with music,” the band writes, getting to, ahem, the heart of the matter much faster than I have. “Band names are used for communicating about music, and it’s used commercially. Thus (0) appeared in a conversation about a band name. We wanted a name that emphasizes that the music is the center of attention. No word could really express that, so we ended up with as little as possible — a zero in parentheses. Ideally it would have been just a void, but even to us it was obvious that that would probably make things too complicated for the listener.”
I asked Shore for his assessment of (0). “That’s one of those situations where the name is going to have certain meaning to people who are already tuned in to the ‘in’ language,” he answers. “It’s cryptography. Or, a shibboleth. It’s a secret handshake that’s within a name. If you know how to call it parentes0parentes, then you’re in.”
This type of “secret handshake” is a heavy metal specialty, of course. It might even be heavy metal bedrock, a quality essential to the fandom. It’s that fundamental metal feeling that you get it and others don’t. (It must be said that groups have used that handshake for more nefarious means, such as the racist bands that hide in plain sight, subtly nodding to likeminded donkuses through context clues.)
(0) and other no-namers like 01101111011101100110111001101001 seem to be after something bigger than just the handshake, though. Refusing a name almost seems like a reaction to capitalism and the commodification of identity.
Be that as it may, (0) is still, you know, out there selling records. This is something that isn’t lost on the band. “(0) is not a commercial project, but we do acknowledge that signing with a major label like Napalm Records is a huge leap into the commercial world of music. It’s a paradox which is both challenging and interesting, and it’s something we’ve spent a lot of time discussing internally in the band. One could argue that the ultimate way of being anti-commercial is by never releasing any music. We briefly considered that, while recording our 2017 EP, but found the idea a bit too extreme. Instead we focus on being completely honest when creating music, and letting the art guide us instead of commercial consideration.”
Shore also recognizes (0)’s intriguing duality. “There’s a tension there, a dynamic at play. On the one hand, it’s not helpful if people literally don’t know how to refer to it, at least in speech. When radio was a thing, that would’ve been a real obstacle. In this day and age, when a lot of stuff is written out, it kind of doesn’t matter. On the other hand, it’s always valuable having something that’s descriptive.”
And, to an extent, (0) has already seen a return on that value. While the band acknowledged that the name made things more difficult “in terms of promotion, search engines, and streaming platforms,” it still managed to generate a buzz just by being different. “The name did attract some attention in Denmark after the release of our EP and was a partly responsible for the hype around the band — even though [it was] unintended.”
This reminds me of something Shore said early on in our conversation: “I say, and others who also name things generally believe, that a great name is never going to make up for a shitty project. And, a bad name will typically not torpedo the potential success of a good product.” And yet, he asks, if you’re given the choice, shouldn’t you choose a name that won’t create “friction in terms of how you’re perceived?”
Which, of course, brings us back to “good” names. What is a good name? “A good name is forever,” Shore responds. “A good name will never wear out. A good name will never outgrow the thing that it refers to. I look at the staying power of names, the name’s ability to always be relevant. And, to some extent, to always keep people engaged. Some names are a dialogue and others are a monologue.”
Is (0) a good name? For what it’s worth, I like it, although I’ve been influenced by the band’s canny explanation. It’s certainly a dialogue, raising interesting questions regarding the role of band names in metal. And, for now, it’s unique, with only a few other bands employing the same concept. A (0), 0N0, 0, 0-Nun tour package would be the ultimate music recognition experiment. But will (0) scale with the band? Will (0) still seem unique years from now? (Years, he said. In the middle of a pandemic.) That’s what we can’t see.
My takeaway, then, is that it’s hard to get a band name right because it’s hard to envision where you’re going to be in the future. After all, you never know what is going to go wrong. I agree with Shore that you should at least try to find a name that truly speaks to you and the people you want as supporters. You could end up with a name that last forever. Or … you could end up naming your band Buttocks. A good name at the time, right? Then again, here I am, writing about Buttocks all of these years later. –Ian Chainey
10. Rebel Wizard – “The Mind Is Not Your Friend”
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Subgenre: black metal
The delightfully bonkers Rebel Wizard hits like a fucked up tornado, ripping erratically and with force. Big blazing riffs and double-quick mechanical drumming are driving and sharp, sounding at times as if they could have been pulled from some radical early ’90s VHS extreme sports compilation. Wildman mountaintop solos fire out of nowhere, and the vocals are an absolute mess. In lesser hands, this might all fall apart, but here, it completely rules. Take all this and throw in the name “Rebel Wizard” and you’re looking at one chaotic package that could be parody if it weren’t so good. I’ve got nothing else, enjoy. [From Magickal Mystical Indifference, out now via Prosthetic Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
9. Decayed Flesh – “Abyss Of Misery”
Location: Pemalang, Indonesia
Subgenre: brutal death metal
Decayed Flesh belongs to a vibrant Indonesian brutal death metal scene that I’ve wanted to cover for a bit. If I remember correctly, and that’s a real gamble with my burned-out brain, we previously spotlighted RAW, Aditya Prakoso’s standout solo project, in a micro-blurb capacity. But there are so many other solid bangers slamming around that scene doing a cacophonous and catchy take on BDM. For example, take Forbiducation, another highlight that calls Jakarta-based label Brutal Mind home. Colossal Greedy showcases the band’s technical chops but sneaks in a ton of hooks via the vocal patterns and well-timed slams. Stuff like that is why the slam industrial complex is way ahead of me, taking notice of Indonesia’s BDM ascendancy years ago. New Standard Elite, pretty much the name in slam at the moment, has released top-notch offerings from Chalera, and Reduced, not to mention selections from scene vets like Lumpur.
Anyway, Decayed Flesh. I feel like I’m going to get flambéed in the comment sections for pushing my niche brutal death obsession over, like, Havukruunu (which is really good! Check back next month!). But, I have to be honest about what’s dominating my ear holes. Right now, it’s this trio’s debut full-length, Eternal Misery. Whoever is writing Brutal Mind’s PR copy has a good handle on appropriate comparisons, a rarity in the liner notes game. “To maniacs of Deeds Of Flesh, Severed Savior, and Inveracity, be sure you won’t miss it!” Bingo. To me, the band also grasps the correct, non-face-melty Holy Grail: Decayed Flesh sounds like classic Suffocation. “Abyss Of Misery” has that Pierced From Within flow, finding a middle ground between roach-scurrying leads and chunky beatdowns. Not a world-changer, but undeniably solid and the soundtrack to my summer. [From Eternal Misery, out now via Brutal Mind.] –Ian Chainey
8. Palace Of Worms – “Through The Dark Arches”
Location: Oakland, CA
If time no longer has meaning, it won’t matter if I bend the laws of temporality to report on something I missed covering last month, something well worth your time. Some of you might recall Palace Of Worms from prior appearances in this very column. At the time, I called them/him (it’s really just the one dude, Balan, but I suppose the worms are plural) “genre-hopping experimental black metal” that “goes one further than most by wrapping its schizophrenic tendencies in perfectly wrought pathos.” And that’s what they were, then. Turns out genre-hopping was more of a feature than a bug, as they’ve since ditched the schizoid black metal entirely only to re-emerge in whole cloth as a death/doom band. I remember thinking something was up on their 2017 split with Ecferus, which I dutifully covered at the time, noting that this wonderfully strange black metal “band” was suddenly playing “bludgeoning death metal … owing more to Asphyx and Dismember than the usual black metal suspects.” And here they are three years later, sounding like an entirely different band. This is death/doom of the Peaceville Three variety — endless chugs and chiming leads dripping in gothic iconography and fuliginous textures. In other words, it’s darkness with weight. I’m not sure what led to the change, but it’s worth noting Balan’s live band now includes fellow Oakland death spuds Shelby Lermo of Ulthar and Vastum and Chad Gailey of Necrot, Vastum, and Mortuous, among others. Death is the future, apparently. Title track and EP closer “Through The Dark Arches” is a shuddering slice of gloom splashed with death rock, complete with a morbid ambient outro that sounds like the Crystal Cathedral going up in flames. Glorious. [From Through the Dark Arches, out now via the band.] –Aaron Lariviere
7. High Spirits – “We Are Everywhere”
Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: heavy metal
When it all feels like it’s tumbling down in the wider world, High Spirits arrives when we need them most. Chris Black’s nostalgic, buoyant, no-frills homage to rock, metal, and hope has always been on the nose, and it feels so right. “We Are Everywhere” nails all the sweet spots, riffing toward the horizon with conviction and multiple backing vocal tracks. With a stripped down sound and clinical precision, Black makes all the acrobatics sound so easy. Right away, the song earns a spot in the line of great High Spirits earworms that have come before. The final track on the new album, near-constant wailing solos guide “We Are Everywhere” towards the end, where anything seems possible. As Black says, “Make it last forever.” [From Hard To Stop, out now via High Roller Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
6. M.S.W. – “Obliviosus”
Location: Salem, OR
M.S.W. is the person behind Hell. The, uh, sludgy doom band, to be clear. Hell is no stranger to these parts, as we’ve lauded M.S.W. and his guests’ quest to revivify a staid style. In that sense, M.S.W.’s Obliviosus is undeniably Hellish. The ridiculously rich guitar tone rattles speakers with thick wums. Compositions build up and break down satisfyingly, sating expectations while still bristling with where’s-this-going kinetic energy. And, M.S.W. pulls from a subtly varied palette, using other genres, like dramatic atmo black metal, to add shade without obscuring the core sound. Yep, all of that is present and accounted for. Obliviosus, though, is something else. Maybe you can hear it on the instrumental “Funus,” a heartsick, reflective exhale that pairs piano with Gina Eygenhuysen’s aching violin. The liner notes make it clear: “This album is dedicated to my brother R.A.W. and his struggle with addiction and how it has affected the rest of our family for over a decade now.” The last sentence of that paragraph is the punch to the stomach, indelibly familiar if rarely spoken by millions of families: “The struggle is never ending.” Ugh. Yeah, familiar. Maybe that’s why the near 20-minute title track hits so hard. “Brain dead and manipulated/ As you dig your hole/ Your tomb/ Wandering under our graves.” Wandering under our graves. Shit. The music that swallows up those lyrics is similarly real, raw. It nails the manic flips between resigned acceptance and blinding fury. It nails that you’re forever tethered to a person who abandoned you, that they’ll drag you with them even when they try to escape you. It nails how crescendos, though cathartic, don’t deliver absolution. And the droning hum of the song’s final quarter nails how the dust never settles. [From Obliviosus, out now via Gilead Media.] –Ian Chainey
5. Faceless Burial – “Ravished To The Unknown”
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Subgenre: death metal
Way back in 2018, Ian had the foresight to include Faceless Burial’s second release, the Multiversal Abattoir EP, in one of his many themed end-of-year lists. Clocking in at #3 on the appropriately titled “SPUDS” list, he neatly summed up their existence by writing, and I quote: “Just a healthy tuber doling out great solos.” We at the Black Market had kept an eye on Faceless Burial to that point, as we monitor the progress of all healthy tubers hacking away at the spud circuit, and I’m pretty sure their first album, Grotesque Miscreation, just missed out on coverage in 2017. To be honest, I still remember that distinctive goat-thing on the cover like it was yesterday, which probably says something about me. Anyway, two years have passed since last we heard from our fibrous heroes, and in that time they’ve leveled up mightily by signing to Dark Descent, surely a sign of good things to come. It came as a shock, then, when I first heard Faceless Burial’s latest album, Speciation, and I realized they are no longer just a healthy tuber doling out great solos. They went and evolved. Now they’re something stranger, with a brighter drum tone, sporadic melodic bits and even some Atheist-ic progressive stuff. Album closer “Ravished To The Unknown” sashays between grinding death and blackened clangor, with plenty of regressive brutality spattered about but not so much it drowns out the band’s unmissable exploratory edge. See the spastic slap-bass freakout at the 3:15 mark, which happens exactly once and slaps you straight in the ear like a pair of weaponized truck nuts swung with reckless abandon. It’s that kind of batshit detail layered over otherwise thoughtful riff structures that sets apart the new and improved Faceless Burial. While I may still mourn the spud we knew, this new development is something special. [From Speciation, out 8/7 via Dark Descent Records / Me Saco Un Ojo Records) with Dark Descent Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
4. Idle Hands – “It Doesn’t Really Matter”
Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: heavy metal / goth
Idle Hands debut LP Mana was one of the best albums of 2019, a masterful blend of big hair heavy metal and goth that became an instant classic and earned the band an opening slot for King Diamond on his latest North American tour (as well as a spot on the cancelled 2020 installation of the Decibel Magazine Tour featuring Abbath and Mayhem). Before it all fell apart this year, the band managed to record “It Doesn’t Really Matter,” a track that encapsulates everything that makes the band great. The song’s hopeless inspiration is ultimately liberating, a turn played out in the juxtaposition of frontman Gabriel Franco’s distinctive despondent baritone and the big energy instrumentation shot through with full-moon magic. This track, and its backing partner on the EP Don’t Waste Your Time II, were originally written alongside their first EP, part the first, in 2017. The same dark heart beats strong here, and the fan favorite “OOOHs” are as satisfying as ever. [From Don’t Waste Your Time, out now via Lone Fir Records / Eisenwald.] –Wyatt Marshall
3. Necrot – “Stench Of Decay”
Location: Oakland, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Rip off the bandage, breathe the stench. I love that death metal bands of a certain breed still revel in generic-ass death imagery. They are the true tunnel-visioned spuds among us, condemned to sing of bodies and graves and death and decay for eternity, reminding us of our final destination while slamming us in the head with chungus riffs and brain dead lyrics. In this world, there is no higher purpose than idiot death metal. The template was born in the earliest days of the genre, across a wave of perfect, and perfectly stupid, albums like Obituary’s Slowly We Rot, Autopsy’s Mental Funeral, and Grave’s Into the Grave. Necrot knows the drill. Stick to death. Stick to meaningless band names that sound sufficiently deathly. Stick to killing all life with riffs and nothing but. “Stench Of Decay” does exactly that, and Necrot’s commitment to the bit is admirable, maybe even artful. What starts with a stream of semi-melodic Dismember riffs quickly leads to a sick Bolt Thrower part, and from there a triumphantly funereal solo that takes us all the way to a morbid series of squelching Incantation squealies, and … be still, my rotting heart. [From Mortal, out 8/28 via Tankcrimes.] –Aaron Lariviere
2. Silver Knife – “This Numinous Loom”
Location: Belgium / Netherlands / France
Subgenre: black metal
“This Numinous Loom” is remarkable, an engrossing study in contrasts. It rages but is tender, it rips frigidly while exuding bodily warmth. The track drops you straight in, where pounded out riffs inundate a hypnotic ringing motif. The melancholic tour de force that follows sometimes reminds me of Agalloch, with mid-tempo relief scratching the itch. But, more often, this all-out blasts, and the influence of the other bands that Silver Knife musicians “D,” “H,” “N,” and “P” play in is just as clear. Dutch atmospheric black metal masters Nusquama and Laster are on that list, and fans of the incredible recent output from the Netherlands will also recognize the single-initial naming convention that shields Silver Knife members’ identities. That the track manages to corral the tensions at its core into such a satisfying, monumental, and elegant stream is thanks in part to Mare Cognitum’s Jake Buczarski, who mastered the band’s thrilling debut album. [From UNYIELDING / UNSEEING, out 8/19 via Amor Fati Productions / a href=”https://entropicrecordings.bandcamp.com/”>Entropic Recordings.] –Wyatt Marshall
1. Inexorum – “The Breaking Point”
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Subgenre: black metal / melodic death metal
Another one I meant to cover earlier, but alas — Inexorum’s majestic second album dropped in late June, meaning there’s nothing stopping you from snapping it up now and departing this mortal plane on wings of harmonized leads. I wrote about their first album in 2018, a bombastic slice of meloblack set to pounding programmed drums, which were almost too much but wound up being just right. Here, guitarist/vocalist/drum-programmist Carl Skildum — who does double duty as Obsequiae’s live guitarist — nails the drum mix, and the songs positively shine as a result. Inexorum shares Obsequiae’s obsession with layers of swirling leads, but Inexorum is less pastoral, more explosive, leaning harder into the sounds of the original Swedish bands that pioneered this style. Think back to the melodic black metal bands like Dawn and Dissection; early folk-tinged efforts from melodeath gods In Flames and Dark Tranquility; and the melodic black/death mastery of Necrophobic (who also have a new single this month, and it’s quite good) and Sacramentum. It’s a grand lineage, one rarely explored these days besides a few outliers like Thulcandra, the Spirit, or maybe Insomnium. On “The Breaking Point,” Inexorum takes that sound as a starting point and cracks it wide, mining the melodic potential of harmonized leads but focusing on the mournful tones between the notes. The middle section strips away the clatter to give the wistful solo that much more room to breathe. It sticks with you in a way most music won’t, or can’t. [From Moonlit Navigation, out now via Gilead Media.] –Aaron Lariviere