The Month In Metal – September 2020
This is a fake mailbag between the dumbest part of my brain and a slightly less rot-infested lobe.
Are there more live albums being released now than ever before? – Ian, parts unknown
Dream Theater is the newest band to announce that it’s launching a live album into 2020’s ever-expanding black hole. The appropriately titled Distant Memories – Live In London, recorded during a forgotten marker of time that historians refer to as “February,” will be available in late November. It feels like it’s one of a billion other live albums currently in circulation. We’ll probably use these things as change when we finally run out of coins next week. “Hi, sorry, can you break a Live Shit: Binge & Purge?”
So, what’s up? Initially, I chalked up the veritable storm surge of live albums to a version of a frequency illusion, in that I knew live shows/tours had been scuttled by COVID-19, so any mention of an alternative (live albums, live streams, idiots in Rona-denial death cults still trying to host in-person events, etc.) was more likely to catch my attention.
Nope! It appears that there’s some truth backing up the feeling that we’re newly live album rich. Based on an advanced search on Encyclopaedia Metallum, 2020 holds the record for most live albums released through the first nine months of the year.
The current count is 310. And, considering that I pulled this data on September 26, it’s possible that a few more have trickled in to pad 2020’s record-setting pace. For comparison, that’s, uh, 209 more than the entirety of the ‘80s, a decade I consider awash in wax-captured concerts. Check this out:
Even taking into account the recent norm-setting escalation that peaked with 371 in 2016, it’s … still kind of nuts how many live albums hit the streets every year, even if they continue to have a small footprint when it comes to metal releases at large.
If you combined live albums with their studio cousins, the former would’ve made up only 3 percent of LPs in the ‘80s. In the ‘10s, that number crept up to 4 percent. But, check out the total number of live albums in those decades. ‘80s: 101. ‘10s: 3,246. I write this often, but it feels apt to type it again: Metal, there’s a lot of it.
“I think the most obvious reason for the proliferation of live records in the last decade or so is sheer ease of recording,” friend of the column and Wild Hunt bassist Avinash Mittur told me over email. “In the last, maybe, 15 years, digital mixing consoles are have become the norm in venues rather than the exception. And in the last maybe 5-10 years, many of them have been offering direct multitrack output. Meaning you can plug in a computer via USB, Thunderbolt or whatever interface the console offers, and record literally every mic’d up piece — vocals, guitars, bass, snare, kick, toms, audience noise, you name it — with hardly any effort. It’ll probably sound pretty damn good and can be mixed/checked by the band after the fact. And this can be done in bars, clubs, arenas, theaters, you name it. No need to commit to ‘these are the dates that will be recorded for a live album’ when you can record literally every single performance and pick the best one later. Or hell, maybe make a composite! See Iron Maiden’s Flight 666 as an example of that, with every track coming in from a different part of the world, but the quality being uniformly excellent.”
Makes sense! I’ll add in that, with the rise of streaming hubs and digital distros like Bandcamp, live albums done on the cheap are easier to monetize. Forget the physical, you can just punt an “official bootleg” to the web. And, in June 2015, that’s exactly what Sunn O))) did when it pretended it was Pearl Jam and released 68 of them. That month’s total haul of 86 is still the monthly record holder by a large margin. In fact, the only other times a single month notched 50 or more was, blastbeat please, April and May of this year.
With months like those, 2020 should cruise to victory and easily eclipse 2016’s 371, right? Well, here’s the quirky thing about live albums, a strange slice of scheduling psychology that sets them apart from their full-length counterparts: A lot of them are released at the end of the year.
I think the reason for that is because a live album now serves a different purpose. A few decades ago, a live album might’ve been seen as a definitive statement, a way to consecrate a band’s legitimacy and/or success. They were also a pain in the ass to put together and thus limited to bands that had the budgets/fan demand to pull it off. In turn, they took on the sheen of an event, elevating the importance. The reason I think there were so many live albums in the ‘80s is because it feels like there were so many important ones.
Now that everything is easier, I think live albums are more of a way to say, “Hey, remember us?” That uptick in the second quarter of the year is probably a lead-in to festival season. “Hey, remember us? You could see this soon! (Provided our visas are approved!)” That rise at the end of the year happens to coincide with the holidays. “Hey, remember us? Gift this to the metalhead in your life so they can say, ‘Holy shit, HammerFall is still that big in Germany?’” You get fewer classics because the stakes are lower.
Of course, there are a ton of legit great modern live albums. Undergang’s Levende forrådnelse … Live i USA might be my favorite thing that band has done. But, thinking cynically, as the live album’s reason for being has shifted, I get why they’ve been pushed towards these parts of the calendar.
Anyway, yes, let me do what I normally fail to do and answer the original question. In order for 2020 to eclipse 2016, it needs a strong finish. The release schedule, as it currently stands, is pretty bare.
And, you know, [*dons face mask made out of Vio-lence shirts*] there’s a reason for that. You have to wonder if labels and bands with foresight cleared the decks in April and May, betting that the rest of the year was toast. Indeed, for the live albums still forthcoming, the recording date has taken on a morbid quality. When was Autopsy’s Live in Chicago committed to tape? “Recorded on March 7th, 2020.” Oof.
Still, it’s not like live albums are going to go away even if we spend another year without shows. 2020 has proved that there’s still heaps of archival stuff left in the vault. Death has released nine live albums this year. What is Death will never die.
How do fans react if a grindcore band starts recording longer songs? Thanks, I’ll take my answer off the air. – Ian, a distant slimeridden kingdom
In a recent Decibel interview, Pig Destroyer guitarist Scott Hull said the following:
We’re intentionally in our mid-period phase that a lot of bands have gone through. Napalm Death had their Diatribes and the three albums. We’re sort of intentionally in that, where we’re doing stuff that’s a little groovier and it’s not necessarily as extreme, but it’s something that we need to sort of get into our discography and out of our system. I’ve already told the guys we’re going to go back into something more extreme for the next record.
Interesting. This mid-period groove phase definitely feels like a thing. I would say that, oh, every ‘80s thrash band that lived to see the nu-metal ‘90s did this. You also have your classic death metal groove phase stinkers, like Massacre’s Promise, a scared-straight warning to any vocalist who wants to add spokels to their repertoire. And, although it’s usually associated with a malaise, the groove phase is not necessarily a bad thing. Meshuggah is doing okay. It’s also not limited to a mid-period phenomenon, either. Until the reformed Coroner proves me otherwise, it died a groover.
But, it’s especially interesting that Hull name-checks Napalm Death and “Diatribes and the three albums.” Maybe Hull, something of a grindcore scholar, had Napalm Death on the noggin. Hey, me too. The grind institution just released its 16th full-length, Throes Of Joy In The Jaws of Defeatism. It’s neat, tossing some curveballs in with the usual rippers. At the time I’m writing this, the users at RateYourMusic (RYM) have ranked it as Napalm Death’s sixth best album using the site’s five-star rating system. Ah, what about “Diatribes and the three albums,” you ask?
Diatribes, Inside The Torn Apart, and Words From The Exit Wound, albums number six, seven, and eight, are the lowest rated albums of Napalm Death’s career. Three of them, right in a row. I’m going to call this the Diatribes Dip.
Why might Scott Hull be connecting the Diatribes Dip to Pig Destroyer’s 2018 album Head Cage? Why might he also append a promise that the band will be more extreme next album?
Now, two things:
1. I think Napalm Death’s Diatribes Dip albums are fine. My ice-cold take is that band has never made a bad record. To be clear, the ratings underpinning the Dip belong solely to the RYM community. Those are not our ratings. I’ll say it again: Not our ratings. Hold on, this just came across the wire: NOT OUR RATINGS.
2. Let me add a little context to what Hull said above. Same interview:
We definitely don’t follow a playbook. I’m sure that we’ve lost a lot of fans by not creating Terrifyer 2 or Prowler In The Yard 3, which is fine, but we can’t just do the same old thing over and over again. That being said, we have a lot of different influences besides just grindcore and we want to show those influences in the music.
I rely on my bandmates to reign me in a little bit. Head Cage was supposed to be our total, weirdo skronk album. I listened to a lot of Breadwinner and a lot of Confessor and it was supposed to be our oddball, no blastbeats, kind of like early math rock and I was all about that. Not only that, but listening to those kind of bands with Mets and Cherubs, that’s what I was all about and my bandmates were like “you can’t really just do that with a full-length,” so it wound up being a little more balanced.
I don’t like Head Cage, but hey, it’s not my band. I believe it was Thomas Edison who said, “Fans are stupid, record whatever the fuck you want. Please excuse me, I need to go electrocute an elephant.” Also, holy hell, I haven’t thought about Breadwinner since I destroyed Epitonic’s bandwidth bill.
Anyway, all of this got me thinking about the grindcore lifecycle. We have some anecdotal examples from thrash and death metal, but are grind bands doomed to get groovier? And, is it inevitable that a groovier phase will be a Diatribes Dip?
Okay, let me get this out of the way: How do you reliably measure groove? Is groove quantifiable? I’m probably, like, two sentences away from Adam Neely dunking on me. Let me just say that, due to my raging case of dipshittery, groove was out and I needed to find a similar unit of musical measurement. BPM was in the conversation until I remembered Jon Chang’s golden grind ratio: “75% blast parts, 20% thrash parts, and 5% slow parts.” Yeah, no, I’m not calculating that. So, my [*ahem*] grind compromise was that instead of groove or BPM, I would track average song length across albums. That is to say, instead of a mid-period groove phase, I was now looking for a mid-period elongation.
Is song length a good analog for groove? Haha, no. A band like Nyia is plenty groovy, but has short songs. On the flipside, Naked City’s 30-minute “Leng Tch’e” is certainly acres more expansive than its initial batch of recordings, but I would hesitate to call it groovy. But, since grind is often defined as a genre with short songs, I figured longer songs would be indicative of a shift in style, much like how Pig Destroyer is now Confessor, apparently. And, because I planned to track fluctuations within a band’s discography, I wasn’t too worried about variance across fringe acts like Xysma and Sore Throat that bailed on grind completely.
Let me refresh the question: If a grind band records longer songs, are they in danger of hitting the Diatribes Dip?
Here’s what Napalm Death’s discography looks like with average song lengths and RYM ratings:
(I settled on 12 tracks for Throes because that seems to be the “official” release. Most streams have 15.)
As we can see, the results are all over the map. While Napalm Death’s Diatribes Dip (highlighted in red) features songs that are longer, those averages weren’t the longest in the band’s catalog. Both Order Of The Leech and Harmony Corruption have longer average songs and are more highly regarded by the RYM community. Within Napalm Death’s discography, length doesn’t seem to directly impact RYM reception.
Still, at least this gives us a more advanced definition of the Dip: Three albums in a row that are at least 8 percent worse than a band’s RYM discography average. I think it’s also worth exploring whether grind bands start to really stretch out on album number 3.
Let’s do one more:
Pig Destroyer’s breakdown looks about the same as Napalm Death’s in that there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between average song length and ratings. (It should be noted that Prowler In The Yard, the band’s true full-length debut, probably has a shorter average track length if you nix the five-ish minutes of ambient tinnitus that’s attached to “Piss Angel.” Oh, real quick: Remember when albums had “secret tracks”? You know what messes this exercise up? Fuck secret tracks.) While rated lower than its predecessors, the longer Phantom Limb, the band’s third album, still scores a healthy 3.6. A potential Dip (though it’s not rated low enough to count as of right now) kicks in on Book Burner, which is about as long as Prowler.
You don’t have to run the numbers for many other bands to start building a solid takeaway that increased song length doesn’t necessarily predict a decreased RYM rating. Carcass, you know, the other classic grind band with a release out this month, hit a mid-period groove phase on its third album, 1991’s Necroticism – Descanting the Insalubrious. Per RYM, it’s the best thing in its discography. Same thing applies to Scott Hull’s other band, Agoraphobic Nosebleed. 2009’s Agorapocalypse (fourth album, blah) is, likewise, considered to the gem in the band’s full-length collection, which just further elucidates that most RYM users are weaklings because Altered States Of America is, like, right there.
Alas, I am a glutton for punishment. Let’s widen the net. I put together a sample of 100 bands and 500 albums. Each band was formed at least 20 years ago and had “grind” somewhere within its style tags and three or more full-lengths to its credit.
A couple quick notes:
1. Because man is not meant to grind and bands of this ilk tend to stick to non-LP formats and/or implode quickly, the three-album threshold KO’d a lot of classics. This is an abridged list so I can achieve the primary goal of this column, recommending music, and, most importantly, so I can look cool:
Assück, Bile, Bodies Lay Broken, Butcher ABC, CSSO, Contrastic, Excruciating Terror, Flagitious Idiosyncrasy In The Dilapidation, General Surgery, Impetigo, Kalibas, Mortalized, Necrony, Pathologist, Plutocracy, and the Kill. Oh yeah, and your favorite band. That one, too.
2. I tried to narrow bands down to those that had music recognition. Oh man, did this ever backfire. My intention was to ensure bands had enough RYM ratings. It didn’t … quite … work out. I used to eat and sleep grind in the ‘00s, so what was a big name to me was often pretty obscure. That’s not a flex. There’s a reason why I’m unemployable. Anyway, this is the part of the column where I write that Bolesno Grinje has a new album out.
Okay, with that out the way, it’s time to reveal the results. And …
I’m not going to waste your time here. Average song length has no bearing on RYM rating. Album number has no bearing on RYM rating. A band’s age has no bearing on RYM rating. I even had Wyatt, a smart person, run some regressions. We couldn’t find much within this set. It might just be the small sample size or, yeah, there’s really nothing there. Grind just grinds until it doesn’t and fans either like it or they don’t.
However, here are some fun facts:
- Of the 100 bands, 78 cut a fourth full-length. Only 28 made it a sixth album, the start of the Diatribes Dip for Napalm Death. Only nine made it an eighth album, the end of Napalm Death’s Dip. I think this just demonstrates how rare Napalm Death are. I mean, believe it or not, they have released one more full-length than Agathocles.
- A quick back-of-envelope calculation suggests that a majority of grind bands do write longer songs as they mature. LP1, on average, is 10 percent shorter than the discography average. LP3 is, indeed, when bands start to stretch. On average, it was 5.3 percent longer.
- Not all bands got longer, of course. 36 ended up cutting shorter average songs across their discographies than those featured on their respective debuts. The biggest time-cutter was Dead Infection, carving 1:36 off their average track length when I compared their debut to the remainder of their discography.
- Naked City added the most: 8:02. Of Encyclopaedia Metallum recognized bands, O.L.D. was the beefiest, adding 4:17. I love that last O.L.D. album more than most things. Flame away.
- The difference between Pig Destroyer’s highest (Terrifyer) and lowest (Head Cage) rated albums is 0.91. 10 bands in the sample had a wider range. You win, Fuck The Facts. Best: Stigmata High-Five, 3.54. Worst: Vagina Dancer, 1.15. I should note that 1.15 comes from only six ratings. I can confirm that the solo drum-machine era of that band sucks, though. It’s still legit incredible to me that they turned into a great band. You will see Fuck The Facts again in this column!
- You bet, Terrorizer are in the aforementioned crappy cohort. But, because Terrorizer have churned out more meh albums than classics, dropping their discography average in the process, they have escaped the Diatribes Dip. For those taking notes, that’s not the way to do it.
Speaking of the Dip, eight bands had three or more albums in a row with RYM ratings below the discography average. Most, like Exhumed, didn’t hit the 8 percent threshold to achieve a true Dip. (That band set a high bar with Gore Metal and Slaughtercult. RYM thinks it has been a bit below average from All Guts, No Glory to present. Aaron is going to lose his mind in the comments. Indulge him.) Two, though, are worth digging into.
First, Cattle Decapitation.
Can you start your career in the Dip? I don’t think so. A lot of bands are born shitty. Funny, because that’s the only era of Cattle Decap I can stand. Don’t like ‘em, fight me in a pasture.
Our other contestant closed out its career with a mini-Dip.
Ouch, Brutal Truth. I, uh, hate to bring this up, but do you know who else RYM thinks is in the Dip? Nuclear Assault. Did … I just screw up a Dan Lilker guest spot on the next Pig Destroyer? Sorry, Dan. Good luck, Scott.
Here’s your homework. I am curious! What are some classic Dips in other genres? Post your non-Metallica possibilities below.
What is up with this new Six Feet Under album? – Nai, a mirror
I have no fucking idea, man. –Ian Chainey
10. Skeletal Remains – “Dissectasy”
Location: Whittier, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Perhaps … I’ve been unfair to Skeletal Remains in the past. Like any metal blogger sworn to uphold the righteous ideals of Metal and honor each of its wretched children (i.e., bands releasing albums) with at least a cursory listen, I dutifully consumed each and every Skeletal Remains album upon release. I then promptly forgot them. What always struck me was precisely how much these guys nail the sound of prime-era Pestilence — extremely high praise, as Pestilence once ruled harder than anyone (even if they’re colossal shitbags as humans these days) and it’s weird how few can pull off this sound. And yet past Skeletal Remains jawns lack the necessary … je ne sais quoi. To put it in Iron Maiden terms, they’re missing the X factor that nudges them over the line between timeless chestnut and forgotten road apple. That’s to say, old Skeletal Remains was a perfect simulacrum of sick bands, but the records themselves fell short of sick. But the past is the past. I am happy to report the new Skeletal Remains is quite sick! It’s hard to put my finger on what’s changed. (Perhaps … I have changed.) Just like the last album, it was mixed and mastered by turbospud Dan Swanö, and it sounds like several thousand bucks (a colossal sum in death metal terms). Just like the last album, it has artwork from Dan Seagrave, which looks a lot like all other Dan Seagrave artwork. But just take a whiff of these riffs. The stench of unquiet death is strong. In combination with violent, over-the-top drumming — we’re looking at transcendental rippage. I hear Pestilence, yes, but I finally hear Skeletal Remains. Rhythm guitars: tight enough to snap my neck. Leads: dueling, harmonized, sufficiently morbid. Drums: stomp my face hard enough to do this. Still a goose egg on originality points, but this is metal; we don’t grade for that anyway. [From The Entombment Of Chaos, out now via Century Media Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
9. Fuck the Facts – “Pleine Noirceur”
Location: Gatineau, Quebec
Just when you start sinking into “Pleine Noirceur,” thinking it’s the perfect marriage of Agrimonia’s crusty majesty and Funeral Diner’s skramz-y catharsis, the title track off of Fuck The Facts’ new album drops the goddamn grind hammer. 3:13 if you want to skip ahead and you hate your face that much. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeit, I have been grind hammered. For a band that I didn’t think was still active, Fuck The Facts sound so vital and loose on this one. That’s why they’re here. I mean, I made arrangements to cover Shinda Saibo No Katamari’s ostrich metal (seriously) and Slam420’s … well, you know (seriously!). Nope, Fuck The Facts ate their lunches. And, sure, it feels weird devoting column space to something that’s set to drop so far into the future. Are we going to be anything but dust by November 20? But, I can’t deny this, especially now, when any opportunity to exorcise pent-up frustration/melancholic despair by screaming along to loud-ass guitars is the only medication that makes a difference. To that end, Mel Mongeon sounds like several hundred thousand bucks (eat it, Skeletal Remains). Her roar is like a nail driven through the band’s wall of sound, the thing you can hang all your feelings on. And it’s a neat wall! There’s a lot happening on that wall! Let’s talk about the wall. The rhythm section — Mathieu “Vil” Vilandre (drums) and Marc Bourgon (bass), I’m assuming; if not … uh … hey, dudes — rides the hell out of this track, adding in a bevy of tiny flourishes that flesh the song out. I especially dig how the melodic bassline creeps in during the crusty churn of the middle section. And Topon Das and Johnny Ibay’s guitars are texturally rich, subtly changing to fit each shift in style. The way they coalesce into an intimidating wave of distortion during the grind part is really something. Also, check out the way they flash some blazing leads when necessary, like someone flipping a light switch. It seems like there’s a lot more variety in store. The band said this to Metal Injection: “This album also could have easily been 3 EPs, you really have to listen to the whole thing in order to fully enjoy it.” Sure. Sign me up. In all senses: This track is a blast. [From Pleine Noirceur, out 11/20 via Noise Salvation.] –Ian Chainey
8. Glacier – “Eldest And Truest”
Location: Portland, Oregon
Subgenre: heavy metal / power metal
Your monthly dose of trad glory comes by way of Portland, Oregon old-timers Glacier. Formed in 1979, they pooped out a solitary EP and a few demos in the mid ‘80s, only to hang it up in 1990. A classic example of the “legendary demo” band that never released an album, Glacier have returned at last to shatter the myth … and release an album. At this point, it’s just original singer Michael Podrybau and a cadre of young bucks laying down instrumental pipe (the good news is they’re card-carrying members of the pipelayers’ union, and their dues are PAID, and this is an embarrassing metaphor I should DELETE, but I WON’T). Legend has it the lineup assembled as a tribute band to play Glacier songs at patchvest fests, and yes, forming a tribute band for a band that never released an album in its heyday is an extremely patchvest achievement to unlock. But glory beckoned and the lineup clicked, and here we are. With the blessing of the original members of the band, they transformed into Glacier proper and officially assumed the name. The debut album, The Passing Of Time, appropriately dwells on the temporal weirdness of a 40-year-old band emerging from hibernation to record an album in a new era. With a combination of young and old band members, they recorded a mix of new and old songs originally written in the ‘80s. They also coax guest appearances from the other surviving members of the band, plus a guest spot from someone from fellow travelers Manilla Road. Meanwhile, the album art features a sweet hourglass, because symbolism, PLUS a sick rendition of what looks like Castle Grayskull made out of ice. This all pleases me, and it’s enough to make me listen. But we’re here today, friends, because this thing is a riff smorgasbord. Songs are built from soaring vocals and layers of harmonized leads. Listeners familiar with High Spirits and Chris Black’s particular brand of hook-driven pop metal will recognize similar melodic chops on display here, but Glacier digs deeper into the songs. “Eldest And Truest” indeed. [From The Passing Of Time, out 10/30 via No Remorse Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
7. Sulaco – “Cutup”
Location: Rochester, NY
Subgenre: death metal / grindcore
I covered Sulaco’s previous release, the true-to-its-name The Prize, back in July 2018. “I don’t get why Sulaco is so slept on,” I lamented. Hey, guess what hasn’t changed? As it has done throughout its career, Sulaco absolutely cook on their new five-song EP, The Privilege. Now operating as a quintet, with new singer Jason Leone tempering Erik Burke’s strangled howls, the band makes a strong case that we should invent a Most Locked In Band award and hand it over to them right the fuck now. Guitarists Burke and Brian Mason rip through Relapse’s back catalog of death/grind and dissonant metalcore while bassist Lon Hackett and drummer Chris Golding steadily surf across the guitar chop. It’s just nuts how connected this band is, like the wilder the section, the tighter they get. And yet, if you focus on each individual instrument, you find riffs and rhythms that could stand alone. This EP is about 19 minutes, but you could easily spend a few days mapping it all out. Seems worthy of a few dozen YouTube playthroughs and a cult following among shred dorks. So … yeah … why is Sulaco still subterranean? I guess having an interest and working knowledge of bygone bands like Commit Suicide and Burke’s old hang Lethargy would help, two gnarled riff-weavers that also didn’t catch on. There’s that. Still, I don’t know, shouldn’t this be one of those bands where people in the know see someone else wearing a shirt of said band that they know and everyone makes very knowing faces at each other? Yes. And yeah, hot take, I’d take this over anything that Burke’s former associates have done for the last 18 years. While they get the glory, this has the beating heart. Look, what I’m saying is maybe you should start liking Sulaco. Is it because Burke was in Brutal Truth and Nuclear Assault? [From The Privilege, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
6. Napalm Death – “Feral Carve-Up”
Location: Birmingham, United Kingdom
Subgenre: death metal / grindcore
As you know, I usually try to pull stuff from the more obscure realms of heavy metal. Like, did you not know there’s a new Napalm Death album? No shame if you didn’t! Hey, I’m super stoked to be the one to tell you that there’s a new Napalm Death album! Still, I’m always thinking of how expanded coverage might help out the smaller outfits that are stuck growing in the shade. Granted, I’m not going to front like this column gives bands much of a bump. (Does a column bump exist? Uh, a Q to bands we’ve featured: Let us know?) But surely groups like Autonoesis, Pharmacist, or Seven Chains would do a bit more with the spotlight than, say, me being the billionth person to shit out a pull quote for a Carcass EP of stuff cut from the full-length. (Not a slight. It’s good! Carcass is Carcass.) Ah, but every blue moon, a big time record really delivers and that’s a discussion worth having.
Napalm Death has been a part of my life for so long. Hearing Mark “Barney” Greenway’s hungry bear roar on “Plague Rages” was foundational, one of my earliest ear-opening experiences in extreme metal. I remember spending a glorious summer waggling a pre-crash real estate sign around to the then-new The Code Is Red… Long Live The Code, becoming intimately familiar with the band’s politics as blisters sprouted on my hands and the specter of heat stroke loomed. So, the band exists in a space for me that’s kind of more than just, “Oh hey, a new album.” That’s a blessing and curse because I tend to be super hard on them. I mean, I feel like I know every Danny Herrera drum fill, every Mitch Harris guitar harmonics flourish, every meaty Shane Embury bass-lead breakdown. And yet, Throes has surprised me. Maybe in the process of collecting 2018’s Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs, Napalm Death’s double disc of better-than-your-band’s-best leftovers, the quartet was able to analyze what they were doing across the last few albums and that intel allowed them to turn the wheel. Throes, to me, is more hardcore than the last couple that had a purer (albeit metallic) punk streak, with songs like “Backlash Just Because” even burning with an early Converge-esque ferocity. It’s also more explicit in its experimentalism. Napalm Death have been doing the odd Swans/Killing Joke/Cardiacs track for a bit, but Throes is the first time I’ve felt like those tracks could stand alone outside the album’s context. “A Bellyful Of Salt And Spleen,” which has really grown on me, has that hideous Public Castration Is A Good Idea lurch down. But, instead of me being like, “Here we go, the Swans segue,” it sounds like Napalm Death. That’s to say, it’s not a tribute. Nah, it’s twisted to fit the band’s own ferocity and features one of the most visceral outros in the band’s career. “Poke your corpse upon the golden sands,” Greenway monastically moans with uncomfortable detachment. “Your day in the sun/ Day in the sun/ In the sun.” What other band is doing songs this brutally affecting about the perils facing ocean-crossing refugees? What other band is finding new ways to come into its own on its 16th album, nearly 40 years into its career? What a pleasure it is to live alongside this one. Anyway, “Feral Carve-Up” is a bonus track on the expanded streaming version of this album. It sounds like a straight-up Fear, Emptiness, Despair cut modernized for now. This band’s B-sides, man. [From Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism, out now via Century Media Records.] –Ian Chainey
5. Dynfari – “Ég Tortímdi Sjálfum Mér”
Location: Reykjavik, Iceland
Subgenre: post-black metal
The brooding build on “Ég tortímdi sjálfum mér,” full of anguish and self-doubt, prefaces something remarkable. Following that hopeless moment, a flick of the wrist launches a melody loaded with a sense of destiny that takes the wheel for the remainder of the song. As it evolves, the gravelly bellows and prophetic cleans from vocalist Jóhann Örn are a perfect counterbalance to the melancholy and deceptively heavy instrumentation. When we last featured Dynfari on the Black Market, back in 2017 with their album The Four Doors Of The Mind, the band was embracing brighter, more searing tones with a sharper post-rock edge. Now, as a newly-minted four-piece, the band has felt the effects of gravity a bit more, and explores both the quiet and loud moments of inner turmoil with a rawer, filter-free lens. [From Myrkurs er þörf, out now via Code666 Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
4. Mitochondrial Sun – “Pulsar 1”
Location: Gothenburg, Sweden
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Earlier this year following a stretch of parental leave, Dark Tranquillity’s founding guitarist Niklas Sundin left the band after 30-some years. In a farewell message announcing his departure, he said he always enjoyed the creative process of writing and recording music more than performing live. Having already forged an incredibly influential death metal legacy with the Gothenburg legends, weaving razor sharp riffs into the band’s signature electrical frenzy, he shows some of the other ideas that have been percolating on “Pulsar 1,” the latest track from his Mitochondrial Sun project that emerged late last year. There’s the same precision here that Sundin brought to DT, where carefully crafted guitarwork and ringing electronic accents create an immersive sound. But as the project’s name would indicate, there’s an alien quality, with strange frequencies warbling across space and time — there’s more in common here with Australia’s deep space wanderers Mesarthim than Sundin’s former band, with all-systems-go blasting creating the shifting topography that undergirds the track. As you would expect from someone with such an incredible body of work, it’s excellent, and an exciting new outlet with no creative boundaries. [From SJU PULSARER, out 11/13 via Argonauta Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
3. Toadeater – “Returning The Crown”
Location: Osnabrück, Germany
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Toadeater’s “Returning The Crown” is an immersive, monstrous, and invigorating track that showcases many of the best qualities of atmospheric black metal. The guitar work is mesmerizing, with a dazzlingly shrill and buzzing lead directing a doomed march. That tone recalls the distinctive lead guitar of the Swiss trio Tardigrada, who so expertly use it to paint a smeared picture of decayed and gray grandeur. In Toadeater’s hands, it’s more of a siren call, one that along with a booming feverish scream conveys a sense of prophetic urgency. When the chorus kicks in, the tension between the destiny-driven guitars and the heave-ho earthbound struggle of the vocals achieves the sort of expansive majesty reserved for the best the genre has to offer. [From Bit To Ewigen Daogen, out 10/2 via Revolvermann Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
2. Gorephilia – “Simplicity Of Decay”
Subgenre: death metal
Fire up the cosmic chainsaw. Modern Finnish death metal hierophants Gorephilia draw deep from the elder well of Finnish death — rank with musty cadaver fumes, grinding organic tones that summon the dull horror of endless space, and a particular strain of death growl that’s slightly askew from your typical Stockholm-style grunts. Head-down, straight-ahead Finnish death metal bands like Demigod, Convulse, Abhorrence, Purtenance, Funebre, Cartilage, and Adramelech carved the original path. (The other big Finnish death bands were different: Demilich were much weirder, more singular, less tethered to earthly concerns; Amorphis were more of a death-adjacent prog-doom hybrid, more akin to Paradise Lost, Tiamat, or Sentenced.) Where Gorephilia depart from their forebears is the heavy Morbid Angel influence in the gnashing rhythm guitars — which doesn’t necessarily make them catchier or easier to digest, but it gives them enough otherworldly flair to drill through skull and soft tissue into the old memory receptors. I’m listening to both singles back to back, “Ouroboran Labyrinth” and “Simplicity Of Decay,” and yeah, the neural link is firmly established; I love this shit. I don’t know how often it gets discussed, but Tomb Mold draw heavily from the same Finnish sounds, and their recent pivot towards science fiction actually puts them in a similar space with Gorephilia. Which is to say: (1) they’re all in excellent company, (2) Finnish death is fine varietal worthy of deeper study, and (3) death metal is life. [From In The Eye Of Nothing, out 10/2 via Dark Descent Records and Me Saco un Ojo Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
1. Realize – “Disappear”
Location: Tucson, AZ
Subgenre: industrial metal
“No amps or drums were used in the recording process.” The opposite of the typical claim we get from throwback bands, where analog tones and live tracking are often prioritized for the sake of aesthetic fetishization over songwriting. But this is extreme industrial metal: Normal rules do not apply; plebs, show yourselves out. Here in the land of (cold meat) industry, the sky is the color of a television tuned to a dead channel; god never lived, but was born in the soul of a machine; transhumanism is the highest plane of existence, if you can call it that; and life is cheap, death is everything … the only remaining thrill is jacking into the Big Black and tasting it for yourself. As a rapidly aging nerd, I have an insane soft spot for this particular retro vibe, both for its pessimistic vision of the future and its absurdly dense delivery of jackhammer drums and clawhammer riffs. Per their bio, I gather Realize use an array of virtual amps and digital processing to handle guitar, bass, and vocals; drums are tapped out on a trusty, extremely digital Alesis drum machine (presumably the dorky/secretly sick SR-16, like Godflesh before them). I own a few drum machines myself (where my Yamaha RX5 stans at? Andrew Eldritch and I would like a word), and dream of someday making music half this sick. And that’s part of the magic — in the entire history of the world, only a slim handful of bands made truly extreme industrial metal without sounding like utter clowns (for clowns, see Bile). Setting aside the more mainstream electro-industrial-with-heavy-guitars stuff like Front Line Assembly (who rule) and KMFDM (who are entertaining), and other stuff like Rammstein (who are bad), Fear Factory (sorry), and Ministry (who inhabit a world unto themselves, for better and worse), the particular Terminator-foot-crushing-skull variant I’m thinking of pretty much boils down to Godflesh, Nailbomb, Meathook Seed, Skin Chamber, and early Pitchshifter (only early Pitchshifter is real). Realize embody this sound better than anyone at the moment. (Weirdly enough, there’s a similar record just out on 20 Buck Spin from Black Magnet, and it’s nearly as good; one of those Volcano vs. Dante’s Peak situations.) They’re not here to reinvent the wheel so much as break it, melt it down, and repurpose the scrap for further destruction. Riffs grind and collapse, rinse and repeat. Programmed drums sound off like hydraulics. Maximum impact: maximum overdrive: maximum results. [From Machine Violence, out now via Relapse Records.] –Aaron Lariviere