The Month In Metal – January 2021
One of metal’s best videographers spent a lot of the last year at home. Characteristically, Frank Huang is keeping everything in focus. “Things are good,” Huang emailed to me. “I’m lucky enough to still have some work and income coming in. It took me a couple of months to get used to working from home and establishing some kind of routine everyday.”
Huang’s Max Volume Silence YouTube channel has been a crucial part of my routine, serving as both a godsend and a grim reminder as this pandemic crawls into its second year. As a repository of over 3000 videos stretching back to its Pit Full Of Shit beginnings, the channel is one of the digital destinations I’ve frequented most often in order to scratch the live show itch. Needless to say, there’s a lot to watch. If an underground metaller booked a New York City date since 2011, you can be reasonably confident that Huang has captured them in his kinetic style. That one can Quantum Leap back to Gorguts’ legendary 2013 set and attend it whenever they want has provided no small amount of lockdown comfort.
But Max Volume Silence also hints at a lost year of live music. When Decibel caught up with Huang in 2014, he was shooting 10 to 15 shows a month. Now … well, you know what’s happening now. Chronologically, Huang’s last uploaded set was Fucked And Bound’s fiery closer to its March 12, 2020 show at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. “Here’s our last song,” singer Lisa Mungo announced before the Seattle quartet plowed through “Abuse Of Registry.” Last song, indeed.
To Huang’s credit, he’s accepted the current situation, putting a positive spin on what he’s been able to reclaim during the downtime. “To be honest, I’ve been really enjoying the time I have back from going to shows.” By his calculations, each show was a “five to six-hour” commitment, with a lot of that timesink spent on logistics and preparation. Travel, setup, sound check, wait, shoot the show, load out. Before COVID-19 raged, he had done that a lot. A lot a lot. For a long, long time.
“I’ve been filming live shows since 2007 when I was back in Taiwan,” Huang remembered. Studying communications and film in college, he had his eye on applying for an advanced production class. In order to get the class, he needed a project. Enter his friends, then gigging as Horsemen, who were playing Taiwan’s Metal Monster concert series. “I followed them around and filmed some footage, went to the fest, and shot all the bands there with a couple of friends of mine,” Huang wrote.
That sealed the deal. It was Huang’s eureka moment. “It was after that I realized I could use the camera in my hand to record my friends playing and they could use the videos to help promote their bands or use them to improve themselves,” he wrote. “From there, it just snowballed. I started meeting international bands that came through and got to know more people in the industry, which really helped me gain knowledge and establish a way to start when I first moved to NYC.”
Early ‘10s New York was the right time, right place for someone of Huang’s interests and talents. “I moved to the city in the summer of 2011,” Huang said in Chris Krovatin’s Kerrang!-published 2018 oral history on Saint Vitus Bar, “and I believe Vitus opened in April 2011. The first show I saw there was Castavet with Artificial Brain. It was a fucking sick show. And both bands, nobody showed up to see — there were maybe 10 people there. It was one of their first 10 shows ever. And I’ve been shooting there ever since.”
2011 also proved to be pivotal when it came to making connections. Huang bumped into Frank Godla, drummer for Meek Is Murder and founder of Metal Injection, at a show they were both filming. As Huang told it to Decibel, Godla proposed a collaboration that would hit the pages of his website. That video turned into a channel, Pit Full Of Shit. Nearly a decade later and following a rebrand to Max Volume Silence, Huang is still posting his videos there, showcasing both the locals and touring bands that come through for a global audience.
I can’t overestimate how important a role those Metal Injection posts play in the metal ecosystem. Personally, at least. Due to a depressing mix of geography, mounting responsibilities, and mental maladies, I’ve found it increasingly harder and harder to make it to the kind of shows I want to see. Pre-pandemic, Huang provided a necessary conduit for people like me, those dangerously addicted to metal but lacking a consistent way to experience one of its primary modes of expression, to stay in touch with the scene. Like, I’m pretty certain this video is the only way I’m ever going to see Encenathrakh live unless I save Brooke Shields from drowning. Additionally, Huang has hipped me to few acts, as he has a knack for filming bands right before they break out. He trained his lens on Public Acid last February. The next time I saw that name, it was November and the metalhead-pleasing hardcore band’s new EP was blowing up on Bandcamp.
When I asked Huang about his importance to the scene as an extreme metal Alan Lomax, he humbly brushed it off. “I would say I [thought about it] when I first started, thinking filming and preserving shows was the most important thing,” he wrote, “…but I realized at least two years ago that it was just ego talking. I recognized that and it made me rethink my role. To quote Steve Albini when I asked him if I can record Shellac in San Francisco, he just looked at me and said, ‘Not everything has to be documented you know.’”
And yet, holy heck am I glad Huang has documented what he did. I also haven’t talked to an artist who doesn’t appreciate him. For instance, I reached out to Couch Slut and singer Megan O emailed me this:
Anyway, happy to share my experience with Frank (who is an absolute darling sweetheart and I would take at least one bullet for him without hesitation) since prior to COVID, I was regularly attending shows at Saint Vitus here in Brooklyn. Many times I’d gone by myself, a sort of ritual that is deeply missed right now, and lots of those times I wouldn’t see anyone I really knew. Except Frank. You could depend on Frank always being there, set up usually stage-right, halfway along the wall. And he was always willing to hang for a few minutes before the show, which was nice especially for those times when I was alone and didn’t know anybody beside the bartenders. (Also just as an aside, we SUPER appreciate Frank filming us so many times! We aren’t really a band that does music videos or even band photos, so it’s awesome to have some of our stuff documented like that.)
It’s weird that I get that same vibe from Huang’s videos: the cool friend that you talk to at shows. There’s something about the way he shoots, how he scans the stage in a POV way or adds an extra bit of movement when you can tell he’s headbanging that makes you feel like you’re right beside him.
Naturally, Huang’s abilities with a camera and editing suite has allowed him to branch out. There’s a good chance that you’ve watched Huang’s work without realizing it, be it freelance video packages for publications like Guitar World and Revolver or high production live shoots like Kerrang!’s well-received The K! Pit. Then, there are the livestreams, such as the one he recently helmed for Chepang.
As a professional, Huang’s bread and butter are music videos. His latest works are the trippy visuals he designed for Knoll, a Memphis grind terror set to release its new LP Interstice next month. He’s also responsible for shoots with Relapse heavies like YOB, Realize, Primitive Man, and Pig Destroyer. One of my favorites, though, is what he put together last year for Shadowland’s “Lamia,” the A-side of the band’s infectious single of delightfully true, NWOTHM-approved steel. There’s quite a story behind that one, too.
“First of all, Frank is a saint of patience,” Shadowland’s guitarist Blaze emailed to me. “I am certain we annoyed him greatly that day.” After shooting the live stuff at Saint Vitus Bar, it came time to knock the rest of the video out at a graveyard. Blaze picks up the rest of the tale:
There were eight of us running around that cemetery with guitars, fake blood, costumes, knives, driving an enormous Ford Flex SUV and a 1980s Camaro Z28. Frank not only made Tanya’s ideas a reality, but he kept the whole thing flowing. We were bound to grab someone’s attention – lip syncing, headbanging, Tanya (vocals) slaughtering her bandmates to heavy metal first thing in the morning – and would see the cemetery staff roll by on their golf carts every now and then. As we began preparing for Jeff’s (guitar) death scene, I guess they decided to see what’s up. I think one guy facetiously asked, “Is this for MTV?” as he spied the gigantic dagger in Tanya’s hand dripping with fake blood. We suspect they were trying to figure out what was actually going on, and sure enough, another group of guards rolled-up 10 minutes later ordering our swift departure. It was a bit of a stressor at the time since we still had to get the shot of the hit and run scene with Cedric (bass). We left, but Tanya, Frank, Cedric, and John (Mobshity – the Camara’s owner) cheekily returned to shoot Tanya running Cedric over. But, yeah … Frank did an outstanding job making that video a reality for us!
During my emails with Huang, I kept coming back to this present reality. What are shows going to look on the other side of this thing? “I feel like it’s gonna take a while for people to go back to live music,” Huang answered. “Like how comfortable are you being in a room with hundred of other people now? How do know everyone comes in the club is vaccinated? Are bands feel comfortable enough to tour again? Some people might even get used to not going to shows anymore. Venues might have a hard time in the beginning to rebuild their audiences. But, I’m also interested to see if there are new spaces popping out to fill up the spots of those who got shut down or permanently closed due to the pandemic.”
All of that, of course, is a lot to think about. But Huang wrote something else that has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s the reason why I think a lot of us will eventually come back. “For me the biggest thing about going to live shows was more about seeing my friends than filming, so it has been tough sometimes when I miss hanging out with my friends from out of town who I might see once or twice a year from touring and shows.”
That sentiment, of using this obscure, unpopular, bewildering music as a way to forge connections, popped up again when I asked why Huang keeps doing this. Why, after 3000 sets and music videos and projects, he’s still in the game. “To be honest, I still don’t know,” he wrote, adding a “lol.” “This is a question that pops out a lot especially when I feel burnt out on the whole subject, but I think I still like the music and most of the people making it, it felt like a second home to be inside the scene with your friends. Also, it’s like smoking, once you’re hooked on it, it’s hard to quit!” –Ian Chainey
Malist - "Timeless Torch"
Location: Moscow, Russia
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Few albums sound as overwhelmingly dead as Malist’s 2019 debut In The Catacombs of Time, a stone cold slab of necro black metal that both creaks with brittle bone fragility and regales with gothic kingdom-of-the dead flourish. The one-man-band from Moscow settled into an annual release schedule following its memorable introduction, dishing out icy precision riffage on 2020’s To Mantle The Rising Sun that reflected a broader scope of ambition while abandoning some of the particularly hooky elements of his debut. “Timeless Torch,” from his album due out in March, brings together the best of the freshman and sophomore albums, returning to ear/graveworm glory while turning up the acrobatics in the embellished orchestration. It’s an infectious listen, grand, decaying, and razor sharp. [From Karst Relic, out 3/12 via Northern Silence Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
LOXE - "Animalita Bruta"
Location: Tokyo, Japan
LOXE are my favorite kind of genre blower-upper. Here's what they doesn't do on their debut offering, Prosa Poética: exude disgustingly Type A, twisted theater kid energy. You know: “We’re just drowning in styles over here!” Ugh, that kind of thing. Gross. No, LOXE’s approach is subtler. The band finds the overlapping regions of distantly related genres and zeros in on a unifying whole. This unstated song construction philosophy is similar to a few other acts that have made waves recently, namely Alkerdeel and Molten Chains. That is to say, all of these bands have done away with the rigidity of genres while nailing the bedrock core values better than most strict orthodox adherents. Of course, none of these bands sound alike. Read on for Alkerdeel. Molten Chains do to blacked thrash what Locust Leaves does to heavy metal. LOXE, on the other hand, are Friendship-esque hardcore on the powerviolence spectrum cut with, like, crawling Coffins death metal and Corrupted sludge. Sometimes! Other times they're a Hellchild disc getting chewed up in a malfunctioning CD player. They're real fun, in other words. “Animalita Bruta” is the centerpiece, the sort of slo-mo crusher that usually closes out your average pv album but is ingeniously sequenced here as the midway point of this six-song onslaught. The delightfully chonky groove part – yes, the slow song has a breakdown – sounds like Disembodied before it’s court ordered to go to anger management classes. The vocals, which are like if a seasoned low/high-voiced grinder auditioned for Acme, put it over the top. Because of its unpredictable feral energy, ably dipping into death and sludge and the like whenever it wants, it just nails the feeling of older powerviolence without really relying on the tropes. Give me this every time over copycat kids who just figured out how to do the Spazz voice. (In defense of Spazz voice, Spazz is good. That PowerxChuck/Ghettö split that proves Spazz voice is now international is also kinda good. Exceptions, rules, etc.) But, yeah, don’t let me limit this to one sound. If you like munching on festering Autopsy scuzz, you’ll dig this, too. Heck, check it out if you like the LOX. Genres are dumb, anyway. [From Prosa Poética, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Koldovstvo - "I"
Location: parts unknown
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Koldovstvo’s debut track “I” comes from another dimension, arriving awash in uneasy golden light that shrouds the melodic splendor that drives the track forward. The strange heavenly quality calls to mind another of last year’s most surreal atmospheric black metal soundscapes — Maurice de Jong of Gnaw Their Tongues fame’s Golden Ashes (which, along with de Jong’s 2019 release from Mystagogue, are two of the more underrated projects of the past two years). Jangling delirium collides with celestial ringing and prophetic incantations across the seven feverish and occasionally disorienting minutes. The artful rawness that gives the song its distant otherworldly quality only adds to the blank slate mystery around the band — there’s nothing out there on this one other than that the forthcoming debut will be published in part by Mare Coggnitum’s Jake Buczarski’s Extraconscious Records, so consider that an endorsement. [From Ни царя, ни бога, out 3/5 via Babylon Doom Cult Records / Extraconscious Records / Fólkvangr Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Sandstorm - "Evil Wins"
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Subgenre: heavy metal
Throwback trad: easy to do, hard to do well. Bands either get the sound right and flub the songs or vice versa. Rare is that heavy metaller that can do both because rare is the heavy metaller that can find their own voice while they’re reliving the past. Enter Sandstorm, the band, to be clear. The Canadian trio with two Swedish transplants nails it, sounding like something High Roller Records would uncover in a quarry. These three first surfaced in 2019 with Time To Strike, a wonderfully ancient EP of lightly prog ‘eavy metal. It was like Ashbury and Winterhawk made love and conceived a van. We should’ve covered it. Sandstorm cut a wonderfully ancient video for it. You should watch it. Desert Warrior, the forthcoming followup, is a bit more rock, often reminding me of, say, a caffeinated Limelight, yet any comp you throw at it doesn't really stick for long. (Per an interview with Filthy Dogs Of Metal, drummer P.J. "The Butcher" La Griffe says the other two lads, Reptile Anderson (bass, vocals) and Stevie "Broke" Whiteless (guitars, vocals) were inspired by Lezlie Paice, a NWOSHM band I’ve never heard before until now but I can report back: Yes, holy shit, that.) Out of this EP's four songs, the best is “Power Of The Pyramids,” which is like something Brats would've heard before it had its merciful epiphany. “Evil Wins” is what’s streaming, though, and it’s no slouch. In fact, it’s a great example of what Sandstorm bring to the table, proving that it’s worth trying even with a style that’s tried and true. The epic unfurls with a "Gates Of Valhalla"-y bit of scene setting before spinning out one heck of a riff: undeniably classic and yet untraceable. From there, you get your extra catchy skirmish between good and evil. Guess who wins? We do. Keep an eye on this band. [From Desert Warrior, out 2/26 via Dying Victims Productions.] –Ian Chainey
Buried - "Retribution"
Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Subgenre: death metal
Maybe Brutal Mind, the Indonesian brutal death metal label, can bring bands back from the dead. How else would you explain the resurrection of two seemingly dormant Dutch death metallers. Last year, fans of a specific ‘00s sound were stunned to see Disavowed’s Revocation Of The Fallen and Arsebreed’s BUTOH, the first new material by either band in over a decade. “For things to get even better,” Bandcamp user tmemo commented on the BUTOH page, “all that remains is the return of Pyaemia.” Hold on to that arse, tmemo. Buried, Brutal Mind’s newest pickup, is drummer Robbert Vrijenhoek (ex-Disavowed) and guitarist/vocalist Joel Sta (also ex-Disavowed, active in Arsebreed) of the aforementioned Pyaemia, a band that cut a BDM classic on Unique Leader, 2001’s Cerebral Cereal, and went poof after Vrijenhoek suffered a wrist injury. For years, Pyaemia were one of those bands that you checked the Encyclopaedia Metallum status of every few months based off on dusty message board rumors that they were reforming. (Still checking on you, Shadow.) They never did. Doesn’t matter, now we have Buried. Maybe 2021 is going to work out. Anyway, Oculus Rot, Buried’s debut, shakes off the cobwebs of Pyaemia’s best feature, its unceasing propulsion, and grafts it onto a newer, streamlined sound. Yes, hiding beneath the brutality is an unexpected amount of rock. In that way, Buried remind me of Sweden’s Visceral Bleeding, another tech monster that didn’t mind dipping into the odd, especially if it was oddly timed, Pantera-esque groover. Now, I don’t think lead single “Retribution” will ever be in a rawk block, not with its extra strength holy-shit drumming and all-of-the-Deicides vocals, but, gotta say, there are an uncommon number of rock hooks sprinkled throughout. It works. Of course, Buried churn through ideas so quickly it's not something you think about much between headbangs. Speaking of the busy songs, everyone plays their asses off. Vrijenhoek and Sta are joined by Worm (bass) and Steve (guitars). When the band locks in, you get the same absurd choppa-choppa as Anata at their most counterpoint-eschewing ignorant or Decapitated during the Vitek (good) years. Rules. Please, stick around. [From Oculus Rot, out 2/14 via Brutal Mind.] –Ian Chainey
Harakiri For The Sky - "I, Pallbearer"
Location: Vienna, Austria
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
It’s pretty remarkable that it has been nearly ten years since Harakiri For The Sky’s debut album introduced us to their earnest, full-speed-ahead, post-y atmospheric black metal, but the Austrian duo continues to sharpen their edge on their latest and maybe catchiest album yet. “I, Pallbearer,” the first track off the new one and an absolute ripper, shows the band at their sky-rending best. The track is loaded with sad-and-sweet dual-axe-attack melodies and Alcest-y watery interludes that pull all the right heartstrings while, on the other end of the spectrum, the caustic howls and punchy low end drums up cascades of blood vessel-bursting catharsis. If you’re familiar with the band, this track reminds you just why you love them, and if you’re not, you’ve got an awesome journey ahead. [From Maere, out 2/19 via Art of Propoganda Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Alkerdeel - "Zop"
Location: Zomergem, Belgium
Subgenre: black metal
I kind of get the sense that Alkerdeel are tired of people like me. “We get asked [about our genre] a lot,” singer Jeroen Pede told Invisible Oranges. “I personally think we are just a mid-paced black metal band.” I mean, it’s your band, Jeroen, but I take exception to your usage of “just.” Still, perhaps Pede has a point. Much like the Effluence and Ulveblod records from last year, it’s probably best go into Alkerdeel’s new album, Slonk, with as little information as possible. It deserves your unmodified attention. Don’t try to figure this out ahead of time. Avoid Encyclopaedia Metallum. Don’t peek at the art. Heck, you probably shouldn’t even read the rest of this. (Maybe the best advice I’ve ever given.) However, my job description requires me to ... well, you know.
Slonk, the band’s fourth full-length and my first brush with the Belgian quartet, is being pitched as a more aggressive album than its predecessors. And, to Pede’s point, it sure does second-wave vibes better than your favorite cassette duplicator. Suspended drones, tortured howls, haunted room-noise overtones, etc. I take it all of this was recorded live and it’s all the better for it. Given that, I’m surprised the band doesn’t have a host of kvlt credits. Heck, the names that are familiar to me are because of early iterations of Leng Tch’e.
But, even at its most aggressive and black metalliest, this band is more twisted than I expected. Like, it makes total sense to me now that Alkerdeel has released records with Nihill and Gnaw Their Tongues. Take opener “Vier.” It starts with a SETI sound sweep. It then descends into pummeling sludge, as if Ufomammut finally took the wrong drugs. Soon, the low end starts to undulate with wave after wave of deep wums hitting your ear drums. Once it’s done tenderizing you, it drops the trem hammer. It’s some of the best 13 minutes of black metal I’ve heard in a spell.
Guess what? That track isn’t streaming yet. Instead, you’re getting “Zop,” a ripper that’s early Bathory and then evolves into a Blaze-era Darkthrone jam. It’s good. Within the album’s context, it sets up Slonk’s crushing conclusion, an album that’s anything “just.” But, I get it. Smart. It's better to keep prospective listeners in the dark. [From Slonk, out 2/5 via Babylon Doom Cult Records / Consouling Sounds.] –Ian Chainey
Grima - "Cedar And Owl'
Location: Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Magic is in the night air on “Cedar and Owls,” a lush woodland epic that bridges the earthbound and the celestial and opens up the remarkable new album from Grima. It’s an amazing track — it swings for the fences with big momentous riffs, an in-your-face, exquisite rasp, and a generous sprinkle of keyboard sparkle that ups the enchantment factor. And there are theatrics at work — not many tracks can convincingly pull off including a hooting owl amidst the kinds of booming sonic fireworks on display. Perhaps then it is no surprise that the song knows when to blast and when to pull back, with perfect timing, to a mid-tempo to allow for cinematic pans of wide-angle wonder. Grima are new around here, and the band is the work of two twin brothers who look to the Siberian wilderness for inspiration. I look forward to seeing them here again soon, and to making up for lost time with their three-LP back catalogue. [From Rotten Garden, out now via Naturmacht Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
Eros Rot - "Rank Form Offering"
Location: Austin, TX
Subgenre: brutal death metal
Working one’s butt off for the enjoyment of 50-odd people is the most extreme metal thing possible. I happen to think that’s a worthwhile pursuit, but that’s why I’m a sewer-dwelling degenerate and not a guidance counselor. Anyway, doing something extremely difficult for little social reward is where we find Jacob Misko, the brains behind Eros Rot. Whew, did Misko put some blood, sweat, and slams into this three-song demo. The work has paid off. In a just world, this would surely exceed that 50-fan cap by many magnitudes quite quickly. But let’s be clear: This is technical, brutal, and death metal; no way to go through life, son. However, maybe this will be one of the bands that breaks through. There is, after all, something else at play on Demo 2020. While the Bandcamp sales pitch is sure to catch the attention of the sickest among us – “Iniquitous Deeds, Cenotaph, Euphoric Defilement, and Wormed” are the RIYLs; did we just become best friends? – this squelchy, demanding cacophony is actually laden with hooks. “Rank Form Offering” reminds me a lot of Artificial Brain and early Disentomb in that regard, two other death metallers able to tear themselves from the brutal fringe by being extreme in two opposing directions: extremely heavy and extremely listenable. Indeed, while Misko favors the pinch-harmonic-filled hurks and jerks of Disgorge, albeit turbocharged for a 2021 attention span, you’re never that far from some sweet near-melodies. Skip ahead to 1:38 to hear that in action, an atmospheric-rich, strummy respite that could’ve been a highlight on a post-hardcore album in another life. In this one, it’s bookended by dizzyingly dense heaps of notes that would permanently crash Rocksmith. Right, about the instrumental bugfuckery: Not only is Misko blessed with upper division string shreddage, additionally widdling out some absurd bass lines, but the drum programming approaches Mare Cognitum levels of realness. Ah, but the person you might key into first is Jordan Ramsden, who unleashes his full arsenal of guttural roars and sky-ripping screeches. I think Ramsden is technically a session player here but goes for it so hard I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. Anyway, easily my favorite musical Eros since that one Dün record, so, uh, yes, please don’t be one and done, Eros Rot. Woof, that was a nerdy joke. Sorry that I'm your fan. Count me among the 50. At least. [From Demo 2020, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Svrm - "Життя"
Location: Kharviv, Ukraine
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Plenty of atmospheric black metal bands aim to distill bleak winter days into the bleakest of black metal, but the overwhelmingly gloomy mood across Svrm’s newest album feels so hopeless that you get the impression Svrm have finally cracked some sort of dreary alchemical code. Mid-tempo is a must, as is evidenced by the masterpiece “Життя,” and so are acoustics. But what’s even more remarkable about the track here is its irresistible draw, its incredible catchiness in spite of all of the above. The song’s title translates, fittingly, to “Life.” Svrm’s last album made it into the Black Market too exactly a year ago, arriving to soundtrack last year’s dreariest season. It’s a release schedule worth sticking to for the Ukrainian maestro who sees the world through grey and fog. [From Розпад, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall