The Month In Metal – March 2021
This is the first part in a two-part series.
A Toronto leather store. A pop duo eternally chasing hits. A United States Senate hearing. Alanis Morissette. What’s the connection? Somehow, this:
That’s the cover for Piledriver’s 1984 release Metal Inquisition. In a way, this is the story of how that cover got made and ended up adorning one of the most ridiculous and unlikely heavy metal albums of the ‘80s. In another, it’s a story about how one link in a chain can end up connecting so many other things. But, most of all, this is a story about someone who took a job fronting a fake band and then spent decades trying to turn it into something real.
And here’s the ironic part: That person, who sang on the record, who would eventually go on to portray the bespiked “Piley” and play concerts across at least three continents, is not pictured on that cover. In his telling, that would be the first iniquity of many, as if the breaks in his heavy metal career were the kind bestowed by a monkey’s paw. But it wasn’t always like that. No, long before Metal Inquisition went on to sell, by some estimates, 500,000 copies, long before he’d don the roofing spikes during an exalted revival, Gord Kirchin fell in love with music.
“Surely seconds after I was born I received my first pair of drumsticks,” Kirchin writes over email. By age four, Gord was the proud owner of a Ludwig snare, set to follow in the paradiddles of his father who was drum major of the Governor General’s Footguards on Parliament Hill. The snare wasn’t the only way the elder Kirchin set up his son’s musical foundation.
“My dad was often away doing that ol’ Navy thing, and he was base DJ up north and would mail me home all kinds of promo 45s and albums,” Kirchin remembers, noting that his father also logged some reps on the Canadian bar band circuit. “Thanks to those mailings, the Beatles were gods for me, deeply and profoundly. I fetishized every dot of every image [on those albums] and air-band rocked along with them with a tennis racket or a broom more than my snare drum.”
In between shredding oxygen, Kirchin was developing musically, mapping out Beatles melodies on his grandmother’s upright piano and nailing the rhythms of the Royal Guardsmen’s “Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron” on his Ludwig. But, like his racket-strums suggested, he also was tapping into an irrepressible showmanship that coursed through his veins. “My earliest musical memory as a toddler is cracking my parents up by constantly rambling around the house singing ‘hang down your head Tom Dooley,’ giggling at the dichotomy of a child singing about a man’s corporal punishment by hanging like it was a nursery rhyme. My parents had a great sense of humor.”
As he grew older, Kirchin’s interest in music became an obsession, one that nurtured a curiosity for all aspects of music production. “It was then I occasionally put down the sticks and picked up picks and gradually began exploring guitar and bass, and tape recorders! While my friends were playing tag, I was figuring out that a microphone’s sounds bassier the closer you inch it towards the sound source. As long as I can possibly remember, music and how it’s made was a major part of my life and concerns.”
Kirchin kept logging his tag-less 10,000 hours. He made a breakthrough by finally nailing the drums on the Dave Clark 5’s stomping “Bits And Pieces.” And then, he found the heavier stuff. “A major moment in my metal development was dropping the needle on the song that would assault my ears and resonate for a lifetime: ‘Gypsy’ by Uriah Heep. Oh. My. God. That is so LOUUUUD! I thought. That it made me vibrate to the center of my being felt like a true epiphany: HEAVINESS RULES!”
With Kirchin’s ringing ears now primed for hard rock, the kid across the street initiated the sacred rite of older sibling music. He introduced preteen Gord to a couple albums borrowed from the kid’s big brother: Alice Cooper’s Easy Action and Love It To Death. Kirchin fell hard. A spark was lit, a Big Bang of hard rock. That said, not everyone was on board with his new fascination.
While Kirchin’s parents didn’t mind the morbidity of “Tom Dooley” and let their kid watch the odd horror flick, Alice Cooper was something else. Kirchin’s father, “a George Jones, Waylon Jennings hardcore western drinkin’ fightin’ man,” wasn’t amused. “I took more than a few beatings for being found with mascara spiders on my eyes as I slithered around my room pretending a rolled up towel was a snake while I was acting out ‘Dead Babies,’” Kirchin recalls.
You couldn’t keep the budding hard rocker down, though. And, true to form, Kirchin wouldn’t have to wait much longer to get jumped into band life. In ninth grade, Gord had his first “paying gig” playing drums. He also gained some experience in other areas. “The gig produced my first ‘girl’s actual phone number’ and the mindblowing activity known as ‘frenching,’ so, yeah, that night I knew, ‘Okay, this is it! I’m a rock star now.’”
However, it wasn’t all roses. “l also got my first taste of ‘the business’ that night, too,” Kirchin writes. “As we were heading on a break between sets, a couple of dudes asked if it was cool for them to play a couple of tunes while we were on our break. I figured, ‘Sure, man, you keep ’em dancing while I discover tonsil hockey out back.” Gord came back to find his gear destroyed. “My drums were pooched and the amps trashed. But… look at all the lipstick all over my face! So that’s rock and roll! I get it now. The first of a million bad decisions and burns in the business, because I’m a ‘nice guy.’”
Still, as soon as Kirchin heard “an audience applauding loudly and appreciatively after an original song,” the die was cast. “That was it. Done. I knew, ‘This will be my life.’ I can still feel the heat and humidity of that July afternoon when I actually ‘connected’ with the audience at our local outdoor hockey rink for about 35 kids. It was momentous for me not only in the moment, but later that night as I was in the floor audience for Cheap Trick and Kiss, and all I could think about or hear in my mind was that raucous and heartfelt applause for my song, and looking around the audience thinking someday… someday… I’ll be up there and this many [people] will applaud my songs.”
High school bands eventually became bar bands as Kirchin tried to catch on as a working musician. “I came up in the Ottawa bar scene, cover bands. That I was growing as a musician and vocalist, working towards becoming a musical source rather than a recipient, and gaining stage experience, I reveled in the power and ability to capture an audience and transport them out of themselves for an evening. Sheer magic. As I climbed up the ranks, that has always been the impetus: to entertain and lift spirits.”
Kirchin found his way into one of the bigger cover bands in the area as a bassist and singer on the “heavier” material. The band’s name indicated some of its members’ career intentions: Mainstream. It also happened to contain two other notable Ottawans: Leslie Howe and Louise Reny. And this is where our story adds a few more links to the chain.
In a now-archived bio, Leslie Howe says he and Louise Reny met in high school and the two “started playing in bands around 11th grade.” “We’re completely compatible musically,” Howe added, “but we fight as much as ever.” A Detroit Journal profile on Reny seems to suggest that Mainstream was one of a few “Led Zeppelin cover bands” that both players cycled through in Ottawa. “Once I started writing my own songs and going into a recording studio,” Reny said, “I could draw on all these other styles I used to copy.” Indeed, after Mainstream, both players would demonstrate that they had a canny knack for summarizing sounds and trends. Any trend, really. Even one festering in the scuzzier gutters of heavy metal.
According to the also-archived Canadian Pop Encyclopedia, Mainstream ran from 1975 to 1983. In a CanadianBands.com bio that acknowledges input from Howe, Howe and Reny initiated the split because they “were growing disenchanted with the direction the band was [going] and decided to try it on their own…” Soon, they were headed down a more synth-laden dance pop direction under the name One To One. They circulated demos of originals recorded at Howe’s home studio. (I was unable to contact Howe or Reny for this intro.)
The demos caught the ear of Clive Corcoran, who the Canadian Pop Encyclopedia also cites as the duo’s manager. He’d eventually sign One To One to Bonaire, an international label and management company that Corcoran co-founded in 1985 with Carl Leighton-Pope, a promoter, agent, and manager of acts running the gamut from Dire Straits, UFO, Camel, Bryan Adams, Loverboy, and later, under his Leighton-Pope Organisation, the Chippendales.
The first slate of releases for Bonaire’s label and publishing arms consisted of three bands: One To One, the Glaswegian AOR group Strangeways, and Oakville, Ontario prog rockers Saga. Turns out, Corcoran and Saga already had quite the history. In fact, the rumors about that history are key to this story. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but in order to understand how Piledriver’s rabid heavy metal came to be, we first have to take a spin through Saga. By the way, this is Saga:
In the United States, Saga might be remembered best for their top-40 single “On The Loose,” the video embedded above which made MTV’s rotation, or Steve Negus’ pioneering approach to electronic drums. In the early ‘80s, though, Saga were big, real big. While the band maintained that following in Europe, it dropped off the map in North America. What happened? Well, that’s up for debate.
In a bleak piece by Jonathan Gross in the July 1986 issue of Canadian Musician titled “Canadian Musicians And Their Money,” one of Saga’s managers, Clive Corcoran, is connected to quite the scheme. “Saga was making enough money to prompt a move offshore, to Nassau where Corcoran formed a Dutch Antilles company that would exempt the band from tax status in Canada,” Gross writes. “The downside was that Saga had to become legal residents in Nassau and were allowed in Canada only three months of the year.”
Whether that’s true or not, Corcoran and Saga do indeed go way back. Here’s a snippet of the liner notes of the band’s self-titled 1978 debut that happens to introduce us to another player in the Piledriver story: “Management & Direction by CLIVE CORCORAN & ZORAN BUSIC for CBM,” with that acronym standing for “Corcoran-Busic Management.” Busic is additionally credited for the album’s “concept & design.”
Corcoran-Busic was still the management team when Saga’s 1981 album, the Rubert Hine produced Worlds Apart, went gangbusters, pushing over a million units and charting in several countries. Per Gross, after the breakout, “Corcoran and his then partner Zoran Busic had been advanced a huge sum in deutschmarks by Polygram in Hamburg.” (I was unable to contact Corcoran for this intro.)
Saga were on top of the world. And then, in a classic music business turn, subsequent albums failed to hit similar sales targets. When Gross caught up with Busic, there were questions of whether the band would even live to make another album.
“The band made some money but we also spent a lot of it,” Busic is quoted as saying. “I don’t really know what happened after Worlds Apart. Looking back I don’t think the band could deal with the changes in radio and the new music that was getting played on MTV.” The section closes with Busic’s ominous addendum regarding Saga’s deutschmarks: “The bottom line is that there really isn’t one right now.” Perhaps Busic was in a position to know. After all, he also ran Saga’s Canadian label, Maze Music. (Busic did not respond to interview requests.)
(Worth noting: In an interview with the Music Express, Saga bassist Jim Crichton chalked up the dwindling sales to something else. “Unfortunately, our manager, Clive Corcoran, who was originally from England, didn’t think we were getting a fair cut of the concert revenues. So he re-positioned us in Europe and I don’t think we played North America again consistently for about another 10 years. In retrospect, this really hurt us because when we tried to re-establish ourselves again we were no longer able to play the arena circuit.” The title of that interview? “Saga: Yes! But We’re Huge In Hamburg!” Saga are still active, by the way. They just released their 22nd album, the “acoustic re-imagining” Symmetry, earlier this March. Saga, through their current management, declined to comment on this intro.)
Busic’s Maze Music handled the Canadian releases for Saga beginning on their third album, 1980’s Silent Knight, until 1985’s Behaviour, when what remained of the band made the jump to Bonaire for 1987’s Wildest Dreams. You may not be surprised to learn that at some point during that span, the Corcoran-Busic partnership purportedly fizzled.
(Okay, cue another long parenthetical: The label is sometimes referred to as Maze Records. Both technically existed. It’s hard to ascertain which one is the parent label as Maze also cycled through a number of not-clearly-defined sub-labels. For clarity, I will use “Maze” to refer to its many entities when discussing the company at large. Busic’s involvement with Maze is substantiated by a couple of other sources, like this Metal Forces Magazine feature from 1986 and Garry Sharpe-Young’s 2007 book Metal: The Definitive Guide. Finally, fascinating tidbit for Canadians: Gross states that Busic’s business partner was Moishe Lerman, son of Thrifty’s founder Irving Lerman.)
And here’s where that long chain finally links back to our story: Maze wasn’t just a Saga depot. It made its foray into the world of heavy metal by picking up Virgin Steele’s 1982 self-titled debut and slapping on some more… hormonal art. In an ‘80s suddenly receptive to heavy metal, it did numbers. It had a bottom line, in other words. That must’ve given someone an idea. And, as Leslie Howe and Louise Reny were shopping One To One around when the Corcoran-Busic connection was still strong, they’d hear all about it.
By 1984, Gord Kirchin was steadily building a career. Following Mainstream, he played bass for Ron Chenier’s Fist (known in Europe as “Myofist” to differentiate it from the NWOBHM Fist) and did a run with Brian Greenway of April Wine. At that point, Kirchin just needed a break. Then, out of the blue, an old associate got in touch.
“I was on the road and I got a phone call from Leslie Howe stating that he was working on a heavy metal recording project that would not have a band,” Kirchin told Metallian in 2006, “but they needed a really heavy voice and [Howe] remembered me from being in [Mainstream] and having the heavy vocals.” Howe asked Kirchin. Kirchin said yes. Then Gord got the rest of the story.
“Producer/guitarist Leslie Howe was negotiating a contract for his commercial [pop] outfit One [To] One and in those conversations the record weasel said that he had a metal division wherein any album with decent cover art managed to sell about 20,000 copies no matter what shit was inside it,” Kirchin said to BeatRoute in 2016, using the “record weasel” appellation as a stand in Busic for reasons we’ll explore in the future. In Kirchin’s account, Howe said he was game. Fake a band, slap on a cover, push units. Easy. Busic then assigned Howe some homework.
“[Busic] gave [Howe] some Venom and some Slayer, and I think it was Exodus… no, it wasn’t Exodus. Blind Illusion, maybe? I can’t remember exactly, it was another Bay Area band,” Kirchin said on the Grim Dystopian podcast. “[Busic] told [Howe] to write something along these lines. So, the Venom and the Slayer crept to the top.” (For what it’s worth, put my money on Exodus. Venom, Slayer, and Exodus would go on tour in early 1985.)
In his email, Kirchin confirms the above. What I was surprised to learn was that Kirchin wasn’t prepared for what Howe could cook up. “When I got to the studio, I was blown away,” he writes. “Leslie was a decent enough rock guitarist, covering all the usual bar-band material well enough, but, not in any stellar way. But, this… this was truly above and beyond his usual pop-tinged output. He had done his homework well. I thought he really found a comfy spot between over-the-top thrashing and commercial hooks. I was quite happy to bark over it, haha.”
So, the music was legit. And the character they had in mind to front the “band” was taking shape. “The basic concept was already in place before I showed up: the name Piledriver, the idea that the singer would be all leather ‘n’ studs, and really push the sickosexbeastanimal image,” Kirchin writes. “That humor would be involved in the lyrics. This was to be the most over the top insanely disgusting and irreverent character to step into the limelight after the waning of Alice Cooper and other macabre acts that had gone soft. Metal needed a new monster man to offend parents and milquetoasts.”
When it came to the lyrics, Kirchin didn’t have to do much to inject that humor or the shock, but he did add an extra oomph. “While I did adjust minor words or phrases here and there to fit my mouth better while at the mic, I didn’t really do all that much to their lyrics conceptually,” he remembers. “At the time it was my understanding that while Les did all the production/composition, Louise was in on about half the lyrics. An example would be ‘Sodomize The Dead.’ There were variations on who/what was being sodomized (your dog, your mom, your priest) until the take where I sang ‘the dead,’ and it stuck.”
There’s something else happening in those lyrics, too. In an interview with Billboard, Reny described her lyrical approach to non-Piledriver material: “Deep down inside, I guess I’m a really bitter person. I used to work in lots of flash stripper bars and got a real depressed view of men in their lowest form. I think it’s wrecked my life. But I know I’m not going to have friends if I’m bitter, so being sarcastic is the next best thing. I think that’s where my lyrics come from. I like to surround myself with people who have a sense of humor.”
Piledriver songs like the aforementioned “Sodomize the Dead” and the wilder “Sex With Satan” are almost early proofs of concept for Reny’s later approach, unifying ‘80s extremity/degeneracy with acerbic, yet totally goofball jokes. A sampling from “Sex With Satan”: “Degradation, humiliation, thrusting, shoving, animals humping.” Lines like that signaled Piledriver was going to be be no by-the-numbers swords and sandals affair. If the aim was to rile the kind of “wholesome” people who would’ve blanched at their kids’ Alice Cooper routines a decade earlier, the project’s name and its eventual mascot were a perfect fit.
Of course, they still needed to record the damn thing. Kirchin hopped into the booth on the 18th and 20th of August 1984 and inhabited the character he was meant to play. As he recalls, Howe, Reny, and Busic planned that Piledriver the character “would be clad in leather, studs, roofing spikes, and the provocative S&M regalia.” That’s exactly the performance Gord gives: sweaty, sharp, hard, and nasty. And it seemed like Piley was already making an impression on Kirchin. “When I arrived I just helped hone [the character] into finer detail, and during the contract signing dinner, I doodled ‘him’ on the proverbial napkin to illustrate our thoughts.”
Piledriver was born. Its parents? Two synthpoppers and one music lifer. Now the record company needed an album cover. And that, if you can believe it, is when the links in this story expand exponentially. Things are about to get much deeper, weirder, and darker.
The second part of this intro will run next column. –Ian Chainey
Esoctrilihum - "Ezkikur"
Subgenre: black metal
HOW. The same word pops in my head every time I hear whatever new bugeyed sonic miscreation Esoctrilihum has pulled wriggling from the void; every time he drops a new hour-plus album a few months after the last one; every time he thoroughly, utterly pulps my skull; every time. The new LP, Dy’th Requiem For The Serpent Telepath, with 12 tracks across 78 minutes (the longest Esoc jawn yet), comes hot on the spiked heels of the F'htansg EP that dropped in October 2020 and, before that, the Eternity Of Shaog LP from May 2020. In retrospect, that's six LPs released since July 2017, with an EP for show. How. To all of you following along at home, you'll have surely memorized my three previous Esoctrilihum blurbs and will immediately recognize that the latest venture continues the melodic shift begun in earnest on Shaog. Where that album felt like a shapeless experimental black/death entity taking sudden form by diving into Emperor-style symphonic black metal, the new one starts with a clear foundation of melodic chord progressions and adds metallic violence on top. It feels like an inversion of the old approach.
That said, there's even more outside instrumentation this time courtesy of the band's main man/sole dude (a theme we will revisit today several times): Asthâghul, he of boundless vision and chin-swallowing soul patch. The music is still pretty unfriendly, and you'll find heaps of butt-thrashing death riffs and blasts aplenty to keep weaklings at a distance, but the centrality of melody feels new. I'm particularly fond of the frequent use of violin, which pairs nicely with some slower clodhopping doom chords for a three-eyed take on My Dying Bride, or something like that. Overall, there’s a bit more gothic cheese this time around, and I mean that in a good way, as someone darkly fond of the Peaceville Three and derpy weirdness like The Legendary Pink Dots (there's an instrumental on here that sounds strikingly LPDish to my aging goth ears). Our chin-beshrubbed hero even goes so far as to issue some hopeless moans that resemble submerged goth cleans, and it doesn't totally kill the vibe! (How.) For something disturbingly far from normal music, this is surprisingly easy to listen to. Give it a whirl. [From Dy'th Requiem For The Serpent Telepath, out 5/21 via I, Voidhanger Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
Mork - "Det Siste Gode I Meg"
Location: Halden, Norway
Subgenre: black metal
The bruising riff that kicks off "Det Siste Gode I Meg" has one hell of a mean mug. It’s got all the right stuff — the bold swagger of Darkthrone and the mischevious twang of Taake. After the riff kicks down the door, one-man-band Thomas Eriksen's sneering, snarling rasp spews venom right in the face. This is pure second-wave fire, executed with all the flair and pomp one would expect. (Darkthrone's Nocturno Culto does guest vocals on the album for the ultimate seal of approval, and, after all, the album's on Peaceville.) But a turn comes before the two-minute mark, when the track breaks for more expansive atmospheric territory, with operatic cleans lifting the song into epic territory. It's a bit of a basher in two-parts, then, with one kind of headbanging taking the place of another; the intrigue, though is constant. [From Katedralen, out now via Peaceville Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Tvær - "II"
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
I didn't know what cold really was until I spent four years in Minnesota for college, where mind-numbing freezes last for weeks on end, the frozen ground is as hard as rock, and all moisture turns to ice so quickly it would seem to be magic. The wind that rips across the vast flat state can be unbelievable, too, piercing your best attempts at protection from the elements with merciless, deflating ease. Cold climes are, of course, a foundational inspiration for black metal as a genre, and the music of countless bands could be called "icy." But Tvær, following many of the tried-and-true tenets of atmospheric black metal, manage to find a fresh way of recreating frigid expanses, whipping up white-outs with flair and blasting through darkened woods at breakneck speed. "II" rips remarkably, and alongside the ever dancing, meandering, and probing guitars — which carry a folksy air — the elongated shrieks and howls of vocalist A.C. carry considerable weight. "II" is the first track to surface off Tvær's debut album, which follows on a string of demos, an EP, and a live record. The rest of the album is eagerly awaited, but Tvær have already added themselves to the growing list of exciting black metal coming out of Minneapolis. [From Uvær, out 5/15 via Bindrune Recordings.] –Wyatt Marshall
Forhist - "I"
Subgenre: black metal
What’s this? Forhist? Perchance something new? Not quite: Behold the latest incarnation of the much-loved Vindsval, better known as the main man (but not, at this time, the sole dude) behind Blut aus Nord, aka the primary influence on at least half the bands on this list. Forhist is supposed to be a departure from the core Blut discography, some kind of stripped-down return to second-wave Norwegian black metal set to... chirping forest sounds. Or that's what the promo copy says. In reality this sounds an awful lot like Blut aus Nord, which is of course a very good thing, particularly as we find him in something like low-stakes Memoria Vestuta mode. (Full disclosure: Memoria Vestuta II is my favorite Blut record by far.) Set aside the industrial and light-electronic experimentation of the 777 era; the warped trip hop dirge material of Deus Salutis Meæ and Codex Obscura Nomina; the atonal butt punishment of The Work Which Transforms God and MoRT. None of that here. Instead we get frostier Blut vibes, with a gentle undercurrent of melancholy, like an easy listening take on Ultima Thulée (quite possibly the best ever album recorded by a bored 15-year-old). Swirl in some cheep-cheeping birds and Future Sound Of London-style nature-cum-biodome sounds, and it's woodsy Blut frolicking in the forest with the grumkins and snarks, just a few steps ahead of Gargamel and Azrael, a black metal Tom Bombadil just doing his thing. When the synths fade in, suddenly it's contemplative Blut cross-country skiing through the French countryside; as the pastel sunset fades, new age synths burble up beneath the guitars to open your root chakra and inscribe your soul with newfound depths of mellow. Blut-lite, but basically Blut. Ensorcelled by the chillest vibes. [From Forhist, out now via Debemur Morti Productions.] –Aaron Lariviere
Herzel - "Maîtres De L'Océan"
Location: Quimper, France
Subgenre: heavy metal
Herzel come straight from the halcyon days of classic heavy metal, and on "Maîtres de l'Océan" absolutely styled big riffs lead a no-frills mix in a headlong charge into the fray. Our other hero, Thomas on vox (no shade to the rest of the very tight band), brings as compelling a vocal performance as any in memory, with the energetic delivery and rolling French vowels adding epic flair to the crazy catchy track. It's the stuff teenage metal dreams are made of — it bounces with quickening heart and leads the listener down path after path of epic axe work. The band looks to local history for inspiration — Brittany, battles, and legends are what keep Herzel going, sustaining hopes that Herzel could indeed be the platonic ideal of a heavy metal band. The five-piece of trad warriors had a previous demo that released five years ago, and the intervening time was spent studying the craft and honing the blade. Between Eternal Champion's pitch-perfect retro masterpiece Ravening Iron last year and this killer album, heavy metal maniacs have been feasting. Break out the chalices. [From Le Dernier Rampart, out now via Gates of Hell Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Krallice - "Disgust Patterns"
Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: black metal
Way back in 2017, we gave our "album of the year" to three Krallice albums, none of which really sounded alike. Supremely Black Market move. It had a purpose. "Suffice it to say: there has never been another band quite like these guys and there never will be," Doug wrote. "People are gonna be looking back at this run and marveling for years, so enjoy living through it."
There's no need to look back; the run hasn't stopped. Last August, the New York quartet dropped Mass Cathexis, a mighty slab of a myriad of styles united by the absurd technical chops of all involved. It eventually made our year-end list because of course it did. 210 days after the release of that one, we now have Demonic Wealth, which is not just the name that half the Senate gave to the stimulus package. And, surprise, the album bangs. Also, it's completely different than what has come before. Also, also, it is weird!
Perhaps that weirdness is due to the recording circumstances. Krallice's Bandcamp, ever the source of record for whatever the hell this band gets up to, hints at sessions recorded in "isolation." For instance, here are the notes for the vocals performed by Mick Barr in a guitar-less role this time: "vocals recorded in the car by the swamp." So, New Jersey.
The varying quality of the sound sources (Lev Weinstein recorded his drums... on a phone), combined with the fact that the players were in different places, gives Demonic Wealth a real disheveled and oddly ensorcelled feel, in the best of ways. This is maybe Krallice at their spaciest and most necro. (And I guess we're getting more of the latter when the perpetually recording Colin Marston drops Urthshroud later this week.) At times, tracks like the bonkers one-two of "Mass For The Strangled" and "Sapphire" sound like what old Manes would've conjured after an absinthe bender. At others, the fog of keyboards are blown away by Nicholas McMaster's propulsive bass and you can briefly see a clear sky of beguiling guitar chimes and many-note flurries of later King Crimson or Allan Holdsworth. It's real neat. "Shout back through time/ to speak a withered idea/ in a withered language/ just to finish," Barr howls on "Disgust Patterns." This album proves that Krallice are nowhere near finished. [From Demonic Wealth, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Mare Cognitum - "Luminous Accretion"
By now it should have dawned on you we're in the grip of something: The metal on tap this month is unreal, especially in this style. Esoctrilihum, Blut aus Nord (basically), Spectral Lore, and Mare Cognitum in absurd proximity. In a lesser year, any of these could be album of the year, and we're forced to process them all in a single month. Funny, too, that the last time we heard from Mare Cognitum was also in tandem with Spectral Lore, when they dropped the two-hour monstrosity of a split LP Wanderers: Astrology Of The Nine, which rightfully claimed the penultimate slot in our 2020 year-end list, a worthy and well-fought victory. So here we are with Mare Cognitum's fifth LP, Solar Paroxysm, and it rips so hard I can't form a coherent thought. I'm trying to listen to "Luminous Accretion" as I write this, and... it's too much. Had to hit pause just to find myself. Go ahead and try it. Put on your good headphones, click play; try to keep reading my stupid blurb.
Main man/sole dude Jacob Buczarski has always been a few light years beyond his peers in terms of production and execution, but the guitars and drum programming on display here outshine everything he’s done to date. Rhythmically pristine and compositionally insane in terms of the layering involved (sounds like eight guitars at any one time and a mechanical octopus on drums), it's just overwhelming. The first 30 seconds of "Luminous Accretion" are a tease, just loosening you up with a drum onslaught before the guitars properly emerge and take control. At the minute mark he's doing some kind of counterpoint melodeath riff I can't even describe and the drums just explode in every direction, and from there it's relentless. Worst/best of all, he makes it sound easy. By the end we're ripping through light speed thrash drenched in screaming leads, like it's perfectly normal to make atmospheric black metal sound like this, when literally no one else can. Unreal. [From Solar Paroxysm, out now via Extraconscious Records / I, Voidhanger Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
Spectral Lore - "The Sorcerer Above The Clouds"
Location: Athens, Greece
Subgenre: black metal
Hard to believe it’s been seven years since the last proper Spectral Lore full-length, the 87-minute behemoth that was III. Main man/sole dude Ayloss has made plenty of music since then, including three EPs (each ranging between 35 and 49 minutes, so album-length for normal humans), three splits (including the 2 hour monolith of a split with Mare Cognitum last year), and an excellent single (a stridently anti-fascist Book Of Sand cover). And all of it is absolutely essential, bar none some of the best and most interesting black metal of the new millennium. Yet his full-lengths always seem to dig deeper somehow. The last album is still one of my favorite black metal albums of all time, in part because so much of it is unexpected, exploratory in new ways. I still get lost inside it every time, the way it feels like Ayloss seems to lose himself within a labyrinth of his own riffs, only to drop the thinnest thread and frantically claw musician and listener back into the light. Each EP was a bit of a departure, interesting in their own right, but somehow outside of the main catalog; it feels good to have this band back and firing on all cylinders.
The new LP, Ετερόφωτος, which roughly translates to “the one whose light comes from others,” feels different than the serpentine and progressive III, instead harking back to the blistering punishment of 2012’s Sentinel, another excellent record that in many ways builds off of early Blut aus Nord to predict where Mare Cognitum would ultimately go, though it has an energy of its own. On the new LP, “The Sorcerer Above The Clouds” finds Spectral Lore more directly incorporating classic Hellenic black metal sounds — something Ayloss has done at many points throughout his career, including when he lent godly leads to the untouchable Locust Leaves record in 2017 — but here it’s something else. What starts like a ripping variation on Varathron or early Rotting Christ soon grows epic and expansive in the telling (not unlike Macabre Omen) only to take sudden a left turn into discord and darkness. We’re lost without a light as something unknowable swirls in the dark, chiming in time to a morbid heartbeat. Suddenly the bass swerves out of control and we’re caught in the teeth of a grinding death metal riff, still lost, still tumbling out of control. It’s when the classic Hellenic melody suddenly cuts through like a solar flare that the picture takes shape, the feel of the thing takes root like a jagged poem, and it’s classic Spectral Lore. [From Ετερόφωτος, out 4/23 via I, Voidhanger Records.] –Aaron Lariviere
Bríi - "B"
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
When we featured Kaatayra’s “Miséria da Sabedoria” last August, I went into some detail about how at 26-minutes in length the rainforest black metal epic was likely the longest track we’d ever featured in the Black Market, and that the song was just three minutes shorter than Napalm Death’s great album From Enslavement To Obliteration. Well, Caio Lemos, the mastermind of both Kaatayra and Bríi — the two projects are driven by similar dark, wild jungle spirits — has outdone himself by two minutes with “B,” and is now just one minute short of that Napalm Death mark. (The other half of this new amazing album, “A,” is of equal length.) Considering “B” as a song, though, is looking at it the wrong way. It’s a movement, one that begins with surreal ambience and techno that conjures mystery and strange shifting spirits; with blips emulating trickling water, muffled crashes of digital lighting, and an ever-building fever pitch, a comparison to the dark arts of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement is almost inevitable. When “B” explodes, though, it does so with utterly devastating force, shattering the fabric of the reality Lemos has created thus far and opening a gateway to a realm of boundless energy. Few tracks, if any, hit so furiously or feverishly, and none manage to work in the diverse ephemera Lemos does, with endless cascades of guitar heroics, forays of prog, and utterly surreal wildcards that come as surprises and leave endearing lasting impressions. Strap on a good pair of headphones and enjoy. [From Sem Propósito, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Cannibal Corpse - "Inhumane Harvest"
Location: Tampa, FL
Subgenre: death metal
Man, been a minute since I’ve been here. This marks my first month back in the saddle since 2020, after life and work got in the way, and here I am with five absurdly sick tracks to cover, with the sickest one staring down the barrel. Hope you’re all hanging in there. I’ll admit, for a few months my heavy metal fortitude seemed to be slipping; I was more apt to listen to Autechre or Steve Roach or whatever could calm my nerves in the moment and get me through the workday. Earlier this month, something clicked back in place after a friend’s suggestion to spend some quality time with Deicide’s second album, Legion, a batshit death metal classic if ever there was one. It lit a spark, and because I’m weird and broken, before I knew it, I had binged the entire Deicide catalog over a weekend, tip to tail. It was surprisingly good! (Consider me a late converting anti-Catholic.)
A few days later, when news broke in the metal community that LG Petrov had died of cancer — LG being the longtime singer of Swedish gods Entombed — it hit a lot harder than I was expecting. He was young, and his band cast a long shadow. It’s an irrational response, and maybe a selfish one, considering how much death we’ve seen in the last year — but it felt wrong to lose someone like that now, on top of everything else. Just about everyone I know sat down that day and listened to Entombed, reliving the formative greatness of Left Hand Path and Clandestine (even if LG sat that one out). The chainsaw guitar tone still taps something primal; LG’s vocals on the first record epitomize what makes death metal great. I sat there listening to those records on repeat, captive to the sway of the riffs, and that old feeling started to bubble up. If it’s been a while, I encourage you to go back to those records; they were recorded by teenagers, before death metal had calcified into a definitive genrefied thing, and they still sound better and more inventive than just about anything. Endless respect to LG. Rest in peace. And that was it for me: Thanks to a few ancient bands, my faith in metal is restored. Death metal is life. And it turns out I’ve missed this — listening to something as obscenely perfect as the new Cannibal Corpse really hammers it home.
You may or may not realize change is afoot in Cannibal Corpse country: Longtime guitarist Pat O’Brien is out after 23 years, following his 2018 arrest for burglary and assault (police found over 80 firearms on his property, including a flamethrower and three skulls). And now the godlike riff mercenary Erik Rutan — of Hate Eternal, Morbid Angel, and Ripping Corpse — is in, and it’s probably the biggest level-up for Cannibal Corpse since George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher replaced the seminal (but mostly terrible) Chris Barnes on vocals. Don’t get me wrong; personal failings aside, Pat O’Brien was crucial to Cannibal’s success. We’ve talked about this before (at length), but O’Brien’s first album with Cannibal, 1998’s Gallery Of Suicide, may be chronically underappreciated, but it is in fact quite sick. O’Brien lent the band a technical edge, and per the random unattributed bio on his Metal Archives page, “He has writing credits on some of Cannibal Corpse's more complicated songs, including "Hatchet To The Head," "Systematic Elimination," "Frantic Disembowelment." and "Blunt Force Castration."” Fortunately, if we have to replace the man behind “Blunt Force Castration,” at least with Erik Rutan we’re getting one of the best guitarists alive.
If it’s hard to imagine how Rutan’s chunky, post-Morbid Angel cosmic smear of a guitar style fits into a band as spudly and reductive as Cannibal Corpse, fear not — it sounds incredible. After all, Rutan produced 4 of the last 5 Cannibal albums (all except A Skeletal Domain, which still rules, but slightly less so). If anything, the new album, Violence Unimagined, their 15th overall, leans into the steamrolling slow crush of latter-day gems like “Scourge Of Iron”, and it makes for a more diverse and substantially stronger album than usual, perhaps their best since 2012’s note-perfect Torture. Let’s be honest: If you don’t already love Cannibal Corpse, I can’t help you. (Also, why are you here?) “Inhumane Harvest” takes a staccato thrash opening, lurches from violent riff to violent riff before stomping through a brutal midtempo chug laced with Rutan’s spectral leads. It’s Cannibal Corpse. It’s perfect. [From Violence Unimagined, out 4/16 via Metal Blade Records.] –Aaron Lariviere