The Month In Metal – July 2021
Iron Maiden released the official video of its new single, “The Writing On the Wall,” to YouTube on July 15. At the time I’m writing this, the frequent Trad Belt holders’ first stream from their forthcoming 17th full-length, Senjutsu, has racked up 6,885,982 views. That’s a lot of views. Like… a mainstream amount of views. And here I am, writing about it. I still can’t get over that. It’s not every day that a band we might talk about in the Black Market, for reasons other than post-peak-thrash oafishness, makes that kind of dent in the zeitgeist. But that’s kind of the thing: Maiden are one of the few heavy metal bands that appeal to normal people and nerds at pretty much the same level.
In the aftermath of Iron Maiden’s viewplosion, plenty of reasons have been offered to explain the massive response: “The Writing On the Wall” is Maiden’s first new music in nearly six years, the longest layoff in the NWOBHM institution’s nearly 40-plus-year career; this hyper-online age of instant reactions and other forms of circular viral engagement is uniquely engineered to spin up ludicrous numbers; it’s a decent song with a fun video; and on and on and on. All of that is probably worth investigating. Of course, me being me and this column being this column, I thought, Huh, I wonder if I can make a dumb metric out of that.
Without further gum-flapping, let me introduce the Iron Maiden Number (IMN), a stat designed to measure a heavy metal artist or band’s mainstream relevancy. Specifically, IMN estimates the likelihood that an imaginary, average early 20-something, music-curious person (IAE20MCP) has heard an artist or band if they’re already familiar with Iron Maiden.
IMN, then, has few use cases:
1. It creates a tier of “gateway” bands, which are entry-level bands that start fans on the path to blissful, life-ruining heavy metal discovery.
2. It sets an in-the-moment threshold for what can and cannot be considered underground.
3. It allows you to test whether an obscure artist has actually broken out.
4. You get to laugh at how defiantly unpopular the Black Market’s monthly selections tend to run. There’s… no hiding it anymore.
Ah, but does IMN actually work? Welp, let’s find out.
Naturally, before we begin, I need to issue the usual caveats:
First, since I’m working with numbers, let it be known that I am not a statistician and I, in fact, have failed math at every educational level possible. My usual go-to for brainy things, Avinash Mittur, provided support. Even under his watchful eye, I made some ludicrously arbitrary decisions and probably failed to carry the everything on my abacus.
Second, I’m working with some small sample sizes here, so, you know, grain of salt, etc. Like, I don’t think IMN is going to body Chartmetric out of business.
Third, IMN does not measure music quality, only relative popularity among a composite of fictional youths at the exact time these measurements are taken. Let me restate that: What IMN favors is not inherently good or bad and will probably look way wrong to older metalheads whose context calcified around their respective senior years of high school. Please cut and paste that below when the inevitable skimmer complains in the comments.
Finally, please refer to any of the other dumb stats intros, a Black Market genre at this point, for a more detailed list of reasons why I’m dumb.
Okay. Now for the extremely boring and excruciatingly long section on methodology where I transform into Hate Silver, the corpsepainted Excel abuser of FiveBlergyEight. If you don’t care about how these numbers came to be and you just want to see the results, scroll down until you see the next embedded video: Napalm Death’s “You Suffer,” for obvious reasons.
IMN rips off is modeled on baseball’s OPS+, which seeks to measure a batter’s relative offensive value to the league average. The big difference is that, instead of a league average, we’re going to use Iron Maiden as a baseline.
Similar to OPS+, IMN is based on two other calculations. The first is a General Populace Score (Gen Pop Score or GPS), built from various “mainstream” data points. The second is a Data Of Recommendation Knowers Score (DORK Score or DS), built from various music nerd data points. The final IMN equation looks like this:
((Gen Pop Score / Iron Maiden’s Gen Pop Score) + (DORK Score / Iron Maiden’s DORK Score) -1) * 100 = Iron Maiden Number
This sets Iron Maiden’s IMN, no matter what changes with its individual GPS or DS, at 100. The idea is that, as one of metal’s premiere gateway bands that metalheads still enjoy after solving the Lament Configuration that is extreme metal enjoyment, Maiden’s IMN should be constant because metal’s general popularity is pegged to it. In essence, if Maiden get more popular, we should see a similar uptick in metal fans in even the most subterranean reaches of the underground. If that uptick doesn’t occur, the affected artists and bands will become more obscure, which, for the purposes of this intro means that an IAE20MCP is less likely to encounter said artists and bands. Lastly, if Maiden get less popular, then we have to assume that they have been canceled and/or sacrificed to appease the algorithmic Zoomer god that resides within TikTok in which case please forget that I wrote any of this.
Setting Iron Maiden’s IMN to a static number also allows me to make the following table to help you interpret the results. This will in no way come back to bite me.
100 or Above: The Gateway Tier. It is extremely likely that an IAE20MCP has encountered these artists/bands if they’re familiar with Iron Maiden.
99 – 0: The Mainstream. These artists/bands have some mainstream cultural cachet and/or name recognition and thus would not require much effort to hear. Any IMN below zero belongs to the Underground.
-1 – -50: The Upper Underground. These bands will be familiar to an Average Younger Metalhead (AYM) and are on the verge of entering or re-entering the mainstream.
-51 – -85: The Lower Underground. These artists/bands aren’t as familiar to AYMs, although they’ll probably be familiar to Geriatrics Remembering Artists of Yore, or GRAYs. As such, these artists/bands either maintain or are building sizable fanbases. In addition, -85 is the Obscurity Breakout Line. When an underground music source makes the claim that an artist/band has “broken out” or is about to, it means that its IMN is at or above -85.
-86 – -95: The Obscurity Purgatory. Artists/bands could easily move back into the Lower Underground with a decent new album or AYM rediscovery. In addition, -95 is the Black Market Breakout Line. When an arcanum-trafficking monthly heavy metal listicle such as, say, Stereogum’s the Black Market makes the claim that an artist/band has “broken out” or is about to, it means that its IMN is at or above -95.
-96 or Below: The Black Market Zone. Everything in here is obscure to AYMs and GRAYs. Again, this isn’t a value judgment. It just is. I mean… it’s all great and very relevant music! Please don’t fire me.
Quick note before we get deeper into the weeds: You might be wondering, if the IMN measures mainstream relevancy, why do we need a DORK Score? Well, while we’ve established that music discovery is probably different than it used to be, I don’t think we can remove nerds from the equation yet. Imagine an IAE20MCP showing up to a party. A nerd asks, “What are you into?” IAE20MCP answers, “Iron Maiden.” The nerd responds, “That’s cool… but have you heard WORMED?????????? Perhaps you’d like to read my awesome Top 200 list for more cool bands, poser.” Speaking from experience, a persistently annoying nerd is a powerful external force. You can’t ignore that. I said, you can’t ignore t — are you still reading?
Alright, let’s crunch some numbers.
FINDING GEN POP SCORE
The Gen Pop Score emphasizes extreme recency bias, album release frequency, and titanic, too-big-too-fail enormity. It collects data from three mainstream sources, Spotify, YouTube, and eBay, and then adds bonuses and adjustments based on performance.
Spotify is where most normal people do the bulk of their listening. This is why we’re assuming our IAE20MCP is a younger person because I, an old, weird person, don’t use Spotify and still listen to FM radio. Please euthanize me. Also, I’d like to tip my cap to Metal Injection for its monthly Spotify tracking series and Rick Beato for his occasional top 10 videos. Both are illuminating and provided some inspiration.
As a source that’s often linked to and ripped from, YouTube is an okay stand-in for all of social media and is weighted as such.
eBay provides a rough guesstimate of the merch market. Seeing a lot of band shirts out in the wild has to count for something, even if it counts for far less than the other two sources. I would’ve preferred average concert attendance or gross ticket sales, but I… doubt the veracity of any data that’s available since it stinks of PR.
[My commentary is in brackets.]
1. Find ARTIST/BAND’s average monthly listeners on Spotify.
2. Multiply that number by the Spotify Bonus, if applicable. The Spotify Bonus can be found by dividing the years since ARTIST/BAND’s full-length debut by ARTIST/BAND’s total number of full-lengths. This is called the Ek Number, after Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, who famously said, “There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.” If ARTIST/BAND’s Ek Number is under 2.5, apply a 20 percent bonus. If ARTIST/BAND’s Ek Number is under 1.5, apply a 30 percent bonus. The product is the Spotify Score.
TROUBLESHOOTING: If ARTIST/BAND has not yet released a full-length, but has one scheduled for this year, it receives the full Spotify Bonus. If not, it does not receive a bonus.
[I think Ek was mostly referring to singles, but this is metal, a full-length style, so I’ve snarkily updated that hot take accordingly. Also, despite what nerds who collect demo cassettes want you to believe, everyone knows bands don’t really start until the LP drops. Release the album, Mare, you cowards.]
3. Find ARTIST/BAND’s most-viewed video on YouTube.
[Ideally, if I was more serious about this and didn’t hash out these equations on a toilet paper square during a bathroom break at work, I’d pick the video that was “performing” the best, but… yeah. I also tried to use videos uploaded by band/label accounts whenever possible.]
4. Divide the views by the YouTube Adjustment, which is number of years since the video was uploaded. The quotient is the YouTube Score.
5. Search eBay for “ARTIST/BAND shirt” in the clothing subsection.
[You may have to search “ARTIST/BAND band shirt” to get relevant hits. These numbers never seem consistent, anyway. Just go with it.]
6. Divide that return by years since ARTIST/BAND’s full-length debut and then multiply the quotient by 666. The product is the Shirt Score.
TROUBLESHOOTING: If ARTIST/BAND has not yet released a full-length, but has one scheduled for this year, the divisor is one. If not, use the year ARTIST/BAND formed instead.
[Bands that haven’t been on this earth long enough to make a bunch of merch shouldn’t be penalized, so I’ll use longevity as a way to even the playing field.]
7. Add the Spotify Score, YouTube Score, and Shirt Score together.
8. If ARTIST/BAND has released an album since 2020 or is planning to release one before 2022, apply a 10 percent bonus to the total in Step 7. This is the New Album Bump. Otherwise, keep the total from Step 7. The result is the GPS.
((Spotify monthly listeners * Spotify Bonus) + (Highest viewed YouTube video / YouTube Adjustment) + ((eBay shirt results / years since debut) *666)) * New Album Bump, if applicable = Gen Pop Score
EXAMPLE: IRON MAIDEN’S GEN POP SCORE
[Numbers current for late July 2021. You will have to update these numbers for accurate results.]
- Iron Maiden have 6,954,754 monthly listeners on Spotify.
- Maiden released their debut, Iron Maiden, in 1980, roughly 41 years ago. They have released 16 full-lengths to date (Senjutsu, their 17th, is not out yet). Maiden’s Ek Number, then, is 2.5625, which does not qualify for a Spotify Bonus.
- Maiden’s highest viewed video from an official source is the official video for “The Number of the Beast.” It has been viewed 51,744,410 times. It was uploaded on August 7, 2015.
- Divide the YouTube views by 5, which is the number of years that have passed since the video was uploaded.
- “Iron Maiden shirt” turns up 7,502 results on eBay.
- Divide the eBay results by 41. Multiply the quotient by 666.
- Add the Spotify Score, YouTube Score, and Shirt Score together.
- Maiden are releasing Senjutsu on September 3 via Parlophone. Apply a 10 percent bonus to the sum found in the last step.
- Bow your head at the almighty GPS.
FINDING DORK SCORE
The DORK Score emphasizes old things and “DORK Purity,” which can be defined as quality over quantity with an extreme preference for release infrequency. (Pure DORK artists/bands are those that only release a limited number of highly regarded full-lengths and break up because you can’t screw up what you never follow up.) DS collects data from two nerdy sources, Last.fm and RateYourMusic (RYM), and then adds bonuses and adjustments based on age and performance.
Last.fm is a music-tracking platform that only performative nerds still care about. Not surprisingly, heavy metal bands tend to perform better on Last.fm than Spotify.
RYM is a list-stuffed nerd haven. Its rating system provides insight into what nerds would most likely recommend. Within a discography, albums embraced by nerds have a greater number of ratings than those perceived as toxic to all nerds except contrarians. (Example: To Mega Therion: 5,535 ratings. Cold Lake: 1,249 ratings.) Therefore, a stronger discography should receive more average ratings per album than a weaker one on the same general popularity tier.
[My commentary is in brackets.]
1. Find ARTIST/BAND’s total number of listeners on Last.fm.
2. Add up the total number of ARTIST/BAND’s full-length ratings on RateYourMusic. Multiply that number by 10. The product is the Adjusted RYM Score.
3. If ARTIST/BAND’s Adjusted RYM Score is over 75 percent of its Last.fm listenership, a Double DORK Bonus of 2.5 percent is triggered. If the Adjusted RYM Score exceeds the Last.fm Score, it triggers a Double DORK Bonus of 5 percent. Multiply the Adjusted RYM Score by the Double DORK Bonus, if applicable. The product is the Double DORK RYM Score.
[A high Adjusted RYM Score in relation to a Last.fm listenership suggests nerds are pushing for ARTIST/BAND’s increased relevancy. However, because no one actually listens to nerds, the Double DORK Bonus should be small.]
4. Divide the Double DORK RYM Score by ARTIST/BAND’s total number of full-lengths. The quotient is the RYM Score.
TROUBLESHOOTING: If ARTIST/BAND has not yet released a full-length, the RYM Score is zero.
5. Divide ARTIST/BAND’s total number of listeners on Last.fm by ARTIST/BAND’s total number of full-lengths. The quotient is the Last.fm Score.
TROUBLESHOOTING: If ARTIST/BAND has not yet released a full-length, the Last.fm Score is the Last.fm total listeners number.
[You can’t screw up your full-length discography if you never release a full-length.]
6. Add the RYM Score and Last.fm Score together.
7. Multiply the sum found in Step 6 by the Too Old Too Cold Bonus, which is the number of decades since a band formed. The result is the DS.
(RYM Score + Last.fm Score) * Too Old Too Cold Bonus = DORK Score
EXAMPLE: IRON MAIDEN’S DORK SCORE
[Numbers current for late July 2021. You will have to update these numbers for accurate results.]
- Iron Maiden have 139,721 RYM ratings on their 16 released full-lengths. Multiply that number by 10.
- Maiden have 2,267,102 total listeners on Last.fm.
- Maiden’s Adjusted RYM Score is roughly 62 percent of its Last.fm listenership, therefore it does not trigger a Double DORK Bonus.
- Divide the Double DORK RYM Score, which is just the Adjusted RYM Score since no bonus was applied, by 16.
- Divide the Last.fm listenership by 16.
- Add the RYM Score and Last.fm Score together.
- Maiden formed in 1975, per Encyclopaedia Metallum. They receive a Too Old Too Cold Bonus of 4.6. Multiply the sum in the previous step by the Too Old Too Cold Bonus.
- Gaze in wonder at the DS.
Yep. All of that totally made sense.
I have calculated the Iron Maiden Number for over 100 bands. Before we get into the big list, let’s pull out a subsection so we can ease into this madness. Here’s the Big 4 of thrash.
On the whole, this played out pretty much how I expected. If our IAE20MCP is familiar with Iron Maiden, it’s highly likely they’ve already encountered Metallica. Really, how could they not; Metallica is one of heavy metal’s foremost gateway bands. Slayer and Megadeth don’t quite reach those heights of mainstream ubiquity and are therefore less likely. That said, both still place firmly in the mainstream zone. Both probably would’ve been a lot higher if we ran their respective IMNs in, like, 1992. The same could probably be said for Anthrax. which now slips into the underground. That wailing noise you can hear is a million GRAYs realizing they’re old.
Let’s go a little deeper. Metallica’s god-status isn’t much of a surprise. They’re the biggest metal band currently on the planet. As such, their GPS is enormous, led by the video for “Nothing Else Matters” that has been seen 997,083,737 times on YouTube, which is fitting because, when it comes to Metallica’s post-Justice originals, truly, nothing else matters. If there is a surprise, it’s how dominant Metallica’s DS continues to be. Iron Maiden have an insane DS and yet, despite being a joke among metal nerds for the past 30 years, Metallica nearly doubled it. The joke is on us.
What’s intriguing is the battle for second. Megadeth have five platinum albums to Slayer’s zero, and this plays out in Megadeth’s Spotify Score, which nearly doubles Slayer’s. However, Slayer absolutely crush the YouTube Score and Shirt Score, which helps drive their GPS, just barely, past Megadeth. Slayer extends their lead in DS. While Megadeth are probably the best of the Big 4 from a post-2000 quality perspective, their strategy of dropping a new eh album every few years has backfired among nerds, sinking their per-album RYM average. Oh, yeah, and Super Collider. That didn’t help, either. Slayer have sucked since Seasons, but they have released fewer sucky albums. That made the difference.
Finally, I don’t know how to put this: I don’t think young people are familiar with Anthrax. They were a distant fourth in all measurables. They made up some ground with a decent DS, but even that lagged noticeably behind. Anthrax are still big, but they’re definitely the last of the four, sinking into the Upper Underground as the “uh… oh yeah, them” of pub quiz answers. AYMs, check out “Bring The Noise”?
Here’s the bigger list. I’m going to split this into chunks and supply some brief analysis as we’re flushed down the IMN pipe.
GATEWAY TIER AND THE MAINSTREAM
Ozzy Osbourne: 602
Black Sabbath: 164
Iron Maiden: 100
Deep Purple: 50
Judas Priest: 7
Killswitch Engage: 6
In Flames: 3
NOTES: Ozzy is still riding high off his Post Malone collaboration. It’s a great example of how extreme recency bias exponentially influences IMN.
While Black Sabbath are rightly entrenched as a gateway band, it still feels like they should have a higher IMN. The IMN doesn’t quite match Black Sabbath’s perceived importance, which could be a commentary on the increasing obsolesce of heavy metal folklorists like myself. GRAYs, be warned: This effect will befall all older bands.
Ghost’s popularity still confuses me greatly. Blue Öyster Cult have an IMN of -5, if you’re curious.
Motörhead’s IMN is primarily driven by one factor: Everyone watched that cover of “Heroes” teary-eyed after Lemmy passed. RIP.
I think of Deep Purple as a gateway band, but the fact that they’re hanging around with such a good score is pretty impressive for a band their age. I ran a few other classic rock bands for kicks and the results run the gamut. Led Zeppelin: 286. Rush: 13. Weird! If you were into rock, I feel like those records just showed up on your doorstep the day you turned 12. Things done changed?
I was pleased by how global IMN results turned out to be. If this was ‘Muricah only, I don’t think you’d see Nightwish, Volbeat, or In Flames in the mainstream zone. To wit, I found out what a Volbeat is due to this exercise. (Surprise: I don’t like it.) In my defense, Volbeat got destroyed by DS.
Killswitch Engage’s most-viewed YouTube video is a cover of “Holy Diver.” Make of that what you will.
THE UPPER UNDERGROUND
Lamb Of God: -7
Dream Theater: -28
Amon Amarth: -32
Lacuna Coil: -44
Cradle Of Filth: -45
NOTES: Ooooooookay. Here’s where things start getting odd, inflaming my GRAY biases. But, I have to remember, IMN represents the likelihood that an IAE20MCP has heard a band and not that, like, Jinjer will ride their recent YouTube virality to headline over Lamb Of God or Dream Theater.
That said, this is batshit: Are people really still listening to Isis on Spotify now that Isis means Isis? Some of these results feel like holdovers from ‘00s nerdity, remnants of a Blogspot past that still haunts Last.fm.
Spiritbox, a kind of djenty hybrid band out of Canada, are an interesting test case I wanted to include. The quartet has done numbers on all of the mainstream platforms but doesn’t have a full-length out yet. I think the -50 is a pretty good representation of what happens when GPS and DS are so at odds. GPS still wins out.
Deafheaven suck. Moving on.
THE LOWER UNDERGROUND
Blind Guardian: -53
Celtic Frost: -58
Dimmu Borgir : -60
Devin Townsend: -64
At The Gates: -65
Power Trip: -67
Cannibal Corpse: -68
Unleash The Archers: -68
Red Fang: -70
Blood Incantation: -70
Morbid Angel: -70
Mercyful Fate: -72
Paradise Lost: -72
Pig Destroyer: -73
Bolt Thrower: -77
King Diamond: -80
Napalm Death: -80
Dying Fetus: -80
High On Fire: -80
Wolves In The Throne Room: -80
Oranssi Pazuzu: -80
Dark Angel: -83
NOTES: I’m going to add two bands that I didn’t include in my original run because I find the results so funny. Demilich have an IMN of -58. Weakling have an IMN of -75. By releasing one album each, these bands have achieved total and utter DORK Purity. You can just imagine an IAE20MCP hunting for lists and falling for either as early onset nerd brain starts creeping in despite neither band being popular AT ALL.
The rest of this tier makes some sense (though IMN cousins are rarely 1:1 comparisons), though newer, “hotter” bands have obviously received a big push thanks to solid GPS tallies. You’d expect a few of these bands to regress in the coming decades. The other risers, like Atheist, outperformed DS averages. That’s the GRAY muscle, positioning bands to be “rediscovered.” Keep the flame burning.
Tomb Mold: -87
Running Wild: -89
Saint Vitus: -90
Defeated Sanity: -94
Manilla Road: -95
NOTES: Now this is interesting. You have your expected breakouts, but you also have a ton of bands that should be bigger if common sense dictates anything! It kills me that Voivod are here!
What’s really interesting is Gwar, whose standing would be improved immensely if we could count concert draw. This would suggest that their listenership doesn’t match the live show spectacle.
Incantation is also a surprise considering how many Inclonetations now walk amongst us. They had a brutal GPS and their DS lagged way behind a lot of what they influenced. Bizarre.
I guess we can call it: Baest and Crypta have broken out of the Black Market. Congrats.
Here are a few other bands worth mentioning that couldn’t crack the Obscurity Purgatory but held the Trad Belt at some point: Virgin Steele, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, and Atlantean Kodex. All came in with a -96 IMN. Trad is probably the most palatable metal genre soundwise for normal people but something about its old-fart aesthetic makes it more obscure than others. That’s a thesis if someone wants it.
THE BLACK MARKET ZONE
As promised, here’s the IMN of everything we covered in the last column. Not all of this is in the Black Market Zone… but a lot of it is.
Unto Others: -90
Silver Lake: -93
Jute Gyte: -99
Body Void: -99
Bridge Burner: -99
Eternal Sword: -100
Notes: No comment. We cover very important heavy metal musics.
Final takeaways: No statistic is an objective measure. They’re used primarily to tell the story the creator wants to tell. IMN is no different. Some of the results check out, a lot feel insane to me. I could push the narrative that I’m not an IAE20MCP and therefore this is how young people would process heavy metal. But, really, it’s just a lot of noise. IAE20MCPs are not real. IMN is not real. None of it is real.
Still, as a form of entertainment? What a dumb, fun prism to see heavy metal through. IMN doesn’t do much else but confuse, enrage, and make you distrustful of strawman youth, a fitting contribution to hot-take metal culture. The real fun comes when you plug non-metal stuff into the equation. Want to feel extremely insignificant, metalhead? Olivia Rodrigo currently has an IMN of 2,170. –Ian Chainey
Pušča - “Headlights”
Location: Lviv, Ukraine
Subgenre: post-black metal
Pušča play gorgeous mid-tempo melancholy music, borrowing lightly from a post-black metal palette to bring nocturnal magic to an earthy kind of alt rock. Wistful longing is at the core of “headlights,” a track written for the time of day when you’d need to flip them on, as grey days grow darker, night strips away the last of light, and the world becomes a lonelier, less knowable place. Singer Seira’s breathy vocals begin as delicate remembrances before rising to arresting wails, as recollections of something lost become unbearable and break through restraints. The black metal influence here is of the Alcest kind, ethereal and more blue than black, and Pušča employ the double kick in ways that you sometimes wished other bands would, enlivening a song that is great on its own with an extra shot of stomach-unsettling drama. The band, a four-piece, has just four recorded tracks to its name across a single, split, and now an EP, offering a glimpse into an absorbing world of lush gloom. What comes next is eagerly awaited. [From headlights / I left my home, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Antro - “Totem Nuclear”
Subgenre: hardcore / crust / grindcore
Antro’s debut demo sounds ancient in the best way. Of course, you knew you were in good hands when you spied the label: Lower Class Kids Records. The German tapeheads have unleashed bangers from Thin, Kobol, and the awesomely named Borf in the past year, positioning LCKR as a grind/hardcore/metalpunk must-follow. Antro are another winner, a frenzied rat king fusing together ‘80s hardcore and crust, inchoate grind like Righteous Pigs, and early Celtic Frost at its most angel-dusted. Admittedly, this is probably more Tom’s beat, whose monthly hardcore column, Let The Roundup Begin, never fails to unearth a ton of solid finds. But I think metalheads will find a lot to love here, too. In fact, Antro have some metal bona fides: per the Bandcamp notes, someone from the cosmic doom crawlers Hexer is also in these ranks. Still, sound means more than CV and staff and these seven tracks have it. I’ve described “Totem Nuclear” as something that Darkthrone would lovingly borrow from and I stand by that. It opens with full-steam-ahead blackened thrash highlighted by wild-eyed vocals. Even when Antro hit the brakes for the punk part, it’s still a snarling mess of evil-ass metallic antagonism. It sure doesn’t hurt that the guitar tone is perfect, somewhere between Repulsion and speed metal swirl, and the drums nail that ‘80s-drenched, Terrorizer crack and whomp. Hell of a way to start your discography. [From Demo, out now via Lower Class Kids Records.] –Ian Chainey
Iron Maiden - “The Writing On The Wall”
Location: London, England
Subgenre: heavy metal / NWOBHM
The last time Iron Maiden released an album, way back in 2015, the world was a different place. Most notably, The Black Market was still a five-man wrecking crew cranking out mega-blurbs for 15 TRACKS every month. Wyatt, Ian, and I were on bleb duty, as always, and our erstwhile former editors Mike Nelson and Doug Moore weren’t just here as translucent Force ghosts nodding sagely as we bravely evangelize about slams, they were still both actively involved in the creation of the column. It was a good time to be alive. The arrival of a new Iron Maiden album was still a massive event on the metallic timeline — Mike did a standalone writeup for lead single “Speed Of Light” (best remembered in the Maiden canon as “the one with cowbell”); he also wrote a 4500-word tribute to the life-changing power of Iron Maiden and the impact the band had on millions of teenage dirtbags (yes, it’s partly about “Teenage Dirtbag,” and like everything Mike wrote, it’s perfect). Yet despite the seismic impact of a new Maiden album — even a very good one like Book Of Souls, which was definitely their best since Brave New World and maaaaaybe the best since Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son — Iron Maiden did not appear as a ranked entry in the column, nor did they make our 2015 year-end list. Seems crazy in hindsight! In our August 2015 column, Doug instead devoted an entire intro to explaining why Maiden didn’t make it into the column: in part because we were lukewarm on the lead single (too much cowbell, perhaps) and because Maiden exist outside of time as a ubiquitous icon, and at the time we viewed this column “as a space for delving into metal’s countless substrata, not for celebrating ubiquitous icons.” A lot has changed since then, obviously. We condensed the column to 10 blurbs, i.e., a nice, reader-friendly length (lol). Doug and Mike are no longer with us, figuratively speaking (but forever in spirit). And some of those guiding precepts have fallen away over time, or they’ve shifted to suit our needs, which is why this marks the first-ever ranked appearance of Iron Maiden in The Black Market: the new single, “The Writing On The Wall,” is the world-weary, barely-metal anthem I didn’t know I needed, from the world’s greatest heavy metal band. And that’s that.
On first listen, you might be confused. Is that Richie Sambora strumming an acoustic? Are we finally getting a third Young Guns sequel?! “The Writing On The Wall” finds Iron Maiden wandering through the West in a strangely un-metal mode, first lumbering through actual cowboy chords, then springing to life when the pentatonic leads kick in. The metal never really arrives; instead the song shifts into a shorter and softer version of Maiden’s latter-day folk epics (I get a whiff of “The Clansman,” but only just). There are some Wishbone Ash-style leads smattered about and a wistful solo or two, but the heart of the song is the chorus hook and Bruce’s ragged, perfect vocal. Say what you want about Paul Di’Anno (I love those records, too), but Bruce’s voice is Iron Maiden at this point, especially as Steve Harris’ bass rarely takes the lead they way it used to. As Iron Maiden gradually mellow into a different kind of beast, Bruce’s voice becomes increasingly central; it’s the focal point and unifying thread, and he does the bulk of the work here. If you watch the music video (and you should, but make sure to listen to the less compressed Spotify and iTunes mix, which sounds worlds better than YouTube), there’s some kind of post-apocalyptic storyline at play, and who’s to say if it ties into any kind of larger narrative on their forthcoming 17th album, Senjutsu Who cares what it’s really about. When Bruce belts the title of the song it hits on an instinctive level; it feels like a paean to the inevitability of change, or a meditation on aging, closure, and death. Even if we survive the apocalypse, we can’t outrun entropy. Someday all of this will end. Someday Iron Maiden will end, too. But not quite yet. [From Senjutsu, out 9/3 via Parlophone.] –Aaron Lariviere
Eastwood - “Faser Für Faser”
Location: Mainz/Hannover/Bielefeld, Germany / Lyon, France
Subgenre: powerviolence / grindcore
Eastwood bristle with that distinctly Eurogrind energy, half deathly metal, half punk pulled from the Lärm lineage. Late-period Nasum is the general comparison, but you can also hear Warscars’ barreling blasts and Yacøpsæ’s turbo speed violence. While other bands might mix those touchstones together into a singular sound, Antibiose, the German/French quartet’s full-length debut, is like a DJ cutting between three different records. There’s the aforementioned grind, then full-Spazz-voice powerviolence, then a supremely catchy hardcore band. Sometimes you get all three within one song. More often, you get all three within one second. “It’s quite a step from our rough and simple grindpunk beginnings,” Eastwood told Idioteq last month in an interview that included 12 of the band’s solid grindpunk recommendations, “Our songs got faster, but at the same time more diverse. They got catchier, but also more technical, detailed, and complex.” Apparently, some of these rippers have been getting workshopped since 2014 and it shows. Technical, detailed, and complex, indeed. Each track sounds like 10 tracks, full of distinctly clever and catchy moments in a style that usually prioritizes a purposely indistinct blur. “Faser Für Faser,” in the traditional leaden trudge closer spot, shows off Eastwood at their best. The chameleonic four minutes are pretty much a bonus album. The opening groove crushes and then the band skillfully zooms around the rubble, eventually rebuilding a blackened crescendo that it re-explodes into start/stop shrapnel. [From Antibiose, out now via Lixiviat Records / No Time Records / Abekeit Records / Hackbeil Records / Coxinha Records.] –Ian Chainey
Devoid Of Thought - “Sidereal Necrosis”
Location: Busto Arsizio, Italy
Subgenre: death metal
Devoid Of Thought’s “Sidereal Necrosis” got the Doug Moore stamp of approval (bring back Doug, etc.), which is good enough for me when it comes to anything death metal. There’s a bleak, dark energy coursing throughout the track, which, along with dizzying high-impact precision playing, has earned it comparisons to the likes of Artificial Brain and Blood Incantation. The mind does indeed rattle trying to follow it all, eyes bouncing this way and that when keeping the rhythm. When the track slows, creating an opening for deep space dread to fill the void, Devoid Of Thought show an entirely different side, launching into new unknowns. As a name, Devoid Of Thought is of course excellent, a fitting subtitle for this column perhaps, and clearly the music is anything but (even if “ignorant riffs” is lovingly used around these parts). It’s an improvement on Warstorm, which the band used to fly under when they were a thrash band. Quite the evolution. [From Outer World Graves, out 8/27 via Caligari Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Hooded Menace - “Chime Diabolicus”
Location: Joensuu/Helsinki, Finland
Subgenre: death/doom / heavy metal
Cruelly toll the bells of hell, the bells, bells, bells…keeping time in a sort of runic rhyme, ah, the groaning tone peels flesh as the singing iron peals and chimes, the bells, bells, bells…what a world of tortured thought their tritonus compels. Sorry, my kids keep asking for Edgar Allan Poe before bed, so I’ve got bells on the brain. So do Hooded Menace, apparently, given they named their sixth LP The Tritonus Bell and the second single is “Chime Diabolicus.” Absurd as ever, Hooded Menace continue their deathless quest to resuscitate the corpse of death/doom with a healthy infusion of melody and ridiculous song titles. They’ve never made a bad album, and as much as I usually reach for 2010’s Never Cross The Dead, everything I’ve heard off the new one sounds fantastic. This time around they draw on (slightly) more uptempo heavy metal, with a noticeable King Diamond influence in the riffs. This makes sense, given that they tapped evergreen KD shredder Andy LaRoque to produce the record. Fear not: The vocals are pure growling death, as they should be (nary a hint of cleans, definitely no falsetto). The end result feels like death metal Candlemass — huge doom riffs cast in iron, putrid vocals balanced against unsubtle heavy metal chugs and the ever-present swirling leads — like burning incense to cover the stench of decay. There’s not much else to say: Hooded Menace are the best death/doom band of the past 20 years, and they sound better than ever. [From The Tritonus Bell, out 8/27 via Season of Mist.] –Aaron Lariviere
Mesarthim - “Infinite Density”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
The space exploring duo in Mesarthim has ventured boldly where no one else has dared for some time, mixing black metal, cosmic radiation, and over the top electronic dance music into what’s become a signature sound. Just a couple months back we featured “Matter And Energy” from Mesarthim’s latest EP — their 14th release — and that track showed a new side for the band, a sort of euphoric interstellar club jam that kind of feels like it belongs in a wormhole between the Blade and Mass Effect universes. “Infinite Density” veers closer to the atmospheric black metal at the band’s core, but there’s still evolution here, with a new kind of metal core-ish pacing of big chug-a-lug riffs alongside a seemingly endless supply of trance-y razzle dazzle. As if to spite the frowniest of black metal die-hards, it works ridiculously well, and the chorus, shouted into the void while blasting at light speed, is resplendent in celestial fireworks. [From CLG J02182–05102, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Panopticon - “Know Hope”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Perhaps I’ve been unfair to Panopticon in the past. Austin Lunn’s atmospheric black metal/bluegrass/ folk hybrid has stuck to its guns over the years, even as the requisite balance between those elements has shifted, from the chaotic early stuff, to the interwoven weirdness that made Kentucky so immediately distinct when it came out in 2012. I legitimately loved Autumn Eternal, which was our album of the year in 2015. It was his most consistently “metal” release, with a quiet acoustic opener but none of the overt bluegrass or folk that bleeds into so much of the catalog. As a diehard chud for metal with a mild allergy to clean vocals in otherwise harsh metal styles, I loved that he avoided (what I viewed as) the pitfalls of over-experimentation and harnessed his melodic inclinations into squarely metallic configurations. When he followed up in 2018 with the double-disc The Scars Of Man On The Once Nameless Wilderness I And II, I was thrilled to see where he’d go next. I still remember the giddy sensation of hearing the ridiculous sweep picking on “En generall avsky” and loving the darker path of the metal tracks. But as it turns out, the entire second disc of that album was “Americana focused,” as he described it in the Bandcamp bio, “so beware if you hate country/folk.” I wanted to like it, but I did not. Something about the combined presentation of both parts of the album on Bandcamp — which is the version I bought — meant I couldn’t separate what worked for me from what didn’t. On Spotify, the first disc containing all the metal tracks is listed separately from the folk disc, and I’ve found myself going back to the first disc a bit more over time. It shouldn’t matter, yet for some reason it did. I recognize this is a me problem, not necessarily a problem with the music. Lots of people loved that album, folk and all; I assume lots of you did, too, as I recall it coming up frequently in the comments section. “Why aren’t you idiots covering new Panopticon???” I imagine you typed. Because we are idiots.
Anyway, time heals all wounds, or something. When Panopticon released its 10th LP, …And Again Into The Light, earlier this year, I was hesitant. ..but eventually got over my shit. I’m writing about it now, a bit late, admittedly, because I was out of commission last month. But the album deserves attention; it feels significant. There’s an acoustic opening track that harks back to disc two of Scars Of Man, yet it works as an opener. Once the metal kicks in, it’s unrelenting. Midway through the album, black metal shifts to death metal, and we get “Moth Eaten Soul,” one of the heaviest things we’ve heard from Panopticon in years. But it’s the closer, “Know Hope,” that encapsulates the message of the record and delivers the most cathartic transformation. Ripping black metal gives way to doom, tremolo riffs and blasts fall away to reveal monolithic chords, and the clouds break for a long, atmospheric climb back to the summit… a somber sample plays (it’s Gee Vaucher from the anarcho-punk band Crass, talking about her artistic inspirations in a recorded interview) and the tension builds until… distorted bass comes grinding in double-time, a guitar squeals, and the drums gallop full force. The lyrics aren’t entirely clear, but Austin is screaming “NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE IN, something something, FIGHT TIL THE END,” and I get strong A Pregnant Light vibes, which is high praise. As a song and album about perseverance, it fits the moment. [From ...And Again Into The Light, out now via Bindrune Recordings.] –Aaron Lariviere
गौतम बुद्ध - “भगवान की आज्ञा से”
Location: Kushinagar, India
Subgenre: black metal
This one may be shrouded in mystery, but thanks to Google the intent is rather clear. The band name translates to “Guatam Buddha,” and the album’s name to “Reincarnation Part I.” For further reading, it’s worth investigating the Bandcamp page a bit more, where details are hidden in plain sight. The music itself is an utter storm of unusual off-kilter melodies and hiss, with warbly garbled shrieks whipping throughout a dizzying maelstrom. The guitarwork really is something else; across the track, it dances in playful delirious fashion, evolves into lush orchestration, rips with Scandinavian venom, and turns atonal before reaching harmonious resolution, eliding these many seemingly disparate sounds into one stream of surreal melody that somehow holds. This is a remarkable release, both for its mystery and boundary-pushing vision. [From पुनर्जन्म भाग १, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Skepticism - “Calla”
Location: Riihimäki, Finland
Subgenre: funeral doom
The source of all; the dying light that came before; the ur-text of idiosyncratic, organ-drenched funeral doom: SKEPTICISM. Formed in 1991 and responsible for pitch-perfect albums like Stormcrowfleet, Lead And Aether, Farmakon, and Alloy, Skepticism are arguably the most important, most consistently crucial, and most distinctive funeral doom band of them all. They specialize in what I’ve come to think of as the Overwhelming Chord: a single guitar playing low and slow, lurching between one massive chord after another, overlaid with an explosion of pipe organ that detonates every chord with a wash of stained glass melancholy. This was the template laid down on 1995’s seminal Stormcrowfleet, which is as classic as they come in funeral doom circles, despite insanely fuzzy production; and to some degree, it’s what they’ve done on every album since.
What has shifted over the years: production and overall feel. 1998’s Lead And Aether carried over the organic feel of the earlier work but was better performed and much better recorded, making it that much more massive and suffocating, like a sunken cathedral crumbling in time-lapse. It’s one of my favorite doom records ever. 2003’s Farmakon showed a more experimental side, and the production slid toward the strange; the keyboards took up more space than ever, mixed so loud they threaten to fill your lungs; the solitary guitar churned away in the background, alternating between the Overwhelming Chord and dreamy, chiming cleans; and the drums were entirely unnatural, booming kick drum and a horse-clop thonk that sounded like a toilet lid falling down a few flights of stairs. 2008’s Alloy was the explosively heavy, annihilating dose of misery that a lot of us tend to think of when we think of funeral doom: crushing in every sense. If you haven’t heard it, here’s “The Arrival”, one of their best ever songs, especially when the leads start wailing over the back half.
I mention all this as backdrop for Skepticism’s current incarnation: On 2015’s Ordeal and the forthcoming Companion, the heaviness is dialed back in favor of something else, something raw, organic and strange. It reminds me a bit of the way Farmakon confounded expectations by stepping off the straightforward path. When Ordeal originally came out, I was a bit let down; they recorded the album live in front of an audience, which was obvious when listening. The overwhelming crush of Alloy was missing; the keys felt like keyboards, synthetic tones wrenched from a Casio heart, rather than a mountain of organs trapped in a burning church; the vocals felt less guttural, more like a guy standing on a patio scowling while he growls about houseplants; and above all the album felt loose in a way that made me uncomfortable. I suspect that was the point, to strip away the artifice and invert the entire experience. Going back now — and I’ve gone back a few dozen times since it came out — it still feels like a stumble, intentional or not, but like the strange ambient textures of Farmakon, I’ve come to appreciate its place in the grand canon.
The new album, Companion, is a different beast. It was clearly tracked live in the studio, “with the full band playing in free tempo, feeling every beat and crushing chord together,” or so the promo copy tells us. This is how Skepticism have generally recorded all their albums before Ordeal, but this time they tinkered with the overall mix to accentuate strange facets of their sound. For one, they turned the snares off on the snare drum. For those unaware, what gives a snare drum the distinctive staccato crack is that it has several metal wires (the “snares”) held in tension along the underside of the drum; you can disable the snare by flipping a lever (the “strainer”) on the side of the snare drum, which effectively transforms the snare into another tom drum: much rounder, more of a booming thud, without any high-end snare-crack whatsoever. The guitars are heavy but not crushing, the keys are as full and florid as ever, but the songs feel almost energetic by funeral doom standards. Lead single “Calla” — literally about calla lilies, as traditional a funeral flower as any — understands the importance of the Overwhelming Chord. Yet it spends almost as much time in a different mode, chasing the rhythmic tail of an accelerating lead guitar, one that sounds an awful lot like a serpentine Summoning riff (not especially doomy, but perfectly sick). The sadness and depth of feeling are there; the all-consuming crush is absent. What’s interesting is that this is consistent with the recently reissued, fully remixed version of Stormcrowfleet that came out in 2018. Compare the original ’95 mix with its booming, blooming sub-bass and murky-ass guitars to the completely overhauled 2018 mix, which strips away the bass and goes for a different kind of fullness. The elder band seems to prize clarity and depth of emotion over visceral impact these days, and the revisited Stormcrowfleet sounds much closer to what they’ve done on the new album. Companion feels distinctly left-field, and fans of traditionally “heavier” funeral doom like Esoteric, Mournful Congregation, or Ahab might need some time to adjust. But it captures what Ordeal couldn’t quite transmogrify into wax (even if it probably felt amazing to be in that live audience): it feels explosive and alive in a way few doom records do. “Calla” is a strong single, but just wait ‘til you hear the rest of this thing. [From Companion, out 9/24 via Svart Records.] –Aaron Lariviere