The Month In Metal – August 2021
Earlier this month, I watched an incredible feat, a true test of strength and endurance. Never before has a human battled such adversity to overcome such insurmountable odds. The Olympics? Well, I did write “watch,” so that rules out NBC’s bungled coverage. No, this impressive performance in pure self-hatred falls outside the realm of traditional sports and is closer to the ludicrous fringes where suffering is the only score. Indeed, this particular feat is a masochistic endeavor so intense that it would make even the most depraved ultramarathoner pretend to answer a call and be like “Ooo, yeah, would love to run that, but gotta take this.”
Ah, but someone has endured the twisted Tartarian torment: our Aaron Lariviere. Me? No. I am too weak. Too false. Like a true music writer forever standing on the sidelines and huffing second-hand spritzes of glory, I am here only to recount Aaron’s achievement. And what he has achieved is glorious. It’s also… a world first? Sure. Why not. Aaron is both the Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay of summiting a colossal mountain of turds shat out by the gods themselves, the first to achieve this idiotic pursuit… because it’s there. “What the hell has he done?!” you’re yelling. Okay. Fine. I suggest the squeamish skip this next part and the rest of this intro. Even this bare-bones description of his odyssey is that heinous. You have been warned. Aaron listened to every Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax album released in the 21st century in chronological order in order to figure out which band over that period sucked the least.
Including Metallica’s Lulu and Anthrax’s The Greater Of Two Evils, that’s 19 albums from the undeniable post-peak of the Big Four of thrash. The journey starts with Megadeth’s The World Needs a Hero and ends with Metallica’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. Two hundred and 25 tracks. Seventeen hours, 52 minutes, and 52 seconds. Carnage. Demise. However, Aaron survived… barely. Again, as far as I know, he’s the first and only person to complete this trek, one that is like if Satan took control of Discover Weekly. Because, I mean, why the hell would anyone willingly do this? It is a particularly miserable slog. After all, the Big Four of 2000 – 2020 isn’t the Big Four of each band’s respective imperial periods. The Big Four of 2000 – 2020 isn’t even the fateful mid-‘90s dip, when these metal titans, for the first of many times, fell hard and fast back to Earth, demonstrating the hurtful truth that our thrash heroes were fallible, human, and prone to writing horrible rock riffs. Nope, the Big Four of 2000 – 2020 is, with two notable exceptions, mostly pretty fucking boring. Big Four? Meet the Big Snore, a 20-year block of maddeningly nothing music from four bands we can’t seem to quit.
“Pain begins today,” Aaron messaged us before embarking on the binge that would push the Aaron Effect to its limits. He snapped a picture to immortalize the event, which is either Big Snore’s running order or a diagram of the Event Horizon‘s gravity drive, who can really tell.
“Who wants to live forever?” Aaron offered. Little did he know, like the worst script for an unwanted Wishmaster reboot, the powerful irony coursing through question. Because, while we won’t live forever, the Big Snore’s albums keep getting longer.
The Big Four released 15 albums in the 1980s. The average run-time of those 15 LPs clocked in at an ideal 42:48 per album. (It’s worth noting that run-time was partly influenced by the time constraints of vinyl records. CDs didn’t outsell vinyl until 1988 and only bettered cassettes in either 1989 or 1991 depending on the source.) Here’s where the four sat on December 31, 1989 (the number of albums each band released up to that point are in parentheses):
Metallica: 54:44 (4)
Megadeth: 34:07 (3)
Slayer: 34:36 (4)
Anthrax: 45:35 (4)
By the end of the ’90s, the average run-time for the 17 albums released in that decade jumped 10 minutes to 52:58. Unsurprisingly, Metallica lead the way, tacking on 16 minutes per album. It could be even longer. I felt that Garage Inc.‘s second disc was more of a compilation (because it is) and wasn’t applicable.
Metallica: 1:10:52 (4)
Megadeth: 47:14 (5)
Slayer: 38:03 (4)
Anthrax: 57:07 (4)
That said, that’s not the Big Snore. You’d think that, following the backlash to the Big Four’s lesser ’90s works, like Load and Reload, Volume 8 – The Threat Is Real, Diabolus In Musica, and Risk, that these bands would trim the bloat. And the four did scale back… kind of. Instead of 17 albums, the 2000s saw 11 releases. Alas, the average run-time ticked up to 54:13 per album.
Metallica: 1:14:49 (2)
Megadeth: 49:46 (4)
Slayer: 40:25 (3)
Anthrax: 1:03:16 (2)
The ’10s were the same story: fewer albums, but longer albums. Still, one band saw the light… kind of. Average run-time across eight albums? 59:33. While Anthrax was the first, and only, band to drop its average run-time from the previous decade, each record still exceeded an hour. (To be fair to Slayer, it only released one album, the appropriately stupidly titled Repentless.)
Metallica: 1:22:17 (2)
Megadeth: 49:51 (3)
Slayer: 41:58 (1)
Anthrax: 1:00:10 (2)
The Big Snore, then, averages 56:28 per album, a 131.93% increase over the ’80s’ baseline. Woof. Granted, the total run-time list looks about how you’d expect thanks to the total number of releases in each decade.
1980s: 10:41:59 (15)
1990s: 15:00:18 (17)
2000s: 9:56:27 (11)
2010s: 7:56:25 (8)
On the flipside… I mean… a large chunk of those ’80s and ’90s hours are good. Perhaps the best thrash, and maybe even metal, ever was and ever will be. The Big Snore? Not so much.
“The reward for finishing this piece of shit is St. Anger,” Aaron lamented while stuck inside the adult-contemporary-Pantera stylings of Anthrax’s We’ve Come For You All. He was already losing his mind, experiencing the early effects of a severe malady known as “butt rock dementia.” At its worst, an intense lethargy sets in and sufferers notice that their voices are slowly transformed into a hideous yarl. In its late stages, butt rock dementia traps sufferers in their own brains; they can think words, but the only words that leave their lips are, “You have always been my safe home! I walk! I run!” Ghastly. Anyway, according to the raters at RateYourMusic (RYM), that John Bushiest of Anthrax albums is actually the seventh-best in the Big Snore, scoring a comparatively respectable 3.12 out of 5.
(I’m not going to enumerate the RYM caveats again. Read one of the other intros if you want the details. So, to distill this down to a tl;dr, the justification for using RYM as a source is that, while I don’t agree with all of its users’ conclusions, RYM’s big-ish database of thousands of ratings is as close as we’re going to get to any sort of consensus. It’s not objective, but its wisdom-of-the-nerds is objective-adjacent.)
First, let’s take a look at each decade’s average RYM rating:
1980s: 3.70 (15)
1990s: 3.12 (17)
2000s: 2.99 (11)
2010s: 2.76 (8)
Uh huh. The albums keep getting longer and keep getting worse. Not… great. Of course, you may look at that and think, Hold up, I remember that the albums cratered in the 1990s and rebounded in the 2000s. Isn’t that the narrative? Kind of! If I eliminate Persistence Of Time, Rust In Peace, and Seasons In The Abyss, the ’90s average rating drops to 2.98. If I KO The Black Album and Countdown To Extinction (and I don’t know why I would do that), it sinks further to a 2.88. The Big Snore averages a 2.90. That is to say, there wasn’t much of rebound. In fact, the ’10s are as bad as the Big Four has ever been collectively. Each band on its own? Well, here’s that:
1980s: 3.92 (4)
1990s: 2.94 (4)
2000s: 2.38 (2)
2010s: 2.4 (2)
1980s: 3.57 (3)
1990s: 3.28 (5)
2000s: 3.08 (4)
2010s: 2.67 (3)
1980s: 3.83 (4)
1990s: 3.16 (4)
2000s: 3.13 (3)
2010s: 2.84 (1)
1980s: 3.47 (4)
1990s: 3.08 (4)
2000s: 3.24 (2)
2010s: 3.24 (2)
Interesting! Per RYM, Anthrax was able to pull itself out of the tailspin. (No, Metallica increasing its rating by .02 in the 2010s over its 2000 all-time low doesn’t bear mentioning. It’s like asking your roommates to thank you for cleaning the apartment… with fire.) While Anthrax’s late-period Belladonna comebacks don’t measure up to its imperial period, it at least improved upon its mid-’90s dip. Of course, there’s a wrinkle: Anthrax achieved that bounce-back with a comparatively tiny number of ratings. In fact, its total number of RYM ratings across its 12 albums (30,022) is less than the total number of ratings for Master Of Puppets (30,815).
“I bet we’re the only people on Earth listening to this piece of shit,” Aaron messaged while trapped within Megadeth’s Super Collider, a 2.12 per RYM and the worst non-Metallica Big Snore album. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I definitely was not soundtracking my drive with the dregs of modern thrash. But, perhaps he wasn’t messaging me. Buried on ancient messageboards are tales of those who completed an inchoate ’90s Big Four binge known as “The Unforgiven LXIX” in preparation for the Y2K apocalypse. When those unaware listeners neared Risk, they started seeing Lovecraftian shadow people in their peripheral vision. A hallucination? Unclear. In declassified Blabbermouth reports, the afflicted said they realized the shadow people were alternate versions of themselves, “unLoaded souls” who made the correct decision to not play these cursed albums back-to-back. In dark rooms, away from the hustle and bustle of conventions, rogue leaders in the military-industrial complex still whisper about the potential of harnessing this dark power. For those stuck with the shadow people, it is a demoralizing hex. They are forced to see the better-living them, always in the corner of their eye, haunting and taunting them for their binge hubris. Maybe Aaron was actually talking to his shadow self, rationalizing why he was part of a shrinking cohort still listening to 21st century Megadeth.
Say what you will about RYM. It’s prone to revisionism, its userbase is skewed towards the kind of nerds who need to rate albums and need others to know how they rated them. It shouldn’t be used as an indicator of popularity. Still, it’s incontrovertible that, within this specific userbase at least, interest in the Big Four has trended downward each successive decade. Proof? Here’s the average number of RYM ratings per album for each band.
1980s: 25,780 (4)
1990s: 12,608 (4)
2000s: 12,336 (2)
2010s: 6,276 (2)
1980s: 8,428 (3)
1990s: 8,195 (5)
2000s: 3,482 (4)
2010s: 2,620 (3)
1980s: 10,971 (4)
1990s: 5,075 (4)
2000s: 4,023 (3)
2010s: 2,518 (1)
1980s: 4,263 (4)
1990s: 1,925 (4)
2000s: 1,167 (2)
2010s: 1,468 (2)
And here’s the per-album averages for the decade:
1980s: 12,623 (15)
1990s: 7,024 (17)
2000s: 4,818 (11)
2010s: 3,233 (8)
Yikes. You could make the case that, since RYM has only been around since 2000, people had more time to formulate an opinion on works released in the ’80s and ’90s. Or, you could protest that, you know, Hardwired… To Self-Destruct has only been in print for four years. How could it possibly rack up the ratings of Metallica’s imperial period in such little time? Be that as it may, the rate of attrition demonstrated above doesn’t necessarily hold true for the discographies of other artists. See: Anthrax. See also, the similarly dip-addled Jay-Z. His 4:44, released in 2017, has 88 percent of the ratings as 1996’s Reasonable Doubt. That is to say, the raters will show up if people are interested in rating the albums. Judas Priest’s Firepower (2018) has the band’s most ratings since Painkiller (1990). While it’s less than half, it still shows that metal bands needn’t always be in a downward rating slide following their imperial period.
(This is a whole other intro, but the thing that separates Big Four thrash from the Trad Belt titans is that most of the older Trad Belt holders have had a real rebound. Painkiller, Heaven And Hell, Brave New World, etc. Endgame, the highest-rated album of the Big Snore, is better than Risk, but it ain’t Rust In Peace.)
Okay. Here’s where we are: The Big Snore albums keep getting longer, worse, and fewer people care about them. So, why the heck do we keep paying attention to the Big Four? Because they are there.
The Big Four have been in the news lately because the Big Four never leave the news. Over the past year, Theprp.com, a news site slightly more selective than other PR regurgitators, has run well over 100 stories that have mentioned Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and/or Anthrax. The items have, predictably, run the gamut, from album announcements to firings to anniversaries to Kiss-level inessential merch drops. What’s “newsworthy,” such as the developing David Ellefson story, gets buried by the deluge. This is by design. Big Four posts are frequent because Big Four posts do numbers. And the reason they do numbers is because the Big Four are there, omnipresent, forever there, a three-mountain range of towering peaks and a hill named Anthrax. It’s metal’s equivalent of famous-for-being-famous. Big Four posts do numbers because Big Four posts do numbers. It has been culturally conditioned in metalheads. In turn, the churn keeps the Big Four fresh. When it is really cooking, it puts the hot-stove and muscle-watch hot-take trivialities of sports leagues’ off-seasons to shame.
The thing is, though, most of the Big Four discourse remains focused on the fallout from the Big Four’s ’80s and ’90s. Theories abound for why that is, ranging from that era being the last gasp of monoculture to the imperial period being normalized by Mandatory Metallica radio blocks and is thus the only way metalheads can talk to normal people about metal music. Whatever the case, it just is. For instance, nothing garnered a bigger reaction than the hullabaloo around Metallica’s plans for the 30th anniversary of the Black Album, the 16x platinum juggernaut that spent over 488 weeks on the Billboard album charts and, for better (the Big Four’s bank accounts) or worse (the quality of music), rerouted the direction of mainstream thrash. The Black Album is still primo argument fodder for metalheads due to its proximity to the Big Four’s inarguable imperial period and everything that came after, either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning depending on how insufferable you want to be as a contrarian. (I have blocked your emails, Load apologists.)
Naturally, to honor this monument to mass appeal, Metallica has flooded the media with bloggable content. Among other craven exploits, it debuted an excruciating podcast in mid-August that details the Black Album‘s genesis. At best, it’s a reminder that Lars Ulrich is only member of the “classic” lineup you’d want to hang out with. At worst, it’s like Ralph Bakshi’s Lord Of The Rings in that it’s fascinatingly poorly constructed and requires deep knowledge of the source material to get anything out of its questionable interpretations. Then, on September 10th, a “Limited Edition Deluxe Box Set” of the Black Album will drop, a towering achievement in superfluousness. On the same day, the Metallica Blacklist will be released in full, a baffling collection of covers from 53 artists — Miley Cyrus featuring WATT, Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Robert Trujillo, and Chad Smith? The fuck is this, the KLF? — that I guess I’m legally bound to write about… although I’m still waiting on James Spader to call me back about a collaboration. Keep in mind, the Black Album is now 30 years old. It’s as much of an inescapable tractor beam as it has always been.
But, that’s kind of the thing. The thing that Metallica has going for it that the three other Big Four don’t is that its disasters are, at the very least, interesting. While Aaron came away from the Big Snore with an appreciation for Slayer’s least bad albums, calling them “aesthetically pleasing,” I don’t think Slayer’s riffs are good enough to make up for their embarrassingly juvenile edgelordom, something that it could hide better when it had real riffs. Likewise, Megadeth’s slumps tend be more boring than brave, catering mostly to Dave Mustaine’s idiosyncrasies. Anthrax is, frustratingly, Anthrax.
Metallica’s disasters are fucking disasters. (Disclosure: I think we need to get over this “flawless” discography obsession. Stop making boring, safe albums. Make more disasters. An intro for another time.) Even though there’s a modest attempt at a reappraisal by hardcore ‘tallica fans who think you have to be angry to really unlock the secrets of St. Anger (seriously), its place in the history books as a notorious, world-class fuck up is sealed. But, then again, think how many people have listened to it for exactly that reason, probably after watching Some Kind Of Monster, one of the most entertaining band documentaries ever made. Despite St. Anger being a shitpile, it has more ratings than Load and Reload on RYM! (To be clear, Load and Reload are also shitpiles. Don’t believe the lies.) And I somehow haven’t even written anything about Lulu, which might be the most interesting and therefore memorable album in the Big Snore because it’s so fucking bad! There’s a certain genius to Metallica’s badness. Modern Metallica is worth following as one of rock’s ongoing soap-opera tragedies. Such a weird bunch of knuckleheads! But this dipshit-savant Big Snore period doesn’t hold a candle to when Metallica was actually brilliant.
After spitting out the bone of the Big Snore, Aaron sent me one last message before attempting to sleep away his sins. “I feel aimless and hollow. Significantly dumber. What was the original question that led me to this idiotic quest? I learned nothing. Oh. Which of the Big Four sucks least in the current millennium?” His answer: Megadeth sucks the least, but Metallica is more consistently ridiculous. Fair. Seventeen hours, 52 minutes, and 52 seconds later, that’s your answer. I don’t think I’m going to do the work required to offer a challenge.
But, you know, it’s funny. After Aaron conquered the Big Snore, I blew the dust off my CD rack and picked out some albums. I listened to Ride, Reign, Rust, and, yes, even Among The Living. (Release a good ‘R’ album, Anthrax!) All great. All reaffirming. It was a reminder that, because those were there, I’m here, still listening to and enjoying heavy metal. Shame that the next 30-odd years had to happen. But that’s life, right? The true test of strength and endurance. –Ian Chainey
Zhmach – “Vapor Trails”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Zhmach is a gem of a band from Belarus that works in the vernacular of raw and atmospheric black metal while seamlessly incorporating punk, post-punk, and trad heavy metal into its menacing cheese grater mix. Raw black metal isn’t known for its playfulness, but Zhmach (see band portrait) have a sense of humor, interrupting a pitch black pallet by switching on the lights mid-grimace more than once on their debut demo Euphoria Never Leaves. “Vapor Trails” is the first song on the demo, promising mean-mugging from the get go with a vocal hit straight out of the dungeon; within thirty seconds, we’re launching into a riff that would fit in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s awesome, and Euphoria Never Leaves is loaded with fun surprises that not only upend the expected but also manage to make one of the most forbidding genres catchy. [From Euphoria Never Leaves, out now via Grime Stone Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Last Light – “Slow Death”
Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: death metal / metalcore
Once again, I am raiding Tom’s pantry for some core-adjacent brutality, but this is too solid for this metal idiot to not yap about. Honestly, I thought I was done with blackened hardcore and HM-2core. And then Last Light, a Portland quartet, proved there’s still juice left to squeeze out of either style. What’s doing the squeezing? Top-notch juddery. Good riffs make things good, who would’ve thought. Anyway, “Slow Death” gets the feature because it has got the best jud of the five new songs, but the other cuts on We Were Never Here definitely spill an equal amount of blood. While the riffs deserve the spotlight, my favorite thing about this EP is that each song flows, thus ensuring that each song is, in fact, a song. I think a lot of bands write the breakdown first and work backwards. However, everything Last Light does feels cohesive, as though each section was intentionally written to follow its predecessor and foreshadow its descendant. Once the new-riff excitement wears off, you still have five bangers. Granted, I get it if you’re not shopping in the Black Market for this kind of mondo mosher. All in all, I think We Were Never Here is specifically targeted at the kind of person who plays hate5six videos in the background while working, but there’s enough atmosphere to appeal to people who generally are into mean, evil shit. I mean, the album art looks like your usual bit of castle metal. Go start a circle pit on a parapet. [From We Were Never Here, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Duhkha – “Dead In Orbit”
Subgenre: death metal / metalcore
The downside to me being called upon to write more than two blurbs a month — besides you having to read more of me a month, of course — is that you get to see exactly what my brain is focused on. Literally a one-track mind, friends. This month, I’ve outed myself as listening to moshy, slightly mathy, dissonant-y big chungus riffs. Duhkha has those riffs and is good at those riffs. But, let’s build some intrigue. Duhkha is a particularly interesting study in such riffs due to its mysteriousness. It popped on Bandcamp with nary any PR push back in May. It currently has 55 monthly listeners on Spotify, one of the lowest totals I’ve seen for a verified artist. Curious! And what’s especially curious is that the trio, if Bandcamp and Discogs are to be believed, has some surprising members. Let’s go from least surprising to most surprising based on these three tracks. First, there’s Erol Ulug, who longtime Black Market readers probably know best as a member of Teeth, the California death metal colossus that crashed into these digital pages with the supremely excellent The Curse Of Entropy in 2019 and have another album, Finite, dropping on 9/10. (Haven’t heard it in full yet, samples are promising.) Second, there’s Cameron Miller of the mathcore band Seizures, a group I’m kind of shocked hasn’t broken out, although I realize that me writing that is the goddamn kiss of death. (For the last time, I’m sorry, Relic Point.) Truth be told, neither Ulug nor Miller are that surprising as both of their respective day jobs traffick in slightly mathy, dissonant-y riffs. In fact, Teeth plus Seizures is a pretty good comp, when I think about it. So, how about this third name: Keith Barney??? From Eighteen Visions??? From Throwdown back when Throwdown was good (because they were funny)??? (Real quick because we’re on a Remember Some Orange County Bands trip: Yes, Adamantium. Yes, Death By Stereo. Did you know there’s another Death By Stereo from the Philippines that formed in 1994 and play thrashy power prog? Now you do.) Keith Barney! Apparently! While there’s a “Until The Ink Runs Out is heavy, actually” take that one could make, and boy have I seen people making it, I didn’t see “Keith Barney crushing my skull in 2021” coming. Almost makes me think tarot cards are bullshit. Anyway, whatever, the associations don’t matter. Duhkha does indeed crush skulls. You might catch some early Ion D energy here and there, though this is pretty modern in its rumbling heaviosity. It has the staccato kicks-plus-riffs thing down, but it also has some gnarly, doomy wums that could challenge any of the modern many-strings guitar bashers. To that end, the band Duhkha makes me recall the most is a version of When Knives Go Skyward that made it to 2021, albeit with the levity sucked out for a ton of ugly, life-didn’t-work-out baggage. Relate. Cool stuff. [From Duhkha, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Gloosh – “Woodland Waltz”
Location: Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Subgenre: atmosphere black metal
The title here sets the scene but might give a false impression of what to expect — we’re not talking Elvenking here. But clearly the woods are a big deal for Gloosh, which translates to “backwoods” according to Metal Archives and has a forthcoming album titled Sylvan Coven (it’s worth noting Krasnoyarsk is surrounded by Siberian forests). What you will find in Gloosh’s world of greens and blacks is well-crafted atmospheric black metal loaded with rich instrumentation and dark magic. George Gabrielyan, who handles all duties, takes “Woodland Waltz” to a furious pummel before pulling back to explore quieter shaded corners; later, a fire rips high above it all. It’s easy to lose one’s way in this milieu, where aimless paths wind circuitously and offer little reward; Gloosh, though, keeps it driven and purposeful, with equal parts venom and wonder illustrating the vision. [From Sylvan Coven, out 10/1 via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Replicant – “Caverns Of Insipid Reflection”
Location: New Brunswick, NJ
Subgenre: death metal
Sometime after Negative Life, Replicant’s 2018 debut, the New Jersey trio decided to groove harder. Perhaps that kind of riff was always lurking within its squelchy tech death, but I don’t remember the beatdowns being quite as neck-snappingly rad as they are on Malignant Reality, the band’s sophomore LP outing following a couple splits and an EP. This is going to be an extremely niche FFO, but the best riffs remind me of the glory days of math metal in Central and East Europe, your Neumas and Materias (who I should mention have finally made it to Bandcamp as Matheria.) Still, the bulk of Malignant Reality is pure Negativa delirium, right down to the vox. Where a lot of groups get lost in the protractor-metal aspects of those inventive players, Replicant zeros in on the more organic aspects of the Gorguts descendent. Oh sure, the widdles are present and accounted for, but Michael Gonçalves (vocals, bass), Peter Lloyd (guitars), and James Applegate (drums) have a knack for crafting full, wonderfully dynamic songs. “Caverns Of Insipid Reflection” is anything but. What makes it special is that it contains one of the best Disembodied riffs I’ve heard in forever and a comparatively pretty meditative portion. The fact that both exist in the same song is something. That both can coexist and feel so crucial to the success of the other is really something. Replicant is really something. [From Malignant Reality, out 9/10 via Transcending Obscurity Records.] –Ian Chainey
Succumb – “Aither”
Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Succumb’s 2017 self-titled debut is great. It deservedly scaled our The Best Metal Albums Of 2017 list, cracking the top 10. For a bit, that was the epitome of my take: great album, promising band. And then I saw the San Francisco quartet live. Those self-titled tracks got so much heavier, louder, and gnarlier in the flesh. And while that’s the trope, that live bands excel at live shows, I left the venue that night with a new appreciation for the in-person ass-whipping that Succumb can dole out. Early tracks from Succumb’s sophomore follow-up, XXI, suggest that Succumb has captured that energy in the studio. The two-minute “Aither” sounds like someone fast-forwarding through a Crowpath CD. Sheeeeeeit. Kirk Spaseff (bass/vocals) and Harry Cantwell (drums) tumble through a ton of rhythms while staying super tight. Guitarist Derek Webster bolts through a decade’s worth of riffs, shredding back and forth between thrashy death metal and squelchy death/grind. Cheri Musrasrik growl-howl has extra snarl, becoming wilder and more frayed at the end of every line. I’m sure there’s smart shit happening within XXI, too, since Succumb is a smart band, just one of those rare ones that doesn’t self-consciously hold up the smarts for applause. (Zoe Camp conducted a good interview last album cycle that proves that point. Another good one hit the pages of Machine Music this year.) Right now, though, I’m stuck on how forceful Succumb brings it. All of “Aither”’s 121 seconds bristle with that “the hell did I just experience” live sonic assault. This time, it’s coming out of my stereo. [From XXI, out 9/24 via The Flenser.] –Ian Chainey
Zeegang – “II”
Location: Utrecht, The Netherlands
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
You can’t go wrong picking a track to highlight from Zeegang’s stunning and disquieting De poëzie van vallende sneeuw (“The poetry of falling snow”), a slow-moving meditation that lulls you into its icy uncaring grasp. Track “II” is a measured trudge into a white-out. Big but distant warbly guitars carry the stately procession, drums are a distant patter all but snuffed out, bass intonates and underscores dread, and a magical lead beckons toward oblivion. Set in motion, it simply can’t be stopped; it proceeds as it will, for as long as it will, enveloping everything in its path in its surreal doom-laden beauty. The track and the album as a whole are truly monumental, gorgeous works divorced from time and context and wholly indifferent. Two thumbs up. [From De poëzie van vallende sneeuw, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Sigil – “Compounds”
Location: Calgary, Canada
Subgenre: black metal / death metal
Hold on to your butts, Haunter fans. Rub the crust out of your hibernating eyes, Castevet fans. Sigil is a Calgarian quartet that has been kicking around since 2009. Its previous full-length, 2013’s Mutagen, was more angular, not unlike old metalcore (think Turmoil) mixed with the tech-y strain of old skramz (think Capsule) and rolled into the timbres of blackened death metal (think Auroch). The band resurfaced in 2019 with a two-song promo that we considered covering. We’d be a lot cooler now if we did, ahead of the breakout instead of merely reporting on it. Anyway, that twofer upped the epic, hinting at a fresh style that was more progressive, more Krallicean. In fact, I can’t get the thought out of my head that this new album, Nether, is what would happen if you mushed Cave In’s spacey Until Your Heart Stops and Krallice’s riff-journey Ygg huur together. (Granted, this comparisonitis is a me problem. Grain of salt, Nether sounds how it sounds.) Whatever. This album, folks. The thing that’ll pop out at you first is the drumming of David Horrocks, also of Alder, who has a fills-all-over approach that also has an uncommon muscularity to it. Then, you notice that guitarist Peter Tyukasz’s neat riffs, a slashing, fully ensorcelled Converge. Go a little deeper and you’re impressed anew by bassist Riley Mario, who adds a ton of textural depth. Finally, the glue is Clennon Aranha who has that perfect core yell, always right there in pocket and cutting through the din. All of that powers a track like “Compounds” to really take flight. And does it ever. “Compounds” starts out like a ripper, breaks down into a post-metal section that recalls when Cult Of Luna wasn’t boring, and exits with a celestial near-crescendo that you never want to end. [From Nether, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Iskandr – “Baken”
Location: Gelderland, The Netherlands
Subgenre: black metal
Fluisteraars and Turia are two cornerstones of the new wave of Dutch heavy metal that has been at the forefront of boundary-pushing black metal in recent years, and the masterminds of both those projects combine forces in Iskandr (and Nusquama, Solar Temple, and Galg…that’s a whole other story). As Iskandr, Mink Koops (Fluisteraars) and “O” (Turia) let go of some of the psychedelic tendencies that are so present and powerful in their other bands, forgoing an expansive meditative approach for one that is more focused and linear, with bold hooks that can take on the militaristic swing of chants built for battle. In that sense Iskandr is more traditionally a black metal band than some of their others (hear Fluisteraars’ latest masterpiece below), but we are talking about two of the most cinematically minded musicians active in the genre today so there are plenty of unusual tones and moments of wide-eyed wonder to be found. On “Baken,” Iskandr pounds out in bruising form before swelling to stately heights, menacing and driven and majestic and surreal all at once. [From Vergezicht, out 9/24 via Eisenwald.] –Wyatt Marshall
Fluisteraars – “Brand Woedt In Mijn Graf”
Location: Gelderland, The Netherlands
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
“Brand woedt in mijn graf” drops you straight into blooming fractals of unsettling light, an anguished, wondrous, disorienting shot from a cannon where all sense of direction is lost and there is no end in sight. When another plane is reached, which doesn’t take too long, it comes with chest-swelling, purpose-driven grandeur – those delirious warbling tones (not keyboards – “NO KEYBOARDS WERE USED ON THIS RECORD!”), turn to siren-esque mantras in the hands of multi-instrumentalist Mink Koops, who spins guitar tones into fluorescent nectarine swirls. Bob Mollema’s growls, howls, and shrieks grapple with questions of consciousness, putting the lonely individual at the center of the big questions that no individual can answer. Few if any bands have the ability to create these kinds of unreal auras that are Fluisteraars’ currency, where black metal melds into psychedelic shapes and colors, and unease and beauty meet in mind-expanding ways. This and the other remarkable songs from Gegrepen door de geest der zielsontluiking, the band’s new three-track full-length that comes just a year after the polished and masterful Bloem, were recorded in a highly spontaneous environment, with an emphasis on improvisation and each instrument receiving a single tracking in the studio. And as Bloem captured the dead, decaying heat of summer with a kind of regal refinement, Gegrepen door de geest der zielsontluiking is a rawer venture into both the dark heart of nature and the creeping uncertainties of the mind. [From Gegrepen Door de Geest der Zielsontluikin, out now via Eisenwald.] –Wyatt Marshall