The Month In Metal – November 2021
It’s a rare off-day for Jinjer during their 41-date North American tour in support of their new album Wallflowers, but I’m not giving bassist Eugene Abdukhanov a day off from the one question someone is always, and perhaps only, asked after their video goes viral: Did he have a sense of the magnitude of what he filmed that day? “It was another day in the office,” he says over the phone. “We had fun. We just came out and played this song. And we released it on the internet. That’s it. The next morning, we woke up and saw that something was going on with that video. Nobody expected it to be that big.”
The video in question is “JINJER – Pisces (Live Session) | Napalm Records,” uploaded to the Napalm Records YouTube account on March 17, 2017. True to Abdukhanov’s recollection, its still-unchanged description seems blissfully unaware of what’s about to transpire. “I believe we had this idea to record a new version of ‘Pisces’ when we first rehearsed the song with Vlad Ulasevich as a new drummer,” it reads, additionally noting how Ulasevich’s jazzy playing changes the feel of the King Of Everything album cut. Below that unattributed quote is a long list of 2017 live dates, now frozen in time.
You get the feeling that “Pisces (Live Session)” was a treat for fans and a heads up that Jinjer were, as they always seem to be when there’s not a quarantine in effect, out on the road. No biggie. Instead, the Oleg Rooz-directed video that captured the Ukrainian quartet in Kyiv’s Istok Studio got big. Real big. Big to the point where I don’t think the word “big” does it justice anymore. At the time I’m writing this, it has over 57 million views.
Even if none of those views belong to you, you’ve likely seen snippets because “Pisces (Live Session)” is now an enduring classic of the YouTube reaction genre. In other words, it’s an inexhaustible content mine, bursting with the raw materials for other people to make videos. And, oh, have they made videos. “Jinjer Pisces reaction” turns up 6,270 videos in a Google video search. What each is chasing probably differs per creator, ranging from honest interest to an attempt at gaming YouTube’s capricious algorithm. But, I’d bet that more than a few are simply aiming to achieve a miniature version of what Jinjer accomplished: tapping their own vein of virality.
Beth Roars, a vocal coach and musical director, is one such creator who parlayed a “Pisces (Live Session)” reaction video into their own million-plus viewed video. “I had no idea it would be so big!” Roars writes in an email, answering the one question someone is always, and perhaps only, asked after their video goes viral. “At that point, I was just experimenting and having fun — the video quality was terrible. I was both very excited by this video but also really overwhelmed. I suddenly realized I should try and make these videos good. That if I got it wrong, a lot of people would see but also that excited that I had the opportunity to reach a lot of people.”
What makes Roars’ reaction different than the type I covered back in 2018 is that it offers expert analysis. She has a knack for clearly capturing, codifying, and clarifying what the viewer is hearing. Of course, “Vocal Coach reacts to JINJER – Pisces (Live Session) | Napalm Records” features that now-familiar wide-eyed surprise when Jinjer singer Tatiana Shmayluk transitions into her false chord growl, but Roars follows that up with a discussion on the technique behind that growl that relies on her years of training.
Although Roars goes deeper into the mechanics of screaming and growling in future videos, part of that “make these videos good” mandate that led to her interviewing Shmayluk on her Roarcast, her admiration for Shmayluk’s versatility in this early reaction is key. This isn’t the expected “lol metal is crazy” reaction metalheads have come to expect from outsiders. Instead, Roars displays exuberance and acceptance from the start. Metalheads noticed, filling the comment section with kudos for finally feeling seen. “I’ve watched a few ‘vocal coach reacts to jinjer’ videos,” comments user aaron newman, “but I love your reaction…you see it for the talent it is..thank you for having an open mind.”
While metalheads appreciate the open-mindedness, I’ve become increasingly interested in the effect enthusiastic expert reactions might have on non-metal audiences. Does receiving instant, technical analysis alleviate an average non-metal listener’s nausea towards unfamiliar extreme elements? If so, that puts Jinjer, a band I never listened to much before this, in a very interesting position, doesn’t it? That is to say, if Jinjer are a frequent reaction topic and expert reactors like Beth Roars ably demystify the screams, heavy riffs, shifting time signatures, blasts, etc., does that make Jinjer one of modern metal’s most important gateway bands?
To Eugene Abdukhanov’s credit, I don’t think he’s overly concerned about whether Jinjer are or aren’t “important.” I ask him what has changed since Jinjer broke out. He answers, “Nothing. We’re just the same four people, three guys and the girl from a neighborhood in a very, very small town in Ukraine, just like we were 10 years ago. Nothing has changed.” I press him that, surely, the resulting popularity changed something. “I don’t really feel that popularity that much,” he says. “Honestly. Yeah, I only feel it when I go on stage in a venue and see 1,000 people in front of me. This is the criteria, let’s say, and this is what I enjoy, playing live for people.”
Jinjer, when they have the opportunity, play live a lot. Bandsintown, the tour notification site, lists 364 Jinjer shows between 2017 and 2019, and I have to assume that’s a low estimate. “Recently, people from the industry have asked, ‘Why do you play live so much?'” Abdukhanov says with a laugh. “‘What’s the reason behind that?’ And I say, ‘Because I just love to be on tour. I love to go on stage and play.'”
This mindset, of playing to play and not for the popularity, an MO that’s way more Fugazi than I expected, adheres to a general punk rock ethos that powers Jinjer’s creative decisions. If you, like me, are still burdened by archaic, gatekeeper-y ideas that to be popular, one needs to make concessions, recognizing Jinjer’s punkness helps shed that baggage.
For example, when I asked Abdukhanov why he felt that Jinjer caught on, especially with a segment of their audience that never seemed receptive to heavier metal elements before, he steered his answer in an introspective, philosophical direction. “It’s a very hard question because I’m on the other side,” he says. “I am a writer, an artist; I create the art. And how people perceive that art, whether people like or dislike it, is unknown territory to me. And it’s better to be like that. Because, if I go to the other side and start, you know, digging deep into why some things go well or not well, I’ll be a consumer. I’ll start adjusting and looking for opportunities to make my art more applicable to people. That is why I don’t even try to think about how people perceive it.”
Wallflowers is definitely an album made by a band unconcerned about how you’ll perceive it. The lyrics explore introversion, authenticity, and artistic integrity, among other topics. The musicianship and songwriting find ways to push the limits of catchy song structures with legitimately heavy juds and sneaky prog parts, the kind of future metal components that have earned the band plaudits from peers ranging from Devin Townsend to Lamb Of God to Sepultura. In total, the quartet’s fourth album could’ve only come from Jinjer. Admittedly, while objectively impressive, Wallflowers is ultimately not my thing. (I disclosed to the band in an email that I first heard about Jinjer through Malignancy, the legendary brutal death metal band from Yonkers, New York, and the last metal band I listened to from Ukraine was Fleshgore. I am who I am.) But I respect the heck out of it for following its singular voice to singular ends.
Take “Disclosure!,” Wallflowers‘s fourth single. What starts out as a poppier riff ’em up complete with a party-starting vocal hit “wooo!” soon turns into a rhythmically engaging rager reminiscent of Miss Machine-era Dillinger Escape Plan. Abdukhanov and Ulasevich really put in extra work here as Jinjer’s rhythm section secret weapon. (Check out how Ulasevich takes a moment when the song is still spunky to foreshadow the chaos with a really neat flurry of fills. It’s such a cool detail. I’ve replayed that part a lot.) Ah, but right when I expect the poppier riff to return, going total earworm, guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov instead slathers on more meanness. That’s when this once-airy track turns into a menacing, metallic pummeling. Shmayluk matches and magnifies the intensity, letting loose with an impressive growl. The song builds and builds, becoming more unhinged. And then, just like that, it’s over. When I rewind to the start, I’m still struck by the unlikeliness of the twist even though I’ve now internalized the song’s flow. How the heck did we go from this to that? That Jinjer make it sound natural in the moment is a testament to their abilities.
Needless to say, this is some pretty advanced songwriting. The thing is, Jinjer don’t have to do that. They don’t have to keep waking up and choosing “uncompromising.” Metal’s history is rife with musicians who lay down their swords, sanding down their sharp edges to increase their following and reach the promised land of maybe earning a middle-class living. And Jinjer, already a known entity, are in a better position than most to “grow their brand” or whatever SEO-optimized currently phrase stands in for the capitalistic commandment of forever-growth.
But, let’s be real, that was never in the cards. “Man, we could easily write one, two, three albums of radio songs,” Abdukhanov tells me. “And what will it bring us? Bigger venues? I already do not see the last person in the crowd. What’s the reason when we already have good production? We are fine in terms of popularity. I am okay. I am not craving mainstream popularity, making millions. This is not what I’m looking for. And none of us in the band are looking for that.”
What Jinjer are looking for is doing right by Jinjer. Abdukhanov is in this to make music he likes. Otherwise, why bother? “There is no point,” he says. “There is no point in writing such music, especially if you don’t enjoy it. We don’t enjoy such music. We write what we enjoy. And indeed, we have Wallflowers. In a couple of years, we’ll have something else. And this will be exactly what we want to do. Not what somebody else wants us to do.”
That said, the other thing is…”Disclosure!” is popular. It’s well on its way to being another million-viewed video, already racking up more engagement than everything we’ve covered in the column this year combined without being too sonically dissimilar. Jinjer have cracked a code and are capably onboarding people to metal. That seems important! But does any of this feel important to the band right now?
“I know that many people get to the whole realm of heavy music and extreme music through us,” Abdukhanov says. “We see it every day at the meet-and-greets: we have 10, 20 people saying that this is their first metal concert ever. And it’s cool to bring people into metal. But, you know, understanding our own importance or enjoying it is not a priority in this band.”
I ask Beth Roars why she thinks Jinjer has this ability to bridge the gap and bring people who weren’t that interested in hearing growls and juds into the realm of heavy music. Turns out, as a fellow convert, she has first-hand insight. “First of all, Tatiana’s clean vocals are fantastic and can appeal to anyone,” she writes. “Because you always get a certain amount of these amazing clean vocals, if you aren’t used to hearing distortions you can ease yourself into them without being overwhelmed. For me, metal has been a genre that has grown on me. The more I learn and understand the subtleties, the more delight I get from brutal sounds. I also think it is wicked to see a woman breaking gender stereotypes. We often think of women cathartically crying but to be honest, sometimes we just want to scream. I now love listening to Jinjer when I want that cathartic energy, whether it’s to help me get through a hard workout at the gym or emotional pain, and, because it is coming from a woman, her voice feels more connected to my own emotional expression.”
Roars and Jinjer are connected in another way, I’d say, that being that both have eschewed cookie-cutter formulas and still achieved relevancy within their respective fields. “To be honest, I first started the channel as some friends of mine said they thought I’d be good at it,” Roars remembers. “I wanted to make an educational singing channel but wasn’t sure how to package it. I didn’t want it to be boring. I didn’t want to come across as clickbaity or trashy. However, once I had done a couple of videos, I realized it was a really great way to get across educational content in a fun way. Reaction videos have a broad access point, allowing anyone from any skill level to enjoy and learn.” She has continued this commitment to offering educational content in entertaining contexts with her new channel, Roar!, where she is thrown into situations outside of her comfort zone. In one video that’s of particular interest to metalheads, she forges steel.
So, what has made Roars so comfortable exploring music outside of her comfort zone? “I just like music and have always liked a wide variety of it,” she explains. “I remember being a teenager and someone making fun of me for some music I liked and I thought ‘hang on, we are just listening to molecules vibrating, who’s to say that sound is better than another.’ I realized that there wasn’t a better or worse genre of music, but different types of music connect emotionally with different people for lots of different reasons — culture, life experiences, your ability to hear different frequencies. Since then, I’ve always listened to music from that perspective and I very much believe that if an artist is able to work as a musician, they must be doing something right even if it doesn’t connect to me. My job as a reactor and vocal coach is to work out what that ‘right’ is.”
The trickier part is figuring out what kind of videos are right. It’s here, too, that Roars experiences commonality with Jinjer. “It’s really easy to get caught in that hole of trying to follow what subscribers want. And, of course, I do keep a spreadsheet of what people ask for. At first, I followed this completely, but I gave it up. Now I mix it up, reacting to requests and things that I find interesting. I like to find things that I wouldn’t ordinarily listen to, something that gives me a new perspective. Music has a wonderful way of helping you feel what another person feels. It can be a time capsule and help you understand the feeling of an era or culture. I love it because when I react to perhaps a Mexican shepherd’s song, I get a little insight into what it feels like to be a shepherd in Mexico. I would never have that insight otherwise. I feel limited to stay within a genre box, and once you have reacted to one thing within a genre, it’s easy to get stuck in that.”
Getting stuck is something that Eugene Abdukhanov has considered regarding the apparent longevity of “Pisces (Live Session).” To this day, new reactions to the four-year-old video continue to roll in, the gone-viral’s equivalence to eternalism. The video that breaks you is never far from the top of searches no matter how far you’ve evolved past that video.
“New bands might have to keep this in mind,” Abdukhanov says, “because no matter what you release, it should always be top-notch now, it should always be great quality. Because, after 10 years, people will still be judging you by it.” And yet, Abdukhanov recognizes that you can only do so much. “Once something is on the internet, you have no control over it.”
That duality, of controlling the quality of your work while conceding that what others do with your work is outside of your control, is a touchstone of my conversation with Abdukhanov. He’s a good hang because we’re both prone to flights of ontology. So we often circle back to this question of why Jinjer? People might be into Jinjer because they have a message. Or because they’re real. Or because they’re unique. But, it also might just be good fortune. In keeping with his character, Abdukhanov can’t rule that out. “One of the factors is luck. You need to be lucky just to be in the right place at the right time.”
But, the point is, you can’t rely solely on luck. And I’m not sure that luck alone allowed the paths of Jinjer and Beth Roars to briefly cross. The ideals that drive their work seem to steer them towards the same destination. For instance, I ask Roars how important it is to her to maintain a commitment to educational content, knowing full well that the work required doesn’t always result in a breakout video. “It totally drives me,” she answers. “I want to make content that helps, whether by helping someone gain a skill or just by cheering a person up. If they come away feeling they have learned or have a new perspective, that is the best to me.”
There’s something heartening about knowing that Eugene Abdukhanov and Beth Roars made it without really compromising who they are or want to be. That in spaces stuffed with artifice that seem to reward only those taking the path of least resistance, it’s possible to do your own thing and still make it work.
In that light, there’s something else that Abdukhanov and I keep revisiting in regards to “JINJER – Pisces (Live Session),” a reason why it might’ve caught on. “We never tried to pretend to be someone else,” he says. “That was not our thing. We never had time or money to make it the right way, by having props and making it theatrical.” This stripped-down video allowed Jinjer to just be Jinjer. That felt real. Even if people unfamiliar with extreme metal were reacting in disbelief to Shmayluk’s vocals and spreading it around so they could savor the contact high of others’ reactions, once that high wore off, they were left with Jinjer. It wasn’t a stunt. No, it was pure Jinjer, authentic Jinjer, real Jinjer. And that resonated and continues to resonate. In turn, that has opened some people up to finally accept metal on its terms, that most metal isn’t a goof or a shtick or trying to be shocking for shocking’s sake, that the incongruity wasn’t on metal’s side but their own. It’s like what Abdukhanov says about the composition of “Pisces (Live Session):” “There is nothing hidden. It’s all on the surface.” –Ian Chainey
Rolo Tomassi - "Drip"
Location: Brighton/London/New Jersey
In the line just above this one, I had to select the genre into which one would most logically slot Rolo Tomassi. Naturally, I came up with: “prog-noise-tech-death-black-grind-math but also dreampop/shoegaze, obviously.” I mean, obviously. But… does that really encapsulate the totality of Rolo Tomassi? I don’t think so. The term “sui generis” gets thrown around a lot in music criticism, but I honestly can’t think of a single band to which it applies more than Rolo. When I was writing about the band’s last album, 2018’s Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It, I tried to think of points of comparison — not other bands that sound like Rolo Tomassi (because there are exactly zero bands that sound like Rolo Tomassi), but other bands that so completely and confidently demolish anything that might have previously appeared to be a boundary only to find a path in its place. The only thing I could think of was the first time I heard Faith No More’s The Real Thing in fucking 1989. (As it happens, Rolo Tomassi’s 2015 LP, Grievances, was released in North America on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Recordings, so… yeah. Oh, and their 2010 album, Cosmology, was produced by Diplo. So… now you know what they sound like?) Time Will Die was my favorite album of 2018 by a mile, and its follow-up, Where Myth Becomes Memory, is my most anticipated of 2022. “Drip” is its second advance single — the first, “Cloaked,” came out in August — and it tells you absolutely nothing about what to expect, except that it will clearly be Rolo Tomassi. Because who else? In true prog tradition, Rolo’s singles feel like puzzle pieces extracted from their puzzle; it’s only in the context of the complete statement that they really make sense. That’s fine, though. “Drip” sounds like an entire album all on its own. [From When Myth Becomes Memory, out 2/4 via MNRK Heavy.] –Michael Nelson
Harlequin - "3120"
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Subgenre: death metal
Some compilation composition notes: Deep Throat‘s first three songs are Harlequin’s 11-minute set for the inaugural Sick Dog Fest, a streaming brutal death metal extravaganza. The final two are from Harlequin’s FaceSplit Live EP that also appeared on a split with its sister band Ritual Moon. (Because I’m a roster geek, the link between the two is bassist Raquel Solis, who also plays bass in the highly rad BDMer Lithopaedia.) Thus endeth the notes. Beginneth the bleb: Holy shit. Hats off to Transylvanian Recordings for deciding to release this because it rips. There’s just something about recordings of live death metal that, when it works, it really works. At its best, a good live recording harnesses the messy, live-wire spark of real musicians really playing in the real world and uses it to propel the band to new heights. Maximum chaos. Maximum noise. Maximum output. To wit, these potent live versions of “3120” sound extra merciless. Vocalist/guitarist Tawney Arredondo and Solis utilize a grindy call-and-response of high and low vox that makes the song sound even more kinetic. Drummer Neyda Umaña plows ahead with in-the-pocket playing that explodes into noisy blasts. It’s like Insect Warfare decided to be good-era, early ’90s Kataklysm. Do I want to catch Harlequin live now? Oh yeah. Should I consider putting more live tracks into the column? Probably should. To that end, I’m pleased to report that Stabbing, the promising TXBDM band with an EP coming out via Comatose, unleashed its own banging Sick Dog Fest 2 set a couple of weeks back. More on that next month? [From Deep Throat, out now via Transylvanian Recordings.] –Ian Chainey
Białywilk - "Will And Representation"
Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Białywilk comes from Vukari’s Marek Cimochowicz (see below), and where Vukari work in epic scale movements of shock and awe, Białywilk is driven by deep currents of emotion that swirl and swell beneath the dense tumult. Like the track by Vukari featured here, “Will And Representation” is huge. The difference is a lead melody of siren synths and guitars that is by turns hopeful and mournful is doing the driving. It cuts through an absorbing mix that carries a massive, gut-dropping low-end, positioning the drama of human endeavor in a grander scheme of interstellar proportions. The catchiness of the track, and the rest of Białywilk’s debut album (an EP arrived last year), can’t be overstated; these are shimmering, brilliant dark anthems for riding it out to the very end. [From Próżnia, out now via Vendetta Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Wounds Of Recollection - "Brightly Burning Deathbed"
Subgenre: nostalgia-inducing post-black metal
Previously, I’d made some assumptions about the Atlanta-based one-man post-black metal band Wounds Of Recollection. And maybe my assumptions are true, I dunno. For example: that name. I assumed that name was a nod to Woods Of Desolation, given the degree to which Woods is revered in the Bandcamp blackgaze scene into which fall Wounds. For another example: On the last Wounds album, 2020’s Nowhere Else Feels More Like Home, there’s a song called “Limping Away From The Water.” I assumed that title was a reference to the 2015 Deafheaven song “Brought To The Water,” and if you’re familiar with Deafheaven, one listen to “Limping” should help you to understand why I made that assumption. Like I said, maybe my assumptions are true. Maybe my assumptions, though, caused me to also assume that Wounds Of Recollection were more of an artistic exercise than a vehicle for artistic expression. Maybe I did think that. I don’t think that anymore, though.
The new Wounds single, “Brightly Burning Deathbed,” comes with a note explaining the song’s origin:
At the beginning of 2021, I lost my grandmother after a four-year long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The guilt of knowing that her death was approaching and feeling helpless as her condition continued to get worse sat heavy on my heart. I was too much of a coward to face the impending loss, so I withdrew and avoided. This song encapsulates that time in my life.
Now I’m gonna get real with you guys for a sec. I’m going through something very similar to this with my dad literally right now. Like, pretty much right this very actual second. The pain is just… it’s unbelievably hard. The stress. The anguish. The fear. It’s impossible. It’s impossible for me to deal with it, so I’m not really dealing with it very much at all, and I don’t feel good about that. I don’t feel good about any of this. I feel a lot of sadness and a lot of shame.
Do I overshare? Very well, then I overshare. Ultimately, though, isn’t this exactly why we listen to music? Isn’t this why we care? We hear something in there that speaks to our own experience, our own identity. It makes us feel less alone in the world. Knowing those details about “Brightly Burning Deathbed” completely changed my relationship with Wounds Of Recollection. I always liked the guy’s music, but now I feel a kinship, a sense of gratitude and connection, that transcends appreciation.
Now, if I hadn’t heard that backstory before listening to the music, I can’t honestly say that I would have heard that backstory in the music. But that would have been cool, too. “Brightly Burning Deathbed” is an awesome song with or without the context. If you’re into, say… I dunno, Woods Of Desolation or Deafheaven, you should absolutely get into this. I mean, those are the main reasons why I got into it, too. The other stuff, though, just makes me feel something deeper. [From Brightly Burning Deathbed, out now via the band.] –Michael Nelson
Vukari - "Omnes Nihil"
Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Vukari have been serving up massive slabs of world-ending atmospheric black metal for eight years now, crafting cataclysmic doom-laden spectacles of fire and fury that you can’t turn away from. “Omnes Nihil” shows the Chicago four-piece at their devastating best, wielding dread-laden dissonance as a weapon from the opening notes before realizing the horror being dangled with an explosion of thundering drums and primal screams echoing through dimensions. Everything here is huge — the track moves in tectonic shifts, with that arsenal of earth-blasting drums driving the course of destruction while guitars bring the troubling picture to vivid life. One interlude offers a moment of cosmically cool perspective, and it’s in that brief respite, when an epic solo creates space for brooding post-rock mystery, that Vukari’s mastery of composition and tension becomes fully apparent. [From Omnes Nihil, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Palsied - "Beyond Blood Potential"
Location: New Jersey
Subgenre: death metal
If you plunked down a wad of cash on this being a great year for New Jersey bands that make me think of Cryptopsy’s None So Vile… come on down and collect your improbable winnings, I guess. Joining Dead And Dripping, the solo BDM project of Evan Daniele that made me think of an extremely moist None So Vile, is Palsied, the solo death metal side piece for Rick Legitimate that makes me think of an extremely thrash None So Vile.
(Rick Legitimate, aka “The Legitimate,” also plays guitar and drums in Slam420, New Jersey’s foremost bloated exploded OG gluttons. Based on riff style, I’m pretty sure I know who Legitimate is. But, hey, let’s keep the ruse rolling.)
Palsied and Dead And Dripping aren’t sonic twins, but both inspire me to play a stoner-baiting game of what-if: “What if [insert genre/band] heard Cryptopsy’s None So Vile?” (I generally find this thought exercise produces more interesting results than when metal spins the genre wheel to make boring style-fusion Punnett squares. *spins* brutal *spins* blackened *spins* skate *spins* cowpunk. I don’t know, send me your Bandcamp if you make that next year and prove me wrong.) Palsied’s new record, Certain Death Austerities, is like if a technical thrash band buckled down, stubbornly widdled through the dark Black Album years, and then, when everyone but the diehards bailed because no one but diehards listens to technical thrash, that technical thrash band heard None So Vile and was like, “Oh, okay, this.” Look, it makes sense when you listen to it. Tracks such as “Beyond Blood Potential” are blessed with a snarling meanness and augment the dexterous thrash thrust with classic Cryptopsy’s talent for making knotty riffs sound heavy.
Oh, but Certain Death Austerities gets weirder the deeper you go. The cover of Slayer’s “Hardening Of The Arteries” is nearly unrecognizable from the original, like Coroner were recording “Internal Conflicts” and a studio tech was like, “Hm, this should be fast, actually. Maybe try a Slayer cover and, oh yeah, have you guys heard the Ungentle Exhumation demo for this Canadian band named Cryptopsy???” Palsied carries that vibe over to the slower closer, “Braided Psychosis.” That one has a delirious dissonance and gnarly bleakness that’s like… what if… and stop me here if this is getting too abstract… the weirder Norwegian black metal bands heard Cryptopsy’s None So Vile. It also shines the brightest spotlight on Legitimate’s unique skill of running riffs back and changing just enough about them that they sound new and, this is a music theory term, fucking alien as shit. That repetitious churn always makes it feel like the ground is moving under your feet, never allowing you to get too comfortable with any idea you have about the songs, even if that idea is mostly about Cryptopsy’s None So Vile. I mean, maybe this is all a what-if about Gorguts’ The Erosion Of Sanity. I don’t know. I’m an idiot. Anyway, this smokes. [From Certain Death Austerities, out now via Lifeless Chasm Records.] –Ian Chainey
Kostnatění - "Çay Benim Çeşme Benim"
Location: United States
Subgenre: experimental black metal
I went into this blind, having listened to and loved Kostnatění’s 2019 debut LP — aptly described by our own Wyatt Marshall as “reveling in dissonance while also ripping to the max.” Sampling the new EP, I’ll admit it’s a weird one, at least without proper context, but that description holds up. First impression: pure bedlam. Blasts, clanging guitars, asylum cleans. No ordinary light, just noise and flame and something indiscernible. For some reason, I picture a windowless room, walls padded with esoteric riffs. When the first burly clean vocal abruptly emerges at the one-minute mark, announcing itself like a drunken sailor kicking in your motel door at 3AM, I almost abandoned hope. But that voice actually serves as a key, helping pull focus to the melody at the heart of “Çay benim çeşme benim.” After trying to make sense of this thing for a few playthroughs, I finally read the Bandcamp description, which lays it bare: “All songs on this release [are] originally adapted from traditional Turkish songs of the same respective names by unspecified authors.” As it turns out (if Google Translate can be trusted), the song title translates to “Tea is my fountain,” and it’s quite sick even without the black metal clangor. Of the versions I found on YouTube, I particularly like this one by Tolga Çandar; it’s much softer but somehow just as dark. I don’t fully understand what Kostnatění is up to, nor do I need to; just like his last album, which featured depressing existential lyrics sung entirely in Czech over ass-flensing riff murder, what I’ve heard of the new EP transcends language. [From Oheň hoří tam, kde padl, out 2/11 via Mystískaos / Pest Productions.] –Aaron Lariviere
Plebeian Grandstand - "À Droite Du Démiurge, À Gauche Du Néant"
Location: Toulouse, France
In a recent profile in Wired by Laura Hudson, Timothy Morton, the “hyperobjects” philosopher, said they drew some inspiration from Björk’s “Hyperballad.” Considering the amount of dread that hyperobjects inspire in some people, I gotta say that, no offense Björk or Morton, but Plebeian Grandstand is the premier hyperobjects band. The French experimental blackened math violence everything and nothing band returns after a dread-filled five years with their fourth album, Rien ne suffit. No bullshit, it’s the quartet’s masterwork, an immeasurably 2021 album that will last long past this year as long as people need music that matches the war inside their heads. Upping the noise, and I mean real-deal noise in the HNW sense, Plebeian Grandstand have found the perfect balance of sounds to communicate their chaos. “À droite du démiurge, à gauche du néant” opens with hideous blackened blasts and then tumbles out of the turbulence into a Pyrrhonic noise trudge. It then reroutes the energy of its beginning into something deathier and sludgier, like Ulcerate getting ragdolled within a nightmare, before spending an extended section exploring the kind of wet-meat industrial that swallowed up late-period Scott Walker. It ends with a few seconds of hushed whooshing, like hearing the wind blow through the rubble after a bombing raid.
“We have always been attracted by dark, tortured and extreme aesthetics, whether in music, cinema, literature, graphics, design…” the band told Pierre Avril in a 2019 interview. “The dissonance, the rhythmic traps, but also the voices in colors closer to madness or despair than conventional metal codes, all this is stimulating for us, surprising, perhaps also a form of challenge, it forces us to listen actively. We’re here to stimulate, not to entertain.” I have to say, the reason this is so stimulating is because the musicianship is so good. I don’t remember the band being this tight. Drummer Ivo Kaltchev and bassist Olivier Lolmède are so united they’re like interlocking gears. Guitarist Simon Chaubard — who also plays in Sed Non Satiata, one of the best French screamo bands; we truly all contain multitudes — has found a tone of new ways to tear sounds out of his strings, be it streaks-across-a-night-sky screams, miasmic whole-spectrum fillers, or ruminative strums. Finally, singer Adrien Broué gives maybe the performance of the year, torturing his voice to discover new ways to raise the hairs of listeners. All of this comes together to make a 10-track album so packed with ideas, so rich with minute sonic details, it renders a list like this meaningless. Best metal this month? Bud, this is one of those out-of-time albums we should revisit every month. Let it grow with you as it soaks up your traumas. [From Rien ne suffit, out now via Debemur Morti Productions.] –Ian Chainey
Kaatayra - "Inpariquipê"
Location: Brasília, Brazil
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal / folk
Aaron and I have exhausted our ability to describe the forested world conjured by Kaatayra’s Caio Lemos, where dark magic and wonder course through every measure and an ever-shifting palette of greens and black reveal new sights at every turn. Suffice to say that Lemos caused jaws to drop with an epic, seemingly impossible three-peat in under a year’s time with 2019’s Nascido Sob o Signo Incivilizatório and 2020’s Só Quem Viu o Relâmpago à Sua Direita Sabe and Toda História pela Frente. A few things were steady across all three albums, chief among them Lemos’ unique vision that took black metal to places it had never gone before and the jaw-dropping musicianship, where insane riff explosions and mind-boggling drumming blur by. Those riffs were electric in most cases but acoustic in others, resulting in a raw take on black metal that really is unlike anything else out there.
It was nuts, and then we found out that in the midst of all this Lemos somehow had another solo project, Bríi, which is just as good as Kaatayra and brings in a more diverse set of electronic influences. Lemos focused a bit more on Bríi over the last year or so, with its own three-peat that kicked off in February 2020. As if he wasn’t busy enough, he also released an album under the name Vauruvã earlier this year. We’ve written up many of these releases in the column. With his attention seemingly turned elsewhere, it seemed as if it might be some time before we heard from Kaatayra again, but here we are, with a new album out of nowhere. Lemos is unplugged on this one, creating organic green and black metal that seems to grow from the earth, sprout limbs, and spread. It’s hard to pick a favorite from the new album, so in addition to the killer “Inpariquipê” I’d encourage anyone still reading to check out “Ãráiãsaiê” if any more convincing is needed. [From Inpariquipê, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Sadness – “Bigbury April Twilight”
Location: Texas? Illinois?
Sometimes, the world of Sadness can seem so vast as to be daunting. The project itself is the primary outlet for the work of Damián Ojeda, although Ojeda releases music under a host of other aliases, too. Best known among them is Life, of course, and most Sadness fans are probably also familiar with Liminal Dream, and I know he recently christened a new thing called Camaleónica. Search him on Discogs, though, and you’ll find a bunch more: A Nightlit Poesy, Aevilian, An Open Letter, Born An Abomination, Comforting, Evocative Atmosphere, Exceeding Structure, Idiôm, Kaskaskia, Left Alone…, and Nänmëë. I know for a fact there are at least three others, too, I just don’t have the bandwidth right now to chase ’em all down.
Additionally daunting, perhaps, is the fact that Ojeda’s online fanbase — and his fanbase is only online — can feel a little bit like a faceless, amorphous cult in which there are no levels between “outsider” and “zealot.” And even if a newcomer were to shut out any noise other than that of Sadness itself, they would find themselves contending with a catalog that, as I write these words, comprises 32 releases, the first of which dates back to 2014, when Ojeda was a high school junior. It’s all a lot, and that’s not even close to all of it.
The music itself feels no less vast. Sadness songs tend to be massive expanses, built on a bedrock of black metal, climbing skyward to an ambient ether, sucking in anything that might fall between the two. (One of Sadness’ new songs, “Collar,” includes a section that was, per Ojeda, intended for a reggaeton track.) It’s easy to feel lost when you first find yourself there. And it’s easy to get lost when you first go inside. And when people ask me where to start with Sadness, that’s exactly what I tell them to do. Find yourself there, feel lost, go inside, get lost. There’s nowhere to start. So start nowhere. You’re in the middle of a massive lake on a moonless night. Sink or swim.
That’s kinda part of what makes Sadness so exciting, but it’s not what makes Sadness great. There’s no consensus “best” Sadness release because individual fans make individual connections with individual albums — and those connections tend to be quite intense — but there are no bad Sadness releases. Thirty-two albums in seven years and they’re all worth your time (and money!!). Even the ones that don’t mean much to me personally (namely his very early stuff, which is mostly trad melodic black metal) are clearly the work of a phenomenal talent. And the ones that I really love (so, so many) are some of my favorite records ever. It’s been a million years since I’ve been able to say with confidence that any particular artist is my “favorite,” but I’ll tell you right now, hands down, Sadness is my fucking favorite. I genuinely believe Ojeda is a musical genius: his gifts, his skills, his instincts, his choices… Ojeda’s very approach to recorded music is closer to that of a painter than that of a musician, and as a result, listening to Sadness in bulk can feel like a recurring lucid dream. I have never once in my entire life encountered an artist who works like Ojeda, and while I really, deeply, desperately want to expand on what I’m saying here, I’m going to stop myself. Not because I’m possibly slightly close to exceeding my word count, but because talking about this takes away a tiny bit of the beauty, the mystery, the singular experience encountered by every person who chooses to explore this strange terrain.
Before I go, though, I will say that Ojeda’s recent Sadness work — the stuff he’s dropped over the second half of 2021 — is lifting the whole project to an insane new level, and for my money, April Sunset is the most ambitious, the most expansive, and the objective-best Sadness release, and I cannot possibly express to you how much I love it. And even though “Bigbury April Twilight” is somehow — somehow — not my favorite song on the album (that would be “Spotlight,” because that’s the one), I sincerely believe it is the absolute most perfect song ever recorded by Sadness. But it’s all perfect. If you know, you know. And if you don’t? Find yourself there, feel lost, go inside, get lost. [From April Sunset, out now via the band.] –Michael Nelson