The Month In Metal – December 2021
It’s December and this is the last column of the year. Let’s spit out some hot takes.
Now, here’s the thing: Your hottest takes are the hot takes you don’t know are hot takes. This might be the only true thing in the entire universe.
Here’s the other thing: I realize that “hot takes,” as a concept, have metastasized into “thing you say to make other people mad at you.” To that end, whole sports networks’ business models are predicated on that kind of hot take engagement or the prognostication-lite sportified bullshit that comedian Alice Fraser calls “pre-news.” But those hot takes aren’t the hot takes I’m after. Those hot takes are fake, manufactured. They have been twisted into a key to be inserted into the ignition that starts the engine of content.
Your hottest hot takes are different, free of artifice because they’re free of thought. A hottest hot take happens when you’re talking with friends and you say something without even thinking about it and everyone looks at you like you’re Wendy O. Williams opening a New Christy Minstrels show. That’s a hot take. That’s your hottest hot take.
Naturally, your hottest takes are hard to come by. As the adage goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. So, much like coaxing a tapeworm out of a host, your hottest takes need to be lured out slowly lest you recognize the take’s hotness, thus frightening the take and forcing it to burrow back inside your body. Truth be told, it’s a painstaking process, one that will cause you much awkward, humiliating anguish. Have I developed such a process for metal? I may have.
I’m modeling this process on OSW Review‘s “boys stables,” where wrestling fans are encouraged to post their “boys,” those being non-champion, cringey, generally crappy wrestlers they shamefully adore. (“Boy” understandably has gendered connotations but has evolved in the OSWverse to mean any wrestler meeting the eligibility requirements.) So, what makes the boys stable model perfect for our purposes? Its rules and limitations force stable-fillers to reach past ulterior-motive hot takes, those strategic cool choices that signal to other cool people that they’re cool, and access their actual hottest takes. Unsurprisingly, stables of non-champion, cringey, generally crappy wrestlers say something real and honest about the creator. They are, if I may be so bold, some of those creators’ hottest takes.
Therefore, in the interest of finding more genuine, vulnerable, human hot takes about heavy metal albums, may I introduce the fine art of creating a turd armory, or a turdmory, if you will. Those skilled in the ways of the turdmory are called shitsmiths. To shitsmith, one forges a list of five embarrassing metal albums they genuinely love that have suboptimal (read: shitty) ratings on RateYourMusic (RYM). Like OSW’s boys stable, shitsmithing is governed by highly logical (read: totally not arbitrarily chosen) rules to ensure you’re picking authentic metal turds. They are as follows:
Only full-lengths listed in Encyclopaedia Metallum are eligible.
This is a heavy metal column, so I am forced to closely guard entry into the hall, even if that means losing many applicable grind and metalcore albums. (Additional apologies to my nu friends and all of my mutual nu-tuals. But, let’s be honest: Until the Great Nu Balancing infects mainstream music blogs, shitsmithing in the nu space is just called “listening to nu metal.”)
On the flip side, I recognize that this rule forces us to sprinkle in a few questionable albums into the forge from bands that bailed from metal completely. That said, if you’re intent on including Underoath‘s Erase Me in your shitsmith list, my friend, I think that meets the spirit of this exercise!
Albums must be rated 3.15 or below in RYM.
RYM uses a five-star rating system. Based on my many hours spent constructing incredibly dumb columns that hinge on scraping RYM data, I expect an “average” metal album to score around a 3.25. Anything below that typically denotes badness, with 3.15 being the metal version of a 0 WAR in baseball.
What’s notable about the metal side of RYM is that you’d expect a ton of metal albums to fall below the 3.15 mark since, you know, most people don’t like/understand metal. However, since only a specific breed of metalhead would ever care to rate an underground metal album (or even know how to search for an underground metal album), very few deserving albums fall through the cracks and get hit with a bad rating. To wit, when I built Black Market’s Big Dumb List of Underappreciated Metal Albums, I based my decision on the number of ratings rather than the rating. That is to say, like pawn shops with an internet connection, everyone kinda knows what most things are worth. To really love something below a 3.15, then, is truly going against the grain, which is precisely the hottest take I desire.
Still, you will quickly notice that there’s something else at play when it comes to more prominent metal bands. The biggies fall victim to an effect I’m going to call Cold Lake Deflation. This is when classic records raise the acceptability baseline for all releases within a discography. As a result, the comparative stinkers released within spitting distance of said classics get hammered extra hard on their ratings. For the most part, while I recognize that Cold Lake Deflation artificially devalues albums because fans are gonna fan, I still think those albums are fair game. For instance, Iron Maiden’s No Prayer For The Dying (currently rated 2.90) is still stained with embarrassment and in turn radiates hottest take energy even though, compared to other lesser-known NWOBHM/trad stinkers of the same rating, it isn’t that bad.
While I’m letting Cold Lake Deflation slide, I will have to ban some albums caught within the vortex of a related effect to keep this very serious exercise on the up and up. We’ll get to those soon.
The album can’t be the highest rated in an artist/band’s full-length discography.
Choosing the best album from a bad band isn’t acceptable shitsmithing. Get it together, you cheater. Here’s the only exception: If the album is the artist/band’s sole LP, a demo or EP must be rated higher. At least then you can prove the artist/band didn’t deliver upon expectations.
The album has to be at least somewhat embarrassing.
“There are no guilty pleasures and you should never be embarrassed by what you like.” Uh-huh! Anyway, back to reality.
Remember when I talked about bannable albums a few paragraphs back? Here we go:
To crack down on boys stables stuffed with gallingly respectable boys, OSW instituted a rule that, while some wrestlers may meet the criteria for boydom, they actually rule and therefore aren’t eligible. OSW specified, emphasis mine: “Earthquake (he was actually great), Piper, DiBiase, Owen, Garvin, Jake, Perfect, Razor. That kind of zero-cringe main event in a territory.”
As with a good boys stable, cringe is critical for shitsmithing. Again, these lists aren’t intended to prove how cool you are. Instead, it’s about commiserating with your fellow obsessives over your shared shit taste in something that no one else in your life likes/cares to understand. (One could say this act of public catharsis helps remove the stigma from shitty albums, restoring them to the anti-rockist ideal of just being music to be enjoyed instead of needing to prove and substantiate a listener’s personhood. It also provides a purer route to establishing a unique, lasting self-identity. There’s a doctoral thesis if you have an extremely gullible advisor, I guess.) If you can’t imagine a scenario where you admit to liking an album and a metalhead looks at you like you’ve dipped a dill pickle into Cool Whip, begone. So, mirroring OSW’s commitment to cringe, I have to ban a lot of albums that simply aren’t embarrassing.
Now, what’s “embarrassing” or “cringe” is subjective and primarily contextual. Anything could be embarrassing given the right set of circumstances. And, as a brutal death metal obsessive, I’m not in a position to be an arbiter here.
Be that as it may, RYM has a frustrating effect that’s an outgrowth of Cold Lake Deflation that I’ve dubbed Dunning-Kruger Despotism. This is when nowadays fans, aka weaklings, don’t understand the context of an artist/band’s pre-evolved state and therefore have no idea how to properly rate older material. That is to say, while these “bad” albums meet the shitsmithing criteria based on rating, they’re not actually embarrassing, they’ve just been suppressed by weaklings that don’t know any better. Put more simply, if a band transitions from death metal to post-grunge, the post-grunge fans don’t get to decide that the death metal albums are embarrassing. That’s outside of their jurisdiction, even though there are probably many more of them than OG fans. Thank god music isn’t a popularity contest, right?
Dunning-Kruger Despotism can be easily exploited to fill out a list with albums that aren’t embarrassing, so they gotta go. Bannings will occur on a case-by-case basis as these records appear in shitsmith lists. The following full-lengths are banned from the jump:
Asphyx – God Cries
Currently rated 2.84. Ah, the rare post-evolution instance of Dunning-Kruger Despotism. I’m not an Asphyx expert, but Aaron Lariviere is, and he says this mid-career curio is unfairly maligned by weaklings with an inaccurate and narrow Asphyx definition that calcified around mistaken assumptions about The Rack. I trust him. It’s banned.
Lamb Of God – New American Gospel
Currently rated 3.00. Actually contains the only great LOG song, “A Warning.” Weaklings can’t stomach the Steve Austin production, I guess. Burn The Priest is also banned.
Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse
Currently rated 3.00. This one blows my mind. One of the best thrash albums of the ’90s, but weaklings don’t know what to do with it because it doesn’t djent.
Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained
Currently rated 3.03. Fun fact: This was in the running for album of the year back in 2017. It’s an incredible return to form for a band that sunk to the absolute nadir of death metal just six years previously. The thing working against Kingdoms Disdained, though, is that it’s too death metal for weaklings. Not enough new-school duck-walk bullshit, I guess.
Any Napalm Death album
The grindfathers have never released a bad album, and the mid-period “groovy” trilogy is good, actually. I challenge you to clear your brain of all Napalm Death connections and listen to Words From The Exit Wound (currently rated 3.08) as a standalone. Kind of rips, right? Right.
Neurosis – Pain Of Mind / The Word As Law
Wow. Post-metal fans! And you thought Tool fans were self-serious goobers. Neurosis’ punk albums are great. Pain Of Mind (currently rated 2.81) is a barnburner of crusty aggression. The more progressive The Word As Law (currently rated 2.99) takes those buzzsaw riffs and adds more experimentalism and melodicism without the tracks getting any less harrowing. Give me those two over the band’s Neil Young period any day. Ask a punk, people!
Paradise Lost – Lost Paradise
Currently rated 3.14. My favorite Paradise Lost album by a mile and it’s not even close. Death metal in all of its drunken glory. Besmirched by falses who prefer the weepy fake-Hetfield phase.
Tiamat – Sumerian Cry
Currently rated 2.88. Tiamat’s debut was the first album recorded at Sunlight Studios. It’s definitely not great, but it’s not this bad. Excepting the odd eccentricity such as the xylophone solo (seriously) during “Evilized”‘s 12-bar blues section (seriously), it mostly sounds like old-school death metal, i.e., not embarrassing, unless you’re a purebred Wildhoney dork.
White Zombie – Soul-Crusher
Currently rated 2.86. The noise rock beginnings of White Zombie continue to baffle “Dragula” drivers despite that being the band’s most creative period. The only drawback is that Rob Zombie’s mewling vox are pretty heinous. But, yeah, if you like ’80s noise rock and/or the clatter of Butthole Surfers, Soul-Crusher isn’t embarrassing. You’re free to use Make Them Die Slowly for your shitsmithing purposes, though.
Ready for some controversy? I’m also going to add one more:
Celtic Frost – Cold Lake
Currently rated 2.07. One of the most reviled albums in metal history. It’s so hated that I think it’s now over-hated, which is why there’s a famous effect named after it. Including this in your list is cheating because:
The sum of the ratings of your five-album list cannot exceed 15.
Oh shit. Welcome to the Thunderdome. That’s right, if you thought you could skate by choosing a bunch of 3.15s, think again. To make it under the cumulative 15-point cutoff, you’re going to have to go bobbing for turds, bub. Each album needs to average a 3.00 rating. Oh yes, you’re going to be splashing around the septic tank for some 2s.
Here’s a recap of the rules for eligible albums:
- It needs to be Encyclopaedia Metallum
- It needs to be rated 3.15 or lower in RYM
- It can’t be the highest rated in a discography
- It has to be embarrassing
- The combined ratings for your five albums cannot exceed 15
Alright. Fire up the forge, grab your poo-encrusted crucible, and let’s start shitsmithing. Here are my five to get you started:
Black Sabbath – Tyr (3.11)
I feel like we’re in the middle of a reappraisal of most of the Tony Martin era, so I don’t expect Tyr to be eligible for long. (To that end, I was actually considering banning all Black Sabbath albums…except for Forbidden, which has earned its rep.) And then I remembered that the Rolling Stone Album Guide gave Tyr one star and people still clown on me for thinking it’s better than Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! The problem with Tyr is that…well, it’s not very Sabbath-y, leaning hard on Geoff Nicholls’s keyboards for atmosphere and allowing Cozy Powell’s booming drums to be the loudest element in the mix. It’s not a very 1990-sounding album, either, which certainly slew it when it was released. (It came out the same week as Alice in Chains’ Facelift, Cannibal Corpse’s Eaten Back To Life, and Anthrax’s Persistence Of Time, sooooooo yeahhhhhh.) Most of Tyr, especially the fantastic bookends “Anno Mundi” and “Heaven In Black,” are like a more mystical Dokken circa Tooth And Nail if George Lynch wore a cape and wizard hat. (A message to Jørn Lande and Jørn Lande alone: Cover those songs.) So, I get why the reappraisal has been slow given the circumstances, despite my years-long effort to reclaim Tyr as a not-embarrassing, downright excellent album. Provided you’re not a rawk block radio-only listener, can compartmentalize the Sabbath eras, and have a hankering for dark, moody hard rock that’s not lacking for hooks, it doesn’t get much better than this for post-’80s synthy trad. Actually, you know what? Tyr is banned now. Too good. Glad I got this one under the wire before the shitsmith creator thought otherwise. Still, that shouldn’t stop you from putting Tyr back in print, Mr. Iommi.
Welp. To lend credence to the opening lines of this intro’s intro, I’ve always said that your hottest takes are the ones you don’t know are hot takes. I didn’t realize that this album was so disliked. In fact, if someone said, “Hey, make a list of 500 metal albums you love,” I’d stick A Great Artist on there faster than Agathocles agreeing to a split. I don’t know much in this world, but what I do know is that every time I hear “Cavil,” I want to pick up the heaviest thing I can manage and throw it through a window. I mean, just listen to the opening of that song, the way the da-boooooooooooow grooves are chained together with Ola-Englund-passing chugs. And then the next section is like something swiped out of Dying Fetus’ Destroy The Opposition riff notebook. That’s a 3.09??? You’re all out of your minds.
I’m speculating, but I think the reason A Great Artist hasn’t achieved its standing as a classic of ’00s metalcore is based on something singer Bob Meadows said to No Clean Singing. Here’s both the Q and the A:
I feel like Djent may be the death knell of metalcore because there’s so many preconceived notions about what it should sound like that it stifles people from making any real creative decisions. It’s so homogeneous.
It gets tagged back to Meshuggah, but to me all these bands are more poor man’s versions of Fredrik Thordendal’s Special Defects. In my thinking that record was revolutionary and it came out so many years ago. To see people turn around and rip that off all these years later is sort of revolting. Of course we also get compared to Meshuggah, but when we put out A Great Artist back in 2003 we took that band as more of an influence that we blended with other influences like Pantera, Black Sabbath, and Candiria, while these kids blatantly rip just one man’s sound off.
I can like the people. Misha from Periphery is an awesome guy, but I can’t stand his music. It’s too Coheed And Cambria, too Circa Survive. It doesn’t have anything I enjoy in music. I want to like you as a person, not as a guitar player. I’m glad to have had the chance to get to know them — they’re cool dudes, I just dislike their music.
Yeahhh. Djent is mostly a disaster now, an excuse to peacock in a YouTube playthrough. It’s possible, then, that A Great Artist gets some unwarranted hate for being a forebear of that sound. (2013’s Ecstatic Trance, which returned ALOL to the ‘shuggah well and had weirdly simplistic drumming, is rated 3.31, though, so who knows.) Whatever, I will keep appealing that it is much better than most of the djent that followed.
But, I mean, ALOL was just a weird band in general. Its debut, Open Your Mouth For The Speechless…In Case Of Those Appointed To Die, is clumsy As the Sun Sets worship that the band later refused to play live. The following EP, The Fourth Plague: Flies, is its Dillinger Escape Plan record. Hunter, ALOL’s breakout, is the record that should’ve come out after Lamb Of God’s As The Palaces Burn. Some of those albums are fun, but don’t measure up to their inspirations. A Great Artist gets much closer (it’s very Candiria if you think about it), but perhaps people can only hear it as another clone and don’t dig much deeper. Shame. It’s a banger.
I was tempted to go back-to-back with proto djent albums by tapping Coprofago’s seriously underappreciated debut LP Images Of Despair (currently rated 3.05) for inclusion, but, in the interest of maximizing the embarrassment, here we go.
Yep, 1992 Darren Johnson can’t death growl even a little bit. That’s the big thing working against Living Sacrifice’s second album. Even the band admits it. Then-rhythm guitarist Bruce Fitzhugh, who started singing for the band from 1997’s Reborn onward, told OverkillExposure, “Some of the earlier records I have trouble listening to, like Nonexistent, because it sounds so bad.” Ouch. And yet, if you put the work in to listen past the vocals, it’s clear that Living Sacrifice could riff a good riff. It clearly had something.
While Johnson’s vocals weren’t great on the band’s 1991 self-titled debut either, his raw shout made sense over the Kreator-esque turbo thrash. (From a pure metal perspective, it’s probably Living Sacrifice’s best work.) 1992’s Nonexistent got chonkier, packing on the Obituary. To up the extremity, Johnson tried to match the burgeoning brutality, and…yikes. To his credit, he’d figure it out in time for 1994’s Inhabit, but the band had moved to something like death metal Earth Crisis at that point. Living Sacrifice would never cut another Nonexistent, but it did pretty well for itself as a Sepultura-influenced metalcore band.
Still, there’s something about Nonexistent that just kind of works. It has an OSDM, still-figuring-it-out idiocy that’s charming, not unlike the ramshackle approach of Accidental Suicide. If the masters exist and an enterprising armchair producer wants to recut it with someone doing a Martin van Drunen impression, I’d love to hear it.
Prophetic title. I’m guessing the reason that Unleashed Power’s second album, 1997’s Mindfailure, holds such a dismal score on RYM is because no one knows about it. At the time I’m writing this, 15 users have rated it. Pretty small sample size. That’s not to say that Mindfailure is a hidden gem. At best…it’s fine. The worst thing about it is Brian Thane Chaffee’s vocals, which sound like Cowboys From Hell-era Phil Anselmo. Provided Pantera’s uh-oh antics haven’t totally torched that type of vocal for you, Mindfailure has a ton of tasty progressive thrash riffs that are fairly And Justice in their construction.
That shred is courtesy of Ken C. Jacobsen, Unleashed Power’s lone constant member. Following the dissolution of Avalon, Jacobsen moved from Denmark to the States and started this band with fellow former Avalon member John Mathiassen. (Fun fact, Avalon’s drummer Flemming Kenneth became Lars Ulrich’s drum tech.) In 1993, the expanded quartet cut Quintet Of Spheres, a knotty power thrash record that answered the “What if Metallica did Rust In Peace?” question that has damned many a band. It’s decent. Nevertheless, I’m guessing that shit wasn’t selling in 1993.
Mindfailure doubled down on everything and tried to get heavier, hence the Pantera. Notably, the drums are played by Jörg Michael, he of a billion bands, but specifically Axel Rudi Pell, Mekong Delta, and Stratovarius. It kind of reminds me of what Biomechanical would end up doing, just without all of the industrial whizz-bang bullshit. That’s to say, I think there’s a decent album of riffs here. At least, it’s better than 15 users think it is.
Darkthrone – Goatlord (2.83)
After the this-sucks response to Darkthrone’s newest album, Eternal Hails……, an album that I happen to like a lot, I decided to go back to the universally acknowledged turd in the black metal punch bowl to test whether I’m simply a mega mark for the Norwegian stalwarts. Surely, I won’t like Goatlord. Bad news: I now love Goatlord.
Really, your response to any Darkthrone album is a matter of expectations. You have to listen to what’s there instead of hoping for what’s not. That goes double for Goatlord, as Fenriz makes clear in his commentary track for the deluxe edition: “Obviously, [people] were not used to listening to rehearsal sounds, that meaning a tape recorder taping the band playing live.” That pretty much sums up the bones of this 1996 release.
Originally recorded between 1991’s Soulside Journey and 1992’s A Blaze In The Northern Sky, the old Darkthrone four-piece was still in death metal mode on this set that it captured quickly with a tape recorder, saving the scheduled studio date for Blaze. While still owing a debt to early Celtic Frost, you could tell that the four were working out some tighter, more technical compositions. As such, Goatlord almost takes on a riff-tape quality as the band zooms through sections anchored by Fenriz’s uncharacteristically showy playing. (Fenriz jokes that he took his vitamins that day.) That was the direction that bassist Dag Nilsen still wanted to travel down, so he bid the other boys adieu after Blaze when it was clear that Darkthrone would be a black metal band going forward.
And, you know, Goatlord would probably have a better rep if it was just that, an instrumental death metal rehearsal that was a snapshot of the band playing around with grimmer and more magickal timbres. But then Fenriz added vocals in 1994 and…holy shit. (Satyr, from Satyricon, hops aboard for some screams.) While I’ve come to really enjoy them, especially the wacky “female” singing, I recognize that their bugfuckery, not to mention how forward they are in the mix, is a tough sell. No matter, I think it’s worth buying? While Goatlord was a real WTF in the ’90s, especially after Panzerfaust, I think this has aged better over the years as Fenriz and Nocturno Culto have exposed more of their interests. Eternal Hails…… makes Goatlord make more sense.
Alright. That is my turdmory. I have shown you my ass. So don’t leave me hanging. What you got?
Magogaio – "Bleached"
Location: Stirling, United Kingdom
Subgenre: blackgaze / trip-hop
Magogaio arrived out of nowhere in January 2021 with a three-song debut EP called Memorial. I heard the thing, I dunno, a few months after it came out, and I was truly blown away. Magogaio is a one-person operation — its very anonymous author goes only by KR — and, except where noted, that person handles literally every aspect of the work: the art, the production, the music, etc. This is not, in and of itself, exceptional; most of these bedroom-black-metal folks do the same, largely because that’s how it’s always been done, primarily because nobody wants to help you with your stupid one-person Bandcamp black metal band. But Magogaio…lemme tell you, I listen to quite a lot of this stuff, and I have never once heard a debut record that sounds as accomplished as Memorial. Nothing even close, not that I can recall. The production sounds better than most big-budget black metal albums. KR’s choices throughout are bold and even bizarre — there’s a lot of synth-y, electronic-y, vaporwave-y stuff that you don’t hear much in black metal — but the compositions are so strong that even the most left-field stuff plays perfectly. The hooks hit hard and come often, and every one of ‘em sinks deep. And the performances are out-of-this-world great, the guitars in particular. In Memorial’s title track, which opens the EP, KR rips this solo that sounds like fucking Joe Satriani or something, I swear to God. Go right now and listen to “Memorial.” Do not deprive yourself of that experience, please. It’s just incredible. It’s all so good, the whole record. The record is so good, in fact, that upon hearing it, I immediately suspected KR was a seasoned professional working under an alias. More specifically, I believed it had to be Ulver in deep disguise. (Yes, I know, I’ve written these exact words before — last time about the similarly idiosyncratic and also sonically pristine Abstract Void — but let’s face it, I just don’t trust Ulver. And also: KR, Kristoffer Rygg? Come on.)
Anyway, Memorial landed on my personal list of 2021’s best albums, even though it was only a three-song EP. (It’s since been expanded to four songs, but the new cut — which is, I should say, a bit of a curveball — wouldn’t have bumped it from my list.) Obviously, as well, Magogaio was an artist to watch. For me, at least. I was very eagerly anticipating whatever might come next.
That “whatever” came a few weeks ago, in the form of another EP, a four-songer called Forty Thousand Years. And man…I don’t know what to make of this thing. The sound is, again, exceptional. The performances are, across the board, flawless. The compositions are, per Memorial’s standard, confident and clean. But, like…OK, so, for all its odd turns, Memorial was clearly metal. Are there some synths? Some quiet bits? Sure. But if you can get with Deafheaven or Alcest, you can get with Memorial. That soft-hard balance has been established; it is familiar to the ear. Forty Thousand Years, on the other hand, loses none of the non-metal components of Memorial and then expands on them A LOT with a trip-hop sound(!) that is so deeply embedded in the music that it can’t really be called “a trip-hop sound.” It’s trip-hop. That’s what it is. That’s what it is! And yet, there’s still way too much metal here for this music to be called trip-hop. What the fuck is it? (It’s Ulver, right? Rygg. Don’t trust that guy.)
The song I’ve chosen to feature here is the EP’s opener, “Bleached,” which leads with a solid block of good, hard blackgaze…and then, just before the 4:00 mark, suddenly it sounds like fucking Air or something, I swear to God. For three and a half minutes. It’s basically an entire Air song inside five other songs inside one song. And then? Jesus, I mean, after that, it’s so all over the place that I won’t bother to map it here, except to note that the extended out-of-tune piano outro (the final minute-thirty or so of a song that runs for 11:37) sounds like fucking Portishead or something, I swear to God, right down to the crackling vinyl sound at the top of the mix. And then — and this is where I lose my mind — that Portishead-y outro leads directly into track 2, “Post Urban” (featuring guest vocals from Niamh Kirkbride, about whom a Google search returns virtually nothing), which absolutely isn’t metal at all. It’s just trip-hop, period. I mean, it sounds like fucking Morcheeba or something, I swear to God. And then? They do the same exact thing again on track 4, “Memories Of Earth.” That’s two entire songs on a FOUR-SONG EP. (I don’t know how this is possible, but Forty Thousand Years is both way more metal and way less metal than Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite, and then there’s a good stretch of track 3, “Houses,” that sounds almost hysterically identical to Infinite Granite.)
But here’s the thing: I don’t find anything about the experience of listening to this music to be jarring. It’s hard to write about it, sure. It’s hard to contextualize it, to understand it, but listening to it is easy as hell. Now, do I put it on and sometimes forget what I’m listening to? Oh yes. Yes, I do, all the time, almost every time, in fact. But it’s all so seamless. It’s all so perfect. It’s all so beautiful, really. It’s a wild, incredible, beautiful journey without a single bump along the way. Whoever KR is, they know what the fuck they’re doing. I, on the other hand, do not know what the fuck they’re doing, but I prefer it that way. Make it weird, man. If you can pull it off? Then make it weirder. Why the hell not? In one year — two EPs, eight songs — Magogaio have done more with black metal than most black metal bands do in a whole career. I have no idea where they’ll go next, but it doesn’t really matter; you can’t go much further out than this. [From Forty Thousand Years, out now via the band.] –Michael Nelson
Stabbing – "Splatter Pit"
Subgenre: brutal death metal
Trip-hop blackgaze straight into brutal death metal? Who constructs this dumb column?
Anyway, as promised, here’s Texas’ Stabbing, a newborn quartet doing a speedy take on that state’s particular brand of brutality. If you’re a sicko and keep up with the br00ful trades, you’ll recognize some of these members from their other exploits. Guitarist Marvin Ruiz shreds it up in Nephilim Grinder, drummer Rene Martinez blasts it up in Flesh Hoarder, and singer Bridget Lynch growls it up in Pyosisified. Pretty good brutalitree, as those things go. Got a feeling that Stabbing will soon be one of the first bands people cite, though.
Ravenous Psychotic Onslaught, Stabbing’s first EP, rips — specifically, it rips through four songs in 11 ripping minutes. It’s another ripping release in an extra-ripping fourth quarter for BDM, joining flesh-rendering records from Hate Inclination and Vulnificus. That said, Ravenous Psychotic Onslaught sticks out for going this hard. “Splatter Pit” is like getting trepanned by Urosepsis while Devourment applies laughing gas to itself in the corner. Blasts turn into O-line husky chugs, then into slams, and then are zapped back into blasts. Imagine Brodequin producing old Malignancy and yelling at the members to be more ignorant. Yeesh.
The thing I can’t get over is how cohesive Stabbing sound. Ruiz, Rene Martinez, and bassist Meryl Martinez sound like a single being, a brutal Blob moving as one. But this isn’t a tech-y kind of cohesion, the type of overly mechanistic death metal that’s composed for a graphing calculator. Nah, Stabbing somehow nail the tricky task of playing with precision while retaining a looseness that allows the grooves to really swing. In that way, they stitch an ample pocket for Lopez to fill with husky growls that sound like someone dragging a soda machine across carpet. Additional shout out to Januaryo Hardy, of Cadavoracity, Perverted Dexterity, and Urged, who dials in the mix and gives Stabbing the grimy, live-wire, basement-dwelling sound they deserve. P.S., there’s a song titled “Excrement Sarcophagus.” [From Ravenous Psychotic Onslaught, out now via Comatose Music.] –Ian Chainey
Nostalghia – "Luna Errante"
Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Subgenre: atmospheric post-black metal
Nostalghia speaks the language of decaying flowers and fading afternoon light, wrapping post-atmospheric black metal in a gothic embrace. A beguiling melody guides “Luna Errante” from the get-go, and it takes several forms — first as a clarion guitar lead, but when it all kicks in about a minute into the track, a piano picks it up. It’s at that moment, when an understated black metal rasp, enlivening beat, and dose of post-goth swagger take hold, that Nostalghia hits a truly infectious groove and carves out a special place at the intersection of black metal and goth rock. Special credit must go to the rhythmic accent of the vocals, timed to perfection for maximum catchiness. There’s a throwback vibe going on here, both in style and sound mix, something that could have hit in a ’90s heyday and become canon. But here it is now in 2021, an awesome macabre waltz through the moonlight from a one-person band from Mexico City that you’ll want to listen to again and again. [From Here, at the end of all things, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Novichoke – "Rite Of Suicide"
Subgenre: death metal / black metal
Novichoke is a newly formed “deviant blackened death metal” collective from Russia that plays the aforementioned deviant fusion with excoriating grind timbres. It then torches whatever lump of flesh hasn’t been licked by flames with noise. I’m struggling to find a fitting comparison, but Vermin Womb plus the kind of war metal that’s actually heavy instead of existing solely to earn battle vest patch points gets you close. Still, comparisons abstract what Novichoke is up to because its vibe feels more real than most. That might have something to do with the stakes at play. As stated in the Bandcamp notes, the band is “named after the chemical weapon that has become synonymous with political assassination” and is donating proceeds from this three-song EP to Gulagu.net, a human rights organization that “specializes in defending the rights of Russian inmates and collecting data on the unlawful actions of Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) officials,” per an article in Meduza. Given the opposition that founder Vladimir Osechkin and others advocates and insiders have faced, that’s no small commitment if the band’s location checks out. I kinda get why it’s anonymous.
“Rite Of Suicide” opens sludgily with the hiss of fried amplifiers. That mess of noise mutates into big, “Iron Man”-bending riffs that, in this setting, sound like the Silent Hill siren. The track then blasts off with pounding drums and pummeling guitars that nearly swallow up the charred vocals. Stop/start sections follow where Novichoke’s energy spills over into the negative space. It’s like listening to someone trying to stop a train before it plows into a bus. Next, Novichoke unleashes a bruising midpaced stretch that’s pretty much what HM-2 core chuggers wish looked back at them in the mirror. I mean, if you told me that everyone’s instruments caught on fire during the “solo” section, an angular non-melody straight out of the Big Steeve playbook, I wouldn’t question it. All told, the atmosphere that Wounds whips up is something, bottling the horror of a bad situation, the paranoia and dystopic dread of a system working outside of your control. [From Wounds, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Takafumi Matsubara – "Kusabi (Wedge)"
Location: Kyoto, Japan
“Kusabi (Wedge)” is a brief reunion of the final lineup of Mortalized, the legit legendary grind band that shredmaster Takafumi Matsubara played in from 1997 to 2013 and during his concurrent runs in Gridlink and Hayaino Daisuki. That Mortalized iteration played one last show in 2017, an unlikely return considering Matsubara suffered a brain injury in 2013 that threatened to sideline one of grind’s most inventive players forever. Of course, we know how the rest of the story played out. Matsubara continued to rehab, painstakingly re-learning his craft while dealing with a disability, and cut the incredible Strange, Beautiful And Fast under his own name in 2019 with the help of friends. For an album title, you couldn’t do much better as a description of the contents.
Mortalized (Poison EP) is another fittingly titled set. Here, Matsubara puts the finishing touches on Mortalized tracks that the original trio didn’t have a chance to record. As the Bandcamp notes make clear, where Strange, Beautiful And Fast was “positive,” these six songs are “aggressive,” hence the “Poison EP.” However, like its predecessor, an all-star cast came to play, including Vijesh Gharlwara from Wormrot, Jon Chang from Discordance Axis, Gridlink, Hayaino Daisuki, and No One Knows What The Dead Think, Toshihiko Takahashi from Palm (Palm rips and should be more known in the West, by the way), and Tsukasa Harakawa from Swarrrm.
But let’s point the spotlight back on “Kusabi (Wedge).” Matsubara slashes wildly with his razor-sharp near-melodic riffs, Sanshiro screams his guts out, and Hoonee Jo, last seen in these parts battering his kit in Jardim de Flores, batters his kit in place of OG Mortalized drummer Ikeda. It’s a brief glimpse of a timeline where Mortalized never split, still raging through a minute of furious grind that’s driven skyward by a euphoric, floating bridge. Same as it ever was. Still, given everything that has transpired in this timeline, its impact now is even greater. [From Mortalized (Poison EP), out now via Roman Numeral Records.] –Ian Chainey
Night In Gales – "Silenced By Stars"
Location: Voerde, Germany
Subgenre: melodic death metal
There’s no way to quantify the impact of At The Gates’ landmark 1995 album, Slaughter Of The Soul. The best you can do, really, is say it was massive. Much of the stuff that it inspired, unfortunately, used that prototype to produce a form of metal that, at best, gave kids an easy entryway into the genre, from which point they moved on to better stuff (I’m not talking about Killswitch Engage specifically, but they’re as good an avatar as any for all the stuff I am talking about). Some of the stuff that it inspired managed to build on the groundwork laid down by At The Gates, eventually making music worthy of that influence (you can hear a lot of SOTS in the outstanding Canadian band Counterparts, for example). And then, there was a class of bands that built entire catalogs and careers simply by sounding exactly like At The Gates.
Perhaps the very best of those bands was Germany’s Night In Gales, whose 1997 debut album, Towards The Twilight, sounded so much like At The Gates that even its alliterative title echoed that of Slaughter Of The Soul. (I’ve always thought that the junior band’s name felt like an homage of sorts. Just say the words out loud. Night. In. Gales. At. The. Gates. I’ve felt a similar thing about the other “best” At The Gates-worship band, Gates Of Ishtar.) Were Night In Gales derivative? Probably, yes, but a great derivation of a great artist can absolutely be at least near-great art. And Night In Gales were pretty great! Among serious fans of melodic death metal, Towards The Twilight is considered nothing less than a classic of the genre, and for my money, it deserves to be. You can’t really point to too much stuff in this style that does it better.
After the turn of the millennium, Night In Gales went on a pair of extended hiatuses, during which time they released only one new album (2011’s Five Scars), but they reunited to release an LP in 2018, followed quickly by another in 2020, and they’re back again, this time as part of a four-song split with fellow German act Nyktophobia. The Nyktophobia songs sound uncannily like best-era In Flames, which fucking rules, period, and also provides a poetically apt counterpoint to the Night In Gales tracks, which sound like…At The Gates. (Fittingly, one of Night In Gales’ Bandcamp genre tags is “At The Gates.”)
The song we’re spotlighting here, Night In Gales’ “Silenced By Stars” — the title of which absolutely sounds like an off-brand At The Gates title, by the way — really does it all, from dramatic tempo/tonal changes to the car-crash stop-starts to the vocals of Christian Muller, who sounds more like Tompa Lindberg than Tompa Lindberg sounds like Tompa Lindberg…to almost literally everything else in the mix, right down to that fade at the end. There’s this one buzzy guitar line that reminds me a ton of “The Swarm,” which could well be my personal favorite At The Gates song. “Silenced By Stars” is about 52% heavier and 73% faster than “The Swarm,” though. And you know what? If your blueprint for music is, “Make it ‘The Swarm,’ but heavier and faster,” then you’re not wrong. It’s gonna sound like sacrilege to say this — and I’m regretting these words even before I type them — but I’m more hyped on this than I am the new At The Gates album. Really, though, if I didn’t know which was which in advance, I’m not sure I could even tell them apart. And I’m at peace with that. Night In Gales love At The Gates as much as I do, and now, they’ve given me another reason to love Night In Gales. [From Night In Gales/Nyktophobia, out [when] via the band(s).] –Michael Nelson
Mental Devastation – "Labyrinths"
Location: Villa Alemana, Chile
Sigh. I need you to remember this one and bring it up in December 2022 because I am going to write something incredibly rash. In the same way I’ve doomed Relic Point and Plain Cheese Pizza to obscurity, I am going to make a career-crushing pronouncement about this Chilean quartet. If this doesn’t come true, I need you to throw this back in my face and save me from myself because I will kill again. OK. Deep breath. Here we go.
Mental Devastation are going to be big.
The Delusional Mystery Of The Self (Part 1), these thrashers’ second full-length and first since 2013’s Red Skies, has everything working for it. For one, it’s coming out at the perfect time, riding the wave of excellent proggy death and thrash that swept across 2021 like a tidal wave. If you like Atvm or Mental Devastation’s Blood Harvest coworkers Cryptic Shift, you’ll like this. And the reason you’ll like this is because Mental Devastation take classic thrash and proggy death threads and weave a unique tapestry. Imagine if the progressive inclinations of Steve DiGiorgio-era Death were transplanted into Forbidden’s Twisted Into Form and played at the breakneck pace of Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends. How would that sound? It would rip. It does rip. The Delusional Mystery Of The Self (Part 1) rips.
I’m picking “Labyrinths” as the stream because that’s what’s available when I’m writing this, but I encourage you to listen to all of The Delusional Mystery Of The Self (Part 1) once it becomes available. (I should note that there’s an arty NSFW video for “Labyrinths.” You can search for it.) The song-to-song flow on the record is half the battle, and it hurts my brain how many riffs and sections Mental Devastation burn through for our pleasure. In the first few songs, you can hear a whole mess of stuff, from ultra-hooky Testament riffs to the kind of staccato gang shouts that Meshuggah sadly abandoned when it left thrash behind. In that way, “Labyrinths” sounds classic without really sounding like anything classic. This ripper isn’t a rip-off, in other words. Mental Devastation take the music they like and find a way to tell those same stories in their own voice. And it sure doesn’t hurt that everyone in this band can flat-out play. “Labyrinths”’s solo section, with its shifting rhythmic bed, is the type of thing that wears out the rewind button on your Walkman. That said, fair warning: Bassist Alejandro Lagos’s vox take some time to get used to if you’re not used to the over-the-top presentation of, say, Russ Anderson doing a rapid-fire Darren Travis. But, really, that’s the only hurdle to clear if you’re new to metal. If you like thrash, this is your thrash album for 2022. [From The Delusional Mystery Of The Self (Part 1), out now via Blood Harvest.] –Ian Chainey
Inherits The Void – "Pillars Of The Aether"
Location: Clermont-Ferrand, France
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
If it weren’t for a brief interlude, you wouldn’t have a chance to come up for air on “Pillars Of The Aether.” The track can feel like non-stop insanity, like finding yourself smack dab in the middle of some sort of high-speed cataclysmic event, with waves of high-pitched guitars storming and crashing and spiraling out of control while piston-powered drumming obliterates matter beneath. Antoine Scholtès’ one-person band revels in this kind of high-octane, multi-layered atmospheric black metal, where hyper-speed is the name of the game, and an inundating atmosphere captivates because the brain can’t possibly consider anything else. There’s a clear sci-fi deep-space inspiration here, with some radical guitarwork standing in for solar flares and other deep space phenomena, but save for some understated keyboards, the tools at work here are of the good old string and skin variety. It’s a wild ride, one that puts Into the Void on the cosmic black metal map. [From Monolith of Light, out now via Avantgarde Music.] –Wyatt Marshall
Effluence – "Caustic RNA Transmogrification"
Subgenre: brutal death metal
I’ve covered Effluence before in passing, noting that the California experimental brutal death metal project was similar to Encenathrakh. (If you’re unfamiliar with that outfit, it’s the improv death metal project of Mick Barr, Colin Marston, Paulo Henri Paguntalan, and Weasel Walter that reached an unlikely tier of mainstream attention thanks to the coders behind Dada Bots using a neural network to generate a 10-hour track trained on Encenathrakh’s self-titled LP. Are you still with me? OK.) Effluence’s first EP, Subneural Entropic Dysgenesis, had artwork that was too gory to be included in these pages proper, but it made a fan out of me immediately thanks to how it unified free jazz and Defeated Sanity’s brand of tech-y BDM absurdity, not unlike its P2 labelmate. Oh cool, it’s neat that someone else is doing this stuff, I thought, and I filed it away in my brain as “band that sounds like Encenathrakh.” Ah, but after hearing all of the Effluence-related projects this year, I’m having second thoughts. This California scene is out on its own island, its own delirious, ludicrous, ridiculous island.
Since Subneural Entropic Dysgenesis‘s dropped in 2020, the tiny music community presumably centered around Effluence’s lone member Matt has fused way more elements to that jazz-plus-BDM fusion, revealing that these bands don’t just sound like Encenathrakh, they’re a whole new thing. On Effluence’s brutal death metal side, there’s Meticulous Butchery, a slammer with artwork that’s, once again, too gore for these pages. While slightly more orthodox in its BDM ways, its wibbly, wobbly bass is like if Bunny Brunel got into Epicardiectomy. On the jazzier side, there’s Steve Matthews Trio and Tantric Bile. The former’s Ego Death: Live At Headlands Coffeehouse features the titular Matthews playing a “treated recorder” while the trio barrels through blistering free jazz that’s cut from the same chaotic cloth as Kurushimi. On the other hand, Tantric Bile dresses jazz as grind on its debut, Seminal Baptism, but not like Naked City and ByoNoiseGenerator. No, it smashes the two styles together, making a big puddle of wet stuff. Example: There’s an Albert Ayler composition that’s the grindiest Albert Ayler has probably ever been. Most importantly, one of Tantric Bile’s Bandcamp tags is “extremely hard bop.” I submit that as a name for this burgeoning scene and its bands. Effluence is extremely hard bop.
Alright. Effluence’s full-length debut, Psychocephalic Spawning, kicks off with “Caustic RNA Transmogrification,” which is dedicated to Milford Graves, the free jazz drummer and general polymath who passed in February. If you’re not a total BDM degenerate, this is the key that unlocks this album. Like Graves’ playing, Matt uses every inch of his instrument, freeing it up from timekeeping obligations and turning it into a lead. At the track’s blasting peak, it sounds like Morgan Ågren trying to get ants off his kit. Ultimately, while the chaos rules, what makes “Caustic RNA Transmogrification” so effective is that the guitar and vocals are more rooted in traditional BDM styles, giving you something to hang onto. The guitars chug, the vocals growl. And then you notice all of the other stuff flying around the mix, like the rising synth swooshes and the careening sax. Foreshadowing! When “Caustic RNA Transmogrification” becomes its final form, it sounds like a ghost angrily shaking its chains at Peter Brötzmann. Holy shit. [From Psychocephalic Spawning, out now via P2.] –Ian Chainey
Pessimista – "Natureza Morta"
Location: São Paulo, Brazil
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
An otherworldly aura pervades on “Natureza Morta,” one of dread-laden unease, but Pessimista’s focus is right here on earth. The one-person band from Brazil looks to the ravages of relentless industrialization and humanity’s cancerous sprawl for the fire that fuels his latest album, rallying and weaponizing nature’s primal forces into one last anguished cry and final fight. When Jaketeme Zapelloni’s howled vocals first cut through the funereal atmosphere, they’re pleas from beyond the grave. But as the track methodically marches toward a cursed end, it marshals the most primal powers at its disposal, exploding with formidable dying fury in a last stand. The low-end on “Natureza morta” is formidable, as if Zapelloni’s digging deep underground, heaving up stone and ore. One passage in particular is worth noting, when the war drums start pummeling, kicking off a call and response between Zapelloni’s howled protagonist and a gang of ancient demons from the depths. It’s awesome stuff, full of dark mystery, primeval magic, and real-life fury for the daily environmental injustices that could doom us all. [From Apodrecendo a terra translation, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
BONUS. Deaf Club – “Shoplift From Jail”
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Subgenre: punk / hardcore / grindcore
Why is this in the bonus section? Justin Pearson and I exchange the odd friendly email every now and then because he’s forced to deal with numskulls like me in his capacity as a label owner. I am eternally sorry, Justin Pearson. That and Eris Deo, the creator of the “Planet Bombing” video, the great Videodrome in the metaverse visual that accompanied Deaf Club’s last single, is a friend of a friend of a friend (although aren’t we all?).
Anyway! Deaf Club! I like this! I like it because it brings me back without being a rehash. Deaf Club is something of a supergroup as it’s staffed by Justin Pearson, Brian Amalfitano, Scott Osment, Jason Klein, and Tommy Meehan. The Black Market-specific connections of note, then, would be the Locust, Swing Kids, ACxDC, and Weak Flesh, among many, many others. “Shoplift from Jail” is the latest single from the forthcoming Productive Disruption, and you can hear elements of the above in its two minutes of quick, biting, grinding punk. I particularly like how the band incorporates those stabbing, sliding riffs during the blasting section, that someone-needs-to-blow-on-the-cartridge glitchiness that’s a hallmark of Pearson projects.
As I wrote, if you’re of a certain vintage, these tracks sound just right. The screams, the assaulting-the-senses guitar pyrotechnics, the commitment to high-frequency noises that pair well with tinnitus, it’s a real rush. And it punts me back in time to getting deafened in the early ’00s by bands that taught me to love uncomfortable riffs at shows held in back rooms and basements. But, as I said, this isn’t a throwback. Deaf Club bristles with a kind of 2022-y nerviness, some we-sure-saw-some-shit gut-spilling that only makes sense if you lived through the last few years. To that end, Productive Disruption is urgent, sounding like something these players had to exorcise and dry-heave out of their systems. Glad they recorded it. [From Productive Disruption, out 1/6 via Three One G.] –Ian Chainey