The Month In Metal – February 2022

The Month In Metal – February 2022

The middle of Cathexis’s Untethered Abyss feels like the start of something. The first four tracks are like attempting to navigate a maze of riffs and rhythms on the back of a Kawasaki Ninja. Released on Willowtip Records last year, Untethered Abyss is the kind of technical death metal that underlines both the “technical” and “death metal,” making sure that fans of either don’t go home hungry. Of course, that’s not always the case with bands in the tech space. There are plenty of doing-it-for-the-playthrough, light-as-a-feather shredders, the neoclassical calculator fiddlers that are about as heavy as the scrunchy that fastens a snooty guitar teacher’s ponytail. Cathexis, though, is heavy, legit heavy, tipping the scales with a weight that would put it in a class with Close To A World Below, Formulas Fatal To The Flesh, or From Wisdom To Hate. You bet, it has that pleasing crunch that gives its momentum definition, that crucial death metal dimension. And you can really feel the weight when the Texas quintet pulls the e-brake.

“Library Of Babel,” Untethered Abyss’s fifth track, is an ode to slow death metal. Drummer Felix Garza III pounds out the lumbering pace while kicking and prodding his fellow players with nimble fills. Likewise, Garza III’s batterymate, bassist Oscar Martinez, stretches out in the low-end, occasionally swooping between the other instruments like a crow trying to snag a piece of roadkill on a busy street. Guitarists Chris Hillam and Samuel Kang, panned to the left and right channels respectively, like how Paco de Lucía and Al Di Meola used to do battle, are a metal murmuration, operating in tandem while unexpectedly turning every which way. Finally, singer Ian Bishop is the Old Testament thunder, adding his own timbral shade to the tempest, striking through the storm with a throat-rattling “reeeeee” or bolstering the rumbling riffs with a deep growl.

“We’ve been saying we want to write our ‘Clouded’ for years,” Bishop writes in an email. That would be Gorgut’s “Clouded,” the impossibly heavy nine-minute track that sits in the middle of the highly influential Obscura, the 1998 album that might as well be a blueprint for 21st-century experimental death metal. That both “Library Of Babel” and “Clouded” act as songs to revolve around, providing an album-cohering gravitational field, is no accident, as Bishop points out: “We love when a band can slow it down! In the 2020s, we almost see it as a virtue that we not only push ourselves to make very fast, technical music, but that we also make songs at a much slower tempo but still achieve that feeling of intensity that we listen to death metal for. It was important to us to make a song that helped give the listener a different experience on the album with a slow song but make the song just as compelling as the rest without feeling out of place.”

And that’s just it: “Library Of Babel” is damn compelling. Nothing feels out of place. The place I feel the most is the part of my brain that loves getting demolished by death metal. I need this. And its connection to “Clouded” as a knotty, slomo crusher amplifies a thought that has been rattling around my demolished brain for years: Why isn’t there more technical doom metal?

Now, before I start chugging along in a fittingly overly elaborate pattern, it’s worth mentioning that I’m using “technical doom metal” as a stand-in for “technical doom metal, the concept” instead of “technical doom metal, the genre.” Neither is really a thing, but the concept, that being slow metal played in a way that’s more complex than slow metal is traditionally played, gives me a broader definition to work off of and will help me catch the few fleeting examples.

Either way, yes, I agree that technical doom is a clumsy phrase, something I’ll tackle in a future intro about genres. (A tasting pour: Most of the metal genres “technical” modifies are already technical just by dint of being metal. It’s redundant, similar to the emotional hardcore conundrum first posited by MacKaye, et al. Conversely, a lot of doom is already pretty technical in its own way. OM? Pretty technical!) Like, if I were planning on codifying this sound into a genre for real, I’d choose a different name than “technical doom metal.” Slow math. A br00tiful mind. Trudge science. Anything. Ugh, I’m getting sidetracked. Genres! Don’t get me started. Unfortunately, to demonstrate how little technical doom is out there, I need to, sigh, start by explaining this via genre.

Considering that a lot of metal has engaged in a Punnett square approach to progression for decades, churning out more hybrids than a Colorado weed farm owned by SEO-obsessed tech bros, the fact that there’s so little that’s currently residing under the technical doom tag is wild to me. There was a point in the bloggy days of the ’00s when “[insert literally anything] plus metal” could reliably gin up some coverage. Hi, I had a dumb grind band fronted by sea lions. So, you’d think that there’d be some get-a-load-of-this Weenster or boundary-obliterating Zappaphile academic to at least fill out the technical doom tag as an exercise in absurdity. AND YET.

Currently, Bandcamp has one “technical doom” album. Based on the other tags listed under its 2017 full-length No Sky, I don’t think Magic Mansion is employing it seriously. (For what it’s worth, it’s a pretty charming record, extremely “parking lot jams,” indeed.) Encyclopaedia Metallum doesn’t have many more examples. An advanced search for “technical doom” turns up eight entries. That’s it. Eight. As an example of how ludicrous that is, there are 582 entries for “Southern metal,” and only 43 percent is from the United States.

So, yeah, eight. And, surprising no one given how Metallum tags can metastasize, only three of the eight “technical doom” entries are even applicable. For sure, there are a lot of slash bands in those search results, bands that have technical and doomish qualities but aren’t quite the technical doom I’m looking for. Abstrakt Algebra is the most known band in that regard, filed under “Technical Power/Doom Metal.” I agree with where the slash is placed. Leif Edling’s rebound band after the dissolution of Candlemass is more of a power/prog entity than a doomer. “I don’t know if I would describe it as sounding as Sanctuary, but I do agree that Abstrakt Algebra was not a doom band in the same way as Candlemass,” guitarist Simon Johansson said to Metal Rules. “I think that Leif wanted to do an industrial version of Candlemass with a lot of progressive elements in the music. That is the way I look at Abstrakt Algebra anyway.”

Here’s a more obscure example: Cleveland’s Procreation — one of five metal Procreations that all did something interesting — doesn’t fit the bill either, getting invited to the “ninth green at 9” technical doom club thanks to its ungainly “Technical/Experimental Death/Doom Metal” job description. An early project of Midnight’s Athenar, the surviving live videos sound ultra-intriguing (please release the studio demos?), but it’s clear that it lived its life primarily as a multi-hyphenate hesher.

That leaves us with the three “pure” technical doomers per Metallum: Omega Thesis, Dissonance, and Confessor. First up, Dallas/Fort Worth’s Omega Thesis, featuring future Solitude Aeturnus members John Covington and Steve Moseley, released a six-song demo in 1995, but I’ve never heard it. In fact, it’s so unheard of it’s not even listed on Omega Thesis’s Metallum page.

I’ve heard more of Lithuania’s Dissonance. (We have another Procreation situation here. Don’t confuse this Dissonance with Slovakia’s Dissonance, itself a forgotten technical death metaller worth rediscovering.) Its first LP, 1995’s Concealed, is fascinating, like if the Peaceville Three doubled-down on the death metal, transforming then-contemporary Morbid Angel into lachrymose, viola-seasoned death goth. However, I hear it as more of an outgrowth of death/doom, not something that would be worth gerrymandering into a separate and distinct substyle.

Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of Confessor. The Raleigh group might as well be the technical doom band because it’s the only technical doom band anyone reliably references. Anchored by Steve Shelton’s incredible drumming, Confessor cut a series of increasingly brain-pulping demos in the ’80s and then dropped one agreed-upon classic LP, 1991’s Condemned, which sounds like a slow Watchtower staffed by sloths. Needless to say, there are few things like it.

Indeed, despite being ahead of the curve and undeniably inventive, not many followed Confessor’s lead. Even the two outfits formed on either side of its comeback, 2005’s pretty great Unraveled, went down similar but ultimately different paths. (This makes sense since Confessor, as a collective, never cared too much about how it was classed. Singer Scott Jeffreys told The Lodge, “I can see how we are grouped into the whole ‘Doom Metal’ category. It doesn’t bother me at all, as long as someone is listening to it and enjoys it. Call it whatever you like; call it Southern Boy Hick Metal for all I care. Call us what you will, just don’t call us late for supper.” There are 8,435 entries for “Southern boy hick metal” in Metallu–I’m kidding.) Fly Machine is more prog thrash and even gives off a Shudder To Think by way of Fates Warning vibe at times. The instrumental Loincloth is like a sludgier remix of Breadwinner, a heavy-ass head-crusher.

Are those three it, then? It depends on who you ask. Proving that I’m not even the first person to pine for technical doom, RateYourMusic user king0elizabeth curated a list of bands that “primarily play Doom Metal or its variants with a technical edge to their songs that isn’t usually found in their genres.” (Great minds! Or severely broken ones! Who can say?) It’s…short, shorter than the live set of a middle-age fastcore band on a work night. As you would expect, the inclusions are short on commonalities, too, which is often the case with technical doom lists because the criteria defining what is and isn’t acceptable hasn’t been set. Is it slow? Is it…technical? It’s…technical doom metal? Ah jeeze. (To wit, I can’t say I agree with many of king0elizabeth’s selections, although I get why they’re all there. That’s more of a criticism of me, really. This is a painfully subjective pursuit that’s further limited by one’s own knowledge base. Like, I can’t wait for the comments to dunk on me for the millions of technical doom songs I forgot about.)

Still, outside of lists like that one, it’s not like there’s a whole lot of technical in other slow locales. You might find the odd sludge band toying around with weird time signatures, like Belgium’s Blutch did throughout its discography, notably on 2003’s Fra Diavolo and 2006’s Materia, the latter of which is like mathy Melvins. By the same token, technical territories don’t have a whole lot of slow. Meshuggah deserves a nod for its Nothing-era stompers like the titanic “Nebulous,” and Cephalic Carnage’s “Halls Of Amenti,” the 21-minute stoner epic that received the technical death/grind band’s signature hydrogrind flip, is probably worth mentioning, as well.

Do these scant examples make a style, though? Eh. The only throughline with technical doom, be it the concept of the genre, is that the extant examples are not something you can build much of a case around. We have some possible first-wave forebears, but the ancestral tree is pretty bereft of scions. Gonna call it. Technical doom, not a thing.

But…I still think there’s something there, some untapped vein of potential whenever I hear Gorguts’ “Clouded,” Nightmarer’s “III: Stasis (Obliterated Shrine),” Cathexis’s “Library Of Babel,” or Baring Teeth’s “Aqueous.” Heck, Ion Dissonance’s “A Prelude Of Things Worse To Come” is almost there, too. And I can’t be the only one chomping at the bit for something crawling and complicated. So, what’s the deal?

“I think that’s a great question,” Aaron Myers-Brooks writes in an email. Myers-Brooks plays guitar in Monochromatic Residua, a Pittsburgh-based death metal band that gives Immolation a twist of the microtonal lemon. He’s also part of the part-time faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, the same school where he completed his doctorate in Music Composition and Theory. He surmises that the paucity of technical doom could be due to some very human barriers, both mental and physical.

“It may have something to do with how it gets harder to keep track of beats the slower you get,” Myers-Brooks explains. “For example, pulling off a clean triplet is easier at faster speeds than at very slow ones. Slowness messes with your sense of regularity and your memory. Drummers also sometimes find it easier to do consistent double bass stuff at faster speeds. You can always subdivide your counting, but then the music may not feel slow anymore.”

Myers-Brooks adds another Pittsburgh band as a technical doom possibility: Brown Angel. He notes that the band isn’t “‘technical’ in the traditional sense” but has a tricky sense of timekeeping. That’s not its only tricky trait. The “post-everything” three-piece sells itself this way: “RIYL noise rock raga, Teutonic industrial aesthetic, Hellhammer-grade weaponized dub.” Who doesn’t? Its last studio full-length, 2016’s Shutout released on Sleeping Giant Glossolalia, is definitely a contender, doing pleasingly weird timey-wimey stuff on tracks like “Cowards Progress.” If anything, it suggests this intro should instead be about the more promising field of post-everything.

But, that’s the thing: Brown Angel are heavy on the everything. Like all of the bands mentioned thus far, Brown Angel are diverse. Most importantly, they are not always slow. Technical doom’s scarcity, then, might just be a matter of album pacing. The reason why “Clouded” and “Library of Babel” hit so hard is that they’re a jarring gear shift, not unlike the classic powerviolence move of closing albums with a leaden, sludgy stride to nowhere. An entire album of “Clouded” could be tedious, just like how 10 tracks back-to-back of Infest’s “My World…My Way” might potentially neuter the power of that banger, changing the song from a refreshing contrast to a boring norm.

Speaking of boring, the other factor worth discussing is that technical doom could potentially take a long-ass time to compose and record. That’s something that Ian Bishop echoes when talking about the gestation of Untethered Abyss. How long did it take to make that 31-minute album sound so tight? Six fucking years.

“The short answer to this question is that we’re unbelievably slow writers,” Bishop clarifies when I ask him about the timesink. “The long answer to that is we’re slow writers and we are overly picky about what we consider a complete song. Couple those factors with varying personal issues and a global pandemic and there you have it. We had actually finished Untethered Abyss‘s production in February of 2020, but due to COVID we decided to wait until 2021 to get a proper release with Willowtip, the label we had dreamed of working with since we first began the group. As far as writing goes, Chris is the main cook, but we all work in the kitchen. A writing session usually involves Chris and I staring at Pro Tools for several hours and painstakingly working and re-working how a riff fits into an idea until we’re exhausted or too much beer has been consumed. Once we have a song ready, we shoot the idea to the rest of the band and jam over it until we have all made the parts our own.”

Beer-poundage aside, that’s a laborious process, one that makes you want to recycle your empties and use the earnings to fund a simple Mortician tribute. After all, it’s natural for people to want to take the path of least resistance. And it’s not like any of the “pure” technical doom antecedents suggest that there will be much success in store for those who shred slowly.

I mean, check the scoreboard. Omega Thesis’ demo is lost. I think Dissonance is great, but it has been in OOP limbo for decades. While Confessor had a moment, hopping on the Gods Of Grind tour during extreme metal’s brush with mainstream relevancy in the early ’90s, it broke up before it could capitalize on the groundswell. (Confessor’s career has had more ups and downs than a buoy in the Bay of Fundy. You can get the whole story in this Shelton interview with Tough Riffs.) And, despite that first album being remembered fondly by some, it lags behind other fringe prog practitioners in terms of contemporary relevancy. Condemned has 571 RateYourMusic ratings. Spiral Architect’s A Sceptic’s Universe has 812. If you’re 14 years old and you’re deciding what kind of metal you want to play, those numbers mean something in that you’re probably more likely to encounter the latter when asking for recommendations.

This is all to say, I get it. Technical doom is hard to play, takes forever to make, and there’s no clear path to success. Even if a few bands have already taken the first step, that’s some tough stuff to overcome. But, you know, there’s bravery in being in the second wave, too, saying with conviction, “You know, those bands were onto something.”

That’s why I find “Library Of Babel” so engaging. Cathexis takes its influences and molds them into a complete song with a unique voice. In that respect, it’s the next step. So, what were those influences? “The aforementioned ‘Clouded’ without a doubt,” Bishop answers. “Our buddies in Baring Teeth (check them out!) do a superb job of making slow death metal as well, and I think seeing a smaller dissonant band pull it off so boldly on all their records was a big influence for us. Other influences include Cannibal Corpse’s ‘Scourge Of Iron,’ and we even pulled a trick from Nile’s ‘Eat Of The Dead’ on this song specifically.”

Ah, yes, “Eat Of The Dead.” That’s a good one to add to the list. And how Cathexis integrate Nile’s trick might be something you miss if you half-listen to “Library Of Babel.” You might miss a lot, in fact.

“First is right when Chris starts his solo, Oscar does a bass swoop while Felix hits a fill,” Bishop shares when I ask what earworms are contained within its centerpiece song. “All three of those things coming together make for one of those ‘music magic’ moments that you can’t recreate. It’s such an amazing, transcendent moment on the album that I can’t help but feel amazing pride in! Second, during the writing process, I kept pestering Chris to put a slow section in a slow song, this sentiment 100 percent deriving from when Nile slows it down in ‘Eat Of The Dead’ (around 2:48). Sure enough, Chris was able to make it happen! So that slow down around 3:38 of ‘Library’ is a direct result of my love of Nile and their penchant for making slow heavy metal.”

Bishop is right, Nile do have a penchant for making slow metal. And Nile are no unknown entity, with their 95,000 monthly Spotify listeners easily outpacing Confessor’s 1,000. And that brings us back to this intro’s Gordian knot: If Nile are popular and have the occasional slow-motion destroyer, why don’t more of their many technical-minded fans follow their lead and enter the technical doom zone? Bishop’s crack at untying that knot is pretty interesting. “On the face of it, technical doom is kind of an oxymoron,” he writes. “What makes a lot of ‘tech death’ technical is not just the complexity of the riffs but the speed they’re played at. The combination of the two is what brings that intensity to this music we have all come to love.” Then, he pushes me into the weeds. Here’s the rest of his answer in its entirety:

I think as far as this particular style goes, it’s definitely very niche, and we have to continue making more of it and at a high quality for this style to pick up steam. I think most pre-existing fans of technical and brutal death metal simply aren’t as privy to hearing slow songs. Even in my own circles, there are people who love super brutal or extreme music but don’t really see the point when it comes to doom metal or sludge. To an extent, it kind of makes sense. No one is listening to Disgorge or Archspire for their lack of intensity or bigger, more expansive moments. They hardly have any of those moments because the bands themselves don’t really do them and may not be interested.

We just love slow heavy music, and I’m sure there are some fans out there who may find “Library” our most boring or monotonous song on the album. That’s okay, though! We love making songs like “Library,” but we also love making songs like “Mortuus in Perpetuum.” The goal is and will always be to make an album that we as a band can call complete and whole.

Doom and slowed-down metal as a whole is a collective favorite genre of the band. Whether it’s the epicness of Candlemass or the filth of Primitive Man, slow heavy metal is part of the Cathexis DNA, and we don’t really discriminate between the genres. There’s just something about an overly distorted guitar playing at glacial speeds that venerates that feeling of awe, and it’s a shame some people don’t get it. I bet those people haven’t heard Dopethrone either, though….

I have no practical way to test whether technical and brutal death metal fans rarely cross over to doom, but I understand the logic behind Bishop’s ancedote. (This doesn’t hold for me personally. As you know, I am the brutal death metal dork of the crew, and yet my favorite metal album is Corrupted’s El Mundo Frio.) If you’re a tech fan, you don’t need technical doom to get that tech fix. The same goes for a doomer. Your respective base genres already meet your needs. And, if that is the case, it suggests to me that the big reason technical doom isn’t a thing is that it doesn’t have a crossover band to bridge that gap. There isn’t that ur-text outfit that will allow potential listeners to build a story around it, a straightforward narrative that explains why the genre exists and why it does the things it does. Damn it! We’re back to genres again!

Technical doom might one day achieve that, but, fittingly, its story is currently moving at a crawl. Be that as it may, Cathexis have written an exciting chapter. There was Confessor. There was “Clouded.” And, now you can flip a page and find “Library Of Babel.” I’m excited to hear the next chapter. In fact, I ask Bishop if I could somehow convince him and his bandmates to make the leap over to technical doom metal with a full-time side-project. “You 100 percent could!” he responds. “Send me some ideas, let’s get crackin’!” –Ian Chainey

10. Beyond The Grasp Of Light – “An Inferno Upon The Abyss”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: black metal

Yeesh, that scream. Where have I heard it? This will be a niche comparison, but when has that ever stopped me: When Philadelphia’s Beyond The Grasp Of Light, the solo project of Brandon Scott Baun, hits that bat-deafening high note, that taking-a-mountain-lion-to-the-vet death screech, it sounds like December’s Eric Dellon. Heck, Hell, Beyond The Grasp Of Light’s debut EP, kinda sounds like December turned into the Axis Of Perdition in general. I could leave it at that, but only 10 of you are nodding your head as you read this, so let’s not leave it at that. Hell has a mathcore-y construction, the kind of juddery arrhythmia that either makes sense to you or it doesn’t; off-kilter chugs, drifting into turns transitions, sudden pedal-to-the-metal blasts, that kind of thing. The riffs, though, favor that sort of highly burnt black metal that’s the product of, well, hell. I feel like I use the Silent Hill siren as a reference too often, but Hell is really that, an ashes-falling-upwards descent into a manic maelstrom. (Let’s let Pyramid Head raise Beyond the Grasp of Light’s jersey to the rafters and never make that comparison again.) But the thing that puts this over the top is Baun’s scream. That scream. Already ultra-distorted, when Baun utilizes their upper register, it’s really something, like when a DSBMer decides to incinerate their vocal cords because tomorrow isn’t a school day. That scream takes “An Inferno Upon The Abyss” to another level, past the bands playacting psychosis. Welcome to hell, indeed. If it was just that, it would be enough, but Beyond The Grasp Of Light fit some neat near-melodic riffs in to offset the inferno. Those riffs ain’t water, they stoke the fire. Therefore, this entire package is a touch Icelandic in that respect, perhaps a little Haunted. Whatever, it works, turning this into a multifaceted listen that gets richer every replay. [From Hell, out now via the band.]Ian Chainey

9. Konvent – “Grains”

Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Subgenre: death/doom

“Grains,” the lead stream from Konvent’s second album, Call Down The Sun, seems to effortlessly float like the best death/doom. It’s heavy, yes, but it feels like it’s suspended by some otherworldly force, that same sort of physics-defying thrill as when an air hockey table comes to life. (Tell me you failed science….) And then, Rikke Emilie List starts growling, and it’s like…holy hell. It’s like a close harmony between a bear and a jet engine. Jeeze, have you met Beyond The Grasp Of Light and when can I set up a collabo?

Anyway, the vocals plus the music is a hell of a combo, one that the Copenhagen quartet has improved upon following its promising debut, 2020’s Puritan Masochism. When Konvent slow down in the back half of “Grains,” sinking into the ground and sprouting roots, you feel those vocals even more. They almost seem to reverberate in your chest. It’s the last thing you hear as blood rushes to your ears and you’re ushered off this mortal coil. But the reason the vocals come off as so powerful because the rest of the players play with such unhurried assurance. Like, if Konvent were a war metal batterer that always sounded like it was on the brink of falling apart, the vox would still rule but wouldn’t be quite this contrasting, corrosive force of nature.

Instead, nah, perfect, patient, floaty. Ultimately, everyone sticks to their strengths. Guitarist Sara Helena Nørregaard’s riffs are catchy and uncluttered and all the heavier for it. Bassist Heidi Withington Brink’s lines are muscular and propulsive. Drummer Julie Simonsen’s patterns are well-paced and construct an expansive pocket. Simonsen’s playing in particular matches “Grains” visuals, mainly because Simonsen is “Grains” visuals. In the video, she glides across a winter landscape, a figure in black that’s both the focus of and at one with her surroundings. This is embarrassing to write, but I was walking while listening to Call Down The Sun and tried to match Simonsen’s spectral elegance, that inner strength and self-assurance that allows one to not wear a jacket in sub-freezing conditions. I tripped into a pothole. [From Call Down The Sun, out 3/11 via Napalm Records.]Ian Chainey

8. Brood Of Hatred – “The Mask Of Death”

Location: Tunis, Tunisia
Subgenre: progressive death metal

There’s a simple pleasure in being present when a band blossoms. Aaron and I were pretty fond of Brood Of Hatred 2018’s Identity Disorder, which had a sturdy prog death skeleton but a mathy sort of walk cycle. In fact, one of the things I remember most about the solo project of Tunisia’s Mohamed Mêlki was that its atypical rhythms never failed to grab my attention. Like, it was impossible to relegate Brood Of Hatred to background music. It always found a way to recenter itself as the focal point just by being unexpectedly interesting. Needless to say, The Golden Age, its newest album that ups the songwriting quality by a lot, pulls off that same trick with a higher degree of difficulty, the rare modern prog deather like Sutrah or Irreversible Mechanism that offers new ideas in a style that, unlike its name suggests, often feels pretty bereft of them.

But it’s not like Brood Of Hatred are oozing weird, a bizarro outlander made strange by roughing it out in the harsh metal fringe. Nope, Mêlki uses the same general modern prog death tools: knotty riffs, sparks of overtones, ringing ambient chords that hang forever, stuttering rhythms. Mêlki’s control, though, is so deft that even these well-worn elements seem fresh. Like, I’m sure that Mêlki painstakingly plotted all of this out, but there’s something spontaneous about the playing, especially the fills that tumble down in avalanches of snare snaps and cannon-recoiling kicks. I’ve listened to this a bunch and sometimes I just lose myself in the drumming, like in “The Mask Of Death,” which…damn…just seems like it’s all the drums. I really have no idea how Mêlki plays it. It’s like someone hacked a drum machine and the only instructions they fed it were “busy typewriter factory.” Yet it feels so organic. Anyway, I buried the most important thing: Brood Of Hatred have cracked the list because, drum roll please, the riffs are good. They even sound kinda Swanö-y at times, bursting with exuberance without drying out the distinct melancholy. The Black Market is simple in that way. Riff a good riff, you’re in. Happy to see you flowering, Brood Of Hatred. [From The Golden Age, out now via Gruesome Records.]Ian Chainey

7. Aeviterne – “The Gaunt Sky”

Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: death metal

Aeviterne return to the column following their 2018 debut, the two-song EP Sireless. What did I say about the last one? Oh yeah, “Aeviterne just have a nose for finding catchy morsels in the darkest of terrains. In other words, ‘Spring Of Mirrors’ is all ominous and malevolent and shit, but it’s also hooky as hell.” As far as introductions go, a band couldn’t do much better than Sireless, establishing that New York experimental death metal group as something new that was constructed from familiar materials, cut from the same cloth as its related outfits, which at the time included Flourishing, Castevet, and Gath Šmânê, among others. (One of the among others that would come later is Miasmatic Necrosis. That band sounds nothing like Aeviterne, but it rules and has pitch-shifted gurgle vox. This is my blurb, I like moist goregrind, ergo I’m mentioning it.)

The Ailing Facade, Aeviterne’s debut LP and first studio recording following the addition of Artificial Brain/Fawn Limbs guitarist Samuel Smith, takes an even bigger leap forward, using the timbres of death metal to create something that’s ominous and malevolent and shit, and also hooky as hell, and also something…else. Maybe “something else” isn’t the right phrase since tracks like “The Gaunt Sky” often feel like everything at once, the kind of post-Ulcerate omnicore that bands like Convulsing employ. But, it’s not that, either. At its best, when it takes its biggest leaps, The Ailing Facade enters the same plane of existence as Vaura’s new album, Vista Of Deviant Anatomies. I actually played both of them back-to-back, and they work way better as a pair than I thought they would, given that Vaura have transformed into a kind of Scott Walker-piloted avant-garde vessel boldly warp-driving itself to the out-there and Aeviterne are a neck-snapping, serpentine blast beast that wriggles wildly beneath your floorboards. Still, there’s a similar interest between the two in how insistent, multilayered, shifting rhythms can drive a song.

In that respect, The Ailing Facade has an industrial quality to it, the near-mechanistic drive of multiple pistons pumping. From a riff perspective, that turns “The Gaunt Sky” into something like Meshuggah by way of Abyssal. Yep, just some Lovecraftian unspeakable horrors that opened a factory to mass-produce Meathook Seed or something. They still allow me to write these blurbs, huh? Whatever. Needless to say, the playing here is fantastic, from drummer Ian Jacyszyn and bassist Eric Rizk’s superb interplay to guitarists Smith and Garrett Bussanick’s advanced chuggeration. Super cool. One listen and one dumb blurb isn’t going to do, though. Set aside a weekend and let it melt your mind. (Worth noting if this is a thing that concerns you: I have some…misgivings about its label, but everyone in the band seems solid.) [From The Ailing Facade, out 3/18 via Profound Lore Records.]Ian Chainey

6. Black Braid – “Barefoot Ghost Dance On Blood Soaked Soil”

Location: Unknown
Subgenre: black metal

“Barefoot Ghost Dance On Blood Soaked Soil” is the debut single from Black Braid, the Native American black metal solo project that has quickly become one of the more deservedly hyped black metal projects to emerge of late. Like Cascadian black metal to the west and Appalachian black metal to the south, Black Braid have taken on the Adirondack black metal tag, using a mountain range and its surrounding region as a self-identifying moniker suggestive of terroir and a sound reflective of it. However, unlike the Cascadian and Appalachian labels, which are in awe of and inspired by natural features, Black Braid’s claim and inspiration go much deeper.

So what does Adirondack black metal sound like? It rips. “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil” is an explosive storm, blasting with precision and violence. Wispy sylvan melodies won’t be found here, though a strong, driven theme charts a course and rarely strays, and abrasive vocals drip with menace and vengeance. When the polished, whirlwind tour-de-force comes to a close, it’ll leave you eagerly awaiting Black Braid’s debut album. [From Barefoot Ghost Dance On Blood Soaked Soil, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

5. Pušča – “Adieu”

Location: Lviv, Ukraine
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal / post-hardcore

Pušča play a grungy kind of post-black metal with an earthy crunch to it, wielding black metal’s fury and melodic intricacy as an engine to blast out urgent messages that are conveyed masterfully and desperately by Seira, the band’s wild-eyed singer. On “adieu,” Seira’s snarls are vicious whips of defiance that lash here and there, but they quickly turn to world-weary wails and shouted prophetic proclamations. There’s a crusty, punkish bent to the track, and at the intersection of all these influences — crust, black metal, grunge — and with the rawness of the mix and the urgency of Seira’s voice, you realize, even if you don’t understand the words being sung, that Pušča isn’t singing about typical black metal fare, which can tend toward the fantastical or theoretical. There are real-world angers and frustrations and despairs in this music, and in Pušča’s fury and willingness to borrow sounds at will where they serve the mission purpose, there’s a freshness and vitality that brings black metal’s often lofty, untethered aims to terra firma. On Friday, Pušča released an EP called war is hell, with proceeds going to a fund to support the Ukrainian army. [From Éphémere, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

4. Krallice – “Crystal Exhaustion”

Location: Queens, NY
Subgenre: black metal

Despite my diktat to prioritize less known bands, why do I cover Krallice with such regularity? Well, besides the fact that they continually kick ass, I always feel confident that they will be different. Considering that the Queens, New York, quartet has been on an absolute heater, one of the great and longest sustained runs of quality in black metal history, that commitment to experimentalism is no small thing. In a metal environment that encourages bands to stay static, because being a known quantity when so much music is released every damn day is a boon, this band has chosen again and again to be itself by being different.

On their 11th album, Crystal Exhaustion, Krallice take that “different” commitment to the next level, diving into a nearly-everyone-is-playing-a-different-instrument switcheroo. Lev Weinstein remains on drums, but the other players have rotated. Mick Barr is on bass. Colin Marston is on keyboards and additional drums. Nicholas McMaster is on guitar. It will not shock you to learn that the overall musicianship hasn’t dipped in the slightest. If this were an RPG, it’d be some endgame shit: Everyone has filled out their respective skill trees, class doesn’t matter anymore.

That said, Crystal Exhaustion is something of a refresh for Krallice, a step back from the edge. After its weirdest album, the downright alien Demonic Wealth that transported early second-wave black metal to an inhospitable COVID-ridden future-present, Crystal Exhaustion re-establishes the band’s sweeping sense of epicness. Just, you know, with some quirks. This is Krallice, after all.

Led by Marston’s space-dust synths, an element I hope sticks around in Krallice’s sound, the 14-minute album-closing title track is the band in storyteller mode. The song moves slowly, taking its time to evolve into a spacey woosh that then turns into a furious, burning-up-upon-reentry blast that would make Darkspace envious. But throughout, you hear this beautiful, heartsick melody, the kind of thing that Krallice haven’t foregrounded since the punky Prelapsarian. It’s raging, it’s sad, it’s the emotions you’re going to feel when you realize there’s been a critical bug and Elon Musk isn’t going to bring your SpaceX’d ass back to Earth. It’s a hell of a mix, undeniably this band and unlike anything at all. Expect nothing less. [From Crystalline Exhaustion, out now via P2.]Ian Chainey

3. Immolation – “Overtures Of The Wicked”

Location: Yonkers, NY
Subgenre: death metal

If you want to kick off a screaming match among the spud hordes, you might argue that Immolation are the single most important, most influential death metal band still kicking. (I used to resist this argument, but lest I burn with Jesus, I have come to see the shadows in the light and share this overlong bleb as atonement.) If not exactly unique, their 1991 LP Dawn Of Possession holds up as one of the best-sounding death metal debuts, every track a maze of thorns and grinding guitars, with seeds of their later trademark sound in guitarist Bob Vigna’s frequent pick squeals and his gift for oblique kill riffs.

For those first few years, they fit neatly alongside fellow “shun” bands Incantation and Suffocation to form a loose collective of elite non-Floridians building on the foundations laid by Morbid Angel and Deicide, ferociously expanding the bowels of death metal in newly morbid and brutal ways. On their debut, Immolation seemed to split the difference between the structural density of Suffocation and oppressive atmosphere of Incantation; Immo kinda did both, without taking it quite as far as either of their peers. When they finally resurfaced for their second record in 1996, the intensely dissonant and exploratory Here In After, they were very much their own thing. It still felt like death metal, but the way they played with noise, texture, and rhythm opened a door to new worlds both within and outside the genre, laying the groundwork for the untethered experimentation of Gorguts’ Obscura and entire generations of younger bands like Ulcerate, Deathspell Omega, and everything that followed. Immolation’s inventive streak peaked in the early 2000s with Close To A World Below — simultaneously their best and most absurd-sounding record — and its follow-up Unholy Cult, but they never stopped making records and have continued to refine their sound since then. The later records, starting with 2010’s Majesty And Decay, trade the jagged edges and raw production for blunt mid-tempo grooves and newfound polish. It’s not my favorite style, and I miss the insane PCP-driven chaos of the glory years, but it’s hard to argue something like 2017’s Atonement isn’t effective punishment for the masses.

Which brings us to the grim year 2022 and Immolation’s 11th album, Acts Of God. I’m happy to report: It rips. At this stage of their career, Immolation are no longer intense innovators but incremental revisionists. Luckily, the new album goes in the right direction. Blasts abound! Solos come screaming from nowhere. The whole band feels like they’re trying to push past the chosen tempo at any given moment, with clattering fills and leads all over the place. It’s harder, faster, more viciously alive than the last few records. The “filth” knob is dialed a few notches higher, stripping away some of the gloss from the still-massive guitars, lending enough of an acidic edge to remind us how insane these guys sounded when they first invented this sound. No, it won’t replace the classics, in part because the new stuff lacks the hilarious singalong material like “Father, You’re Not A Father” or “No Jesus, No Beast.” (“CAN YOU HEAR US? DEATH TO JESUS!“) Somber lyrics aside, they’re clearly firing on all cylinders and have produced their best-sounding record yet, the apotheosis of their later sound. I’ll take it. [From Acts Of God, out now via Nuclear Blast.]Aaron Lariviere

2. Kreator – “Hate Über Alles”

Location: Essen, Germany
Subgenre: thrash

Metal, more than most forms of popular music, is reverential toward its elders. Look at the 2022 Maryland Deathfest headliners: Carcass; Dismember; Max and Igor Cavalera, who apparently don’t own the rights to the Sepultura name; Deicide; Obituary…it’s a fucking great lineup, obviously, but I gotta go down like five lines of the poster till I get to a few bands that weren’t at their peak when I was in high school. (And second-line act Hellhammer broke up when I was in elementary school.) Now, friends, much as it pains me to tell you this, I’m not as young as I used to be. And all the guys in all those bands? They aren’t even as young as I am now.

I intend no shade here! I think it’s amazing that metal fans of all ages continue to prize musicians of a certain vintage, especially when it happens so rarely elsewhere in popular culture — and also especially because I personally am quite old. The problem I have, however, is that this reverence often feels like pure nostalgia, which feels like a strangely perverse form of ageism in its own right. Like a cage. Like a circus act. Like a refusal to even accept or acknowledge the passage of time. At MDF, Deicide will be playing 1992’s Legion in full. The Sepultura-logoed Cavaleras, as far as I can tell, will be playing songs from 1989’s Beneath The Remains and 1991’s Arise. And Hellhammer — which, here, it seems, will actually just be Tom G. Warrior playing Hellhammer songs — released their first, last, and only album, Apocalyptic Raids, in 1984. (It’s an EP, but that’s neither here nor there.) Warrior will also be on stage at MDF with his new-ish act, Triptykon. Of the two bands, though, Hellhammer are given better placement on the MDF poster, and I would feel comfortable placing a sizable wager on Hellhammer getting the better time slot and drawing the bigger crowd. Anybody wanna take that bet?

It seems like an appropriately Faustian bargain, this, and truthfully, it’s not exactly unfair. Deicide have released 10 albums in the 30 years since Legion, and all 10 of those other albums are almost impressively inferior to Legion. (And Legion is inferior to the band’s self-titled 1990 debut, despite what you might hear from fight-picking contrarians in the Black Market Slack.) The same is true, to varying degrees, for just about every other bunch of graybeards on the MDF lineup. Again, shade not intended! Like, look, the first two, maybe three, Obituary records are stone fucking classics. How could anybody shade that? That is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome. And why wouldn’t you want to hear those songs instead of something from — and I’m just picking a title at random here — 2005’s Frozen In Time?

Anywho. OK. So. Kreator.

OK, so Kreator were actually my own very most favoritest band when I was in high school, so you have every right to tell me I’m “bias,” as they say online. You do. Just as I have every right to tell you: Fuck you. Haha. No, I’m kidding. I would just tell you, look, amigo, I loved Obituary and Deicide when I was in high school, too, and see above! No bias! I’m not bias! And if I am bias, then you know what? Fuck you!

Anywho. OK. So. Kreator.

Kreator don’t play MDF, because Kreator tour incessantly and therefore aren’t a “get” for a “get”-based festival like MDF. (They play Wacken every few years, though. Plus Hellfest, Roskilde, Bloodstock, Download…) I mean, sure, Kreator’s guarantee probably exceeds the MDF budget, yes, but that does nothing to help me make my point here, so let’s put that aside, OK? OK, so the other thing about Kreator — the other thing that separates them from all those old bastids that make up MDF lineup — is they’re not a nostalgia act. They’re really not at all! I’ve seen Kreator so many times, and I would estimate that at least 70 percent of their new sets are new stuff. Maybe 75 percent. (Ian, if you wouldn’t mind spending six or so hours on Setlist.com crunching the numbers on this, I’d appreciate it. If you could make a chart, too, that’d be great. Just go back, like, a decade? Nothing crazy. Thanks, bro.) Do they play “Flag Of Hate”? Come on. Of fucking course they do. Of course they play “Flag Of Hate.” Does the crowd go berserk when they play “Flag Of Hate”? Man, I mean, really? Of fucking course it does. Of course the crowd goes berserk when they play “Flag Of Hate.” But I’m gonna tell you something, pal: The crowd at a Kreator show is basically going berserk the whole time. They — we — go nuts for the new songs, and the reason why is, because the new songs fucking rule. Not bias. Fact. Fuck you.

Anywho.

OK. So, a brief history of Kreator for those who might benefit from a brief history lesson. Kreator’s “classic” era begins at LP1, 1985’s Endless Pain, and runs through LP5, 1990’s Coma Of Souls. After that, the band slogged through a fallow period that lasted a decade. Throughout the ’90s, Kreator had no consistent lineup — only frontman Mille Petrozza has been an absolute constant, technically, because drummer Ventor was on hiatus from ’94-’96 — and no consistent style. Post-classic-period Kreator dabbled in industrial, goth, even alt-rock, and those albums weren’t particularly well-received by fans of any genre. Then, Petrozza started to turn the ship around with 2001’s Violent Revolution, and he’s spent the entirety of this millennium making music that somehow only gets better. Better and better. At this point, it’s better than it was when it was at its best.

Again, call me bias! (It’s pronounced “biased,” btw.) But find me any fan of any other ’80s extreme-metal band who both legitimately believes and will argue that the new stuff is the best stuff. Because I believe this! I will argue with you! I remember in 2012, I was having a conversation with another metal writer about Kreator’s then-new LP Phantom Antichrist. We both loved the album, and I was saying to that writer that I thought maybe Phantom Antichrist was in fact Kreator’s best album. And he said, you know what, maybe it indeed was Kreator’s best album. Maybe I was right, he said. Of course, he said, you couldn’t really compare it to the band’s gnarly, dirty, early records — the classic stuff. Those records were different. It was a different time; the music just sounded different. That’s what he said, and that’s a fair argument, but…doesn’t it cut both ways? That night I listened to Phantom Antichrist and I also listened to 1986’s Pleasure To Kill, and while the old record was vicious and insane, the new one was…better? The music was better, I mean. The songwriting was superior, the scope was wider, the vision was grander, the message was clearer. As music, it was better. It is better.

Kreator got better still on 2016’s God’s Of Violence — it’s just one of my favorite records, haha, I don’t know what else to tell you — and earlier this month, the band delivered the lead single and title track to Gods‘ follow-up, Hate Über Alles. As of this writing, I have listened to the new song some 4,000 times, and friends, I have today returned from my vision quest and I stand here before you to share this truth: There is absolutely no question, “Hate Über Alles” is the best song ever recorded by Kreator. (Fuck you!) The track opens with Petrozza letting out an “Angel Of Death” war cry, and from there, the whole shit just bombs like a maniac. It does not let up. IT DOES NOT LET UP! The riffs are filthy as fuck, the chorus delivers just enough hook to keep you from flying off the board into outer space, and the guitar leads — via Sami Yli-Sirniö — are next-next-next level, flipping channels between Jeff Hanneman and Alexi Lahlo like that’s something a human being can do. The playing is so fast. The whole song is so fucking fast.

And Petrozza is straight blazing from the very first lyric (“NEVER ASKED TO BE REBORN, OR SUBMIT UNTO THEIR NORM/ DON’T YOU EVER TELL ME HOW TO LIVE MY LIFE”), spitting fire with the cadence of a battle rapper and the confidence of a Tibetan master. The song’s title is a bit of a feint, in true Kreator fashion. Petrozza is German, sure, but he’s also a vegan socialist environmentalist humanitarian activist. He’s a punk rocker at heart. So he’s not calling back “Deutschland Über Alles” so much as “California Über Alles.” He’s not preaching hatred; he’s lashing out at those who do. As he sings on the chorus, “HATE IS THE VIRUS OF THIS WORLD!” Now, yes, in fairness, he also vows to “DECIMATE THIS MENTAL BREED THAT I DESPISE!” — and that’s a fair representation, I think, of the overall tone. On pretty much every beat here, the violence of the words matches the violence of the music. “MY HATE,” sings Petrozza, “THEY SHALL FEEL IT! THEY SHALL FEEL IT!!!” It’s obviously a conflicted position, this, but it’s one I understand. I absolutely know that urge: to set the world on fire in order to save the world. You do, too. And this right here? This is how you light it the fuck up. [From Hate Über Alles, out 6/3 via Nuclear Blast.]Michael Nelson

1. Svrm – “Поклик могил”

Location: Kharkiv, Ukraine
Subgenre: black metal

Svrm’s black metal is bewitching, muted, and distant at first blush, but then it becomes overwhelming and all-consuming. The overall lo-fi bent is certainly a factor in the unassuming grandeur on offer on “Поклик могил,” where a trudging melody turns into a tableau for a valiant but doomed sally forth set to anthemic frilly guitars and a driven but faded rasp shouted into the tumult. But what permeates the whole song (and Svrm’s work), aside from a beefed-up low-end that belies the otherwise muffled sound, is an inescapable bleakness and accepted dread that seeps into the soil and finds its way to every last corner of the mind. In this desolate expanse, melodic flourishes and grand ambitions fade into the gray, crumble, and stand as ruined memorials for future listeners to wonder and puzzle over. But this is black metal, and even in this hopeless expanse, there is energy, pounded out in blast beats and wrist numbing riffs, that reflects a vitality that can’t be snuffed out. S, the singular force behind Svrm, is from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the northeast, where unimaginable siege warfare has devastated entire neighborhoods. On Svrm’s Bandcamp, he has replaced his bio with links to donate to the Ukrainian army and organizations that support women and children impacted by war. [From Червів майбутня здобич, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

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