The Month In Metal — April 2022
When does it click for you that a metal artist gets it? Is it the music? The presentation? The live show? Or is it something else, something subtler, something that’s like an up-up-down-down cheat code? Something that cuts through perfunctory metal artifice by presenting a heightened version of the self. Something informed by a shared understanding of what makes metal metal. Something that, when conducted well, seems to whisper in your ear, “Hey, I, the artist, get it.”
While you think about that, let me show you this:
There are many active participants in our Circle whose works have manifested as BAT MAGIC and BEASTIAL MAJESTY, and soon BAD MANOR will enter the fold. There are more projects whose existence will be made public at our discretion.
The Ordo Vampyr Orientis has a greater concept which will be unveiled over time and only to those who pay attention. The only qualifier is that you are telling a piece of the grander Ordo Vampyr Orientis tale. What started with BAT MAGIC grew as we found more who were attuned to our secrets and forbidden knowledge. For example, Beastial Majesty exists without Vespertine Screech’s input but is no less important to the narrative. All will be revealed in time. We present everything to the consumer: visuals, lyrics, sound. It’s up to them to figure it out.
As you might’ve inferred, that mission statement comes from Ordo Vampyr Orientis, an anonymous collective that surfaced last year. The first release under its banner was Bat Magic’s Feast Of Blood, a refreshing blast of archaic, catchy black metal that sounds like Negative Plane’s dreams if it fell asleep watching a Hammer Film Productions marathon.
The 21-minute multipart track opens with an acoustic intro that might as well be a lost score pulled from an unreleased Written In Blood compilation, complete with that recorded-in-a-castle reverb. Perhaps there’s a reason for that reverb: “RECORDED IN A CASTLE UNDER THE BLOOD MOON/ ANNO MMXVI,” reads the liner notes.
Not even a minute in, you notice even more delightfully quirky details. Instead of that intro fading out, the players slow to a stop. There’s little to no studio trickery, like all of this is being recorded in one shot like the KLF’s Chill Out. To wit, once the acoustic guitar rings out, it’s almost like you can hear the players rushing to their instruments and clicking on their amps. The high-gain feedback whips throughout the room like a cold wind, and then, BANG, a distorted downstroke turns the key in the ignition and fires up a mid-paced, menacing, strutting riff.
Prime riffage ensues. The vocal hit follows a couple of minutes later: “BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE,” a hungry vampiric cry with phlegm rattling at the end of that roar. From there, the track mixes tempos and modes, working itself up to a frenzy around the 10-minute mark that includes wild-eyed metal laughter. Ten minutes later, it closes with classic shredding, like if Ritchie Blackmore tried to solo his way out of a crypt, proving that second-wave-descended, lofi black metal can have its guitar heroes, too. Here’s my in-depth academic assessment: Rules.
If it were just audio, Feast Of Blood would be tasty. Ah, but then, there’s the visual: “Bat Magic” in blood-red gothic script. A gnarled, clawed hand lit like a silent movie grasps the “A” while caressing the “G.” Hm. Spooky. And what of the players? Even the pseudonyms go a long way in defining Bat Magic’s vibe: Vespertine Screech, vocals; the Ghastly Vrykolak and the Haunted Strigoi of Night, guitars; the Mighty Winged Necromancer, bass; the Impaler, drums.
Feast Of Blood and its Ordo Vampyr Orientis follow-up, a two-track demo titled The Night Of The Hunter by the more battle-scarred Yharnam inhabitant Beastial Majesty, was why I wanted to talk to the people behind the collective, if they were people at all (*cue Cryptkeeper laughing*). Initially, it was for a column on metal the Black Market missed the chance to cover. It was your usual, plain Jane metal interview: the five Ws and what are your inspirations, that kind of thing.
The document that Ordo Vampyr Orientis’ members emailed back was not that kind of thing, i.e., it wasn’t dull. No, it was full of the good stuff, bursting with a commitment to metal worldbuilding that made me mark out. And thus, I can state that Ordo Vampyr Orientis get it. I can feel it in my bones. But that’s not much of an intro, is it? So, as Ordo Vampyr Orientis suggest, I tried to figure it out.
First, here’s the origin story the collective related to me:
FEAST OF BLOOD was completed quickly and effortlessly under the Blood Moon in MMXVI. We did not find the correct context for BAT MAGIC until much later. Our discovery of Vespertine Screech through rumors in our local scene helped realize BAT MAGIC through his abilities as a medium, communicant, and historian. It was through this new artistic union that we came to the realization that our story was larger than anticipated. Through his magick, the tales which fuel BAT MAGIC, as well as other Ordo Vampyr Orientis projects, find flesh through the sounds created by our collective.
To outsiders, I’m sure this looks cryptic, inscrutable. But, for those fluent in an ancient sort of zine-speak, this rundown has many context clues that demonstrate just how much Ordo Vampyr Orientis’ members love metal. There’s the 18th-century capitalization, Roman numerals, and anonymity-protecting underexplaining by overexplaining. In a way, this answer leads you through a choreographed dance. Metal fans in the know will take their gnarled, clawed hand.
Sure, you can translate it this way: “We recorded Feast Of Blood in 2016. We sat on the recordings. Vespertine Screech came aboard. Vespertine Screech also had ideas. Ordo Vampyr Orientis expanded to include Beastial Majesty and, soon, Bad Manor.” That’s a passable read, the SparkNotes translation. But, when dried out to that degree, my translation whiffs on the nuance. The nuance is critical. The nuance is what metalheads pick up on.
So, what are Ordo Vampyr Orientis doing by writing in that verbose, dream-logic tone? It’s a type of metal rhetoric, a way to convincingly answer interview questions while also not answering those questions at all. At a technical level, it’s akin to media training, the practiced non-answers that athletes learn to deliver without thinking. But the metal version is much more fun. It’s method acting, not in the Jared Leto is a dickhead sense, but in the Stella Adler sense. It’s kayfabe-esque, allowing metal artists to obfuscate their identity while delivering promos like wrestlers that are laden with hyper-specific references. And, as with Death Metal English, it similarly endeavors to prove one’s devotion by cloaking that devotion in a purposely-impenetrable vernacular that gets at something real by accentuating the ridiculous. Is it jargon, then? No, this is metal, remember? It’s BLARGH!on, blarghon for short. And I’m thrilled to see a group of metalheads make good use of it again.
Fittingly, as I’ve already referenced, I equate blarghon with the scent of copy toner because you saw it most frequently in the zine era. I don’t think it’s much of an argument to say blarghon was more effective when zines were the primary method of intra-scene communication for the reasons you’d expect: the publishing lag was slower, it was harder to fact-check claims (“maybe there are a lot of castles in Des Moines, I don’t know”), and the only way you could reach out to a lot of bands was through the mail. Now that the internet has made ideas like “distance” and “privacy” obsolete, especially within insular scenes such as extreme metal where it feels like 50 people are responsible for 1,000 bands, it’s harder to keep the curtains closed. Any interview featuring an artist with a pseudonym and lines like “WHILST LUCUBRATING BY CANDLELIGHT DURING THE WITCHING HOUR, I OPENED A PORTAL OF SICK RIFFS” will now have a snarky subtweet of “OK, Sarah” within a minute of publishing.
(I will agree, though, that sometimes — and this is an extremely isolated sometimes — this pulling back of the curtain is for the best. The internet’s panopticon limits the more malignant parts of but-the-riffs escapism. In addition, it’s much easier to blow up the spots of bigots who try to hide behind hateful coded language and five-part dog whistle harmonies. True, these sketchy shitheads never had much use for blarghon in the first place; they don’t want to world-build, they want to world-ruin. But it’s a net positive that what has slain blarghon has also made it harder for these cowards to hide. That’s a good thing. That said, holy hell, the internet is mostly terrible.)
Still, while blarghon is more challenging to execute in the 2020s, it isn’t extinct. Not yet. Though most interviews now consist of metal bands either answering questions thoughtfully or descending into galaxy brain Bardo blathering, good blarghon still reappears every once in a blood moon.
The last blarghon-rich interview I read belonged to Crossspitter, which spat mockery in an absurd Decibel Q&A that had writer Dutch Pearce hanging on for dear life. The question: “What about this obsession with bodily fluids? How does the name Crossspitter capture your sound?” The answer: “Would you have preferred we called this CROSSSPISSER?” Donna Violence countered. “Yes, I reckon a depraved pervert like you would. This filth is for your ilk.” Masterful blarghon. Take notes.
Other instances of blarghon have been canonized as metal tropes. If you memorialize your drummer who fell off a mountain, knowing full well that your drummer has always been a drum machine, you may be speaking in blarghon. If you say that your music is unknown and reviled despite receiving nothing but positive reviews, you may be speaking in blarghon. If you’re Velvet Cacoon, you may be speaking in blarghon. And, you’d think this stuff would make me take artists less seriously. But when it’s wielded well, it has the opposite effect. I know the user knows what’s up. I know that they get it.
Ordo Vampyr Orientis know what’s up. “It was an enchantedly Evil portion of my life those six years ago when the Impaler first approached us about starting a black metal band, one which would eventually become BAT MAGIC,” the Mighty Winged Necromancer tells me when I ask about the particulars of Feast Of Blood’s MMXVI recording session. “We captured those spirits that night, under the Blood Moon, and shut them away. We were content with what we had made and didn’t feel the need to share it with anyone else.”
I mean, look how much info is in that answer. Among other things, and you can parse it many ways, which is the point, there’s maybe a nod to Goatlord or even Sonny Rollins’ sabbatical. Either way, it shows that Ordo Vampyr Orientis take music seriously and have done their homework without explicitly saying, “Hey, we’ve done our homework.”
Ordo Vampyr Orientis have done their homework on the composition end, too. That’s genuinely where these projects shine. The music is so good. Why? Well, I think it’s because, in the spaces between the blasts and the BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEs, there’s a melodic sensibility that aligns the projects with something like Burn-era Deep Purple. You wouldn’t expect it, but there are clear/catchy hooks within the slashing/thunderous metal. Ordo Vampyr Orientis’ aim is twofold. It seeks to sate the expectations of black metal fans, those secret handshakes of tremolo runs and crushing chords, and make good, smart, rewarding music.
“There is magic in what you call ‘hooks,'” the Ghastly Vrykolak explains. “I find what is most memorable to me — a melody, a fragment, a progression — and translate it into the metal I feel most comfortable composing. There is an atmosphere we all have in mind which ties into the story Vespertine Screech conjures, and the ‘hooks’ are a natural result of feeding into the story’s immediacy. An exciting song should be like a good story, and it is our duty to tell both at once.”
Bat Magic and Beastial Majesty are lowkey adventurous in fulfilling their duties as exciting yarn spinners. For instance, Beastial Majesty feint like they’ll be a spiked war metal bruiser, but they traffic in those same magical hooks as their sister band. They also Quantum Leap into embryonic death metal, perhaps offering a what-if of a Morbid that lived to see maturity. The riffs churn and thud, but it wears a certain moodiness like a leather jacket that someone found in a graveyard.
If Beastial Majesty took a step forward, Bat Magic have caught up. “Ritualia Festum In Ichor Noster,” the new track from a forthcoming split with Cape Of Bats titled Wampyric Knights, delivers on Feast Of Blood’s promise while adding some new wrinkles, like a chewier, psychedelic guitar tone. So, what frees Ordo Vampyr Orientis up to explore more timbres while other black metal bands seem stuck using the same elements?
“The point is that Black Metal is a style of Metal, and people forget that,” He Who Drinks The Blood Of Sleeping Babies answers. “If we are Black Metal, then BAT MAGIC is Black Metal exclusively, or Black Metal which is influenced by Metal instead of other Black Metal. Even then, we only use the Metal genre qualifier on our website. Genres are really pointless in that regard — a marketing technique to sell your product to fans of other instances of that product. BAT MAGIC is a Metal band, and with that generality we can do whatever we feel like doing.”
What I feel like Ordo Vampyr Orientis feel like doing is checking items off their black metal wishlist. A lot of what Bat Magic and Beastial Majesty do seems like the result of someone complaining that black metal doesn’t do enough x and then actually solving the equation. Here’s what I mean: So far, every Bat Magic release has a big ol’ metal solo, a relative rarity for the style. The thought process then is: Long solos are cool. Black metal is cool. Black metal with more long solos is cool. They’re right.
The guest fretboard god on “Ritualia Festum In Ichor Noster” is the Sanguine Shredder, aka Jacob Buczarski of Mare Cognitum and Extraconscious Records. Yes, that a real, living, flesh and blood person is in the mix has the potential to dissolve one’s immersion. But instead of breaking the spell, it adds to the mystique that Ordo Vampyr Orientis walk amongst us. Maybe the Impaler put me on hold this morning while reviewing my bill. Then, when the crepuscular rodents start to roam and twilight envelops the world like a cape, the Impaler takes off their day job mask and becomes something else.
That’s why I think the “Ritualia Festum In Ichor Noster” lyrics are so fun, a legit-good short story about a person realizing they’ve become a vampire (but perhaps in a Vampire’s Kiss way as well) that could double for a lot of people’s metal experiences, especially when non-metal coworkers discover their off-the-clock activities. “YOU ENTERED THE TAVERN WHERE YOU’D SPENT ALMOST EVERY NIGHT FOR A DECADE,” Vespertine Screech screeches, describing a feeling anyone who has worn a brutal death metal shirt to a work function has experienced. “FACES AGHAST. YOU IGNORED THEM AS YOU STRODE TO THE BAR AND TOOK A SEAT.” And, of course, there’s that insatiable hunger. For blood? For creative release? …for metal?
Naturally, playing my part, I had to ask Ordo Vampyr Orientis about the creative process, particularly how its members prepare and get themselves into the right headspace to record. “My preparation is always the same; low levels of intoxication to completely destroy whatever small shred of inhibitions I have, and I always record with my eyes closed and visualize my lyrics,” Vespertine Screech writes. “I also refuse to ever utilize anyone else’s lyrics. It feels disingenuous. I can’t have any sort of catharsis through words I did not personally pen. That isn’t to say I’m not up for suggestions or that I deviate from themes presented to me, but the only words I sing are my own.”
Then, while tackling the same query, the Haunted Strigoi Of Night sheds some light on the next band up. “Different Ordo Vampyr Orientis sounds require different summoning rituals. For BAT MAGIC, I try to punish myself mentally and physically so that I can achieve complete spiritual exhaustion upon completion. We are really and truly communicating with spirits of the dead and the damned. I think people will truly understand the gravity of our work when we fully unveil BAD MANOR on All Hallow’s Eve. Stephen R.C. Sicreeve and Monsieur Malediction, with the addition of our friend the late Rada S. Lazarescu, sacrificed more than parts of themselves creating that album.” I love it. Some high-quality blarghon because it contains actual information, too. But, notably, it’s not Ordo Vampyr Orientis’ best bit of blarghon.
Before we get there, I want to acknowledge that I worry that blarghon is so effective on me because it weaponizes a writer’s desire for compelling copy. Michael Azerrad touches on something like this in “My Time With Kurt Cobain,” published in the New Yorker. Cobain, aware of how the rock and roll sausage was made, “knew that the story of a rock band is essentially a legend — in the sense that there’s some wiggle room in the truth as long as it serves the overall myth.” That incentivized Cobain to be the “unreliable narrator,” turning “tall tales” into “facts” that are probably regularly cited.
While Cobain was, to an extent, just playing the game, metal has a history of nakedly craven fabulists who will sell you the hell out to win the game, pretending to achieve goals they haven’t, co-opting experiences they have no right to, or claiming to hail from countries where they weren’t born. It’s sensationalized bullshit optimized to grant the bullshitter instant, unearned exposure. But the outcome is the same: This stuff gets printed because it makes for good pieces. The pieces get passed along as fact until somebody questions them. And then everyone feels like an idiot for believing them. It sucks, but until metal coverage moves beyond access journalism, you will always get a few rotten sausages.
The whole point of blarghon, though, is that, unlike the above examples, it’s not seeking exposure so much as it’s narrowcasting. It’s plainly not operating within reality. Instead, it’s building upon metal’s reality, a plane of witches and vampires and dragons and dungeons and Dio and Manowar signing contracts in blood. In that way, blarghon users are NPCs in the metal RPG, relishing its lore and keeping the narrative going. “I have some sick riffs for you. But first, I need you to collect the brains of [15 POSERS].”
Sure, some people believe the blarghon. Does Mayhem become Mayhem if Euronymous doesn’t fall so hard for Venom’s blarghon? But, for most people, blarghon is like watching a movie. Belief is suspended, but the emotions still feel real. And, if you don’t feel anything for metal, you don’t really get what drives blarghon. So, it weeds those people out, the same folks who read something like “WE RECORDED IN A CAVE DURING THE UNHOLY DARK” and think, “How? With a generator? What are you talking about?” instead of being like, “lol, hell yeah.” The metalhead with the lol response buys the cave bit as much as they buy that someone could conceivably sink a submarine with a muscle car like Dom Torretto. But, they appreciate that the artist was willing to jump through that metal hoop. It’s like writing a cover letter for a resume. OK. You give a shit. I appreciate you respecting my time by making me feel noticed.
Needless to say, I think Ordo Vampyr Orientis get this part, too. After asking what listeners might miss about its bands, the collective treats me to an answer that sums up blarghon in general. “Our intent is not for the listener, it is to capture the spirits which surround us and communicate their tales. More about our universe will be revealed over time over many formats and mediums. If you wish to understand, listening is not enough.”
If you wish to understand, listening is not enough. Bingo. Click. Ordo Vampyr Orientis get it. –Ian Chainey
10. A Rose Dying In The Rain – “En Un Cielo Estrellado”
Location: Guadalajara, Mexico
Damian Ojeda’s Sadness has inspired so much passion within the underground blackgaze scene that it spawned its own sort of mini-genre. Probably the most openly devoted of those bands is Mexico’s A Rose Dying In The Rain, whose quickly growing catalog is littered with what appear to be references to Sadness. For example, just four months ago, ARDITR released a song called “Encontrarnos” – also the title of a Sadness song, and similar enough to that song that I legitimately can’t actually tell whether or not it’s a cover. Another example: Check out the cover art of the album we’re talking about right now and then check out this cover and this cover. My favorite Sadness maybe-reference, though, is the ARDITR song “I Don’t Want To Forget,” which follows such Sadness songs as “Hope You Never Forget” and “You’ll Just Forget.”
Obviously, just worshipping Sadness isn’t enough to make an artist worth listening to, but ARDITR have evinced exponential growth since their arrival in September 2020. I’ve kept up with the band for just about their entire run, and to my ear, they’ve been making almost unbelievable strides with each successive release. Their newest is Memorias, a three-way split with AIAA7 and Sdughalt. ARDITR close out the split with a pair of new tracks that fall quite a good distance into the ambient zone of blackgaze. (I’m fairly certain blackgaze didn’t have an ambient zone before Sadness, but now, it does.) The first of those two tracks, “En Un Cielo Cielo Estrellado,” pretty equally divides its time between the quiet stuff and the hard stuff, and both sets of stuff are equally outstanding. This is the most elevated, rich, rewarding music I’ve yet heard from ARDITR, and I’m now no longer listening to them to see how much they sound like Sadness, I’m just listening to them. I’ve lately gotten a sense that Ojeda is winding down Sadness to focus on his noise-rock-cum-electronic project, Comforting; I hope I’m wrong about that, but if I’m not, he can move forward confident in the knowledge that Sadness’ legacy is secure and its torch will be carried by a growing army of devotees. And leading the charge will be A Rose Dying In The Rain. Hope they never forget. [From Memorias, out now via the bands.] —Michael Nelson
9. Oceansnow – “Shavano Equitation”
Location: United States
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
“Shavano Equitation” is a thing of immeasurable scope, a murky monster whose power lies to no small degree in its shape-shifting qualities. Try to pinpoint a riff or a melodic refrain, and it’s gone nearly as soon as it’s grasped, whisked back into some whirling disorienting haze that will return with a new melodic apparition in due time. This disorienting atmosphere consumes at will — captivating in its beauty, it induces a hypnotic stupor with no promise of an awakening. Oceansnow, an aptly named duo, draw inspiration from the famously — or notoriously — mysterious Velvet Cacoon, an early 2000s project that invited speculation and gave away little while it sent lo-fi, absorbing riff missives from the depths. Inspired by an enigma, Oceansnow are free to haunt and beguile at will, leaving a wondrous smear in their wake. [From Vivienne, out now via Avantgarde Music.] —Wyatt Marshall
8. Wraithstorm – “Unseen & Unfound”
Location: Arizona / Michigan / Florida
Subgenre: funeral doom
As soon as Alicia Cordisco began weaving a hypnotically melancholic melody on bass, I thought, Yep, this is it. This is the album that will get me through some stuff this year. Unseen & Unfound, the debut full-length by Wraithstorm, feels like a shoulder to lean on. However, this is not to say that Unseen & Unfound isn’t similarly dealing with some stuff. In the grand funeral doom tradition, it plumbs the depth of the soul for the desolation and feelings of isolation we can’t possibly say out loud but nevertheless consume us. “Star by star, atom by atom/ Deconstruct the universe,” goes one passage that I’m not sure I’d be able to speak without becoming a wreck, “Star by star, atom by atom/ Reconstruct the nothingness.” Well, damn.
Still, an inviting earthiness and continued forward momentum lifts Unseen & Unfound’s lone 37-minute track out of the hurts-too-bad-to-move depression of funeral doom’s typical slow-motion mode. Of course, I do love me a good harrowing crawl — the writhing, Lovecraftian gnarliness of Catacombs or the swirling, celestial misanthropy of Esoteric. But, Wraithstorm pick me up and carry me along in a way that feels as freeing as it does cathartic. Heck, to that end, a lot of this feels like it’s humming along at the same pace as Katatonia’s Dance Of December Souls. And that pace is important: It doesn’t trap me in a sad stasis, it helps me move past the misery.
Wraithstorm, the trio, is constructed in generally the same way as Bismuth or Bell Witch: vox, bass, drums. (Bell Witch have never done a lot for me, but Unseen & Unfound makes me want to try again, which is pretty high praise, I think.) Cordisco, also of the excellent Project: Roenwolfe and previously of Judicator, plays the bass. Michael Goodrich plays the drums. Lux Edwards, who you may know from Soulmass, the From Software-inspired death/doom band, does the singing. (Worth noting: Edwards and Cordisco were in Vermiform, the first band on Masters Of Metal Productions.) So, yeah, no guitar. That’s one of those things that might make well-traveled metalheads wary, given the preponderance of bass-only bands that end up sounding wimpy due to zero dynamics and bad mixing. Not here. The bass tone seems to find every nook and cranny of the sound spectrum like the roots of a thirsty cottonwood. Cordisco’s playing has range, too, going from pretty-in-a-lachrymose-sense arpeggios to the full-on, near-grinding thrum of Godflesh.
That’s the thing about “Unseen & Unfound”: the whole track has got range. Goodrich’s drumming matches Cordisco’s playing in that they’re both working out novel expressions and flourishes in between the downstrokes, the mark of exciting and engaging doom. Edwards’ singing goes from a low growl to resonant cleans that are actually good, and I’m saying this as an avowed hater of most cleans in a non-trad/prog context. There are quiet parts, loud parts, angry parts, inconsolably sad parts. Sometimes, it’s all of that at once. The last section is like prime Paradise Lost, and then another bass comes in. Double bass attack. Authentically and anthemically metal. When the track should be at its most downtrodden, it feels released from its sorrows. It feels like the human experience, a 37-minute journey through some stuff. If you’re going through some stuff, you’ll want to take this journey. [From Unseen & Unfound, out now via the band.] —Ian Chainey
7. Hersker – “Befængt”
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Subgenre: black metal / punk
Hersker’s first missive into the world is the exquisitely foul “Befængt,” the title track of a four-song, 14-minute stomper of a debut wallpapered with sandpaper snarls. It’s shots fired from the get-go — palpably hostile from start to finish, Hersker alternate between storming on the warpath and assuming a hair-raised, tense, and snarling position backed into a corner. Animus drips from razor-sharp riffs, and Herkser show remarkable restraint in keeping the ferocity on two rails, thanks mainly to a rock-solid d-beat and a commitment to a persistent doom-laden atmosphere. What the anonymous duo does with that atmosphere is where Hersker really stand apart. The second half of “Befængt” sees Hersker take to the skies, with a disquieting lead cutting through the murk to instill dread from above. These layers of malintent are artfully arrayed, colliding and coming apart in invigorating and awe-inspiring ways. [From Befængt, out now via Caligari Records.] —Wyatt Marshall
6. Satan – “Earth We Bequeath”
Location: Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom
Subgenre: heavy metal
We’ve covered Satan pretty regularly in the Black Market. Well, Satan in all senses, I guess, but specifically the band. That’s to say, you probably know its story by now. Then again, it has been nearly four years since its last album, so maybe not. Here’s the condensed transaction report if you need it:
Satan forms in 1979, the dawn of NWOBHM’s breakout, and a year that Lars Ulrich and Geoff Barton would later choose to revisit. Foreshadowing the first half of its career, the Newcastle upon Tyne heavy metal band with a dash of speed cycles through several singers before snagging Brian Ross, then in between Blitzkrieg stints, for 1983’s Court in the Act. It’s a classic. It also sets the classic lineup: Ross on vox, Russ Tippins and Steve Ramsey on guitar, Graeme English on bass, and Sean Taylor on drums. Exit Ross. Satan are back on the singer carousel. They change their name to Blind Fury and cut 1985’s Out Of Reach with Lou Taylor. It’s great. Blind Fury change their name back to Satan and drop Suspended Sentence in 1987 with Michael Jackson. It’s also great. Satan change their name to Pariah and record two albums. They’re good. Pariah split. English and Ramsey go off and do Skyclad. Pariah reconvene for 1997’s Unity with Alan Hunter. It’s fine. Years pass. Reenter Ross. The classic Satan lineup reforms for a show at Wacken in 2004. Seven years later, there’s talk of an album. Life Sentence is released in 2013. Against all odds, it’s a classic, one of the best metal albums of the 21st century. Two more full-lengths follow, 2015’s Atom By Atom and 2018’s Cruel Magic. They’re great. There you go. Please return to your desks and get out a Scantron.
Like the last three comeback efforts, Earth Infernal, Satan’s sixth album under its name and 10th in total if you count the others, doesn’t buck the career-long trend. It’s great — some real legacy burnishing stuff, which is a crazy thing to write about a band that has been kicking around since 1979. But, here’s the crazier thing: Like every album mentioned above, it’s a sneaky reinvention of the band.
“When we wrote Life Sentence, especially musically, we were trying to write a follow up to Court In The Act,” Ramsey recently told MetalUnderground‘s Diamond Oz, “and I think we’re starting a road where we are who we are and not trying to be who we were as kids.” That’s probably the best summation of Earth Infernal as a whole. While the Satan story above is the dominant narrative — great band keeps being great despite many obstacles — the secret story is that each of its four comeback albums has been different. Life Sentence is the we’re-back surprise, the rare midlife glow-up, that combined a young-band hunger with old-band chops. Atom By Atom is the sneaky prog banger. Cruel Magic is the heavy-on-variety rocker. Earth Infernal is those three combined but with an even broader scope. (Hello, “Mercury’s Shadow,” the sub-three-minute instrumental that’s like someone dared Satan to fit Wishbone Ash’s essence onto the A-side of a 7″.) Still, it sounds like Satan because Satan continue to be true to themselves.
Satan’s truth this time around is the precarity of humanity’s future thanks to oncoming environmental disasters. “We’ve observed over the past couple of years, especially in this country, that people were becoming so obsessed with the pandemic and the politics that they forgot that the planet is on fire,” Ramsey said in that MetalUnderground interview. “We just thought we’d remind them.” That reminder surfaces a few times in Earth Infernal, but the toll rings no louder than “Earth We Bequeath,” the near-six-minute closer. The opening lead is like “Reveille,” a wake-up call. And then, the track packs a punch, backed by a few comparatively doomy sections for the normally fleet-of-riff Satan. Taylor’s drums pound. English’s bass thumps. Tippins and Ramsey form a united six-string front that gets even more powerful when Brian Ross adds his vocals. It’s tough stuff. Muscular.
Of course, you can’t keep Satan slow for long. Soon the leads start to swish in that characteristically Satan way that feels like you’re being diced to death by an expert fencer. And you can’t keep Satan stationary for long, either. The band soon goes exploring, discovering new terrain: a stomping subsection followed by two killer solos. But Satan always find their way back because few bands are as good cartographers of their songs. Ross knows the North Star that fans are looking for and brings us home with his inimitable falsetto, “Before the final wa-AAAAAAAAAAR.” Hell yeah. Oh. Right. Planet on fire. Yikes. Welp, sorry, kids. We killed the Earth. I bet a still-great Satan will still be around if that’s any consolation. [From Earth Infernal, out now via Metal Blade Records.] —Ian Chainey
5. Svet – “I Am The Star”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Svet is working some master chef atmospheric black metal alchemy on The Truth, and Athanasios, the said man in the one-man band, pulls out all the stops on “I Am The Star.” The guitar tone is an obvious winner: a little fuzzed and with a touch of reverb, it’s the roux that lays a rich base layer for all the rest. There’s also the matter of pacing, in which “I Am The Star” delivers a masterclass; in five minutes, Svet builds and explodes tension, establishes and explores earworm riff progressions to logical conclusions, and seamlessly transfers from one passage to the next, delivering a truly epic experience in half the time of many of its peers.
Instrumentation is likewise superb, and every melody feels as if it should be carved into stone. Drums arrive in barrages, with waterfalls of cymbals accentuating urgency, and Athanasios’ vocals are a horse howl that rhythmically stresses the beat to a satisfying effect. A particularly headbang-worthy passage arrives in the latter half of the track when a keyboard-accented building progression resolutely marches towards some unknown revelation of monumental significance. But to return to the guitar tone, it does wonders as a lead, casting dashes of hypnotic beauty at will. Svet’s found a remarkable stride on The Truth, a rare, refined, and interesting album that even pulls off the genre’s equivalent of a ballad on the awesome “A Wizard’s Spell.” Savor the flavor. [From The Truth, out now via Northern Silence Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
4. Inanna – “Far Away In Other Spheres”
Location: Santiago, Chile
Subgenre: death metal
Inanna’s “Far Away In Other Spheres,” the latest stream off the Chilean band’s third album, Void Of Unending Depths, makes contact with many sounds. There’s some of that Sarpanitum/Artificial Brain/Afterbirth spaciness to it, or “cosmosh” if you want to try and get that tag going. But the track also unfurls like …And So Night Became-era Aeternus, patiently epic in its sweeping storytelling. The track rules. It’s also the only song on the album that sounds like it does.
Right, Void Of Unending Depths is vast, immense, a sprawling universe of styles that incorporates everything from Evil Chuck raging riffs to Failure-y sad astronaut melodies to Allan Holdsworth-instructed masterclasses in prog progressions. In their 22 years of existence, Inanna (pictured above) have independently and organically mapped out a diverse star system, never really beholden to any particular influence but respectful of what certain styles can add to Inanna. That’s its prime directive if you will. And Inanna call that prime directive “death metal.”
Indeed, there’s a note on Inanna’s Encyclopaedia Metallum page that, in interviews, the members will “emphatically” push back on any label that isn’t death metal. Prog? No, you must be mistaken: death metal. Space rock? Sorry, death metal. All of this is death metal. I love that. It also probably explains how Inanna can put these songs together so seamlessly.
The best thing these four musicians have going for them is that they strike me as whiteboard composers, thinking in terms of sections and the logistics behind having those sections flow well. Like, “Whoa, hold on, we should put the Spheres-era Pestilence death metal part here before we drop in a Hum death metal part there. That keeps the song moving.” If that’s true, I think that’s why Void Of Unending Depths never sounds disjointed. Other bands use the kinetic energy of genre-jumping to power their music. Inanna’s warp drive is designed for smooth travel.
The near-14 minute closer, “Cabo de Hornos,” one of the best things I’ve heard this year, is a collection of styles that have been so labored over and reverse engineered for smooth integration that they end up sounding like Inanna. There’s no other way to explain it. You can hear hints of different elements, but it’s just Inanna. Diego Ilabaca and Cristóbal González’s guitars sound like Diego Ilabaca and Cristóbal González’s guitars. Max Neira’s bass sounds like Max Neira’s bass. Carlos Fuentes’s drums — and holy heck, from the first tom roll to the last snare smash, what drums! — sound like Carlos Fuentes’ drums. Inanna are death metal. Inanna are Inanna. It’s a hell of a thing.
I should leave it at that, but here’s a quick cool story, bro. I first heard about Inanna through Coffin Curse, the riff-loving, throwback death metal band that two of Inanna’s members, Neira and Fuentes, formed in 2012. 2020’s Ceased to Be, Coffin Curse’s debut, has song titles like “Chopped Clean Off.” Great record. So, I was like, “Huh, what else are these Chileans up to.” Inanna. And Inanna’s 2012 LP, Transfigured In A Thousand Delusions, chopped my head clean off. It’s like Mithras accidentally abducted a wide-awake Dead Congregation during a probing mission and then said, “Eh, whatever,” and taught them how to go interstellar instead. So, yeah, Coffin Curse to Inanna. I might as well have discovered alien life through cave paintings. [From Void Of Unending Depths, out now via Memento Mori.] —Ian Chainey
3. Morrow – “Totemic”
Location: London, United Kingdom
Subgenre: emo crust
“Totemic” is a great name for a song, but if you’re gonna name your song “Totemic,” you gotta bring that shit. “Totemic” is the second of six tracks on Morrow’s The Quiet Earth — the third LP from the British octet — but it’s clearly the centerpiece. It’s a 13-minute behemoth of blistering d-beat/screamo/hardcore — the band self-identifies as “emo crust/sludge,” which is probably technically accurate, but there’s really no set of genre tags that captures the power or scope of Morrow’s sound.
Most 13-minute-long songs tend to drag in places, or draw out sections to build drama, or turn occasionally into some stretches that aren’t as good as some of the other stretches. Not this one. “Totemic” seems to shift every 20 seconds or so, and every new road is more exciting than the last one. The song’s length is deceptive; every time I listen to it, somewhere around the seven- or eight-minute mark, I find myself upset that I’m closer to the end than I am the beginning. (Just like life!) It’s an incredibly exciting, exhilarating, roaring, anthemic piece of music, and every other song on The Quiet Earth is no less so – just shorter. Morrow absolutely live up to the title “Totemic.” They don’t just bring that shit; they are that shit. [From The Quiet Earth, out now via the band.] —Michael Nelson
2. Heaving Earth – “Violent Gospels (Ordination Of The Holy Trinity)”
Location: Prague, Czechia
Subgenre: death metal
Darkness Of God, Heaving Earth’s third album and long-awaited follow-up to the Czech death metal band’s 2015’s excellent Denouncing The Holy Throne, is that rare step forward that expands upon what makes the band great while focusing its approach. In this case, Heaving Earth, already known for their unique leads and razor-blade-tornado riffs, foreground those elements while exponentially increasing their respective bugfuckery over nine tracks.
Eagle-eyed readers will already get a feel for those elements’ bugfuck context. Heaving Earth take their name from the opening track of Morbid Angel’s 1998 LP Formulas Fatal To The Flesh. “I remember when I was 15 years old and saw in one magazine that David [Vincent] is leaving Morbid Angel,” someone in Heaving Earth said in an attributed-to-the-band interview in 2009. “Was quite bad news for me! I waited for a new recording. Then came Formulas Fatal To The Flesh with Steve Tucker in David’s place. I was amazed! … So, ‘Heaving Earth’ is for me a symbol for unbreakable creativity or unconquerable spirit of their music. Why we choose this name for some of our members, it’s a symbol of reincarnation of pure death metal.”
And, yeah, the name fits as Encyclopaedia Metallum’s Similar Artists tab attests, the rare rundown that it’s pretty accurate. Going down the rankings gives you an idea of the death metal. There’s that lurching Morbid Angel churn, the angel-dusted intensity of early Immolation, and the controlled heaviosity of Hate Eternal.
But — and I feel like this is the throughline of everything I write about these days so it must be a call for help — Heaving Earth are their own thing. “We know that our music will be dark death metal and that’s the musical way we prefer!” the band explained in that same interview. “Of course, some of our riffing may be more influenced by Suffocation (for example) but still have that right dark feeling in our music.” Thirteen years later, Heaving Earth have proven that its dark death metal is no clone of its inspirations. If anything, Darkness Of God elevates it to a peer of the old guard gods.
The key is what sets it apart: those bugfuck elements. They are neither your typical death metal leads nor riffs. They aren’t melodic in the melodeath sense. They also aren’t precious, the overly fastidious look-what-these-fingers-can-do, music-degree riffs of tech death. Their closest cousin is probably the screaming, sawing style of Czech compatriots !T.O.O.H.!, but that’s not it, either. No, Heaving Earth write leads and riffs as if Morbid Angel or Immolation were string quartets or if Cryptopsy were a chamber orchestra. I’d say I’ve never heard anything like them in a death metal context, but those elements have always been a part of Heaving Earth’s game.
That said, things have indeed changed since Denouncing The Holy Throne with Heaving Earth undergoing their own Formulas Fatal To The Flesh transformation. The only member remaining is co-founder and guitarist Tomáš Halama. Marty Meyere of Supreme Conception joins Halama on guitar. Marek Štembera, the guitarist of the excellent Brutally Deceased and Somniate, is on vocals. Tomáš Ledvina is on bass. Filling the drums vacated by the great Jirka “Jurgen” Zajíc is a session player, Giulio Galati of Nero di Marte, Hideous Divinity, and Nanga Parbat, but most importantly Mass Infection. Ad Nauseam’s Andrea Petucco takes over mix/mastering duties from Leon Macey. Despite the turnover, Darkness Of God still sounds like a Heaving Earth album. Maybe because of the fresh blood, it’s the best death metal album I’ve heard this year.
Your intro to the best death metal album I’ve heard this year is “Violent Gospels (Ordination Of The Holy Trinity).” It’s Darkness Of God’s opener for a reason. Heaving Earth do a smart thing by easing you in, teaching you how to hear the rest of the album with its first two tracks, this more-straightforward rager and the more dynamic song on deck, “Crossing The Great Divide (Prayer To A Crumbling Shrine).”
Still, lol, “straightforward.” These leads, like watching free time fireworks fall to earth. These riffs, like a wildfire sweeping through a field on fast forward. Halama and Meyere’s guitars dip and dive. Ledvina’s bass zips in and out. Galati’s drums encircle them all. It’s a fiery vortex of death metal. It also sounds as clear as a bell thanks to Petucco’s mixing. Before you know it, you’re three minutes in and it’s time for the hook, an honest-to-god earworm found crawling around the scorched earth. My favorite moment of the year was playing this for a room of real-deal musicians and them looking at me like I showed them the Ark of the Covenant. [From Darkness Of God, out 5/27 via Lavadome Productions.] —Ian Chainey
1. Maȟpíya Lúta – “Wóksape”
Subgenre: raw atmospheric black metal
Maȟpíya Lúta arrived with the stunning Wóohitike this month, sending a jaw-dropper of a three-track album into the Bandcamp metal world like a gauntlet toss. It’s really something else; riff wizardry is quickly evident, and so is grand ambition — on this raw-ish recording, Maȟpíya Lúta produce epic story arcs, channeling rage, purpose, and a long view of the journey that accounts for trials, tribulations, and triumphs in turn. Nine minutes fly by on “Wóksape” (“wisdom”), with an urgent offensive driving throughout. It’s propelled ever forward by furious drumming, that endlessly dexterous riffing that evokes resolute determination and beauty, and a shredding scream that burns with a special intensity. Maȟpíya Lúta translates to “Red Cloud” in Lakota, so named for a leader of the Oglala Lakota around the turn of the 20th century who led a resistance against the US Army in the west, notably during Red Cloud’s War, which was fought in Wyoming and Montana; the album’s three tracks translate to perseverance, wisdom, and bravery, core Lakota values. Sit with this album from start to finish. It’s an exceptional work that shreds, demands attention, and kindles fire. [From Wóohitike, out now via the band.] —Wyatt Marshall