The Month In Metal — June 2022

The Month In Metal — June 2022

So, In Flames are good again?

That’s “State Of Slow Decay,” the either winkingly or ironically titled Swedish melodeath band’s newest single. “We have always done our own thing without any pressure from the outside world,” longtime vocalist Anders Fridén said in a press release, eliciting a groan from anyone who hasn’t been particularly enthused about In Flames doing its own thing over the past 20 years. “But being back with Nuclear Blast worldwide has for sure inspired us to write a host of new material that includes the past, the present, and the future. ‘State Of Slow Decay’ includes everything that In Flames are known for, but it’s more than just a song, it’s a fucking statement. I couldn’t be happier to release this as a taste of what’s to come.”

Ignoring that “a fucking statement” reads like a hastily written Sex And The City plot point, all of that looks great. Sure, it’s prime press release fodder, the kind of trust-the-process sports-speak popular with middle managers because it’s formulated to fire up optimists rather than assuage the genuine concerns of pessimists. But the fact that Fridén is even saying it and backing it up with a promising single is the most exciting thing to happen to In Flames in forever. Hell yeah. As long as there’s more past than present and future, I think we can do this! Go, team, go.

But…can In Flames be good again? Damnit. Now I’ve thought about it too much. There it is. There’s that crushing sense of doubt. And in flood the memories of why I lost trust in a band that was once capable of being great.

“I don’t wanna do ‘Whoracle’ or ‘Jester Race’ part 2,” Fridén said to Alternative Press in 2014 during the press cycle for Siren Charms, an album about as charming as a police siren. Six years later, In Flames unveiled the bafflingly shitty Clayman 2020, an EP featuring five re-recorded songs from its last critically respected full-length, 2000’s Clayman. The renovated abomination currently holds an average rating of 1.59 out of 5 on RateYourMusic (RYM). That’s one one-hundredth of a point better than Morbid Angel’s Illud Divinum Insanus, one of the most reviled metal missteps of all time. Sometimes I wonder if Clayman 2020 is a psyop designed to crush the spirits of old fans by making sure a 20th-anniversary celebration is definitively the worst thing in the In Flames catalog. You wanted part 2? Here it is. It sucks. And you thought Battles was trash.

Stuff like that is why I’ve wanted to give up on In Flames for ages. I knew the band couldn’t match my “‘Moonshield’ or bust” mentality, so I tried to cut the cord before things got too painful. But, of course, who the hell am I? In Flames owe me nothing. They’re free to do what they wants, and they can point to their album sales, such as the 450,000 copies they supposedly moved of 2006’s Come Clarity, to prove that their Reroute To Remain path is the right one. Me thinking the band has been trash since 2002’s either winkingly or ironically titled Reroute is clearly not an impediment to it reliably topping the Swedish album charts. Nor should I be. Albums like the either winkingly or ironically titled A Sense Of Purpose — “A SENSE OF PURPOSE,” ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THESE TITLES? — are good business, and In Flames probably keep many people employed at this point. It’s a thriving enterprise. I can’t even balance a checkbook. Checkmate.

So, In Flames are good again? Can In Flames be good again? I’m not sure it really matters to me anymore. It’ll require grand gestures to win me back. It will take someone in the In Flames camp coming out and saying they’re trying to be legit again because they’re scared that the Halo Effect, the either winkingly or ironically named all-star melodeath outfit featuring former In Flames associates such as founder Jesper Strömblad and Dark Tranquillity vocalist Mikael Stanne, will eat their lunch. That might convince me. That would at least entertain me. Still, it’s not like the Halo Effect…uh…effect would even make a difference. Did Dimension Zero sharpen In Flames’ iron at all? Don’t think so.

Oof. Look at that: Twenty years later, I’m still bitter. This is the fan experience in the 21st century, something Ben Lindbergh dug into for The Ringer regarding Star Wars. In Flames are a pretty Star Wars-y band when you think about it because there’s something mesmerizingly powerful in the promise of a good In Flames album, and that prospect drives me a little bonkers. The cognitive dissonance is strong since any optimism is predicated on false hopes that willfully ignore past frustrations with the franchise’s unstowable baggage. I want to believe. At the same time, I have been burned more times than Glen Benton’s forehead. The former wins out, but the latter acts like an undertow.

That is the duality that all fans must endure, that in the absence of definites, all possibilities are on the table, a Schrodinger’s LP sleeve where a future album is both the best and worst of the band’s career until you’re able to hear it. And, like I’ve made clear, prognostication tends to be based chiefly on subjective bullshit, such as one’s own hang-ups. It’s not like anyone is making a Farmer’s Almanac-ass forecast of In Flames’ potential by utilizing folkloric, pseudo-scientific indicators.

Wait, wait, wait, wait. I think I need to make a Farmer’s Almanac-ass forecast of In Flames’ potential by utilizing folkloric, pseudo-scientific indicators. So, what’s the likelihood this 32-year-old band pulls a 180 on its 14th album and either rebounds or returns to form? Let’s find out.

I compiled a database of 180 metal bands. The general idea was to examine trends within that database and forecast the possibility of late-career resurgences. Put more simply, I wanted to find how likely is it for an average popular band to record a “good” album at certain album intervals.

(In the absence of footnotes, because this is a monthly heavy metal column and not a term paper, a fact I often forget, I’ll dump my many misgivings within parentheticals. Apologies for the eye-bleed. My bad. Anyway, for this project, it was easier to think of career progression in terms of album number rather than years. This does create some timey-wimey oddities. For example, the time between Satan’s second and third albums is 26 years. The time between Death’s first and last album is 11 years, which is some real Beatles-esque stuff that we don’t talk about enough.)

To build the database, I initially focused on bands with 10 or more releases. I then filled in the gaps with the following bands:

  • Those with similar Iron Maiden Numbers to In Flames
  • Those under In Flames’ “Similar Artists” tab on Encyclopaedia Metallum
  • Those with tumultuous up-and-down careers that I remembered having at least one rebound

The result was an eclectic list of known acts from many substyles that ran the gamut from Abigor to WASP and everything in between.

(Wow. This is some awful, phony statistics, like unscrupulously putting my thumb on the scale to game some bloggable social science assumption so I can get a grant. Also, I recognize that the sample size is admittedly tiny: 180 bands barely comprise one-tenth of one percent of the total number in Metallum. At the time I’m writing this, that number is 158,916. Metal, there is a lot of it. Stunty numerical joke aside, I don’t really have much of a justification beyond that (a) I’m on a deadline, and (b) there aren’t a lot of metal bands that have a lot of ratings on RateYourMusic. It would’ve made more sense to select, like, 10,000 bands at random, but try explaining to my day jobs why I’m calling out for three years.)

Once the bands were set, I dumped them into a spreadsheet and added their respective albums’ RYM scores to the individual columns. Column 1 captured scores for debuts, column 2 was for sophomore albums, and so forth. After all 180 bands’ discographies were inputted, it was time to crunch some numbers.

(I’m using RYM scores because they’re a more objective measure than my typically pissy, contrarian appraisals. Caveats? I thought you’d never ask. Yeah, dude, plenty. First and foremost: I am not a statistician. I am very much a gigantic idiot. Lesser but no less pertinent qualms are enumerated in my other RYM exercises. Please read those for a detailed analysis of why this is a bad idea. That said, since this reliably comes up, I’ll touch on this particular bugbear: Do I agree with all of these ratings? Lol, no. Nevertheless, because the RYM database sometimes has hundreds, if not thousands, of ratings applied to metal albums, it’s as objective as I’m going to get. Wisdom of the masses, or something. In addition, since I only care about rating flux within a band’s discography and not the database at large, I will not be bent out of shape by Cannibal Corpse having unfairly low scores because the RYM user base is mainly made up of weaklings.)

Before I reveal the results, let’s ease into this discussion by defining terms and limiting the scope.

To start, don’t call it a comeback. If a new In Flames album is announced, it will be their 14th full-length. Since the band has never broken up, that 14th album can’t be a “comeback.” If you never leave, you can’t come back. It’d be like telling your roommates “I’m back” after waking up from a nap. If you do that, have fun paying rent all by yourself within a month.

It works like this: Altars, the badass Australian death metal band I’ll be covering next month, are making a comeback because they split in 2016. The only time a comeback applies to an active band is when it hasn’t released an album in over a decade. Anata are due for a comeback. Any day now. I’m sure of it.

With a comeback off the table, I think there are six possible outcomes for that 14th In Flames album, three positive and three negative. Here’s a rundown of how each will be calculated.

Positive:

Peak: This is self-explanatory. The “peak” is the career-best work, the album that’s head and shoulders above all of the others in a band’s catalog; In Flames’ The Jester Race, Deicide’s Legion, Weakling’s Dead As Dreams, that kind of thing. It is the album that is rated the highest in RYM. The peak album is part of the calculation deciding whether other material in a band’s discography is considered “classic.”

Classic material/return to form: Classic material is any album rated above the “form line.” The form line is calculated by multiplying the peak album’s rating by 0.9. The assumption is that any album within 90 percent of the peak album is generally what an average fan would consider classic material, thus constituting a band’s “form.” If a band’s preceding album is designated as a negative outcome, that band can return to form by releasing a classic album.

Rebound: A “rebound” is an album rated significantly better than the poorly rated one that came directly before it. A band successfully rebounds by releasing an album rated 0.5 points higher than the prior negative outcome. You can’t rebound on your first and second albums. This outcome can crossover with other outcomes in that a late-career peak album may be a return to form and a rebound.

Negative:

Middle-of-the-road/meh material: A “middle-of-the-road” album is not good enough to burnish a band’s legacy but isn’t bad enough to be considered a failure. “Meh material” is any album rated below the form line. As with all negative outcomes, meh material resets the baseline for potential rebounds and “clunkers.”

Clunker: A clunker is an album rated significantly worse than the one that came directly before it. A band clunks by releasing an album rated 0.5 points lower than the prior album. You can’t clunk on your first and second albums. This outcome can cross over with other outcomes. “Pits” can be clunkers.

Pit: A pit is the inverse of peak. It is the lowest-rated album in a band’s discography. Regretfully, I did not calculate a “suck line” because “creator of the suck line” would look amazing on my résumé. Someone else is welcome to hog that glory. You’re welcome.

To demonstrate how all of that plays out in practice, I’m going to choose a band completely at random. I promise this is totally not a way to pettily prove that a certain userbase is rife with weaklings. Hold on. I am randomly picking the band…and…OK, here’s Cannibal Corpse’s discography:

Cannibal Corpse’s peak, per RYM users, is their fourth album, The Bleeding. (Nope.) 90% of The Bleeding’s 3.54 rating sets the form line at 3.186. Cannibal Corpse place 12 albums above that line, constituting their “classic” material and “form.” Three meh albums fall below that line: 2002’s Gore Obsessed, 2009’s Evisceration Plague, and 2017’s Red Before Black. (None of these are meh.) Gore Obsessed is the lowest-rated album. (Nope.) Therefore, it’s a pit. That would make 2004’s The Wretched Spawn, 2012’s Torture, and 2021’s Violence Unimagined returns to form. As no album is either 0.5 points better or worse than its preceding album, Cannibal Corpse don’t have any rebounds or clunkers in their discography.

Another one.

Let’s break this down chronologically. Metallica’s peak is Ride The Lightning (4.06), setting the form line at 3.654. Their first four full-lengths make the cut and constitute “classic” Metallica. The rest do not. Load is the first of three clunkers, circled in red. Load is rated 0.81 points worse than the Black Album, easily sinking below the clunker threshold. However, Reload isn’t appreciably worse than Load, so while it’s a clunker compared to Black Album, it’s middle-of-the-road since Load resets Metallica’s baseline. Garage Inc., which RYM classifies as a compilation, is the first of three rebounds circled in green. St. Anger is a clunker and a pit. Death Magnetic rebounds. Lulu, which Metallum classifies as a collaboration, is a clunker. Hardwired…To Self-Destruct rebounds.

Got it? Great. Here’s In Flames.

This plays out about how you’d anticipate. The Jester Race is the peak, Clayman is the last classic album, and then it’s a…ahem…state of slow decay with minor upticks (Come Clarity) and major pitfalls (Battles) along the way. What else do you notice? Right, no green or red circles. Because meh material resets the baseline, In Flames have neither rebounded nor clunked despite generally sucking.

Looking ahead, what would In Flames have to do to turn this meh-diocrity around? In Flames’ last album, 2019’s I, The Mask, is rated 2.63. To rebound, its 14th album would need to score at least 3.13, which would fall between Reroute To Remain and Come Clarity’s ratings. To return to form, it would have to clear 3.357, something it hasn’t achieved since Clayman. How likely are either of these outcomes? Strap in.

To begin, let’s talk about peaks and pits. Of the 180 bands I surveyed, the average peak occurred 37% into a career and the average pit occurred 63% into a career. For these bands, that came out to be roughly the fourth and seventh albums.

Twenty-four bands peaked prematurely on their first album. The oldest peak was Judas Priest’s Painkiller, the band’s 12th album. (There’s an album-count discrepancy between RYM and Metallum regarding Priest. The latter counts Hell Bent For Leather as a separate album. I am using RYM’s count for this column. Incidentally, Priest clunked on their 13th album, Jugulator.) On the other end of the spectrum, 28 bands started life in the pits. For old dogs, 12 bands fell in on their 14th album or later. Virgin Steele and Black Sabbath pulled the reverse Painkiller, hitting pit bottom on their 17th albums.

Peaks and pits are all over the place. Lot of noise, no consistency. A more precise indicator of a band’s potential lifecycle is to look at classic material versus meh material and their percentages of total releases per album number.

As you can see, meh material overtakes classic material on the ninth album. By album number 14, meh material makes up 60 percent of the total number of releases. It’s downhill from there. (I only calculated this to album number 16 to put fear in the hearts of Megadeth and Queensrÿche fans. Sorry!)

Now, I should mention that it’s relatively rare for a metal band to make it to a 14th album. Out of 180 bands, only 50 got there, roughly 28%. That’s not insignificant considering I prioritized longevity. This is the nicest thing I’ll write about In Flames in this intro: Be proud. If you make it to a 14th album, that’s an accomplishment. Do you feel good? Great, now turn off your computer. This is when the data starts getting hard to look at.

Of the 50 bands that made it to a 14th album, only 20 released classic material. There are a lot of familiar names: Accept, Amorphis, Blut Aus Nord, Enslaved, Napalm Death, and…Stratovarius? OK, Stratovarius. Only four of the 20 returned to form: Riot, Voivod, Iced Earth (more on these clowns later), and Grave Digger. None of those returns to form were rebounds. In fact, there was only one rebound in all 50 releases: Dream Theater’s Distance Over Time. (To be fair, while it’s classed as middle-of-the-road, it was a pretty big rebound, besting The Astonishing by over one point.)

Of the 30 bands that issued meh material, five clunked: Helloween, Megadeth, Scorpions, Therion, and Virgin Steele. Megadeth’s Super Collider and Scorpions’ Eye II Eye are the pits of their discographies. Judas Priest’s Demolition didn’t clunk, but it’s similarly that band’s low point. On the whole, 14th albums were rated, on average, about 0.01 points lower than 13th albums. More importantly, they were, on average, rated about 0.17 points lower than the form line.

Things get worse. In Flames are currently on a streak of eight meh albums. Only 10 other bands in the database have had a meh streak that long or longer. (Darkthrone are supposedly on a 14-album meh streak and are riding an even crazier 13-album middle-of-the-road streak. How I know I’m a Darkthrone mark: I love those albums.) Only two bands broke their streaks: Overkill, breaking a nine-album streak, and Flotsam And Jetsam, breaking a 12-album streak. In the other 104 meh material albums across those 10 streaks, the rebounds and clunkers were light. That said, clunkers more than doubled rebounds, 14 to six. I found this to be true in all instances: Rebounds are rare. Clunkers abound. It’s the Andrea Bargnani paradox.

“Hm, yes,” I say while searching in my bag for a divining rod. “Fascinating data.” What does it mean? Absolutely fuck-all because I might as well be doing heavy metal astrology. (I’m sorry, yes, you were born under a clunker moon. How unfortunate.) Like, this is all spooky sham math analyzing a small sample size! It means nothing! This is like me biting into an apple, tickling a lizard, and saying, “There will be three days of rain in October. By the way, my Venmo is…” Be that as it may, if you want my fatuous forecast, it’s this:

In Flames probably won’t peak on their 14th album because no band in the database achieved that after its 12th album. On the flip side, a few tripped into a pit this late in the game, so a stinker is still in play.

If In Flames avoid that fate and return to form, they will be the only band in this database that do it on a rebound. The odds are slightly better when it comes to breaking their eight-album meh streak: Two bands have broken out of longer streaks, but both did it on a return to form. Because 60% of bands in the database released meh material on their 14th album, it’s more likely that In Flames’ isn’t classic material.

Worst case, In Flames becomes the sixth band to clunk, and their 2.13-or-lower-rated album becomes their pit. The Halo Effect do, in fact, eat their lunch.

Best case, In Flames’s ninth meh album in a row, tying them with Overkill, slots in at 0.17 points lower than their form line. If it does, that would be the best album In Flames have released since the original Clayman. It would also be their first-ever rebound.

And you know what? Give me that best-case scenario. If this stupid exercise has provided me any solace, it’s that it has made my expectations more realistic. So, are In Flames good again? Probably not, but they have a chance to rebound. If they did, it wouldn’t drive me bonkers. Heck, it would probably be a fucking statement. I can live with that, finally. Go, team, go.

OK, lemme wrap this up with some fun facts that didn’t fit into the intro.

I didn’t include this artist in the database for obvious reasons, but I assume that Buckethead owns every outcome record possible. That happens when you have 343 full-lengths to your name. During this exercise, I was keen on tracking the greatest number of albums between returns to form. Buckethead sure as hell owns that record: 32 albums. Actually, the masked shredder has done it two different times. (Buckethead’s prolificacy used to make me think that the guitarist was a joke. After poking around the discography for a different project, I now think he’s a genius. Life comes at you fast.)

In the non-Buckethead division, here’s some more meaningless trivia:

  • Most rebounds: Accept, Cradle Of Filth, Helloween, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Metallica (3)
  • Most clunkers: Helloween, Virgin Steele (4)
  • Oldest return to form: Saxon’s Carpe Diem, their 25th album
  • Most albums in between returns to form: Flotsam And Jetsam, 12 albums.
  • Biggest return to form: Jag Panzer’s Dissident Alliance (1.78) to The Fourth Judgement (3.41)
  • Biggest clunk: Iced Earth’s Incorruptible (3.38, lol) to A Narrative Soundscape (1.07, possibly the worst-rated album I’ve ever seen on RYM. You deserve it, Schaffer.)
  • Virgin Steele pulled off the mythical “double clunk,” eating it back-to-back on Ghost Harvest – Vintage I – Black Wine for Mourning and Ghost Harvest – Vintage II – Red Wine for Warning.
  • Per RYM, Cult Of Luna, Enslaved, Galneryus, Godflesh, Insomnium, Kalmah, Mors Principium Est, Satan, and Swallow The Sun haven’t released meh material yet.

Ian Chainey

RIP, Gene Fowler. Fowler appeared in the June 2018 column and chatted about Wetnurse’s “lost” album. You’ll be missed, Gene.

10

Counterparts – "Unwavering Vow"

Location: Hamilton, Ontario
Subgenre: metalcore

When Harley Flanagan invented hardcore – and hey, that’s his assertion, not mine; feel free to @ him on Instagram if you care to take issue with it – so, as I was saying, when Harley Flanagan invented hardcore, he was combining punk with metal, because the former had lost its fire and the latter was just getting hot. That’s how Harley tells it. That’s what hardcore is. That’s to say, hardcore is itself a metal subgenre – one of the very first metal subgenres, really.

It’s maybe a little odd, then, that we so often draw such a decisive line between the two today. Would you book a hardcore band for a metal festival? Maybe; that’s probably a case-by-case basis kinda thing. Would you book a metal band for a hardcore matinee? Do they still even have hardcore matinees? You probably wouldn’t book Blind Guardian for a hardcore matinee. (Although that would make for a memorable afternoon!) But what about At The Gates? Disfear? Where would you put them? Where would you put Converge? And where would you put the point of convergence? Where else but…metalcore: a hybrid subgenre that goes mostly unclaimed by metal fans and hardcore fans alike.

I remember a Counterparts Twitter bio from a few years back in which the band’s frontman, Brandon Murphy, described Counterparts’ style as being something to the effect of “metalcore (but not the cool kind of metalcore).” Now, first off, don’t be misled by Murphy’s dry, self-deprecating Canadian humor: Counterparts are plenty cool. Also: There is no “cool kind of metalcore.” Haha. Nah, I assume Murphy is talking about the “tough-guy” stuff like Nails or Xibalba or whatever. And yeah, I guess Counterparts don’t play that style. I’ve seen them classified as “melodic metalcore,” and I’m guessing that maybe “melodic metalcore” is to “metalcore” what “melodic death metal” is to “death metal.” If so: I’m a pretty huge fan of melodic death metal, and I can tell you with authority that melodic death metal is absolutely not the cool kind of death metal.

I’m a pretty huge fan of Counterparts, too. I fell hard for the band when I heard their 2017 LP, You’re Not You Anymore – which was followed by two EPs and the 2019 full-length, Nothing Left To Love – and I’ve been consistently floored by all of it. I’m not sure it’s totally fair to say Counterparts don’t play “the cool kind of metalcore,” because they really do – they just switch shit up so fast that when they do that one particular thing, it doesn’t register right away. Nothing does. You’re listening to the mosh part? Nope, now it’s the melodic chorus. Tech-y part? Wait, no, now you’re at the epic solo. Etc. More important is the way all those pieces are put together, built into songs so tight and exciting that the individual pieces become almost invisible and frankly irrelevant. I’m not actually sure which is more impressive: the innovation found in these compositions, or the fact that they kick so much ass you don’t even notice how much is actually going on. Point blank, the songs fucking rule, and that’s all I care about. I’ll parse them no further, except to say that the fundamentals of Counterparts’ sound are high-impact heaviness, high-velocity motion, and high-payoff melodies.

“Unwavering Vow” is the first single off their upcoming seventh LP, A Eulogy For Those Still Here, and it’s a blazing, riotous, remarkable return, confirming my own years-held belief that Counterparts are one of the best bands walking this Earth. Listen for yourself. Talk about convergence. Try to pin this thing down. Try to stop it every 30 or so seconds to figure out what you’re hearing now, and what you just heard 30 seconds ago, and when exactly one thing became a different thing. Try to stop it every 10 seconds and do it that way. Try to stop it at all. [From A Eulogy For Those Still Here, out 10/7 via Pure Noise.]Michael Nelson

09

Vulnificus – “Instigated Indignation”

Location: Indianapolis, IN / Pittsburgh, PA
Subgenre: brutal death metal

Every element of Vulnificus’s “Instigated Indignation” is the brutal death metal ideal. Wilson Sherels handles the instruments: slathered-in-squelch guitars; haywire drums; buzzing bass lines. Eston Browne holds down the vocals: growls and gutturals, a natural low that takes eons to develop into something that forceful. The overtones of their combined clatter cover the spectrum in grit and grime, sounding like how a metal machinist’s undershirt looks. At times, it feels like Invocation, Vulnificus’s second EP, is closing around you, that mounting claustrophobia when you’ve been stuck in a too-hot, too-dusty space for too long. At others, it’s a Videodrome TV that can only play static, wet to the touch and unnervingly aspirating. All told, it’s a hell of a noise, but it’s focused. It could cut through the din of an airport-bordering food court without losing a watt of its power. It’s exactly what I want from BDM, nailing the preferences I’ve dialed in over the years: old, gnarly, growly. But here’s the thing about this Indianapolis/Pittsburgh two-piece: It’s new, too.

“Vulnificus began when I was promoting a show for one of [Joseph Lusciano]’s other bands,” Browne said to Maizter Underground, referring to his Abolishing The Ignominious bandmate, an exceedingly sick project in its own right. “Wilson and I began talking and we decided to get together and create something new and fresh with a lot of old-school influences.”

Browne came into Vulnificus with killer credits: Animals Killing People, Humanity Falls, Gigan, and the aforementioned Lusciano ripper. Always slayed; known quantity. Sherels’ name was new to me when I stumbled upon Vulnificus’ excellent debut last year, the rampaging Innomination. (Tellingly, Innomination got some love from New Standard Elite, the premier label in music you’ll never mention on a first date.) I got hip pretty quick. I realize now that Sherels’ CV is no less stacked than Browne’s: the awesomely pinging Epidermolysis, “caveman” slamming Urotherapy, and other gnarly blasters like Rancorous, which sounds like a growling bison narrating the shelling of a cymbal factory.

That said, nothing else they’ve done sounds quite like Vulnificus. As Browne stated, the five tracks on Invocation slap a fresh coat of paint on classic BDM. It reminds me of New Jersey’s Dead and Dripping in that way, a band that you could’ve seen in a Long Island basement with Afterbirth in the 1990s…or in a Long Island basement with Afterbirth in the 2020s. That is to say, it sounds timeless, refreshing and recontextualizing the roots of BDM in a way that’s conversant with yesterday and today. The more you listen to it, though, the more you realize just how fresh it is.

It took me awhile to catch it, but Vulnificus work because they subtly subvert tropes. As an example, there’s this thing Sherels does that gets me every time. Vulnificus will cook up a sweltering churn and then everything drops out except the bass. That bass will groove, suggesting to me, a one-hundo BDM mega dork, that a serious slam is on the way. Nope, it’s a delayed move: In comes an unexpectedly frantic blast like a microburst. It fakes me out every time, leaving me on my ass, my ankles snapped like twigs. It’s legit genius shit, using my preferences and experiences against me. Love it. That’s the BDM ideal. [From Invocation, out now via the band.]Ian Chainey

08

Moribund Dawn – "Dark Mysteries Of Time And Eternity"

Location: Phoenix, AZ
Subgenre: black metal

Moribund Dawn nail the throwback Scandi black metal package, starting with the album art that lures in brain-numb black metal Bandcamp browsers and Ravens fans like moths to a flame. Take a look at Dark Mysteries of Time & Eternity and you’re back in ’94 staring at all-time album cover art contender In The Nightside Eclipse — in subject matter, color palette, and font. Hit play and you’re dropped into a dark windswept world of black metal majesty, with big haunted and heroic guitar leads, stadium-level drum fills, and a mid-tempo pacing that takes its time in showcasing its melodic peaks and valleys before hitting the gas to rip through treacherous terrain. It rocks, with never a dull moment over nine minutes that tap the marrow of yesteryear with the tooling of modern production. The vocal delivery is where things go a bit off the path — it’s very John Haughm. You’ll get the solemn spoken-word effect that was a small part of what made Agalloch such a transportative and transformative band for the genre, and the shrieks are decidedly Haughmian, too. But that’s mostly where the Agalloch ties end, and Moribund Dawn instead turn their gaze toward black crags lit by lightning and soundtracked by malevolent forces. Moribund Dawn set a bar, and “Dark Mysteries Of Time & Eternity” makes good on the promise that cover put forward. [From Dark Mysteries Of Time & Eternity, out now via Carbonized Records.]Wyatt Marshall

07

Astronoid – "Sedative"

Location: Lowell, Massachusetts
Subgenre: blackgaze

Ever since Astronoid’s arrival, there’s been a contention by some metal fans that Astronoid aren’t a metal band. At least, I recall this being a thing. It’s possible I’m inventing a strawman from a blurry amalgam of disparate memories. In any case, I’m here to set the record straight on that old narrative (which, again, might not be an actual narrative, outside my imagination). I am here to tell you, pal, that Astronoid are absolutely a metal band – that is, until the Bilderberg Group finally decides to make blackgaze an official non-metal genre. Of course, “blackgaze” is a clumsy portmanteau combining “black metal” and “shoegaze,” which means, hmm, let’s see here…nope…eh, not really…I’m sorry, it seems Astronoid are, in fact, not a blackgaze band.

That’s because they’re a metal band! I’ll prove it. Listen to “Sedative,” off the ‘noid’s terrific new LP, Radiant Bloom. Listen to those drums. Literally no non-metal band plays drums like that. Not a single one. Those guitars? That shit is the exclusive property of metal, and may not be reproduced or retransmitted without the express written consent of metal. That speed? Only metal bands play that fast, and even then, only the ones that can play that fast. Listen to the solo that kicks off just before the 2:30 mark – not that you’d be able to miss it. That is a metal solo. That’s the good stuff right there! And those vocals? Wait, wait, OK, no, hear me out. Hear me out! Jeez. OK. So, since when was there a law that all male metal tenors have to sing in the style of King Diamond? That stuff gets so boring so quick, and it makes all the new shit immediately sound 40 years old.

Astronoid don’t sound retro, I’ll give you that. I guess more importantly, for all the metal in Astronoid’s music, they don’t sound very heavy. So if you’re only really into, like, sludge and brutal death metal, then this isn’t gonna be your bag. You prefer a heavier, uglier, more uncomfortable bag. Not to worry, I’m sure we’ve got a few of those around here someplace. But you know what? It’s summer. It’s OK to wear white and drink Corona and kick back, maybe on the beach, or in the backyard, or on the roof, or in the park. Wherever. Whatever feels good. You haven’t got too many summers left, you know. Maybe you want some sweet tunes for this weather, for these days, while they’re here. Here. Try this one on for size, see how it feels. Oooh. Nice, right? Oh, I know, Fenriz might not approve, but…between you and me? Chuck would. Astronoid’s music may be a little breezy, but sometimes you feel like a breeze. It may not be heavy, but sometimes you feel like floating, like flying. [From Radiant Bloom, out now via 3DOT Recordings.]Michael Nelson

06

Dinbethes – "Geboren"

Location: Zwolle, The Netherlands
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Dinbethes are new growth in the fertile Dutch black metal scene, and you’re going to run into comparison to luminaries like Turia and Fluisteraars. If the sound doesn’t click for you, head over to Metal-Archives where project mastermind J. (kept to first initial in the Dutch style) is sporting a jacket with Turia and Fluisteraars patches (and what look like Laster and Iskander logos as well). So what to expect? Quick-drip doses of extended hypnotic riffing, cymbal-rich relentless drum blasts, and an impeccable sense for folding psychedelics into the black metal palette set the course, but Dinbethes veer into parts unknown. Without so much as a synth buildup, massive operatic choruses enter the picture, bridging the raw grandeur of the Dutch style with the world of ornate symphonic black metal. This brings two seemingly disparate lines of the family tree into close contact, a pairing that makes little sense on paper but in Dinbethes’ hands hits like a cascade of thunderbolts from on high. With this mind-expanding album, Dinbethes have charted new territory. [From Balans, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

05

Damián Antón Ojeda – “Sadn stuff (winter?? 2015)”

Location: Mexico City, Mexico
Subgenre: Damiancore

“Damián’s been holding out on us.” This is a sentence that has never once been said of Damián Antón Ojeda, the absurdly, obscenely, insanely prolific young genius behind Sadness, among quite a lot of other things.

In the November 2021 installment of this column, I attempted to illustrate the magnitude of Ojeda’s output by noting that Sadness had produced “a catalog that, as I write these words, comprises 32 releases, the first of which dates back to 2014, when Ojeda was a high school junior. It’s all a lot, and that’s not even close to all of it.”

Since then, he’s added another nine releases to that catalog, although that only accounts for the Sadness discography. I know he also put out a pair of Life records, and one from Liminal Dream, and one from Comforting, and I’m really not gonna try to come up with a complete list here. There’s more; that’s all I can say with any confidence.

At the conclusion of that last surge, which brings us to April 2 of this year, Ojeda fell off the grid for a month. Then another month. Then? An update. Under the heading “unused music + miscellaneous recordings,” followed by a link to a brand-new Bandcamp page, Ojeda returned with this message:

you have absolutely no idea how long it took to get all of this together. I started compiling this in march and am only just now finishing. this is (almost) everything I’ve ever recorded that wasn’t released as something else. some things are gone, some things I didn’t include because I didn’t want to, and I probably missed some things. these are mostly logic and garageband sessions although there are some laptop and phone recordings. I have been so stressed working on this since I basically had to start over when I realized that bandcamp couldn’t support so much audio, so I had to reupload everything in two separate albums.

Just re-read that last bit, starting at the word “Bandcamp.” Really take that in. Really think about what that might actually mean. I mean…whew! Anywho, the upshot and end result is, indeed, two separate albums: Unused Music (2008-2014) and Unused Music (2015-2019), all released under the name Damián Antón Ojeda.

The first of those collections includes 320 tracks. The second, 445. That gives us a total 765 tracks. That’s 765 pieces of unused music from a guy who has already released no fewer than 13 records since November. (Right now, if Ojeda were to write a personalized song for every single Sadness fan in North America, it would probably only account for like 35% of his updated-total recorded output.)

Before we go any further, let me just make this clear: I am an ecstatic and unabashed Sadness superfan – and furthermore, I honestly believe that Ojeda is a historically great artist – but even I think this one takes it a few steps beyond the pale. It’s a bit much, OK? Really, it is. It’s a bit much, Damián! It’s just a bit much.

How much, you ask, is a bit much? First off, look at the photo on the cover of the first collection. The teeny-tiny early-adolescent skate-rat ACTUAL CHILD that you see there is Damián in 2011. That’s him in 2011! Remember, please, that the title of this record is Unused Music (2008-2014). This music goes back to 2008! Now, by my approximation, Ojeda was about 10 or so years old in 2008. (The first of his 2009 recordings included here is “Old McDonald Had A Farm,” but make it death metal, and, um…yeah. Yeah, I’m gonna say about 11 years old.) Second, there may not be a person on this planet – aside from Ojeda himself – who has actually listened to all the man’s proper recordings. Third, these are not proper recordings. They’re just…recordings. They’re all over the place. Some sound like early drafts of abandoned songs. Others sound like Ojeda just sat down and hit record while he aimlessly fucked around on a random riff or lick. There are some grandly powerful and highly accomplished classical solo piano performances (no joke), and some lovely, lonely pieces played on acoustic guitar. A bunch of it sounds like the ambient stuff he’d typically layer underneath or in-between some of the louder stuff on a Sadness song. Do they all sound like one of those things? Hell if I know. I maybe listened to 40 of those 765 songs. (One of them, titled “Jam On Billy Jean,” is him jamming on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.”) If you listen to the whole thing and unearth any towering classics, I would very much appreciate you letting me know.

Until you’ve gotten around to that, though, I’ll tell you about the closest thing to “towering classic” that I came across while wandering these hinterlands: “Sadn stuff (winter?? 2015),” which is, like, not that far from being a real Sadness song. I mean, it’s still pretty far; it’s maybe 40% there, or maybe, I dunno, 25%, with placeholder programmed drums and no vocals at all – Ojeda sometimes spends years trying to nail down a particular song’s vocals, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t start recording them till he’s sufficiently stoked on the rest of the song – but you can clearly hear a good Sadness song in there, if an unfinished one. And you know what? For all I know, he very well could have actually finished this song and already released that finished version on a Sadness record! Maybe it’s on one of the eight records he put out in 2016! I have no idea! I can’t place it, and now I’ve listened to it too many times to hear it as anything other than a real Sadness song, and I’m overwhelmed at the thought of trying to figure it out.

I love that about Ojeda, that feeling of being overwhelmed, of being lost. That’s by no means what makes his music great, though, and this particular piece of music is by no means his great music, so if you’re not familiar, I strongly suggest starting anywhere but here. If you do start here, don’t stop here. The disparity between “Sadn stuff” and actual Sadness stuff is like the disparity between “Jam On Billy Jean” and the actual “Billie Jean.” Only more vast. Superior songwriting.

Which brings me to…um, you know what? As I sit here now, reading everything I’ve written above, I’m actually wondering why I’ve chosen to write about this one at all. I’m not doubting the choice itself, I just can’t put my finger on why I’ve made this choice. Obviously it’s in large part because I deeply love Ojeda’s music, and in lesser part because I find it a lot of fun to think and write about him. Also, I guess, Unused Music might be the weirdest exercise of Herculean artistic ambition I’ve ever seen. Who’s this whole thing for? It would be confounding to even the most ardent obsessive. It would frankly be confounding to future historians or biographers. And it’s not a prank or a stunt – Ojeda is an intensely earnest and serious person, and he’s intensely earnest and serious about his work. (The “hilarious” kid who made “Old McDonald” is a lost ghost long forgotten by the “artist-as-a-young-man” kid who made Close five years later.)

The only conclusion that I can reach is that it’s for him – not to please his ego, but just to have all this stuff off his hard drive, and to have it in the world, so he can’t be tempted to go back and work on it, work it into something new. That’s typically how he operates, or that’s how I observe it, anyway: A Sadness song released in 2020, hypothetically, might be composed of a half-dozen pieces written and/or recorded at numerous different points and places over the half-decade prior to the song’s release. He likes to recycle stuff, repurpose stuff. He literally refuses to waste anything. (Besides your time! Haha. Kidding! Well … OK, sometimes, maybe.) And that’s what he’s doing here: not wasting anything. He’s not so much opening the vault as the garage door, and saying, “Have a look around – if you see anything you like, take it. Pay me whatever. I just gotta get rid of all this stuff before I move out of this place.”

Ojeda actually did just move, incidentally. In the literal sense. In April. To Mexico City, I believe. It seems like a pretty significant shift, based on what he had to say about it:

“I now live in the same city as some of my family members who are musicians so we are working on getting a live set for Sadness.”

If you’re already a Sadness fan, you should be absolutely losing your shit upon reading that. But…no. Stop. Don’t. That’s not what you want. That’s not what Sadness is. And anyway, I wouldn’t count on a Sadness live show ever happening, because I’m quite certain it’s completely unequivocally impossible, and I know for a fact that Ojeda is literally physically incapable of reproducing those vocals at all, period, ever, but…maybe? I certainly wouldn’t bet on it, but I also can’t bet against it. Maybe it is possible? Maybe that’s what Sadness could become?

That’s what I was getting at before with that “moving” metaphor, obviously. The possibility. The becoming. The moving-to and the moving-away. Ojeda truly is going someplace new, artistically or spiritually or whatever you wanna call it. He’s been closing out a lot of old accounts lately. At the end of March, he put out two collections of newly-wrapped long-abandoned Sadness songs from 2014-2015 that were previously “either unfinished or unreleased.” Those sets comprised 25 full songs not included among the 765 spare parts on the Unused Music records. To give you an idea what’s on there, here’s what Ojeda had to say about one of those 2015 songs, “Heartthrobbing“:

I started having the idea for a new music project which was basically going to be… “atmospheric nu metal?” I had 2 songs planned and clearly never did anything with them, and this is one of them. I don’t know if you could really call this “atmospheric nu metal” but I also don’t really care about what genre anything I do is. this works well being sadness I suppose.

Now, that particular song wouldn’t be “atmospheric nu metal” even if such a thing existed, but that’s beside the point. The point is, that wasn’t ever even supposed to be a Sadness song! Ojeda just made up a genre, wrote a couple songs for it, lost interest, and then dropped it! And now those bizarrely conceived abandoned songs written by a teenager are here in the world on a Sadness record released in 2022! It’s just…he’s just purging absolutely everything and it’s just so much music. Even for Damián Ojeda. It feels like he’s not just liquidating, but shedding a skin, leaving it all behind.

It sounds like that, too. If you know the actual chronology of the music – and I honestly don’t blame you if you don’t, because it’s hilariously confusing – you can hear it right there. You can’t not hear it. If, on the other hand, you do not know the actual chronology of the music, here’s what I mean: The closest thing to 100% legitimately new new Sadness stuff, in terms of when it was written and recorded, is the two-song EP Our Time Is Here, which came out in April. And the newer of those two songs – the song that best represents the state of Sadness circa now (or circa April 2022, anyway) – is “Late Spring True Love.” Here’s a little bit of what Ojeda had to say about it:

this is my favorite song I’ve ever made. it touches something deep in my heart that has always been so important to me. music with this exact kind of high energy and color is my favorite. I’m a very nostalgic person and this song sounds like so many moments of my deep past crying and singing in the most magical and purest way. I always long to capture the magic I feel in the music I make and this song makes me feel like I’m 9 years old again. i actually cried while listening to this today (in the best way possible). very core musical and color memories are explored in the tonality and memories, and this song isn’t just purely nostalgic, it’s many moments of my life, and even right now. this is the timelessness of my purest being.

That’s some intensely earnest and serious shit even by Ojeda’s standards, but lemme tell you something: I totally fucking get it. I hear all of that in the music. I mean, not the color stuff – I’m certain he experiences synesthesia – but all the rest of it. I’ll tell you something else: It’s my favorite Sadness song, too. I have a lot of favorite Sadness songs, but “Late Spring True Love” is the best one. And it’s also my favorite. And I’d very much like to talk to you about this for the next six hours, just while I’ve got ya, except…well, look:

This is a metal column. That’s what we cover in this place. Wyatt first wrote about Sadness here in 2015 or ’16, I think, and we’ve been covering Ojeda since then. And he’s only gotten better since then. But he’s also, since then, exponentially broadened and expanded the possibilities of Sadness’ sound, taking it far beyond the project’s nascent identity as a quite-good standard-issue one-man bedroom-DSBM outfit. I’m not sure when exactly Sadness simply ceased to be a metal-metal vehicle – who knows? Maybe it was back in December 2015, at the very moment when Ojeda shelved “Sadn stuff” and moved on to something different. I am sure, however, that no matter what you might personally consider to be metal, “Late Spring True Love” isn’t. Couldn’t be. It’s a billion-percent Sadness, absolutely, every second of it. I can think of at least a dozen other Sadness songs that are clearly and closely related to this one; this is just a single, simple evolutionary step forward. Not one thing about the song could possibly be mistaken for anything other than Sadness. Nor could it be mistaken for metal. And I guess it makes me kinda sad ‘n’ stuff, to think that we, in this metal column, really couldn’t ever responsibly justify covering such a song – Ojeda’s best yet; my #1 favorite of all my #1 favorite Sadness songs – and maybe … I don’t even wanna say it out loud, but maybe we won’t get to cover Sadness again after this?

Don’t get me wrong: I fully expect Sadness to release plenty of incredible music that includes plenty of metal elements. I just have no idea where Ojeda is taking this thing, and even as it stands right now, truthfully, I’m not sure there’s any way to honestly talk about his art in a metal context anymore. Of course, I can’t think of any other appropriate context either. Unless “Damián Ojeda” is the context. Because that’s the only thing that might actually fit. And you know what? Maybe it does fit. At this point, quite frankly, his body of work comprises a sample size large enough to constitute a genre unto itself.

I guess, ultimately, that’s the reason I decided to do “Sadn stuff” here. To make sure I didn’t miss what might be my last real opportunity to write in this space about my favorite artist in the world today, the likes of whom I have never seen before and may never see again. And to find a way to write about “Late Spring True Love,” even though it’s early summer, and even though we’re supposed to be talking about metal right now. And to say, not goodbye, but: holy shit. Are you serious, Damián? How the hell could you possibly expect us to ever actually listen to all this music? Give me more.[From Unused Music (2015-2019), out now via the artist.]Michael Nelson

04

Ethereal Shroud – “Lanterns”

Location: United Kingdom
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Late last year, Joseph Hawker released “Discarnate,” the lead single off Trisagion, the sophomore LP from his musical outlet Ethereal Shroud. “Discarnate” is an absolute monument. At 13:55, it’s the shortest of Trisagion’s three movements – and by a considerable distance, at that – but it nonetheless feels like the biggest. The single served also to herald the arrival of the album on which it featured. Ethereal Shroud’s second full-length would be landing nearly seven years after the first, and along with its announcement came the sort of hype swell that often follows such lacunae.

Prior to “Discarnate,” however, Hawker dropped another new Ethereal Shroud track: “Lanterns.” This one wasn’t intended for inclusion on Trisagion. As its title might imply, Trisagion is a triptych, a single artistic statement rendered in three distinct pieces. “Lanterns” felt smaller and more intimate than its counterpart. Hawker shared that it was “a very personal track that [he] wrote about a short period of psychosis and a brush with suicide [he] had in late 2015.”

Beyond the rawness of its subject matter, “Lanterns” simply didn’t sound like Trisagion. The initial version shared by Hawker was a demo – although if I hadn’t been told as much, I never would have guessed it. The song is innovative and evocative in its use of dynamics to move the music and tell its story. The riffs feel like they’re on fire. The momentum ratchets up with every shift in the song. Point blank, “Lanterns” sounds better – and does more with sound itself – than just about everything else I heard in all of “black metal” last year. Any year, really.

Just the same, Hawker had recorded it as a demo, so he later recorded a full version of “Lanterns,” which he initially included as a bonus track on physical versions of Trisagion, and which was later appended to the digital version as well. This one was recorded in the sonically devastating style of the LP, and while still sitting outside of Trisagion‘s gates, it at least felt of a piece with the rest.

Still, “Lanterns” never really received the spotlight it deserved. The first version was lost in the liminal period preceding “Discarnate,” the second only turned up in the considerable wake of Trisagion. Perhaps something similar could be said of the LP itself, really, which arrived in the second week of December, a little too late to receive consideration for year-end best-of lists. (It appeared on ours, but only because Hawker sent me an advance early enough for me to actually hear it in time.)

In any case, earlier this month, Hawker released the full final “Lanterns” as a standalone piece, giving me an opportunity to talk about all of this here, and giving you a chance to avail yourself of anything you might have missed. I strongly encourage you to check out both versions of “Lanterns” (the demo version is an absolute rocket; of the two, it’s The One, imo, but it’s also the one I heard first, so don’t listen to me, just listen to the songs). And if you missed Trisagion…don’t. If you’re intimated by an opening number that clocks in at just under half an hour, start easy: Skip ahead to “Discarnate.” Then you’ll know what intimidation really feels like. [From Lanters, out now via the band.]Michael Nelson

03

Trauma Bond – "The Sea Saw What You Did"

Location: London, United Kingdom
Subgenre: grind

“The Sea Saw What You Did” has a riff that will incite the biggest pit response at a festival 20 years from now. Tom Mitchell’s guitar dives like Disembodied caught in a death spiral. Eloise Chong-Gargette adds a vocal hit blech like an exclamation mark. It’s one of many moments on Winter’s Light, the UK duo’s second album, where everything comes together to create something memorable. If you don’t like it, I really don’t know why you’re here. For me, it’s what music is all about, that something so aggressive, violent, and loud can also be extremely stick-in-your-head-forever catchy.

Musically, Trauma Bond fit in with the modern multifaceted rippers that unify the shared elements of death metal, grind, noise, industrial, and the more metal-aligned core variants. Like, if Trauma Bond hit the road with Knoll, that would be the Grindcrusher moment for this style. Slicing the meat more finely, a Black Market alumnus described it as what Pig Destroyer should’ve been doing after Terrifyer, and I think that’s pretty accurate. To that end, Mitchell seems commanded by a deep commitment to experimentalism, challenging Trauma Bond on every track, maintaining the band’s inherent sensibility but always finding a different way home. Chong-Gargette feels similarly restless, pulling together many influences into a uniquely commanding performance. There’s that JR Hayes ferocity, but also the compelling character work of Eugene Robinson and even the unnerving intensity of Bodychoke.

According to an interview in Machine Music, the first albums Mitchell and Chong-Gargette purchased with their own money were Nirvana’s Bleach and Big Black’s Songs About Fucking, respectively. “I had to get [my mum] to buy it for me from Virgin Megastores,” Chong-Gargette said. “This would be my introduction to Steve Albini, which ultimately introduced me to everything I’m into today, such as noise and folk.” Talk about setting yourself up for success. Winter’s Light certainly sounds like it was made by people who started establishing their own musical identity with, let me check my notes, Nirvana’s Bleach and Big Black’s Songs About Fucking. Haha, holy hell. I don’t want to invent connections and link those albums to what the two are doing now, but, coincidentally, Winter’s Light also harnesses raw, unpredictable energy and uses it to power hooky songs that are built to last.

That’s the thing I can’t get over. Winter’s Light’s earworminess is remarkable given the context. A lot of grindier fare has a short half-life, feeling bracing in the moment, but its potency quickly dissipates as soon as it’s over. Not so with Winter’s Light. Whole chunks of Trauma Bond’s songs have been rattling around my head for days. “Engine Hum” is full-on Succumb-y in its intensity. “Nails On The Bedside” suddenly abrades the listener with war metal pitch-shifted grunts. “Basking” boasts a pummeling churn that is downright petrifying. Even “The Garden Has Gone to Sleep,” the industrial-tinged instrumental opener that builds tension in a Nurse With Wound way for nearly four wordless minutes — all told, one hell of a flex — hangs around your thoughts like a persistent specter. It’s why future kids will be destroying themselves to Trauma Bond in a pit. They’ll remember it. [From Winter’s Light, out now via the band.]Ian Chainey

02

Hilde – "Soeur D'armes"

Location: Marseille, France
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

Hilde play pitch-perfect atmospheric black metal, a genre France and Quebec lay special claim to with a kind of effortless flair that you’ll find displayed on “Soeur d’armes.” A genre poked and prodded the world over, there’s something special about how the French handle it, coaxing both nostalgia and a sense of timeless resolve out of tracks ranging from the subaquatic, dream-state works of wonder of Alcest to the fiery battle charges of Forteresse. You’ll see fingerprints from both those bands on “Soeur d’armes,” a mid-paced masterpiece that pulls the heartstrings towards the past before turning with vigor to a fraught future. Watery, rounded guitars make for a lush entrance, and one of the French-language black metal playbook’s best special moves — spoken word proclamations that ring with a uniquely resolute conviction — dictates the track’s first movement. The balance across the track is remarkable, with gray-blue scene-setting, quick hits of stylish guitar heroics, and sustained blasting eliding over the eardrums like nectar. The tracks on Mistral Perdant were originally intended for last year’s LP Forteresse (seemingly coincidental in title), and it makes sense they stand on their own as a separate release when considering Forteresse’s fiery tendencies; Mistral Perdant comes from a somewhat different palette where turmoil, beauty, and mystery collide. [From Mistral Perdant, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

01

Sunrise Patriot Motion – “My Father’s Christian Humidor”

Location: Beacon, NY
Subgenre: psychedelic black metal

Sunrise Patriot Motion is unlike anything you’ve heard before, an acid trip of gothic black metal that reverberates through hazy space-time from the mid-’80s to the present. The opening bars of “My Father’s Christian Humidor” could be borrowed from a Duran Duran track, but it all quickly goes wonky and wrong, making way for the tortured and unreasonable screams of a madman shouted through a closed door. As the album liner says, Black Fellflower Stream, is “a portrait of obsession and torment set entirely in a single isolated field where a man in the throes of mania believes he is capable of digging a hole deep enough to reach oil.” A concept album on par with the strangest of concept albums, then, the music is up to the challenge, with synth-driven drama and subtle and swift guitar flourishes that pull the narrative off the path as soon as solid footing feels assured. This masterpiece is from the minds of the Yellow Eyes brothers Skarstad, Will and Sam, who continue to prove they hold some of the most vivid visions of the kaleidoscopic, regal Boschian netherworld since they began harrowing the stage at Saint Vitus more than a decade ago. [From Black Fellflower Stream, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

Bonus: Scarcity – “II”

Location: New York, NY
Subgenre: experimental black metal

Scarcity, an experimental black metal duo from New York, sometimes feel like those big life moments when you’re hurtling towards an end and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Layoffs, breakups, or…you know…the ultimate end. It’s when everything feels like it’s on rails, outside of your control, the wheels and gears of the universe turning no matter what’s in their path: your hopes, dreams, fears.

Crucially, Scarcity aren’t always like that. It’s not just dread. It’s not just the grief that follows those moments, either. No, there’s something else there. You can hear it in the way Brendon Randall-Myers’s incredible compositions seem to make sure that the tiniest shafts of light that cut through the darkness are in frame and in focus. And you can hear it in Doug Moore’s vocals, reckoning with the inevitable, his voice our inner monologue at its most pragmatic and vulnerable. “Be without fear/ When your lungs fail to draw air,” Moore screams. “Be without grief/ When they bear down, those years/ Laden with agonies/ From which you are spared/ Dissolve, divest the pain/ Give birth to a new day.”

There’s a George Saunders profile by Joel Lovell published in the New York Times Magazine a few years back that I think about a lot, particularly its opening. “A friend I loved very much died recently,” Lovell wrote, “and I was trying to describe the state I sometimes still found myself in — not quite of this world, but each day a little less removed — and how I knew it was a good thing, the re-entry, but I regretted it too, because it meant the dimming of a kind of awareness that doesn’t get lit up very much.” Lovell referred to it as a “kind of openness.” Saunders’s response is what I turn over and over in my head: “It would be so interesting if we could stay like that.”

Aveilut, the title of Scarcity’s debut full-length, is derived from the Hebrew word for “mourning.” The press accompanying Aveilut details where both musicians were during its genesis, in place and spirit. Randall-Myers: Beijing during the early lockdowns of 2020, “processing the sudden deaths of two people close to him.” Moore: “living next to a funeral home,” COVID ripping through New York. This five-movement, 45-minute whole is infused with some of that on-rails uncertainty and grief’s unique gravity. For instance, the intro of “I” sounds like multiple phone alarms, the intrusive chaos of push alerts, while the persistent pulse of the drums pushes you forward whether you want it to or not. But parts of Aveilut, particularly its latter half, also emanate a sort of acceptance. These sections float atop a flood of endorphins, carrying you towards re-entry. But during its subdued and yet jawdropping end, you also feel that openness closing ever-so-slightly, too.

Aveilut is dense; Neurosis’s Times Of Grace raised to the power of Grace, that kind of dense. Randall-Myers, the conductor of the Glenn Branca Ensemble, has an approach to layers that would please the ensemble’s namesake. By “II”‘s close, it sounds like thousands of guitars are playing, as if John Coltrane’s “Ascension” was getting a workout in the movement’s margins. And it’s hard not to dive in and immerse yourself in the marginalia, taking stock of the small things. Underneath “III,” there’s a bass driving it that makes me think of Branca’s “Lesson No. 2.” It’s neat. Yesterday’s no-wave and noise rock crashing into today’s metal.

What’s truly powerful is the bigger picture, when you pull back and notice the piece’s incredible design: the gears, the wheels. The openness. The vastness. Despite being tremendously heavy, Aveilut soars. I hate to sound hacky, but it quite literally ascends as the pitch keeps moving upwards. The intricate rhythms, that strobing effect that seems to hover, are like Krallice or Jute Gyte doing Ligeti’s Lontano. It levitates. When Moore’s vocals rip through those sections, such as the scream he lets loose “III” that never seems to end, I feel that unique ache, the momentary omni-awareness of the finite and the infinite.

Here’s the thing I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past year. Right, year: that’s a perk of knowing Doug. Sometimes you write effusively about an album that strikes you in the moment and then you never hear it the same way again. I know Aveilut holds up because, hey, here we are, a year later: still listening to it. Fun hack that solves all my music writer problems. Simply give me the album a year or two ahead of time, please. But, yeah, this masterpiece of loss, acceptance, and openness, one that documents such a specific time in the lives of these musicians, is committed to a playable audio medium that can be accessed at any time. And I think, “It would be so interesting if we could stay like that.” Right? [From Aveilut, out 7/15 via The Flenser.]Ian Chainey

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