Saving The World One Riff At A Time

Saving The World One Riff At A Time

Téo Acosta is reforesting a 2.5-acre plot in California’s Mojave Desert. What’s helping to fund the project? Metal.

“I’ve never seen making metal as a way to make money,” Acosta writes in an email, explaining his decision. “For me, it has always been reactionary and a form of art therapy. It’s cathartic to scream about things that are upsetting. I can’t remember the exact moment when it clicked, but it just felt right. I think we had the land for a few months before I had the idea. I’m already selling music on Bandcamp as my band Verminlord. Why not put those sales towards buying native seeds and saplings?”

Acosta’s idea evolved into Forest Summoner, “the first GREEN METAL label,” per the label’s Bandcamp bio. Everything the project earns “[goes] towards planting wildflowers and trees in Antelope Valley, CA.”

This year, Forest Summoner has released one album, Archaic Earth’s Carnelian Moon, and three compilations timed for the seasons. The most recent, Autumn Equinox Compilation 2022, features tracks from Arecaceae, Blackbraid, Despair Eternal, Hearth, Mycorrhizal, and Verminlord. It follows the well-received Summer Solstice Compilation 2022, which collected songs from Feminazgûl and Botanist, among others, and helped broaden Forest Summoner’s profile.

The Summer Solstice Compilation was our most successful release to date,” Acosta writes. “I have been a huge fan of Feminazgûl and Botanist for years. After releasing the Yuletide and dungeon synth compilations, I finally had the courage to reach out to both bands individually. Eventually, the stars aligned, and they both donated music to the label. The Summer Solstice comp has bands from across the world. I love listening to new black metal and made it a point to reach out to smaller bands that had similar left-leaning political views as me. Iravu from Malaysia, Willow Tea from Germany, Oakfather from Washington, End’s Embrace from Arizona. It was a planetary effort.”

Halfway Across the planet, epically bombastic melo band Brymir is also making an effort. “Herald of Aegir,” the ludicrously catchy lead single from the Finnish quintet’s fifth album, the Napalm Records-released Voices In The Sky, is about a familiar Black Market topic: fishing. The twist is that Brymir is concerned with sustainability. “Protecting our environment should be on the very top of our minds,” singer Viktor Gullichsen writes in an email, “but as there are so many other devastating crises playing out currently, I wanted to make some noise and remind listeners about what’s happening to our precious waters.”

Voices In The Sky is a fascinating peek at Brymir’s evolution, showcasing a metal band’s expanding awareness as it becomes more popular. “As an artist’s reach grows, I think it’s important to take a stand whenever possible,” Gullichsen explains. “I believe most heavy metal fans are aware of the environmental issues we face, but there is huge power in empowering the message with high-energy music like extreme metal. We discuss environmental issues but also touch on other issues, like the cesspit of corruption social media has become and the war in Ukraine.”

That Brymir can discuss these issues without sounding heavy-handed is a testament to its soaring hooks. Gullichsen concurs: “The chorus melody of ‘Herald Of Aegir’ is one of the catchiest on the album, so it is perfect for carrying one of the most important messages.” And that’s the thing. While Brymir always possessed that earworm potential, it’s now delivering songs with a different payload. 2019’s Wings of Fire, also a pretty catchy record, focused more on the self. Voices in the Sky expands the scope. In a way, the difference between the two is like growing up.

“When I wrote lyrics for Wings of Fire, I was struggling with personal issues, and these matters formed the basis for the lyrics then,” Gullichsen recalls. “But this time, the problems our world faces were on my mind constantly, and perhaps as I grow older, these problems simply outweigh my personal ones. It’s difficult to explore my own grievances as the world burns around me.”

If you feel like a lot of metal lately is consumed by the world burning around it, you’re probably right. There are 257 bands in Encyclopaedia Metallum with lyrical theme tags of either “climate” or “environment.” 38 percent of those bands were formed in the 2010s. The 2020s are trending on a similar bands-per-year formation rate. And, considering how spotty the lyrical theme(s) data is, that’s probably only scratching the surface.

Of course, environmentalism has been a core metal lyrical theme for a long time. Debatable antecedents exist, but, following the rise of thrash, explicitly stated environmental concerns started regularly creeping into lyrics of bands in the more political-minded styles.

Metallica’s “Blackened:”

Blackened is the end, winter it will send
Throwing all you see, into obscurity
Death of Mother Earth, never a rebirth
Evolution’s end, never will it mend

DRI’s “Acid Rain:”

Will our children look back with hatred or despair
At a generation of idiots who just didn’t care
About the fossil fuel fumes and the aerosol sprays
That put holes in the ozone and let in the rays

Napalm Death’s “Make Way!:”

Then we’ll dump our shit
Onto a poisoned land
Where poisoned food
Feeds poisoned minds

And on and on. This focus on the environment has continued into the modern era. Cattle Decapitation is often cited, as are Gojira and Wolves In The Throne Room. You even see the odd journal paper every now and then that examines heavy metal’s efficacy for spurring change. “This paper builds a bridge between heavy metal music, complexity theory and sustainability science to show the potential of the (auditory) arts to inform different aspects of complex systems of people and nature,” David G. Angeler wrote in the abstract for 2016’s “Heavy metal music meets complexity and sustainability science.”

But, despite its growing commonality, there’s still something powerful in seeing the message in media you already find resonant. One of the songs that hits closer to home these days is by mincecore legends Agathocles. The Belgian band took a nihilistic approach on “Forced Pollutions,” echoing the helplessness climate change triggers. “No one can help/ ‘Cause we are rotting/ And that’s our fault/ So enjoy the decay.”

Forest Summoner and Brymir aren’t content to enjoy the decay. Téo Acosta is making a difference by literally getting his hands dirty. Brymir is planting seeds of a different sort by explaining the nuances of responsible fishing in metal interviews, not a platform typically known for nuanced policy discussion. The point is, these actions aren’t heavy metal escapism. They’re real. And Forest Summoner and Brymir aren’t alone. It’s real for a lot of artists now.

“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,” Satan’s Steve Ramsey said to Metal Underground about that English band’s new album, Earth Infernal. “We just thought we’d remind them.”

And the reminders are popping up in all metal styles, some more forcefully than others. Four bands have referenced Glenn Albrecht’s “solastalgia,” “the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment,” in their song titles. Two are black metal, the other two are death metal. One is Kryatjurr Of Desert Ahd, an Australian raw black metal band that released two records this year, Unbearable Nightmares Of Heat And Desertification and Ecological Grief – Relentless Visions Of Fire And Aridification. They both sound like an uncontained wildfire devouring the landscape. The recurring panting dog samples are the most relatable and legitimately unnerving element. They’re a glimpse at a potentially unbearable future that won’t spare most living things, even dogs, even metalheads.

“I think metal is a great place to explore anger and frustration,” Acosta explains when asked whether metal is a suitable conduit to explore environmentalism, “and I’m fucking pissed about how the world is ignoring the climate crisis. I think metal is absolutely the right place to be exploring and highlighting these ideas. I just don’t get it. We have one planet Earth. Why is everyone so cool with destroying it?”

Before Forest Summoner, Téo Acosta was destroying himself. “I was killing myself juggling three freelance jobs trying to break into the animation industry,” he writes about his early years after moving to Los Angeles in 2018. Through hard work, stability came, but Acosta “felt pretty empty.” Something was missing.

The concrete horizon of Los Angeles was far different from where Acosta was raised, “up in Upstate New York right on the Hudson River.” “My mother spent a lot of time turning our empty backyard into a vibrant green paradise in the poor town I’m from,” he remembers. That land was “the first trees I knew by name, the smell of summer thunderstorms, and long snowy winters.”

Three thousand miles to the west, Acosta’s new home was rebuffing that same kind of relationship. “Living in the tree-less sprawl of LA, I felt very disconnected from the Earth.” Detached and empty, he needed direction. And then, the pandemic happened.

“When everything stopped so suddenly, it really forced me to look inward and question what I wanted from life,” Acosta recalls. Tired of being bound in a tiny apartment and still mulling over that question, Acosta and his girlfriend sojourned to Death Valley to engage in Acosta’s hobby, astrophotography. The two set up at Zabriskie Point in the early morning and caught a “once in a lifetime two-hour meteor shower in 99 F weather.” Acosta didn’t want to call it a sign, but it did inspire something. “I fell in love with the desert and knew I wanted to commit to staying in and helping California.”

Acosta turned his sights to “vacant lots for sale on the edges of LA County out in the western-most edge of the Mojave Desert.” Soon enough, he found the right spot. “We drove out on the weekend to the site, and I was so charmed by it.” It was 2.5 acres, a couple miles out from a small town. A place to help the desert as a fellow inhabitant.

“This is as good a place as any to talk about land acknowledgment,” Acosta writes. “I live in Los Angeles on Tongva land. Our reforestation project is on Serrano land taken from the Maarrênga’yam. This is stolen land taken from the indigenous people of California through 200 years of colonization and white supremacy. I will forever be a guest, but I hope to be a welcomed one.”

One of the people who has helped Acosta in his endeavor is Nicholas Hummingbird, who Acosta describes as a “native plant expert in LA, [who] teaches online classes about California native plants, their use, and how they could save us against climate change.”

“Indigenous people are the least consulted group — we are a true minority in our own land — just a couple of million people in over 400 million people,” Hummingbird said to Jennifer Jewell on a 2017 episode of the podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History & the Human Impulse to Garden. “So you think about the human history of our genocide and marginalization, and then you think about the environment, and you think how do these things correlate and we are the human translation of the environment. We have rivers, lakes, streams, plants, animals, and mountains, and all of those things have a story. They teach you about place, they teach you about history and morals and values and adherence and respect and love and admiration for them.”

Acosta has respect and admiration for Hummingbird. “He has been an incredible mentor and friend through this project. We were definitely stumbling at the beginning, but with his guidance on plant propagation and care, our plants have had a massive increase in survival rate.”

During the warmer months, of which there are many, Acosta travels to his plot early. “During the summer, to beat the heat, we try to get out there by 8am. It’s usually in the 100s by noon, so they’re very short days. We roll in, check on the health of our friends, give ’em a bunch of water, and then drive back to LA. Native plants to the Mojave are generally summer-dormant. They shed their leaves to help lessen the burn from the sun. At the end of summer, we started to prune the shrubs to help them against the upcoming fall and winter winds.”

Still, this is the desert, an unforgiving habitat teeming with competing creatures trying to survive. “This project is entirely DIY and out of pocket,” Acosta writes. “I learn best through doing. We have learned how to better protect our saplings and young plants, but we’ve lost a lot of plants to the local jackrabbits, desert rats, lizards, and other critters. I don’t feel too bad about it, though. If they needed a snack, who am I to stop them? When we planted prickly pear and beavertail cactus, they got eaten up so fast. Guess it’s a favorite.”

In Finland, Viktor Gullichsen is trying to protect one of his favorite activities, ensuring that something so important to the nation’s heritage is still accessible to future generations. Naturally, as this is the grand internet age of reply-guy doofuses, the preemptive strawman challenge to the metal singer is something like, “Why are you singing about fishing on ‘Herald Of Aegir’? Do you think that’s going to change anything?” Gullichsen’s in-depth rebuttal covers a greater area than Finland’s 187,888 lakes.

I sing about the subject simply because I enjoy (responsible) fishing and I want to continue to do so — and hopefully, my potential future offspring might have a chance to experience it like I have. There are so many interconnected issues here and a much wider dialogue needs to be had concerning pollution, industrial fishing and industrial development around bodies of water. I hope that “Herald of Aegir” might provoke some thought and encourage people to look into these matters affecting whole ecosystems, such as fish breeding.

Fishing and breeding fish en masse produces affordable food and income for millions but has a devastating effect on aquatic life. Hydroelectric dams provide green energy, which is amazing, but the drawdown is that many species are becoming threatened as their natural habitats are altered. We need long-term solutions and they need to come from the top level — governments and industry leaders.

These are very hard issues to solve as there are conflicting interests, and I hope for more discussion around these issues.

This sort of diplomatic answer exploring the issues from all sides is Gullichsen’s stock and trade. But he still feels the immense irritation of this current moment. “What makes me frustrated is how responsibility for environmental issues seems to fall on us, the common people, as official regulation lags behind. We need reform in fishing, farming, and industry, and much harsher punishment for industrial pollution. I currently feel that, sadly, environmental questions are going to be pushed further aside as the world struggles with several other crises that I think will get worse before they get any better. Nobody really cares about the environment when their life or livelihood is threatened by ‘more acute’ problems. I hope that humanity can resolve political strife quickly so that we can focus on these things that will define the rest of human history.”

Gullichsen has a friend in Téo Acosta on this front. “The major player in the destruction of the planet is corporate greed. One of the most frustrating pieces of propaganda is the idea that ‘it’s up to the individual’ to stop producing trash and using too much water. Corporations are allowed to dump so much toxic garbage into the ocean. It’s insane.”

This insanity is not lost on Gullichsen. “We are just guests here, and if we destroy our ability to live on this only known oasis for life in the Universe — nature will evolve and outlast us. I take somber comfort in the fact that, in the long run, nature prevails and humans will lose to our own greed and selFISHness.”

While it’s clear that Gullichsen also takes somber comfort in puns, he and Acosta are doing something to help turn the tides of climate change and using metal to do it. So, has this metallic pursuit of a better tomorrow provided either of them peace?

“Peace?” Acosta fires back. “No. It gives me purpose. It’s given me a connection to the land. It’s opened my eyes to how fucked things are. I think peace will come when my beard is white and touching the ground as I sit in the cool shade of a forest of full-grown desert trees I planted with my girlfriend all those years ago.” –Ian Chainey

RIP, Gord Kirchin. Kirchin appeared in the March and April columns last year, retelling the fantastic tale of Piledriver. But, of course, Kirchin was a lot more than ol’ Piley. He was a big personality with an even bigger heart. I enjoyed interviewing him, and he was incredibly gracious with his time. It was a trip connecting with him over Gentle Giant, of all things. He’ll be missed.

FOUL EMANATIONS FROM THE VOID

10

King Buffalo – “Regenerator”

Location: Rochester, NY
Subgenre: stoner doom

I wonder, sometimes, why more music doesn’t sound like this music; that is, the music made by King Buffalo. And then I wonder if maybe more music does sound like this music, but I just don’t hear it? Where would a person even find more music like this? What would you call it? Desert rock? Stoner doom? Prog? Psychedelia? And how would one place that sort of music into a metal context? Like, imagine trying to do one of these blurbs about a song off Queens Of The Stone Age’s Rated R. It’s not not metal; it just feels like it’s operating on a whole different frequency. Because it is.

Since their 2016 debut, Orion, King Buffalo have been kicking ass in this particular fashion, and if we’re allowed to claim it in the name of metal, then man, I am grabbing it right now and running with it. The Rochester trio’s new LP, Regenerator, is absolutely fucking stacked with jams: tight yet spacious; burly yet agile; heavy yet airborne. The song I’ve chosen to feature here is the record’s opener and title track, which builds an empire over a motorik beat and a 9:38 runtime. It’s simple enough in its construction. King Buffalo are a power trio, and this is how it’s been done since the time of Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience: guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, with the entirety of each player’s part being 100 percent essential to the song.

And yet, listening to King Buffalo, it doesn’t feel simple. It feels like a goddamn aircraft, like a journey to Mars. You can’t really single out one component without doing a disservice to all the others, so I’ll just say that every single piece here is functioning to absolute perfection. Like any good Grateful Dead show, the song uses its first half to get its audience into the appropriate headspace, and then really takes off in its second half, when everyone is peaking and things get weird. Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve heard any stretch of music in 2022 that I’d consider superior to “Regenerator” from the 3:00 mark onward. I’m not sure I’ve heard too many albums this year that are better than this one, either. [From Regenerator, out now via the band.]Michael Nelson

09

Kosmogyr – “Eschaton”

Location: Shanghai, China / Prague, Czech Republic
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

It’s been a lifetime since the actual postal service was required to facilitate these sorts of projects, but there’s still something magical about musical duos collaborating across multiple time zones to create songs that both reflect and transcend their long-distance origins. There’s a beautiful intimacy in that sort of closed-loop pen-pal relationship — especially in the time of TikTok stitches — and it can be quite amazing to see the product of the two parties’ ongoing dialectic.

Kosmogyr are a two-piece comprising Xander Cheng (guitars, bass) and Ivan Belcic (vocals, drum programming, lyrics), who met in Shanghai, but now operate remotely from one another in both Shanghai and Prague. The group’s debut album, Eviternity, was released in 2018, paired with a remix album, Eviternally, but the new Desolate Tides — a six-song split with Slam Diego’s Putrescine — is their first new music since then. (It’s also their first new music since the pandemic, a factor which presumably played some role in their current geographic configuration).

Kosmogyr’s songs betray no distance between their authors — a fact made especially impressive by the division of responsibilities. Traditionally, according to my selective memory, one- or two-person atmospheric black metal projects start with the drums before building everything else from there, with the vocals coming last. So, if your band’s Prague-based drum programmer is also the singer, and your Shanghai-located guitarist is also the bass player…I mean, I guess you can start anywhere, really, but that seems like an unusually complicated configuration, and as a result, there’s a balance here that makes it impossible to untangle the roots of this music.

And this music is outstanding. Prior to 2022, there often was little discernible difference between blackgaze, DSBM, and atmospheric black metal — making any such distinctions academic at best — but over the last 12 months, I’ve heard a handful of artists taking atmosblack in its own unique and innovative direction: heavier, sharper, gnarlier, more intense. I’m thinking specifically right now of England’s Ethereal Shroud and Ukraine’s White Ward — and I’m thinking, too, that Kosmogyr are an important part of that movement. It’s a huge sound, both in heft and hooks. Ambition, too. It can’t have been easy to make this music, but it must have been exciting as hell for both halves of the band to hear what their respective counterpart had come up with. And for the listener, it’s exciting as hell to hear what Kosmogyr have done here, together, as one. [From Desolate Tides, out now via the artists.]Michael Nelson

08

Miscreance – “Incubo”

Location: Venice, Italy
Subgenre: tech death / tech thrash

Miscreance, an Italian quartet, is trying to lock up the highly contested band promo pic of the year award. (Competition in this category is fierce since Slovenia’s Nefarious Vermin, the legendary 2020 winner, is again eligible. Let me know your nominations below.) So, how is this band leading the promo pic pack, burying millions of falses content to just cross their arms in front of a brick wall? By bringing short shorts back to metal. Hell yeah, let ’em breathe. Attention merch makers: branded cross country baggie shorts when?

Anyway, Miscreance, formerly known as Atomic Massacre, has made good on the promise shown on last year’s Vile Apparition split. Its first full-length, Convergence, showcases the foursome blossoming into a finely tuned riff engine. These eight tracks, none exceeding five minutes, rack up the riff miles by red-lining a prog death/tech thrash big block constructed from parts picked and pulled from good-era Pestilence and Atheist. (There’s a Death component, because you already knew this, but anytime a music writer compares prog death to Death, they have to put $1 in a jar that funds the underground effort to break Aaron out of list-maker jail.) What sets Miscreance apart from many new bands in this space is, of course, the shorts. No, joking. It’s these four’s ability to maximize the memorability of complex material.

Here’s what I mean: Check out the solo in “Flame of Consciousness,” or the thrash gang vocals in “No Empathy,” or the robovox on “The Garden.” You hear those elements once and it provides a marker that helps you navigate the rest of the song. “Oh yeah, ‘Incubo’ is the one that opens with the noodly part where guitarists Tommaso Cappelletti and Andrea Granauro lock in with bassist Emiliano Zinà and drummer/vocalist Andrea Feltrin, and it sounds like a wizard warped Testament into Cynic circa Demo 1991. That song rules.” Once that familiarity is established, the rest of the song is unlocked.

So, where did that songwriting acuity come from? Well, I think some bands have it and some don’t. Simple as that. But Miscreance said something fun in an interview with Filthy Dogs of Metal, so why not speculate? Ready? “Our influences are not voluntary, they’re just a reflection of what we listen to every day.” I love this approach to making metal, that any influence is fair game because one’s heavy metal feeling, an involuntary internal attribute, is ultimately the deciding factor of whether it works. Psych! That’s not the fun part. Same interview, a little later in that answer, we get the fun part: “It’s difficult to include something else as an influence in the way we play, but some song structures or arrangements might belong to the total worship we have for RUSH.” Ah ha!

Look, I’m not saying that Miscreance is Atheist plus Pestilence plus Nocturnus (drummer singer!) plus Grace Under Pressure Rush. That would be music writer malpractice. But I am saying that all those bands had a knack for lodging complicated songs in listeners’ heads thanks to their ability to craft memorable moments. Plus, I don’t know, maybe they were all short shorts enthusiasts, too. Air out the thighs, make sick music. Call this the Royal Teens effect. Let ’em breathe! [From Convergence, out now via Unspeakable Axe Records.]Ian Chainey

07

Yellow Eyes – “Dagger In The Warm Straw”

Location: Beacon, NY
Subgenre: black metal

Yellow Eyes are currently at work on a follow-up to 2019’s Rare Field Ceiling, an album where the Skarsgard Bros. and Co. reached delirious new depths in the surreal, twisted black metal underworld that they have been building drip by blackened drip over the last decade. Based on inferences from liner notes, the core duo has relocated from Brooklyn, heading up the Hudson to the quaint town of Beacon in the interval. And, as evidenced by their recent aural acid trip under their new side-project Sunrise Patriot Motion, nightmarish anguish and twisted beauty followed them up Metro-North. “Dagger In The Warm Straw,” a track released as part of a compilation published by the Dutch playlist and newsletter outfit To The Teeth, shows Yellow Eyes continuing to spiral ever deeper into the dark caverns of the mind, with warped lead guitars eliding uneasily atop pummeling drums, glinting like jewels and silver veins amidst a coal bedrock. It’s monstrous, frightening, beautiful, and elegant — Yellow Eyes at their best. [From The Taste of Teeth, out 10/7 via To The Teeth.]Wyatt Marshall

06

Bergfried – “War-Torn Lovers”

Location: Austria
Subgenre: heavy metal

Bergfried’s bewitching debut has been casting its medieval spell in Bandcamp circles for several months, reaching a boil of late and seeing a re-release on physical formats from Fiadh Productions. From Erech III. von Lothringen, the force behind the remarkably catchy epic black metal band Ancient Mastery and others, Bergfried is quite unlike anything else going. On “War-Torn Lovers,” it’s an endlessly heroic refrain, pounded out and shouted from the top of the tower, that sinks its pop-smart hooks into the heart and doesn’t let go. Elsewhere, album opener “Hungry Hearts” borrows from black metal, and closer “Oh Lord” is a swinging folk song fit for a bluegrass festival. But to return to “War-Torn Lovers,” the powerful voice of one “Anna de Savoy” belts the story of star crossed lovers, a history for the ages with an unforgettable melody at its back. Psychedelic digressions show a little leg before we return to the main storyline, and back to that unforgettable hook that will remain long after our protagonists meet their end. [From Romantik I, out now via Fiadh Productions.]Wyatt Marshall

05

Vermin Womb – “Rot In Hell”

Location: Denver, CO
Subgenre: grind / death / black metal

Vermin Womb’s Retaliation sounds like a bonfire burning all the bullshit from the last two years. The Denver grind trio’s first album since 2016’s excellent Decline bags every time you were blindingly angry and consumed by fury. It then tosses that baggage atop the heap, and the entire pyre is reduced to ash in 18 furious minutes. It is a release.

“When I play in Vermin Womb, it’s just unapologetic and raw aggression, total anger, disgust, hatred, the kind of rage that you feel when you’re about to snap on someone or smash something because you’re so pissed off you can’t think of anything else other than destruction or vengeance,” vocalist/guitarist Ethan Lee McCarthy, ELM, said to Transcending Obscurity in 2016, explaining the differences between Vermin Wound and his other gig, Primitive Man.

Vermin Womb is indeed all of that. It’s the act of tearing yourself open and expelling the darkness inside. But even that doesn’t quite nail the band’s sound.

The easiest way I can explain songs like “Rot in Hell” is that they’re like a car crash. Not the before or after, but the excruciating surreal chaos of the event. It’s that moment when it feels like reality is suspended. I feel a far less intense version of that listening to music that takes me by surprise, that before my brain orders the notes and assigns a style, I’m just living in the chaos. And that chaos is bracing and strangely compelling. It’s the double-edged freedom of not knowing what’s coming next.

Goddamn, that first spin of Retaliation. That is something to treasure. Grind, death, black metal: it’s like Prowler in the Yard for the Knelt Rote set. ELM’s primal screams and screaming guitars. J.P. Damon’s Converge-on-crank drumming. Brandon Artus’s earth-shaking bass playing. The “OOGH!” in “Rot in Hell” that briefly connects Vermin Womb to the extremity peddlers of yore, Hellhammer. “Boiled World”‘s unhinged escalation of intensity. “Ambulance”‘s brief noise respite (yes, the noise piece is a respite!), like someone flatlining in an ambulance. All of that out-brutals expectations and forces you to live in the chaos.

However, let it be said that these songs are also well-structured for all of their chaos and caterwauling riffs. Like, these are songs. Don’t let Vermin Womb fool you, they’re making some music here. And, more importantly, these songs will make you feel some stuff. You will feel some things you didn’t know you would feel.

And that’s why Vermin Womb works, whereas a thousand sloppy war metal bands do not. Vermin Womb doesn’t feel forced because basic emotions aren’t forced. “I’m mostly just trying to channel all of the negativity I feel inside and mold it into something that I can use to purge those feelings,” ELM said in that Transcending Obscurity interview. Yeah, man. It’s molded into a bonfire. And I’m finally watching all of that bullshit fucking burn. Thank you for taking it off of me. [From Retaliation, out now via Closed Casket Activities.]Ian Chainey

04

Chrome Ghost – “The Furnace”

Location: Sacramento, CA
Subgenre: post-metal

The term “post-metal” was coined basically to give a name to the music being made at the time by Neurosis, which was clearly metal, in some form or fashion, but didn’t belong to any existing metal subgenre, whether in sound or artistic ambition. Over time, “post-metal” grew to become a cottage industry of its own — including in its stable such acts as Jesu, Isis, and probably Mastodon, if we’re being honest — and it probably would have been established as the genre’s lingua franca, except for the subsequent invention of additional subgenres and styles, making such a broad designation feel unnecessary. (It’s quaint now to think of Neurosis as being “post” anything when placed alongside stuff like Violet Cold, Master Boot Record, and Sadness.)

But post-metal isn’t a void of musical identity — it’s an identity of its own. And Sacramento’s Chrome Ghost are at its fore. The band’s forthcoming House Of Falling Ash is preceded by lead single “Furnace,” which — and I mean this as high praise – sounds like a Profound Lore sampler circa 2012. The acoustic guitar riff on which “Furnace” is built could have been featured on the first Man’s Gin album. The magnificent clean vocal brings to mind early Pallbearer. (Both of these things together sound a bit like Alice In Chains’ Sap, to throw another genre tag in there.) And the sludge-y section feels like peak Yob, although the excellent high-low double harshes keep it from sounding too much like that band. What do all these references have in common? They fucking rule, that’s what. Chrome Ghost fucking rule, too. We’re due, really, for a post-metal revival, for a bold reclamation of that sound. And would you look at that? It’s already here. [From House Of Falling Ash, out 10/28 via the band.]Michael Nelson

03

Toadeater – “Let The Darkness Swallow You”

Location: Osnabrück, Germany
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal

“Let The Darkness Swallow You,” is a remarkable song, a colossus of a track that looms over Toadeater’s tableau of uneasy, epic black metal. Huge, regal, and anthemic sways dictate the course of the 12-minute monster, with howled and barked refrains entreating surrender to life’s struggles as guitar leads soar and crash all around. Amidst the big-production, pummeling drums with hefty low-end, and the returning pleas to “Let The Darkness Swallow You,” I’m reminded of southwestern Germany’s wide-lens black metal masters Imperium Dekadenz and their remarkable “When We Are Forgotten,” a track that is etched into the annals of big, statement black metal. It’s the stuff of fallen empires, the detritus of world wonders that lie in ruin across a barren, scarred landscape. Toadeater conjures this world vividly, intertwining loss and a forgotten heroic age into a work of refined black metal that captivates and pulls you into its doomed orbit. [From Bexadde, out now via F.D.A. Rekotz.]Wyatt Marshall

02

Sarattma – “Twilight Realm Of Imaginary Notes”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: doom / prog

Wow. OK. “Twilight Realm of Imaginary Notes” is the show-stopping closer on Escape Velocity, Sarattma’s first release since 2017’s Inner Spaces. The band name makes sense when you know the players: drummer Sara Neidorf (Mellowdeath, Aptera) and guitarist Matt Hollenberg (Cleric, John Frum, and a frequent John Zorn collaborator). I’m no code-cracker, and I’m totally speculating here, but Sarattma. Sara-ttma. Sara Matt. Is that it? Did I do it? Does a secret door open somewhere around here now or something?

Anyway, the whole project makes sense when you know the players and how they came together, too. “Funny enough, the spark that started Sarattma was Yanni Papadopoulos, guitarist of Stinking Lizaveta, a long-time mutual friend, and fixture of Philly’s adventurous heavy music scene,” Neidorf said to New Noise Magazine. Yes. Mellowdeath, Cleric, Stinking Lizaveta, Sara Matt: it’s all starting to come together.

All right, inference time. Based on the intel provided, let’s talk about what we know so far. Yeah, the Philadelphian instrumental duo plays a heady blend of metal, prog, fusion, doom, and more. And yeah, Escape Velocity is experimental and has that unique kinetic energy that’s often created when expert players compose by finding their ideas through improvisation, zooming off into unexpected directions. Correctomundo on both accounts! Actually, hold on: “unexpected directions.” Lock that phrase in your brain because, dun dun dun, nothing I’ve written thus far will prepare you for “Twilight Realm of Imaginary Notes.” How could it? This has all been a trick. This track is the secret door.

The 15-minute song opens with a doomy, groovy, chunky riff comparable to one of those Anekdoten churns. And then Sarattma does something neat: it quickly downshifts without much of a transition to a lighter, spacier section that reminds me of Gift Horse if it toured with Craw. It’s almost like the band put the doomy, groovy, chunky riff under a microscope and is zooming in on the space between the notes. We are now in the microscopic twilight realm.

No matter the magnification power, Neidorf’s drumming is incredible. It sounds like a lead, but it provides Hollenberg ample support. Hollenberg builds upon that frame by constructing a solo for the ages. At 4:50, “Twilight” enters its central section. Sarattma pours everything into it. Neidorf cycles through so many rhythms and variations. Hollenberg goes from Shut Up’ n Play Yer Guitar shred to Frippian impressionism to Holdsworth heart-bursting. Just when this beautiful track is too damn beautiful, “Twilight” zooms back out to the doomy, groovy chunkiness. Cold, sorrowful, but with a little more warmth than before.

Let’s go a little deeper and open the secret door behind the door. I’m going long here because this song has…taken over my life over the last few days. To honor that, I’m going to engage in the critical sin of projection, because why else would I listen to music unless I could project some bullshit upon it? Here we go. That doomy, groovy, chunky riff? It sounds like dread, particularly the anxiety of losing a loved one. You don’t know how that loss will play out, but you feel the weight of its inevitability. The quiet section, then, is ruminating about that loss. And the section that starts at 4:50? That pretty as heck Steve-Vai-by-way-of-Gordian-Knot material? That’s learning to be present, figuring out how to live within the days, hours, minutes, and seconds instead of a dread-filled future. In other words, it’s training yourself to accept the situation. Once the loss comes to pass, it still hurts like hell, but it’s…different, just like how that doomy, groovy, chunky riff is now…different. It converts the dread into acceptance.

That’s “Twilight Realm of Imaginary Notes” to me. I don’t know. Is that a bunch of bullshit? Yeah, probably. And I don’t want to equate my hang-ups with Sarattma’s intentions. But Neidorf did say this to Echoes and Dust. I’m going to pull out this whole section:

Escape Velocity posits illness and pain as an alien invasion of the body. Much of the album was written and recorded while my mother was in her last year of life, battling stage 4 ovarian cancer. She began making collages that combined invasive tumors and nature imagery, overlaying the two in grotesque juxtaposition. These themes influenced the notes we gave to Caroline Harrison in designing the album art, with bodily matter sort of fungally taking over the terrain. My mom’s journey with cancer, and the way in which she made art inspired by her illness, made a huge impression on me, also in terms of how I relate to my own body, mortality, sickness, and the power of music. Working on this album, especially developing material in the basement of my mother’s home while she listened and painted, really felt like one of the only beacons of relief and hope during an otherwise dismal and hopeless time, and she was always extremely present in the process, giving us feedback and coloring the whole experience with a different sort of life. We dug into our histories, the injustices of the present moment, and all matters of subconscious unrest to put together the ideas that became Escape Velocity.”

We do a lot of “this song is great because riffs are great” stuff around here and I don’t want to devalue that. It’s true! Riffs are great. But more often, a song is great because it reminds us of something in our lives. A feeling, an experience. That’s a little harder to package into a recommendation. I can’t just be like, “Welp, when you experience the agony of a loved one dying, you’ll understand my point of view. ‘Twilight Realm of Imaginary Notes,’ 10/10.” So instead, I’m just going to say this is one of the most powerful songs I’ve heard this year because it just nails something about how the human experience has unfolded for me. And in that sense, it does in fact make more sense when you know the players. And, really, it makes even more sense when you know yourself and you’re present for it. [From Escape Velocity, out now via Nefarious Industries.]Ian Chainey

01

Sonja – “Pink Flag”

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Subgenre: heavy metal

Loud Arriver, the debut from Melissa Moore’s new(ish) band Sonja, is awesome. Loaded front to back with glass-cutting riffs and nocturnal thrills, it hits the sweet spot where trad, goth, and glam collide. The imagery at play is immersive — dark leather, cigarettes, and neon lights setting the stage for churning palpable desire into action. Like every other track on Loud Arriver, “Pink Fog” is non-stop, a nighttime anthem that moves with quickened pulse and determined confidence. Moore’s vocals will bring heavy metal heroes of ages past to mind, but their stylish syncopation and earnest proclamations set them apart. Moore left one of her former bands, Absu, in bitter fashion, kicked out of the band after coming out as transgender. Onwards and upwards. [From Loud Arriver, out now via Cruz Del Sur Music.]Wyatt Marshall

BONUS TRACK

夢​遊​病​者 (Sleepwalker) / ח​ו​ש​ך (Choshech) – “Bvakvm Akhzr”

Location: International / Tel Aviv, Israel
Subgenre: black metal

Friend of the column Ron Ben-Tovin is back with another collection of the kind of outré metal only he can find. The Machine Music proprietor is now on the fourth volume of the Milim Kashot series. The newest is as adventurous as ever. Suffering Hour crushing a This Heat cover and Spider God chundering out a Men at Work classic are some of your headlines. The debut of Theophonos, the project from the person previously behind Serpent Column, is worth the price of admission. And there are plenty of gems to unearth, like Mamzool, an instrumental Tel Aviv three-piece that unites prog death “with heavy jazz and classical influences.” It’s exactly what readers of Machine Music have come to expect when they surf to the website, just in compilation form.

For me, the jewel of the compilation is a collaboration between Choshech – חושך and 夢​遊​病​者 (Sleepwalker). Tel Aviv’s Choshech turned heads this year with ד​ג​ל ש​ח​ו​ר (Black Flag), an album that draped post-punk across black metal’s shoulders like a velvet cloak. Meanwhile, the international 夢​遊​病​者 has turned into one of the more fascinating entities in black metal since we last covered it. On 2021’s Noč Na Krayu Sveta, 夢​遊​病​者 created its own biome of sound, a unique experience that sounds like the aural equivalent of the hustle and bustle of a city at night. Ingenious stuff, one of those metal eureka moments, opening a path to a new metal style that should bear the band’s name.

“Bvakvm Akhzr,” Choshech and 夢​遊​病​者’s Milim Kashot contribution, is the best of both bands. And it’s a true collaboration: Choshech’s post-punk moodiness fits 夢​遊​病​者’s metropolis malevolence perfectly. When the alto sax solo kicks in, sounding like a busker playing to no one in an empty subway tunnel around midnight, I can’t help but marvel at the ride I’ve been taken on. Pretty much the story of every Milim Kashot so far, really. [From Milim Kashot Vol. 4, out now via Machine Music.]Ian Chainey

HYMNS OF BLASPHEMOUS IRREVERENCE

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