Death Metal Zombies Is A Death Metal Movie
Let me borrow the pacing of a horror movie with rental store ambitions made on a shoestring budget and skip the exposition. I want to jump right into my favorite bit of acting in Death Metal Zombies, a super campy shot-on-video (SOV) feature directed by Todd Jason Falcon Cook and released straight to VHS in 1995. Here we go.
“Unbelievable,” Johnny (Milton Rush) crows, “you call yourself a metalhead and you haven’t heard Bloodgate yet?” Johnny bellows this with the self-assuredness of a wrestling heel cutting a promo. Truly, gatekeeperism is the real zombie infection. And, you bet, the salvo reeks of the desperation of someone who always needs to be regarded as the sickest. “Sorry,” a chagrined Tony (played by Cook, the director) responds. But here’s the thing: Instead of matching the shame of his voice, Tony’s movements are a perfect passive-aggressive return volley. His shrug diffuses the intended pose-exposed putdown, neutering the petty attempt at domination through discography.
Needless to say, I love that. Is the acting good in a technical, traditional sense? No. Have I lived this scene in all its awkwardness? Absolutely. So, you got me, Death Metal Zombies. Sign me up for Team Tony. Hell, it even inspired me to look it up in Encyclopaedia Metallum: Bloodgate didn’t exist until Cincinnati’s Bloodgate surfaced in 2016. Ah ha! Take that, Johnny. Begone, false bully. Me and Tony are going to listen to Pierced From Within. Wait, you like Suffocation, right, Tony? Don’t be a poseur, Tony.
Death Metal Zombies‘s heavy metal pandering is a bullseye for a mark like me. That’s what the ramshackle feature has going for it more than anything else. What it lacks in the normal things normal people want out of movies, such as plot coherence, competent directing, and good acting, it makes up for with winking nods to metal and horror that can be as inventive as their sources. And, most importantly, its soundtrack is stuffed with Relapse Record’s mid-’90s finest: Amorphis, Brutality, Deceased, Disembowelment, Dismember, Hypocrisy, Incantation, Mortician, Pungent Stench, Winter, and more. Sure, out of all the metal movies I’ve covered over the past five years, Black Roses, Trick or Treat, The Gate, and Opera, Death Metal Zombies isn’t the best. But, if you’re a metalhead, you might get the most out of it, especially if it’s also your introduction to the gonzo world of SOV, a very extreme metal-esque style of cinema, come to think of it. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We have a movie to break down.
A big gory chunk of Death Metal Zombies tells the tale of suburban metalheads. They hang out, go to shows, and get into inexplicably violent rumbles in the woods with rival metal crews as if it’s 1993 Norway. The group’s leader is Brad Masters (Bill DeWild), a gentle oblivious burnout whose only established character trait is that he loves playing out albums…to death. When Brad learns his favorite band, Living Corpse, is releasing a rare tape via a radio contest that will include an exclusive song, he’s stoked. A song only he’d possess? What more could a tape dork wish for in the pre-Fiadh Productions age? He enters, beats out Martin Shkreli, and wins. He plans to premiere the new ripper for his friends at a garage get-together. Angel (Lisa Cook), his girlfriend, misses the party because she has to work late at her office job due to the demands of her “pusswad” boss. In a plot twist straight out of a small business tyrant’s wet dream, Angel’s enforced OT saves her. It turns out anyone who hears the song is impressed into the zombie army of Shengar, Living Corpse’s lead singer, who has a Beelzebubian aura. With her friends now under Shengar’s spell, Angel, the final girl, must find a way to reverse the curse.
Is that Death Metal Zombies‘s only story? Of course not. It also features a purposely underexplained B-plot about a slasher murdering their way through town in a Richard Nixon mask. Indeed, with the same multi-hyphenate zeal of a newly created metal genre, Death Metal Zombies is a zombie slasher movie, as if a drive-in theater projectionist accidentally spliced together Return of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th. And to understand why the film bounces between these styles, you have to know a little about the movie’s director, Todd Jason Falcon Cook.
“In 1980, after watching the original Friday the 13th, I grabbed my dad’s Super 8 film camera and started filming and making my own Friday the 13th-style home movies by myself and with my friends,” Cook said to Daily Grindhouse. When an adolescent Cook caught the Jason bug, it was all horror movies, all the time. Initially, acting was the goal. He picked up filmmaking to help realize that dream. According to Cook, as told in the documentary series SOV The True Independents, his parents encouraged his creativity, although his mom “rolled her eyes at the fact I was squirting ketchup on the ceiling every few minutes to make a film.” But the budding director took the messes seriously, learning the tricks of the trade and adopting a What Would Tom Savini Do approach. Soon enough, armed with a camcorder, he was ready to shoot his first feature-length film.
“In 1989, I wrote Friday the 13th Part 13,” Cook told Retro Slashers. “Then I went right into making it happen! I directed, acted in, did special FX, scored, edited, and recruited all of my friends to be victims and my best friend at that time played the survivor. It took a year and a half and lots of reshoots of the climactic finale (which involved fire, four hockey-masked killers, and all-out practical FX). It was sometimes a challenge, but when it was done and shown around, it was an amazing feeling…especially having my first feature done at 18 years old!”
More shot-on-video fan films followed, including another hack at the Friday the 13th franchise, this one a proposed Part IX that was filmed years before Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday went into production. And then, it was time to work on an original.
On paper, 1992’s Evil Night is like one of those “spot the difference” picture games compared to Death Metal Zombies. It pairs a bullied-becoming-the-bully slasher with a zombie ending. Similarly, its stilted acting and editing give it a real dream-within-a-dream quality, the horror movie they watch in horror movies, that’s the butter zone for bad movie fanatics. But it’s also packed with ideas, repurposing the twists and turns and masks of many cult horror films for its own awesomely goofball ends.
“The inspiration for Evil Night was pure camp horror films,” Cook recalled. “Specifically Slaughter High, Carrie, and Friday the 13th. I was a huge fan of camp and B-films like Ghoul School, Boardinghouse, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Blood Lake, Slaughter High (‘From the Makers of Friday the 13th‘), etc. I had also seen other SOV films coming out, and I was already doing them since 1984, not even knowing that SOV was going to become a recognized style of filmmaking. It just seemed natural to go ahead and shoot on the format I had been using.”
SOV is not only a recognized style of filmmaking these days but is undergoing a renaissance thanks to the efforts of many schlock archeologists. Richard Mogg’s book Analog Nightmares: The Shot On Video Horror Films of 1982-1995 was published in 2018. Annie Choi, Zack Carlson, and Joseph A. Ziemba’s Bleeding Skull!: A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey came out last year. (Bleeding Skull, the website, has been covering this stuff forever. I’ll be citing it frequently.) Alongside these deep dives has been a reissue effort to get these movies into the hands of obsessives who live for the uninhibited thrills of outsider art. And yeah, some of these movies are art and have broken through to a broader audience. Video artist Cecelia Condit’s 12-minute Possibly In Michigan, “a musical horror story about two young women who are stalked through a shopping mall by a cannibal named Arthur,” per the artist, cracked Bleeding Skull‘s top 10 best shot-on-video films. It also made the rounds on TikTok. The YouTube upload currently sits a few views shy of seven million.
But the SOV tradition to which Evil Night belongs typically had different aims because its makers knew they weren’t making masterpieces. Cook to Retro Slasher: “I wanted the film to be fun, campy, and entertaining without trying to be more than it is.” If you believe in SOV’s purity, that’s a good credo. But one can’t ignore that another side of SOV was a calculated move to turn a profit in a burgeoning industry: the video rental store.
Following George Atkinson and the Video Station breaking ground for video rentals in the US, rental stores soon realized they had an inventory problem and needed to stock shelves. The answer was provided by enterprising producers wanting to turn a quick buck. Celluloid? Expensive. Shoot it on video. Genre? Horror. The level of quality its fans will accept is more, uh, negotiable.
Early SOV antecedents such as the unhinged 1982 Boardinghouse, which received a limited theatrical release after being transferred to film, and David A. Prior’s 1983 lower-than-low budget Sledgehammer, which was direct-to-video, were pioneers in this new wild west. But, according to Ziemba’s “From Betacam To Big Box: Shot-On-Video Trash In The 1980s,” 1985’s Blood Cult was “billed as ‘The first movie made for the home video market’ by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.” With a budget of $27,000, and an advertising account likely much higher, the movie became a hit for United Entertainment Pictures and set the template: shoot quickly and cheaply and slap on a sensationalistic video cover to catch the eye of renters.
By 1992, the video market was overflowing with carny attempts to cash in. But it also provided less cynical DIY filmmakers a way to get their work out there.
“When I shot Evil Night, I absolutely had distribution in mind,” Cook said to SOV The True Independents. “I had seen a few other shot-on-video horror films — I think Blood Lake, a few of the early ones like Boardinghouse, Iced, and some of those others. And I thought, Wow, that’s something I can do. But when I stepped back and looked at the final cut, even as a 19-year-old kid with a huge ego, I thought I probably wasn’t going to get anything, but let’s go for it. We sent it out to some of the biggest companies we could, like Academy Home Entertainment, Columbia Tristar, and even Warner Brothers, and I still have all of the rejection letters.”
Undaunted, Cook took distribution into his own hands. He bought ads in horror and creature kid magazines and hocked his wares. His companies? The Boneyard, Cemetary Cinema, and Horrorscope Films. (You can find most of Cook’s work via Screamtime Films today.) It was a success. And as the operation grew, these companies started picking up other SOV fare from filmmakers like Kevin Lindenmuth and Chris Seaver. Suffice it to say, because Cook hustled up these distribution channels, Evil Night wasn’t entombed within his camcorder. It was released, found fans, and garnered a cult reputation. Even today, it’s debatably Cook’s best-known horror movie. Is it his most significant contribution to culture, though? Well, we’ll get to that.
In that spirit, I want to linger on Evil Night a little longer because, even though there are at least six other videos between this one and Death Metal Zombies, it sets the stage for the latter in two ways.
First, Evil Night reminds me of the early days of death metal in that there’s a sense that Cook is making it up as he goes, allowing his creativity to fill the gaps in his budget and know-how. That creativity is born from a fan’s intense desire to make something for himself that meets the high-water mark of their own taste. It’s an intractable impulse, driving the ambitions to overcome the deficits in ability. And Cook is committed to make it work. That gives the movie a quirky kineticism as he tries to up the ante and deliver gags that only horror movie lifers with his encyclopedic knowledge would get. In turn, he creates his own visual language that’s heavily referential but pushed to extremes. Also, like death metal, most people I talk to think it’s terrible. It only connects with a certain type of sicko.
(As I am eternally on the fake-band beat, I am compelled to note that Evil Night has a pseudo-metal soundtrack. Per Bleeding Skull, the two credited bands, Stage Dive and Nytemayre, were fakes of Cook’s making and sound “like an unwanted basement collaboration between Depeche Mode and Megadeth.” Quite the super collision. Don’t get any ideas, Mustaine.)
Second, Evil Night is where Cook met Lisa Forbes, who would soon become horror princess Lisa Cook. “Lisa was one of hundreds of actors seen at an all-day audition for Evil Night,” Cook said to Retro Slashers. “We had placed ads in the paper and got an overwhelming response so we took a couple of days to hold auditions in order to select our finals. Lisa was selected for the role of Shannon in Evil Night. We hit it off and worked well together and eventually tied the knot and continued to make films together.”
The two quickly bonded over shared interests. “Lisa was a huge Linnea Quigley fan (as was I) and she loved the campy style B-horror films as well, so it was natural to work toward the goal of solidifying my brand of camp horror with a familiar face in each film,” Cook remembered. “She had the ambition and energy to do many films with me so I wrote and directed as much as I could between 1992-1998. We did several films a year and appeared at conventions over the years.” (The Cooks split in the 2000s. Lisa’s IMDB profile states that she’s now married to Death Metal Zombies‘s co-star Bill DeWild.)
Quick aside: One of the couple’s many collaborations is 1994’s Lisa Cook’s Deadly Workout, a take on Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout, itself a parody of the Jane Fonda workout tapes. Quigley’s is worth a watch. The B-queen’s humor permeates a lot of the Cooks’ work. And you haven’t lived until you see Quigley convincing a horde of zombies to do synchronized aerobics, so here’s that:
Anyway, Evil Night set Cook up with a style and a star. So what set Death Metal Zombies in motion? Fittingly, like the zombified characters in the movie he’d soon write, it was a song that Cook couldn’t get out of his head.
“The concept came out of the fact that death metal was becoming big in the early to mid-’90s,” Cook revealed about Death Metal Zombies‘s genesis during an IndieHorror.TV Q&A. “I found a CD by a band called Dead World. Never heard of the band, but the cover looked cool, so I bought it. There was one track on there that captivated me for whatever reason. I thought, I’m going to make a zombie film just because of this song.”
While Cook had a direction, the title was a work in progress. “I was going to call it Heavy Metal Zombies. Very cheesy, of course, because I love doing the camp comedy horror thing. And I had seen a movie called Hard Rock Zombies. So, it was sort of like, ‘Let’s take that a step further.’ But then I decided to focus on death metal music, and I am glad I did. I think the title Death Metal Zombies gets more recognition than Heavy Metal Zombies would have. It’s really interesting that a lot of people who have seen Death Metal Zombies say their favorite thing about it is the soundtrack.” …is it, though?
Death Metal Zombies started filming in August 1994. It was a good time to make a movie about death metal. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective introduced a legion of kids to Cannibal Corpse. Later that year, Bolt Thrower popped up on Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. (Good movie!) And, in 1995, Napalm Death’s “Twist the Knife (Slowly)” would appear on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack. (It belongs in a different discussion than these three box office moneymakers, but 1994’s direct-to-video Night of the Demons 2 contains two Morbid Angel songs.) Death metal was threatening to make a mark on mainstream movies. And it wasn’t just movies. Carcass had signed with Columbia Records. The Flordia bands were moving units. It was a canny move to tether a flick to a music style on the precipice of a breakout during its innovative salad days.
Naturally, given the popular heavies walking the land, the band that got Death Metal Zombies out of the grave and shambling along was…Dead World? Unbelievable. You don’t know Dead World? I don’t think you’re alone. The relatively tiny number of ratings on the industrial-leaning death metal band’s RateYourMusic page suggests that Dead World isn’t as recognized as its Relapse compadres that would become canonized as legends. Its 1993 full-length, The Machine, released in the US on the equally forgotten Release Entertainment, a Relapse imprint mainly devoted to noise and experimental records, probably deserves better than that fate. (While we’re on the topic of Release releases, Namanax, the great and sadly forgotten project of Bill Yurkiewicz, James Plotkin, and Kipp Johnson also deserves better. Repress it, please? Yes, this is what I choose to do with my platform. Send me to list-maker jail. I’m coming, Aaron.) Regardless of its diminished legacy, Dead World served its purpose. It made it to Cook and clicked into place like the Lament Configuration, releasing the rest of Relapse’s roster across the soundtrack.
So, how did that partnership come to be? If I had to guess, Dead World provided an entry point, and Relapse, whose co-founder Bill Yurkiewicz is thanked in the credits, opened up its already brimming larder of quality metal to Cook. (I reached out to everyone about the hows and whys. Dead World’s Jonathan Canady respectfully declined to comment. Canady laid Dead World to rest ages ago. He has a new experimental noise album out. It’s good. As for everyone else, by the time this column was published, no one had responded. I’ll update if anyone does.) And thus, Death Metal Zombies is blessed with this ridiculous, high-favorite-potential soundtrack that’s rife with classics and curios.
Let’s talk classics. As a death metal fan, watching a scene where a petty thief picks through her spoils while drinking a beer and rocking out to Brutality and Deceased is a thrill. It’s the Leonardo DiCaprio pointing meme, except the music is over 25 years old. Considering how rare it is to get a metal movie with actual metal recorded by actual metal bands, this rules. What other movie is going to play you Amorphis and Dismember during its 90-minute runtime?
And, because Relapse wasn’t constrained to death metal, Death Metal Zombies isn’t either. Hearing Sweden’s Ozzy-never-left-Black-Sabbath doomers Count Raven is a delight. Less of a delight: Two Anal Cunt squalls report for duty. (“Radio Hit,” too, so that sucks. It’s the thing about the movie that has aged the worst.) But the non-AC selection of songs from the early era of one of extreme metal’s most enduring labels provides Death Metal Zombies a jukebox musical quality. It’s like Jersey Boys…if it had Disrupt tracks…and gut-chewing gore…and nudie shower scenes. Yeah, just like Jersey Boys.
That said, it’s the curios that ended up capturing my attention. Between the legends is the weird stuff, most of it not from the Relapse/Release vaults. Wicked Wayz’s “Good Day To Die” plays over a meet-the-gang montage that features the nudie shower scene mentioned above. That song is off the Colorado band’s 1994 full-length, Attitude Of Madness, an album so obscure that no one has uploaded it to YouTube. “Reminds me of Warrant- or Mötley Crüe-type material,” wrote user mkejec in a 2006 comment on Heavy Harmonies. We’ll have to take your word for it. In the context of the movie, surrounded by Relapse rippers, it sticks out like a sore thumb. But, hey, at least people remember it. Deep Six’s “Mechanical,” supposedly culled from a release titled Alone on Double Fist Records, doesn’t even have a Discogs listing.
And, yes, this wouldn’t be an October column unless I could puzzle over some fake bands. One is obvious: Living Corpse’s “Zombiefied (Black Morbid Death),” the inciting song that leads to zombification, is credited to Horrorscope Films. The other possibly-fake’s provenance is less clear. The credits music, “Angel and Tommy,” is performed by Gravy Day, “courtesy of Squished Bug Music.” That copyright leads back to a band named ratbastard that used to gig around Houston, Texas, one of the movie’s shooting locations. That’s as deep as I could go. Alas, the mystery endures.
Nevertheless, if your brain is wired in such a way that you’ll appreciate a good music reference, Death Metal Zombies is full of them. Metal merch, like t-shirts, posters, and stickers, abounds. And there’s more to spy than just metal. One unfortunate soul who sits on a knife and gets his heart punched out is wearing a Luke Records t-shirt that would probably fetch a pretty penny on today’s second-hand market. (Thanks to the cyclical nature of fashion, the Death Metal Zombies cast bedecked in mid-’90s clothes looks fashion-forward again.) And, as you’d expect, the only way to stop a death metal zombie is by playing country music. See, David Vincent knew.
The horror references are more obscure. The Tricky Dick-disguised slasher is a homage to Horror House On Highway Five, Richard Casey’s ultra-bizarre 1985 feature. Likewise, Todd Jason Falcon Cook’s Tony and Lisa Cook’s Angel lean into the detached-from-reality camp of their performances, evoking any number of fan-favorite B-flick characters that seem to be acting in a different movie than the one they’re in. Not to mention, the way Todd Jason Falcon Cook shoots the slasher stuff feels like he’s auditioning for the director’s chair of a future Friday the 13th installment.
So, what was in Todd Jason Falcon Cook’s future? After a few more years of making movies, he’d vacate that director’s chair for a new opportunity: skateboarding.
“What happened was I’ve been skateboarding my whole life,” Cook said to IndieHorror.TV. “I have this extreme drive and need to constantly be creative and original.” Friends pushed him to go pro, but Cook wasn’t interested. And yet, much like how his movies became cult classics, one of Cook’s skateboarding videos made it into the hands of a fan. “I guess one of my DVDs wound up at Tony Hawk’s company, and I started getting phone calls. Next thing I know, I’m wearing a clown suit on the cover of a magazine called Big Brother. From there, [Tony Hawk’s company] licensed an original trick of mine called the Falcon Slide….”
Sound familiar? If you’ve played Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, or any of the following games in the series, you’ve spent a brief moment inside Todd Jason Falcon Cook’s creative and original brain. Oh, right, the name. You’ve probably been wondering about the name this whole time. Cook: “I adopted ‘Falcon’ as a pro skateboarder to separate Todd Jason Cook, horror director, from Todd Falcon, pro skateboarder.” Now? It’s all one thing. Todd Jason Falcon Cook, the skateboarding horror director who makes zombie slashers. (You can find a DVD box set chronicling Cook’s skateboarding days at Toddfalcon.com.)
And, yep, after his skateboarding hiatus, Cook is back making movies. In 2009, the director and some of the cast of Death Metal Zombies reconvened to shoot Zombified, a less campy reimagining of the original. It was released in 2012. More projects soon followed, such as 2014’s Evil Night remake, directed by Chris Seaver, and the 2017 sequel Another Evil Night, helmed by Jason Harlow. According to IMDB, Cook, wearing the producer, executive producer, and/or writer hats, has two more films in production.
There you go. A slice of Death Metal Zombies and a smidgen of the absurdity of SOV movies. Any questions? OK. Yes, you in the back. What’s that? Is SOV a fitting analog for death metal? Eh, I’ll save you the tortured music-writer BS. I mean, you can figure it out. Wait, you can figure it out, right? Unbelievable. And you call yourself a metalhead? Wait. Oh no. Did I listen to Living Corpse too long? Have I been infected with gatekeeperism? Welp, here’s a list of 10 metal songs, you bunch of poseurs. –Ian Chainey
RIP, Brandon Nurick. I didn’t know Brandon well, but whenever I ran into him on Twitter, he was posting enthusiastically about music. You can read Brandon’s work and find a fund to help cover his final expenses here.
FOUL EMANATIONS FROM THE VOID
Days Of Desolation – “Bone Unto Brine”
Location: Halen, Belgium
Subgenre: crust / grind
Hello, again. My fine readers, we are cruising towards the year-end list-making apocalypse. This is precisely when I freak out that I still need to cover all my favorites in the column before they’re swept away by 2023. So, uh, check out Wrack’s Repulsive Gravity. And Soulmass’s Eidolon. And yes, any of the six Homeskin albums, although, given Garry Brents’s recording pace, I imagine we’ll get another bite of that apple soon.
However, out of all the records I waited too long to cover that meet my smaller-band coverage mandate, Days Of Desolation’s Circles is at the top of the list. Let me get straight to the point, then: If you liked the crustily grinding Eastwood record from last year but wanted more of everything, stop reading, click the Bandcamp link, and buy Circles. You won’t be disappointed.
Days Of Desolation’s MO is simple: take neo-crust and infuse blasts. “We started out as a three-piece somewhere back in 2007,” Jasper Swerts said to I(a)mmolotov in 2014. “We were (and still are) heavily influenced by bands like Cop on Fire, Ekkaia, Ictus, End of All, Ambulance, … and wanted to try something like it, but with more blast beats.” In an interview with Good Guys Go Grind, Owen Swerts talked about the critical next step for the Belgian trio: “…over time, we embraced the blast beat fully, which I think is a good evolution.” Yeah, concur. Note to self: Maybe it’s time to read the blurbs over blast beats.
Anyway, Circles is an *ahem* blast. But, to be clear, it’s primarily powered by riffs. Guitarists Jasper (the equally rad Monnier, Arrogänt, China Syndrome, art as Infested Art, including the Circles album cover, one of my favorites for this year) and Bart Jansen (Vuur, Arrogänt, Nervous Mothers) shovel a ton of riffs into the song steam engine. No surprise, then, that these crusty compositions race by with supercharged propulsion. The 76-second title track alternates between sharp Swedish grind and tumbling neo-crust so quickly that everything blurs together. When you dig into the song, dissecting every second, you realize just how stuffed it is with material, how each riff could riff alone. But, the frenetic pace is far more powerful and sets the band up well when it wants to make a point.
Because of Days Of Desolation’s affinity for fleetness, it hits hard when it takes a second to stretch out. “Bone Unto Brine” is your first riff rest stop, when the trio takes a few ticks to chew on a deliriously catchy Nasum-y lead. The twin-epics outro of “Neuron Nebula” and “Hypersleep,” with both songs exceeding four minutes, is even better, grinding towards satisfying crescendos. In these slower moments, drummer/vocalist Owen (Frequency Eater, Sons Of A Wanted Man) really shines, showing off his versatility. Some blasters can’t play slow, but Owen can construct a great groove, building a pocket for the leads. I don’t know how he sings over some of the patterns, but hey, like Days Of Desolation, he’s on top of his game. And, yeah, Circles should’ve made a list months ago. At least it’s here now. [From Circles, out now via Halenoise Records / Loner Cult Records / Romantic Songs Records / Up The Punx.] –Ian Chainey
Daygraves – “Native Tongue”
Location: Austin, Texas
I’m not sure how to quantify whether a band is “big” on Bandcamp – the proprietary algorithm is unbelievably opaque, to the extent that sometimes I question whether there even is an algorithm – but I can confidently say that I follow the blackgaze scene pretty closely, and I can tell you that certain bands surface with a good deal more visibility than others.
And the new three-band, six-song Funeral Flowers features three of the most prominent bands in that scene: Breaths, Daygraves, and Wounds Of Recollection. I’m reluctant to call the thing a split, because it doesn’t quite feel like one. It’s too cohesive, too good, even. This is an album. In the bands’ own words:
“‘Funeral Flowers’ is a collaborative project between Breaths, Daygraves, and Wounds Of Recollection. Over the last few months, we’ve been expanding new sonic elements and expanding our approach to songwriting and this 45-minute split is the result.”
Mmm. Yep. So anyway, I’m pretty familiar with all three of those bands – I’ve written before about Wounds Of Recollection in this very space – and I went into this thinking, “maybe one of these songs will be good enough to cover in Black Market.” Frustratingly, however, no. No, all six of these fucking songs should be covered here. All three of these bands have elevated their respective sounds to entirely new and frankly jaw-dropping levels. I’m blown away by all of them. I’m not joking when I tell you this: As I write these words, I’m still not sure which song I’m going to actually write about. Will it be Breaths’ “An Artist’s Rendering Pt 2”? It has to be. Good fucking lord, what a monument. What a statement! What a sound! What else could it be? Unless…will it be Wounds Of Recollection’s “Heirloom Pt 2”? Well, obviously it will be that one. Gimme a break. Obviously. I mean, just listen to that song! Guys, you know me. You know that is literally my song. I clearly have no other choice here. Unless…
Brief digression. I remember writing about this in my review of Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite – an album I love – and thinking this all throughout my writing process, thinking, Deafheaven are doing something radical here, because they are the one – them and Sadness and Alcest and maybe Rolo Tomassi, if you consider Rolo to be blackgaze, but really, honestly, especially Deafheaven – and everyone is watching them, and therefore they have to do something radical, because anything less would leave them in the past, a legacy act, while all these other guys are over here making actual art. Sure, they could do “The Pecan Tree Pt. 2” and everyone would love it. But Nature Morte already did that. And it’s so fucking awesome. But it’s been done.
I realize that all of this – this blackgaze stuff – it must seem so small and inconsequential from the outside. I get that. But on the inside, up close, it is a wild, thrilling, ever-intensifying gauntlet, with a continually growing number of serious independent artists changing up the parameters and raising the stakes, challenging one another to do something better, something new. Deafheaven heard that call, so they switched to cleans and took a more streamlined and more disciplined approach to writing and worked with M83’s producer, and, well…that became a new challenge for everybody else.
I think we’re seeing now how the landscape is evolving from there, and how much further it can go. And Funeral Flowers is an absolutely essential document of this moment. It is a gift. You can hear a whole entire future in this. You can hear everything happening now. This is 45 minutes of music without one bad note, without one inauthentic voice, without almost anything whatsoever that I’ve heard before. I wish I was featuring all six of these songs right now, but I had to pick one, so I picked this one: “Native Tongue,” the first of two songs here by the one-man Austin, Texas outfit called Daygraves. Both of the Daygraves songs on Funeral Flowers are unbelievable. Again, they all are! I honestly just listen to this whole record straight through on repeat! For weeks now! I could have picked any one of these songs. But I picked this one…and I have no idea what to say about it.
Obviously it’s incredible. The moody, gothy synths, the tubular bells or whatever that is, the plaintive, lonely clean vocals, the uncomfortably sad and affecting lyrics, the ominous beats, the quick flip from quiet to loud, and then when he fires up the jets on those harshes, it’s like…BOOM. Lights out. It’s heroin, man. It hits my ears and my legs go out from under me. It physically feels so good to listen to, and I actually, legitimately fucking hate how short it is. I want this song to go on forever. I want this song to be played at my funeral. Only I’m not ready to go just yet. I need to listen again; I need to hear more, more, more. [From Funeral Flowers, out now via the bands.] –Michael Nelson
Metalian – “Dark City”
Location: Montreal, Québec, Canada
Subgenre: heavy metal
Metalian’s logline is Canadian Judas Priest. The Montréal heavy metal quartet doesn’t shy away from it. It’s in the PR copy. It comes up in interviews. “I guess to me, Priest are the best of the genre,” singer and guitarist Ian Wilson said to Metal Temple, “especially [the] Sin after Sin and Sad Wings of Destiny albums. Halford’s vocals are unrivaled, Tipton’s bluesy solos and Downing’s more extreme solos create some kind of musical perfection. There are other good [NWOBHM] bands, but Priest really grabbed me.” And thus, it will not surprise you that if Judas Priest grabs you, Metalian’s fourth full-length, Beyond the Wall, will grab you, too.
However, what’s lost when explaining Metalian by way of comparison is how joyful the quartet sounds when it makes heavy metal. Wilson and Simon Costa lock into an ecstatic twin-guitar attack. Bassist Andres Arango and drummer Tony Cantara are a formidable battery powering working class rhythms that undeniably swing. Sure, Priest is where Metalian typically ends up, but only because Metalian wants to make awesome music and Priest is awesome.
That said, there’s one other big thing that animates Metalian. “I’ll smoke a joint and riff on something that sounds good and turn it into a song,” Wilson admitted to Robex Lundgren. This potent songwriting process was later confirmed in an album breakdown with Decibel. Regarding Beyond the Wall highlight “Cold Thunder,” the band said, “Cold Thunder is a variety of Sativa that grows well (and big!) in cold climates like in Canada! The song was completely written by Ian, in one take, after lighting one up, haha!” Good song, by the way, showing off the band’s ability at nailing red-eyed, revved-up motorcycle anthems.
Anyway, I bring up Metalian’s pursuit of awesome music and awesome highs to prepare you for “Dark City,” a very not-Metalian song that closes this otherwise very Metalian album. It’s…’70s punk? Some perfect cocktail of weed and the need to riff good is responsible for style swerve, and thank Halford for that. If Iron Maiden toured with The Wipers and both bands decided to bash out the credits music for a coming-of-age summer camp movie, that could get you close. Hold on. That description needs more joy. I’m going to do better: It rules! It’s like some lost Canadian metallic punk classic that would dominate a Smash the State compilation. While Metalian’s brand of trad is my kind of heavy metal, I would love to hear more of this ancient punk/metal hybrid.
So, yes, to get the full Metalian experience, I suggest you first listen to the garage-metal epic “March to the Death” and then the smoking-valves fretboard workout “Fire On The Road.” You know, check those Priest boxes. But please make your way to “Dark City,” a catchy slice of rockin’ punk destined to become a mixtape staple. [From Beyond the Wall, out now via Temple of Mystery Records.] –Ian Chainey
Blightcaster – “She-Wolves”
Location: Dallas, Texas
Subgenre: doom / sludge
Blightcaster announced its arrival in 2016 with a Facebook picture: two crossed drumsticks framed by a guitar and saxophone. You could’ve just shown me this, and I would’ve been hooked. Six years later, we finally get to hear the goods. The Dallas doom trio calls Of Blood-Cursed Night “funeral fusion,” a mix of immense doom/sludge a la Corrupted’s Paso Inferior with intense sax wails. The goods are good.
It has been a saxy year in metal. Antigama, Ashenspire, KEN mode, Sigh etc. That Of Blood-Cursed Night lands a few months after Effluence’s Sarmat and the same week as Oxbow and Peter Brötzmann’s An Eternal Reminder of Not Today / Live at Moers feels right. Of course, saxes have always played a role in extreme music and been a fascinating drone texture since Urban Sax, if not eons before. I mean, whatever, this isn’t a history lesson; I’m only saying that I’ve been digging the number of bands lately that are waging sonic war with woodwinds. But I guess what I’m really saying is that it’s a good time for funeral fusion, too, a style that sounds like how Matt Browning‘s characteristically rad album artwork looks: a soulectomy performed by sludge and sax. And if you’re hooked by that thought, let me tell you, the 23-minute “She-Wolves” is a great time.
Turner (guitars) and Roe (drums) bash out droneful doom, ensuring the stretched-out riffs hit at the most satisfying moments. (All three members are in bands that have appeared in this column, but I will respect the pseudonymous mononyms.) As I’ve written before, doom and sludge live and die by the rhythm section, and Blightcaster has a killer one. Roe works in a ton of tricky rhythms and flourishes between the strums, giving this dirge a buoyancy that carries a listener along. Heck, there’s a spasm of fills on “Hexed By Plague Angels,” Of Blood-Cursed Night’s closer, that has made me say “holy shit” out loud every time I’ve heard it.
But be sure to save some holy-shits for Webber’s saxing. My notes say, “what if Alan Dubin was transformed into a saxophone that tumbled back in time and landed in the hands of Rahsaan Roland Kirk?” I don’t think my over-caffeinated crack at explaining my admiration is that overwrought. OK, it totally is, but just listen to Webber’s horn scream. The effects — echoes, delays, and more — make Webber sound otherwordly, shooting Blightcaster into the stars. You don’t need vocals when you have something that evocative. When “She-Wolves” fades into ambient, the tiny tootles, string noises, and drum pitters might as well be a pod of distressed space whales trying to find their way home.
Blightcaster is not for everyone. But if you like your doom agonizing, your sludge ugly, and your fusion loud, Of Blood-Cursed Night delivers on the promise of its baby pictures. I’m hooked. [From Of Blood-Cursed Night, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
Sordid Blade – “Hidden Enthronement”
Subgenre: heavy metal
The resplendent trad riff attack that opens and carries throughout “Hidden Enthronement” would be enough to keep you hooked, but Sordid Blade conjures such a rich and unusual tapestry full of off-kilter melodies and stylistic twists that it becomes engrossing. Take frontman Niklas Holm’s unique vocal delivery, which arrives shrouded from another age, an understated, somewhat haunted, and slightly nasally bard’s song where consonants are rolled at random for esoteric flourish. It’s sneakily magnetic at first, and over time becomes an obsession as he alternates with belted-out cries, singing of kings and deeds dreadful and heroic. Holm handles everything save the drums (Micael Zetterberg), and his sense for melody, which effortlessly evokes faded glory and grandeur, reveals one looking at well-trodden territory from a fresh vantage. “Hidden Enthronement,” and the rest of Every Battle Has Its Glory is an infectious journey to an imagined past that you won’t easily leave. [From Every Battle Has Its Glory, out now via Cruz Del Sur.] –Wyatt Marshall
ORM – “Mod Døden”
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Subgenre: black metal
If your artistic fate is to make 20-minute black metal songs, you could do worse than choosing the stages of life as your theme. That’s the journey Danish trio ORM has undertaken on Intet • Altet, its third LP. Four songs, 92 minutes, an entire lifespan from birth to death.
Existential topics are nothing new for ORM. Ir, its 2019 full-length, explored bereavement. “To put it into as few words as possible, Ir is about a personal loss, the suicide of a dear family member, and all the emotions and questions that follows in the wake of something as monumental as that,” the band’s previous bassist Troels Cort Nielsen said to Captured Howls. That the band navigates these wakes sensitively and gracefully proves that black metal can be more than edgelord recitations of the evil that men do.
“Personally, I think that the genre is in a liberation process in many ways,” Nielsen said in that same interview. “Black metal is no longer just black metal, perhaps it never was, but I feel that the genre-specific constraints are being torn down and bands are trying harder and harder to take what they like and make it their own.”
The origins of ORM’s own take on black metal might be found in the members’ prior outfit, By the Patient. That band bolted the lead-heavy sound of Scandinavian melodeath onto other genres, giving those styles a crisp epicness. On Intet • Altet, the high-energy guitars remain, giving the rushing-river build-ups of the Cascadian bands, or their older Germanic equivalents, a concentrated melodicism. No matter where you are in these behemoth compositions, the guitars have a lead that invites you in while Adam Schønemann’s powerful drumming pushes you forward. It’s why Intet • Altet rarely feels overstuffed despite its runtime.
As a card-carrying member of the “you need a damn good reason to go longer than Reign in Blood” club, I think the hooks give ORM a damn good reason. But, really, Intet • Altet is successful because it’s dynamic. When ORM goes heavy, it’s heavy. The layered vocals from Simon Sonne Andersen and Theis Wilmer Poulsen, also ORM’s guitarists, have a corrosive bite to them, a textured approach that reminds me of Today is the Day and must’ve taken a long-ass time to record. The quieter sections, such as the stretches on “Floden, som kan skabe,” have a subdued poise. They also have a pulse. Like the passage of time, Intet • Altet is never inert.
That said, I think the key to Intet • Altet is that it’s uncluttered. ORM doesn’t overlayer. Most of these sections are long but restrained, allowing the vocals, guitars, and drums to shine. Additional sounds creep in to add needed weight — synthetic washes, brass, strings — but Sonne Andersen’s production provides enough space for everything to coexist. I think there’s a tendency to equate “epicness” with indulgence, slathering on ear candy in the hopes of overstimulating a listener. ORM sounds pretty confident that its music is compelling and doesn’t need more, which is a weird thing to write about an album that’s as long as a movie. But, hey, length is definitely a constraint to tear down. And when you reach the end of closer “Mod døden,” when ORM rages against the dying of the light and then ascends, I definitely feel like I’ve lived through something. [From Intet • Altet, out now via Indisciplinarian.] –Ian Chainey
Soulless – “We Will Prevail”
Practically speaking, when one of those splits is released (and there are many already, with more on the way), this is how it typically plays out: Sadness’ obsessively intense little army of worshippers sees there’s a new song on a new split; they (we) rush to Bandcamp to listen to the new Sadness song(s); and then, we check out the other band(s).
This process produces a whole lot of mixed bags, as you might imagine, but occasionally, you find some actual diamonds. The most notable example of this, I would say, was the massive May 2020 four-band, 12-song Hiraeth split, on which was featured an Indonesian act called Soulless, whose two inclusions on the split felt like both revelations and highlights. Soulless themselves felt like a huge discovery.
“We Will Prevail” is Soulless’ first release since a January 2021 EP, their second since Hiraeth, and is supposed to be the lead single off an as-yet-untitled (and presumably as-yet-unfinished) LP. It’s also, rather firmly, one of the very best songs I’ve heard in 2022.
The debts owed to Sadness here are pretty obvious – this is swoony, gazy, dizzying, melodic atmospheric black metal with lots of blurred edges and “holy fucking shit” moments – but it’s not even close to the same sound. Soulless are more muscular, less…elusive and weird, if you will, with cleaner lines and a more direct approach. The song is, dramatically, a pure ascension. From the opening wisps of sound, it deftly and only crescendos for nearly nine and a half minutes. It starts on a cloud, and from there, takes you to Mars, where there is a war going on. The prevalent tones and textures of the opening bars eventually, incrementally, give way to an epic Valhallan attack that Quorthon himself would be proud to have written. (The title here should be something of a giveaway in that regard.) The last four minutes here comprise a long stretch of objectively exciting and magnificently vivid music that exponentially intensifies until it suddenly vanishes.
I’m not sure if or when Soulless will deliver the remainder of the album on which “We Will Prevail” is ostensibly to be included, but I’ll be impatiently waiting for the thing just the same. I’ve said before that I don’t think Sadness is so much a band anymore as it is a genre, and if you see it through that lense, then Soulless are rock-solid evidence of how big that genre could be – and more importantly, how big it already is, right now. [From We will prevail, out now via the band.] –Michael Nelson
Anal Stabwound – “Reality Drips Into The Mouth Of Indifference”
Subgenre: brutal death metal
Usually, the challenge I face is making you care about brutal death metal. Anal Stabwound adds another wrinkle by being named Anal Stabwound. I wouldn’t worry about it, though. Reality Drips into the Mouth of Indifference, the second full-length by the Connecticut solo project helmed by 17-year-old Nikhil Talwalkar, has catapulted Anal Stabwound to the top tier of active BDMers. To borrow a measurement from baseball scouts, it’s a five-tool album, combining technical ability, viciousness, creativity, weirdness, and memorability. Once you’re out the other side of the gargantuan slam ending “The Violent Gust of Generation,” the band name stops looking outrageous. Instead, it becomes a marker of quality.
Talwalkar has been on my radar since releasing The Visceral Sovereign in January 2021 on Inherited Suffering Records, the label operated by Alexander Kubiashvili of Abominable Putridity and Deracinated. Pretty good co-sign. And it’s a pretty good record, already displaying an advanced BDM fluency. Despite being young, Talwalkar put in the reps. According to an interview with Obscuro.eu, he started playing drums at 3, picked up the guitar at 11, and discovered death metal soon after. His first cover, Visceral Disgorge’s “Necrocoprohagia,” is still up on YouTube. He’s 13 in that one. He bodies it. By that point, Anal Stabwound was already in the works.
Like many BDMers, the internet has provided Talwalkar not just a platform but a way to connect with peers and collaborate. Besides Anal Stabwound, Talwalkar played drums on four other 2021 releases, all of them standouts: Bludgeoned’s Summary Execution, Engulfed In Repugnance’s Consummation Of Chthonic Remnants, Hate Inclination’s self-titled EP, and Undeciphered’s Beneath The Gentle Smile. (He has since joined the international collectives Infibulated and Theurgy.) But, even in that run for the ages, Abstraction Bathes In Sunlight, Anal Stabwound’s quick follow-up EP released last year on New Standard Elite, one of the top labels in BDM, stuck out. Where Visceral Sovereign slams around with well-executed but expected death metal structures, Abstraction Bathes In Sunlight has a peculiarity that aligns it more with Defeated Sanity and Iniquitous Deeds, bands that have a hookiness derived from their uncompromising uniqueness. It was a giant step forward.
Reality Drips Into The Mouth Of Indifference shows that Talwalkar hasn’t stopped stepping, delivering on the promise of Abstraction Bathes In Sunlight by pushing everything further. “Fracture Into Infinite Geneses” features Talwalkar’s growing skills as a vocalist, nailing Paulo Henri Paguntalan’s Predator noise. “A Twitching In The Clouds” unites the speedy riffs of Oscar Ortega with Lille Gruber’s off-kilter rhythms. There are red-lined Polwach Beokhaimook blasts all over the album. That these musicians are part of Talwalkar’s network probably isn’t a surprise. But Reality Drips Into The Mouth Of Indifference works because Talwalkar puts his own spin on these influences. For instance, the title track, my favorite song so far, is just Anal Stabwound to me. It’s a ridiculous five-minute stretch of dexterous grooves, Cannibal Corpse-quality catchiness, and gloriously shreddy moments that render me only able to say “whoa.” Nevertheless, it’s not a collection of parts but a whole-ass song. It makes any preconceptions I might have about Talwalkar’s age and the band name he’s chosen melt away. None of that stuff matters when you can write and perform a song like that. [From Reality Drips Into The Mouth Of Indifference, out now via New Standard Elite.] –Ian Chainey
Iskandr – “Knagend Zout”
Location: Nijmegen, Netherlands
Subgenre: doom folk
Last we heard from Iskandr, the dream team of O. of Turia (et al.) and Mink Koops of Fluisteraars (et al.), they were battering us with the melodic and swaggering black metal they have crafted together over the years. For the frequent collaborators O and Koops, Iskandr has been something of a leaner and meaner operation when compared to their other projects, where they tend to go further afield into hypnotic, atmospheric riffage. Now, with “Knagend Zout,” the tides appear to have shifted and Iskandr is evolving, shedding its skin as a black metal act and emerging as a new beast atop currents of dark and brooding folk. An unexpected change but a remarkable one, and O’s penchant for crafting alluring yet troubled melodies is in full force on “Knagend Zout” — he’s the chief songwriter in Iskarndr and performs all instruments except the drums, which is Koops’ territory. “Knagend Zout” translates to “Gnawing Salt,” and it’s an incredible song, full of doomed beauty and forlorn longing that reaches inward to pull on indescribable desires. O showcases a booming baritone we haven’t seen before, at least in this light, and it calls from another plane, singing of tectonic shifts and the inevitability of primeval forces at play. Needless to say, the forthcoming album is highly anticipated. [From Knagend Zout, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
Bad Manor – “The Room With Six Hundred And Sixty-Six Eyes”
Location: parts unknown
Subgenre: black metal
A surprise drop today (Halloween), Bad Manor’s debut, The Haunting, is a candelabra-lit spook show. The album, which comes with a digital booklet laying out its lore, tells the story of a haunted Victorian hotel set high atop a hill and the various hauntings of its guests. Creeptastic organs and warbly theremin-esque melodic leads will have you searching for secret passageways and seeing ghosts around every corner, but the camp factor is dragged toward the realm of real horror and away from Scooby Doo by ferocious musicianship. A pummeling riff assault, artillery barrages of rapid-fire drums and a deranged and disturbed wild-eyed vocalist sharpen a sinister edge that cuts through the prevailing fright fest atmosphere. This fully-formed horror story comes from the twisted occult-obsessed minds of the Ordo Vampyr Orientis, an anonymous creep crew behind the bands Bat Magic and Bestial Majesty that Ian interviewed back in April to get a better feel for their blackened panache and mastery of heavy metal mythmaking. With Bad Manor, they’ve struck again, showing a little leg and, no doubt, cackling ghoulishly as they take us on a wild full-moon ride. [From The Haunting, out now via Labyrinth Tower / Avantgarde Music / Ordo Vampyr Orientis.] –Wyatt Marshall