Shall We Play A Game: Tic Tac Dio
It’s hot. Much like you, I am boiling in a heatwave that has thoroughly cooked my brain. So let’s take a break from the smart stuff and play a game. How well can you navigate Encyclopaedia Metallum? I have a challenge to test your skills. It’s a cross between competitive bingo and a scavenger hunt for people who like Black Sabbath, and it will take you deeper than you may have ever been into the internet’s premier heavy metal archive.
Are there rules? Heck yeah. Look who wrote this thing. There are a bunch of rules. There are more rules than a kvlt black metal label run by software engineers. Does it involve strategy? Yes, of course. I thought about this game way too much. There’s more strategy than an NFL offensive coordinator trying to think up a way to ask for a sick day. What do I call this website-crawling battle for two or more players, then? Tic Tac Dio, naturally.
Tic Tac Dio is a rip-off of Bingo Brawlers, a competitive video game league featuring professional Elden Ring players engaging in head-to-head mayhem. It’s fun. With a frenetic pace and strategic braininess based around accomplishing in-game tasks in order to mark squares on a board, it’s less like bingo and more like the fog-of-war chaos of a turn-less tic-tac-toe with an additional quest component and slightly more dragons. You can watch the entire first season on the Bingo Brawlers website.
Tic Tac Dio uses the same basic set of rules. The object is to complete a line of five connected squares running vertically, horizontally, or diagonally as fast as possible. If a line can’t be achieved, players race to mark the majority of squares on the 25-square board. Players capture squares by completing the task stated within the square. Once a square is marked, it can’t be marked by other players. The twist is that, instead of the beautifully dangerous open world experience that is Elden Ring, Tic Tac Dio is set within the Amorphis-adoring confines of Encyclopaedia Metallum. Is it really that different? I mean, Ranni is probably into Mortiis, right?
So, does Tic Tac Dio sound easy? Well, it’s not. Tic Tac Dio is brutal. Unrelenting. Barbaric. It’s not for weaklings. It will expose poses. It will make wimps leave the hall. Indeed, it’s a game for only the geekiest gladiators who live to fight at a hallowed digital colosseum that, for reasons known only to its operators, still won’t induct Body Count. Ask yourself: Do you still want to play? Of course you do. Ah, but to get you up to speed, I’ll have to get ultra-granular to explain the rest of the rules. That means, yes, I’m about to do my favorite thing in the world: boring you to a greater degree than someone making the fatal mistake of asking me what I’ve been listening to lately.
Number of Players: Two or more.
Object: Complete a Dio (a bingo line of five connected squares running vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) faster than the other players. If a Dio can’t be achieved, mark the majority of squares on the 25-square board. (The majority magic number scales based on the number of players: 25/n+1, round to the nearest whole number.) Players capture squares by completing the task stated within the square. Once a square is marked, it can’t be marked by other players.
Making the Board: Like Bingo Brawlers, you can use Bingosync.com to create a randomized board. After filling in a “Room Name,” “Password,” and “Nickname” in the “New Room” fields on the right of the screen, change the “Game” in the drop-down to “Custom (Advanced).” Change the “Variant” drop-down to “Randomized.” The “Board” textbox requires “a JSON list of goals.” Luckily for you, I’ve uploaded a sample JSON file here. (This file contains over 100 possible squares and is fully customizable. The formatting is self-explanatory. If you encounter issues opening the file, there’s a text version here.) Cut and paste the complete contents of that file into the textbox. Change “Mode” to “Lockout.” Leave “Seed” blank. Check “Hide Card Initially.” Your fields should look like this:
As an example, a board generated in this manner will look like this:
Naturally, in the spirit of many games that you don’t want to play at dinner parties, making the board is the most complicated part of the entire experience.
Starting the Game: Once the board is prepared, Tic Tac Dio begins with all players clicking “Random Band” on Encyclopaedia Metallum.
If the randomly returned band counted Ronnie James Dio as a member at any time, that player automatically wins the round. This immediate victory is called a “Straight Through the Heart.” To announce their luck-based triumph, a player must sing the Dio lyrics of their choice. Look, I don’t make the rules. OK, I made the rules.
Playing the Game: If the randomly returned band never had Ronnie James Dio within its ranks, players can unhide the board and begin working towards completing objectives to mark squares. Remember: Tic Tac Dio is not turn-based, it is a free-for-all. Once the game has started, players may complete as many objectives in whatever order they see fit, either progressing towards a Dio, blocking other Dios, or accumulating enough squares for a majority victory.
Each square on the board contains a different objective. Some are genre-based (“find a band with technical in its genre field”), some are geographical (“find a black metal band from Mexico”), some are simple (“find Iron Maiden”), and some are more complex (“find a trifecta“). Every objective can be found within Encyclopaedia Metallum, although some may require more detective work than others.
Players can navigate to objectives by clicking the tabs and internal links on a band’s Encyclopaedia Metallum page. Internal links are links that point to other pages on Encyclopaedia Metallum. Players can’t leave Encyclopaedia Metallum to complete objectives. Links on album, artist, band, country, and label pages are fair game. Internal links found under tabs are also fair game. However, links and functions found in the surrounding static frames are off-limits. Players can’t use the “Search” bar. They can’t use “Advanced Search.” They can’t use the “Bands” or “Labels” menu. They can’t access the “Forum.”
In the rare event that the band/album page doesn’t contain any viable links, a player may reset by clicking Random Band again. Players will announce this reset to the others by reciting the chorus from Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark.”
A player must travel to the band, label, etc. page to complete an objective and mark a square. For example, if the objective is to “Find Suffocation,” the player must reach a Suffocation band page. (There are multiple Suffocations, therefore any Suffocation band page meets this objective.) Simply seeing Suffocation’s name under a “Similar Artist” tab or as part of a label’s roster is insufficient. (That is to say, it would be impossible for a player to find Body Count because it does not have a page in Encyclopaedia Metallum. However, a player can find Ice-T, the metal singer of the metal band Body Count, because Ice-T has an artist page.)
Most browser amenities are banned. Players can’t use the back button. They also can’t open multiple tabs. That said, they can use the find function to get to internal links more easily because I am not a monster. I swear. I didn’t just write that for SEO purposes whenever an HR department tries to Google me.
Once a player completes an objective, they must announce the objective to their competitors. This rule is to help keep players honest. For example, if the objective reads “find a symphonic band,” the player will say: “Find a symphonic band: Shield of Wings.” After the objective has been announced as completed, the player may mark the square.
Ending the Game: Once a player has completed a Dio or marked a majority of the available squares on the board, the game is over, and that player is declared the winner. To celebrate their win, that player may listen to Dio’s “We Rock.”
Other Rules: Players may need to formulate additional house rules to solve unexpected issues because I didn’t test Tic Tac Dio too rigorously. All house rules are binding. Please don’t contact me until winter. This heatwave is hotter than the armpits of a sludge band in sauna suits covering Heatwave’s “Too Hot to Handle” in Death Valley. I haven’t slept since April. I’ve lost my mind.
Those wishing for a single-player campaign experience can try to solve the entire board as quickly as possible. As a measuring stick, each board takes me about 10 minutes to complete, I say, in the same abashed tone I usually reserve for explaining gaps in my résumé.
Example of Game Flow: The game starts. I click “Random Band” and get Pyrrhon. Pyrrhon, regrettably, never had Ronnie James Dio in its ranks. I do not automatically win. My opponent didn’t get a Ronnie James Dio band, either. The game continues. I unhide the board.
I survey the board and target the square with the objective “find a heavy metal band from Spain.” On Pyrrhon’s page, I click on the link for its current label, Willowtip Records. On the label page for Willowtip Records, I click on the “Past roster” tab. I then sort the countries alphabetically to find bands from Spain. I click on Wormed. On the Wormed band page, I click on its country of origin. I search the Spain country page for heavy metal bands. I click on 1945. I announce to the other players, “Heavy metal band from Spain: 1945. They have an album titled ‘Heavy Metal Is Not For Sale,’ which I’m pretty sure is for sale on Bandcamp for €6.” I mark the square.
I decide to start threatening a Dio. The square next to the one I just marked is “find Mötley Crüe,” which shouldn’t be too hard because Mötley Crüe is in Encyclopaedia Metallum while Body Count is not. Crucially, I remember that Mötley Crüe were on Elektra Records.
On 1945’s band page, I click on its country of origin, Spain. Then, taking a shot in the dark, I scroll down the country page until I find Abductum, an active thrash band. On Abductum’s page, I click on the “Similar Artists” tab. Abductum’s solitary similar artist is Annihilator. I click on Annihilator, and then, on the Annihilator’s page, I click on its “Similar Artists” tab. I click on Metallica. I click on Metallica’s album Master of Puppets. I click on the label Elektra Records. On the Elektra Records label page, I click the “Past roster” tab and scroll down to Mötley Crüe. I announce to the other players, “I found Mötley Crüe. I got there via Elektra Records. It’s funny that Mötley Crüe is in Encyclopaedia Metallum but Body Count are not.” I mark the square.
The game proceeds until my opponent claims victory by blocking all of my Dios and marking 13 squares, which represents a majority. I am humiliated. They rub it in my face by listening to “We Rock,” as is their right. They, indeed, rock. We load a new card and play again.
Strategy: Wait. Hold up. Do you actually want to play this? You know you’ll never go on a date again in your life, right? OK. Fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The most difficult aspect of Tic Tac Dio is learning how to navigate Encyclopaedia Metallum with limited information. In most cases, you want to start your hunt by getting to a page or tab that lists many identifiers. Country pages contain sortable columns for genre, location, and status. Label pages have sortable columns for genre and country. The “Similar Artists” tab on band pages typically contains “known” bands and has fields for country and genre. Use these more descriptive areas of the site to your advantage.
Once you get the hang of cruising through Encyclopaedia Metallum, you’ll want to prioritize easier squares along with pages that could potentially net you two or more objectives. “Find Iron Maiden” is easy because so many bands have it as a similar artist. Likewise, “find a black metal band from Japan” is easy because you only need to get to the Japan country page. After you have these paths down, you can use them to complete the more challenging squares. Finding Iron Maiden enables you to mark “find a trifecta” and “find a band formed in the 1970s.” Getting to Sigh opens up “find a band that has been on Peaceville Records,” and then you can find so many more bands from there.
That’s what Tic Tac Dio is all about: discovering how interconnected the world of heavy metal is. Hell, you can go from Stryper to Vital Remains in under 15 clicks. It shouldn’t be possible, but it is. And maybe I’m just an enormous, stupid, smelly nerd suffering from heatstroke, but getting a random band and then completing a board of randomized objectives in just a few minutes never fails to amuse me. To crib a line from Dio himself, it rocks. But…you know…it’s metal. Oh, did you hear that? That was the last bit of my boiled brain dripping out of my ears. It’s so hot. Can we listen to some music now, please? –Ian Chainey
FOUL EMANATIONS FROM THE VOID
10. Mistral – “The Ossuary”
Location: Warsaw, Poland
Subgenre: post-black metal / blackgaze
Mistral’s In The Throes of Losing Love passed me by when it was released at the end of April, but after coming across it this month, it’s one of my favorite releases of the year. “The Ossuary” opens the album, and like everything that follows, it’s a work of enchanting beauty glinting in the darkness. The press liner doesn’t overreach when it makes comparisons to Alcest, Sadness, and Agalloch — a trifecta that has done more than virtually anybody else to define the best of atmospheric black metal of the past decade-plus. Take the immersive, painfully pretty, and watery guitars of Alcest, mix them up with Sadness’ shoegaze-y, shimmering haze, and imprint upon it Agalloch’s call of the wild and primordial heartache, and you’ve got a general outline for Mistral. Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that — the vocals are a bit more necrotic than what you hear from those three, lending Mistral a bit of dungeon credibility, and a depressive ache shapes Mistral’s music. The work of Mikołaj Banaszczyk on drums and Jon Obara on everything else (he’s also credited with having done artwork for Starer, also in the column this month), Mistral deserve a bigger spotlight, and I expect they’ll find it. [From In The Throes of Losing Love, out now via Onism and Fólkvangr.] –Wyatt Marshall
9. Chamber – “Retribution”
Location: Nashville, TN
The heart wants what it wants, and sometimes it wants to get wrecked by core breakdowns that lean metallic. That’s how Chamber pushed its way into the column this month. On A Love To Kill For, Chamber’s third full-length, the Nashville five-piece takes inspiration from some aorta destroyers that straddled the line between metal and core, but not in the way that gave trad dorks on both sides of the aisle nightmares throughout the 2000s. “For us, ‘metalcore’ represents bands like Converge, Disembodied, All Out War, and Botch, which are all bands we love and respect,” Chamber said to Cvlt Nation in a 2018 interview. “Some of our favorite bands flew the metalcore flag, and we’re not a hardcore band, so it’s mostly us just calling our band what it is.”
Out of the four aforementioned metalcore icons, the closest to this group’s self-described “Psychotic Mosh Metal” is Disembodied, particularly that band’s rarely equaled ability to make mosh pits erupt with world-ending chugs. But because it’s the 2020s and most metalcore bands have Mathcore Index inclinations, Chamber spruce up those chugs with some tricky timing. In their Bandcamp tags, they ID the influencers of that calculator ass-kicking: Dillinger Escape Plan. But in those same tags, Chamber also namecheck the Chariot. Makes sense. That’s a blend of brain and beatdown that’s sticker-ready FFO for most millennials. For the kids, think of an even more incensed Sectioned.
But, I mean, taxonomy is beside the point. Juds are the point. Chamber can jud a mean jud. “Retribution” checks that box from the start, launching riff-first into a punchy groove that sounds like a modernized Soundtrack To The Personal Revolution-era Burnt By The Sun going toe to toe with Blood Has Been Shed. Hello, I have been flattened. Please cremate my remains with the fire and fury of the rest of the song. But there’s a little more going on here. Chamber demonstrate their sense of craft by building upon those riffs until they explode into a mid-song anthemic bridge that’s blissfully devoid of cleans. Yes, there are juds and breakdowns, but like the old bands Chamber respect, they wrap those elements within songs that magnify their impact. The heart gets what it wants, and the head does, too. [From A Love to Kill For, out now via Pure Noise Records.] –Ian Chainey
8. Ixias – “Produce”
Location: Baltimore, MD
Ixias tear through one of my favorite kinds of grindcore. To me, Compulsive Trance, the Baltimore quartet’s second album, is part of a long legacy of riff-centric blasters emblematic of a basement-dwelling scuzziness. That squalling scuzziness manifests in different ways. Sometimes it’s because bands capture their dexterous, headbang-inciting runs on decaying recording equipment. Sometimes it’s because their playing dangerously sloshes from measure to measure like a tub full of acid in the back of a Toyota Tercel with shot shocks. Sometimes it’s because they bristle with a ferocious bestialness that never makes you feel safe. Most often, it’s all of the above. Early Pig Destroyer peaking with the original mix of Prowler In The Yard, Vulgar Pigeons, Watchmaker, Circle Of Dead Children, Self Destruction, Fluoride: that sort of thing. This strain of grind still exists and runs alongside its more refined counterparts, but it rarely breaches any strata above the ultra-underground because it’s so uncompromising.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think Ixias will break out because they’re way too abrasive for weaklings, but goddamn, does Compulsive Trance slay. And if it has riffs, I have to show it to you: That’s Black Market law. Mike Brown (guitar), Simeon Alexander (bass), and Adam Smith (drums) are indeed blessed with badass riff chops, as evidenced by the fact Ixias covered Atheist’s “Mother Man” for a 2022 split with Test and didn’t immediately collapse into a smoldering wreck. And they use those boundless abilities to turn “Produce” into a red-lined ripper that sounds like Relapse’s Contamination Festival-era catalog condensed down to a minute of hyper-blasting mayhem. This even extends to the screams. Yes, screams and roars can be infuriatingly one-dimensional in grind. Not here. Brad Cook’s vox are the vocal equivalent of the instrumental chaos, yelling and growling as if Kill The Client’s Morgan had his brain swapped with an aggrieved Siberian Husky.
But Compulsive Trance isn’t just riffs and pell-mell pandemonium. Cook and company balance the blasts with stretches of noise and electronic compositions that would’ve pleased the early ambient practitioners, such as “Untitled.” That one leads into the psychedelically experimental “Harbinger of Remorse,” which features a guest solo by Takafumi Matsubara, a longtime proponent of grind scuzziness. These left-field forays give Ixias greater dimension, making Compulsive Trance’s 15 minutes of scuzziness surprisingly well-rounded. It’s like listening to a labored-over mixtape, albeit one that frequently desires to rip your throat out. [From Compulsive Trance, out now via Lower Class Kids Records.] –Ian Chainey
7. Ofnus – “A Thousand Lifetimes”
Location: Cardiff, Wales
Subgenre: melodic black metal
Ofnus operate in the Imperium Dekadenz school of black metal, crafting big, rich, and ambitious tracks that benefit from a hi-fi polish and are loaded with impactful gut-punch moments. The formula calls for a base layer of rock-solid, disquieting riffage, and continuously dancing melodic leads; big blasting drums with fills-a-plenty; and brooding, ominous doses of atmosphere built upon beds of synths. There’s also a tendency towards cosmic pullbacks, mid-tempo breaks where axis-swaying dramatic melodies take hold, and you sort of get a panoramic view of the universe with thoughts of existentialism on the mind (Ofnus are mid-tempo pros). On “A Thousand Lifetimes,” the closer for Ofnus’ strong debut album, the formula is hitting with effect, and a clean vocal interlude that leads to a building, starlit crescendo puts the song firmly into epic territory. Ofnus are aiming high, and they’re blasting on their way. [From Time Held Me Grey And Dying, out now via Naturmacht Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
6. Stay – “I’ll Never See The Rain Anymore…”
Location: Guadalajara, Mexico
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Like everything that appears in this column, depressive black metal isn’t for everybody. But it is a fascinating sonic palette, all smears and sorrow across a grainy tableau, finding beauty in lo-fi haze and hiss. It’s one of the more intimately personal subgenres in the world of metal, too, almost exclusively the work of solo acts that channel deep emotion into a set of sounds derived from the broader black metal palette. As the name suggests, conflictedness is at the core of Stay’s Tears Of Happiness, and it plays out on “I’ll never see the rain anymore….” as blistering, blasting atmospheric black metal interspersed with moments of quiet introspection. There’s a whole lot of beauty in the pained chaos, and Fernando Mejía, Stay’s lone force, brings it to light in gorgeous melodies that are by turns quietly picked and belted to the sky as searing guitar leads. You may be familiar with Mejía’s work through the blackgaze-ish A Rose Dying In The Rain — we missed the great recent track “púrpura,” which recalls Sadness and is highly worth checking out. Mejía has also worked with fellow Mexican artist Victoria Carmilla Hazemaze, the prolific one-woman force behind Oculi Melancholiarum, Oblivion Castle, Blitzar IV, and many others. The two are drawing our attention increasingly over the last couple of years, putting out some of the most exciting atmospheric metal to be found anywhere. [From Tears Of Happiness, out now via Fiadh Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
5. Genevieve – “Ego Part 2: Harrowing Halls Of Their Infernal Hubris”
Location: Maryland, USA
Subgenre: black metal / avant-garde
The centerpiece of Akratic Parasitism, Genevieve’s third full-length, is the 11-minute “Ego Part 2: Harrowing Halls Of Their Infernal Hubris.” Based on the title, I assume it’s a sequel to “Ego,” a track found on Escapism, the Maryland band’s 2015 debut album. Genevieve were already working their way to the fringe back then, subtly shifting black and death metal into the wall-melting kaleidoscopic smears envisioned by its album art. The demos and EPs released around the three full-lengths were even more adventurous: the what-it-says-on-the-tin Tape Machines series and the atypical-for-metal instrumentation of the Honeymoon EP, both solo endeavors by guitarist/vocalist Eric Rhodes. (That Rhodes isn’t precious about what gets filed under the Genevieve name is a nice change of pace. Rhodes’ other band, Mast Year, has a separate Bandcamp, though.) So, one could say Genevieve, now a quartet for the majority of this release, were always progressing in this impressively immersive and yet undeniably askew direction. But “Ego Part 2,” and Akratic Parasitism in general, feels less like a sequel to past works and more like a rebirth.
Beginning with a subdued but throbbing, rhythmic riff and a clean-ish bass line that walks around it, “Ego Part 2” sets a listener up for stretches of quietude. Naturally, Genevieve offset that section with an ultra-aggressive onslaught of hammering death/sludge. Rhodes (vocals), Mike Apicella (guitar), Keith Mathias (bass), and Matt Powell (drums) inventively flip between these two approaches for the rest of the song. There’s an extended section of knotty, skittering arpeggios that sounds like Virus collaborating with Maudlin Of The Well. There’s a cascade of caustic riffs that could be Ehnahre if it embraced the esotericism of later Emperor. Pensive progging, frenzied forays into sanity decaying, reflective respites that are unnervingly soothing: all of that is there and more, and it’s not hard to recognize the contrasts between sections. And yet, the rise and fall that sets up these mood swings are so cohering, making the extremes feel like they’re part of the same song. “We spent a lot of time on this album and put a lot of effort into it,” Akratic Parasitism‘s Bandcamp liner notes state. “Ego Part 2” is proof that it paid off.
The thing is, similar to how “Ego Part 2” is many things, this song is only one shade of Genevieve. While Akratic Parasitism is cohesive, each track navigates its maze differently. Opener “Growth” is Code-esque, complete with wisteria-like prog vines that squeeze the material into weird shapes. “Crisis” obsesses over guitar overtones and bass drones before exploding into coruscating black metal. “Quandary Is Flesh” is a mostly acoustic jaw-dropper that is as heavy and weird as the metal that preceded it and even more disarmingly enigmatic. What Genevieve have evolved into is really something. Here’s hoping this is still just the beginning. [From Akratic Parasitism, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
4. Lightbreaker – “Distant Kin”
Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: symphonic death metal
As soon as I heard a second of Lightbreaker’s debut, The Annihilation Of The Annealids, I knew it was a project born of someone’s tireless desire to realize the sounds within their head, even if those sounds are, to say the least, outside the bounds of what they have previously brought to the table. And, I mean, it’s worth noting that this isn’t my regular strain of metal, either. That is to say, while I have fully digested this album after listening to it obsessively, and have no reservations about acclaiming it as an accomplishment, the on-the-page description still looks wild: A sci-fi concept album constructed from real-deal death metal, symphonic metal, prog, and operatic elements. And it’s from Leon del Muerte no less, an esteemed death/grinder known for some of the more splattery bands around, such as Impaled. In other words, I…didn’t see this one coming. But hey, I can’t argue with the results. The Annihilation Of The Annealids is one of the best pairings of death metal and opera since Augury’s Concealed.
Turns out, Leon del Muerte’s influences go back even further. In an interview with my bud Jon Rosenthal over at Decibel, the multi-instrumentalist said, “It’s highly influenced by Alf Svensson’s (ex-At The Gates) Oxiplegatz project. After a bunch of false starts, once I started writing it, it came together pretty quickly. I even tried to get Alf Svensson on it and went to the end of the earth, and the guy is unreachable, so I followed in his footsteps by myself.”
Oxiplegatz! Of course. That project has become a secret handshake among metal weirdos, a real “I know you know” how-do-you-do. And when examining Svensson’s outre space operas, you can hear what ensorcelled del Muerte: multiple characters, symphonic sweeps of layered instrumentation that bolster instead of obscure riffs, and episodic, track-by-track storytelling.
To Lightbreaker’s credit, I think The Annihilation Of The Annealids is far more accessible. For instance, Oxiplegatz’s Sidereal Journey has a “What am I listening to?” quality that never really goes away. Not a knock. That’s its charm. The Annihilation Of The Annealids, though, is streamlined with a clarity and focus to its narrative flow, allowing the story to get its hooks into me. And the character work by the singers is outstanding. The growling del Muerte is the Annealid. The booming Quinton Gardner is the Commander. The soaring Uta Plotkin is the Scientist. The searing Elizabeth Schall is the Elder Annealid. Unlike an Ayreon album, I don’t need a booklet to understand who is who and the whys of their whats. (This is not to shortchange The Annihilation Of The Annealids’ booklet, a gorgeous document with illustrations by Brian Churilla.)
But, of course, this was always going to come down to riffs. I’m excited to write that the riffs are good, split between brutal beat ’em ups and lofty prog death a la Symbyosis. In similar bands, the riffs take a backseat to the orchestral whizz-bang, there for texture more than an actual butt-kicking. (Ask me how I know.) Not with Lightbreaker. The riffs are real. I’ve run “Prologue” back plenty of times just to hear that section of prime death/thrash turbulence. Of course, the symphonic stuff is good, too, reminding me of an upgraded version of Bal-Sagoth’s excellent The Chthonic Chronicles. But, considering that I am a death metal doofus through and through, riffs are what I desire. And while I have fond memories of my pops sitting me down with Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds, suggesting that maybe I’m predisposed through Proustian memories to like a sci-fi concept album, the riffs are why The Annihilation of the Annealids is in the column. I simply can’t deny the rippage. I love it, and I need to hear what’s next. And there will be a next: The Annihilation of the Annealids ends with “to be continued.” I’m going to take that as a promise, Leon del Muerte. [From The Annihilation Of The Annealids, out now via the band.] – em>Ian Chainey
3. Trhä – “Dlhevuqshja Dlhumër Bem”
Location: Texas, USA
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Damián Antón Ojeda, the maestro who works in and around the worlds of black metal, blackgaze, punk, and more, is no stranger to this column — we’ve written about his projects Sadness and Trhä many times in the past. In doing so, we often mention just the insane volume of amazing music Ojeda releases. He’s got about half a dozen bands going at any one time, and many of them are one-person shows.
This month, Ojeda’s mind-boggling output hit new levels of bonkers. On the Sadness front, where he’s been releasing a series of splits with like-minded, great, underground solo projects since the beginning of the year, he put out cherish and summerset streetlights in the first half of the month. Both are excellent, searing works of awe and summer night magic energy as seen through Sadness’s rose-tinted vision. And since I first wrote this, he put out another Sadness split, remembering distant stars, which also rules. [DISCLAIMER: DAMIÁN RELEASE COUNTER SUBJECT TO CHANGE PRIOR TO PUBLICATION.] But as Trhä, the mysterious project that only was attributed to Ojeda in the last couple of years, he casually posted three new full-length albums on Bandcamp without a whisper of fanfare. Thanks, Ian, for pointing it out because it would otherwise be all too easy to miss this crazy, instantaneous threepeat.
Even for an artist who is constantly surprising, with new projects and bands emerging seemingly out of nowhere, Trhä is full of mystery. Song and album titles are written in some vaguely easternish script of Ojeda’s own design, and among Ojeda’s stable of bands, it hews most closely to traditional atmospheric black metal. It pulls from a deep, dank dungeon palette, shrouding melodies in static and haze, but on “dlhevuqshja dlhumër bem,” you’ll hear plenty of the youthful shouted choruses and starlit wonder that are characteristic of Sadness and Ojeda’s other works. It’s a remarkable track, one that lures and beguiles and pulls you into Trhä’s world of shifting physics and big momentous melodies that serve as beacons amidst a ripping, pummeling, and bright fury. [From lhum’ad’sejja, out now via the band.] –Wyatt Marshall
2. Agriculture – “The Glory Of The Ocean”
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Subgenre: black metal
Most write-ups of Agriculture’s full-length debut will mention the Los Angeles quartet’s self-applied genre tag: “ecstatic black metal.” I guess this one is no different. As far as descriptors go, it’s a good one, leaning into ecstatic’s multiple meanings. And it doesn’t hurt that Agriculture’s self-titled full-length debut sounds…well…ecstatic. It’s packed with those moments when indescribable emotions overtake your senses. “The Glory Of The Ocean,” with an opening upswell of guest Nick Levine’s pedal steel, instills that feeling from the very start. When the drums pound and guitars rise majestically, it’s like watching a sunrise burn through a sea-born fog. Once the black metal hits, with its trems, blasts, and screams rushing in like water into lungs, it reminds me of a Windy And Carl song title: “Fainting In The Presence Of The Lord.” Some things are just too big to comprehend. And when the song sends shivers up my spine, I don’t want to overanalyze the experience. It simply reminds me that there’s so much to this life, more than I could ever know, and yet there are times when I feel like I feel all of it.
So, why is Agriculture this effective? Musically, the band makes me think of fellow The Flenser signee Scarcity, not so much in the way that Agriculture plays or composes, but in its knack for filling the sonic spectrum with contrasting sonic beams of light with dark. Not to mention, the layers and sections fit together perfectly. “The Glory Of The Ocean” is almost like a suite, with each part revealing more of the scene laid out in its lyrics, increasing the complexities of the emotions until the song takes on a shape that feels so truthful to the human experience. And the players are so good. Daniel Meyer-O’Keeffe and Richard Chowenhill’s guitars, Leah B. Levinson’s bass, and Kern Haug’s drums quickly shift to meet the moment, whether that moment calls for sublimely blissed-out reveries, paint-peeling squalls, or body-battering chugs. “(Rise and Fall and rise and fall rise and fall ∞ ),” the lyric sheet notes. Yeah, you bet.
It doesn’t surprise me, then, to learn that the members have a background in contemporary classical. (If I can somehow manifest a four-way split between Agriculture, Chowenhill’s Ehnahre, Scarcity, and Vmthanaachth, I’ll take it.) Even when Agriculture go loud and lively, there’s an elegance and steady grace to their power. The players know how to maximize these tones. But Agriculture are never stuffy or didactic. The band is always bursting with life. And it’s also…black metal. It’s very black metal, in fact. While the band aims for something other than ravishing grimness and kvlt-mandated misery, it ends up somewhere familiar.
“I remember Dan once describing it, you were comparing it to the term transcendental, and you were saying you liked the idea of transcendental black metal, but wanted a less pretentious word, something that’s less self-aggrandizing and more inclusive and malleable,” Haug said in a recent Invisible Oranges interview, referring to Meyer-O’Keeffe’s take on ecstatic black metal, “And I really relate to that, I like the lofty ideal of something being transcendental, but for me that’s encompassed in ecstasy, it’s just a little less self-aggrandizing.”
And isn’t that a core component of good black metal? Isn’t “transcendental” how I’d describe how deeply Nattens Madrigal, Below The Lights, or OM affected me when I first heard them? In that sense, Agriculture is classic black metal that transcends tropes, offering something bigger by stirring up new emotions and showing me parts of myself I never knew I contained. “Glory!” Agriculture ecstatically exclaim on “The Glory Of The Ocean.” “Taking it in. My body – give it away.” [From Agriculture, out now via The Flenser.] –Ian Chainey
1. Starer – “Drifting”
Location: Bowling Green, KY
Subgenre: symphonic black metal
Starer’s “Drifting” is remarkable, and in one six-minute song it hits all the peaks of atmospheric black metal and lops their tops off. When it blasts, as it does from the get-go, it does so with a tactile, grating, visceral fury — much of that is due to the raw, ugly guitar tone that drives things forward, as well as one-man-band Josh Hines’ phlegmy, sandpapered vocals. A torrent that rips apart the floodgates around the 2:30 mark is one of the heaviest things that’ll grace your ears this year. And as one who wields the synth with might, Hines harnesses big melodic leads into sweeping anthemic passages that are equal parts wonder and dread. “Drifting” slows things down, too, giving space for lingering unease and awe to intermingle, and Hines throws some yearning clean vocals into the mix as well.
What sets “Drifting” and Starer apart isn’t just how well these pieces are crafted and performed and constructed, it’s the intensity with which Hines pounds them out. You tense up a bit just listening to it, and the mix shoves the unrestrained power right in your face. This is atmospheric black metal that punches, awes, and consumes everything in its path. [From Wind, Breeze, or Breath, out now via out now via Adirondack Black Mass, Fiadh Productions, and Fólkvangr.] –Wyatt Marshall