You’ve Heard Lucian Blaque (You Just Don’t Know Where)
In a scenario that must’ve crossed H.G. Wells’ mind at least once, a time-traveling teen turns back the clock to go down on themselves. That’s the salacious sight gag in the 2022 HBO series The Time Traveler’s Wife, one that Decider called the “wildest oral sex scene in the history of television.” And, as these things do, the clip started making the rounds.
However, for curious metalheads, that viral scene posed a question greater than theoretical physics fellatio: What the heck is that song playing in the background? It sounds so familiar, so close to a Trad Belt classic. Is it a lost Liege Lord disciple? A Powermad B-side? A curio rescued from Metal Blade’s basement? No. It’s Lucian Blaque, a proggy heavy metal band from Tampa, Florida, that never signed to a label and never released a full-length during its original run in the early ’90s. And naturally, based on that criteria, that name might not mean anything to you yet. But, based solely on the numbers, it’s highly likely you’ve heard their music whether you know it or not.
The story of how Lucian Blaque made their way into the ears of millions is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a segment of the music industry many don’t think about. It’s also a rumination on how the present reshapes the past and vice versa due to the eternalism of recorded music. And, appropriately, it will require us to do some time traveling of our own, hopefully with less disastrous consequences.
Kevin Wilson still remembers writing “Running A.D.,” the song that would later appear in The Time Traveler’s Wife. “I went to see the first Hellraiser movie in the theaters,” Wilson says over Zoom. He loved it. And then the gears started turning. “As the movie is going along, I’m writing the song in my head. I’m writing the music. I’m writing the lyrics. I told both of the people I was with, ‘I just got an idea for a song.'”
But, as often happened in the prehistoric days before smartphones, Wilson worried he wouldn’t remember any of it. “So, the credits start rolling, and I’m like, ‘I’m out of here.’ We get out to the car, and I started writing stuff down. And literally, from start to finish, I wrote the lyrics in almost finished form. I had the music in my head, and I had to get home and get my guitar. By the end of the night, I basically had the song, and probably within a day or two, I was at the band warehouse showing the other guys. ‘Hey, here’s a new song.'”
A few years later, “Running A.D.” would become the closer on Lucian Blaque’s second demo, Judgement Insanity, released in May 1992. At the time, it seemed like a coming out party for a group with a quick ascension.
In 1990, Wilson, a talented guitarist and veteran of bands such as Astaroth, decided to take out a $15,000 loan and finally record his music in “the best studio in town.” Inspired by Crimson Glory’s 1988 album Transcendence, Wilson knew exactly which studio that would be: Morrisound Recording. All he needed was some musicians. He met drummer Mike Vincelette, previously of Fester, after answering an ad in a local music magazine.
“We jammed for a few months, just he and I, working out every part of 13 songs,” Wilson recalls. “We would get together four nights a week, play through each part individually, changing the time signature, and then, because that’s so boring and tedious, we would just play through the songs with no click track. We were ready to go.”
As the duo woodshopped, they brought aboard a bassist and singer. Wilson added two additional acoustic numbers, bumping his cache of compositions up to 15. The new crew was ready to record. And over the next year, they toiled away at Morrisound during weeknights and mornings and whenever they could get the best rates.
However, while laying down the rhythm tracks, the band discovered that the singer couldn’t hang. Luckily, he chipped in one crucial contribution before his exit. “We were all just throwing band names out,” Wilson recalls. “And the original singer had the idea of Lucian Blaque. There was really no meaning behind it or anything. He made some stuff up.” The singer didn’t stick, but the band name did, and it had a pleasing alliterative lilt when Wilson later placed teaser ads in the Florida scene’s zines: “Look out for Lucian Blaque.”
With most of the rhythm tracks finished, Lucian Blaque were back searching for a voice. Enter Todd Plant, a powerful singer and fixture within the Florida heavy metal scene who would later sing for Ralph Santolla’s Millenium. After chatting with Wilson, Plant agreed to do session vocals. (Wilson’s previous bandmate, Frank Marsh, filled in on one song.) Blind Man’s Bluff, the first demo featuring six of Wilson’s 15 songs, including the bookends “Bring Them Down” and “Mean Machine,” hit the streets in 1991.
So, what was it like working with the esteemed Jim Morris at Morrisound? “Awesome,” Wilson exclaims. Morris’ most significant impact was tightening the screws, especially whenever a section cried out for a guitar harmony. “Certain parts like that, Jim would say, ‘Hey, you mind if I throw an idea out?” Wilson says about the Morrisound studio presence, a killer guitarist in his own right. “And he’d go, ‘Hey, on this part, how about if you did a harmony to that.’ And a couple of them I did on my own. But on a couple, I was like, ‘What?’ And he went, ‘Well, like this.’ And I’d go, ‘Man, that’s awesome,’ and go out and track it.”
During a short hiatus following Blind Man’s Bluff, a familiar question buzzed at the band’s headquarters: Who will be Lucian Blaque’s permanent vocalist? Wilson reconnected with a pal from Astaroth, a budding powerhouse named Wade Black, who was already familiar with most of the material and coincidentally had a fitting surname. “I think Kevin was the first to see potential in my vocal abilities on the local level,” Black said to Maximum Metal in 2003. “And my voice fit right in with the heavy, aggressive material they were playing at the time.”
With Black in the fold and the bones of the nine other tracks already completed, the time was right for another demo: Judgement Insanity. By then, Lucian Blaque were making a name for themselves, even while death metal was burbling up from the Floridan underground and finding a home at Morrisound. “We all played the same clubs,” Wilson says about the metal style that would become Tampa’s prime extreme metal export. “There was a tiny club in Tampa called the Sunset Club. You’d play there, and the air conditioning would go out. It’d be the summer. It’d be 98 degrees with 95% humidity. You’re pouring pitchers of water over yourself so you don’t pass out. And you might have a death metal weekend, and then you’d have a progressive metal weekend, and then you’d have a weekend where a progressive metal band would open up for a death metal band or vice versa. We coexisted.”
Lucian Blaque were not only coexisting but flourishing and doing it as a DIY entity. They duped 500 copies of their demos and placed them in record stores. They worked the streets, handing out flyers. They took out ads in the local trades. All of their earnings went back into merch, a collection that included T-shirts, bumper stickers, and an item that Lucian Blaque pioneered in Tampa: hats. And if hats weren’t your thing, there was another way you could join the Lucian Blaque army. “When we would play a show, we had a little index card that we put on all the tables,” Wilson remembers. “It was for our fan club, and nobody had email back then. If they signed up, we added them to the list. And every so often, we would make up a little newsletter flyer thing, fold it, put a stamp on it, and mail it out.”
That club is how subscribers received a copy of 1993’s Live @ Morrisound, which cannily asked fans for input on a slate of new songs without Lucian Blaque breaking the bank on studio costs. Tom Morris oversaw that one over the course of one day. “We go in with a batch of new songs and a couple of new members that had played live with us but hadn’t recorded with us,” Wilson recalls. “We go in for the day, and we recorded straight to DAT, through the board, dumped straight down to two tracks. And if we screwed up, we started over until we got a run through a song that we could live with.”
But Lucian Blaque weren’t just studio rats. They were getting their name out there. They entered the tape trade, earning recognition in European zines. They also had songs in radio rotations, including a local station with quite the reach. “They invited us in two different times, interviewing us and letting us play two acoustic songs,” Wilson says. “The first time it was over, I asked the DJ, ‘Hey, man, any idea how many people might’ve heard that?’ He goes, ‘250,000.’”
The band was gigging hard, too, playing shows with notable locals like Blackkout and national touring acts like Cry of Love, Vicious Rumours, and, on the same night, Quiet Riot and Flordia’s own Savatage. “After we signed up for the Quiet Riot gig, we were offered opening for Savatage the same night,” Wilson recollects. “So we opened for Quiet Riot, packed our gear, drove to Tampa, and opened for Savatage.”
Better yet, Lucian Blaque were receiving recognition. The band and Wilson, as a guitarist, received nominations in the “best metal” category in the Tampa Bay Music Awards. And although they weren’t nominated, another awards showcase put them in contact with their biggest fan, so to speak.
“We were invited to play in Orlando one year,” Wilson says. “They had their own music awards called the Jammies, and the showcase gigs were three nights in a row at a big rock club that Jani Lane from Warrant owned. And I’ll never forget that we were done, and one of the guys who helped us move equipment said, ‘Hey, man, you’ve got to meet someone.’ I follow him over, and as I get closer, I just see this big mountain of a guy. It’s Duane Roland from Molly Hatchet. I shook his hand, and his hand was like three of mine. And he said, ‘Hey, you guys sounded really good.’ That was just one of the cool things that happened. I wouldn’t trade those things for the world. I wouldn’t go back and do it differently if I thought the outcome might change.”
But as time went on, label interest remained elusive, intra-band tensions started to rise, and money was getting tight. Without the cash to fund another Morrisound trip, Lucian Blaque decamped to George Harris’s Panda Studios & Productions to work on their final demo, Electronic Prophet. Six songs were laid down during the 1995 session, including “Battleground” and “Gene Pool,” but Wilson felt things were nearing the end.
“I was 28 years old, about to turn 29,” Wilson remembers. “I think everybody goes into music young. ‘I’ve got to make it by the time I’m 20 or 23, or it’s over.’ Twenty-three came and went. And then 25. And then 27. And then 29. ‘If I don’t make my 29, that’s it.’ And next thing you know, 29 is right there. I had no money in the bank. I had a ratty car. We had just gone through the third bass player and second guitar player. And it is funny telling you this. Pantera had come on the scene and gotten big, and while I liked a bunch of their songs, I didn’t want to be Pantera. To me, that was kind of the next step heavier. It wasn’t really me. I loved Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Queensrÿche, Iron Maiden, all that stuff. Pantera was a little heavier than I wanted to play, and certainly, death metal was, too. So everybody else was loving that stuff and trending towards that, and things were speeding up more. I don’t know that I’m happy with where this is going. It doesn’t seem like the shows are coming, and there’s no money, and nobody is knocking down our doors to give us a record contract or put us on tour.”
That was it for Wilson. He left Florida and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. Lucian Blaque tried to continue in his absence but shed more members, including Wade Black, who’d go on to sing for Crimson Glory and Leatherwolf, among many others. The remaining members gamely persevered, eventually changing the name and writing new songs. But for Wilson, that chapter of his life was done. And then a funny thing happened. Time is a flat circle.
After laying the guitar down for seven years, Wilson’s nephew started taking drum lessons. As a get-good incentive, Wilson, who was back in Florida, offered to accompany him down the road. To prepare, Wilson got the ax back in his hands and then called up Black, who just happened to be between bands. The two worked out two acoustic songs. But alas, the always-busy Black was soon out on the road with another group. No matter, it turns out the nephew did get good. Wilson bought a Roland 24-track digital recorder and assembled a studio, showing his nephew the ropes, including how to nail down song credits. After some logistical hurdles, such as college for the younger and a move back to Phoenix for the elder, Wilson again had 15 songs. After securing the services of Robb Vallier and Matt Reardon as vocalists, Wilson’s debut solo album, Self Portrait, was released in April 2009.
It was Lucian Blaque all over again, and Wilson’s mission was getting people to hear the new music. He pressed CDs. He took out ads. And, instead of hats, he had a different idea: “My whole thing was it’d be so cool to be able to get songs in TV shows and movies.”
So Wilson headed to an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) expo. “I meet these people. They’re like, ‘Yeah, I got a song on a TV show last year. I got a song in a movie last year.’ And I’m like, ‘Wow, how do you do that?’ ‘Oh, you just got to make connections and get with a publisher, get with a music supervisor.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s so cool.'”
While Wilson chewed on that intel, he went to the Arizona Songwriters Association’s annual meeting. He spied a session by David Hilker and Jeff Freundlich from Fervor Records about syncs, the industry jargon for combining music to moving images, placements, and licensing songs.
“So I go into the room, sit down, and they get up on stage and start talking,” Wilson remembers. “They’re like, ‘We’re Fervor Records, but we have this other company called Vintage Masters. And the thing Vintage Masters trades in is music from the ’80s on back. We look for bands and artists with good quality songs and recordings who never made it big. We get those songs placed in spots. When a production can’t afford a James Brown song, we’ve got an artist who is reminiscent of James Brown. Somebody wants a George Jones song? We’ve got a country guy who is reminiscent of George Jones.’ And they called out a few people in the audience, ‘Hey, there’s Joe, there’s Bob, there’s Janet, and we signed them up last year, and we got a placement.’ And then the people would stand up and go, ‘These guys are great. I can’t believe what they’ve done for me.'”
Wilson decided this was a possible break. After the presentation, he made the acquaintance of Hilker and Freundlich and gave them the Lucian Blaque pitch. Sure, the band existed in the ’90s with the elevated production values indicative of the era, but come on, it was kind of an anachronism and had an ’80s flavor. Hilker and Freundlich were interested. A few days later, Wilson sent over 18 songs. Fervor chose 10. A deal was made.
“I mean, nobody wants to give up the rights to what they own,” Wilson admits. “But I told them, ‘The way I look at it, these songs are 20 years old, and they’re sitting in a closet collecting dust, if you will. So, hell, if you can do something with them, and I get 50 percent, that’s better than 100 percent of nothing. We did the deal, and I swear, within a few months, they made the first placement.”
For Hilker, the placement math was simple. “Well, we get requests literally for all genres of music, and heavy metal quite frequently, so we just knew when we heard it that this was something we needed, basically,” he says over Zoom, as Freundlich, his business partner, sits next to him. The acquisition would treat both parties well.
David Hilker and Jeff Freundlich, both massive music fans, were born to do this. “My mom has pictures of me in a little rocking chair sitting in front of the stereo,” Hilker says. “She would come in and change records all the time. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been interested in doing and kind of all I’ve ever done.”
“I feel like people always say, ‘How did you get into the music industry?’ And it’s like, well, this is divine intervention,” Freundlich adds. “It had to happen this way. It’s more like it chose me. This is like breathing. I have to do this. This is what makes me the happiest. And I just feel really lucky that I get to do it every day.”
After a career in bands such as the 1933, Hilker started Fervor Records with some friends in 1989. “Well, ‘fervor’ is ‘with passion,’ and we’re passionate about music,” Hilker says about the name’s origins. “And at the time in 1989, I thought that was cool.”
Fervor’s first release was Southwest Holiday, a Christmas compilation benefitting a homeless shelter in Phoenix that sold out its run of 4,500 copies in six weeks. “We just wanted to figure out how a record label worked, and we were a bunch of broke musicians,” Hilker says. “We thought, ‘Well, what do we do?’ So we decided to donate a year of our life. There were four of us originally. We understood PR. We got all the local recording studios on board to record stuff. The cities were on board for live shows and promotions. We started in January for a year-end blitz, and everything was donated, from office space to the cassettes. We gave 100 percent of all the proceeds back to the charity.”
From there, Fervor kept making comps while branching out. According to a 2019 profile in Music Connection, Brian Page & the Next, a compilation contributor, provided Hilker the proof of concept to dabble in licensing. “As a songwriter,” Hilker said in that write-up, “I wanted to get in on that game. We opened a recording studio, started writing and producing local hip hop artists and R&B singers, and before long were licensing songs to film and TV.”
In 1997, Hilker landed a song in As Good As It Gets. Sort of. “Well, actually, you can’t even hear that song,” Hilker says of the scene where the track plays on a character’s headphones. “But it’s on the cue sheet, and it was a long cut. So even though it’s not audible, it still generates a royalty, which is another beautiful thing. Whenever you hear something you did on the radio, on TV, anywhere, it reinforces that, ‘Hey, I guess this is valid.’ It’s a nice pat on the back. It makes you feel good.”
“It’s validation for the creative process,” Freundlich notes, picking up where Hilker left off. “Everybody needs a little validation. Music is emotional, right? It feels good when somebody else independently is saying, ‘Yeah, this has value.'”
When Freundlich came aboard in 2002, Hilker found a lot of value in placements. “We were able to get enough TV placements where I was able to generate enough money off of royalties to close the recording studio and just work on getting more songs in films and TV shows,” he told AZ Central in 2019. In turn, Fervor started expanding its catalog and figuring out what it could do for artists to help them reach beyond the traditional means of compensation.
“I understood there were other ways to make money,” Hilker says. “One of my goals is songwriting. Getting those songs licensed and in films and TV shows literally changed my life and changed the path of what I was able to do. It is this magical gift, and you want to share that with other songwriters. It’s like, ‘Hey, you have this thing that you can do. You can create a musical copyright that can last for 70 years after you die, creating generational wealth as long as you put that music in the hands of somebody who can get it in the right places.'”
Fervor positioned itself as that somebody. Thanks to past successes and an exhaustive knowledge of what it owns, Fervor has become a go-to goldmine for music supervisors. It has breadth — the music under the Fervor umbrella stretches back to the early 20th century. (The oldest, per Hilker, are two 1921 sides from Morrison Records: “Clarinet Polka” and “Live Love Laugh.”) But it also has a nose for quality, sifting through songs that are “sitting in a closet collecting dust,” as Kevin Wilson put it, and finding the gems that not only encapsulate an era but are just plain good. (Freundlich’s two tips for scoring placements: 1. Have a vocal and non-vocal mix. 2. Make sure the music is amazing because you’re competing against all of recorded history.) Those are the songs that music supervisors want, and those are the songs that go on to have a second life.
“I mean, that is the greatest joy of doing this work is when you can let an artist or a songwriter know that their music is about to be heard by millions of people in a film or a TV show,” Freundlich says. “And to know that they’re going to be compensated for that is just a wonderful, wonderful feeling. When you tell an 85-year-old man that a rockabilly tune that he wrote in the 1950s is going to be on TV, I promise you that voice changes to the voice of a 21-year-old kid. It’s a really magical moment.”
In 2011, Fervor started making magic for Lucian Blaque. Its first placement was The Grey, the Liam Neeson versus wolves flick that made $81.2 million at the box office. The Lucian Blaque song? “Running A.D.” It played during a brawl in a rowdy frontier bar.
To date, Lucian Blaque have notched 11 placements: four movies and seven television shows. And some of those are heavy hitters. There’s “The Gang Hits The Slopes,” a season 11 episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia where “Mean Machine” soundtracks the big ski race. There’s “The Sky Is A Graveyard,” a season one episode of The Walking Dead: World Beyond that features Silas jamming out to “Battleground” while his zombie dad lingers outside his bedroom door. There’s “A Solo Peanut, A Social Butterfly And The Truth,” a season five episode of Young Sheldon where “Bring Them Down” plays as the titular Sheldon’s intense nerdity is contrasted with the “normal” college kid experience of going to concerts and never saying “bazinga.” And there’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, where…uh…you know about that one already.
And that brings us full circle: How did Lucian Blaque’s “Running A.D.” end up in The Time Traveler’s Wife? According to Season Kent, an award-winning music supervisor who worked on the series, the business side was pretty cut and dry. The production initially had a different song in mind. It was too expensive to license. David Hilker and Jeff Freundlich suggested Lucian Blaque’s “Running A.D.” The showrunner picked it. There you go — the ol’ budget switcheroo.
“Yes, the budget switcheroo happens often — getting the puzzle pieces to fit creatively and within budget!” Kent writes in an email. “I think soundalikes these days are pretty easy to come by in all genres as there is so much music out there, though finding the good stuff that is authentic from a particular era recorded during the same time with the same feel can be a bit trickier. David and Jeff always come through with great artists from different eras who may not have made it big, but their music is authentic and true to the era!”
Finding the perfect needle drop is indeed tricky. It’s a finicky alchemy. For instance, if you pick something too popular, it could take the viewer out of the scene. And how productions reverse engineer moments typically runs counter to how most of us experience music. For us, it’s song-first. For productions? Not so much. “Music and songs in films and TV shows are scene-dependent,” Hilker explains while fielding a question about whether there’s an increased demand for metal placements in the wake of Metallica’s surprise mainstream revitalization of “Master Of Puppets” thanks to Stranger Things. “It’s not really song-dependent. It’s the scene that drives the need for music, not the song that drives the need. We were fortunate to have a montage placement and Stranger Things that lasted the full length of the song. There was no dialogue. It was just images with the song playing. That’s awesome. The scene still wasn’t written around that song. That song happened to fit with that scene. So it’s really scene-driven.”
The Stranger Things montage Hilker mentions, featuring Gentlemen Afterdark’s “Open The Door,” is one of Fervor’s proudest moments. “The tune, I think it went from basically no streams on Spotify to over a million, and they still have thousands of followers,” Freundlich notes. “The band actually reunited and have played some reunion shows.”
While that kind of late-career, unexpected success is heartening, it also poses an interesting philosophical question: If an unknown song is placed in an era-specific context and subsequently blows up, is that meddling with the past? Gentlemen Afterdark’s “Open The Door” wasn’t a hit in 1983, but Stranger Things viewers may associate it as an ’80s hit now. So, considering its aptitude for getting placements, is Fervor Records putting its thumbs on the scale and rewriting history?
“We’re just perpetuating some legacies of artists that are sometimes overlooked. I don’t think we’re rewriting the history,” Freundlich answers. “What we’re trying to do is continue the history,” Hilker interjects. Freundlich continues: “We want to be part of the history, and we want to elevate the bands, but we’re not trying to rewrite anything at all. We want the story of the band out there, and the best way to get ears on the music and to get that story told is, in our opinion, by placing it in film and on television.”
The strategy works. Thanks to some time-traveling tomfoolery, you now know the story of Lucian Blaque, a previously unknown band that has been heard many more times than anything else this column will ever cover. And that sets up another interesting paradox. How does Kevin Wilson feel knowing there’s a non-zero chance that any stranger he passes on the street has heard his music?
“Yeah, it’s funny,” Wilson admits. “If you talk to somebody and you’re like, ‘I write songs and play guitar.’ They’ll ask, ‘Oh, anything I might’ve heard?’ It always seemed like an absurd question. No, I’m nobody. But my answer used to be, ‘Well, if you were listening to the right radio station at the right time in Tampa Bay in the ’90s.’ But now it’s easier. ‘Well, did you see the episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia where they’re at the ski resort?'”
Wilson’s latest solo release is Warhorse, featuring the guitarist on vocals, something he started doing on 2012’s Covers On Shangri La. He’s still waiting for the new material to hit, but he can’t complain about the resurrection of his former outfit, something that has granted his 20-year-old self a type of immortality. “First time in my life I’ve ever really made money playing music other than getting $50 for a Monday night at Bennigan’s in Clearwater, Florida,” he says with a laugh. So, in that sense, since Lucian Blaque’s recordings are encased in amber, he did make it by 29. All that hard work paid off: the endless practicing, Morrisound recording, smart marketing, hat making, tape trading, and opening slot taking. It just took a couple decades for the seeds to sprout. And who knows, if he did it differently, if he hadn’t taken Jim Morris’ notes and shined up songs that music supervisors would find attractive, would we have ever heard “Running A.D.”? Perhaps not. But that’s of no concern. There’s no going back. Kevin Wilson is looking forward, hoping his solo work achieves the same success. He’s staying in the present while the past continues to play out. –Ian Chainey
FOUL EMANATIONS FROM THE VOID
10. Blencathra – “Rhydderch”
Subgenre: melodic black metal
Blencathra play majestic and lush melodic black metal that also shreds big time–one-person maestro Nicholas Fry describes his music as “melodic blackened speed metal” on Bandcamp. When you hear the unadulterated, eye-widening riff attack that breaks out just prior to the five-minute mark on “Rhydderch,” you’ll understand the tag. The track has guitar heroics on overdrive, and it’s all tightly wound into a narrative that carries across those frenetic passages to melancholic respites, periods of turmoil and doubt, wide-lens scenic vistas, and other trials and tribulations on the hero’s journey. What sets Blencathra apart is ambition and execution. “Rhydderch” and the rest of II – On These Shores Where Nothing Now Stands balance and blend fury, melody, and technical ability into an engrossing work. This new album arrives six years after Blenchartha’s debut, These Bones Became The Roots of the Forest……, which is also excellent, has a greater focus on rich melody, and is seeing a re-release alongside II to give the project the introduction it deserves. [From II – On These Shores Where Nothing Now Stands, out now via Naturmacht Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
9. Body Void – “Divine Violence”
Location: Winooski, VT
Subgenre: sludge / doom
“Divine Violence” sounds like a newly sentient machine woke up, realized this is the reality where it will be imprisoned, and started screaming. That visual comes close to capturing an early concept behind Atrocity Machine, Body Void’s fourth full-length, but it’s flawed in one crucial way: Turns out a human is the machine.
“I suppose one of the earliest ideas behind Atrocity Machine was a human transforming into a machine, so it’s thematically on point,” guitarist and vocalist Willow Ryan said to Invisible Oranges’s Tom Morgan, answering a question about “transformation” and how that concept manifests throughout the trio’s work. “Then, in terms of the band, we wanted to do something more mechanical and industrial musically, adding synths and noise to what was already there.”
Ah, yes: the noise. Body Void, always one of the heavier inclusions whenever they crack a Black Market list, have gotten even more massive on Atrocity Machine. What has made “Divine Violence” and the rest of the album sound so immense is that Body Void now use noise and synths as another lead instrument. Those tones, the harsh feedback squalls and paralyzing strobes, turn the band’s heaving sludge into something that encapsulates this moment we find ourselves in, where it’s almost like the world either wants to turn us into machines or use us as the fuel to power them.
“Atrocity Machine was basically meant to be a horror movie soundtrack for late-stage capitalism,” guitarist and vocalist Willow Ryan said to Echoes And Dust, later noting that there’s a link to “how we internalize capitalism and how it dehumanizes us.” In that respect, it’s no surprise to learn that Ryan has cited Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Akira as influences in other interviews, telling Invisible Oranges, “I was really interested in taking the themes of modern-day America and using extreme imagery to convey the feelings of living in this country.”
If you’re going to go extreme, noise is certainly a way to achieve it. Uniform’s Ben Greenberg, acting as producer, helped fit the noise and synths into the remaining space in the sonic spectrum, and the result is a densely layered onslaught of industrial howls riding atop Body Void’s trademark crawling crunch. Janys-Iren Faughn, who started working with Body Void on Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth and became a full-fledged member on Burn The Homes Of Those Who Seek To Control Our Bodies, plays those synths like it’s a second voice screeching alongside Ryan’s roar. And when Ryan and drummer Edward Holgerson lock into a devastating groove, the feeling is alternately therapeutic and terrifying.
“I approach Body Void as if, even though the world might be ending, we still have to live day-to-day,” Ryan said in that Invisible Oranges interview. “We’re gonna need to do our best and, for example, [with] this record, chronicle what we’re going through and fight for something better. If it works, it works, but if it doesn’t, well…” While a better tomorrow may be TBD, at least as a vehicle for catharsis, Atrocity Machine works. It’s an album to scream along to. [From Atrocity Machine, out now via Prosthetic Records.] –Ian Chainey
8. Jute Gyte – “Hesperus Is Phosphorus”
Subgenre: black metal
For a project potentially steeped in theory, Jute Gyte’s music never sounds stuffy or didactic. Perhaps that’s because its creator has focused on what they want to hear instead of what we should hear. “I have an undergraduate degree in music and my focus was composition,” Adam Kalmbach, Jute Gyte’s sole member, said to The Quietus in 2016. “I kind of always wished I could hear, as a listener, the kind of music I’m interested in — black metal, industrial, etc. — with more elements drawn from academic theory. The academy is kind of the R&D department of music. A lot of really cool ideas never get exported to popular music, though I don’t think black metal is especially popular…”
What Kalmbach has exported to Jute Gyte has been intelligent, innovative, and engrossing: microtones, verticality, and other ideas demonstrating Kalmbach’s boundless faculties as a composer. Nevertheless, Jute Gyte has amassed a cult of listeners not because of the project’s brainy experimental tendencies but its visceral power. Nothing sounds quite like a Jute Gyte black metal song on a pure sonic level. It’s bracing. Thus, it feels real when other “challenging” music is choked by academic artifice. “My goal isn’t to create challenging music,” Kalmbach noted to Invisible Oranges in 2021, “but to make something new that rewards careful listening and hopefully contributes something of value to the musical traditions that have enriched my life.”
That said, whew, I am pushing the limits of what some of y’all will find rewarding with “Hesperus Is Phosphorus.” The 14-minute song that closes Unus Mundus Patet, Jute Gyte’s first album of black metal-centric music since 2021’s Mitrealität, is potentially the most extreme track ever featured in the Black Market, and, keep in mind, I made you listen to Effluence.
Kalmbach writes in the Unus Mundus Patet liner notes that the album is “black metal in the archaic style,” which could be a comment on the compositional approach, the recording techniques employed, or everything in between (and really, I’m not smart enough to suss that out until Kalmbach spills the beans in an interview). And there’s some truth to that observation: songs like “Disinterment Of Sfanomoë” and “Killing A Sword” sound craggily ancient, like something Strid might’ve cooked up if it got super into Krzysztof Penderecki.
However, “Hesperus Is Phosphorus” is unlike most black metal I’ve heard. Staggeringly dense, it might as well be a three-part suite examining a black hole eating every black metal song ever recorded. Somewhere, very deep in the mix, you can hear Kalmbach scream, desperately fighting for space while the layered stinging guitars and rushing drums get spaghettified. The overall effect is powerful, almost shockingly so, and much of it comes from its novelty. Nevertheless, “Hesperus Is Phosphorus” is authentically very black metal, somehow creating that same hanging drone that characterized the second wave while stoking that particular blackened feeling that pervades some of my favorite records. I can’t get enough of it. And that’s Jute Gyte in a nutshell: the bewildering R&D department that always produces what I want to hear, whether I know what that stuff is or not. [From Unus Mundus Patet, out now via Jeshimoth Entertainment.] –Ian Chainey
7. Floodhag – “Smiling Gravely Beneath The Sea”
Location: Maine, USA
Subgenre: black metal
Floodhag’s “Smiling Gravely Beneath The Sea” kicks off with a watery synthwave intro, putting a rising tide in motion that, at its tipping point, breaks into a black metal ripper with a beating punk heart. It’s sneering and swaggering, full of dramatic builds and pauses, with venom-dripping rasps that narrate a wide-ranging tale. Surf-punk energy courses across the track, and with ghostly spook synths dropping in from time to time, it’s an anthem for mean-mugging goth shredders riding black waves. It’s all the work of Marina, who teamed up with Montana-based Lust Hag for the split Hagridden Black Metal. The split rips, and Lust Hag’s second half sees Eleanor Harper bringing vampyric black metal to theatrical heights, with full moon dark magic playing out at high speed under castle ramparts and in torchlit halls. [From Hagridden Black Metal, out now via Fiadh Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
6. Malokarpatan – “Kočár Postupuje Temnomodrými Dálavami Na Juhozápad”
Subgenre: dark heavy metal
Malokarpatan cook up an incredible witches’ brew, pulling from traditional heavy metal, heavy psych, black metal, and more to create potent, super-headbangable metal. There can be a distinctly retro feel to Malokarpatan’s tracks — you’ve got the galloping rhythms, retro ’70s horror film spook synths, and a production style that echoes from the classic era. The deep, gravelly growls are from more modern times, but mixing them in with the old and spicing it up with heavy dashes of woodland folk — whether it be flutes, harpsichord, or some other earthy addition, always just the right amount — puts Malokarpatan in their own timeline. On “Kočár postupuje temnomodrými dálavami na juhozápad” — “The carriage moves through the dark blue valleys to the southwest,” Google says — you’ll get a complete journey worth of Malokaraptan magic. A slightly jaunty interlude with spoken narration adds to the folklorish bent, and big ax solos add a shot of epicness at points. When things get moving on the double quick, the chase-through-the-forest feeling is heightened, running through the dark as woods and wildlife close in with wild cackling spirits giving chase. [From Vertumnus Caesar, out now via Invictus Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
5. Afterbirth – “Angels Feast On Flies”
Location: Long Island, NY
Subgenre: death metal
“What if this is actually a Hum record?” I said to myself while listening to one of the spacey sections on Afterbirth’s In But Not Of, the death metal quartet’s third full-length since reforming and making the unlikely jump from legendary brutal death metal demo band to one of the more intriguing modern death metal bands around. That Hum observation isn’t totally out of left field. “[Hum] are probably as intertwined/hardwired into my guitar writing DNA as Suffocation is,” guitarist Cody Drasser is quoted as saying in Ryan Tysinger’s review published on Last Rites. And, for those sections at least, you can hear echoes of Matt Talbott’s weightlessly heavy riffing in the same way a life event might echo throughout your existence.
But the key to In But Not Of, and this reincarnated version of Afterbirth in general, is that it’s not constrained to being one thing. For instance, after a spacey section, Afterbirth might go full Suffo, brutally laying down technical riffs that would make their Long Island lineage proud. Or they might spin a proggy passage that sounds like the answer to Candiria’s Subliminal (“It was an inspiration for the fact that it allowed me to realize that I didn’t necessarily have to adhere to any rigid notions of what death metal could or could not be,” Drasser said of Subliminal to Toilet ov Hell). Or they will luxuriate in the goo of their ’90s gurgly brutal death metal past. And all of these moments have antecedents, I guess. But when Afterbirth fit those moments together, they become In But Not Of, a jigsaw puzzle of many echoes that connect to form a greater whole.
“Angels Feast On Flies” is indicative of just how varied that whole can be. The song appears on In But Not Of’s smearier second half when the more aggressive BDM-adjacent material often gives way to celestial-slathered build-ups. “Angels Feast On Flies” opens with Drasser’s guitars and David Case’s bass making dark matter out of moody arpeggios. Soon, the two instruments are thickened by the synths of guest Colin Marston, who also recorded, mixed, and mastered the album. Then, the singularity explodes. Furious death metal spills out, accented by Keith Harris’s powerful drumming. Will Smith gurgles, other vocalists yell. (I believe it’s John Collett from Nightmarer, but don’t hold me to that. Thætas’s Cory Monster also guests on the album.) And the song continues to swell, heading heavenward. By its Vangelis-but-blasts conclusion, “Angels Feast On Flies” is voyaging the uncharted realm of deep space, the starlight washing over Afterbirth’s cockpit glass as it revs up the hyperdrive. Where will it go? Wherever it wants. [From In But Not Of, out now via Willowtip Records.] –Ian Chainey
4. Laster – “Andermans Mijne”
Location: Utrecht, The Netherlands
Subgenre: avant-garde metal
The Dutch trio Laster have guided us deeper into a strange hall of mirrors for over a decade. They began as an innovative but solidly black metal band, and now they’re blending black metal and jazz and eerie dissonance into a deliriously wonky — and winking — danse macabre. “Andermans Mijne,” the lead-in title track from their new album, drops you straight into the mischief, where you’ll find decently strong Blue Man Group energy. Lest that lead you to continue scrolling, it works remarkably well, with unsettling jangly riffing, gravity-shifting time shifts, and vocals that are howled and moaned and barked, delivering on the Boschian and Kafkaesque promise. The band has a sense of humor and has been referring to their work as “obscure dance music” for some time. And even without the gallery-circuit-approved album art, Laster has a high-brow art-world, designer quality to it. Avant, unusual, and technically masterful, Laster continues to surprise and bring new kinds of awesome weirdness to push and distend expectations. [From Andermans Mijne, out now via Prophecy Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
3. Corrupted – “Mushikeras”
Location: Osaka, Japan
Subgenre: sludge / doom
Mushikeras, Corrupted’s return to longer-form songwriting, is unlike anything else in the band’s near 30-year history. Of course, you could say that about most of the releases in the influential sludge/doom outfit’s continually evolving body of work. But this one-track, nearly-28-minute EP, in particular, feels like a fresh start.
For one, Corrupted have some roster changes, debuting two fresh faces that are taking over for long-time members: Rie Lambdoll of the experimental Teresa 11 and Crossbred, to name a few, has replaced Hevi on vocals and bass, while Kaz Mike, credited as playing “howling guitar and bass,” has stepped in for Talbot. For another…well…just listen to “Mushikeras.” Along with original members Chew (“drum and high carbon steel”) and Mark Y. (“guitar and bass,” suggesting that “Mushikeras” might feature a tri-bass attack), Rie Lambdoll and Kaz Mike help push Corrupted in a different direction without losing sight of the band’s identity.
Indeed, one of the more engrossing things about “Mushikeras,” is how divergent it can sound while still playing to Corrupted’s strengths. Much of what makes Corrupted Corrupted is still here: the crunching guitars, the quiet/loud sludge structures perfected on albums like 2005’s El mundo frio and 2011’s Garten der Unbewusstheit, and the heavier-than-heck atmosphere. Plus, there are some notable echoes from the past for diehards. “Mushikeras”‘s piano opening recalls Llenandose de gusanos‘s “III – Sangre —,” and the moodier, smokier vibe of that section is almost as if Se hace por los sueños asesinos‘s “月光の大地 (Gekkou no Daichi)” was recast as a dark, jazzy ballad.
But forget all that. More importantly, “Mushikeras” is neither a throwback nor an olive branch for fans waiting over a decade for longer material. Even in its quieter moments, “Mushikeras” is challenging, both as an avant-garde work and a new entry into Corrupted’s discography.
From the start of “Mushikeras”‘s more sedate beginning, Corrupted want to jostle you out of your comfort zone by forcing you to embrace its quietude. Rie Lambdoll croons, the piano chords ringing out with maximum sustain. Soon, distorted guitars drone, adding a shade of foreboding foreshadowing. The effects on Lambdoll’s vocals become more psychedelic while other noises are subtly added to the mix. Though not rising above a comparative hush, you can barely get your bearings.
When “Mushikeras” moves into its second phase, with doomy riffs and slowly-paced pounding drums, Lambdoll previews a haunting vocal melody in a lower register that will appear throughout the rest of the song. That call gets a quick response: the same melody by a keening, incorporeal voice in the background. That’s the hook, and jeez, has it ever stuck with me. It’s one of those incomparably beautifully heavy moments that only Corrupted seem capable of pulling off.
“Mushikeras”‘s third phase descends into a surrealist dreamscape of rattling instruments, insistent drums, and groans and screeches that might even unnerve the most hardened listeners of Abruptum. It’s genius songwriting, creating a nearly unbearable tension. And that tension sets up “Mushikeras”‘s grand finale, when Corrupted finally allow themselves to crush. When the guitars/basses come in, pulverizing everything with their sludgy force, it’s a true release. What a journey. Corrupted, ever the mystery.
Right, it’s hard not to talk about Corrupted’s mysteriousness. The band has opted out of many extracurriculars demanded of artists in the internet era. They don’t do interviews, thus never explaining why a sizable chunk of the band’s discography is in Spanish. They don’t take pics with professional photogs. Releases, especially since their last full-length, Garten der Unbewusstheit, come out with little publicity. “Our expression of being Corrupted is in the sound, lyrics and artwork of our records,” the band said in a 2002 statement. While many other artists make that same claim, Mushikeras is one of those releases that seems to prove that Corrupted live by it. It’s pure expression from a band unafraid to be itself, whatever form that may take. [From Mushikeras, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
2. Baring Teeth – “Rote Mimesis”
Location: Dallas, TX
Subgenre: death metal
It’s not that Baring Teeth write incredibly demanding technical death metal riffs that might as well have been pulled from a twisted dimension where Steeve Hurdle reigns as the immortal deity. It’s that those riffs are catchy. “It’s a real challenge to write something that’s both chaotic and catchy,” vocalist and guitarist Andrew Hawkins said to Agoraphobic News in 2021. “A riff going at a million notes a minute doesn’t mean anything if the riff is shit. I think a lot of metal bands view ‘catchiness’ in a negative light, but I see it as a means to really have a song take hold of the listener. Songs can still be catchy with a skewed sense of melody.”
When it comes to “catchy with a skewed sense of melody,” The Path Narrows is Baring Teeth’s masterwork. Written during the height of COVID and using Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial as inspiration, the trio’s fourth full-length showcases it at the peak of its powers. No matter which player you choose to focus on, you’re going to hear something that pushes death metal forward. Hawkins’ riffs blaze the same trail as Heaving Earth’s coruscating runs but with a more Gorgutsian gutsiness. Scott Addison’s bass lines are consistently fascinating, acting as the music’s glue while seeping into their own nooks and crannies. Jason Roe’s drumming is an expertly executed flash flood of fills, all perfectly timed hits that seem to flow downstream at incredible force.
“Since we (typically) play parts independent from one another, we try to fill in frequencies that the other instruments aren’t hitting,” Hawkins said in that Agoraphobic News interview. “So if I’m playing something really high on the neck, Scott might play something really low on his bass to compensate. We’re very aware of the limitations that can arise from having only [three] members, but at the same time it’s a unique challenge: how can we make these songs sound huge with the configuration we have?”
“Rote Mimesis,” a hilarious title for a death metal song this energized, detailed, and far removed from the new OSDM zeitgeist, is the answer to Hawkins’ question. It’s enormous. It’s also dizzying when you dig into it. Sometimes literally. At the song’s outset, Roe and Addison are already working out polyrhythms in the low end, while Hawkins plays a disorienting riff that sounds like how your brain feels before you pass out. That’s the Baring Teeth formula: wherever you find yourself within The Path Narrows’ eight interconnected tracks, one, two, or all three members are doing something jaw-dropping.
“Rote Mimesis” bristles with wild Rigor Mortis string-flaying screams, This Heat clangs, arpeggios from an upside-down world, and deft-defying, blasting escapes from the Lovecraftian hellscape that houses Portal’s creepy-crawlies. Skewed melodies, rhythms, and growls galore. But Baring Teeth don’t show off, preferring tightly compacted structures that bloom over many listens. That makes me think The Path Narrows will be a slow burner, earning its fans over years instead of all at once. Then again, it is catchy, and if it gets one of its hooks in you, Baring Teeth won’t let you go. [From The Path Narrows, out now via I, Voidhanger Records.] –Ian Chainey
1. Furia – “Zamawianie Trzecie”
Location: Katowice, Poland
Subgenre: black metal
The experimental Polish veterans in Furia have long been explorers at the fringes of black metal, digging up strange artifacts and rare heavy elements and setting them into razor-sharp, ripping tracks. Experimental applies to a good deal of Polish black metal, which skews towards the strange, and Furia also tap into the umami-rich gloom that their compatriots tend to cook into their sound. But in Furia’s endlessly buzzing guitars, there’s a glimmering brightness that stands apart, and the way Furia relentlessly pound it out and sprint up and down scales is unique. On a track like “Na koń!” Furia bend riffs a la spaghetti western. “Swawola niewola” features a lingering ghost riff. And on “Spanie polskie” alien warbles add a sprinkle of otherworldly mischief. Album opener “Zamawianie trzecie” does it all, though, with intricate yet hooky and heroic guitar work, charismatic hyper-speed bass, and a battery of drums ablaze. Furia’s use of gang vocals brings a ritualistic element to bear, when the whole crew joins in to belt out the lyrics — the band’s laconic, and most tracks on Huta Luna feature just a few lyrics, and those lyrics are often just the track’s title spoken or shouted into the mix. On “Zamawiani trzecie,” we get five words, which translate to “You will find, You will penetrate, You’ll understand, And you will disappear.” [From Huta Luna, out now via Pagan Records.] –Wyatt Marshall
Bonus. Diego Caicedo – “Tierra Oscura: Passacaglia”
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Subgenre: avant-garde / black metal
Phil Freeman, emperor of the Burning Ambulance empire, proprietor of Ugly Beauty, Stereogum’s monthly jazz column, one-time Black Market blurber, and general heavy metal sartorial strategist, among many other things, has a record label. That label just released Diego Caicedo’s Seis Amorfismos. Seeing as we’ve dipped our toe into what Phil is calling “chambercore” before via Vmthanaachth, I thought Caicedo’s take was worth your time — intriguing stuff for those who prefer the forefront of music, to say the least.
Per an intro in Phil’s Burning Ambulance Substack, Caicedo was born in Bucaramanga-Colombia and cut his teeth on heavy metal classics. He picked up guitar in his teens and then studied music at university under Blas Emilio Atheortúa, a modern classical composer who rubbed shoulders with “Dallapicola, Maderna, Messiaen, Malipiero, Xenakis, Copland.” Caicedo then studied at L’aula del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain, where he has since resided, teaching and becoming a mainstay in the “free improvisation scene.”
“Seis Amorfismos arose as an aesthetic exercise based on my passion for chamber music by great composers and my passion for extreme metal, and at the same time, as a matter/question: could a string quartet work with an electric guitar as a chamber quintet within an extreme metal (death/black) metal aesthetic?” Caicedo asked in that Burning Ambulance intro.
Answer: Yes. Seis Amorfismos is an exhilarating combination of extremes, pushing modern classical and metal to the edge. Guitars howl and drone, strings saw and groan, and vocalist Carlos Jorge, who sings in Caicedo’s band Malignæ, roars. What’s neat is how, for something on the cutting edge, Caicedo has reached back into the past to solve some “hurdles” and “obstacles” in the composition and performance.
“I devised the harmonic aspect based on the polyphonic composers from the 11th to the 15th centuries: Perotín, Leonin, Di Vitri, Machaut, Dufay, Dunstable, Des Pres, Ockeghem, Willaert, Hildegard Von Bingen, etc., etc.,” Caicedo told Phil. “The harmonic base arises from an almost minimal material and how this material can be related to a group of four voices in the form of polyphony/counterpoint with a harmonic/homophonic base.”
Like Jute Gyte and Vmthanaachth, I think Seis Amorfismos leaps past the more theory-centric aspects of the music and delivers a solid gut punch. While I’m embedding “Tierra Oscura: Passacaglia” because I think that’s an easier path to onboard metalheads, be sure to check out “Presagio: El Séptimo Circulo.” That one has squiggly notes from violinists Sarah Claman and Francesc Llompart contrasted by the busy-ant rhythms of cellist João Braz and double bassist Alex Reviriego. The track’s highlight is its final third, when those elements become ominous legatos. As the distortion from Caicedo’s guitar rises in volume, it’s like, “Oh, I know this feeling. I’ve felt this.” And, really, isn’t that precisely what we want from a lot of music? [From Seis Amorfismos, out now via Burning Ambulance Music.] –Ian Chainey
HYMNS OF BLASPHEMOUS IRREVERENCE