Category Archives: Throwing Horns

THROWING HORNS: Blurt’s Metal Roundup Pt. 666.10

 

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 Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the seventh installment in our latest genre study, with Metallica, Opeth (pictured above), Helmet, Sodom, Wretch, Brain Tentacle, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5here for 666.6, here for 666.7 , here for 666.8 and here for 666.9—if you dare. Incidentally, following the album and band blurbs are links to audio and video, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

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When Metallica releases an album – something that’s become an oddly rare occurrence in the past couple of decades – it’s an event. The San Fran band is such a major player in its genre – arguably the most important act in metal still in full flower – that the quality of the music is almost beside the point. Fortunately, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct (Blackened) finds the nearly 40-year-old band closer to its original mojo than it’s been since the early 90s – maybe even the late 80s. The quartet has made no secret of its desire to revisit the whipcrack thrash it pioneered in the mid-80s – members have filled interviews with assurances of a return to their original sound, and recent shows have relied almost solely on its Reagan-era repertoire. Unsurprisingly for an album with such high expectations, the results are mixed. Much of the record takes the heavier tracks on the massively successful and still controversial Black Album as core inspiration – anyone expecting Master of Puppets II will be disappointed. Plus a lot of the lyrics are seriously dire – the chorus of “Hardwired” (“We’re so fucked/Shit out of luck/Hardwired to self-destruct”) would embarrass a 12-year-old. And James Hetfield’s mighty voice is starting to sound thin on a few tracks – on “Dream No More,” he’s nearly unrecognizable. But when the band locks in on what it does best – the raised-fist power metal of “Atlas, Rise!,” the hatchet prog metal of “Confusion,” the neckbreaking attack of “Spit Out the Bone,” “Moth Into Flame” and even “Hardwired” – with all the power, precision and, most significantly, enthusiasm of their younger selves, all the carping falls away in a haze of headbanging and air guitar. Hardwired…to Self-Destruct may not be the new masterpiece most of us were hoping for, but it’s absolutely the best Metallica record in a quarter of a century.   TRACK: Metallica – “Moth Into Flame”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tdKl-gTpZg

 

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Instrumental metal usually takes the form of either prog-like epics or shredfests designed to let the musicians show off. Philadelphia’s Dysrhythmia can certainly be accused of the latter, as the trio is made up of virtuoso technicians who can play nearly anything. But on The Veil of Control (Profound Lore), the band’s eighth LP, guitarist Kevin Hufnagel, bassist Colin Marston and drummer Jeff Eber use their powers for good. Taking cues from jazz in their interplay and punk rock in their elevation of intensity over technique, Dysrhythmia grab hold of riffs that are complex more in feel than in form and don’t let go, driving them to levels of power and tension that takes telepathic reciprocity and a lot of time in the practice space. Anyone looking for insanely complex solos worthy of Guitar Face may need to go elsewhere – Dysrhythmia’s compositional smarts and interwoven musicianship creates a space where solos aren’t needed to make the songs compelling.  TRACK: Dysrhythmia – Veil of Control Bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-veil-of-control

 

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More overtly referencing jazz fusion than Dysrhythmia, Animals As Leaders takes similar influences to different places on The Madness of Many (Sumerian), the D.C. trio’s fourth album. Eight-string guitarists Tobin Abasi and Javier Reyes are quite capable of soloing with GIT-soaked abandon, but are more interested in textures than technique. The axemen’s string slashes – which contribute both bass and guitar tones – clash in a way that creates polyrhythms with drummer Matt Garstka, and a subtle funk undercurrent keeps the tracks percolating.  TRACK: Animals As Leaders – “Inner Assassins”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEYt2GtfQJk

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Drawing on different inspiration than its fellow trios, Russian Circles eschews solo-happy arrangements and just goes for the jugular on Guidance (Sargent House), the Chicago band’s sixth record. Guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Turncrantz ride a fine line between doom metal and post rock, infusing the soaring dynamics of the latter with the power chord chug and thundering crunch of the former.  TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be

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Ottawa quartet The Night Watch adds prog rock sweep to its second record Boundaries (self-released). Guitarist Nathanael Larochette and violinist Evan Runge – both also of equally wordless experimental act Musk Ox – balance power chords and soaring string lines over the course of one 36-minute tune that never loses steam.  TRACK: The Night Watch – Boundaries Bandcamp: https://thenightwatch.bandcamp.com/

 

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Veteran Seattle black metal duo Inquisition has endured its fair share of bad press lately, due to accusations of Nazism. (Which seems unlikely, given this decidedly non-Aryan act hails originally from Colombia.) While denying all charges, guitarist/vocalist Dagon and drummer Incubus spit out Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith (Season of Mist). The title alone indicates more interest in high-falutin Luciferian fooferaw than National Socialism, and Dagon’s guttural rumble makes meaning hard to discern in any case. In truth, the band’s passion is for grinding but catchy riffs and blastbeat rhythms that conjure up that most rare of demons in black metal: a groove. (All the more impressive given the lack of bass.) “The Flames of Infinite Blackness Before Creation” and “Through the Divine Spirit of Satan a Glorious Universe is Known” don’t court controversy so much as headbanging glory.  TRACK: Inquisition – “Power From the Center of the Cosmic Black Spiral”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C-W3Tq-zgM

 

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Also no stranger to controversy, Norway’s legendary Darkthrone returns with its sixteenth LP Arctic Thunder (Peaceville). Singer/guitarist/bassist Nocturno Culto and drummer/lyricist Fenriz forgo the usual chaotic blast beats for a powerhouse marriage of blackened extreme metal and NWOBHM riffery. “Tundra Leech,” “Boreal Fiends” (which ends with a synth solo!) and “Deep Lae Trespass” sound, a quarter of a century after the band released its first album, less like black metal classicism and more like classic metal.  TRACK: Darkthrone – “Tundra Leech”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lwz7gucE7x0

 

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German headbanger vet Sodom also make a big return with Decision Day (Steamhammer/SPV), the trio’s 15th record, released 30 years after its debut. The band’s blackened thrash is as teeth-gnashingly powerful as ever, blazing through ugly anthems “Rolling Thunder,” “Vaginal Born Evil” and “Caligula” with nasty (and faintly ridiculous) intent. What else would you expect from a group whose singer is called Tom Angelripper?  TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be

 

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Witchery keep the Satanic vibe rolling on In His Infernal Majesty’s Service (Century Media), the long-running Swedish ensemble’s sixth LP. The quintet has always blended its bloody black metal with other styles (particularly thrash and power metal) for an evil brew that appeals to more than just the corpsepainted crowd. The powerhouse whipcrack of “Netherworld Emperor” sidles up to the blastbeat explosion of “The Burning of Salem,” both of which contrast with the heads-down stampede of “Zoroast” and the straight-up anthemry of “Oath Breaker.” Good headbanging fodder whether you worship Lucifer or not.  TRACK: Witchery- “Oath Breaker”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMBynqpUzdE

 

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Norway’s In the Woods… never bothered with all that Satan stuff, finding its eerie weirdness inside its own collective head. Pure (Debemur Morti Productions), the innovative band’s first album in 17 years, keeps the menacing atmosphere of darkness, but skips most of the other BM signifiers. Exchanging blastbeats and vampire-on-crack singing for sweeping minor-key melodies and a gruff baritone, ItW uses its black metal roots as foundation for moody progressive anthems “Blue Oceans (Rise Like a War)” and the massive “Transmission KRS.”  TRACK: In the Woods… – “Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY0nBdumDr0

 

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The Gates of Slumber waved the flag for old-fashioned doom metal for over a decade, before the departure and subsequent death of bassist Jason McCash put a period on the end of that sentence. But guitarist/singer Karl Simon isn’t done laying down the thundering riffgroove just yet, picking up exactly where he left off with Wretch, named for TGoS’s final LP. The trio’s self-titled debut (Bad Omen) floweth over with deep sludgy grooves, lava-thick guitar waves and Simon’s plainspokenly gruff ruminations on “Grey Cast Mourning,” “Winter” and “Running Out of Days.” No psychedelic excursions, blackened atmospheres or noise dynamics here – just pure doom done well – better, possibly, than anyone else treading the boards not named Tony Iommi. Check out “Icebound” for a near-perfect encapsulation of everything doom is all about.  TRACK: Wretch – s/t Bandcamp: https://badomenrecords.bandcamp.com/album/wretch

 

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Combining progressive rock melodics, death metal aggression and doom crunch, Vancouver’s Anciients blast to life on sophomore LP Voice of the Void (Season of Mist). Alternating carnivorous roars with keening croons, sweeping tunesmithery with thunderous riffology and soaring majesty with grimy brutality, the quartet lifts you up to heaven, only to drag you back through hell, usually within the same song. As such, the band is at its best on longer pieces where it can really flex its considerable muscle – “Worshipper” and “Ibex Eye” are particularly good examples.  TRACK: Anciients – “Ibex Eye”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFJaeVS8L00

 

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Veteran Swedes Dark Tranquility skip the doom part of the equation, but aren’t a million miles away from prog metal on eleventh LP Atoma (Century Media). The band’s sense of majestic melody informs tracks like “Neutrality,” “When the World Screams” and “Encircled” – it’s just one clean vocal away from a radio-ready anthem.  TRACK: Dark Tranquility – “Forward Momentum”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suhuQlYZwtE

 

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Pioneering avant metal act Neurosis lets enough years go between releases that any new album is a big deal. Fires Within Fires (Neurot), the influential Oakland quintet’s twelfth album and first in four years, serves as a thirtieth anniversary record, and a summing up of the group’s long career to date. Over the course of five long tracks, Neurosis takes a journey through noise and silence, chaos and order, alternating high volume and maximum crunch with delicate beauty and near-ambient intonation. Guitarists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till interweave steely webs of thorny latticework before crashing into wall-shaking thunder; drummer Jason Roeder modulates the dynamics while still keeping to the crunge. Keyboardist Noah Landis and bassist Dave Edwardson fill out the sound without drawing attention. As vocalists, Kelly and Von Till evoke the album title in their performances, calling up a harsh passion undiminished in their three decades around the metal block. “A Shadow Memory” and “Fire is the End Lesson” present masterclasses in how to manipulate sturm und drang without becoming tiresome, while the awesome closing epic “Reach” is a summary of everything that makes Neurosis great.  TRACK: Neurosis – Fires Within Fires Bandcamp: https://neurosis.bandcamp.com/album/fires-within-fires

 

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Every time we think NYC alt.metal icon Helmet has finally given up the ghost, we’re proven wrong. Since its reactivation in the early ‘aughts, Page Hamilton likes to take his time between records and tours, so the confusion is understandable. Six years since the underwhelming Seeing Eye Dog, Hamilton and co. return with Dead To the World (earMUSIC), Helmet’s eighth LP. The guitarist’s voice has gotten rougher over the years – indeed, he’s almost unrecognizable to his former mellifluous yet harsh singing self. Otherwise, though, the song remains the same – growling riffs, grungy melodies, noisy guitar breaks, the occasional unusual lick or chord progression to remind us of Hamilton’s jazz training. “Bad News,” “Life or Death” and “Expect the World” likely won’t change the minds of the unconverted, but fans will feel a familiar warm and steely buzz.  TRACK: Helmet – “Bad News”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkFMvststF0

 

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On their last album Clean., Whores. seemed just too angry and spiteful to live. But rage can keeps the blood pumping, as on the band’s follow-up Gold. (eOne). The Atlanta trio pummels its riffs with barbwire-wrapped baseball bats, while guitarist Christian Lembach rants and raves about whatever’s pissing him off at the moment. Same old same old, especially in the noise rawk world, but Whores. (spellcheck loves that period!) definitely possess that certain spark that elevates them above mere Unsane clonery. Maybe it’s because, like Unsane, Wrong and the other heads-above distortion mongers, Whores. writes real songs – “Baby  Teeth,” “Mental Illness as Mating Ritual” and “Bloody Like the Day You Were Born” would hold up if they were being played by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Fortunately, they’re not.  TRACK: Whores. – “Baby Teeth”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqPVISe4jhI

 

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If metal musicians are playing, is the result still metal? Hard to say, given how many active headbangers like to make goth rock, postpunk, prog, noise rock and various electronic and ambient musics. Case in point: Brain Tentacles, the membership of which includes dudes from Municipal Waste, Keelhaul and Yakuza. The trio’s self-titled LP (Relapse) plays smash ‘n’ grab with elements of free jazz, riff punk, noise rock and thrash for a gleefully frenzied tornado of sonic ass-whuppery. Bruce Lamont’s growling sax leads the charge, dragging bass guitar, drums and occasional synth waves and vocal expulsions in its wake with a chain. Four-stringer Aaron Dallison sometimes challenges Lamont and even threatens to win, but ultimately goes back to his corner, while drummer Dave Witte just keeps his head down and bashes away. “Sleestack Lightning,” “Fruitcake” and “The Sadist” are exciting and goofy and overwrought and brilliant all at once. Exactly what you want from a band called Brain Tentacles.  TRACK: Brain Tentacles – s/t Bandcamp: https://braintentacles.bandcamp.com/

 

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Opeth hasn’t really been metal in several years at this point, ever since excising its death metal side with 2011’s Heritage. While the Stockholm quintet still hasn’t rediscovered the magic that made Blackwater Park and Watershed so distinctive and compelling, it gets closer with every post-Watershed album, as latest Sorceress (Nuclear Blast) shows. “Era” and “Will O’ the Wisp” mix progressive rock and psychedelia like there’s no difference betwixt them (is there?), while the Middle Eastern melodies of “The Seventh Sojourn” give the album a different flavor. “Chrysalis” and the title track also remind that Opeth still knows how to rock when required. Sorceress is this metal royalty’s best non-metal album so far.  TRACK: Opeth – “Sorceress”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhqijfqecvA

 

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Opeth’s countrymen Witchcraft have followed a similar path from headbanging to headscratching, though starting from 70s doom rather than 80s death metal. Time (Nuclear Blast), Witchcraft leader Magnus Pelander’s first solo album, falls even further from the metal tree, its apple rolling off into fields of lite prog and acid folk. Given how stripped down these tracks are – mostly just acoustic guitar and voice – the nearly nine- and ten-minute lengths of “True Colour” and “Precious Swan” seem excessive. But Pelander’s melodic instincts serve him as well here as they do in his main band, keeping him out of trouble.  TRACK: Pelander – “The Irony of Man”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXF7Y_QOV5g

 

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Similarly, Sweden never seems to tire of the heavy classic rock groove, as it spits out bands of that ilk like watermelon seeds. Örebros quartet Captain Crimson is the latest to cross over to domestic shores, via its third album Remind (Small Stone). The band sports a fairly traditional (if you can say that about this music) melodic blues rock sound – songs like “Money” and the title track sound familiar even if you’ve never heard them before. But singer Stefan Lillhager boasts a charismatic tenor and guitarist Andreas Eriksson knows when to let riff and when to let rip. “Black Rose” and “Drifting” score big on both counts.  TRACK: Captain Crimson – Remind Bandcamp: https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/remind

 

THROWING HORNS: Blurt’s Metal Roundup Pt. 666.9

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Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the seventh installment in our latest genre study, with Cobalt (above),  Melvins, Death Angel, Candlemass, Dust Moth, Lord Mantis, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5here for 666.6, here for 666.7 and here for 666.8—if you dare. Incidentally, following the text are links to audio and video of the bands discussed, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

As cult as cult can be, Colorado’s Cobalt records infrequently and tours even less, so the metal community can be forgiven for forgetting the duo still exists. But records like Eater of Birds and Gin are prized by fans like slivers of the true cross (and are about as rare at this point), so any new release comes with the kind of reverential anticipation usually reserved for a Tom Waits album. Slow Forever (Profound Lore), the band’s fourth LP, comes with its own black cloud – singer and founding member Phil McSorley was fired after using racist slurs in an interview, then replaced with Charlie Fell, whose own lyrics with his previous band Lord Mantis have been accused of racial insensitivity. (If you want to know the full tit-for-tat story, Google is your friend.) Regardless of one’s feelings for its creators’ past actions, the album is an exceptional piece of work. Multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder paints an ugly picture, but not one without appeal. Thanks to a tight grasp on arrangements and just enough melody to focus the violence, he spreads the band’s doom-ridden progressive black metal over two disks with no listener fatigue. Fell brings his bloodthirsty A-game to the mic, slashing his larynx with ferocity and slotting into songs intended for McSorley as if the latter had never been present. Psychedelic, dynamic and brutal, “Hunt the Buffalo,” “Slow Forever” and the massive “King Rust” and “Final Will” smash and burn with the best extreme metal of the past decade. Expect Slow Forever to top a lot of 2016 best-of lists.

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Speaking of Lord Mantis, the band’s latest EP Nice Teeth Whore (New Density) is also the debut of its latest iteration, with Indian’s Dylan O’Toole and Will Lindsay joining Mantis’ Andrew Markuszewski and Bill Baumgardner. (The drama surrounding this particular mind-meld, which also tangentially involves Abigail Williams and the disgraced Nachtmystium, is worthy of a soap opera, but we’ll skip it – Google that shit if you gotta know.) Given that both outfits indulged in some of the most angry, hateful and nihilistic death metal ever made by anyone anywhere, it’s not a shock that the four songs here are the same, but moreso. The grinding closer “Final Division” isn’t just the key track on the EP, but practically a primer on this poisonous strain of Chi-town extreme metal.

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Undoubtedly one of the best metal acts going, Tombs follows up 2014’s masterful Savage Gold with the all-too-brief EP All Empires Fall (Relapse). The Brooklyn quintet ostensibly plays black metal, but happily incorporates wild-eyed acid doom, spooky gothic drama and Neurosis-like poundcrunch into its violent aesthetic, always layering in just enough melody to keep from being mere cacophony. Synthesist Fade Kainer adds a new touch to the band’s usual deathcrush, but it’s still visionary Mike Hill’s show via the brilliant, eccentric “Last Days of Sunlight” and “V.” Former Emperor leader Ihsahn has long used black metal merely as a jumping off point – his last album found him hitting a new peak in that regard, and his latest Arktis (Candlelight/Spinefarm) keeps that momentum going. Few artists incorporate prog and psych into extreme metal as well as this Norwegian genius – he effortlessly makes “Pressure,” “My Heart is in the North” and “Mass Darkness” sweeping, jagged, melodic, dissonant and beautiful all at once. Though it has no toes in the extreme metal pool, Canadian duo Sierra also ranges all over the map on its new EP 72 (self-released). The difference is that singer/guitarist Jason Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Carvalho (plus drummer Sam Hill) hop from 70s metal to prog to psych to folk and back within a single beautifully written, arranged and performed 22-minute song.

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The Cavern, the last album from Inter Arma, was also a single( 45-minute) song.The Richmond quintet doesn’t revisit that idea on its new record Paradise Gallows (Relapse), but it throws all its others into this 70-minute epic. IA carefully and considerately combines black metal dissonance, death metal brutality, doom metal dynamics and psychedelic sonic fuckery into lumbering constructions of artful agony and dark power. The band knows when to leaven the mood, via the ethereal arpeggios of “Nomini,” the gothic drama of “Primordial Wound,”the acoustic shimmer of “When the Earth Meets the Sky,” the prog rock majesty of “Potomac.” But that just makes the noise noisier and the loathing more potent – the eclectic journeys of the title track, “Transfiguration” and “The Summer Drones” blaze loudly with horror at humanity’s inhumanity to, well, everything. That the band hits the low points and does it in an artful way puts Inter Arma on its way to rewrite the rules of extreme metal someday. Seattle’s Dust Moth gets just as eclectic, if not as heavy on its first full-length album Scale (The Mylene Sheath). The band’s tricky blend of shimmering gauze pop, melancholy post-prog and psychedelic doom reaches full, expressive flower on the darkly flowing “Up Into Blackness,” the powerful “Corrections” and the enigmatically unwinding “Lift.”

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The Melvins don’t fit comfortably in any bag (King Buzzo’s distinctive hairstyle would stick out, for one thing) under normal circumstances, and on Basses Loaded (Ipecac) it ain’t normal circumstances. With six different bass players (including Krist Novoselic, JD Pinkus of Honky and the Butthole Surfers and Redd Kross’ Steven McDonald, who’s filling the slot on tour) aiding and abetting the bottom-challenged trio, the band traverses all over its personal heavy rock territory, from spacey doom (“Captain Come Down”) and roiling acid metal (“Phyllis Dillard”) to thick grunge (“War Pussy”) and near-pop (“Choco Plumbing”). New Zealand’s Beastwars spins its own metallic web on third LP The Death of All Things (Destroy), plunging neck-deep into a thick ooze blended from doom, sludge, psych, thrash and biker metal. Guitars and rhythms mind-meld in pursuit of massive riffs; Matt Hyde’s carnivorous vocals rain visions of worldwide apocalypse down from the thunderclouds. “Witches,” “The Devil Took Her” and the mighty “Call of the Mountain” reveal meticulous craft under the nearly overwhelming power.

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The future of doom titan Candlemass has looked uncertain for a few years, with singer Robert Lowe’s dismissal and rumors the band had no plans to record again. Clearly, though, any lingering issues have been sorted, as evidenced by  EP Death Thy Lover (Napalm), the Swedish quintet’s first record in four years and first with veteran metal singer Mats Levén. Just in time for its 30th anniversary, the band proves it hasn’t lost a jot of its touch on lumbering blasters “Sleeping Giant” and the title track. Japan’s Church of Misery also could’ve thrown in the towel after losing every member but mastermind Tatsu Mikami following 2013’s Thy Kingdom Scum. The surprising choice to replace his countrymen with Americans (metal vets all) seems to have given the serial killer-obsessed outfit new, uh, life – And Then There Were None… (Rise Above) expertly balances melody and groove with brutality and heaviness for one of the long-running quartet’s most accessible LPs.

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Miss Lava pushes its doomcrunch far out into the space/time continuum on Sonic Debris (Small Stone). The Lisbon trio swirls cosmic trippiness into ribcage-crushing doom, going from cruising speed (“Another Beast is Born”) to warp speed (“The Silent Ghost of Doom”) in a heartbeat, pausing to orbit both groovy (“Symptomatic”) and acoustically (“In a Sonic We Shall Burn”) along the way. Brontosaurus licks meet heavenly melodies, and it’s all shaken down until it burns. Dallas’ Wo Fat continues its blues-inflected, acid-soaked odyssey through the doom metal cosmos with Midnight Cometh (Ripple). The threesome’s seventh LP gets groovy (“Le Dilemme De Detenu”), rockin’ (the appropriately-titled “Riffborn”) and, most of all, smoky (“Nightcomer,” “Of Smoke and Fog”) if you know what we mean. Fresno trio Beastmaker brings together two countries’ worth of doom on its debut album Lusus Naturæ (Rise Above), drawing as much from Stateside pioneer Pentagram as from originator Black Sabbath. “Mask of Satan,” “Eyes Are Watching” and the title track do 70s heavy as well as anybody.

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Speaking of that oft-maligned decade, airbrush that Ford Econoline and strap your mane down with a headband, because La Chinga hits town with second record Freewheelin’ (Small Stone). The Vancouver trio giddily grooves up its Me Decade riff rock – while nothing here goes full-on disco (it’s not that 70s), it’s not hard to imagine booties getting shaken during “War Cry” and “Gone Gypsy.” Guitarist Ben Yardley sparks fire with tough but melodic riffs and economic solos, while bassist Carl Spackler keeps the party rolling with beer-and-reefer vocal performances. Song titles “Mother of All Snakeheads” and “White Witchy Black Magic” (that’s the chorus!) nod to a certain self-aware sense of humor, but you’ll be too busy rawking out to acknowledge it.

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Death Angel rose during the original wave of Bay Area thrash in the early 80s, but tends to be overlooked, possibly because the quintet didn’t release an album until 1987. If The Evil Divide (Nuclear Blast) is any indication, it’s also because the band doesn’t much care for the word “compromise.” Death Angel’s eighth album rarely bothers with anthemic hooks, catchy choruses or any of the commercial concessions peers like Metallica and Megadeth eventually traded in. With the exception of the incongruous lighter waver “Lost,” stalwarts Mark Osgueda (vox) and Rob Cavestany (guit) and their current cohorts thrash their fornicating brains out, spraying more squealing solos, savage singing and chuggachug guitar over the landscape than their pals have in twenty years. “The Electric Cell,” “Cause For Alarm” and “Hell to Pay” deftly mix precision strikes and blunt force trauma for old-school thrash that doesn’t sound nostalgic.

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Though it doesn’t have the history that Death Angel does, the Australia-borne/Europe-based Destroyer 666 is no spring chicken, having released its first album in 1997. Wildfire (Season of Mist), the fearsome foursome’s fifth LP and first in seven years, blends fist-pumping melody, charred vokills and whipcrack thrash into a most impressive wall of glaargh on “Live and Burn” and “Hymn to Dionysus.” Philadelphia’s Vektor is even younger, but no less accomplished. Indeed, Terminal Redux (Earache), the quartet’s third record, shows off an impressive level of sheer musicianship without compromising tonnage. Leader Daniel DiSanto’s black metal screech conveys a science fiction story of some sort, but his and Erik Nelson’s python coils-tight six-string work remains the primary attraction.

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A key influence on the early thrash bands, particularly Metallica, England’s Diamond Head has let long periods of inactivity shape its legend, so when it makes yet another comeback, it’s an event. Only the band’s seventh album since its 1979 recorded debut (the “Shoot Out the Lights” single), the quintet’s self-titled LP (Dissonance Productions) keeps the faith with its primary virtues: strong riffs, clear vocals (by Danish-born newcomer Rasmus Bom Anderson) and melodies for miles. Leader Brian Tatler still has the fleetest of fingers and a bottomless bag of licks, but it’s his dedication to hummable tunes that has made the band stand out all these years – of their peers, only Iron Maiden boasts the same devotion. “See You Rise,” “Diamonds” and “Shout at the Devil” boast catchy hooks as well as epic power,while the chugging “Our Time is Now” and “Wizard Sleeve” crank the headbanging energy while still keeping tunesmithery alive. Some might consider Diamond Head old-fashioned, but we prefer the word timeless.

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Grand Magus waves a familiar flag on Sword Songs (Nuclear Blast), the Swedish trio’s eighth album. “We are warriors,” roars singer/guitarist JB on “Varangian,” “defenders of steel!” The band continues the quest exemplified by its last LP Triumph and Power, raising its blades high and conquering all who cross its path. The macho battlelust would be ridiculous if not for Magus’ burly riffology and relentless energy – “Last One to Fall” and “Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel” would rampage even if the lyrics were about kittens and angels. “Every Day There’s a Battle to Fight” even works up a nice lighter-waving head of steam.

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NYC legend Prong keeps blasting away from its own unique corner of the metal universe with X: No Absolutes (Steamhammer/SPV). For the most part it follows the usual Prong pattern of headbanging up 80s New Yawk hardcore – “Ultimate Authority,” “Worth Pursuing” and  “Belief System” hit as hard and deadly as ever. But attempts to make the trio’s bashcore singalong friendly on songs like “No Absolutes” lead it to resemble Helmet, while “Do Nothing” and “With Dignity” sound like attempts to slot in late 90s radio alongside Breaking Benjamin and Shinedown. Artistic development should always be encouraged, but maybe Prong should just sound like Prong. Further down the East Coast, Miami’s Wrong has more than a little Prong (and Helmet) in ‘em, thanks to hardcore-influenced breakdowns and steely chunkachunk. But on its self-titled debut (Relapse), the quartet – made up of former members of Kylesa, Torche and Capsule – also wallows in drillbit noise metal in the Unsane tradition. The combo of teeth-gritting riffcrack and grinding screeblast reaches maximum potency on the pounding “Boil” and “Stasis” and the blazing “Entourage” and  “Turn In.”

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None more black: Savannah powerhouse Black Tusk had a major obstacle to overcome on the way to releasing Pillars of Ash (Relapse) – the death of bassist/vocalist/co-founder Jonathan Athon. Fortunately for band and fans its fifth album was finished before Athon’s untimely motorcycle accident, and it’s a ripper. The trio’s distinctive blend of steely thrash and shoutalong punk – sort of a Southern re-imagining of what Prong does – sets fire to the landscape via blazers “ Beyond the Divide,” “Still Not Well” and “God’s On Vacation.” Out on the other coast, Black Cobra kicks up a sludge-covered ruckus on Imperium Simulacra (Season of Mist) that wouldn’t sound out of place in Tusk’s hometown. The San Fran duo of guitarist/vocalist Jason Landeman and drummer Rafael Martinez digs deep into rifftastic rumblers “Challenger Deep” and “Dark Shine.” Rolling out of Vancouver,

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Black Wizard goes straight for the doom jugular with New Waste (Listenable), leaving no power chord unstroked nor bong unsmoked on “Eliminator,” “Harsh Time” and “The Priest.” Though it didn’t get the chromatic memo, Red Wizard might be Black Wizard’s California cousins, and not just for being similarly inclined toward sorcery. The San Diego quintet’s debut Cosmosis (Ripple) sinks even deeper into the sticky grass of Sabbath worship – check the mighty “Temple of Tennitus” and the monstrous title tune.

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Tucson, Arizona may be best known for eccentric root rock & roll, but a darker power lurks underneath the surface. Or so it seems with North, who slowly and painfully unleash Light the Way (Prosthetic). The trio’s follow-up to its “Through Raven’s Eyes” single imagines the epic progressive doom of Neurosis as post rock, roaring hoarsely over waves of riff that are almost symphonic in their grandeur. Tunes like “Weight of All Thoughts,” “Primal Bloom” and the powerhouse “From This Soil” come off kind of like Isis as interpreted by Explosions in the Sky, all furrowed-brow power and ugly beauty. Speaking of Isis, former leader of that band Aaron Turner returns swiftly with What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey) from his new outfit Sumac. The sequel to last year’s debut The Deal, the hour-long monsterpiece pushes Turner, bassist Brian Cook (also of Russian Circles) and drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) into uglier, meaner territory – the leader in particular sounds nearly livid with rage and loathing. But the trio does it without losing the experimental edge and melodic undercurrent that Turner carries with him to all his projects. “Rigid Man” and the 18-minute, nearly overwhelming “Blackout” prove that art, atmosphere and blackened doom can mix.

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Funny how some bands find favor mainly with metal audiences, despite a relationship with the genre that’s tangential at best. Thus it is with Great Britain’s Purson. The quintet released its head-turning debut on Cathedral/With the Dead singer Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above label, which seems to have cemented its standing with headbanger audiences. Desire’s Magic Theatre (Spinefarm), the long-awaited follow-up, deftly swirls the same distinctive blend of psych rock, prog, electric folk and boogie as its prior platter, but with an even keener edge. Leader Rosalie Cunningham has clearly been honing her songcraft, and it shows on eccentric delights “Dead Dodo Down,” The Window Cleaner” and the striking single “Electric Landlady.” Toronto’s Blood Ceremony connects a bit more firmly to the metal tradition via harder rocking performances and an obsessive interest in the occult. But fourth LP Lord of Misrule (Rise Above) still portrays a band not easily categorized, with progressive rock elements (including frequent use of singer/keyboardist Alia O’Brien’s flute) and a 70s classic rock vibe that puts the heaviness on the lyrics. Regardless, “Flower Phantoms,” “Half Moon Street” and “The Devil’s Widow” rule.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where he acts “somewhat suspiciously at times,” according to his Lone Star State accomplices, which include media heavy hitters The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV. Coincidentally or not, the BLURT editor once lived in Tucson, which is a kind of sister city to Austin, where similarly strange happenings have taken place over the years. Note that a Tucson metal band is profiled in Toland’s latest column. Perhaps the work of the Illuminati? You be the judge…. Toland can be reached at michael.toland@gmail.com.


Audio/Video:

Beastmaker – “Mask of Satan”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPGzqslFVm4

 

Beastwars – The Death of All Things bandcamp:

https://beastwars.bandcamp.com/

 

Black Cobra – Imperium Simulacra bandcamp:

https://blackcobra.bandcamp.com/album/imperium-simulacra

 

Black Tusk – Pillars of Ash bandcamp:

https://blacktusk.bandcamp.com/album/pillars-of-ash

 

Black Wizard – New Waste bandcamp:

http://blackwizard.bandcamp.com/album/new-waste

 

Candlemass – “Death Thy Lover”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKXP0RIDf6g

 

Cobalt – Slow Forever bandcamp:

https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/slow-forever

 

Death Angel – “Cause For Alarm”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N0UcnswlUQ

 

Destroyer 666 Wildfire bandcamp:

https://destroyer666.bandcamp.com/album/wildfire

 

Diamond Head preview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFmFG9b0Jjs

 

Dust Moth – Scale bandcamp:

http://dustmoth.bandcamp.com/album/scale

 

Grand Magus – “Varangian”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_9jrowMBz0

 

Ihsahn – “Pressure”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHx2ryUzDx4

 

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows bandcamp:

https://interarma.bandcamp.com/album/paradise-gallows-2

 

La Chinga – Freewheelin’ bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/freewheelin

 

Lord Mantis – Nice Teeth Whore preview:

https://lordmantis.bandcamp.com/

 

The Melvins – “Hideous Woman”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w7yVR27RHA

 

Miss Lava – Sonic Debris bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/sonic-debris

 

North – Light the Way bandcamp:

https://north-official.bandcamp.com/album/light-the-way

 

Prong – X: No Absolutes teaser:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HboZDhXdek

 

Purson – “Electric Landlady”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boscR_9EE5Q

 

Red Wizard – Cosmosis bandcamp:

http://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/album/cosmosis

 

Sierra – 72 bandcamp:

https://sierrariff.bandcamp.com/album/72

 

Sumac – “Rigid Man”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIBZi7G-sSU

 

Tombs – All Empires Fall bandcamp:

https://tombsbklyn.bandcamp.com/album/all-empires-fall

 

Vektor – “Charging the Void”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4e5Jw9T5Zk

 

Wrong – “Boil”:

https://soundcloud.com/relapserecords/wrong-boil

 

THROWING HORNS: Blurt’s Metal Roundup Pt. 666.8

Kylesa

 

Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the seventh installment in our latest genre study, with Kylesa (above), Killing Joke, Clutch, Baroness, Locrian, Sunn O))), Children of Bodom, Panopticon and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5, here for 666.6 and here for 666.7—if you dare. Incidentally, following the text are links to audio and video of the bands discussed, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

Already respected as a leader in the fertile Savannah, GA metal scene, Kylesa has also stepped up as a forward thinker in the national metal scene – its last two records Ultraviolet and Spiral Shadow found the band moving way beyond its sludge/death roots into new realms of doom, prog, noise and psych. Exhausting Fire (Retro Futurist/Season of Mist) keeps the band on that path. Now reduced to the trio of drummer Carl McGinley and co-leaders Philip Cope and Laura Pleasants, Kylesa streamlines its eclectic approach, making the dreaminess dreamier and the boogie boogier. Alternating psychedelic singalong choruses with mystic jangle and heads-down riffage, “Growing Roots,” “Inward Debate,” “Shaping the Southern Sky” and a strange, acid-fried cover of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” artfully weave shimmer and crunch into brilliant rawk ‘n’ roar nuggets that perfectly capture the retro futurism of its label’s name. If this upward swing sustains, Kylesa may very well change the face of metal.

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Far weirder, though, is Know How to Carry a Whip (Neurot), the second album from experimental metal supergroup Corrections House. The follow-up to eyebrow-raising debut Last City Zero, Whip delves deeply into the same seething mix of doom, industrial and avant-wackiness, from blasted mindgames like “Crossing My One Good Finger” to artfucked folk like “Visions Divide” and urban hellscapes like “When Push Comes to Shank.” The difference is that somehow Mike IX Williams (Eyehategod), Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) and Sanford Parker (Minsk, etc.) manage to make all this ugliness melodic, even catchy at times, which just makes it more insidiously essential.

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Chicago trio Locrian artfully plunders various elements of black metal, noise rock, drone, electronica and other left-of-center sonics on its sixth LP Infinite Dissolution (Relapse). Grinding guitars, majestic keyboards, rhythms that run from languid to pounding and vocals roared more for texture than clarity conjure a mood of almost grand desolation – “An Index of Air” and “The Great Dying” wallow in a suffering so lush it’s nearly sensual. Also on the odder side of heavy comes BigǀBrave, a Montreal trio that alternates betwixt ethereal drones and heavy crunch on its second album Au de La (Southern Lord). Though fronted by Robin Wattie’s blurred-vision coo, the band ain’t afraid to drill holes in the substrata – the 12-minute “Look at How the World Has Made a Change” sounds like Steve Albini whipping an orgy involving Sonic Youth, Bjork and Neurosis into shape.

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Whore Paint prefer the noisier side of the avant-garde on Ultra Sound (Translation Loss) – cf. the seethingly rocking “Dogs” and “Maiden.” In truth, metal is only one part of this Providence trio’s worldview, especially given Rebecca Mitchell’s keening croonhowl, but axeperson Hilary Jones’ grunged-out riffage betrays enough headbanger chops to attract heshers as well as hipsters. Pigs jump even further into chaos theory on second LP Wronger (Solar Flare). Laying paint-peeling swathes of speaker-shredding guitar scree and distorted ranting atop pounding rock rhythms, the band throttles “The Life in Pink,” “Mope” and the dignity-defying “Amateur Hour in Dick City” like a meth-addled punk metal act at the bottom of the bill. But what do you expect from members of Unsane, Cutthroats 9 and JJ Paradise Players Club? Carpenters covers?

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The king daddy of experimental metal/noise bands, Sunn 0))) finally returns with its first “solo” album since 2009’s Monoliths & Dimensions. (Collaborative LPs with Ulver and Scott Walker have appeared in the interim.) Kannon (Southern Lord) allegedly adapts the “goddess of mercy” aspect of the Buddha to music, supported by an essay by critical theorist Aliza Shvartz and graphics by Swiss artist Angela LaFont Bollinger. Buy into or don’t, but the sounds surrounding the philosophy go back to the band’s core sound. Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson harness feedback and drone for waves of undulating grunge, while vocalist Attila Csihar moans, shrieks and chants in the background. Longtime cohorts Oren Ambarchi, Steve Moore (the member of Earth, not the member of Zombi) and Rex Ritter add their two cents, but the focus is on the core trio. It’s a simple plan, but executed to make maximum meditative beauty out of distorted drone, spiralling deeply into realms as spiritual as they are tactile. Regardless of whether or not you connect with the ideas, the music does exactly what Sunn 0))) does best.

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Sometimes the most metal thing an act can do isn’t metal at all. Thus Autumn Eternal (Lost Forty/Bindrune), the latest album from Panopticon, begins with “Tamaract’s Gold Returns,” an acoustic fiddle/dobro instrumental that sounds like it hails from MCA Records’ late 80s Master Series. Kentucky-bred/Minnesota-based multi-instrumentalist Austin Lunn returns to blazing black metal soon enough, as “Into the North Moods” and the title track rip through anthemic melodies and thrashing backbeats with the energy of a forest fire. An ironic comparison, actually, as the intense libretto and panoramic sweep of “Oaks Ablaze,” “Pale Ghosts” and the massive “Sleep to the Sound of the Waves Crashing” – not to mention the quotation-heavy liner notes – indicate a deep respect for Mother Nature and concern for the suffering she endures as human hands. Matched to music as impressive in its deliberate aggression as its tuneful majesty, Lunn’s themes burrow into your subconscious while your head bangs. Not the groundbreaker that last year’s Roads to the North was, but Autumn Eternal is still a stunner.

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Following an announced breakup that never quite occurred, Abigail Williams erupts on record once again with The Accuser (Candlelight). Given the involvement from members of hatemongering death mutants Indian and Lord Mantis, it’s no surprise that the Olympia, Washington-based black metal troop assaults its instruments with a roaring blend of clinical precision and brutal savagery, letting no melody go unmolested. Leader Ken Sorceron sounds possessed by demons with emotional problems on raging anthems “The Cold Lines” and “Of the Outer Darkness.” Even when traces of the band’s original symphonic style start creeping in on “Godhead” and “Nuummite,” the fury never lets up. An ear bleeder, but you’ll savor blotting every drop.

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The demise of USBM supergroup Twilight signals sort of a passing of the torch, as the original wave of depressive black metal folks make way for the new generation. A collaboration betwixt highly acclaimed USBM weirdos and brothers of different mothers K. Morgan of Ash Borer and Michael Rekevics of Fell Voices, Vanum rages through flamethrowing black metal on Realm of Sacrifice (Profound Lore). Four long tracks of wall-of-shit guitars, psychotic growls and hurricane drums – check out “Convergence” for some rockingly oppressive pound. Also a side project from pals in other bands, Vhöl pretty much swirls all of its members’ influences together on sophomore non-slump Deeper Than Sky (Profound Lore). Guitarist John Cobbett formerly led San Fran black metal troop Ludicra, leads prog metal band Hammers of Misfortune and did time in trad metal troop Slough Feg, while singer Mike Scheidt leads doomcrusher YOB and bassist Sigrid Sheie and drummer Aesop Dekker have both been in Cobbett’s various acts. Bits of all of it pop up here, though the primary aesthetic for songs like “The Desolate Damned” and “Red Chaos” seems to be a punk-infused thrash. Regardless, everybody sounds like they’re having a grand old time headbanging their brains out – or not, as on the piano-pounding pallette-cleanser “Paino.”

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One of the world’s most popular extreme metal acts, Children of Bodom doesn’t fuck around on I Worship Chaos (Nuclear Blast), the Finnish outfit’s ninth record. With the band suddenly shorn a guitarist, bandleader and sole six-stringer Alexi Laiho tightens up its blackened power metal until it’s a coiled cobra, ready to strike the moment a needle disturbs its sleep. The lighter-waving arrangements and Laiho’s blood vessel-popping shriek keep the mood on a constant steroid high, with only the interplay between he and keyboardist Janne Wirman offering any respite. Taken as a whole, Chaos can be exhausting, but individual tracks – particularly “Morrigan” and “Hold Your Tongue” – hit harder than a hammer in Oh Dae-su’s hands.

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London’s Harry Armstrong is one of those long-serving metalheads who does it purely for the love of it, plugging away in numerous bands of varying quality (End of Level Boss, Hangnail, the Earls of Mars) without ever climbing out of deep cult status. While most folks think of Hangnail as his first act of note, his journey actually began in the early 90s with Decomposed. Originally issued in 1993 as one of Candlelight’s first releases, Hope Finally Died ended up as the U.K. quartet’s sole LP. The band’s viscous blend of doom and death metal is pretty standard fare these days, but at the time it was fairly revolutionary, all grinding riffs, molasses rhythms and Armstrong’s unintelligibly guttural roar. Decomposed may have never gained the major cult followings of its peers Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, but the aggressively chunky “Falling Apart” and ambiently strange “(Forever) Lying in State” hold up nicely.

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Since its emergence, Rivers of Nihil has been praised for putting its own distinctive spin on traditionalist death metal. That’s definitely apparent on Monarchy (Metal Blade), the Reading, Pennsylvania quintet’s second LP. Mixing growling riffs with a variable rhythm section and just enough melody to avoid chaos, the band finds a balance between grace and brutality that, despite the inappropriateness of using such a word when describing something this ugly, can only be described as delicate. “Sand Baptism” and “Perpetual Growth Machine” are the perfect cuts to play for both your hipster metal and snobby headbanger friends, while “Terrestria II: Thrive” points to toward the progressive sphere inhabited by pioneers like Atheist and Cynic. Speaking of Atheist, this year sees the second reissue of Unquestionable Presence (Season of Mist), the Florida band’s trailblazing second album. Originally released in 1991, Unquestionable Presence rewrote the rules of death metal, blending elements of jazz, world music and progressive rock with savage riffing and inhuman pummeling to create a vision technical death bands have been trying to catch up to ever since. Last in print in 2005, it’s a brain-frying masterpiece deserved of discovery by open-minded thrashaholics of all stripes.

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The leading light of the current generation of U.K. death-doomers, Indesinence builds on the foundation set by its predecessors with more melody, more atmosphere, surprisingly articulate growling and a whole lotta acid. III (Profound Lore) – the band’s third LP, natch – wallows in its own peculiar blend of Lovecraftian weirdness and dark-corner psychedelia, letting crawling epics “Embryo Limbo,” “Mountains of Mind” and the absolutely massive “Strange Meridian” ebb and flow like hallucinations during a trip. Further telegraphing the trio’s mindset: lush use of Mellotron, the recruitment of Robert Roth, former leader of ’90s Seattle psych/grunge band Truly, as a guest, and a cover of the Third Bardo’s 1967 nugget “I’m Five Years Ahead of My Time.” Though hailing from Detroit, Temple of Void hews to a similar tradition on Of Terror and the Supernatural (Shadow Kingdom), though the psych strains get pushed so far under the covers they’re barely tickling our toes. Still, the relentless quintet knows how to lay down a thick and brutal grunge, vanguarded by Mike Erdody’s unusually articulate yet utterly monstrous groars. Which makes the appearance of acoustic guitars and Mellotron in the otherwise crushing “To Carry This Corpse Evermore” all the more startling and welcome. Finland’s Hooded Menace also lets psychedelia sit as feel rather than form on its new album Darkness Drips Forth (Relapse), four long tracks that channel the horrors running through the minds of the cadaverous Knights Templar from the Spanish Blind Dead film series. Sample the charmingly titled “Elysium of Dripping Death” for a treatise on savage, lugubrious, haunted doomdeath.

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Immortal Bird made a huge, ugly mark with its debut EP Akrasia a couple of years ago, and its five-song/half-hour follow-up Empress/Abscess (Broken Limbs/Manatee Rampage) is no less impressive. Fiercely aggressive yet surprisingly accessible, if such a word can be applied to a band that freely mixes black metal, death metal and grindcore, the Chicago quartet rips a new earhole to anyone within range – “Sycophant” and “Saprophyte” take no prisoners unless it’s to mutilate them later. Singer/drummer Rae Amitay remains a force of nature, in much the same way as a hurricane that’s laying waste to some hapless coastline. Don’t piss her off, folks. And speaking of grind, scene godhead Pig Destroyer celebrates the reissue of its landmark 2001 LP Prowler in the Yard (Relapse). Given a remix and remaster, speed-demon blasts of obscene fury “Pornographic Memory,” “Scatology Homework” and “Strangled With a Halo” are even more efficiently brutal. The 23 tracks (in 37 minutes!) wield chainsaws of thrash/death riffery and scorched lung screams to smear shit over anything shiny and clean. Pig Destroyer is often considered the ultimate grindcore band; this album is the reason why.

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Self-described “gloom metal” trio North (who hail from Arizona, naturally) tease next year’s forthcoming new LP with digital single Through Raven’s Eyes (Prosthetic). “Old Blood” crunches along slowly but heartily via doom dynamics and Evan Leek’s defiant shout, but “Silverfeather” drifts into different territory atop a sea of ambient distortion and melancholy piano. Bringing those two approaches together should yield an interesting full-length. Halfway across the world, Hope Drone isn’t feeling any chippier. The band’s inspired name hints at the contents of the massive Cloak of Ash (Relapse) – tortured, atmospheric, doom-soaked black metal with epic lengths (the entire record is over 75 minutes) and titles like “Unending Grey” and “Every End is Fated in Its Beginning.” The emotionally fragile ought to proceed with caution.

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The forefathers of American doom metal, Pentagram returns after a four-year recording hiatus with Curious Volume (Peaceville), the eighth album in an almost comically checkered 40-year career. Still on a roll following a few years of consistent roadwork, leader Bobby Liebling sounds fired up and refreshed here, his hawk-like voice clear and sharp. Longtime off-and-on partner Victor Griffin, along with veteran bassist Greg Turley and ex-Sixty Watt Shaman skinsman Minnesota Pete Campbell, provide powerhouse backdrops, often packing as many riffs per song as lesser bands would use to construct entire albums. Between Griffin’s absolute mastery of doom metal guitar and Liebling’s compellingly wild-eyed singing, “Earth Flight,” “The Devil’s Playground” and “The Tempter Push” deliver all the power, punch and macho menace you want from an old-fashioned headbanger’s delight. At this point, Liebling is probably best known for the harrowing documentary Last Days Here, but Curious Volume proves he should be lauded for his legendary metal status, not his ability to overcome self-imposed adversity.

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Speaking of doom masters, Lee Dorrian may have put the beloved Cathedral to rest after a couple of decades, but he’s not out of the game. Besides continuing to run the magnificent Rise Above label, the vocalist joins with fellow doom vets Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening (Electric Wizard, Ramsess, Serpentine Path) in With the Dead. Via relentlessly lumbering riffs and Dorrian’s distorted declamation, the trio’s self-titled slab oozes occult nastiness and general bad vibes, aided (not unusually for a Dorrian project) by horror flick samples. Play “I Am Your Virus” or “Screams From My Own Grave” on your porch during Halloween and see how many kids still show up. Former Rise Above rosteree Witchsorrow returns with No Light, Only Fire (Candlelight), harder, meaner and more nihilistic than before. Tracks like “To the Gallows” and “Made of the Void” roar as loudly as they rumble, as leader Necroskull makes plain his disgust with the rest of his fellow hairless apes. Thanks to the trio’s command of form, the warnings of “Negative Utopia” and “Disaster Reality” go down easy.

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Following the 2013 double-whammy of Mouths of Madness and the reissue of its early work as The Zodiac Sessions, San Francisco’s Orchid return with a new EP. Sign of the Witch (Nuclear Blast) continues the foursome’s bluesy take on Black Sabbath, refining its grasp of melodic riffs and letting charismatic frontdude Theo Mindell shine brighter than ever. “John the Tiger” would be a classic rock staple had it been released 40 years ago. Also on a proto-metal tip, Uncle Acid (without the Deadbeats?) returns with third U.S. release The Night Creeper (Rise Above), which skips the slump of its prior platter for a steaming slab that’s heavier, more melodic and more psychedelic all at once. Check out the roaring “Pusher Man,” the mellow “Yellow Moon” and the epically trippy “Slow Death” (not the Flamin Groovies tune) for some prime acid metal.

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The mighty Snail first blasted into consciousness in 1993 with its self-titled album, resurrecting itself 15 years later. The Seattle trio’s third LP since reuniting, Feral (Small Stone) pulls together several strains of heaviosity for a lush, crunchy odyssey through riff and roil. Leader Mark Johnson (whose diverse c.v. includes stints with Christian hardcore act The Crucified and deathcore beast Blessing the Hogs) spews out tuneful acid metal with the right balance of psychedelic craft and controlled chaos, putting “Born in Captivity,” “Psilocybe” and the titanic “Thou Are That” in rarefied dimensions usually resolved for Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange. Merging the doomy crunge of early Black Sabbath with the mystic smash of Masters of Reality and the melodic thwomp of Failure, Snail whips up a smooth fury that would make dinosaurs dance.

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Vancouver’s We Hunt Buffalo is a bit more traditional when it comes to stoner rock. But that doesn’t make Living Ghosts (Fuzzorama), the trio’s sophomore LP, any less satisfying. Surging rhythms and smooth ‘n’ screamy vocals give the tracks spicy flavors, but, like all good stoner rock, the riffs matter most, and they drive “Prairie Oyster,” “Comatose” and “Ragnarok” like Dean Winchester behind the wheel of his Dodge Charger. Heavier and nastier, Funeral Horse takes many of the same aesthetic markers and beats them unmercifully on Divinity For the Wicked (Artificial Head), the Houston triad’s third album. Thick reams of sperm whale riffery try in vain to bury distorted shouts, like a band of crusty punks climbing their way out of a canyon of the bad acid. Between blazing guitorgies like “Gods of Savages” and stomping nightmares like “Underneath All That Ever Was,” Funeral Horse has the bad trip market all sewn up. Across the pond, Germany’s Bison Machine adds some Detroit power rock to psychedelic stoner boogie on Hoarfrost (Kozmik Artifactz/Bilocation), with might, melody and cool tones charging “Cosmic Ark,” “Speed of Darkness” and “Old Moon.”

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L.A.’s Huntress made a splash a couple of years ago with its sophomore record Starbound Beast and its goofily memorable Lemmy-co-penned single “I Wanna Fuck You to Death.” Nothing on Static (Napalm) is quite that startling, but overall the record is more consistent than its predecessors. The band is in full command of its thrashy street metal, as leader Jill Janus – ex-opera singer, mental disorder sufferer, cancer survivor and full-on metal warrior – brings her A-game to “Flesh,” “Four Blood Moons” and “Harsh Times on Planet Stoked.” Over on the other coast, Pittsburgh’s Carousel made noise with its excellent debut Jeweler’s Daughter, as fine a retro hard rock record as anyone’s recorded in the last few years. Now the quartet – with former Pentagram/current The Skull axebeast Matt Goldsborough in tow – is back with follow-up 2113 (Tee Pee). Sublimating its NWoBHM influences in deference to old-fashioned American hard rock, Carousel keeps the wheels rolling with “Man Like Me,” Photograph“” and “Highway Strut” and the lighters blazing on “Strange Revelation” and a cover of Joe Walsh’s “Turn to Stone.”

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Formed by Dirty D from the long-gone B-Movie Rats and Angus Khan, Steven Darrow from the even longer-gone Guns ‘N Roses precursor Hollywood Rose and the rhythm section from Goatsnake, Sonic Medusa tapes into the same boundless source of energy on its debut EP The Sunset Soundhouse Tapes (Ripple), throwing in cups of NWoBHM and doom and a couple tablespoons of early 70s blues metal for killer cuts “Medusa,” “Cold Wind” and “Wolf’s Prayer.” Meat and potatoes and proud of it. Also comprised of components of other bands (Satan’s Wrath, Repulsion, Electric Wizard), Mirror puts one foot almost defiantly into the British end of the pool, while keeping the other firmly on American soil. Recalling precedents set by Americans Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol, Brits Angel Witch and Demon and hybrids Rainbow, epic melodic roars like “Curse of the Gypsy,” “Madness & Magick” and “Cloak of a Thousand Secrets” make Mirror’s self-titled debut LP (Metal Blade) a retro delight.

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Clutch has never fit comfortably under any banner, hopping around from groovy demi-metal to bluesy classic rock over the course of its 25-year career. Of late it’s been on a straightforward hard rock kick, inspired by a Motörhead tour, which in turn inspired career highlight Earth Rocker. While it would be unfair to call Psychic Warfare (Weathermaker) Earth Rocker 2, the follow-up certainly barrels down the same stripped-down road. Produced by longtime cohort Machine and powered, as always, by Tim Sult’s grungy riffs, Jean-Paul Gaster’s danceable grooves and Neil Fallon’s unselfconsciously quirky lyrics, the funky “A Quick Death in Texas,” thrashing “Noble Savage,” soulful “Our Lady of Electric Light” and blazing “X-Ray Visions” are instant Clutch classics and will likely be on the band’s setlists for years to come.

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You can’t get a more credible metal pedigree than Publicist UK – the lineup includes members of Municipal Waste, Revocation and Burnt By the Sun. Yet Forgive Yourself (Relapse) isn’t metal at all, despite a pack of power chords and rampaging rhythms. Instead, “Cowards” and “Levitate the Pentagon” plow a thick, deep postpunk furrow, led by Zachary Lipez’ dramatic baritone. Reminiscent of Killing Joke (at least in the latter’s less apocalyptic moments) and the late, great Beastmilk. Speaking of Beastmilk, the Finnish band’s recent demise sowed the seeds for Grave Pleasures. A veritable cemetery of former notables, the band also contains ex-members of In Solitude and, in guitarist Linnéa Olsson, the mighty but short-lived Oath. Picking up on Dreamcrash (Metal Blade) where Beastmilk left off, GP eases up on the aggression but pumps up the melodrama, sounding like a mid-80s UK guitar band enamored of both the Smiths and U2. For better or worse the father of it all, the aforementioned Killing Joke keeps its boulder rolling on Pylon (Spinefarm), its third LP since reuniting the original lineup. Still driven by Paul Ferguson’s rumbling drums, Geordie’s crunchy chords and Jaz Coleman’s endtime visions, but with an added dose of anthemic melody, the Joke fills “Dawn of the Hive,” “Big Buzz” and “Into the Unknown” with enough jagged futureshock to inspire another generation of postpunk and metal bands.

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Finally, we celebrate the return to action of Baroness. The details of the Savannah quartet’s derailment following the release of 2012’s Yellow & Green are pretty well-known by now; if you’re curious, just Google “Baroness accident” for some harrowing details. Purple (Abraxas Hymns), the band’s first LP on its own label, is informed by the accident but not defined by it. This is no catalog of misery, but a defiant howl of affirmation. Working with producer Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, etc.), Baroness eschews wallowing in its own pain, instead using it to intensify the feeling that life must and will go on. That energy suffuses every second of the record, from the ambitious epic “Chlorine & Wine” to the blasting rockers “Shock Me” and “Kerosene” to the widescreen ballad “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain).” Following up the brilliant Yellow & Green would never have been an easy task, but Baroness used its adversity to make Purple another vibrantly rocking, surprisingly beautiful masterpiece.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where a major boulevard was recently rechristened—under the cover of darkness, and without official approval—after the late David Bowie. While no one has been directly accused of vandalism of public property, Toland has remained suspiciously mum about the entire incident. However, his Lone Star State accomplices include media heavy hitters The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV, so draw your own conclusions.

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Audio/Video:

 

Abigail Williams The Accuser bandcamp: https://candlelightrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/theaccuser

 

AtheistUnquestionable Presence bandcamp: https://atheist.bandcamp.com/album/unquestionablepresence

 

Baroness – “Shock Me”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hS5osAdTnm0

 

BigǀBrave Au De La bandcamp: https://bigbravesl.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Bison Machine Hoarfrost bandcamp: https://bisonmachine.bandcamp.com/album/hoarfrost

 

Carousel – “Trouble”: https://soundcloud.com/teepeerecords/carouseltrouble

 

Children of Bodom – “I Worship Chaos”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpyrbDjeFs

 

Clutch – “X-Ray Visions”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X8cmbmwFAl8

 

Corrections House Know How to Carry a Whip stream: https://soundcloud.com/neurotrecordings/sets/correctionshouseknowhowtocarryawhip

 

DecomposedHope Finally Died bandcamp: https://candlelightrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/hopefinallydied

 

Funeral HorseDivinity For the Wicked bandcamp: https://funeralhorse.bandcamp.com/album/divinityforthewicked

 

Grave Pleasures – “New Hip Moon”: https://soundcloud.com/metalbladerecords/gravepleasuresnewhipmoon

 

Hooded MenaceDarkness Drips Forth bandcamp: https://hoodedmenace.bandcamp.com/

 

Hope DroneCloak of Ash bandcamp: https://hopedrone.bandcamp.com/album/cloakofash

 

Huntress – “Flesh”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ghltZ_vcRE

 

Immortal BirdEmpress/Abscess bandcamp: https://immortalbird.bandcamp.com/album/empressabscess

 

IndesinenceIII bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/iii-2

 

Killing Joke – “Euphoria”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVf4_aicuHg

 

KylesaExhausting Fire bandcamp: https://kylesasom.bandcamp.com/album/exhaustingfire

 

LocrianInfinite Dissolution bandcamp: https://locrian.bandcamp.com/album/infinitedissolution

 

Mirror – “Heavy King”: https://soundcloud.com/metalbladerecords/mirrorheavyking

 

NorthThrough Raven’s Eyes bandcamp: https://northofficial.bandcamp.com/album/throughravenseyes

 

Orchid – “Sign of the Witch”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lreXQQEPbdY

 

PanopticonAutumn Eternal bandcamp: https://thetruepanopticon.bandcamp.com/album/autumneternal

 

Pentagram – “Misunderstood”: https://soundcloud.com/peaceville/misunderstoodtakenfromnewalbumcuriousvolume

 

Pig DestroyerProwler in the Yard bandcamp:

 

https://pigdestroyer.bandcamp.com/album/prowlerintheyarddeluxereissue

 

PigsWronger stream: http://music.solarflarerds.com/album/wronger

 

Publicist UKForget Yourself bandcamp: https://publicistuk.bandcamp.com/album/forgiveyourself

 

Rivers of Nihil Monarchy bandcamp: https://riversofnihil.bandcamp.com/album/monarchy

 

Shining – “I Won’t Forget”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RpyrbDjeFs

 

SnailFeral bandcamp: https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/feral

 

Sonic Medusa The Sunset Soundhouse Tapes stream: https://soundcloud.com/ripplemusic/sets/sonicmedusa

 

Temple of Void Of Terror and the Supernatural bandcamp: https://templeofvoid.bandcamp.com/album/ofterrorandthesupernatural

 

Uncle Acid – “Waiting For Blood”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mbwk228vtkg

 

Vanum Realm of Sacrifice bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/realmofsacrifice

 

VhölDeeper Than Sky bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/deeperthansky

 

We Hunt BuffaloLiving Ghosts bandcamp: https://fuzzoramarecords1.bandcamp.com/album/wehuntbuffalolivingghosts

 

Whore Paint – “Dogs”: http://www.revolvermag.com/news/whorepaintpremierenewsongdogs.html

 

WitchsorrowNo Light Only Fire bandcamp: https://candlelightrecordsusa.bandcamp.com/album/nolightonlyfire

 

With the Dead – “Living With the Dead”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yN8DbTYANo