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 11th installment in our latest genre study, with Myrkur (pictured above), Pallbearer, Blind Idiot God, Cirith Ungol, Goatwhore, Boris, Power Trip, even the mighty Melvins. 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, here for 666.7 , here for 666.8, here for 666.9 and here for 666.10—if you dare. Incidentally, following the album and band blurbs are links to audio and video, so check ’em out.
BY METAL MIKE TOLAND
Scott “Wino” Weinrich is the unsung hero of metal from the past three-plus decades, toiling in the shadows with his various bands (Spirit Caravan, Premonition 13, the Hidden Hand) and guest appearances (Probot, Clutch) and earning the respect of his peers, but rarely coming close to the headbanger mainstream. The Marylander came the closest while serving as singer for Saint Vitus, but considering he rarely unleashed his formidable guitar or writing chops in that Dave Chandler-led band, it’s not exactly the the finest showcase of his talents. That was with the Obsessed, his doom-laden power trio with a history going back to the early ‘80s, when the band stormed stages alongside the hardcore hordes in the D.C. punk movement. (Scene leaders like Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins loved the Obsessed.)
Now, over twenty years after the last Obsessed studio album The Church Within, Wino reconvenes his original powerhouse for its fourth album Sacred (Relapse). Unsurprisingly, given Wino’s creative ambition, Sacred picks up right where the last album left off, as if the intervening two decades hadn’t passed. The band’s acid-tinged stoner doom feels as fresh now as it did in the Reagan Years, let alone Clinton’s. The overt psychedelia of the title track, the blazing roar of “Punk Crusher” and “Be the Night” (Wino has always liked a side of Motörhead with his Sabbath), the distinctive rocking doom of “Sodden Jackal” and “Stranger Things” – the trio fires on all cylinders here. Wino’s axemanship has always taken inspiration from his forefathers without copying them (cf. the instrumental “Cold Blood”), which makes the Obsessed an act that pushes its chosen genre forward, rather than coast on its established merits. While Sacred could have been simply a document to fill the merch table when the band hits the road, instead it’s the band’s latest masterpiece.
Pallbearer is a couple of decades younger than the Obsessed, but is just as devoted to taking doom to the next level. Heartless (Profound Lore), the Little Rock quartet’s third opus, doesn’t evolve so much as refine the band’s sonic wash. Though less prog rock-dusted than previous LP Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer still turns the dial up on melody – a wise decision, given guitarist Brett Campbell and bassist Joseph D. Rowland’s clean, clear singing. Tracks like “Lies of Survival,” “Heartless” and “I Saw the End” have a mournful majesty, as the guitar winds around the hearts Campbell and Rowland keep pinned to their sleeves. “Dancing in Madness” alternates between acoustic delicacy and crushing heaviness, but does it organically, everything blended by melody and harmony. Ultimately it’s Pallbearer’s ability to balance tender and tough, light and darkness, that makes it a special band in the metal universe.
Venomous Maximus hails the era when peanut butter 80s metal got mixed up in chocolate 70s doom on its third album No Warning (Shadow Kingdom). Sort of like a cross between Pentagram and King Diamond, the Houston quartet bears down on the kind of occult philosophy gleaned from old Hammer and Amicus horror films, adding a soupçon of beer-guzzling biker attitude to leaven the gloom. “Blood For Blood” and the title track are rifftastic, horns-throwing delights, but the band really gets going at the end, using the acoustic instrumental “Endless” as prelude to the ten-minute epic “Sea of Sleep,” one of its best-ever tracks.
Meanwhile, doom supergroup With the Dead (and it is a supergroup, what with its ranks being filled out by ex-members of Cathedral and Electric Wizard) rumbles back into town with its second album Love From With the Dead (Rise Above), seven long cuts of growling, scornful, heavy-as-fuck thud. Bandleader Lee Dorrian really only has one gear with his declamatory style and fondness for backing it with sloth-speed riffs dirtier than the back of your refrigerator. But he’s flown the flag for brutal heaviness longer than anyone except the original practitioners, and these guys know what they’re doing. Check out “Egyptian Tomb” or the massive “CV1” for the kind of kicks you get from a rhinoceros after too many Quaaludes.
Brooklyn’s Tombs has only gotten better with age, creating its own distinctive blend of black metal, sludge, doom, prog and gothic rock. The Grand Annihilation (Metal Blade) may well be its slickest concoction yet. Less dense, more melodic, more accessible in general – even leader Mike Hill’s gravel-gargling growl is more articulate than ever before. Old school fans of the band’s seething brood may be taken aback by how clean “Underneath,” “Saturnalian” and “November Wolves” sound, but there’s little here that comes off as outright compromise. The Grand Annihilation simply opens Tombs’ sound up to the outside world, letting some light into the band’s dark universe. New Orleans’ (not that it means anything).
Goatwhore also takes a few steps toward accessibility on Vengeful Ascension (Metal Blade), its seventh album. That doesn’t mean the blackened death quartet has gotten any friendlier, mind you – “Mankind Will Have No Mercy,” “Chaos Arcane” and “Drowned in Grim Rebirth” still raise a bloody axe toward anything genteel. But an incipient thrash consciousness and the rumblings of something resembling a groove make “Under the Flesh, Into the Soul” and the title track songs a headbanger DJ might consider playing on midnight radio.
Expulsion doesn’t bother nodding to anyone’s delicate sensibilities on its brief, ugly debut Nightmare Future (Relapse). Featuring members of Intronaut, Phobia and Gruesome and led by Matt Harvey of Exhumed and Matt Olivo of legendary grindcore pioneers Repulsion, Expulsion lives up to its name with seven wild-eyed explosions of filth and fury totaling less than fifteen minutes. Poison Blood also believes that briefer is better with its eponymous EP (Relapse). The duo of instrumentalist Jenks Miller (Horseback, Mount Moriah) and Neill Jameson (Krieg) grinds out bits of raw black metal, eschewing Miller’s usual sophistication and Jameson’s classicist approach for a punky take influenced by underground obscurities like Beherit and Rudimentary Peni. The brutality is leavened by synth pad “The Flower of Serpents” and psychedelic anthem “Circles of Salt,” but they pale in the face of the 51-second slice of blackened aggro that is “Shelter Beneath the Sea.”
Denmark’s Amalie Bruun, better known as Myrkur, returns after the palette-cleansing acoustic live album Mausoleum with Mareidt (Relapse). Bruun’s unique vision truly crystallizes here, swirling majestic black metal, ethereal gothic pop and moody doom into a towering edifice built with all the precision and clarity that her classical training can provide. She moves from ghostly croon to demonic shriek like it ain’t no thang on the roiling “Ulvinde” and “Måneblôt,” whilst amp-frying doom underscores her emotional keen in “The Serpent” and “Elleskudt.” “De Tre Piker” and “Børnehjem” indulge in a heavy folk influence, but no one’s going to mistake any of it for “folk rock.” Proof that likeminded souls find each other, Bruun invites Chelsea Wolfe to contribute to “Funeral,” and the result is a song that could fit comfortably on either artist’s LP. Bruun’s lyrical blend of mythology, paganism, magick and empowerment will fly over the heads of anyone but native speakers, but it doesn’t matter – the power of Myrkur’s music and the intent in her singing provide all the message you need.
Dallas destructors Power Trip toured their debut album Manifest Decimation to death, so the release of sophomore non-slump Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord) is a relief. As with the first LP, the quintet pledges its troth to old school thrash, blasting away as if Metallica’s Black Album – hell, …And Justice For All – never happened. The sheer power of “Soul Sacrifice” and “Ruination” is impressive to behold, even through computer speakers, but the secret to Power Trip’s success lies in its ability to sneak hooks into the hair-whipping aggression. Check the “If Not Us Then Who” and “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Ax),” which has thrash classic written all over it.
Tokyo’s mighty Boris has long been one of heavy music’s most consistently interesting practitioners, and the trio keeps its fire burning on its 25th anniversary album Dear (Sargent House). Ironically, it does so by reinvesting in the ambient sludge and dinosaur-heavy doom on which it made its reputation. That’s not to say the band has abandoned its experiments with shoegaze, as “Beyond” demonstrates, or just plain ol’ weirdness, as on “Dystopia.” But the slow grind of “D.O.W.N. (“Domination of Waiting Noise),” the pounding repetition of “The Power” and the radioactive decay of the title track will induce flashbacks of Boris classics like Flood. Dear was intended to be a farewell album, and if it turns out to be that, it’s a fine way to say goodbye. But given how focused and engaged Boris sounds here, it seems more likely the triad is starting a new chapter, not closing the book. (Note: the song “Absolutego” shares only a title with the band’s debut LP.)
Finland’s Circle has a quarter of a century’s worth of experimental, improvisational psych metal under its belt, some of it within the realm of accessibility to adventurous rock fans and some of it farther out than the rings of Saturn. Terminal (Southern Lord), the quartet’s thirty-first studio album, leans more toward the former, doing a mash-up of doom, motorik, acid rock and anything else it likes for a set of jamming, riff-oriented anthems that veer from aggressive to tripped-out. Vocals range from operatic to extreme, but it’s clearly the music that matters. Check out the thirteen-minute opener “Rakkautta Al Dente” for a mind-melting summation of what this veteran underground act is all about. Hailing from Seattle, He Whose Ox is Gored field a quirky mix of doomy sludge, doomy synthwave and doomy weirdness that makes the foursome stand out in any lineup. The band’s latest 7-inch “Paralyzer” (Chain Letter Collective/Void Assault) pairs the roaring title track – which can’t seem to make up its mind if it wants to rip off the skyline or dig up the foundation – with a pair of remixed older tunes, all brilliantly produced by Jack Endino. Montreal trio BigǀBrave blends a foundation in battleship-heavy doom but a drive to bring that sound to a different plane. On the band’s third album Ardor (Southern Lord), guitarist Robin Wattie’s Bjork-like soprano contrasts mightily with her lowdown six-string crunge. But the dichotomy is what helps drive the three slowly unfolding tracks of ethereal metallica, making this like a post rock band after being forcefed the first Black Sabbath album.
Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats first hit the scene like a sloppy punch in 2011 with what we thought was its debut, Blood Lust. To paraphrase Yoda, however, there is another. Vol. 1 (Rise Above) was originally released in 2010 in an edition of 30 CD-r copies, which allegedly took several months to sell through. Now it’s back on CD and vinyl in all of its lo-fi, proto-metal glory. The raw nature of both the recording and the craft is pretty obvious, but this isn’t the barely competent flounderings of an amateur. Quite the contrary – as loose as some of the harmonies and arrangements can be, the psychedelic “Lonely and Strange,” scuzzed ‘n’ fuzzed out instrumental “Do What Your Love Tells You” and lean ‘n’ mean “Dead Eyes of London” come from a band that already knows where it wants to go, how it wants to get there and how many trolls it has to kill to do it. Berlin’s burly Kadavar romps through similar fields on its fourth record Rough Times (Nuclear Blast), minus Uncle Acid’s occult leanings. With “Die Baby Die,” “Tribulation Nation” and the title ditty, the trio’s fuzz-slathered blast rock crosses Blue Cheery blues metal with urban proto-punk and Black Country doom for a guaranteed good time favored by riff-ravenous air guitarists everywhere.
Mike Patton joining a supergroup is now such a common occurrence that it’s easy to greet such projects with a shrug. But the self-titled LP (Three.One.G/Ipecac) by Dead Cross won’t be ignored. Joined by the Locust’s Justin Pearson, Retox’s Michael Crain and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, Patton slams together various iterations of thrash, hardcore and noiserock, hits “puree” and stands back as he pours the concoction over the heads of anyone who gets too close. Unsurprisingly, the musicians keep their heads down and concentrate on keeping the grind grooving, letting Patton do his usual scream/howl/growl/roar/sing thing at the front of the line. “Obedience School,” “Divine Filth” and “Church of the Motherfuckers” do the dance between accessible and obnoxious as gracefully as any of Patton’s other projects, but the capper is a bonkers version of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” that’s as much violation as tribute.
The ever-prolific Melvins never fit comfortably under the metal banner, but then, the San Fran band never fit well under any genre designation. But certainly the trio’s doom-laden foundation and love of ear-rattling volume attract audiences of likeminded headbangers. That said, A Walk With Love & Death (Ipecac), the band’s recent double album, pushes the boundaries like few Melvins records before. Each disk represents a different project, with the Love side being a soundtrack to a short film and Death being a “normal” Melvins album (whatever that is). The soundtrack consists mainly of samples, feedback and studio tomfoolery, with only the occasional foray into something resembling an actual song, a la the funky “Give It to Me.” Nothing heavy, but nothing close to easy listening, either. Death follows the trends of the band’s recent work – more melody, more psychedelia, less tar-pit sludge – for another solid set of riff-rocking songs like “Euthanasia” and “Flaming Creature.” Shout-outs to “What’s Wrong With You?,” which channels Redd Kross honestly by being written and sung by RK bassist Steven McDonald, now pulling the same duty in the Melvins, and “Sober-delic (acid only).” a freaky indulgence that never loses its grip on tunefulness.
Though Mastodon has its own new album out and making noise, its members have no interest in down time, as the members’ myriad side projects (Gone is Gone, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra) make plain. Drummer Brann Dailor takes an interesting detour with Arcadea, a trio with Withered guitarist Raheem Amlani and Zruda guitarist/keyboardist Core Atoms. The band’s self-titled debut (Relapse) eschews six-strings to concentrate purely on analogue synth sounds backed by live drums, with clean voices and sci-fi-themed lyrics thick in the mix. Though the electronics wash away any metallic edge, the prog-infused melodies of “Electromagnetic” and “Gas Giant” will ring true to anyone familiar with Dailor’s singalong anthems in his main band, and the synths give everything a cosmic edge. Metal or not, Arcadea is a cool record that hopefully doesn’t signal a one-and-done side project.
Speaking of side projects related to metal more than enmeshed in it, Liturgy drummer Greg Fox joins fellow eclecticians Shahzad Ismaily (synths, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, Secret Chiefs 3), Toby Summerfield (guitar, AJ Kluth’s Aldric) and Colin Stetson (sax, Transmission Trio, Tom Waits, Arcade Fire) in Ex Eye, whose eponymous debut (Relapse) is an improvisational tornado of jazz heroics and metallic fury. While his bandmates lay down a brooding crunch, Stetson – who may pay his bills as an indie rock sideman but has a long-running career in free jazz and ambient weirdness – wails like a rock guitarist in thrall to his eBow, shooting out long, legato lines that cut through the high end and pin down the low. On “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil,” Fox sticks mainly to four-four (on the floor) time signatures, while Summerfield and Ismaily build walls of space metal as foundation for Stetson’s excursions. Order breaks down on “Anitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc,” however, as chaos lays waste to a city, allowing drones to perform flyovers in the few moments of peace. “Form Constant; The Grid” brings serenity of sorts, as Stetson runs down a repetitious riff under which his bandmates flow like the receding waters of a tsunami. The clouds part, the sun peeks out and the earth settles back into slumber before the next cosmic seizure.
While we’re on the subject of instrometal, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that Blurt fave Blind Idiot God, who made a stunning comeback with 2015’s Before Ever After, has begun its long-promised reissue program with Undertow (Indivisible). Originally released in 1989, the New York trio’s second LP finds its patented blend of thrashing doom and jazzy dub in almost bifurcated form, with neither side of the band’s coin rubbing up against the other, at least not in-track. Thus “Watch Yer Step” and “Clockwork Dub” skank spaced-outedly via clean guitar chunks, as “Alice in My Fantasies,” “Atomic Whip” and the squealing “Drowning” pound mightily with throbbing drums and grunged-out riffs. But that’s fine – 25 years ago, just the fact that BIG could switch gears so definitively in either direction was enough. The new edition also comes with some collaborative bonus tracks: two versions of “Freaked,” the theme song to Alex Winter’s film of the same name that guest-stars an exuberant Henry Rollins, and “Purged Specimen,” an outside-the-lines freakout with sax fiend/jazz gremlin John Zorn.
The rush to reissue classic albums and unjustly overlooked obscurities on vinyl hasn’t passed by the world of metal. Real Gone Music jumps into the game with a pair of albums from the glory days of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Shock Tactics was the third platter from Samson, one of the most overlooked and yet most important groups of the era. The band inserted a gonzo theatricality into the scene via masked, caged drummer Thunderstick, but most significantly introduced the world to singer Bruce Bruce – better known as Bruce Dickinson, who became the singer for the NWoBHM’s most successful and influential act: Iron Maiden. Shock Tactics is fairly meat-and-potatoes compared to leading lights like Maiden, Angel Witch or Diamond Head, but that’s not to say it’s bad. Far from it – the combo of Dickinson’s monster vocal chords and guitarist Paul Samson’s skilled riffery remains potent on tunes like “Bright Lights,” “Riding With the Angels” and “Go To Hell.”
Jaguar is pretty obscure compared to Samson – it didn’t contribute any members to future superstars and is rarely namechecked as an influence by anyone. Which seems a bit disingenuous on the aural evidence of Power Games, its 1982 debut. Guitarist Garry Peppard (who leads the band to this day) rips out proto-thrash licks with eager aplomb, while the rhythm section barrels forward like it’s allergic to any tempo beyond “stampede.” (The acoustic bits of “Master Game” are significant exceptions, but they don’t last long.) Singer Paul Merrell is a plainspoken powerhouse, keeping up with his bandmates without overindulging in screams, growls or screeches. “Dutch Connection,” “Cold Heart” and “Prisoner” kick all kinds of ass – simply put, these are some of the most aggressive NWoBHM bangers you’ll hear anywhere. If the members of Metallica didn’t have this record in their collections before they started rehearsing Kill ‘em All, we’d be very surprised.
As long we’re gabbing about reissues from classic metal acts, we’d must mention King of the Dead (Metal Blade), the second album from the notorious Cirith Ungol. The Ventura, Cali quartet never quite fit in with its 80s peers – though essentially proffering a similar mix of crunching doom and soaring NWoBHM as Trouble, the influence of fantasy-driven prog rock and the unusual vocals of Tim Baker put CU, for better or worse, in a class by itself. Baker’s register-wandering screech can be a dealbreaker for some, but if you go with it, it’s a uniquely expressive instrument, helping to elevate fist-wavers like “Atom Smasher,” “Death of the Sun” and the title track beyond being merely solid metal. Originally released in 1984, King of the Dead is generally acknowledged to be Cirith Ungol’s high point, not least amongst the bandmembers themselves. This edition also includes some in-concert cuts that highlight the band’s onstage power.
Michael Toland also authors BLURT’s “Rockin’ Is Ma Business” blog and he knows way more about rock ‘n’ roll than you, so get used to it. A resident of beautiful Austin, Texas, he is rumored to be making plans for marriage in the near future. Feel free to send wedding gifts (no denominations under $20, please) to him in c/o the BLURT office.
Audio and Video Samples of the Bands Mentioned Above:
Arcadea – Bandcamp:
BigǀBrave – Bandcamp:
Circle – Bandcamp:
Cirith Ungol – Bandcamp:
Dead Cross – Bandcamp:
Ex Eye – Bandcamp:
Expulsion – Bandcamp:
Goatwhore – Bandcamp:
He Whose Ox is Gored – Bandcamp:
Jaguar – Power Games:
Kadavar – “Die Baby Die”:
The Melvins – Bandcamp:
The Obsessed – Bandcamp:
Pallbearer – Bandcamp:
Poison Blood – Bandcamp:
Power Trip – Bandcamp:
Samson – “Riding With the Angels” (live):
Tombs – Bandcamp:
Venomous Maximus – Bandcamp: