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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pig Destroyer – Prowler in the Yard bandcamp: