Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the first installment in our latest genre study, with Carcass, Windhand, Satyricon, Ihsahn, Motörhead, Mastodon and much more.
BY METAL MIKE TOLAND
You’d think a subgenre with a forbidding name like doom would be the loneliest of ghettos – who the heck wants to sample music with connotations of death and dread simply by its categorical title? But doom metal aficionados know better – the sensual power of the slow, heavy wash of melodic distortion and dinosaur stomp can scratch an itch you didn’t even know you had. Just ask Black Sabbath how much mileage it’s gotten over the past four decades.
Or ask Windhand, whose new album Soma (Relapse) refreshes the genre. The lava-thick syrup guitarists Garrett Morris and Asechiah Bogdan (ex-Alabama Thunderpussy) slather all over “Orchard” and “Feral Bones” carries a familiar but potent kick, and in combo with Dorthia Cotrell’s dead-inside croon casts a spell so otherworldly it’s downright psychedelic. Despite being acoustic, the lovely “Evergreen” provides little relief, as it just strips the Richmond, VA quintet’s black night/full moon atmosphere down to its forlorn essence. “Boleskine” throws all of Windhand’s ingredients – rhino-crushing riffs, slow boil rhythms, acoustic pastorals – into one monstrous epic of titanic (over half an hour!) proportions. Coincidentally also featuring a female singer, Demon Lung (art below) works its own brand of black magic on the equally doom-soaked The Hundredth Name (Candlelight), engineered and mixed in part by über-metal studiohound Billy Anderson.
Ignore the alleged plot – something about Satan coming to earth in search of some sort of totem that will undo creation – and just revel in the alternately dreamy and chugging doom metal majesty. Across the pond, Jennie-Ann Smith brings a bluesy tone to her singing for Avatarium’s self-titled debut (Nuclear Blast). Fronting a supergroup of Swedish metalheads – including Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell, Tiamat drummer Lars Sköld and, most notably, Candlemass bassist/songwriter Leif Edling – she lathers a soupcon of soul over the quintet’s ethereal prog/psych-soaked slow grind – cf. “Pandora’s Egg” or “Lady in the Lamp.”
More earthy grunge emanates from South of the Earth (Rise Above/Metal Blade), the latest slab of low-end riffage from the legendary Maryland institution Iron Man. New singer Dee Calhoun comes across a bit overheated, but Iron Man is all about Al Morris III’s Hendrix-meets-Iommi guitar slayage anyway. Axe geeks who want a master class in doom metal couldn’t do much better. And speaking of veterans, Chicago doom pioneer Trouble pushes on after what’s apparently the final defection of singer Eric Wagner with The Distortion Field (FRW). New singer Kyle Thomas (ex-Exhorder, Alabama Thunderpussy and, for a brief, unrecorded period, Trouble itself) doesn’t have Wagner’s distinctive flair, but he fits in well enough to make this a solid metal record, or at least not an embarrassment to the band’s considerable legacy. Brooklyn up-and-comer Blackout (art below) dumps its doomy sludge in a big ol’ vat of acid on We Are Here (self-released,) If you ever wished that Ozzy and Iommi saw colors during the making of the first Sabbath album, “Amnesia” and “Seven” are for you.
Having ditched the corpsepaint some years ago, Satyricon seems to get often overlooked in the black metal hordes. But the Norwegian duo is one of the few in its poisoned air realm to constantly push itself and its art forward, and so it is on its self-titled LP (Nuclear Blast). Tracks like “Nocturnal Flare,” “Nekrohaven” and “Our World It Rumbles Tonight” maintain a rock grind beneath the dissonant riffage and multi-instrumentalist Satyr’s monstrous growl – credit Frost’s multi-faceted drumming. The pair throws one major curve ball, inviting former Madrugada singer Sivert Høyem to add his coffee-smooth vocals to the defiant “Phoenix,” but otherwise Satyricon proves that there’s still life in the cold corpse of black metal.
And speaking of black metal, one of the genre’s pioneers continues pushing his own envelope on his latest record. Satyr’s countryman and erstwhile Emperor leader Ihsahn has apparently been listening to a lot of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree, if his newest Das Seelenbrechen (Candlelight) is any indication. Not that it’s a bad thing – the incorporation of sweeping melodies, improvisational inserts and atmospheric textures into his progressive black metal makes the multi-instrumentalist’s work even more striking. The contrast between his psychotically feral roars and delicate singing works especially nicely here. Check out “M,” “Tacit” (and its companion “Tacit 2”) and “NaCI” for some real stunners. (Listen to a track here at LastFM: http://www.last.fm/music/Ihsahn/_/Tacit). American black metal gets its bloody licks in with Akrasia (self-released), the debut EP from Chicago’s Immortal Bird. The trio unleashes a brutal conflagration, led by Rae Amitay’s bloodthirsty shriek and nimble drumming, but there’s real songwriting skill and instrumental dexterity hiding under all the hellfire – cf. “Ashen Scabland” and “The Pseudoscientist.” Portland fellow travelers Wolves in the Throne Room, meanwhile, also keep it brief by belching up BBC Session 2011 Anno Dominoi (Southern Lord), a pair of smoky, melodic black acid baths whose studio counterparts can be found on the duo’s acclaimed Celestial Lineage LP. Fans of more traditional black metal brutality should gravitate to At War With (BloodyMountain), a violent pummeling from the fists of Valdur (art below), a trio that hails from the unlikely USBM mecca of the Sierra Mountains. Nothing arty here – just raging riffs, crashing drums and bowel-ripping roars in the old school tradition.
Back in the bad ol’ days of the late ‘80s and 1990s, extreme metal wasn’t as prevalent as it is now, and Carcass ruled the roost with its pioneering grindcore/death metal mania. After a good 15 years of studio inactivity, the Liverpool quartet returns with the blazing Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast). Bassist/vokillist Jeff Walker and guitarist Bill Steer go for the throat, emphasizing riffs, rage and the band’s patented obsession with death, gore and medical terminology. “The Granulating Dark Satanic Mills,” “The Master Butcher’s Apron” and the appropriately titled “Unfit For Human Consumption” roll over notions of common decency like a boulder over a flower bed. A stunning return.
The argument could be made that the term “blackened” should only apply to food made in a Cajun kitchen, but we all know what it means when it’s applied to metal: feral vampire-on-speed vocals atop metal from outside the black metal genre. Hence the blackened thrash of Ohio’s Skeletonwitch, whose fifth LP Serpents Unleashed (Prosthetic) gallops like a demonic stallion with fire shooting from its nostrils. “From a Cloudless Sky” and “I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)” burn like jalapenos in habanero sauce, while “This Evil Embrace” and “Unending Every Living” ease off just enough for you to recover for the next assault. Further north and west, Joel Grind leads Toxic Holocaust through another brainstem-vibrating attack on Chemistry of Consciousness (Relapse). Less blackened than just plain set on fire, “International Conspiracy,” “Acid Fuzz” and “Rat Eater” shoot off enough sparks to warrant a burn ban even in a city as damp as Portland.
Swedish quartet Noctum manages a neat trick: going back in time to find a midpoint that never existed. On its second slab Final Sacrifice (Metal Blade), the band navigates waters somewhere between the continent of the States of 70s Hard Rock and NWoBHMia. That means big riffs, dramatic singing, earthy melodies and a sense of grandeur that never bloats into mania on “A Burning Will,” “Void of Emptiness” and “Resurrected in Evil.” Very satisfying. Fellow Swedish troop Horisont prefers the 70s half of that equation, but after a couple of records that were a bit too faithful to proto-metal sound recreation, the quintet really hits its stride on Time Warriors (Rise Above/Metal Blade). Credit better songwriting and more enthusiastic performances – cuts like “Brother,” “Diamonds in Orbit” and “She Cried Wolf” really blast out. And kudos to the band for singing “Dödsdans” in its native language.
Scott Kelly (Neurosis), Mike IX Williams (Eyehategod), Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) and Sanford Parker (Minsk, producer of half the important underground metal records of the past decade) all made their names in some of the metal world’s most experimental combos, but Corrections House, their collaborative project, allows them to really get weird. The band’s debut Last City Zero (Neurot) probably owes its biggest debt to the pounding doomcrunch of Kelly’s band, but with Williams’ anguished screams, Lamont’s mournful sax and Parker’s electronic gremlins added to the mix, the result sounds like the parent bands and none of them all at once. The harsh atmospheres of “Party Leg and Three Fingers” clear the decks for the melancholy whisper-to-growl of “Run Through the Night,” which then gives way to the clanging industrial snarl of “Dirt Poor and Mentally Ill,” then capped by the Bill Hicks-meets-Charles Bukowski philosophizing of the title track and the avant ambient metal of “Drapes Hung By Jesus.” Brilliant and strange, and not just for fans of the artists involved. Also walking an unsettling path while bristling with muscle and a piss-poor attitude,
Atlanta’s Whores (art below) channel their pain into fury on the Clean. EP (Brutal Panda), joining the likes of Unsane in the noise metal pool. “Last Looks,” “I Am An Amateur At Everything” and the positively monstrous “Blue Blood” broil in eye-popping riff-shout and defiant rage-doom, like Sabbath recording for Amphetamine Reptile.
The argument continues to rage about whether or not Motörhead should really be called “metal,” but headbangers everywhere plotz when the veteran British trio releases an album, so that’s enough of an excuse to mention it here. Aftershock (Motörhead Music/UDR), the band’s umpteenth LP (seriously, you look it up if you really want to know), rocks like a Motörhead album should, all furious riffs, breakneck tempos and Lemmy’s life-well-spent growl. The towering frontman’s lyrics bespeak a larger preoccupation with life’s dark side than usual – cf. “Heartbreaker,” “Death Machine” and “End of Time,” for starters. But there’s always sex (“Crying Shame”), rage (“Coup De Grace”), the blues (“Dust and Glass”) and general debauchery (“Going to Mexico”) to get him – and us – through. Not to mention the power of rock & roll itself – “Do You Believe” resurrects that hoariest of hoaries, the anthem that celebrates rock itself, with enough power, fury and love of life to make the sentiment real. Motörhead’s been on a real roll the last few years, and Aftershock deserves the Snaggletooth stamp of approval. Inspirational lyric: “If you tell me dirty stories/I’ll be on your side.” Ah, Lemmy – don’t ever change.
Similar debates over whether or not the mighty Mastodon is “true” metal rage in the corners of various genre ‘zines and websites. But, as its second concert album/video Live at Brixton (Warner Bros., digital only) proves, it simply doesn’t matter. Though there’s a natural emphasis on the Atlanta quartet’s latest LP The Hunter, the setlist ranges all across its storied career, from early beasts like “Aqua Dementia,” “March of the Fireants” and “Blood and Thunder” to later monsters “Curl of the Burl,” “Black Tongue” and “Crack the Skye.” The band eschews the elaborate video backdrop of the Crack the Skye tour and just goes for it, letting the strength of its catalog, the breadth of its prog/death/classic metal aesthetic and its oft-jawdropping musicianship do the talking. Mastodon is one radio hit or high profile tour away from being an arena conquering attraction, and by the end of Live at Brixton you may be convinced that it’s the best live rock band in the world.
Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, for a number of years a mysterious spate of as-yet-unsolved cattle mutilation crimes have been occurring at regular intervals. We at BLURT have no insight into any of this, however. His Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.