Tag Archives: metal

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 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. 666.5, here 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

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.9

Cobalt

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. 666.5, here 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

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 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.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}

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.

***

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.

***

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

 

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.6

Black Star Riders - The Killer Instinct - Artwork

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the sixth installment in our latest genre study, with Black Star Riders, Venom, Raven, Blind Guardian, Brothers of the Sonic Cloth 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 and here for Pt. 666.5 —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

It’s not rare for the old guard to make a comeback with a second or third wind – Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath stand as bands of a certain age that have undergone respectable resurrections. Less common is an older artist putting him or herself in a new band that continues prior traditions. Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham kept the Lizzy flag flying as a touring act, but when it came time to make new music, he changed the band’s name to Black Star Riders out of respect for Phil Lynott’s memory. BSR debuted a couple of years ago with the solid, if unspectacular, All Hell Breaks Loose, on which Gorham, guitarist Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Brother Cane), singer Ricky Warwick (the Almighty), bassist Marco Mendoza (Blue Murder, Ted Nugent) and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Alice Cooper, Megadeth) tried to expand beyond the classic Lizzy sound. Apparently that approach is out the window for The Killer Instinct (Nuclear Blast), which abandons the more generalist hard rock approach of the debut to hone straight in on what made Lizzy great. Gorham and Johnson make a formidable guitar team, expertly balancing melody and power, while DeGrasso and new bassist Robbie Crane (Ratt, Lynch Mob) juggle anything the riffmeisters throw at them. While he’s no clone, Warwick borrows liberally from Lynott’s conversational vocal style, making the tracks seems like letters from home as much as entertainment. From the Celtic metal of “Soldierstown” and the chugging “Sex, Guns & Gasoline” to the brooding crunch of “Charlie I Gotta Go” and the very Lizzy-like anthems “Finest Hour” and the title track, the band finds the sweet spot between accessibility and aggression that Lynott himself was so adept at exploiting. Phil would be proud.

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Speaking of the old guard, Venom, the band that gave the black metal genre its name, crawls back From the Very Depths (Spinefarm). Still led by bassist/singer Cronos, the trio doesn’t make much progress on its 14th album, but why should it? No one does the Satanic punk/metal thing as well as the originator – cf. “Grinding Teeth,” “Mephistopheles” and “Smoke” – and if the band sometimes resembles Motorhead (complete with Phil Campbell-like axeslinger Rage), more Motorhead emulators in the world ain’t ever a bad thing. A fellow power trio of similar vintage, Raven also comes blazing out of the gate with its thirteenth album Extermination (Steamhammer/SPV). Though associated with thrash and speed metal, due to early patronage of Metallica and Anthrax, in truth the British band deals out fairly styleless beatdowns, ignoring genre in favor of riffs and sheer energy on “Feeding the Monster” and “Destroy All Monsters.” Frankly, the 62-minute record would have been more effective at half the length, but in short bursts it’s damned exhilarating.

Enforcer - From Beyond - Artwork

While elder statesmen like Raven prove they’ve dropped no gauntlets to be picked up, young guns still pop up to keep the trad metal fire burning. On the Swedish quartet’s second album From Beyond (Nuclear Blast), Enforcer parties like it’s 1984, complete with monsters, magic, demons and evil deeds afoot. Fortunately, “Mask of Red Death,” “The Banshee” and the title track are the kind of gleefully over-the-top, riff-chugging anthems that require no understanding of lyrics in order to appreciate.

Visigoth - The Revenant King

Visigoth, hailing from the would-be metal Mecca of Salt Lake City, mines the same rich vein of fantasy-driven mania on its debut The Revenant King (Metal Blade). Whether due to its heightened melodic sense or the burly charisma of singer Jake Rogers, the quintet takes battleaxe metal to another level, lighting “Dungeon Master,” “Creature of Desire” and the title ditty on fire with chest-thrusting power. Coming in from the West Coast, Night Demon have faced charges of copycatting older, better bands (Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Angel Witch) on its full-length debut Curse of the Damned (Century Media). Clearly in thrall to the more melodic of the early NWoBHM bruisers, the Ventura, CA trio certainly won’t win any originality awards. But the band clearly loves playing with these toys, and “Screams in the Night,” “Livin’ Dangerously” and “The Howling Man” satisfy too well to worry about stylistic pilfering.

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The menacing sludge strangling the self-titled debut (Neurot) by Brothers of the Sonic Cloth hints at its creator: Tad Doyle, late of namesake Tad and Hog Molly. The Seattle singer/guitarist/producer molds BotSC into a far heavier and dissonant entity than any he’s led before. “Unnamed,” “Empires of Dust” and “I Am” lumber forward like dinosaurs before their coffee, with Doyle’s harsh roars and growls urging them on. The LP reaches a monstrous apex of sorts with the massive “La Mano Poderosa,” a multi-pronged shaft of blackened acid doom. Brothers of the Sonic Cloth may be the pinnacle of Doyle’s heavy rock obsessions. Also getting meaner and noisier in his old age, Aaron Turner – leader of late prog metal iconoclasts Isis and doom pranksters Old Man Gloom – launches Sumac with The Deal (Profound Lore). Clashing chords bat the melody around like a cat torturing a chipmunk, Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) pummels the kit while somehow maintaining swing and Turner growls in a voice so guttural you want to get him a cough drop. The trio creates a visceral brand of atmospheric art doom that expands boundaries while still staying true to form – cf. “Blight End’s Angel” and the title track.

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Portland’s Lord Dying, meanwhile, follows up its promising debut Summon the Faithless with Poisoned Altars (Relapse) maintaining its balance of roaring thud and ripping crunch. The title ditty, the mighty epic “Darkness Remains” and the delightfully titled “Sucking at the Teat of a She-Beast” wield chunky riffs like bloody hammers, softening you up for Erik Olson’s hellish drill sergeant bark.

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Less avant doom abounds as the ever-elegant Torche continues its practice of injecting gobs of singalong melody into savory crunch on Restarter (Relapse). Leader Steve Brooks grafts catchy vocal lines from early 90s alt.rock records to 70s-style doom, leading to accessible, ass-kicking tunes like “Bishop in Arms,” “Believe It” and “Loose Men.” Not to mention the title track, nearly nine minutes of amp-frying, synapse-abusing cosmic doom of a classically heavy stripe. The career of Sorcerer, meanwhile, dates back to the late 80s, though the Swedish quintet never released an album during their original lifespan. A couple of decades later, the band finally releases In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross (Metal Blade), its debut slab of epic doom. Like fellow countrybeast Candlemass, Sorcerer plays to the seats behind the cheap seats, thanks to singer Anders Engberg’s sweeping clarity and guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren’s mighty riffs. “Prayers For a King” and “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer” keep the melancholy melodies vibrating with dark atmosphere and electric power.

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On its self-titled second LP (RidingEasy), Brooklyn’s Blackout dives deeper into the same acid pool that soaked its first album, letting “Nightmare” and “Cross” ooze with psychedelic doom. The trio’s New York neighbor Geezer goes for a similar vibe on Gage (Ripple Music), putting a bluesy spin on “Thorny” and “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus” and going full space rock on “Tales of Murder and Unkindness.” It ain’t all new faces, though, since As Heaven Turns to Ash (Southern Lord), the debut and sole LP by long-defunct Massachusetts trio Warhorse, has been re-unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The band’s brand of psych-tinged sludge/doom is common currency these days, but back in 2001 it made (ugly) waves amongst aficionados of black lights, bongs and the devil. Beside bruisers like “Black Acid Prophecy” and “Lysergic Communion,” the reissue also features the songs from the band’s final 7-inch EP I Am Dying.

Melechesh - Enki - Artwork

A forward-thinking black metal act looking at twenty years of existence, Amsterdam-based Melechesh weaves threads reflecting its Assyrian, Armenian and Israeli heritage into thrashing savagery on Enki (Nuclear Blast). Keeping the blast beats to a minimum and the riffs (many of them played on 12-string for an extra six strings of oomph) to a maximum, Melechesh downloads Jewish, Christian and Muslim lore into robust files of Middle Eastern-frosted melody and take-no-prisoners brutality, brought into focus by leader Ashmedi’s otherworldly shriek. Parsing the band’s complex theology challenges and the epic prog metal of “The Outsiders” and acoustic ambience of “Doorways to Irkala” stun, but the sheer headbanging rush of “Multiple Truths,” “The Pendulum Speaks” and “Metatron and Man” satisfies most sweetly. In Times (Nuclear Blast) is the latest slab o’ grandeur from the mighty Enslaved, Norway’s best-known purveyors of progressive black metal and another twenty-year vet. Like fellow traveler Opeth, the Haugesund quintet freely moves between sweet and sour, countering harsh roars and a rampaging attack with mellifluous singing and accessible melody. After two decades of practice, the form verges on formula, but the band’s enthusiasm for its chosen path keeps “One Thousand Years of Rain,” “Building With Fire” and the title track on message.

Lucifer_Anubis

It doesn’t get much publicity even in these days of vinyl fetishism, but metal and hard rock bands like to be cool and put out seven-inch singles as much as punks and indie rockers. Johanna Sadonis, former singer of the great but sadly short-lived duo The Oath, debuts her new outfit Lucifer on “Anubis” b/w “Morningstar” (Rise Above), a pair of delightfully eerie and broodily melodic doom monsters that show off her haunting pipes. Lucifer’s labelmate Horisont also teases some kickass times ahead with “Break the Limit” b/w “Yellow Blues” (Rise Above). The A-side chugs with beer-fueled bravado, like a 70s opening act that knows better than the headliner, while the flip spices its widescreen roil with burbling Moog and duelling guitars.

Blind Guardian - Twilight Of The Gods - Artwork - Copy

Germany’s Blind Guardian also teases its latest opus with “Twilight of the Gods” b/w “Time Stands Still – At the Iron Hill (live at Wacken 2011)” (Nuclear Blast), the former a rampaging slice of Queenly power metal and the latter a majestic live track recorded at Germany’s premier heavy music festival. Finally, Ides of Gemini resurrect a song recorded during the sessions for but not included on its most recent LP Old World New Wave – “Carthage” b/w “Strange Fruit” (Magic Bullet) puts a brooding acoustic/electric slice of heaviness on the A-side and a haunting psych metal version of the Billie Holiday standard on the flip. (Be advised that the meatspace version of the single goes out of print following Record Store Day.)

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Miscellaneous: Karma to Burn returns to action with the mighty Arch Stanton (FABA), a rampaging collection of psychedelic dinosaur killers and scorched earth boogie. Powered by a swingin’ rhythm section and layered with guitar tones so thick they’d withstand a rhinoceros charge, “23,” “57” and “54” don’t just rock – they roll, over the hills, through the woods and on up to your doorstep, collecting heads along the way. Portugal’s Moonspell reasserts itself as South America’s paragon of gothic metal on Extinct (Napalm), a hard-rocking LP that may appeal as much to fans of Sisters of Mercy as to those of H.I.M.. Check out anthems “The Last of Us” and “Medusalem” to sample both the band’s inherent tunefulness and singer Fernando Ribeiro’s ability to go from croon to bawl to blargh without dissociative personality disorder. Fulgora consists of members of grindcore/extreme metal royalty Pig Destroyer, Misery Index and Agoraphoric Nosebleed; Stratagem (Housecore) collects the four songs from the trio’s Dischord singles, plus three. “Splinter” “Merdian” and “Artifice” smash shins with chugging noisecore, with hard rock riffery and articulate shouting distinguishing them from grindcore’s usual inchoate rage blur.

A Forest of Stars - BtSYCS

Hailing from Leeds, England, A Forest of Stars emerges from its ancient castle with Beware the Sword You Cannot See (Prophecy), a weird and wonderful melange of black metal, prog, Celtic folk and quirky British sensibilities. As blackened vokills sidling up to arch spoken word passages and dreamy violin swells duel with crunching guitars, “A Blaze of Hammers,” “An Automaton Adrift” (part V of an inexplicable song cycle) and “Drawing Down the Rain” should border on batshit insane. But the septet (led by vocalist Mister Curse, violinist/singer Katherine, Queen of the Ghosts and keyboardist the Gentleman) values craft over chaos, keeping on track and letting each ingredient in the stew get a chance to shine. Best song title, maybe ever: “Proboscis Master Versus the Powdered Seraphs.” Similarly eclectic, though more concerned with emotional power, is Pyramids, a Denton, Texas ensemble that conflates prog rock, shoegaze, black metal and doom into the remarkable ball of earwax A Northern Meadow (Profound Lore). Though burdened with titles like “I Have Four Sons, All Named For Men We Lost to War” and “The Earth Melts Into Red Gashes Like the Mouths of Whales,” the record nearly perfectly balances beauty and brutality, not so much shifting between moods as indulging in them all at once. Thus a melancholy croon floats above harsh guitar grind, and a majestic melody emerges from brooding dissonance – a difficult meld to mold, but Pyramids get it right.

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Cheerily starting its second LP with a lovely acoustic ditty called “Suicide Note,” eclectic extremists Voices slither and blast all over the map on London (Candlelight), named for the quartet’s hometown. With roots in adventurous black metal troop Akercocke, it’s no surprise Voices veers between melancholy melody and savage brutality – or, for that matter, the egomania and alternative sexuality celebrated in “Last Train Victoria Line,” “The Ultimate Narcissist” and the charming “The Fuck Trance.” The frequent narration indicates a storyline of some sort.

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Blurring the lines between genres even further, Karyn Crisis debuts her new project Gospel of the Witches with Salem’s Wounds (Century Media). Death metal, goth, grunge and the occult fuse in the former Crisis leader’s new vision, with “The Secret,” “Goddess of Light” and “Mother” giving her plenty of room to growl and howl as sidefolk drawn from Ephel Duath, Immolation, Tombs and Vaura attempt to keep up.

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Finally, metal wouldn’t be metal without royalty asserting itself, and thus we have debut EPs from a pair of Kings. Fronted by Kristina Esfandiari, late of shoegaze rockers Whirr, King Woman lowers itself into a molten vat of doom on the four-song Doubt (The Flenser). “King of Swords” and “Candescent Soul” blend the singer’s former and current projects, allowing her to mix her voice in as texture, rather than lead instrument. King Hitter, on the other hand, prefers chugging boogie metal to dreamy doomgaze on its self-titled five-songer (Restricted Release). Led by ex-Leadfoot members Scott Little and Karl Agell, who also sang for Corrosion of Conformity on Blind, King Hitter lays down the pound on “The End,” “Feel No Pain” and its eponymous theme song, kicking out the kind of jams that require a convertible with the top down and a long stretch of highway.

King Hitter_RES013CD

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, during the recent SXSW festival, it was reported that an RV transporting young Swedish attendees was seen in the vicinity of several area Baptist churches that later burned to the ground. Toland, however, claims to have no knowledge of any of this. His Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

Below are links to audio and video of most of the artists detailed above. Be sure you surf anonymously, however, because government officials will be monitoring them….

Black Star Riders – “Finest Hour”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRZa-qf7haw

Venom – “Grinding Teeth”

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

Raven – “Destroy All Monsters”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skb0oN1GftI

Enforcer – “Destroyer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4785h6JSqNc

Visigoth – “The Revenant King”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqc1yNuFrps

Night Demon – “Screams in the Night”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-nozJQfqE0

Brothers of the Sonic Cloth – video teaser:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=UUVHQ8u0HZeyKXRieHNneaGA&v=hDk96GQKTWU

Sumac – “Blight End’s Angel”

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Sumac

Lord Dying – “Poisoned Altars”

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

Torche – album stream:

https://torche.bandcamp.com/album/restarter

Sorcerer – “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxAJ6i_jKkY

Blackout – album stream:

http://blackout666.bandcamp.com/album/blackout-2

Geezer – album stream:

https://geezertown.bandcamp.com/album/gage

Warhorse – album stream:

http://warhorsesl.bandcamp.com/releases

Enslaved – “One Thousand Years of Rain”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O7GhZBpDCk

Melechesh – “Multiple Truths”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euzd-Om57vM

Lucifer – Anubis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEV_7XVu3U0

Horisont – “Break the Limit”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OS8RxNRLsRI

Blind Guardian – “Twilight of the Gods”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep1B_aIFPDE

Karma to Burn – “55”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=De-zrgA3o0g

Moonspell – “The Last of Us”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QlabIp__44

Fulgora – “Splinter”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7IyRjlVubE

Voices – “The Fuck Trance”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuEI6y8itS8

Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – “Mother”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1AIUdaHT_k

Pyramids – album stream:

https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/a-northern-meadow

A Forest of Stars – album stream:

https://a-forest-of-stars.bandcamp.com/album/beware-the-sword-you-cannot-see

King Woman – “King of Swords”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-bnsfccgbC0

King Hitter – “King Hitter”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgsBE5iHWec

 

 

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns 666.5

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.5

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the fifth installment in our latest genre study, with Dawnbringer, Electric Wizard, King Diamond, Atriarch, At The Gates, Godflesh and more. Go here to read the hellish first episode, Pt. 666.1, or the second, Pt. 666.2, or the third, Pt. 666.3, or the fourth, Pt. 666.4—if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

2014 was a good year for metal, with a ton of strong records from artists young and old. Rather than sum up the best of the best, we’ve elected to keep on with the latest releases, which, considering how good most of these LPs are, still gives you new goodies to add to your last-minute shopping list.

Dawnbringer

Chicago metal master Chris Black already put out one of 2014’s best heavy rock records with High Spirits’ You Are Here, but he apparently wasn’t done. As Dawnbringer, Black ups his game again with Night of the Hammer (Profound Lore) (album cover artwork is above, listen HERE) the fourth LP from his main (or at least best-known) project. Fielding a classic metal sound somewhere between late 70s Sabbath and early Iron Maiden, Black expands his thematic reach beyond the romantic confessionals of his High Spirits work, taking on war (“The Burning of Home”), mythology (the waltz-time “Xiphias”), vengeance (“Damn You”) and isolation (“Alien”). He seems most at home, though, with a series of death-fixated horror stories, riffing his way through the creepiness of the King Diamond tribute “Funeral Child,” “One-Eyed Sister” and the powerhouse “Hands of Death.” Regardless of his obsessions, though, Black always maintains the strength of his tunesmanship, without stinting on the heavy. As filtered through his plainspoken but instantly appealing voice and the triple guitar attack of himself, Bill Palko and Matt Johnsen, there simply may not be a finer melody maker in all of metal. Night of the Hammer isn’t quite the mindblower of Dawnbringer’s masterpiece In the Lair of the Sun God, but it’s the essence of Black’s vision distilled into one amazing album.

ElectricWizard

Doom titan Electric Wizard returns from another one of its (no doubt debauched) sabbaticals with Time to Die (Witchfinder/Spinefarm). Depending on your perspective, this is either a throwback or a return to form, as the band goes back to the slow, pounding, acid-drenched horror of its early days. There’s not a lot of the more uptempo rock & roll tunes the Dorset quartet has been experimenting with the past few records – just bad-trip agony translated into Hammer horror devil worship. Check out “Lucifer’s Slaves,” “Sadio Witch” and the awesome “I am Nothing” (watch video HERE) for some deliciously occult kicks. If song titles like “Sabbath Hex,” “The Devil’s Whip” and “Demon Blues” say anything, Orange Goblin shares a similar taste for B-movie esoterics on its latest album Back From the Abyss (Candlelight) (listen HERE). The London quartet’s cosmic biker doom sounds recharged here, with a bluesier cast than it’s managed since its early days, giving the riffs powering “Mythical Knives,” “Heavy Wears the Crown” and “Bloodzilla” a weight beyond amplifier settings. Also, a tip o’ the tentacle for adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s masterpiece “A Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

 

From its name, you’d expect The Flight of Sleipnir (above) to be obsessed with Norse mythology. But on V (Napalm), the acid doom duo seems less concerned with specific tales of Odin’s eight-legged steed than, as its Facebook page puts it, “a musical interpretation of the writings of poets long since gone.” That leaves the field pretty wide open, a situation the band takes advantage of by moving from ethereal float to shrieking pound with a flick of the mane. “Gullveig,” “Archaic Rites” and “Sidereal Course” soar and crawl, sing and crunch, spiking powerhouse thud with undulating acoustica and casting a cloudy spell that makes it unclear whether it will help or harm.

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Ides of Gemini gets even more enigmatic on Old World New Wave (Neurot), delving into vintage mythology from several cultures in its quest for perfect doom. Both heavier and more psychedelic than singer Sera Timms’ former outfit Black Math Horseman, IoG gets metaphysical on haunted but surprisingly beautiful doomgazers like “Seer of Circassia,” “The Adversary” and “White Hart.” Boston newcomer Wormwood, however, eschews the more psychedelic side of doom on its self-titled debut EP (Magic Bullet) (listen HERE). “Hollow Black Eyes” and “I’d Rather Die” elevate depressive sludge over trippy atmospherics to evil effect.

 

On the more extreme side, veteran death metal act At the Gates (above) has finally released its long-awaited reunion album At War With Reality (Century Media). Perfectly balancing traditional death with the melodic thrash the Swedish quintet exploited so well on its classic Slaughter of the Soul nearly 20 years ago, the band sounds revitalized. Axemen Andreas and Jonas Björler furiously riff off each other, drummer Adrian Erlandsson bashes like an extreme metal Keith Moon and singer Tomas Lindberg wails with the inchoate power of the truly enraged. Even better, the band’s song-authoring mojo is in full flight – “The Circular Ruins,” “Eater of Gods” and “The Head of the Hydra” make all the metalcore and deathcore upstarts who claim the group as inspiration sound like petulant children. As with Carcass last year, At the Gates proves that the old dogs still hunt (and rip and tear flesh).

SpectralLore

On the black metal front, the big news is III (I, Voidhanger), the latest slab from Spectral Lore. Or it would be, if the one-man-band didn’t hail from Greece and release records on the offshoot of an Italian label with no U.S. distribution. Multi-instrumentalist/composer Ayloss owns an ambitious sweep, leavening his mournful aggression with widescreen passages of prog, classic metal, space rock and acoustic work that sounds like a gothic take on James Blackshaw. With a passion for melody as strong as his jones for dissonance, Ayloss swings between savage and serene, raging and rocking, teethgnashingly brutal and startlingly beautiful. The record’s 90 minutes is a true pleasure to get lost in.

Godflesh

The return of Godflesh came as no real surprise, as brain trust Justin Broaderick’s metalgaze project Jesu seemed to have run out of steam. What is somewhat of a shock is how fresh and exciting A World Lit Only By Fire (Avalanche) (listen HERE) is. Broaderick’s six-string shreck and angry bark hit like boxing gloves hiding bricks, while G.C. Green’s ribcage-rattling basslines and the ice-cold drum machine patterns finish the damage. The harsh pummeling dealt out by “Shut Me Down,” “Towers of Emptiness” and “Curse Us All” will feel familiar to victims of ‘flesh classics Streetcleaner and Pure, while “Imperator” and “Forgive Our Fathers” demonstrate that Broaderick hasn’t left the textural explorations of Jesu in the closet. Like Godflesh, Today is the Day is practically a genre unto itself. Animal Mother (Southern Lord), the trio’s tenth helping of discordant anguish (a description, not a value judgment), takes a tiny step toward accessibility, with catchy riffs and easily moshable rhythms supporting leader Steve Austin’s usual clashing dissonance and distorted vocal smears. Anger, spite and flat-out hatred power Austin’s rants, whether they’re short bursts of invective like “Divine Reward” and “Imperfection” or more complex riffers a la “The Last Stand” and “Sick of Your Mouth.” Add the acoustic seether “Outlaw,” the lush instrumental “Bloodwood” and the noisecore acid metal epic “Zodiac” and it’s a party. One for armed, cranky sociopaths, but still. (Watch “Masada” video below.)

 

Giant Squid, too, avoids obvious genre affiliations, folding in progressive rock, gothic pop, experimental ambience and anything else it favors into its epic doom. Minoans (Translation Loss) (listen HERE), the San Francisco band’s latest album, comes off as both mournful and majestic, as “Minoans,” “Sixty Foot Waves” and “The Pearl and the Parthenon” move in waves of grungy guitar, plangent cello, shimmering vocals and naked emotion.

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Up the coast from Giant Squid, Portland’s Usnea translates the sight of a deep-sea leviathan rising slowing from the depths to wreak havoc on the nearest city on its big label debut Random Cosmic Violence (Relapse). Moving from melancholy to malicious to monstrous, eardrum-multilators “Healing Through Death” and the title cut pour on the blackened sludge/doom, leaving no cochlea undefiled as they flow. Splitting the destinational difference, Wizard Rifle – born in Portland, based in L.A. – swirls punk and noise rock nougats into its doom metal ice cream on its second album Here in the Deadlights (Seventh Rule). From the rattling pogo of “Psychodynamo” to the thudding roar of “Crystal Witch and the stomping grunge of “Beastwhores,” the duo wreaks havoc across the fields like an invading army of hyperactive goblins.

Atriarch (above) goes even further out onto the fringes on An Unending Pathway (Relapse). Not that combining gothic death rock with blackened doom requires a genius level intellect to bring forth, but the Nashville (yes, you read that right) band’s third record wallows in gloom and doom with both widescreen sorrow and malevolent aggression. Like Christian Death in an orgy with Emperor, “Bereavement” and “Allfather” maintain melancholy melodics while still crushing bricks with bare claws, going completely off the rails on the cathartic closing track “Veil.” Brooklyn’s Occultation mines a similar black hole on its second LP Silence in the Ancestral House (Profound Lore), dropping the black metal vokills and incorporating majestic prog rock and galloping NWoBHM into gothic epics like “The Place Behind the Sky,” “The Dream Tide” and “Laughter in the Halls of Madness.” Over the top? Sure, but the band’s inherent melodicism (credit guitarist E.M.) and singer V.B.’s icy dignity sell it without guilt.

London’s Hang the Bastard puts rumbling doom, savage black metal, spacy psychedelia and beefy death metal into a blender and pour out a spiked, bitter smoothie with Sex in the Seventh Circle (SOAR/Century Media). Few bands can shift as easily from thrashing boogie (“Absorption”) to beastly extremity (“Hornfel”) to evil acid rock (“Mist of Albion”) and not grind the gears, but HtB makes it work.

Primordial - Where Greater Men Have Fallen

Veteran Irish horde Primordial has blown way past its black metal origins with a smorgasbord of styles on its latest Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade). Channel everything from black metal to folk to goth to NWoBHM, the quintet gallops across the windy fields of Celtic myth to the tune of burly epics “Comes the Flood,” “The Alchemist’s Head” and “Wield Lightning to Split the Sun.” Like its U.K. brethren, Austin’s Dead Earth Politics doesn’t bother showing genre loyalty on its latest EP The Queen of Steel (selfreleased). Death metal, thrash, NWOBHM, doom – it’s all the same to them. That makes the galloping title cut, the chugging “Madness of the Wanderer” and the blazing anthem “Redneck Dragonslayer” brutal, dissonant and catchy all at once – great metal, in other words.

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From Columbus with power: Lo-Pan’s fourth LP Colossus (Small Stone) (listen HERE) fulfills the Ohio quartet’s promise and then some. Perfectly balancing ‘70s boogiegrunge with ‘90s artcrunch, the band makes an epic noise that grooves even as it stomps. Singer Jeff Martin, with his clear, muscular keen, is the star, but his bandmates give him the perfect backdrop over which to soar. Check out “Eastern Seas,” “Black Top Revelation” and the highway-cruising “Marathon Man” and alternate between banging your head in abandon and nodding it in appreciation.

 

After nearly 35 years as the pre-eminent corpsepaint-wearing LaVeyan Satanist in the headbanging business, King Diamond (above) can lay claim to legendary status. Temporarily felled by major bypass surgery, the Denmark-born, Dallas-based horror metal auteur just finished a triumphant comeback tour that found him not only in fine voice (amazing what finally quitting smoking can do for you) but with a new lease on life. Given his work’s obsession with death – more specifically what happens after, in the form of ghosts, demons and revenge from beyond the grave – that could be seen as ironic, we suppose. Regardless, the old devil is back to full power, celebrating his vast catalog of fright-soaked power/prog/black metal with the two-disk best-of Dreams of Horror (Metal Blade). Personally curated by King and his longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque, who also remastered the tracks for depth and clarity instead of volume, Dreams covers both the Roadrunner and Metal Blade eras and stands as the definitive collection so far. Whether you’re a diehard looking for a refresher course or a newcomer wanting to sample one of underground metal’s most flamboyant and imaginative characters, this is absolutely the place to start.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.4

Panopticon Roads to the North

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the fourth installment in our latest genre study, with Witch Mountain, Khold, Myrkur, Panopticon, The Skull, Black Trip and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, or the second, Pt. 666.2, or the third, Pt. 666.3 —if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

With its image of lo-fi primitivism, cartoonish Satanism and anti-everything rhetoric, black metal makes itself hard to take seriously, especially as any kind of musical art. Not that there’s anything wrong with the cruder strain of black metal, mind you – noisy, nihilist screeds can often be a bracing tonic to a shittastic day, and many of its purveyors give good RRAWRRGGGH. But plenty of black metal maniacs maintain actual honest-to-Baal artistic values, making music that’s not just for chronic thrashaholics with anger management issues. Chief among them, at least to our ears, is Panopticon, whose latest album Roads to the North (artwork pictured above; released by Nordvis/Bindrune;) finds the acclaimed one-man-USBM-band reaching a new peak. Kentucky-to-Minnesota (with an inspirational sidetrip through Norway, where black metal as we know it was born) maverick Austin Lunn gained fame outside of underground headbanger circles with Panopticon’s previous platter Kentucky, which somehow managed to combine sweeping black metal with Appalachian folk music and pro-union sentiments to amazing effect. Roads takes the same mix and expands it even further, injecting more sweep into the melodies, more traditionalism into the folk atmospheres and a finely honed sense of craft.

Multi-instrumentalist Lunn (guitars, drums, dobro, keys, flute – everything but the fiddle) clearly takes the precision and skill with which he conjures tunes like the blazing “…In Silence,” the lovely “Norwegian Nights” and the epic “Where Mountains Pierce the Sky” very seriously, and producer Colin Marston (Dysrhythmia, Krallice) captures the orgy of banjos, Mellotrons, power chords and eviscerating shrieks with perfect clarity. Look no further than the madly ambitious multi-parter “The Long Road,” where Lunn puts all his metal/prog/folk/etc. eggs into one pan and cooks the richest black metal epic you’ve ever tasted. Roads to the North is the sound of an artist truly coming into his own, and it’s magnificent.

 

Nachtmystium TWWLB

Speaking of artistic black metal, one of the veteran flag-fliers for that notion is Blake Judd, who’s released a series of strong, boundary-pushing LPs under the name Nachtmystium. The World We Left Behind (CenturyMedia) may or may not be the final Nachtmystium album – the Chicagoan’s well-publicized struggles with smack and the attendant personal and professional fallout tend to make getting reliable information a challenge. Regardless, it’s a solid album, heavy on melodic riffs, loping rhythms, personal (if occasionally awkward) lyrics and even, on “On the Other Side,” some straightforward rock & roll – well worth hearing unless you’re sick of Judd’s alleged junksick shenanigans. Trading under the band name Krieg, Judd’s former Twilight cohort Imperial (Neill Jameson to his mom) also has a new record, his first in four years.

Outside of the mysterious spoken word/ambient/folk track “Home,” Transient (Candlelight) bathes in the old school black metal sound, with a smoky atmosphere laid over a mid-fi aggressive attack that’s all riff and roar. Check the thundering “Return Fire” and “Order of the Solitary Road” and the galloping “Walk With Them Unnoticed” for some righteous fistpumping action. And speaking of black metal comebacks, Khold suddenly resurfaces after a half-dozen years with the fang-grinding Til Endes (Peaceville).

Khold Til Endes front 12cm CMYK

The Norwegian duo has always eschewed both the proggy symphonic elements and the low-fi crud their peers on either side of the fence embrace, preferring a straightforward and brutal but highly crafted and clearly recorded sonic hurricane that owes as much to ‘80s hard rock and ‘90s groove metal as to the usual Nordic shitstorms. (They’re also in possession of some of the genre’s creepiest corpsepaint designs.) “Skogens úye,” “Dommens Arme” and “Det Dunkle Dyp” blast in the most grinding but graceful way.

 

Black metal ain’t all grizzled vets these days, though – check out Myrkur, a one-woman-band from Denmark whose self-titled debut EP (Relapse) fields an expert blend of ghostly ethereality and monstrous bash ‘n’ crash. As with Panopticon above, Myrkur (AKA Amalie Bruun of Ex-Cops) flourishes in studio solitude – “Nattens Barn,” “Dybt i Skoven” and “Må Du Brænde i Helvede” paint vast landscapes of twilight skies, scorched landscapes and phantom Nordic gods watching over it all with mournful bloodthirst. She covers a lot of ground in less than 25 minutes, making a strong statement while still leaving us slavering for more. [She also makes it tough on this magazine’s spellchecking program too, Toland! –Frazzled SpellCheck Ed.]

Vocalist Eric Wagner, bassist Ron Holzner and drummer Jeff Olson were mainstays of Chicago metal godhead Trouble for decades; now, with ex-Pentagram guitarist Matt Goldsborough and Sacred Dawn axeman Lothar Keller, they’ve formed The Skull, picking up on debut LP For Those Which Are Asleep (TeePee) where they feel Trouble left off. (We covered The Skull’s debut 7-inch here.)

The combo of the pickers’ thick riffing, the rhythm section’s powerhouse propulsion and the singer’s distinctive moaning wail will flick the switch of any headbanger missing that classic Trouble sound since Wagner quit. “A New Generation,” “The Door” and the title track slash and pound with the winning combination of menacing doom, brash NWoBHM and bad acid psychedelia that Trouble did so very well back in the 80s and 90s. To be frank, For Those Which Are Asleep beats the feces out of Trouble’s recent Wagner-less comebackrecord, and while music isn’t a competition, it’s telling that the singer holds the keys to such a classic sound tighter than the latest incarnation of the original band.

 

Another new outfit led by a veteran, Death Penalty strikes a similar balance betwixt fistpumping metal anthemry and ribcage-crushing grunge on its self-titled debut album (RiseAbove). Though primarily a Belgian outfit, the prime mover here is Cathedral axewielder Gaz Jennings, whose concrete-chewing tone has risen from his former band’s ashes intact. That said, his riffstrangling shares the frontline with singer Michelle Nocon, who more than holds her own on chugging blasters “Golden Tide,” “Immortal By Your Hand” and “Howling at the Throne of Decadence.” Nocon and Jennings equal a one-two punch you’ll be happy to be beaten by. Another new band of old dogs, The Dagger puts members of extreme metallers Dismember, Grave and Necronaut through a tradmetal sieve on the Swedish quartet’s self-titled debut (CenturyMedia). The presence of Nordic superproducer Fred Estby ensures superb sonics, but it’s the swooping melodies and the clarity in Jani Kataja’s larynx that make “Call of 9,” “Nocturnal Triumph” and “1978” stand out from the retro metal pack.

 

Not to be outdone, Black Trip (SWE) also boasts a membership drawn from the Swedish extreme scene, including Entombed, Enforcer, Nifelheim and, yes, Dismember. Guess the Swedes are getting tired of the werewolf vocals. Either way, Goin’ Under (Prosthetic) also dips into the anthemic hard rock/metal pool up to its knees. Frontdude Joseph Tholl has a grittier, more working class style than the usual clear-voiced bellowers in this genre, but it’s the quality of the writing that carries “Putting Out the Fire,” “The Bells” and “Voodoo Queen” to glory.

 

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While also hailing from Sweden, Saturn doesn’t claim an august lineage. It does pack plenty of riffs on its debut Ascending (Live in Space) (Rise Above), however, as well as a street metal vibe that keeps “Rokktori,” “Peasant” and “So, You Have Chosen Death” lean, mean and masterful. A touch of psychedelia adorns “Last Man in Space” in order to justify the album title. Norway’s puzzlingly named Lonely Kamel dials even further back on Shit City (Napalm), adding bolts of punky aggression, bluesy boogie and growling doom. Less psychedelic than Kadavar but also less NWoBHM than its Scandinavian fellow travelers, LK swings riffcrunch and attitude in equal doses on “I Feel Sick,” “BFD” and the title track.

 

For those who prefer their metal slowed down to a crawl, YOB continues its quest for the ultimate doom sound on its latest record Clearing the Path to Ascend (Neurot). Mike Scheidt’s Eugene, Oregon trio has arguably been working toward this four-song hour of power its entire career, throwing every downtuned chord, spacey interlude, dinosaur drum stomp, roar, growl and moan into textural earthquakes “Nothing to Win,” “Marrow” and “Unmask the Spectre.”

 

Interestingly enough, another Oregon troop of doommongers is also hitting its peak – Portland’s Witch Mountain. The quartet’s new LP Mobile of Angels (ProfoundLore) rumbles and roils like Lucifer on an acid trip, vocalist Uta Plotkin overlaying her brash tenor over the magma-thick flow of enigmatic crunge like glaze over a cake donut. “Psycho Animundi,” “Can’t Settle” and “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” drill deep into the substrata with barely repressed fury, only to mine the shining diamond that is closing track “The Shape Truth Takes.” A shame that, after this peak, Plotkin chose to leave the band. Cranking the psychedelia even further than Witch Mountain, Megaton Leviathan goes for full-on mournful metalgaze on its second record Past 21 Beyond the Arctic Cell (SeventhRule). “Past 21” starts things off with a dose of sweetness (for 13 undulating minutes), but when we get to “Arctic Cell” the mask comes off, the power chords pummel and depression sets in. By the time “Here Come the Tears” gently ends the proceedings, there’s no hope left.

Inter Arma released one of last year’s most interesting, diverse albums in Sky Burial, a marvelously odd mix of psychedelic textures and extreme metal brutality. The Cavern (Relapse), the one-song follow-up, strips away most of the death and black metal elements, honing in on a pounding strain of acid doom. The influence of Neurosis is difficult to deny, but interlocking harmony licks, ambient prog interludes and indie rock melancholy give it a spin all the Richmond quintet’s own. At 45 minutes, “The Cavern” is no mere placeholding scrap, but a work of metallic art in its own right.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a series of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt. 666.3 – The Blurt Metal Roundup

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.3

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the third installment in our latest genre study, with Prong, Serpentine Path, Lord Mantis, The Oath and the eye-poppingly-monikered Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, or here for the second, Pt. 666.2 — if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

 

Prong - Ruining Lives

One of the most perennially underrated metal acts around, Prong may not release albums as often as it used to, but when it does, ears should perk up. The hardcore-infused NYC troop scored a real return to form with its last record Carved Into Stone; new slab Ruining Lives (Steamhammer/SPV) consolidates its musical gains with even more potent songwriting. Bandleader Tommy Victor (who played nearly every note here) is an expert at adding just enough melody to keep tracks earworm-worthy, while still maintaining the band’s brutal strength and martial rhythms. New metal anthems “Absence of Light,” “Remove, Separate Self” and the thrashing “The Book of Change” raise the bar not only for the band but modern metal in general. Prong’s precision-riff blend of thrash, classic metal and hardcore has been tremendously influential on the metalcore and nü-metal hordes, but don’t blame Victor for that. Ruining Lives shows the no-longer-young bucks of the last couple of decades how to do that shit right. (Album stream here.)

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Sweden’s Portrait takes inspiration from the galloping-down-the-mountain style of 80s metal warcries, blazing away like neither hair metal nor grunge ever happened. Crossroads (Metal Blade), the band’s third album, tones the Mercyful Fate worship down (though singer Per Karlsson’s abrupt pitchshifting still pays tribute to Fate’s King Diamond), but still proudly waves the flag for spread-legged, denim-wearing air guitarists everywhere. Old-fashioned? Sure – nostalgic, even. But the Scandinavians have an amazing ability to make the hoariest clichés sound fresh and exciting, and Portrait’s combination of skillful bombast and naked enthusiasm on “Black Easter,” “We Are Not Alone” and the epic “Lily” gives Crossroads a shiny new coat of crimson.

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High Spirits You Are Here

Chicago’s prolific Chris Black (Dawnbringer, Superchrist, Pharaoh, Nachtmystium) knows a thing or two about 80s metal as well – check out You Are Here (Hells Headbangers), the third record from his one-man-band project High Spirits for a set of supremely melodic, lusciously rifftastic, shockingly lovelorn hard rock in a style pretty nobody plays anymore. Beautifully produced, plainspokenly sung and catchy as a cold, “I Need Your Love,” “The Last Night” and “When the Lights Go Down” would’ve ruled AOR radio in the Reagan Years. (Album stream here.) The dudes in The Skull, meanwhile, actually hail from that decade – the band consists of ex-members of the long-running doom institution Trouble. Unsurprisingly, the band’s debut 7-inch “Sometime Yesterday Mourning” b/w “The Last Judgment” (Tee Pee) sounds like vintage Trouble (though not Vintage Trouble) – roaring riff-boom with a shot of NWoBHM majesty and psychedelic atmosphere. Which makes it doubly odd that Skull singer Eric Wagner left Trouble because he wanted to expand his musical horizons.

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SerpentinePath

Though named Serpentine Path and including ex-Electric Wizard bassist Tim Bagshaw (here on guitar), the band that’s created the magnificently ugly Emanations (Relapse) is essentially an Unearthly Trance reunion. The blackened doom of that highly underrated outfit roils in full effect here: leader Ryan Lipynsky grinds sorcerous sludge from his six-string and growls like a boulder-chewing troll stewing in hatred, while the rest of the quartet rumbles forward like a tank spewing oil smoke. “Torment,” “Disfigured Colossus,” “Systematic Extinction” – these ain’t ditties with which to sing your child to sleep. Speaking of nightmares, Sweden’s Vampire comes blasting out of the graveyard like a ravenous ghoul with its self-titled debut (Century Media). With a smidge of Motörhead, a soupçon of early Metallica and a whole lotta old school black metal, the fearsome foursome flails the hell into “Cellar Grave Vampire,” “At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse” (nice Coffin Joe reference) and, of course, “The Bestial Abyss” with all the subtlety of an ax to the skull. This band must be a faceripper live. And speaking of leaving bloody skulls in its wake, Chicago’s Lord Mantis unleashes more angry demons from hell on its third album Death Mark (Profound Lore). Imagine an army of nihilistic locusts consuming the outer layer of the earth while pissing xenomorphic acid on the remainder and you have a vague grasp of the shrieking death sludge powering “Body Choke,” “Possession Prayer” and the beastly “Three Crosses.” It takes a lot of blackened hate to get noticed in the same year that fellow travelers Eyehategod and Indian (whose Dylan O’Toole guests) released definitive statements, but Lord Mantis leaves enough flesh between the teeth to hang with the big boys.

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On its self-titled debut (Rise Above), Euro duo The Oath revels in two of heavy metal’s most essential concepts: the mysterious spirit world and the almighty riff. With a rhythm section borrowed from Kadavar and Angel Witch and assistance from Swedish luminaries In Solitude and Watain, Swedish guitarist Linnea Olsson and German singer Johanna Sadonis kick out the occult metal jams with a bluesy psychedelic edge, like Dio-era Black Sabbath recording in 1969. Click “Black Rainbow” and “Night Child” for some nicely fried, gracefully bludgeoning kicks – drag that the band has already split. Olsson’s fellow Swedes in The Tower travel even further back into the Retroverse on Hic Abundant Leones (Bad Omen/Prosthetic). The quartet’s blues-rocking proto-metal pares down to the basics of riff and rhythm, rattling “Adrenalawine” and “Lions at the Gate” straight into the stratosphere. (Audio stream here.) The ridiculously named Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell rides a similar hog on its second LP Check ‘em Before You Wreck ‘em (Rise Above), subtracting a bit of Chicago and adding a smidge more Detroit. Shorter, sharper jabs a la “Happiness Begins,” “Do It Now” and, erm, “The Thicker the Better” play better to ASCS’s strengths, but longer slogs like “Returning From Home” and “Late Night Mornings” give guitarist Johnny Gorilla (ex-Gorilla, natch) more room to stomp.

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WoFat

From the ancient lands of Ireland cometh Dread Sovereign, its thundering tread trampling the earth like a giant exploring his new territory after sliding down the beanstalk. On All Hell’s Martyrs (Vån), the Dublin trio errs on the mystical side of heavy-as-hell doom grunge, its tall tales oozing from some other, fouler dimension. “Thirteen Clergy,” “Pray to the Devil in Man” and “Cathars to Their Doom” give explicit nods to Old Scratch, but the deeper, creepier epic “Cthulu Opiate Haze” draws from the same disturbed mind that conceived the Necronomicon. Dread Sovereign’s dream evil thud aims to haunt your dreams as much as pound your heart. Dallas trio Wo Fat’s doom, meanwhile, comes in a far more psilocybin-soaked container. The band’s fifth album The Conjuring (Small Stone) picks up where its stellar previous LP The Black Code left off, as the catchy “Read the Omen” and the blue whale-sized “Dreamwalker” shoot bowel-rumbling heaviness through the heart of an exploding star. (Album stream here.)

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On the appropriately titled Deafen (Domestic Genocide), Black Tar Prophet strips doom down to its thong underwear and dips it in the radioactive slime leaking from a nuclear power plant. Consisting of nobody but bassist Greg Swinehart and drummer Eric Dever, the band sounds like it’s lifting every classic slow burn Sabbath rhythm section track and cranking the amps past 11. Seriously, if you ever thought the first Sabs record would have been great without that annoying Ozzy and mix-hogging Tony Iommi, Deafen will tweak your fantasies hard – “Ring of Buzzards,” “Hypomania” and the magnificent monstrosity “Back On the Nod” grimly revel in the sonic torture of helpless bass amps while a drum kit keeps up the snappy patter. Loud at any volume, Black Tar Prophet bass tones its way through your ribcage on its way to shattering your spine.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where, coincidentally, a serious of mysterious upside-down crucifix crop circles have been turning up in the nearby soybean fields. We at BLURT have no spare time to look into any of this, however, because we spend all our time spellchecking the band names in his blog entries. Toland’s Lone Star State accomplices include The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV.

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns – The Blurt Metal Roundup (2)

THROWING HORNS - Blurt's Metal Roundup Pt. 666.2

Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids: announcing the second installment in our latest genre study, with Hirax, Hell, Conan, Artificial Brain, Psalm Zero, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, if you dare.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

Eighties refugee Hell never got to release an album during its original lifespan. Curse and Chapter (NuclearBlast), however, is the British act’s second LP since reuniting in 2008, with guitarist/producer Andy Sneap and singer David Bower (brother of bandleader Kev Bower) joining in place of original singer/string-slinger Dave G. Halliday. Nearly 30 years on, the band is in better command of its thrashing proto-power metal than ever. If the singing Bower’s roots in musical theater sometimes show a little too much, his projection-to-the-cheap seats style at least puts him on equal footing with the riff-roaring guitars. Given the genre’s continuing obsession with religion in general and Lucifer in particular, Hell’s lockjaw grip on the same subject veers between timely and quaint, but the utter conviction with which sentiments like “End ov Days” are delivered blows past any eye-rolling. Check out the raging “Age of Nefarious,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Darkangel” or the dramatic epic “A Vespertine Legacy” for catchy, exciting lessons in heavy metal bombast.

Speaking of ‘80s metal, Hirax, a veteran of that gilded age, storms back to life with Immortal Legacy (Steamhammer/SPV), its first LP in five years.The California bunch still thrashes it old-school like Metallica’s black album never happened, with Katon W. DePena’s powerhouse larynx leading the deadly charge. Cf. “Victims of the Dead” and “Tied to the Gallows Pole” for some perfectly hair-whipping kicks. Chrome Division doesn’t go back any farther than the mid-’aughties, but definitely looks to the Reagan years for inspiration. Infernal Rock Eternal (NuclearBlast), the Norwegian four-piece’s third album, finds a sweet spot between Motorhead and hair metal and rides it like a sleek Harley zooming down the road with a chick on each arm. “The Moonshine Years,” “Reaper On the Hunt” and “(She’s) Hot Tonight” rock like proper sleazebags, while“Lady of Perpetual Sorrow” digs out the ambition and acoustic guitars for something more grandiose. Sweden’s mighty Grand Magus eschew glam and go straight for blood and leather on its seventh platter Triumph and Power (NuclearBlast). Though the trio still hasn’t quite lived up to its massive potential, this is still a satisfying slice of NWOBHM-laced epic hard rock, as songs like “Steel Versus Steel,” “Holmgång” and the title cut slot nicely between Iron Maiden and Manowar.

Conan revels in the kind of slow, sludge-caked riffery found in the first Black Sabbath album. Hardly unusual for a doom trio, but the band evolves its craft to the point of near-perfection on its second album Blood Eagle (Napalm). Spiking its collective vein with the kind of wild-eyed charge favored by fellow travelers Electric Wizard and the late Cathedral, Conan literally lays it on thick here, translating the sound of Godzilla stomping through the Japanese mountains into amplifier abuse. “Crown of Talons,” “Gravity Chasm” and the relatively brief but mighty “Foehammer” wield the mace of doom with fierce power and a surprising grace. Blood Eagle climaxes with the roiling “Altar of Grief,” a rumbling roar of pain and defiance that encapsulates what both Conan and doom are all about.

Conan’s fellow Brits the Wounded Kings stride across the landscape with less elegance, but make up for it with sheer bulk on their fourth album Consolamentum (Candlelight). No need for any fancy experimentation or genre-diddling here – the flattening weight of “Lost Bride,” “The Silence” and the monstrous “Gnosis” are this band needs to be effective. Kudos especially to singer Sharie Neyland, a siren amongst monsters – a black-eyed and -hearted siren, but still. A long distance collaboration between Canadian musicians and a Swedish vokillist, Culted pukes up some particularly frosty blackened doom on its second LP Oblique to All Paths (Relapse). Redwood-thick riffs grind the soil while Daniel Jansson’s other-dimensional devil rasp finds unholy secrets in every corner of the dim, pre-dawn haze. It’s not easy listening – especially with a near-20 minute opener in “Brooding Hex” – and, frankly, it’s too long, but the creepy edge of Culted’s arty take on dinosaur sludge sets it apart.

Houston’s Omotai keeps one claw on doom-soaked sludge, the other on bristling thrashcore and its teeth in the throat of raging noise rock on its sophomore slab Fresh Hell (TheTreatyOakCollective/The Path Less Traveled). “Get Your Dead Straight,” “Back Office” and “Giant Pygmy,” the troika of tracks that open the record, wax both savage and lyrical, vein-popping and brow-furrowing, and that’s just the tip of the ship-sinking iceberg. Put this riffmongering troop on tour with fellow barbarous Texans Lions of Tsavo and you’d have a hell of a headringing double bill.

A meeting of sick minds, Artificial Brain is a collaboration betwixt Revocation picker Dan Garguilo and former Biolich frontdude Will “No, not that one” Smith. (The ashes of the apparently seminal Biolich also gave birth to the excellent Castavet.) Labyrinth Constellation (ProfoundLore), the duo’s debut full-length, puts a science fictional spin on murderous death metal, as titles like “Brain Transplant,” “Worm Harvester” and “Frozen Planets” indicate. (Smith’s vocals are beyond guttural, the lyrics a feral blur.) Apparently that theme gives Garguilo license to add subtly psychedelic bits to the teethgrinding brutality, like the droning Farfisa in “Absorbing Black Ignition” and the sine-wave synth intro, pounding doom bass, looped coda and cosmic changes of “Hormone’s Echo,” making the LP more than just a thorough pummeling.

Equally beloved and maligned, the whole stoner rock thing always seems on the verge of being done to death, but then a band comes along that reminds us why the style was cool in the first place. Cue Pagan Fruit (SmallStone), the second album from Salt Lake City’s Dwellers. The mindgames of former members of Iota and SubRosa, the record filters doomy blues rock through a blotter of shimmering desert psych, balancing Joey Toscano’s skilled axework with songwriting stepped up several notches from the group’s 2012 debut. Check out “Call of the Hallowed Horn,” “Rare Eagle” and “Return to the Sky” for some nicely illicit pleasure spikes.

There’s been a trend over the last decade or two that involves reviving progressive rock melodies and dynamics while eschewing the solos and pointless timeshifts. Norway’s Sahg definitely falls into that camp on its fourth disk Delusions of Grandeur (Metal Blade/Indie). The Bergen band keeps the melodies flowing and the sonics racing to the rafters, whether on chugging cosmic metal like “Firechild,” atmospheric riff-pounders like “Ether” or widescreen heavy prog a la “Sleepers Guide to the Galaxy.” Ambitious and powerful. Speaking of progressive, Psalm Zero reaches for that accolade as well on its debut The Drain (ProfoundLore), but in the sense of pushing the envelope of heavy rock, rather than trying to sound like Yes cranked to eleven. The duo of Charlie Looker (ex-Dirty Projectors!) and Andrew Hock (of Castavet) melds industrial rhythm programming a la Godflesh to moody, knotty, occasionally anthemic melodies, alternating broody indie boy vox (Looker) with vein-popping growls (Hock). Check out “Meanwhile,” “Force My Hand” and “In the Dead” for a rifftastic journey through the imagination of an act not content to just regurgitate familiar tropes.

The Traveling Wilburys of U.S. extreme metal, Twilight has led as tumultuous an existence as one might expect, given the personalities involved. The Stateside chapter of the black metal underworld tends to lean towards depressive misanthropy, rather than Satanic ego worship, which must’ve led to some tense group therapy sessions (AKA band meetings). Now consisting of original members N. Imperial (leader of Krieg) and Wrest (majordomo of Leviathan and its alter ego Lurker of Chalice) with Stavros Giannopoulos of the Atlas Moth, Sanford Parker of Minsk and a thousand headbanging production jobs and, shockingly, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, the supergroup delivers as its final album a coup de grace entitled III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb (CenturyMedia). With that pedigree, it’s no wonder some non-trad BM sounds sneak into the mix, from the alt-tuned guitar shreeng that intros “Swarming Funeral Mass” to the anthemic arpeggios of “Oh Wretched Son” and the noise rock bass thrud of “Below the Lights.” But most of the audio hallucinations herein sound like an absinthe-sodden vampire dragging itself through its own muddy lair by its broken fangs – classic black metal filth given the royal sonic treatment.

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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.