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 12th installment in our latest genre study, with Corrosion of Conformity (pictured above, from their Facebook page), Visigoth, Azonic, The Melvins, Windhand, Tribulation, Watain, Atlas Moth, 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, here for 666.9 , here for 666.10 and here for 666.11 – if you dare. Incidentally, following the album and band blurbs are links to audio and video, so check ’em out.
BY METAL MIKE TOLAND
Whether taking underground metal by storm with its madly creative sophomore album The Formulas of Death or reinvigorating death ‘n’ roll with the brutal but catchy The Children of the Night, Tribulation has made a lot of waves for a death metal band. After two major recorded statements in a row, the Swedish quartet already has a hell of a legacy to live up to on Down Below (Century Media), album 4. Demonstrating the band’s commitment to songcraft, “Nightbound” and “The Lament” set the scene with melodic metal as indebted to early 80s NWoBHM acts like Angel Witch as Luciferian death metal pioneers like Entombed. With atmospheric interludes and an emphasis on keyboards, Tribulation’s prog leanings reassert themselves boldly on “Lacrimosa” and “Here Be Dragons,” the latter an epic sure to be a concert staple in years to come. Bassist Johannes Andersson maintains the most articulate necrotic growl this side of Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt, while guitarists Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén burst with riffs and textures that demonstrate a wider awareness of rock than merely headbanger’s delights. There’s a serious goth rock jones working its way through the quartet’s system here, especially in the lyrics, which might be a turn-off to anyone outside the realm of black eyeliner and brooding. (It explains the band’s penchant for covering the Cure, though.) Plus the quartet’s relentless forward motion on past LPs makes the record feel a bit like spinning wheels, without the leap forward (or sideward) one might expect. Still, there’s nothing wrong with Tribulation consolidating its strengths, and Down Below is sure to end up on lots of top ten lists at years’ end.
Tribulation’s countryfreaks in Watain also garnered a lot of attention from outside the metal world with its previous album, 2013’s expansive, highly crafted The Wild Hunt. Now that eyes not covered in corpsepaint are upon them, the quintet responds with Trident Wolf Eclipse (Century Media), an album of raw black metal that recalls the savagery of early efforts like Lawless Darkness. As beastly as “Furor Diabolicus” and “Sacred Damnation” sound, however, they’re not crude replicas of old school slash ‘n’ thrash. Leader Erik Danielsson and his latest coven evolved into more sophisticated songwriters over the years, and haven’t abandoned their compositional dexterity in pursuit of Trve Cvlt Metal – they’ve just turbocharged it with the carnivorous mania and demonic horsepower of the original wave of Nordic devil-chasers. Old school Watain fans may see this as a step backward (or a return to roots, depending on perspective), but fans only recently along for the ride may be pleasantly surprised.
Five long years have passed since Austin/Dallas deathgrinders Mammoth Grinder have laid down the hurting on poor innocent ears. Maybe that explains why the band’s fourth LP Cosmic Crypt (Relapse) sounds like a rage-soaked dragon escaping its cave for the first time in millennia. Leader Chris Ulsh (who also drums the hell out of Power Trip) leads bassist Mark Bronzino (who also guitars in Iron Reagan) and drummer Ryan Parrish (also of Darkest Hour) through a maelstrom of hellfire riffs, boulder-shattering rhythms and craggy roars that would grind any unsuspecting miscreant to fine dust. Picking a favorite is like deciding which body blow was the most effective at snapping your spine, but “Locusts Nest,” “Molotov” and the perfectly titled “Blazing Burst” will separate the old farts from the young ‘ns pretty quickly.
A couple of years ago, Hooded Menace unleashed a lumbering hellbeast of a record called Darkness Drips Forth, alerting the wider world to its eldritch presence. Now the fiendish Finnish foursome follows up with the mouthful that is Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (Season of Mist), its fifth album. As with its breakthrough, the band fills the grooves with crushing doom/death. What might normally be soaring melodies slow down to a crawl, as if being dragged under the earth’s crust by mole people. Drums pound nails into foreheads with deliberate sloth, while some sort of feral beast slowed down to half-speed roars about “Sempiternal Grotesqueries” and a “Cathedral of Labyrinthine Darkness.” Despite the hallucinatory fog, however, actual melodies do emerge, seething in your ear like an evil fairy that flits away when you turn your head. Savage yet graceful, Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed makes no concessions to affability but still evolves into a more attractive monster.
The Atlas Moth has evolved into one of metal’s most interesting bands, and that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment. The Chicago quintet is one of the most wideranging and versatile in extreme metal, defying stereotypes by treating death metal, black metal, prog metal, doom, psychedelic hard rock and hardcore as the facets of the same gem. Coma Noir (Prosthetic), the band’s fourth album and first in four years, leans more towards the extreme side of its personality, with leader Stavros Giannopoulos turning in some lungbusting screams against a thick wall of distortion. But, as usual, atmospheric synths, shifting dynamics, clean vocals and a penchant for anthemic melodies add varying light and shade to the Moth’s madness. “The Streets of Bombay” roars like a hurricane when it doesn’t flow like lava; “Galactic Brain” shoots off into space before crashing into the nearest comet. “Smiling Knife” starts with proggy hammer-ons before loping like a buffalo across the plains, while “Chloroform” begins with a NWoBHM requiem prior to breaking the spell with raging crunge. “Actual Human Blood” brings roiling thrash into the equation without sounding at all like it’s trying to bring back the eighties. “Furious Gold” puts Giannopoulos’ sanity-shredding shriek right up against guitarist David Kush’s melodic rasp, the vocalists battling it out over tuneful pound that’s still heavy as a dead dinosaur. Stem to stern, Coma Noir is both the Moth’s most forbidding and its most accessible LP so far.
A far more straightforward prog/extreme proposition, Howling Sycamore makes an impact on its self-titled debut (Prosthetic). Musical mastermind Davide Tiso (guitarist for weirdo metal icon Ephel Duath) recruited drummer Hannes Grossman (Necrophagist, Obscura), guitarist Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia, Gorguts) and saxophonist Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House, Led Zeppelin 2) to lay down a storm of complex, knotty noise that takes inspiration for the complicated end of death metal as much as it does from the 70s. The biggest surprise is the addition of singer Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys, Broken Teeth), wailing into the cosmos like he hasn’t done since he fronted prog/tech metal pioneer WatchTower back in the Reagan years. Brutal yet light on their feet, “Ostinate Pace” and “Midway” crush buildings like Godzilla during a surprisingly graceful dance number, while “Chant of Stillness” enters ballad territory without sacrificing the band’s thrust. Quite impressive.
The strain of classic metal purveyed by Visigoth, all swords, dragons and manly men doing manly things whilst wrapped in loincloths, sounds almost quaint, even goofy today. Yet it works when performed with enough conviction, and the Salt Lake City quintet has that in spades on its second album Conqueror’s Oath (Metal Blade). Guitarists Jamison Palmer and Leeland Campana unleash riffs that focus on catchiness more than complexity, while rhythm section Mikey T. and Matt Brotherton rampage like an army of giants. But the heart of the band is singer Jake Rogers, whose magnificent pipes and complete lack of irony will have you reaching for your battleaxe. From the fist-raising anthems “Warrior Queen” and “Steel and Silver” to the speed-demon rumble of “Blades in the Night” and “Outlive Them All” and the rolling good times of “Salt City,” Visigoth flails the heck out of every note with the skill of experts and the zeal of true believers.
The mighty Corrosion of Conformity rumbles on after three decades-plus, and the Raleigh, NC quartet’s tenth album No Cross No Crown (Nuclear Blast) shows no signs of slowdown. Unsurprising given the return of singer/guitarist Pepper Keenan, NCNC revisits the band’s patented Southern rock/doom metal hybrid, last heard on 2005 In the Arms of God, with a vengeance. Sounding fired up after so much time off (well, sort of – he’d been playing, but not singing, in Down), Keenan turns in a ferocious set of performances, singrowling like it’s his last session on Earth. Guitarist Woody Weatherman, bassist Mike Dean and drummer Reed Mullin respond with backdrops oozing with riffs and rhythms that bespeak as much familiarity with Iron Maiden as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Black Sabbath. There’s something refreshingly meat-and-potatoes about “Cast the First Stone,” “Wolf Named Crow” and “Forgive Me” – they’re unapologetically hard rockin’, no frills required.
Even more full of battery acid and bitter coffee than before, Wrong returns with Feel Great (Relapse), the follow-up to its splendid debut. Bass and drums dance a hardcore-inflected four-step on your tailbone while a pair of guitars grind staccato grunge riffs and hack-and-slash noise rock solos against each other like two exes’ prelude to a hate fuck. Vocalist Eric Hernandez seethes and mutters, as if he’s trying to fit in with the rest of the idiots but might have been released from the institution a bit too soon. From the blasted sludge of “Upgrade” and the crossover whipcrack of “Crawl Instead” to the stunted anthemry of “Come Apart/Medn” and the jackhammer kung fu of “Pustule,” Wrong revels in tension and release, inviting as much lighter-waving commiseration as wild-eyed slamdancing. Wrong will rule the world someday – we’re sure of it.
We’ve covered Windhand and Satan’s Satyrs in these pages before, but given the former’s atmospheric, leisurely paced doom and the latter’s irreverent garage metal, we’d have never guessed that the bands would share a self-titled split (Relapse). Sure enough, though, here we are. The thing both groups have in common is a (n un)healthy interest in the creepy horror flick aesthetic of the 60s and 70s underground. So the contrast between the acid witch heaviosity of Windhand’s “Old Evil” and “Three Sisters” isn’t as far off from the Satyrs’ freak rawkin’ “Succubus” and “Alucard AD 2018” (plus a cheeky take on Jimmy Reed’s “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby”) as you might think. Does this mean a joint tour isn’t far behind?
Sometimes metal is at its best after it’s dropped a whole lotta blotters. Octopus, a dynamic quintet out of Detroit, gets that on its debut Supernatural Alliance (Rise Above). Led by powerhouse vocalist Masha Marjieh and guitarist J Frezzatto (ex-Electric Six!) and including ex-Big Chief bassist Matt O’Brien, the band soaks hard riffs and otherworldly atmospheres in wah-wah guitars, out-of-phase tones, grimy organ and a general sense of the children having pillaged the psychedelic pantry a few times before hitting the studio. Heavier than your average 70s-worshipping gang of stoners, but more colorful than unrefined metallic sludge, “Strike,” “The Center” and “Sword and the Stone” will rattle your lobes and juice your ‘nads.
Psychedelic Witchcraft count themselves as fellow travelers on Sound of the Wind (Listenable), the Florence, Italy band’s third record. Vocalist Virginia Monti and her crew of occultists can wax drifty and mysterious (cf. the title track), but kick out the jams quite nicely on “Wild We Go,” “Rising On the Edge” and “Lords of the War.”
Swedish ensemble JIRM (formerly trading under the ridiculous moniker Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus) also mixes psych into its metal on third LP Surge ex Monumentis (Small Stone). Singer/guitarist Karl Apelmo wails with absolute abandon, and the rest of the quartet supports his zeal with a mountain of speaker-vibrating accompaniment. “The Cultist” boogies like a child of the grave after an acid-spiked alt.rock cocktail, while “Dig” and “Tombs Arise” reach to the heavens with wings the size of Rodan’s. “The Nature of the Damned” expertly balances lush textures with amp-frying volume, pushing Apelmo to even greater dramatic heights. Without losing the lysergic elements, JIRM cranks up the overall heaviness to an epic sweep here, like Tool gone NWoBHM. A magnificent achievement.
Fourteen long years have passed since we last heard from Zeke. But Seattle’s greatest punk metal wackos have lost none of their spit, fire or rage in their time off. Hellbender (Relapse) takes no prisoners, roaring through its fifteen songs in twenty minutes, somehow avoiding blurriness and leaving every riff and tune intact. Axeslinger Kyle Whitewood spurts out solos that would give Kerry King fits, while longtime lead throat Blind Marky Felchtone still sounds like he gargles battery acid before every vocal session. “Working Man,” “Two Lane Blacktop” and “Devil’s Night” would snap the neck of the most dedicated headbanger, but said hesher would be grinning wildly all the way to the hospital. Though nowhere near as savage, fellow travelers Against the Grain smash plenty of bricks on its way to having Cheated Death (Ripple Music). The Detroit quartet’s fourth record continues to mash Motörhead and Thin Lizzy into its hometown hardcore and power rock, with a little Kiss thrown in for good measure. Waxing blazing (“Going Down Fast,” “No Sleep”) and soulful (“Devils and Angels,” “Smoke”) by turns, AtG waves lighters only to throw them in your face.
The never-resting Melvins waste no time in following up last year’s A Walk With Love & Death with Pinkus Abortion Technician (Ipecac), another LP throwing a spotlight on the four-stringers in their midst. This time (as opposed to 2016’s Basses Loaded) the honor roll is cut down to two: regular bottom feeder Steven McDonald and special guest Jeff Pinkus, leader of Honky, erstwhile member of the Butthole Surfers (whose Locust Abortion Technician gets tributed by the title) and frequent Melvs collaborator/fill-in bassist. The disk opens with “Stop Moving to Florida,” a mashup of the James Gang’s “Stop” and the Buttholes’ “Moving to Florida” that’s one of the flat-out boogieist things the long-running band has ever put to tape/wax/bytes. But that’s just the tip of the mudberg, with the Melvs/Surfers amalgam delving into acoustic-to-electric doom folk (“Flamboyant Duck”), blink-and-you’ll miss it thrash punk (“Embrace the Rub”), oatmeal cinnamon psychedelia (“Don’t Forget to Breathe”), a loving Beatles desecration (“I Want to Hold Your Hand”) and, of course, the band’s usual grunge ‘n’ roll (“Prenup Butter,” “Break Bread”). The record ends, appropriately, with a grinding bash through the Surfers’ sludge metal tribute/pisstake “Graveyard.” Maybe it’s just us, but the Melvins seem to be on a years-long hot streak, and Pinkus Abortion Technician doesn’t break it.
When Kyle Shutt of the Sword put together his Doom Side of the Moon project (which, for those who missed it, is exactly what it sounds like: an acid metal version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon), he managed one show before turning his attention back to his main band. One album from the 70s can’t fill up a whole show, so of course his band played a few non-Dark Side tunes as an encore. The self-explanatory Encore (self-released) grunges through “Have a Cigar,” “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” and “Wish You Were Here” with the same mixture of reverence and glee that marked the LP. “Pigs” is an especially inspired choice, given how many classic radio warhorses Shutt could’ve chosen instead, and the rocked-up take on “Wish” blows the dust off and neutralizes the mold.
Though busy with his long-running power trio Blind Idiot God, prepping both new music and a comprehensive reissue program, guitarist Andy Hawkins still found the time to record Prospect of the Deep Volume One (Indivisible), his second album under the name Azonic. Recorded in a day with BIG’s Tim Wyskida on percussion, Hawkins reaches deep (pun intended) into the unconscious for a series of atmospheric improvisations, sculpting tortured riffs and waves of feedback on the fly. Between the sheet metal shreen of Hawkins’ axes and the rumble of Wyskida’s timpani, the pieces explore doom from a different angle than BIG’s usual blood and thunder, showing a different side of Hawkins’ muse and to the concept of heavy rock in general.
Speaking of wordless heaviosity, multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter returns with her project Insect Ark for second LP Marrow Hymns (Profound Lore), joined by drummer/electronicist Ashley Spungin. Despite the duo’s residences in Portland and Brooklyn, the songs have a decidedly Southwestern feel, as if they were conceived during a long twilight drive through the New Mexico desert. Schechter’s distorted lap steel swoops and howls over rhythms that shift like sand in the wind, imbuing “Sea Harps” and “In the Next” with the ghostly feel of spirits conjured up during a peyote ritual. It’s not a million miles away from fellow soundscapers Earth, though less pastoral and more haunted. Paris’ WuW luxuriate in a similar but more sinister vibe on Rien Ne Nous Sera Épargné (Prosthetic), the duo’s debut album. Multi-instrumentalist brothers Benjamin and Guillame Colin artfully blend acid-tinged doom atmosphere with post rock’s melodic dynamics for a warm blanket of scalding lava that moodily, dreamily rocks.
A Bizarro World spin-off of Finnish improv psych metalheads Circle, the delightfully-named Pharaoh Overlord has a shtick on Zero (Hydra Head). Over motorik-driven, synth-laced heavy psych, a troll (and by troll we mean the big, craggy people-eaters of fantasy literature, not internet assholes) babbles about…something…in a voice so guttural it sounds like a pile of broken rocks grew a larynx. It’s an odd contrast, to say the least, and given song titles like “I Drove All Night by My Solar Stomp” and “Lalibela Cannot Spell Zero,” clearly one intended to bring on eye-rolling smiles. Unfortunately, by the time the album ends, it starts to feel like the troll and the guys furiously acid rocking out behind him are working at cross purposes, sending Pharaoh Overlord to the novelty bin after a couple of spins. Too bad, but there’s always Circle, after all.
The mighty Monster Magnet marches to the beat of its own tom-toms in the heavy rock world, so much so that leader Dave Wyndorf would object to his band’s appearance in a metal column. But that’s what makes this veteran New Jersey act a steady hand on the wheel of roiling rawk riffpound – consistency of vision and will to execute. Which brings us to Mindfucker (Napalm), the twelfth LP in a three-decade odyssey to bring the world back from the brink of non-rock. Easing up on the psychedelicism that’s usually a major part of the music’s DNA, Wyndorf and friends strip down to a Detroit-styled hard rock rampage, getting down and dirty for as much of a goodtime rawk album as is possible in today’s divided social landscape. Being the relatively optimistic dude he is, Wyndorf tries to keep the hedonistic flames burning, but he’s well aware that the water hose could fire off at any moment, which lends some tracks a sense of desperate mania born of fear-fueled adrenalin. Using power chord debauchery to fight back against impending doom is a time-tested way to rock the fuck out, and the Magnet blazes brightly in that vein via “When the Hammer Comes Down,” a wild-eyed cover of Robert Calvert’s “Ejection” and the appropriately-branded “Soul.” Click on the title track first – it sets the tone and lays out the strategy with one of the finest cuts in the band’s long career.
Audio and video samples:
Against the Grain – Cheated Death Bandcamp:
The Atlas Moth – Coma Noir Bandcamp:
Azonic – Prospect of the Deep Volume One Bandcamp:
Corrosion of Conformity – “Cast the First Stone”:
Doom Side of the Moon – “Have a Cigar”:
Hooded Menace – Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed Bandcamp:
Howling Sycamore – s/t Bandcamp:
Insect Ark – Marrow Hymns Bandcamp:
JIRM – Surge ex Monumentis Bandcamp:
Mammoth Grinder – Cosmic Crypt Bandcamp:
Melvins – Pinkus Abortion Technician Bandcamp:
Monster Magnet – “Mindfucker”:
Octopus – “Supernatural Alliance”:
Pharaoh Overlord – “Maailmanlopan ateriana”:
Psychedelic Witchcraft – Sound of the Wind Bandcamp:
Tribulation – “The Lament”:
Visigoth – “Warrior Queen”:
Watain – “Sacred Damnation”:
Windhand/Satan’s Satyrs split Bandcamp:
Wrong – Feel Great Bandcamp:
WuW – Rien Ne Nous Sera Épargné Bandcamp:
Zeke – Hellbender Bandcamp: