Every month, I could write to you all about how the selection process for this column is hard. When you first sit down to do something like this, there’s a hunger to write about all the bands that really get your engines going, to finally get to make people outside of your circle hear the things you’ve rehearsed in your head to pitch all this music you love to others. But as the months (and now years) creep on, you start finding that, well, those bands keep putting out music and a lot of it has stayed pretty good, but now new bands have joined the pack, and oh that’s a new label, and I’ve never even heard of this scene before, and wow these classic bands came back and put out a really special release, and…
So sometimes the choices are less based on pure quality as other paradigms. One of the benefits of us getting this to you all at the end of the month is we can keep our eyes open not just for exciting surprises but also who has already gotten (often excellent) coverage elsewhere and thus could viably give up their spot for someone else who also deserves it. Cloud Rat is one such band; their recent record Threshold is a killer album and destined for year end lists anyway, so it seemed like an obvious one that could take a backseat for more underground fare. Colin Marston and Mick Barr, two perennial favorites of mine, each put out records through solo projects this month, the former of which is just over eight hours long (I tabulated the track lengths by hand) and the latter is a 30-minute highly technical acoustic exercise; both are incredible, but I give dedicated time to them already, so it made more sense to tuck them here. Worm and Blut Aus Nord are others that fall in here, the former for putting out an (albeit incredible) EP and the latter for it being a compilation of largely unheard material, both strong releases worthy of your time but not the perfect fit for us, at least for now.
Sometimes, we just miss! Last month, we forewent covering Sonja, the remarkable project founded by notable ex-Absu member Melissa Moore, which was an absolute goof on our part. Killer record that mixes great goth/post-punk infused metal with prominent queer themes and even, gasp, prominent sexuality! We typically do a “records we missed” entry rather than a standard “best of” in order to give you all even more underground records to pursue and pour over, but I wanted to make sure to highlight that one here as well as offer a direct mea culpa. We do our damndest and nothing hurts quite as much as realizing you missed an obvious killer record. You killed it, Melissa; your future remains bright.
This is all to say: We love heavy metal. We’re closing in on four years of this column, and many, many more of devout love of this genre both in its traditional and avant-garde forms — the classic and the modern, the grime-slick and the blindingly futuristic — and that sheer glee of digging through crates hasn’t waned. If we had a hundred slots here every month, we could fill them. The older I get, now in my mid-30s, the more magical this fact becomes to me. So much of life is change, the dialectical pulse of an object shifting atom by atom over eons. To see something immutable in this tide is like glimpsing god. I do not take it for granted.
— Langdon Hickman
Abduction – Black Blood
The push to meld black metal with chunkiness and gaminess is usually associated with war metal, yet Abduction’s Black Blood shows that there’s fertile ground amongst the plains beyond that subgenre. The UK outfit’s fourth full-length draws from post-metal, though not in the most obvious fashion. While the satisfying textures on “Dismantling the Corpse of Demeter” owe a few pennies to post-metal, Abduction is more interested in legibility. As such, Black Blood is clean. There are no sore spots in the production, which may seem like a minor aspect to highlight, but the heightened decipherability turns the 11-minute “Plutonian Gate” into a gauntlet that feels like it’s a quarter of its length. Impressive, considering that it’s thick, domineering, and unafraid to marinade in its own juices. Black Blood is certainly black metal, but it evokes post-metal’s tonality and patience without sacrificing its talons. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
Daeva – Through Sheer Will And Black Magic…
I’ll cop to it. I didn’t want to buy into the hype. Despite being put out by a label I love, Daeva started getting repped by people I find annoying, the perennial bugbear of anyone too plugged in to the art world, and so for a long while, I skipped. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I’ve been jamming this on repeat for the past week now, enthralled in madness by their keen mixture of black, thrash, and just the right touches of things like the nastier end of glam and trad metal. There are elements here that remind me of early Tribulation, always a great thing to call to mind for someone like me, and seeing a group as unafraid of the trashy ends of the genre even when pursuing black metal is refreshing. This isn’t robes-and-racists black metal; think more fishnets and feral lust. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman
Faceless Burial – At the Foothills of Deliration
I promised myself after missing their last one for this column that it wouldn’t happen again. To reward me, Faceless Burial made an even better record. These guys are not interested in reinventing the wheel, nor should they be; their command of that particularly post-Morbid Angel approach to combining technical/progressive elements with sludgy and evil death metal is a style that needs to be carried forth for newer generations not tossed aside. We cover a good amount of avant-garde material here and things rounding the outer edges of what might be considered metal. This isn’t that. This is dead center, death metal to the core, delivered with a refined ragged edge, the hooks and barbs of the broken metal of their killing blade purposefully bent for maximum pain. Six perfect songs of the most important style of metal that exists. Nothing better. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman
Forlesen – Black Terrain
Try this out if you and three other friends want to spark a conversation; assign each of you to listen to one, and only one, track from Black Terrain. You must all listen to different tracks. Then, discuss which genre label you think best applies to Forlesen. Some tracks will be more head-scratching than others; “Black Terrain” leans on ambient feedback for nearly nine minutes while “Harrowed Earth” is black-as-the-night metal. This chameleon-like nature is only one aspect of Black Terrain though; Forlesen sew these disparates seeds in a garden they rigorously maintain, nourishing each with the same fertilizer, water, and sunlight so that while each grows into their own plants, they’re undoubtedly theirs. It is in the band’s yardwork that Black Terrain summarizes the mantra what we foster reflects who we are, and who we are reflects what, and how, we foster. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
God Alone – ETC
A fairy-light mixture of math rock a la Minus the Bear with classic Chicago school math/screamo and a dash of sludge and post-metal for flavor, God Alone sound like exactly the kind of band that would piss off everyone’s favorite joyless hesher in their life. While you wouldn’t necessarily book these guys with Blood Incantation, the instrumental metal of a group like Trans Am might do them just fine. The key thing here that’s missing from a lot of the middling black metal I listen to is this stuff has emotion; it feels like these compositions are driven by the heart and not just endless genre pastiche, a weak hand tenderly gripping your heart inside your chest giving a begging squeeze. More records should feel like teeth in the neck. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman
MAL – Malbum
The problem with MAL’s intention to make an album that “hopefully no one will like,” is that they utterly failed. Rather than creating a messy album with wide-ranging influences (Kenny G, noise rock, progressive rock) hastily taped together, they debuted Malbum, a concentrated yet free-flowing collection of jabs to the chin. Bummer. The urge to praise Malbum for being fun (which it is) and cathartic (which it definitely is) is powerful, but it’s the record’s reservation that deserves accolades. Take “It’s Right This Way,” which should not be right in any way given how many eccentricities MAL slam into it; robotic vocals and a pompous saxophone are only the tips of the iceberg. Yet, it’s measured, as if there isn’t an additional flourish that wasn’t precisely calculated. The same applies to Malbum as a whole. It’s a loose tavern of an album with architecture designed by MIT students. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
The Otolith – Folium Limina
The Otolith emerge from SubRosa’s ashes three years after the latter group’s dissolution, and their debut album Folium Limina carries the weight of that resurrection. The strings that bind it, from summoning The Otolith to life on “Sing No Coda” to underscoring the downfall on “Hubris,” are the most consistent mood piece on Folium Limina as the album oscillates through varying interpretations of melancholy. There’s nuance to these interpretations though, meaning that while “Andromeda’s Wing” and “Ekpyrotic,” for example, may conjure dour atmospheres, they distinguish themselves enough that an hour-long doom metal album wherein the shortest track comes in at just under nine-and-a-half minutes sounds like a necessity. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Colin Dempsey
SUMAC/Keiji Haino – Into this juvenile apocalypse our golden blood to pour let us never
Watching the bleeding edge of metal and jazz is a thrill for someone like me. This is as much wholly one as the other, improvisatory music that doesn’t feel “jammy”, mind-bogglingly heavy music that doesn’t sacrifice sophistication to crush your heart with a hammer. This is the kind of record that makes you run over to a guitar or keyboard tucked in your apartment and try to play along, to twine yourself up in what’s happening in your speakers. The aesthetic element shreds apart your preconceptions; there is no hip or trve or scene here, all depressing elements for depressed adults who can’t give up their childhoods. It’s just damn good music, the kind that makes you fall in love with music in the first place. Buy it on Bandcamp. –Langdon Hickman