Sumerlands Soundtrack the Moody ‘80s Movie in Your Mind, and More New Metal
There’s a new Ozzy Osbourne album out this month. There’s also a new Striborg album out: two and a half hours of oppressively bleak — and, at its best, downright chilling — “blackwave” courtesy of the Tasmanian loner known as Sin Nanna. I state these facts to demonstrate a simple point: The universe of what we call metal is vast, and more or less impossible to keep tabs on in its entirety. Favor the festival headliners and arena fillers, and you miss the best of the club acts and fledgling bands sweating it out over that soon-to-be-legendary demo; scour the underground obsessively and you might overlook a late-career triumph from a household name.
So if this new incarnation of SPIN’s monthly metal roundup — in which I take over from Andy O’Connor, an astute and passionate lifer whose recommendations on all things heavy I’ve followed for years — has any guiding principle, it’s that there’s greatness to be found in all corners of the scene, from the indisputably iconic to the cultest of the cult. Each month, I’ll curate a mixtape of standout tracks from the latest crop of new releases, plus a handful of bonus selections. And though I can’t help but fail miserably in my attempt to encapsulate it all, my hope is that, whatever your tastes, from the grimiest sounds to the most grandiose, I can offer a highlight reel that’s compelling enough to make you want to do your own further digging. Thanks for reading, and let’s rage.
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Sumerlands, “Edge of the Knife”
The best metal track I’ve heard this month comes from a 2022 album that could pass for one from around 35 years ago. In recent years, crafty revivalists like Haunt and Eternal Champion have zeroed in on the fantastical themes and invisible-orange-clutching drama of ‘80s metal, vaporizing any remaining aura of guilty pleasure that might still cling to the era in a righteous explosion of denim and spike-studded leather. Sumerlands, who share two members with Eternal Champion, may now be the band to beat in this retro arms race. Done poorly, this style can register as cheap cosplay; done well, it can take on an uncanny power that can make you feel like you’re inhabiting a Frank Frazetta masterpiece. Dreamkiller, Sumerlands’ second LP, falls squarely into that second category. Helmed by Arthur Rizk, whose magic touch behind the boards has elevated both new-school stars like Power Trip and established metal gods like Sepultura co-founder Max Cavalera, the band churns out tunes that would sound perfectly at home blaring out on the soundtrack of an ‘80s movie as a group of dead-end kids furiously pedal their BMX bikes toward either immortality or the 7-11 parking lot. Crank up “Edge of the Knife,” driven by the steel-sharpened riffs of Rizk and John Powers and the mighty melodic belt of Brendan Radigan, and promptly forget what decade it is.
Ozzy Osbourne feat. Tony Iommi, “No Escape From Now”
An obvious influence on Sumerlands — hell, an obvious influence on any one of us who’s ever found themselves banging their head uncontrollably while willfully blowing out their eardrums — is the aforementioned Ozzy Osbourne, specifically the Ozzy of 1986, when he was laying down brooding hard-rock gems with the help of guitarist Jake E. Lee. Ozzy has always needed a capable right-hand man, and these days it’s Andrew Watt, the Grammy-winning pop producer who’s worked with everyone from Post Malone to Camila Cabello, Miley Cyrus and other big names during the past decade. He’s helped to keep the Oz brand strong with two albums in two years that have teamed him with an impressive list of collaborators, including Posty himself, not to mention some guy named Elton John on 2020’s Ordinary Man. The guest list for the new Patient Number 9 is leaner but in some ways more enticing, as Watt has roped in a number of monster guitarists, including two key collaborators from Ozzy’s past: Zakk Wylde, who helped boost the singer’s career in the ‘90s on hit albums like No More Tears and rejoined his live band in 2017, and Tony Iommi, the man responsible for the minor achievement of inventing the entire genre of heavy metal along with Ozzy.
Iommi, who shared the stage with Osbourne at August’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, U.K., hasn’t recorded with the singer since Black Sabbath’s impressive 2013 sign-off LP, 13. He turns up on two songs on Patient Number 9 but makes a significant mark: The standout is “No Escape From Now,” a nearly seven-minute track that moves between dark psychedelia and grade-A doom rock, leading up to a stomping uptempo bridge. It’s classic Iommi, but interestingly, the overall feel is closer to the epic, suite-like pieces (“Falling Off the Edge of the World,” anyone?) found on the Sabbath albums — and one under the name Heaven and Hell — that the band made with Ronnie James Dio after Ozzy left the band. The results are awesome, and we’d gladly take another full album of collaborations between these two. (And hey, why not invite Geezer Butler and Bill Ward along, but we digress…)
Bloodbath feat. Marc Grewe, “To Die”
Inspired guest appearances are a running theme among this month’s metal releases, and another one of my favorites comes on the latest album from Bloodbath, a Stockholm band that specializes in what might be called fan-service death metal — that is, a take on the genre that panders unabashedly to disciples of the genre’s late-‘80s/early’90s heyday. For their sixth LP, “Survival of the Sickest” (note those old-school quotation marks), they’ve not only re-teamed with elite death-metal cover artist Wes Benscoter, who’s illustrated tons of nightmarish scenes for the genre going back decades, and accented his grotesque painting with a font that screams 1987; they’ve also roped in a few fellow lifers to help them drive the morbid message home, including Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway and Gorguts’ Luc Lemay. But the cameo that sticks with me the most is the one by Marc Grewe, frontman of Morgoth, a German band that put out a couple excellent, underrated LPs during death metal’s initial explosion. On “To Die,” he adds his unhinged yowl, akin to the delivery of Obituary’s John Tardy, to the grizzly-bear roar of “Old Nick” Holmes (also of Paradise Lost) and the effect is delicious. Meanwhile the rest of the band — including Katatonia co-founders Anders Nyström and Jonas Renske on guitar and bass, respectively, along with former Opeth drummer Martin “Axe” Axenrot — grinds out a series of towering riffs, laying out a blood-red carpet for these two seasoned pros to stroll down.
Megadeth feat. Ice-T, “Night Stalkers”
One more auspicious meeting comes on Megadeth’s The Sick, the Dying… and the Dead!, an album that’s arrived with a load of headache-inducing media squabbles to match its somewhat ponderous title. But the music is good, hard-thrashing fun that finds tireless leader Dave Mustaine leaning into his over-the-top strengths. A particularly furious track is “Night Stalkers,” where Mustaine snarls out an account of a nighttime military raid, well-matched with diamond-cutter riffage and daredevil shredding. If the scene wasn’t already aptly set, none other than Ice-T shows up, returning the favor for Mustaine’s cameo on Body Count’s 2017 album Bloodlust to deliver a booming monologue about “Black Hawk helicopters” “and “Delta Force Special Ops shooters” that features a hilariously on-the-nose declaration of “Game’s over, bitches.” This team-up sounds exactly like you’d expect it to, and that’s just fine.
Clutch, “Slaughter Beach”
A few other releases from this month provide further high-order heavy-metal comfort food. A song I can’t get out of my head is “Slaughter Beach,” the sorta title track from Sunrise on Slaughter Beach, the new 13th album from Maryland rock survivors Clutch. The track is archetypal Clutch — swaggering hard-blues riffage paired with one of frontman Neil Fallon’s inimitable Philip K. Dick–meets–John Lee Hooker character sketches — and it’s absolutely killer. “I demand to shuck my clam the old-fashioned way / Under a Strawberry Moon, bare-handed, wearing no clothes,” he howls at the end of the second verse, before launching into the song’s righteously soulful chorus. Add this one to the pile of groovy, surrealistic anthems the band has been churning out for 30-plus years.
Autopsy, “Skin by Skin”
A similar ain’t-broke/no-need-to-fix spirit emanates from Morbidity Triumphant, the latest from Oakland, CA. “death… fucking… metal!” stalwarts Autopsy. One thing I love about this band is that they absolutely do not have to make new music — they could happily spend the rest of their days headlining various Deathfests and delighting crowds with tracks from foundational LPs like 1989’s Severed Survival and 1991’s Mental Funeral. But drummer/growler Chris Reifert (also an early member of the storied Death) and guitarists Eric Cutler and Danny Coralles can’t seem to resist the urge to keep creating new sonic horror shows to go along with old favorites like “Service for a Vacant Coffin” and “In the Grip of Winter.” “Skin by Skin” — marked by gut-churning downtempo verses, vomitous vocals, a breakneck midsection and tortured guitar solos — shows that these guys are still masters of their grisly craft.
Slipknot, “The Dying Song (Time to Sing)”
You know who else could probably stop putting out albums without lessening their ability to pack arenas for decades to come? A little mask-wearing combo out of Des Moines called Slipknot. But “The Dying Song (Time to Sing),” an advance single from their upcoming seventh LP, The End, So Far, already feels like a live chestnut, probably because of how efficiently it checks all the boxes of the band’s latter-day sound: a hooky Corey Taylor refrain that sounds almost Broadway-ready, a raging verse where he unleashes his syllable-chewing diatribes and, later, a pit-detonating, double-bass-choked breakdown. Even to the casual fan — say, a merely Maggot-curious metalhead such as myself — it’s all extremely familiar but no less satisfying for it.
City of Caterpillar, “Mystic Sisters”
In the mood for something a little more challenging? I encourage you to strap in for the seven-minute ride that is “Mystic Sisters,” the title track from City of Caterpillar’s first album in 20 years. Originally part of the arty, explosively cathartic wave of late ‘90s/early 2000s hardcore known as screamo, the band has joined its contemporaries Jeromes Dream and Gospel (who released outstanding reunion albums in 2019 and this past spring, respectively) in getting back together for shows and adding to their small, cult-favorite discographies. Much like the lengthier tracks on their self-titled 2002 debut, “Mystic Sisters” builds steadily from a forlorn hush to a frantic art-punk climax with the vocals of Brandon Evans and bassist Kevin Longendyke tumbling over one another like stage-divers at a basement show.
KEN mode, “Throw Your Phone in the River”
From there, with your appetite whet for the chaotic side of hardcore, why not move on to “Throw Your Phone in the River,” a seething two-minute noise-rock blast from Winnipeg’s KEN mode, from the new NULL? The band’s sound mashes together decades’ worth of sterling underground grime — from Scratch Acid and Big Black to Unsane and Today Is the Today — into a bilious noise-rock confection, all rumbling bass, spat-out vocals and rusty-wire guitar.
Revocation, “Nihilistic Violence”
We close this month with the most headbangable passage I’ve heard on any September metal release, the merciless chugger, winding down with a darkly elegant flourish, that opens “Nihilistic Violence,” a track from Netherheaven, the latest and, to my ears, most ripping release to date by Boston trio Revocation. You could call them a death-metal band, thanks to the raw-throated bark of vocalist-guitarist Dave Davidson and the double-kick fury of drummer Ash Pearson, but honestly, I don’t really see the point in micro-categorizing this one — I detect just as much hardcore and thrash in this song’s DNA, and what shines through even more is that quality that unites all great metal of whatever stripe: the quest for the most badass riff imaginable.
Autophagy, “Sacrificial Spawn”
If the Bloodbath and Autopsy tracks above have you in a death-metal mood, an absurd amount of younger acts have new albums out this month that scratch a similar itch, including (deep breath…) Phobophilic, Tribal Gaze, Innumerable Forms, Acephalix, Mortuous, Sublation and Miscreance. But the one that’s got me the most fired up is Bacteriophage, the upcoming debut LP by Portland, Oregon’s Autophagy. “Sacrificial Spawn” moves through a relentless procession of riffs and tempos, each more dank and neck-wrecking than the last.
OFF!, “Kill to Be Heard”
Are OFF! a metal band? When the riffs are this ferocious, I’m not going to quibble, and neither should you. It’s inspiring that a punk legend like Keith Morris — Black Flag’s original mic man, who has also fronted the Circle Jerks intermittently since 1979 — is still involved in music that sounds so volatile. Riff wizard Dimitri Coats and the new rhythm section of bassist Autry Fulbright II and drummer Justin Brown (also an A-list jazz player) deserve equal props for steering this track, previewing the upcoming Free LSD album, from puree-speed blasts to old-school-sounding hardcore blitz.
Blind Guardian, “Blood of the Elves”
Sick to death of subtlety? Embrace the goofy majesty of this shamelessly dramatic German act, whose Tolkien-y tales, operatic vocals and relentless crescendos — fully intact on their 12th album The God Machine — make Iron Maiden sound restrained by comparison.
Titan to Tachyons, “Blue Thought Particles”
The past few years have seen an abundance of visionary heavy music coming out of New York City, a lot of it springing out of the intersection of jazz and extreme metal. A few artists that pop up and again and again in this sphere are guitarist Matt Hollenberg, drummer Kenny Grohowski and bassist Trevor Dunn, who have worked together and separately in projects including John Zorn’s Simulacrum, Cleric, Imperial Triumphant and Dan Weiss’s Starebaby. Here, on a track from new album Vonals, those three join the similarly eclectic guitarist Sally Gates on a journey from bruising heavy prog to eerily spacious fusion and on to a lurching abstract finale.
Motörhead, “Iron Fist (Jacksons Studio Demo – October 1981)”
A demo version of one of Lemmy & Co.’s toughest tracks that’s even rawer and scrappier than the iconic original? Yes, please. Hear more on a new deluxe reissue of 1982’s classic Iron Fist.
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