I read an account on the 1970s CBGB scene, once. I’d credit it if I knew who wrote it or if I could find it again. For the most part, it was exactly what you’d expect from a piece that’s intent was just to gloss over the scene. The Ramones were the unwitting influencers, Patti Smith was the artsy street poet, and Lou Reed was the hard-to-please father figure. All of which is pretty boiler plate stuff. What struck me the most was explanation of how varied the scene really was. They were all playing punk in some shape or form, but the writer described seeing different bands at CBGB’s as witnessing alien life forms from various corners of the galaxy coming together to share culture. If that’s what CBGB was like then the modern metal world is a cross-dimensional gallery exhibit.
That is to say, there’s a hell of a lot happening in metal. So much so, I don’t claim to have any kind of handle on it at all. And if anyone says they do, they’re either full of shit or they’re in desperate need of getting out more. In either case, don’t trust them. If we want to skim over the top to find some kind of tidy narrative, we can say doom metal sat in a certain prominence in 2017. Throughout the whole year, the Blocland metal staff claimed it was “the year of doom”. Every week saw the release of a batch of genre expanding releases that were just as essential as the last. And those that treaded familiar territory did it in a way that was too damn good to write-off. We were very much living in what you would call “a moment”. A moment unlike what we’ve seen in these last few years.
But then, we voted on this list…
We reached a top 20 with only 4 records that could be classified as doom metal. I might even be stretching that term depending on where your boundaries begin and end. Sure, that’s twenty percent, but I sense the number would shrink if we had kept going. You could take this as the metal staff’s inability to read trends. In which case, you shouldn’t trust us. But in a more positive light that doesn’t disrupt our fragile egos, I like to think it really means metal is too far-reaching and individualistic for one genre or scene to define a whole year. I had a pretty good idea of how the list would turn out (when you spend all year talking about one genre of music with two other people, you get a pretty good idea of where their tastes align) but there were still plenty of surprises.
The following list features what I believe to be as good of representation of metal’s musical year as you’re going to get. On this list, you’ll see albums from prominent veterans still finding uncharted territory as well as metal’s current and future architects. We loved albums from knotty French black metal alchemists, political-minded heshers raging against our turbulent times, and psychedelic death metal from a young man in St. Louis. So, dive in, enjoy, and here’s to another fruitful year on the left hand path.
Pyrrhon What Passes For Survival
“I did what I did. You don’t like it you can kiss my ass.” This chilling sample kicks off What Passes For Survival with disturbing perfection. In the uncompromising world of underground extreme metal, Pyrrhon is the steroidal pinnacle. Death metal? This is an attack on death metal, a dismantling and reconstructing of conventional genre constraints. An intensely rendered concoction of skronky tech death, AmRep inspired noise rock (dig those Jesus Lizard-y guitar tones), and free jazz improvisation, I still have just barely begun to wrap my head around this scream from the bowels of the most negative, hateful corners of the human mind. This album is like a mental patient struggling through severe manic episodes who finally stops fighting the pain and snaps and sprays their anguish, disappointment, and resignation in every direction, leaving nothing but shattered lives, broken bones and human excrement in its wake.
But there is a method to the sonic madness. Take what you think you know and put it out of its misery (and take the feral dog on the cover behind the barn with you. That thing freaks me out.). The three part “The Unraveling” is, according to throat shredder and former Stereogum Black Market editor Doug Moore (via bandcamp), “a lament for the version of America that I read about in history and civics books as a kid”. “Goat Mockery Ritual”, as the title suggests, ruthlessly dismantles the uber-kvlt scene police that would love nothing more than to see metal stagnate and wither on the vine. Pyrrhon hears you, and they could give a fuck.
“Life is like a sewer/ What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.” I’ll be trying to unravel this thing for years to come. So far, the exercise has been exhausting, befuddling, and among the most rewarding listening exercises of 2017. What Passes For Survival might not be the most immediately gratifying release of the year, and arbitrary lists that attempt to quantify the best of such a limited time frame are somewhat ironic, but to ignore it would be a mistake. Give this album the time and attention it deserves, and it will give back tenfold. Gut-fucking insanity.
Spirit Adrift Curse of Conception
We metal fans are a contentious bunch. There’s far too many options at our disposal for us to reach anything resembling a consensus. Even just compiling this list yielded some strange numbers. But, for the most part, there is one constant. One element we can all agree on that transcends borders and is bigger than all of us and metal itself. That’s the riff. It’s what made us all fall in love with the genre in the first place. No one understands this quite like Spirit Adrift. In a way, no one understands metalheads quite like Spirit Adrift.
Guitar leads and solos are pushed to their absolute brink and meld into a shape shifting doom that brings to mind a blend of early Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Candlemass. But, that description does Curse of Conception a bit of a disservice. The band’s sophomore effort is no one-trick pony and in no way do they ever use their influences as a crutch. The album is a masterclass in form, composition, and ambition. These track’s burst at the seams with ideas and discovery whether its the title track’s malleability or the King Crimson meets Allman Brothers Band exploration of “Onward, Inward”. What we have here is the work of a forward-thinking, boundary-obliterating imagination that never settles for anything that can’t stand up next to past masters.
Godflesh Post Self
The sound of Godflesh has always been minimalist and monolithic; akin to the sonic equivalent of a Richard Serra sculpture, it dominates the landscape, nevertheless there is something crestfallen about it too. If this is a sculpture, it’s one at the centre of a failed post-war utopian dream. A rusted steel hulk marooned in a forgotten public space, the no-man’s-land at the centre of a brutalist architectural folly, stranded between concrete tower blocks, covered in graffiti and tramp piss. This could all sound incredibly depressing but I actually find the effect quite different. I cross a section of urban sprawl quite like this on my way to work. Rhythmically their music often falls in line with walking speed and then it becomes power music for traversing this type of terrain; a metropolitan survival manual. Iron and concrete are part of Godflesh’s nomenclature.
Although Godflesh have mainly limited themselves to a ruthlessly spare sonic template of simple repetitive riffs, treated samples and an ever omnipresent drum machine, all with the distortion maxed out, it’s one that has proven to be devastatingly potent, as well as affording a surprising amount of latitude. Each Godflesh album comes with its own quite distinct feel and flavour. Post Self seems a particularly ugly manifestation, powered as it is by a perpetually blown out bass sound that renders the whole album suffocating. Riffs are largely foregone in favour of texture. The techno influences previously found lurking in even the remotest corners are totally adjutant to a wayward industrial experimentalism.
If you only listen to one song on this album then make it centre piece ‘Be God’. It grinds forward on the back of a one note bass line and a series of unidentifiable scraping sounds. Justin’s vocals are pulled sideways through some sort of filter until all coherency buckles, whilst his guitar doesn’t play phrases so much as alternate between heaving sheets of lead and retching clouds of sparks. Seven years into their reactivation I’m still giddy that Godflesh are back……and that they’re still capable of being this vital, this good!
– Black Antlers
Power Trip Nightmare Logic
It’s extremely rare for a metal band to have a year like Power Trip’s 2017. The Texan thrashers found equal praise among metal and decidedly non-metal publications and somehow came through clean. No one batted an eye and no one was think-pieced into the ground. None of this suggests that the more mainstream minded outlets are ready for curb stomping beats and air raid leads. Nor does it mean metal’s “trvest” sectors are going to pull the tree trunk out of their asses and open the gates. Don’t be ridiculous. What it really means is Power Trip’s grime crusted politics were able to tap into the universal anxiety and frustration all rational human beings had been feeling in 2017.
Nightmare Logic, the band’s sophomore effort, combines urgent, catchy riffs with howled calls for human rights into a tool for those feeling powerless against the headlines. The Dominic Fernow aided “Waiting Around to Die” is hardcore inflected thrash set to kill big pharma. “Executioner’s Tax (Swing of the Axe)” imagines a future in which religious zealots meet a grisly reckoning at the hands of a pissed off maker. Power Trip will, most likely, remain a vital force for the foreseeable future, but we’ll always hear from those who don’t want leftist politics in their metal. These people are ridiculous and need to hand over their Scum back patches immediately because “if not us, then who?”
The Ruins of Beverast Exuvia
Alexander von Meilanwald, the sole player and composer behind The Ruins of Beverast, is a singular, transcendent talent. On Exuvia, his latest masterpiece, the German trailblazer proves it again. “Exuvia” refers to shedding the external layer and beginning anew. Specifically, it refers to that layer, or skin, itself. The dead and rotting husk. And that is exactly what this album is, a monolithic statement tethered loosely to previous touchpoints (black, death, and doom) while charting a bold new direction all its own. The placeholder EP Takitum Tootem! (of which I was not a fan) hinted at this direction. Here it is manifested in all of its fully-realized glory.
As our man Black Antlers alluded to at the halfway point, the word “atmospheric” is overused, especially in metal, to the point of near-meaninglessness. It could not be a more appropriate descriptor here, however. Instead of merely referring to sonic attributes (gently picked melodic guitars, spacey overtones etc.) this album creates an entire, immersive world steeped in tribal rhythms and subtle Dead Can Dance-esque flourishes. That 12 minute cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” makes complete sense in retrospect. Exuvia sounds like a raging psychedelic tribal exorcism resulting from an intense ayahuasca trip, with von Meilanwald as your shaman guide. As such, it’s terrifying and enlightening in equal measure. If you put in the necessary work, you will emerge reborn and with a fresh new perspective. A deeply cathartic and endlessly satisfying work of art.
Aosoth V: The Inside Scriptures
November heralded such a tsunami of metal releases that I found it virtually impossible to keep up with bands whose records I was eagerly anticipating, let alone explore acts new to me who might be harbouring potential gems. Nevertheless, considering how justly praised Aosoth’s last record was, 2013’s IV: Arrow in Heart, I spied this one’s approach whilst it was still way out on the horizon and impatiently awaited its arrival. Everything pointed towards this being a diamond amidst the coal.
Aosoth have often been, rather incongruously in my opinion, billed alongside fellow countrymen Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega, as forming part of some French dissonant black metal triumvirate. Commentators and journalists habitually focus on the presence of dissonance as an indication of commonality, but this is a red herring. The truth is these bands are quite different from each other. Whereas BAN bounce dissonance between traditional black metal, illbient and industrial sounds, and DsO fold in choral and furious near avant-jazz moves, Aosoth take the approach of black metal as played by a death metal band. In that V: The Inside Scriptures continues the trend although it’s markedly more impenetrable than its predecessor, jettisoning all the melodic and experimental flourishes of that release in favour of brute force.
Black metal is known for being cold, piercing like an icy wind and chilling you to the bone. With Aosoth it’s more like being assaulted with a polluted slab of glacier. Their tremolos are thunderous, the guitar tone is molasses thick with none of the genre regulation ‘bees in a biscuit tin’ style buzz; all the bees are dead. The romantic sensibility often loitering in even the furthest reaches of black metal has been entirely purged. There are no paeans to the forest, no acoustic breaks, no ambient interludes and unequivocally no clean melodic singing. This is existential black metal tooled to elicit furious headbanging.
Nonetheless for something so visceral it’s ironic that it’s the subtleties which really make this record shine. The way one riff pivots into another through an understated change or inflection; a slight shift in emphasis at the end of a discordant phrase or an unexpectedly elusive arpeggio. These are the details that give life to Aosoth’s music and elevate them above many of their contemporaries. There have been rumours to the effect that, given this records torturous birth, V: The Inside Scriptures will be Aosoth’s last. I do hope there is little substance to this. At five chapters long the story is currently unfinished.
– Black Antlers
Chaos Moon Eschaton Mémoire
Even when dealing with a microcosm such as black metal, where many of its adherents actively scour the outer reaches of cottage industry record labels or Bandcamp for obscure sounds, gaining critical acclaim within ones chosen field often seems based on a random set of interconnected circumstances. Why is Darkthrone Clone A feted whilst Clone B is flouted? Now if you have the temerity to plough your own creative furrow then add a really long wait to your throw of the dice too. Of course the grand irony is that back in the early 1990s each band in that then hermetic Scandinavian scene prided itself on having its own individual character.
I really can’t think of any other reason why Alex Poole, one of the best black metal musicians in America, was largely ignored for the last ten years. Whether operating as Chaos Moon, or it’s more brittle and nightmarish twin Skaphé, his music is every bit as idiosyncratic as that of classic genre luminaries Vindsval, Snorre Ruch or Carl Michael Ende, yet he remained curiously absent from most discussions about contemporary black metal. Finally this seems to be changing. Persistence might be key but having a really fucking good record helps too; the reception which greeted his latest opus, the magnificent ‘Eschaton Mémoire’ suggests that his moment has arrived.
Not that ‘Eschaton Mémoire’ is simply playing to the gallery. Alex’s music continues to snake along his own distinct path, it’s just that more of us are starting to take notice. A lot of black metal seeks to blur sound into a monochrome smear yet this is more akin to an explosion of colour across an artist’s pallet. A megaton of delay smudges guitars into keyboards until the distinction between the two is moot. Blast beats shimmer like fine rain on a porch roof and the customary coarse vocals drift from afar as if caught upon rolling winds. None of this sacrifices any raw power, but there is a constant sense of elements shifting and changing. The effect is quite phantasmagorical. In a parallel universe this is where Pornography era The Cure dived headfirst into black metal. The album only dropped in November and I originally put this at number six on my personal ‘year end’ list. I’m starting to regret that decision now as successive listens continue to reveal more colour, more shape, more depth. If it had arrived a couple of months earlier I’m certain it would have been vying for my top spot.
– Black Antlers
Full of Hell Trumpeting Ecstasy
Full of Hell have always been a tough act to pin down. The young New England grindcore unit’s unwavering creativity has often lead them out of the pit and into circles with far-out auteurs like The Body and Japanese noise god-head Merzbow. This lack of a distinguishable comfort zone and work horse mentality has given the band a catalogue that’s much larger and varied than their collective age would suggest. But, it’s on their third “solo” full length where Full of Hell take the disparate reaches of their past work and distill it all into the best version of themselves yet. Trumpeting Ecstasy finds hungry and manic grindcore filtered thought a thousand-yard stare looking to push the genre to it’s outer limits.
Higher premiums are placed on song craft and memorable riffs. Guests ranging from post metal legend Aaron Turner to atmospheric singer-songwriter Nicole Dollanganger all lend a hand in shared misery. Tracks burst with a punk melodicism that could easily be sustained for longer than the record’s eleven track, twenty-three minute runtime. But, that’s all the time Full of Hell needs for a fully realized vision of a humanity that’s devouring itself. The band couldn’t have guessed what kind of year they’d be releasing Trumpeting Ecstasy into. No one could have. All in one year we saw Nazis marching in the street, the threat of nuclear war treated like a school-yard pissing contest, and an unending stream of negativity that was quickly topped by the next day’s batch of nihilism. Extreme times like these called for an extreme band and that was Full of Hell. In a year where it felt like the world was on the verge of tumbling off it’s axis, I couldn’t help but wonder why more albums didn’t begin with a Werner Herzog quote.
Spectral Voice Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
The last few years have seen a fantastic set of home runs from the record label Dark Descent, with bands from their roster regularly landing prime spots on ‘best of’ lists in the more high profile metal publications and sites; Stereogum’s own Black Market awarded very high placings to recent releases by Horrendous and Blood Incantation. By having a real feel for death metal (in all its fractured permutations), Dark Descent have probably done more to put it back on the map as a vibrant metal sub-genre than any other label. Enter Spectral Voice.
Taken individually most of the components that constitute Spectral Voice’s sound will be familiar to connoisseurs of death-doom: Impossibly cavernous production, ridiculously guttural vocals and crawling tempos that stutter into periodic spams of reverb drenched blast-beats. However through some sleight-of-hand Spectral Voice reconfigure these into a ghastly apparition that’s distinctly their own. Too many death-doom bands cheapen their sound by resorting to overused gothic samples or burden it with clichéd cemetery tropes. By eschewing any gauche atmospheric effects, Spectral Voice plunge through stinking marshy soil to unearth something far more fetid.
There’s a particularly dreadful ebb and flow to the record, like some dark tide lapping at subterranean shores. Guitar phrases spiral and unwind through deep caverns, changing direction in a shrewdly deceptive fashion, ensuring you lose your bearings never to find the surface again. Occasionally the music will break into something approaching melody, throwing a little light onto the immediate path ahead, before riding an on rushing blast beat like a gust of dank, stale air, swirling once more into the gloom. Intermittent clean screams just add to the whole unsettling experience. It feels so arcane, this is shadow music.
Maybe the reason this record is so good is simply down to the pedigree of those involved, featured amongst the ranks are members of Blood Incantation and the now sadly defunct Antlers favourite Merkstave. Simply put this one of the best death-doom records I’ve heard in years, however in order be on board with this you’ve got to be willing to wallow in the filth and the mire.
– Black Antlers
Heretoir The Circle
“The Circle (Omega)” is still the closing track of the year and, as such, one of the best SONGS of the year, period. Immediately preceding this is “Fading With the Grey”, a top 5 pennie. Have I mentioned “Golden Dust” yet? Magnificent, heart-wrenching beauty. Those three tracks alone would make this album a favorite but it’s fucking stacked from end-to-end with gorgeous, glorious atmospheric epics, all conceptually tied to the circle of life. Gone are the blackgaze elements from previous efforts (though Niege contributes background vocals to one track). In their place are energetic, lively sprints that almost feel (gasp) uplifting.
Expansive, graceful, introspective, elegant, ornate. If these keywords mean anything to you, this utterly beautiful slice of… atmospheric black metal (?), post-metal (?), blackened post-blackgaze (?) is for you. Breathtaking and awe-inspiring, throw on this nocturnal beast and forget about all descriptors. It’s inviting warmth and unbridled passion will envelop you like a view of the sky ablaze with the Northern Lights (from the cozy comfort of your natural Icelandic hot springs) might.
Throane Plus Une Main A Mordre
Whilst Throane are undeniably a metal band they’re one that wears many influences although few of these seem to stick for longer than a sideways glance. The more you try to pin them down the more they become nebulous. Whereas a band like Inter Arma openly and deftly stitches together pieces of death, black, sludge, doom and plain ole metal with nigh on unparalleled skill, creating a rich tapestry of sound, Throane forgo this artisanal approach and choose to create their blend with a cement mixer. That’s not to say they don’t lavish care and attention on their creation; clearly they do. Rather the resultant sound exists in a sort of hinterland between metal sub genres.
When metal fans discuss their favourite albums one of the currencies often used to signify a records worth, particularly in extreme metal genres, is it’s relative ‘heaviness’. For my money Throane land smack in the middle of territory that can legitimately be labelled ‘pretty fucking heavy’. Opening track “Aux Tirs Et Aus Traits” unleashes an absolutely crushing riff at the 2:35 mark that simply bowls in like some huge, unstoppable cable coil rolling off the back of a flatbed truck, yet there are other times when ‘pressure’ is a more apt descriptor. Deep and sonorous, this is music that squeezes the life out of you. At the 4:36 mark the bottom falls out of the song and we’re cast adrift in the murky twilight of the abyssal plain. A solitary, echoing guitar chord rings through the encroaching darkness like the last telegraph from a diving bell, its chain severed, plummeting to the bottom of the Mariana trench. This was the exact point at which I was sold on Throane.
– Black Antlers
I spent a lot of time with Heartless in 2017. It was in the car, at the gym, on the turntable, and, most importantly, in my head. From the moment it dropped on us in March, everything about it, right down to it’s lavender cover art, felt like something timeless and lived-in. The Crosby, Stills, and Nash harmonies on “I Saw the End” and the classical tinged leads on “Thorns” were all things that have been with us ever since we first tuned into the radio or bought a Black Sabbath CD with our very own money. Doom metal isn’t supposed to tap into these kinds of feelings. Doom metal evokes hopeless dread, blood-soaked landscapes, and weed. Lots of weed. I’m not supposed to think of discovering Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere or summer days spent with Rush’s “Closer to the Heart” on repeat. Well, if any band was going to do it, it’d be Pallbearer. Ever since 2012, the Arkansas band has been doing all they can to take doom out of the dungeon and place it onto a higher plane.
A plane where a doom band can be featured in New York Times. A plane where folk musicians like Marissa Nadler can be your opener. A plane where a room full of metalheads dressed head-to-toe in black will belt out “BUT THESE FEELINGS ARRRRREEE REEEEEEAAALLL!” in unison. All of which I was lucky enough to witness Pallbearer get away with in 2017. Much of this success can be attributed to how peerless they are on their third album. These tracks are constant forward motion propelled by no shortage of ideas that are every bit as compelling as the last. But, what really allowed Heartless to connect with listeners in the way it did was the emotional depth and honesty. As as whole, Heartless is a hero’s journey in the tradition of The Odyssey. This time around our protagonist’s victory doesn’t lay in defeating villains or reclaiming a throne, but in self acceptance and gratitude for the compassion and love that’s gotten him this far.
Artificial Brain Infrared Horizon
We here at Blocland are huge fans of Artificial Brain’s space and artificial intelligence-themed technical death metal. While the Long Island crew’s sophomore release is a natural extension of their debut, Labyrinth Constellation, its advancements result in a greater, more naturally flowing whole: tighter performances, a more organic production and a fully, ahem, fleshed-out concept assemble like Voltron, and the result is this head-spinning, non-sentient beast (we’re running out of robot references ok?). Humans have long been depicted as the architects of their own demise in sci-fi literature and films but Infrared Horizon imagines a dystopian universe that exists long after any living creatures have roamed the universe (read Lobster Man’s excellent interview with the band for an in-depth discussion). Spoiler alert: the host (not necessarily Earth) reclaims its sovereignty via a volcanic explosion.
The Gorguts, Demilich and Nocturnus influences from the debut remain intact but here they are buoyed and (somehow) made more accessible through the strong undercurrent of melodic black metal and atmospheric weightlessness. These additional dynamics provide clarity to the instrumental performances. The latter element, that atmospheric touch so rare in tech death, is key. As the album progresses it becomes more pronounced, enhancing the “death”-of-everything-through-cataclysmic-event conclusion brilliantly. The robots have allowed humans to fold in on themselves, only to find that no amount of rational apathy can save them from the natural horrors of the universe. There is no escape from the swallowing black void and its never sounded more inviting than it does here. Infrared Horizon is a milestone in progressive, technical death metal and for metal as a whole. Take the journey while you can.
Converge The Dusk In Us (Deluxe Ed.)
Whilst discussing the best albums released this year over a pint or two with a friend, it wasn’t long before we alighted on the choice of Converge. His reasoning was simple and to the point, “They released an album in 2017, what more explanation do you need?” Now, if he was referring to any other band I’d assume he was being facetious and tell him to spit out the real answer, but this is Converge and they’re a special case.
Describing any band as consistent is all too often damning them with faint praise. It’s a pat on the back for them doing the mean average of what we all expected them to do. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that, although their best days are probably behind them, at least they haven’t yet besmirched their discography by recording that barbershop / dubstep / fusion concept album the bassist keeps wittering on about. But arguably Converge are just that…..consistent, the difference being that their bench mark of quality is so ridiculously high. In 2001 they unleashed the seminal Jane Doe, a record that defined a sub-genre and remains one the best metal records of the 21st century. Seventeen years after its inception they still aim for that albums sublime high and unbelievably almost hit it time and again. That’s consistency born of appetite, not indifference.
So where does that leave The Dusk In Us? Jacob Bannon still screams himself hoarse with unbridled fervour and soul. Kurt Ballou still creates hardcore alchemy, welding rough edged punk riffs with Slayer and Judas Priest embellishments. Ben Koller and Nate Newton still provide the rhythmic heft and dexterity that brings the whole machine to such shuddering startling life. We can forever argue about which of their post Jane Doe records romps in for second prize, even my least favourite album of theirs (rightly) has its defenders, but I’m pleased to report that the The Dusk In Us decisively takes it’s place amidst that jostling pack.
So why then does the title say deluxe version? Well, as good as the songs on The Dusk In Us are, and believe me they’re very, very good, Converge released another song this year. One that bafflingly was omitted from the album. That song is called “Eve” and to my mind it beats every single last track on the record hands down. “Eve” is the sound of Converge giving voice to their inner Neurosis and it is simply fucking staggering. Go give it a listen…you will not regret it.
– Black Antlers
Wolves In the Throne Room Thrice Woven
Thrice Woven was stuck with the “return to form” narrative pretty much right out of the gate. It’s a narrative that’s been applied to countless elder statesman before and won’t be slowing down any time soon. Considering that Thrice Woven is the follow-up to 2013’s full-on ambient synth-driven Celestite, it’s a fair label. Wolves In the Throne Room rose to prominence in the U.S. black metal world through a jagged, rain-soaked replication of the sights and sounds of their native Washington wilderness; a feeling that was present on Celestite, but didn’t translate to many metalheads. The band is back to playing that kind of environmentally focused black metal, but “return to form” doesn’t stick. The truth is, they’ve never done it quite like this before.
On Thrice Woven, Wolves In the Throne Room merge together ambient, folk, atmospheric black metal, and every other facet of their identity with a seamless grace we hadn’t yet seen. “Born From the Serpent’s Eye” opens with massive, regal acoustic strings before diving into rugged black metal only to be dissolved by Anna von Hausswolff’s grey salt water vocals. Neurosis’ Steven von Till makes an appearance and celebrates the vernal equinox on the surprisingly fluid “The Old Ones Are With Us”. There’s an optimism in von Till’s spoken word piece that extends out to the rest of the album even as “Angrboda” ushers in the end and “Fires Roar In the Palace of the Moon” mourns the death of Summer. As a whole, Thrice Woven is a representation of the changing of the seasons and the Earthly forces that allows life to grow and flourish.
Tchornobog mastermind Markov Soroka is 22 years old. He worked on this album for seven years. Let that sink in. Then, consider the fact that between horrifying spaced-out atmospheric black metal juggernaut Aureole and waterlogged funeral doom depressives Slow he already had no less than six releases under his bullet belt. BEFORE ALL OF THAT, he broke ground with the solo symphonic death metal project Eternium. Is this all the result of a precocious but unfocused mind or inspired, ambitious genius? Since I can vouch for the ridiculously high quality of every single piece of music referenced here, it is unequivocally the latter.
Tchornobog is a brutally heavy amalgamation of death metal, funeral doom, and black metal leavened with post-metal meditations and an atmosphere drenched in symphonic grandeur. And it is an absolute monster. Over four songs in 65 minutes, the Tchornobog vomits forth a sensory overload from the deepest, darkest recesses of Soroka’s mind. Saxophone, trumpet, cello, baby grand jazz piano and a “Vomiting Choir” paint the splattered red and black template with disgusting shades of blue and yellow. The Tchornobog consumes everything in its path, including your slack-jawed expectations that no mortal man could conjure up this sickly, nasty concoction and make it as addictive and powerful as it is. All hail the Tchornobog. All hail Markov Soroka. The kids are just fine.
Venenum Trance of Death
Venenum know how to make you wait. Six years ago they heralded their arrival on the scene with a rather tasty appetizer in the form of a self-titled EP. Just shy of 30 minutes it was long enough to show off the bands impressive compositional skills and their ability to almost effortlessly bend and subordinate death, black and thrash metal to their will. Crucially it was also just long enough to leave those who fell under its kaleidoscopic spell gagging for more. Poised to take the metal world by storm there was then………*crickets chirping*.
As the years went by, despite continuing to give their EP the odd spin, I chalked Venenum up as missing in action and stopped looking for any further signs of life. Consequently the arrival in April of their debut album ‘Trance of Death’ took me completely unawares. Alerted to its existence and intrigued to discover the band were still active I took a punt on it, impulse buying a physical copy. I felt certain the music would be of a good quality but nothing quite prepared me for what I found. As the album began to sink in with each successive play, it became apparent Venenum had spent those years away forging a masterpiece. I enthusiastically wrote about it for Blocland’s ‘Best Metal Albums of 2017: Around the Halfway Point’ flinging as many superlatives in its direction as my limited writing skills allowed. It’s probably incredibly lazy of me to directly quote my own review but what the fuck.
“Over the course of six years this band meticulously engineered a beautiful, metallic Chimera, folding in flavours of thrash, black and death metal with equal aplomb. They repeatedly pull focus from one genre to the next, mid song, shifting gears with an almost nonchalant ease. On first listen though it doesn’t immediately impress yet this is largely down to how masterfully the transitions between genres occur. By the fifth listen you know this one is for keeps.”
Six months later what I said then still stands now. I’ve returned to this record time and time again and if anything it’s just grown in stature. Venenum perfectly walk that tightrope of creating music that is both immediately accessible and heterogeneously layered. Trance of Death is a fucking riff banquet. I don’t know what it is about this band that leads me to resort to preposterous culinary analogies when describing their sound, no doubt the weakness is all mine, but this is calorific metal. You lucky bastards, you’ve never had it so good.
– Black Antlers
Bask Ramble Beyond
Side note: if you’re in or near West Asheville, NC you should visit The Whale, a craft beer collective featuring bassist Jesse Van Note that recently opened there. Considering the band’s commitment to quality craftsmanship (and Jesse’s Wicked Weed pedigree), I have no doubt they feature quality brews (it is called The Whale after all). You guys DO support artists and small businesses right?
Couch Slut Contempt
Confrontation and extremity are the pillars of metal. It’s purpose is to examine and take unpalatable material further than any of the more readily accepted forms of music possibly can. Like any art form, it can fail and fail often. Criticisms of these failures typically fall along the lines of: alienating, gratuitous, or just dumb. But, when it succeeds, it can pull off the unexpected feat of providing an emotional outlet for both artist and listener. It presents a handshake between both parties with the understanding that things aren’t going to be easy, but you’ll be better off in the end. On their 2015 debut My Life as a Woman, Couch Slut poured it all out then put you in a headlock forcing a close and unfiltered examination of exhilaratingly gnarled white-hot rage.
My Life as a Woman remains to be a respectable introduction, but the New York noise metal group’s sophomore effort is an improvement on all fronts. On a purely aesthetic level, Contempt finds Couch Slut even filthier. Album opener “Funeral Dyke” begins with skronking free jazz saxophone crawling out of the sewer before blasting into some of 2017’s most memorable and punishing riffs. Over the course of Contempt, drums stomp spines into the dirt, guitars twist and choke, and the band does all they can to grind away any semblance of orientation you may have had. By any metric, Couch Slut is a vicious fucking band. But a vicious fucking band with an unexpected ear for sticky hooks.
“Penalty Scar” is lost punk tape found in the Dischord dumpster held together entirely by feedback. “Snake In the Grass” plays out until it resembles something like jangle pop shoved down the incinerator. Despite hooks and the all-out sonic assault, Megan Osztrosit remains the focal point due to an intimidating and thoroughly mesmerizing vocal performance. Osztrosit tears at her vocal chords until the scar tissue allows for nothing but a maniacal howl that’s far more human and unsettling than her contemporaries. Take these elements, mix them in a cement mixer, break the slab with the bloodied, mangled faces of bad men and the results are a brutal and disgusting record created in the image of a brutal and disgusting world.
Bell Witch Mirror Reaper
Death has always been central to Bell Witch. The Seattle funeral doom duo’s name derives from one of the first documented American hauntings and their sophomore record, 2014’s Four Phantoms, was essentially four ghost stories recounting the painful deaths and agonizing eternity of their protagonists. Even with song titles like “Bails (of Flesh)” or “Awoken (Breathing Teeth), Bell Witch have never explored their subject of choice with any kind of horrific or brutal intent. Instead, the band has always looked on with awe an empathy. The purpose of their work is to contemplate non-existence or wherever our next destinations may be. With songs that typically surpass the twenty minute mark, each piece is much more in line with some kind of extended meditation.
2016 forced the band to face this subject matter head-on when drummer and co-founder Adrian Guerra passed away at the age of 36. Before Guerra’s untimely passing, plans had already been laid out on what would become Mirror Reaper; a single 83 minute track that more than deserves the description “monolithic”. Since funeral doom’s conception, the genre has always dealt in slow moving and hulking portions. Mirror Reaper is the culmination of ambition that the genre had been straining towards for quite some time. However, it’s the deeply affecting nature of Mirror Reaper that makes it a necessary benchmark for not only funeral doom, but metal as a whole.
Despite never outwardly mentioning Guerra, it’s a work that can’t help but feel haunted. Not by a ghost, not by a poltergeist, or any other kind of apparition. It’s haunted by a deep and unshakable grief. Dylan Desmond and current drummer Jesse Shreibman cast the audio equivalent to that very specific numbness reserved for funeral homes, cemeteries, and hours spent alone after a loved one’s passing. It’s the vacuum of longing that ultimately detaches you from the outside world that’s best taken in as a whole. The piece fills the air and spaces around you in a way that alters your perception of time and feels like a constant force. Little more than bass, drums, gutteral roars, and ethereal screams, create a world caught between the living and the dead. We’re placed in an alien environment where bass riffs crack open the sky and drums rain down with meteoric force. With thirty minutes remaining, we’re lifted from these Earthly vessels to gentle ambience, prose worthy of Walt Whitman, and immense love.