April 2011

Punk, hardcore, metal, noise: Music isn’t always meant to be easy on the ears. Each month, Loud unearths some of the loudest, crudest, and/or heaviest sounds writhing beneath the surface. The world’s not getting any quieter. Neither should we.

Stream of the Month: Former Thieves, The Language That We Speak
Before we crack open this month’s case of all things Loud, let’s warm up with our exclusive full-album stream: The Language That We Speak, the debut by Iowa’s Former Thieves. I’ll admit it outright: I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff. Taking Converge’s metalcore template and beating it into a blunter shape, the band shoots straight and cuts deep. But it also slips in plenty of gnarled riffs and knotty rhythms, not to mention an overall pall of twisted menace that feels straight out of Louisville circa 2003—namely Breather Resist and Black Cross. And with production by former These Arms Are Snakes drummer Chris Common at the famed Red Room in Seattle, the record doesn’t lack in attack. The Language That We Speak drops April 19 on No Sleep Records. In the meantime, enjoy a bruise or 10.

Former Thieves, "The Language That We Speak" by TheAVClub

When we A.V. Club writers compile our year-end music lists, we don’t usually count EPs. Last year, though, I had to include Trap Them’s Filth Rations EP, the band’s Southern Lord debut and worthy (if way shorter) successor to the band’s conceptual, two-album arc (2007’s Sleepwell Deconstructor and 2008’s Seizures In Barren Praise). Darker Handcraft is the rabidly anticipated new full-length—and it repays that rabidity in spades. Featuring new drummer Chris Maggio, formerly of the mighty Coliseum, Handcraft sees Trap Them tinkering with more texture, dynamism, and melody than before. Rather than stopping the violence, it just highlights it. And the band even enlists a fellow heavy-hitter, The Hope Conspiracy’s frontman Kevin Baker, to add some extra menace to the brooding nightmare of “Evictionaries.”

Another New England band that’s dabbled in spreading a concept over multiple releases is Defeater. But instead of Trap Them’s pummeling metallicism, Defeater plays earnest, throat-rattling post-hardcore—and its new full-length, Empty Days & Sleepless Nights, is by far its best yet. The success of singer Derek Archambault’s sustained, ambitious narrative is beside the point, especially when the music alone is this evocative. The curveball here is the Sleepless Nights part of the album: The last four songs are a gear-grinding shift to punk-dudes-making-acoustic-folk, which makes for a generic and anticlimactic end to an otherwise flawless album. Maybe next time, Archambault and crew will find a more subtle and gripping way to expand their palette—one that feels less like an afterthought.

It’s been a long three years since the Canadian prog-metal wünderkinds in Protest The Hero released their last album, Fortress. As evidenced by their new full-length, Scurrilous, a lot has changed. Gone is any trace of Dillinger Escape Plan from the band’s tightly wound virtuosity—and also gone is the screaming. Granted, singer Rody Walker has always used his impressive range, but he’s packing all melody on Scurrilous. In fact, everything is more melodic on the new record, and the band’s previously jarring elements and transitions have all been boiled together; almost every second of every song teems with complexity. But does it work? Without a doubt. I usually have a deep, pathetic mistrust of overachievers of any kind, but the sheer epic, emotional beauty of Walker’s vocal lines—especially as they weave throughout the music and somehow tie the whole hyperactive mess together—is staggering. Critical reaction to Scurrilous so far seems deeply polarized—which often means the album in question winds up being considered a classic. I’d say that’s where this one is heading.

Of course, you don’t have to ditch the screaming and aggression to be melodic and progressive. Case in point: Metamorphosis, the new full-length by Denmark’s veteran Mercenary. Sure, the album’s choruses are soaring cries of triumph and defiance, but the band’s death-metal roots still show faintly, as does its love of sheer, galloping power. Still, the album may as well have been credited to a different name entirely; since the group’s last album, 2008’s heavy but uneven Architect Of Lies, half the band quit—including longtime frontman Mikkel Sandager. Bassist and former backing vocalist René Pedersen steps up to the plate admirably here as Mercenary’s new lead singer—and at the very least he’s succeeded in bringing Mercenary’s new sound, love it or hate it, into the 21st century.

Rolling with the prog theme, there’s a lot more to love about Obscura’s new Omnivium: occasional full-on rock solos, clean, gracefully frenetic arpeggios that dip weightlessly into blinding blastbeats and harmonized leads. And the production is refreshingly mid-fi and even vaguely retro, especially for a band so forward-looking and accomplished. Omnivium is the German band’s second Relapse release and second with Necrophagist members Hannes Grossmann and Christian Muenzner. If that’s the consolation prize for another few years without a new Necrophagist album, it’ll definitely do.

After 2008’s high-reaching, guest-star-packed Twilight Of The Thunder God, Swedish Viking-metal masters Amon Amarth were left with a lot of expectations to deliver a worthy follow-up. Leaner, harsher, edgier, and even less compromising, the group’s new full-length, Surtur Rising, is every inch a victory. From the pitted shields and raised fists of “War Of The Gods” to the creeping, elemental plod of “Doom Over Dead Man,” the album is simply mythic in scope and merciless in execution. Insert all the overused Valhalla analogies you want—Surtur Rising is one more bloody-bladed conquest in Amon Amarth’s steady march toward immortality.

A hop and a skip to the west, notorious Norwegian black-metal legend Varg Vikernes has released his ninth Burzum album (and second since becoming a free man), Fallen. It more or less picks up where last year’s Belus left off, with raw, treble-fried guitar grinding in frantic counterpoint against martial beats. Much of the album, though, is hindered by Vikernes’ ostentatious, pagan-folk speak-singing; that said, his ritualistic chants and stentorian refrain in “Jeg Faller” (“I Am Falling”) are hypnotically powerful. On a couple tracks, though—like the undertow-heavy “Enhver Til Sitt”—he busts out the old-school howl. And when he does, he sounds almost murderous again.

Here in the States—fog-enshrouded San Francisco, to be exact—Pale Chalice has unleashed Afflicting The Dichotomy Of Trepid Creation. The four-song EP is the band’s first (and its debut for Flenser)—and it’s a hell of a strong showing. Penumbral and apocalyptic, “Caressed By A Feeble Flame” disintegrates into thick grooves that reconstitute as vision-blurring black-metal panoramas, and “Ascend The Idyllic Sphere” concludes with an unexpected and hauntingly austere acoustic coda. The tracks drag on a little longer than they probably need to, though, milking some of the black-metal riffage dry well before the EP’s end. Judging by this protean effort, Pale Chalice could evolve any number of ways—but for now, Afflicting The Dichotomy stands as a sharp little sliver of existential fright and subliminal melody.

PaleChalice-Transplant Of Dimensional Recourse by TheAVClub

Here in my adopted hometown of Denver, we have a ton of great metal bands of all stripes, from the moody doomscapes of Adai to the bong-incubated alchemy of Cephalic Carnage. Lately, though, the Mile High City has been ruled by Havok, and rightly so: The group’s sophomore album, Time Is Up, is not only a huge step up from its debut, Burn—it’s one of the best slabs of thrash revivalism in an era swamped with bands wanting to sound like Testament and Exodus. Havok, on the other hand… well, actually, it also wants to sound just like Testament and Exodus. But with solid songwriting, insane chops, and crushing production—not to mention the youthful enthusiasm of the group itself—Time Is Up pays homage to the ’80s while feeling completely fresh and vital. Then again, I’m totally biased.

A band that isn’t fresh in any way, shape, or form is Rotten Sound. Cursed is the name of the Finnish grindcore mainstay’s Relapse debut, and the album sounds just as evil and ancient and as the title. With a corroded low-end courtesy of new bassist Kristian Toivainen and the biblically fearsome caterwauling of mouthpiece Keijo Niinimaa, Cursed is as dense, distorted, jagged, and relentless as anything in the band’s formidable arsenal. A lot of bands have been taking grind in a progressive direction lately, but it’s great to hear a group that’s still gnawing the genre’s bones for that last bit of meat.

Grails has always shunned complacency as much as it has categorization—and its latest full-length, Deep Politics, proves that the instrumental group is still committed to restlessly challenging itself. While honoring an eerie ambient tradition that encompasses everything from Gong to Bark Psychosis, the disc bears a heavy pulse and ample melody steeped in the world music of some other planet. Surprisingly, the band has been moving toward a more studio-centric methodology—not that Deep Politics feels any less organic because of it. (For those keeping track: Grails’ Emil Amos, also one-half of Om, released his latest Holy Sons album, Survivalist Tales!, last October. It’s more of a dark, avant-folk project, but also very, very, good.) 

I’m hesitant to dish out some “album of the month” award, but if I had to this time around, Mamiffer’s Mare Decendrii would win, hands down. Led by spectral singer-pianist Faith Coloccia—and now aided by her husband, Hydra Head honcho and former Isis frontman Aaron Turner—Mamiffer has been lurking around the periphery of the scene for a while now. That all changes with Mare Decendrii. Featuring an impressive cast of guest artists (including Thrones’ Joe Preston, Russian Circles’ Brian Cook, and former Earth member Don McGreevy), the album is a lurching, lulling, orchestral apparition that imagines Jarboe sitting in with Hell’s own chamber ensemble. The minimalist scope and ghostly beauty—not to mention Coloccia’s ominous, elfin vocals—render Mare Decendrii simply fucking stunning.

It’s actually been a few months since The Crystal WorldLocrian’s bone-chilling interpretation of J.G. Ballard’s surreal, apocalyptic novel—was released. But it just received the vinyl-reissue treatment, so it’s worth revisiting—that is, if you don’t mind a quick probe of the charred, hopeless underside of reality itself. Harnessing bleak industrial drones and a choir of what appears to be water-boarded angels, the album’s staggeringly oppressive ambience makes for a beyond-harrowing listen. If H.P. Lovecraft and Hieronymus Bosch ever wind up getting hired to storyboard and script Ballard’s science-fiction parable about Earth’s matter slowly morphing into glass, Locrian has the soundtrack.

It’s a testament to cosmic justice that Scott “Wino” Weinrich has enjoyed such a big comeback in the past decade and a half. Granted, it should have been a no-brainer; as the leader of doom architects The Obsessed and Saint Vitus, he was both behind and ahead of his time. Wino’s recent work in the supergroup Shrinebuilder has been stellar, as well, but he stepped out a few months back with his European-released solo debut, Adrift. Out now domestically, the album is a worthy addition to his lengthy body of work—and he even manages to make his acoustic folk tunes sound heavy (often by mixing in a layer of distortion). Covering Motörhead’s “Iron Horse/Born To Lose” doesn’t hurt, either—and it’s apt, seeing as how Wino is the closest equivalent to Lemmy that the U.S. has. Adrift, while hardly essential, is at least a decent appetizer for the long-awaited new Saint Vitus album.

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North Carolina sludgemonger Buzzov•en surprised many with the announcement of a reunion tour last year. Even more surprising is the official Hydra Head release of Revelation: Sick Again, a full-length recorded in 2001 and shelved due to legal wrangling (and compounded by everyone in Buzzov•en perpetually being in some state of fucked-up-itude). The tracks have been making the rounds on blogs and such for years now, but it’s great to have them available for real in all their garbled, decayed glory. The future of Buzzov•en, as always, is in doubt; Revelation, though, slouches proudly among the band’s druggiest, heaviest best.

Buzzov•en’s “Dixie” Dave Collins has kept busy during Buzzov•en’s long hiatus as the singer-bassist of the swamp-trawling Weedeater. It’s always been a reliably sludgy band, but for some reason, I find myself personally drawn to their new album, Jason… The Dragon. (Maybe it’s because I like dragons?) In any case, Collins and crew manage to wring a little extra color out of its monotonic sound this time around, even incorporating some piano, banjo, and Collin’s own bowed acoustic bass. Make no mistake: Weedeater isn’t about to go progressive anytime soon. At its core, Jason is still just a raw, potent hunk of badassery. 

When Annihilation Time broke up a few years back, the world lost on of its foremost purveyors of true rock. But three members of AT—including gonzo guitarist Graham Clise—are attempting to keep the faith as Lecherous Gaze. Are they succeeding? Mostly. The band’s new self-titled four-song EP ditches any vestigial punkiness in favor of a sleaze-greased ’70s hard-rock groove. That’s actually the direction Lecherous Gaze had been headed all along; the drawback is singer Lakis Panagiotopulos, who just sounds tired, tuneless, and ill-matched when compared to the music. Hopefully he’ll step it up as the band goes along. These lick-laden songs are just too good waste on forgettable, halfhearted vocals.

LecherousGaze-Phaze by TheAVClub

And speaking of Annihilation Time, Tankcrimes is gearing up to reissue the group’s 2005 opus, Annihilation Time II, on vinyl (with the first 500 copies including a re-press of their “Cosmic Unconsciousness” 7-inch). I don’t really know what to say about II except for this: It’s pure motherfucking rock ’n’ roll injected with punk slop, skate-rock snarl, and classic-rock balls, all served with a side of insanity. Truly one of the most magnificently maniacal records of the ’00s.

In the midst of a glut of stoner-rock bands, it’s great to hear good old-fashioned hard rock. Small Stone Recordings releases its fair share of stoner jams, but the label also passionately embraces sludgy retro-rock that’s not afraid to chase weed with a handful of amphetamines. One of Small Stone’s latest releases, the self-titled debut by The Might Could, immediately benefits from two things: singer-guitarist Erik Larson, formerly of Alabama Thunderpussy, and album art that pays loving homage to Blue Cheer’s 1968 classic, Vincebus Eruptum. That said, the disc is slower and more leviathan-like than Thunderpussy’s output, meandering somewhere between Kyüss and the sadly forgotten grunge-era rockers Big Chief.

TheMightCould-Stone Colossus by TheAVClub

Another label that’s not afraid to pave its own way is Profound Lore—and nothing proves that more than Venerable, the latest full-length by Winnipeg’s post-hardcore vets KEN mode. Granted, Profound Lore has an admirably broad definition of metal, but Venerable specializes in twisted, disjointed, occasionally art-damaged belligerence—produced, as if you couldn’t guess, by Converge’s Kurt Ballou—that’s still straightforward enough to fall in the punk column. For a band that’s been slogging it out for a dozen years now, KEN mode is still weird and nimble enough to dodge pigeonholes.

One of my favorite recent finds is Mountain Man (not the all-girl, indie-folk group with the same name). The Massachusetts quartet’s debut full-length, Grief, follows its One EP from last year, and it’s a massive leap forward; although there’s still hints of Orchid-style screamo and Hope Conspiracy-esque hardcore, Grief sculpts that chaos into a concept album—split into five multi-song movements named after the five stages of grief—that builds, staggers, and collapses unexpectedly. And the band’s sparing use strings and piano is downright heart-rending. Of course, having songs called “Depression I” and “Depression II” just begs for comparisons to Black Flag—but rather than channeling Damaged, Mountain Man taps into Black Flag’s slower, sicker mid-period while recalling everything from The Jesus Lizard to Swans to Sunn O))). Rather than sounding like a pastiche, though, Grief is a brave, nervy, desolate masterpiece.

Before it became shorthand for total bullshit, screamo was a great subgenre—even if no band in their right mind accepted that tag back when it popped up back in the ’90s. San Diego’s Gravity Records released many seminal screamo records during that decade, although label head Matt Anderson (and former Heroin frontman) surely hated the word more than anyone. Gravity hasn’t been very active over the past dozen years, but its latest release, Crime Desire’s Alone In A Dream, is worth tracking down (and has nothing to do with screamo). Combining D-beat gallop with ’80s hardcore and even a tinge of early Celtic Frost, the five-song EP is as proudly derivate as it is unconcerned with any false notion of purity. And just to muddy the waters even more, Christian Death’s Gitane Demone makes a guest appearance. 

The term “supergroup” definitely gets overused in the hardcore world, where ex-members of notable bands typically and naturally gravitate toward each other. Still, it’s hard for me not to feel a little thrill when reading about I Hate Our Freedom’s pedigree—that is, dudes who used to be in Texas Is The Reason, Thursday, Garrison, and the underrated Milhouse. What’s even cooler about the band’s debut album, Seriously, is the lack of anything that strongly resembles those predecessors. There’s a rudimentary, four-on-the-floor attack to Seriously’s 10 songs that feels like a bracing leap back to basics—but there’s still enough sarcasm and dissonance to bring to mind some post-hardcore version of Hot Snakes.

IHateOurFreedom-Top 8 by TheAVClub

Homostupids, Strawberry Orange Peach Banana
When I emailed Cleveland’s Homostupids to ask for the MP3s of their new, vinyl-only mini-album, Strawberry Orange Peach Banana, I got this response from the band’s Steven Peffer: “Here you go. I just recorded it from a copy of the record itself. Enjoy all the pops and static.” He wasn’t kidding. But the concept of high fidelity is clearly lost on Peffer and crew—and kudos to them for it. Like the group’s previous output of EPs and singles, Strawberry is slovenly, erratic, deconstructed punk dripping with Flipper-level misanthropy. Not to mention snot.

Homostupids-InTheBasement by TheAVClub

With bands such as Rise Against still moving the masses, melodic hardcore isn’t going anywhere soon. As someone who grew up on Dag Nasty and Bad Religion before witnessing the likes of Lifetime and Strike Anywhere in their prime, I’m fine with that. New Jersey’s One Win Choice is, in many ways, a mixture of all of the above, so I’m predisposed toward loving their new album, Conveyor. Passionate and purposeful without feeling preachy, the disc keeps the catchiness steeped in grunts and grittiness. It also has just enough raw edges and muddy saturation to counteract the genre’s tendency toward thin production and squeaky-clean clarity.

The biggest pop-punk release of the past few weeks has to be The Dangers Of Standing Still, the latest from Oklahoma’s Red City Radio. All of the (relatively modest) hype the album is garnering is completely earned. Gruff, earnest, and straight from the gut, the disc is punchier and more layered than the group’s lauded To The Sons & Daughters Of Woody Guthrie EP from a couple years back. Like forebears such as Alkaline Trio and The Lawrence Arms, Red City Radio knows how to use dynamics and wordplay to liven up the pop-punk chord-book without sounding pretentious or losing an ounce of brute directness. And singer-guitarists Paul Pendley and Garrett Dale have an instinctive knack for sketching intimate vignettes that resonate on a far deeper level. I’d be happier if the album had wound up with a little more dirt on it, but then again, Red City Radio is clearly aiming for the big time. Here’s hoping Dangers gets them there sooner than later.

The response to Cap’n Jazz’s reunion shows last year seemed to baffle even the band itself. It shouldn’t have. Despite how arty some of its subsequent bands (Joan Of Arc, Owls, Make Believe) have been, Cap’n Jazz reinvented emo in the early ’90s, and the group’s aching, precocious music still resonates. Maryland’s Monument is just one of a small crop of young bands that draws from that frantic, poetic wellspring. The group’s first full-length, Goes Canoeing, came out at the end of last year, but the vinyl version was just released. The album is by no means a carbon copy of Cap’n Jazz (or Braid, the other vintage emo band Monument most closely resembles), although there are plenty of similarities in the needly guitar-work and soaring, shaky harmonies. If you don’t already have an ear for this kind of thing, this might not be the record to give it to you—then again, if Cap’n Jazz can prove itself timeless, anything’s possible.

Monument-No Sleep, All Play by TheAVClub

When I launched Loud a couple months ago, I got all full-disclosure on you guys and honestly admitted that I liked pop-punk and emo (that is to say, the good stuff in those unfairly maligned genres). I may have failed to mention, though, one other kind of misunderstood music that I unapologetically enjoy: ska. Even if you absolutely detest ska and can’t understand why in hell I’d be covering that fruity shit in Loud, let me just say that Citizen Fish deserves your attention and respect. Formed in 1990 by Dick Lucas, leader of the legendary UK anarcho-punk band Subhumans, Citizen Fish just released Goods, its first full-length since 2001’s Life Size. Lucas and company pick right up where they left off, cranking out a handful of raw, ragged, funny, politically charged ska-punk anthems. Rest easy, haters, I won’t be covering ska very often in this column—only when and where it crosses over legitimately with punk. And in that regard, Citizen Fish helped write the book.

Top Five (er, Nine) List: Dave Travis, director of History Lesson Part 1
Back in the early ’80s, Dave Travis was a punk kid who brought his camera to shows to document the frenzy of the L.A. scene. Now he’s assembled that footage—along with interviews with some of the major players—in a new documentary, History Lesson Part 1: Punk Rock In Los Angeles In 1984. Instead of trying to be comprehensive, the film zeroes in on four of Travis’ favorite bands of the era: The Minutemen, Red Kross, Arizona outliers the Meat Puppets, and Twisted Roots, the last featuring Paul Roessler of The Screamers and Pat Smear of the Germs. (Noel Murray’s full A.V. Club review of History Lesson can be read here.) I asked Travis to list his top five L.A. punk songs for this month’s list, but he understandably had a tough time sticking to the assignment. “That was hard,” he elaborated via email. “So many great songs. It would be easier to do a top 100.” So please, forgive the poor guy for doing a little extra credit.

  1. Black Flag, “Life Of Pain”
  2. Agent Orange, “Bloodstains” (Adds Travis: “Agent Orange is from Orange County, so I’m not sure if that counts as L.A. If not, substitute Saccharine Trust’s ‘We Don't Need Freedom.’” No argument from me!)
  3. The Stains, “Sick And Crazy”
  4. The Eyes, “Don’t Talk To Me”
  5. The Bags, “Survive”
  6. The Runaways, “Cherry Bomb”
  7. Fear, “Let's Have A War”
  8. Germs, “Lexicon Devil”
  9. Circle Jerks, “Product Of My Environment”

Retro Loud: Adolescents, Adolescents
Since we’re on the subject of ’80s L.A. punk: One of the greatest, most influential albums of that era is the self-titled 1981 debut by the Adolescents. I was maybe 18 when I first heard it, and up to that point I’d heard lots of Black Flag, The Germs, Social Distortion, and all the other more obvious L.A.-era bands. But Orange County’s Adolescents crafted an entirely new kind of hardcore: witty, nihilistic, tightly focused, and weirdly melodic—thanks mostly to Rikk Agnew, the genius guitarist who also left his brief but indelible stamp on Social Distortion and Christian Death. Adolescents helped inspire a whole generation of Epitaph and Fat Wreck bands, not to mention the group’s own offshoot, the awesome D.I. The band still fights on in a diminished form today, releasing records and touring sporadically without Agnew or drummer Casey Royer (who also spent time Social D and recently made headlines after getting arrested for ODing in front of his 12-year-old son). None of that, of course, diminishes the sheer energy, ambition, and innovation of mini-epics like “Kids Of The Black Hole”—a rallying cry for every fucked-up little shit who schemed large.

Next month: New releases by Deafheaven, Between The Buried And Me, Blut Aus Nord, Young Widows, Victims, Swingin’ Utters, and plenty more—plus a full-album stream of the Dwarves’ latest, The Dwarves Are Born Again. Also: a top-five list from the Dwarves’ ever-blasphemous frontman, Blag Dahlia.

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