Metal, hardcore, punk, noise: Music shouldn’t always be easy on the ears. Each month, Loud unearths some of the heaviest, most challenging sounds writhing beneath the surface. The world’s not getting any quieter. Neither should we.
Song debut: Nachtmystium, “Decimation, Annihilation”
Song debut: Constants, “Passenger”
By all sensible accounts, the departure of longtime frontman Hank Von Helvete from Turbonegro in 2010 should have spelled the end of the band. No dice. Now fronted by Englishman Tony Sylvester, the Norwegian glam/punk/garage band is back with the unnecessary Sexual Harassment. The title is stupid, of course, as are the lyrics to idiotic tunes like “TNA (The Nihilistic Army)” and “Shake Your Shit Machine” (a euphemism for your ass, get it?). Post-reformation Turbonegro has always seemed a bit silly, but after losing Von Helvete, the once confrontational band seems even more like shtick. Sexual Harassment sounds like Turbonegro-as-Turbonegro-cover-band. Dumb.
“Enduring The Eternal Molestation Of Flame” may not be the most welcomingly titled opening track in history, but it perfectly sets the tone for At The Gate Of Sethu, the latest full-length from Nile. Nothing new to see here; after “Enduring” digs into a plate of hearty, technical death-metal, the album continues the band’s Ancient Egypt-themed mysticism. Still, you’ve got to hand it to Nile. Even at its most mathematically complex, there’s an organic flow to its riffage, and Sethu sports even more tricky, Meshuggah-worthy polyrhythms. The payoff, as always with Nile, is the near-symphonic bursts of harmonic majesty—those choral breaks that hint, ever so slightly, at an adolescence spent listening to Maiden’s Powerslave over and over and over.
Speaking of ancient: It’s been an eternal eight years since Old Man Gloom—the super-group comprising members of Isis, Cave In, and Converge—put out a record. That’s been thankfully rectified with the new NO. In case the negativity of that title is a little subtle, the music drives the point home: With a locomotive riffs, planet-sized screams, and squelches of acidic ambience, this is one of the most assured and focused statements of pure nihilistic refusal likely to be heard all year. Dispensing just about every cliché of metal, hardcore, and power electronics imaginable, NO operates on the level of the elements. Like, molecular and shit.
Unlike a lot of other bands who seem desperate for their stripped-down sound to come across as heavy (see: Ancient VVisdom), L.A.’s Ides Of Gemini actually pull it off. Their full-length debut, Constantinople, sees the band expanding from a duo to a three-piece, with the addition of drummer Kelly Johnston, who lays down a steady martial backbeat that rounds out guitarist J. Bennett’s minimalist riffing and singer Sera Timms’ soaring, melancholy vocals. Tracks like “Resurrectionists” and “Old Believer” are rich despite their deliberate minimalism, credibly spooky and, yes, heavy.
Witchsorrow’s sophomore record, God Curse Us, is straight doom—plodding, pounding, suffused with gloom and apocalypticism. But the adherence to what the band perceives as being real, true, non-poser doom comes across a little boring (besides being obnoxious). The band sounds great on a lumbering track like “Megiddo,” and pulls off up-tempo numbers like “Breaking The Lore” pretty convincingly too. God Curse Us is and improvement on their self-titled debut, but still “traditional” in more than the “classic” sense. There’s an unadventurous monotony that’s draining after a few listens.
Portland’s Witch Mountain returns with Cauldron Of The Wild, the group’s second full-length since bringing vocalist Uta Plotkin in the fold for last year’s excellent South Of Salem. Plotkin’s imposing vocal range foregrounds much of Witch Mountain’s sound, but there’s still plenty of room for guitarist Rob Wrong to lay down comparable wails atop Neal Munson and Nate Carson’s trench-deep rhythm section. “Shelter” and opener "The Ballad Of Lanky Rae” reveal a fertile, ever-adapting doom-metal band working at the peak of its talents.
Bookended by two played-straight bluegrass numbers, the latest from Louisville’s Panopticon (the more-or-less solo project of Austin Lunn) adapts the typically European folk/black-metal tradition to a uniquely American context. Devoid of all the chancy Nordic superman stuff that dogs a lot of that music, Panopticon’s excellent Kentucky threads fiercely picked banjo lines into the Lunn’s own ferocious black metal. Incorporating field recordings of Louisville miners speaking on the subjects of exploitation and workers’ solidarity, Kentucky, for all its pleasingly brutal assaults, feels like Lunn’s tender ode to his home state. It even includes a cover of the union anthem “Which Side Are You On?,” made famous by Barbara Kopple’s Kentucky coal miners doc, Harlan County, USA.
As much as there is to enjoy in a great mutation and/or bastardization of black metal, sometimes you have to tap back into the source. That’s not to say that Inroads, the new full-length by The Wretched End, or Eremita, the latest from Ihsahn, are in any way orthodox black metal. But seeing as how each band sports a former member of Emperor, both albums bring that sense of gravity, blasphemous grace, and otherworldliness to the Norwegian tradition Emperor helped forge. Ihsahn brings his soaring, immaculate songcraft to Eremita, hooking in guest vocalists such as Devin Townsend to help poison the pot. It’s slick and melodic, but full of dynamic intricacy and an undertow of desperate dread. Inroads, on the other hand, is a highly wound apparatus of shuddering, death-infused black metal. Emperor guitarist Samoth injects just enough technical prowess and unnerving angularity to his primal menace. Not quite as good as an Emperor reunion, but for now, it’ll do.
From High On Fire to Napalm Death, this his has been the year of veteran bands showing just how relevant, energized, and ass-kicking they can still be. Add Dying Fetus to that list. The death-metal legend has returned with Reign Supreme, its first album in three years, and it skimps on neither the epic enormity nor the spine-to-the-grindstone abrasion. It takes a certain level of maturity to take this much naked virtuosity and whittle it down into searing leads, guttural grooves, and raw, ratcheting breakdowns. Of course, this is still Dying Fetus we’re talking about here—which means there’s enough morbid hopelessness, gleeful tastelessness, and sociopolitical outrage to last at least another three years.
From dead babies to mutilated dwarves: Rumpelstiltskin Grinder may be a far newer band than, say, Dying Fetus, but it has quite a pedigree. The Philadelphia band features members of Absu, Woe, Total Fucking Destruction, and more, which means there’s a stew of influences seeping into its latest, Ghostmaker. The formula’s not new, but it’s getting cooked down to a savory flavor of gunk: Thrash gallop and hardcore spew collide with a crusty, worn-to-the-bone savagery that renders the disc far more than the sum of its parts—even it sounds at times like a Frankenstein’s monster of modern metal.
Taking its name from a Bible verse criticizing religious leaders, Tennessee sludge group Generation Of Vipers channel a Southern-fried religious dimension, along with traditions of Southern metal. On Howl And Filth, the band sounds like its scoring the rapture with numbers like “Ritual” and “The Misery Coil.” Propelled by drummer B.J. Graves, Howl And Filth rumbles toward sky-cracking crescendos. These guys rain down heavy like it’s fire and brimstone.
When they formed in 2007, Toronto’s Burning Love was something of a hardcore/metal/punk super-group, tossing former Cursed frontman Chris Colohan in with the ne’er-do-wells from sludge act Our Father. The group’s 2010 debut, Songs For Burning Lovers, followed through on the hype, ranking as one of the most satisfying records of the year. After some lineup changes, the band returns in top form, jumping from Deranged Records to Southern Lord, with Rotten Thing To Say. The record again layers a driving rhythm section, entwined guitar solos and Colohan’s combative lyrics—one track details the crimes of Canadian serial killer Karla Homolka, while the two-part “Pig City” calls out controversial Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Like its predecessor, it’s a solid, extremely rewarding record, nicely splitting the difference between the hostility of hardcore and straight-up heavy metal wailing.
Baltimore’s Strong Intention calls its latest EP Razorblade Express. And that just about sums it up. With just six tracks clocking in at just over nine and a half minutes, Express is an adrenaline-syringe-through-the-chest of speedy, pissed-off hardcore punk. Given the micro-dose, however highly pressurized, a record like this bound to feel a bit slight. But the bursts of belligerence gathered here are rewarding enough to merit several listens. Just cue it up four times in a row.
Siphoning the same crude, white-trash, fuck-it-all attitude of Red Fang—but with a lot more speed and evil—is Primate. The Atlanta band, led by Brutal Truth frontman Kevin Sharp, feeds Southern-rock attitude and squealing licks through the bowels of hell. The result is Draw Back A Stump, an album so rife with hirsute, beer-bloated belligerence, it makes Motörhead seem downright cuddly. And with titles like “March Of The Curmudgeon” and “Get The Fuck Off My Lawn,” you know exactly where these guys are coming from. Bless their hearts.
The snarky, funny title of the album opener, “Staying Home Is The New House Show,” is a tip-off: New Bruises are a peppy, get-up-and-go outfit, indebted to the tireless posi, playfully agro ’90s punk. Chock Full Of Misery, the less-than-punctual follow-up to their 2006 debut record, has the band working through a number of anthemic numbers (“Is Nature The Key?,” “World's Worst Invention,” the aforementioned opener) while pushing its traditionalist skate-punk sound on a few tracks (“Five Questions”). New Bruises may not be up to anything startlingly original, but their latest batch proves nonetheless entirely satisfying.
White Lung made waves in 2010 with its debut full-length, It’s The Evil. The attention was deserved, and now it’s even more so, thanks to Sorry. The second album from the co-ed Vancouver outfit refines—and at the same time roughs up—the group’s jarring, jangly, angular punk. With sonic nods to everyone from Sleater-Kinney to Pretty Girls Make Graves to Hot Snakes, there’s an exultant, melting-plot overload to Sorry that cuts right to the heart of what makes punk so damn inspirational to this day. Sorry is a nervy batch of songs that ideally distills the spastic volatility and glorious confusion of youth. Remember that?
Retro Loud: Iron Maiden, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Excepting, maybe, the Blaze Bayley years, there’s probably nothing Iron Maiden fans find more contentious than 1988’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son. Though it did well enough in the U.K., the band’s seventh album proved a disappointment with more fickle American audiences (many of whom decried the keyboards, synths, and overriding prog influence as “European-sounding”). The change in Maiden’s sound—both musically and in foregrounding singer Bruce Dickinson’s songwriting—knocked the band off-kilter a bit, resulting in a run of middling records, from the grungy follow-up, No Prayer For The Dying, to Fear Of The Dark and, yes, those dreaded Blaze Bayley years. But like most anything Maiden does (even Virtual XI), there’s plenty worth revisiting here—and the band’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son-era summer tour proves the perfect occasion for doing so.
Granted, the band may sound a bit “un-Maidenish” here, if “un-Maidenish” means that zippy, pop-influenced numbers like “Can I Play With Madness” or the layered synth intro of opener “Moonchild” don’t sound much like anything on Powerslave or Killers. But the reason Maiden rules is because the band takes these chances; it’s willing to expand its musical and conceptual breadth and risk alienating some of those more capricious fans. If there’s anything really disappointing about the record, it’s how its concept album idea of kid with supernatural powers seems kind of half-baked. Still, track-for-track, it rates among the band’s best albums.