June 2011

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

Before we dive into this month’s roundup, some pathetic self-promotion: Loud is now on Twitter. Follow the column at twitter.com/AVClubLoud, where I’ll dish out daily supplements to our monthly coverage. I promise not to drunk-tweet you. And another quick note: In case you missed it, I recently weighed in on the new albums by Liturgy, Cave In, Jesu, and Boris in The A.V. Club’s regular reviews section. And now for our regularly scheduled program of loudness…

Stream of the month: Ampere, Like Shadows

Will Killingsworth has not mellowed with age. It’s been almost 15 years since he formed Orchid, a band that took the much-maligned subgenre of screamo to its sonic and ideological apotheosis, just before 100,000 eyelinered douchebags ruined it for a decade. Granted, Killingsworth probably hates the word “screamo” just as much as we all do. So let’s just call Like Shadows—the long-awaited debut album by his current band, Ampere—what it really is: an instant classic of jagged, chaotic hardcore. Following a long string of splits and singles, Like Shadows (out now on No Idea) flenses away any trace of body fat to reveal the raw muscle underneath. It’s short, sharp, dark, dense, merciless—and one of the best things Killingsworth has ever unleashed.

A lot of bands toying with sheets of shoegazy noise have sacrificed at least a little brute force to do so. But not Tombs. The band’s latest for Relapse, Path Of Totality, throbs like a severed artery even as it floats amid a fine spray of blackened ambience. As with previous releases, everything from hardcore to black metal to Killing Joke-like industrial work their way into the mix—but Totality’s howling horror and unrelenting immensity swallows any nitpicking genre debates. Or any thought at all, really.

Tombs’ old bassist, Domenic Seita, plays with former Red Sparowes guitarist-keyboardist Josh Graham and veteran drummer Vinny Signorelli (Swans, Unsane) in A Storm Of Light. The group’s third album (and first for Profound Lore), As The Valley Of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade, is as epic as its title would indicate: That said, there’s not a lot of originality to freshen up this Neurosis-slash-Isis prog-doom endurance test. It doesn’t help that Graham’s vocals are serviceable but never gripping. Still, with a pedigree like this—plus guest appearances by Kim Thayil, Jarboe, and folks from Amber Asylum and Sleepytime Gorilla Musuem—As The Valley Of Death can’t help but be solid.

A Storm Of Light may have left its old label, Neurot, but the void has been filled by Neurot’s freshest signee, Across Tundras. The Tennessee trio’s new album, Sage, is its best yet. A prairie-sized slab of sludgy Americana deeply influenced by frontman Tanner Olsen’s formative years in South Dakota (where he played in the sadly overlooked post-hardcore band The Spirit Of Versailles), Sage dodges just about ever pigeonhole you could hope to stick it in. Neurot should get props for expanding the square-footage of its wheelhouse with this one.

Profound Lore just dropped a handful of intriguing new releases (a couple of which I’ll wait and cover next month), but the best of the batch is Mammal, the new full-length from Altar Of Plagues. Steeped in suffocating angst, the Irish outfit doesn’t let up; Mammal expands upon the band’s 2009 debut, White Tomb, with a broader palette of ringing, droning guitar and nauseating atmospheric eddies. Mortality is the theme du jour, and Altar Of Plagues leaves no boulder unturned in its frenzied contemplation of eternity.

There’s something bloodlessly precise and inhumanly anguished about England’s longstanding Anaal Nathrakh—and its sixth full-length, Passion, is no different. That said, the album is ever-so-slightly less shrill and skull-drilling than 2009’s In The Constellation Of The Black Widow, and there’s a touch more melody at the edges (even if that melody sounds more like backward-masked, death-rattled Gregorian chants than anything conventional). 

Enslaved sprang a five-song EP, The Sleeping Gods, on the world last month via Scion A/V, Toyota’s curiously decent pop-culture cross-marketing scheme. And it’s fantastic. Picking up where last year’s awesome Axioma Ethica Odini left off, The Sleeping Gods’ five songs encompass soaring, Valhalla-invoking black metal and stark, keyboard-haunted interludes. But unlike Axioma, the new EP comes with a track of stentorian pagan-folk that chants and groans with mythic awe. It makes for a succinct, focused placeholder that’s far more satisfying than anyone could have expected it to be. Oh, and it’s free

Continuing our tour of Europe, Sweden’s Inevitable End has seen fit to treat me to one of my favorite albums of last month. The Oculus is a brave (read: insane) leap forward; while the Relapse-released album bears traces of the band’s death-metal roots, it’s a spastic, intricately wiry mechanism of technical head-fuckery that rips apart any reassuring formula and leaves it oozing on the floor. There’s a hint of Dillinger Escape Plan’s playfully virtuosic sadism to The Oculus’ calculated attack, but really, Inevitable End has found a gear-grinding groove all its own.

Marduk’s new EP, Iron Dawn, is a worth tracking down—but even better is the self-titled debut by Death Wolf (released by Regain/Blooddawn). Formerly known as Devils Whorehouse, the Danzig-obsessed side-project by Marduk guitarist Morgan Håkansson, Death Wolf retains the punk edge of its predecessor while switching up some of the overt Misfits-philia (especially in the vocal department). What’s left is an album that falls between Samhain goth-core and Marduk’s own black-metal onslaught. Death Wolf is still squarely a hoarse, ripping punk project, but compared to Devils Whorehouse, it feels a bit more like a flesh-and-blood band than an overt tribute.

And since I’m snubbing established acts in favor of their exciting side-projects, I’ll just quickly say that Acephalix’s new full-length, Interminable Light, is awesome—but that I’ve been devoting more listening time to Carnal Law, the 20 Buck Spin debut by San Francisco’s Vastum. Featuring three members of Acephalix (and including alumni of Amber Asylum and Infest, among others), Vastum brings some serious grit and erosion to the table; Carnal Law is a hammering, elemental spew of old-school black metal that doesn’t get too fast, too technical, nor anywhere remotely close to shoegazing. Instead, it’s an impenetrable mass of scar-tissue riffs, swarming leads, and misanthropic throat-scouring.

All this rapture business lately means I’ve been working up a mean thirst for Armageddon—one that’s currently being slaked by Book Of Black Earth’s The Cold Testament. The Seattle band’s latest for Prosthetic Records hones its ragged, crust-armored eruption of meticulous obliteration. There’s a method to its massacre; The Cold Testament doesn’t let its dire worldview and apocalyptic ire get in the way of technical, melodic breakdowns and scream-along choruses.

I only have room for one old-school death metal album this month, so instead of Hate Eternal’s so-so new disc, let’s dig into Autopsy’s killer comeback, Macabre Eternal. The veteran outfit’s two EPs over the past couple years have whetted appetites grown ravenous since 1995’s Shitfun, but Macabre is the full-blown resurrection. Grinding, timeless, desperate, and sick as fuck, Macabre Eternal couldn’t be better named.

We live in an odd, postmodern era where progressive bands can be throwbacks at the same time. Case in point: Portrait. The Swedish outfit just unveiled its latest album, Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae, via Metal Blade, and it’s a glorious tribute to King Diamond tonsil-wringing and vintage melodic gallop. It’s not as well executed as it could be, though; zero new ground is broken here, and the retroactive chug don’t always gel comfortable with the clean, flashy lead-work. But there’s an unabashed sense of fun to Portrait’s pomposity that’s kind of irresistible.

Willowtip Records is known for its keeping of the grindcore faith, but Degenerating Anthropophagical Euphoria, the new full-length from Italy’s Putridity, is some next-level devotion. With full-length songs that give the band plenty of padded-room space in which to rage, the album cuts through the ears in a blur of bone and brain. The whole thing is a veritable splatter pattern of bestialized blasts and more slams than a zombified Randy Savage could deliver. I’m not sure what they’re putting in the marinara over there, but pray this is as close as you get to it.

Doom, by its nature, is dark. But there’s something eerily, almost uncomfortably confessional about The Gates Of Slumber’s new Rise Above-released album, The Wretch. Maybe it’s the track “The Scovrge Ov Drvnkenness,” a hangover-haunted scorcher that pits grizzled frontman Karl Simon against a few of his personal demons. The edge of introspection isn’t totally out of place, of course; Black Sabbath was known to submerge itself in its own psychic cesspool from time to time. But even that’s not ample preparation for Wretch’s sparse, spectral ballad, “Castle Of The Devil.” Even those burned out on doom should find something compelling about Simon’s regret-soaked songcraft.

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A few A.V. Club readers got miffed about my recent review of the new Explosions In The Sky (despite the fact that my review was generally positive). But that’s cool—agree to disagree and all that. Still, I wish This Will Destroy You’s new album on Suicide Squeeze, Tunnel Blanket, had been released then. The similarities between Explosions and TWDY are strong: Both are instrumental post-rock bands from Austin with a knack for long buildups and majestic releases. But where Explosions tread major water on their new one, TWDY has been diving deeper. Tunnel Blanket abounds with striking yet organic contrasts between pillowy gloom and thunderous outbreaks of distorted chaos. It’s also beautiful—that is, when it isn’t totally blinding.

Darryl Shepard was a member of Boston hardcore legend Slapshot during its short-lived, misunderstood industrial-sleaze-metal phase (which resulted in the underrated 1993 album Blast Furnace). Since then, though, he’s been concentrating on various endeavors, most recently his solo project Blackwolfgoat. The title of his latest full-length, Dronolith, leaves little to the imagination; this is down-tuned, reverb-drowned, stoned-in-the-basement drone-worship, although Shepard isn’t afraid to venture into spacious clean tones and tectonic melody.

With an album title swiped from the Ramones and a sound unlike anyone else’s, The Men’s Leave Home is not only a worthy addition to the Brooklyn band’s catalog, it’s also another feather in the cap of Sacred Bones, one of the strongest labels in America right now. It’s also an absurdly good piece of noise. Demonstrating a knack for progressive hardcore that has little do with the post-hardcore movement that preceded it, The Men has pushed itself into another orbit entirely; Leave Home demolishes punk riffs and arty discord with a tribal intensity that’s equal parts Krautrock, Swell Maps, and Fucked Up. It’s a layered, jarringly illogical listen—but that lurching disorientation only adds to its power.

On the other end of the spectrum from The Men is Living With Lions, a Vancouver band that couldn’t be more proudly traditional. That’s a compliment; the quintet’s Adeline Records debut, Holy Shit, is its first with former Misery Signals guitarist Stu Ross on lead vocals, and his gruff conviction—along with the band’s driving yet intricate melody—recalls Lifetime at its most earnest and fist-pumping. Holy Shit isn’t anywhere near as good as its influences, but the album is a bracing, uncluttered piece of heartfelt pop-punk that leaves plenty of room to grow into.

I’m still pretty up in the air about Balance And Composure. The band’s debut full-length on No Sleep, Separation, has all kinds of elements I love when it comes to post-emo-whatever: Tangled, elongated hooks with a lot of moodiness, a few touches of spaciousness here and there, and just enough instrumental interplay. But as with too many of these kinds of bands, the contrast between weepiness and screaminess feels a bit gratuitous. That said, Separation is a consistently compelling batch of ruptured-hearts anthems.

Germany’s Ritual, on the other hand, doesn’t feel the need to segregate its anger and depression. Paper Skin is the group’s new album for Reflections Records, and it’s a seamless joining of chugging, vintage hardcore with a touch of prime post-hardcore melody and dynamics (think Unbroken meets Quicksand). But Paper Skin doesn’t feel retro; the riffs may be choppy, the attack angular, and the vocals bludgeoning, but the album repurposes a lot of the sounds of the ’90s within a fresher, feistier context.

Deathwish has a classic on its hands. The label just released Parting The Sea Between Brightness And Me, the second album by Touché Amoré, and it more than justifies the modest hype it’s been getting. Minus frills or filler, the lean, severe full-length is one of the most grippingly direct hardcore albums in recent memory; as distorted and frenetic as its gets, frontman Jeremy Bolm’s cathartic growl and primal-scream lyrics are always up front and fighting to be absorbed, understood, reacted to. Yes, this is unapologetically emotional hardcore—in the best and truest sense of the term.

There’s something far more cryptic about Pulling Teeth’s epic new full-length, Funerary. Released on the band’s own A389 imprint, the album is a leap forward from 2009’s incredible Paranoid Delusions. While full of the same rabid yet white-knuckle-tight metallic hardcore, Funerary spices things up with strings, ambience, and even a sprinkling of electronics. But Pulling Teeth does more than dress up the disc in random noise; the guttural drone and chanted harmony of “Waiting” sounds like Isis jamming with Torche, and the guest vocals from Trapped Under Ice’s Justice Tripp on “From Birth” are simply face-melting.

There are few things I love more than a 7-inch that’s more like a mini-album than a single. The self-titled No Idea debut by Louisville’s Black God is just such a record. But there’s more to its six songs than a mere bargain: Comprising three-fourths of the late Kentucky powerhouse Black Cross (which also means past and present members of Coliseum, Young Widows, Endpoint, and By The Grace Of God), Black God stuff these tracks with a potent, passionate helping of Hot Snakes-style belligerence.

I usually try to find some way, however contrived, to make these reviews have some kind of flow each month. But there’s just no place to stick Weekend Nachos without making a speed bump. The band’s new Relapse full-length, Worthless, throws hardcore, doom, grind, and power-violence into a supercollider and watches a hole get ripped in the universe. Then laughs about it. Pathologically mean-spirited and completely ridiculous, Worthless deserves your disgust and support.

Retro Loud: Voivod, Dimension Hatröss

I first head Voivod in 1990, just after the band’s album from the previous year, Nothingface, had become a bit of a breakthrough for the band. But it’s the album immediately before that, 1988’s Dimension Hatröss, that’s become my favorite. Nerdy, intricate, progressive, and absolutely confounding, the album is Voivod’s first true flexing of its conceptual muscle—and it’s also the first full taste of the unique, off-kilter virtuosity of the band’s late guitarist, Denis “Piggy” D’Amour. But there’s more to Dimension than braininess and innovation; despite the technical wonkiness, there’s a fluidity—dare I say a groove?—that permeates the album, even at its most angular. And the use of (admittedly crude) effects and hardcore-influenced vocals blew my mind. Does anyone else hear a trace of Bad Brains’ H.R. in Denis “Snake” Bélanger’s vocals? Back in ’90, I’d never heard anything that thrashed so hard yet sounded so weird. To this day, the album reveals some new bizarre chord-skronk or snippet of lyric that I’d never noticed before. (Besides making such great music, Voivod did me another favor, in a roundabout way; after reading so many comparisons between the group and King Crimson, I started checking out the latter. But that’s a Retro Loud for another day…)

Next month: New releases by In Flames, Dark Castle, Amorphis, Loss, Falconer, Der Blutharsch, The Devin Townsend Project, Premonition 13, Clinging To The Trees Of A Forest Fire, Controlled Bleeding, Junior Battles, Set Your Goals, Cerebral Ballzy, and lots more—plus a full-EP stream of Get Out Now, the new five-song offering from Rhode Island’s hardcore juggernaut Soul Control.

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