June 2012: Melvins Lite, Grand Magus, and more

June 2012: Melvins Lite, Grand Magus, and more

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: Chrome Waves, “Height Of The Rifles”
Named after a Ride song and featuring members of The Atlas Moth, The Gates Of Slumber, and Nachtmystium, Chrome Waves might give the impression of being another metal/shoegaze crossover. And, yep, that’s pretty much what Chrome Waves is. The strength of the group’s self-titled debut, though, lies in how organically and dynamically it handles that crossover; unlike the blackened blur of Deafheaven, Chrome Waves lets its tsunami-like riffs and majestically despondent songs actually breathe (or hyperventilate, as the case may be). Chrome Waves comes out July 3 on Gravedancer Records, which has graciously let us debut one of the album’s most arresting tracks, “Height Of The Rifles.”

As the mutation of its name implies, Melvins Lite is not the Melvins—at least not exactly. For the (presumably) one-off album Freak Puke, King Buzzo and Dale Crover are joined by Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn. Sounds like a recipe for excellence, or at least bat-shit fun. Instead, it kind of flops. Trying to strike a balance between Melvins thunder and Bungle avant-weirdness, Freak Puke winds up sounding like too little of both. It doesn’t help that the songs are inconsistent, muddily recorded, and frequently dull. There’s a decent EP in here somewhere, but it’s far from essential.

Although he hasn’t been at it nearly as long as the Melvins, Mick Barr—most notably of Orthrelm and Krallice—has cemented his position as one of the most daring, innovative, and just plain jaw-dropping metal guitarists of the past 20 years. But he has his roots in the hardcore scene, and he’s brought an old friend along for Oldest, a project featuring Barr and drummer Brooks Headley, most notably of hardcore and post-hardcore legends Born Against and Universal Order Of Armageddon. Oldest’s self-titled, self-released CD has gotten the expanded vinyl treatment courtesy of Sleeping Giant Glossolalia, and it’s casually stunning: Frenzied, fried, and full of screamingly insane Barr guitarwork, Oldest is Barr gone punk, in the best possible way.

With The Hunt, Stockholm three-piece Grand Magus confirms that it’s crossed the line from the epic doom metal of its early releases into full on power-metal territory. It’s a good thing, too. “Serious” music in this most unserious of metal subgenres—which trades in swelling solos and lyrics about witches and kings, fire and flame—is in short supply. On heroic mini-epics like “Son Of The Last Breath,” it’s impressive how much heavy-metal heft Grand Magus can milk from its minimalist setup.

For those who aren’t acolytes of Arch Enemy or At The Gates, super-technical metal can get a little tiresome. But the members of Allegaeon are so monstrously talented—see the entwined guitar harmonics, machine-gun drumming, and even the occasional, not insufferably acoustic interlude on the group’s heavily NWOBHM-shaded second LP, Formshifter—that they dig their way out of the doldrums of mere proficiency.

Profound Lore has been pushing the metal envelope to an extreme degree lately, but the label has circled the wagons with Into The Lair Of The Sun God. The latest from trad-metal vets Dawnbringer follows 2010’s epic Nucleus, and it’s entirely worthy. A concept album that doesn’t let its conceit run away with it, Into The Lair mixes NWOBHM gallop with the hairy-chested potency of ’70s hard rock. Intricate yet powerful, the disc pushes all the nostalgia buttons without sounding remotely cheesy or retro—and Dawnbringer once again succeeds in upping its own ante in regard to sweeping melody and immaculate songwriting.

Cattle Decapitation took a three-year break, album-wise, following 2009’s masterful The Harvest Floor. The group has come roaring back with Monolith Of Inhumanity—but it’s a strained roar. Straying even further from its grind roots and into technical death metal, the band sounds thin and squeezed here, even as its songs are more intricate and accomplished. This is still some uncompromising shit, obsessed with the darkest, sickest tendencies of the human id; but the go-for-broke heaviness and manic unpredictability heard as recently as The Harvest Floor have all but disappeared, replaced with an almost mechanical exactness. 

Based on an Old Norse poem about the creation and death of the world, Umskiptar is the third album of new material Burzum has released since its sole member (notorious black metal pioneer/arsonist/murderer Varg Vikernes) was discharged from prison in 2009. Working at such a productive clip is bound to affect the final product. Following up on 2011’s Fallen, a career highlight, Umskiptar has Vikernes carefully crafting mood and atmosphere the expense of anything else. The nine-minute “Alfadanz” feels definitive, but the album tracks toward the out-and-out dull in places (“Surtr Sunnan,” “Galgvior”). Nonetheless, it’s bound to hit with Burzum diehards willing to give anything Vikernes does (on record and off) the benefit of the doubt.

Power trio Philm—led by Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, who pulls double duty as percussionist and Harmonic’s producer—has made an odd record. Chocked in equal measure with charging, stripped-down bangers (“Mitch,” “Sex Amp”) and gloomy psychedelia (“Way Down,” “Killion”), Harmonic never really coheres. When the record waffles into effects-heavy jamming that sounds suspiciously like jazz (“Exuberance”), Harmonic feels like a “side project” in the worst sense of the word: formless, indulgent, and entirely curious.

Like a procession of the planet’s last humans escaping to the stars, there’s a suffocating loneliness at the heart of Embracing The Lightless Depths. The long-awaited sophomore full-length from Portland’s Aldebaran, the album pulses and sways with a spacious, hazy sadness that feels as metaphysical as it does merely emotional. Plodding, tectonic, and ethereal, it simply haunts. This isn’t merely another extinction-fixated exercise in doom; it’s a pilgrimage to the end of Earth itself. Anyone who thinks you have to be a sensitive singer-songwriter to make devastatingly poignant and intimate music needs to crank this. Alone. In a dark room.

Royal Thunder begs comparison to Sweden’s The Devil’s Blood. Not because they’re both fronted by women, but because they seem to have graduated from the same school of hard-rock revivalism. On CVI (that’s Roman numeral 106), the Atlanta three-piece works through some sturdy proto-metal blues-rock in the Blue Cheer mold. Tinged by elements of occultism and psychedelia (as on epic highlights “Shake And Shift” and “Sleep Witch,” both of which crest over the nine-minute mark), Royal Thunder even has the chutzpah to hack away at its retro roots, especially as the album veers away from heaviness and intro introspective acoustic balladry like “Minus.” 

Hailing from Paris, Aqua Nebula Oscillator has all the makings of a joke band: goofy name, voodoo-psychedelic influences wrapped around some gobbledygook philosophy about space travel and LSD, a frontman named “David Sphaèr’os,” etc. But we’ll give all of that crap a pass, because Third is unrelentingly awesome, crammed with spiraling space-rock guitar solos, layered tape effects, and occult atmospherics. Even when it gets decadent, as on the sitar-tinted “Kill Yourself,” Third’s indulgences seem earned—the product of a band believably tripped-out enough to sell its own shtick. And anyway, it’s a psych record at heart. Indulgence is the name of the game.

Chicago “drone collective” Chord continues its sonic journey through single-chord structures. Following hits like Dm7, Gdim13, and C711, GMaj7—that’s G Major seventh—sees the band patiently grinding through two side-long takes on the chord. First is the aptly named “Stasis,” which buzzes through the chord as a drone standard. It’s on “Kinesis” (just as aptly named) that the chord, and the record, really comes alive. “Kinesis” sees Chord adding a drummer to the mix for the first time, punctuating the ambient guitar and resulting in a song that unfolds as deeply melancholy, even pretty.

With its increasing immersion in twang, Horseback seems to be setting itself up as the new Earth. Not that there’s anything wrong with the old Earth; luckily, Horseback’s Jenks Miller has taken his Dylan Carlson influence and spun it into a wholly new place on Half Blood. Suffused with psychedelic organ drones, reverberating ambience, and Miller’s scathing, prairie-scoured howl, the disc taps into a primal undertow that evokes everything from ritualistic chants to the slow moan of the elements. It’s by no means Horseback’s defining opus, but it’s one big, brilliant step closer.

Crust never sleeps: Grind-crust stalwart Phobia has returned with Remnants Of Filth, and although the name implies a plate of moldy leftovers, this is a main course, one where the meat is still moving. Served up in raw, roughhewn chunks, the album’s barnacled riffs, ragged thrashing, and righteous vocal corrosion have never felt more pissed-off and scabbed-over. And on songs like the minute-and-a-half “Deaden To Believe,” there’s even room for anthemic melody and searing leads. Active for more than two decades now, the band is sounding gristly, grizzled, and a little long in the fang—but Remnants is all the better for it.

Calling a band “unclassifiable” is like calling an annoying friend “quirky.” In the most positive way possible, though, Exotic Animal Petting Zoo’s Tree Of Tongues dodges any and all pigeonholes that it could be placed in. The funny thing is, all the album’s disparate components fit together beautifully; from the Dillinger-inspired arch-sarcasm of “You Make Wonderful Pictures” to the grime-slathered fret-tapping of “The Great Explainer,” EAPZ spares no jarring gearshift in its quest to meld post-hardcore, prog-metal, brutality, and melody into a sick, head-spinning whole.

Expire, on the other hand, is a hardcore band—nothing more, nothing less, and nothing fancy. Not that it needs any bells or whistles. The Milwaukee outfit cuts to the bone and gets down to business on its new full-length, Pendulum Swings. Fueled by a deep well of contained chaos, and with an eye on classic HC styles of both the East and West Coasts, the sharp, seething disc doesn’t pull any punches. At the same time, it’s not tough for tough’s sake; underneath lurks the kind of brooding, churning, introspective intensity that’s always marked the best hardcore.

Baltimore quartet Dope Body plays scratchy, angular rock that seems to capture the spirit of a crumbling city. There’s an Albini-ish meticulousness to a lot of the arrangements on Natural History (like “Twice The Life” or “Powder”) that make the record sound, pleasingly, like lazy man’s math rock. Some of the songs trend toward the dull, like the fittingly monotonous “Beat,” but highlights like “Weird Mirror” make Natural History worth at least few spins.

Fort Worth duo Pinkish Black works pretty diligently to seem dark and gloomy on its self-titled debut, which is the kind of record begging to be slapped with compound labels like “doomwave” and “deathrock.” Suffused by sludge-lite droning and synths (the digital effects on opener “Bodies In Tow” sound like someone playing a NES game over an existent track), Pinkish Black hits a pretty agreeable stride on a few songs, like “Fall Down” and “Against The Door.” But most of the album feels pretty soulless and digitized, with Pinkish Black’s version of “gloomy” sounding more like a couple of kids playing around with ProTools and a fog machine in their basement bedroom studio.

Detroit seems like a suitable place for an Oi! band to hole up, given the genre’s working-class roots. Bad Assets play hardcore-influenced Oi! at its most unpretentious: fuzzy guitars over a steady 2/4 drumbeat. Steeped in the ethos of the Detroit working class and fronted by a black guy, Bad Assets buck a lot of the far-right politicking that still dogs Oi! in some quarters, singing about punching the clock (“Factory Rat”), generational ennui (“Wasted Generation”), and some site-specific stuff like the collapse of the auto industry (“Bailout”), which invests the band’s straightforward numbers with a potent political dimension.

After starting out as a more street-punk-leaning band, Chicago’s The Downtown Struts have taken a quantum leap forward on the new Victoria!. While the grit and gruffness are still there, the album is stocked with sing-alongs, sour-hearted confessionals, and bursts of bruised triumph. And the songwriting? If these guys keep up this level of infectious, clever-yet-earnest, Springsteen-esque craft, they might just be the next Gaslight Anthem. Even better, though, they’re more likely to remain The Downtown Struts: hearts on sleeves, ears to the ground, and noses to the grindstone.

Retro Loud: Moss Icon, Discography
So many groundbreaking bands fall through the cracks in the world of punk and metal, it’s almost wearying hearing yet more hyperbole about one of them. Hell, Moss Icon even has “iconic” built into its name. But there’s no denying the band’s power, mystique, and visionary noise. Formed in Maryland in 1987 and informed by the nearby D.C. hardcore scene, the co-ed outfit forged a poetic, experimental, previously unheard sound that tapped into the savage proto-emo of Rites Of Spring and unknowingly paralleled the rising post-rock of Slint and its ilk. After disbanding four years later, members went on to play in various other projects—particularly guitarist Tonie Joy, who subsequently formed the equally incredible Universal Order Of Armageddon—but Moss Icon itself has always been overlooked and underserved. Temporary Residence has rectified that with the new double CD Discography, which finally unites every daring, fiery, cryptic piece of Moss Icon into a staggering whole.