In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
In recent years, black-metal upstarts like Liturgy and Deafheaven have caught the metal community’s critical ear with revisionist, deconstructive takes on the controversial subgenre. But in 2005, well before the ascension of those groups, Chicago trio Locrian began documenting its own bloodcurdling, ambient spin on black metal, beating others to the punch in terms of thinking beyond genre constraints. Through a seemingly endless output—including CD-Rs, limited-edition 7-inches, collaborative LPs, and cassettes—Locrian stripped out the furious blast-beats and annihilating guitar riffs usually found in black metal. Instead, the group evoked the music’s nihilistic worldview through hypnotic drones and apocalyptic swashes of noise. The end result is bleak, but also wonderfully evocative and beautiful.
Locrian made its proper full-length debut with Drenched Lands in 2009, and has released albums at a steady clip since, fleshing and refining its sound along the way. Each album continues along the ambient black-metal path, but adds more structured sensibilities gleaned from film scores and post-rock. It’s like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, if that band was more evil.
The concepts behind its releases have become more ambitious, too. Locrian describes the new Return To Annihilation—its first for Relapse Records—as a “two-part concept album inspired… by prog-rock progenitors Genesis, Yes & King Crimson.” The album is also inspired by the classic science-fiction novel Dhalgren, which is a cheery little tale about post-apocalyptic survival. But here’s the thing: Part of the perverse fun in listening to Return To Annihilation is trying to figure out what exactly is going on. Locrian’s dense compositions are quite propulsive—there’s always something happening, whether it’s a dancing synthesizer line reminiscent of The Cure, heavily distorted guitars, feedback, or vocalist Terence Hannum screaming bloody murder. Opening track “Eternal Return” is a perfect encapsulation of the band’s sound on Return To Annihilation in a bite-size nugget. It sounds like a new wave love song straight from the pits of hell, a perfect soundtrack to handholding during the apocalypse. Listen to it as the world burns, or any time, really.