March 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.

Hello and welcome to the second installment of Loud, The A.V. Club’s monthly rundown of, well, shit that’s loud. Before I dive into a grip of February’s most notable releases, I just want to say thanks to everyone who read and commented on last month’s column. Your feedback—positive, negative, eloquent, incoherent—was all sincerely appreciated and fed into the machine.

As you can see, the coverage has grown quite a bit since last month. I’ve incorporated one of your most-requested ideas: a monthly “hall of fame” pick that I’ve titled, with all the imagination I could muster, Retro Loud. In that space each month, I’ll spotlight one classic album that’s had an impact on the genres covered here—or at the very least, that’s had an impact on me. You’ll have to read ahead to see which oldie-but-goodie I chose to start with, but trust me: It’s an album that either A) you don’t know but should, or B) you already know but should revisit. Your suggestions for subsequent Retro Loud picks are, of course, greedily welcome.

Another recurring extra I’ve launched below: album streams. Every month, Loud will offer one exclusive, full-album stream of a brand-new or upcoming release. This time around, our featured stream is All We Destroy, the latest from Profound Lore recording artist (and ominous cello-mongers) Grayceon. Before we get to that, though, let’s grasp our volume knobs firmly and get ready to crank.

Dylan Carlson never met a drone he didn’t like. But on 2008’s The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull, it seemed like his long-running project Earth might have made a leap toward more conventional—and at times almost traditional—song structures. But with Earth’s new album, Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light I, he’s tied down most of the twang and settled back into a stripped-bare, cello-threaded, hymnal groove that, as the title hints, will see a sequel later this year. It’s interesting that Carlson put Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way on his list of favorite albums he e-mailed over to Loud recently; that record, after all, gave the world-at-large its first taste of John McLaughlin, whose textured, modal approach to the guitar informs much of Carlson’s soul-trawling crawl throughout Angels. (Of course, the Iommi citation makes just as much sense.)

Top five albums ever: Dylan Carlson of Earth
1. King Crimson, Starless And Bible Black
2. Fairport Convention, Liege & Lief
3. Black Sabbath, Born Again
4. Miles Davis, In A Silent Way
5. Waylon Jennings, Waylon Live

Before anyone judges Crowbar’s new album, Sever The Wicked Hand, too harshly, go back and listen to that last Kingdom Of Sorrow. Done? Thankful now? Granted, Kirk Windstein and crew—along with a new recruit, Kingdom guitarist Matthew Brunson—haven’t added anything remotely new to the Southern-fried doom recipe they helped pioneer, and the album’s production is so clean, chiseled, and precise that it’s hard to really call it “sludgy.” But it’s still heavy as fuck, and Windstein even manages to let a hint of his old bloodcurdling shriek leak out from time to time.

Formed almost a decade ago by guitarists Richard Johnson (of Agoraphobic Nosebleed) and Jeff Kane (an ex-member of Virginia’s formidable, game-changing, atmospheric post-hardcore juggernaut City Of Caterpillar), Drugs Of Faith has soldiered on—and finally released its debut full-length, Corroded. Kane is long gone, and the band’s lineup has morphed over the years—in fact, bassist Taryn Wilkinson left just after Corroded was recorded—but the wait’s been worth it. From the jittery, dissonant opener, “Grayed Out,” to a faithful cover of His Hero Is Gone’s “Hinges” (featuring guest vocals from Pig Destroyer frontman J.R. Hayes, Johnson’s old bandmate in the underappreciated Enemy Soil), the album is a somewhat brainy but never restrained post-grind cacophony. 

If Drugs Of Faith’s family tree seems a little inbred, that’s because it is. Case in point: metalcore mainstay Darkest Hour. Featuring another City Of Caterpillar alum, drummer Ryan Parrish, Darkest Hour has just unleashed its latest full-length, The Human Romance. The sound is more melodic—and at times cheesy—than much of the band’s previous output: Soaring choruses, epic arpeggios, and even strings and keys are sprinkled throughout the usual drop-C blitzkrieg. It’s a transitional album, but really, Darkest Hour needed to stretch out at some point. Might as well be now. (And since we’re on the subject of City Of Caterpillar-related bands: City’s occasional fill-in drummer, Johnny Ward, will be reuniting with the group he’s better known for—the mighty Pg. 99—for a one-off show during Best Friend’s Day 2011, April 18-21, in Richmond. Look for some Loud coverage of the upcoming Old Friends by Pygmy Lush, Ward’s current outfit with a couple of other ex-Pg.99ers, this spring.)

In last month’s Loud, I confessed my love of Boston hardcore. As if in answer, my inbox was filled with the righteous, scathing belligerence of New Lows’ inaugural album, Harvest Of The Carcass. Like many of their fellow Bostonian heavy-hitters, New Lows pull out all the stops—and any attempt at subtlety—in favor of an unrelenting dumptruck-load of thunderous bludgeoning. All slick veneers and sharp edges are sandblasted away, leaving a raw, pulsing pulp of pure hardcore. Fuck, these guys can be barely bothered with breakdowns. They’re just too fucking pissed.

A band with a more traditional metallic hardcore approach, Pennsylvania’s Mother Of Mercy, just dropped its latest, Symptoms Of Existence—and it’s a disc worth repeated listens, if only to soak up the layers of murky atmosphere that lurk around the edges of the band’s gloomy, introspective onslaught. It’s a relatively well-scrubbed and almost sculpted sound, but be warned: The twangy bass and Danzig-like grooves are occasionally (if unintentionally) goofy. Overall, though, Symptoms is a legit and tastefully technical slab of angst that doesn’t go overboard on the histrionics. At least not too much.

Loudness, of course, doesn’t always have to be loud—just ask Swans’ Michael Gira, Death In June’s Douglas P., or New Model Army’s Justin Sullivan, three dark songwriters who seem to have left a heavy imprint on Sean Ragon of Cult Of Youth. The group’s new, self-titled full-length is a shambling, skeletal batch of death-folk threnodies topped with Ragon’s rickety vocals and the nerve-sawing violin of Christiana Key. I know, I know—acoustic indie-folk is one of the most drab, overdone, mined-dry subgenres around today. But there’s a doom-laden post-punk oppressiveness to Cult Of Youth that renders the album, in its own way, as heavy (if not heavier) than almost anything else featured here this month. The more I listen, the harder it is to crawl out from under it.

Cult of Youth - New West by sacredbones

Making more out of less, Noisear’s Relapse debut, Subvert The Dominant Paradigm, is a carrion-and-potatoes grindcore buffet clocking in at 30 cuts of graceful, insectoid rage. There’s a subliminal, squall-lubed fluidity to the Albuquerque band that squirts out of the cracks in its stop-start hatchet-work, and Bryan Fajardo’s forensic drumming subdivides and frenziedly analyzes every riff it comes across. That’s not to say that Noisear isn’t above deploying the random rock hook or anthemic solo. To top it all off, mouthpiece Alex Lucero manages to sound like four singers—four really fucking great singers—on almost every song. 

To Hell With God is the latest episode of The Glen Benton Show—otherwise known as Deicide—but to its credit, the disc is a step up from 2008’s muddy, lackluster Till Death Do Us Part. Mostly. A good part of that has to do with the fact that Benton’s vocals sound a lot less like a clueless self-caricature. (Although it almost would be better if he went back to grunting cartoonishly rather than just following the melody of his own basslines, as he does way too much here.) And there is some real lake-of-fire bottled up in those neurotic bundles of blastbeats. Letting a song fade out faux-majestically on some piglet-raping solo, though… come on, Glen, that’s not what Satan would do.

My copy of No Statik’s vinyl-only, seven-song 12-inch, We All Die In The End, sadly hasn’t shown up in my mailbox as of this writing. But what I’ve heard so far is too good to sit on—so here are both sides (combined into a single YouTube clip) of the band’s “Clarified, Distilled, Recomposed/“We All Die In The End” 7-inch from a couple of months back. Ex-Scrotum Grinder singer Michelle Ruby Koger and her band of misanthropes (featuring former members of What Happens Next? and Artimus Pyle, the uncontested best crust band ever named after a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd) pump out go-for-broke, old-school hardcore that’s not afraid to just totally fly off the rails. It’s fucked up and in need of serious fumigation.

Last week, my colleague Josh Modell wrote his installment of The A.V. Club’s new recurring feature, My Favorite Music Year—and 1997 was his pick. While I agree with Josh that ’97 saw the release of some pretty great albums, one of my favorites from that year was The VSS’ Nervous Circuits. I’ll admit my bias: The VSS’ predecessor, the jaw-dropping Angel Hair, was a Boulder-based band that I’d seen often here in my hometown of Denver. Same with The VSS, who moved from Colorado to California soon after formulating its potent cocktail of synthesized dementia and screamo. Members of Angel Hair and The VSS are still kicking around in various projects—most notably Andy Arahood and Dave Clifford, both now in Red Sparowes—but guitarist Josh Hughes, who played in both Angel Hair and The VSS, has a new band called Rabbits that’s just released its debut album on Relapse. It’s called Lower Forms. It’s totally absurd. I mean that, naturally, in the best way possible. Crude, brain-damaged, and cacklingly mean-spirited, the disc is a twisted riff-fest of almost Jesus Lizard-ish proportions. Even better, it’s one of the few ex-AH/VSS records that truly touch on the manic, visceral punch of Hughes’ earlier work. Not to mention the weirdness.

Clad in way more denim than can possibly be healthy for anyone living in Georgia, the Atlanta quintet Campaign has been hovering under the radar for a while, forging humble yet solidly crafted chunks of melodic post-hardcore that sporadically flirt with everything from pop shout-alongs to textured guitar. The band’s latest EP, Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice!, packs plenty of heart-on-sleeve confessionals and woah-woah-woahs, not to mention a dip or 12 into the tackle boxes of Small Brown Bike, The Lawrence Arms, and Hot Water Music. I’ll be honest: If there are bands cranking out this style right 50 years from now, I’ll still be eating them up. The fact that Campaign pushes the formula ever so slightly—and injects a hell of head rush into its scraggly anthems—is just icing on some of my favorite cake.

New Jersey seems to have found a new punk laureate in the form of The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon. But the Garden State might just have a new one waiting in the wings. Make that two: Nick Hertzberg and Bryan Batiste, the songwriting team behind NJ’s These Branches. The group’s new album, This One’s On You, is an earnest and bracing uppercut of raw, stripped-to-the-bone, jaggedly tuneful pop-punk that somehow doesn’t sound like anything else. Sure, it’s reminiscent—in its transcendent spirit more than anything else—of early Gaslight Anthem and fellow Jersey legend Lifetime, not to mention Jawbreaker in its infancy. But Hertzberg and Batiste clearly have their own sounds, their own stories, and their own way of making them mingle.

Another—albeit way more popular and polished—New Jersey pop-punk band is Man Overboard, whose latest album, The Absolute Worst, also just came out. Way worthier of the spotlight, though, is Don’t Bite Your Tongue, the debut full-length from MO’s Pennsylvania neighbors Handguns. Granted, Man Overboard’s Zac Eisenstein contributes guest vocals to Don’t Bite’s high point, “Scream Goodbye,” but the song succeeds on its own. And then some. Like Mush-era Leatherface locked in a mind-meld with Face To Face, the track is just a taste of Handguns’ adrenaline-spiked heartache and chunky, chugging hooks. There isn’t a shred of originality here—just whiney, sweet-and-sour, pop-punk comfort food.

Kicking off an album with a song titled “The Great God Pan”—and then following it up with a hefty dose of flute-injected pagan rock—is just asking to be labeled yet another cookie-cutter doom band. But there’s something irresistible about Living With The Ancients, the sophomore album from Canada’s Blood Ceremony. And it isn’t just the Black Widow-esque flute; singer-flautist Alia O’Brien sounds like Ann Wilson fronting Pentagram on a slow procession of sludgy canticles soaked with enough Hammond organ, operatic bombast, and Dark Ages alchemy to make Ritchie Blackmore’s lance snap to attention. When not done right, this is the kind of lavish retroactivity that can come off as pure shtick. But when the songs are this good, and the voice this gorgeous, I’m not complaining.

A group doing something far more interesting within the doom paradigm is Salt Lake City’s Subrosa. The co-ed outfit’s third full-length, No Help For The Mighty Ones, traffics in everything from sorcerous violin to Arabic scales to celestial melody—all wrapped up in theological bleakness and a bottom end that could bulldoze buildings. There’s a progressive approach to the disc’s textures and themes, but they never overwhelm the emotive force of Subrosa’s supple, subtle songwriting and unearthly vocals.

Subrosa, "Whippoorwill" by TheAVClub

Stream of the month: Grayceon, All We Destroy
Subrosa isn’t the only Profound Lore band with a new release full of strings; the label just put out Grayceon’s cello-laden latest, All We Destroy. It’s interesting that the album came out the same month as Earth’s equally cello-fixated Angels Of Darkness. While Earth milks unholy atmosphere from the instrument, Grayceon leader Jackie Perez Gratz probes just about every tone and temperament she can out of it. She’s had plenty of opportunity to explore, seeing as how her contributions have popped up over the past few years on an impressive résumé of releases (including those by Neurosis, Om, Agalloch, Amber Asylum, The Fucking Champs, and Perez Gratz’s other band, Giant Squid). All We Destroy reaches into each of these places but comes up with a singular sound, one that doesn’t forsake energy or technical inventiveness for ghostly, eternal soul.

Grayceon, "All We Destroy" by TheAVClub

Retro Loud: Neurosis, Souls At Zero
Jackie Perez Gratz of Grayceon wasn’t the cellist on Neurosis’ 1992 masterwork, Souls At Zero—but that album does bear the distinction of being the band’s first to feature strings. And horns. And samples. And keyboards. And tribal drumming. And enough oppressive ambience to swallow the solar system. Neurosis started as a crust-leaning hardcore band in the ’80s before beginning its metamorphosis with Souls At Zero—which has just been remastered and released on the band’s own Neurot imprint along with two bonus demo tracks—and evolving into the force of nature it remains today. Souls remains a haunting and harrowing milestone. Its fearless leap into the unknown freed up a generation of bands to experiment with protracted song structures, the manipulation of electronics and space, symphonic folk, and an apocalyptic dread that bordered on the religious. The first time I saw Neurosis in the ’90s, I was completely caught in the undertow; as much as I loved and still love their records, I had no idea they were ultimately pale reflections of what Neurosis was capable of. That said, Souls At Zero is a stunning and epochal album, one that helped change the way I and countless others looked at music forever. Seriously. Despite two decades of bands—some good, some mediocre, some terrible—that have been since inspired by Souls, the impact never fades.

And since we’re on the subject of Neurosis: I have to give a shout-out to Nashville’s Across Tundras—a band that’s led, it must be fully disclosed, by my friend Tanner Olson—for signing to Neurot Recordings last month. Tanner’s been honing his prairie-scoured, Americana-laced doomscapes for years now, and it’s good to see him and his music finally get due recognition. Look for Neurot’s release of Across Tundra’s new album later this year. (Don’t worry, I’ll remind you.) In the meantime, here’s a taste of the band’s 2009 full-length, Old World Wanderer.

Next month: We’ll tear into new releases by, among others, Trap Them, Amon Amarth, Burzum, Wino, Grails, Protest The Hero, Lecherous Gaze, KEN mode, Defeater, I Hate Our Freedom, Cute Lepers, Citizen Fish, and some of my fellow Denver dudes made good, Havok—plus Retro Loud and an exclusive album stream of The Language That We Speak, the full-length debut by Iowa’s punishing Former Thieves. Also: a top-five (or so) list from Dave Travis, punk historian and director of the new documentary History Lesson Part 1: Punk Rock In Los Angeles In 1984.

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