March 7, 2012

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.

Song debut: Barren Earth, “As It Is Written
Whether it’s weird and eerie (Neurosis) or magnificently cheesy (Blind Guardian), I love bagpipes in metal. On Barren Earth’s new album, The Devil’s Resolve, the use of bagpipes—as well as ’70s-style prog synths, jazz-rock grooves, and icy folk—falls halfway between those two extremes. And it completely works. Upping the intricacy and atmosphere of 2010’s Curse Of The Red River, the Finish supergroup (which includes latter-day Kreator guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö and former Amorphis members Olli-Pekka Laine and Kasper Mårtenson) infuses Resolve with a lush, layered opulence. If Opeth’s latest album strayed a little too far into the fey realm for you (it didn’t for me, but I can never get enough prog), this might be a happy medium. Peaceville will release The Devil’s Resolve on March 12; until then, here’s an exclusive stream of the sumptuous (and beautifully bagpiped) “As It Is Written.” 

After Corrosion Of Conformity’s last full-length—2005’s all-over-the-map In The Arms Of God—a back-to-basics album was inevitable. Seven years later, it’s here. Corrosion Of Conformity is the band’s first release since 1985 to feature the stripped-down Animosity lineup of Woody Weatherman, Mike Dean, and Reed Mullin. That means no Pepper Keenan, and his absence shows. Weatherman and Dean are back on lead vocals, and it’s amazing how fresh and energized they sound—and how easily the classic trio has snapped back into form. That said, this isn’t Animosity redux; while resurrecting a leaner, meaner, uncluttered sound, Corrosion still bears traces of the Southern swagger and stoned belligerence of the Keenan years. It’s not entirely great—some dirtier production and crazier performances would have helped—but it’s a huge step in the right direction for one of metal’s stalwarts.

Another veteran currently on the comeback warpath is Napalm Death. Granted, there’s nothing particularly horrible about the grindcore pioneer’s last album, 2009’s Time Waits For No Slave. But the new full-length, Utilitarian, blows it out of the water. In fact, I’m already feeling it’s one of the best records in the band’s mostly impressive 25-year discography. The crust is so thick, you can eat it with a fork; eschewing the relative cleanliness of Time Waits in favor of a filthy, feral desperation, Utilitarian cuts to the heart of the Napalm’s grim, chaotic, yet technical dissection of the (in)human psyche. There are still random stabs of epic synths, free-jazz sax, and surgical atonality, but it’s clear frontman Mark Greenway and crew have their noise so dialed in, they’ve let themselves slip into a primal, instinctive, spasmodic trance. Fucking breathtaking.

It was touch-and-go for a little while with Orange Goblin. But following what seemed to be a near-breakup, the British stoner-rock legend is back with A Eulogy To The Damned, its first full-length in five years. The hiatus hasn’t broken the band’s stride; sharper and crunchier in terms of both production and songwriting than 2005’s Healing Through Fire, Eulogy reenergizes Orange Goblin’s marauding biker-metal without sacrificing any of its denim-clad groove or Neanderthal abandon. Weirdly enough, though, the disc’s obligatory long song—the seven-minute title track—isn’t your typical Orange Goblin sludge-storm. Instead, it’s a semi-acoustic, monstrously melodic power-ballad. And a pretty good one at that.

Where Orange Goblin dips a toe or two in the retro pool, Christian Mistress is neck-deep. Possession, the group’s debut album, is a full-throated revival of weed-and-incense-fueled ’70s hard rock. It’s a horse that’s been ridden to death over the past few years—but unlike other recent female-led, doom-huffing throwbacks like Blood Ceremony or The Devil’s Blood, Christian Mistress blazes by on far more cylinders (if far less eldritch mystique). And frontwoman Christine Davis’ smoky howl is more than a match for her band’s wicked, fun-loving, keg-chugging riffs.

A far more technical band—albeit surprising loose and free—is Many Arms. Released on John Zorn’s Tzadik imprint, the trio’s instrumental, self-titled full-length is appropriately restless and challenging; its three extended tracks (all near or over the 15-minute mark) reconfigure drums, bass, and guitar into inverted hierarchies, semi-improvised explorations, and mood-enhancing injections of feedback. It sounds batshit nuts at first listen, but the longer you allow your brainwaves to sync up with it, the deeper you’re drawn into its pulsing, puzzle-like, and otherworldy nightmare-logic.

Following a post-holiday break, Profound Lore is gearing up for what looks to be another amazing year of releases. The first glimmer on that dark horizon is Pallbearer. The Arkansas outfit’s new album, Sorrow And Extinction, is 2012’s first certified doom masterpiece; plodding, melodic, doleful, and soulful, its five eternal-sounding songs feel like they’ve been playing in a loop since the dawn of time, just waiting for someone to come along and hear them. Of particular note are the vocals of Brett Campbell; soaring into the cosmos even as it’s shackled by the weight of the world, his haunted voice sells the music in a way no amount of groaning or growling—no matter how intense—ever could. That’s not to say that, when called for, Sorrow doesn’t mercilessly liquefy all living tissue within earshot.

I’ve praised both bands individually in Loud before, but the new collaboration between Locrian and Mamiffer needs to be heard on its own terms entirely. Titled Bless Them That Curse You, the sprawling album taps into a unique and heart-stopping synergy between Locrian’s distended, dystopian drone and Mamiffer’s more classically structured ambience. The latter’s mastermind, pianist Faith Coloccia, provides the delicate spine around which Isis alum Aaron Turner weaves brittle textures—and that Locrian sometimes gently, sometimes savagely warps into tortuous shapes. Oakeater’s Alex Barnett and Russian Circles’ Brian Cook also contribute to the recording, but what’s more remarkable is how so many minds were able to attune themselves to a single, monolithic, yet ethereally nuanced dreamscape.

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It’s a little unfair to compare Bless Them That Curse You with Sutekh Hexen’s new Larvae. The two albums do dwell in the more spectral end of power ambience, and they did come out around the same time—but Larvae is more instantly gripping, inasmuch such an uncompromising disc can possibly grip. Maybe “possess” would be a better word. Tethered oh-so-tenuously to most extreme outpost of black metal, Larvae isn’t as fundamentally experimental as Bless Them. But its focus and potency is overwhelming; stretched and blurred across its three songs is an eon’s worth of birth, war, death, decay, tectonic upheaval, and species-wide extinction. And yet, from deep within its core, the sounds of humans filter upward, as if the music is holding captive those who make it. More than all that, though, it’s just grotesquely gorgeous. Consider it Loud’s unofficial album of the month. 

Speaking of extinction: Arizona, as we all know, is a place where old folks and racial tolerance go to die. But sprouting out of that mulch is the scrappy, searing Seas Will Rise. The Tempe-based band’s new full-length, Disease Is Our Refrain, doesn’t flinch in the face of ugliness or disgust; instead, it funnels all the desolation of a thousand droughts—both meteorological and emotional—into galloping blasts of scabrous, carbonized hardcore. There’s a pronounced His Hero Is Gone vibe snaking its way through the album’s catalog of bleak riffs and existential ills, but Seas manages to spew its own flavor of pissed, viscous rancor. Someone send Jan Brewer a copy.

There’s nothing more pathetic than old emo dudes who just can’t let go of the idea that emo used to really mean something, man. I know because I’m one of those dudes. That’s why I love The Saddest Landscape—and especially the trio’s fantastic new album After The Lights. Evoking all the sweaty, sloppy, screamy, basement-bred noise of emo’s fertile yet frustratingly undervalued second wave—a decade-long movement that encompassed ’90s titans from Universal Order Of Armageddon to Saetia—After The Lights veers from feathery lightness to lung-collapsing heaviness, sometimes in the beat of heart. Although they were too young to be there back in the day, The Saddest Landscape gets it. But the album amounts to more than mere revivalism; sporting more raw expertise and a broader palette, the band in many ways betters its elders.

And since we’re on the subject of Merry Olde Emo: Once upon a time, seeing the words “produced by J. Robbins” on an album meant there was a pretty good chance it rocked, perhaps in an emotional kind of way. Robbins—himself the leader of post-hardcore legend Jawbox—has since gone on to produce quite a few not-so-great bands, as is every producer’s bill-paying prerogative. Which makes it extra refreshing to hear Caustic Casanova’s Someday You Will Be Proven Correct. The Robbins-produced album is a blistering showcase of the co-ed D.C. outfit’s uniquely brainy hard rock. Heavy yet clever in a Torche-meets-Dismemberment Plan kind of way—yes, it’s that addictively strange—Someday leaves a complex, acidic aftertaste. And it shows that Robbins still knows how to pick ’em.

I only wanted to review one pop-punk album this month—and I passed up the new Menzingers disc (which I really do like) in favor of an old friend, so to speak: Jesse Michaels. I don’t know the guy personally, but like anyone who grew up listening to his first outfit, the seminal ska-punk band Operation Ivy, I feel like I do. Even at that tender age, he had a way of making social consciousness and political outrage feel upbeat, inclusive, and deeply personal. Michaels has kept a lower profile than his former OPIV-mates (two of whom famously went on to form Rancid), but he did have a mini-revival a few years ago with Common Rider. Now Michaels is back with a new band called Classics Of Love—and its self-titled debut is making me grin like a goddamn idiot. The reason is simple: It’s the best work he’s done since OPIV’s 1989 landmark album, Energy. Catchy without being cloying—and bearing just the slightest touch of ska rhythm here and there—Classics Of Love is an impassioned, roughhewn chunk of pure punk euphoria. Welcome back, Jesse.

Retro Loud: Bathory, Hammerheart
In case it wasn’t obvious, one of things I love most about punk is the direct, intimate, and immediate way it can communicate and inspire. Metal can do all that, too—but I love metal more for the myth, the majesty, and the melodrama. Stockholm’s Bathory was one of the first Scandinavian metal bands I got into, and the group’s 1990 masterpiece, Hammerheart, still sums up everything that makes metal great. Although shrouded in Norse paganism and glacial atmosphere, it’s a far harder album than some give it credit for; granted, leader Quorthon used Hammerheart to finally and definitively break from the Satanic black metal of Bathory’s early years. He’d been inching in a new direction, but Hammerheart was the point of no return, a brave leap into the fjord—especially considering that a crop of upstarts on the other side of Sweden in Gothenburg were hauling metal in other directions entirely. I’m also a huge fan of epic fantasy, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Hammerheart has always appealed to the sword-and-sorcery nerd in me. But where many of the self-styled Viking metal bands that followed in the wake of Hammerheart seem to have tongue at least slightly in cheek, Quorthon’s songs are deadly serious, deeply infused with the soul of the land and people he celebrates—case in point, the folk-like yet orchestral “Father To Son,” whose extended intro celebrates the pastoral, earth-worshipping heritage of his ancestors. Quorthon died in 2004 before completing what would have been his crowning saga, the four-album Nordland cycle. But really, he said everything he had to say in Hammerheart.

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