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: Marriages, “White Shape”
It’s a little ironic that a band called Marriages is the result of a splintering—not that Red Sparowes, the band that spawned Marriages, has broken up or anything. Three-fifths of Red Sparowes, though (namely singer-guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle, bassist-keyboardist Greg Burns, and drummer Dave Clifford) has morphed into Marriages, whose debut, Kitsune, is being released by Sargent House on May 1. Wait, back up… singer? Yup. Unlike Red Sparowes, Marriages has vocals, and stunning ones, at that. Rundle’s wispy, otherworldly voice threads its way throughout her foglike guitar, while Burns and Clifford install some dreamy yet earthmoving low-end. That said: Loud is debuting Kitsune’s sole instrumental track, “White Shape,” below. Guess you’ll just have to get the whole album to hear some of those vocals.
Another incredible release—in fact, I’ll go so far as to make it Loud’s unofficial album of the month—is Come The Thaw by Worm Ouroboros. Like early (i.e. pre-world music) Dead Can Dance with a thirst for blackened atmosphere and probably your blood, the group harnesses the talents of Agalloch drummer Aesop Dekker, bassist-singer Jessica Way, and former Amber Asylum member Lorraine Rath on guitar and vocals. Way’s and Rath’s doom-soaked harmonies hover over roiling drones like ghosts over oceans.
There’s nothing atmospheric, thank the lord, about Cannibal Corpse’s new Torture. That said, there’s nothing particularly brain-shattering about it, either. Not that there needs to be; in fact, Torture benefits from having more of a scratchy, lo-fi, death-rattle desperation than 2009’s so-so, overproduced Evisceration Plague. The songs are a step up from Evisceration, too, with more focus and forensic precision—but it’s not anything you haven’t analyzed in Cannibal Corpse’s blood spatters before.
Lots of veteran bands have made recent comebacks, both good and bad (see below for more on that). But the resurrection of the month has to go to Angel Witch. The NWOBHM legend just released As Above, So Below, its first studio album in 14 years—and its first with Carcass guitarist Bill Steer. Rich, melodic, steeped in the creepy and arcane, it’s surprising proof that founding frontman Kevin Heybourne still has it. Of course, there’s no way he’ll ever top the band’s near-flawless 1980 debut, and his voice doesn’t have the same eerie force it used to. But As Above knows that building solidly on Angel Witch’s impressive legacy is the way to go.
By comparison, Aura Noir hasn’t been around near as long—but the Norwegian supergroup seems to have something to prove on its new and fifth full-length, Out To Die. A stripped-down, throat-clutching spasm of thrash and death metal that manages to avoid sounding retro, it doesn’t aim to be anything but an implement of blunt trauma, panicked paranoia, and brute physicality. And at that, it hits the spot (the one right between the eyes).
Like a time bomb that reassembles itself every few years for another go, noise-rock stalwart Unsane is back after a five-year absence with the aptly title Wreck. Then again, Unsane has never been the kind of band to beat around the bush; like its predecessors, the new disc grates skin against concrete and bone against brain as it rubs noses in its churning, chugging interpretation of urban malaise. Yes, Unsane has always been a little geeky with its angst. But that’s never made it any less petrifying.
And then there’s Ministry. At this point, Al Jourgensen is the poster child for turning menace—which he used to gargle with—into something about as acidic as mint ice cream. Relapse is Ministry’s first album since reuniting last year, but don’t call it a comeback, ’cause it isn’t. Instead, tracks like lead single “99%” embrace empty sloganeering rather than eviscerating it—then wrap up Jourgensen’s asthmatic rants in the soggiest industrial-metal imaginable.
A group with far stronger lungs is Black Breath. The Seattle crew’s sophomore full-length, Sentenced To Life, lunges into the gaping maw of the abyss with fire in its guts and a scream on its lips. Either that, or the band’s just really pissed off about something. Sentenced radiates waves of retching, blinding, withering metallic hardcore that doesn’t slow down long enough to succumb to its own nihilism. If “move or die” is a predator’s imperative, it’s Black Breath’s mantra.
Next to Black Breath on this month’s metal-hardcore menu, Split Cranium adds a zestier seasoning: some nice, crusty, ’80s-style D-beat. A team-up between Aaron Turner (once of Isis, now of Loud favorite Mamiffer) and Jussi Lehtisalo of Finland’s epic Circle (whose new album, Manner, will be covered next month), Split Cranium’s self-titled debut is propelled by a raw punk urgency that’s refreshingly repulsive. But the group still leaves room for semi-melodic (and at times even borderline proggy) breaks. Granted, it’s still a chipped plate full of festering meat and pestilence-riddled potatoes. But there’s intelligence lurking underneath these seemingly heavy-handed attacks—a sinister deliberation that hints at even more interesting things to come.
Regional music scenes don’t seem to mean as much as they used to. But Louisville is a place that perpetually enjoys a renewal of great hardcore and post-hardcore. The latest in that long, proud lineage is Xerxes. Our Home Is A Deathbed, the band’s inaugural album, deviates from the template laid down by heavier Louisville elders like Coliseum and veers into the more jittery, emotionally scalding end of the hardcore spectrum. But it also knows how to jangle, echo, and smolder when the dynamic calls for it.
Olympia’s never been short a great scene, either—and one of its latest exports, Criminal Code, has dropped a warhead in the form of Cold Thought. With hints of early Hüsker Dü and Articles Of Faith’s more melodic excursions, the album saws off its own jagged edges—the result is a blurry, chiming, fuzz-drenched onslaught of impassioned, mid-tempo anthems that mark the boundary of where hardcore and the artier end of punk collided in the mid-’80s. It’s an undermined pocket of the punk canon, and Criminal Code makes it feel so fresh, it may as well have helped invent it.
Retro Loud: Karp, Self Titled
And since we’re on the subject bands from the Olympia area: Let’s talk Karp. During its existence from 1990 to ’98, the trio excavated its own cubbyhole of heavy music, infusing the sludge of its heroes, the Melvins, with a healthy dosage of punk spit and snot. The band’s 1997 high point, Self-Titled, is a thing of fucked perfection. Like a scab that keeps growing back, the album is unrelentingly thick and abrasive—although there’s a playfulness to its leviathan riffage that somehow makes it even freakier. The passing of drummer Scott Jernigan in 2003 has tragically ensured that a Karp reunion will never happen, but the surviving two members still keep busy—most notably monstrous bassist Jared Warren, now of Big Business and (to his eternal delight, surely), the Melvins.
When it comes to Karp’s everlasting greatness, though, don’t take my word for it. See for yourself: Federation X frontman William E. Badgley directed a new Karp documentary, Kill All Redneck Pricks, and it’s fantastic. Featuring tons of blistering live footage and interviews with friends and contemporaries (Calvin Johnson, Kathleen Hanna, King Buzzo, etc.), the film is a truly affecting account of three small-town nerds who turned their vindictive high-school newsletter (Kill All Redneck Pricks, from whence came the band’s name) into a powerhouse that wound up having a broad, subterranean influence on today’s noise-rock landscape.