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.
As you can see from a quick scan below, the format of Loud has changed. Starting this month, we won’t be trying to cram as many mini-reviews into the column as possible. Instead, each of us (that is, new kid John Semley and your host, Jason Heller) will be picking the five albums released in the previous month that moved us the most. Sometimes our two lists will overlap, but that’s okay—even when we agree on an album, we might have different things to say about it.
We’ll also include five runners-up each month, but those albums won’t be reviewed, only listed. As usual, if a band is prominent enough to be covered in The A.V. Club’s regular music section—some recent examples include Gojira and Baroness—it won’t be included here in Loud. From here on out, Loud will be used to draw attention to the stuff that truly intrigues us rather than trying to survey multiple subgenres on a comprehensive level, which makes our brains seize up just thinking about it.
That also means that some notable releases in the metal/hardcore/punk/noise domain might not get covered. That’s where you come in. It’s always been our hope that Loud provide a forum for a dialogue about heavy music—more of a conversation-starter than an end-all-be-all. It should go without saying that when we hand you, dear reader, our Top 5 lists, we would love for you to reciprocate. To help squirt extra grease on the fire, we will also be serving up two Retro Loud picks per month, one per author. After all, rediscovering old albums is at least as fun as talking about new stuff. We will also continue to offer at least one exclusive song debut per month. We hope you like the changes, and thanks again for reading Loud, from the bottoms of our corroded little hearts.
Song debut: Norska, “Amnesia”
Jason Heller’s Top 5 of August
1. Nihill, Verdonkermaan
Hydra Head’s been having a renaissance lately—and the label’s new release, Nihill’s Verdonkermaan, is devastating proof. Combining some of Hydra Head’s tendencies of late—European bands, blackened ambience, and raw, distorted rock— Verdonkermaan is the Dutch band’s third installment of a trilogy that began with 2007’s Krach. Here, things have descended into an infernal crescendo; from the groaning, molar-rattling horror of “Spiral: The Tail Eater” to the icy, whispery mystique of “Gnosis Pt. IV,” the disc siphons black metal’s soul and sculpts it into an object of crystalline bewitchment and pulsing otherworldliness.
2. Evoken, Atra Mors
Doom veteran Evoken hasn’t broken down any doors with its fifth full-length, Atra Mors, but it’s further mutated what lurks behind it. The album’s six lengthy tracks—and pair of gorgeous, haunting, orchestral interludes—creep along like a contagion, skewing perception and curdling brain chemistry. And on tracks like “Grim Eloquence,” there are traces of eerie, analog-synth prog woven into the thick, thunderous riffs and cosmic immensity. As you might expect, there’s a Lovecraftian, smothered-in-dread vibe to Atra Mors, but it’s delivered so convincingly, resonantly, and unrelentingly, it feels less like a cliché and more like communion.
3. Auroch, From Forgotten Worlds
Just to keep the Lovecraft vibe rolling: Vancouver’s much-hyped Auroch has finally unleashed its debut album, From Forgotten Worlds, and the title alone should be hint about the group’s love of ol’ Howard Philips. Singer-guitarist Seb Montesi is all about worship: not just of the bleakest corners of the Cthulhu mythos, but of vintage death metal like Death and Morbid Angel. In the right hands, that’s a winning combination—and Montesi’s hands are virtuosic. Technical, inspired, melodic, and possessing one of the most acidic dual-vocal attacks since Carcass, Auroch is metal’s latest, greatest soundtrack to metaphysical disquiet.
4. Propagandhi, Failed States
Propagandhi—one of the most beloved bands of the ’90s pop-punk scene—has been overshadowed in recent years by The Weakerthans, the indie-rock act fronted by its former bassist John K. Samson. But the Canadian outfit has been releasing an admittedly erratic stream of great albums since the ’90s—and Failed States ranks right up there. Long gone is the prankish, parody-happy sound of 1993’s How To Clean Everything; Failed States continues the group’s harder, darker, tighter, and more metallic sound. It’s not goofy or youthful (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Instead, it’s outraged and potent, putting a far finer point on that signature Propagandhi outrage and ire.
5. Nu Sensae, Sundowning
Canada’s (do you see a pattern here?) Nu Sensae is a duo-turned-trio from Vancouver that knows noise. Specifically, it knows how to deliver noise in beautiful bursts upside your skull. Fronted by singer-bassist Andrea Lukic, the group crams its new full-length, Sundowning, full of knuckle-dragging, proto-grunge gunk and brainy, raging Sonic Youth atmosphere. And Lukic’s voice is a thing of unholy enormity, a screech to end all screeches, a ravenous sound that seems dead set on devouring itself (and everything in its path). Mostly, though, Sundowning just plain rocks, in that murky, mysterious way that only late-’80s indie could manage.
Jason Heller’s Runners-up
6. Eagle Twin, The Feather Tipped The Serpent’s Scale
7. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Don’t Hear It… Fear It!
8. War//Plague, On A Darker Dawn
9. The Forsaken, Beyond Redemption
10. Ash Borer, Cold Of Ages
Jason Heller’s Retro Loud
Dayglo Abortions, Feed Us A Fetus
John Semley is the Canadian member of the Loud team, so I’m not sure why I’m the one who’s going nuts on Canuck groups this month. But since I seem to be stuck north of the 49th parallel, I might as well run with it—by picking Dayglo Abortions’ Feed Us A Fetus as my Retro Loud album. Graced with one of the most infamous covers of the hardcore era, 1986’s Feed Us A Fetus—partially comprising the band’s 1981 debut, Out Of The Womb—is the Victoria outfit’s testament to all things stupid, gruesome, stupid, juvenile, stupid, putrid, and mean. Snarling, sloppy, shit-smeared classics like “I’m My Own God” and “Black Sabbath” condone everything from militant atheism to pissing in Ozzy’s face; “I Killed Mommy” and “Kill The Hosers” get even nastier. The line between tongue-in-cheek and totally repellant isn’t just crossed, it’s set on fire. And believe it or not, Fetus is still relevant. I wish I could have been at the RNC in Tampa last week, handing out copies as the ghost of Reagan hovered above, dry-heaving.
John Semley’s Top Five of August
1. Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Don’t Hear It… Fear It!
Maybe I’m no real stickler for originality, but proto-metal revivalism is fine by me. Take Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, a band that douses the heaviness of hard rock acts like Buffalo, Sir Lord Baltimore, and Budgie (the band’s bird-faced mascot is particularly Budgie-esque) in the shaggy raucousness of The MC5. Don’t Hear It…Fear It! is very much a retro-tinted record, but guitarist-vocalist Johnny Redfern's feverish howls on tracks like “Mark Of The Beast” and “Killer Kane” contemporize things a bit. Here, the psych-influenced sound of early ’70s proto-metal feels like it’s being truly revived, not just revisited.
2. Scott Kelly And The Road Home, The Forgiven Ghost In Me
Neurosis frontman Scott Kelly’s third acoustic solo record (following 2001’s Spirit Bound Flesh and 2008’s The Wake), The Forgiven Ghost In Me again has him working through a sparse, elegiac set of songs. There’s nothing so noisy as Neurosis—save maybe for “The Field That Surrounds Me,” which has Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder and some other musicians filling out Kelly’s aggrieved acoustic balladry. Still, Kelly’s solo work is no less ominous or atmospheric than his regular gig. He sounds like an apocalyptic troubadour playing in a dusty cowboy bar at the end of the world.
3. Taras Bul’ba, Amur
For a trio, this Italian experimental act sure makes a racket. Taras Bul’ba takes its plodding, pseudo-doom-metal riffing into weird directions. Anything’s fair game: ambient drone, post-hardcore, math rock, maybe even jazz. But it never really sounds derivative. Like John Zorn (or Mike Patton), Taras Bul’ba sounds like it’s entirely unconcerned with genre or flexing its influences. The band capably draws from whatever the hell pleases it. Amur’s a weird and digressive record, but it also feels totally original, entirely its own thing. After all, how many other metal-psyche-funk-prog-drone bands can you name?
4. Gypsyhawk, Revelry & Resilience
Blame it on the nice weather, but for the past month I’ve been taking in a lot of lighter, more fun hard rock, jonesing for hooks and dueling guitar solos more than hollering and breakdowns. Like Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Gypsyhawk’s a bit of a nostalgia act, recalling the pounding ’70s shredding of UFO, or even Thin Lizzy (especially on a track like “The Fields”). Its second LP builds on the riffing dude-rock of 2010’s Patience & Perseverance. While the band’s influences are a bit obvious, Gypsyhawk manages to do them justice. The exception is the album’s closer, an excruciating cover of Rick Derringer’s silly “Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo” that has singer-bassist Eric Harris (formerly of Skeletonwitch) yelling “Smoke weed!” Ugh.
5. Assembly Of Light, Assembly Of Light
It may seem like a dipshit provocation, listing a 20-plus-member, all-female vocal choir as one of the best Loud releases of the month. But heavy’s a state of mind. Sometimes you don’t need guitar, or drums, or lyrics; sometimes you just need a couple dozen women, a bit of piano, a few strings, and some melodic droning. On Assembly Of Light’s self-titled full-length, pieces like “Transition” and the three-part suite “Into The Woods” offer a version of what those late-period instrumental Danzig albums might have sounded like if they weren’t composed like Gameboy music. These are melancholy, apocalyptic harmonies, exquisitely layered like secular church music.
John Semley’s Runners-up
6. Nu Sensae, Sundowning
7. Ladybird, Ontological Physicalism
8. All Hail The Yeti, All Hail The Yeti
9. Titan, Burn
10. Xibalba, Hasta La Muerte
John Semley’s Retro Loud
Megadeth, Countdown To Extinction
Remember when Dave Mustaine wasn’t an idiot? Remember when he was the metal guy whose basic soft-spoken eloquence made him seem like a spokesperson for all smart, misunderstood middle-school kids? Well, those days are long gone. As Mustaine enjoys a second career as moron pundit mouthpiece, it’s worth remembering when his apparent interest in politics was marshaled toward less obnoxious ends. 1992’s Countdown To Extinction is like a Megadeth thesis album, decrying puppet-master politicians (“Symphony Of Destruction”), robot killing machines (“Psychotron”), the military-industrial complex (“Architecture Of Aggression”), and Mustaine’s own schizophrenic identity crisis (“Sweating Bullets,” a song that makes you want leave answering-machine messages for yourself beginning “Hello, me! It’s me again…”). And the riffs! And the solos! By God! Once in a while, it’s fun to remember a time when Dave Mustaine seemed like a scowling tin god for 12-year-olds, and not the scowling embarrassment he’s become.