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.
Song debut: Mountain Man, “That Won’t Always Last”
The thing with Om—former Sleep bassist/frontman Al Cisneros’ avant, post-post-post-metal duo—is that as great as the band is, it often comes dangerously close to being a high-minded joke. Its latest, Advaitic Songs, sees it skirting this territory deftly, despite all the tone-setting chanting and tablas on opener “Addis.” Advaitic Songs sees the band sonically evolving past the sidelong ambient extravaganzas of early releases like Conference Of The Birds, with Grails drummer Emil Amos pushing Cisneros’ trance metal instrumentations to new peaks. It may be a bit hard to swallow the band’s far-out Mideast mysticism at times. Best to just bracket all Cisneros’ nü-age seriousness in the back of your mind.
Testament’s 2008 late-career highpoint, the comeback record The Formation Of Damnation, is a tough act to follow, to be sure. But Dark Roots Of Earth has the band admirably endeavoring to do so. Certainly, the band seems reinvigorated, with tracks like “Rise Up” and the bass-driven “A Day In The Death” carrying a bright-burning thrash torch. But this newfound energy is sometimes channeled in weird directions, as on the confusing, embarrassing ballad “Cold Embrace,” a song so appallingly bad it almost sinks an otherwise sturdy record. Almost.
Germany’s thrash tradition is justifiably honorable. After the country’s ’80s heyday, Dew-Scented helped keep the genre alive—and the group’s solidly executed new full-length Icarus doesn’t disappoint. Despite the name, though, it doesn’t exactly soar either. Immaculate and melodic, Dew-Scented’s ninth full-length serves up a heaping plate of modern thrash that sticks squarely to the starch category. It’s filling, but it’s also a little bland. You know, kind of like German food.
Usurpress bass player Daniel Ekeroth literally wrote a book about Swedish death metal—called, naturally, Swedish Death Metal. It makes sense then that the band sounds in places like the template for a straight-up death-metal group: raspy vocals, rat-a-tat drumming, with the guitars crunching a bit. There’s a palpable crust influence on Trenches Of The Netherworld that keeps it from feeling like too strict of an exercise in vintage death. But for a band featuring a guy who wrote the book on the subject, there’s a bit of a lack of diversity.
There was bound to be a high level of expectation for Of Babalon, the latest full-length from The Howling Wind. One of the group’s principals, Ryan Lipynsky, just disbanded his stalwart doom outfit Unearthly Trance, while Tim Call, the group’s other half, just released one of the best metal albums of 2012 so far with his main group, Aldebaran. Does that mean Of Babalon is more focused and ambitious than previous Howling Wind releases? Yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that its atmospheric black metal tries to be a little bit of everything—raw, polished, crude, atmospheric, filthy, mythic—and winds up hitting none of these targets particularly solidly. It’s a consistent and occasionally evocative listen, but there’s still a nagging lack of imagination and inspiration.
Though it’s billed as an EP, the latest record from New Jersey black/folk metal act Windfaerer crams in more triumphant, epically layered metal in its 36 minutes than a lot of records do in twice the time. With the rare exception (the more pointedly aggro “Blackened Voids”), Solar offers beautifully melodic, layered riffs, making strong use of the band’s fulltime violinist. Even at under two minutes, the instrumental “A Moura Encantada” reaches rapturous peaks. Better yet is “A Glimpse Of Light,” which goes beyond six minutes without feeling tedious, charging along intensely in a manner that defines the whole record.
Bay Area black metallers Bosse-De-Nage aren’t out to court black-metal purists. Their newest, III, offers an odd and frequently effective synthesis between persuasive blast-beats and American post-rock in the vein of Slint. Like Brooklyn cool kids Liturgy, Bosse-De-Nage may have alienated the hardcorer-than-thou for not being “troo” enough, but it’s a petty quibble. Tracks like “Deseutude” represent a band truly endeavoring to develop black metal, not just outthink it.
Taking its name from a Greek island that was home to Sanctuary Of The Great Gods in ancient myth, Samothrace undeniably aspires toward to the epic. The band’s second full-length, Reverence To Stone, follows up on the plodding expansiveness of its 2008 debut, Life’s Trade. (The four-year lag between records only stokes the air of mystique the band’s music cultivates.) Here, Samothrace stretches out even more, crafting two sidelong mini-epics. Both the 14-minute “When We Emerged” and the 20-minute “A Horse Of Our Own” have the band mingling together elements of doom, sludge, and psyche-metal. If the influences seem at times obvious, the alchemy is wholly original. Reverence To Stone is a record that rewards all Samothrace’s grandstanding aspirations.
New York’s Natur calls itself an “old metal” band, which is suitable in a mode of music marked by prickly genre subdivisions. The band’s debut full-length recalls the galloping rhythms of Iron Maiden as much as the triumphant Wagnerian, sword-and-sorcery stupidity of Manowar. On tunes like opener “Head Of Death,” Natur makes a show of strutting around its classical metal influences, hooks kicking into riffs, riffs into solos, then back into hooks. Singer Ryan Weibust can’t quite put across the operatic howls the music deserves, but his thin vocals only work to make Natur seem refreshingly earnest, despite all its classic metal bombast. It’s like a really, really good battle-of-the-bands band.
What’s more annoying than glam-metal revivalism? Nothing. Nothing is more annoying. Catsuited German nostalgists Hollywood Burnouts (the name itself is infuriating) are the latest post-Darkness act to channel the boozy sleaze of late-’80s Sunset Strip decadence with Excess All Areas. Tunes like “Hands Of Rock” and “Wild At Heart” credibly ape Cinderella, Lizzy Borden, and other moronic acts whose music seemed custom-tailored for depressing strip-club sets. Maybe it’s nice to see a band do this without irony. But given the source material, a little tongue-in-cheek wink-nudge is preferable to strained sincerity.
Between stellar albums by vets like Napalm Death and stunning new masterpieces by up-and-comers like Weekend Nachos, grindcore has been having a mini-renaissance lately. The Swedish/Finnish outfit Afgrund is keeping the ante high with its new album The Age Of Dumb. There’s a predictably sturdy D-beat backbone holding up the disc’s mutilated riffage, but at heart it’s still a blast-riddled, thickly rotted onslaught of pure grind. At the same time, it has enough loose ends and sick humor to make it feel more alive than undead.
Chicago’s Jar’d Loose has a dumb name. But if we here at Loud held prejudices against dumb names, well, it’d be slim pickings month-to-month now, wouldn’t it? Anyway, who cares about the band’s name? It sounds like Karp or a punkier Jesus Lizard and has played live sets consisting entirely of White Zombie covers. Its debut Goes To Purgatory recalls all these seminal noisy, riff-happy ’90s dirt-rock bands. And while the influences may be a bit on the nose at times, there’s enough raw potential here to keep listeners coming back for more.
No one could have predicted that, more than a decade into the 21st century, ’90s noisemongers The Jesus Lizard would make a comeback—let alone become such a huge inspiration to a new wave of angry, guitar-twisting weirdoes. One such group of malcontents is Ladder Devils. The Philly band’s debut, Nowhere Plans, features former members of the hardcore outfit The Minor Times, but make no mistake: Nowhere Plans is a case of total Lizard worship, from the acid-gargling howls to the wiry basslines. Still, there’s a twinge of post-hardcore force here and there, not to mention a knack for eerie echo and scabrous aggression that makes it a promising middle finger forward.
Hands down, the hardcore-album-of-the-month award goes to Bitter Clarity, Uncommon Grace, the comeback album by Rhode Island’s Verse. Picking up where the band’s pre-breakup disc, 2008’s Aggression left off, Bitter Clarity pays loyal homage to the strident, melodic, impassioned East Coast HC tradition. At the same time, it feels like the future caught in mid-meltdown: confused, betrayed, hopeless, and enraged, with breakdowns of roiling dissonance and Sean Murphy’s apocalyptic, spat-sung poetry. If the disc is any indication of where Verse might evolve from here, brace yourself.
Justin Smith recently released his latest disc as the frontman of the goofy, sample-heavy Graf Orlock, but it’s his new full-length with Ghostlimb, Confluence, that’s the far better use of his talents. Pissed off instead of prankish, Confluence is saturated with Smith’s heartsick screams and the kind of angular, metallic hardcore that feels more organic than forced. It doesn’t hurt that the album features a bloody-lunged cover of Hot Water Music’s classic “Southeast First.”
Like a bunch of punk-rock cockroaches, The Toy Dolls have mind-bogglingly survived since 1979. Unlike so many of the group’s British contemporaries, leader Michael “Olga” Algar doesn’t have an earnest bone in his body—and The Dolls’ new disc, The Album After The Last One, continues the band’s proud lineage of madcap, underdog pop-punk. From the cartoonish silliness of “Kevin’s Cotton Wool Kids” to the chant-along insanity of “B.E.E.R.,” the disc is equally suited to the pub or the pit. And yes, despite the songs’ apparent simplicity, Olga can still shred like a motherfucker.
Retro Loud: The Locust, Molecular Genetics From The Gold Standard Lab
It’s a shame that The Locust hasn’t been more visible and prolific in the 21st century. After all, the group helped lay the groundwork for the future of extreme music during its ’90s heyday. That may sound hyperbolic, but it’s true: After forming amid the teeming San Diego punk scene in 1994, the masked-and-costumed band proceeded to completely deconstruct and reprogram the DNA of hardcore, grind, and powerviolence. But the group specialized in more than just synth-addled artiness. With song titles that infamously lasted longer than their rapid-fire songs, The Locust brought an almost Beefheartian level of surrealism to its mangled nerd-metal, which is why it’s no surprise the band ended up releasing an EP on Mike Patton’s Ipecac Records. The Locust has never officially disbanded following its last album, 2007’s New Erections—although members have been consistently busy with a variety of other projects, most recently the vaguely Locust-like Retox. However, Anti- just put out Molecular Genetics From The Gold Standard Lab, a sprawling retrospective of the band that might be either a tombstone or the harbinger of a comeback. Here’s hoping for the latter. The Locust, after all, deserves to stew in the hellish world it helped destroy.