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: Plow United, “Falling, Deeply”
Plow United is the kind of punk band that the scene’s foundation is built upon: solid, unpretentious, and probably not quite ambitious enough—thankfully—to turn its music into just another piece of merch. That also means Plow United is the kind of band that risked being unfairly lost to the mists of time. There’s no telling what the trio’s reunion album, Marching Band, might do to make new fans, but it’s likely to invigorate the diehards. It’s still gruff, tuneful, and triumphantly melancholic, but there’s a hard-won sense of crusty maturity that could see the band finally placed in the same pantheon as contemporaries like Avail. Marching Band will be released on April 2; courtesy of the band and Jump Start Records, here’s an exclusive debut of the track “Falling, Deeply.”
Jason Heller’s Top Five of February
1. A Story Of Rats, Vastness And The Inverse
“Epic” is an empty word, and I should know, since I overuse it more than most people I know. But I’m at a loss to think of a better way to describe Vastness And The Inverse, the latest from the Seattle/Portland-based outfit A Story Of Rats. Fronted by Atriarch’s Garek Druss, ASOR worms its way into the brain with a droning, almost hymnal ebb and flow of bleak beauty and beautiful bleakness. There’s no macho posturing or heavy-for-the-sake-of-heavy maximalism to be found on Vastness; instead, Druss and crew spin layers of distended, hellish atmosphere that settles on the skin like nuclear winter.
2. Eight Bells, The Captain’s Daughter
Another band with a Portland zip code, Eight Bells has unleashed a record equally as epic as A Story Of Rats’ Vastness—only with more of a hard, dark, psychedelic edge. Led by Melynda Jackson (formerly of Relapse band SubArachnoid Space), Eight Bells lilts and lurches like a winged leviathan; The Captain’s Daughter is the group’s debut, and its mostly instrumental onslaught echoes with prog-rock futurism and the resinous residue of rock ’n’ roll past, from stoner to shoegaze. That said, there’s nothing remotely retro about the disc—and when Jackson occasionally ventures in front of the band to deliver her haunted, shivering vocals, The Captain’s Daughter becomes spaceless as well as timeless.
3. Botanist, IV: Mandragora
Marrying black metal to folk instrumentation is nothing new, but no one does it the way Botanist does. Stark, lo-fi, and utterly otherworldly, the one-man act from San Francisco turns the hammered dulcimer into an almost synthesizer-like implement of doom. Not that Botanist’s new album, IV: Mandragora, is in any way plodding or groove-laden; instead, its neo-pagan-meets-science-fiction backstory is played out through a shimmering set of eerie dreamscapes punctuated by Botanist’s demonic, multi-tracked vocal harmonies. There’s nothing else out there like Botanist, and with IV, he’s truly hitting his singular, sinister stride.
4. Black Boned Angel, The End
New Zealand duo Black Boned Angel has reached its end, and fittingly enough it’s commemorated that event with The End. The album comprises three extended tracks of existential emptiness and the dull howl of loss; alternating between chant-like ambience and crawling, cavernous doom, it thunders and throbs like heaven with a gaping wound. And just when it starts to feel like the ultimate lullaby, The End shoves shards of ice under your fingernails. Maybe winter’s just dragged on too long (at least in this hemisphere), but there’s something about the disc that screams “avalanche in song form.”
5. Shai Hulud, Reach Beyond The Sun
Naming your band after anything from Dune is enough to enough to make me stand up and take notice—which, I’ll admit, is why my attention was first drawn to Shai Hulud years ago, when the group sprang up in the midst of the great metalcore explosion of the late ’90s. (See also: Cave In, Drowningman, Poison The Well, Botch, etc.) Shai Hulud has since clung to its signature, progressive metal-meets-hardcore assault. That said, the band’s new album, Reach Beyond The Sun, sounds a bit dated by 2013 standards, all dual screams and chunky-squealing riffs. But there’s a relative lack of math-y discordance—and a renewed sense of frantic, guttural aggression—that makes Reach feel fresh in spite of the scene that’s changed so radically around it.
Jason Heller’s Runners-up
6. Portal, Vexovoid
7. Suffocation, Pinnacle Of Bedlam
8. Raven Black Night, Barbarian Winter
9. The Unclean, The Eagle
10. Momentum, Herbivore
Jason Heller’s Retro Loud
Spazz, Dwarf Jester Rising
While Shai Hulud is a ’90s band that fell more in the middle of the pack, Spazz bravely, outrageously led the way for many to follow. There’s nothing remotely metalcore, though, about the legendary California trio; a pioneer of the hardcore mutation known as powerviolence, Spazz took itself far less seriously than many of its contemporaries in the genre, incorporating an almost grindcore sense of the absurd into its song titles and movie samples (and occasionally its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink instrumentation). But the band’s 1994 album, Dwarf Jester Rising, is an early example of how streamlined, searing, and surreal Spazz could be. The rest is history. 625 Records—owned and operated by Spazz drummer Max Ward—recently reissued Dwarf on vinyl for the first time in almost 20 years. Its feral, fuck-it-all insanity hasn’t diminished one bit.
John Semley’s Top Five of February
1. Archon, Ouroboros Collapsing
With its second LP, Ouroboros Collapsing, Archon has put together some great music to die to. (Or maybe great music for the dead.) Lyrics like “You have no concept of a value,” are delivered in a hissy roar that recalls Cobra Commander and sound like weird Occupy rallying cries (provided the 99% referred to the legions of shambling, undead skeletal hordes oppressed by the figures of the living). Across four tracks spanning 45 minutes, the NYC five-piece crafts sonorous, feedback-dripping doom marathons.
2. The Bronx, The Bronx (IV)
After a two-record detour to perform as a po-faced mariachi band—because why not, right?—L.A.’s The Bronx returns to non-Mexican-folk-music-form with its fourth proper, self-titled record. The bluesy punk of IV shows something of the influence of the band’s Mariachi El Bronx alter egos: Having stepped well outside its comfort zones, The Bronx seems prepared to mellow out a bit. IV is loaded with sing-along ready bangers (“Along For The Ride,” “Youth Wasted”) that are more peppy than heavy, pleasurably splitting the difference between post-hardcore acts like Rocket From The Crypt and the posi-punk of (pre-major label) Against Me!
3. Bloody Hammers, Bloody Hammers
It’s hard to gauge how seriously these North Carolina occult rockers take their whole aesthetic. Does anyone outside of Sweden really worship Satan anymore? Whether anyone actually buys what Bloody Hammers are half-convincingly selling hardly matters. With Pentagram-issue riffs and vocals (courtesy Anders Manga, whose name we prefer to believe is real) that sound like a less robust Danzig, Bloody Hammers nails the sound of ’70s/’80s occult-revival metal, even if the band’s Satanic bona fides seem dubious.
4. Terminate, Ascending To Red Heavens
Another solid February debut comes courtesy Chicago’s Terminate. The band plays vintage death metal: Bolt Thrower’s lashing, punk-inflected hostility with Entombed’s catchy, distorted hooks. Opener “Answered In Lead” sets the tone, with skitchy guitar clearing the path for Terminate’s faithfully galloping rhythm section, a dynamic Ascending To Red Heavens sustains through its nine tracks. Some of the tracks may bleed into one another a bit, but just when Red Heavens feels jeopardized by a steady sameness, a respectable banger like the title track rides over the horizon to win the day.
5. Baptists, Bushcraft
Baptists have a pretty big following in Canada. Considering Canada’s microscopic metal scene, that’s kind of like being the coolest guy at unicycle camp or something. (I’m Canadian so I’m allowed to say this stuff.) But while America was busy not paying attention to it, the Vancouver four-piece was gigging, putting out singles, and attracting the attention of Southern Lord, who handled the band’s debut LP, Bushcraft. Like labelmates (and countrymen) Burning Love, Baptists infuse the growly vocals and rat-a-tat d-beat drumming of metalcore with prominent, borderline-twangy guitar riffs that seem lifted from a Ted Nugent record. Sold!
6. Eight Bells, The Captain’s Daughter
7. A Story Of Rats, Vastness And The Inverse
8. Omnium Gatherium, Beyond
9. Funeral For A Friend, Conduit
10. Ancient VVisdom, Deathlike
Retro Loud: Manilla Road, Crystal Logic
Before 1983’s Crystal Logic, Manilla Road—the heaviest band ever to come out of Wichita, probably—was kind of all over the place. Its first two records, 1980’s Invasion and 1982’s Metal, mixed hard rock, space rock, and gongs in a way that was pretty hit-or-miss. But Crystal Logic redefined the group’s sound, bridging the gap between America proto-metal bands like Pentagram and the driving thrash that defined the American metal scene in the ’80s. It’s also incredibly, amazingly nerdy: Singer Mark Shelton hits castrato pitches that rival Geddy Lee’s, all in the service of lyrics about riddles and the river Styx.