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.
Before diving into the reviews, Loud would like to welcome its new co-author: Toronto City Editor of The A.V. Club, John Semley. He’ll be adding his love of screams and riffs and stuff to the column each month; consequently, Loud will be expanding its coverage to include more releases than ever. On that note, let’s rock.
Hardcore has been having a heyday lately. As great as this resurgence has been, it’s clear that a lot of newish hardcore bands aren’t that in touch with the genre’s past. Stop Breathing, on the other hand, gets it. Reaching back to ’80s West Coast hardcore while updating its piss and vinegar for a new millennium of social woes, the California group—which features current and past members of metal titan The Fucking Wrath and the gritty punk outfit Glass And Ashes—uses its self-titled debut as an echo chamber for its gruff, white-knuckled misanthropy and outrage. Courtesy of No Idea, here is Loud’s exclusive debut of Stop Breathing’s head-splitting opening track, “What I Want.”
Killing Joke has had one hell of an upsurge in the new century. From 2003’s Dave Grohl-drummed Killing Joke to 2010’s uneven yet intermittently brilliant Absolute Dissent, Jaz Coleman and crew have settled in as elder statesmen of metallic, industrialized post-punk. Regardless of the various ways Killing Joke’s music has manifested itself over the decades, though, it’s Coleman’s knack with a shivering, inhumanly infectious melody that’s always tied everything together. The band’s new full-length, MMXII, showcases that more than ever. Less ambitious than Absolute Dissent, MMXII focuses its aggression and abrasiveness into a wholly anthemic vessel for Coleman’s neo-pagan mysticism and dystopian dread.
The late Paul Raven, longtime member of Killing Joke, also played briefly in Prong—and Prong just so happens to have a new album out as well. Titled Carved Into Stone, it’s more than just a throwback to the group’s early rawness. It sheds most of the alternative and industrial elements that it’s built up over the past 25 years. What’s left is a dark mass of lean, beady-eyed, thrash-inflected metal, packed with Tommy Victor’s sculpted riffs and spit-spraying shout-alongs. It’s also a welcome step backward for a band that has often overextended its sound.
It’s been more than 20 years since Unleashed unleashed itself upon the world. And yet the stalwart Swedish group is as potent and formidable as ever. Case in point: the new Odalheim. Extending the mythic, post-apocalyptic Norse folklore of Unleashed’s recent work, the album’s storyline is second to its music: a sweeping, epic panorama of acoustic passages, pinpoint technicality, and classic songwriting.
Some recent lineup changes—including the addition of two great players, guitarist Tony Sannicandro and Cephalic Carnage bassist Nick Schendzielos—have breathed fresh vitality into Job For A Cowboy. Demonocracy, its latest full-length, is as vicious a can of whup-ass as the new-school death-metal group has ever opened. Despite the visceral punch, though, there’s something a little too airtight and bloodless about Demonocracy. Accomplished and impeccably executed, it also has about as much personality as a can opener.
Outside of maybe rap, metal has to be the most self-referential musical genre. Ever since Anthrax cut “Caught In A Mosh,” thrash-metal culture became one of thrash metal’s favorite lyrical topics. Richmond’s Municipal Waste, kind of jokey and kind of really awesome, is the inheritor to this legacy of metal for metal’s sake. On The Fatal Feast, Municipal Waste speedily works through 38 minutes of songs about brute force, raging, beer-drinking, and mutants. The band sounds so of a piece with classic crossover thrash that it would be easy to confuse Fatal Feast for some long-lost recording you found in a secondhand tape player. “Covered In The Sick—The Barfer” is an early front-runner for Best Song Title of 2012.
Speaking to NME last year, Cancer Bats frontman Liam Cormier expressed interest in wanting to write “some bangers.” Enter Dead Set On Living. The latest from the Toronto metalcore four-piece strips away a lot of the doom and gloom of records like Hail Destroyer and Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, in favor of rip-roaring party metal. Dead Set On Living gets grim in places (“The Void,” “Bricks And Mortar”). But these tracks are the rare lowlights on a record chocked with riff-driven rippers like “Drunken Physics,” “Road Sick,” and roaring opener “R.A.T.S.”
Cris Jerue’s shouting-mad vocals and all the piled-on distortion defining Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds further confirm 16’s place atop the sludge-metal hillock. The band’s second record since reforming in 2007, Deep Cuts is classic 16, from Bobby Ferry’s clean, distinctly catchy riffs to Jerue’s depressive, confrontational lyrics (and song titles: “Ants In My Bloodstream, “Bowels Of A Baby Killer”) that have long leant the band an aggro, hardcore punk edge. The band’s not reinventing the wheel or anything, but that’s okay. Deep Cuts is efficient sludge metal. And “Bowels Of A Baby Killer” is great.
Acephalix’s last release, Interminable Light, was a favorite around these parts last year. But the San Francisco outfit has topped itself with Deathless Master. With guttural vocals that bleed past the margins and muddy riffs whipped into a blackened maelstrom, the disc is unrelenting in its love of impenetrable crust and sheer tonnage. A bit more dynamism here and there wouldn’t have hurt—then again, Acephalix isn’t where you go if you’re looking for something symphonic.
California psych-doom outfit Ancestors returns with In Dreams And Time, its first record since swapping out synth-player Chico Foley for Matt Barks. The album is pounding, totally convincing psych-doom, oscillating between more straightforward metal (opener “Whispers”), ambient experimentalism (“The Last Return”), and a piano-driven tune that sounds oddly like a ballad (“On The Wind”). In Dreams And Time requires a bit of patience (take the nearly 20-minute closer “First Light,” for example), but the music is complex and consistently gratifying enough to reward the effort.
Musical extremes can be captivating—even more so when they co-exist on the same release. Lament, the five-song debut by Obolus, resides at the nexus of gentle, celestial ambience and dense, billowing black metal. But unlike most so-called metalgaze acts (blackened or otherwise), there’s an eerie seamlessness to Lament that weaves a breathtakingly beautiful veil of illumination and shadow—even as it lets shards of jagged rage and melancholy jut through the fabric.
Beyond Terror Beyond Grace has been operating on roughly similar terrain as Obolus for far longer, and the Australian group’s third full-length, Nadir, is its best yet. On a strictly audiophile level, the sound of Nadir is incredible; the low end tugs like an anchor in an outgoing tide, and when it suddenly evaporates, the effect is stomach-dropping. The songwriting isn’t particularly compelling, though, and at times feels a bit too formulaic. The workmanlike grunting doesn’t help. While never less than absorbing, Nadir doesn’t do quite enough to rise above the pack and stake its own clear claim on atmospheric black metal.
Like Sweden’s Ghost and Toronto’s Blood Ceremony, Austin’s Ancient VVisdom is one of those revivalist bands working to put Lucifer back at the forefront of heavy metal, where he belongs. A Godlike Inferno puts across the band’s whole neo-Satanist thing via blasé folk metal punctuated by hammering drums (played, live at least, with chains). Sometimes it works, as on tracks like “Devil Brain” and “Alter Reality.” But it’s hard to buy all the paeans to Lucifer when the band sounds like it could be playing an open mic at a coffee bar.
A more convincing (and less on-the-nose) band that’s also mining the infernal pit of the arcane is Occultation. Best known for featuring Negative Plane’s Nameless Void (here known as EMM) on guitar and organ, Occultation ought to be better known as a showcase for the soaring yet sinuous vocals of drummer V. On the trio’s haunting new full-length, Three & Seven, V’s voice winds its way through the songs’ incense-clouded, otherworldly murk like a serpent through a sacrificial skull.
Italian experimental metal outfit Ufomammut stokes all kinds of synth-heavy, weirdo atmospherics with its latest, Oro: Opus Primum. Drenched in echo and other layered tape effects, the record sounds like it was recorded at the bottom of an old bong, taking the psych-metal thing to its logical endpoint: spinning out into infinity, all trippy ambience and little structure. Even as wallpaper music goes, Oro is a little unfocused.
A one-man experimental metal doohickey, Author & Punisher is Tristan Shore, performing crunchy industrial numbers with a bunch of homemade electronic instruments. The tracks on Ursus Americanus sound like theme music for a villain in a steampunk anime—all clinging and crashing against droning feedback. And it works. The brooding, 10-plus minutes of “Set Flames” are an exercise in tension and release. Shore’s clamoring cacophonies are enlivened considerably by how organic (read: analog) they sound, as if he’s wailing against the laptop rigs and layered, ProTools gleam of a lot of solo acts.
Another one-man act—of a marginally more melodic nature—is Mike Armine. The frontman of post-metal dream-weavers Rosetta, Armine recently released Verse & Cleansing, an instrumental album that oozes harrowing drones and sub-aquatic pulses. The undertow, though, is nothing short of gorgeous. Even when the album dips into nightmarish abstraction—or full-on, shoegaze-gouged abrasion—it does so with a lulling, mesmerizing sense of song.
Ostensibly a post-metal band, whatever that means, Sleep Maps traffic in exploratory instrumentals that work to the predictable crescendos. But it’s the fun they have on the way that counts though, right? A solo project by multi-instrumentalist Ben Kaplan (though Sleep Maps perform live as a four-piece), Fiction Makes The Future layers crushing guitars over distorted bass and gloomy sound bites clipped from old films. Kaplan stokes a gloomy, discernibly sci-fi sound on the record, capably straddling the line between cool and hopelessly nerdy. Fiction Makes The Future owes as much to Pelican as Man Or Astroman? (and Rush).
Struck By Lightning frontman Gregory Lahm spent time in the progressive, Pelican-like, never-valued-enough Mouth Of The Architect—but he’s taken a different path with his current band. SBL’s new True Predation pumps out thunderous, metallic hardcore by the fistful, topped off by Lahm’s desperate, neck-in-the-noose vocals. But the subtlest, most subliminal hints of his post-metal pedigree remain—mostly in the needling, nervy, and at times deceptively atmospheric guitar work.
D-beat may seem like a pretty restrictive subgenre to some, but Wolfbrigade shows just how much life there is left in that lockstep. Damned is the Swedish hardcore vet’s new disc, and it strips every last shred of flesh from D-beat—then cracks the bones and sucks out the marrow. The venomous blood of everyone from Discharge to Motörhead still pours from the band’s open veins, but it’s coagulated into a scabrous, nasty clot of subliminally tuneful rock ’n’ roll.
Like the righteously vindictive spawn of early Killing Joke and Amebix, Cross Stitched Eyes has stocked its new album, Decomposition, with enough triumphant savagery to survive a point-blank nuke. Which may well be the point. The disc traffics in tribal, crust-armored, at times folky post-punk, but the group has upped each of those components alarmingly since 2010’s Coranach. The result is a hoarse cry of belligerent, electrified primitivism that seems more than happy to dance in the ruins of modernity.
The name makes them seem like snotty, nasty shit-kickers, but Sweden’s Terrible Feelings are pretty tame. Their debut, Shadows, splits the difference between power-pop and sped-up post-punk. Where the band’s earlier EPs, 7-inches, and splits were angsty, ragged, and charmingly cruddy, Shadows feels overproduced and overpolished. The band’s natural knack for melody shines through all the gloss on a few tracks, like “Intruders” and “Sleep As Deep As The Sea.” But by and large, Shadows is a slick, toned-down record that reeks of a band of filing off its rougher edges to court commercial viability.
With members of Black Lips and Golden Triangle in the group, it was a sure bet from the start that K-Holes was going to be haggard, ragged, and a little crazy around the edges. But with its new album, Dismania, the New York outfit has set the bar ridiculously high—that is to say, low. Like, at the bottom of a swamp. Unhinged, fuzzed-out, and crisped beyond recognition, the band’s garage-punk riffs and curdled, co-ed vocals tap into some primordial reservoir of metabolic abandon. That said, it’s slashed with an arty catchiness—not to mention some totally bestial saxophone—that pushes the whole thing into the abyss of brilliance.
Retro Loud: Rainbow, Rising
Not long before Ronnie James Dio died in 2010, fans were able to see the metal icon do one last tour with Black Sabbath—or rather, the early-’80s, Dio-led lineup of Sabbath that had been temporarily reconstituted under the name Heaven And Hell. Too bad the fans didn’t get a chance to witness what might have been an equally glorious reunion: Dio-era Rainbow. The main players in Rainbow’s original, mid-’70s iteration, Dio and former Deep Purple guitar-master Ritchie Blackmore forged a short-lived partnership that resulted in a stomping, muscular, yet unafraid-to-be-frilly strain of hard rock that helped set the stage for the new wave of British Heavy Metal—not to mention Dio’s subsequent stint in Sabbath and legendary solo career. 1976’s Rising is the high point of Dio’s time with Rainbow. Scraping the cosmos with its Olympian bombast and lush, fantasy-steeped songwriting, Rising hits peaks that Blackmore and Dio probably didn’t even know they had in them. Almost 40 years later, it remains an ass-kicking, exhilarating album—and a groundbreaking slab of rock history. (By the way, in case anyone’s wondering: Yes, it’s only a matter of time before Deep Purple’s momentous, majestic In Rock gets the Retro Loud treatment.)