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.
Jason Heller’s Top Five of December
1. Year Of The Goat, Angels’ Necropolis
“She lights the candles in a circle,” croons Thomas Sabbathi, frontman of Sweden’s Year Of The Goat, in “I’ll Die For You,” one of the many stellar tracks on the band’s debut album, Angels’ Necropolis. As you might guess, the dude’s into the occult. But rather than descending into cartoonish horn-throwing or unholier-than-thou kitsch, Necropolis flat-out fucking rocks. Comprising tuneful and intricate ’70s metal steeped in a devout, shadowy Satanism, the disc skirts the edges of prog and doom without losing its solid footing in masterful classic rock and the infernal art of the anthem. Crap, did I already draw up my top-10 list for Loud’s Best of 2012? I should have left room; little did I know 2012 would end up being the year of Year Of The Goat.
2. Agitator, Bleak
For a subgenre that was supposedly built on positivity, straightedge hardcore can be hopeless, twisted, and nihilistic. In fact, I kind of prefer it that way—which is why Bleak, the debut full-length by Pennsylvania’s Agitator, gets my blood pumping and my bile boiling. Chugging, churning, snaggle-riffed, and propelled by high-octane self-hatred, the disc is as cathartic as a fire-walk—and only half as painful. By the time Trapped Under Ice frontman Justice Tripp shows up to hurl guest vocals on the song “Concrete Opinions,” it’s all over. The negativity has crushingly, gloriously triumphed.
3. Kowloon Walled City, Container Ships
It’s hard to put me finger on Kowloon Walled City, and I get the feeling Kowloon Walled City likes it that way. On one hand, the San Francisco band’s sophomore album, Container Ships, owes a debt to the thudding post-rock of June Of 44. On the other hand, there’s a metallic and doom-riddled aspect to the disc that subtracts the math and replaces it with a Neurosis-level brain hemorrhage. Maybe it’s the way the guitars buckle around the bass, or the chilling method in which frontman Scott Evans delivers his bleary, bugfuck, monotone vocals. In any case, I’ll keep grappling with Container Ships; at this point, the album is putting its finger on me rather than the other way around.
4. Lotus Fucker, Forever My Fighting Spirit
The Washington, D.C./Baltimore area has long been a hotbed of hardcore. And as long as bands like Lotus Fucker hail from there, it will remain so. Channeling regional ancestors like Void and newer noiseniks like Total Abuse, Lotus Fucker manages to put its own prickly, treble-damaged stamp on hardcore desperation and derangement. Vocals erupt in bursts of burning fury. Guitars fly by like shards of shattered glass. Each drum hit is a knuckle to the throat. And the whole disc is barbed-wire sharp and almost antiseptic in its self-cauterized chaos.
5. Countdown To Armageddon, Through The Wires
One of the many great things about Killing Joke and Amebix is the way these two granddads of abrasive British filth have gotten more epic as the decades pass. Seattle’s Countdown To Armageddon reminds me of that same eroded, degraded angst. The trio’s latest full-length, Through The Wires, wraps spectral guitars around a terse, pulsing, post-punk rhythm section, then tops it with a crown of thorny blasphemy. Not to mention a bleakly melodic edge to offset its more scarifying, horrifying tendencies. Ethereal crust? Bring it the fuck on.
6. Amenra, Mass V
7. Switchblade, Switchblade
8. Vanderbuyst, The Flying Dutchmen
9. Arbogast, I
10. Old Lines, Old Lines
Jason Heller’s Retro Loud
Torches To Rome, Torches To Rome
When Sarah Kirsch died on December 5 of Fanconi anemia, the punk scene lost a legend. Granted, Kirsch was, by all accounts, a humble one: As the singer and/or guitarist for a long string of excellent Bay Area bands since the late ’80s, she influenced untold numbers of DIY groups, most notably with her bands Fuel (the Fugazi-esque group that predated the lousy ’90s act of the same name); Pinhead Gunpowder (a side-project with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong), and her most recent outfit, Mothercountry Motherfuckers. But Kirsch’s most potent statement of intent, at least for me, has always been Torches To Rome. The gruff, searing, incensed outfit released a self-titled album in 1999, a couple years after its breakup. Then again, Kirsch’s bands never lasted that long, always seeming to implode of their own energy before ever having a chance to lag. Kirsch’s recent self-identification as Sarah—she’d previously been known as Mike Kirsch—became just another brave, committed act in a life and career full of them. Her songs almost always addressed inequality in savagely poetic terms, with Torches To Rome being a particularly raw and outraged example. Rest in peace, Sarah, and thanks—for the songs, the example, and the inspiration.
John Semley’s Top 5 of December
1. Year Of The Goat, Angels’ Necropolis
“Virginity is a sin,” scowls Year Of The Goat’s Thomas Erikkson on this album’s closer, “Thin Lines Of Broken Hopes.” Makes sense, then, Erikkson’s Year Of The Goat arrives on its full-length debut not as unsullied neophytes, but fully formed occult rockers. Like countrymen Ghost or In Solitude, Year Of The Goat rides Sweden’s apparently unending wave of Satanic metal that never suffers for seriousness. And like Ghost’s Opus Eponymous, Angels’ Necropolis feels more hard rock than metal; the entwining guitar solos and layered vocal harmonies recalling a pre-Yellow & Green Baroness. Some of the NWOBHM influenced guitar pyrotechnics may be a bit thin in places, but this is an astonishing debut record.
2. Amenra, Mass V
Produced in conjunction with Billy Anderson, a guy who has worked with the likes of Eyehategod and the Melvins, the latest from Belgium’s Amenra is a suitably sludgy affair. The band’s ponderous, exploratory numbers may be accused of sounding a bit obviously like Neurosis. Sure, Mass V was released on Neurosis’ Neurot records. Hell, Scott Kelly even pops up on closer “Nowena | 9.10.” But Amenra does more than pay riff-service to its mighty forbearers, consecrating many of the grandest, most ambitions of sludge-metal traditions. (See: “A Mon Ame,” which works through more moods in its 13 minutes than many bands can muster in a career.)
3. Arbogast, I
Opening a record with an ambient drone can be such a tease. After all, it can go so many ways. Chicago trio Arbogast kicks off its first full-length with “Black With Birds,” a teasing bit of airy fuzz suggesting something demonstrably post-metal. Not so. Like Burning Love, Arbogast successfully fuses the well-deep riffing of doom metal with the head-banging aggression of thrash and hardcore punk, a blend it manages successfully across the record’s 11 tracks. It may not be as strong a debut as the Year Of The Goat record, but let’s hope the Roman numerical title is hinting at future records down the line.
4. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Storm Generation EP
What a weird record. Parisian trio Blaak Heat Shujaa has decamped to L.A., and the scorching of year-round sun pleasantly stains this psychedelic desert-rock record. The band moves between thick, bass-driven riffing, lo-fi surf rock, Cisnerosian lyrics, cues that sound borrowed from an Ennio Morricone score, and even slam poetry. (The Nobel prize-nominated Ron Whitehead makes a cameo.) Through six tracks clocking in at just over 30 minutes, Blaak Heat Shujaa seems to imagine an alternative to the late-’80s/early-’90s L.A. scene, where bands like Theolonius Monster, Fishbone, and Jane’s Addiction fused sort-of ambitious alt rock with surf sensibilities, albeit one untainted by any delusion of commercial viability.
5. Vanderbuyst, The Flying Dutchmen
What the hell are three guys from the Netherlands doing making a Southern-fried party record? Eh, it’s probably not worth eyeballing too closely. Vanderbuyst’s third LP pulls off some pretty convincing Lynyrd Skynyrd/Thin Lizzy blending, like a bunch of their dads’ records got melted together in the sun. From the hooky opener “Frivolous Franny” on, The Flying Dutchmen is pure, empty-calorie riff-rock. And sometimes that’s okay.
6. Switchblade, Switchblade
7. Doom’s Day, The Unholy
8. Kowloon Walled City, Container Ships
9. Agitator, Bleak
10. Nine Covens, On The Dawning Of Light
John Semley’s Retro Loud
Trouble, Psalm 9
If only every record were Trouble’s Psalm 9. The first album from the pioneering American metal band from Aurora, Illinois (home of Wayne Campbell, incidentally), Psalm 9 ranks alongside the first Saint Vitus record as one of the genre’s formative releases. As doom has evolved, or at least abided, the sludgy simplicity of a record like Psalm 9 can seem a bit old-hat. But against the rising popularity of blistering thrash metal in America during the ’80s, Trouble’s brew of melodic guitar solos, pounding rhythms, brusque vocals, and light touches of psychedelia (reissues of Psalm 9 included a cover of Cream’s “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”) suggest an alternate history of American heavy metal.