This month’s top noisemakers include Iron Reagan, Cult Of Luna, and Holy Grail
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: Iron Reagan, “Eyes Piss Tears”
Municipal Waste has been one of the most consistently ass-kicking bands of this millennium’s thrash revival. So when MW’s Tony Foresta and Phil Hall team up for a side project—and enlist former members of Darkest Hour and the late, great, underrated City Of Caterpillar—it’s right to expect something amazing. Iron Reagan is that project, and it delivers: The group’s debut, Worse Than Dead (due out March 19 on A389 Records and Magic Bullet Records), is a crust-riddled, thrashcore blast of belligerence whose retro-’80s vibe doesn’t stop at the band’s name. Like a long-lost crossover classic, the disc blurs by in a spasm of anti-authority screeds and head-banging savagery. It’s also fun as fuck. Courtesy of the fine folks at A389/Magic Bullet, here’s the debut of the Worse Than Dead track “Eyes Piss Tears,” a tune as pungently lovely as its title.
Jason Heller’s top five of January
1. Circle Takes The Square, Decompositions: Volume Number One
In 2004, a little-known band called Circle Takes The Square issued its debut, As The Roots Undo, a promising work of progressive post-hardcore that hinted at great things to come. Nine years later, the follow-up, Decompositions: Volume Number One, has appeared. Holy shit. Worth the wait and then some, Decompositions sounds like it’s actually used all that downtime. Richly textured and swirling with a ritualistic fugue-state of delicacy and aggression, it’s a staggering, sprawling album that cannot possibly be fully comprehended in a single listen. I love dense, challenging, dynamic discs like these, especially if they’re able to pull those qualities off with an underlying coherence, focus, and atmosphere. On the surface, Decompositions may be a sonic manifestation of the forces of chaos and decay—but there’s a raging hope and a desperate heart to it that’s already vaulted it to the top of my 2013 list.
2. Arbouretum, Coming Out Of The Fog
“Heavy” and “psychedelic” have long gone hand in hand. After all, metal’s roots are partly in psychedelia, and stoner-rock still draws from that trippy tradition. But there’s something altogether different happening on Arbouretum’s new Coming Out Of The Fog. Like a massively amplified, exquisitely tuneful folk album that fell out of some temporal vortex, the disc taps into the deepest recesses of our collective brainpan to fling fuzzy images of pagan monstrosities against the flickering wall. Or something. Melodic, coolly assured, and oozing mystery, it’s a fog I don’t want to come out of at all.
3. Cult Of Luna, Vertikal
A concept album based loosely on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Cult Of Luna’s new Vertikal definitely has a cinematic quality to it. As rich in atmosphere as the rest of the band’s latter-day output, Vertikal finds the Swedish post-metal behemoth making the most of its bleak, churning vision of industrial decay and urban paranoia. Beautifully produced and shaded with peripheral melody—not to mention some noticeably Isis-esque keyboard work—the disc makes for a hypnotic, kaleidoscopic nightmare.
4. Cloud Rat, Moksha
Of all the stunning moments of Cloud Rat’s new full-length, Moksha, the most mind-boggling has to be its cover of “The Needle And The Damage Done.” Yup, that’s right: a doomy grindcore version of Neil Young. Rather than come across as some kind of novelty, though, it’s as sludgy and harrowing as its subject matter, and the rest of Moksha is a testament to just how little Cloud Rat gives a fuck about the rulebooks. With chasm-like grooves, subtle intricacy, and leviathan riffs, the album doesn’t let up—and doesn’t stop surprising. “Epic” isn’t a word used to describe grind-related bands very often, but Cloud Rat somehow pulls it off. Brilliantly.
5. Primitive Man, Scorn
Being a longtime resident of Denver (or Denvoid, as we like to call it), I’m always proud when a good band claws its way out of here. My latest local favorite is Primitive Man. Featuring former members of a slew of great Denver acts, mostly notably Clinging To The Trees Of A Forest Fire, the band just issued its debut, Scorn, and it’s as thick and suffocating as a blanket of poison gas. It’s full of slow-crawling doom, for sure, but there’s also a rabid, subhuman ferocity—complete with weird angles of atonality—that punctuates all that morbid despair.
Jason Heller’s runners-up
6. Attic, The Invocation
7. Lightning Swords Of Death, Baphometic Chaosium
8. Clamfight, I Versus The Glacier
9. Hidden Towers, Olympus Mons
10. Ptahil, The Almighty Propagator Of Doom And Despair
Jason Heller’s Retro Loud
Medusa, First Step Beyond
You have to hand it to Numero Group. When the label isn’t readying the release of a slew of hotly anticipated (by me) Unwound reissues, it’s going to the other end of the spectrum to resurrect stuff like Medusa. A short-lived Chicago band that played hard, hot, and fast—and lasted about as long as that pace would indicate—Medusa’s sole, self-produced full-length from 1975, First Step Beyond, is finally being reissued. And it’s a big missing link, filling in the gaps between Pentagram, The MC5, Deep Purple, and Blue Öyster Cult. Not that the dudes in Medusa were probably thinking of any of that when they made this masterful slab of raw, druggy, diabolical hard rock: This is a fucked-up record of frustration and catharsis, complete with lyrics about “black spiders on the wall of your mind.” That just about says it all.
John Semley’s Top Five of January
1. Philip H. Anselmo And Warbeast, War Of The Gargantuas
Taking its name from a cheapo mid-’60s Japanese monster movie, War Of The Gargantuas—a split EP from Pantera and Down’s Phil Anselmo and deep-fried Texas thrash-monger Warbeast—seems to position itself as a battle between two heavy-metal monsters. It works. Anselmo, backed by The Illegals, puts his definitive growls front-and-center on “Conflict” and “Family, ‘Friends,’ and Associates.” But it’s relative newcomers Warbeast, who have been opening for Down on its recent tour, that wind up stealing the show. The Pantera influence is apparent in Bruce Corbitt’s raspy, howling vocals on “Birth Of A Psycho,” a song that had me muttering “psychopathic crazy maniac, sociopathic schizophrenic” under my breath for the better part of a month. It bodes well for the band’s forthcoming sophomore LP, due later this year.
2. Attic, The Invocation
Copycatting is one thing. But if a guy can pull off a King Diamond falsetto more or less flawlessly, why wouldn’t he? On The Invocation, their first proper debut (following a self-released EP), Germany’s Attic evokes the speedy classic metal of the Great Dane, both in his solo work and his Mercyful Fate stuff, as well as proto-trash acts like Satan, all soaring vocals (courtesy of Meister Cagliostro), lyrics about graves and chalices, and entwined guitar solos. It may be retro revivalism, but The Invocation gives even peak-period King Diamond a run for his money. And that’s something.
3. Holy Grail, Ride The Void
And speaking of retro-metal revivalists (which I do pretty much every month), Pasadena’s Holy Grail proves another competent set of classical practitioners, drawing from a whole other pool of inspiration. Ride The Void, the group’s second full-length LP, is crammed with tech-y, Guitar Hero-ready solos, soaring power metal arias, and a pounding, thrash-inflected rhythm section. This is the kind of pleasingly orthodox metal designed to raise whole new generations of adolescent headbangers on the music.
4. Ptahil, The Almighty Propagator Of Doom And Despair
Sketchy, scratchy, and in places downright scary, The Almighty Propagator Of Doom And Despair fuses doom, black metal, and lo-fi production worthy of early Sebadoh records. The second record from Indiana duo Ptahil is an unholy union, to be sure. But in many places it works amazingly well, like on “Possessed By Death,” which best captures Ptahil’s fusion of two ostensibly at-odds subgenres, and on speedy closer “Hell Spells And Satanic Rituals.” Yes, some of the vocals sound like they were recorded through a payphone; just imagine it’s Satan calling collect.
5. Vales, Clarity
Like anyone who grew up listening to The Juliana Theory and local Ontario favorites (at the time, anyway) Alexisonfire, I’ll admit to a sappy soft spot for screamo. Like a lot of those early-aughts acts, U.K. quintet Vales shapes yowling vocals and reverb-heavy guitars into thundering crescendos. On the band’s new Clarity, parenthetical subtitles give away the songs’ moods, e.g. “Standing Alone (Isolation)” and “Stronghold (Destruction).” There are only five tracks on the record, but they’re put across neatly enough to inspire hyperbolic yelling of “BEST BREAKDOWN EVOOOOOOR!!!!” every two songs.
6. Cult Of Luna, Vertikal
7. Clamfight, I Versus The Glacier
8. Lightning Swords Of Death, Baphometic Chaosium
9. Otep, Hydra
10. Zatokrev, The Bat, The Wheel, And The Long Road To Nowhere
John Semley’s Retro Loud
Left For Dead, Devoid Of Everything
Released in conjunction with a handful of January reunion gigs, Devoid Of Everything collects the entire output of semi-legendary Hamilton/Toronto hardcore outfit Left For Dead. So it’s devoid of… nothing, really. Fronted by former Cursed and current Burning Love vocalist Chris Colohan, Left For Dead’s speedy 17 tracks represent the pinnacle of super-aggro, adolescent hardcore: no metalcore riffs, no breakdowns, no bullshit. Devoid Of Everything is pure caterwauling hostility, the kind of stuff best experienced in high school, well before one’s bubbling teen angst finds any sort of proper output.