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: My Dying Bride, “Hail Odysseus”
Epic English doom vet My Dying Bride had an interesting 2011. But after last year’s classically arranged Evinta—not to mention the 27-minute single “The Barghest O’ Whitby”—frontman Aaron Stainthorpe and crew are back with a new, proper studio album, A Map Of All Our Failures. It’s a surprisingly stripped-down affair, full of the group’s signature myth-spinning and meandering, monolithic riffs. Courtesy of Peaceville Records, here’s the debut of “Hail Odysseus,” one of the disc’s most tranquilly oppressive tracks.
Jason Heller’s top five of September
1. Wodensthrone, Curse
A British band with a little more creep in its step is Wodensthrone. The outfit just released its sophomore full-length, Curse, and it’s another entry in Britain’s latest wave of black metal. (See also: Winterfylleth in John Semley’s picks below.) Outside the hype, there’s plenty to love; underpinned with layers of folk instrumentation and symphonic swell, there’s a focus on atmosphere and melody that only serves to up the disc’s menace, mystique, and at times even cinematic scope. Tracks like “Battle Lines” and “The Name Of The Win” are wizened enough to evoke mist-shrouded forests and ancient deities, while short songs such as “The Storm” blur by with elemental ferocity.
2. Wiccans, Field II
In spite of the name, Wiccans do not play black metal. Or metal at all. That said, there is a striking metaphysical feel to the Texas band’s new full-length, Field II. The seven-minute title track, for lack of a better term, might as well be called Hawkwind-core; amid sweeping, wah-pedaled distortion and belligerent surrealism, the group lays down a greasy, wired hybrid of stoned sci-fi and agitated punk. Wiccans’ Texas roots are strong—for example, there’s something definitively Big Boys-esque in the horn-spiked spasm titled “Invocation,” and “March Of The Spider Queen” could pass for early Offenders. That is, if those bands listened to a lot of Blue Öyster Cult and read a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs back in the ’80s. The result is one of the most intriguing, ambitious, ass-kicking hardcore records of the year.
3. Jodis, Black Curtain
The recent announcement that Hydra Head Records was closing up shop came as a blow to anyone who’s been invested in the label’s almost-20-year reign as one of extreme music’s leading lights. Label founder Aaron Turner has made his mark in other ways as well—most notably as the frontman of Isis—and he’s been busy in an impressive array of post-Isis projects in recent months. The latest of these is Jodis. The group (which also features James Plotkin and Tim Wyskida of HH alum Khanate) just released its second album, Black Curtain. And it’s stunning. Loping, haunting, and coarsely ethereal, it sounds like field recordings of cellular decay. Turner’s vocals have never sounded so sinuous or soulful. Besides being an incredible disc in its own right, Black Curtain bears the honor of being Hydra Head’s final full-length release; it’s as good a place as any for a newcomer to enter the label’s catalog, work backward, and be changed.
4. Lightning Bolt, Oblivion Hunter
Sadly, Lightning Bolt has no new album out. Instead, Oblivion Hunter is a seven-song EP that collects various studio tracks from the past few years. The noise-happy, skull-fracking duo never fails to deliver, and Oblivion Hunter is no different; building on the group’s gravity-warped punk and militant jazziness, tracks like “King Candy” and “Fly Fucker Fly” scrape and scramble themselves into a frighteningly fun cacophony. Topping 13 minutes, closer “World Wobbly Wide” is an angular, disjointed, transcendentally abrasive jam that sounds like angels being fisted. Until a new full-length comes along, this will hold the hatchway to madness open a little while longer.
5. Hooded Menace, Effigies Of Evil
Effigies Of Evil, Hooded Menace’s new offering, opens with the sound of howling wind, but it has more going for it than Halloween effects. Borderline cartoonish yet utterly, inescapably pummeling, the Finnish group crafts a heady brew of groove-riddled doom and melodic death metal that coalesces into a monstrous scab of sound. The whole horror-flick shtick has been done, but Effigies doesn’t just sample the samples—it walks the walk, tapping into the collective nightmares of a million midnight B-movie marathons. Trick or treat.
Jason Heller’s runners-up
6. Bombs Of Hades, The Serpent’s Redemption
7. Fight Amp, Birth Control
8. Birds In A Row, You, Me & The Violence
9. Witchcraft, Legend
10. Rabbits, Bites Rites
Jason Heller’s Retro Loud
Verbal Assault, Trial
The year 1987 was a strange time for hardcore. If you believe most of the grizzled talking heads in documentaries, they’ll rant that the movement was effectively dead by 1986. True, it was a confusing few years in which many bands went pop, metal, and/or hard rock. But groups like Rhode Island’s Verbal Assault bridged the gap with guts and aplomb. The group’s 1987 masterpiece, Trial, embodies everything worth loving about East Coast HC in the ’80s: New York toughness, D.C. passion, and even hints of the funky rhythms and post-hardcore complexity that was just around the corner. Hell, the song “Scared” even has prominent piano. But melodic, outspoken anthems like “Never Stop” and the title track show why Trial is still rightly regarded as a classic: It marks a major turning point in hardcore while completely transcending its time.
John Semley’s top five of September
1. Melvins, 1983
So much Melvins this year. Following the pared-down Melvins Lite record, the EP 1983 has King Buzzo and Dale Crover reteaming with original drummer Mike Dillard, with Crover moving to bass. The title suggests a throwback to the earliest, sludgiest Melvins era. But if anything, this revised trio sounds punkier than anything that’s ever carried the Melvins name. “Stick ’Em Up Bitch” is a pretty straight-ahead thrash song that morphs midway into a cover of The Pop-O-Pies’ “Fascists Eat Donuts,” and the last song (“Walter’s Lips”) is a Lewd cover. The four tracks give Buzzo room to noodle, while Dillard’s lighter-touch drumming (compared to Crover’s pounding, anyway) keeps things briskly driving along.
2. Satan’s Wrath, Galloping Blasphemy
The band’s press release alleges that Satan’s Wrath is “the only band in the world in communication with thy master… One member alone controls 13 Satanic covens worldwide and organizes the most hideous sabbaths [sic] which our lord graces in the form of the black goat.” Is it possible that metal bands are getting too high-concept? Like Sweden’s Ghost, it can be tricky taking Satan’s Wrath seriously (unlike Satan’s wrath, which you should take very, very seriously). Less jokey is the assemblage of blackened thrash bangers. Galloping Blasphemy is just that: track after track of hurtling, guitar-driven Luciferian ripping.
3. Winterfylleth, The Threnody Of Triumph
Fitting that, as we drag our asses into October, we get a new record from English black metallers who take their name from the Old English for October—Winterfylleth. The band’s third record, The Threnody Of Triumph, plays like a funeral dirge, a folk-inspired march for the glorious dead of England’s past. Winterfylleth describes its shtick as English Heritage Black Metal (EHBM), which makes its tremolo-picked program of folkloric preservation kind of sticky, politically. (Liner notes in the band’s other records referring to threats to England’s cultural identity don’t help.) But the pseudo-xenophobic fascination with myth and history has always been an essential thread of black metal’s fabric. Tracks like “A Thousand Winters” and “The Fate Of Souls After Death” are as stirring as any of black metal’s best anthems, however troubling that may be.
4. Manowar, The Lord Of Steel
Some may balk at rating Manowar’s latest middling release as one of the best of the month. But two things motivate this: First, it counters some of the previously mentioned discomfort at liking the politically sticky English Heritage album above so damn much. Manowar may be about the riddle of steel, the power of England, fighting for king and country, and all that, but at least it’s obviously a joke. And to their credit, it’s never not funny. Second, no Manowar is bad Manowar. From its title to the by-the-numbers thunder of the power-metal anthems contained within, The Lord Of Steel feels like the product of an algorithm that cranks out Manowar songs. And that’s just fine. More than their adopted motherland of England, Metal itself is Manowar’s homeland; one they’re still dependably defending. It may be a bit routine, but as Eric Adams (still one of metal’s best vocalists) sings on “Manowarriors”: “If you don’t like it, time to leave.”
5. Beastwars, Beastwars
The North American release of the debut album from Beastwars, which is something of a sensation in its native New Zealand, gives the band the opportunity to connect with a wider audience aching for down-tuned, growly stoner rock. These nine tracks invite comparisons to Kyuss, Soundgarden, Fu Manchu, and other ’90s hard-rock heavies. Collecting catchy-enough riffs, thick basslines, and vocalist Matt Hyde’s expansive vocal range (he moves from husky crooning to howling to hilarious Marilyn Manson croaking), Beastwars represents another strain of fuzzy desert rock. It may seem all too familiar in places, but at times (“Mihi”) the band’s sound seems a hemisphere away from its more obvious influences.
John Semley’s Runners-up
6. Abstracter, Tomb Of Feathers
7. Stolen Babies, Naught
8. Khors, Wisdom Of Centuries
9. Haarp, Husks
10. Wodensthrone, Curse
John Semley’s Retro Loud
Black Widow, Sacrifice
Summer is over. It’s time for the world to wither up and die for another year. And the best—the absolute, accept-no-substitutes best—record to play through the autumn and into winter is Sacrifice, the 1970 LP by Leicester, England-based Black Widow. One of those proto-metal bands that anticipated the more formative heaviness of Black Sabbath, Black Widow fuses hard rock, psyche, folk, and Jethro Tull-ish Ren-faire fluting. Sacrifice’s key track, “Come To The Sabbat,” has become a pagan hard-rock staple. Boasting the catchiest, and maybe best, chorus in heavy-metal history (“Come, come, come to the sabbat! / Come to the sabbat! Satan’s there!”), it’s little wonder that progressively heavier bands like Bewitched, Death SS, and even Propagandhi have covered the song. Beyond its daemonic invocations, Sacrifice is the perfect record to build a Samhain party playlist around.