BEST OF 2014 — 1. Thou, ‘Heathen’ (Gilead Media)

Thou-HeathenLast December, I was pretty damn sure I knew what the top album on my 2014 list would be. That may sound unbecoming of a writer and alleged journalist to decide something like this so far in advance, but I had a feeling, and the more I repeated listening to the album in question, the more certain I was.

Here we are, a little more than a year later, and no record that was released in 2014 could topple what I heard on Thou’s unstoppable “Heathen.” Before even digging into the philosophical and lyrical content, before I had a chance to see the band interpret these songs live, there was a sense of specialness you don’t get very often with records from any category of music. This was a record from a band that has slowly, in as calculated a manner possible, built their machine from the ground up. They have poured passion, anger, defiance, vulnerability, and humanity into their picture, and as time has gone on, their vision, at least to me as a listener, has come into greater focus. “Heathen” is their finest hour, and I have no doubt what they do next will conquer this one. It’s exactly what they’ve done from their 2007 full-length debut “Tyrant,” over the course of their myriad split and mini releases, and through four complete records.

Now, digging under the surface of “Heathen,” we get a scene that’s personal, dark, furious, and imagining a new kind of existence. There are the associations with sexual and personal pleasure and gratification, the state of what it means to live as a wanting, needing human in a society full of stop signs and would-be moral codes, and the grasp of this very life we have here, what we make of it, and the fact that this could be the only plane of existence we ever inhabit. What matters is what’s going on right now and what’s directly in front of us.

All of this is delivered with crushing eloquence on the wings of vocalist Bryan Funck’s lyrics that sound like long-lost poetry buried beneath the ages. Dark lines that resonate as much today as ever and will into the future. On top of that, his delivery has an urgency and bloody honesty that’s gripping and bruising. Alongside him are his fantastic band members, who keep one foot in doom’s cavernous haunts but also delve beyond that to color the music with sounds that might scare off other metal bands. Guitarists Andy Gibbs and Matthew Thudium are both elegant and relentless in their playing, while bassist Mitch Wells and drummer John Nee hammer everything home. “Heathen” is an indescribable journey created by these five artists, a record that went wire to wire in my mind and heart as my personal favorite metal album of the entire year. Gibbs and Funck were kind enough to take time from their schedule to answer some of our questions about the record, its meaning to them, and their reflections on the past year. We thank them for their participation and for a record that etched an indelible mark on our psyches.

Thou at Gilead Fest, July 2014 (Photo by Mary Manchester)

Thou at Gilead Fest, July 2014 (Photo by Mary Manchester)

Meat Mead Metal: We’re naming “Heathen” as our top metal album of 2014. It’s another cataclysmic record, one that runs the gamut of emotions and continues to defy musical boundaries. Now that the record has been out a while and you’ve had a chance to play the tracks live a bit more, what are your feelings about the album as a whole?

Andy Gibbs: Honestly, we had been playing some of those songs for a long time before recording. We played the first track “Free Will” at a show way back in late 2011 and practiced it for a while before that. For me, I tend to view the album differently once we get into the mixing and mastering and I have to listen to all the songs a million times; that’s when the nuances of the recording start becoming apparent and I notice some idiosyncrasies. We try to play songs live for a while before recording so that any changes that come about naturally can be reflected in the recording, though some of the tracks were written right before we went into the studio. Actually, one of the interludes—“Dawn”—was written right on the spot in the studio. Now that a couple of us live across the country, we have less time to demo all the songs and work those kinks out.

MMM: For Thou’s full-length albums, you’ve gone with one-word titles—“Tyrant,” “Peasant,” “Summit,” and now “Heathen.” Has that been on purpose? Why does “Heathen” properly represent what’s going on with this record?

Bryan Funck: I think that when I joined Thou, the rest of the guys were already set on calling that first LP “Tyrant,” keeping it really simple, monolithic. Or maybe we talked about it for a second, and everyone was immediately into the idea. Either way, we’ve always tried to keep the full-lengths wrapped around a single theme. We tend to use the splits and EPs as a means to experiment, and then we’ll take some of those ideas and try to apply them to the next LP.

The idea for calling this record “Heathen” had been banging around my head since we recorded “Summit” in 2010. At the time, we were thinking of working more extensively with Southern Lord, and the rough outline of those first three records was already set in broad terms as a sort of aristocracy/lower classes/subversives or sleep/death/wakefulness. So, thinking that we were going to do two more full-lengths with Greg (Anderson), we wanted to tie them all together thematically. ”Summit” is the very broad strokes for re-envisioning society and civilization, and then the next two—”Heathen” and “Magus”—are meant to hone into the people and ideologies it would take to create this new reality.

"Heathen" vinyl cover

“Heathen” vinyl cover

MMM: Thou’s artwork always is interesting, provocative, even darkly beautiful. What is it about that style of art you feel represents Thou? Also, the cover of the CD version and the vinyl version of “Heathen” are markedly different. Why did you choose to do that?

BF: When we started putting out records, we were going for something that looked “metal” but through the lens of the older hardcore stuff I was into. The Ire/Seized split, the Tem Eyos Ki LP, that Ereshkigal 7” with the (Paul Gustav) Dore images—stuff like that I thought was perfect for a metal band. We wanted to do something simple, stark, but with a lot of woodcuts. When I first joined Thou, I was writing about a lot of typically hardcore, by-the-books subjects: religion, veganism, sexism, stabbed-me-in-the-back diatribes. All of that 15th and 16th century art got thrown on a lot of those early ’90s metalcore records, so it was banging around my head a bunch. I was using it on flyers. A lot of stuff I just started stockpiling, and then when I joined Thou, I had a pretty extensive library I was pulling from.

In the years since that first “Tyrant” demo and now, I’ve slowly tried to steer us away from the overtly doom and gloom “grim” images. We’ve done our fair share of skulls and wolves and nature images at this point, and I’m drawn to more subtle nuances these days. I also love to toy with the juxtaposition of softer images with the harshness of our music. I still love a good, brutal woodcut or a grainy black and white photo. But I think bands who are really messing around with the metal aesthetic seem much more interesting. Those three Raspberry Bulbs LPs immediately come to mind.

As far as the “Heathen” art goes, we always change it up between the CD and the LP. We could probably have made it work for both formats, but I like having two or three versions to play around with, something like variations on a theme. I like having them offer up something a little different to the audience’s take on the album, though that interest is at war with my extreme hatred for the collector fetish.

MMM: Musically, Thou are tough to classify. Yes, doom could be considered a base. But there is so much more going on beyond that. It’s such a clichéd question to ask about influences, but how did the band come to such a diverse sound that can include doom, indie rock, post-metal, and other styles of music even in one track?

AG: It wasn’t a conscious choice.  In my experience, the more you deliberately try to apply different elements to your music, the more forced it sounds. It’s why so many bands sound like “Band X” mixed with “Band Z.” With Thou, we started from a very general base of “heavy melodic riffs,” and then things just kind of took shape from there. Every different turn in our music is the result of one of us sitting at home noodling on guitar and deciding that something sounds cool enough to present to the band. Matthew and I have a pretty good feel for what’s “acceptable” to bring to practice, and that standard is what defines our band, however murky that standard may be. It’s funny, because when I listen to older songs of ours, I often wonder if some of those riffs would pass the test at practice now.

BF: I think part of it also is that we’re all fairly balanced individuals who like a wide variety of music. I think a long time ago we gave up on trying to do a “metal” band in the traditional sense. We just write music that we feel fits with our sound as a whole, regardless of whether or not someone outside of Thou is going to think it’s heavy enough or think we’re trying to add some new dimension to metal. It’s about writing music that we all care about and enjoy and still fits in the Thou box.

MMM: Lyrically, “Heathen” feels like a very human record. A lot of push and pull, encouraging real human experiences both positive and negative, defying guilt that can be associated with pleasure. At least these have been my interpretations. What are you digging at on “Heathen,” and how do these themes interact with the rest of Thou’s songs/albums/releases?

Bryan: That’s great to hear. “Heathen” is essentially about the human experience in the present tense as it’s recognized by the senses, without the weight of self-recrimination or any inner dialogue, pretty much to the point of disavowing philosophy and ideology. There’s definitely a celebration of pleasure throughout the record, but also of pain. And there’s a fair amount of nature worship on there, but mainly as it reveals our relationship with the physical world.

All that being said, the next LP should be in the exact opposite direction!

MMM: “Immortality Dictates” is a particular revelation for me as a listener. From Emily’s vocals, to the beauty and agony musical dynamics, to one of the finest lyrics on the record, “And you know that I love you, here and now, not forever. I can give you the present, I don’t know about the future.” It’s beautiful and sobering. Give some insight into this song and where it comes from.

AG: Musically, it’s something I was just kind of jamming with at my house in Oakland. We knew we wanted to get Emily on one of the songs, and the intro to that song seemed particularly fitting. Emily didn’t record her vocals until a few days after we’d finished the tracking, so the first time I heard her contribution was on a rough mix after I’d already flown back to California. It really went beyond anything I’d had in mind for the song.

BF: Sometimes I’ll start writing a song based on a title I like. That one is a play on an old Earth Crisis song. Lyrically, the majority of that song was probably influenced by Wolfi Landstreicher and Catharsis. Those last lines are a straight up rip off of Eddie Vedder riffing over the end of a live version of “Daughter.” But he might’ve pulled those from somewhere else too, haha.

MMM: Thou were the headlining act for this summer’s Gilead Fest. It felt like such a fitting culmination for a weekend that, to me and so many others, was such a special, communal gathering. What are your thoughts looking back on that weekend?

AG: That weekend was one of the highlights of my life. I’m not sure I can even put it into words, but I’ll try. The main thing that struck me was the realization that this wasn’t just a fest with a bunch of like-minded bands, but rather a real community. I realized that all the bands performing were full of people that I actually enjoyed being around, whose music and thoughts on music were worth listening to. And it’s not just the bands. There were plenty of journalists, photographers, and fans of the music hanging around and engaging with people. The barrier between performers and audience just wasn’t really present. I also realized that the majority of the attendees watched literally every band. The crowd never really thinned out, which I think speaks to the quality of music Adam Bartlett is willing to endorse.

BF: I generally hate shows with more than two or three bands, and fests are the absolute worst. But Gilead has been a wonderful experience both years. Lots of great people involved in every aspect. Andy has it completely right that there’s so much crossover, and it’s fabulous. Adam is around hanging out or yelling at people, Tucker is running sound, Adam’s wife and mom are working the door. It feels much more like a homespun DIY punk festival than a mostly metal thing, despite a lot of the folks’ obsession with wearing exclusively black clothing.

MMM: The band has had a long-standing relationship with Gilead Media, but also a ferociously independent DIY philosophy. First, talk about what the Gilead union means to you. Second, talk about the importance of remaining so vociferously independent.

AG: Gilead consistently reaffirms my faith in DIY labels. I think what makes us a good match ideologically speaking is a commitment to both an anti-corporate DIY mentality and absolute quality control over art. But above that, we just like to deal exclusively with people that we think are solid folks. When we met Adam back in 2008, we hit it off immediately, and I know that I count him as a friend before considering him a business partner or whatever. This is also the case with virtually all of the other labels we deal with like Robotic Empire, Vinyl Rites, Vitriol, and plenty others. Actually, I talked to Bettina from Thrill Jockey for a long time at Gilead, and it made me even more excited to be working with them on the Body collaboration (“You, Whom I Have Always Hated,” due Jan. 27.).

BF: Although I personally love the sometimes militantly anti-capitalist nature of DIY culture, as a band I think it applies to us in a much more practical sense in terms of our control over the music and art as a whole. I never really understand bands who are hands off with any aspect. I mean, a lot of this stuff is tedious and doesn’t necessarily fit everyone’s vision of playing music and “rocking out, bro,” but it’s all part of it. So to give up ownership/responsibility for even something as “miniscule” as an advertisement that’s getting shot out to represent your art, I just can’t even wrap my head around that sometimes!

For more on the band, go here: http://noladiy.org/thou.html

To buy the album, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

BEST OF 2014 — 2. PANOPTICON, ‘Roads to the North’ (Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis)

Panopticon cover
Anyone who doesn’t think metal is a personal endeavor has not been introduced to Panopticon and its creator Austin Lunn. Over the course of this project’s existence, it has touched upon and exposed subject matter that would make most black metal “enthusiasts” scoff, such as the heavy toll paid by those who depend on social services and the plight of Kentucky coal miners.

But Lunn is not your average musician, nor does he adhere to some archaic formula for what must embody black metal, or metal for that matter. Here is a man who cares for his fellow person, who hurts at the mention of injustice, and who takes great pride in pouring himself into each ounce of his music. This is a major reason Lunn’s work here in Panopticon and elsewhere has meant so much to me. I feel like, here’s a guy not afraid to put himself out there. Here’s a guy who can stare down the people who demand a certain aesthetic and approach from black metal and doesn’t blink. He follows his own path and sees his vision right up to the end. An honorable man. Metal could use more people like Lunn and more bands like Panopticon.

“Roads to the North” is a record that just stomped on my heart from the start. It’s a document that I had an easy time absorbing because of my admiration for Panopticon’s body of work but also took me a little further than usual. Here, Lunn documents major changes in his life and his journey away from his longtime home and friends in Kentucky and to a “strange land” in Norway, where he started to follow his path toward becoming a brewer. If you’re not familiar, read our review here https://meatmeadmetal.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/pick-of-the-week-panopticons-lunn-documents-life-journey-on-great-roads-to-the-north/ where you can learn all you need to know. Lunn assembled musicians with whom he is close (including members of Waldgefluster, Obsequiae, Celestiial, Altar of Plagues, and many more) and what resulted is a transcendent experience you must hear to understand. This isn’t just a record. It’s a snap shot—his words—of a time in his life that was existence-altering. Lunn was kind enough to answer our questions, and in a way on he could, impart his humanity and humility into the responses. We thank him, not just for his answers, but for his music that has changed the way we hear metal.

Meat Mead Metal: We are naming “Roads to the North” as the No. 2 metal album of the year. It seems this album really has resonated with people not just as a great metal record but also emotionally. How does that make you feel both as an artist and a person?

Austin Lunn: I’m not sure how to react to it all. I make music for my own sake, as a way to process my thoughts and feelings. So when it resonates with other people, I have a myriad reactions to it. I often get really embarrassed or hyper critical of myself, like maybe I could have done better. But then I remember that it’s best to “come from the heart” and play like no one is listening, as Mr. Guy Clark said.

MMM: With Panopticon’s past records, you have concentrated a lot on social issues and topics such as the plight of Kentucky coal miners. But on “Roads to the North,” you’ve created a very personal portrait, an intimate look into a period of your life where you went through a major journey and transformation. Why did you decide to reveal so much of yourself on this record?

AL: “On the Subject of Mortality” was also an intensely personal album, as was both “Social Disservices” and “Kentucky.” The album takes a stance that is less about social commentary than the records before, and yeah, I am done for the time being with social commentary. But as in the past, I still remain an introspective person who deals with my own troubles and thoughts via music. I think I am trying to find a place of peace and calm with music these days. I am attracted to music that is inspired by location, inspired by nature, so that is what I am striving for, to reflect the land I tread, places that are dear to me, and the seasons that inspire me.

MMM: You continue to meld traditional American folk music into your sound on “Roads to the North.” Do you consider this a permanent aspect of the project’s sound now? Could you add even more musical elements into future recordings?

AL: I’m not sure if that will be permanent. I am just trying to follow the inspiration while I have a hold of it. Who knows what is to come?

MMM: There is a long section in the middle of the album that is “The Long Road” triptych. It’s quite the journey you go through as a listener on those tracks, and I can only imagine what you put into that from your standpoint. Explain as much as you care to what portion of your transformation we’re at during this point of the record. It feels like things are coming to a head.

AL: “The Long Road” is a love song of sorts. The instrumental section is an auditory snap shot of my last night at my house in Louisville. That house was a gathering place for my crew. We drank thousands of beers in that house and around the fire pit over the years, so “One Last Fire” was about splitting and burning the rest of my  firewood, drinking as many beers as we could, and building the fire a big as we could late into the night. It was our “last” hurrah.

“Capricious Miles” is my thank you to my Louisville friends. It’s a promise that I will return home as much as possible. And I do. “The Sigh of Summer” is very personal. It’s about feeling so goddamn alone in a new place. Standing around a new fire pit on the cusp of autumn with new people I don’t know, drinking beers that aren’t regionally available back home. It feels like going through the motions. Trying to find the ease and comfort of friends now in my 30s is a fool’s errand. My family and I have had to grow accustomed to our life changes, and there have certainly been some unanticipated growing pains.

MMM: “Norwegian Nights” is one of those tracks many black metal-style bands would not attempt. It’s tender, vulnerable, and a very human moment. Talk about that track and what it means to this album.

AL: It is another snap shot. I wrote the bulk of that song when (his wife) Bek and I were living in a one-room cabin at the edge of Drammen, Norway. I was a month into my internship. We were living in a foreign land, getting used to the way things worked over there. It was a lament to changes and changes to come. Musically, it is very inspired by Blaze Foley and Townes Van Zandt, who have been big inspirations to me over the past years.

MMM: Ultimately, how do you feel about how this record has been embraced by metal fans, and how do you feel it stands as a milestone in your career? Could we expect more personal records from Panopticon in the future?

AL: I’m not sure. I try not to read reviews and internet stuff. People can act pretty callous when they don’t have to see the expression on someone’s face when they say negative things. On the other hand, the praise has been nice, but I have never been good at accepting compliments. In general, I just feel awkward. So generally, I just keep my head down and focus on work.

MMM: On a different note, but still related, how are things going with Hammerheart Brewing? Seems like you guys have a lot going on and things are really moving quite well

AL: I try not to wear too many hats at once. I do my best to keep my work at Hammerheart as separate as possible from Panopticon.

MMM: Hammerheart has a 98 percent on Beer Advocate. Not sure if things like that mean anything to you, but what’s your reaction to that one?

AL: I am eternally in debt  to my mentors at Haand Bryggeriet and very thankful for them. They have trained me and given me a way to provide for myself and my family for the rest of my life, and for that I feel incredibly fortunate.

MMM: What’s next for Panopticon? Considering you always seem to be creating something musically, it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to ask if you’re already thinking of a new record. Anything else going on with your myriad other projects?

AL: I completed the work for “Roads to the North” well over a year ago. In that time (since), I have completed demos for an entire new album and will be entering the studio at Menegroth with Colin Marston sometime in the spring. The new songs don’t sound like “Roads to the North.” They are a bit more autumn-themed and melancholic. The inspiration and idea for this album came up in 2010 when I was in Norway for the second time driving near Flå (listening to The Morningside) in autumn. The mountains were golden with the sun breaking through a clouded sky. It was so beautiful. I realized that I am absolutely obsessed with autumn and needed to make album inspired by it.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PANOPTICONBAND

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=1480

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=202

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/

BEST OF 2014 — 3. YOB, ‘Clearing the Path to Ascend’ (Neurot Recordings)

YOB coverThere is no other band in heavy metal quite like YOB. Their music is heavy and pulverizing, but you don’t walk away sullen or depressed. If you feel uplifted when all is said and done, don’t be surprised.

Funny, but there’s been a lot of talk the last few weeks, especially on this site’s comments section, about what comprises metal culture and what should and should not be. Yet, no one can question how truly heavy and metal YOB are. They don’t need to posture or drop silly references to the devil or evil or try to make other people feel unwelcome. They plug in, connect spiritually, and just blow the doors down. They’ve done that on every release they’ve put out during the past 15 years plus, and each of their seven records offers something different and explosive. Their latest, the amazing “Clearing the Path to Ascend,” is one of their mightiest to date and arguably their best work ever. After spending the last two releases with the always awesome Profound Lore, the band released this new album on Neurot Recordings (Relapse handled the vinyl version), a home just as honorable and fitting.

Guitarist/vocalist/lyricist/visionary Mike Scheidt and his bandmates Aaron Rieseberg (bass) and Travis Foster (drums) find a new volcanic level on “Clearing.” From British philosopher Alan Watts’ opening urging, “Time to wake up,” on first track “In Our Blood” through to the emotional curtain dropper “Marrow,” the band takes you on a physical, psychological journey on these four songs that run just over an hour combined. In fact, if we named a track of the year, “Nothing to Win” might take home the honors, as it’s one of the band’s most devastating, infectious songs in their rock-solid catalog, and there is never a time where that thing doesn’t get my blood charging and raise my spirits. We were very fortunate to have a chance to ask Scheidt some questions about the band’s great new record, where the YOB’s positive messages come from, and what lies ahead for the group. Long live this amazing band that just gets better the more road they travel.

Yob Press Photos 2014 - Clearing The Path To AscendMeat Mead Metal: We’re naming “Clearing the Path to Ascend” as the No. 3 metal album of 2014. It’s a fine achievement, another strong entry into the already powerful YOB catalog. Now that the record has been out a while and you’ve had a chance to play these songs live, what are your thoughts on what you accomplished with this album?

Mike Scheidt: We’re very glad you dig our new album. Gratitude! We agonized over this music, and it’s been very satisfying to have it both be a progression for what we do and to have it sit in well with our past work. The support and generally really favorable response is overwhelming, and we are blown away. We don’t have many goals beyond writing the music that closest reflects where we are at as people, and to make music that makes us really excited in our jam room. If that happens, then it’s already served its purpose for us, and we feel like we can put it out there for other folks to hear. The band has already gone so much farther than we could have imagined, that everything now is a continual trip and we feel very lucky.

MMM: The title “Clearing the Path to Ascend” is an interesting one that also seems like it fits well into YOB lore. What is the meaning behind it?

MS: It’s personal. It has to do with things I am trying to work through. The only way music I write feels like something worth going through the process of writing, recording, touring, etc. is if it’s dealing with subjects that are close to home. The flipside to that is it’s also a very nerve-wracking process that may sometimes teeter on being too revealing. But anything less doesn’t feel right for YOB. To even talk about it post-recording is arguably too much.

MMM: So many metal bands, especially in the doom circle, have violent, negative vibes to them. Understandably so. But YOB always feel different. There is a positivity, even a spirituality to the music that seems to encourage reaching beyond the dark. Even the band’s URL is yobislove.com. Do you agree with that assessment? If so, where does that come from?

MS: I love dark bands and vibes and largely resonate with them. My lyrics and vibes are geared more towards my personal hopes and growth. That includes meditation, Eastern mysticism, and positivity to help with clinical depression that consistently borders on ruining it all. That tension is where I write from, and I’m trying to get better. At the end of the day, love is what makes it bearable.

MMM: The record starts with Alan Watts’ quote, “Time to wake up.” It’s not the first time you’ve used a Watts quote, and he also speaks more during the later stages of “In Our Blood.” What does he mean to you and to the band’s philosophies?

MS: Alan Watts has been a source of inspiration to me for over 25 years. His intense humor and wisdom, deep intelligence and wit as a writer, speaker and practitioner is an amazing gift he gave to the world. He has been a part of YOB’s work from day one.

MMM: This record certainly is one that I feel is meant to be consumed as a whole. There are great, smashing highs like “Nothing to Win” (might be my personal favorite YOB song, by the way) to the closer “Marrow” that really stretches out and explores so many different dynamics. What do you hope listeners get from committing to this record as a whole journey?

MS: Our hope,, if any, is that after listening to the album, someone might feel better. Whatever that means to them. We don’t have demands to anyone who listens. For those who can climb on that trip with us, it’s an honor. For those who just dig the heaviness of the music and could care less about the lyrics that is equally great. We write and record, play shows, and give everything we have. But how it is received and heard, is very personal to the person listening or watching and as such may not have anything to do with our motivations. It is theirs, not ours. Whether someone likes it, loves it, hates it, resonates, or is indifferent, it’s all good.

MMM: This is the band’s first record for Neurot. Why was this a good home for YOB, and how do you feel about the association?

MS: As massive fans of Neurosis and their work, to be on the label they created for themselves and have their confidence is an amazing honor. The timing was perfect, and we couldn’t be happier.

MMM: What does YOB have planned for 2015? Are you looking at doing more touring? Creating new music? All of the above?

MS: We will be touring with Enslaved and Ecstatic Vision throughout March, and will add US headlining shows on that trip as well. We are very excited about that. We will be looking at some other smaller trips throughout 2015, and I am sure we will be doing some writing, but we won’t rush that. I will also be working on the new Vhol album, as well as a new solo album and a couple of new projects. It will be a very busy year.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.yobislove.com

To buy the album, go here: http://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.neurotrecordings.com/

BEST OF 2014– 4. BASTARD SAPLING, ‘Instinct Is Forever’ (Forcefield Records/Gilead Media)

Bastard Saling coverThe debate over what truly constitutes black metal has grown quite tiresome. You have the disciples of the Second Wave insisting it only be about Satan, you have others who claim it should be chaos and the darkest, most hateful emotions possible, and you have those who believe it should have no set rules and turn into whatever its creator decides it should be.

The above creates a lot of online drama and insanely mind-numbing debates on Reddit. I don’t care what people decide it is. For me, I want something that sounds like it comes from the depth of the soul, a record that is reaching out to affect you emotionally and physically, and music that isn’t afraid to push boundaries and buttons and not adhere to a set formula. That’s where Richmond, Va., band Bastard Sapling come in for me. Their sound certainly is grounded in black metal aesthetics, but they don’t paste themselves into a corner and refuse to move beyond that area. They dash their sound with atmospherics, Southern rock-style shades, and even some doom, making each song an adventure you cannot predict front to back.

While Bastard Sapling–vocalist Mike Paparo (also of Inter Arma), guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Drew Goldy (of Organ Donor), guitarist Steven Russell (Inter Arma), bassist Trey Dalton (Inter Arma), and drummer Elway (Organ Donor)–got off to a dynamic start on 2012 debut album “Dragged From Our Restless Trance,” they push things into even higher gear on “Instinct Is Forever,” their 65-minute sophomore effort that blew up our expectations from the first listen. This record (released in a joint effort by Forcefield and Gilead Media) is heavy, emotional, dark, aggressive, and incredibly ambitious, peaking on amazing tracks including emotionally devastating opener “My Spine Will Be My Noose,” a track that could speak to anyone mired in personal darkness; imaginative and raucous “The Opal Chamber”; sinister and infectious “The Killer In Us All”; and the restless “Lantern at the End of Time,” one of their most creative, gripping songs to date.

Both Paparo and Goldy took some time to answer questions about their earth-quaking second record, some of the themes behind these songs, and what black metal means to them as an art form. We thank them for their time and for a dynamic record that hasn’t left our ears since the promo arrived in the spring.

Bastard SaplingMeat Mead Metal: We’re naming “Instinct Is Forever” as one of the No. 4 metal album of the year. This record has been on pretty constant rotation here ever since the promo landed in the inbox. Do you feel like this is a record where the band really came into its own?

Mike Paparo: Well, first off, thank you for the inclusion. Personally, I feel like we stepped up our game so to speak for this record. The production quality was raised, the performances are top notch, and we are definitely very proud of this record. It’s the record we have always wanted to make I think.

MMM: I got a chance to see you guys at Gilead Fest this past summer, and yours was one of the more intense performances of that weekend. It seems like you guys really pour yourself into these songs when playing live. Is that true?

MP: I’d like to feel like it is. It’s black metal. It needs to be intense. I don’t ever want to see a black metal band (or any metal/punk band for that matter) and just see a bunch of musicians standing there, lackadaisically going through the motions. That’s weak.

MMM: As far as the title “Instinct Is Forever” goes, what is the origin of the title? Who came up with it, and what is the meaning behind it?

Drew Goldy: Originally, the title “Instinct Is Forever” was jotted down for a song I was putting together. Its resurrection happened when shit went into full throttle for the creation/writing of this record. There are a lot of lyrics throughout that hint at many relevant meanings to it. Basically, humans are destructive, polluting, violent creatures and display more evil then good. That will forever overshadow any positives in this world.

MMM: The opening track “My Spine Will Be My Noose” is a really rousing, crushing song, but underneath there appears to be a darker message. I thought I read somewhere that some of the members of the band have dealt with depression and other mental issues? Is that the case, and if so, is that what’s behind the song—especially with the repeated call of “I’ll end my life”—or is there something else behind it?

MP: It has to do with depression. Some of the lyrics to the song are blocked out in the record/CD gatefold/booklet because the lyrics are just too personal. Those are the darkest, most personal lyrics I have ever written.

MMM: Speaking of troubling thoughts, “The Killer in Us All” on the surface feels like it is a reminder that everyone has a dark side and things that gnaw at them. Is that what you were going for with this one?

MP: That is 100% what I was going for.

MMM: The first track most of the world got to hear from the record was “Lantern at the End of Time,” which features Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand. Why did you choose Dorthia for that song, and what do you feel she brings to the track?

DG: That song in particular is the epitome of an individual’s catharsis put into one single song.  It’s meant for anyone that has suffered the loss of a loved one or friend. Especially if that one person was your world. Dorthia is a good friend of ours. She was a part of the first full length in 2012. So of course we welcomed her and the undeniable talent to add to what “lantern” displays musically and lyrically.

MMM: Like any style of metal as it develops, people form opinions about what is and is not, for example, black metal. Certainly Bastard Sapling bring something different and more expansive to the table than the second wave, for example. So in 2014, what is black metal to you?

DG: Good question. I could go on and on about this one and walk in circles. Simply, to me it has lost its origins and expanded beyond itself, in a sea of people trying to save it from drowning. Hopefully that will only add fresh perspective and decent revival from newer bands.  You did mention “waves” get it? Ocean, Sea, Waves… (Editor’s note: Yep! Got it.)

MMM: Bastard Sapling folds a lot of other sounds into the mix other than black metal, which you can hear on something like “The Elder.” Where do those other influences come from?

DG: We just went with our Instinct.

MMM: “Instinct” was released by two labels—Forcefield and Gilead Media—that handled different formats. How have your relationships been with each label, and what does each mean to you?

MP: Our relationship with both labels has been amazing. We have massive respect for both Adam and Tim and deeply admire what they do. It’s an absolute honor to be associated with Forcefield and Gilead Media.

MMM: What does the band have planned in 2015? You did a lot of touring in 2014, so will that continue? Or do you guys have stuff planned with your other bands? Enlighten us!

MP: At this point we don’t have anything planned for 2015. I’m sure something will come about. As for other bands, Inter Arma always has something going on. That’s pretty much a given!

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bastardsapling

To buy the album, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

Or here: http://shop.forcefieldrecords.org/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

Or here: http://www.forcefieldrecords.org/site/

Best of 2014 — 5. PRIMORDIAL, ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ (Metal Blade)

Inlaysheet.epsI’m tired of hearing how U2 is Ireland’s greatest musical export. Maybe at one time that was true, but they’ve dissolved into the very thing they always seemed to be against. For us metal fans, the best thing ever to come from that land is and always will be Primordial.

Ever since the band’s start two decades ago, Primordial have gifted the world with records that explode with passion, anger, sadness, and regret. They’ve dug up history and challenged organized religion, pounded the drums for freedom, and always given us music in which we could believe. From their thunderous start on 1995’s classic “Imrama” onto where they stand today, Primordial have become one of the most important and respected bands in all of metal. And they have yet to let us down artistically over the course of their first seven albums, their most recent before 2011 coming on “Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand,” a record that stood out before you heard any music simply from its uncharacteristic white cover.

As 2014 was growing long in the tooth, it seemed we wouldn’t hear again from Primordial until early in 2015 (or so we were led to believe by myriad online reports). But the pronouncement of their eighth record “Where Greater Men Have Fallen” would arrive late in 2014 and gave us reason to be excited for the colder months. Once the music permeated our senses, it was clear we had in our hands another vital document in this band’s history. From the throbbing opening title track (is there a band that opens records better than these guys?), to the dark “Babel’s Tower,” into grittier cuts “The Seed of Tyrants” and “The Alchemist’s Head,” Primordial proved their messages are as bloody honest and relevant as ever, and that their creative spark is burning heavily.

Primordial vocalist Alan “AA Nemtheanga” Averill was kind enough to answer some questions about the record over e-mail. You’ll see from his short, direct responses that he didn’t want to mince words and instead got right to the point. He also corrected a few of our assertions, which is great because that’s why we asked the questions. Averill was the man with the answers, and he let us know exactly what we needed to and nothing more. Our thanks to him for his time and to the entire band for a glorious new album.

PrimordialMeat Mead Metal: “Where Greater Men Have Fallen” is No. 5 in our annual Top 40 metal albums of the year list. It’s another passionate, vital entry not only into the Primordial canon but into metal lore in general. How do you feel about the band’s accomplishments on this record now that it has been released into the world?

Alan Averill: It’s just another chapter for us, you know? Never thought we would get to album number 8 but here we are. We just took our time and (waited to) when it all fell into place.

MMM: From the bio that accompanied the promo of the record, it sounds like the music came together pretty quickly. Talk about its creation a bit—what you wanted to say musically and lyrically, why now was the right time for the record to come into shape, how the creative process progressed.

AA: Well, yes and no. Once we moved to the rehearsal space at the start of the year, things began to happen with more haste, but some of the ideas had been around in one shape or another for a while. Like I said, things take some time, and we don’t plan a long time ahead. It just worked out that 2014 was the right time.

MMM: The title of the album and the accompanying title track are interesting choices. The song seems to speak of people not learning from history and having to suffer the same heartbreak and tragedies all over again as a result. What is your particular inspiration for this song and for making this the title of the record?

AA: The pivotal line is really, “They promised the century to you, and all you did was bury your dead.” It’s really about the promise of the 20th century delivering bloodshed and warfare on a greater scale than anyone imagined. Shattered hopes and empty rhetoric. Economics and power. Violence is the prince of this world.

MMM: “Babel’s Tower” is another standout track, both musically and message wise. There are many ways one could look at this song, from its Biblical story, to the way people rejected progress and understanding over the years, to passing judgment. And perhaps my way of hearing the words is off base. What is the journey you hope people take with this song?

AA: It’s a simple song about misunderstandings and the pivotal line is, “I preached the world was flat.” It’s my way of an apology for preaching something I did not believe in.

MMM: The video for the song is an engaging piece, one that hooks you and makes you follow the hooded figure’s journey until the reveal at the end. Video seems to be a lost art, but Primordial obviously still embrace the medium. What do you feel the clip does to enhance the song and deliver its messages?

AA: We wanted something more cinematic and arresting. Not the usual band in a warehouse headbanging thing. I guess most metal videos are missing some imagination. You can make something like this with a reduced budget. For us it was just a new challenge.

MMM: The band’s sound has grown very organically over the years, from the grislier, blacker earlier form to the way more melody and majesty have been incorporated into the sound. Do you see Primordial’s sound as much a living breathing thing as much as its members are? If so, where do you go from here?

AA: Again I hear this, and it’s for the most part not true. The new album is far darker and grittier then “Journey’s End,” for example. The opening track on “Imrama’ is just 4/4 rock n roll. I have no idea. We don’t think about it.

MMM: There are some tracks that have some of those heavier elements we heard from Primordial earlier in your career—“The Seed of Tyrants” and “The Alchemist’s Head” are examples. Was it a conscious decision to take things a little heavier in spots on this record, or is it just how things worked out?

AA: Again, nothing is decided. We write what we write, and if we are happy with it, then this is what you hear. Nothing more and nothing less really. The band is heavier than we ever were, if you ask me.

MMM: Primordial have had so much to say about history, humanity, wars, and the way certain forces prevent people’s freedom. Do you have hope for humanity? Do you feel we’re in a dark era from which we’ll never emerge?

AA: “The Seed of Tyrants” states, “Remove the tyrant and a dozen will take his place with ever greater bloodlust.” The future of this world is dictated by power and economics, therefore the future is only the jackboot upon the throat of humanity.

MMM: What does the band have planned for 2015 as far as touring? You have a slot of Maryland Deathfest in May. Can we expect any other U.S. dates around that appearance?

AA: It looks unlikely we will play other shows around the festival, but hopefully we can come back later on in the year. America is a hard place to tour for European bands, but we will try again.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.primordialweb.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/

BEST OF 2014: 10-6

Horrendous cover10. HORRENDOUS, “Ecdysis” (Dark Descent): So there I was, lying on a beach in late August, enjoying the sun, and digging into my first listen to Horrendous’ new opus “Ecdysis.” Yeah, it’s not the most death metal setting in the world, but it’s where I seem to have these yeah-toppling experiences with music. I was in nearly the same spot last year the first time I heard the latest Oranssi Pazuzu album, and “Ecdysis” had the same profound effect on me where I’d remember the time and place and feeling the first time I heard this incredible album.

The East Coast-situated Horrendous already impressed with their 2012 debut full-length “The Chills,” but this thing was something else entirely. From the epic opener “The Stranger,” one of the best songs in their short catalog, all the way to cataclysmic ending “Titan,” this band blows away your expectations of what to expect from death metal. There is creativity crossed with brutality on this record, and it’s one that could unite listeners who want it raw and nasty with ones who appreciate sharp musicianship. “Ecdysis” really has it all, and it’s a gigantic step into the future for one of death metal’s most promising bands. (Released Oct. 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/HorrendousDeathMetal

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

Morbus Chron cover9. MORBUS CHRON, “Sweven” (Century Media): Morbus Chron’s 2011 debut “Sleepers in the Rift” hinted at good things ahead for the Swedish death metal band. But there’s no way anyone outside of the band could have guessed just how much was brewing and bubbling underneath the surface creatively, which the world learned all about when stunning “Sweven” was unleashed upon the world. Their transformation into a spacey new beast is damn near Opeth-ian, and the incredible music on their sophomore record exclaims that Morbus Chron are an alien force whose next steps cannot possibly be predicted.

If you like a heavy dose of psychedelics with your death, no one does it better than these guys. Balancing trippy and devastating is not an easy chore, but they pull it off seamlessly on this imaginative album. Instrumental opener “Berceuse” hints at the journey that’s ahead, and that pays dividends on cuts including “Chains,” “Towards a Dark Sky,” and “Beyond Life’s Sealed Abode.” This is a total mind bender, an really memorable record we’ll be praising years from now when looking back on this era’s best metal albums. It’s that good and that essential. (Released Feb. 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/morbuschron

To buy the album, go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://centurymedia.com/

Mortals cover8. MORTALS, “Cursed to See the Future” (Relapse): The news that Mortals had joined the Relapse roster was triumphant in many different ways. First, the label was adding yet another stellar band to their ranks, one that ended up being one of their heaviest acts. On the other hand, the three musicians who comprise Mortals’ lineup—Elizabeth Cline, Lesley Wolf, and Caryn Havlik—have worked their asses off, made killer music for several years, and deserved to finally go to a place where their work could be heard by way more people. If that’s not a win-win, then what is?

The band responded with their superb second full-length “Cursed to See the Future,” a document that built on what they only hinted at on 2012 EP “Death Ritual.” The songs have grown longer and more complex, they’ve grasped death and black metal by the throat, and their conviction pummels you on these six songs that are both fearsome and refreshing. The bulk of the tracks hang around the nine-minute mark, destroying you with fiery progression and striking at you with a hot sword screaming for blood. “Epochryphal Doom,” the sinister “Devilspeak,” and clubbing finisher “Anchored in Time” are violent, daring, intelligent, and examples of some of the most forward-thinking metal of the year. Long may this band run. (Released July 8)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/mortalstheband

To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.relapse.com/

Pallbearer cover7. PALLBEARER, “Foundations of Burden” (Profound Lore): Pallbearer’s story of their unlikely rise to underground metal prominence is one most people probably know by now. In case anyone is new to their tale, the band released their unreal debut “Sorrow and Extinction” in 2012, bringing back into focus vocal-centered doom and ending up on a number of year-end lists as the kings (including ours). Now with their second album “Foundations of Burden,” they faced pressure and expectations for the first time, and there likely would be people just waiting to pounce if they delivered something not up to par.

What Pallbearer ended up doing was proving their debut was no fluke and that they are a heavily celebrated young metal band for a reason. The melodies are even deeper on this record (immerse yourself in the wondrous “Foundations” for a quick education) and even took some serious chances (quasi-ballad “Ashes”) that would scare away “more extreme” bands. Pallbearer have become a destination metal band, a group whose new work always will be a major event worth anticipating and celebrating. The genre doesn’t have a whole lot of those anymore, but these guys are seeing to it that you can make an honest, smart, gripping metal record and receive adulation while remaining true to your art. I can’t wait to hear what they do next. (Released Aug. 19)

For more on the band, go here: http://pallbearerdoom.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/pallbearer/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

digi mall [Converted]6. BLUT AUS NORD, “Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry” (Debemur Morti): When French black metal dreamers Blut Aus Nord completed their “777” trilogy in 2012, it seemed perhaps the long-standing band might take a different creative turn. Anyone who lived through that saga knows that with each installment, the Vindsval-led band morphed into a stranger and stranger creature. “Cosmosophy” was an incredible document no doubt, but it barely resembled the black metal people who come to know and demand from the band.

The announcement of a third installment of the “Memoria Vetusta” series landed this fall, and those who hoped for a return to form likely were thrilled in their hiking boots. This album is warped, destructive, and hellacious, yet the band’s creativity and colorful personality remain deeply imbedded. I loved the twists they took on the “777,” series but hearing the band trying to rip a hole in the Earth again also sounds damn good. Another thing is the songs logically flow together, feeling a part of a whole but each having distinct DNA. It’s a masterful way to pull you through tracks including “Paien,” “Tellus Mater,” and “Metaphor of the Moon” and make sure you see each intergalactic feature along the way. I’m pretty much down with whatever Blut Aus Nord have offered us over the years, but it’s also nice to have the vicious version of the band back. (Released Oct. 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/blutausnord.official

To buy the album, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

For more on the label, go here: http://www.debemur-morti.com/en/

Best of 2014: 20-11

Foreseen cover20. FORESEEN HKI, “Helsinki Savagery” (20 Buck Spin): Crossover thrash hasn’t been totally oversaturated yet, luckily. There are a handful of good bands who play the style really well, and one of those is Finnish group Foreseen HKI. Their debut “Helsinki Savagery” is aptly named, because that’s what you get on this masher that slams 10 cuts into a little under 37 minutes. The tempo are absolutely crushing and looking to do damage, the vocals are harsh and attitudinal, which you absolutely need doing this style, and there isn’t a down moment on this whole thing. These guys should appeal to anyone still dining on DRI and the Cro-Mags as well as younger fans who have found a haven of madness with bands such as Power Trip and Noisem. Get ready to get your face ripped off. (Released Nov. 11)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Foreseen

To buy the album, go here: http://www.20buckspinshop.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/20buckspin

Witch Mountain cover19. WITCH MOUNTAIN, “Mobile of Angels” (Profound Lore): One of the year’s biggest downers as far as stories are concerned is Uta Plotkin’s decision to leave Witch Mountain and strike out on her own. No doubt she’s going to go on to great things, as will this band, but they worked so damn perfectly together, evidence of which is “Mobile of Angels,” easily their best record. This is one of those albums where you can tell all the players had stumbled onto the same magic and were just in the zone with what they were creating, and Plotkin is dynamite here. She lets emotions run over, shows the right amount of restraint when it’s called for, and absolutely soars everywhere else. Opener “Psycho Animundi” is threatening and cold; “Your Corrupt Ways (Sour the Hymn)” could be their best song to date; and closer “The Shape Truth Takes” feels like the proper ending for this version of the band. (Released Sept. 30)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/witchmountain

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

MR cover18. MUTILATION RITES, “Harbinger” (Prosthetic): There’s nothing pretty about what NYC black metal destruction unit Mutilation Rites does. And there doesn’t need to be. They’re filthy and furious, with their trademark sound helping them stand out in the pack. You know the band when you hear them, from their furious riffing, to the destructive drumming, to George Paul’s sore throat-style howling. “Harbinger” is a huge step up creatively from their great last album “Empyrean,” as the group’s time being road warriors is paying off. There is a ferocity here that sounds well planned but also off the cuff, as the guys storm through opener “Black Pyramid”; “Contaminate,” which sounds like “Rust” era Megadeth, only more animalistic and malicious; and “Suffer the Children,” which could bust up your kneecaps and then apply a submission hold you can’t break and they won’t release. (Released July 22)

For more on the band, go here: http://mutilationrites.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://mutilationrites.com/store

Or here: http://store.prostheticrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://prostheticrecords.com/

Occultation cover17. OCCULTATION, “Silence in the Ancestral House” (Profound Lore): Profound Lore, whose releases practically dominate slots 20-11, have one hell of a diverse roster. One of their most unique is Occultation, a band that didn’t get nearly enough credit for their amazing, entrancing second album “Silence in the Ancestral House.” There is so much going on here that could put you in a magick-induced haze, with E.M.’s (also of Negative Plane) guitar work creating the perfect mind-altering fog and V.B.’s singing creating the ideal mood for these dark epiphanies. “The First of the Last” never fails to move me spiritually, and it has soundtracked more than one dark beer session over the fall; “All Hallow’s Fire” has burning guitar work that reminds of classic heavy metal, with the singing exploring the mysteries of death and life; and “Forever Hereafter” is downright bone-chilling, a great mix of doom and rock and roll. This thing is spectacular. (Released Oct. 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occultation/127574070630828?fref=ts

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

wrought iron cover16. WROUGHT IRON, “Rejoice and Transcend” (Grimoire): OK, fine, maybe you think we’re biased that we have this Pittsburgh band Wrought Iron ranked so high. If you’re one of those, go put on the band’s demolition-bringing debut “Rejoice and Transcend” and return to offer your apologies. These guys bring the fire live (there are times when it feels like vocalist Kenny Snyder is going to attack someone), and their nine-track, 35-minute monster of a record delivers just as much bruising. Mixing black and death metal with some grind, there’s nothing on this album that offers any calm. They just piledrive the shit out of you over and over again, with the music fast, dizzying and hellish and with vocals that sound like they originate in hell. So yeah, maybe there’s a little soft spot for these local dudes done well, but what they accomplish on “Rejoice and Transcend” is enough to make any Pittsburgh metal fan beam with pride. And these guys are just beginning! (Released June 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wroughtironpgh

To buy the album, go here: http://grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com/album/rejoice-and-transcend

For more on the label, go here: http://www.grimoirerecords.com/

Mence Ruine cover15. MENACE RUINE, “Venus Armata” (Profound Lore): So, my wife isn’t a fan of metal or heavy music. I don’t know how we make it work. Anyway, I recently had Menace Ruine’s new record “Venus Armata” on in the car, and my wife noted, “I feel like this is how this type of music is supposed to sound.” What she meant is the amount of haunting, dark bands trying to convey a particular mood but often fall prey to trying to make their sound pretty and digestible lose that sense of danger and mystique. No doubt this band can get into your blood and infect you in the best possible way, and this record has been a trusted companion quite often since the media promo arrived a couple months back. This fifth album is their most emotionally rich and spiritually affecting, as Genevieve’s singing hits amazing high points, especially on “Marriage in Death” and the incredible “Red Sulphur,” which is one of my favorite songs of the year. Add to all of that, the drone is thick and arresting, the noise buzzes and shakes you, and the entire package is one you’ll want to drink in from the first moment all the way until it ends 64 stunning minutes later.  (Released Oct. 14)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/menaceruine

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

For more on the label go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

Impetuous Ritual cover14. IMPETUOUS RITUAL, “Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence” (Profound Lore): There are bands that try to sound evil and others that practically embody that infernal quality. Australia’s blood mercenaries Impetuous Ritual definitely fall in that latter category, seeking blood and body count on their violent, suffocating second record “Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence.” This band doesn’t care if you think their sound is too ugly or that their brand of death is too harsh. Likely you’re not psychologically strong enough to withstand an assault from these guys, which sounds like metal set on fire and left to melt and suffer. These tracks, from opener “Verboten Genesis,” to “Venality in Worship,” to “Despair,” to “Womb of Acrimony” practically reek of bad intentions and a campaign to hurt you as badly as they possibly can. This is death metal that is not for the weak and easily intimidated. This is the sound of domination. (Released April 15)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Impetuous-Ritual/128111827293954

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/

Falls of Rauros cover13. FALLS OF RAUROS, “Believe in No Coming Shore” (Bindrune Recordings): We mentioned in the write-up for the new Fen record that there is music that sounds like it was created for specific times of the year. Falls of Rauros’ impressive new record “Believe in No Coming Shore” felt like it was intertwined with the middle stages of autumn, where cold and war do battle, it’s pleasingly damp outside, and it’s impossible to walk into your house without giant yellow leaves being shed by your boots. This is a beautiful, moving record in a lot of ways, which makes metal dudes nervous because heaven forbid you have a heart and emotion. But that doesn’t bother these guys, and they can be as savage and heavy as any other band plying the black metal trade these days. Falls also mix elements of folk and Americana into their music, making their stuff well balanced, moving, and positively human. This amazing third full-length was one of my most anticipated records of the year, and it absolutely delivered. If you haven’t heard this yet, please remedy that right now. (Released Nov. 1)

For more on the band, go here: http://fallsofrauros.blogspot.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/store/

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/

Triptykon cover12. TRIPTYKON, “Melana Chasmata” (Century Media): Not long after Triptykon’s tortured second full-length “Melana Chasmata” was thrust onto the world, Tom G. Warrior (Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, in case you permanently live under a rock) talked about how difficult the creation process was and that he was not happy with the results. No doubt the man had been through some dark times in the period leading up to this record’s creation, and if he is being truly honest about his state (and there’s no reason for him to be dishonest), we could have lost the man to his darkness. Luckily he and the band survived, and this album is an absolute psychological terror, with Warrior giving no quarter and the rest of the band standing behind him as disciples of destruction. To me, this record is nothing short of a dark masterpiece, colored morosely by Warrior’s personal struggles that I certainly hope he is conquering. From the savage assault of fire-breathing opener “Tree of Suffocating Souls” that contains some of Warrior’s most forceful vocals ever; to slow-driving “Altar of Deceit” and it’s hugely memorable, muddy chorus; to warbling, mashing epic “Black Snow”; to the heart-stopping homage to Emily Bronte of “In the Sleep of Death,” this band makes depression, anger, and disappointment feel hugely personal and impossibly heavy. This is an amazing record, one of the best things Warrior has ever done. (Released April 14)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.triptykon.net/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://centurymedia.com/

Sleipnir cover11. THE FLIGHT OF SLEIPNIR, “V.” (Napalm): Colorado duo the Flight of Sleipnir operated under the radar for far too long. But maybe that’s a good thing. While the band was making fantastic records for the Eyes Like Snow label, they were building their machine and refining their messages. That all culminates in their Napalm Records debut and the best record of their career in “V.” Never has the band sounded this varied and packed so many different colors into their records, and they appear to have hit on the perfect formula with this album. Having Napalm on their side means they’ve been exposed to a much wider audience, one they very much deserve, and they respond with some special, incredibly creative tracks including trippy and moving “Sidereal Course” that features really strong singing that might even make you think of classic rock; “The Casting” that reminds you they still know how to use their sharp teeth; “Gullveig,” which is dressed in psychedelic webbing that should make your head feel heavy; and “Archaic Rites” that balances beauty and brutality perfectly. This is one hell of a coming-out party for this band. (Released Nov. 24)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.theflightofsleipnir.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.napalmrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.napalmrecords.com/