It is fitting that, here we are at the very end of 2018, and we are holding a mental funeral for the year. That’s also apropos because we are naming our No. 1 record of the year today, and it is Australian funeral doom legends Mournful Congregation’s masterful, elegant “The Incubus of Karma,” an album that arrested our souls when it landed March 23.
Mournful Congregation have been a favorite here for years and years, but this album is their supreme work. It’s devastating, scary, psychologically scarring, and cosmically bizarre. Their set at Migration Fest was one where you just had to stand and stare in wonder as these, and other, songs played out. I definitely was a little drunk when they played, second-to-last set of the fest, and I remember just gazing and taking in my first experience seeing these guys live. But we’re talking this album, and it’s a doom record for the generation. If you think that sounds hyperbolic and haven’t really immersed yourself in it yet, please change that. I’ve heavily sunk myself in the band’s other four albums, all of them top notch, but this is their finest hour (well, hour and 20 minutes). From “Whispering Spiritscapes,” the first non-instrumental cut on the album, to “The Rubaiyat,” to epic closer “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being,” everything comes together expertly. Guitarist/vocalist Damon Good was generous enough to answer questions we had about the record, its creation, their time touring in America, and what they have on the horizon. All respect and hails to Mournful Congregation and “The Incubus of Karma,” our favorite record of 2018.
MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “The Incubus of Karma” our top record of the year. The band’s albums appearing here seems to be something that’s a regular thing with our site and your band. How do you feel about the record now that it’s been out in the world for some time?
DAMON GOOD: I’ve slowly come ’round to acknowledging the strengths of the record, as opposed to focusing only on the weaknesses. The positive reception from fans and reviewers has definitely helped my confidence. So, thank you. But I must admit at first, I was a bit apprehensive as to the strength of the album, probably due to spending too much time mixing it, etc. But in hindsight, I think it is a strong fifth album for us, and we could not have done any better at the time.
MMM: At six tracks and 80 minutes, the album might seem daunting on the outside, but once you experience the music, it feels half that long. It can’t be easy to keep such long songs interesting, so how does the band always seem to do it?
DG: In writing this type of music, it is important that it has a constant flow of aural stimulation. We analyze every section of music constantly throughout the writing and recording process to make sure something interesting is going on and that each section is as strong as possible at all times. Our song structures are such that they rarely repeat. Rather they flow from riff to riff with little regard for choruses and verses or any “standard” structure. However, in doing this, it is important that the structures have the right ebb and flow, the right dynamics, and build up to something rather than meander endlessly. I do find that our music has a tendency to time-dilate. Playing it live especially. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
MMM: “Whispering Spiritscapes” is such a spellbinding song and the ideal first full track after intro cut “The Indwelling Ascent.” What’s going on during this song, and what’s behind the chilling spoken lines at the track’s end?
DG: In the beginning of the song, we wanted a more traditional approach, ala traditional British Doom/ Death melodies, with some crafty three-guitar interplay. In the middle we explore some more obscure sections with some disharmonic dissonance, and toward the end some more progressive mid-paced stuff. This song is definitely the most dynamic on the album, therefore a good opener, I think. Lyrically, it is more akin to an inward psychedelic or meditative journey than anything else. The sermon at the end seemed to encapsulate the dissolution of the ego quite well, often experienced in such journeys. A preparatory warning, perhaps, of what is to come when the ego dissolves.
MMM: “The Rubaiyat” is an interesting topic for the track of the same name. Is this song based on FitzGerald’s work? Omar Khayyam’s poetry? Why did you select this for inspiration?
DG: Yes, FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat was the inspiration. I came across it in my grandmother’s book collection (I think it was quite a popular tome in the early 1900s). It seemed interesting and obscure to me, both in title and text. I also came across Yogananda’s commentary on The Rubaiyat, which revealed a much deeper meaning to it all. So, it seemed befitting and worthy of basing a song around. Once again, it documents the journey of self-realization, the dissolution of the ego and the discovery of the true nature of reality.
MMM: “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” is such a crushing ending to the record, the longest track at 22 minutes and one that’s swelling with emotion. What is it about that one the band decided this is fitting to close the book on “Karma”?
DG: We simply could not see this track fitting as perfectly anywhere else on the album. Plus, it has the perfect end section for the record. This is a special song for us in that the intro and outro, plus some other sections were written by Ben Petch, who I formed the band with and who had not written music for Mournful in probably two decades. So, it hearkens back to the earlier days of the band in my opinion, when myself and Petch were brainstorming together. And there is more of that to come since he is now a full-time member of the band once again.
MMM: Mournful Congregation obviously were a huge part of Migration Fest this past summer. Talk about your experiences during that festival. You don’t often get to the East Coast, so what was that like for you guys?
DG: I guess it just feels very welcoming and supportive, both having a label like 20 Buck Spin, who will provide an avenue like this for us to perform at, and the receptivity of the fans who came to the fest. Overall, we have felt very welcomed in the US over the last few years both on the West Coast and East Coast. Pittsburgh was a very nice city to visit, and a Fest like Migration has a very nice feeling of community among metalheads, with the perfect variety of bands and fans.
MMM: What can we expect going forward in 2019 from the band? Are more shows planned? Is it too soon to think about new music?
DG: Musically, we have a lot of material written for the next album. In fact, too much. We are in the process of culling it down and crafting it into the best possible follow-up to “The Incubus…” This could take some time. We need time for it to organically manifest and concepts to form and present themselves. Having some strong new material under our belts, there is no need to rush things at this point. As far as live performances go, we have no plans and no offers for 2019. So perhaps something will arise or perhaps nothing.
There are plenty of bands that have had noteworthy years, but perhaps none other have accomplished what Thou have. The Baton Rouge-based doom/grunge warriors always have been a prolific group, but this year was a particularly fruitful one with three EPs all of varying styles, a great split with Ragana, and their earth-quaking fifth full-length “Magus,” our No. 2 album of the year.
Doing these lists is never easy, as there’s a lot of back and forth, scratching out list positions, tearing things apart, and trying again. This year’s top two spots were the hardest we’ve ever had to determine, and “Magus” and what ultimately got the No. 1 nod almost could be tied at the top spot, something we considered for about five seconds before realizing that’s a cowardly way out. But “Magus” is an amazing document, one worthy of being celebrated for years to come which, knowing Thou’s back catalog, is bound to happen. It’s that good, that meaningful.
“Magus” is the band’s first for Sacred Bones. This 11-track, 75-minute excursion is a mammoth, a record you never will unpack in one or even five listens, and another volcano of an emotional experience from a band that doesn’t give a single fuck about your metal aesthetic. This record isn’t a huge departure from 2014’s “Heathen,” our album of the year that year, but it’s not a repeat or a reworking of ideas. It’s an album that moves the earth with themes of alienation, boredom, futility, decay, the awfulness of history, agony, pain, and personal introspection at a time when so many people are fast to point fingers. A lot of these themes are woven throughout their monstrous catalog, and this feels like their natural evolution in the Thou story. The band—vocalist Bryan Funck, guitarists Andy Gibbs and Matthew Thudium, bassist Mitch Wells, and drummer Josh Nee—delivers this cataclysmic conclusion to their latest body of work that also includes noisy “The House Primordial,” lush and quiet “Inconsolable,” grungy and awesome “Rhea Sylvia,” as well as the Ragana split “Let Our Names Be Forgotten,” and they do so in a way that will level you.
Um … Thou (Photo by Craig Mulcahy)
“Inward” starts like a swirling storm you can hear in the distance when, all of a sudden, it breaks. The music, while traditionally doomy in the Thou sense, also swims in atmosphere, as Funck’s wild wails spit nails. The guitars cut through the heart, while things get heavier and muddier toward the end, bleeding into a bath of light and interlude track “My Brother Caliban” that’s situated in buried shrieks and fuzzy sound. “Transcending Dualities” has guitars churning and a calculated melody emerging. The pace sounds like it’s hunting prey, while Funck wails about “shapeshifting through life,” as the melodies bleed, and the tumult rises and falls. “The Changeling Prince” has leads barreling in, while the song then openly clubs you, with growls lurching and even some lighter tones spreading later on. Funck’s vocals stab at a “haunted fractured reality,” as things barrel toward a climactic finish, where Funck repeatedly howls, “Behind the mask, another mask,” while he digs for his subject’s true essence. “In the Kingdom of Meaning” has airy guitars that hint at calm before the track slowly breaks open, and Funck’s vocals delivering bruising. The playing here, while filthy and mashing, also is daring and exciting, as the guitars carve new paths, extending Thou’s kingdom. Later on, the track gets slower and liquidy, as the band looks to carve into hearts, and McWilliams returns to add a ghostly touch to a song that burns itself into the air. 10:54 closer “Supremacy” launches into slow-grinding pounding, with some cleaner lines woven within the soot. “Consumed by inner fires!” Funck howls, as beauty and carnage twist together, weird melodies rewire your brain, and noise simmers, threatening overflow. The band then bludgeons over and over and over again, thrashing your head, leaving you clinging to metallic sound clouds that eventually dissolve into mystery and leave a vapor spray on steel.
Thou are one of the most impactful, important bands in all of heavy music, and this past year proved why. “Magus” in an amazing opus that grows on you with each listen and provides more depth than many of the other records you’ll hear no matter how heavy or brutal. That’s because Thou come from an aspect of personal and societal truth and struggle, things that are far more devastating than any devil holding a pitchfork.
There is no doubting the power of the riff. It is mighty, and its grip cannot be loosened no matter how hard one tries. That’s a major reason this music and sites like these even exist, in that the riff is the backbone, an unbreakable line running through everything and keeping metal as the unquestionable force it is today and has been for years.
In many ways, Inexorum’s thunderous debut record “Lore of the Lakes” is an exercise in the finest of classic heavy metal. Just let the first 30 seconds or so of opener “Raging Hearts” wash over you and try to deny it’s infectious energy and majesty. That was it for me. As soon as that song had its way with my psyche, I was all in, and I have been ever since the record was released in late July, literally on the first night of Migration Fest (Inexorum didn’t play, but its creator Carl Skildum was in attendance, and we got a chance to meet up with him for a few moments). But it doesn’t end with “Raging Hearts.” The band—Skildum is joined by drummer Matthew Kirkwold—creates magic that carries over to the other intense and driving songs on this record—“Let Pain Be Your Guide,” “Years in Exile,” “To Omega,” and the record-closing title track, all of them beasts. This is one of the records I’ve recommended the most to other people looking to move deeper into underground metal, as its storming black metal combined with the classic riffs can be an easy gateway to any open mind. Skildum was kind enough to take some time to talk about the record, whether he’d been collecting riffs for this thing, and his alignment with Gilead Media. If you haven’t visited with “Lore of the Lakes” yet, definitely change that before the calendar year rolls over. You won’t be sorry.
MEAT MEAD METAL: We’re naming “Lore of the Lakes” one of the top five metal records of the year. It’s an energetic, pummeling record, one that feels like a classic-style album that gets the blood flowing. How do you feel about the record now that it’s been out for a while.
CARL SKILDUM: First off, thank you so much. When I first started working on this record, I thought I would just quietly release it to Bandcamp and maybe amuse a few of my friends, so to find out that it resonated with you, and hearing from others who found value in it, that’s very meaningful to me. It really did just start out with me wanting to find my footing as a vocalist, so I’m still just blown away that it exists.
MMM: One thing you cannot shake is the power of the riff on this album. It feels like there’s a cascade of them. Were you just sitting on a mountain of these things?
CS: Oddly enough, all of these riffs were new to me as I wrote the record. I’d just set aside an hour or two after work to write as often as I could. I was pretty disciplined about setting aside time to work on it, so it all came together pretty quickly, but I wasn’t pulling anything from the vault for this one.
MMM: The title of the record is interesting, as it feels like a call to nature. What’s the meaning behind the title, and why did you choose it to represent these songs?
CS: I grew up in northern Minnesota, where lakes and forests are the primary natural features. I had family that lived on the north shore of Lake Superior and always felt there was something incredibly powerful about that place, and I still try to get back there as often as I can. I was fascinated by the stories of all the shipwrecks on the lake as a kid. It can be a very peaceful place one day and violent and terrifying the next. It was an image and a feeling that kept coming back to me as I was writing.
MMM: The theme is trying to guide one’s own journey through life and make positive changes even amid hardships that are a part of everyone’s lives is something you discussed as a running theme through the record. What was it about that plight that helped you write these songs?
CS: I had been watching a very close friend dealing with terminal cancer, and my wife is a cancer survivor as well, so I was thinking a lot about mortality and finding some way to find some place of acceptance and control. There were serious things going on with a lot of people close to me, and that was definitely an inspiration to me in terms of how in all of these cases, people have to find courage and strength in the face of impossible situations. So, at some level I hoped that if anyone did hear the record, that there might be an opportunity to reflect some of those feelings of perseverance and empowerment.
MMM: “Lore of the Lakes” was released by Gilead Media, which feels like a natural place for this music to call home. What led to that union?
CS: I had gotten to know Adam Bartlett of GLM while I was playing live guitar with Obsequiae and performing at the first Migration Fest in Olympia. I had no intention of sending the record out to labels. I just posted a little clip on my Instagram feed, which is pretty much just going to a few of my friends and family. I thought if I posted a clip, my friends would keep me accountable for seeing it through to the finish. Adam heard it and reached out to me, and I’m very grateful that he did.
MMM: You noted on your Facebook page that the song “Raging Hearts” is inspired by Hammerheart Brewing. What’s the story behind that one?
CS: One day around four years ago, I walked into HammerHeart to meet some friends, and it was like walking into metal Cheers, where I’m suddenly geeking out about favorite Wrong Again and No Fashion Records releases with a roomful of new friends while Bathory and Ulver flow majestically from the speakers. So many important friendships have developed for me and this special place has been a focal point. Getting to know Tanner Anderson and Austin Lunn and learning the mechanics of how it is possible to write without a full band was a revelation, as up until this point, everything I had done had been worked out in practice spaces with a full lineups. (NOTE: Speaking of full bands, Skildum and Kirkwold also play in Antiverse, who released a crusher of a record “Under the Regolith” in October.) There’s no way this record would exist without having walked in there that day, so I felt like I had to do something to give back. We had the vinyl release event there and it was magical.
MMM: Inexorum isn’t really a live band at this point. Is there any thought to making this more of a live venture, or will this be more of a studio project?
CS: I do want to play these songs live in the future, and there are some preliminary foundations being constructed.
MMM: What do you have planned for 2019? Not sure if new music is too early to think about or what else you have in store.
CS: I’m past the halfway mark on writing the second album now, with an eye on a 2020 release just to give the first LP some breathing room. I’ll be working with bassist/producer Matt Kirkwold again—he brought the record to life in a way that I never could, and he’s a part of Inexorum for as long as he wants to be. I feel like the best is yet to come.
A decade is a long time to be away. Especially when it comes to metal, a world where bands of every variety seem to grow on trees and where flavors of the day can be here today, forgotten five minutes later. So, when someone is gone for that long, there’s no guarantee a return will be fruitful.
Luckily for Arkansas-based Deadbird, their re-emergence after 10 years away was a triumph in the form of their third full-length offering “III: The Forest Within the Tree” that landed Oct. 12, just months after their triumphant performance at Migration Fest in Pittsburgh. That set paid off what was to come on this 20 Buck Spin-issued killer, a record that grows more magical and engrossing with every listen and that has spawned some of the most memorable songs of the entire year. Hell, just take on the one-two punch start of “The Singularity” and “Luciferous Heart,” which either is a welcome return for longtime fans or the cracking open the pages on a brand-new adventure for those who have just come along. The band—Alan Short (guitar/vocals), Chuck Schaaf (guitar/vocals) Jeff Morgan (bass/vocals), Reid Raley (bass/vocals), Chris Terry (synth/samples/vocals), and Phillip Schaaf (drums)— is comprised of members of other noted groups including Rwake, Ash of Cedars, Story of the Eye, Seahag, and more, and they sound as alive and transcendent as ever before on this record, an amazing triumph for this long-standing band. The enthusiasm for this record and Deadbird’s current state of affairs runneth over within the band, as two members—Schaaf and Short—both answered my e-mailed questions without knowing the other one also was doing the same. So, here are their thoughts on the record, their return that really isn’t a return (they never really went away), and what it’s been like working with 20 Buck Spin.
MEAT MEAD METAL: It’s been 10 years since we last got a new full-length record from Deadbird, a stretch finally broken with “III: The Forest Within the Tree,” one of our top 5 of 2018. How does it feel to finally have new material out in the world?
CHUCK SCHAAF: Man, it is so awesome and such a relief to have finally gotten this thing out into the world! The way that everything came together and the fact that EVERYONE who has worked on this thing truly crushed it has been incredible! Right off the bat I’ve gotta’ call ‘em out! Alan Burcham CRUSHED the recording and mixing. Brad Boatright took that mix and truly just blew it up. I couldn’t believe what all he got out of it sonically! John Santos really took all our lyrics and music and put it into the absolutely incredible art which is still mind blowing to look at! Dave Brenner (Earsplit PR) has truly gone above and beyond, not just getting us press but putting his creativity into it as well with his incredible “Heyday” video. And of course, Dave Adelson (20 Buck Spin owner) is the whole reason that we’re talking to you guys in the first place. I’ll never be able to thank him enough! It took a while to complete, and that plays into the title somewhat, but I’ll get into that on the next question. The recording process got REALLY stretched out (4+ years) once all was said and done. We didn’t plan it that way. It’s just the way that it played out. I was living in Tennessee at the time with the other guys being in Little Rock and Cincinnati and we’re all dads so getting us in one place at the same time with the money needed to pay for studio time was challenging. It gave us a lot of time to reflect on the songs though and really flesh out the vocals and other embellishments that ended up on there. The goal with the next one is to do something we’ve never done which is to book a studio for a week or two and come out the other side with a mixed record! Haha! But seriously. Our recording process has always been more of a journey than that, and there are attributes to that, but we really want to follow this record up with something new in the next year or so. There is already material coming together, and we’re stoked! To actually end up on your year-end list is absolutely incredible to us, and to be in the top 5 blows my mind! We’ve always been an underdog band to some extent, and it’s really awesome of you guys to bestow that honor upon us. Thank you guys! We’re really happy that this record seems to have made a connection with folks. The main reason to write and record music is self-motivated. The need and urge to create and to attempt to build something significant. When it actually connects with other folks out there enough for them to listen to the thing and shell out their hard-earned money for a copy, it is truly an awesome thing! When I get feedback from friends or listeners who have connected to it on an emotional level and have identified with some of the heavy emotions in there, that is the ultimate feeling! What we do is cathartic for us for sure.
ALAN SHORT: It comes with a wide range of feelings. Gratitude first and foremost. To finally have it transmitted and to find out that people give it a listen. That Dave/20 Buck Spin put out a record by a band that hadn’t offered any recordings in 10 years. That people remember us in this era of 1000s of bands. To be playing music with friends that inspire me and to perhaps inspire others with our record. All these things fill me with such a profound sense of gratitude. Also, a feeling of being connected. It’s great if people dig the record, but it’s just as OK if they don’t. The gratitude comes from being listened to. From completing a communication.
MMM: The album’s title itself is very intriguing. What is the meaning behind it?
CS: The title is something that we’ve had attached to this thing for a long time. I was thinking of the old saying “can’t see the forest for the trees” and how it truly applied to this record and beyond that, our lives in general during the making of this thing. There were lots of triumphs but also lots of tragedies that played out throughout the 4+ years that we were working on this thing. It goes both ways in that there were plenty of times where I had to remind myself that even though it was taking forever with lots of space in between studio sessions that we were going to complete this thing and we were going to get it out into the world. We were convicted on that 1000%, but there were plenty of times where I wondered to myself if we were really going to get it done. I would manipulate my perspective into a healthier space and look at the bigger picture and what all we had accomplished instead of what was still left undone. In the opposite way, sometimes the “big picture” can be overwhelming, and we need to focus in on whatever detail (individual tree as metaphor) was right in front of us and get it knocked out and move on. We are a really close bunch of old friends who have known each other for a long, long time, and we all are most interested in the more mystical aspects of music and our lives. A spiritual thing really. Simultaneously, speaking for myself, it is definitely a rock n’ roll thing too. I am and have always been drawn to guitar, bass, drums throw-down rock. Whether that’s AC/DC, Badlands, Afghan Whigs, Sparta/Jim Ward, His Hero Is Gone, Zeppelin, or Neurosis, etc. Guitar, bass, drums. Rhythm, riffs, swagger, groove, pocket.
AS: I’m glad you asked this. The name/idea “The Forest Within the Tree,” much like “The Head and The Heart,” came about from lyrical concepts of the album and ideas we seemed to return to often while philosophizing/running our mouths in between jams during the writing process. The Forest is the Many, and the Tree is the individual. One of the most important things we can do while here on planet Earth is to see Others as our Self, and to see our Self as Others. To be able to do that is heavy. It’s difficult. But, it’s important. It’s a practice that can help to remove the blinds that life and society place over our eyes.
MMM: What led the band to finally get back together and create new music? Is it something that had been in the works for a long time, and what was it like putting together these new songs?
CS: That is one thing that has come up over and over when folks have written about this record in that it’s been 10 years and we are “back together,” which makes perfect sense from the outside. What’s funny and interesting is that we never broke up or even consciously said, “We’re going on hiatus.” My mind never quit working on Deadbird, and there’s something in there that is always working on it, even if it’s just on a subconscious level. Being a family man, obviously that is my number one responsibility and motivation. To be the best father and husband that I can be, and I’m always working on that. I’ve got a “real job” now, so that takes up a good bit of mental space as well, but the band is always stirring around in there and is very close to all of our hearts. Things will just pop in my head and show up all of a sudden. Little phrases and titles or concepts that I email to myself, so I’ve got ‘em documented, and I spend a great deal of time thinking about riffs and ideas and how they fit together. Macro AND micro. It’s an obsession for sure! So, in my mind, we never quit, but in reality, there were two or three years there where we were just an idea and other aspects of life demanded our attention. It was healthy though! We needed to step away to really see how much this thing means to us and is a part of us. To really appreciate and respect the entity. Joe (Rowland) from Pallbearer actually got us back together! When I was recording their first record with them, we were having some “relax time” after a day of recording (i.e. a handle of bourbon) and Joe said to me, “Chuck, you need to get Deadbird back together and play a show where you do ‘The Head and the Heart’ in its entirety!” It stuck in my mind and, coincidentally, CT was putting together the first Mutants of the Monster Fest, so it worked out really well for us to commit to that and work toward that goal. It’s like we went full circle, relearning all of our songs on the first record. It wasn’t easy! Haha! But it really got us fired up and instilled a work ethic in us that we were really needing. It got us back to getting together as frequently as possible and got the creative energy going. I can’t thank Joe enough! Thank you, Joe,!
AS: We haven’t ever really stopped. There have been periods of time where we’ve had to learn to be in a different mental gear. To downshift. It makes things not so immediately satisfying, but it has ensured the long-term survival of the band. Ever since Chuck, Phillip, and I got together in 2002 and started Deadbird, it has always been there. It’s a feeling, or a riff, or a theme. It’s hard to explain. I just know that when I get certain ideas, whether for music, lyrics, or concepts, I KNOW immediately when it is for Deadbird. For example, the opening riff for “Luciferous Heart” is around 12 years old. I knew it was a Deadbird riff. I just had to be patient for its time to be ripe. Additionally, the title “Luciferous Heart” was a term Phillip offered for a song title on the first record. It didn’t fit at the time, but it just stuck with me.
MMM: Deadbird was a part of Migration Fest this past summer in Pittsburgh. What was it like being a part of that festival, and what do you remember about your set and the event?
CS: Man, it was truly a MASSIVE honor to be included amongst all of those bands and to finally get to experience the phenomenon that is Migration! It was really, really cool to finally get to meet Dave Adelson whom I had been communicating with regularly for many months before the fest. He is truly the real deal and just an incredibly awesome person. A straight shooter that is 1000% committed to what he does and just a great guy all around. It was also really cool to meet Adam from Gilead as well! Those guys have truly built something unique and monumental, and the fact that such an incredible lineup is curated almost exclusively from their two labels is a testament to what those guys do every day and truly excel at. We drove all the way there on Friday. Got up Saturday and got to the fest. Played. Watched the rest of the bands and got up the next morning and booked it back! I really wanted to see the whole thing, but being a 43-year-old father of two did not allow me that luxury. The caliber of bands we played with was absolutely stellar, and it was a daunting task indeed to get up there and bring it as hard as we could with schedule-conflicted minimal rehearsal and being unable to tour into the fest. I, for one, was nervous as hell! You can hear that in the first song we played, but we settled in and found that space, and I truly felt that by the end of our set, we had won at least most of the crowd over. When we finally went silent at the end of our set, there was a pause of silence and then the place really responded to our set in a way that I was not expecting! It was a beautiful moment, and we were grateful to be there! It was the most professional ran festival we’ve ever been on, and everyone there from the security to the soundmen were top notch. Got to kick it with our brothers in Spirit Adrift and hang out with our good friend Pittsburgh Josh too as well as meeting many other awesome folks! We hope to get the chance to do it again!
AS: Being part of Migration this year was such an honor and an all-around great time! The vibe was as inclusive and fun as the tunes were heavy! Every. Single. Band. RIPPED!!! Being there as a fan and a performer was killer. The sound on the floor, in the balcony, and on the stage were the stuff of perfect legend. Pittsburgh is a rad town that has always shown Deadbird hospitality and love (Whatup Jawsh!!). Dave Adelson/20 Buck Spin and Adam at Gilead really knocked it out of the park. I hope to see Migration grow and stay 100% shithead free! About our set, I remember how killer it was to be playing under this massive stained-glass window and being able to let go and just be music pretty easily, because it sounded so killer up there. Deadbird was kind of a different offering on the bill, which we often are, so it was exciting to feel the crowd respond positively and to feel them become part of the music. That’s what it’s all about. We met a lot of people who really enjoyed what we did and how we did it. It was an inspirational experience, through and through.
Photo by Adam Peterson
MMM: The band now is working with 20 Buck Spin, one of the most consistent and reliable in all of metal. How did this relationship come about?
CS: We truly couldn’t ask to be in a better spot! Dave has been such an awesome person to work with, and from the get-go, from the very first email exchange, he has been such a supportive force and just a real, true dude. We end up discussing all sorts of aspects of our lives with each other. He has felt more like a friend than anything. A friend who also happens to have built one of the all-time coolest, most respected labels in heavy music, and we are so stoked that he took us on. One of our oldest and best friends, Nate Garrett of Gatecreeper and Spirit Adrift, was responsible for getting our record over to him. He went to bat for us too! I sent him the record sometime late last year, I believe. It was as yet unmixed. I had been off and on listening to the thing for 3-4 years as we built it along the way. I always say that it’s not like we were making “Chinese Democracy” here. We obviously didn’t spend four years in the studio. We would get a weekend of work done every few months and slowly built the recording that way. I had hit a wall with it personally. I truly couldn’t tell if what we had was any good or not anymore. I needed an outside ear that I could trust. On impulse, I sent it to Nate, and he was really into the record! It was such a relief to have someone who I trusted completely and whose music I respect immensely to give us some positive feedback! It was his idea to send it to Dave. I wasn’t sure if it was ready in its unmixed and incomplete state, but he convinced me that he thought that this would be something Dave would be interested in. I am so grateful that he did! We are truly excited to see where this whole thing goes and are already working on new music for the next one.
AS: Aw, man. We couldn’t be happier to be working with Dave and 20 Buck Spin. You said it. Consistent and reliable. We have to 100% shout out to Nate Garrett from Spirit Adrift and Gatecreeper. Nate has been a close friend and inspiration for many years. Chuck sent him one of the early, mostly-unmixed version of the record. It was this thing where we had gotten ourselves so insulated with the record, we couldn’t really hear it properly anymore. One time I’d listen and think it was dope, then on another listen I’d wonder who I was kidding with this shit. Nate’s song-by-song feedback was sincere and exactly what we needed to hear. Plus, he pitched it to Dave for us. Thanx Nate!!!
MMM: “Luciferous Heart” and “Heyday” pack together one hell of a burst after a mesmerizing intro cut in “The Singularity.” These tracks feel like they present the wild heart and spirit of the record. Is that how you look at it?
CS: Thank you very much for your feedback on these two! We are very proud of how these two came together! Every song is special to us. It has to be, or it will never make it out of the jam room, but these two, early on, we felt were some of the stronger songs we’ve ever written and they definitely felt like a new creative space for the band. We put a lot of work into them and fleshed them out with vocal harmonies and CT’s synth, and I feel like they are indicative of a new era for the band. This whole record feels that way and, of course, with the cycles the band has been through and the time that we weren’t really active, it all comes together as sort of a rebirth in our minds and hearts. We left some baggage behind in the process of making this record and have grown as individuals as well. It all feeds into the creativity. It’s not easy to get this band together and to move the thing forward, but we are all driven by this idea to the point where we commit to whatever it takes to make it work!
AS: Thank you! And, yes. Exactly. In fact, the idea of one small thing being in parallel with a larger thing is central to the concept of the album title “The Forest Within the Tree.” It is also the theme that was in mind when I wrote the lyrics to “Luciferous Heart,” i.e. How can the story of a person be the story of a sub culture, and at the same time, also the story of humanity itself? You’re picking up on that same idea applied to “Luciferous Heart” and “Heyday,” and their relationship to both the record and also the band as an entity is a great compliment. You never really know if you can actually communicate that kind of idea when you are just trying to weave it into your work, rather than explicitly stating it. Gratitude ETERNAL!
MMM: “Brought Low” is another cool one, a track that injects some acoustics with the heavier stuff, reminding a bit of Alice in Chains. What are your thoughts on that one?
CS: “Brought Low” was another one where we ended up pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. It was a process as well. The music came together fairly quickly, but then I think it was several rehearsals before anyone even started to try to put vocals to it. I started with some simple melody lines and slowly started fleshing them out. I came up with the melodic but screamed chorus at home while listening to the rough mixes along with the “post-chorus” with the clean doubled line. I think that throughout the recording process, I had the most anxiety about this one and wondered if it was going to be the weak link. We always ended up working on it last for some reason at every recording session, and you could hear that in some of the performances. Once everything was placed onto the track—acoustics, samples, synth, vocals and then it was masterfully mixed by Alan Burcham (our engineer from Memphis that I truly cannot say enough good things about! He is the real deal and knows how to make a masterful sounding heavy record! Look him up at AB Recordings out of Memphis) it really started to shine, and there have been several conversations where we have pondered the idea that this might be our favorite song on the record. I think it was probably the most collaborative song written as well with most of the others being brought in pretty fleshed out by either Alan or I, depending on the song. It is really cool to see that it’s making connections with folks. Alan and I both talked about how we were trying to come from a more positive place, lyric wise, on this record and I said, ‘Well, with the exception of ‘Brought Low.’ That one is just straight up about depression and anxiety.” So, in that way, it is a lot more in line with our earlier work, lyrically. Alice In Chains has always been one of my favorite bands. I return to their old records all the time and buy everything they put out. Actually, their reunion record, “Black Gives Way to Blue,” is one of my favorite records of theirs which is really saying something! In my opinion, at least off the top of my head, AC/DC is the only other band that was able to replace such an iconic frontman and maintain an upward trajectory, creativity wise. No one can ever do what Layne did, and I feel like William Duvall does a great job of balancing what is used to being heard as AIC lead vocals and also retaining his own signature thing. Plus, Jerry (Cantrell) is doing a LOT of the lead vocals too and in some respects always has. There have been SO MANY really bad bands that were very “AIC influenced.” It always bugged the crap out of me. This is definitely not the first AIC comparison we’ve gotten on this record, and its always an honor to be compared to such a great band and NOT be one of these third-rate rip offs that have had huge “modern rock” success! At least that’s the way I see it and take it. Thank you again! The thing about AIC, Faith No More, Acid Bath/Dax Riggs, Brett Campbell, Nate Garrett, etc. that really inspires me is the way that they build the vocal melody with notes that most singers wouldn’t pick. Atypical but beautiful, and that definitely inspires me when I’m writing vocal melodies.
AS: “Brought Low” has become my favorite song on the record. I feel like I’m watching a movie in my head when I listen to it. Chuck’s vocals and conveyance are really stirring. I think he was able to put a larger narrative into the song than just the words themselves can hold. Additionally, I feel like we have always had this thing where, even if we just improv jam, we can read each other and dynamically rise and fall together, in an unspoken communication. It’s a rare bond that is referred to as “stage telepathy.” It’s pretty much a sacred thing to me, and I feel like this track really puts that part of Deadbird out there.
MMM: What does 2019 look like for Deadbird? Can we expect more live show, or does the band have other plans?
CS: I’ve been long-winded on most of these. I tried to keep the answers short, but I suck at that! Haha! I think I can do it on this one though! We are currently, actively working on nailing down some dates, weekends, etc. for getting out there and playing as much as we possibly can in 2019. I can’t honestly say what that is going to look like, but I can say that we are trying our damndest to get out there and see some folks and jam with some great bands! Also, as I mentioned earlier. All members have been coming up with material and I feel some real momentum there. We are definitely making it a top priority to not take another 10 years! In fact, I would love to see us with number IV coming out in a year or two at the most. These are our immediate goals! Also, our good friend Dave Brenner who also handles PR for the band/label has put together an incredible visual representation of “Heyday” in the video (embedded above) that he made using Frank Huang’s live footage from Migration and Alan and Tera Short’s footage of their camping trips and explorations of the abundant natural beauty that exists all around us in our home state of Arkansas. He is going to be making another video for us for another track off “III,” and it should be ready at the first of the year. It is not lost on us that we are in a very special position by being on the mighty 20 Buck Spin and that the record has been received well. We want to take this momentum and run with it! See you in 2019!
AS: We’re looking to 2019 to set things on fire! We’re already writing new material. We’re looking forward to playing more live shows and festivals (Hollar!) We’re looking forward to any and every way we can continue to collaborate with 20 Buck Spin, as well as Dave with Gridfailure/Earsplit, who just wizard’d our first official music video. Deadbird is fired up to collaborate with friends and artists to create output this year and beyond. We really want to put out a split release with our friends in Seahag, because they rule!
There are positive and negative aspects of putting together members of two prominent bands and trying to carve a new legacy. There is a built-in fanbase from each group that’ll be there right off the bat to hear what you’ve put together, but there also are unreasonable expectations that will be plastered to the music no matter how good it is.
Khôrada comprises members of the fallen Agalloch and the on-hiatus Giant Squid, two amazing, forward-thinking bands that put out some of the best music of the past decade. When this band’s debut album “Salt” landed in our laps July 20, we were instantly blown away by this seven-track, 55-minute adventure. This record is impossible to classify, and while you can hear elements of the members’ previous groups, this animal was altogether new. Songs such as “Seasons of Salt,” the explosive and emotional “Glacial Gold,” and mammoth closer “Ossify” are amazing building blocks for this record and this band that the four men involved here— guitarist/vocalist Aaron John Gregory, guitarist Don Anderson, bassist Jason Walton, drummer Aesop Dekker—put out into a volcanic metal world. This made for one of the year’s most inventive and progressive debut albums, one that continues to compel to this day. Gregory was kind enough to take time to answer some questions about the album, the creation process, and the future of Khôrada. Many thanks to him, and all power to the rest of the band for creating something we’ll be excited to follow into their promising future.
MEAT MEAD METAL: We have named “Salt” as one of our top five metal records of the year. It’s quite a journey from putting one huge band to bed, putting another on hold, and creating this incredible album. What can you tell us about the creation of these songs?
AARON JOHN GREGORY: Thank you for that! It’s always a great honor to receive that type of recognition, especially as a brand-new band. The songs came about by a process that was very foreign to me, but natural to the other guys. We essentially did 95% of the album by trading riffs via email. Half the time I’d get parts from Don, write new riffs on top to complement them and flesh out some more to build a structure out, record it at home, and then send it back. The other half was the opposite process. There were times where we both offered songs that were more completely structured, but tracks like “Seasons of Salt” and “Wave State” were the first two songs written by us and were the perfect example of this long distance back-and-forth, cut-and-paste process.
That can be hard because neither of us are in the same room together, working off each other’s energy or spontaneity. When working alone, you can get very microscopic, and things can become precious because you spend so much time working it out with no one having an influence or say. Then you send that material out to the band and hope to God they all like what you just labored over. Luckily for the most part it worked great and we all truly loved most of what each other was bringing to the table. Though, Jason admitted to me recently that when he first heard some of the very groove-oriented, kind of swung stoner riffs I’d often write against Don’s parts, he’d kind of panic because it was so unlike what they were used to doing in Agalloch! Shit would grow on him soon enough, eventually really clicking in, and he’d grow to truly love it. I get a kick out of hearing those kind of stories. “Oh shit, what have we done?” Haha!
Once the structures were in place, I wrote the lyrics and assigned the song titles accordingly. That’s when the tracks suddenly come alive with an emotional weight that wasn’t there in the demoing process. It’s a significant change when you stop calling an eight-and-a-half-minute mountain of riffs “Song 4,” and instead name it forever on as “Glacial Gold.” It’s a very birth like moment in the creation process.
MMM: While the entire band comes from two very notable other groups in Agalloch and Giant Squid, Khôrada’s sound is nothing like those two entities. Was it a conscious decision to veer away from people expecting the music to sound just like those bands?
AJG: Not to veer away from those people, but to veer away from the definitive sounds of the bands before; yes, of course. If that meant losing those people with unrealistic or unfounded expectations, then that is what it is. It would have been pretty lame of us as artists to pay lip service to the fans of the prior bands when we had this rare opportunity to reinvent and try something new. So consciously, yes, we very much tried to avoid the sonic tropes of our prior bands.
But as far as figuring out what our new sound was; that was very unconscious. And I think that’s why the record is brutally unique in its sound, but very natural feeling and unforced. The sounds manifested themselves naturally, and we all allowed that to happen as freely as our control freak brains would allow it. Because at the end of the day, we’ve all done this for a long time and had varying successes in doing so, and so it can be hard not to just grab the song and form it the way you’ve always known how to do. Instead, these sounds and ideas we were creating were very new for all of us. I think that’s why the end result has been so ultimately enjoyable for us personally, but very divisive for the fans of Agalloch, and probably some Giant Squid fans too.
Repeat after me… you can’t please everyone.
MMM: The band recently played its first show. Talk about the experience, finally being able to put everything together live, and is it something we can expect more of in the future?
AJG: We always intended to be a live band as much as possible. We all live to perform as much as we do to record. And these songs translated wonderfully; powerful, raw, and emotional. We’ve gotten to know the songs so well that even at our first show they just came out of us like we had been playing for a long time. The crowd erupted, heads were banging, and people were singing along, so all was right in the world. We’re trying to book a couple weeks in Europe in September 2019, and some East and West Coast shows beforehand. We’ll play as much as our very busy lives allow us to.
MMM: The record, especially lyrically, was written at a time of great chaos, especially here in America, as we watch societal and environmental issues erode. What were you trying to face lyrically regarding these issues, and what do you hope listeners take away from the record?
AJG: I grew up with very socially conscious music; punk bands like the Subhumans, Citizen Fish, Conflict, Minor Threat, Bad Religion. Above and beyond anything else, I’m a punk. But I never went that direction lyrically with Giant Squid. Even Squid songs that were environmentally themed were so soaked in metaphor to enable them to have multiple meanings. I saw Khôrada as a chance to lyrically go back to my roots and address the events that are literally terrifying me. I felt it would be irresponsible to not do so. There is so much chaos and anger in our faces everyday—blatant disregard for our environment as well as human life in general—that what better things to address and to rage against in the lyrics of heavy music than all of that?
I hope listeners read the lyrics and process the message; interpret them in a way that relates to their own lives and fears. Then understand that we’re not all alone in our fears of the future to come and that if we talk about it, and act upon it, we can still make some positive change. If we help support each other, whether it’s family, friends, or your next-door neighbor, we can get through the coming days and years all that much easier. But the songs are also a warning that some real worldly suffering is coming and unavoidable. My daughters will be growing up in a much different world with a far different perspective on everyday reality as my bandmates and I know today.
MMM: “Glacial Gold” is the centerpoint in the record, and it’s the track I like most. Talk about what that song means to all of you, and what you hope the emotional resolution is from its creation.
AJG: I think this song is a final remembrance and metaphoric reflection on some heavy emotional hardships I faced in my mid to late 20s, the worst being my 47-year-old father dying in a motorcycle accident in 2003 when I was 25. This was very quickly followed by a divorce, betrayal, losing friends to drugs and mental illness, and losing home after home to different circumstances all relating to these prior mentioned events. It culminated in Giant Squid disintegrating almost completely before I managed to rebuild it in a different city, with almost all new people, but it didn’t stop our record label from dumping us. Truly some of the most memorable and intense moments of my young adult life.
All of these things were followed by great grieving, sorrow, confusion, and personal upheaval, but were also followed by events of great positivity that couldn’t possibly have happened if those tragedies didn’t take place. The concept of finding good in even the worst personal tragedies is something of a morbid fascination for me, especially because the metaphoric “gold” I found after these events I personally took full advantage of, building upon them, and am now ultimately living the life of my dreams in so many ways because I recognized those small glimmers of hope as lifelines that led to a much brighter future.
In a way, “Glacial Gold” also reflects this concept of finding good after tragedy in an environmental state. There will be glorious natural beauty, biological rebirth, and an epic new era of life once mankind has been drastically reduced or taken out of the picture completely for a while. As much as the end of the world scares me, especially as a father, I find a lot of comfort in knowing the earth always rebounds bigger and wilder than ever.
MMM: “Augustus” is one that seems to address the bond of family, be that on the home front, in a band setting, and among friends. It’s a very emotional song, one most metal bands might not attempt. Has that track gained even more meaning now months after the record was released?
AJG: It’s certainly a very personal song, one that most “metal” bands wouldn’t dare put on their records. It’s a song about the two miscarriages Jackie (Perez Gratz, his wife) and I experienced while trying to have our second child. I can’t explain the kind of sorrow and pain one feels when losing an unborn child. And yet it’s also something that is so rarely talked about, especially not openly. And because of that our society doesn’t appreciate or respect the suffering parents go through when it happens, the trauma on the women who physically experience it as much as emotionally. You’ll be expected to go to work the next day or next week or whatever, and just snap back into the daily grind. Millions of people from all walks of life experience this brutally heartbreaking loss. So, I hope the song serves as a small degree of catharsis and mutual understanding for people that have experienced this same situation. No other real metaphoric reasoning for it. But if you find some other parallels in its meaning, all the better. A good song should always do that.
MMM: What are the future plans for the band? Will Khôrada be a regular recording project, or is it something that will have to fit around other things (family, other projects)?
AJG: It will always have to fit around other things. Family and careers come first. Aesop, Jason, and I are fathers, and Don is a college professor, so we have a lot of important things keeping us close to home. Plus, we all have other bands. But it’s understood by all of us that this is the “main” band that we dedicate our time to. So, we’ll write, record, and tour as much as possible. We’re already writing songs for the new record and are very excited for what’s to come. Feels like we’re just getting started on a whole new, long career.
10. MESSA, “Feast for Water” (Aural Music): Water is one of the most crucial elements to human survival. It also is a major force we cannot always control. People suffer when their supplies are compromised or threatened; floods can destroy homes and towns; its regular use can keep us healthy and alive. So, it’s not a huge surprise that Italian doom force Messa chose to focus on the vital element as the main topic of their new conceptual piece “Feast for Water.” From the opening moments of the record, you can hear waters rushing and welling, though as the tale goes on, its presence is mainly in the words and lyrics. The music on this moving record is steeped in melodic doom, but there are elegant, jazzy elements to this that makes it rise above the metal plane and into places altogether different. Speaking of forces of nature, vocalist Sara is one of the most vital components of this band, as you live and die on her words, floating off into outer space.
“Snakeskin Drape” lets liquid bubble to the surface, and out of that comes Sara’s voice slowly emerging, burly doom popping, and as bluesy burnt edge to the guitar work. Then, the vocals soar into the atmosphere, while the drama builds, bringing the song to a smashing end. “Leah” runs 8:09 and spills in on a droning riff and a spooky pace. The track is dark and alluring, with keys plotting their move and the singing coming softly. The power later kicks in, mixing psychedelic energy into the fray, and the blazing soloing that emerges helps light the way before Sara’s singing levels you. “She Knows” and “Tulsi” play like a single song, and if they were made into one, they’d make up the longest track at nearly 15 minutes. “She Knows” is super chilled out, with keys slinking, Sara’s voice prowling underneath the shadows, and a sense of elegance dashed across the track. Later, the tempo starts pushing and pulling back and forth, and the tranquility begins to show cracks. The soloing erupts, and before you know it, the band unexpectedly hits the gas pedal, sprawling into “Tulsi” where guitars moan, and moody playing sets the tone. The first hints of savagery make their mark, with Rocco’s screams crashing down, and then things get smoky and disorienting. This record is intoxicating, and it hasn’t left me since the day I first heard the music contained within. (April 6)
9. PANOPTICON, “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness Pt. 1 and 2” (Bindrune Recordings): One of the most important, pivotal moments of this entire years was finally being able to witness Panopticon live as they closed out Migration Festival. I won’t lie and say my eyes were dry the whole time, because they weren’t. It was the main event of a great year for the band that started off with the release of two-part epic “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness Pt. 1 and 2,” the project’s seventh full-length release overall. This collection has two distinct personalities. The first part is the black metal album, piling together the rustic-flavored, emotional chaos for which main creator Austin Lunn is known. The second half contains mostly acoustic, woodsy, folkish songs that have been in Lunn’s heart for years but only are surfacing now. It’s a great effort, Lunn’s most ambitious yet.
As noted, the first portion of the album is the heavier of the two, but Lunn doesn’t abandon the folk-driven tones of records such as “Kentucky,” “Roads to the North,” and “Autumn Eternal.” You get a taste of that right off the bat with intro cut “Watch the Lights Fade” welcoming you before the fires, leading to the explosive “En Hvit Ravns Død” that immediately delivers chaos, cascading riffs, and Lunn’s explosive howl that utterly flattens you. “Blatimen” follows suit, gushing melodies, making your blood race, and cutting into the earth itself. “Sheep in Wolves Clothing” is massive and spellbinding, a track that swallows you whole and takes you on a furious journey. That’s just a taste of Part 1. The second part begins with waves crashing to shore, guitars echoing and trickling, and then things coming to life, as playing burns gently, and then it melts into quiet folk, as Lunn wonders, “How many more glorious winters will we survive?” “Four Bones of Walls” has bluegrass fingerprints all over it, as the music pushes by delicately but digs right for your heart. “A Cross Abandoned” is a hearty ballad with Midwestern-style rock leanings that hit home every time; “Echoes in the Snow” is a rousing number about the hardships of everyday life that, while it might get to you now and again, are always worth enduring another day. This is only scratching the surface of this awesome collection (4 sides of vinyl!), and it’ll sound even better now with winter here. (April 6)
8. CHRCH, “Light Will Consume Us All” (Neurot Recordings): The whole idea of people’s lives being different vs. others being oblivious of, and even callous toward, another’s struggles sunk in while listening to “Light Will Consume Us All,” the gargantuan second record from Sacramento-based doom band CHRCH. The album’s thematic elements examine one’s journey through life, the losses and hardships we face, and the hopeful emergence into light and positivity once the hurdles are cleared. But not everyone finds that bright light. Some people’s suffering becomes too much that a positive outcome just isn’t possible. The band—vocalist Eva Rose, guitarist/backing vocalists Chris Lemos and Karl Cordtz, bassist Ben Carthcart, and drummer Adam Jennings—craft long, enduring epics that largely are slower, more calculated in approach, but make no mistake, there are explosions here as well. Rose’s vocals are powerful and mesmerizing, an ideal mouthpiece for this band that takes you out of the darkness into the light and sometimes back again.
Opener “Infinite” is the longest song of the three, a 20:41 bruiser that takes its time setting up the ambiance. Guitars drip in, as Rose whispers over the impending doom, and things stay that way until around the 5:30 mark when the bottom drops out. Riffs rush, the drums quake, and Rose’s singing stretches over the din, eventually turning into a corroded growl. Darker melodies arrive, while Rose’s shrieks shatter any sense of calm, and the guitars begin to buzz and overwhelm. “Portal” runs 14:49, and it begins in pure devastation, with understated, breathy singing, and then the heaviness is delivered in heaping servings. Rose unleashes some of her strongest vocals, as emotional, melodic guitars create a foaming wave, the soloing belts out fire balls, and a calm emerges, where drums roll through the dusk, bringing the song to its nighttime finish. Closer “Aether” is the shortest song but still runs a generous 9:29, and it begins mournfully, with a pall over everything. Slow-moving melodies and soulful singing push through before feral growls emerge to turn things to ash. CHRCH’s music is dark and effective, the kind that sinks into your skin and releases toxins into your blood. (May 11)
7. EVOKEN, “Hypnagogia” (Profound Lore): You’re a dying World War I soldier, ravaged by the brutality and inhumanity of a global slaughter, and you’re not exactly feeling wistful in your final hours. Instead, you’re filled with anger and hatred, wishing you could exact the same pain and suffering you feel on other people. You strike a deal with an evil god who has promised your pain will be transferred to anyone who reads a journal you leave behind, transferring your agony on generations of others to come. That’s the concept behind long-running funeral doom maulers Evoken’s latest album “Hypnagogia,” and even amid some of the beauty and sorrow on this record, you never can shake that behind all of this is pure evil and selfishness of the main character. Or, you can ignore the plot and simply indulge in a masterfully constructed doom album, the band’s sixth, that can encapsulate you in misery and shadows forever.
“The Fear After” starts the record, a 9:21-long masher that starts in a synth haze before opening gloriously, albeit darkly, with growls slithering and strings leaving a heavy glaze. Dark speaking spills the plot’s beginning, as keys drain, guitars chug, and great cries echo into the night. “Schadenfreude” is chilled and dark at the start, with Paradiso’s creaking speaking, gothy ambiance, and some damp chilliness. Synth drains as the song goes on a slow, tortured path, though sophisticated guitars glimmer for a while before they’re swallowed by infernal growls. “Too Feign Ebullience” is the second-longest song by eight seconds, clocking in at 10:03, and an instant roar works its way toward rushing waters and a frosty synth scape. An echoing dialog feels like a message in a dream, as the track sprawls and keys boil to give off some steam. Strings then arrive and sweep, while growls erupt, and the track comes to a devastating end. Mammoth finale “The Weald of Perished Men” stretches over 10:11, starting slowly, as mournful speaking strikes and a sorrowful burst of melody brings a jolt. The power builds as the song goes on, as the band drubs away at you, and the guitars gash. “Please let me die,” John Paradiso calls, “Let me go,” as synth washes over the song in waves, a strong buzz builds, and the pain and agony of the main character and all of his victims bleed into mystery. Evoken are doom legends for a reason, and “Hypnagogia” is the only proof you need as to why. (Nov. 9)
6. VILE CREATURE, “Cast of Static and Smoke” (Halo of Flies/Dry Cough): “The end came swiftly,” narrator Erin Severson tells you at the start of Canadian doom duo Vile Creature’s second album “Cast of Static and Smoke,” a story that envisions humankind’s destruction as its own greed, avarice, and violence and leads to the uprising of the machines. It’s not that far-fetched a scenario. You watched the news in the last two years? We seem hellbent on bringing our demise into swift reality, and as you take the journey over these four volcanic, disruptive tracks with Vile Creature, you can’t help but wonder what you might do if ash was raining down from the skies, and your hours left alive were ticking away. In addition, the vinyl version of this album was accompanied by a 16-page book that includes the lyrics and the entire story itself, a sludge-splashed, caustic doom metal opus created by drummer/vocalist Vic and guitarist/vocalist/percussionist KW.
“Water, Tinted Gold and Tainted Copper” is a 10:20 opener that details the aftermath of the nuclear terror, with Severson starting the story before the band is full bore into bludgeoning. Their terrifying power blasts over the fall skies they detail, with the music flooding and gut-wrenching wails bringing pain. The track pulls back its tempo, though still mauling, while Vic wails, “Got what we thought we wanted, what we thought we knew, touched the wires together.” “Forest, Subsists as a Tomb” is the longest cut, a 13:36 monster that starts with keys blazing, feedback stinging, and a sorrowful ambiance that extends its black arms. Drone collects before the song starts gaining steam, while growls slice through the body of the music, and the drums bash away. The band hits a thrashier pattern, delivering devastation, while the vocals shred the senses before Severson delivers another dialog, leading into the final stretch built with mashing playing, bone-splitting energy, and a finality that sends shockwaves through your body. “Sky, in Descending Pieces” brings the record to a close and is the shortest piece at a still-generous 8:52. The track has a cold, trickling start as the music unfurls slowly, with the growls sounding like they’re buried under waves. Anguish is splashed over everything, from the guttural vocals, with KW howling behind all of that, and Severson again speaking as the tale draws to a close. This is a story that’s grounded a little too deeply into reality, while this record is one that should jar you awake to Vile Creature’s majesty and might. (March 7)
15. SLEEP, “The Sciences” (Third Man): It was a surprise and it wasn’t. Legendary weedians Sleep returned with their explosive new record “The Sciences” on, of course, 4/20. It was a nice surprise delivered in a cloud of smoke you always expect from this grisly trio—vocalist/bassist Al Cisneros (also of OM), guitarist Matt Pike (High on Fire), and drummer Jason Roeder (Neurosis)—and just a single visit with this destroyer made it clear not only were Sleep back, they were as good as they’ve ever been. That sentiment remains months later, as this record has lost no steam and, if anything, has become more enjoyable with each thunderous listen. It was 2003 the last time we got a new record from this band, but it was like no time has passed at all when “The Sciences” landed.
Following an instrumental open, a big, bubbling bong hit rips you from your dreams and right into “Marijuanat’s Theme.” Burly riffs and Cisneros’ purposely monotone singing drive you into the song, giving you an instant and prolonged intergalactic high. Smoking soloing releases psychedelic fire, while the back end of the track pummels before ending abruptly. “Sonic Titan” is a 12:26 brawler that opens with a killer riff before pulling back the pace and delivering the pounding in a calculated manner. The track continues to build monoliths to the sky before tearing them down again, as the lead guitars scorch, and the beefy basslines buzz in your ears. “Giza Butler” is, obviously, complete homage to Black Sabbath, the original weedians, and is named after their legendary bassist Geezer Butler. The track is packed with Sabbath references, from signaling the Iommic Pentecost to heralding the Sabbath Day. There are goddamn “Dune” references, as well as the greatest lyric of this year: “The pterodactyl flies again.” Drop out of life and take another fucked up trip with Sleep. (April 20)
14. CHAPEL OF DISEASE, “…And as We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye” (Van): German metallic machine Chapel of Disease is the type of thing you can’t tell people about. You have to make them listen. It’s impossible to put a label on the band because they explore all kinds of extreme sounds and blend them all together in their brutal, yet fascinating music. The band has been at it for a decade now, initially arriving with an assault of tried-and-true death metal (their name is a blend of two Morbid Angel songs, after all) on their debut “Summoning Black Gods” before branching out their sound on “The Mysterious Ways of Repetitive Art,” as that was a jumping off point to where we are now with the spellbinding “…And as We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye.”
“Void of Words” opens the record with a glorious riff before the band hits a full gallop, and fiery punishment is unleashed. Classic metal guitar licks charge, while the raw growls open wounds, great soloing smothers, and then atmospheric breezes cool off the scene. “Oblivious – Obnoxious – Defiant” has riffs reigning, beastly growls, and a simple chorus where Laurent wails, “We are oblivious! Obnoxious! Defiant!” The guitars keep rolling, showing a rock n roll-style edge, while the music later explores its surroundings, as ferocious growls topple, and the song steamrolls. “Null” runs 9:21, the second-longest song on the record, and it has a riveting start with a storming pace, grinding growls over the rousing verses, and a bloody sense of melody. Some bluesy guitar work swaggers into the picture before the violence rips back into the song. Closer “The Sound of Shallow Grey” is the longest track, running 9:49, and it wastes no time getting going, with vicious growls, a rupturing pace, and great leads, which should come as no surprise. Weird synth blends in and gives the song a cosmic edge, while the guitars keep stretching into new territory. Chapel of Disease truly made an impact, albeit late in the year, as this is one of the most intellectually challenging death metal records of 2018. (Nov. 23)
13. YOB, “Our Raw Heart” (Relapse): For all intents and purposes, YOB guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt should be dead. After battling diverticulitis and then an infection, he was on death’s door, in pain so severe he had experiences that felt like he was leaving his body. Never mind if YOB would survive, people were worried that Scheidt wasn’t long for the world. But he made it. He fought and clawed, eventually began to write music, and then he and his YOB mates finally got back together, creating “Our Raw Heart,” one of the most triumphant of the band’s career and in metal as a whole. Like, ever. Anyone could excuse it if Scheidt disappeared into darkness and delivered a hellish new record (their eighth), but we should all know better. YOB is love after all, and this album is a celebration of life.
“Ablaze” is the 10:28 opener, and right away you can feel the emotion that permeates this entire record. Scheidt’s raspy singing comes in pretty shortly, feeling different and evolved, though some growls bleed in. Later, the pace ruptures and sludges, as Scheidt’s growls rumble, and even after a brief period of calm, the music explodes again, ending in a heartfelt pyre. “The Screen” couldn’t be more different, as it’s one of the gnarliest, grimiest songs in their catalog. “Beauty in Falling Leaves” is the longest track, weighing in at 16:49, and it’s the indisputable core of the record. It’s a wrenching doom ballad that ultimately has a positive, life-affirming theme, as the music slowly unfurls but builds into the crescendo of a chorus, where Scheidt belts, “Been this way throughout my life, your heart brings me home.” The entire record is a blazing victory for this band, a unit that now looks like it’ll thrive well into the future. (June 8)
12. BURIAL INVOCATION, “Abiogenesis” (Dark Descent): It’s been 10 long years since Turkish death metal force Burial Invocation first formed, and eight years since their first EP and—trivia time!—first-ever Dark Descent offering “Rituals of the Grotesque” that got so many people excited over the future this band appeared to possess. But shit happens. The band split up for a while. Other projects took precedence. Life happened. But about halfway through 2018, and we finally laid our hands on their first full-length record “Abiogenesis,” a journey that’s absolutely worth the wait. This is a fucking perplexing, punishing, pulverizing trip that makes no bones about messing around with death metal’s DNA. They take you into outer space, through hell, into other dimensions.
“Revival” kicks off with melodic thunder, as the song trudges along, and the vocals unleash guttural toxins. The guitars cut over the top and bring a proggy sense, with the song then turning brutal and scraping while it’s blowing your mind. The title cut is a 12:10 mammoth that lurches and stomps, with techy guitar work bringing heat lightning. The song explores from there, with the vocals arriving in sinister growls, and the song heading toward the mud. Fiery guitars get the pace going again, and then shit goes off. “Vision of the Hereafter” is caked in filth as it starts, with growls accompanying the heavy sludging, and grisly playing creating disorienting disorder. The senses are diced, though we get a brief respite of calm, and then a burst brings a burly, mauling end. “Phantasmagoric Transcendence” is one of the best song titles of the year so far, and it brings slicing guitars and a pace that erupts and threatens to swallow humanity whole. The drums send shrapnel flying, splintering the world into hell, and then things manage to find a new level of craziness, as the band gets utterly savage. It took some time to get this bloody, tornadic record from Burial Invocation, and we’ll be enjoying its madness long into the future. (July 6)
11. TOMB MOLD, “Manor of Infinite Forms” (20 Buck Spin): I always get antsy when I put bands way up high on my list that are high on other lists, because I hate the hive mind and try not to participate. But Toronto death squadron Tomb Mold are on everyone’s radar for a damn good reason: “Manor of Infinite Forms” is a fucking awesome, gruesome display. And if you think this record kills, see them live. I have twice this year, and both performances pounded me into submission. One huge boost in the band’s power is the addition of two members who weren’t around for the “Primordial Malignity” days. Joining the original duo of drummer/vocalist Max Klebanoff and guitarist Derrick Vela are guitarist Payson Power and bassist Steve Musgrave. It gives the group a mightier, heftier assault, one that’s dripped all over this record and practically makes it stick to the ground with all the blood and puss that have congealed in the unforgiving sunlight.
The title track starts off the record, with morbidity at every corner, and the growls smearing soot everywhere. The riffs are just killer, as Klebanoff’s drumming decimates the earth, and more cavernous growls and sinister punishment tops us off. “Blood Mirror” has tricky playing to start, leaving you dizzy, while gross growls and an infernal fury combine to make life miserable. “Final Struggle of Selves” trudges and blisters, with the band thrashing away, and the ugliness being served in different forms. The pace changes suddenly, with the death spell boiling and brewing toxins, while the engorged growls bludgeon and send shit toward the void. “Chamber of Sacred Ootheca” is disgusting from its title, and it doesn’t get any more appetizing from there, as the band lets filth well up and the guitars splatter plasma. Closer “Two Worlds Become One” starts acoustically, which isn’t expected, but then the scab is ripped away, and the growls start to chew muscle. The drums send chaos, and the band finds a slow-driving pace to spread their misery. Yeah, the hype is real, as Tomb Mold are one of the deadliest, goriest death metal bands going right now. Be warned. (June 8)
20. CLOSET WITCH, self-titled (Halo of Flies/Sass Bologna/Circus of the Macabre/Don’t Care/React With Protest): Iowa-based grind unit Closet Witch came raging out of the night with the excellent debut full-length effort. This is a molten dose of cathartic anger, fire-breathing emotion, and outright heaviness that hit all the right buttons. Themes of anger, despair, equality, healthcare trauma, gender, race, and other burning issues make up much of the thematic material, making these songs even more galvanizing and bloody important both personally and socially. Vocalist Mollie Piatetsky, guitarist Alex Crist, bassist Cory Peak, and drummer Royce Kurth destroy your body and soul on these 13 songs, splattering their own blood in the process.
“Blood Orange” opens in a total frenzy with wrenching shrieks from Piatetsky, as the cut mangles the senses, leading into “Moonstomp” and its relentless power. “It Doesn’t Feel Free” spits in the face of the idea that people aren’t judged by minority, gender, and societal status, as shocking blasts tear through guts, and Piatetsky’s yells are drowned in a noise bath. “Rule By Bacon” has Piatetsky wailing, “How can a gender make one lesser, and you’ve already got your cabinets filled with money,” as she blasts against pay inequality, as atmosphere mixes into the assault, and slow, pained howls pay the emotional toll. “Daylilies” is fast and blistering, as it feels like the floor is caving in as the band delivers the heavy goods and refuses to give you a chance to breathe; while “Personal Machu Pichu” is emotional and personal, with cries to allow for a life one longs for despite the troubles it may cause others, screaming, “Please don’t condemn me for existing how I need!” It’s an emotional, turbulent, and confident album, and Closet Witch delivered on of the most jarring debuts this year. (June 15)
19. ULTHAR, “Cosmovore” (20 Buck Spin): Arriving late in the year come Ulthar with their thunderous debut offering “Cosmovore,” jam packed with supernatural horrors and scathing death metal. The band’s hammering yet surreal brand of death metal mixes the best of brutality and chilling fantasy. Over the course of six tracks and about 40 minutes, Ulthar unleash a heavy, yet mesmerizing onslaught of sound that does an excellent job keeping your ears blistered for its entire run time but also lets your mind wander into planes beyond, where the bloodshed and terror are unlike anything you witness in ordinary life. Let that sink into your brain.
“Solitarian” is an instant explosion, with belchy growls barreling and the riffs slicing away; “Infinite Cold Distance” has chilly, spindling riffs, with the drums thundering away. The growls scrape, feeling like they’re aiming to shred vocal cords, while the guitars speed along and leave you dizzy; and “Asymmetric Warfare” heads into infernal mode right away, as scathing shrieks pound away, and the pace is hammering and relentless. That leads us to the 13:26 closer “Dunwich Whore” that’s strange and takes some time to set up an atmosphere, and once it does, the band hits a doomy boil of disorienting sludge. As it progresses, more black metal power is launched, as shrieks and growls work in tandem again, and the tempo grows volatile. Hoarse growls deliver fury, while the song speeds ahead dangerously, stampeding over everything in front of it. This is a firebreather of a record, yet another scorching debut record in a year full of them. (Nov. 9)
18. BODY VOID, “I Live Inside a Burning House” (Crown and Throne Ltd./Dry Cough/Seeing Red): It’s the end of 2018, and one would think we’d have come much further than we have addressing hatred of others in metal and our society as a whole. But that’s not 100 percent where we’ve come yet, an issue that’s all over “I Live Inside a Burning House,” the monumental second record from sludgy doom machine Body Void, based in San Francisco. This five-track, 68-minute mauler and follow-up to 2016 debut “Ruins,” examines queer identity, issues with mental illness, and the chasm between material and immaterial worlds, giving you plenty of heady content in which to sink your teeth. Guitarist/vocalist Will Ryan came out as queer, non-binary a couple years ago, and the band became a heavy supporter and representative to the LQBTQI* community.
“Intro/A Burning House” gets us started with synth stabs, the doom waves unfurling, and an atmospheric touch that spills into 18:18-long “Haunted” that rings out and takes its time setting up a blistering setting. Ryan’s harsh shrieks, one of the strongest elements of the band’s sound, begins making its mark, as the track delivers slow anguish and morbidity. “Trauma Creature” is a 16:17 mammoth that is calculated and massive. Feedback and feral calls mix, while the doom quivers and makes the room shake. Ryan’s strangled cries lay waste, as the pace simmers and sends off steam before heading into a hardcore-style barrage. Closer “Given” is the longest cut, a 21:30 challenger that lightly chugs at first before noise and Ryan’s tumultuous shrieks enter the fray. The playing is ultra-slow, as it smears itself over everything, with the drums bashing and the song bathing in hell. This record is heavy, delivers an emotional toll, and hopefully will have you fighting alongside them in their corner. (May 11)
17. AILS, self-titled (The Flenser): I won’t lie: I have badly missed Ludicra’s presence the past several years after the legendary Bay Area black metal band disbanded. Yet four years after Ludicra’s epic final record “The Tenant,” vocalist Laurie Shanaman and former guitarist/vocalist Christy Cather decided they wanted to play music together again, and from that decision, Ails was born. Rounded out by guitarist Sam Abend (Abrupt, Desolation), bassist Jason Miller (Aequorea, 2084, One in the Chamber), and drummer Colby Byrn (Phantom Limbs), the band recorded this magnificent six-track effort that certainly has the Ludicra spirit but definitely stands on its own as something fresh and new. Here we are months later, and the record still delivers in spades.
“The Echoes Waned” is the opener and has guitars firing up right off the bat, with melodic singing leading into the heart of the track. Wrenching cries emerge, paired with fury and melody, though that later gives way to calm and acoustic passages, providing some breeze. “Dead Metaphors” has guitars stretching their reach and clean calls before the riffs begin to twist into a stormfront. The growls scars while the music thrashes away, and that cuts to bone, where the vocals go from clean to pained cries. “Mare Weighs Down” chugs hard, with the leads drizzling and harsh growls exploding out of that. Then, the band finds another level of devastation, as the shrieks get even harsher, the riffs swelter and burst, and the whole pace is an eruption. Then there’s the 9:36-long closer “Bitter Past.” Wouldn’t you know it, they saved their best riffs for last as this thing rips from its stance and seeks to maim everything in its path. The vocals are even more intimidating and punishing here, with the ambiance of the song getting uglier and your senses completely dominated. The pattern changes a bit, as singing and growling stampede together, and the final moments give the band a last chance to blow off all their fiery emotion. All hail Ails. May they crush for a long time to come. (April 20)
16. TO END IT ALL, “Scourge of Woman” (Scry Recordings): As a white dude, I’m often kind of embarrassed as the outright lack of struggle I’ve encountered in my life. Compare that to what women face to this day—STILL!—in the form of harassment, violence, ridicule, inequality, and it’s enough to make my own head explode. To End It All is the union of Joy Von Spain and Maasaki Masao, who also work together in the band Eye of Nix, and on their debut “Scourge of Woman,” they put together nine terrifying tracks that sound like Von Spain’s spiritual bloodletting, as her words are delivered with a ferocity and power that’s impossible to avoid. This music is the voice of women abandoned, and she and Masao aren’t going to sit idly by and watch it happen. The intensity and anger that pours from this record is so forceful, you practically can feel it crack through your chest cavity, damaging your heart.
“Lure” opens the record, and it’s immediately a call to action, as Von Spin speaks over the din to “be ablaze, conflagrate, cauterize,” as she coldly calls out these words before riffs strike, and her voice turns to savage growls. “Beast Filth” has sounds buried in war, while death and destruction lurk, noises zap as if from another dimension, and the track takes on the tone of metallic machines at battle for survival, voiced through death growls, rhythmic screams, and absolute horror. “Instinctual Force” is a quicker track with sounds eroding and ringing out, stinging the flesh and leaving bruising. “Cages Bleed Shiver and Shake” is a vinyl-only track that unloads industrial heat, with inhuman machinations, and Von Spain screaming, “You’re just a waste of time!” “In Cases of Rape and Incest” cuts right to the heart, as noise quivers, and Von Spain’s deep singing goes right for the guts. “I sinned, I violated my own mother,” she calls, and she changes out mother for sister and daughter as she repeats the line, each time digging even deeper. Closer “Burning Rapists” literally sounds like a furnace devouring the vilest of humans among them. This band is not fucking around, and anyone who tries to cross them is going to be scorched to a crisp, just like they deserve. (Sept. 28)
30. PORTAL, “Ion” (Profound Lore): We’ve come to expect twisted, bizarre creations from the cloaked Aussie death metal horrors Portal, and on their astonishing fifth record “ION,” a nine-track, 37-minute document of terror that is astonishing for many reasons. For one, the songs are not baked with noise, nor do they sound like they emanate from a dank basement. Also, it truly gives the listener a view into just how intensely powerful these mysterious beings are as performers. If you’ve ever had the luck to see the band live, you know how great Portal are as players, and more of that shines through on tracks such as “Esp Ion Age,” “Phreqs,” and 9:44 closer “Olde Guarde” that delivers chaos and demolition, a stabbing exclamation point at the end of a mind-mangling album. There have been many pretenders to Portal’s crown, but no one ever will take it form them. (Jan. 26)
29. INSECT ARK, “Marrow Hymns” (Profound Lore): If you’re up for a deep journey into the cosmos and your own psychosis, Insect Ark’s excellent second album “Marrow Hymns” could be just what you need. The duo of guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter and drummer Ashley Spungin pour themselves into nine tracks of instrumental power, as they key in on isolation, loss, and displacement, as both members experienced tumultuous times leading up to this record. The result is a stunning collection that can be as cathartic for you as it was for Schechter and Spungin to create. Here we are, 10 months after this fine record landed, and it’s been one that’s morphed in my mind over and over again, which is the sign is a great piece of work that has layers of meaning you must work to peel back. And we’re still mining to this day. (Feb. 23)
28. AGRIMONIA, “Awaken” (Southern Lord): Many bands change things up over time, because it can get a little trying to keep doing the same things over and over again. Swedish pounders Agrimonia have been a favorite here for years because they’re one of those bands that always add new chemicals to the formula, and they do that again on “Awaken.” The band doesn’t just stay within one path but pushes into multiple lanes, blending rock, post-hardcore, black metal, and doom into the puzzle. It’s an astonishing mixture, and it’s the best Agrimonia ever have sounded. Tracks including “A World Unseen,” “Foreshadowed,” and spacious closer “The Sparrow” demonstrate this expanded sound palette, keeping the band’s heaviness in tact but also including different colors and shades that make them an even more interesting group. (Jan. 26)
27. MARSH DWELLER, “Wanderer” (Eihwaz Recordings): Having a place to call home, be that physical or mental, is something not everyone has a privilege to say they have. Marsh Dweller creator John Owen Kerr explores the idea of continually feeling one’s way through attempting to find a place that can be a true home, even as one travels from town to town, place to place looking for that ultimate warmth. On top of one’s home evolving over time, so has Kerr’s music. This is a much different record from 2016’s “The Weight of Sunlight,” as the songs are much longer, more atmospheric, and even quite beautiful in spots. It’s also a fascinating listen that can swallow you whole as you work through his music that’s thunderous, atmospheric, and emotional, so don’t think you’re alone if you find at the end of this, you’re feeling a wave of chaos within your own soul. (Oct. 19)
26. GLACIAL TOMB, self-titled (Gilead Media): To put on a record and feel like you’re physically being smashed about the head and torso means you’ve discovered the good stuff, and that’s jam packed into Glacial Tomb’s mighty and conquering debut record. These guys show zero mercy on this seven-track, nearly 35-minute record that’s a nice compact blast that gives you just enough to leave you wanting a shitload more. Their menacing death metal surrounds and destroys, highlighted by cuts including blistering opener “Monolithos,” trucking “Breath of Pestilence,” dizzying and ugly “Witness,” and misery-inducing closer “Shackled to the Burning Earth” that’s mucky, proggy, and vicious. Every moment of this album is like an MMA beating, with you ground and pounded into the mat. (Oct. 26)
25. UN, “Sentiment” (Black Bow/Translation Loss): No question heavy metal is awash in negativity, which has been the case ever since the beginning of this style of music. But not all bands head down that path, and Seattle funeral doom crushers Un decide to go the other way and embrace the positivity they see in their lives and the world, which is something we all could use right now. Four mammoth tracks spread over about 53 minutes is what greets you on the band’s second album “Sentiment,” and while you’re not going to be dragged through a pit of dark feelings, you’ll definitely be pummeled on your trip. “In Its Absence” is atmospheric but also smothering and skull splitting; “Pools of Reflection” is cagey and bloody, with a Kelly Schilling of Dreadnought adding a sense of beauty to the fury; and “A Garden Where Nothing Grows” ends the record with droning terror, doom smothering, and a rising psyche fog. (Sept. 28)
24. WAYFARER, “World’s Blood” (Profound Lore): The Wild West is fairly underrepresented when it comes to black metal, but Denver’s Wayfarer are working to change all of that with their spellbinding art. “World’s Blood” is their first for Profound Lore but third overall, and it’s easily their most interesting and inventive. Here, Wayfarer dig deep into their Denver roots and the suddenly bustling metallic pools that have gathered in that area, and they also pay homage to those whose footsteps once marked their corner of the earth, only to be forgotten by so many. The music here flows like tributaries of oranges and purples poured down darkened mountainsides, and their destructive strikes that rage out of shadowy sections give the music a light/dark feeling. These guys always have been a buried gem, but this record seems to be changing that for this awesome group. (May 25)
23. HOREHOUND, “Holocene” (Doom Stew): Pittsburgh’s Horehound has had a hell of a year, capping if off with their powerful second record “Holocene,” a tremendous follow-up to their 2016 debut. Here, the band doesn’t simply stay on the doom path and instead brings in a variety of sounds and styles to make their music even more spellbinding. That gives each a song its own personality, and while they all work together as a total package, each can and does stand on its own quite powerfully. Opener “The Kind” begins quietly and delicately before singer Shy Kennedy unleashes growls and her powerful singing; “L’appel du Vide” has weird guitars effects at first before turning bluesy, as riffs snake, and psychedelic playing causing dizziness; while “Anastatica” delivers a tasty bluesy riff along with echoing vocals, and an assault packed with swagger. Killer record from top to bottom. (Nov. 30)
22. FÓRN, “Rites of Despair” (Gilead Media): Earlier we talked about a doom album awash in positivity. Now, let’s look at the polar opposite. Fórn’s second full-length “Rites of Despair” is ideally named, because that’s exactly what this record is. It’s dour, dark, and depressing from beginning to end, and the band pulls that off in a way that sucks you in and keeps you, no matter how hopeless everything seems. It’s a great record, one of the best doom albums of the year, but even after absorbing such brilliance, you don’t feel any better at the end. There will be no smile on your face; your heart won’t be swelling with love. Everything the band commits to this 11-track, 65-minute torture session is black and devastating, injecting you with the feeling that nothing ever was good, and that will never change. Everything on this thing hurts, and that’s likely just the way Fórn want it. (Sept. 21)
21. DEVOURING STAR, “The Arteries of Heresy” (Dark Descent/Terratur Possessions): Sin is human. Every single person does it, and some people even are obsessed with it and use these deeds to push forward their own agendas. Devouring Star’s sole creator JL equally is as fascinated with this concept and uses it to inform the thunderous second record “The Arteries of Heresy.” “Consummation” opens the album with noise building before the music starts slithering, and the growls hammer at your senses; “Sin Assimilation” has a raucous start, with the drums mauling, and the music carving a destructive path. Total havoc is achieved, with the savagery coming to a boiling point, the madness stirring, and the track coming to a stabbing finish; “Scar Inscriptions” jangles at the start before the melodies get hypnotic and weird. The track clobbers, while raw growls push their way in and open up flesh. It’s hypnotic, dizzying, and savage, and it might make you think about your own role in the worldwide campaign of sin. (Oct. 26)
40. WINDHAND, “Eternal Return” (Relapse): If Richmond, Va., doom band Windhand put out a record, chances are it’s going to end up on our year-end roundup. Their third full-length “Eternal Return” is another favorite around here, as their sooty, sultry ways spill onto this third platter that is tried-and-true Windhand but also has some added nuances that makes it a slightly different animal than their work that preceded it. Dorthia Cottrell remains one of the most powerful singers in all of metal, and the rest of the band pummels you with smoky goodness on “Halcyon,” “Grey Garden,” emotional, largely acoustic piece “Pilgrim’s Rest,” and death knell closer “Feather.” Windhand are as reliable as they come, and they’ve yet to disappoint us even the slightest bit. (Oct. 5)
39. PIG DESTROYER, “Head Cage” (Relapse): OK, full admission right up front: When “Army of Cops” came out, I wasn’t super excited about the impending sixth Pig Destroyer record “Head Cage.” Funny thing happened once their album landed in my inbox in that it ripped my face the fuck off. Yeah, the band isn’t exactly ripping out the 90-seconds-and-done grind maulers of their past and have added more thrash, groove, and sludge to their sound, but they remain a vicious, animalistic machine. JR Hayes’ poetic rants are sharp toothed and fierce, while the rest of the band delivers unprotected chair shots to the head on cuts including “Dark Train,” “Circle River,” “Terminal Itch” (featuring former Agoraphobic Nosebleed howled Kat Katz), and “Mt. Skull” that, while a wailer, has some profoundly sad lyrics. Oh, and “Army of Cops” totally grew on me. (Sept. 7)
38. RUNEMAGICK, “Evoked From Abyssal Sleep” (Aftermath/Parasitic): There are records that come out each year that somehow fly completely under the radar, seemingly only fully appreciated by the cult that anticipates the band’s every move, which basically encapsulates Swedish death/doom maulers Runemagick’s killer 12th record “Evoked From Abyssal Sleep.” The band has been around and mangling brain wirings for nearly 30 years now, and their new eight track, 45-minute record is a massive triumph, one that hasn’t gotten nearly the recognition it so richly deserves. Well, we see you, Runemagick, and we’ve gotten hours and hours of enjoyment out of bloody tracks such as the title cut, “Runes of the Undead,” “Wisdom Keepers Resurrected,” and “Tomb to Womb.” This band has had a legendary run, and this new record is proof they’re not nearly done yet. (July 20)
37. SLAVES BC, “Lo, and I Am Burning” (Fear and the Void Recordings): A lot of the music you’ll read about on this list and on this site every day focuses on darkness. But few have the same stench of morbidity as Pittsburgh black metal crew Slaves BC and their excellent new record “Lo, and I Am Burning.” Questions of faith, the black plague that is society, and personal ills dominate this fiery document, their second overall. If you’re local to Pittsburgh and never saw Slaves BC, I’d guess you’ve never been to a show that wasn’t at PPG Pains Arena, so fix that shit and let this band melt your skull off. This album is dark, heavy, moving and destructive, the perfect element for when you want to put on a record and feel your entire soul disintegrate into dust. That’s Slaves BC in a charred nutshell. (March 16)
36. WITCH MOUNTAIN, self-titled (Svart): It’s probably not accurate to call Witch Mountain a comeback story, because they never really went away. When Uta Plotkin stepped down from her role as vocalist, the band forged on, hired supremely talented Kayla Dixon, and a couple years later delivered their smoking fifth record, a self-titled affair. Anyone who was worried the band couldn’t survive losing Plotkin surely had their fears washed away just moments into opener “Midnight,” where the band hammers home the fact that they’re practically indestructible and always getting better. That carries on into “Burn You Down” and mammoth closer “Nighthawk,” and sandwiched in there is a disarming take on 1968 Spirit classic “Mechanical World” that they give utterly dour treatment. Killer band that can’t be deterred by a little bit of chaos. (May 25)
35. KHEMMIS, “Desolation” (20 Buck Spin): Before getting into traditional metal force Khemmis’ third album “Desolation,” I finally got to see the band live when they played the Friday night slot at Migration Fest. I watched from a balcony seat in awe. They’re the real fucking deal. But onto “Desolation,” another platter of doom-washed metal that’s delivered with power, majesty, and force. If this record had dropped 30 years ago, this platter would be legendary, and these songs would be part of metal’s canon. That’s how strong this band and this album are, and as they go on, they keep refining their machine and growing deadlier and stronger. “Bloodletting,” “Isolation,” and “The Sear” are particular high spots on a record filled with ambushing material, and it shouldn’t be long until this album is revered in metal lore by the generation of listeners to come. (June 22)
34. HISSING, “Permanent Destitution” (Profound Lore): Hey, look, we all fuck up. We’re not perfect. There’s a ton of records that come out each year, and we’re bound to miss some, even if they’re released by the mighty Profound Lore. Seattle death unit Hissing put out their lacerating, aggravated debut full-length album “Permanent Destitution” on a day when a slew of other notable records came out, yet here it is, slipping onto our list after it crept into our ears the past few weeks. This is sinewy, creative, yet ultimately violent stuff, an album that seems to have slipped under other radars as well. Yet, this Seattle-based band likely gives zero fucks about that, as they set to demolish you on noise-infested cuts such as “Backwards Descent,” “Pablum Abundance,” and “Cascading Failures.” It’s a record that’ll grind your flesh into bloody hamburger and let you out to stink and rot in the blinding sun. (Oct. 26)
33. SVALBARD, “It’s Hard to Have Hope” (Holy Roar/Translation Loss): I have it pretty easy and a white dude. Really nothing to worry about over here. That can be a recipe for complacency for some, but for me, I see what happens to other people, and it drives me mad. Like, how hard do we have to make life for women? That fight is painted in blood all over Svalbard’s great new record “It’s Hard to Have Hope,” a title that tells you everything you need to know about the plight. Mixing metal and melodic hardcore, this UK band explodes on their second record with songs that will further solidify the might of those who support them and hopefully aggravate the hell out of their detractors on cuts including “Unpaid Intern,” “Revenge Porn,” “For the Sake of the Breed” that lashes back at heartless animal breeders, and “Pro-Life,” where Serena Cherry wails over a rising crescendo, “Is it pro-life to have no rights?” Dagger to the chest. More people need to hear and absorb this. (May 25)
32. ICARUS WITCH, “Goodbye Cruel World” (Cleopatra): The second Pittsburgh band on this list already, classic metal veterans Icarus Witch roared back into the world with a banshee new singer in Andrew D’Cagna (Coldfells, Nechochwen, Ironflame). That resulted in energetic new life for the band on their killer fifth record “Goodbye Cruel World,” their first in six years and one that barnstorms out of the gate by the great title cut, one of their best songs ever. The intensity and majesty continue from there, bursting with power on “Misfortune Teller,” “Lightning Strikes,” “Anti-Venom,” and “Until the Bitter End,” the ripping closing track that reminds a bit of heyday Dokken. It’s great to hear a band like Icarus Witch staying strong, keeping the fires of true metal burning brightly, and putting out music that really matters in 2018, when we all could use an injection of hope. (Oct. 26)
31. ÆVANGELIST, “Matricide in the Temple of Omega” (I, Voidhanger): Few could argue if I called Ævangelist the most fucked-up band on earth, as their records are often ridiculously challenging and practically an alien pathogen to anyone unaware of what they’re walking into with their music. That continues on their amazing fifth full-length offering “Matricide in the Temple of Omega,” a warping collection that, despite all of what I said, might be their most approachable work. But “approachable” for an Ævangelist album means something else entirely, and it’ll still fry the wiring of anyone not prepared for their psychotic display of madness that they spill out into “Omen of the Barren Womb,” “The Sonance of Eternal Discord,” and monstrous 18:31-long closer “Ascending Into the Pantheon” that’s sets to capture you in their weird vortex and tear you apart limb from limb. Every Ævangelist record is like entering a new portal into another dimension, with you having no clue what beasts and terrors you will encounter. That’s what makes this band so savage. (Nov. 16)