17 Bands You Need to Know from Asheville, North Carolina
The sprawling cities of the Sun Belt are already known for their homegrown metal scenes: New Orleans sludge, Savannah post-metal and Charlotte’s young (and in the way) but growing blackcrust stable. Because of this and because of its lower population by comparison (about 84,000 in the 2010 census), North Carolina’s most western metropolis, Asheville is often overlooked in discussions of Southern scenes. However, in spite of a dearth of recognition, the small but rapidly growing city has become home to a tight-knit, growing extreme metal scene.
The Asheville scene is notable in many ways, in part because of its size relative to the city’s comparatively small population and in part because of the sheer diversity of sub- and sub-subgenres represented in the local scene. From technical death metal to crust punk to doom to old-school black/thrash, you can find it in Asheville, often at the same show.
As a resident of Asheville, I feel it important to share this unique scene with the metal community at large, and thus offer this 2016 scene report for the greater Asheville metropolitan area, from Weaverville to Canton to Hendersonville to Black Mountain. I’m focusing mainly on the extreme metal bands because, let’s face it, this is an “extreme music” blog, and though there are many, more mainstream-sounding acts in the area, it’s time to give the Asheville underground the attention it deserves. I’m also limiting myself to acts that have recordings, since to go through the litany of side-projects and once-offs would make this list impenetrably long.
Be forewarned, the lifespan of Asheville bands is notoriously brief, so you should check these acts out as soon as possible. Recording quality may vary, but through all of the bands on this list are the common themes of competency, passion, and a resiliently do-it-yourself work ethic.
Sounds like: Morbid Tales on anabolic steroids.
I mentioned All Hell last year in my Best of 2015 post. Their latest release, The Red Sect was a metal thrashin’ mad slab of total old-school Celtic Frost/Bathory worship, worthy of praise from either Tom Warrior or Fenriz. Their live shows are no different: candles and goat skulls adorn the stage as All Hell reigns under the sign of the black mark. As metal forum lurkers the world over would have it, “TOTAL SUPPORT.” They’ve been touring extensively in the past year, so if they desecrate your town, be sure to meet them at the crossroads.
Sounds like: Downfall of Gaia, but hungover and with a bad disposition to begin with.
Asherah are the newest band to arise from the Asheville crust community, a relatively young and very uncompromising band that bring a tasty blackening to their neocrust. If you’re a fan of that style, you may not be surprised by Asherah, but they are competent and highly satisfying in the way any competent, passionate band is. A must-hear for fans of black Vans, tight black jeans, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Ekkaia.
Sounds like: Fall of Efrafa getting blasted into low-Earth geosynchronous orbit.
Where bands like Asherah, Lacrymosa, and Uninhabitable constitute the young bucks of the Asheville neocrust scene, Autarch is the old stalwart. They’ve been plying their brand of epic space-crust since 2010, which in the relatively short half-life of the crust scene makes them downright venerable. Where Asherah chokes, Lacrymosa broods, and Uninhabitable rages, Autarch expands with a particularly psychedelic brand of post-metal-crust as vast as the stars in the night sky. If d-beats and miles of reverb are what you crave, Autarch is there for your spacefaring needs.
Sounds like: Baroness, or for people who like both sludge metal and Bruce Springsteen.
Bask have recently garnered a degree of national recognition, touring both the U.S. and Europe and releasing their critically acclaimed debut American Hollow on iTunes and Spotify. However, they have not forgotten their roots in their ascendancy, and continue to play area shows and support lesser-known local acts where possible. Musically, Bask do for post-Red Album Baroness what All Hell does for Celtic Frost, emulating superbly but with enough innovation to avoid being derivative. Highly recommended for fans of sludge metal’s most rock ‘n’ roll extreme.
Sounds like: Soilent Green, on skateboards.
Busted Chops is, without a doubt, one of my favorite bands around town because they’re the perfect combination of good and goofy. Their music is blisteringly heavy, with massive guitar tones, typewriter blasts, crucial breakdowns, and frontman Gianni’s distinctive screech. However, good-natured absurdity prevails; you can’t get too solemn when your set is full of six-second microsongs and titles like “Samurai Doorman” and “Tax Free.” It’s like professional wrestling: a vibrant pummeling that hypes without taking itself too seriously.
Sounds like: getting hit in the face with a brick for half an hour, in the best way.
Dissent refer to their particular brand of masculine sludge as “brutecore.” That’s fucking apt, since Dissent’s music is full of thick tones and deep grooves that pairs superbly with deadlifts. But bear in mind, brutish does not mean stupid. Look under the chunk and groove and you find some deft guitar work and interesting time signatures. It holds up under closer scrutiny, but only after you’ve picked your teeth up off the ground. And they’re scene elders too, carrying the record for longest-running extant Asheville band for their 12 years of existence. Pay your fucking respects.
Sounds like: Carl Sagan changing careers and replacing Mantas in Venom in 1985.
Autarch may be space crust, but Earth Collider are space thrash, and as such adopt a different, more aggressive perspective to the cosmos than Autarch. Think of them as a gamma ray burst to Autarch’s nebula, if that makes any sense. Comprised of members of the venerable but defunct Asheville punk act Killing Solves Everything, Earth Collider are Asheville’s most “traditional” metal band, blending power with melody in a dueling guitar attack reminiscent of the best bands of 1982.
Sounds like: chug chug chug widdly widdly rrroooaaarrr and Gorguts.
My favorite part of seeing Gnarl Scar live is watching their rhythm section’s hands. It’s the sort of Technical Death Metal that relies on fleetness of hand and nictitating harmonies, not walls of sweeping. And they know when to slow it down and chug as well, a vital skill in a subsubgenre so often dominated by riff salad. Multiple, repeated spins reward the listener when it comes to the Gnarl.
Sounds like: metal night at your local dive bar circa August 2007.
Fun-ass stoner metal, plain and simple. Horseflesh don’t doom as much as they adopt a mid-tempo trot, the sort of marching cadence that bands like The Sword and Saviours love. However, when they do decide to slow things down to a fuzzed-out doom crawl, watch your back, because horseflesh bring with them “Big Amps” and “Heavy Riffs.” As a college friend of mine once said, Horseflesh are “tastefully heavy.”
Sounds like: Nicholas Kvarforth’s crusty teenage years.
Lacrymosa sit on the fence of the new sub-subgenre of “blackened crust.” But whereas most Blackened Crust band either take the aggressively nihilistic stance of YAITW or the righteous indignation of Iskra, Lacrymosa take a more depressive, morose view of our grey world. Their tortured shrieks and wind-like tremolo whirl appeal more less to crusty punks and more to the DSBM set, though stopping short of full-on weirdo Shining shenanigans. If hating life and wishing for death to pierce you is your bag, Lacrymosa is your band.
Sounds like: Noothgrush and self-loathing.
There’s a grey area where doom and sludge meet, where the riffs are heavy and the drums slower than cold oil and it’s not psychedelic enough for doom but not aggressive enough to be sludge. Niah inhabit this underappreciated hinterland, crushing matter and bone in controlled bursts that often forgo the need for more than one riff per song. While I wasn’t particularly impressed the first time I saw them, I was won over by their debut EP, Endless Negative Spectrum, which shows that sometimes the simplest approach is the most massive. Maybe they’ll win you over too.
Sounds like: what Eric Wood would hear were he to experience sleep paralysis.
Who needs anything other than bass and drums? Certainly not Pallor, whose two-piece-violence pays homage to the mighty Man is the Bastard without falling prey to MITB’s sillier aspects (namely the caveman vocals and the over-the-top radical message). Pallor get everything right about powerviolence, with great awareness of knowing when to blast, when to get slow, how quickly to get from one to the other, and how to make a single bass sound like the heaviest damn thing on the planet. I can’t possibly recommend this enough.
Radiant Beings of Light
Sounds like: The Melvins drinking a gallon of LSD with Andrew WK.
It’s interesting how, in Asheville’s doom/sludge community, virtually every subsubgenre save funeral doom is represented. Radiant Beings of Light, for instance, operate under the Sleep mantra of blending metal and psychedelic vibes into a heady stew, mixing Dopesmoker with the weirdo cult-y trappings of crazy ’70s shit like Ya Ho Wa 13. It’s memorable and powerful while still having a goofy edge; they are sincerely crazy, but they know it. And boy can they riff, with a stamina for long, slow tracks that is outstanding in the opposite direction from, say, Gnarl Scar’s technical stamina. Good tunes for people fans of Big Muffs and can’t abide songs under five minutes in length.
Sounds like: Witch Mountain, now with 110% more makeout potential.
Sex Knuckle, as their name implies, are pretty sleazy, but in a very tasty way. Originally based out of Fargo, North Dakota, Sex Knuckle have since adopted a semi-nomadic existence, touring extensively throughout the nation with Fargo and Asheville as their primary bases. It’s my belief that they have the best vocals in the Asheville scene: frontwoman Samantha Bennefeld has a set of pipes that are full but demanding. I’d wager on her any day in a sing-off with Uta Plotkin. And the rest of the band holds of their end to, bringing swagger and crunch to support the major ass that Sam’s vox bring. Sex Knuckle are that rare but wonderful beast: a metal band that is also great makeout music.
Shadow of the Destroyer
Sounds like: an ancient, dusty dungeon, where hooded, skeletal figures hold arcane rituals by candlelight, scored by Weakling.
There are many bands in this scene report that play derivations of black metal, but only one that actually plays Black Metal. As one of Asheville’s oldest metal bands still in existence (only Dissent is older), Shadow of the Destroyer have the old-school USBM sound down to a science, delivering a grim and frostbitten assault of blast and shred in the vein of early American imitators of the Norwegian sound. Like Weakling and Judas Iscariot before them, Shadow conjure images of permafrosted Appalachian nightforests and dusty Southern crypts, the perfect soundtrack to slicing a pentagram into your arm with a razorblade under the North Carolina wintermoon.
Smells like: Stormcrow, highly stenchy but exceptionally proficient and quite listenable
If Autarch represent the spaciest, most post-rock extreme of Asheville crust and Lacrymosa the most depressive, Uninhabitable represent its most metallic. They substitute awe and sorrow with aggression, thrashing and sludging where Autarch reverbs, and they are one of those bands that are actually able to have a strongly-held anarchist message without clubbing the listener over the head with it. This is the band to check out if you like your your food vegan but your riffs meaty. Highly recommended for all fans of that wonderfully pungent area where metal and punk’s most extreme varieties meet head on.
Sounds like: I imagine you’ve probably already heard USX, but if not, it’s like the best aspects of Neurosis and Earth together as one.
Probably the most well-known band in the Asheville area, having released records on Neurot and toured the world with acts like Neurosis and Baroness, it’s unclear whether USX are still a band. I did see them play with YOB last November here at the Mothlight, but they haven’t made a new album since 2011’s The Valley Path and frontman Nate Hall has been preoccupied with his burgeoning solo act and new metal project Uktena. However, they were and are beloved by many in the area and around the nation, so it’s highly doubtful that we’ve seen the last of USX.