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Editor’s Choice February 2016


Perhaps you had the good fortune or reading this article on metal in developing nations published at, of all places, The Wall Street Journal. Loathe as I am to do anything in support of a Rupert Murdoch venture, I recommend the read. It’s well done despite it’s slack jawed ‘look at these weirdos’ sentiment, which at this point I expect from most mainstream media coverage of heavy metal.

Still, I think Neil Shah strikes, tangentially, a salient point: this music’s appeal derives from personal struggle and, since the end of the cold war, struggle has been in relatively short supply in the United States and Western Europe.

Emphasis on relatively. Of course America is now facing an ideological revolution on both ends of its political spectrum, a second civil rights movement, and several administrative scandals including a growing surveillance state and miscarriages of justice such as the poisoning of public water in Flint Michigan. Likewise, the European Union is struggling the financial and cultural repercussions of a wave of immigrants fleeing the Syrian civil war and its various proxy conflicts. Metal bands are responding to this: KING 810 released a song about the water crisis in Flint, and Seeds in Barren Fields also released a song about the Syrian refugee crisis.

But on a global scale, these problems seem less significant in comparison to some of the systematic cruelty that people in developing nations face. Cruelty breeds good metal, and that’s true globally. Case in point Sepultura’s Roots turned 20 this week, and while we didn’t organize a whole article to celebrate it, that record remains a potent, if controversial piece of work. I think of that album fondly, and revisit it often (alongside every Max-era Sepultura record). My mother was born in Brazil, and I visit my family there as often as I can. In the course of those visits both Roots and Chaos AD gained authenticity with me, even though the worst of the social strife that inspired Cavalera’s lyrics has passed. The developing world is still an unfair place, and fertile ground for good art addressing those themes.

I have data to suggest that interest in metal is growing internationally as well. This website’s primary readership is still in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, but our readership in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, continues to grow at a rapid rate.

In a private Facebook group, I responded to Shah’s article as follows: “I can’t think of any genre that is more populist in appeal, but the genre’s gatekeepers are elitist in the way that Jazz and Modern Classical aficionados are.” We’re no different. In my top 10 list from 2015, I noticed that the vast majority of our staff’s album picks were American. Looking at my Editor’s Choice this month, I see a similar pattern. I want to break it, and I’m asking for your help, dear readers. I’m taking recommendations for new music played by bands from outside of the United States, Canada, and Western Europe (Former Soviet Block is A-OK). My goal is to compile an Editor’s Choice featuring music from developing nations in March.

Speaking of Americans, Chris Black is one of my favorite metal artists working in America, as I’ve said on this site probably too many times. Most recently, I wondered what he’s been up to with his traditionalist metal project, Dawnbringer, whose last album, Night of the Hammer, left me a little cold. Black surprise-released a new EP, XX on Tuesday of this week, and it sounds like a more refined version of the doom-oriented style he explored on his previous album. The production, courtesy of Sanford Parker, is much clearer and a bit less dry, to the project’s benefit. Better, I detect a little bleedthrough from his glam project, High Spirits, in the bright, chirping lead guitar tone and the ebullient chorus on the introductory track.

German two-piece Mantar blew my mind at Maryland Deathfest 2015. Like a featherweight with his eyes on the belt, the band I saw that night was lean, cut, animalistic but well-trained and starved for greater power. The band that recorded their debut LP, Death by Burning? Not so much. It’s a fine first album, but doesn’t inspire repeated listens. On the other hand, I can’t stop listening to “Era Borealis,” the first song from their new LP Ode to the Flame. These young men have skipped the Master of Puppets phase of their career and are going straight for the Black Album jugular: “Era Borealis” has everything an arena-filling anthem needs, including a stomp-clap beat and a huge chorus. Rumor has it Nuclear Blast expects big things from Mantar, and from the sounds of it their expectations may be met.

Nu metal survivors and now high-profile art rockers Deftones are well out of their Master of Puppets phase (White Pony). Hell they’re out of their Black Album period (Diamond Eye) as well. As of right now, they’re in uncharted territory. “Prayers/Triangles,” the first single from their upcoming album Gore, has a lot going on, and none of it stuff that I’m used to hearing from a metal(ish) band. Dub-hard snare hits, shimmering high-gloss guitars, and a chorus that evokes everything I liked about the mid-’00s Long Island post-hardcore boom, for starters. Some people wrongly won’t forgive Deftones for the crowd they ran with at the beginning of their career. Others, more justifiably, find their music to occupy a soupy middle ground between atmospheric and vitriolic–which is true. The rest of us, who are able to overcome such shortcomings, are waiting for one more beautiful, darkly personal album in a career that’s composed of nothing but successes.

Speaking of gorgeous-sounding music, An Autumn for Crippled Children continue their now six-year-long prolific streak with a new song, “Swallowed by Night’s Despair.” I enjoyed the band’s 2015 album, the Long Goodbye, but didn’t find a place for it on this site. I’m rectifying that now. I’m hot and cold on bands like A Pregnant Light and Sannhet, whose interpretation of post-black metal usually slathers bright noises on top of the skeleton of a traditional black metal song. Compared to “Swallowed by Night’s Despair,” those bands trade in half measures. This is basically abrasively happy synthesizer noise with a man screaming in the background–it’s the aural equivalent of staring at the sun.

Dan Lawrence’s review of The Flesh Prevails, the last album by San Francisco’s Fallujah is one of the few articles on this site that I reread for pleasure. Here’s the bombshell he ends it on:

Chances are, this is not the future of death metal. But goddamn, it sounds like someone’s vision of the future.

That quote is why I found myself excited to hear a taste of Fallujah’s newest LP, Dreamless. What does their vision of the future sound like two years after the collective metal underground decided that they had done the improbable and made technical death metal sound interesting again? As it turns out, a lot like pop music. Guest vocals from Tori Letzler at least evoke new Cynic, which is groundbreaking inasmuch as most technical death metal bands are still trying to replicate old Cynic. Still, there’s something remarkably blissed out about “The Void Alone.” As much as it aims for anthem status, it still doubles down on the atmospheric elements that Lawrence highlighted in his review. Is it the future yet? Maybe not. But they still sound like they’re going to beat the rest of us there.

I do have one exotic tidbit to share today. Perhaps you missed our video premiere of “Entwined,” a song by Ukraine’s a noend of mine, the progressive rock band that shares members with Kauan. I enjoy the project so much that I decided to exclusively stream “dissolving into green,” a second song from their album the Serenity’s Eve—I can’t let Rosenthal have all the fun, can I? My esteemed cohort rightly compared a noend of mine to Opeth’s Damnation and Katatonia’s Last Fair Deal Gone Down, but I’d add Anathema’s A Natural Disaster to the obvious influence list. That is to say, it’s a melancholic and sophisticated pop-rock affair masquerading as a metal record, intricately crafted with mixed acoustic-electric instrumentation, as well as layered vocal harmony. This kind of music is hard to pull off, but when it works it’s maybe my favorite permutation of all non-extreme styles of rock music, and a noend of mine just works.

Last but not least, I’m not the only person with Sepultura on the brain recently. “Slave Goo World,” the newest surprise release by UK studio-only death metal duo Slugdge, is obviously a riff on the former’s “Slave New World.” Like every other Slugdge song, it has nothing to do with its obvious namesake outside of a pun. Also like every other Sludge song, it’s a pretty rollicking slice of death metal, with some industrial undertones and a healthy sense of melody. Honestly, this song reminds me of Miasma-era Black Dahlia Murder and that’s a very good thing. Normally I wouldn’t include this track since it’s been released as an unlisted YouTube video, but even under those privacy setting it’s made its way around Facebook and acquired fourteen comments, so I think it’s fair game. It’s worth noting that even though the band never plays life and has no merch or physical releases available, they’ve still developed a following with it’s own specific jargon, as you can see in the comments. “Slave Goo World” is not currently available on the band’s Bandcamp page, which could mean that it’s a throwaway song, but I expect it to be made available for download as part of a formal record in the next few months since the band has released an album or EP yearly since their formation in 2012 (if you count their covers EP, Slug Life). All hail the Mollusca!

Email me streaming links for Editor’s Choice consideration at:

—Joseph Schafer

This article has been edited to reflect that a noend of mine reside in Ukraine

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