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Editor’s Choice February 2017

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Sorry this column comes so late. I spent last week getting over a serious medical condition. Between that and managing the Marduk piece, I don’t have any great insights or big questions to share this month.

But I do have one too-obvious point to hammer home: there is too much good music. There simply is. It took me six months to accumulate a page’s worth of great bands that I didn’t have the time to write about in 2016. In 2017 I’ve hit that point in two. I could write a whole separate edition of this column tomorrow with ten different bands and they’d still be ten knockout blows. Those who say metal hit its peak in the 80s simply are not paying enough attention. Every facet of the underground is firing on all cylinders. This is a golden age, even if it seems also like the end times. Enjoy it while you can, brothers and sisters.

The absolute best thing about waiting around to interview Marduk last month was catching a full set by Seattle’s A Flourishing Scourge. At their most abrasive, the band recalls mid-90’s Immortal and Dissection, but often they’ll lapse into intricate pastoral passages. They aren’t the only King County progressive extreme act, but they and their kissing cousins in Rhine both excel at the kind of early 2000’s day-glo poster fetishism that so often intersects with the best metal has to offer. Those who dug on Behind the Sun from last week also owe this group a listen – and aren’t they overdue for new material?

Martin Persner was Omega, one of the Nameless Ghouls in Ghost. No more. He’s been unceremoniously ejected following the Swedish occult rock’s triumphant run of shows supporting Meliora. Not that it comes as a surprise: Ghost is all but designed to have every piece of the outfit besides Tobias Forge (and maybe including Tobias Forge) function as a replaceable part.

Persner’s wasted no time in snowballing his accomplishments in Ghost into a revived version of Magna Carta Cartel, the occult rock project which he headed before Opus Eponymous made him an anonymous superstar. “Sway”, the first taste of a revived Magna Carta Cartel sounds a whole bunch like recent Ghost. It’s no “Square Hammer”, but then again what is? Still, the licks, the mood, the saccharine melodies, they’re all still there. Magna Carta Cartel will serve as a litmus test: can the Ghost sound stand on its own two feet without a sublime aesthetic and a preternaturally charismatic (if limited) vocalist? Early indications say yes.

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Lycanthropunks Wolfbrigade never reinvent themselves, but also never disappoint. Always finding themselves somewhere between Motorhead and Discharge, their pure D-beat hardcore remains anthemic and driving on their new song “Warsaw Speedwolf”, from their upcoming album Run With the Hunted. As is par for the course, this is a fun little song. Multiple stage dives during their set at Maryland Deathfest remain a cherished memory from 2015. Here’s hoping they bring some more of their full moon fury stateside.

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Speaking of D-beat, there’s certainly a little of that evil rhythm in Austria’s Zetkin. On their Vanguard EP, the band sounds absolutely furious, as if their teeth are cracked but that just makes their jagged grins more intimidating. Melody bubbled up through the crust, but where a band like Martyrdod might take that opportunity to go for an epic black metal sound, Zetkin recall Exodus at their most toxic and waltzing. If Power Trip is looking for an opener on an upcoming European tour, I think I know who they ought to call.

It remains a pleasure to watch Iceland’s Sólstafir grow. Originally an odd fusion of screamo and viking-era Bathory, the outfit hit progressive bliss on Svartir Sandar, and then sort-of fell into a lukewarm arty Morass on their last album Ota. “Ísafold”, the first song from their upcoming record Berdreyminn picks up the pace, if only a little. Sure, the beginning is mellow, but by the midpoint of the song, the band’s hit a sort of mid-era Led Zeppelin hard rock groove mixed with a tiny hint of Pink Floyd circa The Wall. That kind of arch rock and roll classicism has always been simmering under the surface of their music, but it’s edifying to watch them pull it to the fore with such apparent ease. It won’t please diehard fans of Svartir Sandar (too much of the extreme metal’s dripped out of their fabric), but Berdreyminn is the most invigorated Sólstafir have sounded since becoming an international touring act.

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I’ve never heard of Autumn Silence before, and I’m not alone. A niche progressive power metal outfit from the 80s, the band’s most famous for fostering the career of drummer Matt Thompson, who went on to join King Diamond. One can see why King selected him: Autumn Silence has more than a little Mercyful Fate in the sound, but a symphonic sheen laid overtop. The band’s sole EP, Echoes in the Garden, is spectacular, and receiving a reissue packaged with the band’s demo tape. Those like me still thirsty for the heyday of Queensryche and Crimson Glory will find much to adore here.

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There was a time when the sound of melodic and polished sludge was the only kind of new metal I really wanted to here. Those glory days for the genre are over, but maybe only temporarily. The Moth Gatherer sure sound confident on “This Providence of Bones”, taken from their upcoming EP, The Comfortable Low. Having a little help from Dennis Lyxzén (Refused) behind the microphone doesn’t hurt, of course.

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I expounded at length earlier about how brilliant Immolation remain over two decades into their career. Goofy album art aside, their latest album, Atonement is the second late career home run they’ve hit – the other is Majesty and Decay. In particular, I can’t stop listening to “Lower”, the best song on the record. Pummeling and determined, its rhythmic patterns echo the thematic downward spiral of the song’s lyrics. Like every good thing Immolation does, each individual piece works together as a cohesive whole. It’s one of the best death metal tracks I’ve heard this year.

In contrast, I’ve never held back about my dislike for Pallbearer. People adore this band, but I think they tend to lose sight of songcraft. Credit where credit is due, though, their covers EP from late last year was very nice, and I hoped a bit of the Black Sabbath and Type O Negative structure would seep into their sound – and it has. Heartless, their new record, is far and away their best. The songs are more concise. The riffs stand out more. “I Saw The End” puts all these strengths on display. It feels like the instant-classic every other piece of music they’ve written has been heralded as. Verse-chorus-verse. Riff riff riff. Live it. Learn it. Love it.

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Really, though, this month can be summed up in one word: Coldfells. The latest edition to the Bindrune records roster is a melodic and gothic doom outfit that recalls the best parts of early Paradise Lost without losing sight of the Appalachian fortress sound that makes that label’s roster so special – sharing members with Plaguewielder and Nechochwen will do that. Their upcoming self-titled record has already asserted complete dominance over my MP3 player. Gloomy and emotionally earnest, Coldfells is an early contender for best band of 2017, in my book.

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