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Editor’s Choice March 2015

Alkaloid

This edition of my Editor’s Choice column proved difficult to construct. The past two times I’ve written this column, I struggled to find enough entries to make the column feel full enough. This time, I cut songs out. Great tracks by Mephorash, Obsequiae, Gruesome and Maruta fell by the wayside. Also, this edition contains more signed artists and veterans than previous installments.

I’ve been thinking about legacies. March is the month for them. Julius Caesar was killed in March–that’s the high-water mark for legacies, not only because of the material things the man did, but because of the stories that remain surrounding him. In kind, these are songs by storied bands. Several of the following bands either have long discographies, or sport members with long resumes. The names that follow have stories behind them. Those that aren’t are shaping up to leave their own lasting narratives.

Speaking of stabbed in the back, Metallica drama persists, as Steve Thompson, the mixer behind …And Justice For All blamed Lars Ulrich for the bass-less production of that album in an interview with, of all places, Ultimate Guitar. I’m not sure that I believe him 100%, as it factors in all too easily with Lars’s ongoing legacy as no-talent band-ruining boogeyman. It factors into another legacy as well: Metallica bassists get all the love once they’re out of the band. In that vein, I stumbled across …And Justice for Jason, a version of the band with Newsted’s bass parts boosted. It’s still AJFA, just a little more rounded, a little more clickety-clackety. It doesn’t redeem any of the album’s faults (of which there are few), because instead of inaudible, now the bass is poorly mixed. but it’s an interesting listen nonetheless (sort of like the Life Copacetic vocal-less album mix someone made after Death Magnetic dropped, which I’ve searched for in vain since 2009). If anything, it proves what anyone who has seen one of Metallica’s live DVD’s from the ’90s already knew: Newsted was a spectacular player (if these are all his original bass takes).

It just goes to show, stories remain flexible and open to interpretation long after the events themselves are done.

I’ve been thinking of my own story as well. This article is the only platform on this website in which I allow myself to unzip my personal feelings. My birthday was this month, and on that day and in the days around it I think on my life and inevitably the prospect of dying. At its best, metal rouses the same sorts of contemplations. That is what I like most about the music. I’ve been editing this site for longer than some of my predecessors now, albeit not by much. I wonder what kind of story I’m really trying to tell with it. It’s a question I am still answering. March is a good month for questions as well.

Enough ruminating. On to the metal.

When it comes to legacies, maybe nothing comes stronger than Swedish death metal and the Sunlight Sound. Eternal Solstice get that on Remnants of Immortality, even if they’re from the Netherlands. Consider this an attempted legacy re-start, as it’s their first album since 1997. It’s a great comeback, but then again one of the best things about this style of death metal is that it’s hard to fuck up. Crunchy guitar riffs over big, dumb neanderthal beats and you’re there. Season to taste with melodic solos and tough guy breakdowns. Most people like it to taste like Entombed, but I prefer Dismember, and I think Eternal Solstice do too, especially on. “Force Fed Suicide.” I also love the double vocal recording near the end of “Bleed for Me.” I’ve got nothing more artistic to say than “I like it,” but . . . I like it.
Discovered via Press Release

Canadians Iskra check a lot of boxes for me. Political fury? Check. Female screamer? Check. Black metal distortion with crust punk song structure? Double check. Still, there’s plenty of bands that fall into that category who I don’t give a good god damn about. Iskra have that indefinable magnetic quality to them. Their discography is long, but in typical crust fashion it’s mostly splits and other small releases. “Ruins” is the title track from their upcoming full-length, which will be the first in nearly six years, and while it’s no evolutionary quantum leap from their last record, it still has the ferocious quality that endeared me to the band before. Kim Kelly introduced me to Iskra some time ago, and they’re still my favorite project she’s brought to my attention.
Discovered via Kim Kelly

Continuing on the theme long-delayed second albums. Pyramids is classic American “post-metal” band, both in the sense that they embody every trope of that movement (big, cyclical riffs, lots of effects work, unclear song structure, distant vocals, the list goes on), and in the sense that they came onto the scene at that idea’s peak in 2008. Seven years later, A Northern Meadow is their second record, and it shows the band keeping in-step with what’s cutting edge in metal today. Somehow with the same strategies as before, the Texan group now play a noisy, sludgy take on black metal. They even got Colin Marston to play a little guitar, and Vindsval from Blut Aus Nord to do their drum programming. They’re using the well-established legacies of others to make their own. The guest list is more interesting than the back catalog, but this record packs big ideas, as well as some really disturbing themes and sounds. Oh, and one of the most striking album covers I’ve seen this year.
Discovered via Press Release

I should have known that Arcturus have a new album coming out–they’re slotted to headline Maryland Deathfest, after all. Now let’s just hope they can get in the country successfully. I’m not holding my breath, but that Arcturus is formed largely of successful touring musicians from other bands gives me hope. After all ICS Vortex from Dimmu Borgir and Hellhammer from Mayhem have to know what they’re doing, right? RIGHT!? Honestly, even though Arcturus will never have the credibility those other projects do, I routinely like Arcturus better, and this new song, “The Arcturian Sign,” is no exception. Some super European dance beats give way to, essentially, Emperor with clean singing only, and it sounds like Vortex has been taking lessons. This is so European that bald eagles fall dead from the sky when you listen to it, but I’m excited for the rest of the record.
Discovered via Facebook

One of my favorite old projects at this site was my Core Values column, wherein I looked for representative songs by a particular style or niche of hardcore band. I may resurrect that column down the line, and if I do, the next style of hardcore I want to dissect is the midpoint between tough guy, beatdown hardcore and thrash metal, the kind of music that Bitter End play. The band’s last album, Guilty as Charged was a frequent-play for me when it was released. “Power and Control,” the first released song from their upcoming Illusions of Dominance isn’t as instantly likeable as what came before–the production is drier, there’s fewer hooks, but it’s kept what’s most important: the shark-attack guitar tone. Listen to that ferocious string slashing, and know the meaning of fear.
Discovered via Facebook

Back on the topic of legacies, I wonder how history will remember Nile. The band’s originality has become a bit of a double-edged sword. I feel that many people think of their Egyptian themes as a gimmick and ignore just how consistent their discography actually is. I can literally put on any Nile song and feel content. I’ve listened to their discography from front to back more than once. They do what they do so well that they render their own talents unremarkable. More evidence: Nile drummer George Kollias has a solo album, Invictus on the way and surprise surprise, it sounds an awful lot like Nile, judging by the first song, “Shall Rise/Shall be Dead.” See? Even I can’t keep from sounding humdrum, when in my forebrain I’m aware that the consistency Kollias has achieved is astonishing. That he can play any instruments besides the drums is equally astonishing, considering that he’s one of the best at it, and probably requires hours of practice to maintain his chops. Shake yourself out of apathy. This is still as amazing as the first time he did it. “Shall Rise/Shall be Dead” is streaming exclusively at Lambgoat.
Discovered via Press Release

Ex-Invisible Oranges editor Doug Moore linked me to Esperalem Tkane, an album by Odraza, a few weeks back, and while it’s not necessarily the kind of album that I revisit constantly, it left a lasting impression, to the point where I’m upset I didn’t cover it in November when it was released. This kind of forward-thinking blackened death metal is exactly what I need to hear after hours of sitting through identical stoner doom promos. The record is full of quirky little touches. For example, take the vaguely country-fried guitar solo in “Próg,” and is that harmonica sample in “Gorycz” from the Cowboy Bebop Soundtrack? I think so.
Discovered via Doug Moore

I had the good fortune of seeing Amebix in New York City when I lived there in 2009. Honestly at the time I had no idea about the band’s tremendous influence over crust punk, a genre I largely explored after the fact as a direct result of that show. I was lucky, as I’ll probably never get the chance to see Amebix again because they’ve disbanded, but now frontman Rob “The Baron” Miller has recorded a new album with a new band, Tau Cross cherry-picked from crust royalty from bands like Misery and War//Plague. Oh, and Away from Voivod is on drums. Sounds odd? It gets odder. The first single, “Lazarus” sounds like prime-era Killing Joke. It’s as if The Baron knew I was coming down off a multi-week Killing Joke kick. Anyway, the song is all about great tone and a locked-in rhythm section. If the whole album is this good it will be a more than worthy addition to the Amebix legacy. I want to see this live, ASAP.
Discovered via Facebook

Oddly enough, I originally thought Alkaloid was the Amebix/Voivod supergroup when I first sat down to listen to their debut, The Malkuth Grimoire. It almost makes sense, these guitars are otherworldly and shreddy enough to be Voivod-influenced. As it turns out this is yet another cocktail of melodic-technical death metal journeymen from various projects. I’ll write more on this subject later, but that style truly felt to be on the verge of a breakthrough around 2009, when The Faceless had just released Planetary Duality and Obscura had dropped Cosmogenesis. Since then, it’s been a few diamonds in an unpleasant rough patch. This, however, may be the brightest diamond since. Comprised of Obscura members, as well as a few members of black (hole) metal crew Dark Fortress, Alkaloid write genuine songs with a panoply of texture and style–sometimes it’s reminiscent of Ihsahn’s Peter-Gabriel-but-Evil schtick, other times it genuinely evokes Cynic’s genre-defying Traced in Air. Most times it just rocks. The black and tech-death flavors find their commonality in melody and structure. I told scribe Justin Norton that it felt like the closest thing to a To Mega Therion I’ve heard all year. I might call it an early Album of the Year contender.
Discovered via No Clean Singing

But honestly, I think the year will belong to Royal Thunder, whose sophomore LP Crooked Doors is streaming in full at NPR. Lars Gotrich’s write-up links to this interview I did with Mlny Parsonz, the group’s singer, for Stereogum.com. There you can find my thoughts on the album, but here’s the bottom line: an absolutely crushing breakup album, as well as an example of stellar songwriting. It’s barely metal, and so I hesitate to cover it fully on Invisible Oranges, but it does contain an important lesson for most of the bands I cover here: emotion is everything. Even though many metal fans claim not to care about lyrics, I have to believe that the greats preserve their legacies through sentiment as well as sound. My favorite Pantera song is “Hollow.” My favorite Arch Enemy song is “Taking Back My Soul.” I like Triptykon more than Celtic Frost. All for that reason. Royal Thunder understand that, and I bet it’s going to serve them well. Crooked Doors is my favorite album of 2015 so far; listen to it in full at NPR.
Discovered via NPR

—Joseph Schafer

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