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Editor’s Choice May 2015

Okazaki Fragments

The primary value offered by entertainment writing, be it writing about music or anything else, was once economic. Even Robert Christgau’s work amounted, more or less, to a buyer’s guide. The monolithic peer review power of the internet, be it user reviews on Amazon or the broad consensus offered by Metacritic, removed much of that utility from entertainment writing.

In the wake of that, the big thing websites like Invisible Oranges can offer is perspective. A considered and well-put-together point of view can open up new avenues for the enjoyment of music, whether one agrees with that point of view or not.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to draw a bead on a decent perspective when a week out of the month is spent attending a single event, and then the next week covering said event. That is to say: the downside of in-depth Maryland Deathfest coverage is that this month’s editorial choices came from a relatively small sample base compared to previous months. There’s probably close to one hundred emails from those two weeks which I have simply not gotten the chance to listen to yet. Granted close to 90% will wind up going straight into the discard pile, as they’re duplicates, not metal or just plain not interesting. Still, I’ve probably lost something amazing in the shuffle.

What did come out of the deck includes the first songs from some of my most anticipated releases of the year, as well as a few super cheap Bandcamp surprises, more than a few of which hail from the dark recesses of places I’ve once lived. One can have nostalgia for dark things, including the disintegrated neighborhoods of the American midwest; extreme metal is well suited to such psychic vacations, and at times they’re just as thrilling as real-life vacations to parking lots in Baltimore.

I was born in Ohio. While my mother state is not expressly known for its massive or diverse metal scene, a few exceptions crawl out of the frigid woods and endless rows of corn. I’m thinking of Midnight and Skeletonwitch, and more recently Fistula. Plaguewielder, also Ohio boys, sound way more like the latter, but with a bit less grime and samples, and buttressed by more of a black metal edge. It takes a while, but when “Palms of the Earth” kicks in it sounds like some of my favorite slower Nachtmystium passages (Rebecca Clegg did art for both groups). There’s a market for bands that can capture that brand of harsh-and-hypnotic riffing, and Plaguewielder pull it off pretty well on their debut full length, Succumb to the Ash, which is free on bandcamp for those interested.
-Discovered via Press Release.

Moving on to another band from the midwest, Detroit’s Cloud Rat just released their third full-length, Qliphoth. I first heard of the band shortly after they released their second LP, Moshka two years ago, though that LP never quite caught on with me. At the time I was frequenting shows in Detroit, and somehow managed to miss Cloud Rat multiple times. If I’d known they were going to release Qliphoth I would have gone to greater lengths to see them. Like many LPs on this list, it’s a suite of songs that sit on the border of noise, metal and punk. At times, Cloud Rat draw some pretty stunning melodies out of arpeggios and feedback. Most of the time it’s just short and ugly, like houses one passes driving south on Telegraph Road. It’s nasty, but it sounds like it’s trying to be something greater than itself, and the process of yearning is what’s compelling in their music. Less quixotically: it’s like Thou with songs you can listen to in the span of an elevator ride. It’s pay-what-you-want, by the way.
-Discovered via Bandcamp.

I promised myself that I would never write about Burzum, but I suppose that I’m going to have to make an exception for EWIGKEIT’s cover of “Det som Engkang Var,” which recasts the original as a dub reggae song. I have a penchant for music that either juxtaposes or blends different genres; the results can be hit and miss, but I tend to enjoy fascinating failures more than predictable successes. This song isn’t quite a success, hence it’s a bonus track, but listening again I still find myself impressed that it is as good as it is. There’s probably room in the world for one good dub black metal band. EWIGKEIT reformed in 2012 to release Back to Beyond, the album on which this song appears, but haven’t done anything since, making this (for now) the last music that group has produced. Hardly an appropriate swansong, but at least a fascinating one.
-Discovered via Facebook.

Hunter Gatherer sent me possibly my most favorite email I’ve ever received at Invisible Oranges. For your perusal, a snippet:

“We are a two piece DIY band from London, Ontario Canada, one of the most boring, and apparently racist cities in Ontario.

Our city is nicknamed the “Forest City,” yet there is very little forest to look at. In fact the nearest provincial park to us, Komoka, a place we consider sanctuary is essentially a garbage dumping site for rich suburban kids who have nothing better to do than hike two hours into the woods to take bucket tokes. We resent this and our music shows it.”

For all the dark wit and vitriol in that message, however, the group’s music is a rather peaceful instrumental blend of electric folk rock and doom, complete with flute-mimicking synthesizers. It’s all very reminiscent of the little interludes Tony Iommi would throw onto Black Sabbath albums, except stretched out into full length songs. It’s not exactly the most filling musical meal, but, like a decent peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s comforting and hits the spot. I’ve wound up listening to their latest, Scavenger, multiple times during my day job. The rest of the group’s work is also free on Bandcamp, though their back catalog is less refined.
-Discovered via Email from the band.

Maybe I’m still reeling from that Wolfbrigade set at Maryland Deathfest, but my appetite for Swedish D-beat metallic hardcore has essentially skyrocketed recently (which is saying something considering I have an unreasonable fondness for the style at all times). My only real critical reaction to bands playing in the style is to ask the question, “How similar is this to Disfear’s Live the Storm?” The higher the similarity, the more I like it (this is how clone armies prosper; do not be like me). “Varje Dag Aěr En Domedag,” the new song by Fredag dan 13 (Friday the 13th in Swedish, for those not fond of inferring) scores approximately nine Disfears out of ten—the opening notes of the guitar solo mimic those of “Get it Off” so closely. Small praise, to be sure, but I’m still blasting the darn thing, and it still convinced me to check out the band’s upcoming album “Domedag,” as well as its predecessors, so mission accomplished. Either way, there’s no more Disfear and there’s not a new Wolfbrigade out yet, so “Varje Dag Aěr En Domedag” it is!
-Discovered via Press Release.

Calgary harsh and technical metal group Okazaki Fragments derive their name from short strands of synthesized DNA created during DNA replication. The name suits the band, whose songs are short synthesis-es of prior extreme metal styles. On the band’s debut album, Abandoned, crust vocals sound over skronking guitar lines in the vein of Dillinger Escape Plan circa Calculating Infinity, but those passages at any time give way to brutal grindcore gutturals and groaning riffs indebted to Gorguts. Heady stuff, which avoids satisfying listeners with big cathartic moments as on “Vermin,” which by the end feels like it’s almost going to turn into a breakdown before shifting gears again into what could almost be a shout-along if it didn’t stop cold with little warning. This makes for a fine double-feature with the new Pyrrhon EP.
-Discovered via Email from the band.

Time for a little relief from the dissonance. A little fun is in order, and Pittsburgh’s T-Tops deliver on the few released songs from their upcoming self-titled full-length. I was first intrigued by the band when their email boasted ex-members of noisy math-rock legends Don Caballero. Anything remotely related to that project gets at least one listen from me. T-Tops doesn’t share Don Cab’s love of shifting time signatures, though. This is motorcycle music, somewhere between early Queens of the Stone Age and that new Atomic Bitchwax album with a little Motorhead thrown in. Brief song lengths keep the group‘s music brisk, which is critical in music like this.
-Discovered via Press Release.

Watching Tristan Shone grow and evolve in his time as one-man industrial death machine Author and Punisher has been one of the most rewarding parts of my blogging tenure. I first became a fan of his work three years ago during the press cycle for , an album which not only did a better job of upholding the Godflesh legacy than Godflesh did, but showed off Shone’s one-of-a-kind self-made instruments, which at the time comprised much of the intrigue around his project. Shone’s next album, Women and Children, was more vocal-centric and melodic, and precipitated his hanging out with Phil Anselmo and playing larger music festivals. Now, Melk En Honing looks to complete Shone’s transition into a full-on rock band, as lead single “Callous and Hoof” demonstrates. Sure, it has a big beat switch up halfway through and ends with almost a minute of literal grinding noises, but this is the most accessible Shone has ever been, with his loops and beats composing full-on riffs and his voice prizing discernible lyrics over distortion. In a way it seems like a bid for serious artistry as opposed to being a “gimmick,” but at the same time it’s a stark departure from the Author and Punisher I once knew.
-Discovered via Revolver.

I’ve got to hand it to Jeff Lohrber, the man knows how to work in chaotic situations. When I saw Enabler this spring, he had a completely new backing band, and it sounds like he’s working through some of the fallout from people exiting his life in “By Demons Denied,” the first song from an upcoming album due later this summer. Shedding band members is nothing new for Lohrber, and it hasn’t stopped him from being a prolific songwriter; this album will be his third major piece of work in as many years (well, two EP’s came out in 2013, but taken as one that’s an album’s worth of material). He’s consistent as well, and this new song fits snugly into his back catalog of noisy metallic hardcore tempered with big arena rock hooks. What makes “By Demons Denied” different is just how polished it sounds, and while the cleaner recording does him well in the first part of the song, it leaches some bite from the more melodic final segment.
-Discovered via Press Release.

But if there’s one release from May that everyone who reads this site must hear, it’s the self-titled debut by Tau Cross. What began as the first post-Amebix project by bassist/vocalist Rob “The Baron” Miller is being touted as a sort of punk/metal supergroup—the band also features Michel “Away” Langevin, the drummer of Voivod, as well as guitarists Andy Lefton and Jon Misery, UK and Minneapolis (respectively) crust punk vets. But calling Tau Cross a supergroup sort-of primes the project for disaster; that phrase too often connotes a money grab, or a gimmick. Instead, Miller’s delivered what is probably my favorite work in his discography to date. That last Amebix album was pretty cool, but this is a real step forward. At first, Tau Cross come off like a top-notch Killing Joke clone, but as the album progresses, the band folds in progressive and folk rock instrumentation, all the while never losing a penchant for strong songwriting. Lyrically this is also Miller’s finest hour. Using insular societies as a lens, he shows an improved knack for storytelling in song, as well as some powerful political screeds as on “You People,” “We Control the Fear” and clsoer “Our Day Will Come.” Literally the last words sung on the album are “All suffering will end when we manifest love as the law.” The standout here, though, is “Hangman’s Hyll,” a song I like so much that I don’t even want to describe it. anytime someone tells you that there is no good songwriting in metal, throw that song in their face. Tau Cross just released a strong album of the year contender. Ignore it at your own peril.
-Discovered via Press Release.

—Joseph Schafer

This article has been edited to correctly reflect Jon Misery’s nationality and city of origin.

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