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Editor’s Choice May 2017

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I decided against writing much of an introductory essay this month, in lieu of digging myself out of the mountain of emails left by my visit to this year’s Maryland Deathfest (I think the downsizing improved the festival, and also that nobody should book Morbid Angel at these sorts of things any longer), as well as getting affairs in order for the upcoming Northwest Terror Fest.

With all this excitement who has time to listen to music? Still, even in the din of life, the hustle of business and the infinite migraine of ignorant metal thinkpieces, bands continue to release music, much of it without the support of tours, large fests or well-connected PR agents. Every month yields more fruit. My cart overflows. I leave a trail of great releases unmentioned in my wake. These following I conserved to share with you. Their juice tastes sweet.

The members of Scorched look barely old enough to shave, but they knocked me down like a bowling pin at this year’s Maryland Deathfest pre-party, and wound up one of my favorite sets of the year. Horror film samples and unintelligible lyrics usually denote spineless slop, but Scorched’s endoskeleton comes from east coast hardcore and as such their songs employ structure to pummeling effect. I missed Echoes of Dismemberment last year, but I would have killed to premiere it on Invisible Oranges if I had heard it before, so please, enjoy it now.

Ukraine’s 1914 write death metal about the first World War. Other bands did this first – Sacriphyx, Bolt Thrower – but 1914 double down hardest on the theme, and the mud-in-mouth horror of trench warfare. Their music employs fewer gallops and double bass rolls; the glory of the cavalry charge and artillery barrage take a backseat to knee-deep trench warfare and gangrene. 1914 is about bayonet charges into no-man’s land and soldiers on the frontline being doomed to death, as Autopsy once said. Their first album, The Eschatology of War, dropped in late 2015 but the band already has a split and a B-sides collection in their clip. That collection includes a dismally long and nasty-but-fun cover of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way”. “Stoßtrupp 1917”, the first single from their upcoming sophomore LP, inspires more adrenaline.

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Andrew D’Cagna picks good projects. The multi-instrumentalist commits his skills to a few of my favorite projects, including Nechochwen, Obsequiae and this year’s Coldfells, whose self-titled debut is probably my most-played album of the year (maybe behind Ulver and Power Trip, but who can upend such hooks?). Left to his own devices, he produced Lightning Strikes the Crown, his debut album as power metal outfit Iron Flame. While I did’t immediately glom onto it the way I did his other projects, I can see D’Cagna’s talents at work here, the same he employed in his previous power metal project, Dofka. Songs like “Firestorm” and especially “Heavy Metal Warriors” master the driving, anthemic sensation that make power metal so appealing to those with ears to hear.

Continuing the theme, another power metal record by another artist previously featured on the site. Our own Greg Majewski uncovered Finland’s Legionnaire in the first edition of From the Bandcamp Vaults. About their first demo he said

I really hope that when either Shadow Kingdom or Cruz Del Sur inevitably knight these guys that they don’t budget Legionnaire too highly; the energy they show is almost too much fun for a real-deal studio.

Someone buy Greg a beer: his prediction was right on the money. Cruz Del Sur put out the band’s first LP proper, Dawn of Genesis and maintained the band’s rough-and-tumble aesthetic. A little clarity goes a long way, though. The galloping lead guitar work is the real draw for Legionnaire, and hearing those tones without any tape his inspires my head to bang.

In-general, the old school death metal revival leaves me cold. Too much of the old guard’s successes were happy accidents and bold innovations fueled by youthful exuberance, the kind of thing that can’t just be replicated on purpose. Portland’s Triumvir Foul make for one of the few exceptions. Their debut album piqued Jon Rosenthal’s interest, but mostly left me excited to see where they would take it from there. The follow-up, Spiritual Bloodshed, improves on the original’s strengths: less Morbid Angel worship, more cutting leads. Good choices.

Poland’s black metal scene does not have me mystified the way it does some. Mgła is awesome. Batushka bores me. Varmia is the tie-breaker. The band’s recent cassette (they seem to really not want people buying the download) packs a great balance of black metal momentum and folksy awe. In particular the band know how to balance harsh and clean vocals in the framework of a song. Comparison is the death of joy, but Varmia themselves bring up Enslaved as an influence, and they do their forebears justice. That said I’m not sure their Norwegian heroes ever got quite as percussive and ugly as the middle segment of “Ptak”.

Portland’s Tithe do not have a sense of subtlety. Their music seems more like a hypodermic needle for the serum that is their progressive political message than an exercise in songcraft. Maybe that’s why their album cover is in such bad taste, even if it’s trying to be a joke at President Trump’s expense. Given the sectarian violence that rocked Portland this past weekend, maybe subtlety is exactly what the conversation between progressives and the alt-right needs. That said, I can’t deny how much I enjoyed listening to their self-titled LP. Guitarist and singer Matt Eiseman also of Drouth, can’t help but craft a cool riff even if he’s joking around (the release came on April 20th). These songs aim for the reptile brain, even High on Fire sounds more sophisticated, and a hint of tough-guy hardcore makes these four songs even more muscular than run-of-the-mill Eyehategod worship. At the end of the day, I just enjoy songs about punching Nazis.

Charlie Looker, the primary creative force behind Psalm Zero, is preparing a highly conceptual solo record. He plans for a chamber orchestra and electronics to comprise his backing band. The record, Simple Answers promises to be a hard departure from the vaguely industrial-metallic (and also 80s pop-ish) sound of his most recent Psalm Zero LP. Details on the record’s kickstarter hint at something pretty strange (Patrice O’Neal?). Then again, Looker’s an old hand at pulling disparate elements together. For example, peep this solo acoustic rendition of The Devil’s Blood’s “Voodoo Dust”, performed in Paris last year. That band’s sound relied on a powerful female vocalist and layers of rock instrumentation to work, and hearing looker pull it off with just one unplugged guitar opens the tune up in a new way.

Finally, I want to refer readers a second time to the new Mutoid Man album, War Moans. We covered the release in-general during yesterday’s interview with Ben Koller, but I wanted to throw my own line out there: this is a spectacular record. Mutoid Man’s gonzo mix of sludge, hardcore and classic rock never quite gelled on their two previous albums, even though both make for fun rides. War Moans, though, works on every front. Here, the huge choruses that Steve Brodsky experimented with on later Cave In albums totally work within an energetic pop framework. I can’t stop listening to “Kiss of Death”, “Irons in the Fire” and especially the last song, “Bandages”. Last month I said that Brann Dailor’s Arcada side project did a better job at being the pop metal band that Mastodon are trying so hard to be. That’s still true, but War Moans is even more successful. Mutoid Man just jumped from footnote to worthy subject.

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