Editor’s Choice April 2015
April 2015 seems like the most tragic month in recent metal history, not in terms of disappointing releases, but in terms of something far more important: human life. Sure, it’s sad that In Solitude called it quits, but other bands will take their place and those boys will go on to make more music. But we’ll never hear another inventive guitar line from Drew Cook or mighty groove from Craig Gruber again. I don’t keep any sort of record of the number of metal musicians who pass before their time, but April just felt as though it carried a hefty cost.
Hell, the month began in tragedy when three members of Khaotika and Wormreich perished in a deadly bus crash. Shortly thereafter, three metalheads lost their lives and several more were injured in Chile when a venue collapsed during a concert by legendary UK crust band Doom. This past weekend marked the two year anniversary of Jeff Hanneman of Slayer’s passing, as well, and while that band is trying to honor his legacy, something about Slayer continuing without him just tastes bad. That taste carries over into their first post-Hanneman music, which did not make my choices this month. Even the dearly deceased don’t seem safe, as Dave Brockie of GWAR’s former bandmates and family literally quibble over his ashes.
But for all that, the metal community at large seemed more interested in throwing a hissy fit over Mobb Deep playing Maryland Deathfest, or in worrying whether that fest will happen at all. Newsflash: it’s Maryland Deathfest, not Maryland Metalfest, and being open-minded will only benefit us as concertgoers and a community (I bet that set will be an absolute blast). And either way, the social upheaval in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray is far more important than patch-jacket spring break. I’m salivating over my chance to see Triptykon as much as the next guy (OK, probably more), but a little perspective is always in order.
Still, some tragedies have a flipside. April showers bring May flowers or so they say, and if I can pinpoint a single blooming daisy it is the groundswell of support for IO contributor, Steel for Brains editor and writer extraordinaire (not to mention excellent human being ) Jonathan Dick and his daughter, who spent much of the month in a hospital. So often writing about this music over a medium as anonymous as the internet can feel like skipping rocks over an infinite pond—even with comment threads, email and social media, it’s easy to feel isolated in this line of work. However, a gofundme account created by former IO scribe and fellow metal writer of import Kim Kelly became something of a rallying point for admirers of Jon’s writing and the music we share a love for. We, meaning not just metal bloggers and readers of metal blogs, but people who approach this music as the tent pole of a lifestyle, people who love the art form, are at our best when we’re a community working toward a common goal. Sometimes it takes death, or at least a little brush with it, to get us there.
But what we have in common is appreciating the art, so let’s get on with it.
La Nueva Sangre are a metalcore band who, despite hailing from Colombia, don’t sound too far off from the kinds of bands that were the commercial face of metal in America in the '00s. However, La Nueva Sangre present a more burly and aggressive approach that eschews a lot of the showy solos and awful clean singing that wound up sinking Killswitch Engage. It’s not the most obscure thing I’ve ever heard, but something about the energetic drive of “Latinoamerica Ruge” is infectious on a level than transcends aesthetic taste. Espresso is good in the morning no matter what kind of cup you put it in.
-Discovered via email from the band itself.
Besides having an oddly spelled name, Nocternity are a long-running black metal band from Greece, and while I’m aware that the Aegean sea has a reputation for ferocious black metal, few groups from the region have wound up sticking in my library, aside from the ubiquitous Rotting Christ and the always-odd Zemial. Nocternity play is way straighter than both of those bands, but still manage to work in a great balance between melody and aggression on Harps of the Ancient Temples. This record took 12 years to create and was, according to the band’s press sheet, recorded twice with different members, one analog one digital. The analog version is now available from Iron Bonehead which, like Greece, tends to put out scores of excellent black metal releases that nevertheless does not always capture my imagination, but this one is a hit. I have no idea how main man K. D. hopes to recoup the investment of recording the same album twice, but I’m guessing he doesn’t care. By all accounts Harps of the Ancient Temples is a worthy successor to his last full length, Onyx, which I’ve decided to pick up based on this album’s strength alone.
-Discovered via CVLT Nation.
Bands who want to be featured on Invisible Oranges, take note: this is how you get my attention. Gloaming, a death/doom band from Baltimore, sent me a cheery personalized email with a link to their Bandcamp and a brief rundown of what exactly makes their band unique: lyrics based off Maryland folklore. “My family has lived in Maryland for hundreds of years, so stories just sort of trickle down through history. Visiting a lot of old historical sites and the like has also exposed me to a lot of folklore/mythology that's passed around but not often written about,” guitarist/lyricist J.C. explained in an email. I decided to check the record out, even though I prefer my death metal fast, and was not disappointed. Keep Close the Watchfires is a mature and nuanced work with hints of later Chuck Schuldiner in the vocals, occasional bursts of speed reminiscent of Asphyx, and a genuinely creepy vibe. The riff on “Curse of the Frozen Witch” in particular kills. It turns out that, like many death doom bands, Gloaming is a long-distance collaboration, with members in Finland, Australia and South Korea (right?) in addition to the United States. They’ve probably never played in a room together, but they know how to close an album; “Dwayyo” is fucking killer, even if it does resort to a rock and roll fadeout. In addition the album kind of lags in the middle, but whatever, room for improvement on album #2.
-Discovered via email from the band itself.
Speaking of little bands with can-do attitude and great outreach skills, Canada’s Vile Creature hit me up with something unique to bring to the funereal blackened doom table. All their lyrics are centered around queer and animal rights. From a two-piece doom band? Didn’t see that coming. For what it’s worth, I’m not enough of a socially inclined person to include them based on that alone. The music is great, chilling with a powerful haze around the guitar tone, as if the microphones and amplifiers were dripping with Vaseline during the recording sessions which, by the way took place in a public school basement. If you’re interested, the album is free to download, but to get a physical copy you’ll need to catch the guys on tour.
-Discovered via email from the band itself.
Here’s tour dates:
07 May - Toronto, ON @ D-Beatstro
08 May - Montreal, ON @ Squalor Collective
09 May - Boston, MA @ O'Brien's Pub
10 May - Providence, RI @ Psychic Readings
11 May - New Brunswick, NJ @ Circuit City
12 May - Richmond, VA @ Church of Abe
13 May - Virginia Beach, VA @ TBA
14 May - Washington DC @ Hot Tub House
15 May - TBA
16 May - Philadelphia, PA
18 May - Allentown, PA @ Alternative Gallery
19 May - TBA
20 May - Rochester, NY @ Bug Jar
21 May - Buffalo NY @ Sugar City
22 May - St. Catharines, ON @ the Temple
23 May - Kitchener-Waterloo, ON @ TBA
Now to pick up the pace a bit, Portland, Oregon’s Pressing On features guitarist John Wilkerson of legendary West Coast hardcore outfit From Ashes Rise. Either that’s enough to get you to jam the play button as fast as you can, like me, or it’s going to keep you from ever listening. For those of you who are uninformed, From Ashes Rise played an impassioned style of metallic hardcore that featured both shredding leads and beatdown segments, not to mention sometimes gorgeous melodies. Tragedy and His Hero Is Gone are perhaps more well-known in this milieu, but From Ashes Rise was a significant contributor as well, and that’s due in no small part to Wilkerson’s quirks. There was a minute in time when every new hardcore band seemed determined to crib that band’s style, so it’s nice to have Wilkerson back in action. Pressing On might not make it past this demo. Hell, most hardcore bands don’t make it this far. Still, I’m digging it.
-Discovered via Facebook.
Last month I passed on featuring a new song by Miami’s Maruta, so I’m rectifying that now. This technical grind outfit used their last album, forward into Regression to create a sonic labyrinth, full of twists turns and dead ends but invariably leading in a single direction—lethally forward. They broke up shortly thereafter, but are now about to return with Remain Dystopian, another entry in what’s turning out to be a strong year for technical death-grind (there’s a reason we streamed Antigama and Theories). The first single, “Stand in Defeat,” was pretty good, but “Hope Smasher” might be my favorite thing I’ve heard from them, all dizzying jazz-inflected guitar runs culminating in a punishing groove and a strong vocal hook.
-Discovered via Lambgoat.
Another lesson I learned in April: a crop of current artists in Australia that understand tension and fear with an almost supernatural acuity. I was made aware of it first through two stunning films, the crime thriller/family drama Animal Kingdom, and the indie horror phenomenon The Babadook. They’re both must-views, films that grip viewers early with high stakes and intimate discomfort and then ratchet up the tension. Australian blackened death metal band Dead River Runs Dry sounds as though they’ve been pulling from the same well as those films. Too often blackened death metal becomes shorthand for “Behemoth clone,” spooky-but-tough young men trying to both frighten and intimidate (different things) at once, with songcraft and variety as distant third and fourth priorities (Note: the Behemoth formula is to put songwriting first, while the intimidation springs naturally from Orion’s topknot). On Heirophants of the Storm, however, Dead River Runs Dry have crafted a solid and varied release that raises stakes as it goes. Their flirtations with crust and rock and roll give way to sudden, brief Deathspell Omega-isms on “Bow Your Head, Scum,” while “For the Fallen” has more of a melodic Dissection vibe to it. And holy crap, “Hyperic Vortex” packs one hell of a main riff. Polyglot and promising music awaits in Australia.
-Discovered via email from the band itself.
However, when it comes to my in-general gloomy disposition regarding April of 2015, perhaps Paradise Lost, one of my favorite bands in any genre, summed things up best with the song “No Hope In Sight,” the first taste of their upcoming album The Plague Within. In some ways it’s typical Paradise Lost: mid-tempo and almost incredulous in its portension, with a vocal hook from singer Nick Holmes consisting of him saying the title of the song in the chorus quite loudly. In some ways it’s a huge shift: Holmes growls alongside his melodic singing. To some people this is a very big deal. In the earliest bit of their career, Paradise Lost (alongside My Dying Bride, Katatonia and Anathema) pioneered a still-popular brand of gothic doom metal before, like all three of their fellow innovators, abandoning the sound in favor of pop music. To a subset of listeners, this was reason enough to abandon the band outright, and I’m guessing this subset of listeners are mostly American since Paradise Lost are a genuinely large band in Europe. The Plague Within is a kind of olive branch, albeit one some of us saw coming, since Paradise Lost guitarist Greg Mackintosh has been exploring death-doom and crust in his side project Vallenfyre, and Nick Holmes returned to growing as Mikael Akerfeldt’s replacement in Bloodbath. Further playing the return-to-form up, Paradise Lost have released a video for “Beneath Broken Earth,” which would have made this list had it been released in April proper. That video is a bit of a feint: “Beneath Broken Earth” is all slow and gravel-throated, but it’s the only song of its kind on The Plague Within. The rest of the album is more in line with “No Hope In Sight,” marrying Holmes’s new harsh singing with the pop metal style that the band has perfected in the last decade. In a way this move seems as much a cynical pursuit of American money as much as an offer of reconciliation, but at least it’s the start of a new era for a group who deserves the second chance they’re asking for, and if throwing a few growls into the recipe is what it takes, so be it.
-Discovered via Press Release.
this article has been corrected to accurately reflect the spelling of Colombia.