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Confession: Upcoming Metal Releases tends to skip singles (same goes for most compilations, reissues, and live albums). This isn't due to an AORist aversion to the format. I like singles. A lot. Embracing quality over quantity is always a good look in my book (though it's economically understandable why bands choose to build the LP). But most modern metal singles tend to act solely as a PR device for a forthcoming full-length, and the ones that feature all-original material are typically re-branded as EPs. So to guard against redundancy, into the bin they go.

And it's usually no great loss. Our metal heads are wired to place more importance on an album over a single. Arguing that a band works better in smaller doses is like complaining that you received too many birthday presents. After all, you hold the power to snip any offending material out of your playlist, for you are the digital king. Quantity soon becomes quality on an mp3 player. In the end, filler is less egregious than it was a couple decades ago, even if the bank account hit still smarts.

But that doesn't mean I feel any less guilty about throwing back releases measuring under 12 inches. (Not that this fully applies to this feature, which is more of an excuse to gather three goodies together for the price of one. There's only one real single listed below. The thesis has failed. The author flails. I am a false.) So, here we are, rounding up some important shorties to ensure they're not lost in the mix.

— Ian Chainey

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Bölzer - Soma | Invictus Productions | Blackened death metal
Bölzer have reached the point where it's natural to ask if they're the next breakout band. After two explosive sets at this year's Maryland Deathfest, the buzz around the New Zealand/Switzerland duo has never been higher. Yet, as Dan Lawrence pointed out, their discography is slight. Including two-track Soma, they've recorded eight songs in total. Thus far, critics have responded well which makes sense since Bölzer inspire metal writers to write. They're progressive, quirky, atmospheric, barbaric; all fine reasons to put pen to pad. Add in the perception that Bölzer are doing it "right" -- though it's hard to define what "right" is -- and you have a classic example of a critic's champion that gets the bump because they're not another round with the boring guys (even if those "boring" guys happen to sell heaps more and are a greater indication of what metal listeners actually listen to). It just feels like Bölzer are one killer release away.

Let's be clear, though: Soma isn't Bölzer's instant-classic, but it gets them one step closer and shows why they may lead the way in the future. Guitarist/vocalist Okoi Thierry Jones (Aphelon, Deathcult), performing here as KzR, is inventive and resourceful. The same goes for his battery mate, drummer HzR. Their ability to twist the well-worn into the unique is rather Darkthrone-esque; not in sound or theme, but in their comfort with their abilities and the freedom that provides.

Example: In other hands, a-side "Steppes" or b-side epic "Labyrinthian Graves" would be by-the-numbers war metal and a foggy memory of Morbid Angel smashed into a sandwich by a trash compactor. Bölzer, like true sonic experimenters, use the full range of their tools to find 'primitive' (in the John Fahey sense) flavors those other hands have been trained by history to avoid. KzR's riffs are slippery, his tone like glass shattering. HzR's syncopation still surprises even after plays reach double digits. Bölzer's driving creative question may have been, "What else can I do here?" They're obsessed with finding an answer; even if they have a tendency to meander in presenting the solution, dulling the overall impact. Of course, when you only release two to three songs a year, you have time to figure out the best answer. That snail's pace means Bölzer might get to their killer release on a song-by-song basis quicker than most.

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Death Penalty - Sign of Times | Rise Above Records | Doom, heavy metal
You may not know Gaz Jennings by name, but you know him by riff. For 24 years he was a major factor in why Cathedral made your playlists. The reason? He played with such balance; the weight/crunch of his tone never compromised or substituted for catchiness. He carries that strength over to Death Penalty, the band he cobbled together after Cathedral closed their doors. And Jennings has surrounded himself with likeminded players. Ex-Serpentcult singer Michelle Nocon almost acts like the vocal embodiment of a Jennings riff: she finds the pocket, stays there, and emphasizes function and form over the spotlight. Because of that, Sign of Times takes time to sink in since, outside of the solos, it's not showy. But it has sturdy legs and it's damn crafty. The melody is insidious, burrowing into your brain for a week-long residency. The more you play it, the better it becomes. Familiarity doesn't make it capsize. The reason? Balance.

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Mother Brain - Rise and Grind | Mannequin Ruin Recordings | Grind
Mother Brain's Rise and Grind is the oldie of the round-up, having been released in March. Yet the sheer ferocity of Mother Brain's assault are why they're here. The New Yorkers blast, thrash, groove, rip, and roar in forever-shifting miniatures. Their songs stay as constant as a Rubik's Cube in the hands of a fidgeter. But Rise and Grind isn't a load of empty calories. The tracks contain enough ideas to fill whole hard drives. And Mother Brain lean on a lot of classic songwriting tricks to make Rise and Grind happen. For instance, there's a rise and fall, a tension and release, present that's as old as time: blasts lead into core parts which connect with suddenly slomo doom riffs. That reads as jumpy, but Mother Brain's adherence to compositional rules provides the flow. It's how they keep this thing from flying off the rails while retaining the spontaneity of a spasmodic approach. They just grind those rules into dust 20 times a minute.

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