Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Into Dungeons of Delirium: A Guide to Dungeon Synth's Stranger Side


Lately, it seems you can barely traverse a piece of underground discourse without coming across mention of "dungeon synth." I'm guilty of contributing to this static myself, but I feel the recent trend of bombastic, medieval dungeon synth is missing some of the woozier, more rudimentary trademarks of the genre that won me over to such minimal sounds in the first place. I'm all for new age and otherwise higher touch stuff creeping in, as it rounds out so much of the concept, but the doors that first opened to me within the broader realm of dark dungeon music were more outsider art than they were anything else.

Perhaps this inclination many artists have towards more orchestrated music speaks to the accessibility of computer programs that assist in digital art creation, but there's something magical about simple sounds. Layered works have their own magic, but the sense that one is peering into a crude approximation of reality that doesn't resemble one's own is an experience that excites me most. While the more majestic works of newly established dungeon synth heavyweights in Old Tower scratch this itch quite well, I thought it would be worth my time (and hopefully yours) to examine a few records that capture the most delirious and peculiar side of this genre.


Roman Master- Roman Master
Roman Master is an American project that partakes in the time honored tradition of dungeon synth as an extension of black metal interlude tracks. Of their first two self-titled demos (EPs?), one is vicious raw black metal, while the other is this strained, remarkable offering of minimalist synthesized sorrow. This demo's songs bleed into one another, following the sequential theme of an individual venturing off to a guaranteed failure on the battlefield. The theme of defeat and frailty is echoed by the hissing, wavering melodies, often carried by a single thin note that just barely cuts through choral voices at their most mournful and warped. Stripped of majesty and elegance, Roman Master cuts to the heart of a specific, unimaginably intense experience.


The Embers of Tara- Realm of Sleep
Following the aforementioned Roman Master into hazy, uncertain territory, The Embers of Tara may strive to avoid such depressive themes, but delves into the uncertainty of dreams where all things that drift into focus become inherently distorted. What may sound like a tape being chewed up by the tape deck is not an accident, but rather an actuality of sleep, wherein points of reference are altered with time and in relation to one's own approach. Distinct melodies flow into new forms entirely through a series of several small shifts, until the original piece seems forgotten while facing the new, distorted version. It's a challenge to both memory and perfectionism, but chasing such fixed points is no more realistic than chasing the very nature of sleep itself. The blurred edges become the highlight rather than a detraction from the original composition, creating a world that is neither soothing nor turbulent.


Iamí- Cavernas do Inconsciente
We're slightly departing from the theme of less orchestrated music here because this is such a trip that it warrants inclusion. Iamí, whose name translates to "night" in the indigenous Brazilian Tupi language, explores self in a psychedelic sense through visual art and synthesizer sounds. Like Roman Master above, Iamí works in both black metal and dungeon synth, yet focuses exclusively on the latter on this most recent release. Plodding low-end notes feel like actual footsteps on a heavy internal journey, while more ethereal synthesizer voices float above, almost separate from the lower frequencies entirely. This separation, perhaps unintentionally, creates a sense of the consistent narrator and the circumstances unfolding around the listener. With this distinct, direct approach to the form, it allows even simple twists of the script to take on a larger significance.


Celastael- My Path
The sparseness of Celastael's two demos is hard to notice at first, as heavy reverb and delay carry single notes across broad expanses. What is most striking about these barebones recordings is not their lack of unnecessary trappings, but rather their brevity. While only one track on this demo passes the three minute mark, every song offered feels like a complete statement, offered up from the haze of a moonlit winter night. The dungeon synth genre seems to give great space to artists who blow a collection of three or four related phrases into twenty-minute epics, with unnecessary bombast in the name of "atmosphere." This is direct evidence that, while such lengthy run-times can be used to great effect (as evidenced in great measure below), a talented artist can fit the whole feeling into a fraction of the time.


Erdstall- Caverns of Endless
In contrast with Celastael, Erdstall makes a strong case for the hypnotic powers of repetition and space. With two massive tracks, Caverns of Endless flows into the doomy spirit of earlier visionaries like Trollmann av Ildtoppberg, but in a way entirely of Erdstall's own creation. Horns swell stretch into infinity, seemingly echoing off countless chambers of some vast abyss. Unlike many of the above releases, rhythm is prominent in this offering, yet not to the point of detracting from the dread-inducing drone that lies at the core of the sound. This project seems to be inactive now, after five years of silence and no other online presence. The absence is truly a shame. Now that these sounds are reaching a wider audience, it would be fascinating to see how Erdstall could progress in such a climate. One can't help but imagine it would feel like the most glorious, unending crawl to death.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Roadburn 2018: A Postmortem

There are so many different ways one can frame an experience like Roadburn. With four days of music on six different stages (most of the time), it's a nonlinear story even for those who only catch a few bands a day. My personal experience at Roadburn is often spent just outside the eye of the storm, so to speak. A festival spent rushing from band to band in order to capture enough segments of interest is a thrilling and exhausting time. This was my third year in attendance, and possibly the first year where I didn't have an intense emotional attachment to any band playing, which provided a strange sort of relief. My phrasing shouldn't be misread though: I had the best year yet.

In 2017, artists like Ulver and Hypnopazuzu provided a context that felt larger than life. In 2018, there were many bands I loved, but none so deeply that I felt anxious at the thought of accidentally bumping into the musicians. Without the high stakes, I was better able to have a fluid and free time, coasting more comfortably from set to set. This was, to my mind, the ideal experience. I was able to grab a beer here and there without running a mental stopwatch. I was able to say to myself, "I really enjoy this band, but I think I'm going to check out something I've never heard before," without the extreme fear of missing out that would've gripped me a couple years ago. Perhaps this is also a shift in my own personality as I grow to like myself more, but that's a lot harder to qualify in a post on a blog.

Another major factor in the great joy I derived this year was, undeniably, the presence of my girlfriend. While we're not the type to be attached at the hip, I can't say that spending approximately a week apart is my idea of a great time. It was thrilling to share firsthand what I do with the festival while I'm helping run its social media, and it was great to share in the joy of truly brilliant music and be away from our usual reality of jobs and routines.

All that said, it's likely you're here for a rundown of my favorite sets and other things. Rather than providing a chronological listing of moments that impacted me the most, I'm going to offer things up in terms of relevance. It's very easy, post-festival, for the most recent parts to feel like the heaviest hitters, which is why I've given this a week to sit and sort itself out. There are always brilliant sets that get forgotten in the immediate aftermath and "good but not revolutionary" things that are so fresh in the memory that they're elevated to a disproportionate status. Here are the ones that really stick to my mind after a couple weeks. Hopefully they'll still carry such weight in my memory this time next year.

Please note that, save for the bottom, there are no photographs of Roadburn in this article. I do not have the funds to pay a professional photographer and my cell phone shots may as well have been taken at a gig here in NYC--they're that indecipherable. Instead I'm leaving bandcamp links for you to support the artists in question. Check them out if you're not yet familiar!


Old Tower
While possibly one of the mellowest sets I witnessed at the whole festival, it was an absolute thrill to catch my first dungeon synth performance. I've long been a fan of the genre (since well before I'd heard the term "dungeon synth") and it was incredible to see one of the most skillful acts in the genre deliver the goods. Old Tower evokes the majesty and otherworldly decrepitude of early Mortiis while putting their own cosmic spin on things. Live drumming paired with the eeriest sounding synth tones made for an atmosphere I could've stayed lost in for far longer than a single set.


Kikagaku Moyo
There were two psychedelic "takeovers" at Roadburn occurring in tandem. A group of Japanese artists (with the GuruGuru Brain label being their point of relation) and a collection of San Diego-based bands. The Japanese were the huge winners for my personal taste, with Kikagaku Moyo serving as the highlight of these twin takeovers. Their ability to sway between soothing and smashing is uncanny, and their singing voices are just wonderful. What started as a curiosity turned into one of the coolest things I saw during the entire festival. I was also quite pleased to see this translates wonderfully on record, which seems to be a challenge for some bands of this nature.

Waste of Space Orchestra
As the first full set of Roadburn that I witnessed, it's hard for me to fully put into words what I experienced when Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising joined forces as the Waste of Space Orchestra. What I can safely say is that it made its mark on me. It was subtly psychedelic, as doom and black metal collided with plenty of bizarre influences bleeding in. With accompanying visuals that ranged from pastoral to eerily apocalyptic, the Waste of Space Orchestra set managed to be all over the place without feeling disorganized. Usually things this ambitious collapse under their own weight. Waste of Space was anything but a waste, and was likely the strongest set of day one.

Hieros Gamos
While the musicians of Hieros Gamos (a collaborative effort between NYIÞ and Wormlust) performed a ferocious black metal set the following day for the Vanagandr: Sol an Varma, this was the set of theirs that left me awestruck. The material shared veered far more deeply into NYIÞ's sonic trademarks, with mostly acoustic instrumentation utilized to create ritualistic drone, yet there was an edge that almost reminded me of the earlier works of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, with sinister piano lurching out from time to time. The whole thing was slinky and haunting, with an emphasis on ritualistic performance art. It's more of a "you had to be there" thing than something that could be captured as a recorded piece, but I seriously hope there's more from this collaborative project.

Zuriaake
Zuriaake was the final band I saw during Roadburn. Usually this is a period during which I'd be too exhausted to fully enjoy the art before me, but with the beauty of their atmospheric black metal, I was reinvigorated and carried away. It's odd to describe something like this as euphoric, yet that's exactly how it felt. The costumed musicians didn't offer much in the way of performance, letting their presence and sound convey the weight and poetry of their art. It was more captivating than I expected and reminded me of how many different shapes black metal can take.



Godspeed You! Black Emperor
There were two separate performances by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and I saw a large chunk of each, although it was the Saturday set that I saw in full. After enjoying their recorded output for approximately thirteen years, it was still somehow more stunning to witness live than I would've ever imagined. It wasn't just the proficient musicianship and exhilarating compositions, or even mere nostalgia that made their set so great, however. During the performance, the band's own projectionist was running back and forth behind the sound booth, stringing up film on classic projectors to accompany the performance in real time. From where I sat, I could glance over my shoulder to watch this while the band played onstage. The sheer artistry of both sound and vision were humbling. While I initially felt this band would be something of an outlier for Roadburn's lineup, this was a perfect set for the festival.

Zonal ft. Moor Mother
I am not the right person to try to describe this set. It was unlike anything I'd ever witnessed. While seeing Godflesh the day prior was really exhilarating and fun, this was a chance for me to experience another side of Justin Broadrick's art with which I hadn't yet engaged. While not as metallic as his most famous project, Zonal (a collaboration with The Bug) kicked out even more noise with its low-frequency pulsing. Vocal accompaniment from Moor Mother elevated this sickeningly loud sound to an outright confrontational point. It was phenomenal and new to me. I hope events like this move from being a one-off to becoming folded into the greater proceedings in future years. There are so many fascinating artists making hip-hop and electronic music that push the boundaries of sound and message. I can only imagine they'll go over just as wonderfully.

The Black Metal & Brews Panel with HammerHeart Brewing/Panopticon
I can't toot my own horn here when all I did was facilitate, but I need to put into words how important and special it was to host a talk with such talented people. Austin Lunn, as co-owner of HammerHeart Brewing and the founding member of Panopticon, was kind enough to share his wisdom and humor while live bandmates Andy Klokow (bass) and Jake Quittschreiber (guitars) joined to discuss their own work with HammerHeart Brewing and as members of the band. I don't believe anybody filmed or recorded any of our talk, but if for some reason you were in the audience and documented this, please reach out. I'm sure that there are five of us who would love to see or hear it. Below is a series of images taken by my talented friend, Kris, whose work as 17 Seconds Photography is worth your time (and a nod to my favorite band, The Cure).





Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Roadburn 2018: A Primer


If you're one of the 23 people that reads Black Metal & Brews, you probably know well enough by now that I help Roadburn with a couple things. As the leading contender for the title of "Mr. Rogers of the Metal Underground," I'm here to give you some gentle pointers that might not be as apparent in the thrill of preparation. I mean, I get it. It's really exciting going to a festival where there's a million things happening. However, if you overdo it on day one or try to go in three directions at once, you're going to wear yourself out and have a LOT less fun. This is something of a listicle by its very nature, but I'm going to back these things up with information that will hopefully help.

Sometimes your favorite band won't be the band you should see. Hear me out here, because it's been an issue for me in the past. When I attended Roadburn 2016, Neurosis played two nights in a row on the main stage. Neurosis is easily one of my favorite bands in heavy music and yet I opted to ditch on the first night for a show at one of the smaller stages. Why? I realized that I'd be seeing Neurosis the following night and would likely have a chance to see them again somewhere close to home. My chance to see Lugubrum Trio, however, would likely never come again. So I packed in with a small but devoted crowd to watch a band I love a bit less than Neurosis and I don't regret it one bit. I know a lot of people that go to Roadburn and watch a band they've already seen five times. If that's you and it gives you life, then disregard this point. If you're like me, you're going to want to have a new experience, so try to make room for this in your busy schedule for rarities like the Waste of Space Orchestra or Damo Suzuki's collaborations with psych bands.

As a followup to that point, you can't be two places at once, so be sure you're in the place that matters most. This isn't just about sets, mind you. As another really helpful Roadburn prep article pointed out, sometimes this means finding a place you can be seated. I'd give my own health a strong C+ or B- rating and I still find my knees feeling weak by early Saturday at Roadburn. There's a lot of being on your feet, so sometimes it's worth seeing a band from a place where you can have a seat in the middle of a long day. Also, there's a thing some humans need to do sometimes called eating. If you've got a 30 or 45 minute gap between those essential bands, do yourself a favor and catch up with a pal and sit to nibble on something. I realize most of us don't need to be reminded to eat but the frenzy of the festival can turn this into a blind spot for many attendees. Don't be one of them. Stay hydrated and fed and make peace with the fact that you will miss a band you love once or twice. It's okay. You're still having a great time.

Another point I mentioned in the last paragraph that needs further examination is that you should be sure to spend time with friends. If you haven't made any yet, this is the year to do it! I'm sure somebody you've interacted with on social media is there, but if that's not the case, Roadburn's crowd is considerably more sociable and friendly than most other metal festivals. I've made pals at Roadburn by commenting on back patches, by waiting in line for beer, by ordering lunch at the vegan food truck, and by just being as excited about a band as the stranger next to me. I'm pretty shy in most contexts but something about the delight in the air puts me in an outgoing mood. Hopefully you'll find the same is true for you!

Follow the Roadburn social media accounts. I'm not just saying this because I run them, but that's certainly extra incentive. Last year there was a secret last minute set by Misþyrming in Cul de Sac, a venue with a capacity of about 150. An hour before it occurred, we sent out a tweet announcing as much. Suffice to say, those with an eye on our socials packed the venue quickly, leaving others in the dust. Don't be left out. (And no, I don't know of any plans for "secret" goings-on yet, so this isn't a *hinthint* so much as it is a warning on the importance of keeping up).

Attend the Black Metal & Brews talk with Panopticon. Yes I'm plugging my own thing here. What else are you doing on Saturday morning? I'm going to be sitting with members of Panopticon and discussing beer and black metal, since the band's own Austin Lunn is a co-owner of HammerHeart Brewing. Don't fuck up. Join us and come say hi to me.

Don't ignore the side programme. I'm spelling it the European way since I'll be in Europe, after all. My aforementioned talk is part of the side programme, but there's also a bunch of cool art on display at the Full Bleed Exhibition, a ton of album listening parties, and other great talks going on. It gives insight into the culture behind the art we all love and gives you another great chance to get off your feet and give your ears a break, which leads me to my final point.

Invest in a decent set of ear plugs. Sure, it's fun to go in without hearing protection, but four days of twelve-ish hours of loud music will take a toll. Don't be a fool. Be good to your ears so that you can enjoy yourself just as thoroughly at Roadburn 2019.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect- "GVAU"


Dedicated followers of the American black metal underground have surely caught wind of the working of Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect in the past few years. With a slew of releases on cult favorite labels like Perverse Homage, Skjold, and Harvest of Death, the one unifying theme for this enigmatic project's fans is an extreme imbalance in terms of scarcity and supply. On last year's self-released GVAU, which stands for Global Vampyric Assault Unit, Unholy Vampyric Slaughter Sect reached new heights. However, much of the world didn't get a chance to hear or own this gem of bizarrely captivating raw black metal. Today that changes, with a reissue on cassette from Crown and Throne Ltd.



What makes this collection of songs so appealing is the variation. Sure, there's the trademark mangled buzzsaw guitars and unceasingly spastic drum programming, but there's so much more at hand. Blown out piano leads the way into the opening salvo of "Dismal Grin 666," and interludes "Blood Catharsis" and "Psychic Attack" serve as heavily industrialized pieces of pure atmosphere, with crumbling, almost mechanical percussion highlighting a vast emptiness. It enhances the otherwise grotesque and dizzying pace of things by bringing broader contrast to the greater work at hand. Still, even in the midst of things, this is addictive and hypnotic black metal of the highest order, with brilliant and memorable riffs buried in the midst of dense, complex compositions. The raw production may not suit the less depraved listener, but it's almost impossible to envision songs of this nature working in a cleaner context. As with the identity and lyrical direction of the artist's output, sometimes obscurity lends more weight than allowing the whole of the creation to be seen.

An undisclosed amount of tapes are available for purchase from Crown and Throne Ltd. Don't miss out and be a victim of discogs scalping fiends. This is an artist whose profile will only rise from here.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

House of First Light Showcase (live) & Vilkacis- "Beyond the Mortal Gate"


I feel very fortunate to have lived in many cities with thriving underground communities, but being in Brooklyn has its own unique set of advantages. The black metal, noise, and post-punk scenes here are all top-notch and I've been able to catch some of my favorite artists in rather intimate settings. On March 30th, fate set me up for one of the most stacked bills I've attended outside of weekend-long festivals. Curated by House of First Light, the album release show for affiliated acts Vilkacis and Sanguine Eagle was a glorious marathon of extreme sounds at the Lucky 13 Saloon.

Local noise artist Scant opened the night, with vocal accompaniment from Fizzy, vocalist of the Royal Hounds and one of the most visible members of the House of First Light collective. Scant's been on my personal "must see" list for years now, and it was wonderful to finally see the artist in action. Rather than squealing high-frequency noise or numbing wall, the slowly shifting electronic mass of Scant's approach was more meditative than anything else. It set the stage for a night of boundaries being pushed forward and was well worth the wait.



Winds of Gladsheimr were next, an unannounced treat. It was this project's first live endeavor, with Lam on drums and Eziagalis on guitar on vocals providing a sparse and tortured sound. While all the House of First Light acts shared at least one member on this night (Lam, naturally), this was by far the rawest and most depressive feeling set of the night, yet it was far too brief for these ears. A new split release emerged at the show (unbeknownst to the author of this piece, sadly) so it's clear there's plenty of material the band could've brought forth. One can only hope for more, as it would've been quite welcome.



Sandworm came down from Providence to deliver their incredibly harsh form of punky black metal, and as one of two traveling bands, they quickly proved themselves a worthy addition that added to the night's diversity and appeal. I'd heard and enjoyed their music on bandcamp before after finding them through their split with The Body, but the live experience was stronger than the recordings (which are in no way deficient, mind you). The shrill vocals and bizarre overtones that came out of the guitar made the band sound far fuller and stranger than one would expect, creating a palatable sense of tension and unease that balanced out the breakneck pace of much of the material.


Following this performance was One Thousand Birds from Milwaukee. With established members of the area's noise scene, the band's sort of blackened skramz was a real surprise. A good friend in attendance described them as "midwestern emo with At the Heart of Winter riffs," which is about as appropriate a descriptor as this ugly descendant of Orchid's legacy could earn. The dual vocals split between one microphone, diverging bass and guitar lines, and frantic drumming created a sort of urgency I've missed in a lot of the music I catch live. These guys are rather new to performing out but they're quickly making a name for themselves, so do yourself a favor and check them out before they become another band whose demos sell out before you know they exist.



Finally, the co-headliners began their sets to celebrate the release of new material. Sanguine Eagle filled the room with smoke, leaving only a small collection of candles as the visible portion of their performance. I stood front and center to witness the spectacle and was still entirely incapable of seeing the band as they performed the most hypnotic and valiant set I'd witnessed yet. The Individuation demo may have been an early triumph, but Sanguine Eagle has grown far beyond what their initial potential would've hinted at in a very short time. The monstrous swelling of guitars has reached otherworldly proportions and the band seems to channel something deeper than just a collection of sound. The feeling of their set can't be described, it's something one must be immersed in to understand, with an almost hallucinatory, psychedelic quality.


Closing out the night was Vilkacis, whose performance at Eternal Warfare Fest in 2016 was one of the best things I've ever seen live. Despite taking the stage after midnight, the band blazed its way through five of their most aggressive songs with frontman M. Rekevics (of just about every American black metal band worth a damn in the last decade) appearing possessed and furious, gripped in such a way that even in stillness he conveyed pure energy. Songs like "Sixty Three" grew beyond the confines of their recorded forms and saw the lycanthropic black metal taking full form and roaring through the room. Much of the more nuanced, melodic material of the new LP, Beyond the Mortal Gate, was left aside in favor of lean, aggressive cuts. While the monumental title track of this new record is a personal favorite, it also made perfect sense to let the most forceful songs make their mark live while the longer, more expansive material is left to headphones and personal space.


Indeed, much of what makes the new Vilkacis album stand above its predecessor is the sense of triumph through self-destruction. I've had the privilege of interviewing M. Rekevics a few times as well as chatting with him as an acquaintance and his desire to perfect himself sometimes takes on an all-consuming form. The ouroboric act of self-consumption and betterment seems at the heart here, with Rekevics seeming to fight against some sort of internal shackles that bind him. There is no end goal so much as there is a glorious struggle and pain. For a man so intensely lost in his own art and self, the precision and focus here is crystal clear, making for one of the strongest black metal albums of the year so far.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Vorash- "Asphodel"

It's time to dive back into the occasionally rewarding, eternally challenging habit of dissecting albums for the consumption of others. Bear with me if I'm a bit rusty as I relearn how to use this part of my brain. Today, we're examining Asphodel by Vorash. This came to me by way of Lighten Up Sounds, who carried a few distro copies of this self-released cassette of cosmic black metal from Vorash, the solo project of a member of Seattle-based outfit Blood of Sokar. On the surface, this tape's shifting and swaying feels like the arc of some grand unseen pendulum, yet deeper examination yields horror and beauty that grow over time rather than immediately revealing themselves.

Vorash specializes in a most peculiar fusion of black metal and doom, opting neither towards crushing drudgery nor depressive weight (although the vocal direction may borrow at times from DSBM and this is certainly not uplifting), but rather shirking off all earthly sound entirely and conveying an otherworldly emptiness. Guitars stretch on forever in a vast sense, but rather than stellar beauty, there's a horrendous sense of isolation. While "Depths" hints at what's to come, the full scope of Vorash's sound is presented on "Surface," which sounds like Darkspace giving their best Burning Witch impression from the other side of a static wall, hammer-fisted riffs and reverb-soaked howls all trailing into eternity, often accompanied by dripping, decaying synthesizers and muted but dense percussion.

If this were merely an exercise in space (both sonic and universal, as it were), it would fall flat, but Asphodel's atmosphere is consistent without just sounding like the gaps between riffs. These songs rise and fall and wander off in such unique directions that I find myself engaged well into the tape's second side despite a massive run-time. Copies of this tape are still available from the artist, despite the fact that this came out nearly a year ago. If you're interested in the suffocating sensation of the void in sonic form, you'd be wise to examine this further.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Best LPs of 2017

Whether you've been on board for the past six years or even just six weeks, you probably know that Black Metal & Brews loves music and hates deadlines. We're already two months into 2018 and the internet's already full of rhetoric surrounding albums that are surely going to be impossible to top this year. I've done it before myself and I've been wrong more often than I've been right. Point being, this list is arriving right on time or my own schedule: long after anybody cares to read it but exactly when I find it within myself to share it. I've got forty albums that ruled in some way that I'll be linking alphabetically and ten that are the real premiums, which will be in their own little grouping. I hope I can shine some light on something you haven't heard, or at least I'll validate your superiority by leaving off the things that mattered most to you (although I'm always up for a recommendation if you've got one).

I spent most of 2017 in a sort of "time out" on extreme metal and this list reflects it. Much of it was because 95% of my listening was done via speakers in a workplace environment that wouldn't tolerate loud sounds (I get it) and it had an impact on the selections I made. I'm about to make a career change that will allow me to listen to music in privacy, so expect more of a return to form with my selections in 2018. There's a lot to listen to, so grab a nice drink or bookmark this page to casually visit at your own pace. If something looks unfamiliar, all the more reason to check it out. Enjoy!

Atriarch- Dead as Truth
Azar Swan- Savage Exile
Bootblacks- Fragments
Circle- Terminal
Cormorant- Diaspora
Dead Neanderthals- The Depths
Depeche Mode- Spirit
Drab Majesty- The Demonstration
Emptiness- Not for Music
Evilfeast- Elegies of the Stellar Wind
Expander- Endless Computer
Eye of Nix- Black Somnia
Faceless Entity- In Via Ad Nusquam
Gold- Optimist
Golden Donna- Carousel Hold
Hell- Hell
Internazionale- The Pale and the Colorful
Jon Edifice- Jon Edifice
King Woman- Created in the Image of Suffering
Korean Jade- Exotics
Laster- Ons vrije fatum
Lingua Ignota- All Bitches Die
Lussuria- Standstill
Malokarpatan- Nordkarpatenland
Mastodon- Emperor of Sand
Monarch!- Never Forever
Nemorensis- The Fae Queen
Nidingr- The High Heat Licks Against Heaven
Old Tower- The Rise of the Specter
Planning for Burial- Below the House
Raising Holy Sparks- Search for the Vanished Heaven
Roman Master- Roman Master
The Ruins of Beverast- Exuvia
Sanguine Relic- Bitter Reflection in Luminous Shadows
Snapped Ankles- Come Play the Trees
Spectral Voice- Eroded Corridors of Unbeing
TALSounds- Love Sick
Tchornobog- Tchornobog
Utzalu- The Loins of Repentance
Rick Weaver- The Secular Arm

TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2017



Black Cilice- Banished from Time
Black Cilice was covered on Pitchfork a few years ago with the release of Mysteries. For many, this means the band is no longer relevant. For me, it means that serious underground talent need not put on a front or change to suit a perceived timid audience. Black Cilice continues to produce some of the most ripping black metal out there and they're even doing the occasional live gig now. That may be why this is just a bit more easily examined than its predecessors, although it still contains all of the dangerous spirit that the project has long embodied. Fingers firmly crossed that we'll all get to witness the spectacle one day.

Cathode Ray EyesHow We Lost the 21st Century
I discovered Cathode Ray Eyes by accident shortly after the release of How We Lost the 21st Century and this unreal fusion of garage rock, psych and post-punk (with a little bit of a lot of other good stuff) has been a constant listen ever since. 2017 was, for me, the year where garage rock and psych stuff really clicked (hence the Snapped Ankles album up above and the Oh Sees album below) and this was probably the first new release to really hammer it home for me. The newness of this sound means I lack a bit of the vocabulary necessary to explain how the fuzz and reverb all come together to tickle my ears in just the right way, but I'll be damned if this doesn't run circles around a lot of bands out there who are merely treading water.


Fleurety- The White Death
True masters of black metal weirdness have returned! Along with Ved Buens Ende and Arcturus, Fleurety were instrumental in luring me out from my Danny Elfman and John Zorn obsessions and towards the darker side of zany when I was still a teenager. After a collection of odds and ends, I didn't really expect the band to lunge forth with something as cohesive and jarring as The White Death, but I now can't imagine my year really feeling the same without it. No gimmicks or goofs here, just a truly progressive take on black metal without any of the negative context that "prog" and its offshoots may hold for some of us. No limitations of genre can be thrown at this, yet it embodies so much of the freedom and excitement that define black metal to me without losing its precision.



GAS- Narkopop
2017 was the year I first became acquainted with Wolfgang Voigt's long-running project GAS, which released its first album in over sixteen years. Narkopop is pure atmosphere, fusing elements of minimalist techno and ambient with a sensibility more akin to modern classical composition than dancefloor jams. The lush photographs of the forest make perfect sense with this album, which feels far more organic and intuitive than many of its companions in the electronic music world. Ambient music is often a salve for sleep or "background music" yet Narkopop remains intriguing and oddly alluring even at its sparsest moments.


Human Leather- Lazy Karaoke
I saw a lot of rhetoric in 2017 likening Ulver's newest to Depeche Mode, but if anybody wore the crown of 80's pop perfection, it was newcomers Human Leather. The innocence of youth and the pain of loss and betrayal shine through in equal parts on this emotionally rich LP in a way that few bands have managed since "Shake the Disease" was released before the members of Human Leather were even born. I've spent a lot of time talking about this album publicly and in my conversations with friends and the impact still remains. "Ugly Sister" is still the most heartbreaking song I've heard in ages and the entire flow of this album leaves me aching and enthralled. As with any good pop music, this is memorable just as much for its sadness as it is for the hooks.

Integrity- Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume
This came out of nowhere. I've long been on the fence with Integrity, whose music always holds the right energy but hasn't always connected with me on any deeper level. Perhaps I was finally ready, because Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume kicked me in the teeth right out of the gate and hasn't lost an ounce of its vitality over the last several months. These are some of the most downright feral songs in extreme music to come out in 2017 and are more memorable than things of such intensity usually are. Integrity doesn't just have hooks, it has fucking teeth.


(Thee) Oh Sees- Orc
Songs with nods to fantastical beasts, dungeons, and swordplay are all familiar turf for fans of black metal, so to find a band like Oh Sees (recently shorn of their "Thee") playing with such notions in a new genre felt like comfort in a strange new land. I fell deeply in love with Orc on my first listen and have only grown fonder of it (and the band's massive existing catalog) ever since. These songs range from spastic, explosive garage rock to quirky, funky punk and even the massive sprawling space doom of "Drowned Beast" (video above). Fans of the band may find my take on this perhaps a bit weak, but I'm still so blinded by its brilliance that I can't quite place all the elements that make it so enjoyable.



Oxbow- Thin Black Duke
Oxbow's been threatening to release Thin Black Duke since shortly after 2007's Narcotic Story. Few albums are worth such a wait, but thankfully Oxbow didn't give us a Chinese Democracy, they gave us an album of such quality that most bands never release anything like it in their career. Oxbow's already touched that mark a few times, and this offering of noisy rock is alternately cinematic and angular, keeping the listener alert and always attentive. I had the good fortune of catching Oxbow live twice supporting this and these songs are vicious on their own onstage, yet somehow even more haunting on wax. We don't deserve this, but we're all so lucky it exists.

Ulver- The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Ulver is, aside from long-running classics Coil and The Cure, my favorite band. They aren't on my list as a matter of mere favoritism. They're my favorite because they can switch gears and directions a seemingly limitless number of times and remain honest and compelling. The Assassination of Julius Caesar brought together so many beautiful paths the band has walked in such a cohesive way that the end result was simultaneously familiar and entirely new. To call this "pop" would be slightly inaccurate, yet the infectious melodies and singalong sensibility elevate these songs to the highest echelon of rock music happening right now. This is timelessness captured in a moment.


Yellow Eyes- Immersion Trench Reverie
Brooklyn black metallers Yellow Eyes have fully hit their stride. On Sick With Bloom, the band fully realized its best strengths. With Immersion Trench Reverie, they highlighted them and played to them while making the most of their potent rhythm section's capacities. I've been gushing over these guys since 2012 and I feel as though I've run out of good ways to describe what they do. It's simply exhilarating to hear such nimble and evocative guitar work, and Will's voice has never been more tortured sounding than on these songs. My favorite song changes almost daily, but that's only indicative of how unified and forceful this album is. If you want to hear how rawness and potency can be retained in intricate, complex black metal, there is no other band on earth I could recommend as highly.