Every month, Andy O'Connor breaks down the best in thrash, death, black, Norwegian black, speed, and every other kind of metal that exists on the internet, on tapes, or in your nightmares. We call it DEAF FOREVER.
2017 is already shaping up to be a good year for death metal, with new albums from Obituary and Immolation on the horizon. The Bay Area’s Rude are a newer band that’s showing a lot of promise, and despite their origins, Remnants is a killer amalgamation of various Florida death metal strains. Deicide’s fluid velocity is pretty evident here, combined with the budding outre soloing of Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness. Death metal has always been a balance of control and chaos, and Rude are another example of just how sweet it is when it works. If there was a “lost” Death album between Spiritual Healing and Human, one that progressed but didn’t completely break from the Florida sound, it would sound a lot like Remnants. Vocalist Yusef Wallace even sounds like a deeper version of Chuck Schuldiner.
Closer “Children of Atom“ is also early ‘90s worship, but not the same early ‘90s worship as the rest of the album. With wacked-out synths and and swelling solos that recall David Gilmour as much as James Murphy or Trey Azagthoth, it resembles Testimony of the Ancients-era Pestilence with better production, or Death’s instrumental “Cosmic Sea.” A whole album of songs like “Atom” would be righteous - they should get on it before Blood Incantation beats them to the cosmic punch.
Another killer piece of death metal, this time from…one of last year’s best black metal bands? Yes, Palace of Worms, who made my top 10 list with The Ladder, have gone full Swedeath on his split with Indiana’s Ecferus. There’s an immediacy that wasn’t a huge part of Ladder, which unraveled itself over time — the closest thing to a predecessor would be “Ephermeal Blues.” It’s almost alien to hear well-worn chug from Balan, a flip on how confounding the technicality of his last album was. A deep groove is even more powerful when it sneaks up on you, as is the case with his lack track on the split, “Rot From The Stars.” You cannot achieve mastery without the basics, and Balan has shown here his more advanced songs come from a appreciation for death metal classics. Ecferus, headed by sole member Alp, actually sounds more like Ladder, experimenting with Emperor-like grandiosity. Opener “Unveiled With Spears” also contains some of the left-field chaos that defines not only his split-mate, but also Balan’s own Bay Area contemporaries in Mastery and Pale Chalice. Just as Balan confuses you with groove, Alp’s beautiful melodies on closer “Ritual Calamity” don’t quite prepare you for the blistering attack that follows. This split shows how the familiar can betray us, and for that it’s all the more intriguing.
Abigail are Japan’s masters of sleaze metal; Venom’s rawness combined with Motley Crue at their horniest. Vuil are a fresh gang of Scottish rippers, taking plenty from their eternal neighbors Thin Lizzy. Together, on anti-genre label At War With False Noise, they’ve put out one of the most fun splits in recent memory. Abigail have been doing their thing since 1992, and nothing has changed to no detriment at all. If you know them, you know them; if not, it’s an entry point to appreciate their Motorhead-like consistency. Vuil is more likely to be the unknown here, and like Abigail, they’ve got a punky energy to them, only they’ve applied to NWOBHM. Imagine a looser version of Angel Witch, or early Iron Maiden with a more competent singer. If nothing else, check out that cover art, where Death’s face is a black hole and he’s dousing himself in whatever spirits flow from his chalice. (Vuil’s tracks are “Heavy Boozer” and “Satan’s Swill” — the hints are there.) How much do you think getting bottle service with him costs?
Sometimes, you just want some simple, catchy heavy rock music. It’s so easy to be mediocre (the same could be said for any genre, but with modern rock, it’s especially true) that when a band does it well, you’re back for the first time. Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan have secretly been one of the best rock acts of the past few years, and In Tensions proves that you can still make straight-ahead rock music that isn’t reductive or retro. There’s plenty of Melvins influence here, a more streamlined take on their already-efficient heaviness. “Go West” has riffs that loop so well Buzz Osborne had to be a ghostwriter. At the heart of it all is vocalist Jeff Martin, who finds the sweet spot between sentimentality, bombast, and raw rock energy. He’s got a smoothness that isn’t sappy, which can’t be said about a lot of rock radio vocalists. Martin makes the songs that much better, awakening grooves that would go untapped by a less capable singer. That there isn’t a payola scheme behind “Alexis,” where the interplay between Martin and the rest of Lo-Pan surges in such sweet ways, is offensive. If you feel like every “riffs, bro” band has failed you, give Tensions a chance to re-defend the faith.
Andy O’Connor heads SPIN’s monthly metal column, Blast Rites, and also has bylines in Pitchfork, Vice, Decibel, Texas Monthly and Bandcamp Daily, among others. He lives in Austin, Texas.