Chicago’s Lair of the Minotaur are one of the most slept on bands ever. While they were by all accounts thrash revivalists in the 2000s, they came before the new thrash wave, and they were a much gnarlier beast, kind of like if High on Fire played up a Slayer angle. Have you listened to Carnage? You’re a straight up false if you haven’t: there are riffs galore, it’s mean as hell, the album cover is a minotaur ripping up a poser, probably some dude who couldn’t shut up about Wilco every time he went into Reckless. It is one of those records that could only be described as fucking metal. They’ve mostly been dormant this decade, but a couple days ago they unleashed two new songs on us on the Dragon Eagle of Chaos EP. Do they rip? THEY RIP. “Dragon Eagle of Chaos” is sludgy Celtic Frost worship, with the touch of Slayer they always add. Steve Rathborne is even starting to sound more like Tom G. Warrior himself; he probably “OOGHs” and “HEEEYS” in his sleep now. “Kunsult the Bones,” recorded back in 2010, continues on the Celtic Frost tip with a war charge, much like their appropriately titled War Metal Battle Master. Rathbone switches up his vocal to a more bestial black metal rasp, and that style works even with catchy riffing! Hopefully this will lead to a full-length — it’s been far too long, and there are still indie rockers to grind into paste.
Eons ago (well, a few years ago), there was Dethroned Emperor, a sick deathgrind duo from New Jersey. While they were named for the Celtic Frost song, they were off the rails blasters, Brutal Truth under the spirit of Repulsion. Guitarist and vocalist Joe Aversario has since formed Siege Column with a gentleman named Shawnslaught Skullkrusher, and they still bring death metal rawer than raw (cue Fenriz saying, “How much primitive can you get?”), but with a somewhat thrashier bent. In fact, their debut full-length Inferno Deathpassion is even more regressive than Dethroned Emperor, with a subterranean, grimy production. When Aversario blasts, like he does in “Penetrator” and “Hellspeed,” it’s rickety; Siege Column made a full-length with a “demos are better” mentality. That makes a track like “Siege Column” (having a song named after yourself is super metal — Iron Maiden did it!) even more of an anomaly, as it beigns with an arena “clap your hands!” bass drum, like Venom got their pyro budget back, before it descends into ramshackle death metal. “Trapped in the Sarcophagous” is early Death driven into the ground, screaming more than bloody gore, screaming gore from the afterlife. Ain’t no posing in Joisey, bruh — Eddie Trunk would turn inside out if he heard Siege Column.
Baton Rouge’s Thou always got something to say, and they’re gonna fuck you up in the process. Magus cuts back on the melodies, leaning more into their unbearable sludge, and they’ve using to spread a message of questioning your own internal ideologies, particularly in terms of gender. Read more about Magus in my feature, where I speak with Funck, here. We’ve also got the record in a limited rust-colored edition.
Gravewards: Ruinous Ensoulment (Unspeakable Axe)
Hails to Greek Metal Warrior Zoe Camp for putting me on to Athens death metal trio Gravewards. Ruinous Ensoulment is the debut most bands dwell too long in suffocating rehearsal rooms to try and work toward, and they’re a typhoon right out of the gate. Imagine Bolt Thrower a little more complex, but with the same singular killing focus. They’re certainly not showoffs, but they do add more variety than your average OSDM band, peppering with frantic melodic touches and turbulent bounces. Vocalist and guitarist Nikos has the potential to become an exceptional death metal frontman — not only is he a riff machine, he also has a powerful vocal presence, sounding like Asphyx’s Martin van Drunen’s wretched growl with the mighty thrust of Ares Kingdom’s Alex Blume. For as much as he’s doing on guitar, his vocals push the songs into overdrive and give the songs true definition. He feels inescapable, a goal for a singer of any genre, but especially important in death metal, which reflects the horror of life through living red skulls on cubes constructed from tormented souls, forming a terrain choppy and unforgiving. You didn’t come here for art crit though, you came for the riffs.
Here’s another well-kept secret, this time from Austin. Bridge Farmers have been one of my favorite local bands for years, precisely because they’ve risen above a lot of the stoner/psych muck rampant in this city. The trio just released a new, self-titled record on their own, and even if you’re tired of Sabbath influences and wah pedals, you gotta bump this. They’ve got this raw punkiness that isn’t prevalent in a lot of their peers — not in terms of speed, but they’re not afraid of getting gritty. Had Electric Wizard kept the scuzz instead of going occult rock, it might resemble this record — “Wicked Sun” is tinted windows, blacklights and bad vibes, which in this case are the best vibes. Bridge Farmers also lean on heavy grunge, kind of like a tripped out Tad or Gruntruck. As we approach summer’s eve, which in Austin means Halloween is about two months away, “Phosperene Temple” is the tops-drop banger you’ll need to wear out before it becomes appropriate to don your death metal longsleeves again. For whatever reason they haven’t gotten their due — Austin sometimes fails to recognize its own talent until it succeeds elsewhere — and it’s about time Bridge Farmers are known as local exemplars.