As I’ve been saying, classic death metal bands are having a great 2017. Count Incantation as another winner with Profane Nexus, their tenth record. Since their heralded debut Onward to Golgotha, John McEntee has stuck to a cavernous, almost sludgy form of death metal that benefits from letting a riff stretch out to the depths. Like Obituary, there’s a workmanlike thrust, but it manifests itself in repetition instead of pure groove. This is taken to its limit on “Incorporeal Despair,” which lurches, then crawls into a lull before “Xipe Totec” rips in with a minute of Incantation going double speed. Incantation have toyed with space throughout their albums, and this is no exception, as in the case of “Despair’s” near-drone state and the disjointed pokes that creep up on “Visceral Hexahedron,” sending a shock to the languid. While the band has been defined by their past vocalists, like Craig Pillard and Daniel Corchado, McEntee feels more comfortable than ever in the leading role. “Messiah Nostrum” features some of his lowest growls that rival Pillard’s finest. There’s a glut of bands that crib from their style — some take it to the extremes like Encoffination and Impetuous Ritual, most bands barf rote worship — and Nexus is another course from the real masters.
Rebel Wizard is the blackened heavy metal project of Australian musician Nekrasov, imagining the majesty of Swedish cold as Judas Priest-ian mechanized speed metal machines. In other words, this fucking rips. His new EP The Warning of One come off the heels of Triumph of Gloom, his first full-length reissued earlier this year on Prosthetic, and serves as an ideal introduction. Nekrasov calls this music “negative metal,” which might suggest sadboy DSBM if it weren’t for the proliferation of leads. Warning is uplifting for the most part, betraying his brand name for your benefit by swamping the Mercyful Fate gone goth of In Solitude in unforgiving buzz. “One I Know” transforms 80s romanticism into a second-wave black metal war march, sounding vicious and tender at once. The refrain in “One I See” is total horns up glory, like if Immortal went full-in on their Manowar tendencies. Australia’s most extreme bands border on anti-music; Warning is Australia’s rejection of compromise brought to metal tradition. One last thing: this, and a lot of Rebel Wizard’s stuff, makes for great nighttime driving music. It’s that perfect mix of blasting ass in a drop-top Camaro and winding through dimly lit country roads.
In the earlier part of the decade, I closely followed Heinali and Matt Finney, a Ukranian drone artist and a writer from Alabama. Their mix of crushing, yet lush and drawn out melodies over Finney’s shit-up-to-his-knees Southern Gothic spoken word worked as well on their own stuff as it did covering “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Metallica and Lou Reed’s “Junior Dad.” 2011’s Ain’t No Night is a gem that should have gotten more recognition; it took the Jesu formula, exposed all the nerves, and laid them out. Maybe they couldn’t ride the metalgaze wave, maybe people weren’t ready for spoken word drone metal. The group didn’t collaborate for several years until How We Lived, where Heinali goes almost as dark as Finney. The absence is a big part of the music, as Finney draws upon his constant social upheaval in the years between record. Even in his soft drawl, the regret pierces through even more because he’s not as present. There’s more Heinali on here, layering the record with nighttime drones filled with subtle noise surges. Big, churning guitar isn’t prevalent, or any burst of loudness, just dread. When Heinali lets brightness in, the sunlight doesn’t prove to be a disinfectant, it only makes Finney’s misery burrow deeper. I also wasn’t expecting to praise a song called “Relationship Goals” in this column, but 2017 has been a strange year.
There are ten bands named Hell, according to Metal Archives, but only the Salem, Oregon Hell is real. Some of the evilest sludge you’ll come across, the doom analog to esoteric West Coast bands like Ash Borer and Triumvir Foul. Their fourth, self-titled album swelters like their comrades Thou in a Louisiana summer, with a unforgiving cold interior. There’s a solitary one-man black metal feel glowing throughout, and M.S.W.’s vocals are even more strung out than his riffing. It’s plunge after plunge, every squelch of feedback and downstroke riff more dense than the last. Walls grow and grow until they come down in calamity, only to be rebuilt by the next song. “Machitikos” breaks the oppression with frenzied leads that are tormented as the rest of the album, less of a refreshment than a reconfiguration of misery. “Victus” has strings that carry out the same task with the same mirage of tranquility that gives way to slower pain. It also hints at Thou’s solemn melodies that get quickly snuffed out. There isn’t much room to breathe on here: that’s by design, and unknowingly, your request.