Deaf Forever is our monthly metal column, where we review the best in doom, black, speed, and every other metal type under the sun.
Chris Ulsh already has the banger of the year under his belt as the drummer (and sometimes guitarist) on Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic, and as the vocalist for Austin’s most vicious metalpunks, Impalers, he’s got another heater out with Cellar Dweller. D-beat is their foundation, but they take it far beyond Discharge worship, driving it into heat-stroke psych with “Technology” and “Nuclear Cabaret.” Those brief flourish detours don’t stop Ulsh and crew from barreling onward. Dweller sounds like it’s been left out in the sun for too long: there’s a brightness, but it ain’t pretty. In short, it could have only been made in Texas, by Texans, for Texans. (I should start a rumor that if you play it backwards, it says “Go back to California!” on repeat.) Ulsh also has one of the nastiest hardcore snarls, suggesting that he hasn’t let years of deserved acclaim go to his head. He taps into a base punk anger that’s bolstered by equally lethal hooks. And sorry alt-righters, but there’s a song on here called “Nazi Burning Man.” Impalers are not a joke, and they’re not afraid to expose you for the one you are. Texas is dominating in 2017 (and while I won’t spoil anything, it’s far from over), and Dweller goes great with throwing a bowl of Texas Chili Parlor chili at an herb. (Guitarist Cody Cox also just put out a record with his other band Glue, one of Austin’s finest new hardcore groups. Drummer Mike Sharp makes 70s Germany-inspired electronic music you should also peep. Texas really out here.)
Japanese trio Boris have blazed through many sounds through their 25 years, but there are two varieties that fans return to the most — their fuzzed-out garage metal, and their slower than slow, heavier than heavy doom that furthers the sludge from their namesake, Melvins’ “Boris.” Their latest, Dear, is certainly a return to the latter, and there’s plenty to dig here if your favorite records from them are Amplifier Worship and Flood. Even compared to those two records, though, Dear has a darker tone than most of their work. Guitarist Wata’s rumbles carry a sinister edge, probing the link between drone and Southern sludge, and bassist/vocalist Takeshi Ohtani’s singing takes on a more desperate shape, floating as a cry against the morose. Noise creeps in more than usual — “D.O.W.N. -Domination of Waiting Noise-” and “Kagero” in particular — though with more subtlety than their collaborations with Merzbow. “Absolutego” — which is also the name of their first full-length from 1996, though it bears no resemblance to this song — breaks from the sloth, if only slightly: this is what would MC5 would sound like recorded at half-speed. Wata’s soloing here is driven more by dread than exuberance, squalling the end of the 60s to its last breath. There’s a hollowness in “Biotope” where she strips her guitar of comforting low end, lending further to Dear’s pessimism. You can say Boris do too much, but you can never say they’re predictable. Also want to give a quick shoutout to both stations on Austin’s 91.7 frequency — KOOP community radio and the University of Texas’ KVRX — for frequently playing stuff from Dear lately, especially “Absolutego.” They tune down better than most of the stoner dweebs here (and “here” is almost anywhere, not just Austin) anyway, even if this is one dour record.
Based on the album art alone, Tchornobog’s self-titled debut is amazing. See that eye in a fucking mountain staring you down? You know it’s gonna be lit. It brings to mind how death metal is, in some ways, the true successor to psychedelic rock for ripping open our psyche and does a better job at such — and the same can be said for the music itself. (Death metal is vital for helping you realize your fuller self, but that’s a thinkpiece for another time.) Tchornobog, led by young prodigy Markov Soroka, is rooted in dense wall-of-sound death metal much like that of Impetuous Ritual, with doomier inclinations. “The Vomiting Tchornobog” and “Hallucinatory Black Breath of Possession” both feel like they’re closing in on you, a race where the goal is getting sucked into the chasm on the cover. And those 32 minutes are just the first two songs. “Non-Existence’s Warmth” is where everything starts to get really weird: when the sax comes in, you might expect some totally free Albert Ayler type skronk, but it’s more in the Bohren & der Club of Gore’s Lynchian vein. Even so, it’s axis-disrupting, a welcome oddball death metal curve. There’s trumpet on “Tchornobog” too, which is more Roman orgy than Lynch, but still unexpected all the same. “Warmth” and “Tchornobog” also features guest vocals from Greg Chandler of funeral doom legends Esoteric (Subconscious Dissolution into the Continuum is one of my all-time favorite records), and aside from Soroka himself, he’s one of the few who can take on something with this much weight. If you like your death metal strange and trippy, this will more than satisfy you. And while I’ve gone on before about how there’s a crop of great albums from old-school death metal veterans, I am equally thrilled that there are bands who make a genre ripe for absurdity even more off the rails. If Adult Swim were to ever incorporate death metal into their musical roster, Tchornobog would be their band.
This record came in my inbox the night before this column was due, and if I fit it in last minute off of one listen, you know this has to rip. Serpent Column are a new, rather mysterious duo playing a riff-centric brand of black metal. Even if the riffs are coming at you at rapid speed and change up before you can think about them too hard, it’s great to see a black metal band put the focus on those. There are shades of Arsis’ intricate melodies, Mithras’ cosmic Morbid Angel worship and Ares Kingdom’s jubilant death metal here, creating an aspiration black thrash sound. A song like “Men of the Polis” is catchier than it has any right to be, constantly shifting yet maintaining a fist-pumping atmosphere. Deathspell Omega is mentioned as an influence, but Serpent Column feel more like a classic thrash band gone hyperspeed (the middle of “Feuersäule” is some fine Teutonic riffage!) rather than dissonance freaks. The drum programming can be distracting at times, but it blends in for the most part, and most bands with real drummers don’t come this fully formed from the jump. If Serpent Column are this good now, imagine what they’ll be two or three more albums in.
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.