Every month, we bring you the essential metal albums you need to hear. This month's covers records from High Spirits, Eternal Champion, and more. We call it Deaf Forever.
“Why aren’t they bigger” is more often than not a futile question, but it’s one that applies to Chicago’s High Spirits. It’s one of the many projects of Chris Black, a pillar of the Chicago’s metal scene, and when he says it’s “100% High-Energy Rock Music,” he more than delivers. If you like Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest — and if you don’t, the fuck are you doing reading this column and/or breathing air?! — Black has an endless supply of twin-lead pleasure, and his latest, Motivator, has some of his finest, most focused tunes yet. These are all tops-dropped jams, with catchier-than-thou riffs that would sound killer in 1981, but sound even better now. Black exudes positive energy, with inspirations for hedonistic lovers (“This Is The Night”), leather-obsessed dreamers (“Do You Wanna Be Famous”), and those who don’t need a path to rock (“Down the Endless Road”). You can learn how to fly a plane to “Flying High,” if you really believe in the riffs. (Note: this is not actually recommended.) He’s your kind-hearted uncle who just happens to be a Metal Master, his peppery voice both exhilarating and comforting. Black even makes a slow Priest-like banger like “Haunted By Love” sound like a juiced-up rager. High Spirits’ last record, You Are Here, had bangers for days, but needed a beefier production (and a cover that looked more like Chicago’s subway map — the Yellow Line is not a loop!). Motivator has a crisp, full sound that brings out the best in Black and really lets his songwriting gift shine. People should be paying him obscene amounts of money to write their songs, because breathes and sweats hooks. He wants to stay cult on small labels, which is a shame, as he’s got the talent to captivate a more mainstream audience. Motivator is a metal album for metalheads, though it will also appeal to anyone who enjoys life, because despite its negativity and rage on the whole, metal should inspire you to live your best and take no shit.
Arthur Rizk is fast becoming an in-demand name for heavy music production, having worked with Power Trip, Inquisition, Prurient, and Volahn, among scores of others. He’s also a True Warrior of the Steel, and his new project Sumerlands put out one of the best metal records this year. But when it comes to righteous American heavy metal, Rizk’s got *DJ Khaled voice* ANOTHER ONE with Eternal Champion. While he contributes drums and synth, this group is led by Jason Tarpey, former singer of the Greatest Austin Band of All Time, Iron Age (who Frank Ocean got in the pit for), and also features Power Trip’s Blake Ibanez on guitar. The Armor of Ire, like the Sumerlands record, is a debut that stands above most bands’ discographies with its amped-up take on early 80s pre-thrash American metal. The last Iron Age tape, Saga Demos, suggested a move towards the more epic metal of Manilla Road, and with Eternal Champion, Tarpey has completed his transformation into a battle master. He’s has really polished his voice, losing all of the hardcore grit from Iron Age and Graven Rite, another pre-EC project (that also fucking rules). Ibanez, Carlos Llanas, and John Powers (who’s also in Sumerlands) are bursting with riffs and leads to match Tarpey’s swagger. “The Cold Sword” and the title track are the most raging here, taking from the galloping attacks from speed metal; “Ire” gets grander with Rizk’s icy synths too. “I Am The Hammer” opts for a steady stomp and will have you believe you are, in fact, a hammer ready to crush the false. If Ire gets more hardcore kids into traditional metal, and if it leads more metalheads to Iron Age, Eternal Champion will be unconquerable.
Oslo’s weirdo metalpunks Okkultokrati are back with Raspberry Dawn, their first for Southern Lord records, and they’re still charging on with their keyboard-driven amalgamation of Turbonegro, later Darkthrone, and Jay Reatard’s keyboard-driven groups Lost Sounds and Angry Angles. Yeah, that’s a strange RIYL sticker. Raspberry is oozing with sleaze, albiet one that’s always tilted and blown out. “Hard to Please” ecstatically calls for lusting for a damaged life, big guitars a perfect cover-up for big personality flaws. They’re so infectious, you won’t notice the dealbreaks until you’ve always singed, sealed, and delivered your goodwill away. The bass is the closest we’ll ever get to real punk funk, like Chuck Dukowski got a hold of Bootsy Collins’ pedalboard. It serves a foundational purpose rhythmically, as bass usually does, but that foundation is prone to shifting violently. “World Peace” would make a great dancefloor song if it wasn’t in the red all the time; what good would a dancefloor do Okkultokrati anyway? Raspberry will occasionally drift off into spacier territories on some dirt Hawkwind shit — “Suspension” is not what you’d want to title such a loose song, but we don’t make their rules, and parts of “Ocular Violence” are oddly romantic — but they find their way back to our toilet earth soon enough. The party ain’t in space anyway.
Martöð is an underground black metal brain trust: guitarist H.V Lyngdal and bassist L.G. are linchpins in the burgeoning Icelandic black metal scene, vocalist MKM fronts French black metal legends Antaeus and Aosoth, drummer Thorns played on Blut Aus Nord’s most recent full-length Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry, guitarist Alex Poole is currently in Krieg, Chaos Moon, and Lithotome, and there’s additional guitar from USBM mastermind Jef “Wrest” Whitehead of Leviathan. That’s a lot of talent, and Martöd’s debut EP, Transmutation of Wounds, lives up to expectations. It starts off with ramshackle percussion and deep horns, a call for your demise if you didn’t know better. An ideal start for a band where you sorta know what do expect from its members — that this won’t be conventional — but not anticipate how exactly it will come together. This is dissonant black metal much in the vein of later Blut Aus Nord, with a taste of Leviathan’s unsettling ambient. MKM takes the violence from his Antaeus days and filters it into a slower croak, making this as much a creeping nightmare as it is a release. Where he won’t go into hysterics, the guitars will — “Draumleiðsla” ends with a dizzying ascent into madness, and “Draumleysa” takes a turn towards beauty that might land on an Alcest record if it’s not careful. The latter is so pleasant, it’s almost the most jarring thing about the record. We expect to hear much more from Martöð, and there’s a good chance we’ll love it.