Deaf Forever is our monthly metal column, where we review the best in doom, black, speed and every other metal type under the sun.
Denver’s Khemmis are on one right now. Their third record Desolation is exactly what you want to see in a great metal band’s third stage: they established their sound, mournful doom with nods to classic metal on Absolution, they refined it on Hunted, and here, they’re ready to take on the world. Phil Pendergast’s vocals have always been the band’s strongest asset, and they have much more prominence here, a wise and strategic move. Even as his vocals convey loss and sorrow, he carries a triumphant attitude like he was raised on Manowar and only Manowar. “Bloodletting” is his most confident performance yet, barrel-chested and also warm. In “Flesh to Nothing” he goes for broke and reaches a heavenly plane as the rest of the band is bashing in the red. Desolation also gives more credence to the sweet-ass, timeless Lizzy-Priest leads that provoke uplift among the relentless sorrow. They were always there, but instead of acting as a flavor for the doom, they’re more of a commanding force. “Isolation” fuses Maiden gallop and that special twin-guitar chemistry, revealing a vitality that, for as great as their other material has been, hasn’t been unleashed quite like that. It’s gooey in its unadulterated sweetness, and it also flies like the weight of doom expectations has been lifted. Tobias Forge has to be blowing up their phones asking for that magic. (If you want a review of the new Ghost, which also came out this month, here… well, “Dance Macabe” is a banger. That’s all I’ll say.) “From Ruin” continues their path of ending each album on grand notes, getting every last tear out of Pendergast and Ben Hutcherson’s lead work. Like their labelmates Spirit Adrift, they work within the limits of well-worn sounds and find that there’s still crevices ripe to spin into riffing gold. Desolation should be the record to open them to a wider audience, one that both embraces tradition and seeks to fuse that with the doom of now. (Head drummer Zach Coleman makes a killer homebrew, too!)
At the beginning of 2018, I was unaware of Austin metalpunk trio Skeleton. Now, I am convinced they are the Texas band that got next. Comprised of the Ziolkowski brothers — guitarist David and drummer/vocalist Victor — Skeleton have evolved from slightly off-kilter punk into a full-fledged riffing beast. There’s a lot to pick up on their latest EP Pyramid of Skull — there’s Bolt Thrower’s primitive charge, there’s Celtic Frost mid-paced stomp (UGH!), there’s thrash informed as much by Austin’s own legends like Iron Age and Impalers as much as the greats you usually speak of. “Dystroy” is the most d-beat infected of the songs, because no Austinite worth their salt isn’t at least somewhat influenced by Discharge. “Killing/Locked Up” sounds like Hellhammer (HEY!) hitting the beach, pick slides surfing bloody waves. Point is, there’s a lot going on yet they’ve got a clear lock on how they wanna bash and thrash. And do these brother know how to synthesize! Do you want to have that swelling Texas pride that you knew about Power Trip before everyone else, even if you moved to Austin from California last week? Then you better get on Skeleton now.
A couple weekends ago, I emerged from my drank-purple coffin and hit up Austin Terror Fest, the Texas offshoot of the deceased Southwest Terror Fest. And though I elected to not be a Heavy Metal Drinker, I soaked up the festival’s diverse and on-the-pulse lineup. Most notably, I saw Yob (who are my frontrunners for AOTY) radiate beauty in a sweaty dive bar, Bell Witch perform a truncated version of their masterpiece Mirror Reaper, Krallice fuck up minds with their avant black metal, and Ohio’s grimiest sludge band Fistula. Another big band for me that weekend was Toronto death metal band Tomb Mold, who showed up mere minutes before their set was to begin. That didn’t stop them from putting on one of the most impressive performances in an already stacked weekend. Their second record, Manor of Infinite Forms, is their first as a full band, with guitarist Payson Power and bassist Steve Musgrave joining drummer/vocalist Max Klebanoff and guitarist Derrick Vella, and it’s one of the year’s most hyped death metal releases. Sometimes, Metal Twitter gets it right. When it comes to filth, this is Autopsy sewer grade. Its heat provides an uncomfortable warmth, like you’re covered in the orange vomit that graces the cover. This is what happens when you party with death metallers — The Thing shows up to the kegger! Klebanoff does his best Chris Reifert, and especially in death metal, you have to respect a drummer and singer who brings it equally on both fronts. It’s not all primitive stomp — “Abysswalker” and “Blood Mirror” show signs of progression, and even with the slide noises in the acoustic intro of “Two Worlds Become One,” it’s still a great nod to death metal’s more forward-thinking side. Not listening to Tomb Mold is actually one of the most backwards things you can do, actually.
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.
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