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Deaf Forever is our monthly metal column, where we review the best in doom, black, speed, and every other metal type under the sun.
Metal’s DAYTONA came right at the beginning of the month with Baton Rouge’s Thou dropping The House Primordial. Anything they release is mandatory, though this is also somewhat of a departure for them. Gone are the delicate melodies that served as both an enhancement and departing point from the New Orleans sludge sound they draw from, doubling down on the doom here and throwing in squalling noise and industrial mechanics. Thou push Godflesh’s calculated coldness into sweltering heat, sweating away artifice and making human rhythm as beaten down and controlled as any drum machine. They’re tapping into the same ugliness as You, Whom I Have Always Hated, their 2015 collaboration with The Body, which was also devoid of post-rock touches. The Body drink cynicism like over-fermented lemonade, and yet Thou sound even more bleak without them. 2014’s Heathen was a masterpiece and testament to growth through struggle, an inspirational record purged of bootstrap rhetoric. There’s no uplift on Primordial, there’s only the trudge of being bound forever. Primordial’s dystopia turns its back on Thou’s hope through revolt, and yet it does not sound defeated. Thou makes the bottom of the boot sound as crushing as the foot stomping it down; for dealing with unwieldy heaviness, they’ve proven it’s transmutable. Born to lose, live to lose more?
A couple weeks ago, I dove into a Youtube wormhole into the show Night Music, the closest thing America ever got to a truly eccentric music program. I mean, can you think of another show where David Sanborn (the smooth jazz saxophonist who also hosted the show) had to jam with John Zorn, or who would have the audacity to book the Indigo Girls alongside Diamanda Galas? They even had The Residents and Conway Twitty on the same episode! My interest in this program also lines up with one of my new favorite bands: 夢遊病者, which translates as Sleepwalker, an experimental black metal trio with members based in Osaka, New York, and Tver, Russia. If the Downtown New York scene that birthed talents like Zorn had a black metal band in them, 夢遊病者 would certainly be it, and they’d be ideal on a Night Music reboot. Their third EP, 一期一会 (For This Time Only, Never Again), continues their bent: the buzz, blasts and shrieks normally associated with black metal, but they’re delivered with a cerebral energy not unlike Last Exit’s punk-jazz or Zeni Geva’s damaged hardcore. A thick, urbane fogs sit heavy, a darkness punctuated by gradually dimming lights still bright enough to fuck your inner peace. It sounds more like late-night strain than total darkness, concrete suffocating nature. New York has its fair share of black metal heathens, yet this feels more like it came from New York itself, curiosity and lust coexisting in tight quarter and even tighter relations. Through the darker edges of jazz, 夢遊病者 find black metal’s feral heart and blesses it with the methodical, cunning mind.
As you’ve probably picked up by now, this edition has been has been on the freakier end of metal, some of it barely even metal at all. “When are we gonna get some discernible riffs, you avant-asshole?” We’re getting there, though we’re not entirely out of these weird woods yet. Split Cranium is a Finnish-American d-beat unit, comprised of Circle members Jussi Lehtisalo and Tomi Leppänen, Sumac frontman Aaron Turner, and Mammifer’s Faith Coloccia, with Converge bassist Nate Newton joining in for their second record, I’m the Devil, And That’s OK. This is far from your usual band of foul-smelling, derivative crust punks — Devil uses d-beat as a foundation instead of a wholly consuming aesthetic. That drum pattern pioneered by Discharge is timeless, and though it’s been replicated many times over, it retains all its energy here. Split Cranium isn’t bound by tradition, embracing primitivism without intentionally dumbing down. Beauty is not entirely foreign in d-beat — Martyrdöd found it by punking up Thin Lizzy — but Coloccia’s electronics bring it through clashing, like the keyboardist of a goth-metal band accidentally showed up to the punk house instead of practice. While the rest of the band charges ahead, she throws forks upon forks in their path; they never lose their way yet also sound convinced they’ll never figure it out. That’s the psychic madness sorely needed in d-beat.
Our benevolent overlord Storf took great pride in his native Wisconsin taking home several (Editor’s Note: It was 7!) spots in the Top 10 Drunkest Cities in America according to 24/7 Wall Street. Also in the top 10 was Missoula, Montana, a part of the world not exactly known for metal. Black-thrash trio Iron Cemetery aim to change that with their debut EP, one of this year’s unexpected gems. It’s unexpected because of its location, and we’re not even talking about Montana — you usually have to go to Scandinavia or Australia to find stuff that rips just like this. There’s a black metal rasp in the vocals and in the high-strung yet slightly fuzzy production. Riff-wise, though, this is all pointed thrash that borders on death. If you’ve spent many weekends getting wasted on a brew of Venom, Bathory, early Slayer, and German thrash, this is your new favorite band. Like those groups, they put speed and savagery above polish and prog, yet there’s also attention to catchiness that’s also integral to classic metal. There are messy divebombs aplenty, a pact they made with Jeff Hanneman’s ghost. They’re the grin on the unrelenting battle charge, making Iron Cemetery a fun listen that doesn’t need to prove how fun it is. In keeping with the band’s economy: this shit whips and you need to be on it. Montana might not be so serene after all; bring on the metal pollution.
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.