Idle Hands: Mana (Eisenwald)
Portland’s Idle Hands are a testament to a fundamental truth: In any given group of metal dudes, at least two of them are down to dance/flail/awkwardly headbang to Sisters of Mercy. Their debut Mana is a killer intersection of goth and NWOBHM, equally catchy and gloomy. Vocalist and guitarist Gabriel Franco is a mix of prime Eldritch and prime Danzig, who can sound sexy, sensitive, and tough, often at least two at once. Opener “Nightfall” puts all those modes on display, rocking hard and swaying lustfully, melodies crashing into croons and double bass. In “Give Me to the Night,” he’s cruising with the band’s speed, growing angrier and hotter with every verse. Idle Hands know a big part of NWOBHM was that having a killer single is crucial — NWOBHM was more singles-driven than many metal genres — and though there are no proper singles per se (Spotify “singles” don’t count, sorry), Mana has hooky bangers for days. “Jackie” is a proper forlorn lover rocker, the ultimate track when you’re equal parts hesher and sadboi. As the guitars surge, your heart becomes more feeling, and maybe more foolish. “A Single Solemn Rose” might be the most anthemic of the bunch, and believe me, there’s still competition. Rarely do you hear a metal song where clean guitar is the driving force, yet the melody is equally jubilant and mournful. It’s oddly reminiscent of Lifelover’s piano, where a flourish becomes the song’s main engine. “Rose” is a perfect pairing to “Dragon, Why Do You Cry,” because singing about lonely roses is goth as hell, singing about dragons is totally metal, and singing about roses AND dragons? Too hot right now. Hopefully, come December, more of the metal public will be on board with such a killer record.
Darkthrone: Old Star (Peaceville)
It’s Darkthrone, y’all. What more do I need to say? Vote for Fenriz. (I didn’t get the promo until the day before release, but still. This rips.)
Glassing: Spotted Horse (Brutal Panda)
Ya Texas boy coming at y’all with more Texas heaviness, this time from Austin trio Glassing’s sophomore record Spotted Horse. It’s an alternate take on 2000s underground, where kids who grew up on Converge and Botch got into post-rock and doom, thus spawning post-metal, only here, the hardcore influence isn’t gone. “When You Stare” and “Sleeper” have all the soaring highs you would expect from Pelican or Isis, and “Lobe” comes through and throws it in a dank Massachusetts turn of the century basement. Guitarist Cory Brim erupts with chaotic, spindly lines, yet they’re shrouded in a haze somewhere between black metal and ambient. “Bronze” is where he gets the most tangled, and the mess only becomes more beautiful in fog. Horse doesn’t feel mysterious, just dimly lit, which is the right vibe. There’s space and close contact, and whether you’re drifting or cramped changes rather fast. Glassing feels like a sister band to Brooklyn’s Sannhet, another trio with a more lively take on post-metal sounds. A big part of this is drummer Jason Camacho, who gives the proper percussive energy for Brim’s cloaked hardcore lines. Had Glassing put out Horse during Hydra Head’s mid-2000s peak, they would have fit right in, which is one of the highest compliments I can give a record.
Skourge: Condemned (Self-released)
In addition to Glassing above, I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink on Texas metal and hardcore in this column over the past couple years. As such, it’s my pleasure to introduce Houston’s Skourge to y’all with their latest EP Condemned. Skourge pretty much sound like if Tom G. Warrior (once a Texas resident!) only wore track pants: all of the sick grooves, none of the frills. Now, you don’t have to choose between practicing your incantations and getting super ripped. “Holy War” is “Dethroned Emperor” on a strict Cro-Mags regimen, taking a killer Frost riff from the shadows and toughening it up for the pit. In classic Texas fashion, it also adds a heap of dive bombs and whammy bar fuckery to NYHC. The title track is also a bit of a homage to Suicidal Tendencies, in particular the clean guitar tone at the onset and the streetwise thrash that comes after. Skourge know that fusing hardcore and metal is pretty much the apex of music, and they take it to different directions. Condemned is supposedly a preview of more to come, and should a full-length drop before the end of the year, you know Texas will stay running the game.
You can find ‘Condemned’ on Bandcamp here.