Deaf Forever is our monthly metal column that considers the best releases in black, death, power, Swedish black, speed, and every other metal genre you can name.
I’d like to think I’m a okay writer, but I’m certainly no Eugene S. Robinson. If Hunter Thompson was a black punk who got into Stanford and had a taste for noir, he’d be a lot like Robinson, and better looking too! He not only penned a great book on the history of fighting — simply titled Fight — he’s an actual fighter himself, making his tough-guy flow totally natural. In addition to being the man every man should aspire to be, he’s also the vocalist for Oxbow, a group you can call a rock band only because they have a traditional rock band setup. Robinson isn’t so much a singer as he is channeler of pains and ecstasies, and the rest of the band plays muscularly, but thinks like a jazz group. Thin Black Duke is their first record in a decade, and it’s the weird rock record you’ve needed this year. Strings and horns make this feel more like chamber pop than metal, and they don’t sophisticate the rock so much as the rock gives them the looseness they’ve been begging for. Duke isn’t a record for dinner parties to remind your friends about how you used to be a wild rocker before you took that investment firm job; it’s about how the flex — a dance of force and cunning — adapts with time.
“A Gentleman’s Gentleman” is just goddamn sexy, and it’s in the way Robinson wields aggression. He’s nearly incoherent at first, grunting and growling, unraveling a bluesy gruff as he goes on. This is by design: he wants to make his intent clear by obstructing language, never unleashing all his rage at once. The closest thing you could narrow down Duke to is noise rock, and have you heard a band who made push and pull so delicate as they do on “Letter of Note?” Or redefine skronk with grace, as they do on “Host” and “Other People?” Duke has a lot more going on than it initially appears, and multiple listens will clue you in on just how in touch Oxbow is with itself — one of the most rewarding albums of 2017, by far. Also, let’s take a moment to celebrate Hydra Head putting out records again. Did they pick a grand return or what?
Last month, I wrote about Extremity, a new Bay Area death metal band comprised of serious veterans into some filthy old-school worship. If you’re looking for something a little more out-there, Oakland’s got another great rising death metal quartet, Succumb. Their self-titled debut also delves into the murk of the early ‘90s, albeit with an experimental edge. At the center is vocalist Cheri Musrasrik (who used to be in Pig DNA, who graced our first column), and she has an odd relation to space here — her voice is distant, but she’s trying to constantly pull you in, so it feels closer than it actually is. It’s pretty similar to what Australian bands like Impetuous Ritual and Grave Upheaval do, and there’s also those bands’ influence in Succumb’s riffing. Sure, it’s more compact, but there are still oft-kilter pecks and squeals, especially in “Survival.” “The Flood” is another example of how they bounce around without knocking themselves out of orbit, bending convention just enough to both honor and subvert Morbid Angel’s own fretboard impatience. Drummer Harry Cantwell, who plays in Bosse-De-Nage and formerly was in Bay Area masters of True Metal Slough Feg, keeps up with the unpredictable swing from Musrasrik and guitarist Derek Webster, never stiffening for perfection and giving the propulsion this material needs. It sure has been an excellent year for death metal, both from its originators and from new bands like Succumb. And like Immolation’s Atonement, Succumb knows how to toe the line between convention and abstraction.
A running joke between me and VMP Senior Editor Andrew Winistorfer is that he usually thinks I’m making up the bands that I’m writing about. And par the course, I’ll have to convince him extra hard that, yes, there’s a band named Drug Honkey (Editor’s note: I’m not buying it). The Chicago industrial doom band has been active since 1999, though they’ve never usually mentioned in the same breath as more noted bands from the city’s more left-field wing like Yakuza and the Atlas Month. Cloak of Skies could change that. Vocalist Paul Gillis is also the longtime vocalist for Morgue Supplier, and Skies is dripping with death metal filth, filtered through dark psychedelia. Screeching noise, clashing panned vocals, and guest saxophone from Yakuza’s Bruce Lamont (metal’s go-to sax dude) make this feel off-center, like a sludge band got recruited for a remake of Altered States. Their Godflesh influence is so prevalent that Justin Broadrick himself contributed a remix of “Pool of Failure,” bringing the bass upfront while submerging the rest of the track. So yeah, even with a name like Drug Honkey, you shouldn’t ignore this.
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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