Welcome to the first edition of Deaf Forever! Here, I’ll highlight the best metal releases of late, from big names to more obscure gems. And there will be some focus on the latter — the demos never stop coming in! Someone has to cull from the best, and I’m gonna take on that beast, even if it means I’ll develop a resistance to distorted guitars one day. Metal is where some — I’d almost say all, though there some exceptions — of the most creative, passionate, and heartfelt guitar music has come from lately. It’s intimidating, whether you’re an old-schooler, a newbie, or anywhere in between. That diversity is why the genre is healthier than ever, and why if you’re a metalhead, you should be damn proud.
Metal’s been a little slow so far in 2016, but it’s only the end of January, and we’ve got 11 more months to get pissed off and put riffs to tape. Here are a few current stellar releases, plus a few gems that came out late last year that you need to no longer sleep on. We’ll get into the solo debut from a black metal luminary, death metal for the brain and for the pit, sludge that’ll put some muscle on ya, the noisiest punk you’ve ever heard, and more. Thanks for taking this journey — if you can handle it.
MAJOR RELEASE: Abbath — Abbath (Season of Mist): Abbath, the former vocalist and guitarist for Immortal, has been saddled with not the best publicity of late. The split between him and his Immortal bandmates was not very clean, and right before the release of his self-titled solo debut and a big US tour in March with High on Fire and Tribulation, two members of his band have already quit. Drama notwithstanding, the album’s a faithful homage to the cold, battlelike sound he pioneered in Immortal, adapted with a much thicker production. It’s not particularly devoted to one part of Immortal’s development, either, as it combines the more melodic path of their later albums with the blizzard-white relentlessness of Battles in the North. A shame that Creature left, since his drumming, which lends precision and variation to Horgh’s assault, really helps Abbath make his own identity. Abbath's croak is unmistakeable, tempered only slightly by age. Feeling left out by your Northeastern friends’ newfound grim and frostbitten kingdoms? Pop this in. If there’s only issue I take with Abbath’s debut, it’s that I wish there was something along the lines of their cover of Judas Priest’s “Riding on the Wind” from last year’s Count the Dead single. It’s the blackened sing-a-long you never knew you needed, and while Abbath has embraced black metal’s camp more than his contemporaries, his solo debut doesn’t reflect that. Still, it definitely exceeded my expectations.
Chthe’ilist — Le Dernier Crépuscule (Profound Lore): Canadians paying homage to one of Finland’s great weird death metal heroes, Demilich. What’s not to love? Chthe’ilist reaches our quota for band names I had to convince my editors wasn’t made up, and their music is even more incomprehensible than their name. Their sound is dirty, much like their country men Antedivullan, but not so dim that you can’t make out the skronks and pops coming forth from Le Dernier Crépuscule. “Voidspawn” (the most concise song title on here) is full of push-pull tension. The choral touches in the middle of of “Into The Vaults Of Ingurgitating Obscurity” may be harder to take than the spiraling riffs that precede it. Most jarring is the slap bass prevalent in “The Voices From Beneath The Well.” Who knew something so associated as the antithesis of death metal could be reconstructed with a minefield-like effect? Hell, even Pat Tougas's elongated croak, which attempts to go as deep as Demilich’s Antti Boman isn’t as startling (though it still rules). Weirdo death metal is already off to a great start in 2016. Stream this one via Noisey here.
Spinebreaker — Ice Grave (Creator-Destroyer): Enough with names we can’t pronounce, let’s get back to basics. When hardcore and classic death metal come together buildings get flattened. Key examples are SoCal’s Nails, who somehow managed to capture what throwing bricks like Randy Johnson sounds like, and Tuscon’s Gatecreeper, who give Scandinavian sounds an American grit. San Jose’s Spinebreaker are another shining example in this regard, and when your name is fucking Spinebreaker, you better come with riffs first and explanations second. The buzzsaw is pure Sweden 1990; the pummeling is pure New York 1986. Shit this simple has to have a lot of charisma to really carry, and this young group already has that in spades. Admittedly, the acoustic parts are a little clunky, a case of staring through eyes wider than their stomach. You’ll have already Sub-Zeroed someone in the pit to really notice, though. Get your Timbs ready.
Conan — Revengeance (Napalm): The key to success…er, sludge is not just a soiled guitar tone, but also variation. Too many bands get lost in the murk and don’t know when to speed up to even a Celtic Frost pace. Playing too slow is a worse cover up for lacking riffs than playing too fast; with the latter, you can fool them with energy for a bit. Conan are not one of those bands, thankfully. Like Fistula, Goatsblood, and Eyehategod (the originators of sludge, in large part due to Black Flag’s My War), Conan know when to throw in a fast part, and Revengeance has plenty of them. With a name like theirs, though, they know they can’t go for the sludge tropes of needles, depression, pills, suicide, killing your boss, hating the police, and more needles. This feels like an uplifting power metal record, even though it bears no resemblance to anything from that genre. Jon Davis’s vocals are a big reason Conan soars above their downtrodden contemporaries. Revengeance still has those slow moments for grinding that blade into your enemy - twist that broadsword, deeper. (“Wrath Gauntlet” is the swole dirge.) Even if you’re burnt out on doom and sludge, give this a whirl.
Yellow Eyes — Sick with Bloom (Gilead Media): New York’s Yellow Eyes have a particular cult following amongst USBM fanatics, and Sick with Bloom’s December release date, normally the killer of year-end lists, didn’t faze their fanatics from gushing. Still, had this came earlier in the press cycle, it would be talked about with greater reverence. Yellow Eyes’ setup isn’t particularly revolutionary — two dueling tremolo guitars, drums, bass, shrieks — but what they get out of it is mindblowing. They’ve cherrypicked the most ecstatic melodies and send them into blissful overdrive; this proves that the gap between “true black metal” and “blackgaze” isn’t as wide as some suggest. If you’re just a fan of melodies in general, there’s much to love here. Closer “Ice in the Spring,” despite its name, will melt every last bit of coldness in your heart — it has that energy that gives your life meaning when life itself opposes you. That opening laceration slashes like Argento directing a samurai film — painful, but beautiful. If you missed out, I’ll forgive you — this time. You can stream this album here.
Pig DNA — Mob Shity (La Vida En Un Mus Discos): London’s La Vida Es Un Mus Discos put out L.O.T.I.O.N.’s Digital Control and Man’s Obsolescence, 2015’s finest (and only) dystopian cyberpunk record. Strange, then, that I overlooked the new one from Bay Area noise-punk maniacs Pig DNA, Mob Shity, which came out in November through La Vida. Pig DNA take the raw d-beat noise of Japan’s Disclose and D-Clone — two groups who took the blown-out hardcore of Discharge’s Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing and push it past the red, pretty much resembling Merzbow with a drummer — and somehow manages to out-freak both of those bands. The bass is a rumble barely holding on to the storm of guitars with no semblance of melody; there’s also an industrial control over the chaos, which makes them both more listenable and more unsettling. Pig DNA are ripping Earth open and letting the core cry freely. The band is now split between Oakland, Philadelphia, and Portland, but that hasn’t diverted their focus on fucking up your eardrums one bit. If you were a big fan of Pissgrave’s Suicide Euphoria like I was last year, Pig DNA are their spiritual cousins. You can stream this album here.
Expander — Laws of Power (Caligari) and Expander (self-released): Austin’s hardcore scene has a bumper crop of newer and younger talent lately. Its metal scene, however, needs a little new blood. Expander is just what Austin needs, and with their tape Laws of Power, which came out late last year, they could be the Austin band that redeems The Sword once and for all. They fuse the metalpunk of Impalers (probably my favorite Austin band) and the sci-fi inflections of VHOL (probably my favorite current metal group anywhere), striking that balance of old-school and innovation sweet spot that’s hard to beat. “Slime Beach” and “Motorized Exterminator,” by their titles alone, are apocalypse party rippers, and Guzzler’s razor riffage will make do you a keg stand off a toxic waste barrel. General Ham’s blackened punk snarl compliments their oddball catchiness. (Who are the other members? The drummer’s Keymaster and Swirly handles low end.) Expander also recorded two songs with Converge guitarist and in-demand metal producer Kurt Ballou last year, which resemble these songs with with beefier production. They’re already way ahead of the derivative local metal pack, and these dudes could be something huge. You can stream Laws of Power here, and Expander here.
Andy O'Connor is so metal, he had his bones replaced with titanium alloy in 2003. He's on Twitter here.