Friday, March 20, 2020

Black Metal & Brews' Favorites of 2019


Howdy folks! It's nearly a third of the way into the year, so you know it's finally time for Black Metal & Brews to get its act together and publish a list most other publications would've had ready three and a half months ago. Fear not! If you read this on the day of publication, it doubles as a handy buyer's guide to a bandcamp mega-deal in which all fees for artists are waived, which makes your purchasing power more directly beneficial to the artist. Hooray!

If you know my personal situation much by following the BM&B social channels, you're likely aware that 2019 was an incredibly challenging year for my health, in which I was hospitalized twice and spent many months barely leaving the house. It gave me a lot of time for music, but given my dire circumstances, much of the music I consumed was old favorites and comforting songs rather than hot new jams. Because of that, this list may miss some things you found essential. Drop me a line (blackmetalandbrews@gmail.com or @blackmetalbrews on twitter) if you'd like to share a favorite of yours, but don't take it personally if our tastes don't fully align. That's half the fun, isn't it? Additionally, my homebody nature means that most of the shows I attended were shows I played, but I'm listing four incredible acts I saw live that I'll remember for years to come. Without further rambling, here's the stuff that made 2019 a great year for music in my life.

Shows 
JG Thirlwell Ensemble at National Sawdust, March 1st
I've been a fan of JG Thirlwell's work since I stumbled on a pair of Foetus CDs in a secondhand shop at the age of 18. I didn't know what I was in for, but could tell it was going to be industrial music. I didn't realize it'd be some of the most meticulously assembled and overwhelming stuff I'd hear and that I'd be obsessed for life. When Thirlwell announced a pair of (mostly) acoustic ensemble performances, reworking music from his whole career, I knew I needed to attend. In National Sawdust, even the back feels like the front row but I managed to snag a chair up front, just to the side of the stage. Dressed in all white like some sort of hellish take on Bowie's thin white duke, Thirlwell stalked the stage and delivered a performance that was somehow even more chilling and brilliant than I had expected. Truly one for the ages. I'm including a fantastic shot of Foetus classic "I'll Meet You in Poland" from Thirlwell's own YouTube channel (which includes a few others if you're into that sort of thing).

Marc Almond at Brooklyn Bazaar (RIP), November 1st
If Thirlwell's subversive show was simultaneously subtle and heavy-handed, watching his peer Marc Almond (of Soft Cell fame) play a set of hits in a tiny, crowded room was a more direct route to success but was no less stunning. Soft Cell are one of my favorite bands and Almond's lyrics and voice have been haunting me for ages. He played just as many fantastic cuts from his solo career as he did from the Soft Cell years, and really upped the ante near the end of the show as he made his way into the crowd during "Heat," shouting and pushing through like one would expect to happen at a hardcore punk show. It was a sweaty, singalong sort of night. Truly one of the happiest experiences I've had. I'm linking a clip here since it won't let me embed this one for some reason

Stereolab at Brooklyn Steel, September 27th & 28th
I've been a huge fan of Stereolab for ages yet never thought I'd see them live. While a crucial member is obviously no longer with us, the band played brilliantly and with a precise sort of energy that really brought their music to life in ways that surprised me. As a total geek, I had to catch both Brooklyn shows and I'm glad I did. They were stunning.


Bryan Ferry at United Palace, August 9th
I was raised on the music of art-rock experimentalists (and early new wave legends) Roxy Music and never thought I'd have the opportunity to catch anything resembling a Roxy Music gig in my lifetime. My girlfriend and mother teamed up to surprise me with Bryan Ferry tickets for my birthday and it was one hell of a show. While the tour centered around Roxy Music's swansong, Avalon, songs from every era were present, including the haunting "In Every Dream Home a Heartache," the smooth yet upbeat "Out of the Blue," and the strangely shifting rocker "If There is Something." Ferry's voice still wavers between fully controlled and unhinged emotional abandon, which made this a truly stunning night.

Nick Cave in Conversation at Jazz at Lincoln Center, September 21st, & Town Hall, September 23rd
I don't have a whole lot to say but having the chance to see Nick Cave do Q&A with fans and play selected cuts from his entire catalog (often at the specific request of fans in the audience) unaccompanied, with just himself and a piano, was brilliant and beautiful. My health was incredibly poor around the time of these gigs and seeing Cave in such an intimate setting was oddly soothing to my soul. Out of respect for the artist, no videos or photos were permitted, so you'll have to live without it in this post as well.



Gibby Haynes and the Paul Green Rock Academy at Market Hotel, October 25th
Bringing a veteran LSD rock oddball legend together with a children's school of rock sounds like a bad idea on paper, but it's the sort of experiment that's just nutty enough to work brilliantly. Gibby seemed a bit intoxicated for this gig, but I probably would've been disappointed if he was stone sober. The kids switched instruments throughout the night and played with joyous abandon, celebrating more deep cuts and strange anthems than I anticipated, with almost no mention of the Butthole Surfers' radio hits of the '90s in the set. Instead we got treated to raucous renditions of "Sweat Loaf," "I Saw an X-Ray of a Girl Passing Gas," and even "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave" with Gibby's young son playing a floor tom front and center. As with the other gigs mentioned here, I'll remember this one forever. I can't find video of this on YouTube so you'll just have to trust me here.


Albums (These are alphabetical. No winners or losers this time around)

A Pregnant Light- Broken Play (Colloquial Sound Recordings)
My musical taste often lies at the intersection of unrelated sounds, seeking the places where they meet. I grew up going to basement crust and thrash shows but also am obsessed with bands like The Cure and Pulp whose entire catalogs consist of anthems. A Pregnant Light writes anthems for those of us who grew up in hardcore shows in sweat-drenched Bathory tees. On Broken Play, raw emotion and raw power meld beautifully.


Ærekær- Avindskjold (Tour de Garde)
The Danish extreme metal scene has grown quite fascinating in the last four or five years, and Ærekær are one of the brightest groups in the whole community. On Avindskjold, triumphant black metal and majestic keyboard interludes (think dungeon synth if you must) blend to create something timeless. This may have come out in 2019 but it could've just as easily been a cult classic that oldheads talk about with reverence if it was released the '90s.


Blu Anxxiety- God's Exposure (Toxic State)
Self-described "violent goth" act Blu Anxxiety is one of NYC's greatest treasures at the moment, mixing deathrock, freestyle, industrial, hardcore, and post-punk into something that should appeal to just about any fan of subversive and dark sounds. On their debut EP, God's Exposure, they rage through three originals and a killer cover of "Send Me an Angel" that all just flatten me as a listener. If I had to make a shortlist of songs that defined my 2019, "Uninvited to the Funeral Home" would be near the top. This is music that could only come from New York. Check it out or get left behind when they blow up.

Blut Aus Nord- Hallucinogen (Debemur Morti)
Blut Aus Nord have built a career in black metal the way David Bowie did in the world of popular music: consistently shapeshifting yet staying ahead of trends and forging new sounds with a clear vision. You always know it's Blut Aus Nord when you hear them, yet you never know quite how they'll appear each time they resurface with a new album. Hallucinogen may be more directly tied to black metal than much of their catalog, but it's delivered with such spark and imagination that it never feels stale. It's a vibrant, exhilarating listen that you'll want to revisit frequently


Body of Light- Time to Kill (Dais)
Arizona duo Body of Light initially won me over with a sort of cold yet tuneful take on darkwave with their Wayside City cassette, yet have kept me coming back with each release. While they've traded some of the more somber sounds for sunny new wave and eurodance elements, their Depeche Mode-like core is firmly intact. Time to Kill is simultaneously modern and nostalgic, with urgency and tension behind even its most melodic and beautiful moments.


Caїna-
Gentle Illness (Apocalyptic Witchcraft)
Andy Curtis-Brignell has been creating music as Caїna since around the time I first truly delved into extreme metal. Following his career has been a real treat as a fan (and now as a friend as well, in the sake of full disclosure). On Gentle Illness, Curtis-Brignell has created something that is equally soothing and terrifying. The album serves to document its creator's mental health struggles, his experiences as a contactee (of the extraterrestrial sort), and the failings of the mental health system itself. The music that wraps these themes up is all over the place, yet cohesive, reminding me of experimental and free-jazz metal legends like Ephel Duath at times while retaining much of Caїna's own trademark heaviness and inward-gazing density.


Ceremony- In the Spirit World Now (Relapse)
On In The Spirit World Now, Sonoma County punks Ceremony channel their inner Devo or Tubeway Army, more in sound than in theme. While not quite heart-on-sleeve, the emotional presence here is patently Ceremony's own, fusing post-punk and new wave in a way that feels new. It's hard to put a finger on this, but it's been begging repeated listens over here and it might just do the same for you.


Cloud Rat- Pollinator (Artoffact)
Michigan grind trio Cloud Rat has been absolutely killing it for around a decade now, and on Pollinator they only further cement their mastery of the genre. It's furious and tense without falling into pitfalls that other grind groups find (needless repetition, sameness). The fact that Pollinator is accompanied by an EP of extra songs that are completely removed from grind is probably a strong indicator of the band's creative brilliance. This is a band that works well together and makes gripping and relentless music that goes straight for the heart.


Clouds Collide- They Don't Sleep Anymore (War Crime)
Clouds Collide is yet another one-man band on this list. Chris Pandolfo is a Pennsylvanian musician whose post-hardcore takes on a shimmering, almost penitent quality that borrows from greats like Hopesfall or even post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor (whose work inspired the title of this record). While the experience of listening to Pandolfo's music is multi-dimensional, it keeps coming back to a sense of longing or yearning, but in a hopeful way rather than with struggle or loss at the core. There's a sense that Clouds Collide has grown in a huge way without forgetting its roots, and everybody wins from it.


Cthonica- Typhomanteia: Sacred Triarchy of Spiritual Putrefaction (Sentient Ruin)
So far this list has been relatively lacking in the "black metal" department, I know. Here, have some Cthonica. It's disgusting in a way that reminds me of war metal in how it's produced but is musically so much more fascinating than that terms would imply otherwise. If you like cavernously reverbed vocals and creepy crawly riffs that seek to drag the listener towards the abyss, you owe this to yourself. Whether you're a fan of gnarly acts like Portal or truly esoteric things in the vein of Void Meditation Cult, you'll find yourself at home with Cthonica's filthy debut.

Deerhunter- Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? (4AD)
Indie darlings Deerhunter are a polarizing group, I know. I'm of the mindset that they're well ahead of the curve and write truly strange songs that are just so good they've fooled people into thinking they're simpler or more "palatable" than they really would be otherwise. While tunes like opener "Death in Midsummer" may lean towards the friendlier sounds, there's so much more at hand here and it's apparent on deeper listens and in the shorter, stranger tracks especially. I found this to be perfect salve for my aching body and soul while I was in the hospital. Perhaps you'll take comfort in it as well in these strange and dark times. No bandcamp link but I'm sure you can find this somewhere somehow.


Drowse- Light Mirror (Flenser)
Portland's Drowse is a group whose music feels either like a blanket of snow or a fog machine, depending on the song and the moment. Even the sparsest moment feels full here, and it's not just the reverb (although there's plenty of that). Light Mirror is huge but it doesn't feel overwhelming or suffocating. It just is. It's odd to find something that channels sadness in such a comforting way, but here we are. Whether you're a shoegazer or a doom lover, this should connect with you as it did with me.


Elizabeth Colour Wheel- Nocebo (Flenser)
Elizabeth Colour Wheel was probably the first band of 2019 to truly excite and challenge me. Nocebo is a whirlwind of influences, with plenty of rough edges and magnificent flourishes to keep the listener on edge. These folks don't sound like anything I've heard, yet they draw from familiar palettes at times, often combining unexpected sounds and forcing them to clash brilliantly instead of making them become smooth and soft. The result is dizzying, with punk, black metal, shoegaze, and so many more genres falling through each other and colliding like little fireworks. It's far from the more hideous stretches of heavy music, yet it captures the imagination in a way few other bands did in 2019.


Elrond- Love Across Light Years (Nadine Records/Anima Recordings/Accident Prone Records)
Elrond is a synthesizer duo from Portland, OR and they make some of the most rapturous, extraterrestrial music I had the pleasure of seeing or hearing in 2019. Boldly experimental, yet never in the ways that clash at the senses or force one into a dark place, Elrond's music is like catching a ride on a comet and cruising through the cosmos in a state of pure awe. Electronic euphoria at its finest, without a need for party drugs to feel the full effects. (Full disclosure: they're friends and the band I'm in played with them on their tour supporting this release).


False- Portent (Gilead Media)
False has long been at the forefront of exciting USBM for the last decade, yet somehow it took them until 2019 to drop an album with a title. Friendly jab at naming conventions aside, they've always been visionary and poetic in both lyrics and sound, and Portent only elevates the already standards they've always carried.Guitars and keys are to the front, sure, but False has always had some of the most brilliant drumming in American black metal and it's never been more apparent than on Portent. Plus, f you told me I'd find one of the most brilliant riffs of the year in a song called "The Serpent Sting, the Smell of Goat," I'd have scoffed initially, but here we are. It fucking rips. These folks are the only band I could imagine covering Emperor and doing it justice and this album only further proves that they're capable of carrying that torch.


Fogweaver- Fogweaver (Lost Armor)
Dungeon synth inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books? Sign me up. It's beautiful and transcendent. It evokes a certain focus and thoughtfulness we could all benefit from right now. It's soothing and touches upon the classic ambient blueprint: it could serve well as background music but is still utterly fascinating when given one's undivided attention. Possibly dungeon synth's high water mark for the year.


Funereal Presence- Achatius (The Ajna Offensive)
Funereal Presence is the solo project from a member of Negative Plane. This alone should tell of the high quality contained within, yet rather than the larger than life sounds of Negative Plane, Funereal Presence is old school black (and heavy) metal worship that reminds of second wave classics, the Greek legends, and cult essentials like Mortuary Drape. It's absolutely relentless, with every song stretching past the eleven minute mark, yet not a single moment feels wasted. Possibly the best outright black metal album of the year.


Garden of the Ark- Undone/First Accident (Self-Released) 
Garden of the Ark are Brooklyn locals (and again, good friends in the sake of full disclosure) who blend psychedelia and heaviness to make something that suits AmRep worshipers like myself just as much as it will appease the taste of those looking to drift to blissful riffs or even fans of more modern post-hardcore acts like Kowloon Walled City. Two quick songs teasing greater things to come. If their live show is any indication, what follows will be just as cutting and fantastic.


Haunted Horses- Dead Meat (SIXWIX Releases)
How does one even described Haunted Horses? It's noise rock. It's industrial music. It's punk. It's none of the above yet all at once. The music truly is haunted, and on Dead Meat the synth & drums duo conjures up anthems of loathing and disgust that channel everyone from Godflesh to the Locust without feeling like an imitation of anything. Pure intensity and unease. Let it crawl under your skin until you scratch open a few new sores.


Image of Life- Attended by Silence (Kernkrach Schallplatten)
Image of Life has long been one of my favorite darkwave projects and somehow his newest release is even better than the (highly essential) Last Letters from the Leper Colony. Simultaneously paranoid and uplifting, these songs are anthems for the uncertainty of the modern age (perhaps even moreso during the current period of pandemic). "Living Alone" is a pensive dance party for one, and comes highly recommended, yet there isn't a dull moment here. From introspection to taking in the entire state of the world, this couldn't have come at a better time. Grab it to soundtrack your isolation as well as you can.


Impavida- Antipode (Van Records)
Impavida serves as clear evidence that "atmospheric" black metal need not be all trees and fantasy. There's plenty of atmosphere, sure, but there's a fiery core on Antipode that is far more harrowing than simple genre tags afford. No easy listens here, but rewards and quality aplenty. Oh, and those vocals? I'm not sure they're human.


Laster- Het wassen oog (Prophecy)
Laster's career has been built on crafting strange and boundary-pushing black metal. With Het wassen oog, they (successfully) fulfill ambitions to make works on the same tier as avant-garde legends like Ved Buens Ende. While they call their sound "obscure dance music," it'd take one hell of an interpretive dancer to come up with the right moves for the twists and turns they offer up in any given song. Keep yourself on your toes and do it right. If we're removing strict genre limitations, this may well be the extreme record of the year. Highly unorthodox. Highly entertaining.


Matte Black- Psyche (Self-Released)
Matte Black is a Brooklyn-based doom trio that does so much more than just playing straightforward Sabbath worship. At times psychedelic, at times groovy and raucous, Psyche is tight and joyous. If you've ever gotten lost in a riff, you'll know exactly the feeling they seek to evoke here, and they excel at every turn. Still, the band ends on a mournful note with "Gone," which is somehow the highest moment on an album of pure energy and it ends just as it starts to feel familiar. They know exactly how to leave you wanting more, begging you to flip the record over and start again. (Also of note--two-thirds of this band make up the fantastic duo Dead Satellites, whose debut EP was also released in 2019 and is similarly worth your time). Again, full disclosure: these guys are my drinking buddies and we've gigged together many times. There's a reason for that: they rip.


Mizmor- Cairn (Gilead Media)
Self-realization, the apocalypse, and knowledge are all things that come about slowly, so it's fitting that an album of growth and finality is such a looming beast. A.L.N. of Mizmor spent some years creating this black/doom masterpiece, and it shows. "Cairn to God" feels like the weight of forever and while it's not exactly pleasant, it scratches a certain itch for me that makes it feel so damn good. I've listened many times and still haven't fully digested these massive songs. As this (short) review began: it takes time. It comes slowly. It's so worth it. Once again, in the sake of transparency, I'd consider the musician a good friend, but wouldn't recommend this just as a favor--it's just truly that great.


Nichtigkeit- Night Song (Auto-da-Fe)
Eerie, nocturnal post-punk with breathy vocals and driving bass from Denver, CO. This is a must-have for any true creeps. Many people seem to be waiting (perhaps pointlessly) for the return of Tollund Men, who did release some demos last year but are still dormant, but are overlooking the many exciting projects from main man Neal Samples. Nichtigkeit captures the same outsider spirit and sense of having gone feral in a completely different light. Transparency necessitates that I tell you I consider Neal a friend, but his talent would be the same regardless.


Nusquama- Horizon Ontheemt (Eisenwald)
Dutch black metal has had a couple strong years in a row now and Nusquama's debut is one of the most stunning pieces to come from this scene in recent memory. It's a rush from start to finish and while I haven't got many words for it, I'd simply urge you to dive in head-first.



Obliti Devoravit- OD (Colloquial Sound Recordings)
After a five year absence, one of the CSR roster's most exciting projects drops three songs of pure fury. Feedback gives way to mid-paced black metal that has a fully developed identity standing independent of anything else without being so out of place and time that it has no grounding. It's like walking blind but going forward on pure feeling. Even when it blasts, it's never lightning speed, which allows for a sense of clashing times and it's thrilling. No evil posturing, just very real human madness. Confident, essential.


Obsequiae- The Palms of Sorrowed Kings (20 Buck Spin)
The self-anointed ruler of American castle-y black metal returns with an album as rich and emotionally deep as the two preceding it. If you've enjoyed Obsequiae in the past, there's more of the same here, yet it dives deeper and provides an even more textured and fulfilling listen. Had their been electric instrumentation handy in the days of old, I have half a mind to think that Obsequiae were a band from some glorious past left to wither. Still, in the decay, there is regrowth and beauty. The castle ruins take on new life and new shapes. This is very much a closed-eye listen if you can muster the time and focus. It belongs up there with similarly thematic albums like Bathory's Hammerheart--although the sonic template isn't shared, the feeling and vastness of it is). Probably the USBM peak of 2019.


Pinkish Black- Concept Unification (Relapse)
Somehow Pinkish Black is the second band on here that's a duo consisting of just drums and synths (and vocals) and yet they couldn't sound farther removed from the other one. Droning, hypnotic, yet taut and commanding, Pinkish Black's take on doom and art-rock is unlike anything else. It often swells in ways that make it feel like the work of a larger body, yet it also has the focus and intimacy that only a duo could produce. Concept Unification is their finest work, gothic (but not in the eyeliner and guitar sense) and stark, with a constant sense of foreboding and subtle melodies that linger in the back of your head well after the album's finished playing.


Prissy Whip- Swallow (Self-Released)
Noisy, spastic grinding mutant punk from Los Angeles. Prissy Whip is a treble-heavy assault of melting guitars and shrieked vocals that will appeal to fans of everything from Oxbow to Melt Banana to Wire. Swallow is a collection of jagged sounds, cascading rhythms, and stop-start urgency. This came into my radar when the band I play in had the joy of sharing a bill with them and their set was one of the finest I caught all year. These folks are on the up and up and you should grab this before they take off.


Pulchra Morte- Divina Autem et Aniles (Ceremonial Records)
Pulchra Morte make timeless death-doom with a touch of that melancholy that reminds of old Paradise Lost at times. Melodic without falling into fanciful wonder and heavy without leaning into pointless neanderthal brutality, this is a rare case of a band arriving fully formed on their debut. It rips and, while they've already seen lineup shifts since this album's release, they're gearing up to deliver a second album soon that should be just as exciting.


Rainer Landfermann- Mein Wort in Deiner Dunkelheit (Self-Released)
Former Bethlehem vocalist Rainer Landfermann's solo debut is absolutely twisted and confusing. It's also a strong candidate for the best album released in 2019 of any genre at all. The ballerina pictured on the album art isn't just a pretty picture, it's a symbol for the seamless yet unpredictable flow of this record. Musical skill is on full display, yet songwriting is never sacrificed for its sake. This is avant-garde metal of the highest order. Fans of everything from free-jazz to black metal to progressive music of any sort will find something to love here. The best part is that somehow it's oddly catchy and addictive. Mandatory listening, if not purchasing, for all readers.


Satan's Basement- Accused of Human Decency (Hildsfvar Records)
What happens when outsider art meets death metal? Satan's Basement. I'm not sure what else goes on in the basement (is it hotter than the rest of hell or colder? Does Satan keep a six-pack like it's a man-cave?) but the music that it emits has been coming out with greater regularity and higher quality than ever before. Sole member Ian Covelli seems to have had a period of massive productivity in the last two years, but instead of it diluting the quality, he's stepped up production and has brought his A-game in every riff. Winding, circular guitars and lyrics that serve as an indictment against right-wing politics, corruption, capitalism, and religion make this a must-hear. As with many others on here, Ian's a friend. I'm just lucky to have such talented friends, clearly.


Sick Gazelle- Odum (War Crime)
It needs to be put out plainly: I'm a Bruce Lamont fanboy. Have been since the first Yakuza record and I don't see that changing. Sick Gazelle's Odum was a much-needed breath of fresh air and open space in a year of many challenges and dense, heavy listens. Three long, soothing, swelling instrumentals and one tight, slightly more rocking (ambient punk?) closer with vocals and everything make for a compelling and imaginative listen. I can't call it jazz or ambient in any proper sense, but it touches on each without falling into easy categories. It's just great.


Torture Chain- The Ascent of Deimos (Hospital Productions)
One-man black metal brilliance from an old favorite. Torture Chain has always held my attention and managed to terrify me without falling on stale black metal tropes. On The Ascent of Deimos, sole member Torturer manages to conjure the mystery and magic of the majestic second wave and the soul-crushing atmosphere of the early works of The Ruins of Beverast and make it all his own. Falses need not apply, this is the real deal.


TR/ST- The Destroyer (Parts 1 & 2) (Grouch)
The award for most heartbreaking album of the year easily goes to TR/ST. In two thirty-minute-ish releases, both different "parts" of The Destroyer, TR/ST has created something that transcends genre and goes for pure feeling. It's soulful, sad, strong, and catchy as hell. Sure it's a danceable pop album in so many ways, but there's a darkness at the core that keeps this in a subterranean domain entirely of its own at the same time.


Trollkjerring- Whistle and I'll Come to You (Under the Weeping Cherry Tree) (Pacific Threnodies)
Trollkjerring made some of the most exciting, haunting dark ambient/dungeon synth I heard all year. The spoken segments may be less welcoming to some listeners, but this isn't meant to be a comfortable or pleasant listen. It's unsettling and obsessive, far removed from the realms of fantasy that many might associate with music that comes from similar roots. When love gives way to unhealthy obsession, it sounds something like Trollkjerring. This is one of the few I might advise you not to listen to in the dark, alone, unless you're interested in being truly disturbed.


Vice Device- Living Textures (Black Water Records)
When I lived in Portland, OR, Vice Device was one of my favorite local bands to see live. In 2019, these synth-punks finally delivered their debut LP and it was worth the wait. Industrial tension, haunting melodies, and twin-vocals make this a captivating listen for any fan of darkwave or post-punk, albeit one that ends far too quickly. Perhaps it's a way of keeping the listener wanting more. It certainly works on me.


VR Sex- Human Traffic Jam (Dais)
Members of Drab Majesty and Antioch Arrow come together to make a bizarre synth-forward album that's even better than the newest offering from the aforementioned Drab Majesty. How did they do it? It's hard to say, but it's devilishly catchy and the deathrock element adds something devious to this that just makes it addictive as hell. This LP came hot on the heels of an EP that was released just two months prior and the EP is just as good (in fact the song "Landmine" from the EP might be their best jam). This has the huge sounds and beautiful guitar patterns you know and love from Drab Majesty but goes in subversive and chaotic directions the former project simply hasn't got room for at the moment. A true highlight of the year.


Waste of Space Orchestra- Syntheosis (Svart Records)
What was initially a one-off live performance act decided to bless us all with a studio recording, and the world is a better, stranger place for it. Waste of Space Orchestra is the fusion of Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising, creating one hell of a psychedelic black metal journey. I first saw this project at their only show, as part of Roadburn 2018, and was thrilled to hear it committed to wax. While the visual and performance aspects may be inherently missing from a record, this is every bit as exciting as the live show was and needs to be heard to be fully understood. Only one track is streaming on bandcamp but that's just further enticement to commit and get the whole album, right?


Wishfield- Wishfield (Tridroid Records)
The first time I played my Wishfield cassette, I thought it might have been damaged by heat, but I enjoyed the experience. A quick glance at bandcamp makes it evident that the dizzy, warped textures have nothing to do with melted tape and everything to do with a band chasing euphoric psychedelia to make black metal and shoegaze (and perhaps even dream pop or indie rock) come together in ways that stand outside the common "blackgaze" trope. It feels like falling asleep intoxicated, comforting and familiar but not quite right.



Yellow Eyes- Rare Field Ceiling (Gilead Media)
Yellow Eyes keeps outdoing themselves. I've run out of ways to describe their unique take on black metal but they grow ever more distinctive and accomplished with subsequent releases. I can think of very few bands I've followed since their first demo, but it's been an absolute honor and thrill to watch a band I love really ascend artistically and in terms of acclaim and success. Is this their finest hour? Quite possibly, but I always feel the next thing will dazzle me even more. As with Laster elsewhere on this list, Yellow Eyes have joined the ranks of avant-garde black metal's legends.

Заводь- Уже заря зажглась (Self-Released)
Do you want it stranger and more challenging? Do you want your black metal to confuse you? Do you want hurdy gurdy, dulcimer, and guest appearances from Nuit Noire's Tenebras among others? Заводь (The Zavods) has you covered and this isn't just "weird," it's goddamn fun to listen to. I often forget where one track ends and another begins, not due to repetition or sameness, but because I'm so captivated by this album. It's off the wall yet wholly digestible and, as with any other album on here tagged as self-released, deserves extra attention for being one of those outsider creations to truly crack through and get my pulse racing. I'm not going to say this is a case of "best for last" in terms of posting, but I can't think of a better place to leave things off, especially for people wanting something new that they're not going to see recommended on any other lists. Thanks for sticking with me and I hope you find something you'll love.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Oppression- "La coeur plein de rage"


It's easy to lump bands into categories, or to assume that a band's sound can be easily predicted by a genre tag or two. In some instances, a band plays well into a particular scene and it's all good and fine. When examining the explosive and expansive blackened punk of Montreal-based Oppression, there's simply too much going on to classify in a brief term. While the increasingly online audience for black metal cassettes is more invested in easily hashtagged or aesthetically pleasing cult demos than bands doing something challenging, there should still be a sizable audience for a band who manages to captivate both the raw black metal fan in me and the side of me that was raised on the darker sounds of the 1980s.


After a potent split with New York-based black metal group Sanguine Eagle, Oppression gained serious traction in underground communities, with many looking forward to a release to follow. Now that they've had a chance to deliver upon their promise in full, it's clear that any attention garnered has been well earned. While some tracks deliver a more familiar black metal angle, like the opening title track, which literally kicks things off with a Celtic Frost-inspired "ough" before launching into a tortured sounding stompy sort of black punk, the band has more up its sleeve than just this approach (although even this alone would be good enough). On songs like "Les champs rouges" and "Moskovskaya" there's an anthemic quality in both the riffs and the singing that lends a mournful but catchy post-punk quality to the sound without breaking away or sounding forced. While many bands would be content to simply go for the throat with howling mid-paced bangers throughout, the varied approach works well and makes almost every song a standout in its own fashion.

Those seeking digital copies of this can easily download it from the group's bandcamp page (linked above in the player), while those seeking the physical experience can order cassettes directly from the label at productionshaineuses@gmail.com. This album has been a constant play over here for the duration of 2019, which is a strong endorsement considering how great this year has been for black metal. In fact, this review was initially begun in February and again in April before I finally got it together enough to ground myself and admit that it's better to just get it out than to try to write the "perfect" review for an album I love so dearly. I hope you'll all love it as much as I do.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Dead Satellites- "Burst" & Live Nirvana Cover Premiere!


Brooklyn duo Dead Satellites have been offering up some of the most uniquely charged heavy music in the region since their formation last year. As two-thirds of psychedelic doomsters Matte Black, drummer Fidel Vazquez and guitarist/singer Matthew McAlpin already had a natural order for working together and seem to have distilled it to a raw, spontaneous form. Their debut EP, Burst (named after the recording engineer Charles Burst), comes out next Friday, July 26th, and these four songs are stripped bare in concept, yet they remain complex and full, with no ideas left unexplored and each riff and rhythm celebrated accordingly.


Over the few Dead Satellites gigs I've had the privilege of attending, the band has displayed a commitment to maintaining an almost restless sense of variation within a set that remains cohesive. This exploratory yet consistent on the four songs on Burst, each of which is distinctive without feeling forced or like a needless departure. From the get-go, opener "42" pairs a very direct riff with a drum-beat that is oddly bouncy, creating a hypnotic effect that shows the band's aptitude for taking something seemingly familiar and making it new through their own lens. Following this is (essentially) the centerpiece of the EP, clocking just under ten minutes in length, "Beyond the Sun/Last Transmission." In the song's first section, vocals seem to stretch endlessly over a blistering boogie as they echo towards an unreachable horizon. This would be good enough on its own, but the sudden lurch towards a punishing sludge that crawls into oblivion as the song peters out under its own weight is an unexpected and rewarding change. Following this are two high-energy, punky songs that almost remind of the mid-'90s AmRep sound, pairing noise rock energy with oddly hummable vocal melodies. "Name_" burns through two minutes in the blink of an eye and feels like an instant hit to these ears, while closer "El Guapo" shows the band ending on the most urgent note they can, with some of the album's most intricate drumming on full display. The sense of tension displayed on this album may have clear roots in the past, but the band's eye to the future is apparent in the raw energy.

To celebrate the release of Burst and to urge readers to join up for Dead Satellites' upcoming show to coincide with the EP's release, here is footage of the pair covering "School" by Nirvana from a recent gig in March of 2019. Watch the video below, pre-order the Burst EP, and catch Dead Satellites' next show on Sunday, July 28th at the Footlight in Brooklyn, with support from Ruby Dear, Lacey Spacecake, and Savage Youth.


 
[full disclosure: Lacey Spacecake (in which I play bass as a live member) is performing as part of Dead Satellites' next show. This fact has had no impact on the review itself. If I were not a fan of the music, I would not support it in this fashion.]

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hoggle & Ludo- "A Great Beast Becomes a Great Friend"


In my last post, I mentioned how much I love split releases. This is also something I've mentioned more times than I probably should've over the past six and a half years, but it remains true. Today we're looking at a split between two harsh noise artists approaching a similar topic and working with each other's source material to create new art. I'm not going to pretend this is coming with high recommendations for the average reader, as this is intentionally challenging art. Not in the sense of "oh, your weak ears aren't ready," so much as that there is an inherently smaller audience for wall noise and I understand exactly why many may not enjoy it. Still, I feel it's worth celebrating those who are outsiders even in an outsider community, which is why the ongoing works of Hoggle (and this one-time appearance from Ludo) warrant attention on my blog. I hope you'll at least take a short bit to acquaint yourself with this before writing it off entirely.

Hoggle, as you may have guessed, is a noise artist whose art is entirely based around the cult classic film Labyrinth. I'm going to assume that most readers have at least a passing familiarity with the film, from its kitschy Muppet-driven cast to the prominence of David Bowie's bulge throughout the whole damn thing, so we're not diving too deep into that. Essentially, Hoggle's methodology on the few albums in my personal collection seems to be straightforward enough: song kicks off with a sample from the film before crumbling low-end static roars for eight to twenty minutes. This may seem formulaic or repetitive (and, to be fair, it may actually be at times), but I truly enjoy pairing my childhood nostalgia with my adulthood appreciation for experimental music in its many forms. I am a firm believer that noise works better live, when one can witness the form in which it's created, but recordings can still inspire and excite the imagination with a dedicated listen. In Hoggle's harsh noise labyrinth, I'm often reminded of why I'm drawn to such fringe works. This isn't necessarily meant to be groundbreaking; harsh noise wall is a genre rooted in consistency rather than reinvention, and Hoggle is a project dedicated to a film that was released thirty years ago. We aren't looking to the future here, we're looking at and reinterpreting our own experiences.

On this two-tape set, Hoggle is joined by Ludo, a new moniker from Floridian noise luminary Hal Harmon, whose works as Vasectomy Party were some of my personal points of entry into the harsher spheres of modern experimental music. Some of the delight I get from this release is seeing Harmon's homage to a peer. Rather than simply performing tribute by crafting something similarly inspired, it's great to experience tracks like "You Seem Like Such a Nice Beast," wherein Ludo takes Hoggle's work and remixes it into a new kind of aggression (and on the two tracks on the B-side of the first tape where the roles are reversed). I'm not intimately aware of the noise scene's interpersonal politics (and from what I've gathered I'm better off for this), but I love seeing artists collaborating and celebrating their mutual styles rather than sniping at each other or working in direct competition. In such a niche community, we must find the common ground and work together. The very nature of the characters in question (and the title of the split) imply exactly this: an individual who may seem like a threat can be an ally if treated with respect.


As for the music itself, the two tracks of pure Hoggle material are less straightforward than they may appear. "Things Aren't Always What They Seem in This Place" sets things off both as the opening track and thematically, as the initial wildness of the wall condenses to a more focused, tightly wound rumble after a few minutes, only to blossom into another form of motion and vastness entirely a few minutes later. The slow shifting from chaos to a more distinct form into new chaos defies expectations and rewards a close listen, although the definition of "reward" in this context may vary for different listeners. While its accompanying track "The Goblins Torment the Snared Beast" is a more vicious, jagged take on the genre, it's no less deserving of a focused listen. If anything, the raw energy on display here makes it easier to sink into the sound and follow its ferocity. The tracks of Hoggle working with Ludo's source material that make up the B-side of the first tape follow a rather similar path, but not identical.

Ludo's contributions begin with two rearranged versions of Hoggle material, showing a clear deviation in form. "Is That Any Way to Treat Someone That's Trying to Help You?" is an especially strong deviation, following its trademark film sample with sparse, crackling noise that feels more like fizzling embers than an outright din. The slow build of this track, with density creeping in behind the main layer of sound until the two become one, highlights a difference in approach leaves me haunted.  In an even more subtle shift, on "You Seem Like Such a Nice Beast" we hear one of the film's most tender moments slowly overtaken by crunchy mid-range frequencies and the hint of a low pulse. It's refreshing to be able to distinguish the two artists while still finding them complementary. On Ludo's own tracks independent of Hoggle, the format remains consistent, although the walls feel slightly more solid and unwavering, with "A Proper Introduction For New Friends" building from hisses to monolithic sections of impenetrable horror and its counterpart in "A Journey Renewed, But Still Lacking Knowledge" displaying uncompromising harsh mastery.

All told, this release satisfies a certain itch for me. I can only hope it'll hit the spot for you. With just under three hours of music on these two tapes, it's certainly worth the $15 price tag. The Ludo tracks may be a bit better suited for those who are newer to the genre, but the whole release highlights the appeal of harsh noise wall while also showcasing the potential for diversity in an inherently rigid genre. Order through the Hair on My Food Tapes bandcamp page for a tape and a download, as Storenvy orders don't come with digital files (your author may or may not have found out the hard way) and you may as well get the whole package deal if you're going to commit. Enjoy.

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Best Things of 2018



Without even bothering to examine the state of the world (both because it's overdone and because blogging is an inherently self-absorbed thing), 2018 was one hell of a challenging year for me. To be fair, the first few months of 2019 were possibly even harder, but that's a story for the post prior to this one. I spent the year dealing with all manner of personal crises that were almost entirely manufactured by myself, from a resurgence of depression to me managing to break my laptop and spending nearly half the year without a means of maintaining this blog.

Somehow, as anybody able to read this can say, I survived. My perspective is so much clearer now, and while I missed a lot of music during the period where I was without a laptop, I also heard so many albums that I imagine I'll still love years from now. Also, despite the chaos and struggles, I had some truly wonderful times last year, both personally and musically. These small moments dot the darkness like dazzling little stars, and the promise of more moments like them in my future keeps me optimistic as I fight off physical and mental health challenges alike. In this post, I'll strive to share some of the musical aspects of my life (gotta keep some of the personal stuff personal; this isn't a diary) and perhaps I'll help you find something new that you will enjoy as much as I do. If I've missed a favorite of yours, it doesn't mean I hated it or that I forgot it, although both are certainly possibilities. Rather, it's likely that what clicks with me is as uniquely personal as what clicks with you. So feel free to gently send me suggestions, but please don't fret too much if it's just a matter of me not having heard something yet.

For starters, we're looking at concerts. I'm not going to give full reviews, because those alone could easily fill a post:

OMD @ Terminal 5
Vilkacis, Sanguine Eagle, One Thousand Birds, Sandworm, Scant @ Lucky 13.
Roadburn 2018 (highlights include Kikagaku Moyo, Mizmor, The Heads, Godflesh, Old Tower, Waste of Space Orchestra, Hieros Gamos, and Zuriaake, among many others)
Depeche Mode twice in one week for my birthday, in NYC and Boston
Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ Prospect Park (free gig).
Killing Joke @ Irving Plaza.
The Damned twice in one week because they're the Damned, in NYC and Washington D.C.

Yeah, I realize those shows are a bit light on the extreme metal content, but after spending so much of my life attending almost exclusively heavy metal shows, it makes those that aren't metal stand out just a bit more. No love lost, but it's easier to distinguish the things that are a bit different.

Something I noticed in 2018 was that it was truly the year of the split release, for me at least. So many great artists released things that were easily as good as any proper LP. Whether it's the two separate Turia splits, the Asimov-themed La Torture des Tenebres & microcosmys jam, or any of the others listed among this small batch of splits, reissues, EPs, and demos, these were some of the most interesting things that came my way during the calendar year. If anything, the inherent brevity of these shorter releases should make them easier for you to check out. Also, that Book of Sand EP is a strong contender for album of the year, so at the very least you should listen to that.

Book of Sand- Postmodern Witchcraft
Devil Master- Manifestations (compilation)
Fluisteraars/Turia- De Oord
Korpsånd- An Introduction to the New Wave of DKBM
microcosmys/La Torture des Tenebres- The Gods Themselves
Spiritual Cramp- Television (compilation)
Sun Ra & His Arkestra- Strange Celestial Road (digital reissue)
Vastum/Spectral Voice split
Vilkacis/Turia split
Warthog- Warthog

Now here's the part most of you came for. Albums that ruled. I've chosen a handful that I really enjoyed. Twenty album limit here means that there were some truly enjoyable albums that got left off. Doesn't mean they're bad, it just means I had to be firm with myself or else this could've easily tripled in size and made itself a bit bloated and harder to parse. This is a representation of the diversity of great music released in 2018. Everything from truly raw black metal to art rock with healthy doses of a few other things. Am I still heavily rooted in guitar music? Of course. Still, I'm trying to branch out more with time. Hope that one or two of these really click with you. In alphabetical order so as not to give the illusion that I'm capable of prioritizing (although if pressed, I'd likely list that Daughters album as AOTY). I'm listing these as embedded bandcamp links where possible so you can just click and enjoy.




































Voices- Frightened (can't find it on bandcamp or as a stream on YouTube so this is a spotify link, sorry)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Songs for Hospitals


Some of you may know I was recently hospitalized following severe complications with my ulcerative colitis. Now that you've read that sentence, all of you know. This may seem vaguely familiar to long-time readers who remember my Crohns diagnosis (now changed to ulcerative pancolitis) three years ago. I was a lot more afraid back then, but my condition was also far more benign. Funny how that works, isn't it?

To make a very long story short, I've spent most of the past four months in varying states of discomfort and outright pain. Since late February, things have been bad enough that I've been incapable of working and have been kept at home. The doctor I was seeing for my condition kept reassuring me that steroids and other drugs would help, but my state continued to deteriorate in spite of his help. Finally, on March 21st, I received a colonoscopy to confirm my state. At this point, the doctor changed my category from "mild" to "severe" and sent me to the hospital for immediate treatment.

I spent a week hospitalized for my ulcerative colitis. Seven days passed in shifting states of optimism and unease. While I was grateful to be on the path towards a long-term treatment and possible solution, there's a sort of fear that creeps in all the same when you realize you're so sick that you cannot be at home and must be monitored by doctors at all hours. The one saving grace for my stay (aside from competent and helpful doctors, naturally) was that the only available bed for me was in a private room. Many rooms in hospitals are shared, often partitioned solely by a curtain between two beds. I had my own door that shut and a private bathroom, which is rather essential with a digestive condition such as mine. With my privacy intact and more time on my hands than I'd like, I made a playlist to busy myself and to track my thoughts as I went. Since I had no laptop or diary, writing my feelings out would prove too complex, but adding songs to a playlist here and there made perfect sense. Aided by a friend's Spotify family account (thanks Chris), I was able to really sit with music and channel the experience as it hit me.

There's something to be said about the power of music to help us convey what we cannot directly access, and there was a general blanket of numbness between me and many of my experiences while I was hospitalized. Whether it was simply how surreal the whole thing is or whether it was so traumatizing in a way that I couldn't process it, I found that listening to music placed me closer to my reality than my day-to-day experiences would've otherwise allowed. With that in mind, I present a playlist that flows from dreadful and dreary to warm and welcoming. Some of these songs are a bit on the nose as they deal with anxiety and stomach issues outright, while others are more indirect and for the listener to interpret. I'd initially planned on giving more of a "guide" here, but unless I tell you every high and low of my time in the hospital and all the weird buried grief and self-doubt that came with it, it's best to just let you go on a journey of your own. It may not mimic mine entirely, and many of these songs may not bring you anything at all, but I hope this is as good a place as any to begin reconnecting with you, dear reader, as it's been quite some time since I've found it within me to really commit to writing on this blog and I have missed it terribly. As always, send me your thoughts at blackmetalandbrews@gmail.com if you'd like to discuss this. Thank you.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Nahtrunar- "Mysterium Tremendum" (2018)


I've written about black metal for nearly six years. I've been listening to it for approximately fifteen. It's easier for me to find inadequacies or cave in to the desire to revisit old favorites than it used to be, and yet I'm still wholly engaged by the music when it's done right. When I first heard Nahtrunar's stunning new album, Mysterium Tremendum, it was illuminating. I had been in the grip of a period of detachment and discontent, spending more time with other genres that were newer to me and, consequently, more exciting. Then, on a February morning, I happened upon this majestic piece of jet black rawness, glistening like obsidian against its own darkness. The sense of might and melody that captured my teenage mind appeared, renewed by the conviction and intensity of the artist's creation. It's safe to say this will stand among the year's finest offerings in any genre, and it's likely it will be the crowning black metal achievement of 2018.


From the start rather than attempting to alter or obfuscate Nahtrunar's roots in second-wave black metal's rich sound, the approach is a dead-ahead expression of pure atmosphere. Guitar leads shimmer in moments, but lean back into the tapestry of accompanying instruments instead of forcing their way to the forefront. The fusion of leads and vocals in with more consistent layers of sound guarantees that even the most unexpected moments present themselves naturally and consistently. There's also something to be said for the anonymity of Nahtrunar's membership. I've long held the belief that even artists who explicitly remove themselves from the act of performing are still making a performance in their own obscurity. The sense of detachment from self plays directly into the transcendent sounds and aims of the music and serves as a further function of this expression.

Is there something repetitive to the writing by this point? It's possible. There is something challenging about assessing or qualifying exactly why a collection of well-done takes on a familiar sound is somehow better than others. One can state it as a matter of preference, which isn't wrong, but it's more than just that. There's a feeling and a form to something like this that places it in a timeless category. It's the difference between something you enjoy and something you remember. It's hard to state how or why, and this review clearly displays my own inability to touch on this, but Nahtrunar captures the magic and feeling of albums released more than twenty years earlier on Mysterium Tremendum, taking this listener back to a formative place where I first fell in love with this genre. While it may be a silly turn of phrase, I hope you'll also fall in love when you listen.

On a human note, this is incredibly expensive to ship to the United States. I'd love to own this but cannot afford this expense for a single LP. If you are aware of any distros in the North American continent with copies, please get in touch.