2014 will be remembered as the year that actually got me excited about extreme music again. I haven’t exactly been bored, but it seems like this year I’m finding so many exciting young bands that are doing something truly interesting within the genre paradigm. One such band is Austin’s Street Sects, who are releasing the second part of their “serial album” in the form of Broken Windows, Sunken Ceilings. The duo creates what can best be described as electronic hardcore; violent, jarring and noisy as hell, like a factory full of automated machinery going haywire and collapsing on itself, the machines still trying desperately to function however imperfectly amidst the burning wreckage.
At thirty-five, I don’t often have epiphanic moments while listening to music anymore. It’s typically more along the lines of “been there, done that, no alarms, no surprises, etc, etc.” But when I stumbled upon the UK’s Sleeping Peonies during one of my increasingly frequent trawls through the depths of Bandcamp, it happened. This was music I had been waiting my whole life to hear. I realize this is already sounding like hyperbole to the nth degree, but the band’s mix of black metal, shoegaze, synthpop and noise really is as close to perfect as these ears have heard in what seems like forever.
I’ve spent a lot of time covering cassettes here at THKD, not just because I dig them, but because I truly believe that some of the best and most interesting heavy music today is being released by smaller labels who have embraced the format as an affordable way to bring the underground to the masses. As such, my relationship with several of these labels has become far more personal than just receiving an e-mail blast from some faceless PR company; their owners have proven to be incredibly personable and genuinely appreciative of the coverage I’ve given them. But, as deeply as I’ve delved into cassettes and as much as I’ve chatted with those who are in the business of releasing them, I still had many unanswered questions. What motivates them? What brought them to the format? At the end of the day, does the format even matter? In an attempt to answer these and many other questions, I gathered the gents behind the labels for a virtual round table discussion of all things tape-related.
By some miracle, I’m actually managing to do one of these per month; I can only assume it has something to do with the sheer volume of quality music available on Bandcamp, because it isn’t like I’ve gotten any less lazy. For those of you that might not have been too terribly keen on last month’s all-slamming edition of this here series, I think you might just find this one more to your liking. This month sees Bandcamp Band Crap skewing back toward black metal and there are some real gems here that should please fans of all the genre’s wondrous guises. So without further ado, let’s dig in.
When I think of noise, I tend to think of it as the apex of extremity; pure sound so harsh it’s going to melt my brain and cause it to come oozing out of my ears. Granted, my introduction to the genre was the ultra-abrasive works of Relapse-era Merzbow (Venereology, Pulse Demon, etc) and Masonna (Inner Mind Mystique); ungodly endurance tests which I later came to appreciate for their ability to make even the most abrasive extreme metal seem like child’s play. Noise certainly has the power to obliterate, but I’ve come to learn that it also has the power to soothe, as evidenced by Crowhurst’s Everyone is Guilty.
I first made mention of the one-man experimental metal madness that is The Sun Through a Telescope as a band to look out for back in 2011, when Bandcamp was just beginning to worm its way into the hearts and minds of metalheads. While those early TSTAT releases skewed toward corrosive, feedback-drenched drone, the project took a drastic step forward later on that year with the release of the Summer Darkyard EP, which saw mainman Lee Neutron beginning to incorporate elements of black metal and electronic/industrial music into its apocalyptic framework. But even that massive evolutionary leap couldn’t prepare me for the all-out insanity of I Die Smiling, which is not only TSTAT’s first full length release but also Herr Neutron’s most compelling and cohesive work to date.
I’ll be the first to admit, I know Jack and shit (and Jack left town) about death industrial, power electronics and noise (aside from the most obvious/popular noise artists such as Merzbow, Prurient and Wolf Eyes), so Sewer Goddess’ Mutilation Process was something of a revelation for me when I received it in the mail from the fine folks at Graceless Recordings. This twenty-three minute live recording is seriously filthy and fucked up, uglier and more unsettling than approximately 99.9% of the metal albums I’ve heard in the past year or so. Evidently there’s a whole wealth of nastiness and depravity out there waiting for me to explore, but for now let’s focus on this, my first foray into a world of shit.
Black metal is getting weirder. From Aluk Todolo’s blackened krautrock to Oranssi Pazuzu’s astral psych attack and beyond, the genre has decidedly taken a turn towards the freaky and far-out, and even though it’s only January, it’s hard to imagine another BM band in 2014 getting freakier or more far-out than Murmur have with their self-titled second album. The Chicago band’s debut for the resurgent Season of Mist label appears poised to kick black metal into interstellar overdrive with a singularly intricate yet highly atmospheric sound that must be heard to be believed.
When I first started thinking about how to approach THKD’s year end shenanigans for 2013, I tried to come up with ideas for different types of lists that would get away from the traditional top albums countdown. Turns out I’m more scatterbrained than creative, because what I ended up with was a bunch of stuff that really didn’t fit together or adhere to any sort of unifying theme. Instead of giving up on the idea, I decided to gather a few of these things together under one banner even though it didn’t make any sense whatsoever, just for the sheer joy of it, in addition to a more traditional year end list. So here it is, the second year end “bonus list” prior to the top metal albums countdown, which will be published on 12/13/13; THKD’s top 10 random-ass things I enjoyed in 2013.
2013 is a pretty strange time to be a metal blogger. Big-time labels won’t send me CDs that probably cost all of a dollar to manufacture, but small labels that probably struggle just to break even don’t hesitate to send me the cassette and vinyl releases they’ve obviously put a great deal of time and effort into, effort that goes far beyond the pressing plant cranking out “product” like so many widgets out of a factory. With these releases comes a far more intimate relationship; personalized e-mails rather than e-mail blasts from publicists, and a genuine sense that these labels and artists actually care about what I have to say and genuinely appreciate my support. It’s been an absolute joy to work with the likes of Gilead Media, Sygil Records and Caligari Records, but to be honest when people are so gracious, kind and above all patient, I’m pretty darn hesitant to call my interactions with them “work.”