As a heavy metal fan, I’ve seen dozens of amazing shows. But I can probably count on one hand the number of shows that fully immersed me, the ones that made real life and all the horrific mundanity that goes with it melt away completely, the ones that made me feel like I was alone in the universe with nothing but the band and the music. Dispirit’s headlining set at the Starlite Lounge last Sunday night was one of them.
As those of you that have the misfortune of following me on social media may know, Mrs. THKD and I have packed up the fortified bunker and are moving halfway across the country from the bowels of the Midwest to Sacramento, California. The truck is loaded, the house is sold and we’ll be leaving in less than a week. I’m still waiting for it to feel real. Right now it feels like a dream. I tried so hard to get the hell out of this state after college, and all I got in return were some nice rejection letters to show for it.
Given the players involved and the label putting it out, it’s quite surprising that there hasn’t been more hype surrounding the release of Vhöl’s self-titled debut album. I mean, we’re talking about a band that includes current/former members of the likes of Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra, YOB and Agalloch on the goddamn mighty Profound Lore for chrissakes; if ever there was a modern band that should be having the term supergroup lobbed at its feet, it’s surely Vhöl. And while I (fortunately) haven’t seen too many folks chucking the dreaded “s word” about in reference to this quartet of West Coast killas, their opening salvo is nonetheless pretty gosh darn super.
Technical death metal, brutal death metal, slam death metal… it’s all sort of one big subgenre mish-mash to me; bands classified as one of these often have elements of one or both of the other two in their sound. It’s not a type of death metal I listen to often; I nearly tech deathed and brutal deathed myself to uh, death during college (did they even have slam death metal back then?), when I was knee-deep in bands like Atheist, Anata, Gorguts, Suffocation, Psycroptic, Necrophagist, Aborted, Devourment, etc, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate simplicity and primitivism over flashy guitar-work and five-million-mile-per-hour blast beats (which is probably why I listen to way more black metal than death metal these days). But every so often I can’t help but get a hankering for this crazy shit, so I have little choice but to dive in headfirst and see what the fuck the kidz are listening to these days…
Flenser Records continues to be a haven for the latest and greatest in Bay Area black metal with this rad split cassette between Palace of Worms and Mastery, also available for free download from the label’s Bandcamp page. Both bands are one man affairs; California seems to be quite the fertile breeding ground for solitary black metal entities (see also: Xasthur, Leviathan, Crebain, Draugar, et al.) and Palace of Worms and Mastery uphold the level excellence that’s come to be expected from the Golden State’s corpse painted isolationist contingent.
If you were to listen to Early Graves’ Red Horse without knowing anything about the band’s history, you’d probably never guess that this is a band that has risen from the ashes of tragedy. This is not a band that sounds broken down or beaten; this is a band that sounds lean, mean and hungry, ready to raise Hell and rip some fucking heads off. It is a testament to Early Graves’ intestinal fortitude that they were not only able to recover from losing their original vocalist in a horrible accident, but to write, record and release their definitive album (so far) in the process.
The last time I wrote about Early Graves, it was with a heavy heart. A planned review of their 2010 album Goner became a lamentation of vocalist Makh Daniels, whose life had been taken in a van accident while the band was out on tour. I assumed it was to be the first and last time I would write about the devastating young quintet who had shown so much promise. However, the remaining members of Early Graves regrouped, making the undoubtedly difficult decision to soldier on with new screamer John Strachan (also of The Funeral Pyre) at the helm, proving the old cliche that you just can’t keep a good band down. The result is Red Horse, a snorting, stomping, snarling beast of a recording that’s beyond a shadow of a doubt the San Franciscans’ most potent statement to date. The album isn’t out until October 30th, but Early Graves are already hitting the road hard, bringing their patented brand of pure Hell to the stage.