It’s a testament to the amount of great metal released last year that I’m still playing catch-up three months deep into the new year. One of the “ones that got away” in 2013 is Hercyn, a quartet hailing from Jersey City, New Jersey who are off to a most impressive start with Magda, their self-released debut demo. Consisting of a single track that clocks in just shy of twenty-four minutes, Magda is proof positive that even at this early stage in the game, Hercyn are already aspiring to be much more than your run-of-the-mill black metal outfit.
Try as I might to seek out and cover as much worthy US black metal as humanly possible at THKD (and Backlit), it’s inevitable that some bands slip though the cracks. I’m just one man and as such it’s physically impossible for me to listen to everything that gets released over the course of a year. Fortunately, a few bands have the stones to be proactive and put their music in front of my face rather than wait around for me to stumble upon them. One such band is Nihilistinen Barbaarisuus, who put out two stellar releases last year in the form of Synkkä Tuuli and Väinämöinen.
In 1996, Metallica unleashed Load, an album which saw the band drifting even further away from the complex thrash metal they’d made their name on in favor of stripped-down, southern-tinged hard rock. They also toyed with their image, chopping off their once flowing locks and ditching black jeans and t-shirts for eyeliner and designer duds. Before it was even released, the band made seismic waves with the Samuel Bayer-directed, Hieronymus Bosch-inspired music video for first single “Until it Sleeps,” which seemed to exist in another universe both musically and visually from anything they’d done previously.
I distinctly remember me and my buddy Jon going out to our local Best Buy to buy the album the day it came it out; we excitedly popped the CD into his car stereo and… we thought it was awesome. You see, growing up smack dab in the Midwest with no access to a metal underground of any kind gave us a unique perspective; in spite of being familiar with Metallica’s back catalog we didn’t feel betrayed, rather we welcomed the band doing something different and not putting out The Black Album Part II. Maybe we were naive, but I’d like to think we were open-minded. At sixteen years old I wasn’t listening to albums with the critical ear I have now, and we had no concept of elitism or preconceived notions of what metal had to sound like in order to be “true.” The fact that we were raised on classic rock and loved alternative rock almost as much as we loved metal made it pretty easy to appreciate what Metallica were attempting, even if in retrospect their attempt was heavily flawed.
As recently as last year, I was still proclaiming my love for Load, stating that if any other band had released it, it would be hailed as a great hard rock album. As it turns out, a more thorough critical analysis reveals that only about half the album is as strong as I’ve previously proclaimed it to be, the other half is a combination of filler and failed experiments that make a strong case for Load and its sister album ReLoad being whittled down to a single combined disk (that could be a whole other piece unto itself… hmm…).
In the second part of our Metallica Letters series of collaborative posts, Last Rites‘ Jordan Campbell and myself tackle the bloated, quintuple platinum-selling beast that somehow propelled Lars and Co. even further into the stadium rock stratosphere in spite of its inherent weirdness. Check out our thoughts on Side A below and then head over to Last Rites for Side B.
Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Ritual Decay are a power trio plying a particularly nasty-ass brand of blackened death metal. On The Conquering Darkness, their debut demo from the seemingly unstoppable Caligari Records, the band aren’t likely to be accused of being innovators anytime soon, but their patently ugly, primitive assault more than makes up for their staunch traditionalism. It’s a ripping opening salvo from a trio of musicians who are obviously dedicated to their craft.
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.
Chicago’s Avichi impressed the hell out of me with their 2011 release, The Devil’s Fractal, so much so that I interrogated guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Andrew Markuszewski at length about the album, and it came in just shy of making my top ten metal albums list for the year (which says more about what a strong year 2011 was for metal than it does about any short-comings on the album’s part). After three years of silence, Avichi is back with Catharsis Absolute, which sees Markuszewski continuing to refine his compelling approach to black metal.
Getting a package in the mail from Forever Plagued Records is always a pleasant surprise. Over the past few years, they’ve quietly become a force to be reckoned with, releasing albums by some of the finest bands the US black metal underground has to offer, such as Demoncy, Darkest Grove and Incursus. Their latest offering is Aseity, the debut album from Philadelphia, PA’s Esoterica, a recording that not only continues Forever Plagued’s hot streak of killer USBM releases, but also raises the bar.
I was completely unfamiliar with Fister when Gogmagogical Records sent me their Violence EP for review; the band name might lead you to believe we’re dealing with some kind of sex dungeon worthy gore/porno-grind, but instead it turns out I’ve been missing the boat on some seriously sinister-sounding sludge. The St. Louis-based trio bring the pain in a way that will be familiar to fans of genre heavyweights such as Eyehategod and Iron Monkey, but also incorporates a knack for oppressive textures and atmospheres of a more esoteric variety that’s decidedly their own.
Melodic death metal isn’t exactly the most fashionable subgenre within the metal underground in 2013. Fortunately, no one appears to have mentioned this to Columbus, Ohio’s Kingsblood, who’ve committed two stout-hearted tracks of pure melodeath to wax for Trudging Through the Field of Crows, their second EP and first release for up-and-coming vinyl porn purveyors Gogmagogical Records. It might not be “hip,” but when done well the style can both kick your ass and lodge itself deep within your skull, and judging by this pair of crushing tracks, Kingsblood have the formula down pat.
At this point, my status as a Glenn Danzig maniac is far beyond well-documented. Between the Misfits, Samhain and Danzig, I’ve devoted more digital ink to the man’s music than to any other artist I’ve covered here at THKD. The last time I took stock of my music collection, the Evil Elvis dominated it with over twenty releases, not to mention all the t-shirts and other random paraphernalia I own. My one and only tattoo is based loosely on “Thirteen,” the song Danzig wrote for Johnny Cash (my favorite metal singer meets my favorite non metal singer). Cosmo Lee, the founder of Invisible Oranges, even based a post around my admission that I celebrate Danzig’s entire catalogue in my review of 2010′s excellent Deth Red Sabaoth.