As the Winter hung around for a bit longer this year--winding up being my favorite seasonal spectacle—the promise of Spring seemed to have been just that, a promise that would never come to fruition. But, goddamn, that first day smelled like life (that smell that has been forgotten in the icy banks) it was impossible not to smile, no matter how darkened your guts. With juices flowing and darkness becoming less and less poignant, Death Rattle would like to celebrate that glory with a focus on the avant-garde, outsider, and otherworldly selections, both new and old...
In metal the rules are so loose that bending them is merely impossible; a simple skewing of sound on a guitar, a rhythm interpreted from the far reaches of music, or the simple drive to create and mindfuck the audience are the driving forces of these selections. While these all fall rightfully into their own subgenres, it is what they have done to remain on the edge that piques the interest, fuels the imagination, and forces listeners to pay attention, not always for the best, though.
Portland, Oregon's Agalloch are fairly known in the black/folk metal world as one of the oft-overlooked practitioners of the dark arts. The reason being is that while completely listenable and, er, 'fine,' nothing really outstanding has been released in the past 14 years of their existence. With 2010's Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore), however, Agalloch have risen from mediocrity into something of not only importance but of lasting power. While still retaining their black/folk roots, Marrow… beckons change with patience and the realization that a song can have powers beyond that of the common phrasing heard time and time again. With the average track time well over ten minutes it is apparent that this is heady and requires much concentration. With the sounds of the forest housing a haunting cello, "They Escaped the Weight of Darkness" opens the album in reflection, whether it be in the water or in the mind, and the focus has been achieved. Sheer beauty opens up to what seems to be a violent change with "Into the Painted Grey," that is until your ears are have adjusted to the rolling, beautiful thunder. This is not violence as we know it but the simple facts of life, seemingly dangerous at the time but upon looking back not only a learning and necessary experience but also one that is needed and celebrated in the end. The graceful elegance of soft wind introduces "The Watcher's Monolith," a spiraling continuation of movement brought on to once again calm the spirit in a familiarity of budding life and the inherent protection of such a gift. Mid-tempo and melodic, Jon Haughm's somehow soothing growl sits perfectly in the mix, bolstered in part by the crisp production with perfect separation and homogenization. As the song simply ebbs and flows the apparent feeling of something important really begins to sink in. Now simply floating down the unfrozen river through "Black Lake Nidstang," "Ghosts of Midwinter Fires," and "To Drown," the cycle has been completed. An album both memorable and important in the modern metal landscape, Marrow of the Spirit is, and will remain, striking, singular, and like nothing else released. Period. In speaking of genres and pushing boundaries, Marrow… breaks through inviting outsiders not accustomed to not only enjoying but actually getting something that was once deemed proper for only die hard metal fans will clothe this record in a robe of everlasting beauty. Mark my words and relish in something truly special.
From the beautiful to the completely terrifying the highways in the outer realms truly go everywhere. Norway's Skitliv (Norwegian for "Shit Life") play a poignant mixture of Sven Erik "Maniac" Kristiansen's (vocals) and Niklas Kvarforth's former projects, Mayhem and Shining, respectively. After the mindfucking five-minute intro of Skandinavisk Misantropi (Season of Mist, 2009), "Slow Pain Coming" lurches in and warps the wood floors and opens all the windows for the neighbors to surely hear the screams. This is mid-tempo black metal complete with gothic undertones and sonic landscapes bringing up the caboose of cacophonic disgust. The prevailing subject of suicide remains (the aforementioned Shining [not to be confused with the black jazz outfit from Sweden of the same name] has a slew of releases in the suicidal black metal vein), however it is Skitliv's style of delivery that is truly unique. Where most metal bands change time signatures in all the appropriate places, Skandinavisk Misantropi is never familiar territory. From the almost calm title track with its swooning guitar and spoken word ("In this moment of dead death dreams…/I'm stuck in this world of shit-stained tears") to the effects-heavy thunder of "A Valley Below" there will be something for everyone looking for a near-maddening, sometimes over-dramatic, experience.
Now with a tangible history in the dark arts, United States can now claim to some of the most horrifying and awe-inspiring heavy music in the world. Enter Providence, RI's The Body. With a few EPs out and very little word-of-mouth (though that is how the Rattle picked up on it) the magic of these two dudes, Lee (drums) and Chip (vocals/bass), has not been getting the attention deserved. Now with 2010's All the Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood (Aum War), the gentle harmonies of the choir meditate the listener in opener "A Body" only to strip the calm away in a molten fire that can only be compared to what the center of the Earth would sound like if it could play music. Chip's uncharacteristic high shrill/growl is placed behind everything else in the mix so as to give the assumption that someone, or something, is trying to escape the deepest of hells. Fear not for there are breaks upon breaks to let one relax…that is if being raped is your idea of relaxation. If not, you're, well, screwed. The tribal-esque chanting of "Empty Hearth" mixed with the broken bass thunder and ever-present cries for help (by both vocals and instruments, now) are not disturbing. Nay, they are beyond disturbing into the realm of the unknown. When one hears music this beautiful and fucked one usually says, "I want what they're on." Not this guy. Keep that shit away from me. I may not have a family to care for or anything but I really enjoy my life and friends and have no plans on being mentally crippled for days on end painting the walls with my own shit and piss while thinking I am crying out for help but in reality am merely bashing my own head into the wall. I will, however, listen to someone else going through this agony and love every minute of it. Don't just buy this but bring it to the next house party just to see the expressions on everyone's faces. The ones that stick with you are your true friends. Don't even make me talk about the closing number "Lathspell I Name You" because I am too scared it will jump out of the speakers and rob me of sleep for the rest of my life.
I gushed about Wildildlife's last album, Six (2009, Crucial Blast), and it was with tightened pants (not in a hipster way) that I first heard that Give In To Live (Volcom) was coming out. Now with record in hand my excitement is well warranted. Pepperings of thrash, ZZ Top, and (gasp!) Def Leppard build on the prior foundation of classic grunge and modern psych forming a storm-worthy party house complete with floor drains ala the old vomitoriums. (Mind you, metal is also a state of mind so this, indeed, this release belongs here in DR.) "Sour Mirage" is a road trip on fire and the title track is a Sting-esque tantric session he would even shy away from. The sludge of "Shiv" is smoky in the illegal sense giving way perfectly into closer "Permanent Vacation", where the ups and downs will make it truly hard to reach the refrigerator. Jennifer Herrema's (Royal Trux/RTX) production is stellar and perfect for such a violent and memorable (maybe) journey.
Norway's Furze is not traditional black metal in any sense of the word. 2010's Reaper Subconscious Guide (Agonia Records) is almost preciously elementary in ability and production which turns out to give it quite the boost in this day when everything is either over-slick or purposefully lo-fi. Sole member Woe J. Reaper seemingly tried to slicken this up with crispy drums and toned guitars but the lack of mids and very little lows proves that he didn't quite get there. Or maybe he got right where he wanted to be. I wasn't there so I don't know. You will hear no screaming and no proclamations of the world's end; clean, doubled vocals creep through the instruments (including but not limited to woodwinds and xylophone) in a way that is haunting but child-like in its need to be protected by the darkness looming over the entire package. A visit to his website depicts him in the traditional black metal garb and b&w photography and also includes his list of trades and wants; truly old school in attitude and execution and someone probably not to look for performing anytime soon. That would be quite the experience, though.
Neurosis are well known and truly a first in a lot of categories. In celebration of how far they've come and to put the fakers in their place, Neurot has reissued the timeless Souls at Zero (originally released in 1992). Yes, there are some bonus demo tracks and stuff but it is the album itself that this guy can't help but freak out about. The Psycho-y guitar line in opener "To Crawl Under One's Skin" shivers me to this day. The patience before the opening screams shows a band in top form…long, long ago (we're talking nearly twenty years now…whoa) and, unlike the bandwagoners of even today, Neurosis hit the ground running and never stopped, softened, caved, or showed any signs of weakness whatsoever. That can be said about very few bands of any genre (if anyone says Radiohead I will send The Body to your house to hover your lucid body in the air while all of your stuff is ignited and you slowly roast like a pig) and especially so of one that has only recently gotten mainstream attention. Cheers to Neurosis and their record company, Neurot, for years and years of magic (if you've seen them live you know what magic is) and if you are still around in twenty years I will still be scared and weeping at the beauty.
For the final foray into the wtf/unknown I give you Sweden's Oxiplegatz, the side project of At the Gates guitarist Alf Svensson. 1994's Fairytales is a lot of things wrapped into one terrible package. Sci-fi, power metal, fantasy, among a multitude of many things crowd this unlistenable disc with so much, "Oh my…just turn it off…wait, wait…let's see what he does next," that, well, that's just eat. One keeps listening. Out of curiosity. If you have watched the film The Room you will have an idea. If you don't know that film just find it and watch it. It is better than Fairytales. Yup, I said it.
My desk and mind is so jam packed full of metal from everywhere that I have yet to decide what will be covered in #6. We could go with a little Bison B.C., or maybe even some metalcore. Good metalcore, that is (it exists, trust me). In the meantime keep a lookout for those robed figures from The Body…if they are walking your way you are fucked.
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