Nux Vomica (Relapse)
The boundaries between metal sub-genres continues to dissipate because of artists like Portland, Oregon’s Nux Vomica, who twist crust punk, black metal, post-metal and every extreme imaginable to suit their selfish desires. The band’s self-titled debut for Relapse (third overall) is a three-song affair that exceeds all expectations. Refusing to be pigeonholed into one genre, like Cormorant (see: below), Agrimonia and Anciients, Nux Vomica’s control over and distillation of their influences into a sound that’s fresh as it is furious, is impressive in both its expanse and implementation of ideas. Politically charged and brilliantly titled, “Sanity is for the Passive” relies heavily on the band’s crust origins before opening itself at its core to reveal something else entirely; “Reeling” toys with post-rock only to discard it as the song continues to evolve itself; and the 20-minute “Choked at the Roots” builds and falls without ever landing on clichés. It’s inspiring to hear a band with such potential prove a point on an album that will undoubtedly give them the break they’ve been so ravenously hounding.
Sacred White Noise (Dark Descent)
Thantifaxath’s tongue-twisting name has been whispered in underground circles since the release of the anonymous Toronto band’s eponymous debut EP in 2011. Not content to languish inside black metal’s second wave tropes, Thantifaxath takes their cues from Voivod’s riff-weirdness, Deathspell Omega’s hellscapes, and other experimentalists in and outside of black metal’s avant-garde. A nightmarish collection of songs, Sacred White Noise is perverse in its disorientation: ear-piercing riffs run nauseatingly down the spectrum of atonal to melodic and drums see-saw between blasts and sickening swings. It’s a distinctive and imaginative sound, one that an unknown voice screams over at the most opportune of times to add to the aural disarray. There’s also plenty of depth to the music that hints at further experimentation down the line. But for now, there is enough here to keep you retching and revelling in the demented music this cloaked trio have conjured from the netherworld for a couple of years at least.
“The goal is to create music that challenges and stimulates our mind and body in a new way,” explained Taurus of their creative process when I interviewed the band recently. The duo of Stevie Floyd and Ashley Spungin also has an innate ability to challenge and stimulate the physical and mental limits of their listeners on their self-released debut, No/Thing. An experimentally daring yet focused album traversing doom, death, krautrock and drone, with seething repetition and spoken word samples adding tangible terror, No/Thing is one of the most unique and exciting debuts you’re likely to hear this year. Recorded to tape by Billy Anderson, and with Jef Whitehead (“Wrest”) providing wicked guest vocals on the free-form finale “Receed”, Taurus have been meticulous with the songwriting, lyrical themes, production, and overall packaging of their first album. A band who care about the totality of art: Taurus’s music is spiritual in nature and worthy of the divine.
Earth Diver (Self-released)
Following the critical acclaim afforded to Cormorant’s surprising second album Dwellers would trouble lesser bands. But the San Francisco boundary-blitzers have created another album of steeped in US black metal and transformative in its progressiveness. Even more impressive is the fact that Cormorant have achieved such coherency and high standards on Earth Diver without vocalist/lyricist/bassist Arthur von Nagul, who left the band at the tail end of 2012. Past fans of Cormorant who deem the band dead after von Nagul’s departure cannot baulk at songs as Cormorant-esque as “Waking Sleep”—or in fact any of the other songs on this album, as Cormorant bombshell the listener with every twist and turn just like they did before. Whether it’s the space of the sweeping “Broken Circle”, the deep funk of “The Pythia”, or “Mark the Trail”’s metamorphosis from extreme metal to classic rock, Earth Diver plays out just as fascinatingly as its predecessor. There’s plenty of life left in this bird of wonder.
Heathen (Gilead Media)
A respected pillar of American doom metal, Thou’s prodigious approach to recording music has not weakened the high levels of emotion that feeds their creativity. Transferring genuine emotion into music is not something one can learn—and very few bands can cut to the quick and leave the listener a quivering wreck. Like Neurosis and Warning before them, Thou inhabits this rarefied space. On their latest album, Heathen, the Baton Rouge five-piece have unexpectedly managed to increase the intensity and emotive force of their dark music while continuing to experiment with the time-tested tenets of doom. Acoustic passages and other interesting embellishments outside of the punishing riffs (of which there are many) add further profundity to Heathen, while vocalist Bryan Funck’s lacerating scream is aimed at your gut and heart simultaneously. Funck’s lyrics, once absorbed, lend a final layer of gravitas to what is a painfully cathartic and thoroughly rewarding listen from its beginning to its bitter end.