Music

Profunda Gravis Metalli

Image from Dawnbringer's Into the Lair of the Sun God CD cover (2012)

Underground metal is a strange beast. It often struggles to celebrate its successes lest it somehow betray its outsider status. Well, to hell with composure and coolness.


Pallbearer

Sorrow and Execution

Label: Profound Lore
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
UK Release Date: 2012-02-27
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Aldebaran

Embracing the Lightless Depths

Label: Profound Lore
US Release Date: 2012-05-15
UK Release Date: 2012-05-21
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Dawnbringer

Into the Lair of the Sun God

Label: Profound Lore
US Release Date: 2012-05-29
UK Release Date: 2012-06-04
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Witch Mountain

Cauldron of the Wild

Label: Profound Lore
US Release Date: 2012-06-12
UK Release Date: 2012-06-18
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Bosse-de-nage

III

Label: Profound Lore
US Release Date: 2012-06-27
UK Release Date: 2012-07-02
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It might seem absurd to suggest that metal has an uneasy relationship with its own success, given that it's generally accompanied by such thunderous adulation. However, there's often a tense standoff in the metal underground around how it should celebrate its accomplishments. Although swaths of fans gather to extol metal's glories at festivals such as the recent Maryland Deathfest, the deeper you descend into metal's subterranean tiers, the more the prospect of widespread recognition becomes abhorrent. A fair proportion of underground metal fans take an extremely dim view of anyone's ego being buffed, however inadvertently.

Some fans would argue that the existence of a column such as this is the antithesis of underground metal's raison d'être. There's sound logic behind that. Keeping metal's victories close to the chest reinforces its bonds of community, that tight-knit kinship being the root of its strength. Others disagree, arguing that isolationism is a manacle. They believe there's nothing inherently wrong in publically celebrating underground metal's often innovative artistry, and that an obsession with kvltdom is ridiculous, considering the umpteen million global fans whose very presence seems to negate metal’s ‘outsider’ status.

It all makes for a conflicting, though hardly unique, situation. The 'popularity versus credibility' battle is one that all challenging music faces daily, and it makes for an interesting quandary in the shadowy world of metal--how does one evolve without compromising one’s integrity?

At the Helm of the Abyss

One of the best answers to that question can be found in the works of independent Canadian metal label, Profound Lore. The label is about to reach a significant milestone in July, with its 100th release, and while the label’s triumphs are by no means a secret, its reputation and integrity remain rock solid.

Founded in 2004 by Chris Bruni and his now former partners, Profound Lore has had abundant positive press since its inception. Its releases are widely celebrated and anticipated, and its artists have been covered by metal and non-metal media alike. They’ve been streamed on NPR (US National Public Radio), and have featured in Scion showcases sponsored by Toyota. However, earlier this year the label had its most public success yet when noise/metal outfit Ken Mode collected the metal/hard music album of the year award for Venerable at Canada's Juno awards.

You could argue that metal doesn't need shiny tokens of mainstream acceptance, although it was delightful to see black metal band Watain win a Swedish Grammis in 2011 and round out the acceptance speech with a rousing "Hail Satan". Generally, aside from metal-specific events, the genre is predictably misrepresented at music ceremonies.

Some European awards occasionally pick a worthy underdog, but the majority of events are so far out of touch with the metal scene that nominations are irrelevant. This made it all the more satisfying that--after some passionate lobbying from metal journalists, fans, and labels--the Juno awards brought back the metal category this year and awarded it to a thoroughly deserving band.

However, Ken Mode's win wasn't just a victory for the band, it also threw a spotlight onto Profound Lore, illuminating just how vital this metal label has become over the past eight years.

Since the beginnings of underground metal, the allegiances forged between fans and labels have been essential components to the scene’s resilience. No metal fan will be likely to forget the label that opened the catacombs of metal for them. These days underground metal is extremely popular, it has currency, and some labels have taken to strip-mining the scene. Not so for Profound Lore. It retains that very same sense of trustworthiness on which the underground scene was founded.


Crypt Born and Tethered to Ruin

Profound Lore's ethos and aesthetic comes from Bruni's youthful excursions into metal's crypts, drawing on the formative years of metal labels such as Peaceville and Earache, as well as iconic non-metal labels such as 4AD. Like many niche labels, Profound Lore began as a hobby. Following its first release, Melechesh’s '04 EP The Ziggurat Scrolls, Bruni and co. expected to release limited edition vinyl.

Reshuffling in the label’s early years resulted in Bruni taking sole charge. Vinyl releases from respected outfits such as Ulver, Agalloch and Leviathan established Profound Lore’s profile, but it was the unorthodox death metal of Australia's Portal that put the label on the map. Profound Lore reissued the band’s Seepia on CD in '05, and Portal is now one of its most respected acts. Although Seepia was a hard sell initially, it was a crucial release because it revealed the meticulous care with which Bruni would begin to sculpt his label’s roster.

For a young label, an obscure band of reprobates from the Antipodes might have seemed a risky undertaking. But the personal connection Bruni feels with all his artists (the more defiant and artistically distinctive the better) sealed the label’s imprint very early on. That personal motif is something that continues to this day. Certainly, the death metal Profound Lore releases is all equally, magnificently, putrescent and aberrant.

Bruni often cites sludge-ridden doom outfit Asunder's '06 release, Works Will Come Undone, as the album that truly birthed Profound Lore. Asunder, though short-lived, had an impact on the metal scene that reverberates to this day, and Works Will Come Undone is notable for setting Profound Lore outside stylistic trends within the metal scene. The label adheres to the steadfast rule that its artists give no ground. If their music happens to coincide with the rise of a particular sub-genre, so be it. Profound Lore has frequently led rather than followed.

The considered rather than calculating momentum of the label’s development is one of the prime reasons why it’s been able to maintain its grassroots integrity while awareness of its success has risen. Plenty of metal labels no doubt started with good intentions, only to get tossed about in the endless wash of trends, sullying their reputations forever. With Profound Lore, Bruni's decision to release only albums that feel instinctually right, and the absence of gauche marketing, mean its unhurried progression has bolstered its reputation for consistently high-quality metal.

Profound Lore has branched out sonically and thematically since Asunder helped refine its aesthetic goals. Its litany of often genre-defining works is staggering.


Pestilence and Peril

The year 2007 saw the release of acclaimed works from black metal duo Cobalt (Eater of Birds), satanically sophisticated Caïna (Mourner), revered black metal band Krallice (self-titled debut), and spitefully twisted Portal (Outre). In 2008, progressive metal outfit Hammers of Misfortune released its glorious conceptual marathon, Fields and Church of Broken Glass. In the same year, Winterfylleth released the majestic (and contentious) ode to its forbears, The Ghost of Heritage, while blackened-noise behemoth Wold provided an unremitting barrage on Stratification.

Early releases were vital in establishing Profound Lore’s reputation as a label that represented innovative underground artists, but heavyweight doom titan Yob brought the label an entirely new level of recognition. The influential trio from Eugene, Oregon split in 2006, but returned in 2009 with the enormously anticipated and critically lauded The Great Cessation. Further underscoring that year’s importance were releases from Irish rustic black metal band Altar of Plagues (The White Tomb>), Krallice (Dimensional Breakthrough), Portal (Swarth), and Impetuous Ritual (Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence). Cobalt's Hemingway-celebrating masterpiece Gin was also released in 2009--an event as important to the label’s visibility as Yob’s rebirth.

And on it went. In 2010 Profound Lore released, among others, the best album from the now sadly defunct Ludicra (The Tenant) and two wonderful traditional metal salvos from Dawnbringer (Nucleus) and Slough Feg (The Animal Spirit). Agalloch returned with the majestic black metal masterwork The Marrow of the Spirit (clearly the metal album of the year, and a turning point in the label’s fortunes and profile). Cobalt multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder also took Profound Lore into new territories. The grim Americana of his Smiling Dogs album, from solo project Man's Gin, painted a remarkably different landscape for the label.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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