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MetalMatters: October 2019 - What's That Noise?

October is dominated by heavyweight returns from noise rock pioneers Swans and Lightning Bolt, while also filled with the black metal bleakness of Blut Aus Nord and the Great Old Ones, while Vastum continue 20 Buck Spin's death metal master class streak.

The adventurous spawns of rock music, be it math, avant, or noise, have always been a driving force pushing the boundaries of heavy music. October is highlighted by some of the pioneering acts of this movement. Most notably is noise rock duo Lightning Bolt, returning once more with a stellar release. Meanwhile, Swans continue their meteoric trajectory following their latest reincarnation. But that's not all. BATS return with their off-kilter mix of math/punk/post-hardcore. Vital Creatures continue to blur the lines between avant-rock, noise, and post-punk notions, while Consumer provide a deconstruction of the noise-rock genre. And then there is, of course, the mighty Dysrhythmia returning with a dark twist on their math informed progressive music.

On the black metal front, it's the return of the heavyweights. Blut Aus Nord arrive with a surprise release in Hallucinogen. They allow a psychedelic influence to infect their black metal core, once more showcasing how versatile and unique their creative vision is. On the other hand, the Great Old Ones further tap into the Lovecraftian mythos, infusing their post-black metal with a terrifying touch and reaching new heights with Cosmicism. Similar is the case with US black metal World War I enthusiasts Minenwerfer who arguably produce their finest work to date with the raw and uncompromising Alpenpasse.

The death metal side is also represented this month with an array of works, from gore up and comers Coffin Rot unleashing their debut record A Monument to the Dead, Vastum taking a significant step forward on their path towards the death metal pantheon with Orifical Purge, while Mortiferum plunge the world in doom/death darkness on debut album Disgorged from Psychotic Depths. Last but certainly not least, Finnish doom newcomers the Lone Madman drop an absolute bomb with Let the Night Come, establishing themselves as one of the most promising acts in the field.

Heavy Metal Guitarist by The Digital Artist (CCO Creative Commons / Pixabay)

BATS - Alter Nature (BAT) / ESSi - Vital Creatures (Ramp Local)

The music of Dublin quintet BATS is difficult to pinpoint as they mesh styles freely and copiously. Basing their sound on the impact of post-hardcore, the intricacy of math rock, and the rawness of punk, they don't shy away from idiosyncratic moments and ideas. Thus, the music on their third full-length is yet again fresh and refreshing, always infused with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor amidst serious subjects of science and religion, supported by crunchy heaviness ("Christian Science") and catchy melodies ("The Call of Cthulhu"). Avant-rock, noise-rock, or whatever you want to call it, Alter Nature is an incursion simultaneously musically complex and viscerally enjoyable.

In contrast to BATS' firm structures, Brooklyn-based duo ESSi's take on avant-rock and noise-rock is loose and vague. Always tentative. Throughout the 14 cuts on Vital Creatures, Jessica Ackerley and Rick Daniel appear like a free improvisation duo toying with rock and post-punk tropes. They employ these elements without any regard to tradition and expectations as they arrange distorted vocals, guitar effects, incisive electronics, and manipulated percussion into quirky vignettes and soundscape explorations. Often overused as a term, their music is truly experimental. And truly enthralling. – Antonio Poscic

Blut Aus Nord - Hallucinogen (Debemur Morti)

There are very few bands that are as daring and as innovative as French black metallers Blut Aus Nord. The visionary act led by frontman Vindsval has bounced through an extraordinary range of manifestations, ranging from raw black metal and its atmospheric counterpart, all the way to dark ambient devilry and mechanized, industrial precision. So it should come as no surprise that Blut Aus Nord in chameleonic fashion adapt their sound and boldly move into new trajectories.

As the title of this work might suggest, Blut Aus Nord dive into the psychedelic. Of course, psychedelic injections in black metal are not necessarily new. Pioneers such as Oranssi Pazuzu, Wormlust, and A Forest of Stars have already produced excellent works combining the raw black metal essence with the bitter touch of the lysergic. Yet Blut Aus Nord are not here to follow in others' footsteps but to forge their path. The opening lines of "Nomos Nebuleam" combines in perfect symphony the epic qualities of Memoria Vetusta III with an off-kilter, melodically inclined psychotropic touch.

Similarly, the lead work of "Sybellius" oozes with an acidic quality, infecting this otherwise ethereal dreamscape with an array of extraordinary nightmarish artifacts. Without forgetting their epic black metal self, the band unleashes big choirs, setting the background ablaze, while at the same time the prevalent rock 'n' roll attitude of "Nebeleste" and "Haallucinahlia", making Hallucinogen another stellar entry in a near-flawless discography. – Spyros Stasis

Coffin Rot - A Monument to the Dead (Rotted Life) / Mortiferum - Disgorged from Psychotic Depths (Profound Lore)

There's something strangely comforting about Portland, Oregon's quartet Coffin Rot. Perhaps it's a certain familiarity in their disgustingly savory sort of old school death metal. There are, after all, clear lineages of Grave and early Cannibal Corpse in the music and lyrics. Or perhaps it's the organic, meaty sound that cradles grooves strewn together from crunchy riffs, warped leads, and constantly shape-shifting rhythms that are so inviting. Whatever the case may be, A Monument to the Dead is simply an ace set of death metal cuts ruled by the fantastic "Forced Self-Consumption".

The music of Olympia, Washington's Mortiferum is similarly indebted to famed predecessors, particularly Incantation and Autopsy, enveloped in a thickly expansive production, and obsessed with gruesome themes. But that's where the similarities end as Disgorged from Psychotic Depths is a gargantuan, crawling kaiju to Coffin Rot's fast-moving zombie. Throughout the six cuts, massive slabs of voluminous doom/death are propelled by riffs weighing like neutron stars and growls of infinite decay. Only occasionally do the foursome speed up, such as on the Bolt Thrower inspired "Inhuman Effigy". Pick your poison or taste both. – Antonio Poscic

Consumer - In Computers (The Flenser)

Tim Macuga and Dan Barrett ushered a new way of thinking about rock music when they established Have a Nice Life at the start of the millennium. While the prime focus of both artists is Have a Nice Life, they do tend to roam further from their base with other projects. Barrett released the excellent Blackwing ...Is Doomed album in 2015. Meanwhile, Macuga is now collaborating with Have a Nice Life live musicians for the intriguing Consumer project, which is now releasing their debut full-length In Computers.

Consumer is a primal force, thriving in a chthonian form as a distorted mirror image of Have a Nice Life's ethereal presence. Doom elements rush in from the very start of "Spiritual Death", as wailing vocals and a sea of feedback color the soundscapes. It is an excruciating process that reaches epic proportions through the ritualistic progression Consumer dictate. This rendition is further followed in the masterful "The Mills", slowly setting up the track while well-placed, punk-infused outbreaks enhance the brutal, animalistic essence of the track. It is this raw instinct that becomes the common thread through the varied manifestations of In Computers, from its noise-rock roots, as in "Massive Subsidies" all the way to the minimal ambient investigations of "In Computers" part 3 and part 2, and the noise deconstruction of closing track "In Computers (part 1)". – Spyros Stasis

Dysrhythmia - Terminal Threshold (Translation Loss)

Frequent collaborators Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston have always created music that is daring and uncompromising. Their combined presence in the latest Gorguts record was the necessary spark to reinvigorate the legendary death metal band. Their mystical workings as drone/noise act Byla have produced some of the most excruciating music to date, including a stellar collaboration with Jarboe. But the common trajectory of these two high aptitude progressive music masters is no other than instrumental outfit Dysrhythmia, where they are joined by another virtuoso in drummer Jeff Eber.

In Terminal Threshold, Dysrhythmia dim down the lights creating one of their darker works to date. "Nuclear Twilight" sets this tone from the get-go, as the progressive style meets with ceremonial-like pacing. Melodies arrive with a bitter sense, while the arachnoid lead work surrounds the volatile movements with an obscured aura. Despite this sense of dread, the record still packs a powerful punch, resulting in moments of utter heaviness. "Progressive Entrapment" sharply captures this essence, while also allowing the lead work to weave its melodies once more to move in a tentacle-like manner.

The frenetic energy that has always defined the investigations of Dysrhythmia is front and center once again, creating a dizzying vortex of constant change. "Never Was Then Again" moves through different modes seamlessly, while the faster pace of "Twin Stalkers" offers an asphyxiating ride. The finale of the record with the epic "Premonition Error" binds everything together, retaining the eerie feel, but also without bypassing the claustrophobic sense that Dysrhythmia's cerebral progressive take can awaken. – Spyros Stasis

The Great Old Ones - Cosmicism (Season of Mist)

There's a natural, almost expected oversaturation of H.P. Lovecraft inspired bands in metal. After all, the themes he explored in his writing are dark and mysterious and (faux) dangerous, perfect vessels for similarly intoned metal constructs. Safe havens for otherwise forbidden thoughts. Yet, not many bands manage to pull off Lovecraftian atmospheres the way that the Great Old Ones do. With intent, conviction, and earnest commitment to the mythos and its hidden worlds. While 2017's EOD: A Tale of Dark Legacy was very, very good, this fourth full-length Cosmicism is a significant step forward for the French quintet, another turn of the spiral.

In a way, the Great Old Ones double down on all the best elements of their previous records—styles ranging from atmospheric black to death/doom—and amplify them through an imposing sense of world-building and atmospheres crafted from ferocious riffs and post-black metal attacks. The seven songs (eight on the digipak edition) are all grandiose and wretched symphonies, haunted by buzzing guitar licks, blazing-fast and precise drumming, dissolved chants, pained growls, and sublime tempo changes. It's music that has one mission: to suck the listener into its chaotic and menacing parallel dimension. And it fulfills it with aplomb. – Antonio Poscic

Lightning Bolt - Sonic Citadel (Thrill Jockey)

No matter how many years might pass, how many records this band has released, the experience of listening to a Lightning Bolt album is defined by intensity. Walls of noise, fuzzy and distorted bass lines coupled with complex progressions, verging from erratic to absolutely chaotic, has been the modus operandi of this noise rock duo since the start. Yet, beneath the layers of noise, hidden under the deconstructed, disfigured concepts, there has always existed an utter sense of joy and exaltation. Seminal works such as Wonderful Rainbow, Earthly Delights, and Fantasy Empire framed this mindset wonderfully, but it is Sonic Citadel that fully exposes it.

The circus-like riff work dictates much of Sonic Citadel explorations, with "Hüsker Dön't" unleashing one of the most straightforward moments Lightning Bolt have produced. A punk induced tempo coupled with a stunning hook from the bass creates an exhilarating ride through a schizoid world. Meanwhile, the surprising, clean vocal delivery of "Halloween 3" erects an epic manifestation. Even more stunning is "Don Henley in the Park" with Lightning Bolt setting aside their wooly form and diving into a mantra-like repetition of pop sensitivity. Of course, that doesn't last for last. As the track nears the end, the duo erupts in freestyle improvisational mayhem, before unleashing a noise/punk opus in "Tom Thump", guided by blurry basslines and deformed d-beat pacing.

The heavy chaos still reigns. The sound that would make you doubt that this type of music could be actually performed and is not the result of an alien artifact affecting the audio files is still kicking and screaming. Opener "Blow to the Head" takes the stage by storm, delayed vocals arriving from all directions in "Air Conditioning", intensity prevailing in "Big Banger", and the descent to madness is finally complete with "Van Halen 2049". Yet, under all this rumble, Lightning Bolt reveal a stunning sensitivity and an uncanny immediacy camouflaged under layers and layers of brutal sonic traditions. Twenty-five years in and still as unique as ever. – Spyros Stasis

The Lone Madman - Let the Night Come (Saturnal Records)

Just as I was beginning to think that Crypt Sermon's The Ruins of Fading Light was guaranteed the title of 2019's best and most epic doom/heavy metal record, Finish doomsters the Lone Madman come along and shatter all my expectations. Let the Night Come is not only a stellar debut from a fairly young band (formed in 2016), but also one of the best and most distinctive meshes of occult rock and doom metal that I've heard in a long time. While there are only four cuts on the record—the shortest one clocks at seven and a half minutes—they all feel like incredibly well-rounded miniatures. They are self-contained vibrant worlds of occultism and dark fantasy.

Throughout the album, the songwriting maintains a progressive knack that allows mellower sections focused on gentle guitar leads to flow into massive waves of doom. These are carried by billowing riffs, towering grooves, and Turkka Inkilä's at times soaring, at times devilishly groveling voice. While the whole record is phenomenal, "Häxan" is a special treat with its ingenious incorporation of Jethro Tull like flute sections. – Antonio Poscic

Minenwerfer - Alpenpässe (Purity Through Fire)

Minenwerfer ("mortar" in German) is a Californian duo that growl in German and which find themselves captivated with World War I themes. A bit strange. What's even stranger is that with Alpenpässe, their third LP, they have crafted one of 2019's standout black metal releases. It's an exquisite affair that manages to be both an epic and a direct assault.

Clocking at over an hour, the record is distinguished by its beautiful flow, a sonic narrative of sorts, in which barrages of melodious riffs and blazing blast beats make way for inspired atmospheric interludes sprinkled with soundbites from historical archives. In the grand scheme of things, even a mellower ballad-like cut "Tiroler Edelweiss" feels placed and paced just right, not a mere throwaway filler. These moments of respite provide crucial pieces of the story, amplify the onslaught around them, and tie all of Alpenpässe's elements—and excellent musicianship—into a harmonious whole. – Antonio Poscic

Swans - Leaving Meaning (Young God/Mute)

Swans have seemingly become a phoenix-like entity, burning down to ashes through Michael Gira's creative prowess and against all the odds being reborn even more potent every time. When Swans first called it quits in 1997, few would expect their mighty return in 2010. The result was a trilogy of stellar works with The Seer, To Be Kind, and The Glowing Man. Still, in the closing moments of The Glowing Man, some signs of fatigue became noticeable, signaling that the time for another hibernation has come. Gira soon after announced the re-configuration of Swans, turning the band into a collective act featuring rotating line-ups and collaborations. The idea sounded intriguing. But the question remained as to whether Swans could still rise to the artistic levels of their latest trilogy or of the earlier days of Children of God and Soundtracks for the Blind. The answer comes with Leaving Meaning and is a resounding yes.

Leaving Meaning sees the identity of Swans further dissolving, melting through the input of an array of impressive artists that join forces to create a monumental work of art. Apart from the usual suspects, previous Swans and Angels of Light members, Gira brings in the likes of experimental electronic pioneer Ben Frost, alt-neoclassical/darkwave siren Anna von Hausswolf, iconoclastic performance artist Baby Dee and Australian free-jazz shamans the Necks. Surrounding Gira with that ensemble, Swans begin an impressive journey through the minimal artifacts of "Hums", before a gospel-like performance comes to the front with "Annaline".

The first warning comes with "The Hanging Man", as Gira returns to the trademark backward progression that Swans are known for. The repetitive beating creates an asphyxiating environment. But instead of resolving to an over the top distorted sound, the collective retains a smooth and cool perspective with Gira's vocals unleashing a powerful rendition. "Sunbather" follows a similar motif, awakening a noise essence before stepping back into its no-wave roots. The next surprise arrives with the title track as the Necks take over, constructing their subtle free-jazz ambiances around Swan's off-kilter vision, resulting in a meditative moment of pure bliss. The recital continues with "The Dub", with the Necks now combining with Baby Dee for a captivating, harrowing performance calling ethereal visions arriving from the bardo.

The spiritual ride continues, taking a detour through a Southern-influenced gospel territory with "It's Coming It's Real". Then Gira takes a turn for the completely off-kilter as the three final tracks set this record to rest. The Swans have returned, but they are not the same. Through leaving meaning, they have transformed once more, finding their most potent form. That is, at least until the next reincarnation. – Spyros Stasis

Vastum - Orificial Purge (20 Buck Spin)

Another excellent death metal record on 20 Buck Spin. It's almost a cliche at this point. A meme even. But as is the case with the rest of the Pittsburgh label's roster, Vastum both fit right in with their primary aesthetics and bring something different and quite their own to the table. Like 2015's Hole Below, Orificial Purge is a bombastic and perverse affair of brutal death metal that travels along at alternately smoldering and creeping velocities.

After the wicked liturgical opening of "Dispossessed in Rapture", the music explodes in a mess of heaviness. The riffs' gravitational force pulls in the rest of the instrumentation as roars and screams, blast beats, and dissonant leads dance off into a magisterial whirlwind. Despite the overwhelming massiveness of the music, there's variety here. On "Abscess Inside", the band turn their ears towards melodies, while "Orificial Purge" brings forward slower, groovier, and almost freewheeling motifs. Topped off with the intertwined demonic vocals of Leila Abdul-Rauf and Daniel Butler and the depraved lyrics they carry, Orificial Purge becomes a mesmerizing listen. – Antonio Poscic

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