Look, I’m going to be straight up with you: if someone said to me, “Simon, you know what you need in your life? A band that sounds like the post-hardcore lovechild of Agent Fresco and Mastodon, with a little bit of indie rock influence a la O’Brother thrown in,” I probably would have agreed…
Throwing around genre combinations with black metal is all the rage today. From the gospel black metal of Zeal & Ardor to the countless avant-garde bands claiming black metal pedigree, the genre seems to be the suffix du jour for the metal community. Naturally, backlash is building towards this tendency, with purists demanding to see extensive influences in these creations before they “approve” (even if only to themselves) of the different branchings and permutations of the “esteemed” black metal genre. However, the influences which sometimes inform these descriptors don’t always have to be overt; black metal spliced with different genres doesn’t have to have blatant markings of intermingling. Sometimes, like in Glorior Belli’s case, the crux lies in the tone.
Way before Rush were progressive rock darlings, helping to usher in the genre’s golden age, they released their first, self titled album. Rush is much more a rock n’ roll affair, albeit one which includes all the hallmarks of Rush in nascent form. It’s comprised more of riffs and groove, heavily relying on Geddy Lee’s vocals than future albums will. The self titled album is often forgotten but there’s something about Lee’s voice over thick guitars that is very rare to find. Strangely enough, a band called Lo-Pan, releasing an EP this year called In Tensions, scratch that itch and then some, doubling down with Torche influences on the rest of the instruments.
For most New Englanders, winter is pinnacle of all that is horrible and tedious about living in the Northeast—it’s full of dark days, cold weather, abundant strains of the flu, and more shoveling-related back injuries than you can count. To be fair, though, I actually like it. I adore the…
Before jazz became a regular occurrence in my rotation, I thought bandleaders were exclusively pianists, trumpeters saxophonists given the prevalence of the instruments in the genre. This quickly changed as I ventured further into the genre, exploring the discographies of artists like bassist Charles Mingus and flutist/clarinetist Eric Dolphy (who, to be fair, also played alto sax). But it wasn’t until hearing Jack DeJohnette’s drum solo on “What I Say” – from Miles Davis’ Live-Evil – that I truly fell in love with jazz drumming, drawing me towards eminent jazz percussionists like Max Roach. To be clear, none of this is meant to frame Eli Keszler as a jazz drummer; his playing and composition on Last Signs of Speed doesn’t fit neatly in any particular style. Yet, as I listened to Keszler’s use of texture throughout the album, it reminded me of the songwriting sensibilities of drummers like Roach – musicians with a deep understanding of percussion’s mechanics and how any additional instrumentation should be placed in the surrounding space.
Neil Fallon (Clutch) needs little introduction. Not only is he an amazing vocalist but his lyricism is unparalleled in its mythology and world building power. He seems blessed with a true midas touch as far as side-projects go, with every track he features one (like the guest spot on HARK’s previous album) turning to gold. What happens when you put him together with three other experienced musicians in a heavy metal band inspired by Iron Maiden and H.P Lovecraft? Dunsmuir happens and excellence happens. Dave Bone (The Company Band), Brad Davis (Fu Munchu) and Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell) joined forces with Fallon to make this beast comes alive and alive it is.
Sweden’s Vardagshat don’t fuck around. Sharing many members from the fantastic Totem Skin, Vardagshat take a sleeker and simpler approach – play loud and fast crust. They don’t spoil their sound by chucking it into the blender with five other totally unrelated genres, but instead follow the lead of fellow…
Crumb play in the soft static waves of dreampop, gliding through wistful, airy melodies as if nothing bad has ever happened. They’ve only released a single self-titled three song EP thus far, but you’d never guess it. Despite their youth, Crumb already have the secure sense of musical identity that veteran bands spend years achieving. Their instruments mesh into a sound that is more than the sum of its parts. The percussion and bass keep the music active and bouncy, while frontwoman Lila Ramani lazily daydreams melodies with her effect-laden guitar and enchantress voice in the vein of Lana Del Rey.
Burning Ghosts is the band I’ve been looking for all this time. Hailing from LA, and signed to the experimental independent label Orenda Records, Burning Ghosts brings everything in jazz I like—lots of passionate, full-bodied playing and tons of free improvisation—and mixes it with metal. The group is a quartet, featuring trumpeter Daniel Rosenboom (who is also the founder of Orenda Records), guitarist Jake Vossler, bassist Richard Giddens, and drummer Aaron McLendon. This lineup alone makes me pretty excited—it’s a something you don’t see a whole lot. Usually when there’s a band crossing these genres, a saxophone player is usually part of the personnel (VIRTA being an exception to the rule). Having a trumpet take that spot stirs the pot a little bit, so to speak—it offers sounds and techniques of jazz that you don’t hear a whole lot.
There are several sub-genres in metal which seem to have fallen out of fashion. There are still plenty of bands making music within them and sometimes even very successfully. However, they don’t really get reported on beyond the biggest names around, which seem to carry their own weight. Goth metal is one of these genres; there’s plenty of goth/doom metal being made but none of it seems to capture the collective attention of the community enough to make it to press outlets. I’m glad to be here today with an exception to this rule with Varaha’s debut EP, a band from Chicago who play the sort of dark, brooding and expressive metal that made goth so important to the evolution of doom.