Belgium’s Amenra are one of those bands that consistently produces quality material for a comparatively modest but incredibly devoted following. Having been around since 1999, collaborated and toured with a wide array of other acts, and even started their own artistic collective with Oathbreaker, Black Heart Rebellion and others called Church of Ra, Amenra are nothing if not dedicated to their craft. All the better that said craft happens to be a mesmerizing mix of doom, post-metal and hardcore.
Writing a standout doom metal album is a difficult task nowadays. This isn’t due to an overall lack of quality within the genre’s modern progenitors, but because of the antithesis; more and more excellent doom metal albums seem to enter the running for our year ends lists with each passing year. MONARCH! (Monarch from here on out) has never struggled with this endeavor over the course of their 15-year career, particularly when it comes to their recent output with the eminent Profound Lore Records. Yet, while Sabbracadaver was certainly a doom highlight in 2014, Never Forever sees the band returning this year with their most colossal and grandiose album to date, presenting a masterful synthesis of drone metal with doom’s more macabre characteristics. We sat down with the band to discuss the process of writing their latest epic, as well as a handful of other topics related to their past, present and future within the shifting landscape of modern doom.
Loincloth are an interesting group, one that meshes together various elements from realms of metal but keeps a very distinct sound of sludgy, crushing, and almost atonal instrumental metal. Their records sit nice and snuggly on their Southern Lord label, baring resemblance to the general dark ambiance and heavy production that bring together other artists in this territory. Not only do they have their sound up to scratch, but they even get quite progressive within their sound, employing left-field rhythms and grooves that are extremely math-core inspired and really grab you and keep you engaged. This band have so much going for them, and they truly showcase what it means to do a lot with a little. Not to mention I absolutely love that I can put an image to this music of three shirtless, bearded guys in a claustrophobic room, jamming intensely while getting lost in the power of the riff. But yet, while this record is a fun experience at first, there’s some qualities to it that need some workshopping because this release wears pretty thin, pretty fast.
Subtlety isn’t a common approach when it comes to sludge metal, which rather favours blistering, distortion-focused guitars and thunderous drums since the notoriously volcanic heaviness of genre spearheads Electric Wizard and Weedeater. Although in a genre that finds it’s bands in a battle of extremes, seeing who can cause the most damage to the PA system with their amps, the 2010s have seen sludge been taken down a number of different avenues. We have Mastodon using it as a basis to conjure up progressive, multi-layered musical odysseys, Indian using noise experimentation to make it as hellishly freaky as possible, to Bongripper putting an emphasis on the direct riffs in creating a mood through repetition. However, we have Melbourne underground head-turners Sundr, dragging the style even further out to a much less assertive sound, yet a much more ethereal and tension-building experience on their vertiginous sophomore LP, The Canvas Sea.
India is a place I wouldn’t really associate with extreme music. The limited exposure I’ve had with the culture comes primarily from Indian restaurants, vacation stories from friends, or movies. That being said, it feels like a really traditional kind of place. The limited amount of Indian music I’ve heard is immediately identifiable as such, and even the pop music feels like it follows in that convention, there’s a distinct “sound.” So when I caught wind of a split by hardcore bands from Bangalore and Mumbai, I was obviously surprised. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Why wouldn’t there be an underground scene in India? Beyond that, considering how “conventional” and “traditional” it seems to me as some ignorant dude from the states, it makes absolutely perfect sense that there would be some positively savage bands out there stickin’ it to the man.
Literature has been one of the foremost sources of inspiration for metal lyricism and composition alike, regardless of subgenre. The list of examples is significant—Ernest Hemingway and Cobalt, Georges Bataille and Deathspell Omega, H. P. Lovecraft and seemingly everyone, and so on. Drawing inspiration from a novel is a challenging but relatively structured undertaking; a plot can be interpreted into numerous sonic and lyrical directions but will always follow the same trajectory of its narrative. Poetry contrasts this process by its very nature, as its natural code of symbolic meaning and suggestive prose necessitates musical decoding drawn from a strictly thematic place. Even poems with a decipherable narrative are often told in a verbose, indirect manner that challenges metal lyricists and composers to write with a liberated hand, looking beyond the words on the page to a deeper understanding of the poem’s true meaning and mood. Agalloch’s interpretation of W. B. Yeats is a stellar example of this process being executed beautifully, as is the latest offering from Ehnahre, a Boston-based avant-garde metal collective who count Kay Dot alumni among their ranks. Their incredible four-part song cycle on The Marrow captures the essence of Theodore Roethke’s eponymous poem* through consuming landscapes of avant-garde death-doom that are as ridden with despair as the poet’s initial musing on whether or not life is worthwhile.
Doom metal, in its purest form, is Sisyphian, forever attempting to move its great weight over a seemingly unreachable peak. That that mythical figure was, well, doomed to his task for cheating death is an apt metaphor for the bleak artistry of this genre of metal. In attempting to establish where this particular scene lies in the greater schema of music right now we can look to this ancient myth as an apt metaphor. Taking into account the plethora of new releases, new Sisyphuses, pushing their own respective boulder-esque projects it’s easy to see that doom is in a bit of a renaissance, currently, as crucial (relatively) new bands such as Elder, Pallbearer, Dreadnought, and SubRosa have raised the bar for longtime practitioners.
Comeback albums are in vogue this year, especially for rock music and its offshoots. At the Drive-In, Gorillaz and nearly every major shoegaze pioneer (The Jesus and Mary Chain, Ride, Slowdive, etc.) have all resurfaced for returns-to-form or late-career flops, depending on whom you ask. The fact many of these bands had been laid to rest for decades certainly contributed to disappointment among some fans, as did the heightened expectations created by their pre-breakup classics. Part Chimp bucks the drawbacks of all these metrics with their hiatus-smashing record Iv, which provides and incredible delivery of the band’s signature blend of sludge-ridden noise rock and stoner metal. The band’s comfortable position in the underground and relatively short hiatus—they disbanded in 2011 and reunited last year—has allowed Iv to feel less like a comeback album and more like a reunion with a beloved friend, where good memories come flooding back and it feels as though everything is still in its right place.
There’s no dearth of bands inspired by the likes of Motorhead or the Obsessed but many miss the mark when trying too hard to emulate their forebears rather than putting their own aggressive stomp on the tried and true sound. This particular blend of blues-y, groove-laden metal often stays too long in its own lane, rarely straying from the formula to stretch and add enough of a band’s individual identity, but when a band is able to take this style and bend it to *their* will is where we get something unique.
Firstly, by the time I actually came across this next entry into the Hall of Grind and decided to write about them, they released two more batches of hot shit, toxic grind. If this wasn’t a sign from the Holy Grindfather then I’m a two-tone ska fiend. Throat Breach are every single bit as unpleasant sounding as their moniker but in just over a year have consistently released music as and when they feel like it. Presents for everyone indeed. Over the course of sixteen releases this Midwest branch of the Terror Squad have found a sound worth killing for. In like, twelve months. How many releases did you put out the last twelve months?