As we mentioned in our previous installment, September and October are extremely busy times for major album releases. You can normally expect a good chunk of the albums near the top of people’s AOTY lists to come from these two months due to their late but not too late placement. Whereas it seemed like September – in particular the last day of the month – was simply overflowing with a wealth of incredible non-metal releases though, October truly stepped up as an insane month for metal. There were a few huge bombshell albums that dropped this past month, some that we’ve been expecting for a while and some that seemingly came out of nowhere to amaze us. That said, it wouldn’t be Heavy Blog without a few unexpected and outside selections, so we’ve certainly got you covered there. Join us in celebrating their excellence below!
Though the lasting influence of Mastodon on modern metal is undeniable, there has been a surprising lack of impressive bands and albums that play to that kind of ball-busting and epic progressive sludge to come forth and carry their mantle in recent years. East of the Wall is certainly one of those bands, but we haven’t heard anything from them in a hot minute. FAMILY did a valiant job in putting their own spin on that sound with this year’s Future History. But with the release of Voice of the Void, Vancouver-based Anciients have definitively planted their flag as a new leader in this kind of progressive-tinged wild beast of sound.
Voice of the Void blazes a fiery path for over an hour, leaving little in its wake but ashes and smoke. From the more lumbering giants like “Buried in Sand” and “Ibex Eye” to raging behemoths like “Worshipper” and “My Home, My Gallows” to even the quieter interludes like “Descending,” not a single moment on the album feels wasted. Each song is packed front to back with fantastic riffs, incredible vocal lines and melodies, and brilliant songwriting that neatly ties it all together. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many albums this year that are simultaneously so long and yet go by so quickly due to sheer enthrallment.
While progressive and conscious hip-hop has always existed within the genre’s underground, it’s been refreshing to see emcees like Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar ushering in a resurgence of forward thinking approaches to the genre’s subject matter. Yet, if there’s one issue that’s persisted in hip-hop – and unfortunately, become somewhat of an accepted, unchanging norm – it’s the genre’s foundational relationship with homophobia. Yes, even in 2016. There’s two main reasons for this, the first being easily pegged on society’s general discomfort for the LGBTQ+ community, which is waning but has by no means disappeared. Then there’s the deep-seeded veneration of masculinity intrinsic to hip-hop – a subconscious association of anything remotely indicative of femininity with weakness, leading to rhymes about dominance of others (especially women) and rejection of anything considered remotely gay.
But then there’s queer rap – an east coast scene defined by LGBTQ+ rappers entirely disinterested with adhering to anything detailed above. The scene is small but populated with emcees both brilliant and fearless emcees. These are particularly apt descriptors of Cakes da Killa and his proper full-length debut Hedonism. Back in 2013, Cakes released Eulogy, a mixtape intended to be his final project after years of struggling in the game. But from the moment he jeered “I spit that shit to make a homophobe a hypocrite” on the project’s opening track “Get Right (Get Wet),” his worthiness was immediately accepted by every open-minded rap fan. And on Hedonism, he rides grimy, club-inspired beats with phenomenal mic skills, making it unclear whether you should dance or pull up RapGenius.
What sets Cakes apart is his escalation of the fearlessness queer rap is known for. He doesn’t just refuse to apologize for being a gay man in a genre historically hostile towards the slightest hints of homosexuality; he takes immense pleasure in being just as hypersexual and hedonistic as any typical rapper while being fully aware how much his rhymes will make members of the old guard squirm. This shines through in lines like “Hold my hand in public cause you feelin’ comfortable/Pop a pill in the club, got me feelin’ edible” and “I’m eating these rappers like they appetizers/Why these baby fags on my dick like a pacifier.” Cakes maintains a consistent flow that’s always pure fire, falling somewhere between Meechy Darko and Zombie Juice with a healthy dose of sass. But beyond these raunchy verses, he’s perfectly capable of turning around and throwing out more “standard,” dope lines as well, including brags like “I’m really sick of niggas, strict loose lizards/Pure venom on me, chicken gizzards/Keep a hot cold, trunk full of dark, bidders/Cakes been the baddest, without no filters” and “Atomic bomber ex-prima donna in Gucci colors/My queen, I’m as saucy as saunas in the Bahamas/People know when I want it I do it shit gets done/I drop bombs that rip necks from craniums/My firearms remove limbs from shady ones.”
Lines like these seem odd coming from a rapper who once prepared for his own extremely premature retirement. There’s a certain hunger and pure skill that permeates from Cakes’ delivery, to the point that his orientation becomes somewhat of an afterthought. But it’s crucial to remember the importance of him openly embracing his sexuality given the genre he’s chosen to do so within. There’s certainly been progress on this front in recent years, what with artists like A$AP Rocky, Kanye West and Young Thug redefining rap’s dress code and imagery. But as important as this progress is, it’s going to take acceptance of and respect for the incredible talent of openly gay emcees like Cakes da Killa (as well as Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, Le1f and others) to truly solidify homophobia as a part of hip-hop’s past.
Listening to Car Bomb is like getting hit in the stomach repeatedly with a sledgehammer by someone who doesn’t know how to time blows properly. It’s disorienting, confusing, weird, and painful, but when these Long Islanders get to smashing, it’s supremely enjoyable. The followup to 2012’s w^w^ww^w^w (pronounced “waveforms,” if you were wondering), Meta is a math metal classic from the get-go: a take-no-prisoners style of straightforward aggression meets a good mind for complexity and a band locked together in insanely tight unison for some of the most wonky, off-kilter grooves ever committed to a record this side of free jazz, and a syncopated vocal performance takes the intensity up that one last crucial notch for an album that will knock your fucking socks off time and time again. Seriously, the only moments of reprieve on this record are to give the listener a much-needed break before the next bone-crunching riff sets every neuron in the brain on the fritz trying to figure out just what the hell is going on here. There are a couple major tricks that the band uses to their advantage that elevate the record as well; the first is their use of chromatically descending breakdown passages that often give off a feeling that the album is imploding into a singularity. The second, the more powerful of the two, is their use of lighter guitar passages and clean vocals which creates moments of sheer bliss, an eye in the mathcore tornado of chugging riffs and squawking guitars that Car Bomb employ to much aplomb. This diversity adds a fluid, dynamic quality that makes the hard parts just hit that much harder, and when they do hit, it’s a mental and physical firestorm that will leave you equally awestruck and crushed. Check out Meta if you’ve ever wanted to get hit by a truck in 5/8 time.
There’s a complex web of emotions that come along with spinning the new and final Dillinger Escape Plan record, Dissociation. It’s a mixed bag that wants to lean towards sadness that one of the most important bands is modern metal and hardcore have called it quits, but that sadness plays second fiddle to the awe that the record inspires. Dissociation is a creative masterpiece and serves as a devastating summation of an intense career; every facet of the Dillinger sound is present, from the incredibly pissed off opener “Limerent Death,” to the jazz-fusion laced “Low Feels Blvd” to the melancholic R&B of the closing title track. Fans of any Dillinger era can find something to appreciate on Dissociation, which makes for a bittersweet swan song.
Dissociation isn’t perfect, and that’s a part of its many charms. Mathcore isn’t supposed to be perfect, despite what a big deal listeners and critics make about technical precision. Dissociation is vicious, and often ugly; Greg Puciato’s unhinged vocal performance across the record, as well as some moments of messy guitar that the band refused to clean up with studio magic, lays Dillinger bare as the band we know them to be after years of incredible live shows that put the well-being of its members and fans at risk. Further, the record has a strange flow and is full of experimental ideas, like the Aphex Twin-inspired “Fugue,” that would have been a deal-breaker for lesser acts under the criticism of being unfocused.
That’s a testament to the kind of environment and creativity that The Dillinger Escape Plan fostered throughout their career. Only Dillinger can create an album like Dissociation and it be received without question. I’m confident that Dissociation would have been deemed an instant classic without the significance of finality being attached to it. And yet, this being the last Dillinger record matters, doesn’t it? Dissociation is filled with lyrical imagery involving death and the dissolution of relationships; surely the band knew when crafting this record that it would be their last, and that undoubtedly leaves its mark and characterizes the record, making it all the more heartbreaking. I’ve still not come to terms with the end of The Dillinger Escape Plan, but knowing that the band provided their own eulogy and obituary softens the blow a bit.
Some comebacks are almost a given. The band in question was popular, they had more to say and they were constantly part of the conversation. Mithras are not that band. They were an underrated band from the early 2000s playing experimental oldschool tech death, before the genre got its big break. Then, years later, out of nowhere, we get On Strange Loops. And, of course, it’s excellent. This album is straight out of the era when Cynic, Atheist and Nocturnus were in their prime, making music that is still unmatched. With a weird melodic profile that combines melancholy, alienation and even upbeat vibes, this album shows that you don’t need to be a master of playing neoclassical or dissonant scale runs really fast to be a good tech death band. You can make weird, atmospheric and borderline avant-garde stuff and still beat everyone else at their own game. Mithras are that band. And I’m so glad they’re back.
When a band is quiet for a non-specific amount of time, you start to get nervous. Words like “hiatus” and “comeback” present a double threat. On one hand, the band can disappear. On the other, they can still release music but it will crash under the weight of expectation. Navigating these dire straits is no easy take but Mouth of the Architect have, somehow, managed a magician’s trick with Path of Eight, pulling the rabbit from out of the hat after four years of silence.
The time lapse between the albums is not the only reason Path of Eight comes from out of left field; it also features an evolution of the band’s sound that I don’t think anyone could have predicted. Quietly had its stoner/sludge moments but it was mostly a post metal creation, all harsh vocals and crashing riffs. However, Path of Eight builds on those stoner metal hints and turns them up to eleven; the whole thing is replete with a hazy, smoke-drenched attitude that does much to elevate the repetitiveness which often plagues post metal.
Thus, Path of Eight starts from dreamy beginnings with “Ritual”, a track which already tells you something about the album, before slowly building up its abrasive and crashing ending. The middle is a heady mix of post metal and Mastodon, simultaneously break-necking fast and intoxicatingly slow. This leads to an album that feels like a journey, a raising up of tools and a final descent towards execution. Along the way, we are treated to a band who have done something entirely new with their sound, birthing forth a nascent hint that was present in their past towards full, magnificent fruition.
Other Notable Releases
Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole Of The Law (blackened grindcore)
There’s one thing that’s guaranteed if you listen to Anaal Nathrakh: it’s going to be really fast and aggressive. The Whole Of The Law doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Combining abrasive electronic elements, melodic and not-melodic riffing, blast beats, shrill screaming and clean singing, this odd mix of elements is just a pure blast to listen to (Ha!).
COLA可樂巫術NECROMANCY – family vacation (vaporwave)
It was only a matter of time before I wrote about a vaporwave album for Editor’s Picks, and I’m glad one great enough finally came along to warrant it. Family vacation is pulsing with the typically lush, dreamy vaporwave soundscapes-by-way-of-samples aesthetic, but has enough of a dark edge and varied tone to elevate it from the pack.
Katie Gately – Color (glitch/art pop)
As endearing as is it disorienting, Color is Katie Gately‘s exploration of the the odder side of art pop – a glitch-ridden sound collage made purposefully shy of being beautiful but still emitting a playful glow. Imagine Fever Ray remixing the darker cuts in St.Vincent ‘s discography for a glimpse into Gately’s compositional portrait.
Mammoth – Deviations (jazz fusion/instrumental prog)
What happens if you take jazz fusion and instrumental prog in the vein of Plini and the more successful attempts at nu-prog over the past decade, and you throw them in a blender with a hint of retrowave-y digital atmosphere just to provide some extra smooth finish? You get Deviations by Mammoth, an album that came out of nowhere for us but is sure to stay in our rotations for a long time to come.
Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis (prog/tech death)
Following the lineage of Gorguts, New Zealand’s Ulcerate are doing their part at giving death metal an atmospheric and emotional depth. Frightening in a Lovecraftian sort of way, the band’s fifth full-length Shrines of Paralysis takes cues from post-metal to create an intricate and dynamic take on technical death metal. While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, the band’s niche style is perfected and remains relevant as ever in a constantly evolving genre.
Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape (ambient)
What we do with death defines a lot of our lives; for Riverside, the death of a precious band member has led them into creating a fascinating, cohesive and moving retrospective album filled with dark, cold ambiance and moving progressive rock.
Painted In Exile – The Ordeal (progressive metal)
Serpentine Dominion – Serpentine Dominion (melodeath)
Dance Gavin Dance – Mothership (post-hardcore)
Thy Catafalque – Meta (avant-garde metal)
Wormrot – Voices (grindcore)
Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder (black metal)
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason (djent/progressive metal)