July! What a terrible, awful month it is for anyone who suffers from the heat like I do. Actually, I’ve looked back on my previous two Editors’ Picks from July and I complained about the heat and the summer there as well, so perhaps I’ll refrain from doing that again, here (although I kind of already have). Instead, let’s talk a bit about politics. Everybody loves politics, right? Sadly for us, we don’t have the privilege not to talk about it; not anymore. A lot of us used to have it; the powerful, those who belong to the “normal” demographics, are categorized exactly by their ability to ignore power and its ramifications. But the more we move forward, the more it is clear that no one is safe. Climate change, fascism (eco-fascism, if we’re exact), authoritarianism, hate; all of these threaten all of us though they certainly target the less privileged even more.
Why are we even talking about this you might ask? Why now and why here? I’ll tell you why: just two days ago, two separate mass shootings took place in the United States (actually more, but it’s impossible to keep up with them, that’s how fucked things are). One of them was, surprise, committed by a white supremacist. He made no effort to blur his motivations; in fact, he published a manifesto directly linking his actions to the words of one President Trump and the myth of “white replacement.” However, I don’t want to talk about him. I want to talk about the shooter from Ohio who was, somewhat nominally and superficially, a “part” of our scene. He was a metalhead and a leftist. Some of the people I’ve read online in the past few days would take chagrin at these categorizations. Of course he wasn’t a leftist, because no leftist would blindly kill innocents. Of course he wasn’t a metalhead, because metal is about compassion, the safe release of violent tendencies, and sticking up for each other.
As much as I get and respect the sentiments behind these claims, I also totally disagree with them. Like it or not, we don’t get to disown people from our in-groups just because we feel like it; that’s called a No True Scotsman fallacy. Like it or not, the Ohio shooter was part of our scenes, and instead of trying to immediately disown and distance ourselves from him, we need to ask some much more difficult questions. For example, what is the relationship between the acts this person committed and the fact that he was a member of a pornogrind band, a genre which includes visceral, graphic, and explicit images and lyrics which deal with, and often promote, violence against women? Even worse, what is the connection between the violence prevalent in metal as a whole and when does it cross the line? Additionally, what is our position on newcomers into our scenes (both leftists and metalheads, here) and how do we tell those who participate in our illusions but do not wink afterwards (“I am an eternal warrior with power wink wink” versus “I am an eternal warrior with an assault rifle”)? Where did we fail? What could we have done to see this coming? What can we do better in the future to protect the most vulnerable among us? How can we move forward as a community and shed these barbaric, cruel, and horrific tendencies within our groups?
I don’t have easy answers to these questions. They are extremely complicated and deal with intricate subjects like freedom of expression, artistic intent, irony, community, trust, suspicion, inclusiveness, clout, habits, aesthetics, and much more. But I do have one simple thing to say, a thing which is the raison d’etre for this entire introduction: it is time to stop fence-sitting, hand-wringing, and head-shaking. It is time to take a clear stance on these issues and have these discussions. If you have a platform and you don’t use it to have these discussions and call out the fucked up things within your communities (beyond just “the left” and “metal”) you are not a hindrance: you’re a danger. If you choose to pretend that things are just fine, that these are isolated incidents that no one could have seen coming, you are not ignorant: you’re a danger. If in the face of all of this your solution is going back, harping on some imagined past in which things were simpler and better, you are a danger. In the words of the immortal Martin Luther King Jr:
“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
It is already too late. But it can get much later. It is time to say with a clear voice: no to white supremacy. No to misogyny. No to fascism. Not in metal. Not in the left. Not anywhere. Not in the street, not in schools, not in our venues, not at our shows, not on our stages. Nowhere. And these words must ring out beyond just our voices, into the places we work in, and sleep in, and play in, and meet in. We must all do our part, especially those among us who are privileged to have a platform, in creating the world we want to live in.
Enjoy this month’s music; it was, once again, truly excellent. I wish, like I wish for nothing else, that we lived in a world where I could dedicate my words to just the music and nothing else. But we do not. None of us have the privilege anymore to stay silent.
Alarmist – Sequesterer (nu-jazz, progressive math rock)
A while back I was musing about the 20th anniversary of Tortoise’s TNT, specifically about the divergent track that instrumental post-rock (and rock as a whole) took from the Chicago pioneers shortly after its release. What we commonly think of as post-rock nowadays, aka crescendocore, did not have to become the primary creative route for instrumental rock bands to pursue, but starting in the late 90s and especially early 2000s, that is the road it took, for better or worse. I still wonder though how post-rock as a whole would sound like if the likes of Tortoise wound up having as much direct influence on the genre’s track as the likes of GY!BE, Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, etc. When I listen to Sequesterer, the sophomore album from Dublin trio Alarmist, though, it feels like being given a portal into that alternate reality where exactly that happened.
This may sound surprising given that the bright and often hyperactive sounds of Sequesterer really doesn’t sound a whole lot like that of the cool and breezy tones of classic Tortoise. All of the more recent comparisons that Scott made in his review of the album hold up just as much, from the exacting Battles to the kaleidoscopic jazz rock of Jaga Jazzist and even the smooth electronic production of Flying Lotus. It’s less in the exact execution though than in the employment and combination of sounds and styles. It’s in the bouncy and laid back guitar grooves combined with piercing synth that forms the middle of standout opener “District of Baddies,” as well as the positively joyous “Boyfriend in the Sky.” It’s in the probing and mysterious confluence of organic and artifice that defines “Lactic Tang” and “Expert Hygiene.” It’s in the slow ride into the sunset vibes of “Life in Half Time” that serves as a perfect parallel to the spaghetti western moods of TNT’s “I Set My Face To the Hillside.” It’s not a replica but an evolution.
In the end that’s what makes Sequesterer such a deeply exciting and brilliant album. Alarmist have managed to take decades of post-rock, math rock, electronic rock, and jazz rock history and built on them in a way that feels entirely fresh and entirely essential. Similar to Chicago jazz/math wunderkinds Monobody, Alarmist are pushing the envelope of what’s possible with every release and challenging our preconceived notions of what instrumental rock can be and represent. My only hope is that by the time the rest of us catch up to them they’ll have already moved on to the next thing that will equally blow our minds.
Read More: Review
Enforced – At the Walls (crossover thrash)
This year was ripe for some anger. There is still a lot of divide in the world, and it only seems to be increasing. You need a release, and I recommend Enforced as your outlet. Aggression is such a unique feeling to express in song. You really couldn’t do it before the advent of metal, but it’s slowly developed over the years and reached an apex. At the Walls may express that inclination better than most and is certainly arriving at a prime moment.
It’s hard to describe this record any other way than razor sharp anger. Every riff, lyric, drum beat, and bass note is delivered with a ferocity that is difficult to describe in any other phrase. If a punch from Mike Tyson in his prime was covered in razor wire, you’d be pretty close to the jarring nature of At the Walls. There are runaway trains with more subtlety than Enforced, and you want them that way because that’s the only way they can express their true feelings.
While a Power Trip reference would be particularly apt here, you really don’t want to dismiss the band too much by comparing them to another group. The emotion they express in their crossover barrage is a sound that’s so wholly difficult to translate that any band that can do it is in a class all their own. It starts from the opening notes of “Reckoning Force”. Heavily distorted chugging power chords introduce the wild dive bombing notes to give you the best sense of the organized chaos that is this record. It continues on into each following track and never slows down or lets up. This is what thrash metal should be in 2019: an iron fist of pure belligerence, attacking your ear drums and assaulting your senses at every turn. If At the Walls is any sign of things to come, we may be entering a new era of thrash metal. Fingers crossed!
Read More: Review
False – Portent (black metal)
There are few bands in the world of black metal that have existed under the weight of unwieldy expectations like Minnesota’s False. The band have released a grand total of four recordings (two of which are EPs) over the span of just under a decade, which isn’t a whole lot of music to speak of given the fervency surrounding their records. But False also present one of the few instances in metal where the hype is completely justified. Each new recording has brought with it more mature songwriting and increasingly expert performances, and the band’s sophomore release continues this stunning trajectory by unleashing their most expansive, technically satisfying, and consistently brilliant music to date.
Portent consists of four tracks and just over 40 minutes of music. Doing the math on that may cause those of us with less endurance-oriented attention spans to blanch, but one of the principal wonders of this record is its complete lack of inessential music. In my personal interactions with tracks that breach the 10-minute mark, it’s fairly difficult for bands to find enough interesting things to say to justify the runtime. False, thankfully, don’t have that problem. “A Victual for our Dead Selves” is wall-to-wall incredible, sliding through each of its unique passages with passion, variety, and a manic sense of intensity. “Rime on the Song of Returning” is just as mesmerizing, building on the sonic foundation laid by its predecessor in ways that feel tonally consistent yet never repetitive, which can in part be attributed to the band’s willingness to incorporate divergent sounds into their songwriting.
Doom metal in particular gets a few shining moments, giving the record an air of both diversity and unpredictability, keeping things uniformly engaging throughout. The crown jewel of the entire enterprise, the 16-minute “The Serpent Sting, The Smell of Goat” is probably the best thing the band has written up to this point, capping off the record’s bulkiest proceedings with a dramatic bang.
I’d been looking forward to this record since the band dropped their fantastic debut back in 2015, and am pleased to report that Portent delivers on every hope I had and then some. Fans of black metal have a new rallying point in the American scene this year, and I have a hard time imagining this record being surpassed by any other band on this side of the Atlantic. A monumental achievement.
Read More: Review
Freighter – The Den (mathcore, tech metal)
Mathcore is a genre that I frequently wished I loved rather than liked. Aside from favorites like Sectioned/Frontierer, Psykup, and such, I have a really hard time dealing with just how much the genre always is. This isn’t that surprising of course; the whole raison d’etre of mathcore is to be over the top, faster, chaotic, and heavy. But I generally need more to keep my attention and the “everything louder than everything else” approach of the genre can get really tiring and fatiguing.
Good thing for me that bands like Freighter exist then. These guys take mathcore, inject it with thrash, and a sense of joie de vivre that is really, really hard to resist. The Den, their second full release, ends up reading like a more cohesive and thrash-y Mr. Bungle, complete with weird vocal moments, weirder transitions, and an overall energy that makes you want to scream. And scream you shall, probably alongside the many excellent vocal hooks replete throughout the album like the opening of the second track, “Future Duke”. The raspy scream, the lyrical content, the riffs which follow, all of this just makes you want to stand up and throw something at someone, preferably a symbol of authority of some sort.
Thing is, because the band spice this up with plenty of off-kilter riffs and ideas, some of them quieter and more varied and some of them really not, you’re constantly kept on your toes. Hell, even “Future Duke” has that weird synth thing going off in the background right after the middle, what the hell is that? Other places have sad trumpets (yes), pianos falling from the sky, and more. The album just conspires to keep you engaged, hooked, and listening, throwing curveball after curveball your way. Oh, and it’s also god-damn, fucking, “oh my god” inducing heavy at times. Seriously, just listen to this album, alright?
Read More: Hey! Listen to This!
Lanayah – Forever in May (doomgaze, post-metal)
Have you ever found an independent band playing a niche genre perfectly? Isn’t that an amazing feeling? Typically in this scenario, they are delivering an excellent rendition of a genre you’ve momentarily forgotten about, and the experience of discovery sparks your love all over again. This was very much the case while I listened to Forever in May, easily the finest doomgaze album I’ve heard since Planning for Burial‘s Desideratum introduced me to the subgenre. Lanayah take an eclectic, cinematic approach to style, in the sense that each track fleshes out Forever in May‘s narrative-like structure.
Pulling from doom, folk, post-hardcore, post-metal, screamo, shoegaze, and more, Lanayah create the sonic embodiment of the Forever in May‘s album cover: rooted in organic compositions that are accented by color, atmosphere, and massive musical results. One minute you’re treated to a devastating emotional breakdown, the next the band is weaving together rootsy acoustic guitar lines. No two tracks are quite alike, though each contributes to a complete and compelling listening experience.
Right off the bat, opener “Pinion Burnt” creates a sort of mission statement for the entirety of Forever in May. A melodic acoustic guitar intro erupts into its electric equivalent, coupled with pained, emotive vocals. The entire affair evolves into shoegaze-leaning atmospheres and brings the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic full circle. “Lyra” extends this compositional approach, emphasizing the heft behind the doomgaze name while still remaining melodic and all-consuming. The group ups the tempo and, in turn, brings in additional influences from post-hardcore with shades of screamo thrown into the mix. It’s well-written, varied, and impactful, feeling like a fully-realized version of doomgaze’s total potential.
Much of the rest of the album develops in a similar way, but I’d like to focus on “Soft, Vanishing” before leaving you to dive into Forever in May. Just three songs into the tracklist, the band takes a pause for an acoustic guitar-driven detour. Essentially a folk-influenced post-rock track, stunning acoustic explorations unravel with builds and crescendos as synth textures and punchy percussion swirl in the background. It’s a powerful, unique composition on an album full of such moments, and the fact Lanayah unleashed such a track so early on demonstrates how fearlessly they unfurl the exact artistic mission they set out to exhibit. If you’re at all into adventurous music, make this gem as part of your rotation immediately.
Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance (death metal)
I’m not sure how Tomb Mold can come out with a Best-Of-The-Year record two years in a row, and I’m beyond perplexed at how this year’s offering Planetary Clairvoyance one-ups the previous year’s highly acclaimed Manor of Infinite Forms. Looking further, Manor was just the break-out, and their debut Primordial Malignancy dropped in 2017 and despite some rougher production, is quite the charming death metal record in itself. Is such a consistent and prolific work-ethic precedented in death metal? Perhaps not at this level, which is why Tomb Mold are the hottest ticket in the genre at the moment.
Planetary Clairvoyance is a masterpiece in sci-fi infused death metal, but has significant contrast to famed works by Wormed and The Faceless in that Tomb Mold are the B-movie body horror to the former acts’ highly produced tent poles. Tomb Mold offer a filthy and groovy OSDM skeletal structure over which wonky atmosphere and some quazi-progressive flair (eerie acoustic breaks and shimmering guitar interludes!) are draped to great effect. The musicianship is technical but “imperfect”, monstrously heavy and pummeling, yet catchy in its strange ways with riffs that leap from the record with an energy that just makes death metal fun to hear. Yet again, Tomb Mold are the band to beat for the crown in 2019.
Undeath – Sentient Autolysis (death metal, tech death)
Something beautiful and noteworthy is happening in death metal right now. As bands like Nucleus, the aforementioned Tomb Mold, Warp Chamber, and Superstition are rising through the ranks on the strength of their excellent early efforts, a long-dormant strain of the genre is starting to worm its way back to the surface. Although plenty of bands are taking the goopy, gross side of the genre to beautiful new heights (shoutout to Fetid and Cerebral Rot) and the crunchy broken-glass riffs the genre has never not been known for are still alive and well courtesy of young lions like Malignant Altar and Krypts, the more technical side of the genre’s foundations are finally having their heyday. Bands who took death metal to weird and highly instrumentally proficient places in the early ‘90s – Abhorrence, Nocturnus, Demilich, Suffocation – are finally starting to see their own mini-mes iterate on their works. (I’m aware that Suffocation essentially spawned a subgenre of imitators. This isn’t about brutal death metal, although that kicks ass too.)
Rochester, NY’s own Undeath are one of the latest new phalanges of this vengeful husk to crack through the surface of the burial mound. Sentient Autolysis, the group’s second EP (the first being their demo tape released back in February) shows a group that is already primed to fire on all cylinders and become one of the next big names in death metal. The slippery, wiry riff webs of Nocturnus run headlong into the heart-stopping grooves of Pierced-era Suffocation; the strange, otherworldly melodies of Finnish legends Demilich and the punchy, putrid sound of their countrymen in Abhorrence meld as Undeath spins gold out of the threads all these bands left behind in the early ‘90s. This is juddering, technical, powerful death metal that’s not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeve – which is fine, since all of said influences could use a lot more love in this sphere of the genre than they get. If you’re curious to hear something that’s just as fresh and powerful as the simpler stuff taking over death metal at the moment but has a bit more gray matter behind its corpuscles, Sentient Autolysis is absolutely where it’s at.
Wormed – Metaportal (brutal tech death, progressive death metal)
It seems like whenever Wormed release something new, I’m obligated to talk about it here. Well, that’s for a good reason. After three full-length releases and four EPs, they still have a distinct sound that no one else comes close to. To be fair, the Wormed of 2019 is quite different from the Wormed of 1999, but the same DNA is still there. As a fan of them since basically day one, it’s been fantastic to see them grow and gain more recognition than I ever thought they would. They’ve refined their sound and developed it into a precise instrument of brutality. Metaportal is the latest step in their evolution, and it continues to impress.
At this point, Wormed are synonymous with technical brutal death metal, but that’s underselling their appeal. They are a band that’s all about aesthetic. The visual style of their artwork, their logo, their production, unintelligible vocals, syncopated guitars and atonality all come together to overwhelm the listener. However, it’s not a wall-of-sound approach like some other bands in this niche. With Wormed, you can hear every single note, every weird harmony. Yet it’s still incomprehensible. While some artists resort to overloading the soundscape to the point that no individual component of the music matters, Wormed achieve the same effect while being pristine. It’s really a feat of production and songwriting. And it doesn’t look like they’re going to be stopping any time soon.
Read More: Review
Other Notable Releases
Arctic Sleep – Kindred Spirits (progressive doom, post-metal)
Honestly, this record made me cry. It’s modern doom at its very best. Kindred Spirits expresses deep emotions of sorrow and acceptance while also expressing a kind of joy in the friendship between two souls. Arctic Sleep has gone under the radar for far too long.
Read More: Doomsday
Dispossessed – Warpath Never Ended (blackened death metal, war metal)
The caustic vitriol and pyroclastic murk of war metal is really the only proper vessel for this sort of political fury. Dispossessed strings out a series of thundering, murderous liturgies in the name of destroying settler-colonial white supremacist ideologies: this is a dark, crushing, and virtuous cudgel of righteous anger.
Read More: Hey! Listen to This!
Elder – The Gold & Silver Sessions (heavy psych, krautrock)
Elder have become so well known and are so damn good at the kind of muscular and adventurous stoner metal they’ve traded in over the past decade that it seems impossible to hear them do anything else. On The Gold & Silver Sessions though, Nick DiSalvo and crew put a twist on their signature sound by going all in on instrumental psych rock. It’s a smoother, jazzier, and more mysterious universe for them to play in, and the band execute it so magnificently you would not be alone in wishing to hear them produce far more in this vein.
Jute Gyte – Birefringence (avant-garde black metal)
One of the most prolific and greatest avant-garde black metal acts returns with arguably his finest album yet. The Jute Gyte name has become synonymous with fearless experimentation and dazzling results, a trend that continues on Birefringence.
Read More: Review
LINGUA IGNOTA – CALIGULA (death industrial, avant-garde classical)
CALIGULA is a challenging album to write about properly, given the lyrical, musical, and contextual depth LINGUA IGNOTA brings on every track. It’s equally difficult to listen to, but it’s well worth effort, as she continues expanding her creative vision into darker and more harrowing depths of avant-garde music.
Read More: Review
Joona Samuel – The Act of Disintegration (jazz fusion, prog rock)
So often attempts to merge big, bold prog rock with modern jazz result in cheesy and ham-fisted bloviations from individuals who heard one King Crimson or Rush song and figured they could do the same thing. Count Finland’s Joona Samuel as one of the great exceptions to that rule though. On his debut EP he goes big on both end of the rock and jazz spectrum and manages to merge them in a way that is refreshing, oftentimes gorgeous, and always entirely thrilling.
Read More: Jazz Club
TWRP – Return to Wherever (synth funk, nu-disco)
Rocking bass, feminism, irresistible auto-tune, science fiction, dance-inducing beats. Anything else I need to say to sell you on this? Just listen to this you goofs; your booties need it.
Tycho – Weather (IDM, neo-psychedelia)
With Weather, Tycho moves away from his chillwave-oriented history and brings us a more mature, fulfilled, and fleshed out album. It still has his signature sound all over it, but Weather is more restrained and really benefits from it.
Wreck and Reference – Absolute Still Life (avant-garde, art pop)
I’ve always liked Los Angeles’ own Wreck and Reference, but nothing in their back catalog prepared me for Absolute Still Life. This is an utterly transfixing piece of work, mixing art pop and avant-garde with a fervent sense of the extreme that is beyond difficult to find comparison to. If you’re looking for something that sounds like nothing else and contains enough density to demand repeat listens, Absolute Still Life is tailor-made for you.
Read More: Review
Caamp – By and By (indie folk)
Disentomb – The Decaying Light (brutal death metal)
Falls of Rauros – Patterns in Mythology (atmospheric black metal)
Gauche – A People’s History of Gauche (art punk, post-punk)
Glacier – No Light Ever (post-metal)
Hotel Pools – Constant (chillwave, synthwave)
Immortal Bird – Thrive On Neglect (death metal)
Jig-Ai – Entrails Tsunami (goregrind)
Sarathy Korwar – More Arriving (avant-garde jazz, world fusion)
KYTARO – White Noise for Kids (math rock, psych rock)
Nightfucker – Nightfucker (death-doom)
Oh Hiroshima – Oscillation (post-rock)
Spark the Forest – Growth in Erosion (post-rock)
Throes – In the Hands of an Angry God (hardcore, sludge)
Torche – Admission (stoner metal, sludge pop)
Ash Walker – Aquamarine (neo-soul, UK jazz)