Green tidings and smoky greetings unto you, O Heaviest of All Bloggers! I hope you are all in high spirits after a bit of the leafy green this month. Y’all know I’m legally obligated to make weed jokes here, right? I’m certain it’s in the Heavy Blog charter somewhere. It was probably in that scroll Eden and Scott made me sign in my own blood. Anyway, it’s pretty cool to see how we’ve all evolved our thoughts on marijuana. Not just because it helps make some amazing music, but more because it’s nice to see that we as a species can evolve our thinking. As much as some things do seem very bleak these days, it still gives me hope that people embrace the change necessary to live in an ever-changing world. 4/20 means so much more than stoners celebrating their lifestyle in that way. It shows that eventually counterculture becomes culture and that exposure to different ideas and ways of thinking is only ever helpful. Even if you don’t also embrace those different ideas, the point is you listened and acknowledged in the first place. Just a random thought I had that I wanted to share, so I’ll put my grandstand back in its closet now.
Despite that heady thought, we don’t have any stoner stuff to tout this month. But we do have riffs galore so I think you’ll all let us slide on this one. We had some HEAVY bangers come out this month that we absolutely cannot ignore. This month, I listened to some of the most powerful records I’ve heard this year. I’m certain the boys feel the same way. Despite the fact that Spring appears to have sprung, there was nothing but brutal riffy darkness in my headphones for the last 30 days. I enjoyed the contrast myself, and hopefully you all experienced something similar with your tunes this month. Enough of my yappin’, time to dig in. ENTER THE HAZE. EMBRACE THE FUZZ.
Absent In Body – Plague God (industrial sludge)
Holy damn, y’all. I’d have to go back to my notes but I’m pretty sure this is the heaviest record of the whole got-danged year already. Absent In Body came out of nowhere to me. All I heard was members of Neurosis, Amenra, and Sepultura were coming together to make a record, and it absolutely did not disappoint. Plague God absolutely flattened me with its extremely hard hitting riffs, rhythms, shouts, and synths. I didn’t even know what to think of this record when I heard the release of “Sarin” some months ago, but it absolutely piqued my interest. If you absolutely have to have some brutal riffs right now, put on Plague God.
Where to even begin?!? Every track is absolutely filthy and disgusting, and I love it so much. I started listening to it and the first thing I thought of was that club from the beginning of The Matrix. It was dank and dark while also being electronic and very modern. To me, those ideas are somewhat in conflict but Plague God works perfectly in those conditions. You can hear it in the introduction, but it really sets in with “In Spirit in Spite” where you hear the heavily synth-sounding bass along with the drum samples paired with live drums. It’s still heavy and amazing, but you also sense how tight it is with the electronics. It really fits in its own mold, an island unto itself.
Immediately following “In Spirit in Spite” is its opposing idea track, “Sarin”. Here’s where your heavy dose of Neurosis comes in. We had our electronic music sprinkled with sludge metal, now we have our “no, you got electronic music in my sludge metal” moment. This track is slow, aggressive, raucous, sludgy, and just plain mean. It is punishing to listen to, but more in the “thank you, daddy” way. It’s just so damn heavy and brutal. I’d compare it to Primitive Man with a bit more melody. It’s easily the highlight of the record to me, but every track is a standout. I’m completely in awe and mystified of it. I’ve listened to it multiple times now and I STILL have to listen to it again. That’s how I know it’s great.
End Boss – They Seek My Head (sludge)
As much as I love bands that really experiment with ideas and are trying something unusual, it’s also fun to hear something familiar and recognizable. Just because it isn’t completely brand new doesn’t mean it’s not good or interesting. That was my thought when playing End Boss’s latest record, They Seek My Head. There are a lot of very accessible ideas in this record but they’re done in a way I haven’t quite heard before. It’s one part classic rock and one part modern sludge metal packaged together, and it absolutely blew me away.
I think what I liked about this the most is its bluesy feeling across the entire record. It felt like a 70s classic rock record in many ways. The music felt very lived in to me as there were a lot of tried-and-true elements to it. The riffing had a lot of brash swagger to it. It knew exactly what it was doing and was very confident in its direction. There is also a lot of variation to what the guitars do. Sure, there was a lot of really big riffs that hammer you with aggression, but there are also perfectly calculated quiet moments to break up the activity. Each kind of guitar part had its perfect place in each track which isn’t something many other artists can completely grasp.
After multiple playthroughs, vocalist EJ Thorpe’s voice started to jump out at me. In some ways, she’s the perfect contrast to the instrumentation behind her. While the guitars are brash and loud, Thorpe’s vocals are more subtle while also still being center stage. There’s a bluesy quality to her style, too. It slinks through each track and makes each word more intriguing than the last. Her voice also adds a lot of melody to songs that otherwise wouldn’t have it. Thorpe is the rug that holds the room together. I couldn’t recommend They Seek My Head highly enough for these qualities. Get it in your headphones and rock ‘til your heart’s content.
Epitaphe – II (progressive death-doom)
I have a little confession to make: I’m slowly falling in love with dense-ass death metal. I’m not sure what happened, but I can now see the incredible value in it. Since getting pretty deep into death-doom, I’ve become more aware of the more progressive form of death metal. I’ve noticed that it’s hard to deny that stuff when it’s very well made. I think the same things goes for Epitaphe. I’d call this band a pretty dense sound, meaning it really means a lot to you when you have more knowledge of what’s going on behind it. On their second release, the appropriately named II, they’ve further proved that this version of death-doom is rewarding for any and all listeners.
When I first put on their previous record, I, I was astonished by the band’s musicianship. II continues my bewilderment at their immense talent. It’s not just that they write incredible songs that are true audio journeys, nor is it just that they are clear masters of their instruments. It’s the combination of both and how they choose to implement what they’re doing. Listening to “Celestial,” there’s a lot of classic underground metal sounds and ideas going on but they’re not just expelled on you all at once in a violent explosion. There are certainly sections of the 19-minute track that engage in that, but they’re interrupted by quiet interludes that create the journey you feel during the whole song. Nothing feels really out of place, and that’s why it rules.
As I’ve listened to II a number of times, I feel like I’m a slightly different person at the end of each playthrough. It’s certainly a tome of an album with a lot of concepts and ideas throughout. It’s a lot of death metal infused with doom tropes like slower tempos and a flair for the dramatic. And to top it all off, it has some real atmosphere. It really creates its own universe that it lives in. I have to say that I haven’t heard many records like this one in the slightest. It’s hard to define further or explain in greater detail as it’s simply one of those records you just have to hear. This is all to say that this is by far one of the most brilliant records I’ve listened to this month and this year. Just quit reading and go find it for yourself.
Thou & Mizmor – Myopia (blackened sludge/doom)
I absolutely love surprise releases. I feel like hype and marketing often kills a good record, and I find a lot of value out of having no expectations for any media I consume. Plus, surprise records are just plain fun. It’s incredible when a favorite band or artist or whoever just drops some content nonchalantly as though they do it all the time. For Thou, that’s absolutely true. They legitimately do that multiple times a year. But for an artist like Mizmor, it’s completely unexpected. But the real coup de grace here is that it’s a surprise collaboration release, and it’s everything I didn’t know I wanted.
Myopia is exactly what you want from a collaboration release. It is the perfect combination of both artists. Mizmor supplies the Melodie’s and sign structures while Thou brings their aggression, tone, and production. Mizmor’s tragic melodic lines are delivered with Thou’s aggressive riffing style, blasting your ears with everything they’ve got. You can hear the rise and fall of lines and song sections effortlessly blend into each other in the perfect amalgamation of sonic ideas. Thou’s sludgy ugliness and Mizmor’s blackened beauty make for the perfect extreme metal peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Soldat Hans – Anthaupt (downtempo folk doom)
Soldat Hans’s es taut, their 2018 release, remains one of the most crushing releases I’ve ever heard. It’s not exactly the heaviest release ever; some bands have bigger chords, more guttural vocals, and overall sound more daunting. But es taut has the emotional capacity of a surgeon’s scalpel, slicing right through to my heart and setting it ablaze with a deluge of fire. All of this is to say that I had extremely high expectations of Anthaupt and to say that it met them would be to miss something. Instead, I would say that it subverted them. It did so by insisting on taking the Soldat Hans formula forward, iteration on the band’s sound and taking it new places.
Check out the title track for example, which is arguably the album’s first “proper” track after the introductory folk musings of Eighty-two Percent Chance of Rain, the first actual track. To be sure, the chords are still very slow and very fuzzy, crushing down on you with that capacity for emotional incisiveness that I mentioned above. But they are much groovy, especially when backed up by the excellent, explosive vocals from Carol Schuler. Schuler is also brilliant when singing a bluesier timbre which graces the quieter parts of the track. The combination, and the contrast of the movement between the more explosive parts and the quieter segments, both in the instrumentation and the music, create one of Soldat Hans’ most convincing and affective tracks to date. And that’s saying something for a band that’s made me cry with despair and sing to the skies with elation.
Of course, the signature brass instruments also make a triumphant return on this album. “Triumphant” is the word here, as they are used on Anthaupt in more a flourishing, grandiose component as opposed to the far sadder part they played on es taut. But their brilliance is not reduced, once again acting as more than just embellishment but rather an organic and essential component of the music and the composition. By the way, if I am not mistaken, the brass instrument used here is a trombone and that’s a great choice since, to my ears, the instrument already has a sort of sad timbre. This means that the somewhat celebratory and flamboyant usage of it still “gels” with the rest of the sound the band is going for, creating a sort of disheveled and faded glory, perhaps echoing the cover art for the album and its static, faded loneliness.
As you well know, I could go on. We could dive into the sparse melancholy of “Speechwriter”, perhaps a track closer to es taut’s sound. We could touch on the ambient and then the very, very, very loud “Horse Funeral” and its crescendo or the absolutely brutal outro which closes the album with “The Jubilant Howl”. But instead, we shall let you go, dear listener, to dive into another, and different, release from one of the unsung, underrated titans of doom music today. If you’re looking for a different approach to the penchant sadness and introspective melancholy of the genre, look no further: Soldat Hans have you covered. And then some. Bring tissues.