Welcome to Crack’s monthly round-up of extreme music
Make no mistake, the fringes of music are closing in on you. A world preoccupied by weighty, formless experiments, corpse painted theatrics and palm-muted misery is now but a click away. Those record sleeves decked with unreadable logos – the ones formerly only available in specialist shops in grimy small town malls – are now yours for the taking.
In the last few years the heaviest, most difficult artists committing their work to tape have been able to find an audience with relative ease. Sure, the audiences might not be huge but they’re always fiercely devoted. It’s a beautiful mystery. What seems totally absurd to one listener completely absorbs another. Those who are absorbed? They’re in it for life.
Grindcore, black metal, death metal, power electronics – call it what you like – each month we’re rounding up the best extreme music we can find on the internet and feeding it back to you.
‘Loss’ and ‘despair’ as either conceptual arcs or emotive abstractions are cardinal tools in contemporary doom. Bereft of momentum, the notion of grievance seems scored upon each weepy chordal movement. In fact, gross funereal morbidity is such a familiar trope for doom nowadays that it can sometimes sour the legitimacy of a band’s sonic intentions. Thankfully, Clouds commandeer their misery with verbose craft and dexterity. Something of an international supergroup formed by members of The 11th Hour, Eye of Solitude, Rapture, Barren Earth and Shape of Despair, Departe is an expansive ode to remorse and heartache. Clocking at over an hour in length, the record plays out a pain so inwardly devastating that it pillages us of any hope and optimism we have left to conserve within this brave and petrifying new world. Yet, while Departe leaves you a shattered husk of your former self, pathos of this calibre is something to truly celebrate.
Spiritus MortisThe Year Is One (Svart Records)
Despite their nominal acclamation of being Finland’s first ever doom band and described by Svart as the country’s ‘most ancient purveyors of doom metal,’ Spiritus Mortis’ output is deceptively limited. Formerly known as Rigor Mortis, the group have been periodically active since 1987. Their early works are amassed with demos and splits until releasing their eponymous debut almost twenty years after their formation. Now, seven years on from their third LP, The God Behind The God, they return with The Year Is One; an anthology of horrific fairy tales decorated with macabre droning and Candlesmass-indebted riffing.
Here, Finland’s own doom deity, Albert Witchfinder of Reverend Bizarre has been recruited to narrate ghastly fables of demonic corpse violation and depictions of black magic rituals. His vocal timbre swoops from trilling falsetto to gurgling baritone while brothers Teemu and Jussi Maijala execute some genuinely confounding instrumental acrobatics. And regardless of this Spiritus Mortis’ stunted productivity, The Year Is One bellows enthusiasm and demonstrates a resolute criterion for doom’s future endeavours.
Downfall of GaiaAtrophy (Metal Blade Records)
To paraphrase Downfall of Gaia, humans endure the crushing actuality of life without a single reason or purpose. We live, we die and anything in the interim is worthless. Atrophy, the group’s fourth full-length, aims to eulogise this constant dialogue between life and death, ‘where life itself becomes a Sisyphean masterpiece.’ The German quartet regularly reference Albert Camus and the existential dichotomy between existence and the after life. Blanketed by sweeping atmospherics and strident post-black metal, this record boasts a pessimism that is strangely inspiring. On previous records, Downfall of Gaia concentrated almost entirely on the destructive nature of total annihilation. With Atrophy, they showcase the light in their onyx black sound; pinpointing a resounding beauty even in the most catatonic of states.
WITCHTRAPTrap The Witch (Hells Headbangers Records)
Metal’s quota for stellar thrash releases throughout 2016 has been titanic. In this this year alone, famed dignitaries of the form – Voivod, Megadeath and Testament – have arguably produced some of their most significant and visionary records to date, while acts such as Vektor, Vredehammer and Oozing Wound continue to thrust the genre into radically new and progressive realms. But none, literally none of these bands compare to WITCHTRAP’s Trap The Witch in terms of instantly gratifying imbecility. It’s unashamedly brash, opting for lightning speed over substance. Originally released last year, Hells Headbangers have aided in refining Trap The Witch’s lo-fi mimicry production standards. Thrash as throwback as this has never sounded so immediate.
NetherbirdThe Grander Voyage (Black Lodge)
Conspicuously likened to Moonsorrow and Denmark’s Illnath, Sweden’s Netherbird have paternally fostered their own personal take on symphonic black metal and applied facets of traditional folk and ambient acoustics. Over the years, the collective have become renowned for their melodramatic scores and majestic, if not melodramatic, stage presence. The Grander Voyage, which is the sextet’s fourth album release, further develops their relationship with straightforward black metal and new-folk. Acoustic is omnipresent, frequently installed as the founding infrastructure for each of these seven tracks. Because of this, many electrified moments are eerily bright and climactic. It’s not the most wayward journey to traverse, but track Winwards is potentially this year’s finest example of how hilariously theatrical black metal can be.
ObakeDraugr (Rare Noise)
There’s a ferocious extremity to Obake’s Draugr; one that is shrouded in Mike Patton invoked vocal trickery and shape shifting time signatures. As honour-bound the group are to the dredging sludge of Melvins, the chordal harmonies of Alice In Chains, or the even awkwardness of Coil’s earlier works, Draugr is categorically unclassifiable. It flits from prog to noise to free jazz to ambient to doom to post-metal like an impetuous child. Yet somehow, through the maddening din, Draugr finds form in all of its nonconformance. It’s clear that Obake are intentionally unconventional, which may perturb some of metal’s ‘old-school’. But even this league of puritanical metalheads cannot deny the adventurous dynamism of this record. An explosive, extraordinary experience.
Vermin LordAnguish (Self-Released)
The polarising quality of Vermin Lord remains in its sole creator, Seattle’s Teo Acosta and his regurgitating scream. It’s like the sound of acid reflux forcibly blockading your oesophagus as your drool bilious sewage from your mouth. It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s intensely jarring. At times, it’s as if he’s gently easing into an armchair, letting out a troubled sigh of relief while his skeleton clicks and clacks around its sockets. Nonetheless, Anguish draws upon varying sectors of conventional black metal, with opposing tonalities and dissonant atmospherics. Acosta’s creative ambit is vast and is certainly an artist to keep an eye out for in 2017.
Anaal NathrakhThe Whole of the Law (Metal Blade)
Two years on from Desideratum, Anaal Nathrakh’s eighth studio album, the Birmingham born act show no signs of sedating their flared temperament. The Whole of the Law is a paroxysm of breakneck grind, tech-steered distortion and Cathedral shaking strings. As we’ve grown accustomed to with every Nathrakh release, the record’s lyrical content remains unpublished, leaving us to decipher a coherent discourse amongst all the misanthropic bedlam. Rest assured, whatever their subject matter may be, The Whole of the Law is an audial exhibition of absolute anathema.
ObituaryTen Thousand Ways to Die (Relapse)
Since reforming over a decade ago, Florida’s Obituary have remained the unrivalled doyens of death metal. They’re remorselessly prolific with each release somehow outshining its predecessor. Yet here, sans the two opening studio tracks, we are not presented with new material but live masters of performances sourced over eleven dates during their successful Inked in Blood tour. It’s often disputed that live records are by and large marketing cash cows that only really appeal to die hard fans or are released in order to supplement the contractual demands of a band’s label as they work on their next album.
Ironically, Obituary are working on their next album. But Ten Thousand Ways to Die is so much more than just a throwaway collation of live appearances. For one, the post-production is remarkably clear, finding a searing instrumental clarity through the crowd’s jeers. Secondly, the intensity in which Obituary play is phenomenal. They haemorrhage riffs as if they still have so much to prove, which is rare for a group 30 years deep in their career. Death metal has never sounded this live and Obituary have never been more alive than what they sound here.
Illustration by: James Burgess