Mix: New Metalcore

Reviewing that Nostromo EP yesterday really reminded me how much I am loving this endlessly bountiful resurgence in metallic hardcore. So many creative new bands are emerging with unique takes on a sound that, for me, really never gets old, and harkens back to bands near and dear to me such as Disembodied and Acme. Sharing occasional commonalities such as genre-mixing, high pitched wah pedal breakdowns, and an overall emphasis on bone-crushing rhythm, this new generation of bands is something for which I’m very happy to be alive to see.

Palm

00:00. Vein – “Broken Glass Complexion” from Errorzone (Closed Casket Activities, 2018)

02:27. Revolve – “Trepidation” from Dragged Into Extinction (Trial by Fire, 2019)

05:22. Problem of Pain – “The Rust in My Veins” from I Will Always Want to Let Go (Blood & Ink, 2018)

09:32. Tourniquet – “Lilith” from I Hate the Way This Makes Me Feel (Contraband Goods, 2018)

11:26. Wristmeetrazor – “XOXO (Love Letter from a Loaded Gun)” from Misery Never Forgets (Prosthetic, 2019)

13:12. Wolf King – “Further” from Loyal to the Soil (Prosthetic, 2018)

16:11. Palm – “Blood Clot of Pain” from To Live Is to Die, to Die Is to Live (Deliver B, 2018)

20:02. Joy – “Bleak Home” from No Light Below (self-released, 2018)

22:19. Nostromo – “Uraeus” from Uraeus (self-released, 2018)

27:17. Castor’s Hollow – “Court of Dragons” from Shape and Void (self-released, 2019)

29:36. Pupil Slicer – “Spectral” from split with Sense Offender (self-released, 2019)

32:24. Ithaca – “Impulse Crush” from The Language of Injury (Holy Roar, 2019)

35:35. Seeyouspacecowboy… – “Absolutely Absolute Absolution” from Fashion Statements of the Socially Aware (Dog Knights, 2017)

Review: Nostromo – Narrenschiff (self-released, Mar 8)

If the new Daughters album last year wasn’t enough to sate your appetite for unlikely comebacks in heavy music, Swiss hardcore outfit Nostromo has you covered. Almost exactly one year ago they released two individual tracks, “Uraeus” and “Corrosion”, their first recorded output since 2004’s Hysteron – Proteron. Unlike that album though, which presented a quite unexpected stylistic departure from the previous two records in the form of progressive, all-acoustic guitar compositions, the thrashing metalcore is back on Narrenschiff, and sounds just as fresh almost fifteen years later. The production is much more full and muscular than the stabbing angularity of Ecce Lex (which, to clarify, is also fantastic), giving crushing weight to every instrument. The dense guitar arrangements don’t lose any of their clarity though, and every note hits with its own force even as they collectively form formidable, nearly impenetrable walls of dissonance and distortion. Penultimate track “Septentrion” might be the most epic the band has ever penned, its patient atmosphere-building and evolving riffs showing a promising inclination toward longer songs—it and “Uraeus” are already the lengthiest they’ve ever released. “Das Narrenschiff” ends things on a satisfyingly fucked-up note, capably wrapping up this superb return to form. Welcome back!

Review: Dirac Sea – Negative to the Power of Infinity (Perpetual Abjection, Mar 8)

When the Bandcamp description for Negative to the Power of Infinity states that it is “a great one to sit back and explore,” it could not be any more of an understatement. Peter Keller’s newest project as Dirac Sea (other aliases include Condo Horro and Bacillus, the latter of which released the crushing and terrifying Serial Infector last year) embarks further into the cosmos with its immersive blend of shifting crackles and spacey ambience. The attention to detail in each of the three extended pieces is nothing short of astonishing; sputtering textures like the restless underpinnings of an unchecked blaze form the basis for drones that float off into emptiness in “Interstellar Waves at 1019eV,” creating a soundscape that is simultaneously physical and elusively celestial. Keller harnesses his sounds with the patience necessary for wall composition, but also with an ear for subtle development, allowing the two facets of this dual sonic environment to breathe in and out in harmony with each other. For this reason it would be criminal to jump ship on any of these tracks before their full duration; in doing so you’d miss the gorgeous tones that occasionally emerge amidst the reticent cacophony of “Interstellar Waves,” or the evolution of the hulking hums and laser blasts that underlie the tense “Negative Charged Muon Courting a Negative Charge Pion,” or the motion of “Probing the Void” that seems to both speed up and stay the same. Negative to the Power of Infinity is a masterpiece of the contemporary wall noise renaissance, developing its ambitious ideas with admirable skill.

Note: the image used here is cropped from the one used on Bandcamp. Each CDr copy is individually spray painted and therefore unique.

Review: Ted Byrnes – Double Negative (Absurd Exposition, Mar 3)

As I sit down to write about Ted Byrnes’ new tape Double Negative, I realize that there is really nothing I could bring up or praise that Sam McKinlay hasn’t already acknowledged in his beautiful piece about the album. So instead I will reprint it below (full credit to Mr. McKinlay, who makes his own music as The Rita and with Byrnes as CACKLE CAR, and the Absurd Exposition page) and do my best to continue the discussion.

Byrnes performing at the Warp Weft release event

One of the most interesting aspects of Ted Byrnes’ C16 work Double Negative is the fact that it is presented by Absurd Exposition, which is very much an analogue electronics based label that is most commonly concerned with “harsh noise” and “power electronics.” The exciting aspect of Ted’s percussive work versus the electronics is its incredibly common means to an end. After years and years of my delving into the world of silicon and germanium fuzz circuits with various colleagues, contemplating the electronic processing of source into rough textures can really make someone question the various apparatuses conceptually, especially when you experience raw comparable sound via internal combustion, or in Ted’s case – percussion. “Striking something” for a conceptualized sound acts as a pinnacle of deconstructed sound technique, especially when making a career out of creating seemingly percussive rough textures via electronics, can make the artist doubt their practice and its analogue gear avenues that may simply be (in extreme terms) a “waste of time” when compared to straight well conceived percussion. Again, presented within the world of harsh noise specifics, Ted Byrnes’ rapid fire washes, lines and layers of shifting percussively created textures very much converse in the language of harsh noise with a vicious truth that analogue electronics may never be able to replicate.
Every year I think about ditching my electronic gear and just having some “percussive” setup like strips of aluminum that are lined up to make “slapping / snapping / crack” noises, but then I’m constantly reminded of Ted’s work and the fact that I’m just purely jealous and should just stick to what I know.

As McKinlay says, improvised music and especially abstract percussion shares a great deal of qualities with ‘noise,’ an observation immediately apparent from the squealing abrasions and endlessly pummeling walls employed on Double Negative. It’s a, if not the, culmination of Byrnes’ visceral approach that he’s taken on recent releases such as Materialism and Source, and leads me to question the often ambiguous dividing lines between noise and other abstract musics. It’s easy to fall into a bottomless pit of semantic runarounds in discussions of genre, but in this case it comes down to what definition we give ‘noise’; while an archetypal artist in this area would use tabletop electronics such as effects pedals and contact microphones, if the sound produced is viewed as an isolated entity, the breadth of ‘noise’ grows tenfold. I by no means intend to completely abandon the attachment of methodology to the sound it creates, because the actions behind the sound and the relationship between the two are often just as important. Instead, with this hypothetical redefinition, I argue for a less restrictive view of noise music, one that doesn’t exclude atypical approaches. This ultimately allows me to articulate what is so magnetic about Double Negative: that it doesn’t hide its direct physicality behind curtains of effects and manipulation, yet still fills the same void as more conventional harsh noise works do, a dual identity that cannot, and should not, be ignored. So when McKinlay resolves to “stick to what [he] know[s],” I couldn’t agree more; the best noise is made when the artist uses the arsenal with which they are familiar, reaching that clamorous catharsis in entirely their own way—which, certainly, is what Byrnes accomplishes with Double Negative.

Review: Alex Cunningham – Knell (Fort Evil Fruit, Feb 28)

Violinist and collage artist Alex Cunningham’s Fiddle, a short tape that came out last year on Personal Archives, is one of the highlights of modern solo improvisation. Cunningham attacks, slices, hits, blows into his instrument, using an approach unrestricted by formal conventions to explore the full breadth of its sonic capabilities, much in the same way Polly Bradfield did on her sole LP Solo Violin ImprovisationsBut whereas in Bradfield’s music, the violin and its sharp, grating timbres were very much placed in silence and space, Cunningham’s visceral exploitations are extremely loud and uncomfortably close, even on the more patient pieces that comprise Knell, his newest release. By the time the ersatz, percussive textures of “The River Took Your Child” emerge, an instrument so closely associated with conventional beauty has been abused, ripped apart, deconstructed before our very eyes, its battered body yielding bow slurs that twist and turn like winding back-country roads, forceful scrapes in which you can almost smell the resin flaking off onto the strings, mysterious rustling textures that don’t seem to be produced by a violin at all… and that’s the third track! Of all the more adventurous experiments on Knell, “Piece for F-Hole and Breath” is perhaps the most unique, paying tribute to the extended breath techniques used by musicians such as Greg Kelley and Bhob Rainey, and introduces an area that Cunningham states he plans to work with further. In my opinion this is worth grabbing for the cover art alone (made, as with all of his other releases, by Cunningham himself), but you also get to hear some of the most singular contemporary music being made with a standard instrument.

Review: Savannah Conley – Twenty-Twenty (Elektra, Mar 1)

If I hear one more person misextrapolate their hatred for the “modern country that’s on the radio” to the entire genre, I’m going to explode. The industry, even with all of its firm roots in good ol’ traditional Americanism and Western grit, is giving a voice to many a new artist with plenty to say. Savannah Conley is a newcomer from Nashville, releasing her first three songs on the 7″ EP Twenty-Twenty, a melancholic but gorgeous iteration of the dream pop infused brand of Americana that I fell so deeply in love with last year with Kacey Musgraves’ wonderful Golden Hour. Conley is barely in her early twenties, but her commanding vocals reach far above the juvenile angst all those damn cynics would be quick to assume, crooning out the sparse narration of an existential crisis on “Same Old Eyes” and meditations on the messy battleground of young love that hover somewhere between sardonic self-awareness and naïve idealism on “All I Wanted”—the latter of which, even on this superb three-song punch of a record, is easily one of the strongest and most enthralling tracks I’ve heard this year. “Never Be Ourselves” ends things with some more energy, but the heartbreaking wistfulness doesn’t quite escape Conley’s words, as she repeats the titular phrase and her vocalizations melt into the airy ambience of shimmering cymbals and reverb-heavy strums. Twenty-Twenty is a concise and fantastic debut effort that is sure to put this new artist on the map (and is also sure to be a vehicle for my endless crusade against the rampant, misguided disdain for country music).

Review: Velo Misere – Retrospectiva de la Fatalidad (Death Kvlt, Mar 1)

Retrospectiva de la Fatalidad (which translates to “Retrospective of the Fatality,” for us non-Spanish speakers, though you probably could have figured that out on your own) is a compilation comprised of the first two releases by Spanish raw black metal outfit Velo Misere. This is exactly the kind of stuff that hits the spot on a gloomy Saturday morning. The first four tracks, which come from the 2017 demo tape Compendio de Trágicos Presagios, pair an oppressive, nocturnal ambience with some truly superb songwriting. Breakneck blasting sections collapse under their own weight into more structured riffs, conjuring elemental images of howling winds and gathering clouds as agonized shrieks tear across the soundscape. While Velo Misere focus heavily on atmosphere, meandering riff repetition or extended ambient interludes aren’t something they bother with, instead devoting every second to the driving, even invigorating sense of momentum that reveals a glimmer of hope amidst the chaos. The tracks from Genealogía del Eterno Desasosiego, the band’s more recent release, delve even more deeply into the blanketing, droning auras that were only hinted at on Compendio, filtering even more well-composed songs through a shroud of dirt and darkness. Restrospectiva both delivers a wealth of superb black metal and documents the ruthlessly climbing trajectory of a very promising group of musicians, from whom I can’t wait to hear more.

Review: Dim Thickets – Dim Thickets (Anticausal Systems, Feb 21)

Dim Thickets is the newly formed duo of New York improvisers Jason Nazary and Carlo Costa, both of whom enter into this pairing with heaps of experience in various group settings; the former with trail-blazing bands such as Little Women and the Chris Pitsiokos Unit, and the latter with various quartet configurations and groups such as Earth Tongues. Though the four instrumental conversations on Dim Thickets pit Nazary’s electronics against Costa’s drumming, both are seasoned percussionists, and the distinct sensibility that role entails is palpable in both members contributions (even in moments as abstract as the stutter-step glitches and bowed cymbals that begin “Palpitations”). This self-titled debut tape is “a document of their first meeting,” and finds itself in a balance between the exciting wealth of possibility in a new musical encounter with the firm sense that these two artists were meant to play together. They command motion and dynamics with astonishing prowess, Nazary often forming the firmest base with his sustained delay-clock manipulations while Costa expands and contracts through his restless rattles, unique textures, and Prévost-esque metallic resonance. The result is a colorful release that marries spontaneity and patient development to sublime effect.

Review: Kuebiko – 10,000 Torii Gates (Outsider Art, Feb 22)

On what is apparently his debut on the cassette medium, Nottingham noise artist Kuebiko conjures hulking industrial soundscapes that growl and rumble with intimidating force. With a tape as (criminally!) short as 10,000 Torii Gates, an artist can’t afford to waste time, and Kuebiko certainly doesn’t; while the opening piece “Un Ah,” the longer of the two, expands much more slowly and organically than some of the more erratic cut-up artists we know and love, it doesn’t compromise in volume or abrasiveness, instead allowing for the thought-cleansing catharsis of harsh noise to emerge through the gradual unfurling of distorted static textures and overwhelming, bass-filled reverberations. “Jizos in the Moss” expands further into the sharp-edged chunkiness hinted at by the previous track, framing a lush sound environment of jagged drones with crackling, kinetic rings of distortion. The way this second piece expands to its conclusion is even more natural than “Un Ah,” seeming to crack and crumble under its own massive weight before dissipating into that pregnant silence that exists only in the aftermath of the loudest, most ear-bloodying noise sets. I really do wish it was longer though. A thirteen-minute run time is just unfair for something this good!

Review: The Wind in the Trees – A Gift of Bricks from the Sky (self-released, Feb 19)

It’s always funny when the title of an album reveals more than you’d expect. In this case, the title of A Gift of Bricks from the Sky politely informs you about how listening to it will feel, and doesn’t back down on its violent (but generous) promise for even a second. Information on this new Baltimore outfit is scarce, but I do know that Dave from The Heads Are Zeros (whose self-titled LP is a modern grind masterpiece) is involved, and all of the relentless technicality and eardrum-shredding viciousness that connection would imply is present in spades. From the cover image to the dark, unsettling atmosphere conjured by the track titles and lyrics to the music itself, A Gift of Bricks… is an angular, jagged record, pairing a satisfyingly overwhelming, chaotic production style with dizzying, ruthless rhythms and a formidable low-high pair of throat-tearing vocals. The instrumentals complement the disquieting imagery of the lyrics remarkably well, with barely-held-together machine gun blasts framing the screams of pure hatred on “They Were Sympathetic” and frightening biblical evocations bolstered by the crushing double bass gallop of “A White Light in Autumn.” Silly me for thinking the latter would be the album’s most hopeful track—that actually comes with the sublime guitar interplay coda of closer “Blinding Miscalculations,” which brings the frenzy of anger and misanthropy to a hypnotic and even beautiful end (though the lyrics do NOT agree). I don’t about you, but these are the best bricks the sky has ever gifted me.