Metal, hardcore, punk, noise: Music shouldn’t always be easy on the ears. Each month, Loud unearths some of the heaviest and harshest sounds writhing beneath the surface.
Before we dive into this month’s picks, a quick note: This will be the final installment of Loud. Thanks to everyone who has read, commented on, and supported the column over the past two years. It’s been a blast. Keep your eyes peeled for future coverage of metal, punk, and hardcore releases in The A.V. Club’s regular music section.
Video debut: Snakewing, “Ancient Construct Alchemist”
The Midwest rock bands Easy Action and Snakewing have released a split 7-inch EP titled Dead City, and it’s truly a match made in Hades. Easy Action is the long-running group featuring John Brannon, the sandpaper-throated singer of hardcore legend Negative Approach and blues-punk gang Laughing Hyenas. This is Easy Action’s first release in four years, and it makes up for lost time with two tracks of pummeling, four-on-the-floor punk. Snakewing is a weirder, sneakier outfit; combining lo-fi death metal, lurching hardcore, and guttural vocals that give Brannon a run for his money, the band’s two tracks on Dead City have an unearthly menace that’s nonetheless rooted in dark, sick filth. Courtesy of Underground Communique Records, here’s a debut of the video for Snakewing’s “Ancient Construct Alchemist.” Enjoy, and then wonder what’s wrong with you.
Top five albums of March
1. Intronaut, Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones)
It’s completely unfair to ask any single metal album to deliver everything: power, volume, majesty, melody, darkness, rawness, precision, abandon, dynamism, and atmosphere. Usually it’s fine for a band to get away with mastering any three of those things. The guys in Intronaut, though, shoot for the whole enchilada on Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words With Tones). And they get it. With a sparse, sprawling sense of architecture that amplifies open spaces as much as it does intricate riffs, the album tops anything the band has done before—and its moody, mathematical tension never gets in the way of fluid grooves that both mesmerize and pulverize. Singer-guitarist Sacha Dunable has led Intronaut to new heights of clarity and composition, all while keeping things dissonantly twisted. Best of all, it sounds utterly modern. And in a sea of retro acts, it’s thrilling to see a group take such a bold step forward. “Why do you run from what you can’t escape?” Dunable sings on one of Habitual Levitation’s best tracks, “The Welding.” He might as well be talking about the future.
2. Inter Arma, Sky Burial
Inter Arma’s new full-length, Sky Burial, is nowhere near as sculpted or cerebral as Intronaut’s latest. But it’s equally as masterful. A monolithic work of progressive doom, the album doesn’t let its love of crushing loudness get in the way of some delicate tunefulness—or even some acoustic interludes. At the height of its potency, though, Sky Burial fits perfectly between Meddle-era Pink Floyd and Through Silver In Blood-era Neurosis. But even then it maintains a howling, guttural beauty all its own. By the time the 10 minutes of the disc’s standout track, “The Long Road Home,” have collapsed into a seething maelstrom of rage and regret, it’s almost too much to bear. And that’s only a third of the way in. Absorb Sky Burial in its entirety on a dead night when you can afford to exorcise some demons. Or take on some new ones.
3. Ensemble Pearl, Ensemble Pearl
The ominous undertones of the cosmos are integral to a lot of heavy music—or at least those practitioners of it who cut their teeth on H. P. Lovecraft. There’s nothing explicitly Lovecraftian about Ensemble Pearl’s self-titled debut, but it’d make for a great soundtrack to a reading of the Necronomicon. The instrumental project features Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) along with Michio Kurihara and Atsuo of Boris, but the result is more than the sum of those parts; full of swells and echoes, the gorgeously horrific tracks sound like they’re synched with the metabolism of some interstellar entity. Rather than droning, O’Malley and crew untether their pinging riffs, letting them drift along and lazily collide like the debris of shattered worlds. In other words, it’s pretty fucking huge.
4. Kvelertak, Meir
March was a great month for heavy releases, but it was also an emotionally taxing one. Thank Satan for Kvelertak. The band of Norwegian rock ’n’ roll marauders has returned with Meir, and it doesn’t have a hint of epic, depressing progressiveness. Instead, it’s another anthemic blitzkrieg of classic-rock hooks and blackened frenzy. The sound is vast, the songs are concise, and the fury is white-hot. It’s refreshing as hell to see a band take the rudiments of vintage ’70s metal like Judas Priest and Scorpions, then drag it through a minefield of bombast, harmony, and noise. Comparatively speaking, Meir is a party album. But its hosts are less than human, and there’s more than a little virgin blood in the punchbowl.
5. Black Pus, All My Relations
Rhode Island’s Lightning Bolt have long been keepers of the noise-rock flame, as well as being one of the best live bands in America. But the group hasn’t been very prolific lately, which is why Black Pus’ All My Relations is such a welcome blast of contorted belligerence. The solo project of Lightning Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale, Black Pus has entered a new phase of existence; much more focused and assured than previous releases, All My Relations showcases not only Chippendale’s frightening agility on the kit, but his prankish take on industrialized noise—a clusterfuck of textures and rhythms that are all tied together by Chippendale’s chant-like vocals. Until Lightning Bolt unleashes a new full-length, this will more than satisfy that sick itch.
6. Lost Society, Fast Loud Death
7. Cnoc An Tursa, The Giants Of Auld
8. Multiple Truths, No One Wins
9. Insect Ark, Long Arms
10. Nails, Abandon All Life
Blue Öyster Cult, Blue Öyster Cult
Over the past two years we’ve covered all kinds of classics in Retro Loud, from Rainbow’s Rising to Bathory’s Hammerheart to Neurosis’ Souls At Zero. For this final installment of Loud, though, let’s go back even further: Blue Öyster Cult’s self-titled debut. Released in 1972, it failed to make much of an impact at the time. But in true cult-like fashion, the mystique-steeped New York band used Blue Öyster Cult as the foundation on which to build a rich, influential body of work. But even if BÖC had been a one-off fluke by a forgotten band, it’d be a proto-metal staple. From the Alice Cooper-like “Transmaniacon MC” to the spectral “Then Came The Last Days Of May,” the disc showcases the group’s ambition, chops, and undying commitment to imagination-gripping songcraft. And then there’s “Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll,” a groove-heavy, sci-fi-steeped, hard-rock anthem that makes Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” sound almost quaint. BÖC went on to top itself with a slew of incredible, era-defining hits and albums, but it always managed to remain more or less under the radar. Cowbell jokes notwithstanding.