Relapse: 25 Essential Tracks

essential relapse tracks

essential relapse tracks TombsTombs – “Silent World
from Path of Totality (2011)

There’s a lot that goes into Tombs’ eclectic, expectation-defying dark metal sound. There’s some sludge. There’s some black metal. And there’s more than a little doom creeping into each and every corner. But there’s also something to be said for the post-punk aesthetic that Mike Hill favors, inspired heavily by the likes of New York City noise rock titans Swans. “Silent World,” an outstanding highlight from second album Path of Totality showcases that ominous sound, with a touch of Joy Division accessibility, made all the more pummeling and harrowing the closer it comes to the transcendent climax. This isn’t just extreme for extreme’s sake, it’s nuanced, finely crafted metal from melodic and sometimes beautiful pieces.  – JT


essential Relapse tracks Royal ThunderRoyal Thunder – “Whispering World
from CVI (2012)

A pretty hefty chunk of the Relapse roster over the years has been in the extreme-metal realm, particularly in its death-metal-heavy ’90s. But Atlanta’s Royal Thunder is, for all intents and purposes, a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Contemporaries of heavy psychedelic types like Baroness and ASG, Royal Thunder is — like all great metal bands — well schooled on their Sabbath and Zeppelin. And their standout 2012 track “Whispering World” is almost like a modern reinterpretation of those titans’ mighty song. For starters, Royal Thunder do melody better than most contemporary heavy bands, and aren’t the slightest bit intimidated by a hook or a chorus, so Mlny Parsonz’s vocal performance doesn’t merely fall along the clean/screaming divide — it’s a real, honest-to-goodness vocal performance. She can really belt, and this is where her pipes are at their strongest. – JT


Inter-Arma-Sky-BurialInter Arma – “Destroyer
from Sky Burial (2013)

While some metal disorients with speed or hard-hitting noise, Richmond, Va.’s Inter Arma’s weapon of choice is a crafty use of musical space. For the majority of its ten-minute run, “Destroyer” creeps along at the pace of molasses. But just when you think you have Inter Arma’s number, they push the intensity gauge through the roof as all the noise they’ve bottled up for seven minutes collides with thrashing drums and a powerful rage. By the time the track’s final moments summon the ominous call of “Comfort us o’destroyer/ Light up the world,” one feels as if they’ve waited a torturous eternity for that moment — but in a good way. – ATB


True Widow - CircumambulationTrue Widow – “S:H:S
from Circumambulation (2013)

Texas trio True Widow is a tricky band to put into context, not just in Relapse’s roster, but in rock music in general. The moody, low-end rumble they create is dark like doom metal, but not necessarily heavy. It’s slow, but not really slowcore. And it’s hazy, but not really shoegaze either. One listen to “S:H:S” should make clear that what they do is pretty damn cool though. With just enough distortion to lend the track a sense of danger, “S:H:S” is at once big-sounding and full of space. And perhaps because of that darkness, it makes a natural fit for an otherwise metal-heavy label roster. That being said, Relapse has also hosted bands like Philly shoegazers Nothing, synth-prog outfit Zombi and dark ambient group Locrian, so there’s actually a lot of diversity the deeper one dives. Still, there’s something extra intriguing and unsettling about True Widow, and an atmosphere that’s eerier than metal often gets. – JT


Windhand - SomaWindhand – “Orchard
from Soma (2013)

The first thing you notice on Windhand’s “Orchard” is that distortion. It’s so thick and nasty, like the breath of a hellbeast that lights up a pack a day. That it’s such a heavy and vile substance might initially paper over just how melodic and impressively formed Windhand’s songs are, but it doesn’t take long to find your way through that muck and see the music for what it really is. This opening track from the Richmond, Va. band’s Relapse debut is a small-scale production of every power at the band’s disposal: destructive riffs, mesmerizing hooks, thunderous rhythms and the voice of Dorthia Cottrell, whose own talents take an already good thing and make it breathtaking. Her newly released solo debut album shows just how well her vocals and songwriting stands up without the distortion and volume, but those who have been paying attention should have known that it’s those very qualities that set Windhand apart from so many of their contemporaries. – JT


Indian From All PurityIndian – “Directional
from From All Purity (2014)

A decade into their career, From All Purity showed Chicago’s Indian perfecting their noise-infused, doom/sludge hybrid with six painstakingly crafted dirges. That album’s centerpiece, “Directional,” was the best of that finely brewed batch; its slow moving destruction is equally mesmerizing from a mile-high view as it is when viewed under a microscope. From the layers of sonic grime to the terrifying, glacial pace of the rhythm section, the music here encases Dylan O’Toole’s guttural roar in a prison of gnarly-yet-nuanced metal goodness. Some metal is most impressive when viewed at a distance, but “Directional” gives the best rewards when its meaty riffs are gleaned from the inside out. – ATB


Nux Vomica albumNux Vomica – “Sanity is for the Passive
from Nux Vomica (2014)

“Apocalyptic” may be one of the most overused words in describing extreme metal. Yet in the case of Nux Vomica’s eponymous 2014 album, their first for Relapse, the subject is a closely detailed portrait of a specific apocalypse, caused by relentless human consumption and the resulting environmental destruction. So the word is apt enough to forgive the cliche. Oh, and also, y’know, the music itself fucking destroys. Through 13 minutes, “Sanity is for the Passive” runs a wide sonic gamut, like Nux Vomica as a whole. It begins as vaguely melodic metalcore, with a brief pause around the 5:30 mark for some beautiful high-tremolo walls of guitar that will perk up the ears of Deafheaven fans. The second half slows to a crawling, excruciating dirge, reflecting how righteous political anger can so easily give way to profound, resigned despair if we lose the courage of our moral convictions. – LG


Myrkur MyrkurMyrkur – “Nattens Barn
from Myrkur (2014)

One of the first Myrkur songs to surface, “Nattens Barn” is an excellent introduction to this one-woman Danish black metal act’s haunting work. Opening with multi-tracked ethereal vocals that make you wonder if you typed Myrkur’s name right when searching for the song, the “oh, there it is” moment comes at the :59 mark. Rest assured, this is metal, churning riffs, frenetic beats, feral screams and all. The occasional clean vocal intrusions don’t soften the blow — they’re siren seductions to your doom.

Much of the conversation surrounding Myrkur has not concerned her music, which is a pity. Black metal’s identity politics and authenticity debates are one of its unfortunate sidebars, including numerous examples of rank bigotry and misogyny. But as “Nattens Barn” and the remainder of her self-titled EP prove, Myrkur is no mere novelty, and it’s exciting to wonder what more she can do with a full album. – LG


Torche RestarterTorche – “Restarter
from Restarter (2015)

Miami’s Torche just dropped Restarter — their fourth LP and Relapse debut — last month, but it didn’t take long for the record to distinguish itself in the band’s catalog. It’s not that Restarter is necessarily a better album, nor does it lack the infectious hooks or post-metal feel of the band’s first three releases. But by infusing more elements of sludge and doom until their already tight-knit songwriting, Torche crafted their perfect Relapse debut. The most surprising (and, perhaps, rewarding) track of that bunch was the title track, which shows the band taking a cue from Krautrock to see just how far a single chord can take them. Building energy and tension for a full seven minutes (over Steve Brook’s skeptical chant “Our leaders are done with conversations”), Torche let this song (and album) come to a natural end with a minute-plus of fading noise. It’s a cathartic ending to a truly rewarding outing by a rather talented quartet. – ATB

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