Metal, without catharsis, cannot exist. By nature, it’s a source of therapeutic release, of soul-scraping cleanse. That’s, more broadly, true of all music, but it holds particularly true of metal, whose loud, fast and aggressive characteristics are what many of us reach for when we’re frustrated or angry or searching for something to help us get back to feeling a sense of calm, if only through some kind of bad-feelings exorcism. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve put my headphones on and turned up something loud and ugly, made with guitars and featuring a hell of a lot of screaming, and found myself feeling much better as a result.
These days, demand for that kind of catharsis—at least from my perspective—is at an all-time high. People find their own ways of dealing with the stress of…everything. Baking bread, binge-watching The Sopranos (which I also did), ordering a lot of things that nobody needs via Amazon Prime—we all have our coping strategies. But there’s no getting around the fact that life is pretty stressful right now, if in large part because the problems that have stressed us out in years past, like climate change for instance, are still there and seemingly getting worse, while more and more problems just seem to stack up on top of that. It’s not a rosy situation to be in, and it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of it.
Last year, Treble’s Michael Pementel wrote an essay about how doom metal has been a source of strength in times of struggles with mental health (and it’s a good read!). Though his perspective is unique, today I humbly offer a related but distinctive perspective, in that metal is the source of primal scream therapy that I think we all need. I don’t know how to fix climate change (I mean, I’m donating to reforestation efforts as a start), and I really don’t know what the future holds for the Delta variant of Covid (or the Lambda variant and god only knows what else). But what I do know is that I have a method of coping with it, and that’s turning metal records up really loud and letting them scrape the rust of anxiety off. It’s safe, healthy, and it feels incredible. (There’s a “men will literally listen to black metal records and not go to therapy” joke in here somewhere, but look I’m about as fine as I can be given the circumstances.)
If you’re looking for a list of metal records that are good for a soul-scrub, I can give you hundreds, but seeing as how this is an outlet to recommend new metal, I’ve got six great new recommendations for you, some of which are about just kicking ass and some of which draw really deep into darkness, which sometimes might be necessary. I can’t guarantee that any of these records will change the world or solve all of our problems, but put them on when you’re feeling overwhelmed or on edge, and don’t be surprised if you end up feeling a lot better.
Ænigmatum – Deconsecrate
I don’t know if it’s a misconception so much as an oversimplification that heavily technical music is generally lacking in feeling. Years of Malmsteens and Satrianis gracing the glossy covers of guitar magazines certainly led to a general divide between those who love the sound of guitar players just shredding like hell and those who want their music to be wank-free. But metal’s an interesting middle ground in that the best metal is often made by musicians who are technically quite skilled, even if that’s not their central aim. Take Portland’s Ænigmatum, whose abilities are Ginsu-sharp, but whose music is immaculately crafted—much like North American death metal icons Death and Atheist before them. They can play like motherfuckers, but there are utterly stunning songs throughout their sophomore album Deconsecrate, the melodic and labyrinthine nature of which makes the climaxes from following their intricate instrumentation all the more rewarding in the long run. Yes, these dudes shred—gloriously so—but there’s more to it than that, there’s genuine feeling in what they do. It’s more of an eerie, early Opeth kind of feeling than, say, the spiritually driven explorations of Yob or the earnest introspection of Converge, but it’s real feeling all the same. Ænigmatum put the listener through a gauntlet, but the end result feels like being on top of the world. (20 Buck Spin)
Fluisteraars – Gegrepen door de Geest der Zielsontluiking
Dutch black metal duo Fluisteraars send some mixed messages in the press materials for their sixth album Gegrepen door de Geest der Zielsontluiking, which is described as “if Tangerine decided to record a black metal album,” and yet it’s emphasized more than once that there are no synths or keyboards on this album. There’s a good reason for all of this—there’s a sense of cinematic grandeur that the band conjures on this album, a majestic melodic sensibility that one doesn’t typically find in the lo-fi hiss of treble-heavy guitars. And yet, guitars are the very tools that the group uses to create such a spacious, cosmic atmosphere. Considering the array of acoustic instruments that the band employed on their previous album, the incredible Bloem (horns, piano, etc.), it’s natural to assume they’d expand beyond that palette once again. But removing those from the equation in no way equates to a back-to-basics approach; Gegrepen is as ambitious as Fluisteraars has ever sounded, even its shortest track, “Brand woedt in mijn graf,” showcasing as breathtaking a canopy of sounds as they’ve ever delivered. The true standout here is the 20-minute closer “Verscheuring in De Schemering,” which is the incredible and colossal rush of beauty and urgency that they’ve always shown themselves capable of but never quite at this magnitude. If you need a metal album to make you feel something other than simply wanting to scream into the void or smash dinner plates (which are perfectly valid things to feel, I should note), then this is an excellent candidate. (Eisenwald)
Hooded Menace – The Tritonous Bell
There’s always value in taking a sound that much further—death metal that’s just that much uglier, doom metal that’s just that much more slow and despairing (not that you’ll outdo Warning on that front, but you can try), or power metal that’s even more unapologetically over the top. Hooded Menace aren’t that kind of band, but they do something with death doom metal that a lot of their peers simply don’t: They make it accessible. Death-doom is nobody’s entry point into metal and a lot of folks simply get off the ride before making that stop, but Hooded Menace is the transfer ticket that could bring a lot of listeners all the way. I’ll stop this labored metaphor and I apologize for even going there in the first place, but you get the idea—the Finnish metal vets make something highly appealing and melodic of slow, murky metal. “Accessible” is perhaps a relative term, given that the songs on their new album The Tritonous Bell are catchy in the sense that vintage Amorphis is rather than, say, Weezer. (“The Weezer of death doom” is a title that’s still up for grabs—I believe we’ll get there one day.) But there’s a heroism and triumphalism to tracks such as “Those Who Absorb the Night” and the galloping “Corpus Asunder” that speak to a love of classic heavy metal as much as the nastier or bleaker stuff, and it makes diving into The Tritonous Bell surprisingly fun. That’s perhaps not the aim—with bands like Hooded Menace, there’s always a feeling of descending into darker depths in order to eventually reach those greater heights. But make no mistake, the end result is energizing and empowering. (Season of Mist)
King Woman – Celestial Blues
In our review of King Woman’s Celestial Blues, Langdon Hickman said that Kristina Esfandiari “is one of the best songwriters and composers going right now in underground music,” and I couldn’t agree more. The second full-length from her King Woman project is as much of a whirlwind as the group’s 2017 debut Created in the Image of Suffering, but it feels a lot heavier. Drawing on grunge and gothic rock as much as doom metal, King Woman draws on Luciferian imagery not for the rebellious escapism of heavy metal but as a storytelling device for drawing on trauma and personal discovery. But look, if you’re looking for a cathartic metal release this month—as much as all of these are strong candidates—you won’t find a more soul-wrenching and wondrously cleansing album as this, an album of songs that look its tormentor in the face and drags it straight to hell. It’s an album that can take a lot out of you, but by Lucifer’s beard does it ever feel good. (Relapse)
Mannveira – Vítahringur
Every band featured in this month’s column offers some kind of catharsis—to be honest, I find that most metal fails the test if it doesn’t—but Mannveira’s kind is a bit more of the spiritually exhausting kind. Their music is a particularly bleak and gothic brand of black metal, but it doesn’t necessarily share much in common with the more stereotypical black metal sounds of the first or second wave. Blast beats appear only in short bursts, and arpeggiated post-punk riffs take up more of this album’s real estate than tremolo-picked leads. The Icelandic band thrives in darkness and gloom, but it’s an aesthetically captivating gloom, the strength of their melodies enough to carry you through each soul-scraping dirge. No sunlight touches this album, and there’s not much about it that feels affirming or joyful, but sometimes being in touch with that darkness—especially this elegantly executed—can be a necessary path toward renewal. (Dark Descent)
Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana
Wolves in the Throne Room, after more than 15 years of releasing consistently solid, atmospheric black metal bands, have reached a level on par with that of bands such as High on Fire. In essence, you know what you’re going to get with a Wolves in the Throne Room album (esoteric ambiance, epic black metal, the general feeling that you’re surrounded by a heavy fog), and it’s always pretty satisfying. That’s what I thought before I heard Primordial Arcana, anyhow. But then they shoot a video on the beach, and lay down a record full of six-minute songs instead of side-long marathons, and it feels a little bit like Wolves in the Throne Room have emerged on new label Relapse with a renewed sense of focus. It’s not Wolves in the Throne Room’s party album (as much as I’d love to hear that!), but while on prior releases the Washington band’s music came wreathed in mysticism, these songs feel more direct, more melodic and corporeal. There’s an urgency and a drive to these eight tracks that’s energizing rather than simply enchanting. The riffs on “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire)” sound like sirens of war, and “Mountain Magick” aims from the jugular right from the start. Wolves in the Throne Room have emerged from the fog, and they sound ready for battle. (Relapse)
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.