I’m ready for fall. This summer’s been long and brutally hot and if I’m being honest here, I’ve always been a lot happier and more comfortable in fall anyway. Summer has its charms of course, but for those of us who seek out heavy music in large doses, it can sometimes feel like an obstacle in the way of hiding out in the doom-hole that we’re all looking for. But we’re not there yet.
Believe me, I’m ready for ominous and gothic depictions of all manner of spooky shit, and I fully intend to celebrate all of it as soon as possible. But summer’s still here, wearing out its welcome, and I’ve worn out most of my summer jams. (Actually, that’s not true—you heard the new Oneida record? Fantastic summer psych.) But I am ready for things to get darker, stranger, more twisted and disorienting. I’m ready to be led down treacherous paths and into dark alleyways and through tunnels that take me somewhere I’ve never been before. I’m ready to get weird.
Which, come to think of it, feels just fine year round. None of this month’s best new metal albums are really summer albums, not that we typically think of them, other than that they were released in July or August. But they are weird—and awesome.
Tulip – Derangement, Exquisite Tenderness
Minneapolis’ Tulip aren’t operating on the same equation as most mathcore. The group’s time signatures are in a state of perpetual flux, to the extent that I’m not even sure if they’re divisible by four, occasionally sewn together with braids of bubbling synth and ominous atmosphere throughout. All 21 minutes of their sophomore album, Derangement, Exquisite Tenderness, crawl with menace and terror, but I can’t help but have a blast listening to the kinds of bonkers sonic creations they’re able to pull from the ether. Music like this never sounds easy or effortless—that’s part of the appeal—but it is fluid in a way that hyper-technical music often isn’t. But more than anything it’s the feeling that it conjures, the sheer, ripping chaos engine at the heart of it, that makes it such a glorious piece of barbarism.
Auriferous Flame – The Great Mist Within
Auriferous Flame is a new project from Ayloss, the Greek musician behind Spectral Lore—an act that’s released some great black metal albums in the past couple years. Yet where Spectral Lore embraces a kind of progressive black metal maximalism, more Krallice than Darkthrone for instance, Auriferous Flame leans more toward the old-school lo-fi darkness. If only it were that simple, however. As old-school black metal goes, Auriferous Flame is shot through with a psychedelic streak that makes it anything but straightforward. The repetition in leadoff track “Voice of the Gleaming Edge” is almost hypnotic in its cycles, while “Molten Gold” delves into miasmal layers of rhythmic pulse and distorted drone and “Ancient Corridors” sound like, well, the opening of ancient corridors. Pretty much nailed that one! While Auriferous Flame certainly aims for an old-school aesthetic, it’s in the songwriting, the structures and the arrangements where everything goes a bit askew in all the best ways. I had every reason to expect The Great Mist Within was something more than back-to-basics black metal, and I wasn’t let down in the slightest.
Xenoglyph – Spiritfraud
Black metal duo Xenoglyph don’t initially let on that there’s something strange happening in their secret laboratory on Spiritfraud. Its first two tracks, while moody and exciting, mostly read as somewhat conventional black metal. But soon enough things begin to look a little different—the edges start to drip and melt into pools of color, and ultimately swirl into a horrific vortex. Not quite as alien as Oranssi Pazuzu and not quite as bleak as Blut Aus Nord, Xenoglyph nonetheless conjure a particularly peculiar form of sci-fi psychedelia that uses the tools of black metal to end up somewhere a bit more interesting and unconventional. And the longer the song, the more ground—or space—the group are able to cover, as evident on the stunning closer “Acclamations of Emptiness.”
Scarcity – Aveilut
Brooklyn’s scarcity check off a lot of highbrow boxes; Brendon Randall-Myers has performed with the Glenn Branca Ensemble, they employ microtonality in the service of their avant garde black metal, and their debut album is an extended multi-part suite about grief. On paper that might sound lot a lot, and it is, certainly, but in execution it’s a thing of absolute, awe-inspiring wonder. Earlier this summer we premiered one of the tracks, “iii,” which Randall-Myers described as inspired by being “caught up in a process too large and complex to fully understand.” And so while this might seem more intellectual on paper than something to be felt, the end product is anything but, a gorgeous and powerful piece of music that brings both catharsis and an at times graceful and harsh companion to feelings that maybe aren’t always so easy to work through.
Locrian – New Catastrophism
In highlighting the best avant garde metal of the month, you always run the risk of including something that’s arguably not even metal at all. Locrian has essentially always been within that curious nether-realm of harsh and extreme music that’s not really noise, not really metal, but both and neither at the same time. Their latest, New Catastrophism—arriving seven years after the excellent Infinite Dissolution—is even less tied to the black metal elements that arose on that album, their dark muse guiding them into stunningly beautiful realms of space, adrift on waves of harrowing and majestic devastation. There are certainly elements of metal here—”The Glare Is Everywhere and Nowhere Our Shadow” carries the same malevolent feeling that black metal does, sans guitars or blast beats—but they’re often intertwined with something more akin to the spookiest Tangerine Dream records. It’s some of the most truly chilling and gorgeous music Locrian have ever released.
Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture
Upon hearing Ashenspire’s Hostile Architecture for the first time, I immediately was struck by how much it reminded me of another innovative band from the British Isles: Black Country, New Road. Hear me out: Alasdair Dunn’s sing-speak narration, the presence of violin and saxophone, moments of breathtaking beauty interspersed with eruptions of burning intensity. Only without the klezmer influence. In broader terms, Glasgow’s Ashenspire are “progressive” metal, and they likewise bring to mind various moments in King Crimson’s history from the ’60s and ’70s. But Hostile Architecture, however we choose to define it in terms of style or genre, is a tense and moving album that foreground’s the band’s leftist politics in ways that depict humanity’s bleak future through operatic metal feats. In a very real and direct sense, the social consciousness at the core of their music is as much a thread that connects to the original wave of British prog as much as it does the more avant garde legions of contemporary black metal. This is far and away one of the most ambitious metal records I’ve heard this year, one that might take a few more listens before I fully take in everything it has to say or every direction they choose to go. But it’s more than just density or complexity—it’s music I continually want to explore, and that’s something worth treasuring.
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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.