In the late 2000s, a business called the Smash Shack opened up in San Diego. It’s not to be confused with the various Smash Shack chain restaurants all over the country—as far as I know you couldn’t actually get a burger there. It served a more specific purpose: therapeutic destruction. The way it worked was that you paid a fee to go into a private room where you enter, close the door and just start breaking things. Shattering plates and other objects, just absolutely ripping shit apart. That was the whole point—it was sort of like primal scream therapy, but with the added benefit of property destruction.
I never went to the Smash Shack, but I get the psychology behind it. Sometimes when you’re anxious, frustrated, angry or scared, maybe physical activity will help more than talking through it. (It’s not a long-term solution, though—don’t substitute this for therapy, and also I’m not a doctor and this does not constitute medical advice, etc.) For me, a great, absolutely ripping metal album provides a similar service. I actually don’t break a lot of things myself—I’m a pretty low-key person overall. But hearing four musicians just tearing through a raw blast of death metal, firing on all cylinders, seemingly intent on crashing headfirst through any obstacle in their path—that, to me, is therapeutic.
I can’t be the only one who feels a bit anxious right now, with midterm elections around the corner, social media takeovers by billionaires who want to let the fascists back in, and that most hectic of seasons: Year-end list season! (Actually I think it’s fun, don’t tell anyone. Shhhhh….) So, with one month to go before I reveal my favorite metal albums of the year—which I haven’t totally sorted out yet but I’ll get there soon enough—I’m offering a roundup of metal albums to help work through those anxious feelings, to metaphorically break stuff while you’re going through it. We’ll be OK, just turn these up and feel the catharsis.
Daeva – Through Sheer Will and Black Magic…
I came to Daeva’s debut album hoping for something that would kick my ass. And I found exactly what I was looking for—pummeling, blackened thrash metal that carries an attack like vintage Coroner and Exodus after a few too many nips from a stygian flask. The Philadelphia band—which features three members of doom metal group Crypt Sermon—pretty much does nothing but kick ass. Outside of the obligatory two minute intro, strategically placed for the purpose of building mood just before embarking on its 34-minute rollercoaster ride, Through Sheer Will and Black Magic… is all thrills, all exclamation points, all fists in the air and beer cans to the forehead. While this far from the complete and exhaustive checklist of what I seek in a metal listening experience, from where I’m sitting, there’s little out there that’s as immediately satisfying as this. (20 Buck Spin)
Faceless Burial – At the Foothills of Deliration
In their press photo, the members of Australian death metal outfit Faceless Burial are wearing metal t-shirts and shorts; I trust them implicitly. While there’s something to be said for a theatrical presentation, there’s something even more impressive about hearing the technical feats on At the Foothills of Deliration, the ugly churn, the dissonant intricacies and artful compositions and just knowing it was made by some regular-ass dudes. Not that regular-ass dudes typically make death metal albums that traffic in complex permutations of abstract violence, at least that succeed as well as this one. It’s not just the guttural weirdness and flashy instrumentals, though; Faceless Burial know when to drop a nasty groove, usher in a furious gallop and get straight to the wrecking. That is, after leading you through their labyrinth of horrors, naturally. (Me Saco un Ojo/Dark Descent)
Languish – Feeding the Flames of Annihilation
It might strike you as unexpected that Tucson, Arizona’s Languish cite Woody Guthrie as an influence. They don’t play folk music, of course, but rather take inspiration from the idea of being a voice of the people and speaking truth to power. The band’s extra crusty, extra crispy death metal as such leans more into ideas of manmade apocalypse brought about by our own greed and injustices than, say, supernatural phenomena, gore and splatter. But the overall effect remains one of absolutely nasty, noxiously thick death metal that—socio-political or not—provides just the kind of fuel you need to commit some acts of vandalism. Not that I’m saying you should do that sort of thing. But you could… (Prosthetic)
Ripped to Shreds – 劇變 (Jubian)
If you’ll excuse me for being meta for a moment, I was under the assumption that, in the past 10 months of this very column, I gave the vast majority of inches to death metal records. It turns out that isn’t true, which feels wrong somehow, because despite having fairly eclectic tastes, a lot of the time I just feel like listening to death metal (and in my defense, I spent a lot of the year listening to old death metal, which I highly recommend). This month that changes, of course—you’ll find no fewer than three death metal records here, and the best of the bunch belongs to Ripped to Shreds, a band with an old school aesthetic that nonetheless feels both novel and brilliantly executed. That’s in no small part thanks to leader/songwriter Andrew Lee, who knows that great death metal comes not from riffs alone, but from great songwriting, and for that matter, a compelling narrative. On 劇變 (Jubian) those narratives comprise both ancient Chinese history and Asian-American identity, with songs drawn from both real-life experience and mythic icons alike. With plenty of blistering intensity to go around, of course. Absolutely vital listening. (Relapse)
Cloud Rat – Threshold
For a few years now, Cloud Rat has been one of my go-to destroy-everything-now bands. The Michigan grindcore outfit’s last album landed on the list of the best grindcore albums of all time that I recently put together, and their latest album Threshold is comparatively thrilling, if leaning a bit heavier on the more abrasive side of their sound. Which is no less rewarding, I should note—I’m always the first to praise a grindcore band capable to intertwine moments of soaring melody within their whirlwind of sonic mayhem, but even when leaning more on rawness and menace, there’s a sophistication to Cloud Rat’s songwriting that sets them apart. To make a gross, unfair generalization, there are two types of grindcore albums: Those that sound like your headphones are exploding, and those that make you lean in closer to hear the details of that explosion. With Cloud Rat, I want to savor every last piece of shrapnel. (Artoffact)
Worm – Bluenothing
Once you’ve shredded every disposable item within a 20-foot radius, crushed your enemies, had them driven before you and heard the lamentations of their women, these are the triumphant dirges that shall soundtrack the chalice you raise to your parched lips. After the glorpy death doom of last year’s Foreverglade (a perfect name for an album from a Florida death metal band), Worm amplify the gothic horror synth, the soaring leads, the heroism, the pageantry. I found it only fitting after highlighting five albums of relentless, hyperspeed death metal, crust and grindcore to end on a note of gloom and glory, with no shortage of ornate detail to go around. Funeral doom metal often moves at such a pace where every fanciful lick has the space and time to land properly, but this new EP from Worm feels even more flamboyant and pristine than usual, channeling just a little bit of eldritch glorp while embracing the dream warrior within. (20 Buck Spin)
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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.