To Hell And Back is a weekly column in which Noisey metal editor and lifelong hesher Kim Kelly explores the extreme metal underground and recommends her latest faves.
The year is still 2018, somehow. A pudding-headed fascist is still squatting in the White House, the basic human rights of everyone from women to undocumented people to prisoners are still under attack, Twitter is still propping up white supremacists, a right-wing maniac is probably about to be confirmed to the Supreme Court to ruin all of our lives for decades to come, and unhinged Trump fans are out here ramming trucks into news stations—and that’s just what’s going on within our so-called “borders” (which are themselves an illegitimate, racist construct on stolen land that should be pulled down tomorrow). Everything is very much on fire, which is to say, it’s been a pretty normal week in America.
It’s hard to write about music—even good, necessary, soul-affirming music—with everything that’s happening, but write I must, both because I have to (this is a weekly column, after all!) and because I need to. We all need something to drown out all the (often literal) white noise sometimes, and heavy metal usually works a treat, especially if you end up reaching for something on the more abrasive side. That’s not to say that I condone the head-in-sand approach that many diehard music fans prefer to take in the face of real-world discord and discourse; but I do think that we need to make a little time for roses as we fight to the death for bread.
Even in metal, which continues to be riven asunder by infighting and ignorance, there is still room for beauty—like in the new Sylvaine track posted below, or in Hell contributor MSW’s hauntingly minimalist Cloud project. To be honest with you, all I’ve personally been listening to during work hours is crusty, blood-clotted metal/punk hybrids and comfortingly fuzzy old death metal records; then, when I get home, I’ve been obsessively replaying Disemballerina’s Poison Gown, and Thou’s Inconsolable EP.
There’s some of all that below in my recommendations list, and also some exciting new music from established bands like Ilsa, Sacrificial Blood, and Chthonic. In the midst of all this terror and strife, we may as well reach for the darkness that feels familiar.
Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Sylvaine has been making quiet ripples throughout the amorphous corners of the post-black metal scene since the release of her 2016 debut, the aptly-titled Wistful. Given the emotional heft, sun-dappled atmosphere, and liquid melodies involved, her music is far, far more Katatonia than Katharsis, but she still makes time to indulge in aggression and let loose a ghostly howl, as on this single from her upcoming new album, Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone (out November 2).
Paroxysm's anti-colonial, anti-capitalist, feminist, anarchist Canadian blackened crust ticks every possible box (for me, anyway) and I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if you’re down with bands like Storm of Sedition, Not A Cost, or Iskra (for whom one of Paroxysm’s members played drums for several years). This rules.
Chthonic was sidelined for a bit as vocalist Freddy Lim concentrated on his parliamentary career, but the Taiwanese symphonic black metal legends are now prepping a brand new full-length, Battlefields of Asura, which—true to form—is both deeply political and rooted in the historical struggles of their embattled nation. “Millennia's Faith Undone” is the bombastic first single, and is a busy, galloping melodic black/death metal fight song spiked with traditional instruments (and features a guest spot from Hong Kong singer Denise Ho).
This anarchic D.C. death/crust outfit released their most recent album—the sinister, spine-crushing Corpse Fortress—back in March, but they’ve just released a chilling new video rife with witchcraft, gallows, and ritual murder that I wanted to share with y’all. They’re also about to hit the road with Fister, one of my favorite ultra-nihilistic sludge troupes, so check them out if they’re scheduled to desecrate your village—they play NYC with Usnea and Monolord on Monday night, don’t sleep!
This is one of the most interesting albums I’ve heard all year. Untamed Land’s spaghetti Westernized “Old West Black Metal” feels like a railway crash between what Cobalt aims to be aesthetically and, oddly enough, Summoning, with whom this Akron, Ohio outfit share a love for bombastic strings and grandiose atmospheres (though they’re more focused on lighting prairie fires and ancient mountain mysteries than battling orcs). It’s really, really fucking cool.
These Philly-slash-South Jersey thrashers are the last of a dying breed, and are still shelling out dirty, DIY, breakneck death thrash like men possessed. If your idea of thrash perfection is more broken glass and basement shows than pizza or sci-fi, this is going to be extremely your shit. Their new split with Traitor drops September 28.
This ambitious French collective swirl together atmospheric black metal, screamo, grind, and post-hardcore, and launch impassioned lyrical onslaughts against worker exploitation, wage slavery, religious oppression, borders, and bigotry. C’est bien.
Even on the strength of just one song, the newly-released teaser “Bones for Divination,” I’m very much into Louisiana-turned-Indiana trio Black Awakening’s creepy-ass blackened sludge, and want to hear more (especially the vocals; there’s a nice, nasty Coffinworm vibe). Y’all have my attention: make with the full-length!
Kim Kelly is Noisey's heavy metal editor and spends too much time on Twitter.