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.
I got my heart broken this week. It wasn’t because of a dude (or anyone of any other gender); I didn’t lose any close friends or family. I’m pretty healthy, and my grandma is proud of me. No, this torrent of emotional torment came courtesy of one of my favorite bands, Mortuary Drape, the Italian masters of black metal horror. Over the span of a decade, I’ve seen them in three or four different countries, written boatloads about their brilliance, and interview founding and sole member, Wilderness Perversion. I get the chorus to “Obsessed By Necromancy” stuck in my head on a weekly basis. I love them.
So, yesterday, when I got an email from their label, Iron Tyrant, promising a “new” promo, I dropped everything I was doing and rushed to open it—only to find that said “new” release was actually a re-release, of two demos that are literally older than I am. I’m obviously still going to buy said release, Necromantic Doom Returns, which combines the 1987 Necromancy demo and 1989’s Doom Return demo, but it’s been four whole years since the band’s most recent full-length, Spiritual Independence—throw me a bone, cabrone! Essentially, Mortuary Drape pulled a Blasphemy here (except, unlike their Canadian peers, the Italian outfit has actually released a significant amount of new music since 1993).
I’m not at all upset with Mortuary Drape for resurfacing old material, but it did get me thinking. This kind of bait-and-switch is all too common in metal, especially in the underground, and most frequently when a hitherto cult band is either rediscovered by a younger generation or given some kind of belated “big break.” Think Relapse’s endless (though very luxe!) Death reissues, for example—it’s cool for the kids, but their existence ultimately leaves one wondering whether those resources could’ve been better spent on bands who aren’t already icons. Unless an album is out of print and wholly impossible to find outside of eBay or predatory private sellers, why bother reissuing it? Do people really need a hundred extra rehearsal demos thrown in on top of the main event? We see this same tactic utilized when new bands are snapped up by bigger labels and see their existing albums repackaged as an entirely new product, like what happened with Dawn Ray’d or Zeal & Ardor (thankfully, Discogs and the Encyclopedia Metallum never lie). I’m torn about whether it’s a question of increasing access—or accruing capital.
I’ve always been a grump when it comes to reissues and re-releases and deluxe box sets and diehard versions and all the assorted frippery that labels and bands like to offer (slash push) on metal fans (I also deeply dislike the trend of releasing literal demos or rehearsal recordings on vinyl). I understand why metalheads love collecting various formats and metallic ephemera, though; I own enough records, tapes, and books myself to land firmly in the “physical is better” camp, too, but I do think that we’re going a bit overboard. Metal fandom demands a certain commitment to materialistic excess, whether you prefer to hoard T-shirts or vinyl or Lemmy action figures or ultra-limited Rhinocervs tapes, and for most of its existence, participating in metal culture has meant accruing stuff: patches for your kutte, records for your shelves, pins for your jacket, posters to upset your mom. The rise in streaming services and industry-wide shift towards never-ending tour cycles (which mean that the $15 you might’ve spent on a record is now more likely than ever to be spent on a concert ticket or beer instead) is a direct threat to metal’s culture of things, which has in turn resulted in an upswing in demand for physical formats from those who scorn Spotify and want something real.
I get it; nostalgia is a prime motivator, physical music (especially records) look and feel cool, and there’s a beautiful sort of satisfaction to be had in a neatly-organized record shelf. Buying physical releases is an excellent way to support the artists and labels you love—though whether or not you decide to buy and re-buy them multiple times instead of just streaming them or going to see them play is on you. And, on a broader scale, do we really need this shit anymore? The dying planet we’re trapped on is littered with the remains of the last generation’s once-cherished treasures; how many jewel cases and CDs and old vinyl do you think are mouldering away in your local dump?
In summation, I’m on the fence, and probably won’t come toppling down any time soon; as much as I dislike the idea of being crushed to death under my piles of Amebix albums, I still love them. (I also really want Mortuary Drape to release a new album). That’s all I’ve got for now—here’s what I’ve been listening to this week, including a bunch of sweet new discoveries and brand-new albums from three (!) underground heavy hitters: Anicon, Down Among the Dead Men, Closet Witch, and Churchburn.
Watching Anicon's black star rise from basements to big stages over the past few years has been truly wonderful for me, as both a fan and a friend, and the NYC outfit's latest album, Entropy Mantra, is a huge stride forward for a band that's long been one step ahead of the pack. They exemplify a newer breed of USBM that's taken root in recent years, post-Cascadian boom; their balance of savagery and delicacy takes a heavy influence from its European forebears, but retains an urgency, a straightforwardness, and a pathos born of urban blight that's all American. As vocalist Owen Rundquist said, "One could say that we've hit a new stride in our creativity, but I would say we have found what Anicon means."
Down Among the Dead Men
Down Among the Dead Men's synthesis of old school death metal and pitch-perfect crust punk is immensely satisfying, and reflects well on its big-name progenitors: one-time Bolt Thrower throat David Ingram, guitarist Dennis Blomberg, and guitarist/bassist Rogga Johansson, he of the miles-long resume and inimitable tone. Indian label Transcending Obscurity will release the band's third album, And You Will Obey Me, on June 15. It's a mystery to me why they haven't gotten more shine (especially in a post-Bolt Thrower world: it really is so good to hear Ingram's roar again), but this new joint is an absolute corker, and now all I can think about is how much fun it must be to hairwhip to their live show.
I am so excited about this band, and foresee so many great things for them in the neat future, and am so pleased to be sharing their new album with you. This hot-blooded Iowa grindcore crew shares a spiritual (and musical) bond with other relentlessly creative grind bands like Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Iron Lung, and Cloud Rat, so it makes a ton of sense that they're currently out on tour with the latter (take a detour and come to NYC, pretty please?). Closet Witch themselves are terrifyingly proficient at their deadly craft—there is real, palpable, horrifying rage to be found within the closely-packed notes and razor-sharp chords propelling this beast of a self-titled debut (which is a multi-pronged co-release from Noisey darlings Halo of Flies with SassBologna, Jems, Circus of the Macabre (UK), Don't Care (UK) and React With Protest (Germany). You've been warned.
I've been a fan of Churchburn's since they arose from the New England muck in 2013; their pedigree alone was eye-catching (I've always loved drummer Skinny Ray's other band, Sin of Angels, and really, is there anything shredder supreme David Suzuki can't do?) and the hellish, blackened sludge they dredged up consistently hits the spot with murderous precision. Now, they're joined by my old pal Timmy St. Amour of Howl on guitar, and have linked up with the venerable Armageddon Shop to blast their latest album, None Shall Live... the Hymns of Misery, into the world. Suzuki's barbaric yawp is as satisfying as ever, but Churchburn's rouling tar pit of bleak, paranoid riffage is the star of the show here.
I came across this release during a dark moment last week, and clung to it; the notion of "spiritual warfare," Vilkacis' raison d'etre, fit squarely into my staticky headspace at the time, and the sheer blackened brilliance of their work on this split with Dutch trio Turia summoned back my strength and resolve to keep soldiering on. Everything Vilkacis does retains an unimpeachable level of quality; as the solo project of prolific polymath M. Rekevics (who also shares his talents with Fell Voices, Vanum, Yellow Eyes, Vorde, and many more), that's unsurprising, but always welcome. Lest we forget, black metal heals as often as it destroys.
Flood Peak was a chance discovery (I'll always click any promo with the words "blackened sludge") but a welcome one. On their debut release, Plagued by Sufferers, this young Portland, OR trio hunkers down on an uneasy strip of no man's land between Amenra, Grief, and Inter Arma, holding fast to a post-metal influence and doomed tempo while allowing a malevolent undercurrent of black metal to steer the ship. As green as they are, they have certainly hit on something solid here—and with a little luck, theirs is a name you'll be hearing again soon.
Another week, another incredible Vrasubatlat release. Idiot Hell is the latest missive from Utzalu, a Portland, OR-black metal trio with a filthy punk core. This latest album is blessed with an almost Craft-ian swagger, dragging that classic Scandinavian swing through the gutter and bringing to mind a self-loathing, black metallicized Inepsy. This kind of pristinely gross black metal punk is raw, ugly, and rare, and Utzalu are some of its reigning monarchs.
Changeling hails from frozen Minnesota, which has long proven to be an excellent breeding ground for both rabble-rousing crust punk and forward-thinking black metal. This DIY project falls into the latter camp, and its latest album, II, fits into the general atmospheric black metal tradition, but is almost too pissed-off and spooky to qualify. The atmosphere on offer here is more graven and sepulchral than pretty, with heavy keys floating through the fury and blasting riffs taking the lion's share of the oxygen. I expected this album to be angry, but not this angry.
Unholy Vampire Slaughter Sect
This shadowy Connecticut cult has been sporadically releasing new songs entirely at its pleasure, with three singles and three split releases already under its bullet belt for 2018. The latest of which, "Rejoice in the Realm of Unordained Light," surfaced on their Bandcamp just the other day, and is a characteristically challenging, lo-fi Luciferian meditation on the night and its secrets. I get a strong LLN vibe from a lot of UVSS's recordings, and this one is no different. Fun fact: the label that releases their material, Perverse Homage, boasts several members of NYC's House of First Light collective on its roster, which makes a lot of sense. Something rotten's taking over the East Coast black metal scene, and I'm all in.
Kim Kelly is the metal editor at Noisey; against her better judgement, she's also on Twitter.