Sucker For Punishment: Blackest of Times

The year is starting to wind down, but a smattering of noteworthy new metal releases are still trickling in over the next month, including a couple this week. Read on! Apostle of Solitude, Of Woe and Wounds (Cruz del Sur): More people should be getting excited for the first new Apostle of Solitude album since 2010, but it seems to have arrived with barely a whimper. Was the promotion not as on the ball as it should have been? Is the wonderful traditionalist label Cruz Del Sur not cool enough for the Brooklyn crowd? Either way, if you skip this record by the Indiana band, you’ll be missing out on one of the better doom albums of the year. What makes these guys so good is the inspired use of melody. They boast an outstanding singer in Chuck Brown and his talents are not wasted one bit, the vocal melodies big and bright, adding vivid color to a genre that tends to lack a lot of good male singers. “Blackest of Times” and “Die Vicar Die” are perfect examples, as Brown, who bears a strong resemblance to Diamond Head’s Sean Harris, brings some welcome showmanship to the already enthralling doom arrangements.

Cavalera Conspiracy, Pandemonium (Napalm): The latest collaboration between Max and Iggor Cavalera finds the ex-Sepultura members exploring the more atonal side of extreme metal, adopting mechanical-sounding riffs and martial drum beats. If anything, it steps outside the complacent little niche Max had carved out for himself these last 20-odd years, but despite the strength of tracks like “Cramunhao” and “Apex Predator”, this thing quickly becomes far too overbearing for its own good, awash in noise and repetition.

Doombringer, The Grand Sabbath (Nuclear War Now!): Not only does this Polish band create the kind of death/black metal hybrid that positively reeks of death and horror and violence, but the songwriting is smart enough to tone down the extreme histrionics and let the music breathe and develop naturally, dynamically. It’s plenty punishing, but the way it incorporates theatricality and flamboyance into the music, whether it’s in a melodic flourish or garish chanted lead vocals, gives it so much more personality than your average extreme metal band. The end result is a debut full-length that feels fully formed yet brimming with potential for better things in the future. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Falls Of Rauros, Believe In No Coming Shore (Bindrune): The Maine band might still have a way to go before they can match the pagan black metal majesty of Agalloch, but this latest effort shows they’re well on their way. Mournful melodies contrast with anguished cries and arrangements that gracefully shift from rampaging paces to more contemplative passages. Best of all are the lead guitar solos, which shamelessly venture into hard rock territory, opting for expression and soul rather than shredding, making the music stick out even more, especially on “Spectral Eyes”, which is a keeper. This is definitely worth investigating. Listen and purchase via Bandcamp.

Ladder Devils, Clean Hands (Brutal Panda): A huge, huge Drive Like Jehu/Shellac vibe runs through this entire new album by the Philly noise band, but at the same time the intensity of those aforementioned band is dialed down just enough to create a more brooding feeling. It’s all about the contrast between the introspective and the incendiary, and these guys pull it off in very impressive fashion. Chris Dick posted the album here yesterday, and I highly recommend you give it a listen.

Laster, De Verste Verte Is Hier (Broken Limbs): The more aggressive moments, which make up the bulk of this fine album by the Dutch band, are good examples of black metalat its most searing and atmospheric, but the longer it goes on, the more outside influences like neoclassical and gothic rock start to emerge as undoubted strengths. Concluding track “De Verste Verte is Hier” is a black metal/goth/post-punk hybrid on the level of Twilight, Nachtmystium, and Lurker of Chalice, enough to make you wish that, as strong as this record is, more of it had followed this direction.

Lordi, Scare Force (AFM): The Finnish GWAR clones are back with more of their lightweight, cartoonish heavy rock. Nothing has changed since they charmed their way into the hearts of millions back when they won Eurovision in 2006, but in this case that works against them, as this album mimics the excellent The Arockalypse but fails to equal the energy and goofy appeal of that record.

Piss Vortex, Piss Vortex (Indisciplinarian): The Danish band proves to be a lot better than their stupid band name implies, a decent sounding combination of unrelenting grindcore and experimental noise.

Psychostick, IV: Revenge Of The Vengeance (Self): Psychostick always cracks me up, and their live shows are a riot, but on record it’s always the same every time: a little goes a very long way. Some of this album’s better moments are parodies of Weird Al quality (nu-metal ballad “Blue Screen”, the loving ode “Bruce Campbell”), while others have fun being just plain stupid (“NSFW”, “Quack Kills”), but 21 tracks is far too long for a comedy album, and the cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” falls flat.

The Skull, For Those Which Are Asleep (Tee Pee): So there are two different version of Trouble, but mercifully only one of them is using the name. There’s Trouble, led by founding guitarist Bruce Franklin, and then there’s The Skull, a Trouble-sounding band featuring three former members of Trouble, most notably singer Eric Wagner. While Franklin’s Trouble struggled to regain classic form on 2013’s The Distortion Field, The Skull feels so much more assured. Part of the credit goes to Wagner, whose distinctive voice adds mystique and soul to the classic doom sound, former Pentagram guitarist Matt Goldsborough steps up with some beautiful, fluid riffs and solos that churn and groove in a way that’ll immediately get longtime Trouble fans salivating (see “Send Judas Down”). Jeff Treppel premiered this fine album on Monday, and it’s one you should totally be hearing.

Spiders, Shake Electric (Spinefarm): I’m a longtime admirer of this Swedish band, who have skillfully avoided the oversaturation of the whole Scandinavian retro rock trend by bringing some actual personality to the music, creating something that leaves a lasting impression. The 2012 debut full length Flash Point was an excellent blend of Stooges-level heavy rock and Suzi Quatro sass, and not only does the new follow-up continue right where the last album left off, but it dials up the grit considerably. The guitar tone is filthier, and there’s far more attitude in Ann-Sofie Hoyles’ singing. Toss in some wicked hooks that would fit well on the first KISS album and some rambunctious, intense jams reminiscent of the MC5, and you’ve got an album that brings some much needed energy and belligerence to modern rock ‘n’ roll.

Not metal, but essential listening:

Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes Complete / The Basement Tapes Raw (Columbia/Legacy): A nonconformist like no other in rock ‘n’ roll history, Bob Dylan, turned his back on popular culture during the peak of the psychedelic movement in 1967. While Sgt. Pepper captured the zeitgeist like no other record during that “Summer of Love”, Dylan and his old backing band The Hawks – soon to be renamed The Band – were holed up in a house in West Saugerties, New York, casually recording covers and new compositions, amassing a mythical body of work that would go on to be as influential as The Anthology of American Folk Music. Aside from a slickly retouched double album in 1975, the much-bootlegged The Basement Tapes never saw a proper release until this week, and the official product turns out to me totally worth the wait. Presented in two formats and featuring immaculately restored audio, both the six-CD Complete and the two-CD Raw are spectacular in different ways. Raw is a perfect replacement for the old 1975 release, wonderfully curated, featuring 38 of the best tracks from those sessions. Complete, meanwhile, is a Dylan fan’s dream, assembled chronologically, loaded with never-before-heard songs, allowing folks to hear this project take shape, from relaxed jams of country and blues standards to some of the most inventive work of Dylan’s storied career.

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