Aural Architecture: Shabazz Palaces

Shabazz Palaces
Photo by Patrick O’Brien-Smith

“Being concise as possible is of paramount importance… you know, trying to make the most stuff happen in the least amount of time.”

Paul Valery famously wrote, “a poem is never finished… only abandoned” and perhaps that ethos explains how Shabazz Palaces’ music can simultaneously sound like a pure, untouched stream of consciousness as well as a highly tinkered-with set of songs. “I hadn’t thought of it until you said it, but that really makes total sense to me,” says Ishmael Butler, one-half of the duo with Tendai Maraire. “There’s no time of the day when I’m not thinking of things in terms of a composition… so when those explosions of inspiration and instinct happen… they get captured.”

In the past five years, those explosions of creativity have come like a barrage: two EPs, a few singles, and now two LPs. Shabazz Palaces constitutes the most prolific output in Butler’s career and, perhaps more importantly, an unexpected third act. He’s best known for leading the ’90s rap trio Digable Planets, and for the album he released with his band Cherrywine. Even when his musical output slowed, he never stopped working. Butler explains, “there was a time between Cherrywine and this Shabazz stuff when I thought I’d never participate in the music business again. Not because I didn’t want to, I just didn’t really think I would have the opportunity.” Eventually, the first two Shabazz EPs were self-released. Then Butler found a partner in Seattle’s storied indie label, Sub Pop.

While Sub Pop is best known for its rock and punk catalog, the label’s approach to creating and promoting music unencumbered by conventional sales or marketing expectations appealed to Butler. As he puts it, “I didn’t see the Sub Pop thing [coming], but I really hoped that I could go to a place… where people would understand that if they liked the music, I could just go make it on my own and they’d help me get it out to the world.” That kind of support enabled Butler and Maraire to literally explore new spaces for recording, sometimes spending upwards of 12 hours a day with their equipment in “rooms that offer different sonic palettes. You know, a tall room with 30-foot ceilings” or a sonically dampened “dead room.” Moving away from the frenetic environment of New York also helped. Butler found that coming home lead to “my surroundings [being] a lot better and more relaxed. I’m pretty much able to work all of the time.”

For Lese Majesty, he and Maraire settled on 18 tracks, which may seem like enough for a double album, but many songs are short; one is a mere sliver at 41 seconds. The brevity wasn’t a product of moving fast, but rather simply doing more with less. For Butler, “being concise as possible is of paramount importance… you know, trying to make the most stuff happen in the least amount of time.” For those used to a song being defined by a verse/hook/verse structure, the free form of Lese Majesty may temporarily unmoor their orientation. That’s what it means to wander into Shabazz Palaces, opening doors and peeking around corners. It seems cliche to say “expect the unexpected,” but predictability isn’t on Butler and Maraire’s set list.

Besides, Butler has had to master efficiency in other parts of his life, now that he has a second job as an A&R guy for Sub Pop. The label hired him a year ago and it’s easy to imagine how sifting through countless demos might turn any working artist deeply cynical. Butler’s experience, however, has been anything but soul-draining. “I never felt that bad about it. Getting these demos and getting to see the amount of ideas and talent and work that is going on out here… it’s cool to see it on this level now. I find joy and excitement and richness. I look for it in places that people don’t look for it, or they try to make it novel.”

Butler summarizes his guiding principal: “I just feel like you have to follow your instincts when it comes to making music and constructing it, because it’s all you have when pursuing originality.” That approach has certainly served him well in his career of 20+ years and one gets the idea that, especially with Shabazz Palaces, he has entire new wings to plan and build.

Shabazz Palaces
Photo by Patrick O’Brien-Smith

Brooklyn Electronic Foundation: Our Friends Electric

“What brings those three and my label—Styles Upon Styles—together, is our attention to people who may or may not be based in New York but are definitely inspired by New York, and the free-form nature of the music; tapping into any sort of style or genre in the city and building that into whatever’s honest to that producer or musician.”

Sculpture

An alliance is gathering strength in Brooklyn.

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about a secret consortium of realtors and restaurateurs and their trust-fund-rocker fifth columnists, all hell-bent on colonizing every last corner of the five boroughs to make way for new condos and $6 cups of coffee.

We’re talking about a new force within the city’s underground and experimental electronic music scenes, one determined to carve out new possibilities in club music, DIY party-making, and home listening that’s informed by both.

In some ways, it’s an accidental alliance, given that the diverse set of labels we’re talking about are linked by a couple of key players, namely Matt Werth, who runs RVNG Intl. and distributes Tim Sweeney’s Beats in Space, and Phil Tortoroli, a label manager, publicist, A&R, and jack-of-all-trades who has a hand in the day-to-day operations of RVNG, Beats in Space, Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S., and Daniel Lopatin’s Software. With his friend Cam Curran, Tortoroli also helms Styles Upon Styles and its Bangers and Ash sub-label.

All of these outfits have their own vibes and aesthetics. Beyond geography and personnel, though, they’re linked in their shared aversion to being tied down to any one thing. L.I.E.S. is best known as a purveyor of crusty, rubbed-raw techno and house, but it extends into noise and ambient. RVNG runs the gamut from JD Twitch’s punked-up disco mixing to Julia Holter’s ecstatic choral music. Software takes Oneohtrix Point Never’s spectral drones as the starting point to imagine the kind of pop music we might have in a world where there’s a Fairlight in every home. Beats in Space approaches disco as a living tradition rather than a genre set in stone. And Styles Upon Styles, which shares a portion of its roster with Bryan Kasenic’s The Bunker, is as inspired by knocking down club-music shibboleths as it is picking up pieces of the rubble.

Holly Herndon

“These labels are all exploring different fringes of electronic music and experimental music in various shades and tones,” says Tortoroli. “L.I.E.S., ostensibly, is a dance label, but we put out an album by Lowjack, which is far more like a home-listening, headphone-type vibe. RVNG started out just being an experimental label, but has touched on as many different interpretations of experimental music as you can get, from The Body/Haxan Cloak collaboration, which is like super-dark heavy metal, to Holly Herndon’s vocal processing and academic work in the techno realm. And with Software, I mean, Dan [Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never] is a great purveyor of electronic music that’s pushed to the fringes and may recall some of the nostalgia of ’80s gloss and ’90s IDM, but it’s very much of the now. He works with producers, at least the current artist roster, who are all young and modern, inspired by past electronics and how to imbue that appreciation for the past into current reworking of the sounds. What brings those three and my label—Styles Upon Styles—together, is our attention to people who may or may not be based in New York but are definitely inspired by New York, and the free-form nature of the music; tapping into any sort of style or genre in the city and building that into whatever’s honest to that producer or musician.”

L.I.E.S.

As Tortoroli sees it, Ron Morelli’s L.I.E.S. label—crusty, barnacled, more than a little cantankerous—is a direct response to the way that gentrification has reshaped New York over the past decade.

“As Williamsburg got bigger and more crowded, and high-rises started going up, it was inevitable that the good clubs couldn’t afford rent any more, that drink prices were going to go up, that artists that were part of the underground couldn’t afford to live there, and playing shows there was going to be harder,” says Tortoroli. “I can’t speak for Ron and why he started the label, but the way I perceived it as a New Yorker just getting into local dance music, it seemed like L.I.E.S. was a total reaction to the high-gloss environment that Williamsburg was starting to become. The shit was lo-fi, it was underground, it was hard, and it was honest. It was hard to come by honest music in Brooklyn at the time.”

L.I.E.S. began as a vinyl-only proposition, but as the label’s reputation has rapidly spread far beyond its New York stomping grounds, it has altered its strategy, offering digital of select releases, but generally three months or more after the vinyl has come out. (For now, Bandcamp will be the exclusive digital outlet for the label’s limited, white-label series—the catalog numbers ending in “.5.”)

“Ron started out without doing any digital because he wanted to be a DJ label, he wanted the vinyl to sell, he wanted to maintain that ’90s aesthetic of what a dance label was,” says Tortoroli. “But you eventually come around. You’re like, shit, I can make money off digital, I can get more fans, and I can help put out more records in larger quantities by doing digital. So really I’m just hurting myself, limiting my label’s scope, by not embracing the digital world. Now with us joining Bandcamp, that’s purely just for the fans. You see Discogs sellers selling a record for 50 bucks and it’s like, dude, that sucks. It’s shitty for bands, it’s shitty for the label. So offering digital is a way to curb those kinds of sharks.”

RVNG

The Body

If any single label sums up the spirit of New York electronic music at its most open-minded right now, it’s Matt Werth’s RVNG. The label has gone through various phases over the past decade. Launched way back in 2003 as a CDR mixtape series featuring DJs like Tim Sweeney and Justine D, the label branched into disco edits with the RVNG of the Nerds 12-inch series (Jacques Renault, Greg Wilson, Betty Botox) and then in 2009, it started building a catalog of original music from a wide range of artists working in the margins between genres—Pink Skull, Allez-Allez, CFCF, Blondes, Julila Holter, Maxmillion Dunbar. But where RVNG has really found its niche, or perhaps its raison d’etre, is as a sort of mediator, a facilitator, a matchmaker. The FRKWYS series, whose title riffs on the Smithsonian Folkways label, was established as a way of bringing together artists from different scenes and, more importantly, different generations. Since 2009, it has resulted in collaborations between Excepter and Chris and Cosey; the contemporary ambient-pop musician Arp (Alexis Georgopoulos) with experimental composer Anthony Moore; and psychedelic journeymen Sun Araw with pioneering vocal reggae act the Congos.

The ReRVNG series, meanwhile, has shined a spotlight on a number of pioneering electronic and experimental musicians deserving of contemporary attention, including Krautrock veteran Harald Grosskopf, the Seattle ambient musician K. Leimer, Nommos composer (and Ramones producer) Craig Leon, et al.

According to Tortoroli, “There was an article recently about how older artists who are just being discovered now are getting more attention than newer artists who are putting out new music. Are people so tired of the constant barrage of modern music that we have to go back to what happened 20 or 30 years ago, which seemed like it was in a more intimate space than the internet-imbued world? I think that with FRKWYS there’s the best of both worlds: inter- and cross-general conversations between artists that may not have been discovered until recently, or might not have as much attention now as they did back then, working with new composers who have a lot of similarities to the old composers, whether they get a lot of attention or no attention or they’re just coming up. Together, there’s something timeless. It’s a perfect embodiment of the RVNG vibe to me. It’s free-spirited, it’s honest, it’s made for the love of music. I can’t think of a FRKWYS record that isn’t special, either in the process or the outcome or the players involved. As Matt grows the series, it’ll just become one of those series that will stand the test of time, and I fully believe will be a historical landmark. It’s not even that the records wouldn’t have existed without his effort, it’s like the meeting of the minds wouldn’t have existed.”

Software

While Dan Lopatin’s music as Oneohtrix Point Never has flit between outer-limits drone, VHS fantasias and digital abstraction, his Software label is even more slippery, stylistically speaking. Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety puts a futurist spin on ’80s-inflected synth-pop and R&B. Lopatin and Joel Ford’s Channel Pressure takes a similarly disjointed path back to the time of arcade daydreams, hopscotching across glassy digital synths, slap-bass riffs, and breathless falsetto. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there’s Huerco S.’s scuffed techno, Thug Entrancer’s tangled electro and footwork, and Slava’s moody grime extensions. Co La’s MoodyCoup, meanwhile, runs ’60s vocal pop through a broken sieve of machine beats and dub delay.

“Sculpture’s Membrane Pop resonated for me very closely,” says Tortoroli, “because of the interpretation of pop music that Dan and Ruben had. They’ve made really left-field, out-there music, but to them it’s pop music, and that’s fucking cool. And you look at Autre Ne Veut’s record, which is this huge pop success, and ostensibly it’s not a pop record. It’s got a dude with amazing vocals and he’s writing great hooks, but it doesn’t sound like other pop records; it sounds like a Software pop record. And you have Sculpture doing another Software pop record. In some ways, the releases Dan is putting out are all pop records from musicians who aren’t pop musicians.”

Beats in Space

Jaakko Eino Kalevi

Tim Sweeney has been broadcasting his Beats in Space radio show on New York University’s WNYU every Tuesday night since 1999, and it’s no exaggeration to say that his archives make for a who’s who of contemporary left-of-center dance music. This year alone, he’s had Move D, Young Marco, Prins Thomas, Tom Trago, Daniel Avery, Prosumer, Kindness, Gui Boratto, Horse Meat Disco, Jamie xx, John Talabot, Ron Morelli, Anthony Parasole, Voices from the Lake, Chloé, Joakim, Galcher Lustwerk, Young Male, and Legowelt as guests on his show—among others. The roster of his Beats in Space label, launched in 2011, isn’t quite as exhaustive (at least not yet). But it seems intent upon casting a similarly wide net, with releases coming from Japan’s Gonno, Cologne’s Matt Karmil, the Australian producer Tornado Wallace, the DFA-affiliated duo Jee Day, Germany’s Phillip Lauer (a.k.a. Brontosaurus, of Arto Mwambe and Tuff City Kids), and the Los Angeles musician Secret Circuit (a.k.a. Eddie Ruscha, formerly of ’90s rockers Medicine).

The latest record, Jaako Eino Kalevi’s Yin Yang Theater, pretty well sums up Beats in Space’s style-that’s-not-a-style—slack disco drums, dubbed-out vocals, and bright synths that are low-tech but high-gloss. “It’s kind of indicative of what I take to be Tim’s vision for the label, which is just fun dance music with a human feel to it,” says Tortoroli. “It’s probably the most chill label that I’m affiliated with—it’s just a breeze to work with. Working with Tim is awesome because he’s so chill and really positive. The radio show has been going for so long and it’s got such a great fan base, it’s almost like the label is a treat for his radio listeners.”

Styles Upon Styles

Tortoroli says, “When my partner Cam Curran and I started Styles Upon Styles, we were getting demos from people that were local or people we met online who we thought, like, why aren’t you signed? Why aren’t you getting the support that you deserve? Because your music is so good! So we just took it upon ourselves to start putting out records and showcasing these artists via the Bangers and Ash series, as a way of kind of promoting them for larger labels. Like, this artist is talented and he’s young, and he can do both the experimental headspace stuff and the stuff for the dance floor. That was one of the reasons Clay [Wilson] got picked up by Bryan at the Bunker. Bryan saw that record, liked it, met Clay at a bunch of Bunker parties. With Certain Creatures, we put out that Bangers and Ash ["Sparkle"/"Bosch" (BASH005)] in October of last year and that led to him working with Stuart, of Ike Yard and Black Rain, in a larger capacity. He’s produced the Black Rain record and he’ll be mixing the new Ike Yard record. That’s just from us putting out this artist we believe in and inspiring these guys to go out and be a part of the New York scene more and more.”

Phil Tortoroli
Phil Tortoroli

 

Drum and Bass Not Dead

Laurent Fintoni is a DJ, label owner, and writer for FACT magazine.

Drum and bass is not the dominant electronic music powerhouse it once was, but it is enjoying a revival and several key drum and bass labels recently joined Bandcamp. In addition to making tons of back catalog available digitally for the first time, labels like Exit, Soul:R, Astrophonica, and Cosmic Bridge, and artists like Marcus Intalex, Fracture, Neptune, and Fanu, are also pushing the genre forward, releasing new music and working on new mutations of the genre.

Fracture
Fracture, photo by Nathan Hudson Jenkins

When the rave scene first exploded in the mid-1980s, its original musical foundations were set in acid house and techno. But over the course of a decade, rave music splintered, dominant sounds and their beats per minute (bpm) diversified, and new electronic subgenres flooded dance floors. Most house music bumps away around the stately 120 bpm mark, as established by the disco genre that came before it. As the first decade of rave wore on, producers and DJs became increasingly fascinated with the use of breakbeats – sampled drums that had been more commonly associated with hip-hop production until the early 1990s – and a more uptempo style known as jungle techno arose. As jungle developed, the tempo of breakbeats were pushed up past 140 bpm, eventually settling somewhere between a manic 160 and 170 bpm. The rapid-fire, breakbeat-heavy genre would become known more simply as jungle, before ultimately morphing into drum and bass.

In many ways drum and bass was the UK response to the rise of hip-hop in the 1980s; it was another shot in the historical game of musical ping-pong that the UK and America have been playing for decades. As tracks and ideas bounced back and forth across the Atlantic, they would mutate with each volley and inspire the next move. British artists were taking many of the same breakbeats popularized by American hip-hop. They sped them up and, with an affinity for sound system aesthetics, dialed them in for the bass-loving ears of ravers. Through a thriving rave scene and support from pirate radio, the genre quickly gained legs and it didn’t take long for record labels to pump out 12-inch mixes for enthusiastic fans to buy.

Over the course of a decade, the genre shapeshifted through many styles, from its rugged beginnings as jungle techno to the futuristic sophistication of drum and bass. At the end of the 1990s the music had earned household-name status with artists like Shy FX & UK Apache and Roni Size making chart and TV appearances in the UK, and by the early 2000s the genre was a global phenomenon.

Eventually other dance music styles would take the limelight and the popularity of drum and bass took a hit, but it did not die out completely. Many producers and labels absorbed influences from other popular dance music genres, like dubstep, and continued to redefine what drum and bass might be. The genre has re-emerged as a force in dance music, now carrying the influence of dubstep, Chicago’s juke and footwork scenes, hip-hop, and a new generation of producers who were raised on the genre’s classics. Exit Records, founded in 2003 by Darren White (aka dBridge), is well-known for offering experimental and challenging releases. White is a long-standing member of the drum and bass community and his career spans the lifetime of the genre. His work in the late 2000s with the duo of Instra:Mental, under the Autonomic moniker, provided the genre with a renewed shot of vigor.

This June, Exit Records joined Bandcamp along with two other drum and bass heavyweights. Manchester-based Soul:R was founded by producer/DJs Marcus Intalex and ST:Files. The label grew out of their residencies at clubs like Band On the Wall in Manchester and Fabric in London. In addition to releasing their own music, they made Soul:R the home for the likes of Calibre, DJ Marky, MC DRS and, more recently, local talents like Chimpo. Despite the genre’s early embrace of digital technology in the studio, the original market for drum and bass music was conversely analog, driven by 12-inch vinyl sales. On Bandcamp, both Exit and Soul:R are now making the majority, if not all, of their back catalogs available digitally for the first time. In addition to revamping their back catalogs, both labels are committed to releasing new music. Soul:R has just added a second volume to their “Four Fit” EP series, and Exit released their latest EP, Fracture’s “Loving Touch,” the week they joined Bandcamp. Through the summer, they plan to make a selection of physical products available, including cassettes, vinyl and t-shirts, alongside releases on a new sub-label called Pleasure District.

Joining Exit and Soul:R is 10-year-old London based Astrophonica, the hub for releases by Fracture and Neptune. They’ve recently begun to diversify their roster with music by Moresounds, Machinedrum, and Dawn Day Night. They will be releasing a collaboration between Fracture and Sam Binga in August, along with a new EP from Moresounds later in the year. “In the beginning, we used to sell direct from our website,” says Charlie Fieber, aka Fracture, about the new Astrophonica Bandcamp store. “It was clunky, but it was a direct relationship with our buyers, and that was really important. For one reason or another we stopped, but I’m really excited to be mailing records out direct again. It has a certain romance about it that I love.”

The following is a selection of tunes and releases from each label’s back catalog, plus tracks by Om Unit’s Cosmic Bridge label, and Finnish producer Fanu, both of whom have been pushing the latest evolutions of drum and bass on Bandcamp for a while.

dBridge
dBridge

“Mosaic was curated to bring together the many relatable aspects of electronica under the banner of drum and bass. We asked different producers from within, and outside of DnB to create music for the series with the hope of highlighting the close relationship we have with each other and the versatility of the Drum & Bass scene.” – dBridge

Dub Phizix & Skittles

Marcus Intalex

Marcus Intalex

Fracture & Neptune

“This is a real special release in the catalog, marking the issue of Retrospect – A Decade Of Fracture & Neptune. It features my dad, Martin Fieber, on lap steel guitar. It’s a real fusing of approaches to music. My dad comes from a blues band background and Nelson Neptune and I come from a DJ background. Nelson and I wrote the song and then had Martin translate it to lap steel, which was a really refreshing way to work. The artwork was an experiment conducted by my brother Harry using a printing technique called solar plate printing. This record still means a lot to everyone who was involved in it and I don’t think you’d find anything quite like it elsewhere.” – Fracture

Various Artists — VIP Series

“Another milestone release in that it marked the welcoming of other artists to the label. The idea of the packaging followed on from Customtone, but this time we used screen printing. Musically, it was a complete experiment. I had done a footwork VIP of one of the label’s previous releases, The Limit, mainly to play at festivals over a particular summer and it became a bit of a monster and kind of crossed a few genres and scenes. That’s when we decided to take the same approach and get some of our favorite current artists to remix some the back catalog and make a series out of it. Om Unit and Machinedrum obliged and totally got the concept, taking Bad Habit and Clissold to another dimension.” – Fracture

EAN – I Bus The Mic

“Basically EAN can knock up any style of music pretty convincingly; he’s a seasoned studio guy and now inhabits the dark world of mastering, as well as enjoying success with his folk band Stick In The Wheel. This tune is EAN kicking the door in jungle style, and it’s not mucking about.” – Om Unit

Fanu

Fanu

“On this release I wanted to study the 160 bpm slow/fast type of drum and bass. I also brought in a friend with an even slower track that fits the aesthetics well. The slower tempo has been in the air for a while, and I’ve been playing with it and feeling excited. The tempo allows for more space. There are so many good and genuinely fresh vibes in that field.” – Fanu

Satan’s Summer Jams

Kim Kelly is a music journalist and publicist, splitting her time between Brooklyn and the open road. She blogs about extreme metal at Necrolust.

Somewhere out there a songwriter sits cloistered between the paneled walls of an expensive studio, carefully crafting what will, in four-to-six weeks time, become a bona fide summer jam. A perfectly-coiffed pop star with rock-hard abs and TMX on speed dial will warble a hook over booming bass and soulless strings. Its lilting melody will be heard pouring out of every Bimmer, bodega, and bro’ bar from here to Kalamazoo (especially on Friday nights) and we’ll all inadvertently memorize a few bars out of sheer survival instincts. It will go down in pop culture as a month-long blip on a chart, and live eternally in karaoke bars and nestled within the DJ sets of those who call “da club” their workplace. It will make the kind of money for its owners that few of us ever see, and then it too will fade, left behind as pop’s fickle fates march onwards towards the next hit.

Whilst all of that is going on, some folks will have bypassed the whole process and curled up with a polar opposite – those haunting spectres that lurk within Bandcamp’s burgeoning “black metal” tag. If, like me, you’re more interested in Kringa than Katy Perry and worship Bathory over Beyonce, the following might just tickle your fancy. As the air conditioner hums away in the corner like a prisoner in solitary, the cold, jagged riffs and torturous howls of the damned will drown out its cheerful din and darken the sun-dappled windows. These are Satan’s summer jams…

Krieg

Krieg
photo by Adam DeGross

Krieg are 20 this year, and founder Neill Jameson (once also known as Imperial), along with his rotating cast of cohorts, are releasing a spate of new records. They are one of the few remaining original American black metal bands regularly putting out quality new material. But even with three (!) meritorious releases in 2014 to date, Krieg remains criminally underrated. Alongside a split with excellent Wolvhammer (via Broken Limbs) and the Unmedicated EP (Belief Mower), Krieg recently unleashed a two-song EP entitled Isolation/Transmission on Init Records. This particular record shows the band wallowing in its trademark misanthropic black metal, with the addition of post-punk undertones that really serve to underline the inherent misery at work.

Skáphe

The debut release from this anonymous project comes courtesy of nomadic label Fallen Empire Records, who have spent the last several years unearthing exactly this kind of blackened gold. Skáphe settles firmly within black metal’s most confounding and contorted variety, building oppressive discord upon the heaving backs of paranoia inducing, Ouroborosian riffs. Skáphe features four long and nightmarish canticles that ebb and flow like rolling waves of poison gas, aided by the harshest caws and curiously aggressive bass.

Alraune

Alraune

This Nashville act is still wet behind the ears but you’d never guess it from the forceful complexity of its limited releases. A few of their rough demos, circulated on Bandcamp, caught the ear of Graceless Recordings, who released the band’s debut EP via cassette this past April. This landed the band a double-pronged partnership with Profound Lore and Gilead Media. The full-length fruit of their labors, The Process of Self-Immolation, is ruthlessly intense and dangerously compelling. The balance between rawness and ambition is finely tuned and expertly enacted, characterized by both melancholic touches and chaotic urges. Alraune will do great things.

Mania

Hailing from Salem, OR, Mania has been around since 2006. Nate Myers is the main force behind the band and is also in acts like Vault Dweller and Hell. Myers’ bleak, artful compositions make Mania one of the reliably ace Eternal Warfare label’s most compelling acts. Myers’ latest release, a split with Hell’s droning doom affiliates Mizmor, was released on June 24th. The sprawling second track features beautifully baleful vocals from Jessica Carroll, adding a bright new dimension to the darkness.

Ill Omen

Ill Omen

Ill Omen is the project executed by the shadowy yet prolific Australian musician Mitchell Keepin (alias IV). Ill Omen’s second full length, and Nuclear War Now! Productions debut, marks yet another chapter in the development of an artist who has honed his talents as a member of several other seminal Aussie bands: Naxzul, Temple Nightside, Austere, and Woods of Desolation. By now, Keepin is adept at creating a suffocating, eerie atmosphere to enshrine his ritualistic, Scandinavian-inspired black metal orthodoxy, and the eleven-track Enthroning the Bonds of Abhorrence is a sterling example of how well his approach can work when given a chance to develop.

Krigsgrav

Krigsgrav

The third album from 10-year-old Krigsgrav paints a dusky portrait of a band that has finally settled into itself. Shades of early Ulver and Drudkh color The Carrion Fields in the best possible way as the foursome couch urgent tremolo picking, folky acoustic moments, and clean dual guitar harmonies in winding atmospheric arrangements. There’s an anthemic quality to the work, aided by faintly burnished production. Naturmacht Productions will release the album, currently available for pre-order, on July 30th.

Temple Desecration

Temple Desecration
photo by Infernal Impressions

German label Iron Bonehead specializes in releasing primal, utterly lightless extreme metal for the kind of fans that think Watain is far too poppy. Polish newcomers Temple Desecration fit right in. The newly released Communion Perished EP follows the anonymous group’s 2012 Abhorrent Rites demo, and offers a more fully formed glimpse of the band’s violent inclinations. The EP runs through two thick, ugly tunes in under fourteen minutes, mining the depths of vintage death/doom and bestial black/death metal to vomit forth a thoroughly repulsive tribute to extreme metal’s most depraved moments. Hell, this one is worth it for the guitar tone alone.

Wrought Iron

Wrought Iron

Pittsburgh quartet Wrought Iron has made a positive impact on their local scene, alongside the likes of death metal legends Derketa and rising extremists Dendritic Arbor. The four-piece recently released their debut full length via Grimoire Records, and it’s a doozy. Channeling the grim-faced brutality of Funeral Mist and early Marduk, with a brutish death metal influence (check out the subterranean guttural vocals that pop up alongside the ragged shrieks), and sprinklings of crust and thrash metal, Wrought Iron weld together the best of their influences to create a sinister new alloy.

Tare

This San Francisco duo takes the “black/punk” pairing to a whole new low. They look to filthy Finns like Horna and Sargeist for perverse inspiration but lean hard towards a coarser punk influence, leaving all but the barest melodic inklings to rot on the cutting room floor. For reference, Tare is way more Ildjarn than Immortal. The band’s Ritual Degradation EP (out now on Eternal Death) is stocked with sickening howls, churning chords, and manic black metal riffs that saw through deceptively primitive punk beats. Noisy, crude, and unabashedly rough, this is raw black metal done so right it’s all gone terribly wrong. Total fucking necro.

Old Graves

Like Straining Boughs is the first release for this nature-focused British Columbian project. Helmed by Colby Hink, Old Graves traipses along the borders of Cascadian black metal’s atmospheric, woodsy realm. It’s far lovelier than black metal has any right to be. There’s a heavy folk influence, lengthy passages cribbed from so-called “post-metal,” and a host of engrossing gossamer melodies that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Agalloch record. Four songs build into emphatic crescendos, relying on fluttering tremolo and walls of distortion to hammer their point home.

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