Now that your gullet has been stretched to an unmerciful degree by scads of turkey, Tofurky, or your slaughtered animal of choice (not to mention MeeMaw’s famous stuffin’), it’s time to heave your bloated hull into the brick-and-mortar rat race and join the rest of the Western world in a mad rush to acquire the most things, items, and doodads in an orgy of capitalistic excess. Try not to trample any kids this year, Jeff. I know the flat-screen plasma HDTV is 30% off, but that sort of behavior is frowned upon here.
However, if you’re clever (and like riffs a lot more than disposable junk) you could take the more civilized route and visit your friendly Bandcamp artists and labels to snap up some of the best heavy metal (and otherwise). Everything from demos to classic reissues and terrifying techno remixes are at your fingertips, and I’m far from the only hesher who abuses that privilege on a near-daily basis.
The following list touches on ten of the brightest gems I’ve stumbled upon this year, and of course is only a modest showing of the music that’s floating about in the cyber-ether just waiting for you to discover its charms and fall in love. Mgla, Cloud Rat, and Vastum may have put out three of 2015’s best albums, and sure, you can easily find such offerings on Bandcamp, but I wanted to focus on a few more overlooked releases—the weirder or spookier, the better!
Black metal has a fairly uneasy relationship with politics (as a genre founded on extremes, so goes some of its thinking), so whenever I find a band like Dawn Ray’d that not only enmeshes ripper crust punk riffs within its atmospheric black metal intensity, but also veers sharply to the left into full-on anarchist territory, you can color me smitten from the first note. Ideology aside, the Liverpool lads in Dawn Ray’d nail the black metal/crust amalgam first perfected by Iskra, and temper it with atmospheric depth and post-hardcore finesse cribbed from the members’ previous band, We Came Out Like Tigers. Think Ancst, or a black metal Cloud Rat, or a lefty Drudkh. Think whatever you want, really, so long as you buy their first album, A Thorn, A Blight, posthaste.
Disemballerina’s music is so beautiful that it nearly hurts to listen, and conveys so much emotion within the space of a few well-placed plucks of silvery string. Backed by a knowing acoustic guitar, a giddy viola waltzes along, accompanied by a genteel cello and disparate fellows like a harp, bajo quinto, and even a machete; the sounds they dream up in concert with one another are otherworldly in their gentle loveliness, and gutting in their sorrow. The themes of this Portland chamber doom trio’s latest album, Poison Gown, are revenge and loss—heavy topics, tackled with the utmost grace and unsettling sincerity. There is real pain behind these wordless, fluttering dirges, and a lust for retribution hiding between the strings. Never underestimate a band who is this familiar with so very many odd ways to die.
Eye of Nix
I first heard this band described as “Siouxsie Sioux gone black metal,” and the moment I actually heard Eye of Nix for myself, I silently thanked the friend who’d first steered me towards this haunted Seattle fivesome. Their latest album, Moros, is a study in contrasts—muted greys, stark black, and warm, rusty blood red color the recording—and find its creators vacillating between quiet-loud Neurosis rumbles, sludgy tension, crusty intensity, gothic gloom, black metal tremolo, and moments of startling prettiness. Joy Von Spain is a modern Jarboe, her inhumanly versatile, operatic pipes cutting through the racket to illuminate the darkness—sometimes bluesy, sometimes brutal, always powerful. Eye of Nix is a kitchen-sink kind of band—there’s a bit of everything in here, but when it’s all combined and set before you, it’s mesmerizing.
Beneath the miasmas of ganja smoke, Colorado is secretly chock full of great extreme metal bands: Nightbringer, Speedwolf, and now Blood Incantation (their brother band, Spectral Voice, is ace, too). The sci-fi lust is strong with these ones, as are shades of Demilich (and the more recent Chthe’ilist) in the technical-without-being-wankery complexity of the guitar work. It’s not easy to make death metal sound this interesting or compelling in 2015, but Blood Incantation makes it look easy on Interdimensional Extinction, their latest EP for Dark Descent.
Philadelphia can be a desperately grim place to live, and it is probably no small coincidence that so many of its DIY bands sound like they’re three minutes away from hurling their wretched selves off the side of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Moros is a new band made up of dudes who’ve been around the block, smashed a few bottles, and come back for more. On Life Assisted Suicide, members of Occult 45, Lonesummer, Krieg, Esoterica—you get the idea—convene here to dredge up some hopelessly ugly, death-infested sludge that lurches and shudders like Buzzoven on a bad day (which is to say, it’s great). Someone far more refined than I once characterized the lives of the poor as “nasty, short, and brutish,” which coincidentally works as a perfect summation of Moros’ debut.
From the moment Isenblast’s “I; Lucifer” kicks in, you’re banging your head; if not, you’re either deaf, or have zero appreciation for a good and proper mid-tempo black metal riff that sounds Second Wave as fuck and is overlain with orthodox rasps. Isenblast sprinkles in death metal and thrash influences, too, but their hearts are as black as the coal that used to power their industrial hometown. Scuttled together from members of heavy metal hellions Demon Bitch and powerhouse drummer Abominator, Isenblast’s two-song promo is a scintillating promise of the excellence that’s sure to follow.
Thangorodrim conjure up psychic death from the West Coast (think serial killers and dead starlets), by throwing themselves into the creation of bewitching occult doom with a heavy psychedelic backbone. It’s ’70s as all hell, and ageless in its appeal. The San Jose trio has a long way to go—they’re wicked-new, and I believe this is their first recording—but few debuts hit as hard as this, especially in the vocal department. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more word from this mysterious collective… come, come, come to the Sabbath, Satan’s here.
GraveCoven’s demo, Coughing Blood, is one of the best things I’ve heard all year, and is something I came across by a total stroke of luck. Two members of Bog Oak and Swamp Witch conspire beneath a thick veil of depressive black doom, launching weirdly catchy riffs out into the void and roaring like wounded beasts atop crushing grooves that wouldn’t feel remiss lurking on a Noothgrush demo. Their intent is far blacker, though, and the death influence is very real here; as awkward as it is to call something death/black/doom, here we are. Coughing Blood is not altogether unlike Faustcoven’s perfect 2012 album, Hellfire and Funeral Bells, in its devil-may-care attitude toward genre conventions and death/black/doom melange, and that’s certainly some damn good company to be in on your first release.
Iceland’s black metal scene is beyond comparison right now. Grafir is in league with many of Reykjavik’s heaviest black metal hitters (it’s a small scene, after all), but takes a greater influence from icy post-punk and dirty gutter goth. The band’s three-song demo is a bizarre combination of those more melodic elements with bits of primitive black metal, and I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the more interesting things I’ve heard in months. They’ll be playing the Netherlands’ iconic Roadburn Festival come April, and you can bet your ass I’ll be up front for Grafir’s set.
Throaat is all about the old shit: old ways, old metal, old New York. Their debut album for Invictus Productions, Black Speed, is an unholy car crash of vintage influences. You like Mayhem? You like Tormentor? You like Mortuary Drape? You like Bathory? You like old-school, lo-fi, no-bullshit, no-frills, First Wave black metal exhumed from the grave of the ’80s? Throaat’s got you fuckin’ covered, and they’ll play it for you wrapped in chains and grinning like maniacs. Hell, it’s worth it for the Venom cover alone.