Blast Rites: January 2021’s Hottest Metal
Our monthly report on metal
Welcome to Blast Rites, SPIN’s monthly metal column! This month, we’ve got two unexpected yet wholly welcome death metal blasts from Arizona, the return of Sweden’s sexiest vampire goths, and boundary-obliterating guitar noise featuring Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey.
Gatecreeper — An Unexpected Reality (Closed Casket Activities)
Last Wednesday (Jan. 13), rising death metal squad Gatecreeper swooped in and whooped on everyone with An Unexpected Reality, which splits their sound into two extremes. For most of the record, the Arizona quintet keep it crisp with several tracks hovering around a minute each, arriving at the death metal-hardcore hybrid quite in vogue this time ten years ago. And it’s just as vicious as Trap Them in their prime: “Starved” and “Rusted Gold” center around Swedeath’s chunkiest breaks, while “Sick of Being Sober” is a d-beat driven confessional from vocalist Chase Mason, who is open about his sobriety in interviews and often uses death metal’s grotesque abstraction to document his pain and experiences. “Superspreader” is timely but not a soon-to-be-dated “message song,” for there will be contagious and lethal diseases long after the world becomes uninhabitable for most life. If you can die from it, there’s probably a death metal song about it. The fast half is a world where it’s Thrasher Death Match — the most crucial SXSW day party for heshers, punks, and everyone else in between — every day: HM-2-driven Swedeath guitars, d-beats, skateboarding, and circle pits are your only concerns. Halcyon days of getting baked by the sun and crushed by the riffs – that is the Reality we’re trying to bring back. Closing track “Emptiness,” by stark contrast, is slow, agonizing death-doom, 11 minutes of misery hanging in the air, creeping melodies that both drive the pain deeper and make it more pleasurable, just bleakness made flesh. If most of the record is fleeting jolts, “Emptiness” is affirmation that life is, unfortunately, a fucking drag. Reality is a sharp change-up without being a total departure, as it plays to their strengths atomized and still unified.
Fluids — Smile and the World Smiles With You (Self-released)
Gatecreeper isn’t the only Arizona band to unleash nastiness recently: on New Years’ Day, Phoenix trio Fluids dropped Smile and the World Smiles With You, a three-track EP that cements them as the goregrind band to beat. While Mortician is an influence du jour in the underground now, their early efforts carried a “man discovers fire” energy, stumbling upon primitive brilliance that can’t be replicated by average dudes consciously dumbing themselves down. Fluids carry on what made Mortician enthralling – brickwalled, bass-heavy brutality and throbbing drum machine – and send it all into a smashing overdrive. This isn’t just lacking subtlety, this is beating subtlety into an unrecognizable pulp. Guitars are built thick and somehow get stretched into static, as in the case of “Gagged’s” slower moments. The trash can snares are deliberate, as no taste is worse than bad taste. Smile isn’t just straight-up double bass fuckery; the hi-hats skitter in “Bound” and “Injected,” electronic tampering that’s quite welcome and makes them much more interesting than many bands of their ilk. That’s not difficult, but it doesn’t stop Fluids from doing the most. (This and much of their artwork, in the Reek of Putrefaction school, is NSFW even if your W is home, so exercise a little caution when delving into this band.)
Tribulation — Where the Gloom Becomes Sound (Metal Blade/Century Media)
Spare a thought for Sweden’s Tribulation – they are too talented, too sexy, too much of a good time to be cooped up and away from stages for so long. They may be vampires, but they thrive in the airglow. Where the Gloom Becomes Sound, their fifth album, continues on the goth-NWOBHM trail they’ve blazed since moving away from death metal. They’re even more committed to slinky melodies perfect for twirling around with a black cape on, rhythms that emulate Sisters of Mercy at Andrew Eldritch’s most cock-rock ambitious and Johannes Andersson’s lust-driven growls. Speaking of capes, Gloom marks Jonathan Hultén’s last record with the band, and though his flamboyance will be missed on stage, his flair lives on in this record. “Hour of the Wolf” into “Leviathans” is a one-two punch most bands would sacrifice whatever little dignity they have left for: “Wolf” is the dancier number where their fangs glisten, and the Jon Lord-with-eyeliner organ in “Leviathans” transforms it into a charging goth stomper. A really deep purple is close enough to black, right? “Funeral Pyre” is prime goth-thrash, and opener “In Remembrance” reimagines “Hell Awaits” with an even more enchanting devil, proving even with a little speed, they’re still dangerously charming. (Gloom is out on the 29th, stream “Hour of the Wolf” and “Leviathans” below.)
USA/Mexico — Del Rio (12XU/Riot Season)
Beyond-heavy Austin trio USA/Mexico, featuring renowned Shit and Shine experimentalist Craig Clouse on guitar and Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey, reach new extremes with their third full-length, Del Rio. It kicks off with “Chorizo,” a barrage of grinding noise with muffled drums underneath. Where their past couple records juiced the noise end of noise rock, Rio and “Chorizo” especially is downright impenetrable. This might be the endpoint for the traditional guitar-bass-drum setup, rock in appearance and alien in sound, and frankly, it’s totally cool. If this is what the collapse of the universe sounds like, if this is the global annihilation that will end pay-for-play showcases, bring it the fuck on. “Soft Taco” introduces a more familiar dirge, yet it’s still so far off the edge it sounds like it’s expanding upon itself and warping into obliteration simultaneously. The title track is a touch less opaque, where you hear more of Coffey and incoming vocalist Colby Brinkman, and it approximates to blown-out doom metal. Riffs are slow, the noise is bouncing like giving a swarm of crickets tiny contact mics to hum into, so minimal yet so much going on. This is not “play slow, die old” more like “play slow, die when?” Rio progresses like Myst, where as you find the blue and red pages to communicate with Sirrus and Achenar, the static fades and their messages become a little clearer. This won’t lead you to get deceived by one of the brothers and get trapped in Myst forever, though. Or will it? (Rio drops on the 29th; “Chorizo” is available to stream below.)