Welcome to the October installment of Blast Rites! While you’re getting yourselves comfortable, a quick PSA: There are metal Gods currently walking among us. I saw Judas Priest play a killer show in Long Island last week as part of their ongoing 50 Heavy Metal Years tour, the night before Iron Maiden rolled through the area on their Legacy of the Beast run. And by the time you read this, Danish occult-prog masters Mercyful Fate will also be on the road, playing their first North American headlining dates in more than 20 years. Let this be a reminder to catch these legendary bands while you can.
And in the meantime, the new metal releases just keep flowing. As with our September edition, I’ve tried to cover as much stylistic ground as possible with the picks below, from the high-profile (Lamb of God! Queensrÿche! Skid Row!?) to the deep-underground stuff (Faceless Burial! Prolong Anoxia!). Check out this month’s selections below, and listen along in our Spotify playlist.
Cloud Rat, “The Color of a Dog”
Cloud Rat understand that grindcore ought to feel like an ordeal: a barrage of detail and velocity that comes at you faster than you have time to process it. I’ve listened to “The Color of a Dog,” a track from the Michigan trio’s new fourth LP, Threshold, six or seven times in a row, and I still feel like I have only the faintest grasp of what’s going on during these 107 seconds. But each detail that emerges from the blur feels pivotal: the way that vocalist Madison Marshall starts off in a whisper (“Tell me, tell me, tell me…”) before unleashing her formidable shriek-meets-bellow as guitarist Rorik Brooks and drummer Brandon Hill come hurtling in with a choppy overture; the savagely elegant progression from blastbeat to breakdown that leads up to a brief moment of forlorn, seasick calm around the halfway mark, before the next bloodthirsty speed burst; and then the controlled detonation of a mightily swinging mosh riff. It takes a seriously skilled band to make disorientation feel this exhilarating.
Faceless Burial, “From the Bastion to the Pit”
It’s a good month for extreme trios conjuring a sublime racket: Melbourne, Australia’s Faceless Burial made a huge impression with their 2020 effort, Speciation, and they uphold that album’s high standard on the new At the Foothills of Deliration. Death metal can sometimes hobble itself through its own production values, with overly synthetic drum sounds and tidy ProTools edits robbing the listener of the visceral clobbering that characterizes the genre at its best. Faceless Burial — bassist-vocalist Alex, guitarist Fuj and drummer Max — are having none of that: Their records sound thrillingly unadorned, documents of a power trio just digging in and grinding it out. That presentation places the focus squarely on their staggering chops and wild-eyed pursuit of hyper-detailed but nevertheless massively grooving riffs that often bring to mind the compositional genius of late Death leader Chuck Schuldiner in his glorious middle period (say, 1991’s Human through 1995’s Symbolic). No need for the play-by-play here — let’s just say that “From the Bastion to the Pit” is a seven-minute feast for the connoisseur of technical yet resolutely grisly death metal.
Ripped to Shreds, “漢奸 (Race Traitor)”
Ripped to Shreds build a bridge to more traditional styles while keeping the fury dialed up to dangerous levels. This great strength of the San Jose, Calif., band’s new third album, 劇變 (Jubian), is the way it combines white-knuckle nastiness with the clenched-fist spirit of classic heavy metal, illustrated perfectly on “漢奸 (Race Traitor)” through guitarist/vocalist Andrew Lee’s grandstanding solo breaks, continuing in the spirit of his masterful 2021 ode to ‘80s shred guitar, Heavy Metal Shrapnel. According to Lee, who is Chinese-American, the song’s lyrics deal with the burden of “existing as a minority in a country where any action is seen as representative of their whole race.”
Dead Cross, “Christian Missile Crisis”
Another band that skillfully draws from different points along the metal spectrum is Dead Cross. At the end of the ‘80s, it might have seemed unlikely that Faith No More frontman Mike Patton and Slayer’s then-drummer, Dave Lombardo, would become a dynamic duo of avant-garde heaviness, but at this point, we’re nearly a quarter century into a highly productive partnership that kicked off with Fantômas and has continued with the more streamlined Dead Cross. You can hear more than a hint of South of Heaven–era Slayer in the riffing on “Christian Missile Crisis,” a track from the band’s new second LP, simply titled II, as well as Patton’s signature unhinged sing-song. But the band’s other two members, bassist Justin Pearson — who also contributes the ornery shout that will be familiar to fans of his trailblazing avant-grind band the Locust — and guitarist Michael Crain, who has worked with Pearson in Locust spin-off Retox, help nudge the tune into a noise-punk danger zone, complete with loopy psychedelic textures in the outro. Metal needs more bold subgenre-splicing collabs like this one.
For open-eared listeners tuned into the Patton/Lombardo-verse, those musicians’ longtime associate, bassist Trevor Dunn — of Fantômas, Mr. Bungle and a slew of other projects, including Titan to Tachyons, spotlighted in our September edition — appears on two noteworthy releases this month: Séances, the long-awaited second LP by his Trio-Convulsant, which features a kind of dark, free-jazz-accented chamber-prog that finds him sounding as adventurous as ever, and Expansion, the ninth album by shapeshifting Georgia outfit Ahleuchatistas, where new member Dunn meshes perfectly with guitarist-composer Shane Parish’s mind-expanding vistas of instrumental avant-rock.
Keiji Haino and Sumac, “A shredded coiled cable within this cable sincerity could not be contained”
Oxbow and Peter Brötzmann, “Cat and Mouse”
Shall we stick with the weird stuff for a while? If you’re the kind of metal fan who frequently detours into the Experimental bin at the record shop, you may already be aware of two more noteworthy team-ups bearing fruit this month: the respective meetings of Sumac — the exploratory power trio led by Isis and Old Man Gloom’s Aaron Turner — and Japanese noise/improv giant Keiji Haino, meeting for the third time on (deep breath) Into this juvenile apocalypse our golden blood to pour let us never, and art-punk visionaries Oxbow with German free-jazz trailblazer Peter Brötzmann on An Eternal Reminder of Not Today. Are either of these metal records? I really have no idea, but as a fan of the extreme, if you delve into the deafening netherzone of “A shredded coiled cable within this cable sincerity could not be contained” — a new Sumac/Haino track that suggests the torturous slow-motion implosion and/or apotheosis of sludge metal — and come away unmoved, then we have very different pleasure centers. And the same goes for Oxbow/Brötzmann’s “Cat and Mouse,” a version of an Oxbow chestnut first heard on 1991’s King of the Jews, where Brötzmann’s steely eruptions perfectly complement the band’s raunchy noise-blues convulsions and vocalist Eugene Robinson’s wild-eyed, part-muttered/part-crooned/part-screamed ravings. These are mighty team-ups, each with a potent hint of the maniacal energy that the wider world of metal could always use more of. (Full disclosure: Sleeping Giant Glossolalia, the label behind the U.S. version of the Oxbow/Brötzmann, once co-released an album by a band I played in.)
Speaking of the porous borders of metal, Liturgy are another outfit who have been testing those supposed dividers for a while. But as outlandish as the New York band continues to sound on its gloriously titled new EP, As the Blood of Gods Bursts the Guts of Time — which precedes a new LP out in March — my favorite track, “36,” positively revels in the fundamental glory of the riff. A writhing power-chord motif explodes again and again on the track, casting the spectral howl of bandleader Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix in a garish glow. Synthesized chimes and weird digital-glitch effects crop up too, but they only add to the weightiness of the track, which builds to a supernova of gothic oddity, complete with swirls of free-form piano.
Skid Row, “Time Bomb”
With this month’s most outré delights out of the way, let’s switch gears completely. Skid Row have a new album this month, the band’s first since welcoming singer Erik Grönwall earlier this year. (For those keeping track, he’s the fourth Skid Row frontman since they re-formed in 1999.) Like many acts of their era, Skid Row are in a strange position: Still touring the world largely on the strength of enduring late-‘80s/early-‘90s FM hits like “I Remember You” and “18 and Life,” and still estranged from Sebastian Bach, the former singer forever associated with those immortal tracks, the band is nonetheless committed to expanding its discography. As a fan of their classic material, I’m genuinely curious how many listeners out there are hungry for new Skid Row material in 2022, but taken on its own merits, their new LP, The Gang’s All Here, is a respectable slab of frozen-in-amber hard rock. Honestly, in a blindfold test, I would never in a million years be able to identify “Time Bomb” as a Skid Row song, but by God, the damn thing is catchy, skillfully paced, and packed with good-to-great riffs.
Queensrÿche, “Hold On”
Another band out there soldiering on years after the departure of a well-known singer is Queensrÿche, who have just released Digital Noise Alliance, their fourth album since parting ways with classic-era belter Geoff Tate a decade back. Unlike Grönwall, current ‘rÿche singer Todd La Torre, who also serves as the band’s studio drummer, sounds a hell of a lot like his predecessor, and thus, when I throw on a track like “Hold On,” I feel like I’m landing at least within striking distance of the brooding, prog-steeped hard rock that this band perfected on albums like 1990’s Empire. This is gripping stuff that both makes me want to break out the Queensrÿche classics and feels like a worthy addition to a beloved catalog. (I’d say much the same, as it were, of “Same Old Story,” the new single by Christian-metal flag wavers Stryper, which finds Michael Sweet still rock-selytizing as passionately as he did back on To Hell With the Devil — respect!)
Lamb of God, “Ditch”
The not-fixing-what-ain’t-broke theme continues with a track from Omens, the ninth LP by Richmond fan faves Lamb of God. What do you hope to hear when you throw on LoG? A thrashy overture leading into a pit-detonating groove that finds a glowering Randy Blythe summarily dressing down the weak-willed, perhaps? Friends, let me direct you toward “Ditch,” which makes a sturdy case for the uncomplicated appeal of a band that’s rightly become one of the sturdiest institutions in modern metal. The track isn’t in the band’s current set list, but it still fires us up for the imminent unveiling of a new Lamb live video by hardcore/metal documentarian extraordinaire Sunny “hate5six” Singh.
Goatwhore, “Weight of a Soulless Heart”
Sticking with that theme of institutions, let’s take some time to spotlight Goatwhore. They’re a band with deep roots in the celebrated New Orleans metal scene — vocalist L. Ben Falgoust II also fronts eclectic extremists Soilent Green, and guitarist Sammy Duet played in cult-favorite gothic-sludge outfit Acid Bath. Goatwhore themselves are in their 25 year, and they’re still a tough band to pin down stylistically, but as heard on their new eighth album, Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven, that works to their advantage. “Weight of a Soulless Heart” earns its grimly poetic title, with Falgoust’s constricted scream meshing perfectly with the music’s almost symphonic grandeur. Duet’s riffs set deep, rumbling groove against glints of sickly, intricately chiseled melody that recall a band like Converge as much as black or death metal. This is pitch black but eerily affecting stuff.
Darkthrone, “Caravan of Broken Ghosts”
The advance word on the new Darkthrone record was, well, that there would be no advance word, i.e., zero preview tracks issued ahead of the full album. So I assumed we’d be waiting until next month to spotlight Astral Fortress, the latest from the legendary Norwegian duo. Thankfully, though, we have a teaser track to savor, and an eight-minute beauty at that. How is it? Glorious, honestly — a patient procession of weighty yet forlorn riffs, each of which feels as splendidly craggy as the woodland rocks and tree bark seen in the lyric video above. It’s a reminder that this band has achieved something unique in heavy music: After helping to draft the blueprint for the entire subgenre of second-wave black metal on a trilogy of early-’90s albums, they’ve gradually expanded outward into an unclassifiable zone, reaching a point in roughly the past decade where any flavor of metal is fair game as long as it feels, for lack of a better word, artisanal, free of any trace of sanitized modernity. As with recent Darkthrone albums Arctic Thunder, Old Star and Eternal Hails……, you can really get lost in this track, and I can’t wait to hear the full record.
Imprecation, “Agnus Dei (Spill the Blood)”
Imprecation have been kicking around since the early ‘90s, conjuring raw, suffocating sounds with not-so-subtle satanic overtones. I saw them play an excellent set at Maryland Deathfest earlier this year and their new album, In Nomine Diaboli, upholds the high standard set by their live show, retaining the underground grime that’s always been this Houston band’s hallmark. “Agnus Dei (Spill the Blood)” gives you a good idea of their strengths: Vocalist and sole original member Dave Herrera vomits out blasphemies over a procession of unrelentingly harsh riffs, some blasting and some oozing forth like magma.
Exhumed are another long-running band that’s exceedingly comfortable in its chosen niche, namely pairing grindcore-meets-death-metal filth with gross-out lyrical and visual imagery. “Carbonized” — from their new LP To the Dead, the San Jose outfit’s fifth since reuniting in 2010 — finds guitarist Matt Harvey and bassist Ross Sewage trading grunts and howls over breakneck riffs before downshifting into an almost triumphant midsection, followed by a grandstanding guitar solo, reminding you that these guys have always prized craftiness as much as cacophony.
Fucked Up, “Oberon”
Fucked Up are always cooking up something strange in their spare time, and their new EP, Oberon, finds the Toronto hardcore eccentrics embracing massive, trudging riffs and creeped-out psychedelia. Damian Abraham’s unmistakable roar is really all that seems to connect the eight-minute title track to the Fucked Up you know from punk operas like David Comes to Life, but it’s a blast to hear the group committing so fully to its latest lark, an evocation of the mythical king of the fairies that marries the tortured and trippy to the borderline cartoonish.
Bleed, “Killing Time”
Imagine that instead of disbanding Helmet in the late ‘90s, Page Hamilton had teamed up with members of the Deftones to form a new supergroup. That obviously never happened, but hey, at least we have Bleed, a Dallas band that nails the sound of alternative metal circa 1997 with uncanny accuracy, marrying dreamy hooks to massive riffs that caress as much as they crush. I’ve had their debut EP — Somebody’s Closer, self-released in 2021 and reissued earlier this year by 20 Buck Spin — on repeat for months, and their new single, “Killing Time,” is a worthy follow-up, and an enticing teaser for their first full-length, due next year.
Morbific, “Suicide Sanctum”
Another band that’s committed to turning back the clock is Morbific, a young Finnish trio that upholds its country’s legacy of rumbling, sepulchral death metal (see: Funebre, Purtenance, early Convulse). There’s also a strong kinship here with foundational American acts like Impetigo and Autopsy, and not just in the fact that, like those bands’ logos, Morbific’s is rendered in what looks like bloody and/or rotting body parts. “Suicide Sanctum,” from the band’s splendidly titled new second LP, Squirm Beyond the Mortal Realm, boasts the single most sinister riff I’ve heard this month, a slowly advancing monster (first heard around 30 seconds in) that sounds like walk-on music for a pack of flesh-hungry zombies. The whole track is great, as the band lets every devilish development breathe, just like their forefathers taught them.
Prolong Anoxia, “Path of Repugnance”
Indonesia’s Prolong Anoxia hail death-metal masters of a different region and slightly later era on their new debut, Perpetual Murder, which zeroes in on the relentless blast and gurgle — broken up by the occasional shimmy-friendly midtempo breakdown — that California’s Disgorge perfected in the late ‘90s. Opening track “Path of Repugnance” is great for those moments when you feel like losing yourself in the blur.
Morbikon, “Cursed to March on Shattered Limbs”
Epic black metal might not be what you’d expect to hear from a side project involving two members of Richmond party thrashers Municipal Waste, but Morbikon — the team-up of Waste-oids Phil “Landphil” Hall and Dave Witte with Finntroll vocalist Vreth — goes all in on that style and really delivers. “Cursed to March on Shattered Limbs,” an advance single from the band’s debut, Ov Mournful Twilight, earns its grandiose title and seven-minute-plus run time, building from a frosty acoustic intro to tremolo-riff attack mode and then into a midtempo gallop that sounds like music for a Viking raid.
Daeva, “Fragmenting in Ritual Splendor”
A great billmate for Morbikon would be Daeva, another band that’s zeroing in on the grimness and grandeur of early-’90s black metal. “Fragmenting in Ritual Splendor” is a scorching speed demon of a track from the band’s new debut, Through Sheer Will and Black Magic, that summons the fury of classic Immortal with a dash of righteous thrash-metal riffsmanship.
Lorna Shore, “Apotheosis”
Those who like their metal way (way!) over the top need to hear Pain Remains, the latest from New Jersey’s Lorna Shore. I admit that I’ve slept on this band in the past, but I’d surely have turned in sooner if I’d have known they sounded like this. “Apotheosis” plays like some kind of infernal death-metal opera, with soaring strings buoying a high-tech, hyperactive shredfest. The best parts are the whiplash-inducing breakdowns, which marry effects-bathed growls to church-choir chanting. Honestly I have no idea what to call this stuff, but I admire the commitment to excess.