When was the last time you watched an entire metal show? Not just a quick peek at the openers before posting up for the main event — I mean every note of every single set. It had been a while for me, admittedly, before I made my way to venerable Brooklyn club Saint Vitus earlier this month for a visit from the Slave to the Grave Tour, featuring co-headliners Undeath and 200 Stab Wounds, with Enforced and Phobophilic warming things up. Barring a couple between-band breaks, I spent the next three and a half hours happily planted near the stage, mostly safe from flying, careening bodies, and enjoying four helpings of top-notch heaviness that covered the spectrum from death metal (terse and mercilessly aggressive from 200 Stab Wounds; alternately suffocating and nimble from Phobophilic) to thrash with frequent hints of hardcore (Enforced, a must-see band for Power Trip fans).
More on Undeath in a bit, but for this writer, the show only affirmed what I’ve known for 30-plus years: To witness live metal of any kind, up close and at top volume, is a blessing. Slave to the Grave keeps rolling across the country through mid-December, so if the trek is headed your way, get out there — and be sure to get there early.
And now on to a sampler of the month’s most vital new metal — with some stragglers from late October and a couple previews of what’s to come early in 2023.
Undeath, “Enhancing the Dead (Live)”
The Best Albums of 2023 (So Far)
Undeath’s second full-length, It’s Time…to Rise From the Grave, has garnered a lot of well-deserved praise since it came out back in April (including in this very column). As much as I’ve been digging that LP, I prefer the savage immediacy of their new live album, Live…From the Grave, which perfectly captures the onstage command this Rochester, New York, band has honed since forming three years ago. The version of It’s Time… track “Enhancing the Dead” finds the band skillfully juggling caveman heft and brainy rhythmic trickery (check out that ingenious shift between barreling 6/8 and bouncy 4/4 that gets going around the 1:15 mark), honoring the blueprint laid out by their heroes like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel back in the early ‘90s. (Mash together, say, “Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead” and “Sworn to the Black” and you might get something like this Undeath offering.) Frontman Alexander Jones alternates his formidable roar with good-natured pit-stoking (“I know you can do fuckin’ better than that — let’s go!”) — and judging by the response at Saint Vitus, current Undeath crowds are determined not to let him down.
200 Stab Wounds, “Masters of Morbidity”
Let’s stick with the Slave to the Grave Roster for just a sec. Undeath tourmates 200 Stab Wounds recently announced that they’ve signed to iconic imprint Metal Blade — a major achievement for a band with only one album to its name. On the strength of “Masters of Morbidity” — with its muscular combo of Slayer-esque midtempo riffery, hardcore-leaning half-time grooves and punishing blastbeat bursts — and the two air-tight live sets I’ve witnessed by this hungry Ohio band, it seems safe to predict that their eventual debut for the label is going to be a mad-dog delight.
Obituary, “The Wrong Time”
Another upcoming release I can’t wait for is Dying of Everything — not a typo! — the latest from Obituary, due out in January. Here’s the thing about Obituary: They really only do one thing, but like AC/DC, or whatever your favorite musical example of ain’t-broke/don’t-fix-it–ism happens to be, that one thing is as satisfying and comforting as your favorite hometown burger joint. They’re a staunchly unpretentious bunch, who know their core strengths and have absolutely no ambition to evolve beyond them. The lead single from the new album, “The Wrong Time,” features an intro that’s about as atmospheric as Obituary get, but once that’s out of the way, the track is all business. Trevor Peres’ grinding power-chord riffs and Donald Tardy’s cruise-tempo double-bass groove blend perfectly with John Tardy’s patented anguished growl, one of the most instantly recognizable — and perennially effective — vocal deliveries in all of metal. I can’t wait to hear this one live when the band comes through New York City on tour with Amon Amarth in early December, part of a North American trek that continues through the middle of next month.
Candlemass, “Scandinavian Gods”
Speaking of legacy bands working in a well-defined lane, Candlemass have a new album out this month. Sweet Evil Sun is the Swedish doom-metal institution’s second LP since reuniting with Johan Längqvist, vocalist on their revered ’86 debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, after a break of more than 30 years. Epicus has a harsh grandiosity that would be tough for any band to replicate, even the one that originally created it, but “Scandinavian Gods,” one of the lead singles from the new record, should satisfy any Candlemass die-hard with its sinister, trudging riffs — the handiwork of bassist, co-founder and sole constant member Leif Edling — and Längqvist’s rough-throated belt.
I’d encourage any Candlemass fan — or any connoisseur of the entire post-Sabbath lineage that they represent — to check out Faetooth, a Los Angeles. quartet whose new first LP, Remnants of the Vessel (a late-October release that came out after I’d already compiled that month’s Blast Rites), is one of the most confident debuts I’ve heard this year. Standout track “Echolalia” alternates a massive, fuzzed-out doom riff with mystical downtempo art rock, with female vocals that range from a soulful croon to an infernal shriek (I’m not sure which of the band’s three singer-instrumentalists is handling which section, but the blend of textures is highly effective). The entire track has a spellbinding aura that some heavy bands go an entire career without ever capturing.
Dream Unending, “Ecstatic Reign”
Staying in the realm of the epic and atmospheric, let’s turn our attention to “Ecstatic Reign,” the 16-minute album closer from Song of Salvation, the new second LP from Dream Unending. The two principal players here, guitarist-bassist Derrick Vella and drummer-vocalist Justin DeTore, are prolific luminaries of the metal underground, hailing respectively from Tomb Mold (for my money, the standout band of the recent underground death-metal boom) and Innumerable Forms, whose penchant for marrying dismal riffs with mournful melody gives some sense of what’s in store on Song of Salvation. (DeTore also drums in the outstanding Sumerlands, spotlighted in our September edition.) But Dream Unending delve far further into that juxtaposition of the harsh and beautiful: On “Ecstatic Reign,” they create a strange, psychedelic expanse where unearthly growls (including some, according to the credits, from Tomb Mold drummer-vocalist Max Klebanoff) cohabitate with lush clean-guitar tapestries, enchanting singing from McKenna Rae (whose broad skill set encompasses dance-floor-ready electropop) and even narration from veteran actor and audiobook reader Richard Poe. The overall effect feels something like the “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” of esoteric doom metal. (And if you were curious what the rest of Tomb Mold was up to at the moment, give a listen to Daydream Plus’ Clues Recalled From Memory, in which Klebanoff and the band’s other guitarist, Payson Power, present a tastefully proggy, gorgeously tuneful set of instrumental rock that plays like post-hardcore Pat Metheny.)
16, “Scrape the Rocks”
Ready for more of the low and slow stuff? (It must be that time of year.) Since the early ‘90s, the Los Angeles band known as 16 has been honing a grimy, riff-centric sound that seems to exist in the Venn-diagram overlap between the primordial grunge of early Melvins and the feel-bad gothic sludge of New Orleans outfits like Acid Bath. On “Scrape the Rocks,” a track from the new “Into Dust,” guitarist-vocalist Bobby Ferry, the band’s sole remaining original member, sounds like he’s singing from bitter experience as he describes a scene of nautical, and possibly emotional, collapse: “I can feel the wind coming in / The water on the deck keeps rising / Capsized we accept our fate.” The song stumbles forward in a depressive haze, but a harmonized mid-track guitar solo and anthemic bridge hold out the possibility of rising above the murk.
Black Anvil, “Echoes & Tapestry”
“Echoes & Tapestry,” a track from the new Black Anvil album, Regenesis, also feels simultaneously mournful and triumphant. There’s a headlong black-metal charge here, harking back to the New York outfit’s grim early work, but the chorus, with its expressive blend of shrieked and sung vocals, capitalizes on the melodic strain that’s gradually been creeping in across their four prior full-lengths. Drop a needle on the song’s pulse-pounding, emotion-drenched guitar solo and you could almost mistake it for hair-metal shredder letting loose in front of a wind machine.
Anal Stabwound, “A Twitching in the Clouds”
OK, we’ve spent enough of this Blast Rites in our feelings — time for a blast of pure insanity. Anal Stabwound is entirely the work of one teenager, Connecticut’s Nikhil Talwalkar, and if you needed any reassurance that the future of the underground is secure, look no further than the project’s new second LP (another October release that slipped by me last month), the awesomely titled Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference. Cue up “A Twitching in the Clouds,” and prepare to be amazed. This is visceral, action-packed death metal that, like one of Talwalkar’s acknowledged influences, Germany’s reliably head-spinning Defeated Sanity, works in plenty of gonzo technicality (check out that wild mid-song bass break) without losing sight of the crude bludgeon at the heart of the genre. The sheer amount of detail packed into this song is completely exhilarating. Mark my words: Within a few years, this kid is going to be one of the leading lights of extreme metal — honestly, he already is.
If that one wasn’t wild enough for you, let’s try Liquified, the latest platter of splatter from Effluence. The brainchild of California’s Matt Stephens, the project combines chaotic, ultra-raw death metal with the rapid-fire pointillism of free improvisation and the hyper-complexity of modern composition. The latest Effluence release, Liquefied, centers on the very apt theme of a blender, with the cover art and song titles tying in nicely. “Blend,” in which jackhammer blurt suddenly gives way to a spacious piano, bass and marimba trio, sums up the spirit of the project in one brilliantly bewildering minute.
Incantum, “Il Cerchio e il Fuoco”
Neptunian Maximalism, ““Z R – Empowering The Phurba – Éon Phanérozoïque”
Fans of Effluence’s outré hybrid should also check out a pair of compelling new offerings on Italy’s I, Voidhanger Records, a bastion of avant-garde intensity. As exemplified on the 15-minute “Il Cerchio e il Fuoco” (“The Circle and the Fire”) Incantum’s Strigae is part frenzied black metal, with vocals that can sometimes sound like Sam Kinison at his most shrill, and part chamber folk, accented with the clarinet of multi-instrumentalist bandleader Vittorio Sabelli. You might even hear a hint of klezmer in the outro. On “Z R – Empowering The Phurba – Éon Phanérozoïque” — a track from the new Finis Gloriae Mundi — Belgium’s Neptunian Maximalism suggest a field recording of some infernal ritual, with wailing saxophone, bursts of noise guitar, orc-like grunts and a throbbing psychedelic rhythm section. This may not scan as metal in any conventional sense, but boy is it heavy.
Spider God, “The Hermit”
U.K. outfit Spider God made quite an impression earlier this year with its full-length debut, Black Renditions, an album that filtered around four decades’ worth of pop classics — including Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” — through the lens of raging black metal. The band turns to original material on the new Fly in the Trap, retaining the obsession with tremolo-picked melody that made the covers record so much fun. As you can hear on “The Hermit,” Spider God’s fierce cocktail of the dire and the fist-pumping conjures a sense of wild-eyed fun that harks back to early efforts by Norwegian pop-meets–black-metal alchemists Kvelertak. This is a young band that already seems ready for big festival stages.
SpiritWorld, “Relic of Damnation”
Deathwestern, the new second LP by Las Vegas’ SpiritWorld, may be the only metal album out this month that features a companion short-story collection. Set in what bandleader Stu Folsom once described as “a fictional world of outlaws in the Old West finding the gates to Hell,” the book’s themes play out in the group’s pulpy, paperback-Western album art and rockabilly-style stage attire (think sequin jackets and cowboy hats). Fortunately, the actual music holds up well without any of that thematic scaffolding: As you can hear on “Relic of Damnation,” the band specializes in brawny, anthemic hardcore infused with old-school rock & roll swagger, topped by Folsom’s caustic roar. It’s rousing stuff, and it definitely whets the appetite for the SpiritWorld live experience.
Type O Negative, “September Sun”
Botch, “One Twenty Two”
Two new reissues out this month shine a light on beloved bands from very different corners of the metal universe. First comes a deluxe, 15th-anniversary version of Dead Again, the overlooked final album from alternately sardonic and sensuous gloom-rock purveyors Type O Negative. The reissue features bonus live renditions of some of the band’s best-known songs, but the real appeal here is the chance to rediscover just what a compelling songwriter the late Peter Steele was right up until the end. “September Sun” is one of my very favorite tracks in the Steele catalog — a melancholy power ballad fueled by Josh Silver’s elegant keyboard work, Kenny Hickey’s fuzz-bathed power chords and pained screams, and drummer Johnny Kelly’s sturdy grooves. Think of this nearly 10-minute slab of gothic prog — shaved down to a lean four and a half minutes for the video above — as Type O’s answer to “November Rain.”
“One Twenty Two,” meanwhile, is the sole new track on a new remastered edition of 1999’s We Are the Romans, the final LP from Tacoma, Wash.’s Botch and an album that seemed to bring a certain strain of metallic hardcore — noise-bathed, perversely complex and ferociously aggressive — to a white-knuckle apex. Botch’s comeback tune is more laid-back than most of the original album, favoring a raucous midtempo stomp and an almost hip-shaking rhythm, but Dave Verellen’s seething shout and the haywire guitar spew on the slower sections capture that old unhinged magic. Here’s hoping the band follows up its recently announced Seattle reunion shows next February with a full U.S. tour.
Fleshwater, “Maria Claire”
Let’s close with one last new selection: a track from We’re Not Here to Be Loved, the debut from Massachusetts outfit Fleshwater — an album I’ve had in constant rotation in recent weeks. The group shares three members with mathy hardcore extremists Vein.fm, but as you can hear on “Linda Claire,” Fleshwater specialize in a much more spacious sound, souping up shoegaze and alt-rock with a burly metallic crunch (expertly captured by Converge guitarist and producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou). The centerpiece of their sound is the yearning, understated vocal delivery of singer-guitarist Marisa Shirar, who gives the band a rare melodic intrigue — when her supple hooks align with fellow vocalist Anthony DiDio’s screams, like at the end of this song, the effect is stunning. This is a band to keep a close eye on.