In an ongoing effort to de-emphasize a single year-end list that's both unwieldy and unnecessary, I'm back to drop off my latest picks of Very Good New Music that has been released during the third quarter of the year. If you've missed my previous editions, you can find them here. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, this one is also very long, so let's get to it.
It's increasingly rare that I'll go through the effort of pitching a publication when I have this here newsletter/blog/whatever but the new Angel Du$t record compelled me to do exactly that. For Stereogum, I interviewed Justice Tripp and went long about the influence he's wielded over the hardcore scene since he first entered it. I wanted to do this because I truly believe Brand New Soul is the best work of his career, and it feels like a summation of everything he's done up to this point. There are bits of heavy hardcore seeping into the album's sonics but, more importantly, he shows how someone can effectively take the dynamics of a hardcore song and adapt it to other modes. Justice is always conjuring up something that makes you want to move, and his songs bring that feeling out of you whether you're ready for it or not.
Hardcore is *sighs* having a moment and, as a result, I've both seen and heard discussions of the genre that lack an understanding of how we got here. There are bands constantly getting called hardcore that aren't, and many younger fans are just regurgitating what some of the loudest voices in the scene are saying with zero critical analysis. Worse yet, there's a revisionism running through it all that makes me think we're getting further from objective truths and instead spiraling into, exclusively, of-the-moment takes that seem designed to cause a stir and nothing more. Maybe it's always been like that. Hearing Brand New Soul gives me hope that there are still genuine weirdos making whatever they want within the confines of the genre, devoid of trends and simple corollaries.
The last Blood Incantation release was divisive, and not just because it was a sonic departure. Timewave Zero took a detour from progressive-minded death metal to explore ambient sounds driven by analog synths. It was good, but it wasn't great. It also served as a chance for the people who begrudged the band's success to go on tirades about the band selling out, being "false," glomming onto trends, and so on. If you've been into subcultures of any stripe for long enough, you're used to this by now. The real trick is to avoid that reaction while also side-stepping the kneejerk response to such nonsense by becoming an uncritical defender. The truth is usually somewhere in the middle anyhow.
Anyway, Luminescent Bridge is a two-song EP that clocks in at nearly 20 minutes and shows a creative synergy between the band's divergent sounds. "Obliquity of the Ecliptic" delivers on the death metal greatness many were missing on Timewave Zero, but it still splinters off into more spacious corridors, letting synths creep in and bring the track to its conclusion. Meanwhile, "Luminscent Bridge" is what I hoped Timewave Zero would have been, where the band's ambient-forward approach leaves room for passionate, uplifting guitar solos and a bit more tension creeping into the piece's construction. While I've heard this is not representative of what the band's next record will be, it's some of their best work yet, and I hope this energy doesn't get lost wherever they decide to go next.
As I wrote in my Japanese hardcore primer, Crow hasn't just aged gracefully, they may have improved with the passage of time. Earlier this year, the band released a lathe-cut 7-inch with two new songs called The Eye, and now there's Eye, an eight-track continuation of those ideas that ranks among some of Crow's best work. What jumped out to me immediately was how this felt like a bit of a throwback in terms of sonics and structure, recalling '80s Crow material more than the modern, mammoth tones of Bloody Tear. There are touches of classic '80s metal baked in, bringing a raucous riffing to Eye that makes it feel like each track could swing any direction at any second. Then the wild, high-pitched vocals that are brought in on the B-side? What a choice! It's as if King Diamond randomly joined Crow. Even after all this time, the band hasn't lost their spark, they've just ignited some new fires along the way.
If someone describes something as "cavernous, caveman death metal" to me at this point, I am completely uninterested in hearing it. Like so many things, it's become a trend that's been run into the ground and then pounded into dust, due in large part to bands putting a focus on atmosphere and aesthetics over memorable riffs. Excarnated Entity's debut album Mass Grave Horizon is the antithesis of such a thing and thank god for that. This record sounds gigantic, but it's the quality of the compositions here that so many of their contemporaries miss. It helps that Daniel Fried of Anhedonist is driving this band, as Anhedonist were one of the best, and earliest, to tackle this sound, and you can see a bit of Anhedonist seeping in at the edges. The way each player doesn't attempt to snuff out open space is really remarkable, as there's a maximalist mindset that can often make extreme music feel overwhelming but not particularly memorable. Here, elements expand and contract based on a song's need, making everything from double bass runs to machine-gun riffing feel impactful because it's often absent instead of omnipresent. Every choice is made with maximum impact in mind, taking well-worn inspirations and finding new ways to frame them up so they don't feel tired.
There are many things I respect about Pat Flynn, but one of them is how much he allows his work to speak on his behalf. His lyrics are poetic yet direct, enabling you to understand not just what he means, but how he feels. At first, Death Is Nothing To Us took a second for me to square up, as the production felt like a jump I wasn't ready for. Once I'd sat with it a bit, what I found was a record that, if you really pressed me, might be Fiddlehead's best work yet. The guitar interplay between Alex Henery and Alex Dow is more pronounced here, feeling like the first album where it was consciously written with the goal of intertwining their ideas to create more dynamic riffs. Similarly, Flynn's worldview is one that feels like an expansion of the themes he's discussed with Fiddlehead instead of a sequel to his previous works.
I think writing grief albums is a difficult dance. There are some I love, and some that leave me feeling like they were necessary for the artist but not necessarily instructive for the listener. Grief is not something that looks the same for everyone, and the best albums that touch on the subject, in my opinion, don't try to tell you something, they try to show you what it was like for the person. Death Is Nothing To Us feels like the experience of coming out the other side changed and shaken, but able to take something worthwhile from the experience of loss. It's cathartic in all senses, and every note of Death Is Nothing To Us feels like it.
I'd also like to thank the ever-gracious Pat Flynn for talking with me at length but never once touching on the album. What a guy!
Sometimes I'm just wrong about stuff. I hear something, form an opinion, and then months later learn I was just being a complete idiot. That's the case with Games of Power, the debut album from Edmonton's Home Front. At first, this thing didn't catch me, as I've heard enough new wave-inspired punk to be dubious of such things from the jump. That said, Games of Power is this sound done the right way. Seeing them live, the comparison that jumped out to me, one that I'm sure the band would disagree with, is modern Against Me! but with more pronounced synths. I hear a lot of White Crosses in this, as it's anthemic rock music with keys that translate even more directly live. "Overtime" is a perfect example of Home Front's charms, and I'm so glad I eventually came around to them.
In a similar example of having my opinion completely shift on a band, let's talk about Philadelphia's Horrendous. Though they've released four well-regarded death metal records, none of them were things I'd find myself going back to more than once. They were competent, serviceable, fine. For whatever reason, I threw on Ontological Mysterium one day and everything about this listening experience was different. It's clear they are pulling from mid-period Death and other prog-minded bands like Atheist, as this record captures a brighter, more exuberant tenor than what Horrendous had previously offered us. There are still crushing riffs and wild drum fills, but it almost plays like an '80s thrash metal band making the jump into death metal. It's thrashy, proggy, and incredibly catchy, so I guess you can consider me converted.
At the very tail end of December 2022, Philadelphia's Kinetic Orbital Strike released their first demo. Had I not already published a year-end list by that time, it would have found a prominent placement on it. Now, the band is back with their second release, The True Disaster 7-inch. With Chris Ulsh of Mammoth Grinder, Hatred Surge, Innumerable Forms, and most notably, Power Trip, on guitar, this feels like a love letter to D-beat without being utterly predictable. This thing is tight as hell and utterly massive sounding. While it's still appropriately lo-fi, you don't get the sense they skimped on nailing a guitar tone or making sure the bass drum actually carries some weight. It's produced, but it's produced in the right way. For anyone on the east coast who gets to see this band, just know I am deeply jealous.
Let's talk about album titles for a second. I know it's a faux pas to discuss record titles and album covers in music journalism circles, but one thing I've always loved is when cover art grounds you in a sense of place. Black metal is a genre that's particularly good at this, as all the spooky purple castles and desolate landscapes can really give a sense that you have to place your mind in this mystical space before clicking play. All of this is to say that Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle is a perfect title, and the very literal artwork hooked me from the jump. After two EPs that showed drastic improvement in the Finnish band's sound, their debut album is an even bigger leap forward. I've seen plenty of purists dump on this record for being too clean, too cheesy, too produced, but there's something about the marriage of black metal's ripping compositions paired with power metal riffs and solos that just works for me. Yes, I know, this is a thing that's not new, as Children of Bodom was doing this exact thing 25 years ago, but something about this works better for me. Plus, sometimes it's just nice to have fun listening to a black metal record instead of having to put on my serious face and consider how trees are actually god or whatever.
Consider this the second mea culpa to be found in this list so far, as Post-American was released all the way back in March and, admittedly, I liked it but didn't yet love it. There were hits, to be sure, but I didn't find myself revisiting it beyond those first couple of plays. Fast-forward to seeing the band perform the album in full at the Empty Bottle and everything clicked into place. Maybe it's because I was surrounded by super fans, or that the band was able to bring out Soul Glo's Pierce Jordan and Militarie Gun's Ian Shelton for their respective guest parts—or that Shelton was literally up front the whole time screaming along to every word—but this set felt like what I always wanted out of this band. The energy, the hooks, the true outsider perspective, all came together for me in that moment. Since then, I've played this record a ton, and the world MSPAINT builds feels so much richer to me now. Live music, it rocks!
Alright, this is a bit of a cheat as it's not out until November 3 but I've had this one for a while now and it's so good. The band asked me to write the bio for Famine, and it's probably the longest series of interviews I've ever conducted for a press bio. Talking with Andy Nelson and Dan Yemin for nearly three hours, and then having a follow-up call with Dan after that, really immersed me in the world of Paint It Black and it was an honor to be there. As a band, they were formative to me, as they stood out in the 2000s hardcore landscape and I think, unfortunately, have been a bit lost due to inactivity and changing tides in the scene. That said, they've always been able to write memorable hardcore songs that don't feel indebted to any one specific sound. Here, you really feel the weight of Yemin's lyrics, as each line was labored over until every syllable hit just right. Musically, it's still Paint It Black, but there's a looming darkness that's unleashed that eschews the melodic sing-alongs they were always known for. It's a heavy record not just in tone, but in content, and I feel lucky to have been involved in such a tiny way.
Wait, aren't those two different records by two completely different bands? Yes, but I'm grouping them together for reasons that should become obvious soon.
I make no bones about the fact that I find the current trend of twang-indie to be something that could not be less designed for me. I was disappointed when a bunch of punks decided to start doing Neil Young worship a decade ago, and I'm no more excited to see indie—a form I'm already somewhat disconnected from—take a similar turn. A lot of it feels like an affectation, but in the case of both Rayboys and Slaughter Beach, Dog, I really do believe them.
In both cases, each band started with more emo associations, whether warranted or not, before slowly building into spaces that felt like they were miles away from such things. Each band has always felt at their best when they decorated their songs with elements that deepened the worlds they were building, and they both excel at that here, with each album boasting an eight-minute track that shows these bands are only getting more ambitious. I can't help but see a creative kinship between the two, even if they don't sound exactly like one another.
These albums transport you to places cozy and warm, yet they still have enough urgency and tension backing them to give the sense that this is all coming from a place of passion instead of complacency. May more people learn such a lesson.
There are certain records that feel voyeuristic to listen to. I've felt that way when listening to Grouper, like I'm hearing a stranger play music through a shared wall and I'm just pressing my ear up to it in the hope of making out the melodies a little better. Ryuichi Sakamoto's 12 evokes a similar feeling, as the tracks—each one's title simply the date on which it was composed—chronicle the final stretch of his life as he suffered from rectal cancer. This followed a previous round of throat cancer in 2014, and though he released work during that interceding time, 12 feels like an acknowledgment of what was to come. The songs are sparse, usually just piano and synthesizer, but occasionally the sound of Sakamoto's labored breathing comes in, grounding you in the humanity of the person making it—something that is all too often lost in any form of recorded music. I find so much beauty not just in the content of 12, but also in the elegiac nature of it all. This is the sound of a person expressing himself in the way he long had, using it to put his pain into work that, in the end, sounds like a form of acceptance. It's rare that you get to hear something this honest, made completely without pretense. I don't know if I'll ever feel comfortable listening to it, as I don't think it was for me, or for any of us, but I'll be eternally grateful that I have the chance to.
It's telling that of the four death metal records in this round-up, three of them exist in similar orbits. Much like Blood Incantation and Horrendous, Tomb Mold have similarly found their way to brighter, less muck-filled pastures. Last year's Aperture of Body tape broke the band's three-year silence, which was notable only in that it followed a three-records-in-three-years pace that was clearly unsustainable for any modern band. The Enduring Spirit has been a bit of a lightning rod, as critics have loved it but fans have been much more divided, some deriding the band's sonic shift from Finnish-inspired death metal to a more progressive sound. It should be stated that I've never been much of a prog guy. I don't care about it and never really have. But in death metal, where a riff starts to spin out into different spaces, it's enthralling to me. These bits build landscapes and tell stories without a word being spoken, and it allows this record to stand out from others trying it because it doesn't evoke terror, but the joy of a new beginning.
Now, here are some albums I liked but honestly didn't have a ton to say about them. It doesn't mean they are not good (they are!) but they are not best served by me writing something that feels half-assed.
- Arbor, Behold… the Age of Pagan Blood
- Cannibal Corpse, Chaos Horrific
- Circle of Ouroborus, Lumi Vaientaa Kysymykset
- Lifeguard, Dressed In Trenches
- Mil-Spec, Marathon
- Mutant Strain, A Murder of Crows
- Open City, Hands in the Honey Jar
- Slant, Demo 2023
- Undergang, De Syv Stadier Af Fordærv
Classic pick from the shelf: Pearl Jam, No Code
People are always a little shocked when they find out I'm a Pearl Jam fan. What makes that fact even weirder is that I didn't grow up with the band, I came to them when I was in college. This is atypical for a lot of reasons, in part because I was never a big grunge head. Run through the list of bands that embodied that specific Seattle sound and you'll find precious few I like. For years, Pearl Jam sat in that same bucket, with me deriding Eddie Vedder's warble without giving any of their music a second thought. I'll never forget my friends Brandon and Gabe, each a decade older than me, playing me "Rearviewmirror" and feeling like I'd never heard Pearl Jam songs like this before. I dug in, and after spending my life using the band as a cheap punchline, I became a fan.
In September, the band played two nights at the United Center and I went to both of them. While I've always found the "you need to see them live" line to be a bit of a cliché, for some acts it really is true. Pearl Jam is one such case, as the sets were almost completely different, and so were the vibes on display each night. There's a certain magic to seeing a band where they don't stick to a set list for each tour, making it so anything can happen at any given moment. I love that so much, and it's why I'll keep going back to see them whenever I have the chance.
Since then, I've done a full run-through of their discography, and with that comes my ever-deepening appreciation for No Code, the band's 1996 album that served as a pretty heavy left turn for fans. In the present, despite its reputation as a deliberately challenging, notorious hodgepodge of an album, I actually think it's their most consistent record. For one, Vedder is outright restrained vocally, showing how good of a voice he has and letting songs build to a conclusion instead of forcing it in a chorus as he did on the radio hits from Ten.
Beyond that though, it showcases what I love about Pearl Jam which is, at a point, they recognize their place in the world, which is of immense popularity but almost zero cool factor. Instead of trying to sell us on an image, they just became gigantic music dorks, and they let that guide them for the rest of their career. They can do what they want, make what they want, and play whatever they want at their shows, because even though they remain an arena-filling band, they are content being exactly who and what they are. I think they found freedom in the act of battling against the outside perceptions of their band, and No Code is the moment where they shed their skin so they could get comfortable in what regrew.
Finally, I just wanted to share the GoFundMe for Ryan Thoresen Carson. Though I didn't know Ryan personally, he was a close friend of Nina's. For years, I'd heard her tell stories of a person who was thoughtful, kind, warm, funny, and welcoming, and I just always assumed that one day I'd have the chance to meet him. The news last week was incredibly tragic and, if you have some money to spare, I'd humbly ask for you to send some this way. Thank you.