The basic mythical source of all things metal is the figure Iron Man cuts against the darkened sky. This creature born of bad drugs, Black Sabbath and the onset of the Cold War is much like the metal music that ensued from it, a Frankenstein of the most horrible and beautiful in the culture it is set to destroy. Most modern metal bands forget this; they instead are sticklers to their whatever peculiar athletic endeavor. They are tracks stars, masters of the shot put but avoidant of all things else. We do, however, have a number of bands emerging that understand the cloven hoof sometimes needs to be shod in a velvet slipper.
Intronaut began like all good children do, as a lark among their parents. From the loins of LA doom mainstays Anubis Rising and Uphill Battle sprang this unit that package up the nihilism one definitely feels if you are compelled to wear all that black against the California sunshine into a perpetually imploding dark star of a band. One could easily venture that there might be some Swans in their woodpile as well, because they have that similar sense of the juggernaut, but its is humanized by the massive riffs that fall to a crashing blow like a grand piano dropped from a passing zeppelin. Also present here is the hallmark of the New Progressive Metal, sweet airy, reductive, chiming passages that dart around like fireflies, then the drums erupt from the ground and THEN the monster voice, one that sounds like Cookie Monster on PCP, rips everything apart. It's all about beauty, tension and explosion in New Progressive Metal. On Null, the tracks sort of blend into each other. I find this is usually the case in Metal, that each entry is more of a refinement of the form. It's like trying to pick out one sonnet from Oscar Wilde's collected ejaculatory poems about Italy, they are all dizzying and equally as strong as their neighbor. But were I to pick a favorite little demon, it might be "Nostalgic Echo" which follows the pattern with exquisite poise and clarity. The melodic themes seem to evolve like watching moss grow in time-lapse, and just as you see shapes form, the monsters blaze in and tear the tree from its roots.
In the Absence of Truth
ISIS is regarded by many in the know as the finest example of doom metal, but to me the are really just a slower, more methodical version of the New Progressives. Like glacier slow. Like Jasper Johns slow. Like putting pornography on slow-mo and then losing the remote, forced by inertia to watch bodies and shapes slowly contort and move into each other until they are no longer bodies, but arrays of lines and arcs and after-images. Isis stretches out the iciness/demon dichotomy to its limits, creating majestic vistas of ice and stillness for minutes at a stretch, like Sigur Ros with things actually happening. Once you are hypnotized watching the fish wriggle beneath the ice, the sun goes black and all hell breaks loose with the same methodical acuity as that from which the opening pastorale was crafted. An Isis song is like watching the transformation of Jekyll into Hyde in the lab, the flower transmogrifies into a handgun right before your eyes without you noticing the diving line. The reliance on delay-heavy guitar runs and ratcheting sheets of distortion arcing overhead like solar flares bears more than a passing resemblance to the myth-crafting work of the Edge back in U2's salient days, but don't let that scare you. Your time spent with Isis may not be the most event-saturated trip, but transformation is the key to this journey.
Chaos is my Name
The duality of metal is most pronounced in our third specimen, Khlyst. Taking there name form a Russian sect that disavowed the trappings of the Orthodox church, preferring to commune with the eternal through orgies and flagellation, this group jerks back and forth between batshit demon soliloquies and dark, still quasar transmissions that barely register with you as you are emulsified bit their radiation. The star of this bloodbath is Thorr's Hammer vocalist Runhild Gammelsaeter, who possibly has the coolest name ever. A body could fuck polar bears for fun with a mighty name like hers. Runhild belches out her scathing bile while bassist James Plotkin noodles away on a distorted axe like he's killing time at Guitar Center, creating some of the more manic activity this side of John Zorn. It has its roots somewhere in the free jazz, in the Fire Music of the 60's NY loft scene, trading bleating honking saxophones for Runhild, ripping out her esophagus for your amusement. This is how the odd number tracks go (all the songs here are numbered sequentially with Roman numerals) . The even number ones are harrowing, nightmare cinescapes, sounding like a UFO is being dismantled at the far end of an airplane hangar, letting out the moaning souls of alien cosmonauts to exhort their pain. Just as soon as you get accustomed to the haunting, Runhild and James set in for another monster jam.
Really, I listen to a lot of this stuff, and I have grown accustom to the Grand Wretch, that throat scraping yowl these people make, but the ones here are like dragging broken glass on a chalkboard. First time I threw this on, I though I might not actually be able to make it through this record, not because it was bad, but I feared I may not be able to withstand the force of their gale. They have places like "IV" where the two meet on the dissecting table. The interplay between the styles is amazing. It's like watching someone be savagely torn apart by dogs, and then observing their soul's ascent to heaven. If I were to place this crown made of thorns, dirt and entrails on one band's head, it would be Khlyst.
(Eratta - as one of our kind readers noted, I mistook Runhild for a man, and genders have been corrected. I still stand by my conjecture that with a name like Runhild Gammelsaeter, man or woman alike could still fuck polar bears for sport. All apologies to Runhild and those injured by my errors - Alex)
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com