An unstoppable monster, that's what. As trends flux and flow we see differing styles intermingle and make new squealing rock babies. In the past the disco was the disco, the rock club the rock club, but now the emo boys all pretend to be gay and they want you to get up and dance instead of stand before them arms folded and stoic. Punk gave way to pop music, where as even the stuff that comes packaged as punk sounds pretty slick and sterilized compared to slapdash classics like D.I. and even Minor Threat. And the gap has been slowly filled by metal and all its varying hydra heads: the gothic prog stuff, the virtuoso death metal excursions, the beastly fuck-you-Dad theatrics of black metal practitioners and the hybrids therein. And like all wild fauna, it's the hybrids that are the hardiest
Ashes Against the Grain
Oregon's Agalloch make a cocktail of equal parts black-doom metal and shoegazer revisionism that on paper flops like a fish on the deck, but somewhow works seamlessly in practice. The doom dynamics are maintained not by sludge-infested riffs like those of Sunn O))) and the like, but by dark melodic runs that sound like they borrow heavy from the e-bow and delay pedal, like all the greatest guitar rock of 85-95 did, while the bulk of the vocals are belched forth Mephistophelean and viscous by John Haughm. Honestly, I get a lot of gushy, orchestral metal slop issuing though my mailslot like The Blob pouring out of the projector window in the 60's camp classic, and I want to make 1000 copies of this record, stuff them in stamped "return to sender" envelopes with a note saying "This is how it's done."
Tracks like "Falling Snow" with its overarching repetitive riffs and aurora borealis melody lines would not be out of place on the I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness record were it not for Haughm's demon growl at the beginning. In fact, that very growl may be a deal-killer for the modern shoegazer, it only ices the icy cacke for me. Shoegazer vocals always sound so narcotic and whiny when I think the music is usually rather epic in its own way. Agalloch sidesteps that issue by wallowing in the darkness without needing to play to Black Metal form. Perhaps this is "hoof-gazer" music. Whatever it is, it's the freshest thing I've heard from either side of this manic-depressive see-saw I love playing on so much.
Deep in the bowels of Chicago dwells a monster named Azentrius who serves as one of the model claustrophobes for American Black Metal. His vocals are removed from his throat with a belt-sander, his dirgey rhythmys are like getting a massage form a pile driver, his lyrics nigh indecipherable. He was the mastermind behind last year's glorious Leigon of Doom project Twilight. And yet, even back in the four-track days of his nachtmystium project, the clamourous dim would be suddenly undercut by a sweet guitar line, a bluesy riff and just a majestic passage. When people think Black Sabbath, they think the strafing runs of "War Pigs" and the Nostrodomus told-you-so of "Iron Man"and forget the sweet numbers like "Orchid." I mean, there are terrorizers here, like "Keep Them Open" and 'Eternal Ground" which will satisfy any budding antichrist's nihil-tooth, and Nachtmystium's brand of Black mayhem has more dimensions and depth than the average horde, but it's in the more orchestrated numbers does the meat glisten apart from the charred gristle. "A Seed for Suffering" starts out pummeling downhill like a boulder on Sisyphus, but halfway though, as Azentrius' wrath fades into the dark sky, a bona fide pretty acoustic guitar enters the scene, providing a glorious sunset in the Nuclear winter. Then, just as you get comfortable, the hounds attack again full throttle.
You can only pull these kinds of tectonic shifts in metal, and this album does it flawlessly. This is not erratic irony pastiche metal, this is old school, Vikings-on-the-field of-battle-metal - a proud soundtrack to any apocalypse. The other surprise here is "Here's to Hoping" wihich kicks starts out with a whining guitar line and kicky beat that I almost expect David Lee Roth's yelp to come next, but fortunately all things go straight to hell right after. It is still monsterous and menacing, but fuck if you can't actually dance to it. Not that you would, but you could. The song descends into a bluesy haze of twisted girders and coyotes howling, heralded by an almost legible Azentrius beloowing "I want to live!" It is an odd thing to say in a genre obsessed with nullification, and I can't make out the terms of his existence layed out in the murk thereafter. But still, this is a powerful, classic release.
The Fields of the Nephilim
While we are on the subject of alternative/metal hybrids, it bears mentioning that one of the original bands to connect the two has resurfaced. The Fields of the Nephilim came off pretty menacing back in the 120 Minutes years, especially with that video for "Peacher Man" but in the new era of cosmic menace, they seem like rubber-suited movie monsters on their latest release. Really, its rather true to form to their material a decade past, but the almost synthetic drums and heavy reliance on Gregorian synth chants to make the mood leaves this a little dated. Too bad, this record would've killed in '88.
All is not lost here. "Requiem XIIi-33" twinkles and chimes like a frozen Tomita ensconced in the Fortress of Solitude, but Carl McCoy's overwrought vocals are a little hard to take. As metal, it's a little too soft, as goth, its not dancefloor friendly enough, but its all kinda works in its own weird way. "Xiberia" succedds by pulling out all the stops - galloping drum machine, chorus heavy guitar strains, and intertwined vocals running shotgun with each other growling out the apocalypse. I can almost picture that one guy doing the "running man" dance he did whenever "This Corrossion" came on at the goth club I frequented in college. Is it a fresh update on something that was rather daring a decade ago? No, but it does play to those strengths that made that stuff work back then. And who knows? Jawa-eyed desperados growling over 120 BPM might just make a comeback. Everything else has.
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