Metal’s Song Of The Summer

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Metal’s Song Of The Summer


Mean Mistreater’s debut single, “Bleeding The Night,” inspires a specific type of heavy metal feeling. I immediately sensed it when I caught the Austin, Texas, quintet performing a high-octane set of Trad Belt-contending heavy metal sweetened with a sprinkle of midnight malevolence.

“This song title explains it all,” Janiece Gonzalez, Mean Mistreater’s singer, writes in an email. “‘Bleeding The Night’ means to drain the life out of the night. The nights when you’re having too much fun to go home and wanna enjoy every last drop. So crank it loud, and may the party never end!”

Oh yeah, “Bleeding The Night” is a summer song. And that, as these things tend to do, got me thinking.

A few years ago, I wrote about the possibility of a modern metal song being crowned the “Song Of The Summer,” the phrase referring to the song that achieves commercial ascendancy and cultural ubiquity between “the end of May and the beginning of September,” if the time window in Wikipedia’s definition is to be believed. My takeaway was basically “lol.” That recognizably robust and rigorously tested thesis was backed up by anecdotal evidence, like how most metal positions itself as the antithesis of the mainstream, and popular metal artists don’t have the same cultural reach as the typical Song Of The Summer contenders. In summation, even with the odd hiccup in the simulation, such as Lordi winning Eurovision and the retail prospects of Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets” being revitalized by Stranger Things, nothing has swayed my opinion that, for now, a metal song dominating the summer airwaves in any land not named Blashyrkh is extremely unlikely.

Admittedly, that in-depth investigation was neither in-depth nor much of an investigation and had all the trappings of a duh-on-arrival space-filling intro. Because, while the question eternally bounces around like a DVD player screensaver within the souls of validation-craving metalheads, “Why can’t the metal I enjoy crack the mainstream?” isn’t that intriguing of a query. I’ve done this gig long enough that it’s not shocking when Nithing doesn’t hit the Billboard 200 after I write about it. But recently I realized there is a more engaging way to frame metal’s possible contributions to the Song Of The Summer conversation: You know how metal likes thinking of itself as a universe unto itself? Yeah? Here’s the $666 question, then: Why hasn’t it had its own songs of the summer? See, now we’re getting somewhere. That’s more of a chin-scratcher than a family of weevils taking up residence in Greg Wilkinson’s beard.

So, indeed, what’s the deal with that? Why isn’t there a new headbanging anthem every season that unites all metalheads in bar singalongs? Cranked-stereo road trip car mosh sessions? Brutal beach blowouts? Obviously, people listen to metal during the summer. I’d even go as far as saying that it’s a BBQ staple among the bullet belt bedecked. What the heck? Where are the metal songs of the summer?

Well, unlike the “lol” explanations in my past, I think I can offer some decent theories to explain why metal doesn’t have a commercially ascendant and culturally ubiquitous jam that crushes its competitors between May and September. But, naturally, people think I am wrong.

“I have to disagree ’cause there’s always a metal Song Of The Summer for me!” Mean Mistreater’s Gonzalez writes. “I fucking thrive off heavy riffage [while] driving with the wind blowing in my hair in the raging hot sun.”

You know what? Fair. And when I considered Gonzalez’s stance while thinking about all of the wind-blowing, raging-hot, riffage-heavy bangers that I’ve enjoyed during the last few months, a span of record-heat misery that has felt like I was constantly under attack from Super Mario Bros 3’s Angry Sun, I had an epiphany: Readers, we could pick a metal Song Of The Summer.

Sure we can. Granted, we might need to metalize the name. We could give it a squeeze of DME, like “STRAIN OF THE SEASONAL SINGED FLESH” or “CANTICLE OF THE CLIMATE CREMATORY CHRONOLOGY.” An Unholy Hateful Black Metal Songtitle-O-Matic version like “The Ensorcelled Hymn Of The Infernal Reverse Winter” might work, too. Whatever. I’m just saying that crowning a wind-blowing, raging-hot, riffage-heavy bop as the 2023 Metal Song Of The Summer is something that we’re allowed to do. And that is what I’ll be tasking you with today. So, welcome to the first annual Black Market Song Of The Summer. You won’t believe it, but I have just the candidate.

Mean Mistreater’s “Bleeding The Night” is the culmination of a lifelong metal fandom. “Metal is something I feel I’ve been drawn to since I was able to buy my own music,” Janiece Gonzalez explains. “I definitely started my love for music with punk and quickly got into a lot of Southern California classic rippers like Mötley Crüe, Slayer, Suicidal [Tendencies], and of course Van Halen. I was heavy into the skate/surf scene in Long Beach and a lot of the skaters I admired were into heavy music.”

Once settling in San Francisco, Gonzalez landed in Wild Eyes, a hard-rockin’ band with members of Saviours, Floating Goat, and Hazzard’s Cure that was described best by its Bandcamp bio: “Blue Cheer kidnaps Tina Turner and ties her to the tracks of the Grand Funk Railroad.” On the quartet’s 2013 full-length debut, Get Into It!, Gonzalez’s rollicking singing style is already in full effect, giving Wild Eyes’ tunes an irresistible energy. The band made a name for itself in the bluesy hard rock/stoner scene, recording for Who Can You Trust? and Heavy Psych Sounds, but split in 2016. A change of scenery would help get Gonzalez’s next gig off the ground.

“After moving to Austin from the Bay Area, Alex [Wein] and I knew it was about time we started a band together here,” Gonzalez remembers. “He is still actively a member of War Cloud, and so is Joaquin [Ridgell] the drummer. We met Quinten [Lawson] (lead guitar) and John [Gibson] (bass) from hanging out and playing around town. We’ve only been jamming for like six months now and it’s a killer crew.”

The new outfit needed a name, and Gonzalez knew precisely where to pull it from. So, to finally ask the question all classic rockers have been wondering, is Mean Mistreater named after the Grand Funk Railroad song? “Yes!” Gonzalez confirms. “It’s also a Muddy Waters song. I was jamming with a few friends in Oakland and originally wanted to name that project Mean Mistreater, but that never happened. This has always been a name and band I loved, so I’m happy to be able to finally go for it. I guess it represents my singing style as well. I have a deep, heavy, ’70s rock style of singing, but I get to pull a more mean grit out for this project.”

Despite only being a band for such a short time, Mean Mistreater’s members have a connection that powers a crackling energy at the band’s shows. “Heavy metal runs deep in our veins for sure,” Gonzalez answers when I ask about the know-it-when-you-hear-it Fenrizian concept of “heavy metal feeling.” “There’s a vibration we all give off while jamming that is super hard to not get stoked on. When we play live, it’s way more intense and we along with the fans can fucking feel it. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than on stage at the moment of our performance. It’s electric, it’s mean, it’s love, it’s excitement, and it’s fucking contagious.”

While Mean Mistreater have been spreading that contagion with a series of live dates this summer, they have thus far only released one song, “Bleeding The Night.” That ripper actually goes way back, and it’s a meaningful one for at least one member. “So this is a pretty sentimental song,” Gonzalez admits. “Back in Oakland, Alex and I used to jam with this riff and it was actually called ‘Acid Reign’ at first. We practiced it with Joaquin too but it never went anywhere as we weren’t a ‘band.’ I knew this would be a killer song so we brought it back to life with Mean Mistreater.”

“Bleeding The Night” springs to life with a catchy galloping riff courtesy of Wein and Lawson’s twin-guitar attack. The riff feels as though it’s constantly evolving, a chugvolution, if you will, that’s herded in new directions by bassist Gibson and drummer Ridgell’s rhythms. When Gonzalez starts singing, it’s like her voice is surveying the peaks and valleys, mapping the highs and lows. That heavy metal exploration that constructs a trad topography pays off once Mean Mistreater gets to the chorus. The band stomps the gas, launching into a driving riff, and Gonzalez unleashes the vocal hook with Ann Boleyn-/Leather Lungs Leone-quality vigor: “Bleeding the night/ Fear the morning light.

Needless to say, the song smokes, and soon, “Bleeding The Night” won’t be the only song in the Mean Mistreater discography. “The new album is done and killer!” Gonzalez enthuses. “We had such a kick-ass time recording this with Greg [Wilkinson] over at Earhammer in Oakland, CA. Just waiting on mixes and a master before we can release it to you knuckleheads.”

Gonzalez’s influences on the new album include “Rose Tattoo, Warlock, Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Chastain, and early thrash like Exodus.” It’s a varied list, but it also demonstrates Mean Mistreater’s compositional prowess, one centered on following the band members’ guts and synthesizing what they enjoy, an approach that became clearer when I asked Gonzalez how, with over 50 years of heavy metal history to think about, the group differentiates itself from what has come before.

“I really like this project ’cause we’re not really going into writing with any certain genre in mind,” Gonzalez explains. “After hearing our music back in the studio, I feel like we’re just a really high-energy traditional/’80s metal band that leans a bit into punk. It really reflects exactly what I love to listen to. I don’t see it as super different per se, but it’s definitely a unique reflection of what we all love in one package.”

That package will surely make some fans in the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal movement spearheaded by outlets like NWOTHM Full Albums. By ushering in a new renaissance of trad and trad-adjacent styles like speed metal, NWOTHM has helped to increase the relevancy of new bands deciding to undertake the ancient art of steel. So, why does Gonzalez think heavy metal seems to have more juice now than it has had in years?

“If I had to guess I feel the reason why there is a renaissance of all music and art is because of fucking COVID,” Gonzalez writes. “It really was a dark time for a lot of folks and now that live music and bands are back so is the love for metal! Music is killer to listen to anywhere but LIVE music in my opinion is how you can truly feel the power of metal. There’s a whole generation of young adults who missed out on being little metalhead dummies in high school or as young adults because they were locked inside. I bet getting thrown into it now just makes them wanna get into it ALL.”

And I would argue that metalheads want to get into it ALL via heavy metal like Mean Mistreater because the consensus appears to be that it’s one of the metal styles most likely to produce a summer song.

That was one of the big takeaways from a survey I sent out earlier this month to help me sort out this whole metal Song Of The Summer deal. The anonymous questionnaire was predominately answered by metal fans but also included headbangers from many metal walks of life, including musicians, label owners, audio engineers, PR people, podcasters, writers, and one intrepid soul who identified themselves as drawing “disgusting things for freaks in metal bands.” Hell yeah. A toast to you, your disgusting career, and the freaks who employ you.

A whopping 64% of those surveyed believed that trad/heavy metal was a genre likely to produce a Song Of The Summer. Thrash (52 percent) came in second, power metal (46 percent) in third, and death metal, nu metal, and stoner (21 percent) were locked in a three-way tie for fourth. Other strong performers included melodeath (18 percent), black metal (15 percent), and folk metal (15 percent). On the flip side, no one thought progressive and symphonic metal were capable of releasing a summer song, which…OK…I guess I’ll take Biomechanical’s The Empires Of The Worlds out of the BBQ playlist rotation. Jeez. There are easier ways to tell me. And I should mention that one anonymous responder wrote in “blackgaze.” Thank you for taking the survey, Michael Nelson.

So, why do heavy metal, thrash, and power metal have such a big lead over the other styles regarding summer song potential? That’s a little harder to nail down. To get us anywhere close, I’ll have to embark upon every writer’s favorite activity: misinterpreting the findings in research papers.

In “The Role Of Music In Sport And Exercise,” Peter C. Terry and Costas I. Karageorghis wrote about the “extra-musical associations that music can evoke.” The authors highlighted two examples, Vangelis’ “Chariots of Fire” and Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now.” While each piece contains stirring musical moments, their primary potency is derived from a listener’s association with the movies they score: Chariots Of Fire and Rocky, respectively. Because those films are so thoroughly ingrained in the pop culture canon, the songs are inextricably linked to the movies’ themes of “Olympic glory” and “striving to overcome adversity.”

“Such associations are classically conditioned through repetition and powerful images in which television, cinema, radio, and the Internet play an important role,” the authors explained. “When a connection between sport and music is reinforced in the media, it can elicit a conditioned response that triggers a particular mindset.” As an example, the Alan Parsons Project’s “Sirius” doesn’t give me chills because it’s a sick prog song. It gives me chills because it’s a sick prog song that introduced FROM NORTH CAROLINA, AT GUARD, 6’6″, MICHAEL JOOOOOOOORDAN.

How can we tie extra-musical associations back to heavy metal, trad, and power metal being perceived as summery? Here’s one theory: Due to blockbuster tours and the festival circuit, summer was typically when you’d see the more prominent metal artists live. Because those artists tend to be heavy metal, thrash, and power metal, that could foster an association with summer. To go further, it’s not unreasonable to think, then, that the heavy metal, thrash, and power metal associations have additionally been conditioned and reinforced by live albums and concert films recorded during the summer. Example: Metallica’s Live Shit: Binge & Purge – Seattle 1989 was immortalized on August 29, 1989. Of course, this addendum to the tour theory falls apart when you realize Judas Priest’s Unleashed In The East was captured in February 1979, and the latest set that contributed to Motörhead’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith was recorded in April. But, hey, it was worth a shot.

Nonetheless, there’s another angle worth exploring. The more compelling case for associations concerns nostalgia and how Proustian memories can become intertwined. People have fond memories of their childhood exploits in the summer. (The Twilight Zone did an extraordinarily uplifting and not-depressing-at-all episode about it.) Heavy metal, thrash, and power metal are some of the first metal genres people encounter. And so, the two memories mix.

Not surprisingly, many survey responses that answered the inquiry “What metal song do you associate with summer the most? Why?” trended towards the nostalgic.

  • “‘Shout At The Devil.’ Played the cassette until it broke the summer after it came out.”
  • “‘Ride The Lightning,’ mostly from the summer I spent with that album perpetually in the tape deck of my parents’ Toyota pickup.”
  • “Megadeth’s ‘Peace Sells…’ because I listened to it for a solid week at the Jersey Shore when I was 15.”
  • “Extreme’s ‘Get The Funk Out’ probably ‘cuz they were the first metal concert I went to and it was the summer.”
  • “There’s probably a dozen or so: Torche, QOTSA, Baroness, Mastodon, and AiC knotted at second place, but it has to be ‘Black Hole Sun’ by Soundgarden. That song was absolutely inescapable on mainstream and college radio, and MTV ran the video on a hourly basis for the entire summer. You can probably ballpark my age within 1-2 years based on this answer.”
  • “‘Aces High’ by Iron Maiden. I was helping my best friend with his Eagle Scout project one summer. He had a never ending supply of metal tapes that we would run through one after another. This song brings back so many memories of lifting rocks, drinking giant fountain sodas, and not having too much to weigh us down.”

I would love to hear “Aces High” in my head whenever I lifted a rock. Truly, friend, you are living your best life.

Anyway, does the association theory sound convincing? Not so fast. Crucially, not everyone had an answer that hinged on summer nostalgia, suggesting that associations aren’t the only key determining factor.

“Probably the ’80s thrash hits from Metallica, plus Slayer stuff like ‘Raining Blood’ and ‘Angel Of Death,’” one responder wrote about their chosen summer songs, setting up what I like to call the Vibes Theory. “Songs of the summer in my mind are either poppy, ‘fiery’ (as opposed to ‘frosty’), or both — somehow that fits for RIB-era Slayer and classic Metallica. Something like ‘Hit The Lights’ or ‘Seek & Destroy’ feels extra summery for some reason. Or I dunno, maybe something by Baroness or Kvelertak, if I liked those bands.”

“I listen to metal year-round (as I’m sure most metal fans do),” another responder clarified before delving into a version of the Vibes Theory that was modified by considering what summer activities might be most conducive to a metal soundtrack. “I’ve never really thought about associating specific songs with specific seasons. The first one that comes to mind is ‘Raise Your Horns’ by Amon Amarth — it’s got a nice uptempo vibe, good for driving around with the windows down, and a catchy singalong chorus, perfect for belting out around the campfire.”

By trying to fit Amon Amarth into a possible summer endeavor, that responder touched on another reason why heavy metal, thrash, and power metal might be considered the more summery genres. When I asked “What summer activities would benefit from a metal soundtrack?”, a majority of the survey answers listed social activities: BBQ, beach, parties, road trips, etc. Because heavy metal, thrash, and power metal are more likely to be palatable to the most metal fans, it tracks that if you equate summer with social pursuits, these would be the genres you’d pick to score it. It’s heavy metal utilitarianism: you want the most people to have the most fun. Let’s call that the Mob Rules Theory.

The Mob Rules Theory is something that Mean Mistreater’s Janiece Gonzalez agrees with, too: “Summer is about partying and good times with friends and family to me. Being outdoors at a river, slamming some good snacks and beers with heavy metal is LIFE.”

However, that desire to maximize the fun for the most metalheads also rips the dust cover off a bombshell that can blow up the entire metal Song Of The Summer debate. And one survey responder was more than willing to drop it: “Does Thin Lizzy count? Because it’s ‘The Boys Are Back in Town.’ Why do you need to know why? Don’t you know this song, Ian? YOU SHOULD KNOW WHY!” Welcome to the Thin Lizzy Effect.

The Thin Lizzy Effect was first posited by former Black Market maker Doug Moore. Basically, the Thin Lizzy Effect precludes other metal songs from being played in social situations simply because Thin Lizzy exist. That is to say, if you had the aux cord at a BBQ, beach blowout, party, or road trip, why would you play anything other than Thin Lizzy, the perfect summer music? Heck, even the more outre activities named in the survey can be successfully coupled with Thin Lizzy.

  • “Reading the complete works of Jacque Derrida.” Thin Lizzy.
  • “Sitting in the woods alone contemplating the misery of thy existence.” Thin Lizzy.
  • “Watching the increasingly rapid death of the planet at our own hands.” Thin Lizzy.
  • “Panhandling in Phoenix.” Huh. I don’t know if you’ve tried Last Days Of Hu — sike, it’s Thin Lizzy.

It’s always Thin Lizzy. It’s never not Thin Lizzy. The Thin Lizzy Effect is one of the most compelling reasons why metal never seems to mint an annual Song Of The Summer. It has nothing to do with commercial ascendancy, cultural ubiquity, or even “lol.” It has something to do with Thin Lizzy. But Thin Lizzy isn’t the only reason. The survey uncovered some others.

First, let me acknowledge that a smart person wrote in the following: “Pop summer songs are marketed as such by labels. They plug them with radio, press, and playlists as specifically summer songs. I haven’t seen many metal labels do that.” This is probably true, but it’s far too insightful for this intro. Please remember you’re talking to someone who thinks they should play Ectoplasmorphosis on the radio. Thanks. (To briefly play out the string, in an excellent piece on hip hop’s 50th anniversary published in Defector, Jason England wrote, “The goal of our hyper-capitalist society is to flatten, standardize, and refashion anything counterculture into something that serves its bottom line.” I think one could make a case that we won’t get a metal Song Of The Summer advertised as such because any discerning metalhead wouldn’t stand for that kind of flattening. Conversely, maybe don’t trust the person who gets paid to write a metal column.)

As for the preset choices I provided in the survey, “the popular metal songs suck” captured third place thanks to 18% of the votes. “It’s an album genre,” the familiar refrain of many intros, came in second with 29%. The most popular response, though, was that “metalheads are too stratified to agree on one song,” which was chosen by 59% of respondents. Lo and behold, the diehard metalheads most likely to take a metal survey all listen to different genres and will never agree on anything. Who would’ve thunk it?

And when I asked responders to nominate their own 2023 metal Song Of The Summer, the stratification was on full display. The answers ran the gamut: new and old bands across every conceivable genre. The only thing that connected the lot was that people wrote them into a survey asking for the metal Song Of The Summer. Here’s a sampling of the disparity:

But there was one nominee that received a plurality of votes. Friends, your 2023 metal Song Of The Summer dark horse candidate is Horrendous’ “Cult Of Shaad’oah,” from the progressive death metal band’s newest album, Ontological Mysterium.

“‘Cult Of Shaad’oah’ captures the expansive spirit and vibrancy at the heart of summer,” Horrendous guitarist/vocalist Matt Knox said through the band’s publicist. “It is a fiery call to the listener to fully step into and own the seeds of possibility sown within themselves throughout the year, and to defiantly blaze their own path. The song plays out like a summer blockbuster: big, brash, and action-packed, brimming with thrills and unexpected twists and turns — all delivered with cinematic flair. The perfect elixir to help us all KEEP ON CLIMBING.”

After climbing aboard and reappraising “Cult Of Shaad’oadh” in a summer state of mind, I get it. (I’d argue that “Chrysopoeia (The Archaeology Of Dawn),” which is like if Individual Thought Patterns-era Death had a writing session with Holly Knight, is the summer jam from Ontological Mysterium, but, again, I’ve been cold calling radio programmers to include Ectoplasmorphosis in future playlists.) Drummer Jamie Knox and bassist Alex Kulick formulate all kinds of tricky rhythms that, while dizzying, are invigorating. Guitarists Damian Herring and Knox sure love themselves a solo, a prime trait of all good metal summer songs. And the song’s construction, on the whole, has a hookiness that’s like if a reconstituted Edge Of Sanity pulled a Bodom After Midnight, engaging in studded-leather-shredding, ’80s Metal Blade badassery while bringing down the hammer with morbid riffs aplenty. (Also, am I hearing some Stan Bush motivational emotionality in there?) Yes, it’s death metal, but it’s the kind of death metal you could crank in a car with the top down and people in the passenger seat who aren’t death metal dorks. In other words, there’s a specific type of heavy metal feeling that runs through the entirety of Ontological Mysterium. That feeling? Heavy metal summer!

And, really, that’s what sets a potential metal Song Of The Summer apart from an actual Song Of The Summer. We’re hunting for related but distinct feelings: heavy metal and summer. We’re not looking for something simpler and easier to quantify, such as the song that’s the most pervasive. And trying to get those two qualities to align — the most heavy metal and the most summer — adds a ton of complications. No wonder the metal Song Of The Summer is different for everyone. Our memories, associations, and preferences interpret those feelings differently. What is summer for one is winter for another. What is heavy metal for one forces others to make those wimps and posers leave the hall. So, it’s not just that metalheads are stratified. Considering all of the variables in play, it’s that we’re hopelessly individualistic, even though it’s guaranteed that you will be hearing Thin Lizzy at your next BBQ.

But let’s not pat ourselves on the back for being individuals (while wearing the same battle vests and bemoaning black metal bands that break the unwritten codes) just yet. Remember, that isn’t the reason why you’re here. No, you have to pick the first metal Song Of The Summer. So, which is it? Mean Mistreater’s “Bleeding The Night”? Horrendous’s “Cult Of Shaad’oadh”? A total left-field selection that has yet to be considered? Let me know down in the comments. –Ian Chainey


10. Mycorrhizae – “Strength In Space”

Location: Minneapolis, MN
Subgenre: black metal

If you can dream it, it probably exists as inspiration or theme for a metal band, and when metal bands get inspired, they tend to fully commit to the bit. Mycorrhizae take fungus as their thematic and visual cue, and the greater mushroom kingdom apparently produces ripping, seriously great, full-speed melodic black metal. “Strength In Space” is a total axe attack through and through, with high-BPM blasts, trilling guitars, and mean riffs galore. OK — black metal singing about fungus, sure. But check out the video these mushroom maniacs made for this track. Band members “Collector” and “Forager” are in full mushroom costumes that I won’t attempt to describe, shredding at 2x speed in the forest. It features slow pan closeups of mushrooms growing in the wild, quick cuts on Collector and Forager as they trade vocal duties, and the occasional shot of the pair generally thrashing around in the woods. If the music weren’t so awesome, this would be a curiosity, but it completely slays (and comes from veteran Travis Minnick of Kaldeket, Dreaming Machine, and formerly of the now split-up False). The fungus banter is spreading in the recommendation section on Bandcamp, so if you want to chop it up with the other fun guys, now is the time to brush up on the mushroom puns. [From The Great Filtration, out now via Big Bovine Industries.]Wyatt Marshall

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9. Dead And Dripping – “Infinitely Plummeting Into Violet Portals Of Delusion”

Location: New Jersey, USA
Subgenre: death metal

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to compare Blackened Cerebral Rifts, Dead And Dripping’s third full-length in as many years, to Demilich. It gets at the general shape of the thing. I mean, aside from “Hopeless Desire For Reprieve,” a brief instrumental intermission, Blackened Cerebral Rifts’ tracks have the familiar cosmic spikiness and sixteenth-six-tooth strangeness, not to mention those otherwordly Antti Boman burps, that turned Nespithe into an enduring influential masterpiece. But that’s not the whole story. There’s more than meets the burp. Sole Dead And Dripping member Evan Daniele peppers his compositions with plenty of detours, switching the tracks to other routes. If you’re dead set on the Demilichiness, I guess you could say there’s Demilich by way of Cryptopsy, Demilich by way of Morbid Angel, and even Demilich by way of Meshuggah. In that light, Blackened Cerebral Rifts is a fascinating way of transforming influences into one’s own voice. Because, really, Dead And Dripping, on the whole, doesn’t sound like anyone else. It’s only Demilich-esque in that Daniele has a similar interest in creating bizarre, beguiling death metal that’s actually very balanced.

For as much as I like to run my mouth about death metal’s more thrilling active ingredients, be it its dangerously unstable brutality, chaos, noisiness, or basement-dwelling scuzziness, good death metal is usually balanced. That balance is what Demilich excelled at, taking its bizarro runs and uncanny atmosphere and fitting them into song structures that were pretty catchy once the weirdness wore off. Turns out, for Blackened Cerebral Rifts, Daniele has a similar goal.

“For this album I went with a more straightforward approach in terms of songwriting as compared to the last two albums,” Daniele recently told Antichrist Magazine. “I aimed to really get weird and open up the riffing style, so a lot of the songs have a relatively simple structure to highlight that. Another goal was to shift the focus onto technicality in a more rhythmic sense, with most songs featuring polymetric grooves and things like that. Overall, I wanted to create a strange and surreal atmosphere.”

Mission accomplished, my friend. You want strange and surreal? “Infinitely Plummeting Into Violet Portals Of Delusion” is what it says on the tin. It’s also a beguiling buffet of prime death metal riffs. When Daniele really lets loose with the squelchy guitars and body-pulping drumming, it’s more surreal than Rod Serling walking out of your bedroom mirror. Some of these sections are like a nightmare Formulas Fatal to the Flesh-era Trey Azagthoth had about accidentally leaving a riff in his locker over summer break and it sprouting deadly mold spores. But then, once the strange and surreal feels like it will overpower your senses, those more complex passages are evened out by big ol’ grooves on the outro. It’s good songwriting 101: the dissimilitude between the head-spinning intricacy and head-crushing heaviosity makes both elements stronger. Again, Blackened Cerebral Rifts is all about balance.

“Contrast is super important to me when writing music, and especially when things get really twisted and difficult both to play and to listen to, a nice groove is like a reward both for the player and the listener,” Daniele said in that same Antichrist Magazine interview. “The breakdown parts help punctuate the music, and let you headbang and jam out for a while, but you’ve gotta earn it by sitting through the chaos. This is something I picked up from bands like Nile and Cerebral Effusion, who both balance furious, twisted riffing with crushing, catchy grooves.”

So, ultimately, a more accurate way to explain Daniele’s style is that he has picked up some serious skills from legends and twisted them into his own shapes. [From Blackened Cerebral Rifts, out now via Transcending Obscurity Records.]Ian Chainey

8. Hypomanic Daydream – “Riding The Wave”

Location: Chicago, IL
Subgenre: death metal / progressive metal

It’s funny that an album as catchy as Image, Hypomanic Daydream’s full-length debut, also elicits such bafflement. Then again, that duality has been the project’s story so far. The solo endeavor of Manic Dream Girl (Putrescine, Mesa) is imbued with a disarming quirkiness. There are Vocaloid harmonies, SNES synths, and esoteric song structures that sound like some prog-curious death and thrash bands from the ’90s, such as Carbonized and Secrecy, made the same leap that O.L.D. did between Lo Flux Tube and The Musical Dimensions Of Sleastak. But instead of these peculiarities cloaking Hypomanic Daydream in impenetrability, they only seem to increase the catchiness. I’ve been humming these songs for days, and yet I have no idea how to categorize them.

Hypomanic Daydream has an idea. There’s a line in Image’s Bandcamp liner notes that stands out. Underneath the requisite what-is-this section listing “Voivod, Confessor, weird 90’s death metal, 16-bit video game soundtracks, vocaloid music, and power pop” as points of comparison, and below the pledge that “Hypomanic Daydream will never shy away from the digital, the low, and the untrve. It’ll never be shy about its blatant revelry in its queerness, transness, or communistness,” resides a proclamation that will look remarkably prescient in a few years: “Long Live Hyperdeath.”

While metal has dipped its toes into the hyperpop realms before, such as Gonemage’s recently released Celestial Invocation, I haven’t heard anything like Hypomanic Daydream’s hyperdeath. At the very least, it’s hard to think of like-minded contemporaries. Considering how both construct songs like sound sculptures, the future fusion of the great Fire-Toolz probably makes sense. But one doesn’t coin a genre like “hyperdeath” to align oneself with pre-existing styles. And, even more than the experimental releases that preceded it, such as the Hypomanic Skin split with Homeskin and the Demibitch EP, Image feels like Hypomanic Daydream is formally submitting a charter to form a new variant of metal.

“Riding the Wave,” with its frantic opening salvo of chugs paired with leads that are Mega Man Rock Force quality (look, “Photonman Theme” is a banger, I don’t want to talk about it), is an excellent example of the promise that hyperdeath holds. The verse seems to ping between the deathly pummel of Disharmonic Orchestra and the sweep of Arcturus at its spaciest. And that’s but one of the song’s many variations, all of which flow seamlessly into the next. Even when a chunky (but not flabby) riff kicks in, detonating the same payload that a band like Slugdge loves to jud out, it doesn’t bounce the needle out of the song’s progression and unceasing forward momentum. In fact, all of these moving parts melt together into a coherent whole that reminds me of an intricately composed and choreographed musical theater piece. It’s weird, but goddamn, is it an earworm.

Amazingly, “Riding The Wave” isn’t even Image’s biggest surprise, an honor that could go to either the cover of Paramore’s “Miracle” or album closer “By Friendship We Will Win,” an anthem that guest Katy Scary helps propel to something worthy of an anime theme placement. I don’t even know what else to write besides, well, long live hyperdeath. [From Image, out now via Fiadh Productions and Vita Destabilis Records.]Ian Chainey

7. Cunabula – “Silent Somber Suns”

Location: Vilnius, Lithuania
Subgenre: progressive metal / sludge

The Weight Of Sleep is Cunabula’s debut album, and it’s an incredible grand entrance following a 2017 EP, Scar. How to describe it? “Silent Somber Suns” stirs from a dream, with vocalist Goda Žukauskienė bringing in breathy, ethereal singing on top of plucked and picked guitars. Later, after it takes a turn to a proggy build, Žukauskienė turns to possessed growls that embody a primal fury. She is a force of nature, and in Cunabula’s world, which is set on and beneath the forest floor between the roots and under the rocks where snails and fungi dwell, her voice takes on that role quite literally.

“Silent Somber Suns” is long, topping the ten-minute mark, but it’s gripping the whole way. A melodic narrative carries through, pulling you into a strange drama that feels oddly familiar, as if it taps into and builds from the same mud, dirt, and atoms that comprise bone and body. As a parting farewell, it culminates into a cresting wave that makes for one of the more loving and lasting outros you’ll hear. It’s awesome, devastating, beautiful, and soulful, and it will wrap its tendrils around you tightly and leave a mark. [From The Weight Of Sleep, out now via Sleaszy Rider SRL.]Wyatt Marshall

6. A. Yólotl – “Tlazohtla”

Location: Mexico
Subgenre: blackgaze

Victoria Camilla Hazemaze has appeared in this column in different guises over the past couple of years, regularly wowing with any of her dozen-plus projects that tap into various gradients of blackgaze. What brings many of her artistic outlets together is a surreal, luminous beauty conveyed in swathes of washy synth and muted black metal blasting. She pulls faded imagery from distant dreams, painting watercolors full of wonder, longing, and catharsis.

Her latest (at the time of writing), “Tlazohtla,” comes from her new band, A. Yólotl. “Tlazohtla,” Google says, means “to love” in a language spoken in Classical Nahuatl, a Uto-Aztecan dialect spoken in the 16th Century in the Valley of Mexico and central Mexico. A. Yólotl means, I think, “From the Heart.” Listening to “Tlazohtla” had me thinking about Slowdive, the great British shoegaze band who returned in 2017 with one of my favorite albums of the last long while and who have a new album coming out soon with singles that have been on repeat. Deafheaven have credited Slowdive with inspiring both Deafheaven’s music and their name, and whether or not there’s an explicit inspiration for Hazemaze, they’re both pulling from a sonic palette that have Slowdive’s touches all over it — and gave rise to the genre tag “blackgaze.” “Tlazohtla” casts the same kind of ethereal awe, holding multitudes of hope, tenderness, and energy in crashing waves. [From Tlazohtl, out now via the artist.]Wyatt Marshall

5. Moray – “Celestial Coronation”

Location: Provo, UT
Subgenre: black metal

When I hear Christian Degn scream, I feel something. Across The Natural World, Moray’s debut full-length, Degn unleashes raw-throated howls that cut through the charging guitars and storming drums. And they cut right through me, too. I’ve struggled to articulate why I find them so affecting. Perhaps because The Natural World’s theme is the changing seasons, from spring and summer on its A-side to fall and winter on its B-side, Degn’s roar represents someone desperately fighting through one season to make it to the next. Sure, that may be me projecting, but when is music appreciation not an act of projection? Life has been that kind of struggle lately, and any music that takes on those same contours feels like a salve.

But here’s the thing: Degn screams judiciously, never over-singing. The Natural World is an album full of winding riffs that trek through different terrains within single songs. It also rumbles with the expressive drumming of Robin Stone (Norse, Sarcophagum, and a ton of guest spots, including Lightbreaker). These elements do a lot of The Natural World’s worldbuilding. Thus, when Degn opens his mouth to say something about it, I listen.

It’s incredible, then, to learn that, at one point, Degn didn’t think he’d be able to scream again. “I spent a week in bed mourning unrecorded songs,” Moray’s guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and vocalist said to Provo Music Magazine about his lung collapsing, “settling into a life where my main form of artistic expression would be relegated to a solely visual output.”

Degn is a dynamite artist, contributing arresting pieces to Yellow Eyes, Baazlvaat, and Pagan Moon, among others. But it would be a real loss for metal if that were the only way he could contribute to the scene. After all, The Natural World is a poignant album that gets at something about what it means to exist, a story that’s woven, per its Bandcamp description, from “drawings on paper, a solar eclipse, the printing press, dreams of a dead artist, the birth of a litter of cats, a religious man’s crops dying, empty night skies and the lives held beneath them.”

It also has riffs. Oh boy, does it have riffs. Like how Degn employs his voice, his riffs have been whittled down to just the rad parts, maximizing impact via clarity instead of complexity, a tip he picked up from some titans. “Death’s Symbolic and Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal both served as big inspiration for my earlier riff writing as I moved beyond learning other people’s material,” Degn said in a Machine Music interview. “They both went a long way to serve as examples to keep me from overworking my ideas, which I think I may always struggle with in all my art.”

While nothing on The Natural World feels overworked, you can sense that these songs work hard to take you on a journey. This collection’s fall and winter sections remind me of an Americanized Immortal, like if Undying took inspiration from At The Heart Of Winter instead of Slaughter of the Soul. (I keep picking up on a touch of core that plays well in these songs. Degn namechecked the great Parallax in the Machine Music write-up. It would be nice if the forgotten Mediums & Messages was given new life as an influence on Moray.) When songs like the more lead-heavy “Celestial Coronation,” which suggests that Moray could make a good tour partner for Autonoesis, go on those extended riff variation peregrinations, you feel every step of the voyage and the life that was lived to get that composition into shape. That is to say, these tracks, be it a ripper like “Pantocrator” or the reflective ambient hum of “Veil,” come off like they were conceived in fire and then hammered into shape by tribulations. Put more simply, there’s a wisdom there. (This wisdom is especially present in Benjamin Swisher’s acoustic “Deluge,” which bisects The Natural World into its spring/summer and fall/winter sides.) And it’s there in Degn’s scream. Because this is music made for those who didn’t think they’d ever scream again. [From The Natural World, out now via Fiadh Productions.]Ian Chainey

4. Owlbear – “Fiend Of Fire”

Location: Boston, MA
Subgenre: heavy metal

Owlbear have D&D in their DNA (and their name), and the Boston four-piece’s homage to tabletop high fantasy and epic adventure is full of all the awesomeness your burning heart could desire. “Fiend or Fire,” a single from the end of June, is the first song Owlbear released into the world, and straight out the gate, it’s hook after hook. We’re firmly in the trad metal lane here, of course, so we’re talking a methodical riff attack, soaring vocals, wildman axe hero solos, and a chorus that drills into your brain and boosts Charisma. Ensue denim-clad fist pumping.

Though Owlbear just arrived in the realm, this is the work of seasoned pros. Katy Scary of Pittsburgh power metallers Klaymore leads on vocals, and the party is filled out with members of Adamantis, Miasma Theory, and Project: Roenwolfe, the latter of which I’m just learning broke up this month, in bummer news. At least we have Owlbear, who are embarking on a new quest with fresh vigor. If you had acted fast, physical copies of their debut Chaos To the Realm came with a band-branded six-sided die. No re-rolls for those who missed out. [From Chaos To The Realm, out now via the band.]Wyatt Marshall

3. 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) – “Silesian Fur Coat”

Location: Parts Unknown
Subgenre: post-metal / black metal

夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker)’s “Silesian Fur Coat” is like a hallucination rendered as a lenticular image. It seems to shift depending on how you listen: quietly, loudly, intently, passively, on headphones, on speakers, each listening mode and environment adding and subtracting elements. To drive that effect home, look at my notes for the album it anchors, the masterful Skopofoboexoskelett. They read like the natterings of a worm-eaten mind overrun with non sequiturs.

  • Every band on Nurse With Wound’s list condensed down to one song
  • This Heat dropped into the extended universe of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
  • Soft Machine or Henry Cow filtered through the cryptic aesthetics of Ved Buens Ende
  • Oxbow as an aural Rorschach test
  • The mind-melting guitar of Gift Horse sitting side-by-side in the middle of the desert with Earth’s laconic sense of foreboding, both bands envisioning a recap of eternity scored by Morricone as they slowly die of heatstroke
  • Abruptum infiltrating a Pure Moods compilation
  • Micro-sampled Jesus Lizard basslines injected into Red-era King Crimson

And those are just the notes that wouldn’t get me instantly institutionalized. But here’s the thing: As a listening experience, Skopofoboexoskelett is unbelievably easy on the ears. This might be one of the most accessible avant-garde recordings I’ve encountered in a long time. Heck, it’s even inviting. The soundscapes are lush and the landscape is bizarre, like sinking into a velvet couch in a Salvador Dalí painting. It’s beautiful in a way you didn’t know it existed. It’s the nightmare where you snooze your alarm.

Few bands live up to their names like 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) can. “It felt appropriate for the music we wished to create — while also feeling relatable to our internal conversations,” band member PBV said to Veil Of Sound in 2021. “The literal character-by-character translation is ‘Those who have the illness of playing in dreams.’ In Russian the word is «Лунат», which is something like ‘moonwalker,’ as according to lore — people sleepwalked or went crazy with a full moon out. It was a narrative accommodating of many factors inclusive and exclusive to language.”

What language hasn’t caught up with is describing 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker), something even the band members recognize. A genre name like “black metal,” or even “post-metal,” which I’ve argued the band has a greater claim to than the progressive sludge the tag currently describes, doesn’t quite fit the bill. The members had a laugh over “contrast metal,” but, I mean, contrast metal? Nah. When you make contrasts sound this naturally coherent, you need something better. But, alas, so it goes when you’re out on the edge. Nothing feels satisfying. However, 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) doesn’t aim for satisfying. It does its own thing. I mean, check out this quote from an Invisible Oranges interview where PBV tackles whether their music “changes black metal’s paradigm:”

That’s a tough one man… I imagine the hope is that it does in some way shift perspectives towards a cooler and more interesting realm, and on that road offer something new. I am sure there are some folks that listen to this [even fans] and say “don’t fix it if ain’t broke”, and others that find parallels in Fleurety or Ved Buens Ende or Diapsiquir and say “oh yeah, more of that”—so hope and trust plays a big role in the listener. If they are able to make the mental leap and connection, then some sort of paradigm has shifted if even ever so slightly.

Skopofoboexoskelett does shift the paradigm, but it is to black metal what dreams are to reality. You can analyze it for deeper meaning, but the feeling is more of the point. “Do you remember when you were young, and you went into a record store for a mad, wild hunt but you weren’t sure of what? If this feeling is close to you — the curiosity you feel is what we are after,” PBV said in that Veil Of Sound interview. That’s the feeling! But that’s also hazy, like trying to describe a dream’s narrative while its memory slips through your fingers. And so you get a write-up that’s only non sequiturs. You get off-the-wall comparisons from a mystified blurber like how “Silesian Fur Coat” sounds like an antique bookstore smells or “The Bad Luck That Saved You From Worse Luck” dances like a ghost across a moonlit pond. (Luckily, you didn’t get me pondering why Skopofoboexoskelett‘s bookends are eight minutes and five seconds on the dot.) But maybe that’s instructive. Perhaps that’s the point. Someone once told me that dreams are how we prepare for death. I wonder if 夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) prepare us for the music we’ll never have the chance to hear. Maybe you should start listening now. [From Skopofoboexoskelett, out now via Sentient Ruin Laboratories.]Ian Chainey

2. Blut Aus Nord – “Queen Of The Dead Dimension”

Location: France
Subgenre: black metal

It feels like mere months ago when we proclaimed Blut Aus Nord’s Lovecraftian Echoes our album of the year, a choice that cohered with our contrarian nature in that it wasn’t even an album but a compilation of collaborations between BAN mastermind Vindsval and Debemur Morti Productions’ short-lived subscriber-only forum. But, despite the collection’s unpublicized nature and the cries of its liner notes arguing it was definitively “NOT the new BLUT AUS NORD album,” it was impossible to ignore the pull of Lovecraftian Echoes’ dark power, a warped aural dimension of sweet agony I described as “[wiggling] psychotropic-secreting tentacles into my brain and slowly [warping] my perception, peeling back the layers of reality until it feels like death is standing behind me.”

In other words, it so wholly and faithfully brought the French black metaller back to the nightmarish delirium of its classics like 2003’s The Work Which Transforms God and its 2006 followup MoRT, the latter of which, in his final interview in 2020, Vindsval described as “a work almost suffered, it imposed itself on me, you don’t compose something like that if you’re doing well.”

So, given that admission, it was understandable why Vindsval might not want to pull Blut Aus Nord back in that direction unless so inspired. And Lovecraftian Echoes did feel like something of a one-off, a literal echo from the past that was an aberration compared to Vindsval’s newer works, such as the third-eye-prying Hallucinogen and Forhist’s woodsy debut. Maybe Lovecraftian Echoes was it. Thanks for the reminder, BAN. Here’s your AOTY hardware.

Fast forward some mere months, and we have Disharmonium – Nahab, which is definitively THE new Blut Aus Nord album and has all of the wiggling, warping, and peeling properties of Vindsval’s most Lovecraftian opuses. It’s cold, harsh, wet, and dark, a contrast to last year’s Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses, a release that was a lusher, gothier, more ornate spin on BAN’s post-Memoria Vetusta III sound. That said, Nahab still pairs well with its series forebear because it retains the quality that makes modern BAN so intriguing: the endless amount of sonic layers and textures that work in partnership to create a woozy, sweeping effect that tickles the same part of the brain that warns us something massive and dangerous is squirming in the shadows. And perhaps Vindsval used the title to hint at what that dangerous thing might be.

In H. P. Lovecraft lore, Nahab is the secret name of Keziah Mason, a woman rounded up in the Salem witch trials but who escaped thanks to her knowledge of elder god math that was bestowed upon her by her boss Nyarlathotep. Mason’s backstory is recounted in “The Dreams of the Witch House,” a stinker of a story (even Lovecraft admits it) that opens with an absolute banger of an opening line — “Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams Walter Gilman did not know.” — and goes downhill from there, mainly because Walter Gilman is an author-surrogate dweeb. If only Lovecraft liked women enough to focus on Nahab.

Anyway, I bring all that up to write that Disharmonium – Nahab is the dream version of “Dreams In The Witch House,” one that finally delivers on the promise of that tale. Genuinely creepy in a way that only Blut Aus Nord can be, songs like “Queen Of The Dead Dimension” contain those quintessential chills that feel like a metalized version of someone playing Penderecki and Ligeti’s most unnerving works at the same time while forcing you to watch the time-lapse footage of a loved one’s face decomposing. It’s…unsettling. And beneath the braying gurgles of the disembodied vocals, the shifting drums that blast and shuffle with the same math that produce lines and curves that could break a witch out of jail, and the layer upon layer of twisted guitars calling out to a terrifying unknown that exists beyond our mortal knowledge, you might hear the croaking voice of old Nahab giving her familiar Brown Jenkin some final instructions: Take over Blut Aus Nord and record an album that will be another AOTY candidate. I hope you’re well, Vindsval. [From Disharmonium – Nahab, out now via Debemur Morti Productions.]Ian Chainey

1. Bergfried – “May The Devil Pull Me Under”

Location: Vienna, Austria
Subgenre: heavy metal

When I corresponded with Erech Leleth for the Black Market intro about Fiadh Productions, he told me about his concerns regarding the rollout for Bergfried’s debut, 2022’s Romantik I. “The musical style was hard for me to categorize, and I didn’t know how to handle the release,” Leleth wrote. Fiadh helped fix that by positioning the record as the medieval rock-metal love story it is, with impeccable artwork that brings the heroic tale to life (the Metal Archives gatekeepers, meanwhile, haven’t raised the portcullis to let Bergfried in).

In part two of the romance, Leleth and lead vocalist “Anna de Savoy” bring us back to the world of castles and heroes and pitched battles, where two lovers find themselves torn apart by forces both mortal and divine. This fantastical setting allows Leleth to lean into big, classic hard rock riffs with power metal flourish, and Anna de Savoy belts out a narrative in a commanding vocal performance that whisks you into Bergfried’s realm — currently, the heroine is entering into a deal with the devil with the intention of double-crossing him as part of a wider ploy to reunite with her lost paramour.

I can see why Leleth was a bit puzzled about how to position this saga, but he is a metal wizard with impeccable taste and chameleon-like abilities. In Ancient Mastery, Leleth produces atmospheric black metal carved of the grimmest blackened ice but with heroic, epic flare. As Summer Haze ’99, he mixes black and power metal with jazz and post-hardcore to create beautiful nostalgic fireworks that light up hot, humid nights in reds, blues, and purples. It’s hard to describe, and you’re better off just listening to and losing yourself in these remarkable works. [From Romantik II, out now via Fiadh Productions.]Wyatt Marshall

Bonus. Colony Drop – “Supplicant”

Location: Seattle, WA
Subgenre: crossover / heavy metal

The first thing you hear on Colony Drop’s full-length debut is the album’s title: “Brace for impact!” Those vocals belong to Joseph Schafer, a talented writer and fest organizer who did a tour of duty with me in the blog trenches back in our Invisible Oranges days and eventually salvaged what I didn’t burn to the ground when he became editor. (To be clear, that is why Colony Drop needs to run in the bonus section.) Much like Schafer’s creative output and general exuberance for living, those vocals caught me off-guard by oozing charisma via their idiosyncratic delivery. “My cleans are what I call my ‘anime villain’ voice,” Schafer said to another bud, Tom Campagna, in a recent IO interview that I will be quoting from throughout the rest of this blurb. “At the time, it was just me trying to sound like a voice actor for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s English dub.” And, well, there you go. A line like that will sell this killer combination of Slough Feg, Nuclear Assault, straight-shooting Entombed, Poison Idea, and Mobile Suit Gundam Wing better than anything I write ever will.

Wait, did you read that list of comparisons? No, I’m not kidding. Colony Drop seem to encompass all those things, finding the throughline uniting trad, thrash, crossover, death ‘n’ roll, punk, and mecha anime. As Schafer explained, identifying that throughline was easy since it already existed within him and his band members. Indeed, instead of taking cues from new bands, Colony Drop’s operating principle became “let’s just think about what got you rowdy when you were 12 years old.” Because, as the quintet proves, the myriad stimuli that get you rowdy as a 12-year-old will forever be entwined. “I was discovering Metallica and Judas Priest while I was watching Gundam Wing when it first aired in America,” Schafer said. “To me, they will always be connected.” That connection is a powerful thing. That’s what Colony Drop are chasing, that feeling when you first discover the things that will become core elements of your being.

And so we get a song like “Supplicant,” a giddy chugger that not only has a verse I dare anyone to put on their Hinge profile (“Foul proboscis insert/ Flora and fauna invert/ Reproductive system usurped“) but strides with the puffed-up confidence of a trad band playing Merauder riffs. The rhythm section of Ari Rosenschein (bass) and Eric Harris (drums) absolutely crush that groove with a Cirith Ungol-quality whomp. That “Supplicant” soon transitions into a lost Thin Lizzy song, complete with guitarists Ryan Moon and Benjamin Burton delivering on Colony Drop’s “high speed twin leads” promise, is an inspired evolution. There’s even a smidgen of black metal in there somewhere, something Schafer described as “Other bands are trying to make Mayhem more rockin’. Instead, We’re trying to make Mercyful Fate into a hardcore band — that’s where we fit in.”

Here’s the thing: All of these shifts fit, all of them work. They do. You don’t even notice the nods to other bands because Colony Drop is trying to be nothing but Colony Drop. It isn’t attempting to check off boxes or Xerox its heroes. No, it’s simply doing right by the 12-year-old selves of its members, sifting through their memories to rediscover the stuff that made them feel awesome. And if you have any of the same touchstones, you better heed Schafer’s advice: Brace for impact. [From Brace For Impact, out now via Nameless Grave Records and Wise Blood Records.]Ian Chainey


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