in their sleek machines

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The end came much as we expected, with our hands around each others throats, scrambling madly for the last dried-out crumbs. Overhead the vultures circle thirstily, their sleek silver machines hanging suspended in the rarefied air.

Cobalt – Slow Forever

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Cobalt – Slow Forever

Released March 25th, 2016 on Profound Lore Records

It has to be hard for a band when an integral member – an icon of the band itself – melts down in public and turns out to be a massive asshole.  Scott Stapp falling asleep in the middle of a show, Wes Scantlin accusing an audience member of stealing his house, Phil Anselmo drunkenly bellowing “white power” and give the Hitler salute:  embarrassing moments that neatly divide a band in decline from a defunct band.  Cobalt knows that pain all too well.

The band made a name for themselves with their own take on the scaffolding of black metal, and singer Phil McSorley’s rugged military-inspired lyrics.  Then McSorley decided to go on a misogynist, homophobic rant on the Facebook page of another band, and  band lynchpin Eric Wunder tossed him by the wayside.  Seven years after their last album, the genre classic Gin, the band announced a return with Charlie Fell of Chicago’s Lord Mantis on the mic.  The result is utterly galvanizing, one of the finest metal releases I’ve heard in years.  Listening to it for me was akin to the first time I heard “Blood & Thunder” kick off Leviathan – a burning need to bang my head, and a sense that this was something altogether more special than another collection of burly riffs.  “Hunt The Buffalo” is as effective an opener as “Blood & Thunder”, but “Elephant Graveyard” is heavier than anything Mastodon ever came out with, and “Ruiner” might just be cleverer.  Charlie Fell brings a range that even his time in Lord Mantis didn’t prepare anyone for; his work on “Cold Breaker” seems to constantly shift, sharply yowling and then bellowing like a mammoth.

It was F. Scott Fitzgerald who once opined that there were no second acts in American life. Wunder and Cobalt, though, have managed exactly that, rising from the toxic ashes of their past and making a new name for themselves as a solid, well-rounded All-American Metal Band.  This new second act Cobalt is better than McSorley’s military black metal Cobalt ever was:  grimy, bluesy, and crushingly heavy in all the right places.  Even better:  no soaring sing-along choruses.  See, Killswitch?  This is how you make metal.

And The Rest…

Underworld

Barbara Barbara We Face A Shining Future

03/18/2016 on Astralwerks Records

As far as latter-day albums from Nineties electronic heroes go, it’s not Random Access Memories, but neither is it The Day Is My Enemy.  Drum n bass superstar High Contrast adds just the right touch of modernity to Underworld’s familiarity.

Damien Jurado

Visions Of Us On The Land

03/18/2016 on Secretly Canadian

Visions is a journey record, both inward and outward, and it’s arid psychedelic vistas will bring you into the mystic and keep you there, contemplating your own inner desire.

Richmond Fontaine

You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To

03/18/2016 on Fluff & Gravy Records

While it’s not Fontaine’s finest alt-country moment (you have to go back seven years to find that), it does make for an enjoyable, wistful, somewhat overlong record.  Solid Americana that doesn’t overstep it’s own ambitions.

Young Thug

I’m Up

02/05/2016 on 300 Entertainment Records

In between all the off-the-wall, smoked-out singalongs there’s a strange sadness lurking, as though being the most prolific nutjob in hip hop that isn’t a Based God isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Young Thug

Slime Season 3

03/25/2016 on 300 Entertainment Records

For someone who hasn’t even put out a proper debut yet, there sure is a lot of Young Thug on the market, and it keeps getting better, too.  Slime Season 3 is a perfect example of the progression of an artist who is learning to take their gift for crafting bangers with oddly affecting choruses and turn them to a more wide-screen audience.

The Body

One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache

03/25/2016 on Neurot Records

A collaboration with Full Of Hell that will leave you shuddering, weeping, and likely deaf.  This is what dancefloors sound like in the Abyss.

Amon Amarth

Jomsviking

03/25/2016 on Metal Blade Records

You’d think that after ten albums of muscular Viking metal that the luster would fade, but here we are.  The titan’s latest album is a concept about a warrior looking to get the girl, after he gutted the girl’s fiance.  Just bang your head.

Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

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Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss

Abyss is, at first blush, loud and crushingly heavy.  This is, of course, not new territory for Chelsea Wolfe; the L.A. singer-songwriter has claimed black metal, doom, drone, and dark ambient music as her influence since the very beginning.  Compared to her last album, 2013’s Pain Is Beauty, however, it’s practically a doom metal album in its own right.  A good deal of this is the presence of guitarist Mike Sullivan, whose post-metal group Russian Circles sets the standard for crushingly heavy guitar work.  The very first moments of “Carrion Flowers” make for the most oppressive sounds Chelsea Wolfe has ever engaged in, and the way her dusky voice cuts through the thickness is a moment of sheer frisson.  The album cover sets the tone perfectly:  the singer falling into deep water, sinking beyond breath, light, and life.

Unlike many of her influences, however, she manages to expertly balance oppressive heaviness with passages of lighter (though no less eerie) folk work; “Iron Moon” is the standard-bearer for this, shifting from the pound of sledgehammer guitars to fingerpicked strings and vocals with ease and a deftness of which a thousand grunge bands from two decades prior could only dream.  “Maw” and “Crazy Love” focus more on the quieter parts, outlining a masterful interplay between acoustic instrumentation and the singer’s emotive voice.  She even manages, on “Grey Days”, to incorporate programmed drums without having it sound out-of-place, or like bad Evanescence.  It’s gothic-tinged rock done correctly, without angst or pandering to the over-makeup’d karaoke set.

Abyss takes Chelsea Wolfe’s music to a new, heavier level that plays up her influences while still keeping the proceedings firmly in her own camp.  At times it feels as though the music is creeping out of your speakers to surround you, and smother you in darkness.  Rather than go over-the-top in this, like many of her influences, she keeps her music agile, dynamic, and always interesting.

Deafheaven – “Sunbather”

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It’s funny how things work.  Take black metal for instance.  Emerging from the bleak, permanent-winter vibe of the Scandanavian metal scene in the early 1990s, it was simultaneously praised for it’s new, lo-fi, nearly shoegazer take on death metal and derided for it’s cheesy, immature Satanic imagery and for it’s nationalistic ideals that approached National Socialism (indeed, there is a distant branch of the genre literally named “national socialist black metal”).  Then, six or seven years ago the Americans took the genre by force, and acts like Wolves In The Throne Room and Liturgy breathed new life into the instrumental hallmarks while generally abandoning the lame imagery.  At the same time, the post-rock movement has, in recent years, developed a harder-edge strain through acts like *shels and Russian Circles, using heavy guitar passages and bludgeoning arrangements to inject metal into the sprawling suite-structure made popular by Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

Sunbather, then, represents a junction between the two disparate movements:  they use the brutal, blastbeat-ridden instrumentation and howling-demon vocals of black metal and use it in the sprawling, dynamically-exciting structures of post-rock.  The album hovers between the two worlds with sure-handed expertise; there are moments, such as on the stellar closer “The Pecan Tree”, where the band shifts from a blur of heaviness into droplets of pure, calm beauty without even batting an eye.  Hunter Hunt-Hendrix may have developed the ideal of “transcendental black metal” but Deafheaven has crafted something that is actually Zen; it shows the chaotic futility of modern existence and then proceeds to show us that even in those seemingly bleak days there is sunshine, colour, love.  It is a meditation on life circa 2013, a perfect representation of the unpronounceable feelings that rule us beneath the surface of consciousness.  It may not be, strictly speaking, the best album of 2013 (I mean, we still have Kanye and Arcade Fire to get to), but it is, to this music nerd, probably going to stand up in December as the most important.

FINAL MARK: A+