Various Artists – Singles and EPs

In recent years the avant-garde fringes of metal have become one of the most fertile sites of musical creativity and invention; while my central musical inclinations might be towards other areas, such as jazz or folk, and while those areas certainly harbour some radically creative minds globally, the majority of music produced and performed locally to me is pretty conservative. Earthmass is one of several bands I have the opportunity to engage with directly (attending gigs, meeting the members, building an ongoing relationship as a music writer, etc.) that pursue a radical formal agenda, and really keep their eye on the ball creatively. There is no uncritical regurgitation of the tropes of heavy music here, no taking the language as given …

Church Of Riff 2 at Colchester Arts Centre (metal)

What a lineup. Any casual punter could readily be forgiven for being carried out in a box. Not that the sounds on offer were remotely toxic; on the contrary, they were entirely wholesome nut cutlets of crunchthudriffery, but seriously, heavy things can crush you, and things as heavy as this can crush you flat. Perhaps that’s why Colchester Arts Centre is ‘never knowingly understood’: stand under this sort of malarkey and you can wave goodbye to three-dimensionality.

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

Too moderately paced to really signify as dance music, the opening track of this EP is, nevertheless, hella heavy. Building on accumulating layers of atmosphere, when its brutalist bass hook and simple kick pattern enter, it hits with an ominous compulsion as dark and deep as doom metal. It’s not all darkness though: the track shifts into funkier uplands, still slow, admirably so, but with the kind of rhythm that hooks you bodily and pulls you with it. Similar strategies are in evidence throughout the Rauthaz EP: it’s not a matter of slowness and darkness, but of the creative exploitation and framing of potentially limitless digital resources …

Various Artists – Singles and EPs

It’s a hard lesson to learn, when you realise you’re not likely to hit the big time with your art, and you’ve already invested so much, with so little to show for it in material terms… it certainly can make you feel like an underachiever. Ben Black seems to conflate his focus on his work (rather than work) with a persistent immaturity, and looks wistfully around him at the homes, wives and cars of his friends. ‘How can I look my children in the eye/ and tell them Daddy didn’t make it because Daddy didn’t try?’ he asks, though, which more or less answers his own questions.

Various Artists – Singles & EPs

This three track EP seems to be Septic Trauma’s entire recorded output. A shame, as I could happily listen to a few dozen tunes in this vein. Many heavy rock bands lay claim to terms like ‘technical’ and ‘progressive’, but few have any reason to do so. Aside from the sheer ridiculousness of using a term like ‘technical’ to describe a style of music, most of the metal thusly classified makes no more taxing technical demand on its performers than that they should play fast and stay in time, which quite honestly is something any well trained monkey with a floppy pick can manage.

Northern Oak – Monuments (folk metal)

Fusions are fickle things. Some that seem initially fruitful quickly date, sounding to ears beyond their immediate time and place of production like one thing stuck to another thing; others seek a level at which whatever edge their parent styles possess is lost in the anodyne mush of a lowest common denominator. Folk and metal might strike some as unlikely bedfellows, but they have a history together. The metal part of Northern Oak’s fusion casts a moderately wide net, but it takes in black metal along the way…

Mouse Drawn Cart – Mouse Drawn Cart (experimental rock)

At the instrumental level Mouse Drawn Cart is not massively transgressive. There are some heavy guitars, chainsaw distorted bass, some metal riffing, some industrial-lite beats reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails (‘I’m Not Scared Of You’); there is a very dark and sophisticated approach to texture, and its arrangement into a narrative structure; and there’s some great playing. It’s the songs and the vocal performances that really set this apart; or rather, it’s the whole, but it’s the particular combination of sounds and material that makes this music so unique and disturbing.

Cannabis Corpse – Beneath Grow Lights Thou Shalt Rise (death metal)

Stoner rock, when it is unequivocally metal, is usually doom or sludge. Those styles seem somehow appropriate to the haze of disassociated impressions that characterise the world of the dope fiend, with their mushy layers of distortion, their often slow tempos, and their obliteration of detail in the sheer rumbling savagery of their sonic impact. Death metal is an altogether different proposition, with its focussed intensity, its brutal precision and its considerable technical demands.

Awooga – V Column (progressive rock)

Long songs (by the standards of popular music) are often casually referred to as epics: obviously the idea of an epic refers to more than duration, and although such commonplace coinages pretend to nothing more than a disposable shorthand, I think it’s worth examining that idea in relation to V Column, an album the best part of which is occupied by three tracks in excess of seven minutes. In critical theory the ‘epic’ is distinguished from ‘narrative’ and ‘lyric’ forms, all of which are given meanings somewhat different from those usually ascribed to them…

Various Artists – Singles & EPs

At under fourteen minutes for six tracks this EP bucks the trend toward lengthy pieces of progressive and experimental work in heavy genres. I’m easy either way: briefly stated, separated ideas can be effective in one way, and longer forms that develop and transform themes can be good in another. Barren Waste’s brevity is not of the ‘hit ‘em fast and get the hell out’ variety practised by acts like Napalm Death, and in fact there are enough ideas in some of these short pieces to have allowed them to stretch out for a good while without palling.

Another Dead Hero – Children Of The Witch (metal)

Ominous, dissonant, powerful, and employing a vocabulary that predates any form of extreme metal, it would be easy to class Another Dead Hero’s music as epic doom, for its atmosphere and for its approach, but it’s not so easily pigeonholed stylistically. It sounds like Another Dead Hero, which is to say that it doesn’t sound immediately unlike anything you’ve heard before, but on closer examination it sounds remarkably little like anything you’ve heard either.

Meadows – Meadows (sludge metal)

Meadows play some pretty extreme music. You could make all sorts of comparisons: The Melvins are an obvious point of reference; they also put me in mind of Bongzilla, although they have some fast thrashy passages to go with the slow stoner doom, and a turgidly saturated bass distortion that makes everything as thick as treacle. Although this is full of riff and incident, there’s something about it that almost crosses over into ambient