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MacDara Conroy reviews some of the summer’s glut of heavier sounds – metal, hardcore and beyond Summer’s gone, winter is coming, and it’s time to clear the decks with an overview of the last few months’ bounty of new music in metal, hardcore and beyond – starting with the really heavy stuff. 2013 has been a year of quality hardcore and grindcore and that continued over the summer, with European acts flying the black flag – Swiss ‘blastcore’ merchants Mumakil unleashed the relentless Flies Will Starve (Relapse) and Poland’s eclectic Antigama returned with Meteor (Selfmadegod), both must-listens for grind freaks.

But it’s American bands who’ve been pushing the envelope further. Taedium Vitae is the Southern Lord debut from Florida’s Centuries and it’s an atmospheric, grinding exercise in blackened hardcore, with some spot-on use of drones and unusual textures to distinguish from the crusty masses. HeartlessCertain Death EP (Halo of Flies) scratches a similar itch with its eight tracks of frantic, grind-minded noisecore. But for sheer misanthropic filth, look no further than Rudiments of Mutilation, the second album from Full Of Hell (A389 Recordings). The as-live recording lends these ‘songs’ – really assemblages of skin-shredding riffage, thunderous blasts and leaden breakdowns – the palpable layers of grime they deserve. Messy, noisy and glorious.

With members from Converge and The Hope Conspiracy, All Pigs Must Die were always going to attract attention, but the music on their second full-length Nothing Violates This Nature (Southern Lord) does enough of the talking. Sign right here if you want some gritty doom-core with smears of grind and crust punk. Grittier still is Atlanta doom-grind trio Dead In The Dirt, purveyors of blastbeat tsunamis and decidedly avant tunings on their Southern Lord debut The Blind Hole. If you liked Call Of The Void’s heavyweight destruction earlier this year, you’ll dig this.

Closer to home, Galway’s Only Fumes & Corpses recently announced an ‘indefinite hiatus’, which is a real shame as they produced the strongest work of their short life with last year’s mini-album Selfish Act I. The long-delayed companion piece Selfish Act II (Lockjaw Records) serves as their final calling card for now, and it’s a single 17-minute track that runs the gamut of their influences: soaring melodic passages, bruising breakdowns and Gatling gun drums are all present and accounted for. While Part I remains their zenith for its noisier tendencies, this one’s no bad way to bow out.

Altar of Plagues also depart the scene on a high note, though their swansong Teethed Glory & Injury (Candlelight) was surely engineered to confound as much as satiate desires for their dystopian monochrome vistas. Pushing the electronic elements to the fore, it’s more post-rock than black metal but that’s where main man James Kelly is coming from, and he’s made no bones about that. Though the band is no more, it’s not the last we’ve heard from him by a long shot.

Let’s not dwell too much on good bands breaking up, however, as there’s plenty more just getting started. Take the eponymous first utterance from Drogheda-based crust merchants Okus (Underground Movement), which contains more than enough variety – strong death and grind influences, and some nice time changes and syncopation – to keep things interesting. They’re also an intense proposition live, as I can testify from their support slot at AOP’s farewell Dublin gig, so keep an eye out for them.

I expected the debut album from Dublin’s The Bridges of Madison County to be a belter, and I wasn’t wrong. Beastenders has taken a while to come out – it was promised at the end of 2012 – but it was worth the wait. Cleaning up the rough and ragged production only crystallises the tension in their wound-up, rhythmically driven, noisy post-punk. The re-recording of ‘Eggs Of Contemptasaurus Rex’ from last year’s EP best exemplifies that change: it’s the same song, but sounds so much bigger now.

Someone who clearly doesn’t give a shit about sonic fidelity is Kawabata Makoto, the Acid Mothers Temple bandleader who’s reconvened his free rock trio Mainliner for a new record, Revelation Space (Riot Season). Where do I start? I mean, the solos on this thing, they’re simply crazy, like fucking space shuttles blasting off. How many amps were destroyed in the making I have no idea; I imagine it was hundreds. Mixing desks, too, or at least the needles on the VU meters snapping off in the red. Kawabata’s bringing their live show to Clonakilty, Dublin and Limerick this month and I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to a religious experience. Earplugs in, of course.

Where Mainliner is all about freedom, Mannheim specialise in control. The Dutch instrumental trio – which includes Dead Neanderthals saxophonist Otto Kotte – describe themselves as ‘noise rock’, though the music on their self-released debut Super-Empowered feels too carefully put together for that tag. It’s no bad thing, though: when is it ever wrong for a band to think carefully about what they’re doing? Besides, they’ve got the appropriate bombast and songs to back it up. Nods to Don Caballero, too, which always gets a vote from me. Meanwhile, Italian duo Zolle bust out some seriously heavy downtrend instrumental jams on their self-titled debut (Supernatural Cat). Think Baltimore’s Oxes minus the mathy angularity.

Hessian hail from Belgium, a country that’s produced more than its fair share of extreme acts. Their Southern Lord debut Manégarmr is ripping blackened D-beat with a claustrophobic production that’s maybe a little too flat for my liking, and a lack of that certain something, the quality that makes records stick in the memory. As I write, I’ve just finished listening straight through all of five minutes ago and I’ve already forgotten it.

People have been creaming themselves over Agrimonia‘s Rites of Separation (Southern Lord) but I just don’t get it. To me it sounds like Nightwish with a screamy vocalist; those faster parts, and post-metal chord progressions (not to mention track lengths) don’t fool me. Another disappointment is Locrian‘s Return to Annihilation (Relapse), which excels when the howling voice, droning guitars and indie-rock drums coalesce in a misty melange, but fails when the longer repetitive tracks get lost up their own hole. On the other hand, Deafheaven have been dividing metal fans for what’s perceived as a dilettantish approach to their genres of choice, emo and black metal (both second-wave, as it happens), but for me the duo’s marriage of black metal’s sonic violence with emo dynamics makes their second album Sunbather (Deathwish Inc) a real triumph, and a definite album-of-the-year contender.

11 Paranoias is a supergroup featuring members of Electric Wizard and Ramesses (who also had a for-fans-only odds-and-sods collection out this summer), and their self-titled debut on Ritual Productions comprises four tracks – plus four rehearsal recordings – of earthen riffs and glacial drumming that should whet the appetites of most hardened doom mongers, though it’s a bit too samey to appeal much beyond that audience. Definitely a more broadly appealing prospect, North Carolina’s ASG debut on Relapse with their fourth album Blood Drive, a Southern rock/pop-sludge mongrel that reaches for the same joyous heights of Torche. And though it lacks that requisite spark, it’s got some quality stompers in ‘Hawkeye’ and ‘Stargazin”. Better track sequencing and faster tempos overall might have suited it better.

Is Integrity‘s Suicide Black Snake (A389) supposed to sound like Hell Awaits? But seriously, that’s a good thing. Back in 1985, Slayer were forging a new kind of metal with hardcore methods; the latest from Dwid Hellion and company turns that equation around, and they sound like they’re having a grand aul’ time playing what would otherwise be pretty generic thuggish HC with a refreshingly thrashy sensibility.

Speaking of thrash, there’s surely none better this year than Power Trip‘s magnificent Manifest Decimation (Southern Lord), which comes over like all the best bits on Ride The Lightning spliced together and cranked up to 11. If these guys told me they’d used a time machine to jump back to Flemming Rasmussen’s studio circa 1984, I’d believe them. Coming a close second in the nu-thrash stakes are Baltimore upstarts Noisem, whose debut Agony Defined (A389) sounds far more accomplished than it should for a band so young.

This thrash revival is having a profound influence on death metal, as well, as extreme bands remember the power of hooks and melody over concrete walls of brutal guitars (a sound that has its place, but still). Revocation‘s latest self-titled effort and the new one from ‘gore metal’ kingpins Exhumed, Necrocracy (Relapse), are huge leaps forward for both bands in terms of songwriting and musical chops. And both also set the stage for the long-awaited return of melodic death metal pioneers Carcass, with their comeback record Surgical Steel. Not that it was leaked weeks ago and I’ve heard it or anything. No sir.

But I think the record of the summer for me has to be Circumambulation, the Relapse debut from Austin ‘stonegaze’ trio True Widow. It’s not metal, but it’s dark like metal. The mood is heavy, the pace is languid and the sound brings to mind Truly’s opus Fast Stories… From Kid Coma, which is most definitely a compliment. If you’re not humming the likes of ‘Four Teeth’ to yourself after immersing in their Cormac McCarthy noir-western world, I’m afraid there’s no hope for you.

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