Author: Peter Fryer

Today is the Day
Animal Mother
Southern Lord
Street: 10.14.14
Today is the Day = Converge + Neurosis + Pig Destroyer

Twenty years on and Today is the Day are still the gold standard for unhinged, mind-warpingly heavy music. The most remarkable thing about Animal Mother is an instant familiarity with the music—doom, hardcore, sludge, noise and even acoustic melodic touches find their way into the superbly produced album. Although it adheres to no specific heavy music creed, it speaks the same language as all of them, making it easy to immediately become engrossed. Steve Austen’s vocals, with their screeching layers of distortion, are still as wild as ever and an impeccable vehicle for his brutally honest lyrics. Some aggressive music functions primarily as a physical outlet, meant to encourage an outburst of violence. Today is the Day’s aggression is of the psychic variety—an excision of demons—it’s riveting. If your relationship with Today is the Day fell off around Sadness Prevails, you’d do well to make amends. –Peter Fryer

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Trigger
Start Our Revenge
Everydayhate Records
Street: 09.21
Trigger = Magrudergrind + Man is the Bastard + Napalm Death

Bass, drums, vocals—that’s it. This is one of the most stripped-down formations you can have for a band, and it can work. Man is the Bastard, Death From Above 1979 and even Spinal Tap made the absence of six strings work for them. This information is key to placing Trigger, as I didn’t pick up on this until later spins of the album, attributing the thin distorted guitar sound to poor recording as opposed to distortion on a bass. Making this distinction helps with understanding Trigger, but not necessarily enjoying them. The first four or five songs bleed into one another to create a five-minute long blastbeat explosion, which could be taxing even for the most ardent grind fan. Start Our Revenge’s 20 tracks are fast and tight, but unfortunately become challenging for the wrong reasons. Grind aficionados may find something here, but dabblers will find more elsewhere. –Peter Fryer

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Iron Reagan
Worse Than Dead
Magic Bullet Records/A389 Records
Street: 03.19
Iron Reagan = Municipal Waste + Nuclear Assault + Cro-Mags
Iron Reagan will initially be recognized for its membership, which counts two members of Municipal Waste and two members of Darkest Hour in its ranks, but this should be eclipsed by their music. Iron Reagan’s debut summons 19 tracks of ‘80s style crossover thrash that covers significantly more substantial lyrical ground than Municipal Waste and maintains the brevity and machine gun assault of the best of hardcore. Particular standouts include “The Debt Collector” about the fakakta medical system in the U.S., and “I Predict the Death of Harold Camping,” which skewers the Christian parishioner with all things doomsday. No song overstays its welcome, with tempo changes, well timed solos, and gang vocals preventing monotony from setting in. Worse Than Dead is a worthy addition to the halls of crossover. –Peter Fryer

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Big Business
Command Your Weather

Joyful Noise + Gold Metal Records
Street: 07.08
Big Business = Torche + Mastodon + Baroness

Big Business are bringing some new heat on their fifth studio album, Command Your Weather. It seems counterintuitive, since they returned to being a two-piece, but they branched out more on this release. You would assume that only having a bass and drums would be restrictive, but clearly, Jared Warren and Coady Willis don’t really care about assumptions. Big Business flirted with having a guitarist in the mix on their past two albums, 2013’s release Battlefields Forever and 2009’s Mind the Drift. Both are good and took their sound in new directions, but it’s the return to the duo that has signaled a more decisive shift in exploration.

Perhaps only having two opinions yields consensus quickly on wanting to try new things. It’s much easier to take a band vote when you represent 50 percent of the voting block—you’re either doing things, or you’re not. For Big Business, those elected additions are most represented with chimes and other bell-like instruments that twinkle throughout the record. On tracks like “Blacker Holes,” “Send Help” and “Horses,” the introduction of those chimes, xylophones and bottles brings an eerie, melancholic atmosphere to a band known more for being the audio equivalent of a pair of heavily worn, grease-stained 501s: aka rocked hard. Big Business created something new with Command Your Weather that was hinted at in prior albums but never fully realized. These tracks are the real standout pieces of the album, which, at a few points, I found other tracks would muddle together.

The aforementioned “Send Help” is the strongest song on the record. It plops itself about two-thirds of the way through the album and clearly announces itself with its lack of the heavy riffing, which immediately precedes this change. It features harmonized vocals, those bottle-like sounds and a whacked-out synth, or perhaps an effects-laden bass, which carries the warbled merry-go-round melody. For a band whose members are known as much for being Big Business as part of the Melvins, it’s cool to hear them do something outside expectations for either of those entities. The main chorus implores, “You don’t have to get bigger / But you have to get out of this space.” That chorus, in conjunction with the disorienting melody, made this song quickly hit repeat status for me.

“Horses” begins in much the same way as “Send Help,” with disorienting, carnival synth-bass magic accented by xylophones that carry the tune until it gives way to the bass and drums. Those eventually relinquish their riffs to xylophones only, with the haunting melody “Tonight they’ll truly suffer” sung over the top. It’s a memorable close to an album already punctuated by memorable moments. 

Command Your Weather was recorded in Joshua Tree, California, so perhaps the desert soul searching that fueled the likes of Kyuss and others served as an inspiration for some of this new experimentation. Whatever it is, it’s working. The rest of the album twists and turns in Big Business fashion, with cool riffs perfect for cracking open a beer strewn throughout. But to these ears, it’s the experimentation and craft of the standout tracks that really make the album.

It’s interesting to me that the first two songs Big Business released to the blogosphere prior to the release of Command Your Weather are the least memorable on the album. Both “Father’s Day” and “Regulars” are fine songs, but I find so much more to digest in the rest of the album. Perhaps they wanted to release what was expected. That’s the thing, though—it’s what’s not expected that really shines on Command Your Weather. Peter Fryer

Usnea
Random Cosmic Violence
Relapse
Street: 11.10.14
Usnea = Samothrace + Disma + Winter

I stumbled upon Usnea while digging through Bandcamp about a year ago and was impressed with the blackened, funeral doom/death concoction on their debut. Fast-forward to 2014—heavyweight label Relapse has put out their follow-up. This style can easily get bogged down in its dirging pace and atmosphere. Fortunately, Usnea has no such issues on Random Cosmic Violence. While most of the pacing is slow, their knack for melodic guitar work, passionate vocals and black metal flourishes make for a captivating listen. The best part of low and slow music is that when it changes up, the effect is potent. This is most evident in the title track, which is also the highlight of the album. “Random Cosmic Violence” showcases the mix of musical influences and impeccable timing that set Usnea apart. This may fly under the radar, and it’s too bad, because it’s excellent. –Peter Fryer

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DiseNgaged

Hazardous

Self-Released

Street: 11.09.13

DiseNgaged = DevilDriver + Jungle Rot + Soulfly

Hazardous is the debut effort from Salt Lake’s DiseNgaged, and, while uneven, many of the tracks show potential for the band. DiseNgaged deal in groove-oriented death metal and clearly have hardcore undertones. Lyrically, things often navigate toward juvenile (see “Smash The Baby” and “The Mad House”) or feature an abundance of swearing, but the vocal style itself is spot on. There’s a good debut EP in here, but Hazardous suffers from a lack of editing and feels like a band still trying to figure out what it wants to be. There are drum fills that needn’t be there, and guitar lines that have potential, but barely keep from going off the rails. The peeks at headbang-worthy grooves and the strong vocal delivery indicate a band with something to say in the future, but Hazardous feels like a document of a band going through growing pains. –Peter Fryer
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No Turning Back
No Regrets
Fast Break Records
Street: 10.9.12
No Turning Back = Down to Nothing + Madball + Terror Netherlands’ No Turning Back is no one’s favorite band. Sure, they probably have fans since they’ve been around for 15 years, and have seven full-length releases under their belt, but nothing they’re playing on No Regrets touches on any of the keystones of a memorable hardcore album. For a hardcore album to rise above mediocrity, a band needs to do one of the following: bring something innovative, execute a well-worn style with vigor, or get your blood pumping. Unfortunately, for No Turning Back, their latest does none of these things. Their longevity and obvious dedication to hardcore is impressive, but their decidedly mediocre take on NYHC is so snooze-worthy that it’s futile to make a compelling argument to check them out. –Peter Fryer

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Wrekmeister Harmonies
Light Falls

Thrill Jockey
Street: 09.16
Wrekmeister Harmonies = Earth + ISIS + Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Diving into the world of Wrekmeister Harmonies is a journey. As an artistic collective, the work of J.R. Robinson has been a collaboration with such an impressive roster of other acts that it’s a challenge to know exactly how to approach Wrekmeister Harmonies’ latest. Each release is so clearly crafted and meticulously thought out in terms of collaborators that simply to say, “It’s a Wrekmeister Harmonies release,” does it a disservice.

Despite being an artistic vision spearheaded by Robinson, each of Wrekmeister’s releases has the fingerprints of its collaborators—including members of Leviathan, Indian, The Body and dozens of others. In the case of Light Falls, it’s members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor who leave their unique imprint on this album and lend a decidedly Godspeed feel to Light Falls.

In gaining some insight into the formation of Light Falls, I found that inspiration for the album was drawn from anti-fascist activist and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s book If This Is A Man, and I’m glad that I knew this going into it. One of the main themes of the album, pulled from Levi’s book, is the gradual encroachment of change, most notably those things we would find abhorrent but that we barely notice because of the incremental way by which they’ve come about. Robinson gives the example of day turning to night: The transition is gradual, but we eventually find ourselves encased in darkness.

Given the current state of the world, this observation is apt. How in the hell did we get here? The rot has certainly come to the surface, and we happily consume it. On the personal level, if you’ve ever had a day where you’ve stared at the soul-crushing bleakness of four cubicle walls, you understand this sentiment all too well. Light Falls is the soundtrack to this realization of selling out from your truer self—the encroachment into your life of that which you once loathed. At least, to this writer, it was a timely catharsis.

Wrekmeister’s palette on Light Falls is a deft mix of drone, post-rock and doom but belies the box these descriptors imply. It isn’t as cinematic nor as orchestral as prior works—which fall more in line with post-rock—but its pacing and flow are so calculated that this approach is a resounding success. The mix of Wrekmeister Harmonies’ core duo and members of Godspeed You! Black Emperor is unimpeachable.

“Where Have You Been My Lovely Son?” is an epic, soul-baring confession, concerned with Robinson’s dissolving relationship with his son, the pain in his repeated words crystallized over the course of seven minutes. They eventually give way to the most outright muscular and rocking track on the album, “Some Were Saved Some Drowned,” which is as visceral and hopeless as the name implies. The buildup of the prior seven minutes makes its straightforward doom an impeccable juxtaposition, roaring in to convincingly remind us, “There is no God.”

Many prior Wrekmeister Harmonies’ albums lasted for one track, sometimes two. However, on Light Falls, tracks are broken out into their separate movements. It’s the interplay among these tracks that gives Light Falls its emotional arc, and I appreciate the separation.

Although Light Falls is dark and tortured, it isn’t hopeless. It serves as an awakening and genesis of contemplation. To me at least, art that illustrates what you’ve been feeling, but couldn’t express, is not only a rare occurrence, but also a necessary component of our deep connection with that art. Light Falls may not be a spin-it-for-fun album, but it is certainly one to envelop you and provide space for much needed reflection. –Peter Fryer

Full of Hell
Full of Hell & Merzbow
Profound Lore
Street: 11.25.14
Full Of Hell = ACxDC + Noise + Weekend Nachos

Although a collaboration, it would be more accurate to label this a Full of Hell album that incorporates elements of Merzbow’s noise—Full of Hell has even said so themselves. Taken in those terms, it’s the strongest Full of Hell release to date. Those looking for a completely unique grind/noise album will be disappointed, as Merzbow’s presence crops up in small doses, much in the way noise interludes are incorporated in other extreme albums. It took a few listens to suss out Merzbow’s contributions to the first half of the album, as they are negligibly different than Full of Hell’s prior releases. Merzbow has more to say in the latter half of the album, though, with a couple of tracks that truly fit the collaborative feel. Full of Hell are as caustic as ever, and incredibly tight. Profound Lore is a go-to label, and, with this release, they continue their winning streak. –Peter Fryer

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Celeste

Animale(s)

Denovali Records

Street: 11.22.13

Celeste = Aosoth + Amenra + Cult of Luna

Listening to Animale(s) is not enjoyable. It’s a tough, thick, oppressive listen, sung in French, with few moments of respite from what sounds like 100 guitar tracks crunching over relentless drumming. Animale(s) made me feel like I was on a city bus on a cold, cloudy day, nausea creeping up on me because all that I’d inhaled for the past 30 minutes was diesel fumes and stale air. Singled out, there are areas on Animale(s) that are excellent, like when the band breaks into a hardcore groove, the tremolo picking switches keys for two bars, or the pair of much-needed instrumental tracks. All of this isn’t to say that Animale(s) isn’t worthy of a listen—it’s packaged beautifully and is appropriately claustrophobic, and may very well be on year-end lists. Celeste’s latest is relentless, which can be exhilarating, but in this case, it’s fatiguing. –Peter Fryer
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