I gotta admit that there’s only been a handful of metal releases this year that’ve left a mark, but you better believe this new Barghest album is one of ‘em. Following up a very good untitled first LP, The Virtuous Purge is in just about every way the first’s superior. Barghest eschew the perfectly fine recent trend of injecting black metal with stately beauty (à la Deafheaven) and opt for strains of death and doom metal to bolster their filthy assault. No polishing up to be found here, just an unrelenting barrage of riffs crashing into each other, as on “Agonizing Spiritual Descent.” The nearly total lack of smooth transitions between the differing tempos works to the band’s advantage, this type of music being much more effective raw than distilled. It doesn’t hurt that Barghest have upped their chops since their last outing; the opening guitar on “The Virtuous Purge” (above) oughta sell ya on that immediately, sucking you into the gnarled landscapes of the cover art and spitting you out within 6 minutes. There’s a lot to digest on The Virtuous Purge but the band keeps it trim, pounding the point home hard ‘n fast, leaving you adjusting your head during the slow comedown of “My Own Grave.” This LP’s a hell of a ride, a sure stand-out in the recent resurgence of US black metal.
Lower, “Bastard Tactics” from Seek Warmer Climes (2014)
Don’t sweep this Lower LP under the rug - this is a potent blend of searing guitars piled on each other and Adrian Toubro’s desperate vocals, tension growing with the snap of each steel spindle on the tightrope. “Craver” is the only holdover from Lower’s past as they move to slow-forming epics (“Expanding Horizons”) and convincing near-ballads (“Soft Option”) while still wielding power in measured doses (“Unkempt and Uncaring”). The above “Bastard Tactics” splits the difference between all three, cutting itself off before becoming too overwrought. It may not feel completely natural just yet, but that’s what’s so attractive about Seek Warmer Climes: nothing feels rote or disingenuous here, and that in itself is an accomplishment in 2014.
Grab yours direct from Matador or from basically any local record shop.
Schoolboy Q - Blind Threats (ft Raekwon)
ScHoolboy Q executes a graceful transition to the majors on Oxymoron, a brooding, dark record full of Q’s trademark vibrant delivery. He’s definitely a better rapper than on (the also great) Habits & Contradictions - just listen to him hold his own with Raekwon on “Blind Threats” (above). Lyrically, Q is of Raekwon’s generation - as noted by urbankill already - but the beats and production here smack of the present, all crisp slow-churn beats that move just inches above the murky reality they soundtrack, with just the right amount of extra flourish (i.e., the ominous horns and disembodied voices in the background of “Hoover Street”) to differentiate one from the next. Tracks like “Hoover Street” and “Break the Bank” feel like classics already, both full of long-winded verses that actually tell stories rather than holding a chain up and flexing. (I’m sure there had to be some compromise in which he included the kinda out of place “Hell of a Night” but even the verses on that intended party anthem sound ominous.) The normally gleeful 2 Chainz is even brought down by these grim landscapes on “What They Want,” but Q finally cracks a small smile on stand-out “Man of the Year.” Interscope wanted a hit, he gave it to ‘em with “Man of the Year,” tucked away in the back, a smart move that makes the rest of the album feel like a proper arc. Bonus track “Grooveline, Pt. 2” is the only one off-target here, but that’s why it’s a bonus track. The rest is ripe for repeated listens, so save room for the cold-hearted Oxymoron on your crowded queue.
I bought my copy that I’m in the midst of playing to death from Underground Hip Hop; maybe you oughta do the same.
Heavy Times, “Might Not” from Fix It Alone (2013)
Woke up with the half-line “I might not shoot myself ‘cause…” rolling around in my head this morning, less thinking about the toxic self-pity that such a statement might incur than the endlessly catchy guitar line that accompanies it. Fix It Alone never really caught on with me, kind of overlong at 18 tracks compared to its sleek predecessor Jacker, but waking up with this one in my head might just inspire me to go back. Heavy Times is a band that seems to revel in not keeping it together, a pretty great live band when they play before the libations set in. “Might Not” just may sort-of cure your summertime blues, or at least keep your head nodding in the affirmative.
A track from the upcoming Peter Escott (1/2 of the Native Cats) solo album on Bedroom Suck, titled The Long O.
Recent addition to my collection: Datblygu, Hwgr-Grawth-Og 7” on Anhrefn Records (1986)
I got in touch with Teneti at Epic Sweep last week to grab the new mind-scramble of a 7” by the Coolies (stream it), and thought I’d grab something else to make the shipping costs worthwhile. Turns out not much is in stock, but he still had the 10” lathe by Piece War, which features 1/2 of the Coolies. Piece War is a much different breed than the Coolies; instead of aggressively lo-fi clangor, we get very sharp, catchy garage-punk that feels like it was all recorded in an afternoon. This tossed-off vibe works for the two ladies in Piece War, as they lace their sugar with small sharp scraps of steel leftover from small arms manufacturers. Song titles like “Dead Bodies,” “Ice Is Melting” and “Darkness” keep the record from becoming summertime fodder (hey, it’s winter down there now). The warped guitar line in the middle of “Monster” lands just this side of ominous; “We Are at War” (above) smacks you with the desperate shouted chorus of “Nothing, nothing/I am nothing/I’m here,” all of it coming across like an attempt to overcome the album title’s namesake. The whole of Apathy cuts pretty deep, correctly nailing the feeling of frustration involved with being an overconnected, hyper-aware individual with no real authority. Let Piece War help you off the couch and just, like, not be an asshole, OK?
Stream the whole thing (and buy the digital version) over at Piece War’s Bandcamp. Physical media addicts can get in touch with Teneti at Epic Sweep to order the 10” lathe of Apathy, limited to a scant 30 copies.
Mid-year checkpoint: 2014
Alphabetical list of what’s resonated with me this year, many of which have been blathered on about here. It’s been a doozy of a year so far.
Cheater Slicks, Live Vol. 3 (Columbus Discount) buy - monster two-track live album from The Best Band
Leather, Easy (self-released) full stream - Floored by this one; physical release needs to happen
Condominium, Thug (Condominium) buy
Lots of reissues again this year, many of which I’ve missed; from what I’ve heard, my picks are the live Shoes This High LP, the first officially licensed US pressing of Simon Finn’s Pass the Distance (sold out from Little Big Chief) and the Crash Course in Science 12”.