The Agit Reader

Anger Is a Gift (and So Is Sadness)

September 13th, 2017  |  by Brian O'Neill

Music is about emotion, but metal music is best when plummeting the depths of emotions that some feel are unwanted, unhealthy, or just best kept to one’s self. Pyrrhon (pictured above) is about anger, with Doug Moore’s righteous socially aware fury; Usnea and Falaise are about unrelenting sadness. They may be considered negative emotions, but all three bands use the catharsis of metallic expression in positive ways not just for the musicians. but for the listeners as well.

Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia, September 2

All extreme metal shows should begin with grindcore—it just kicks the evening off in the right direction—and all grindcore should be as intense as Fluoride, a power-violence power trio from New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Vocalist Suzy (no surnames in this band) didn’t bother taking the stage, content to misanthropically stand among the gathering masses and watch her bandmates with the rest of us. Can’t blame her; the 15-minute set was a bassless debasing blur led by drummer Bret who was as fierce as he was fast.

Filthy Philly reprobates Drones for Queens are a more traditional trio (they have a bass player) that proffers a far more primitive sound owing more to hardcore’s basic brutality than metallic excess. The rhythm section of brothers Shane and Evan Madden propel the band, most notably with the unique way that Shane employs Lemmy-like chords, making it sound like two guitars are battling for sonic superiority. They fight to a draw. Simple, direct and as discomforting as a mallet to the face, DFQ leave all subtlety and pretense behind becoming the aural equivalent of the city they call home.

Despite having different band patches on their jackets, both of the preceding bands were straightforward and pulled no punches. Vanum, a not-quite side project led by Ash Borer’s Kyle Morgan, was the exact opposite, at least around the periphery as the dual guitars provided shimmering, complimenting atmospheric static atop a foundation just as solid as the previous groups. This is what makes Vanum special: the way they take the dark, chaotic beauty of black metal at its most opaque and keep it grounded by an accessibly effective rhythm section. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Representing yet another place on the metallic continuum, headliners Pyrrhon are ostensibly a death metal band, but the group takes cues from black sheep of the genre. Right at the forefront you can clearly make out Voivod’s sense of cosmic adventure, Vektor’s ability to make the old school ‘frash fresh and the technical ecstasy of Gorguts, pushing the envelope like Death’s Chuck Schudinger would likely be attempting were it not for his untimely passing.

As a release party for the band’s What Passes For Survival, they performed the album in its entirety save for the sampled spoken word parts that pepper the recording. In doing so, what stood out most was the non-metal influences. You could tell that Pyrrhon have not only listened to the discordant abandon of Swans, as well as the kind of freeform jazz-core that would have been at home at Earache in the early ‘90s (or John Zorn’s Tzadik Records today), and likely possess a King Crimson album or two, as they unabashedly stir all of those influences into their sound. Pyrrhon not only released one of the most adventurous and ambitious metal albums of the year, but they fulfill its promise live. Can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Portals into Futility

The word “doom” has a few dictionary entries. “Fate or destiny, especially adverse fate” is the first, but a little further down you find “the Last Judgment, at the end of the world,” and you really don’t get a more apt description that fits the Doom Metal genre than that. The horrors of a dystopian apocalypse can be heard within the grooves when in the right hands. Usnea definitely has the right hands.

The Portland foursome’s sophomore release, 2014’s Random Cosmic Violence, hinted at the promise that is finally fulfilled with Portals into Futility (Relapse). Doom can be angry, but here it’s not. Drawing less from death metal’s grinding vitriol than others, Portals sees more kinship with Funeral Doom’s unrelenting sadness. This is actually a lot tougher. Any idiot can get pissed and punch the walls, but beware the soul who has looked into the abyss and can only conjure disconsolate despondency in response.

Keeping in character, Usnea doesn’t make it easy on the listener. Nearly an hour of music is split up only into five songs. The shortest, “Demon Haunted World,” is paradoxically the slowest, with riffs that sustain for what seems like the entire track at the pace of a funeral dirge. The longest, album closer “A Crown of Desolation,” is nearly 20 minutes of audial, aural sleep terrors. After a lilting intro of clean guitar and piano give way to crushing riffs, vocals are comprised of soft and serene chanting juxtaposed with blood-curdling screams. This song, this album and this band all embody Dante’s famous phrase, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

My Endless Immensity

Not all doom is so, well, hopeless. Falaise is an Italian post-black metal band whose second release My Endless Immensity (A Sad Sadness Song) is as transcendentally beautiful as Usnea’s is distraughtly grotesque. The band alternates repeated, furiously paced riffs as another percussive force with soft passages. Sometimes, such as on “Sweltering City,” it’s just using undistorted guitars to maximize the impact when it gets louder. Other times, like during “Pristine Universe,” the band slows things down and replaces the screamed vocals with angelic wails. On “You Towards Me,” lilting piano interrupts the blackgaze.

My Endless Immensity sees Falaise incorporating Deafheaven’s sense of melodrama and Alcest’s pioneering lush post-metal. (The disc closes with “Les Ruches Malades” a cover from Amesoeurs, a side project that featured members of Alcest as well as Les Discrets and Peste Noir) Surprisingly, Radiohead is also an influence, especially the way the band can take slightly dissonant chords and nearly acoustic passages and neatly make the result far more accessible than could reasonably be expected. And far more optimistic than doom usually is. To paraphrase Tolkien, it is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. Falaise do not.

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