The Agit Reader

The Metal Frontier

April 10th, 2017  |  by Brian O'Neill

Kung Fu Necktie, Philadelphia, April 7

When the guitarist said they were CME, a voice from the crowd asked what it stood for, to which he haltingly replied, “Chinese… Mars… Experiment.”

Such is life with a complicated band name.

Hipster instrumentalist three-piece Coronal Mass Ejection (at least that’s what I think it stands for) probably won’t be relegated as local openers for long, provided the instrumental part doesn’t derail interest in a group whose talent is obvious even in the back of a still-filling bar. The formula is not unique: put a sturdy rhythm section underneath an adventurous, kanoodling guitarist who can seriously play the fuck out of those six strings, and give him room to do his thing. The result is like if Hydrahead wanted to sign a boogie band.

Headliners Astronoid (pictured top) bills itself as “dream thrash,” an apt description for a sound that tempers swift metallic shuffling with a tranquil atmosphere. As if they wanted to remove any doubt, the group’s well-received 2016 debut is literally called Air. While the description may invoke the likes of Deafheaven (and certainly folks who dig blackgaze will find a lot to like in Astronoid), the band’s live show proves that those who mistake the group for hirsute shoegazers are missing the point. There’s not much darkness to be found here. It’s actually pretty damn uplifting.

This discovery would be delayed when the band blew the power only one song in, causing half the stage—and half the instruments—to go dark and silent. As the sound guy tried frantically to fix things, the guitarist, who was clad in a Morrissey t-shirt, glumly revealed they had planned on doing the album in its entirety. This delay cut the set, but doubled the enthusiasm when things restarted.

No less than three guitars shimmer and simmer simultaneously and the resulting cacophony actually tricks you into thinking that synthesizers are bubbling beneath the swirling soundscape. The breathy, delicate vocals are a bit of a casualty from the sonic force of the band and it doesn’t help that there are no backup vocals, but that’s a minor quibble. You wanna hear the singer? There’s a perfectly good album you can play where you can do that whenever you want.

What is glaringly obvious is that nothing quite sounds like Astronoid. I think it’s because the band didn’t grow up on Burzum and Kevin Shields; more likely they find inspiration in the catchy repetitive riffs of Metallica and punk rock (the drummer wore a Cro-Mags tee which, in tandem with the other shirt endorsement, says an awful lot about where this band’s sentiments lie). They also probably collectively spent a lot of time gazing not at their shoes, but wistfully towards the evening sky.

The most jarring thing about the group is not what they have but what they don’t as the dearth of psychedelia is striking in its absence. Not sure how Astronoid epitomizes space rock without it, but even if hippies need not apply, metalheads will feel more than welcome.

Thill Smitts Terror

This past February, Saint Vitus in Brooklyn hosted the sixth edition of Stardust, an annual showcase of avant-garde extreme music from around the globe. Despite being featured alongside prolific underground legends such as Aluk Todolo and Absu, possibly the most anticipated band on the bill was a Norwegian group that at that point hadn’t even released an album since 2009.

Even though Thill Smitts Terror was being discussed as imminent four years ago, the third Slagmaur album has only just been unleashed. To say it was worth the wait is both cliche and doesn’t begin to do the album justice.

The project is led by one General Gribbsphiiser, whose grotesque image can be seen on the cover of Thill reading a fairy tale to a couple of children. Neither he nor his bandmates have ever revealed their true identities, and they always appear heavily disguised, often as characters from their own songs. His main interests lie in classical music, which is readily apparent as the whole release doesn’t move from song to song as much as passage to passage, invoking movements that feel orchestral, if not orchestrated; with instrumentation above and beyond that which most black metal bands employ, the sound is incomparably dense and grandiose.

The movements mesh with one another with perfect symmetry. Bookended with a somewhat cartoonish symphonic intro and outro, there is an industrial backbone that runs through the entire album, not dissimilar to Blut Aus Nord’s minimalistic buzzing percussion. This resembles a heartbeat that runs the length of the disc, tying together the droning screams of “Werewolf,” the mechanized piano–fueled “Bestemor Sang Djevelord,” the Gothic shimmer of “Hansel Unt Gretel,” and album closer “Ja vi Elsker Dette Landet,” which would be perfect stripper music in a post-apocalyptic leather-clad world.

The most striking facet about Thill Smitts Terror is how the album never falls apart under the weight of the band’s obvious ambition. As many bizarre and unique things that can be said about the band, probably the most unexpected —and the most welcome—is how accessible the album is. Which makes sense because if you’re going to be reading evil fairy tales to kids, best to make them memorable.

Medico Peste
Herzogian Darkness

Medico Peste was the name given to the plague doctors who wore darkened cloaks, wide brim hats, and iconic “beak masks” during the 17th century. They were called upon to treat bubonic plague outbreaks, but many of them were not professionally trained physicians. Even the outfit itself betrayed the era’s medical ignorance as those long beaks contained herbs or dried flowers whose pleasant scents would supposedly ward off the disease. Still, when they strode through the village in those masks, they sure convinced the suffering townspeople that they were the real deal.

The band that took its name from these Grand Siècle shysters looks like a black metal band, performing in wretched corpse paint and black clothing, while releasing albums for one of Germany’s leading black metal labels. However, beneath the costumes and the postures lies a gothic heart.

This is most obvious on the final track of the band’s latest EP, Herzogian Darkness (WTC Production), a cover of the Bauhaus classic “Stigmata Martyr,” which does the difficult task of not only being relatively faithful to the original, but also sees the band making the song its own. Such predilections are also revealed on the preceding three cuts on the EP. The droning “Herzogian Darkness,” the relatively bouncy “Hallucinating Warmth and Bliss,” and especially the doomy crawl of “Le Delire De Negation” show that metal wasn’t the only genre that Black Sabbath influenced.

The band’s debut א: Tremendum et Fascinatio came out five years ago, so it might be frustrating to some that Medico Peste could only come up with four songs, one a cover, after all this time. They should be placated by the quality, if not the quantity, and also the hint of even more unorthodox, fascinating musical excursions to come.

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