Mike Stone is an avid listener of what I’d call extreme metal. I don’t know what that means exactly. Maybe it’s a non-existent genre. Maybe I made it up. I can at least imagine what it sounds like, and I try to not hear it. But he talks about these bands a lot. We have many favorite bands in common, so there had to be something to it!
I had an idea: “Let’s co-write a blog post.” He picked out 5 tracks for me to listen to. We both shared our thoughts / reactions below. I was totally unfamiliar with any of these bands before today, so I had no clue what I was about to listen to.
I was surprised by what I heard! And you might be, too…
SONG #1: Imperial Triumphant: “Rotted Futures” from the album, “Alphaville.” (2020)
Mike Stone: I like this song because of how the individual parts are intertwined and cleverly-layered. It sounds to me like a very articulate bulldozer, both delicate and angrily destructive at the same time. I love the elements of jazz drumming in the context of very dark metal, and this band is also partial to using elements like horn parts, acapella singing that sounds more appropriate in the 1920’s, and what I would call a theatrical vibe to their whole ouvre. (There’s the extent of my French.) This song is a great introduction point for the band.
Carl: This is a perfect way to start out. I did not expect this track to capture my attention, but it did!
First of all, it’s a daring move to start a track these days with a minute and thirty seconds of sound design. I don’t think I’d choose to do that with one of my own tracks. The fact is, viewership / listenership drops dramatically in the first 30 seconds of anything. Very risky! But, for cinematic purposes in the music video, it works. And if their fans like it, that’s great. In the days of physical media, vinyl, tapes, CDs, the listener had to commit and listen to whatever was on it. Or else it was costly. They had just spent $10 or $15, and not listening would feel like a waste of money. Now we can just click away and the music is forgotten forever.
That drumming is notable! I wouldn’t think of it as jazz drumming, but maybe he does more of that in other tracks. There are some tricky subdivisions happening in there and I can’t quite tell if it’s 5-tuplets or 7-tuplets or if they’re layering the two. I hear the bassist clearly playing 5:2 in some portion of the hurricane. The drummer’s playing reminds me of a band I can’t remember the name of, but they were around in 2003 / 2004 and it was nonstop drummer shredding over noisy guitar, just a duo. (Mike Stone has since alerted me that the band in question was Hella.)
Mike Stone: That’s Kenny Grohowski, who has also played a lot with Secret Chiefs 3. He’s definitely a favorite of mine. Yes, it’s not really jazz drumming, but it is more of a jazzy approach in his relaxed and dynamically-varied playing. Most metal players are looking for more of a machine gun effect, but he’s flowing with cycles that breathe and still making it heavy.
Carl: That death metal growling doesn’t add anything for me and gets in the way of me hearing all those intricate rhythms. But I think people might not be able to get into it and identify it as “death metal” if it didn’t have that. It might just sound like weird stuff without it. I like those descending dissonant lines. It’s similar to some later Sleepytime Gorilla Museum timbres. That ending organ chord is yet another non-sequitur, but fits the cut and paste vibe of this whole track.
Mike Stone: Ha! I love that ending organ chord. It gives me goosebumps.
Carl: Last thing I’ll mention is the mix. I can appreciate that the drums are doing some wild shredding on lots of ghost notes and rolls, but I’d like to hear this band with a more clean Strapping Young Lad mix. The drums are a bit buried for my tastes. I prefer to have drums mixed loudest.
This was a fun track, thanks for sharing it! I’ll have to listen to more of their stuff.
Mike Stone: Their previous release, “Vile Luxury,” is likely my favorite of theirs, so far.
SONG #2: Igorrr: “Hollow Tree” from the album, “Spirituality and Distortion” (2020)
Mike Stone: This vocalist, Laure Le Prunenec, absolutely murders me on a regular basis. Her singing is dripping with pain and sorrow and anger and defiance. Strong vocal performances like this affect me on a deep emotional level. Does this really qualify as “extreme metal?” Maybe not, but I feel that one of the elements of extreme metal for me is the extremity of the emotional statement, to which this is very fitting. There are a lot of songs by this group that would be considered much more metal, but I love the intersecting elements of electronic, metal, opera and dub. The entirety of this circle of musicians is worthy of exploring: Whourkr, Igorrr, and Copro Mente are all outstanding musical explorations.
Carl: Oh, wow. What? This starts out sounding like some old ’60s harpsichord music. Now THIS is a mix I like, although maybe the drums are now triggered. Very clean, maybe too far in the other direction. And I think that’s a female vocalist, which I always appreciate! Cool bass playing. I don’t think I heard any guitar, which I am glad about! And this is very prog-rock. Not at all what I was expecting. Regarding the form of the song: I like sudden changes as much as the next nerd, but I would have preferred more continuity here. I was expecting extremely noisy guitars and screaming, and instead I got something peculiar! I like it.
Mike Stone: Igorrr uses both programmed drums and a proper drummer, as well, Sylvain Bouvier. I also seem to have an affinity for female vocalists, Le Prunenec is outstanding. Matt Lebosky, also of Secret Chiefs 3 and mirthKon did some piano work on this album. It’s a highly entertaining album that covers a lot of ground.
SONG #3: Oranssi Pazuzu: “Uusi teknokratia” from the album “Mestarin kynsi” (2020)
Mike Stone: I often enjoy when a band or musician embraces the meditational vibe of a drone, and here we have a combination of a droning rhythm and and upsetting vocal with a slightly-disjointed “Voivodian” interlude, followed by arpeggiated keyboard parts and flute, all delightfully out-of-place in a metal context. The real thing with metal has always been the disregard for rules, though. At least it has for me.
Especially of note for this song: multiple levels of dynamics and atmospheric direction executed with full commitment. Metal, ethereal, and mysterious.
Carl: This starts out as more Prog Rock. It’s loopy, in a Tool way. That voice that comes in is just ridiculous. In the video, I like that they made it look like it’s coming out of an old radio and the guy is confused by it. The vocals are straight-up haunted house ghost voices that you might get on a sound effects CD to play on Halloween. In my opinion, the structure of this song has good continuity, as opposed to the last one. And again, this is very Prog Rock, minus all the chord changes and melody. There’s a curious section of sound design that happens halfway through. A running theme in this collection of modern metal. The mastering on this is quite squashed! I would never squash a mix like that. But these people went ahead and did it. I have no idea what LUFS they are at, or what LUFS really are, but I’d guess something like -4 or more. I try not to go beyond -12. My VU meter is just crushed over here. Bands like this should take a risk and release alternate mixes of their music without all that heavy mastering, to see what it sounds like clean. I might sum this track up as proggy haunted mansion music through a fuzz pedal. Once again, not at all what I was expecting. Quite artsy. I’d be curious to hear more of their tracks.
Mike Stone: I only recently discovered this band. I think I learned of them through Bandcamp. The vocalist reminded me somewhat of Mayhem. I considered sharing one of their best, “The Watchers” off of the album “Esoteric Warfare,” which is dramatically heavier. I considered putting that one in the selections, but it is very abrasive. I honestly didn’t think I could get you to listen to it all the way through.
SONG #4: Car Bomb: “Dissect Yourself” from the album “Mordial” (2019)
Mike Stone: There is plenty to note with this band. (I wanted to stay in with releases from 2020, but there are many proper metal releases from 2020 that I have yet to dive into.) They are not afraid of writing difficult-to-follow rhythmic parts, and Elliot Hoffman on drums has no apparent trouble executing them. Greg Kubacki, on guitar, uses all sorts of fun effects to make his instrument sound like a laser on this particular track. This is very fun metal. One of my favorite comments that I’ve read regarding this band is that they “are the only band who out-meshuggah’s Meshuggah.” If I were to pick a band that represents “modern metal,” Car Bomb would be a great choice.
Carl: This is along the lines of what I was expecting in terms of extreme metal. I can appreciate the sound effects in this one, which may have been created on guitar through sampling? It lightens the mood a bit. They’re good at what they do, clearly, it’s well-executed. But this isn’t my sort of thing. I’m actually getting an anxiety headache from it. I would not listen to more of this simply because it stresses me out.
Mike Stone: This drummer is a real challenge to learn, and I love that. These rhythms throw me for loops. That’s like brain exercise for me.
SONG #5: Gorguts: “Le toit du monde” from the album “Colored Sands” (2013)
Mike Stone: There is a lot about this opening track that I find engaging. The creativity of John Longstreth’s drumming, the guitar interplay of Luc Lemay and Kevin Hufnagel and the brutality of this track is held together by the incredible bass-work of Colin Marston (who also engineered the Imperial Triumphant record we referenced earlier). This song is able to get my adrenaline flowing and to challenge my drumming mind, and it lets me down gently at the end like waking from a scary dream to realize I’m home in my comfy bed. It’s a great setup for the following track, “An Ocean of Wisdom,” as well. I love it when a band pays attention to the “flow” of an album, successfully. Often, an album can sound like a disjointed collection of songs. But I digress.
Carl: My immediate thoughts… this is another “traditional metal” kind of thing that doesn’t grab my attention much. It’s kind of a wall of sound that I tune out. If this was rumbling from inside in a venue I would not go in. I can almost smell it. At first I didn’t realize Colin Marston is in this, and I absolutely love his earlier Behold… The Arctopus stuff! Huge influence on me. I would have never known it was the same guy. Halfway through, there’s a part that suddenly grabs me: the quiet part. But then it’s right back to stressful metal timbres. This time, they added some dissonant vocal clusters — and hey, that’s something I enjoy. I think it’s hard for me to appreciate this material simply because of the overblown metal timbres and the effect it has on my nervous system. For those who don’t know, I have PTSD and a history of panic attacks. I find myself needing to pause this track for relief. It’s obvious this music makes others feel good, and I don’t mean to criticize that. This is only my personal physical reaction.
Mike Stone: There’s a new Behold The Arctopus out, too. I have not checked it out yet. Marston is a real force of metal, honestly. He works in one aspect or another in so many admirably-artful metal bands right now. Krallice, Dysrhythmia, Imperial Triumphant, and so many more. Kind of makes me wish I lived in the New York area sometimes with bands like that around.
I like a lot of very intense music. It’s easy to understand why a lot of people might not enjoy these things that I find very moving and inspiring.
Thanks to Mike Stone for participating in this! Visit Mike Stone and say hi to him.