In 2010, metallic Norwegian sextet Kvelertak introduced its riff-heavy sludge ’n’ roll to a global audience via its self-titled, Kurt Ballou-produced debut, an 11-track monster that sounded equally fit for a house party as it was for the pit. Three years later, the band has refined and honed its sound, and on its Roadrunner Records debut, Meir — which boasts blast beats and Southern rock riffs in equal measure — Kvelertak has evolved into one of the heaviest rock-’n’-roll bands on the planet.
Being one of the most consistently devastating and innovative hardcore bands on the planet doesn’t come easy. In fact, it requires countless hours of hard work, a highly disciplined work ethic, and a level of stamina that even the youngest punks in the game can’t always muster.
For nearly 20 years, Salem, Massachusetts-based metalcore titan Converge has continually pushed its intense sound to new and progressively head-spinning extremes, hammering out 90-second explosions of speed and energy on one track, while delving into a gut-wrenching mixture of emotion and melody the next. Though expectations are best left wide open when approaching a new album from the group, two things remain constant: it’ll never be half-assed, and it most certainly won’t be boring.
The likelihood of hearing another new Fugazi album grows increasingly unlikely by the year, but for a while, it seemed almost as unlikely to hear another new album from Ian MacKaye and domestic partner Amy Farina as The Evens. It has been six years since the release of Get Evens, which might be due to the two having their first child together — but the benefit of such a partnership is being able to pick up again without missing a beat.
The eighth full-length album from Converge is every bit the frenetic, neck-snapping metalcore monster that two decades of precedent could have promised. Yet even when sticking to some of its shortest, most explosive hardcore throw-downs, the Salem-based quartet maintains a dedication to craft and perfection.
Oakland sludge trio High on Fire has kept the heavy-metal flame alive and burning for 14 years, having formed following guitarist/singer Matt Pike’s time in doom/stoner group Sleep. And with each new chapter in the band’s scorching legacy, Pike, drummer Des Kensel, and bassist Jeff Matz further challenge what a power trio can do. Somehow, over time, they’ve managed to grow louder, more epic, and even catchier.
The band’s sixth album, De Vermis Mysteriis, in many ways is classic High on Fire. Recorded with Converge’s Kurt Ballou, it balances punishing sludge riffs with epic solos and high-octane tempos. The first half alone is an exercise in ferocity: “Bloody Knuckles” pounds out a hook-laden variation of the band’s classic churn; “Fertile Green” lunges into an ultra-menacing stomp; “Madness of an Architect” taps into its Sabbath-y roots for old-fashioned doom.
Here Kensel speaks about going back to basics, writing in the studio, and “Eureka!” moments.
Though it’s known for its loud, largely improvised live shows, Bay Area psych-rock band Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound focused on creating intricate songs full of textured classic-rock fuzz on its 2009 album, When Sweet Sleep Returned.
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Since her self-released album Sanguine in 2006, Julianna Barwick has been experimenting with the human voice to create loop-based compositions that turn the concept of a cappella into something completely new and uncharted. Contributor Jeff Terich discusses these atypical methods with Barwick, in addition to how her music is informed by collaboration and personal memories, as she readies the release of her new album, The Magic Place.
The Magic Place has some additional instrumentation, compared to your previous release, Florine. What led you to decide to add some of these extra elements?
I was excited about incorporating some more instrumentation into this record, and when I had the opportunity to use a friend’s space, filled with lots of fun instruments to use, it made it easier to experiment. I especially could not resist the grand piano, which shows up tons on the new record.
Do you find it more challenging to write songs from limited sources? Or is there more liberation in writing vocal-only compositions?
For me, the music that is all vocal is very easy and intuitive for me — it’s when I’m adding instrumentation that it becomes challenging, trying to make the sounds from the instruments fit with the vocals. Making the vocal loops is all done on the spot, so there’s no real pressure that I feel when doing that at all.
When you write songs, how does the process typically begin? Do you ever start with a different instrument and then translate to voice?
Ninety-five percent of the time I’m starting with a vocal loop I’ve made, and building on top. But there are exceptions; for instance, “Unt1,” on Sanguine, started with a guitar line. On the new record there are a couple that started with an instrument; for instance, “Vow” starts with piano and “Bob in Your Gait” starts with guitar. There’s also some stripped-down / non-loop vocalizing on this record, which is new.
Following the intense yet melodic works of its first two albums, Age of Winters in 2006 and Gods of the Earth in 2008, The Sword stays true to its heavy, hook-laden aesthetic, delivering its most accessible album in Warp Riders.