Formed in Tokyo in 1990, Sigh isn’t like most extreme metal bands. To the uninitiated: imagine a mad scientist who has left traditional morality behind in his quest for discovery. Imagine Mr. Bungle, doubled down on metal brutality. Imagine John Zorn as a founding member of Iron Maiden. Imagine that someone left Scandinavian-style metal out on the counter overnight and that strange, hypnotic, polychromatic molds have started to grow on it. You still haven’t quite imagined the unique strangeness of Sigh, but you’re getting there.
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Some hard rock fuels itself on anxiety and doubt, some on an absolute clarity of purpose. Swedish five-piece Amon Amarth stays in the latter camp and pillages it too, playing melodic death-metal songs of fearlessness and bloodthirsty honor. The band’s rune-like fonts and references to Norse myths and Viking battles are only a sign of what’s at the core. Amon Amarth’s power comes not from all the references to Yggdrasil and Asgaard and the like, but from evoking times (real or mythical) in which civilization revolved around the momentous import of war.
Its seamless meld of death-metal agony and Iron Maiden-style songwriting sounds like the man you’d want at your side in combat. He doesn’t bother with a subtle range of emotions, because he’s occupied, from his soul to his skull collection, with a few very solid ones: loyalty, glory-lust, pitiless determination, and pride in his ability to slay.
Our blond-mammoth war buddies don’t much change their outlook on the new Surtur Rising, nor do they tire of it. As with previous triumphs — see Vs. The World from 2003 and Twilight Of The Thunder God from 2008 — the band’s eighth album is carnage writ absolute. Early into opening track “War of the Gods,” it becomes busy with 16th-note drums and tremolo-picked guitar notes, yet it never feels too busy for its own good. For as stately and epic as it is, there’s no fat, no drag of the ponderous. Once again, Amon Amarth is a model of the thrilling interlock that any band should have, whether savaging the underground or longing for shiny hard-rock hooks.
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To appreciate Trap Them‘s new album, Darker Handcraft, it helps to start with the Filth Rations EP from 2010. Trap Them has consistently charged its hardcore side into a collision with metal that refuses to get dragged down in grime.
The four songs on Filth Rations give as sure a sign as ever that the band’s craft and tightness can always match its sheer impatience. The third track, “Dead Fathers Wading In The Bodygrounds,” keeps up a gimpy, stumbling trudge as the drums gradually thud harder, and vocalist Ryan McKenney bellows himself up to a pitch that invokes scalding tears and unforgivable injuries. There’s a sense that Trap Them is in a desperate frenzy to repeatedly overload their songs, lest a single McKenney roar or screech of feedback from the guitar go unused. Even the cramped handwriting of the lyrics in the EP’s liner notes looks more like a dozen rows of snaggled teeth than a sequence of words.
In retrospect, it’s as if the band that made Filth Rations was gearing up to achieve a height of directness and focus. Darker Handcraft is a plenty accurate introduction to Trap Them; it once again captures a sonic force that’s both furiously commanding and remains bitterly hurt no matter how feverishly it tries to expiate its demons. This time, though, that force resolutely says, “Look, one fucking thing at a time.”
Each week, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.
POPshop & Spazz Records in West Monroe, Louisiana, is a record store and art boutique run by Brad and Leslie Richman. With a focus on metal and punk, the dual-purpose storefront is, according to its owners, the only store in the area to carry new vinyl releases. For its favorite-record photos, Brad, Leslie, and employee Erica Hijazi went all out, coordinating their clothing (and beverages) with their picks. It’s that attention to detail that makes POPshop & Spazz the focus of this week’s column.
What is Spazz Records, and how does POPshop figure into the equation?
Spazz Records has been in existence for about four years. It began as a small record store and venue for weekly open mic performances, band shows, and other events. We’ve recently moved and expanded to become both a record shop (with used and new vinyl, CDs, and cassettes) and a unique boutique, POPshop, full of local art, handmade goods, and other cool stuff. We still host free monthly all-ages shows for local bands, and participate in local events and charities.
What is the musical community like West Monroe, Louisiana?
Our area is made up of Monroe, West Monroe, and several other smaller towns in Northeast Louisiana. There has always been a strong musical presence at any given time, with styles and bands changing through the years. We have outdoor festivals such as Delta Fest and Celtic Fest, as well as year-round schedules of local and touring bands playing at various bars, clubs, and other venues. We are proud to carry several local bands’ releases, and we are active in helping promote local music.
Since its inception, German post-metal collective The Ocean has relied on over-the-top lyrical ambition as much as straight-ahead musical progression. Earlier this year, the group began its long-form, anti-fundamentalism diatribe with Heliocentric. With that album’s counterpart, Anthropocentric, The Ocean brings its musings full circle, and brings a unique (if sometimes difficult) vision of metal back with it.
The album’s opening title track fires full-bore with pounding toms and a throat-shredding roar, but by the end of its nine minutes, the primal rage has yielded to a swaying, almost anthemic coda. The obvious comparison is to peers Isis or 3, but at its heart, the band more closely follows Iron Maiden — not just because the group doesn’t hesitate to peel back the layers mid-song, but also because it doesn’t hesitate to remind listeners that its members read books (Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, to name only the three overtly referenced authors).