2014 will be remembered as the year that actually got me excited about extreme music again. I haven’t exactly been bored, but it seems like this year I’m finding so many exciting young bands that are doing something truly interesting within the genre paradigm. One such band is Austin’s Street Sects, who are releasing the second part of their “serial album” in the form of Broken Windows, Sunken Ceilings. The duo creates what can best be described as electronic hardcore; violent, jarring and noisy as hell, like a factory full of automated machinery going haywire and collapsing on itself, the machines still trying desperately to function however imperfectly amidst the burning wreckage.
Among the heavy metal subgenres most likely to turn the average underground ‘head into a piping hot cup of haterade, groove metal (sometimes referred to as post-thrash, closely related to alternative metal and industrial metal) surely sits at or near the top of the list. Blamed for contributing to the death of thrash, the spawning of nu metal and for bringing scores of jock-strap-polishing meatheads into the scene (among other things), groove metal is quite possibly the most battered and beaten of the genre’s red-headed stepchildren. However, its most heinous crime in the eyes of most NWN! message board-dweller types is that it is a product of the nineties, that decade where everything went to shit for a legion of ’80s-worshipping metal miscreants, many of whom continue to dab at bitter tears with the unwashed corners of their patch vests while clutching at their Nihilist demo cassettes to this very day.
Technical death metal, brutal death metal, slam death metal… it’s all sort of one big subgenre mish-mash to me; bands classified as one of these often have elements of one or both of the other two in their sound. It’s not a type of death metal I listen to often; I nearly tech deathed and brutal deathed myself to uh, death during college (did they even have slam death metal back then?), when I was knee-deep in bands like Atheist, Anata, Gorguts, Suffocation, Psycroptic, Necrophagist, Aborted, Devourment, etc, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate simplicity and primitivism over flashy guitar-work and five-million-mile-per-hour blast beats (which is probably why I listen to way more black metal than death metal these days). But every so often I can’t help but get a hankering for this crazy shit, so I have little choice but to dive in headfirst and see what the fuck the kidz are listening to these days…
If I remember correctly, The Sword were among the first bands to get the dreaded “hipster metal” tag lobbed at them when they came seemingly out of nowhere back in 2006 with Age of Winters. I personally didn’t understand it; since when has ’70’s Sabbath flavored riff rock ever been considered “hip?” Do hipsters really listen to/like this stuff? The town I live in has a pretty sizeable hipster contingent, which is quite surprising for being centered smack dab in the asshole of the Midwest, but I have never once seen any of them at a metal or rock show, they’re too busy drinking coffee and listening to Bon Iver or some shit. Perhaps it had something to do with the way the band looked; Satan forbid someone make this music without sporting a navel-grazing billy goat beard and a denim vest that smells like a thirty-year-old beer fart. In reality, it was probably a combination of the hype surrounding the band and a pervasive media presence. Age of Winters was a competent if flawed album, but The Sword would continue to uh, sharpen their approach with 2008’s excellent Gods of the Earth, an album that (at least to these ears) was both heavier and catchier than what had come before. I somehow missed the quartet’s third album, the science-fiction concept album Warp Riders, but when Apocryphon was released earlier this year, I was ready to check back in with the band so many metalheads seemingly love to hate.
My problem with the bulk of today’s thrash is that it just isn’t fucking ugly enough. Don’t get me wrong, crystal clear production and ultra-slick musicianship have their place, but I like my thrash with a shitload of grit and grime, and 99.9% of the time I don’t get it when I listen to a modern band. Enter Dallas, TX thrash-mongers Steel Bearing Hand. You might think their moniker is a dead giveaway, but this trio brings much more to the table than mere Tom G. Warrior worship.
I must admit, I was late to the party on Brown Jenkins; I didn’t hear them until the inimitable Nathan T. Birk sent me a copy of Death Obsession while he was doing PR work for the once prominent black metal label Moribund Cult. I fell instantly in love with the band’s spellbinding attack, which blended elements of black metal, doom and gothic rock with an appropriately Lovecraftian sense of dread and crumbling sanity. I gave the album a glowing review for the now-defunct Sonic Frontiers(dot)net and subsequently came into contact with band mastermind Umesh Amtey. That correspondence blossomed into a friendship that I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying for several years now; although Amtey and I have never met in person, I consider him a close comrade and look forward to the day when we can raise our glasses together in the same room.
As a result of our friendship, I’ve had the distinct privilege of watching the next phase of Amtey’s musical journey come into being. The Ash Eaters shares some traits with Brown Jenkins, but is an all together different beast. The guitar-work is more complex, the arrangements are more frantic, attacking the listener from every direction, while at the same time remaining catchy and memorable; Amtey has drawn from a wide range of influences and pushed them forward in every way imaginable.
I’ve been waiting for my chance to interview Mr. Amtey, so when he finally gave Ruining You, the debut Ash Eaters full length, to the world after a string of shorter releases, I knew the time had finally come. While I’ve had many private conversations with him regarding his musical history, motivations, influences, etc, I wanted to afford my readers the same opportunity to learn more about this truly unique individual and the excellent music he’s been releasing over the past several years. I contacted Mr. Amtey via e-mail for the following interrogation.
Of all the great heavy music that’s happened in 2012, I find myself being the most interested in the handful of bands that have openly defied the trappings of heavy music both musically and conceptually, while at the same time being embraced by the metal community. I’m thinking of bands such as Wreck and Reference, Menace Ruine and Author & Punisher; bands that have forged unique and innovative identities for themselves without adhering to the guitar/bass/drums format. You can add Fort Worth, TX duo Pinkish Black to that short list; their self-titled debut album is a drums/synth/loops/voice fuelled exercise in gothic/death rock exellence that nods to the past as it creeps towards the future.