“In spite of what the naysayers will tell you, I’m of the opinion that there’s an absolutely ridiculous amount of good metal releases coming out all the time, many of them coming from new groups or independent groups that we’re just now catching onto for the first time.
This lengthy round-up has been in the works for awhile, but I kept adding more and more to the list of what I wanted to cover, and that delayed it until now. The focus here is on releases that dropped in 2017 that haven’t been covered at NCS yet. We’ll run through a boatload of harsh and unorthodox black metal, mountains of mathcore, death metal of all stripes, a few technical grindcore acts, a ton of different prog-metal bands, some sick instrumental metal jams, and a whole lot more. Hopefully you will find something new you enjoy in each installment.
Once again, I have the fine folks at Mathcore Index to thank for showing me another band I felt compelled to cover, and this time it’s Retail Monkey.
While the name may be a tongue-in-cheek reference to feeling like a purposeless wage slave, I assure you the music is deadly serious and with a fierce brain-scrambling purpose to it, no less. Manic and unpredictable mathcore-fueled grind is the band’s preferred medium throughout ADD/Nihilism, though they also dabble in noisy moments, quirky synth flourishes, and oddball interludes, and they lace the songs with the occasional death metal and black metal influenced riff or black metal vocal part.
The story the band lay out on their Bandcamp regarding the writing and release of ADD/Nihilism is fascinating as well. The music found here was written by its members through tab-based MIDI software between 2004 and 2006, enabling them to “write whatever the hell we wanted with no limitations based on how ridiculous or unplayable it seemed to us”. “We never figured real, recorded versions would exist. After spending another decade making music, it was within reach.”
That batshit insane and frenetic vibe the band wrote so many years back shines through in the density of these songs in a way that, even now, feels fresh and new. Right now, ADD/Nihilism is certainly going to be one of my absolute favorite grind releases this year. Don’t miss out on this gem.
7 songs (6 minutes) of powerviolence/crust. Drums tracked by Lorenzo Luna and Scott Asher at an unnamed studio. Guitars, bass, vocals, and samples tracked later at Big Name, where the EP was then edited and mixed. Mastered by Brad Boatright at Audiosiege.
On this day 10 years ago, LeBaron’s final recording session took place.
“What’s LeBaron?” You might be asking.
LeBaron was a music experiment that arose organically in the summer of 2007. The band consisted* of Kol Fenton, Stephen Navarrete, and me. It lasted only a few months. The album that we put together, Stambaugh Sessions, is the oldest release that I played on that I still thoroughly appreciate to this day.
The series of recording dates that comprise Stambaugh Sessions began spontaneously. One day, the three of us ended up hanging out in our buddy Anthony’s garage, which had been given the name Chestnut St. Arms. Bella Drive, Steve and Kol’s band with Daniel Hendrickson (who I later collaborated with in Phantom Float), practiced there. As a result of that arrangement, Steve and Kol were there frequently, and I would come by occasionally to see what my friends were up to. That’s how this place was. If you made music there, you were likely to have an audience of a few people hanging out while you worked on stuff.
Somehow Steve and I got the idea to split his drumkit up and each play half of it. In my corner of the space, I flipped the kick drum onto its side and played it with sticks, along with a snare and a ride. Over in his corner, Steve set up a snare, two toms, and a small crash. The hi-hat was positioned so that either of us could use the foot control or hit it with sticks.
We messed around jamming for a bit. Kol grabbed a guitar, turned on an amp, and… suddenly LeBaron was happening.
We played for maybe twenty minutes with a few friends watching. As we finished up, someone who was sitting in a recliner on the opposite side of the room (I can’t remember who at this point) said, “That was actually really interesting. You should come back with your recording stuff and do that again.”
So we did.
In total, there were 4 recording sessions. Each one had a very limited audience, but enough to give it a little bit of “event” energy. Now that it’s been so long, I’m not sure who witnessed these performances.
Each session was unique in some way. There are clues in the songs as to which songs were recorded on which occasion. The fretless bass was only used one of the days. The pedalboard was significantly expanded on one of the sessions, bringing in some extra sounds. On a different date, we allowed Aqua Teen Hunger Force to play on the TV in the background of all the recordings. During our third session, Ryan Moyer joined us and played an empty wine bottle with a drum stick. The rototoms and samples are present in some, but not all, of the recordings. And there was a bugle at one point.
Each time we would finish a take, we would listen back to it and see what we had just done. Some songs were titled immediately as we were listening back for the first time. “This part sounds like when you’re doing badly Taking a Test and getting more and more frustrated.” A few were actually given titles before we even played them. “Alright. This next song is called Gangsta Situations no matter what it sounds like.” Most of them were left untitled at this point, though.
I think we settled on the name LeBaron during our first recording session. The conversation went something like this:
“Okay, I have an idea. What’s the most non-descript, not-noteworthy car that you can think of? Something you wouldn’t be embarrassed to drive, but also wouldn’t be excited to drive at all?”
After our final recording session, I took the Tascam 4 track cassette recorder we had been using back to my house and digitized all of our tapes. We posted the files online, but had to cycle them out over time since Myspace would only let you post 3 songs at once. Within a few months we had moved on, playing in our more traditional bands, and that was that.
But I wasn’t happy with how our work was left incomplete. The songs had never been properly compiled, mastered, and released. In 2010, after I moved to Washington, I decided it was finally time to work on it. This was when the songs were given an order, and also when all the then-untitled songs were given names. Hard for me to believe that’s now 7 years ago, and that it’s been 10 years since they were first recorded. Time flies.
* We decided shortly after our last session that LeBaron technically never ended. If the three of us ever end up playing together again in the future, it’s still LeBaron. We all live in different parts of the country now, but hey, you never know what could happen.
To someone familiar with my solo releases, it might seem strange that this one has been put out under the same moniker as my album [visitor]. The two releases are almost diametrically opposed in terms of sound, but in my mind, they clearly belong to the same project.
What determines if something is [syzygy]? The project’s driving question is: “What can I do with only this?”
In the case of [visitor], the “only this” is my detuned, 80-year-old spinet piano and my fretless electric bass. In the case of [ouroboros], it is my Behringer Xenyx 1202 mixing board.
All of the sounds that are heard on this release were generated by only a mixing board. This was accomplished by routing the various outputs of the mixer back into the various inputs on the mixer, creating internal analog feedback loops. This is known as the “no-input mixer” technique.
It’s a deceptively simple tactic. Though it seems like it should result in basic, abrasive feedback squelches, the reality is much cooler. The various signal routings through the mixing console interact with one another to create surprisingly complex waveforms.
Each mixer generates sounds unique to its hardware. This is one of the only situations I can think of where lower quality gear can have a huge advantage over higher quality gear: lower quality components tend to modify the waveform passing through them more than higher quality components do. As a result, when the waveforms sum back together, they coalesce into more chaotic wave-interference patterns (i.e. feedback loops).
Behringer is known for making gear focused more on economy than quality, so the Xenyx 1202 is perfect for this application. When you really crank the signals with this thing, especially the low frequencies, it overloads and creates fantastic drum-machine-like rhythms. It can also generate single notes that sound like an electronic synth, as well as more noisy blocks of sound. Hidden within it, I’ve found sounds reminiscent of motorcycles racing through tunnels, ringing analog phones, air raid sirens, scurrying mice, alarm systems, heavy machinery, ray guns, heartbeats, woodblocks, flutes, and much more. This device has a very dystopian palette.
An improvisation performed on the Xenyx 1202. This is similar to the form in which each track on [ouroboros] began. As you can see, no-input mixer improvs can sound kind of aimless, which is why I wanted to experiment with using them as the building blocks for sample-based composition instead. This video only demonstrates a few of the sounds that the mixer can generate.
The composition process:
Each song started the same way as the improvisation above. I plugged in the mixer, hit record, and played for roughly 20 minutes. This part of the process is very reflexive and intuitive. You can’t really predict how the mixer will react to most changes that you make to the state of the board.
After finishing the improvisation, I went in, listened for parts that I liked, and spliced up the take into dozens of shorter clips. Some of these worked very well as loops. Others worked as transition pieces between looped sections.
At this point, I developed the general structure of each piece by arranging the various clips I had cut out.
Next, I added layers:
Some parts needed noisy layers, so I would find the right sound and apply it.
Many parts needed chords or melodies. At this point, I used the type of feedback that sounds like an analog synth playing a single pitch. I recorded various pitches and applied them over the clips, sometimes layering groups of two or three to create harmonies and chords.
Delay and panning were added to certain sections where I felt like they belonged.
At this point, I rearranged the parts over and over until every part of the song played back in exactly the “right way.” (This was an intuitive process; there was no metric for what was “right” or “wrong” other than feeling it out.)
This is probably the only session I have done so far where I actually utilized the sound of a brickwall limiter as an effect. I use limiters on every session that I master, as well as on select parts of certain mixes, but I usually attempt to keep them as transparent as possible. These songs have the limiter set far beyond the normal levels I tend to use. This smashes the layers together, causing the tonal layers to take on the rhythmic characteristics of the noise layers underneath them.
While working on this project, I was struck by the idea that the no-input mixer is a sonic embodiment of the ouroboros: the snake that circles around, consuming its own tail. This symbol is ancient. It is first known to have been used in the 14th century BCE, and has been used by a plethora of spiritual traditions since.
Carl Jung said, “The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which… unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.”
The ouroboros symbolizes the universe’s nature of continual creation, destruction, and recreation. Its constant reinvention. The paradox of the non-conflicting dual nature of all things. The hidden oneness of the seeming duality between physical and mental worlds. The infinite. The shadow within.
I enlisted my partner Laura to paint the art and I think the piece is exactly right for the music. This isn’t related to the album, but as a side note, she’s currently doing an awesome 100-piece Instagram series of scenes and objects found around our house. It can be found at instagram.com/ladylervold. Check it out and give her a follow if you like what you see.
Final Notes / Other
One thing that I particularly enjoyed experimenting with while creating this recording was its inherent microtonality.* None of the notes on this recording were created using fixed pitch keys like you find on a keyboard. The no-input mixer is capable of producing an infinite range of pitches. Since I was free of 12 tone equal temperament tuning, I was able to step back and simply use my ears to find harmonies and chord progressions that I enjoyed without being stuck inside the rigid 12tet realm. The other side of the inherent microtonality of this process is found in the base layer in each song. When the mixing board develops complex waveform patterns, it doesn’t use any tuning theory. The harmonies it generates are pure physics and mathematics, and the intervals it spits out are not bound to 12 tone equal temperament tuning.
The other aspect that I really enjoyed playing around with while working on this was the appearance of high-denominator odd-meter rhythms (for example: 27/32). These are rhythms that can only be notated by using 32nd or 64th notes. You don’t often hear them in music because they are very difficult for humans to play accurately, especially at high speed. Complex feedback, however, has no aversion to them, so a lot of them ended up in the final compositions here.
The song “Pass Me the Yogurt Chips Before I Cremate Myself, Emilio” from my/Joel/Steve’s album Retail Monkey – ADD/Nihilism was just featured on the fifth edition of Can This Even Be Called Music?’s compilation series. This comp doesn’t focus on a specific genre, just great stuff that the creator enjoys.
Boy Rex (Jack Senff) recorded his debut, self-released album The Bloodmonths here at Big Name in early 2016. Since then, he moved to Michigan, got signed, recorded a new album, and began pursuing touring as Boy Rex full time. I was pleased to welcome him back to Big Name to do this stripped down live-in-studio session as a stop on his current tour.
(Select 720pHD to stream the full quality audio/video.)