The Underground Sounds of America: Malleus
The Boston first-wave black metallers are here to enable your evil riff addiction.
In many ways, black thrash is the earliest form of extreme metal. Before concepts like ‘black metal’ and ‘thrash metal’ existed as defined musical styles, bands like Venom, Slayer, Hellhammer, and Bathory took metal to levels of extremity that the NWOBHM hadn’t even imagined. Guttural vocals, grinding riffs, and hyper-fast drums took the genre out of its acrobatic comfort zone while still adhering to the low-to-the-ground punk rocks roots of the genre. Maybe this is why black thrash will always remain close to metalheads’ hearts -- it feels old-school yet new, reminding headbangers of a time when evil still kicked ass and there were boundaries left to push.
Today, black thrash continues to grow in the U.S. of A., with a crop of new stateside bands creating metal that’s fast, dark, and exciting as Hell. But while all of these acts play what many might consider a “classic” metal genre, none of them pay rote tribute to their influences. Instead, each band adds their own take on the style -- be it an injection of technical death metal or a grimy street-punk guitar sound -- that reinvigorates the sound and keeps it from feeling stale or "retro."
Here are the eight American black thrash bands set on making 2019 a year of evil with no boundaries...
One of the most exciting bands bubbling up in the underground today is Philadelphia’s Devil Master, whose delicious riffs, steel-plated guitar tone, echoing vocals and gothic keyboard interludes will remind listeners of dark glam and crust punk as much as it does classic thrash. That said, the band’s total immersion in satanic atmosphere and their never-ending gallop make them far more enjoyably diabolical than your average anti-Christian act. Just look at the cover of their upcoming album Satan Spits On Children Of Light, with its blazingly colorful new interpretation of the old-school medieval Devil, and you’ll get an idea of what makes the band so special.
“We started by worshipping old Japanese hardcore punk, which always mirrored some elements of black metal or black thrash,” says Francis Kano, Devil Master’s frontman. “It melded into its own thing. I think it’s about having fun without giving up our seriousness, while maintaining integrity about it. That to me is the ethos of real satanism--living life to its fullest and not following anyone’s rules...and just being a cocky asshole! All these guys who talk about goats are full of shit, and even a little less serious than us. At least we have a shamelessness about it!”
On the more brutal and kinetic side of black thrash is Maryland’s Unendlich, whose percussion and vocals have healthy doses of death metal. But the one-man project’s unstoppable rhythms and driving riffage keep its music from getting bogged down in technicality, and are more intent on getting heads to bang instead of just nod. The imagery and subject matter on this year’s Thanatophobia are also primarily focused on overwhelming themes of gloom, death, and the horror of the void, hearkening back to the irony-less tone of bands like Mercyful Fate and Death SS.
“What I feel is missing in black metal is some of the dynamics and rhythm that was being done early on by second wave bands such as Samael,” says Mike Connors, Unendlich’s driving force. “When I formed Unendlich there seemed to be a lot of great musicians all trying to make the most tormented-sounding music, but either were missing the vibe I wanted or completely forgetting about songwriting. My goal is for Unendlich’s style to retain the chaotic aggression and brutality of black metal while not completely verging away from melody. I also put a lot of time and effort into production so that the music is not lost in a poor recording or mix.”
It’s no secret that we love Boston black thrash crew Malleus, having featured them before in our Underground Sounds Of America series. Their sludgy, Celtic Frostian stylings have all the primal violence of a classic Conan tale, while at the same time smack of the sweat-and-beer-soaked shadows of a modern metal club. The band’s latest EP, Night Raids, channels this dichotomy perfectly, with a sound that’s rip-roaringly epic and witchy while simultaneously low enough to the ground that your average street metaller feels right at home blasting it out of their shitbox car.
According to guitarist The Hammer, “Malleus was born from a long gestating antipathy toward the current state of heavy music. With minds totally possessed by the old gods of extreme metal, the band -- The Hammer (guitar), The Relentless (drums), The Watcher (bass), and The Sceptre (vocals) -- joined forces to deliver their own onslaught of sadistic first-wave black metal.”
Easily the filthiest-sounding band on this list, Blood Lust from Phoenix, Arizona, go as lo-fi as possible. Thought their vocals are drenched in reverb, their riffs are viciously straightforward, and their grunted lyrics remind listeners of a time before extreme metal vocalists had coaches and techniques, and just belted their shit out. At the same time, the band doesn’t court the questionable militancy of modern black metal, with their track Nazi Suicide making their political stance very clear.
Though the band has only two demos under their collective belt, their name was on the lips of most of the bands featured in our States Of Metal profile of Arizona, who all hailed Blood Lust as the wave of the future.
Hailing from Philly and parts nearby, Basilysk are newcomers to the scene who show incredible promise. The quintet, who describe themselves as “a dragon emerging from the cold, dark depths to spew fire on a world of posers and plastic pop music”, have a distinctly off-kilter style, imbued with much of the swanning technicality found in early releases by Morbid Angel and Dissection. But the tracks on their upcoming debut Emergence never go entirely off the edge of progressiveness, always retaining a cutthroat infectiousness that will have listeners quickly enraptured.
“Our style is rooted in old school death, black and thrash metal, but we prefer to twist and mutate our influences into a sound that is difficult to compare to a single band or genre,” says bassist Jimmy Viola. “When we hear weak music, it only fuels our aggression to play faster and be more inventive with our instruments. We strive to push the boundaries of what constitutes extreme metal, and inspire creativity in our listeners."
The recent move from Transylvania to Los Angeles appears to have affected Persekutor’s sound. The band, formerly an isolated two-piece of meth-smoking goat herders that has since evolved into a full four-piece band, has taken its sound in a more fierce and stark direction, trading frosty mid-paced stompers for sweaty, stone-fisted blackened groove tracks. But diehard fans shouldn’t be disheartened by this change, as the band remains the same masked maniacs they’ve always been.
"You will never be hearing Persekutor song whining about girlfriend problem or 'Boo-hoo, Mom -- the pool is dirty!' like many American weakling bands," says Vlad. "Persekutor songs is about survival in freezings temperatures, Soviet bitch wars or sudden Yeti attack. Sometimes all three. Fans can expect to experience full spectrum of human emotion at Persekutor show, from sweaty confusion and erotic stimulation to vague embarrassment and tears of joy. Plus four tall, handsome gentlemens delivering 100% killer Romanian ice metal in cool leather masks. Also we are having strict rule about pointy guitars. NO SOFT SHAPES."
Punky and warlike, Black Mass err more on the side of thrash and speed than black or death metal. At the same time, the band’s frantic pace and stripped-down sound drips with the urgency that dominated extreme metal’s first waves -- a desire to go faster, louder, and snottier than the last band you played next to.
The balls-out cover of their upcoming album sophomore album depicts all that classic speedfreak death worship -- complete with mushroom clouds, tank treads, and an arachnid cadaver crawling across the landscape -- but does so with all the humorless black that one hears in their music. A fierce, exciting band that fans of Toxic Holocaust and The Crown will be pumping a studded-gloved fist over.
What sets Philly's Daeva apart from the black thrash masses is an old-school sense of noisiness. Unlike a lot of modern bands that focus on melodic riffs and mid-paced groove, this vicious quartet focuses on making a jarring, chaotic racket that reminds one of early albums by Kreator and Sodom. Their 2017 debut EP, Pulsing Dark Absorptions, is four tracks of brittle, unhinged witching metal full of that classic cutthroat Euro-thrash insanity, driven by raw momentum and cackling blasphemy.
"Daeva's is probably the snottiest band I'm in," says guitarist Steve Jansson. Steve is also known for his work with death metallers Trenchrot and critically-acclaimed power-doom outfit Crypt Sermon. But Daeva allows him to access a more animalistic side to his playing. "The music is really primal. That's what we're going for, is something really loud and hard-hitting."
WORDS AND HEADER: Chris Krovatin