Baby's First Edition
Before we get it started, I’ve got something to get off of my chest, and it’s a hearty Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). A readership is a readership, no matter how big or small, so I need to thank all two hundred and fifty of you for taking time to read this shit. It means the world to me. Seriously.
*full disclosure: there are only twenty six of you, but that don’t matter! I appreciate every single one of you, and, as we know, imma do me, regardless.
It’s time. The moment you’ve all been waiting for is here. No Oldtimers, the youngest substack on the planet, is finally being released. To quote Jesus himself speaking on the topic of No Oldtimers in his worldwide best-selling book, The Bible, "This is from Jim, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the newsletter that Jim has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118: 23-24). Given that this young stack is only in its infancy, I’m still messing around with the format and trying to find the right voice. I’ve almost nailed it, though not quite! But the fact that I’m still sussing things out does NOT mean that I’m not putting blood, tears, and sweat into this because I certainly am, at least in the blood and sweat department (I save my tears for my pillows). Anyway, it’s showtime, and I’ve got some important matters to discuss, so sit back, grab your favorite malt beverage, and bear witness to the impending verbal onslaught.
Metal heads—gentle and well-spoken, they are fickle beasts. Each head only wants one thing in life, and it is to listen to the exact type of metal they want to listen to. In most cases, this is possible! Sludge and Doom heads have plenty of material, as do Thrash and Death heads. (hell, even OSDM heads still have something to work with!) The cool thing about these subgenres is that they can handle some deviation from their norms. Thrash can mix with hardcore, and the thrash fans will still fuck with it. Grindcore can mix with literally anything, and the fans will have no choice but to still fuck with it (in fact, they probably won’t even notice the difference).
American Black Metal heads, though, are different. These are the truly untamable mares that never, EVER want to be associated with the unwashed masses of non-black metal. And if a band’s music is not trve to the black metal framework, heads will claim that it’s both horse shit and not metal at all. If the music stays too trve to the framework, though, heads will claim that it’s boring and needs some tweaking. (Disclaimer: I will not be discussing the too-trve hardasses at this moment in time, for they are too boring for me. Sorry, hardos.) The demilitarized zone between untrve and too trve (AKA the trve sweet spot) is incredibly small. Like less than razor-thin. It’s so small that I am just now coining the term laser-thin. This laser-thin margin is a cold, desolate wasteland of purity that few bands can inhabit, and it is one that even fewer can call their home.
On the flip side, some bands are forced to exist outside of this zone of trvth. In fact, many bands thrive outside of it, and some even manage to find mainstream success. Liturgy and Deafheaven have made themselves practically household names (in my household, at least) by breaking the mold of black metal and doing something just a little bit different. Sure, they still have the witch shrieks and blast beats (err...burst beats, if we’re talking about Liturgy), but they bring in outside genres and intertwine them with the black metal framework, often to stunning results. The aforementioned bands now appeal mainly to indie heads and have totally alienated trve black metal fans (of the fans’ own volition, of course), but who gives a fuck about those clowns? It’s undeniable—this shit fucking rules, even if it’s not trve.
On Friday, 20 August 2021, a battle of trvly epic proportions occurred: two behemoths in the American black metal scene, the unpredictable Deafheaven and the steadfast Wolves in the Throne Room, dropped their respective fifth and seventh albums. One of these albums is totally black metal to its core (very trve, indeed) and one is totally not very black metal at all (except at its core), but you’ll never guess which album rules harder (in my humble opinion).
Because I’m a stand-up guy, I’ve decided to provide you all with a little bit of background for the two releases. Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite is a stark departure from their previous classic rock-flavored, riff-fest, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, which was a stark departure from their brick-shithouse heavy, slightly frightening New Bermuda, which was a stark departure from their big break, Sunbather, which was a stark departure from their first LP, Roads to Judah. But what makes Infinite Granite their starkest departure yet is the near-total lack of harsh vocals and the introduction of more subdued, shoegaze-leaning instrumentation, especially in the guitar department. Very little about this album says “black metal,” but there are just enough elements of black metal for it to count, at least in spirit. Wolves in the Throne Room, on the other hand, return to the scene with yet another dose of what made them famous in the first place: Primordial Arcana—a god-diminishing, earth-devouring black metal album derived directly from the trve Scandinavian gods, Darkthrone, and executed to near-perfection.
Now that introductions are out of the way, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty: which album rules hardest? There are a few things to consider before any decision is made. Most important is the music, of course, but we also have to consider both the trveness to the genre and the overall execution of the final product.
First up is Deafheaven. As I’ve already said, the album is not the trvest album ever, but it certainly contains enough trve moments to satisfy the open-minded heads that bravely gave this record a spin. Infinite Granite’s rollout, though, left something to be desired. The lead single was “Great Mass of Color,” which showed that the new Deafheaven was much softer and less intense, though not without a slight edge. Follow-up single “The Gnashing” was a let-down when digested by itself, though it perfectly slotted into the album as a whole. The third and final single, “In Blur,” restored all faith in the band and was accompanied by a visually stunning music video that perfectly encapsulates the album’s essence.
The band’s decision to pivot sharply toward shoegaze on Infinite Granite may sound questionable at first, but as soon as album opener “Shellstar” starts, it becomes clear that Deafheaven can pull off whatever sound they want. (I mean, they look like shoegaze guys, no doubt.) Personally, I hope they transition to a Travis Barker-influenced pop-punk sound, but that might be wishful thinking. Kidding!—that would be actual shit, but I digress. Compared to previous releases, there are fewer highs, but it’s overall a much more consistent record. But when the album is high, it is high. Shit is like an aural painkiller—warm, fuzzy, and completely intoxicating. Highlights include the entirety of “In Blur,” the aforementioned britpop-inflected meanderer; “Villain,” a beautiful and haunting track defined by angelic vocals and glittery guitars that somehow manages to turn trve in its final moments; and “Mombasa,” which is simultaneously Infinite Granite’s prettiest track and its most trve (you owe it to yourself to give this one a spin; it’s good shit). The sound is consistent but with enough variation to maintain total attention, and the vibe is bittersweet, but in a way that makes you feel good. Overall, Infinite Granite is good! Definitely worth a listen.
Oh my god, what’s that noise? Could it be—no, wait, it is! Please give a warm welcome to Wolves in the Throne Room. It’s hard to compare the two bands, given that Deafheaven has all but abandoned black metal while Wolves in the Throne Room continues to venture deeper and deeper into it, but you already know I’m going to do my thing, regardless. Off rip, Primordial Arcana is among the trvest American black metal albums I’ve heard. The rollout was fairly traditional, but I’ll be damned if I weren’t stoked on it at first. The sound presented by the singles is beautifully heavy and really sets the tone for what’s to come. Lead single “Mountain Magick” is exactly what heads fiend for: blasting drums, buzzing guitar, and vocals straight from the coven. The follow-up, “Spirit of Lightning,” doubles down on the ideas presented in the lead single and curiously features an earthy string arrangement that’ll take you right to medieval times. The final single, “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire),” finds the band tripling down on the sound, but more on that later. Each single was accompanied by the trvest music video (or music visualizer) you’ll ever see, which made my expectations quite high. The band went into the album with a mission—to make the trvest damn album of the year—and they were successful! Unfortunately, in this case, successful does not mean great.
Primordial Arcana is about as trve as trve can be. The first thing you hear is the grunting of unknown beasts and the rattling of chains, followed by some of the buzziest buzzsaw guitars you’ll hear today, and from here on out, it’s on. The lyrics are all about nature’s power and beauty, specifically its willingness to end life when it pleases. Shit is trve as hell. “Primal Chasm (Gift of Fire),” for example, is pretty much about the meeting of fire and ice and the destruction that must occur in order for there to be creation. It is so gnarly, especially when vocalist Aaron Weaver (very untrve name if you ask me) sputters the lines, “Yawning abyss opens / Ice becomes searing red flame.” All the songs are like this, which rules if you’re into that sort of thing, but at a certain point, it starts to detract from the album. Primordial Arcana deliriously decimates and punishes listeners throughout, but it’s like eating nothing but falafel for the rest of your life; it fucking rules, but it’ll eventually lead to your untimely demise. As the saying goes, variety truly is the spice of life, and this is no exception. Heaviness and trvth reign supreme on Primordial Arcana, something the heads will certainly appreciate, but for just about anyone else, it starts to sound boring after a mere couple of tracks. The album needs just a bit more variation, some respite from the punishment. Maybe the druids behind Wolves in the Throne Room were just too deep in their respective bags with Primordial Arcana. I need something to cut the trvth just a little bit, even an orchestral interlude or a field recording of a bear mauling a wayward deer would suffice. But whatever. For the most part, not so good!
Time for big boy talk. Which album rules more, the trvly trve Primordial Arcana or the largely untrve but still a little, tiny bit trve Infinite Granite? Well, dear readers, if you’ve made it this far, I guess I have to tell you. It should come as no surprise, but I’m rocking with Infinite Granite much more than Primordial Arcana. I don’t care how trve a band is to the black metal genre. If a band is trying something new and it hits right for some of the time, I’m picking them over those simply rehashing their previous work, every single time (even if that rehashed work is generally pretty good!), And in the case of Deafheaven and Infinite Granite, it’s hitting right all of the time. What can I say? I’m a sucker for change, so sue me, trve heads. Sue me.
The Real Hot Ones
Respect to Sean Evans, but I’m different. He’s got the show with the hot questions and even hotter wings (I think that’s how it goes), but this is the stack written by a hot guy with mid takes and read by even hotter individuals! And we need some really hot tapes and singles to match, so, without further ado, I present The Real Hot Ones!
Shawny Binladen - Wickipedia
Shawny Binladen—what a great name—AKA Shawn Wick, AKA Shawn Cohen, is back, and he’s got a serious appetite. The man simply devours any sample that comes his way, and on Wickipedia (only a true genius could come up with this name), it’s no different. He talks his typical street talk as he rips samples of Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It” (on “How We Grinch”), Sahbabii’s “Pull Up wit ah Stick” (“Pull up with a Glt,” duh!), and Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’s “Much Better Off” (“Get Back or Sit Back”). These songs rule and all, but Shawny really only finds his shine on “Real Mutha Fucking Grinch,” one of the few songs without a blatant sample, instead relying on a whiny synth line reminiscent of an old G-funk song and some pummeling drums. The tape as a whole, though, with a few glaring exceptions, not so good!
PinkPantheress - “Passion”
This song was made for real ass-shaking hours. It’s dance-y, it’s house-y, it’s UK garage-y, and that’s all a man really needs to be happy these days. It’s good!
Never Ending Game - “But Not For Me”
This song makes me want to hit the local outlet mall, publicly brandish a gun, remove all my clothes (excluding my boxer briefs), and dive through the Calvin Klein’s plate glass window in order to blend in amongst the scantily clad mannequins and hide from the now-pursuing mall cops. It’s that good.
Soul Blind - “Third Chain”
What does the perfect song sound like? Well, for me, it needs to have the sheer volume of Hum, the dreaminess of my bloody valentine, the heaviness of Nothing, and the snottiness of prime Oasis, all tied together with a pretty little hardcore bow. Many bands have come close to perfection, but none have come as close as Soul Blind has with their latest single, “Third Chain.” Shit cranks. Fun video, too. Good!
Big Body Bes - “Tears of a Tiger”
I’ve been waiting for this shit for a long time. Ever since I first heard Big Body Bes talk his shit on “9.24.13” from Action Bronson and Party Supplies’ classic mixtape Blue Chips 2, I’ve been hungry for more. The occasional ridiculous feature from Big Body Bes has never been enough, so when I heard that he was working on his debut album, Body Language, stoke had reached unprecedented levels. That was over five years ago. I’ve been waiting patiently, and now the wait appears to be almost over. Mr. Outta My Fucking Mind himself has just dropped the tape’s lead single, produced by none other than Harry Fraud. It’s about as good as you’d expect from the glorified hypeman, but I like it!