Nature is Beautiful (Vol. VIII – Metal is for the Birds)
The delicious smell of apple pie is everywhere in your idyllic cottage; you open the window and rest the dessert on the sill to cool. Several songbirds fly in and perch on your shoulders, joining in with your cheerful whistling. Within minutes, you’ve gathered a swarm of smiling woodland creatures, all of which bob strangely back and forth while helping you clean the kitchen. But something isn’t right; Denny the Deer’s cute little tail isn’t there to sweep dust from the shelves.
It’s then that a second smell creeps into your nostrils—sickly sweet, like a sing-along with a sour note. The critters sense it too, following you in a silent procession through the front door. The reek of putrefaction is your only guide, at least until the carneous cacophony of feathers and clicking beaks begins. Denny lies in the center of a small clearing, his corpse dancing as the naked heads of vultures plunge. Barbara Bunny flops her ears over her children’s eyes and lets out a shrill scream.
As fun as that was to write, birds are often pigeonholed into two camps by laypeople; to some, they’re flying ambiance generators, pleasant little nothings that provide the uplifting soundtrack to a morning stroll. (As if their music is anything other than the quest for freaky feathered fun most of the time.) Others see them as beasts almost too stupid to exist (“birdbrains”), or as “rats with wings” after a seagull steals one too many French fries. Carrion-eaters, so vital to our ecosystems, suffer the worst reputation: drab, low, wretched. Winged memento mori.
On closer inspection, the avian world teems with unique adaptations: the intricate courtship dances of grebes, the nectar-extracting beak of the ʻIʻiwi, the gargantuan nests of the sociable weavers. The complex evolutionary history of these animals has seen them expand into nearly every biome on the planet, and into myriad shapes and behaviors, each more confounding than the last. Take wing losers, we’re going birding.
Great Grey Shrike – Impaled Larder
You’re so blackened thrash it hurts. Literally—you poked yourself on a rusty nail protruding from your
elbow pad vambrace and now you’ve got a bacterial infection with no cure. At least you got a great stage name out of it: Tétanos. Your bullet belt has its own bandolier. The only thing sharper than your demo’s guitar tone is the miasma that swirls around you (your battle jacket don’t entry the laundry). Sure, the porcupine suit looks “evil” and all, but how many antagonists of landmark sci-fi and fantasy works took their name from you?
The Great Grey Shrike kills its quarry (mostly rodents and the false) with a surgical strike to the skull before flying up to a large thorn (or barbed wire) and impaling the corpse for safe-keeping. Poisonous prey is no obstacle; the shrike has been observed skewering toxic grasshoppers and letting their toxins degrade before ingestion. You managed to snag a skull and some scattered bones for your promo pics, but this songbird’s larder is a trove of tiny nightmares, all severed heads and torn bodies. You’re a proponent of pacifism compared to this winged voivode of Wallachia.
Chile’s Demoniac showcases some unexpected behavior of their own with “Extraviado”; the centerpiece of So It Goes revolves around that traditional metal instrument, the clarinet. Not only does it look like a giant spike, this woodwind pierces through the track’s musculature, lodging itself in the foreground without overpowering the sparse composition. Caught between aggressive (yet still melodic) blackened thrash bangers, “Extraviado” is the rare interlude track that a) needs to exist and b) does something novel without gimmickry. It’s all too easy to get stuck on a record of this quality.
Greater Sage-grouse – Gular Sac Inflation
Working in metal PR, your primary job is to make nerds seem exponentially more important than they really are. A couple of dads writing black metal? No, no—”a malevolent force ov iniquity, slated to unleash a work ov grim majesty vpon the vniverse.” Each monolithic slab is a highly-anticipated event (as evidenced by the 17 buyers on Bandcamp) that will [insert violent verb] your earholes. Step aside, you derivative hack; the Greater Sage-grouse knows how to self-promote in the sagebrush.
Every year, right before list season, males of the species gather to attract mates using their elaborate strutting displays; if their pompous gait isn’t enough, they can inflate the gular sacs in their necks, creating a distinct popping sound as air is pushed in and out. Last time you tried a PR stunt like that, you ended up on a list, and it wasn’t for endangered species. Well, there’s always a chance Mikko Aspa will hire you.
Revulsion‘s self-titled debut performs a similar display that’s easy to fall beak over talons for. “Wastelands” begins with a strutting groove that’s nigh-on danceable (and a veritable paradise for fans of clink) before more volatile patterns emerge. Much like with lek mating, meat and potatoes death metal is a crowded field, and to some extent, the participants have heard it all before, why choose this particular specimen? Luckily, Revulsion was born with genes for shining production, strong hooks and riff-sacs that are just a bit more ochre than those of the competition.
Hoatzin – Ruminant Digestion
Spearheading a new sound can be an isolating experience; you’re too smart for death metal; too self-aware for black metal; too considerate for prog. That’s why you created Bolyar Metal, all about the highest ranked warrior class of feudal Moldavia between the 10th and 17th centuries. Your debut record, Scream Bloody Gorlatnaya, is (at the time of writing) the only one labeled as such on Bandcamp, and you revel in that obscurity, which you hope to never transcend.
Unlike your thrash/power mix overlaid with traditional Eastern European synth patches, the hoatzin is truly exceptional; forget your own genre, this bird is the sole member of an entire genus, Opisthocomus. It’s the only bird known to eat leaves as a diet staple, utilizing bacterial fermentation in its gut (much like cattle and other ruminants), which causes it to emit an odor similar to manure. Along with these mammalian traits, hoatzin also exhibit reptilian adaptations in their juvenile form, when claws adorn their wings, allowing them to climb across tree branches before their wings have fully developed.
With the release of The Cyclic Reckoning, Suffering Hour has continued to hone their distinctive sound. Wavering guitars form permeable membranes between melody and dissonance, and the emotions in each composition shift constantly, reflecting life’s complexity. “The Abrasive Black Dust Part II” eschews the band’s death/black roots for a wistful (almost summery) introduction that gradually morphs into a drunken circus calliope, replete with blastbeats. Along with the hoatzin, Suffering Hour has carved out a niche of their own, where disparate elements coalesce into strange and masterful shapes.