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7 Very Long, Very Good New Metal Songs

Welcome to Pitchfork’s monthly metal column, where we guide you through the genre’s new music and happenings with an eye towards a specific theme.


For all of metal’s extremes, it will still be tough to top Swedish quintet Therion’s Beloved Antichrist as the most ambitious metal album of 2018. The triple LP inspired by Jesus Christ Superstar is, in fact, not even an album in the eyes of its creators: “It’s a rock musical which is an album that is available in audio format in CD and vinyl,” said frontman Christofer Johnsson. Perhaps tellingly (and foolishly), the 182-minute project was positioned in press releases as being “directed towards a mainstream audience.”

If three hours of symphonic metal that, at its catchiest, sounds like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” (and at its least catchy sounds like metal covers of Europe’s other songs) isn’t your idea of crossover fodder, then you’re not alone. Since its release in February, Beloved Antichrist has not reached a mainstream audience (shocker), not even while Jesus Christ Superstar has seen another coming. While its enormous scope is more compelling than its actual contents, the project does hint at what can make extreme music alluring to the general public: Metal’s sheer impenetrability is often its selling point.

This much is true for Oregon doom-metal heroes YOB on their eighth album, Our Raw Heart—at least on the surface. At 74 minutes across just seven tracks, the record doesn’t exactly seem welcoming. But this proves to be something of a red herring, given the emotional depths the band plumbs. During the making of Our Raw Heart, out this week via Relapse, frontman Mike Scheidt suffered from a near-fatal intestinal disease. That experience shadows the record in a way that makes its heavier moments feel more urgent and its softer tracks feel newly vulnerable. From the latter category comes the album’s stirring closing title track, which over the course of 14 open-hearted minutes, evolves into YOB’s take on a classic rock showstopper. It’s a new mode for this band—a feat when you consider their melding of doom, sludge, stoner rock, prog, and post-rock—and it pays off precisely because of YOB’s confidence with taking the long way.

In the spirit of stretching out, find six other recent metal songs that pull you in deeper the longer you stay.


Sleep: “Leagues Beneath”

Sleep the band, much like sleep the activity, often operates on its own time. Not only do the stoner legends spend ages between records—last month’s The Sciences was their first since the ’90s—but their songs also move slowly, adhering to no else one’s idea about how long you should meditate on a single riff. Despite this sluggish reputation, Sleep returned with a new song mere weeks after The Sciences’ release, as part of the Adult Swim Singles program. With its atmospheric structure and acoustic guitar outro, the 17-minute-long “Leagues Beneath” doesn’t really sound like anything on the new album—in fact, it’s hard to imagine where this winding fantasy would even fit on that relatively compact collection. But luckily, “Leagues Beneath” does share the same pay-off as The Sciences: Who cares about being on time when the journey is this satisfying?


Witch Mountain: “Nighthawk”

The epic closing track is a time-worn tradition in metal, whether it’s a ripping instrumental riff-off or a retelling of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Portland doom quartet Witch Mountain are well-versed in this lineage, their new album rife with references to the greats. The self-titled LP’s peak arrives as it is winding down, on the brief “Hellfire” and the long, operatic closer “Nighthawk.” Singer Kayla Dixon shows the range of her vocals over the course of these two tracks, as she shifts from atmospheric layers of jazz crooning to an elongated bluesy howl. It makes a fitting final moment for Witch Mountain’s best album to date, and one that captures a band finding its own place in metal history.


Chrch: “Infinite Return”

A 20-minute doom metal song should raise no eyebrows—the genre was built for wallowing in the lowest moods and tunings. Sacramento’s Chrch pay homage to that tradition with the three long tracks that comprise their new album, Light Will Consume Us All, and present a more magistral take on what they do best. Even since last year’s split release with Fister, the band has grown more confident and evolved into some kind of unrelenting machine. “Infinite Return” kicks off the new album with a strong declaration of purpose, with just the slightest gleam of light leaking through the drone.


Wayfarer: “The Dreaming Plain”

It may be misleading to call Wayfarer an Americana band—the term usually implies a pastoral beauty that’s rarely present in the Colorado trio’s murky, atmospheric black metal. But few acts conjure the brutal history and sprawling expanses of the country quite like they do. The follow-up to 2016’s Old Souls, new album World’s Blood draws its inspiration from the scores of old Westerns and the violent tales therein. That vibe is the most apparent on “The Dreaming Plain,” an 11-minute, post-rock-ish highlight that leaves all the bloodshed of its ancient stories intact.


Alkaloid: “Rise of the Cephalopods”

If you are turned off by supergroups, progressive rock, technical metal, or 20-minute songs ostensibly about the ascension of mollusks, then Alkaloid is not for you. The German progressive death quintet, which includes members of Obscura, Necrophagist, and more, returns with a sophomore album even more extreme than its excellent 2015 debut. Evolving from old-school balladry to blast-beat-addled soloing, the closing track on Liquid Anatomy, “Rise of the Cephalopods,” is an instant monolith of escapism. It’s also the rare metal epic that owes more to Genesis than to Judas Priest, but don’t think it any less heavy because of that.


Fister: “No Spirit Within”

Missouri trio Fister traffics in a dismal strain of metal for which the term “sludge” doesn’t seem quite sufficient. Like Primitive Man on last year’s Caustic, Fister wade out even deeper into swampy atmospheres on sophomore album No Spirit Within and reach more gruesome territory than ever before. Its centerpiece is the 12-minute title track, with Kenny Snarzyk’s pained vocals echoing like he’s crying out from a cave deep below the earth. In the song’s staggering second half, the fuzz thickens and Snarzyk’s bass takes over the melody so that Marcus Newstead’s guitar can morph into some kind of sonic flamethrower. They sound like they could go on like this forever, until, with one final roar, the song slips abruptly into silence.

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