A few months ago, the N.C.-bred metal band Æther Realm seemed poised for a breakout.

Back in 2018, they’d inked a deal with stalwart Austrian label Napalm Records and put the finishing touches on their ambitious, anthemic third album, Redneck Vikings from Hell.

With a May 1 release date looming and a promotion cycle underway, the band was ready to support the new album in all the usual ways. I was about to cover their music video shoot for the INDY, just before they launched an East Coast tour.

Then COVID-19 came.

The wave of cancellations that followed has staggered the music industry beyond the barrooms and halls where bands perform. Limited access to practice spaces and studios has forced them to cobble together releases from B-sides and one-offs, to figure out how to livestream gigs, and to take more insular approaches to writing and recording.

But Redneck Vikings from Hell was released, as planned, on May 1, and Æther Realm still seems poised for a breakout.

While past efforts—notably 2017’s Tarot—proved Æther Realm’s panache with melodic metal’s most bombastic elements, Redneck Vikings from Hell showcases the band’s full range. It begins with the title track, a whimsical collision of gallant power metal and rollicking Southern rock, while lead single “Goodbye” infuses anthemic, big-tent metal with post-rock and electronica. The somber, piano-driven power ballad “Guardian” stands in stark contrast to the melodic death-metal rush of “One Hollow Word.” References from In Flames to Muse seem apt, and it’s easy to picture a mud-soaked singalong at some European festival.

Maybe someday.

But for these days of confinement, perhaps the dark post-punk of Durham’s Wailin Storms is more appropriate. Rattle is the band’s third full-length (and their first for the well-regarded label Gilead Media) and its most fully realized. Drenched in eerie reverb and riffs that twang and clang, pummeled with heavy, resonant drums, and led by Justin Storms’ haunted—well, wailing, it recalls death rock and shoegaze as much as Gothic Americana and doom.

Take “Grass,” which opens with an echoey death chant and Storms singing over a sparse drumbeat before a searing, lumbering riff lurches to life. Then the band leans into the swaggering groove, countering with jagged flashes of lead guitar and a rumbling undercurrent from the rhythm section. The low-end feels like a stoner procession, while the upper range blends noise-rock and post-punk into an electrified haze. Wailin Storms has a knack for dynamic shifts and finding open space within tight grooves.

Unexpected stylistic intersections is a trait they share with Grohg, albeit with markedly different results. The Raleigh quartet’s self-titled third EP, released in late May, builds on a foundation of sludgy punk-metal with anthemic vamps, post-hardcore dissonance, and melodic leads that wouldn’t be out of place on an At the Gates album.

In “Familiar Stench,” a twisting death-metal chug buttresses frontman Will Goodyear’s raw-throated polemic. The rhythm section of bassist Cody Rogers and drummer Tyler Gresh is able to wind technical shifts into a steady headbanging groove, and lead guitarist Andy Townsend cuts bright melodic lines through the mix.

The self-titled EP follows a pair of efforts that drew out more of a pummeling post-hardcore sound. After several lineup changes and a six-year gap between recordings, this is Grohg’s most traditionally “metal” but also its most idiosyncratic and engaging work so far.

As Grohg continues its evolution, another Raleigh band has emerged with a heavy and dynamic approach that trades urgency for atmosphere. The instrumental trio Kult Ikon released its debut, Sheet Metal Sessions, in May, capturing the meandering mix of post-metal, shoegaze, and doom they’ve been building on local stages for the past few years.

The four tracks each sprawl across at least eight minutes, showcasing Kult Ikon’s patient swells and atmospheric relief. Like Pelican or Russian Circles, they use cleaner tones and space-rock detours to make sudden descents into crushing doom feel all the heavier. Album closer “Circle Birds” exemplifies this as the trio contrasts passages of reverb-diffused guitar and meditative drones that suggest OM with metallic vamps, Crowbar’s viscous sludge, and Isis’s surging, textured crescendos.

These four releases fit a time that feels both stagnant and volatile. From Æther Realm’s melodic finesse and whimsical range to Wailin Storms’ dark haze, from Grohg’s vicious outbursts to Kult Ikon’s deliberate ebbs and surges, the output of the Triangle’s heavy music scenes can’t be quarantined.

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One reply on “Quarantine Can’t Contain New Albums from the Local Metal Scene”

  1. People are itching to get out of the house so much, I hope the venues are packed once covid is in the past. Can’t wait to go see some shows. These albums will have to tide me over.

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