Written by John Angel
Hello to all the wonderful, underground theydies and djentlethems! Today I’m bringing you the third installment of The Z-List, a column dedicated to bringing some much deserved attention to the underground of underground music and celebrating the people that make up our small community. We’re after the smallest, most obscure bands and projects that lack institutional support. No label? That’s Z-List. One person band? Z-Lister band. Mainstream music journalists say liking this band is elitist?? Oh baby, that’s the most Z-List of all! Our third entry in the Z-List column features a fantastic one-girl project, a creative death metal quartet, some eclectic metal from Shanghai, and a prog group from my hometown. Let’s dive in!
Anna Pest – Dark Arms Reach Skyward With Bone White Fingers
Released January 1, 2021
Prog tech/death/grind from Montreal, QuébecDark Arms Reach Skyward With Bone White Fingers by Anna Pest
Anna Pest is a self-described “eclectic, one-girl metal project based in Montreal, Canada” who released Dark Arms Reach Skyward With Bone White Fingers (DARSWBWF) on January 1, 2021. I’ll tell you right now that the record is fuckin’ sick and was one hell of a way to kick off 2021. DARSWBWF kicks off with an assault of blast beats, fast riffs, and gutturals on “Nadira” and keeps up the breakneck pace of riffage throughout most of the runtime. We’re treated to a firework display of tech death bordering on grindcore with lots of twists and turns and nuances to keep the nerdiest listener’s attention. DARSWBWF gives us many moments of beautiful melodicism, the first of which is the chorus to “Skyward”, the 4th track on the record. April Hutchins, the mastermind behind Anna Pest, creates some inhuman sounds with her voice but treats us to her sweet, lovely singing on “Skyward”. We find ourselves listening to her dulcet vocals again on “Of the Black Moon and the Red Earth”, an expansive track that clocks in at 11:33 and is a great sampler of all the sounds you’ll find on this record.
Did I mention that April performs all the instruments, and the vocals, all the composition, AND the production?? It’s an insane feat for anyone to just play all the parts on a record as dense and technically demanding as this but then you have to keep in mind that she has the creativity to write it in the first place and the perseverance and drive to drag the record through the recording and production process. I’m in the middle of recording a solo record, I’m not playing the drums, and I’m ready to be fucking done with it! My hat is off to April for single-handedly birthing such a creative and demanding record. She has five other releases under the Anna Pest moniker and they’re all very different from one another. I’m in awe of April’s ability to spin out new ideas with such seeming ease.
Dark Arms Reach Skyward With Bone White Fingers fuckin’ slaps and any fan of tech death, prog, grindcore, and/or good music need to check out Anna Pest. I also want to say that she’s near and dear to my heart as she’s one of the first musicians I found to self-identify as a Z-Lister!
Atvm – Famine, Putrid, and Fucking Endless
Released April 28, 2021
Prog/death from London, UKFamine, Putrid and Fucking Endless by Atvm
I have to start this segment with a shout out to Jonathan Adams over at Heavy Blog Is Heavy. HBIH is my fav blog that I don’t write for and I was fortunate enough to have a mutual friend who introduced us. Jon sends me sweet records from time to time and Famine, Putrid, and Fucking Endless by Atvm is one of those records. I was delighted to find out they’re both sick AND unsigned so I could include them in this here Z-List column. I will now talk about them instead of just talking.
Atvm deliver a raw and stripped down slab of prog-y death metal on Famine, Putrid, and Fucking Endless. Released April 28, 2021, this record has got most everything you could want in a death metal release these days; there’s riffs, there’s guitar solos, there’s flashy displays of technique, there’s great songwriting, he slaps the fuckin’ bass for god’s sake!
One of my favorite moments on this record that shows off Atvm’s creativity starts around the 4:30 mark on “वाघनख [Vagh Nakh]”. We hear a textural figure in the guitars that gives an ambient vibe and is matched by more relaxed, atmospheric work in the bass and drums. The reason it’s so creative, in my humble opinion, is because they don’t really change tones. It’s easy to click off distortion on guitars and bass, bust out the brushes on the drums and v i b e but Atvm stretch out into this beautifully atmospheric section without changing any of the tones on their instruments. It’s fuckin’ cool and super creative.
Seriously, go listen to this record. I’m running out of plays on their Bandcamp page as I type this. Thank you Jonathan Adams for recommending me such a sick record and bigger thank you to Atvm for putting Famine, Putrid, and Fucking Endless into the world!
Chimera Cult – Join the Cult
Released on March 12, 2021
Trad metal from Shanghai, ChinaJoin The Cult by Chimera Cult
Sometimes it feels like metal bands only come from North America, Europe, and Australia. The bands with the most success and biggest followings generally hail from these regions and mainstream metal publications are filled with glowing coverage of them. The only big band I can name offhand from outside these areas is Sepultura. So let’s talk about some Chinese heavy fuckin’ metallers.
Chimera Cult hails from Shanghai and play an eclectic mix of traditional heavy metal with some splashes of punk (“Ode to Violins”), prog (“Cellvation”), thrash (“No Going Back”), groove (“Road to Redemption”), black metal (“Chimera’s Rise”), and blues (“Good Till The Last One Drops”). Each track has its own unique vibe but the whole record still manages to sound pretty coherent. I imagine this diversity of styles was a deliberate choice, maybe a concept to challenge the group as they learn to write with one another. No members are listed by name on their pages but I just want to point out that the vocalist is fucking amazing. Their melodic singing is powerful when belting out the hooks, vulnerable when needed in the quieter moments, and they explore the spaces in between the 12 notes of the Western octave in an expressive and satisfying way. A vicious scream is paired with this clean singing, really showcasing their range and versatility.
Chimera Cult, their debut record, was released on March 12. Inferno Shanghai, the bar where the album release was held, has a Facebook event for the occasion that also serves as the longest write up I could find on the band. Chimera Cult is made up of members from defunct Shanghai outfits that folded under the strains of Covid who seem to love the music and the scene enough to keep grinding it out with a new group. Certainly some individuals I’m proud to include in the Z-Lister ranks!
Optical Delusion – Gate Guardian
Released March 5, 2021
Prog/tech death from Clemmons, NCGate Guardian by Optical Delusion
The Z-List Vol 3 concludes with a fantastic two-person prog tech death band out of Clemmons, North Carolina. Fun fact, Clemmons is technically a village. Moar fun facts, I was born in the same county and took field trips to the skate rink there in elementary school. ANYWAY, the band in question is Optical Delusion and they’ve put out a phenomenal debut EP, Gate Guardian.
Gate Guardian is a spastic and tech’ed out slab of death metal. Lead track “Suijin” displays the complex rhythms and technical fireworks that abound throughout the record. Jake Lilje, the main compositional force of the band, has a tendency to use bright, crunchy harmonies as evidenced by the track “Kazejin”. His use of orchestration and melodies create unique sonorities for the listener in the song. Lilje also has a flair for the comic as evidenced by the goofy samples on “Sanga ov the Thunder” and “Gate Guardian Part II: Dox”, his quotation of “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”, and his taking inspiration from a Yu-Gi-Oh! card for the name of the EP. He also chops and screws the contributions of vocalist, Andrew Harrison, to great effect. Speaking of quoting AC/DC, I think there may be more references of other musical material in the lead guitar parts. A lot of lead guitar licks sound like classical themes and the material around the sample from the movie Amadeus feels, dare I say, Mozartian…
Gate Guardian is a crazy record and has wet my appetite for more zany tech death. Optical Delusion is already hard at work on their follow up and I can’t wait to see where they go!
Edit: this was updated on 5/25/21 to reflect the fact that Optical Delusion is in fact a two person group with Andrew Harrison being a fulltime member