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Metal: third time's the charm

Bands who really hit their stride on record number three.

Greetings and hails once again. What is it that they say about the third time being lucky? It’s time for me to tell you about two new albums I’m quite fond of from bands who have really hit their stride on record number three.

Last week Melbourne band High Tension released their third full-length record – it’s a roaring beauty entitled Purge. Having swapped out half their lineup since 2015’s Bully, the band has finally come out the other side with a slab of intensity that really is marking their second coming as significantly more powerful than their first. Previously I always felt the metal angle was a side to a more dominant punk rock influence – sometimes even more present visually than sonically, but printing shirts with Satan smoking bongs on them, while totally cool, does not exactly a metal band make. Pressing an album like Purge is what makes a band a metal band – you know, like metal metal.

Vocalist Karina Utomo has ascended to the next level of consistent brutality – footy neck bulge styles – while new guitarist, producer and vocalist Mike Deslandes comes out with a roaring surprise on the album’s closing track that not so much hints at, but straight up heralds a future even darker and more layered. Drawing more from Mastodon, Oathbreaker and Converge more than it does The Bronx, Shellac and Refused, Purge is something that has been crafted in a way that politely pays respect to the band’s past, but doesn’t care to give it a whole heap of service either. It doesn’t need to. This is the new shit and High Tension means it more than ever.

A week before that, Zeal & Ardor also released album number three, Stranger Fruit. The story behind this American/Swiss group is unusual – born in Manuel Gagneux’s bedroom out of a 4chan challenge, the realisation of black metal’s perfect union with negro spiritual music was one previously completely unheard of. It’s blacker than black metal by way of a genre crossover I don’t think anyone could have predicted. Album number three marks a couple of firsts for the band – they’re actually a band, and not just a bedroom project – and this album was recorded with real instruments with a real budget and a real mixing engineer (Kurt Ballou). The album is written to be timeless, and is an observation of racism in the USA. Yet the band doesn’t get bogged down in its own darkness – there is as much fun as there is sorrow chopped into this fruit salad.