The last time I went to see Oakland metal hellions High on Fire play live, I marveled not only at the way the trio's deft, deafening songs flew out of the speakers like RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades, role-playing games . . . either way works) and nearly obliterated my skull, but also at the diversity of the capacity crowd—dirtbag heshers with Venom back patches, shaggy indie hipsters, white-hatted frat boys, goth princesses, and even one AARP headbanger (no joke)—delighting in the sonic deathblows. Why does everyone and their grandmother dig metal so much these days? Probably because there are few auditory experiences as primal and enjoyable as having a monstrous riff come along and rip your face off. If you're with me on this, you'll love the bulk of this 76-minute compilation of rare and unreleased material from 18 currently operational outfits. Aside from the nine minutes of sub-Mogwai instrumental shoegazerism by Pelican (the disc's longest track), there's not much "thinking man's metal" here—unless by "thinking" you mean wondering how much beer, weed, dungeon mastering, and staring at Sabbath gatefolds went into the recording sessions. The no-bullshit legacy of Ozzy and co. hangs like thick, sweet smoke over most of Invaders, from the crushing stomp of Saviours' opening "Circle of Servants Bodies" to Big Business' pummeling "As the Day Was Dawning" to the Sword's deliciously evil "Under the Boughs." Helium-vocaled doom-sludge saga "Rip Van Winkle," from Witch (which features Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis on drums), and Witchcraft's "Queen of Bees (Live)"—a track that sounds like "War Pigs," "Paranoid," and "Iron Man" playing simultaneously—are Completely Fucking Ridiculous, which of course makes them Completely Fucking Great. Let 'er rip! MICHAEL ALAN GOLDBERG
Unlike most of their freak-folk brethren, whose embrace of noise and texture seems to indicate a distrust of sonic tranquility born from years spent toiling in reactionary punk scenes, Philadelphia's Espers harbor no angst over the manufacture of lovely music. The sextet's second full-length (and first for Drag City), II is a dense thicket of plucked and strummed acoustic instruments; without real exception, the songs are carefully calibrated drones neatly overlaid with the mellow murmurs of ringleader Greg Weeks and his two left-hand ladies, Meg Baird and Brooke Sietinsons. That said, though they take stylistic cues from late-'60s/early-'70s folkies such as Nick Drake and Fairport Convention, these contented outsiders don't appear to be concerned with fitting into a world ruled by pop. Hooks are where you find them, and often not even there; for Espers, the purity of atmosphere outweighs all else. MIKAEL WOOD
Voices From the Frontline
Back when it was still possible to pretend rap wasn't pop product, its advocates often trotted out the "black CNN" argument or the slightly less dignified "folk document like the blues." How artists communicated these experiences paled in comparison to the fact that they communicated them at all, as style took a backseat to raw reportage. This helped give credibility to the genre but made it hard to call garbage "garbage." Voices From the Frontline revisits this paradox, with perhaps even more on the line. You want to support the troops, especially those who might have been without any other options, but these 12 tracks just aren't particularly good. Miss Flame's "Girl at War" and Q and Amp's "When I Get Home" express unfamiliar perspectives on the military life, albeit in the form of otherwise subgeneric radio fodder. It makes me feel terrible to diss Q and Amp's "Rest in Peace" as "warmed-over dead homiez clichés," or point out that the album's production comes off as simultaneously chintzy, amateurish, and clueless, but there's a limit to how much slack one man can cut. If I'm going to listen to a record about war, it should be evocative as well as informative. Anyone looking to get a soldier's story in hip-hop form without having to surrender their taste should check out last year's bracing Live From Iraq, which makes you feel at war while you're learning all about it. NATHANIEL FRIEDMAN
(5 Rue Christine)
Sunbomber's recording took exactly the amount of time it takes to hear it once. Luckily for Brooklyn's noise/improv quartet Excepter, their real-time weirdness is worthy of album status and repeated listens, if the sound of fraying electronic ends programmed by post-hippie freak children is your thing. "Second Chances" is some cool Kompakt records–style ponky-ponk, so drugged-out it dances along like a creep show from funky art-noisers the Liars, not noticing the house lights are up and everyone else went home. The penny whistle, elevator bells, and industrial sputter sound of "Dawn Patrol" is better because former No Neck Blues Band vocalist John Fell Ryan manages not to slobber ghoulishly all over it, which is what ruins the otherwise slow-burning brilliant title track. Listen past him and into the din, then next time focus on his wordless imping. This is the only control you'll have over Excepter's meandering and ragged glory, and the only control you'll need. DAPHNE CARR
Excepter play the Sunset Tavern, 5433 Ballard Ave., 206-784-4880, www.sunsettavern.com. $7. 9 p.m. Thurs., May 18.