Lars Gotrich

Note: NPR's Audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

After a series of traumatic psychological tests of his loyalty and honesty, a mad scientist tells a young boy in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, "Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted."

"What happened?"

"He lived happily ever after."

We're all gonna die...someday. And if there's mass extinction, what's left of humanity will face nature's wrath, stored in centuries of environmental abuse and neglect. With its second album Litany, Dead to a Dying World plays the soothsayer of the agricultural apocalypse, reaped in a searing and gorgeous vision of crust-punk, doom- and black-metal, with a viola's sorrowful folk melodies stringing it all together.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

You can be sad, but you don't have to be whiny. New Orleans' Woozy has a whole lot of feelings, but also a whole lot of not giving a damn. This appears to be the trio's M.O. on Blistered, its debut album after a few EPs and split releases. "Gilding The Lily" sounds like a Rainer Maria 45 spinning off-center; it's wobbly and weird, with a twin-guitar-and-vocal interplay that hesitates and jolts forward without missing a beat.

What is "T.O.D.D.," anyway? Taft On Double Dare? Totally Ontological Dungeons & Dragons? Totebag Offer, Done Deal? Taylor O))) Drone-Doom? Thurston's On-Deck Disaster? Thanks, ODB Dropped a Deuce?

Can we just take a moment to appreciate that there is a new Iron Maiden album in the world? That vocalist Bruce Dickinson kicked a cancerous tumor's ass? And that the British band still makes some of the most glorious heavy metal ever, 40 years later? Few artists have that longevity and consistency; and even fewer have refused to become a "legacy" act. But this is heavy metal, dammit, made to be played by gnarled bones and bodies.

Obnox exists in the static bleedthrough of punk and soul music. It's a place where Cleveland's Lamont "Bim" Thomas has spent decades dialing in deep and ripping off the knob in bands like Bassholes and This Moment In Black History. But with Obnox, Thomas lays himself bare in mind-numbing fuzz that doesn't forget the hook's the thing.

Heavy-metal album artwork can be transportive: You can depend on Paolo Girardi's mangled serpents and Kev Walker's mutant nightmares to guide you to metal mayhem that matches the cover.

PWR BTTM's vowel-less moniker boldly announces its intentions, with the power out front and the silliness below. The name's striking, Google-able, and helps Liv Bruce (drums/vocals) and Ben Hopkins (guitar/vocals) take control of their personal narrative. "As queer people, a lot of our lives are prescribed for us in terms of who we 'can' be in pop culture," Hopskins told Overblown.

Kowloon Walled City's bummer jams are bona fide: Just hit play and proceed to heave your body in sadness. But on its third album, Grievances, the San Francisco noise-rock band isn't always obvious in how it chooses to be heavy.

Maybe the name Ex-Breathers is a punk joke, like how in the '90s every zine and show flyer listed the former members of bands in parenthesis to help y'all keep track of the Page Six punk drama. It's just as well, because three years after their debut album, the Tallahassee punks almost sound like a different band, or at least an evolved one.

You are a werewolf. You are a cop. You ride a motorcycle. You need a bottle of cheap Canadian whiskey, a foxy lady at your side and a soundtrack that howls at the moon. You need Shooting Guns.

LANGUAGE ADVISORY: This song contains explicit language.

Diet Cig singer Alex Luciano shouldn't get away with a silly simile like, "And you know I'm scared / Like a third grader on a triple dog dare." Luciano curls her mouth around "triple dog dare" with a knowing grin/side-eye, and that's when you just can't help but root for Diet Cig.

In her autobiography, 14th century nun and Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila wrote of her encounter with an angel that thrust a "long spear of gold" into her heart: "The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.

When listeners aren't writing to NPR to comment on a story, they mostly just want to know what music was played between segments. We call those buttons or breaks or deadrolls, and they give a breath after reporting a tragedy, lighten the mood after you most definitely cried during StoryCorps, or seize a moment to be ridiculously cheeky. How could you not play Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" following a story about why women shiver in the office?

Sometimes it's just better from the war horse's mouth. Here's Hammercult's statement on "Rise Of The Hammer":

"Rise Of The Hammer" is really all about what Hammercult is about: Power, intensity and badassness! This is the first song on the Built For War album, which welcomes the listener to dive inside the unstoppable war-machine and join the ride as Heavy Metal conquers another milestone on its path! Chuck Norris ain't got s*** on Hammercult.

When you record on one of Scandinavia's largest pipe organs, the result damn well better be a thing of monstrous beauty and bombast. Anna von Hausswolff took her band and longtime producer Filip Leyman to the concert hall Acusticum in Piteå, Sweden, to work on her third album, The Miraculous. If the first single, "Come Wander With Me/Deliverance," is any indication, be prepared to meet thy blown-out, organ doom.

Deafheaven achieved a rare feat with 2013's Sunbather: The band became a legit metal crossover. Sunbather draws from black metal, but was also uplifting with its inventive guitar work and ecstatic sense of propulsion. The group has since moved from the Bay Area to L.A. and adopted a darker tone, as heard in "Brought To The Water," the lead track from New Bermuda.

Restorations' LP3 was a gorgeous, vulnerable and big-hearted rock and roll record with three electric guitars dialed to the lump in your throat. A year since its release, these introspective anthems about self-doubt and uncertainty still ring true and take on a whole new power live.

In 1998, Unwound was closing in on the height of its powers. Two years earlier, the Olympia band had released the career-defining Repetition, which dug into Unwound's weirder grooves with a muscle-constricting tension that, when released, made it feel as if the world was opening up. Challenge For A Civilized Society explored that mode with more studio experimentation, as the band added synths, saxophone and samples. The result was pulsing, ecstatic.

Gloom can be thrilling. No, really. Rev up a morose guitar riff swirled in reverb with a mean rhythm section, and suddenly a dank basement show throbs. That's where Cleveland's Pleasure Leftists thrive, with former members of the hardcore bands 9 Shocks Terror and Homostupids joined by vocalist Haley Morris.

After a series of singles and EPs, "Protection" comes from the post-punk band's debut album, The Woods Of Heaven. It's a moody, relentlessly driving track with some glammy, palm-muted flair, spun out of orbit by a warbly bass line and vocals that wail sky-high.

Look at the liner notes to any record by The Go-Betweens, and every song is co-credited "R. Forster/G. McLennan." Perhaps it was out of mutual respect, perhaps it was out of creative solidarity, but as with "Lennon/McCartney," fans of the Australian rock band could always tell who wrote what song; Grant McLennan and Robert Forster's distinct songwriting, vocal and guitar personalities were always on full display.

Sometimes rock 'n' roll can be a load of bull, gamed by release schedules, promotion cycles and Twitter beefs that turn as tepid as a beer left swimming in a swampy cooler all night. Featuring two guys who've been through the grind — Zak Sally played bass with Low in the '90s and Dale Flattum was in Steel Pole Bath Tub — and Gay Witch Abortion drummer Shawn Walker, The Hand has decided to cut through it all: no records, no tours, no studios, just dirty, full-throttle rock 'n' roll how they want it, when they want it.

A serene figure is suspended in what seems like nothingness, and evaporates into a dream world that creeps far too close to reality. The black space looks worn and decayed, as if clawed by nails.

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