Ludicra – The Tenant

Gray Matters
The making of Ludicra’s The Tenant

One of America’s first black metal bands was also one of its most adventurous. The Bay Area’s Ludicra carved a unique identity for themselves in that stylistically restrictive subgenre. These five crows left of the murder flew in the face of the genre’s conventions, culminating in their 2010 masterpiece, The Tenant.

Ludicra’s heresies include drawing inspiration from mental illness and urban alienation instead of majestic woods and Satanic malice. Employing sophisticated musicianship instead of keeping things primitive. Playing with progressive rock, traditional metal and hardcore punk instead of maintaining cvlt purity. Putting on ripping live shows instead of never performing. Dressing like art school dropouts instead of wearing corpsepaint and spikes. Rejecting gatekeeping machismo by having two women in the band—on lead vocal and guitar, no less.

The band’s deviant behavior was no contrivance. Instead, it stemmed organically from its members. Guitarist John Cobbett of Decibel Hall of Famers Hammers of Misfortune and drummer Aesop Dekker, later of Agalloch (also Hall of Famers), founded the band, but Ludicra was a collective of musicians with disparate influences: lead guitarist Christy Cather (then from death thrashers Missile Command), bassist Ross Sewage of gore metal staples Impaled and Exhumed, and punk vocalist Laurie Sue Shanaman of Tallow.

The quintet embodied the independent and free-thinking spirit of black metal while rejecting its aesthetics before doing so was commonplace, which alienated potential fans; Ludicra were beloved on the West Coast, but nationally underappreciated even as they honed their sound on three studio albums: Hollow Psalms, released on Dystopia’s Life is Abuse; and Another Great Love Song and Fex Urbis Lex Orbis, both via Jello Biafra’s punk-oriented Alternative Tentacles. Their talents came into full bloom in 2010 when the band released The Tenant on Profound Lore.

The Tenant is a double LP of funereal dirges and triumphant riffs uneasily rubbing up against each other like strangers on a crowded BART train. Songs like the barn-burning “Clean White Void” and rhythmic centerpiece “The Undercaste” showcase the Ludicrans’ undeniable chemistry, which earned them a modest but notable amount of critical acclaim on crossover outlets, including NPR. But that chemistry was also highly combustible. Following benighted tours of America and Europe, Ludicra publicly and contentiously disbanded in 2011, just as they were poised to break out to a larger audience.

“What if Ludicra never broke up?” remains one of metal’s great counterfactuals. USBM was about to enter its imperial phase, propelled by acts that replicated some (but never all) of Ludicra’s triumphs. The Tenant set the precedent for Deafheaven’s bitter daydreams, Panopticon’s working-class heroism and Liturgy’s unwillingness to color inside musical lines.

Ludicra reformed for a brief run of farewell gigs in 2022 and 2023, proving their stage prowess remains undimmed and confirming what NPR knew but gatekeeping dorks didn’t: The Tenant is one of black metal’s singular albums, one that we’re honored to induct into the Decibel Hall of Fame.

Need more classic Ludicra? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with the members who performed on The Tenant, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.