Nate's Top 10 Albums of the Month - February 2021
It's back! In contrast to January, where I found myself searching for 10 albums worthy of making the list, February was exceptionally deep and I found myself trimming albums that would have easily made the cut last month. Also, be sure to check out my recent EP Round-up for more bite-sized recent things to check out. Anyways, on to what you're actually here for!
10: Swampbeast - Seven Evils Spawned of Seven Heads
This scratched a bit of my genre-fusing riff itch that Wake's new album had me craving since last year. Very interesting mix of sludge, black, death, doom and maybe even a bit of hardcore? Each section is rife with its own form of clawing dissonance and seething anger. The unpredictability comes at the expense of a bit of natural groove, and it feels as though the band is still playing with their sound a bit to see what hits and what misses. That ends up making it sound a tad uneven, but it also contributes to the unhinged, shall we say...swampbeast-y nature of this. I could see it appealing to fans of modern hardcore-tinged death metal like Gatecreeper and Nails, or perhaps something a bit more blackened a la Sunlight's Bane. It's quite hard to pin down, and I flip-flop between thinking this album is amazing and just alright, but that's just because it's got a lot of interesting stuff going on that's going to take a while for me to digest. 7.5/10
9: The Scalar Process - Coagulative Matter
Tech death is in vogue right now, and it seems as though Transcending Obscurity Records is making a bid to get a piece of the pie for themselves with recent releases by artists such as Coexistence and Hateful - and now we can add The Scalar Process to that list. The closest comparable to these French wankmeisters is fellow countrymen Gorod, with some efficient, off-timed riffing making up the more involved verses, but there's also a jazzy, ethereal element in the interludes that sounds closer to something like Augury or later-era Beyond Creation. Some songs like "Mirror Cognition" focus almost completely on drawing you into this mysterious haze with free-form guitar leads and keyboard effects surrounding them. There's a ton of detours and jarring shifts into climactic opposites not unlike Warforged, and it's rare for the band to stick to a motif for longer than 30 seconds at a time. Simply put, there's a lotta shit goin' on.
Sometimes this album feels too pieced together and I find myself wishing they hung on to certain riffs for just a little bit longer before switching it up, but the transitions and songwriting has been done with enough care that it works most of the time. This didn't quite blow me away like some other tech-death albums did this month, but because of the sheer complexity of the material it's very possible this could grow on me and inch further up this list as time goes on. 7.5/10
8: Ablaze My Sorrow - Among Ashes and Monoliths
What would a best of list of mine be without a little 90s nostalgia? When it came time to pick the throwback band for this list, I was torn between including this album and local Dissection-y riffmeisters Malice Divine, but ended up leaning towards this one because as much as I enjoy the Swedish meloblack sound, I would be lying if I said I didn't spend more time listening to old In Flames albums when I was younger. Everything up until Clayman I still have a pretty massive soft spot for, and Ablaze My Sorrow aren't even just a modern imitator - they're literally a third-stringer from the 90s Swedish melodeath scene itself, releasing some solid albums that were too late to be foundational and too standard for the style to turn into buried classics. Maybe their corny name prevented them from rising above the pack? I dunno though, I wouldn't put it past any scene that can make a band named Dark Tranquillity famous.
Anyways, they reformed after some time of inactivity, and Among Ashes and Monoliths is a slick, well-rounded work that gives me that same infectious, riffy pop metal feel that Whoracle does. Ablaze My Sorrow doesn't have to worry about sounding like a shameless throwback between they just ease into a natural continuation of their style. Sometimes the chrouses feel almost too corny or obvious, but the other 90% of the time you don't even care that you feel like you already know the songs after hearing them once. 7.7/10
7: Colossus - Degenesis
This is like being force-fed a razor blade shaped pill of riffs until you choke on your own blood. It's incredibly claustrophobic, unrelenting and even the downtempo moments are full of walking bass lines and steady drum footwork. The unusually not-distorted low-end has a full, hearty plunk, and Steven Chavez shows flashes of real dexterity on songs like "Iniquitous Macrocosm". At times, this feels like the US brutal death metal interpretation of Desecravity, a Japanese band who have similar goals of making tech-death as obtuse and inaccessible as possible through maximalism and complexity mixed with brute aggression. I'll admit I often have trouble making it through the full album, it's that over-stimulating - but it's a hell of a ride while it's on, with very few moments to breathe or comprehend what's even happening. 7.7/10
6: The Amenta - Revelator
I'll admit this isn't my usual can of worms - I'm not typically partial to the Scarve/Gojira/Fear Factory brand of clinical, suffocating industrial metal, but then again The Amenta are far from a typical industrial metal band. There's much more emphasis on the riffs, and a distinctly eerie atmosphere created by a keyboardist who hates the instrument and wants to defy the conventions of the genre as much as possible.
Not only that, but they never write the same album twice, and Revelator showcases the band venturing into textures that do strip some of the raw heaviness and aggression of the band's early work away at times, but also open up new, unsettling paths for The Amenta to venture down. They took a big leap of faith with this one, and it's possible they may alienate a few fans in the old guard, but regardless, there's a lot going on here that snaps you back to attention. The keyboards carry the brunt of the load on this album and are surprisingly effective in doing so. In addition, everything is elevated by a vocal performance that has the versatility of Benighted's Julien Truchan, and a surgically precise drum performance that covers a lot of different textures and themes with ease - not many other than the all-world Dave Haley that could pull off an album like this. And this is just one of his side projects! 8.2/10
5: Ad Nauseam - Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
I originally dismissed this album as "Ulcerate lite" because that was what their first album felt like for me, but by the second or third listen I realized how short-sighted that was. Fact is, Ulcerate's venturing into a more melodic direction at this point, whereas the heavier influences in Ad Nauseam's music are drawn more from the Of Fracture and Failure era with the dry, hollow feel to the faster grinding parts. Lots of sudden flailing and dissonant tremolos merged with a warped sense of melody that makes it plausible to the human ear. This was apparently recorded with no click track or quantization, which is a rarity nowadays, and it's a huge factor in the natural warmth and balance in the sound. You can hear the plunky, abstruse bass with ease, and no one element feels like it's overtaking the mix. Before this album I had Ad Nauseam relegated to the level of second or third tier dissodeath bands that I don't listen to very often, but Imperative Imperceptible Impulse feels like the band had a revelation, discovered their identity, and then spent 6 years fine-tuning exactly what they wanted the finished product to sound like. I feel almost unqualified to comment on this or rate it anywhere in the list because I've had the promo for this for over a month, have listened to it a bunch of times, and am constantly finding my attention caught by something else with every new go-around. 8.2/10
4: Empyrium - Uber den Sternen
Didn't see this coming! I've been an Agalloch fanboy for years, and I never got into Empyrium much, despite them being one of the biggest influences to my all-time favorite band. I liked what I heard, but some of the songs were too scattered and disparate to fuse their way into my ears the same way early-era Ulver and Alcest did without hesitation. Nowadays, though, I'm sitting here grieving the loss of Agalloch (and the two hydra heads that came out of it, Pillorian and Khorada, also both apparently inactive) so I'll take whatever opportunity I can to lap up a new release from something in the same vein.
I've got some catching up to do now, because Uber den Sternen is brilliant. The acoustic guitar immediately sends shivers down your spine with its haunting, organic beauty, conjuring up images of lush forestry with twisting vines. It takes up a majority of the album - in a reversal of the norm, the lush, folk-tinged doom metal element is the garnish rather than the primary ingredient, with much more emphasis placed on drawing out the atmosphere. This is why it took me so long to full appreciate what Empyrium is going for - their power doesn't grasp you right away with its majesty and grandeur, the magic slithers in under the radar after you've had this on in the background for 20 minutes and find yourself zoning out into another dimension. This band has finally grown on me, and now I have to go dive into their entire back catalogue to hear what I've been missing. 8.4/10
3: The Ruins of Beverast - The Thule Grimoires
I wrote a super-detailed retrospective of The Ruins of Beverast earlier this month, so I'll just quote an excerpt from that, otherwise I'd just be paraphrasing myself:
"the idiosyncratic spice in The Thule Grimoires is the quasi-gothic vibe that gives a somber, depressing catchiness to the music, like World Coming Down-era Type O Negative stretched and distorted by an unsettling acid experience. There are more frequent uses of low baritones that do their best Peter Steele impression, and the harsh vocals have a choppiness and speed in their delivery during the more aggressive sections that seems to be a new element von Meilenwald is experimenting with.
Where Exuvia was dense, all-encompassing, and overflowing with different layers, The Thule Grimoires is warmer, emptier, and plays with the space in the songs more, despite this feeling like a shorter album. It's not – it's still over an hour long – but something about the way this is written makes it feel more concise. Two decades of songwriting experience means von Meilenwald knows when to pick up the pace, and when to slow things down once the intensity of the more aggressive moments begins to fade. In addition, normally I'd be scoffing at a band that suddenly tried to include a more gothic element to their music, but this album shows he got it perfect on the first try, seamlessly weaving in a strange influence where most others would fall short. With a more matured production quality, this may be the band's most accessible album yet without sacrificing any of the uniquely eerie qualities that older fans will look for."
2: Ominous Ruin - Amidst Voices that Echo in Stone
I miss the salad shooter California tech death style from the mid 2000s so much. I still regularly spin my old Decrepit Birth, Severed Savior and Odious Mortem albums, patiently waiting for something new that has the same crazy riff kaleidoscopes and slick, tasty grooves. Modern tech death doesn't quite scratch the same itch as the flagship bands have started to tinker and move in different directions, so it's up to some relatively unknown local homies to step up to the plate and rip some dingers, and Ominous Ruin does just that. Every single musician is on their A game with this debut full length, and it's a hell of a ride that I delve into in more detail here, so I'll keep it short and sweet: This bangs. Hard. 8.7/10
1: Suffering Hour - The Cyclic Reckoning
Believe every last word of hype about this one. My god, those RIFFS. In Passing Ascension was already amazing and it had me super hyped for this, but this is Suffering Hour coming into their own and ramping up the little quirks that make their sound unique and cool to the absolute fucking maximum. It's got even more standout melodies, with an anthemic, almost folk metal-styled influence to some moments, and the little dissonant bends that dragged you into maelstroms of discordant notes now create entire little groove sections. Suffering Hour takes the near-impossible-to-pull-off style of "melodic dissonance" only attempted by more high-minded, "intellectual" artists a la Blut Aus Nord, Ulcerate and The Chasm, and somehow inserts it into a formula that makes you headbang like crazy. The Cyclic Reckoning mixes sophistication with savagery like no other modern band does. It's refreshingly original, surprisingly fun to listen to, and sucks you into its atmosphere immediately. This isn't just my album of the month, it's a very strong Album of the Year contender right out of the gate. 9.2/10
Tech death reigned supreme this month, with minimum 4/10 albums on the list being in that subgenre - maybe it's just what I'm into lately? I have a feeling future months will be more heavy on some odder and more ambient stuff, as I've already been gearing up for releases by Mare Cognitum, Non Serviam and Sepulcros, to name but a few.
Thanks for tuning in, be sure to support any of the bands in this article that you like, and make sure to suggest anything you think I missed!