MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - June 2021
Welcome back to MetalBite's top 10, we've managed to keep this thing going for half a year now!
In a month where album releases typically start to pick up more, there wasn't a ton of mind-boggling stuff that came out (compared to May, anyways, and July looks to be stacked as well), but June was solid and consistent. Very little separated the "honorable mentions" from the later albums that placed in the top 10 on this one. Not a lot of stratospherically good releases, but definitely a ton of stuff that deserves an extra listen.
As is becoming standard for these lists, we've got Benjamin unearthing some hidden gems mostly from the realms of black and doom metal, Michael giving attention to the big-name veterans that can still bring it, and I've pieced it all together with whatever the hell I thought was good and scrambled the list to shit with my own personal biases. Woohoo!
Alustrium - A Monument to Silence
Unique Leader Records
This seems to be the next band up in the line of "technical riff buffet" groups that periodically get fellated on all the death metal groups I frequent on social media. They've a decade and two full albums worth of experience behind them, yet only now, after lurking in the shadows as a cult favorite for a while, are they making their label debut.
The slow, careful approach to notoriety seems to have worked in their favor, as A Monument to Silence gives vibes of Stortregn's newest album with the careful tact in the composition and seamless blending of a multitude of adjacent tech sounds. I hear Inferi and Psycroptic styled riffing, Fallujah's rhythmic feel, and Allegaeon's professional composition and structuring all working together. A Monument to Silence knows its audience like its route home from work, fine-tuning every note and idea to appeal to someone who spends 30% of their monthly budget on Artisan Era splatter vinyl.
This isn't the best tech-death to come out this year - the aforementioned Stortregn consistently had a lot more pop and “wow” factor throughout (not to mention less deathcore influence), and Archspire's new full length set to come out later this year will almost certainly blow both albums out of the water. Still, there's a lot to like about this if you dabble in noodles and sweeps. It's on a similar level to the Scalar Process full-length - not totally my thing, but I can objectively appreciate its quality and you should probably check it out because my taste is garbage anyways.
Nephren-Ka - From Agony to Transcendence
Uncompromising, violent brutal death metal that has a certain technical efficiency to it, with lyrical themes based off of science fiction classic Dune by Frank Herbert which is a nice change of pace for those of you that care about that kind of stuff.
Had the pleasure of doing a track premiere for this album, so read that for more info if you care...or just listen to the track below if you don't.
Code - Flyblown Prince
Dark Essence Records
Despite Venom coining the name of the genre with their seminal 1982 album of the same name, the UK black metal scene has rarely been among the world's most prolific. What it has lacked in quantity, however, it has frequently made up for in quality, with bands such as Anaal Nathrakh and Winterfylleth consistently putting out high calibre material over a long period of time. Perhaps due to geographical isolation, perhaps due to innate contrarianism, there is also a tendency for UK bands to operate at the more avant-garde end of the spectrum, with the likes of Meads Of Asphodel and Axis Of Perdition both taking what can be a sonically conservative genre into unusual places, rather than slavishly imitating their Scandinavian peers. Code fit neatly into this lineage. Although connected to the stranger elements of the second-wave, via their prior associations with Dodheimsgard and Ulver, they have succeeded in forging a sound very much of their own; strongly rooted in black metal, but expanding into more progressive realms across their back catalogue.
Flyblown Prince marks the band's return to a more extreme sound, having explored post-rock textures on their previous album Mut, although it feels less a self-conscious return to the roots, and more indicative of a desire to apply what the band have learned from their nomadic wanderings to the metallic core that has always remained at the dark heart of what they do. Across the album as a whole, Code treat the listener to plenty of variety, but many of Flyblown Prince's best moments come when the band lock into the kind of twisted, off-kilter black metal of the title track. This particular song opens the album, and sets the tone with a knowingly disjointed sound, coupling grating, dissonant chord voicings and nauseating harmonies with more conventional mid-paced chugging riffs in a way that recalls latter-day Mayhem and Marduk. At times, Flyblown Prince is a little too polite and restrained, and this prevents it from quite attaining the heights that it strives for, but that is not say there are not plenty of high points - the elegiac gothic melodicism of 'From The Next Room' is spellbinding, and the magnificent eleven-minute closer, 'The Mad White Hair', proves just how good Code can be when they get everything right, leaving the listener with the deep imprint of a strong album that will only grow in stature with each listen.
Desaster - Churches Without Saints
Metal Blade Records
The ninth studio album of the Koblenz black thrashers doesn't reinvent anything, but if you're a fan already, you weren't expecting that and won't be disappointed. As usual, the quartet around Infernal Kuschke never stops thrashing through 46 minutes of playing time, although in-depth listens will reveal some small changes. The sound is a bit dirtier, no longer as polished as it was on previous albums. In addition, the band revisits their roots and lets some classic metal influences flow into their songs. With these tweaks, Churches without Saints becomes more of a grower, but it gets better with every listen. 'Exile is Imminent' and 'Endless Awakening' should carry away every fan of the first hour and also the other songs know how to convince.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Lord Mortvm - Diabolical Omen Of Hell
With its striking red sleeve, Lord Mortvm's debut album Diabolical Omen Of Hell raises hopes of an atavistic, Satanic experience, even before a single note is played. Unmercifully, once the lengthy film sample has concluded, we are confronted with a delightfully primitive slice of blackened doom. The star of the show is the disgustingly thick and full guitar tone, pregnant with malevolence, the sonic equivalent of lava gradually snaking its way down a mountain enshrouded by impenetrable mist, which is almost enough to start heads nodding, even before the insidiously catchy nature of the riffs themselves are revealed. First-track 'Altar Obscene' is imbued with a stately, ritualistic feel which brings to mind Iron Monkey covering something from Beherit's Drawing Down The Moon, and although the remainder of the album displays Lord Mortvm's ability to add serious swing and groove to their infernal mix, there is an occult, unsettling vibe that remains throughout, separating the Norwegians from approaching the more hackneyed end of stoner-metal.
Where that sub-genre revels in the chilled-out hippie vibes of the billowing marijuana cloud, Lord Mortvm are the paranoid flipside of the drug experience, stepping through the doors of perception to find that what lies on the other side is not Gaia, but instead Dante's most psychedelic imaginings. They are Altamont to Bongzilla's Woodstock, the idealist's peaceful protest crushed by the violent punishment of the state's most brutal purveyors of rough justice. The most obvious touchpoint is Electric Wizard, and there are undoubtedly several similarities between the two bands, not least the surrendering of any pretence at development and progression at the altar of hypnotic repetition, and vocalist (and indeed sole member) Lord Mortvm's sardonic rasp, which sounds like a black metal take on Jus Osborn's baleful wail. There is something more despairing about Lord Mortvm's approach though, as if they are determined to reveal through their art the true depravity and irredeemable nature of mankind. If Electric Wizard hate you, Lord Mortvm hate everybody. Diabolical Omen Of Hell is a wonderfully filthy introduction to a band who will hopefully continue to plumb the depths as they devolve.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
9: Siderean - Lost On Void's Horizon
Edged Circle Productions
Cerebral, slightly dissonant Slovenian prog death that has hints of thrash and avant-garde interspersed in. Originally existing for 10 years as Teleport, they've decided to rebrand for their debut full length. It's more eerie than it is aggressive, with the foggy production giving the foreground elements less immediate force. The upside of this, however, is it allows the Ved Buens Ende-styled bass and vaguely Voivod-esque weirdness to subtly integrate into some intricate and intriguing riffwork. I'm not entirely sure what the vibe is supposed to be here, but what I do know is that Siderean is able to create music that makes me feel something - even moreso than worthy contemporaries such as Horrendous and Cryptic Shift.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
8: Cathexis - Untethered Abyss
Had the pleasure of premiering a song off this album earlier this month, and no, I didn't take a bribe to write that - I really do like Untethered Abyss a lot, so I'm giving it some extra love here. There's not a lot I can say that I didn't already write there, but what I will reiterate is that this is for sure a grower type of album. The first listen, it won't sound like much, but by maybe the second or third spin you'll realize something is Actually Going On. Once you've given yourself some time to get familiar with the melodies, it's all gravy from there and everything is full of surprises.
PS: Man, if only I got paid to write this stuff...in case anyone was curious I am 100% unethical and will absolutely take your money if you'd like me to say your band is cool. You can even have the top spot if you want, I'm cheap and easy.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.9/10
7: Fear Factory - Aggression Continuum
Let's leave all the monkey business aside and concentrate on what really matters with Fear Factory - the music. It's really strong! Even if the vocals of Burton C. Bell were already recorded in 2017 and the instrumental parts were added later, it all sounds fresh and cohesive. The opener 'Recode' brings the hammers and the album stays convincing in the later songs. The band creates an oppressive atmosphere that feels like the Terminator himself is standing right in front of your door. Burton's vocals bring back memories of blissful Demanufacture times, the riffs, drums and synthesizers go out and leave nothing on the table - should Aggression Continuum be the swan song of the band, this is a worthy (musical) farewell.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
6: Thy Catafalque - Vadak
Season of Mist
Everyone's favorite Hungarian weirdo is back, with another album of genre-defying, perplexingly entrancing avant-garde metal that rows in the same free, untethered plains (with a melodic touch) that bands like Sigh and Arcturus operate in. Tangentially related to extreme metal by a trail of breadcrumbs, at this point it's a refined formula, being their tenth full-length and third album in four years in an oddly prolific spurt.
This is a good album for those of you that really liked the vibe of Imaginary Soniscape: lots of vibrant, psychedelic brass instruments and synthesizers up front, jazzy, maybe even flamenco-inspired rhythms incorporated into a prog rock structure, and a ton of other twists that would take way too many obfuscating words to describe. Whatever it is, it's all good, with a host of guest musicians adding their own enhancements to the wonderful world of Tamás Kátai.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
5: Eye of Purgatory - The Lighthouse
Transcending Obscurity Records
Rogga Johansson has a lot of projects, and I'll be the first to say that some of them leave you feeling like a bit more time could have been spent refining and expanding upon the ideas. I was slightly more compelled to listen to this based on the seal of approval from Transcending Obscurity, who (as I have mentioned multiple times in these top 10s) have a keen ear for quality across a surprisingly wide range of metal genres. It was enough to get me to listen to the title track once out of curiosity, and that was all it took.
It wasn't immediate - a passing glance suggested no major differences, it's still Swedish death metal with predictable chorus-focused song structures, but then the main riff from 'The Lighthouse' was stuck in my head for like a week. I could not get this thing out of my head. I thought it was just a fluke, and then I listened a bit further and then the main riff from 'Carved in a Stone Bleeding' got stuck in my head for another week.
The Lighthouse hooks like it's broke, starving and at a party full of billionaires. Holy sweet shit this is catchy. Turns out all Rogga needed to make a memorable album was inserting insanely infectious melodic death melodies that staple themselves to your brain. He manages to pull it off on at least three or four songs for sure, and the ones that aren't ridiculously hooky are solidified by the prolific mastermind's consistent riffing.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
4: Sxuperion - Auscultating Astral Monuments
Bloody Mountain Records
Sxuperion is a one-man journey into the void that grows inside your heart. Each song is a short yet monolithic shrine to the great Nothing, with torrential drums and vicious, meditative riffing the only human reference point for the endlessly uncaring entropy that is the great beyond. There's nothing of true enjoyment here, but you'll manage a great deal of self exploration once you see what lurks beneath the Blasphemy-tinged surface. I'd like to stop now and just link the album, because the more words you use to describe Sxuperion, the less they make sense. Get in.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
3: Winter Eternal - Land Of Darkness
If Code have provided this month's most enticing progressive black metal album, Winter Eternal offer a timely reminder of the virtues of the orthodox second-wave sound, making virtually no concessions to the development of the genre since 1995, instead providing a compelling lesson in the value of playing to one's strengths, as well as offering something of a salute to the golden age of black metal. Indeed, so much time has now passed since the genre's inception, that a solid orthodox album that totally eschews shoegaze, churning dissonance, or layers of electronic glitches is in some respects refreshing, and at least offers an alternative to the well-worn classics that so many of us return to so often in order to bask in the nostalgic glow of simpler and less-commodified times. It's no surprise to see that Land Of Darkness is released on Hell's Headbangers, for so long a bulwark against the adulteration of a perfection already achieved, and Winter Eternal fit perfectly into their storied roster.
The band hail from Greece, and although it is possible to identify elements of the classic Hellenic sound that has seeped, perhaps unconsciously, into their attack, Land Of Darkness more frequently bears the hallmarks of Swedish and Finnish black metal, generally favoring the melodic feel of folky melodies transplanted to intense tremolo riffs, as opposed to the more frostbitten feel of the Norwegian school. Much more Dawn than Darkthrone, Sacramentum rather than Satyricon, the numerous classic metal flourishes that are used to connect one riff or section to another are reminiscent of the way in which Dissection brought the harmonic sense of melodic death metal to bear on their relentlessly catchy black metal. Winter Eternal are, unsurprisingly, not quite in the elite class of Jon Nodtveidt's anti-cosmic crew, but on stand-out tracks such as 'The Elusive Wings Of Death' they evoke similar emotions of majesty and might, and get close enough to the essence of their forebears, while adding enough creative touches of their own (the sorrowful strings on 'Crown Of Stars', for example), to escape the notion that they are simply a high-fidelity facsimile of a time now past. With Land Of Darkness, Winter Eternal might just be this year's Havukruunu, reinforcing once more the possibilities that still lie in strident melodic black metal, and keeping the flame burning strong into the long, dark night.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
2: Darkthrone - Eternal Hails
The 19th (!) studio album of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto sounds like I expected it to sound - namely, completely different from the other albums. As always, Eternal Hails brings some changes. I notice the somewhat weak production, but I assume that this was intended. The five tracks here are very different and interesting, but often have a more dragging pace. The main influences that have found their way onto the album this time are more of a heavy/doom metal style: Black Sabbath, Manilla Road, some Celtic Frost. In 'Wake of the Awakened' I also hear a bit of their own death metal past when I listen to the gloomy keyboard passage.
Darkthrone doesn't return to their glory days with Eternal Hails, but it's also nowhere near as disappointing as the "Metalpunk era" albums. Those who liked Arctic Thunder and Old Star will not be disappointed here. A solid album that is not suitable for casual listening.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
1: Passeisme - Eminence
French back metal...from Russia? A handful of artists have adopted this more recent quirk of taking the language and aesthetics from another culture in a benevolent appropriation of sorts - the Finnish KYPCK and Canadian Цар Стангра did it with Russia themselves, US-based Kostnatění does it with Czech, and, well, I guess Eastern Europeans got sick of other bands ripping off the quirks of their homeland's music, and it looks like they chose to counter in the form of exuberant, quasi-medieval black metal.
Eminence has a certain archaic nature to its flow, sharing many common traits with folk metal but somehow arriving at a different endpoint, sort of like how Forefather insists on calling themselves "Medieval metal". Its sound is fresh specifically because it is able to take melodies that feel familiar and re-work them into invigorating modern blackened textures, and the new context gives a completely different angle to appreciate everything from. It hits you right away and always feels like it's got another joyous trick up its sleeve to reveal to you. June was overall a month with a lot of decent to very good albums but very little that rose above the crop, and this was one of the few surprises out of nowhere that has a certain fresh allure to it I'll be coming back to for months, if not years.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.6/10
And that's half a year of Top 10s in the books! If you missed out on all the earlier editions of this and want to catch up, here's the earlier ones archived for your reading and/or listening pleasure. Remember, you can never bite off more metal than you can chew!