MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - July 2021
Despite life seemingly throwing everything it possibly could at me to prevent this month's write-up from being finished, the Top 10 for July is here and there's some real gems in this one.
After a somewhat middling June, this month was filled with surprising standout releases, but there was a sharp drop in quality once you got past the cream. My theory is there's a bit of what I call a "summer lull": since this is typically the time bands would spend focusing on touring before a surge or releases comes out in September/October so they can make everyone's year-end list, fewer albums are put out from June-August.
Not that it really matters here at MB HQ - we've always got more metal for you to bite (ha ha ha aren't I clever), and there's more than a dozen albums here that are more than worth your time. Comrades Michael and Benjamin came in clutch for this one and covered a bunch of stuff that wasn't even on my radar.
Now, let's get on to what you're here for!
Drawn And Quartered - Congregation Pestilence
I've always thought D&Q was an incredibly underrated band in the death metal spectrum, especially considering how much Immolation gets praised and how similar the motifs are that they use, just with some extra speed and more attention paid to the extreme ends of tempo. Where Immolation churn through shifting rhythms that snake and stutter into each other, never absurdly slow or fast, Drawn and Quartered are either blitzing your brain with blasting or dragging you through pinch harmonics at a crawl Congregation Pestilence is another album that fiddles a bit with the knobs and refines and plays with the band's now-signature sound to create a couple of riff juggernauts, a couple of songs that drown you in a tar pit, and a few things in between.
Vomit Ritual - Callous
Callous didn't really make sense at first. It's got a more streamlined and stripped-down delivery, which you don't expect from dudes wearing Black Witchery shirts. Even with the surface aesthetic feeling like a fusion of Blasphemy-styled war metal and death/doom, There's a backbone of monotone, heavy-handed influence that brings Fuming Mouth-styled modern metalcore to mind. The drummer in particular seems allergic to really fast tempos, preferring a more straightforward approach, even when the occasional blast beat or double-kick pattern makes its way in. He likes to emphasize the snare and isn't big on fills.
For some inexplicable reason, it works - and with an approach that other bands typically bore me with. There's something special in the intangibles of this. The magic is not in the material itself, but the execution. Jerry Whiting doesn't have a lot of other mixing credits to his name (that I'm aware of), but something about the way everything is constantly forced to the front hits different. Vomit Ritual has the kind of singular power that makes them the envy of more primitive extreme metal bands - they can do more with two notes than most bands can do with ten.
Brilliant Coldness - The Ultimate Dream Plan B: The Disposal Of Humanity
Dead Center Productions
I'm pleased to see that Neuraxis didn't split up...they just moved to the Ukraine! Brilliant Coldness has all the mechanical grinding, start-stop grooves, and subtle melodic sensibilities that defined the Quebecois group, with some Martyr-esque yelling adding on a bit more plagiarism of the best tech-death scene in the world. There aren't many high points, just intricate and well-composed songs that are always technical with a purpose and never obfuscate in excess.
It's been 15 years since Brilliant Coldness put out a new album, and you can hear it. The Ultimate Dream Plan B has that feeling like a ton of these riffs were written way back in the mid-00s, because nothing else that came out this year gives me that "classic brutal death metal" feeling like this does, save for maybe Ominous Ruin. Brilliant Coldness has even more of that dry, clinical production quality, mostly a product of the rubbery bass tone. The benefit of these ideas feeling like they're a decade old, is they also sound incredibly refined, crisp and flow more with their specific, focused calculation.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Hexenklad - Heathenheart
Any time I get the chance to promote the Civilian Death Network, I'm going to do so, because they're one of the longest-running extreme metal labels from my neck of the woods. However, even with a solid overall roster, they put out music that's outside the realm of what I would want to listen to or cover. They release a lot of slam, and that's more of an occasional spice on my listening plate rather than the main ingredient. When they do pick something outside of their comfort zone to give the seal of approval, though, chances are it really smokes.
That long preamble is to make this point: regardless of any inherent favoritism I may have for CDN, Hexenklad kicks ass. I would have been blown away by this no matter how I discovered them. I don't remember being as floored by their debut - time and maturity have refined the band's production values and allowed them to add several exuberant flourishes to their sound, with some despondent melodies creeping their way into a Viking metal-laden surface only to surge into upwards storms of powerful riffing. At times, it overflows to the brim with busy vocal lines, spacious keyboards and triumphant melodies, but this group of Ontarians know the right times to dial it back into sublime contemplation. If this album doesn't put Hexenklad on the folk metal map, I have no idea what will.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.9/10
9: Felled - The Intimate Earth
Transcending Obscurity Records
I swear, every single one of these lists has at least one Transcending Obscurity release on it, and not only that, it's a different genre each time. We've had vicious black/death metal (Crypts of Despair), funeral doom metal (Sepulcros), melodic death metal (Eye of Purgatory), and now we can add Agalloch-styled folk/black/doom.
The first thing you'll notice with Felled is that warm, resonant violin and how it seems to be the main thing driving the song. It's frequently, if not almost entirely, used as the lead instrument and the guitars function as the melodic skeleton. The drums feel oddly light for the style, but eventually your ears adjust and it enhances the foresty vibe. You get the feeling this band is made up of people who hand-weave their clothes and wouldn't mind living in the middle of the woods. The contributions from seasoned, versatile bassist Isamu Sato add depth in a unique way - this isn't a style known for bass players standing out, and he somehow still pulled it off. The band doesn't have a massive range of motion, preferring to slowly build and draw on their established atmosphere, but that isn't a concern because this is a debut album and it's better that they gave their initial mission statement a cohesive sound and a clear focus.
In a year where the only bands that put out "Agalloch metal" were the established veterans (Empyrium, The Flight of Sleipnir) it's comforting for me to see some fresh blood keeping my favorite subgenre afloat - hailing from Agalloch's home state of Oregon, no less!
MetalBite's Rating: 7.9/10
8: Galvanizer - Prying Sight of Imperception
Everlasting Spew/Me Saco Un Ojo
We already premiered this disgustingly rifftastic full album last week right here at MetalBite, so go over there if you want to read more in-depth rambling. This is just your reminder to check it out if you haven't already!!!
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
7: Diabolizer - Khalkedonian Death
Istanbul is not exactly be a hotbed of modern death metal (or pre-modern death metal for that matter), and Diabolizer is the kind of generic name that mediocre bands have saddled themselves with since time immemorial, so it's fair to say that the supreme quality of their debut album caught this listener completely off-guard. Closer inspection of the band's heritage reveals sometime membership of both Hyperdontia and Burial Invocation, and Diabolizer are not doing anything drastically different to either of those bands, spewing forth a moderately technical, but still catchy version of death metal that has its roots in both the Floridian explosion of the early 1990s, and the European (but not Scandinavian) sound of the early 2000s typified by Vomitory, Sinister and Demigod-era Behemoth. Labyrinthine song structures switch between syncopated eighth-note E-string chugging and flurries of higher register guitar figures, with tempos frequently switching from a mid-paced battery to thrashy speed. Superb songs such as 'Cloaked In An Aura Of Madness' also recall both Slayer and Deicide, with staccato riffing and sinister harmonies abounding, all coalescing into an authentically dark and dank atmosphere, dripping with horror.
While there's nothing particularly revolutionary happening here, Khalkedonian Death is never less than compelling, and shows enough flashes of ingenuity and individualism throughout it's savage duration to retain the listener's interest - the haunting arpeggios that loom shadow-like over the churning maelstrom of what might be their calling card, 'Bringers Of Khalkedonian Death' for example, or the almost blackened chromaticism of the conclusion to 'Perishing In His Oceans Of Blood' which shows that the band have the dexterity to utilise dashes of other metallic ingredients to add extra spice and flavour to their otherwise conventional death metal mix, and which will stand them in good stead as they develop their sound to follow-up what is an impactful and highly credible debut.
(Nate's note: I liked this one a lot too! Here's a premiere of "Cloaked in an Aura of Madness" in case you needed further convincing that this is necessary to check out.)
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
6: At The Gates - The Nightmare Of Being
With The Nightmare of Being, At the Gates have created the legitimate successor to Slaughter of the Soul. Forget the lukewarm At War with Reality and To Drink from the Night Itself, which were far too cerebral and contrived. On the new album, the legendary Swedes bring back the wonderful guitar style that could also be heard on Terminal Spirit Disease, and put it into flawlessly constructed melodic death metal. Even as more progressive elements (and even a saxophone) flow into the songs, the album remains true to its thread. There is no longer this feeling, as there was with the two previous albums, that something is incoherent and not right... At the Gates took a big step backwards in the best way possible, and I hope that they continue to regress into their old ways even further.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
5: Temple Of Dread - Hades Unleashed
For those in the know, The North Sea coast has always been a great vacation spot - unfortunately, it's becoming more and more of a trend to stay there. What is still not as known, though, is that it's also a hotspot for superb German death metal.
The trio of Temple of Dread has used the lockdown period to release their third work Hades Unleashed within a year. Compared to its predecessor World Sacrifice, the album sounds even more furious and brutal. Singer Jens sounds so hateful and aggressive that you worry about his family and friends, and you'd be afraid to meet him on the street. The compositions have come into their own, but you can still hear influences like Death, Bolt Thrower and Voivod here and there. Hades Unleashed is definitely one of the most outstanding death metal albums of this year from Germany and should be checked by every DM maniac!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
4: Severed Boy - Tragic Encounters
The coronavirus pandemic has brought us many things over the past 18 months, from an adherence to public mask-wearing that would put Slipknot to shame, to the almost instantaneous transformation of large numbers of social media users into epidemiology experts. One of the more welcome outputs of what has been at times an almost global lockdown, however, has been the appearance of new bands formed either as a response to the current societal upheaval, or as a result of the enforced downtime facilitating new creative partnerships and the space to explore them. Severed Boy are one such band, apparently the direct result of a manic quarantined episode, and featuring Nicholas Wolf and Reid Calkin of Lunglust. Tragic Encounters, of which there have no doubt been many millions since the sun rose on the start of 2020, is the debut EP of this particular meeting of minds, and judging by the unpleasant, caustic death-doom that streams forth across the EP's five tracks, they are the minds of two troubled individuals.
The highlight of this debut is the magnificent 'Sparse Forest Of Memories', which alternates between the almost thuggish chugging of the Autopsy variant of death metal, and the kind of dissonant abstraction that you might find on a Spectral Voice record. Tragic Encounters is dripping with foetid atmosphere, but it's the sheer depths of palpable despair that are plumbed that renders Severed Boy such a worryingly intriguing proposition, In that respect, tonally, if not sonically, they remind one of Today Is The Day at their most primitive and affecting. Although their music is certainly not rudimentary or basic, Severed Boy consciously strip back their deathly doom until only the essential components remain, with off-kilter riffs and harmonic choices providing frequent unexpected moments of brilliance that less creative bands would struggle to compose. Tragic Encounters is one of the better releases of its type in 2021, and one hopes that Wolf and Calkin hold it together for long enough to continue a journey that has started with immense promise.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
3: Craven Idol - Forked Tongues
Dark Descent Records
The level of pre-release hype surrounding the release of Forked Tongues, Craven Idol's third full-length, suggests that Dark Descent believed that they had something special on their hands with this release, and so it proves. With no unnecessary ambient introductions in sight, 'Venomous Rites' absolutely erupts into life, a volcano of black/thrash riffing spitting molten lava onto doomed mankind, and the album is positively brimming with boundless energy and vicious vitality from this moment all the way through to the closing section of the epic final track 'The Gods Have Left Us For Dead'. The thunderous production, perfectly balancing the razor-sharp guitars with enough grit and dirt to prevent the merest hint of sterility, but not so much as to enshroud the deliciously evil melodic runs that flow from the guitars in the kind of impenetrable murk that can sometimes be employed as a supposed shortcut to instant underground kudos.
The atmosphere is instead created by a pulverising set of concise songs that incorporate hook upon hook of memorable riffs and infernal long-form tremolo melodies. It has been 4 long years since the London-based group released their second effort (although several of their members keep active in several other similarly high calibre bands), but this time has been well-spent, with not a single one of the 7 tracks providing anything less than blistering quality. Unusually, two of the best tracks are positioned directly in the middle of the album, as twin centrepieces that the other tracks revolve around. 'Even The Demons…' pulls the throttle back a little for an Eastern-tinged blackened death masterpiece, which recalls a more punishing Melechesh, or even Nile at their most catchy, and is then immediately followed by the majestic title track, which is velocity-laden black/thrash at its best, giving Destroyer 666, a band Craven Idol are frequently and understandably compared to, a run for their money in its combination of blasting brutality and insidious melody. Forked Tongues is the album that Craven Idol have been threatening to make for some time, and should rightfully propel them with ease into the upper echelons of the year-end lists, as well as the dark hearts of any fan looking for a slab of unchained ferocity that raises fists instead of eyebrows.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
2: Space Chaser - Give Us Life
Metal Blade Records
The boys from Berlin just set the thrash metal bar extremely high. It starts with the artwork, continues with the videos and ends with the quality of the songs. Singer Siegfried still sounds like Bruce Dickinson in parts, but the songs have become much more aggressive than on the two previous albums.The band doesn't shy away from meaty death metal-tinged riffs, either. Songs like 'Antidote to Order', 'Remnants of Technology' or 'A:O:A' are absolute killers and you just have to headbang along! Absolutely worth a listen If you like uncompromising thrash in the style of old Megadeth, Exodus and co. paired with a few crossover sounds.
(Nate's note: This was an album I had completely missed the first time, and I only listened to it after I received Michael's write-up to see what that squirmin' German was going on about, and man, this is meaty!! Even if thrash isn't your go-to, give this a shot - these riffs are impossible to deny.)
MetalBite's Rating: 8.9/10
1: Ophidian I - Desolate
Season of Mist
What the fuck was that??? Did somebody lock Dragonforce and Spencer Prewett in a studio room and allow them to subsist only on meth?
Dear lord, tech-death is becoming the world's fastest dick-measuring contest and I am HERE for it. This is some of the most brilliant, exuberant, and simply overwhelming music in the genre I've heard in a long time, and it comes from...Iceland, a place typically known for its black metal? What is this? Who are these guys??!? I can't even write any more words because my BRAIN is MELTING.
MetalBite's Rating: 9/10
A month dominated by quality OSDM is never a bad thing! Thanks for checking our list out. Be sure to buy albums and merch from bands listed here you like the sound of, follow them on social media, pick up their dry cleaning, file their taxes, anything else they need - they put a ton of time, money, blood and sweat into making ear candy for us metalheads, and they need your support. Plus, some of them probably spend so much focusing on music they forget basic adult responsibilities.
In case you wanted to check out past month's lists and get caught up on all the best metal in 2021, below are all the previous MetalBite Top 10s so far. See ya in August!
|Circle Of Silence|
|Michael Schenker Group|