MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - September 2021
Welcome, once again, to MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month! We've almost been doing this for a full year. Who knew I would actually follow through on something for once in my life.
As we enter the homestretch of 2021, release schedules tend to ramp up and more music comes out than three MetalBite writers with lives and families can keep up with. This is our biggest list yet, and even more was left off the list because we just didn't have a chance to cover it. To name a few: Inferi, Replicant, Rivers of Nihil and Vulvodynia put out monumental releases this month, all of which ended up missing the cut for this list.
Oh, and there was also a new Iron Maiden album or something? I guess??? I can't keep up with this shit anymore.
All of this is to say that if you'd like to contribute to our monthly top 10 lists yourself (yes, you, the reader) - we need you. If you're doubting yourself. you're probably more qualified than you think. If you like metal and want to get the inside track on new stuff before the public hears it, this is 100% for you. Message us on facebook or email email@example.com if you're interested.
Now, on to the list!
Norse - Ascetic
Transcending Obscurity Records
This is the passion project of the tireless Robin Stone, who has apparently used the pandemic to ramp up his productivity and showcase his litany of drumming talents. He's done tons of session work, with this apparently being his outlet for any creativity he doesn't get to utilize as a hired gun.
There's a very strict adherence to a vibe on this one. Rarely, if ever, does Norse branch away from their lingering, seething dissonance. The technical dexterity required to play the music does give it a sense of busyness and activity, but beyond that, this just kinda dwells in its own tense space for a while. I would have perhaps liked to see a bit more elaboration on the ideas that have been presented, as there's a lot of showing done but not as much telling, which blueballs you. That being said, the talent present in Norse is obvious and it's entirely possible I just didn't gel with what is otherwise an excellent release.
Lvcifyre - The Broken Seal
Dark Descent Records
I wasn't feeling their first two albums, but The Broken Seal finally won me over. I very much appreciate that they decided to clean up their sound a bit, getting rid of a lot of the excess haze and murk without sacrificing the potency of the riffing. If anything, Lvcifyre's distinct sense of melody within the OSDM revival subgenre is only underscored by the more polished production values. Like anything is this style, Morbid Angel is frequently used as a frame of reference but the way Lvcifyre colors in their riffs arrives at a completely different endpoint. It's less esoteric and abstract, being more grounded in a human sense of fear and emotion...long story short, if you weren't familiar with this English group before, now is the perfect time to see what the fuss is about.
Fustilarian – All This Promiscuous Decadence
Amor Fati Productions
Hot on the heels of one high calibre underground black metal release is another, from the aforementioned Portuguese hotbed that seems to be churning out quality releases at a rate of knots currently. All This Promiscuous Decadence is an impressively cohesive release for a debut, albeit, ploughing a rather more conservative and conventional furrow than Pa Vesh En's off-the-deep-end madness. There's a time and a place for this kind of scything, orthodox black metal though, with a wall of tremolo guitars pushed overwhelmingly high in the mix, everything way into the red like prime Marduk or 1349, no cavernous production here, only the crystal clear annihilation of everything in the path of each razor-sharp blast of righteous fury.
Fustilarian have an unerring ability to judge when to drop the hammer to unleash a tornado of blastbeats, but also when to drop off and allow a d-beat groove to turn what could be a straightforward and monochromatic dirge into something more elusive and less predictable, that twists and turns through various chimerical iterations, even allowing the odd discordant passage to add variety to the barrage of minor key chord progressions. Again, not unlike Pa Vesh En, there is a nod to the increasing influence of dark ambient and electronic influences on black metal, with some subtle touches throughout the album leading to a full ambient interlude, before the maddening grind of 'Swallowed By The Nether Regions Of Chaotic Isol' provides a glimpse of what Volcano-era Satyricon might have sounded like if they'd traded their rock 'n' roll influences for Immortal's icy stomp, a comparison made even more obvious by the (unnamed) vocalist's Abbathian croak. As Fustilarian's excellent first fusillade draws to a close, the band sensibly keeping the run-time on the right side of leaving the listener wanting more, one can only conclude that perhaps the true sound of the frozen north can now be found in the heat of southern Europe.
Carcass - Torn Arteries
The Despicable EP was disappointing, but Torn Arteries is a big step in the right direction.. The new album combines the old grind trademarks of the British surgeons ('Torn Arteries') with new, groovier influences ('In God We Trust') and even some classic rock ('The Scythe's Remorseless Swing'). A lot of it reminds me of their 1993 milestone Heartwork, but they don't focus on death metal as much - 28 years has given them a lot of new ideas. As a result, the songs are more diverse, with many surprising twists and turns to keep you tuned in. The melodies are still irresistibly catchy - Bill Steer remains one of the more underrated guitarists in death metal. The artwork (done by Zbigniew Bielak) is a very superb vegetable still-life!
Triacanthos - Apotheosis
Purity Through Fire
This is "in your face", for lack of a better term. The production on the guitars and drums is nice: slick, punchy, and really accents the groove, but what I'm really referring to is the vocals. They are as busy as they are piercing, and have a presence to them that is unusual for black metal, with a lot of choppiness and groove amidst the shrill cackling. I listen to a lot of black metal promos, believe me, and something about the way Triacanthos utilizes the genre's building blocks feels novel, like they're on to something that they intend to explore further in future albums. This group of hooded Texans is worth keeping your eye out for in the future.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Cognizance - Upheaval
The "deathcore" tag on metal-archives for this band is inaccurate. Cognizance may fully embrace the modern aspects and production values of death metal and have no shortage of short, simple chug sections punctuating verses the same way a breakdown would, but the end result sounds way, way closer to Ominous Ruin than it does Lorna Shore. Right away, the guitars have that same immediately tasty quality that makes them pop, which is 50% the work of the melodies and 50% the awesome production job handled by the renowned Fredrik Nordstrom (whose mixing credits include little known bands like Dark Tranquillity, Opeth and In Flames, to name a few…)
Anything that resembles hardcore infleunce on Upheaval is quickly absorbed into the riff salad, turning it into a connecting bridge as opposed to the meat of the verse. Cognizance have nailed down the difficult task of making fast, complicated music that still keeps gaining momentum as the album goes on. With tech-death, the novelty often fades after the first track, but this album never lets up. This is done by writing the songs so that the melodic licks and hammering rhythms are enjoyable in the moment, yet always sound like they're about to lead into something even better. Usually you just get the latter without the former, resulting in a forgettable album that's all build and no climax. Cognizance almost has the opposite problem, where so many parts of songs are cool and memorable that I don't have room to fit them all in my head. I guess I just gotta listen to this five or six times repeatedly instead!
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
9: Occulsed - Crepitation Of Phlegethon
Everlasting Spew Records
I wasn't expecting to like this at all. For one, I've never been able to get into Father Befouled. They're competent, but do nothing for me - at least, nothing that Dead Congregation or Ignivomous can't do better. Lotta dark eerie vibes going on, but there's never a riff that grabs me, looks me dead in the eyes and demands I headbang to it. Because of this, the fact that Occulsed features mainman Justin Stubbs on guitars wasn't a quality guarantee.
In addition, drummer Jared Moran was someone whose work I was also familiar with. He has dozens (literally, dozens) of death metal projects, most of which involve him handling all instruments, which he releases through his own label. He also somehow finds time to make custom guitar cabinets. The man is an absolute workhorse, but it's tough to figure out the exact quality of his chops. Moran can clearly play, but a lot of his one-man projects suffer from some amateurish tendencies and sharing too many similarities with one another. Like most artists that create content at a high clip, you get the sense Moran could have benefitted from taking some time to refine his ideas and iron out the kinks.
In spite of everything that could have turned me off of Crepitation Of Phlegethon, I really enjoy it. One thing I guess I never appreciated about Father Befouled (and Encoffination, to a lesser extent) is their ability to make a coherent musical passage amidst the cavernous echoes and anticlimactic dissonance. Occulsed has a morbid, off-kilter flow to them, and it's surprising how such atonal and noisy riffage gets your head nodding. The more uptempo and involved approach definitely helps to give more coloour to the viscous low end, and for all of my quibbles with the drummer's past projects above, Moran gives a spirited, spastic performance, with a bit of sloppiness and murk giving atmosphere to the wooden snare rolls and chaotic blastbeats. It gives you that sickly gut feeling that the filthiest death metal should, and that's what we're all here for, isn't it?
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
8: Veilburner - Lurkers In The Capsule Of Skull
Transcending Obscurity Records
At this point, I wouldn't be offended if you thought I was just throwing in Transcending Obscurity releases to these top 10 lists as a way of paying off some massive lifelong debt I owe to the label. The reality is much more boring: I like music that's weird and challenging while remaining rooted in extreme metal, and T.O. seems to seek out bands across multiple genres with the intention to pursue this type of fringe sound.
Veilburner are no doubt one of the more unusual bands in the label's catalog - though not quite as jarring as Diskord or as starkly dissonant as Norse, these two masked Americans have a natural oddity to their chord shapes and a swirling psychedelia that accompanies most of them, giving an inviting warmth and eerie, antiquated horror movie soundtrack sensation to what are ostensibly very heavy and extreme riffs. If you've been spending your time looking for any kind of music in the same sonic ballpark as Akercocke, you can finally put that search to rest, because that's about the only band I can think of to compare to Veilburner (minus Jason Mendonça's trademark clean vocals, of course).
With the wide array of textures and distorted twists and turns on Lurkers In The Capsule Of Skull, it's downright impressive how listenable this record is. Sonically, this isn't very similar to Blut Aus Nord, but Veiburner shares Vindsval's innate ability to create an entrancing, emotive guitar line out of warbling dissonance. Although one member handles all the instruments (with one other separate person on vocals), this sounds dense and multifaceted while staying coherent. If the drums are programmed, it is not at all as detrimental as it should be. Lurkers In The Capsule Of Skull is a very complete, intricate album, which is even more impressive when you consider this is the band's fifth full-length album in just seven years of existence (and the one before it was just as complex!)
MetalBite's Rating: 7.9/10
7: Portrait – At One With None
Metal Blade Records
Portrait hasn't disappointed me yet, and on At One With None they did what Iron Maiden couldn't do with Senjutsu. Their sixth album is another beast, with a lot of classic references. It starts when you hear the high vocals, clearly reminiscent of Mercyful Fate - the guitars are, too. However, even with the constant nods to the 80s, you can't reduce Portait to a copycat of their influences. They've got even more variety now than on their last album Burn The World. Just listen to the title track – amazing, catchy melodies with a very cool acoustic guitar and surprising breaks. I actually can't name a favorite track, they are all very well composed - At One With None is complete front to back. Portrait has so many perfectly executed Iron Maiden influences that Bruce and co. probably heard it and had to change how Senjustu sounded so they didn't get shown up by one of their students!
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
6: Pa Vesh En – Maniac Manifest
Iron Bonehead Productions
With a plethora of raw and underground black metal releases forming a deluge almost every single month, particularly from the remarkably fertile scenes of Spain, Portugal and much of Eastern Europe, it takes something special to stand out from the legions of corpse-painted adherents to the orthodox ways of second wave black metal. This month, Belarus's Pa Vesh En manage to raise their head above the parapet, thanks to the genuine, and it would seem, uncontrived weirdness that emanates from the glacially cold Maniac Manifest. While Pa Vesh En do, of course, tick all of the standard boxes that one can expect from a mysterious black metal project – indecipherable logo, anonymous line-up, convoluted back catalogue of splits and EPs, there is a substance to their DSBM that insidiously works it's way into the psyche of the attentive listener.
Occupying a similar niche to Darkspace and Paysage D'Hiver, and offering a fuller and more-rounded production than one might expect, Maniac Manifest offers both a musical intensity and emotional detachment that is confoundingly clever and surprisingly sophisticated. At is best, as on 'Chamber Of The Rotten Flesh', for example, Pa Vesh En combine the industrial black metal riffing of prime Mysticum, with the template laid down by Darkthrone's unholy trinity of classic albums of the mid-1990s, resulting in something that is clearly a product of its influences, but without slavishly imitating them, as often feels the case with underground black metal in thrall to those that frequently did it earlier and better. Maniac Manifest also shows that Pa Vesh En are not totally ignorant of post-1994 musical developments, with the black ambient of 'The Black Coffin' showing another, equally hideous, side to their sound that recalls a more obviously metal Gnaw Their Tongues playing a despondent version of blackened sludge. Pa Vesh En may not reach the ears of too many people at this point in their career, but they have surely come of age with their latest album, which is as good a statement of where the genre is in 2021 as anything else squirming its way out of the underground this year.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
5: Virial - Transhumanism
Vicious Instinct Records
This year has been absolutely flooded with tech death releases and it's gotten to the point where it's over-saturated and I can't keep up anymore. I've been spending so much time gawking at the new albums by Stortregn and Ophidian I (and gearing myself up for Archspire's monumental new album) that new albums by genre heavyweights Inferi and Rivers of Nihil went in one ear and out the other. Virial, on the other hand, caught my attention.
I can always appreciate a new band playing Beyond Creation/Obscura - styled melodic tech death - moreso when the songwriting is as multi-faceted and smoothly flowing as it is on here. There's a lot of interesting little tricks tried and they always hit, with some really impressive rhythmic shifts by the drummer and seamless integration of robotic guitar chugging near flowing, ethereal melodies. The range of motion is comparable to the aforementioned Stortregn, who have put out one of my favorites albums from this year so far, so any comparison to them is always a good thing. This is really well done, and the quality and care put into Transhumanism's construction allows it to transcend any possible accusation of it being derivative.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
4: Antediluvian - The Divine Punishment
Nuclear War Now! Productions
This release is almost too incomprehensible for human ears, as is to be expected with this band. We already gave a more thorough write-up of what Antediluvian is really all about, so read that if you're unfamiliar. In summary, though, The Divine Punishment trades sloppy chaos for esoteric ritualism without sacrificing the core of what makes the band so weird and intriguing in the first place. It's not for everyone, but if you do find that it calls to you, the headspace it thrusts you into may be the first place in a long, long time you'll be able to call home. Also, 'Winged Ascent Unto the Twelve Runed Solar Anus' is the best song title I've heard in a while.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
3: Lamp Of Murmuur - Submission And Slavery
This curious project caught a lot of buzz not too long ago with their release of their debut album and its merging of riff-centric black metal with some obvious 80s goth influence and overtones. I've never been a huge goth fan myself despite its frequent overlap with my beloved metal. The hype wasn't something I paid much mind to at first, but aimless internet browsing does things to a dude and I ended up giving this album a shot, and was begrudgingly forced to admit the herd's on to something here. As someone who doesn't even appreciate the authenticity of the non-metal influences, I will say they are tied in to the music masterfully and add a haunting, alluring texture to black metal, a genre I thought had completely exhausted every emotion in that spectrum.
The shimmering, vacuous guitar tone does have some comparables in the style such as Ved Buens Ende and Dreams of the Drowned, but the songs that it supplements on Submission And Slavery are entirely different in nature. The vampiric overtones don't add anything you haven't heard before - it's moreso that they tap into a powerful space you don't often realize black metal had the potential to enter. It's addictive like Sargeist with some hook sense and atmosphere drawn from Fields of the Nephilim. I hope there's still some room on this hype train because thanks to Submission And Slavery I am officially on board.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
2: Skepticism - Companion
The funeral doom masters are back. They take their time between releases and put out albums without a lot of promotion and fanfare behind them - they don't need it. Those who are in the know are already aware, though there are some changes for those that might be used to the harrowing minimalism and subtlety of earlier works such as Stormcrowfleet and Alloy. The most notable difference is the more active presence of keyboards and synths carrying the melodies, resulting in a sensation of being separated from your body and carried into the heavens. There's some grittier, more foreboding songs such as 'Passage' that keeps the music substantial and grounded, and the band's creative songwriting and impeccable sense of pacing are still very evident in how these slow-as-molasses songs find delicate little ways to surprise you and keep you zoned in.
Some funeral doom exists as almost an endurance test, daring the listener to subject themselves to the daunting prospect of spartan instrumentation played at geologic tempos for as long as one can bear. Finland's Skepticism, on the other hand, have a more extravagant and opulent take on the genre, constructing lush atmospheres to luxuriate in, any sense of time and place evaporating, as deep layers of keyboards wrap themselves around crunching guitars in triumphant despair, a pyrrhic victory even while the world around us burns, in contrast to the more nihilistic and terrifying take on doom offered by Thergothon, or whatever it is that Khanate briefly conjured. Indeed, 'Calla' opens the album in almost upbeat style, the band transposing the kind of folk melodies that one would ordinarily associate with their countrymen Amorphis, or even the folk-metal of Ensiferum, on to a more classic metal framework, the guitars practically chugging along gleefully.
The majority of Companion though, sees normal service resumed, with more mournful minor key chord progressions taking their time to weave their considerable magic, augmented by thoughtful arrangements, which see skeletal pianos and crashing drums taking the lead on large swathes of 'The Intertwined', and monolithic guitars and organs dominating on many of the other tracks. A highlight of the album is the ecclesiastical feel of 'The March Of The Four', which highlights the debt that metal generally owes the baroque and classical movements, with Matti Tilaeus's guttural vocals adding enthralling texture, and resonating as if under the vast carapace of a cavernous church, in which the organs continue to grind, eventually joined by what feels like an orchestra of guitars, reminiscent of early-2000s My Dying Bride, but with an even more all-encompassing sense of grandeur, if that is at all possible to conceive of. Companion is also a more diverse album than one might be expecting, the band peeling off shards of overtly metallic tremolo lines in 'The Passage', and utilising sorrowful acoustics paired with gothic keyboards on penultimate track 'The Inevitable' in a way that brings black metal tonalities into a stunning, windswept doom masterpiece. For a lengthy album composed primarily of tracks, it is an impressive feat to create the impression that every note and beat is equally essential, but Skepticism have made something very special here, and this Companion is an acquaintance that is unlikely to overstay its welcome any time soon.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
1: Pestilential Shadows - Revenant
When you get down to it, "black metal" can mostly be defined by a feeling - something otherworldly, mystical, dangerous as it is alluring. Some artists seem to harness this effortlessly, while others spend years (and even decades) in its pursuit but never create something that captures the spirit.
Pestilential Shadows have spent a majority of their career in obscurity (even by black metal standards), often overlooked for flashier, edgier bands in their area - Woods of Desolation, Austere, Destroyer 666 and even Drowning the Light get mentioned more frequently in conversations than this group of Aussies ever does. Want proof? Pestilential Shadows formed in 2003, and this is their sixth full-length album since then. Bet you didn't know that. Another little known fact is that they're a part of what appears to be a loose association between black metal artists in Australia (known as the Order of the Black Serpent). The least known fact of all, though, is that Pestilential Shadows are leagues better than any other music that came out of that collective - and I know this without having heard half the bands associated with it.
It does make sense that this band isn't especially hyped: they're not flashy. Pestilential Shadows aren't big on walking guitar leads, cacophonous intensity, or extending the scope of black metal into bizarre, avant-garde areas. They like uncomplicated but effective songs, with riffs that have just enough going on to evoke imagery, carrying the song forward as much as they need to. On the surface, this is just another black metal album with some distant sonic connection to the more depressive side of things a la Woods of Desolation. Then, you notice how the rhythm section in particular is really clean, and how its tasteful groove gives this a completely different impact.
I haven't heard this kind of almost...bouncy cadence to black metal before, but it evokes the true black metal vibe almost effortlessly. This doesn't sound anything like a second wave band, but the end feeling is the same if that makes sense. Revenant taps into that small area at the base of your spine that makes you tingle, grabs a firm hold and stays right there through the rise and fall of several tracks. Though the riffs are simple, there isn't a single boring part and even the most minimal moments on this release are carefully crafted. The bass tone is absolutely perfect. You can't even understand how much bass gets neglected in this style until you hear the harmony in 'Procession of Souls' when the mid paced part kicks in. It rounds out the melodies to give them the impact they need, carrying them to even further heights by grounding them with a warm tone. Without fail, that part gives me frisson and gets my head nodding every time, and there's several more moments like that throughout Revenant to enjoy.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.8/10
Thanks for checking out this article! Read all of the lists for previous months below:
|The Zenith Passage|