MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - October 2021
Welcome once more to MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month. As is the norm, we've got myself (Nate), Michael, and Benjamin throwing together a list of the heaviest and wildest shit we heard that came out in the past 29 or so days. I won't bore you too much with rambling because this list is massive. Probably could have made this a top 20. If our ratings are any indication this is far and away the most stacked month of the year.
Caveman Cult - Blood And Extinction
Nuclear War Now!
Showing exactly the level of sophistication and subtlety that you should rightly expect from a war metal act released on Nuclear War Now!, Caveman Cult's Blood And Extinction is a cleansing blast of total mayhem and utter brutality which succeeds despite its complete predictability. Although it would be simple to dismiss the kind of atavistic noise that Caveman Cult deal in as rudimentary and lacking in variation, the fact of the matter is that there is good war metal and bad war metal, and this is good war metal. Every track is delivered with a level of intensity that cannot be faked, and although the production is delightfully filthy, underneath the layers of distortion, a relentless barrage of churning riffs can be discerned, each one a masterpiece of economy, barrelling its way through a blitzkrieg of perma-blast. Things get even more overwhelming, when the already saturated sound is occasionally overlaid with a squall of out of control lead guitar that takes the atonal solos of Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman as a starting point, strips away any semblance of good taste, and leaves only the twitching remnants of something approaching music, in a way that is utterly suited to the apocalyptic destruction that surrounds it.
Yes, of course Caveman Cult sound like the bastard love-child of Revenge, Conqueror and Blasphemy, and of course every song sounds almost identical, but that is absolutely not the point of something as coruscating as Blood And Extinction. Not unlike the kind of berserk grind that war metal is something of a sonic cousin to, it is not what the listener takes away from the album when it finishes playing that counts here, it is the visceral thrill that one experiences while undergoing the grim torment of listening to it. In this respect, the Floridian's second album is perfectly pitched, gripping us in a dread, vice-like grip from the first moment to the last, all the while dishing out an exhausting physical beating with every pulverising beat. Blood And Extinction is a monstrous slab of total hate.
Untamed Land - Like Creatures Seeking Their Own Form
One of the best newcomers to the metal scene 2021. Originating in Ohio, the band combines black metal elements with Spaghetti Western music and some Celtic influences, sometimes feeling similar to old Summoning. Though the tracks are quite long, you feel no boredom nor monotony. Harsh guitar riffs merge with acoustic, a banjo and some ambient parts which varies the tracks and raises intrigue. Even the intro and outro are very catchy and show the skills of the band. Untamed Land knows how to create a mystic atmosphere, with the arrangements and surprising twists inviting the listener on a very intense trip into the Wild West. Maybe you, too, will meet Frodo somewhere in the desert.
Thulcandra - A Dying Wish
German Dissection worshippers Thulcandra are back. Immediately, you get the spirit that the Swedes once were able to spread. The riffing on most tracks sounds so similar to Storm of the Light's Bane that I get nostalgic. Their previous album was a bit more of a divergence from their style, but now they have focused again on what made Thulcandra so great (for me, at least). Despite all the Dissection comparisons they get, it is not a pure copy. They also build in some more death metal elements into the tracks (like old Unanimated) and some very brilliant guitar solos elevate the compositions.
Aeon - God Ends Here
Metal Blade Records
Everyone's favorite God-hating, Deicide-plagiarizing Swedes are back! It's almost like they never left, as they did technically remain active in the 9 years it's been since Aeons Black came out. You get exactly what you're expecting with God Ends Here - a bastardization of American death metal with choppy, ranting vocals, an affinity for grooving anti-melody, and a bit of HM-2 crunch to remind you where these guys come from.
Exactly zero steps have been taken forward in those nine years, but if anything, I think experimenting with the tried-and-true Aeon sound would have left a bad taste in people's mouths. The time off has the band sounding invigorated, and on the whole this is way more potent than anything off their past two releases. You already knew if you were going to like this or not as soon as you heard what band it was, so just listen to it already!!
1914 - Where Fear And Weapons Meet
The third release of the notorious Ukrainian WWI nerds is a logical continuation of their previous releases: dramatic melodies, relentless drumming, aggressive vocals and compelling performances. Most tracks are very fast and melodic, but they sometimes break out into some dissonant parts and venture into more harrowing atmospheres. 1914 created a very unique style of black/death/doom metal that is hard to compare to other bands. In addition, there are some fantastic guest appearances by Sasha Boole (Me and that Men) and Nick Holmes (Paradise Lost, Bloodbath). The lyrics, worth reading as always, tell some stories from individuals who fought in the First World War.
Bizarre - Invocation Codex
Transcending Obscurity Records
This month had no shortage of groovy, chunky death metal, and like every other month this year, Transcending Obscurity put out something in a less saturated genre worth your attention. Bizarre has a bit more of that sinister Floridian vibe mixed with some of the heavier guitar styles to come out of Finland a la Demigod and Adramelech.
Full review/premiere here.
Atrae Bilis - Apexapien
20 Buck Spin
This is one of those confounding albums where I can't tell if I love it or can't stand it, even after at least a few front-to-back playthroughs. On the one hand, this Canadian trio has a sound that is very distinct and carefully crafted to stand out. There isn't a whiff of deathcore influence to be found, but stylistically Apexapien arrives at a similar endpoint through melodic progressions, pinch harmonics and dissonant subtleties that pop up more frequently in The Faceless, Burning the Masses and other tech-deathcore of that ilk. They like to do that stutter-pick thing that The Zenith Passage is growing increasingly fond of, which creates a lot of neat riffs and textures you haven't heard a lot of before. Even though this is riff-focused, the songs slither in all sorts of different directions, and there's a certain boundless feeling to the way this band paces their songs that helps to keep your interest piqued.
The main downside of this approach is that nothing grounds the songs. Apexapien is an album full of verse riffs - good verse riffs, mind you, but Atrae Bilis can't seem to release all the tension and intrigue the songs create. Despite how thoroughly interesting this is, it never jumps out at you. In addition, although this album has the qualities that one would expect out of a "grower" I paradoxically find myself becoming more frustrated at the piecemeal songwriting and awkward transitions as I become more familiar with them.
Perhaps I'm missing the point of this, but at the same time, I do find myself going back to check it out a lot. There's something about Apexapien that feels really new and fresh that draws me to put it on, but I can never make the jump from "this is interesting, maybe check it out if it sounds like it'll tickle your fancy" to "I heavily recommend this and you need to hear it now".
So yeah, this is interesting. Maybe check it out if it sounds like it'll tickle your fancy.
Schavot - Galgenbrok
Void Wanderer Productions
Schavot takes you on a very nostalgic trip back to the 90s when black metal had a more mystical essence to it. The band plays black metal in the style of old Emperor, Satyricon and the other keyboard-infused Norwegian bands from the 90s. Schavot arranges its tracks with frosty guitars, thundering drums, evil and merciless vocals and wonderful, contrasting keyboard melodies to give that haunting 2nd wave feel. If this album was released back then, it would have become a classic on par with In the Nightside Eclipse or The Shadowthrone.
Noltem - Illusions In The Wake
Transcending Obscurity Records
Is there a record for the longest amount of time taken before a band puts out their first full length album? I feel like Noltem must have it, there's no way anyone's taken 18 years prior to releasing a debut full length. As is to be expected, this iteration of the project is more expansive and filled out than the solo demo Max Johnson put out as a 15-year-old. There's some shades of that boundless guitarwork that uses black metal as a reference point rather than staying true to the common stock riffing in the genre, with shades of the same approach that made it so successful for Agalloch and Alcest.
Illusions In The Wake manages to find a space within the post-black genre that hasn't been beaten to death yet, with a certain esoteric backbone to the drifting clean melodies that sets it apart from the typical forestry black metal stuff and prevents things from becoming too bright and airy, which would remove all of the weight. Noltem builds a steady tension as opposed to cascading upward, which allows the songs to remain interesting amidst their somewhat aimless wandering. This would have been a much bigger game-changer if it came out even five years ago, but as it stands, I don't mind that they gave it some time to marinate because you get the sense that every last note was carefully inspected on this album to make sure it was in the right place. The doesn't have quite the lofty emotional heights I've come to require out of my post-black metal, but it also rarely, if ever, loses the plot. At the end of the day, it's an interesting and promising album, but the best is yet to come. Hopefully they don't take another 20 years to put out album number 2!
Conjureth - Majestic Dissolve
"Conjureth impress with the breadth of their attack, careening into the supercharged thrash of 'Mutilated Spirits' with the same ease with which they unfurl the labyrinthine melodies of the superb 'An Occult Mosaic', and it all sounds utterly natural. In contrast to some of their peers, obsessively hammering away at their low E-strings as if they will eventually give up their secrets if tortured with sufficient violence, they also utilize the entire fretboard, deploying snaking riffs and sizzling guitar figures which jump acrobatically across higher and lower registers, enhancing the brutality of the Deicide-like tremolo runs that form the basis of the majority of the tracks on the album."
Full review by Benjamin here.
Hate - Rugia
Metal Blade Records
I've never given these guys much of an extended look. There are obvious parallels between the vocal delivery of Nergal and Hate mainman ATF Sinner, the core riffing styles of the two bands (Hate bears similarity in particular to Behemoth's early 2000s era) and the precise mix of black and death metal with a speedy Polish sense of groove with some nods to the thrashy blastburbation of Vader. Very "meat and potatoes" stuff. More seasoned fans of the band seem to be noting this as some of Hate's most quality modern material, and I'm definitely taken aback with just how damn consistent this is. I can skip to any track on the album and it has no issues getting me into the groove, and it grows on you over time, too. I didn't remember much of this on the first go, but by the fourth go-around I'm sifting through the songs to figure out which one of them had that really sick riff about midway through.
The new drummer is Daniel Rutkowski, a little Zoomer boy who is surgically tight and he gives an extra punch to a band that always had some issues finding a steady skinsman. His transitions between blastbeats that have different emphases are so fluid, they lock you into the groove instead of taking you out of it, as they would if a less skilled drummer was performing them. I'm noticing a trend nowadays of extreme metal bands replacing their drummers with someone younger and more energetic - off the top of my head, Jungle Rot and Suffocation are two others I can think of who went this route, and both of them had great success, so there must be something to it. It works here too.
Behemoth are too big for their britches now, but this is probably how they would have sounded if they never exploded in popularity and focused more on steady riffs and integrating more black metal influence instead of posing in fashion magazines or whatever Nergal is up to these days.
Cradle of Filth - Existence Is Futile
Cradle of Filth's fifteenth album is in a form I didn't expect. It's more aggressive, more back to the roots, dealing more with serious topics than before. They still have the bombastic symphonic parts in their songs, but sometimes you're reminded of their demo days as they use some heavier death and thrash elements in their tracks. They don't go full speed during the whole playing time, either - they also have two calm, elegantly composed semi-ballads. If you liked their last two albums, I'm certain you will love Existence Is Futile because they concentrated more on the songwriting process, creating varied and opulent tracks that stick in your memory.
Full Of Hell - Garden Of Burning Apparitions
These fellas have always been one of those bands I really want to like. They're a group of young guns who suddenly blew up and became a household name the good ol' fashioned way: by being absolute workhorses. Full Of Hell constantly release new music, taking influence from the fringes of grind, sludge and noise where their contemporaries are afraid to venture. They also played shows constantly and everywhere they could: I saw them a bit before the release of Trumpeting Ecstasy in a packed DIY basement, standing six inches from Dylan Walker while he convulsed and screamed right in my face. It fucking ruled.
Despite the fact that this is a good buncha kids doing things the right way, I can't say I've heard an album by them that felt compelling from front to back...at least, until now. One qualm I had with previous Full Of Hell albums was that they felt disjointed when you listen all the way through. There were some solid bursts of energy, but because the band was still figuring out where things fit and leaned into more experimental songwriting, it didn't keep the momentum for a full album. Garden of Burning Apparitions has the hallmarks of a band that's been around the block a few times and has figured out how to bring versatility into their violent approach.
The noise transitions like 'Derelict Satellite' feel appropriately placed and don't derail the momentum, being used as a despondent break from the grind-oriented wall of sound, highlighted by the trademark entropy of Dave Bland - still one of the most energetic drummers i've seen live. Guitarist Spencer Hazard has spent the past decade slowly expanding his chops, and his fretting hand has become more active creating discordance in his riffs. Prior to this, he tended to use storms of tremolo picking as a crutch to create that grindy chaotic feel, whereas Garden Of Burning Apparitions shows a clear expansion on the different styles in Hazard's palette. In one sentence, this album shows Full Of Hell maturing, without the loss of that visceral feeling that got them known in the first place.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Sorguinazia - Negation Of Delirium
Vault of Dried Bones
I'm not sure what it is about Canada's high living standards, wonderful cities, and beautiful natural features that has recently inspired such a fertile and productive extreme metal scene, but at the moment, barely a week seems to pass by without yet another extremely good black or death metal being projectile vomited from the depths of the Canuck underground. Even better, the vast majority of these bands eschew the slightly generic take on the sub-genres concerned that seems to be more ingrained into the European scenes, and the results are an endless array of albums that showcase the kind of head-spinning bewilderment that is delivered by Sorguinazia's splendid Negation Of Delirium.
Sorguinazia's debut is ostensibly a black metal album – the likes of the fantastic 'Ecstatis Karmic Impunity' show their impressive ability to craft a track comprised predominantly of chilling tremolo riffing, not unlike early Emperor shorn of the symphonic ambition – but much of the rest of the album is testament to a twisted sense of melody and ambition that create something altogether more unsettling, Wraith-like vocals surround and whip through the tracks like an ill-wind, while discordant chords, shimmering minor key arpeggios, and unconventional song structures recall some of the odder bands of the early 2000s US scene, such as Xasthur and Leviathan. The 9 minute 'Death Entrancing' is very much the lodestone of a consistently high calibre record, developing a cacophony of barely navigable noise overlaying shards of guitar, which builds into a furious wall of infernal blasting that recalls the single-mindedness of early Marduk or Immortal, before slowing to a hypnoptic crawl that demonstrates the sheer range of Sorguinazia's approach. Negation Of Delirium is the kind of debut that could make serious waves across the scene and make the indelible mark of a name that should not be overlooked when drawing up the incipient best of 2021 lists that will not be far away.
Track premiere here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
9: Sunless - Ylem
If Ad Nauseam explored the more progressive and abstract corners of dissonant death metal, Sunless are operating in the polar opposite space within the same style. The warped, intriguing melodies repeat frequently to ground the songs, with the drums of Taylor Hamel having a heavily syncopated and backbeat-heavy approach that only rises to blasting speeds when the moment absolutely necessitates it. In spurts, Ylem has an aura that is more typically given off by bands in the atmospheric sludge-doom realm, but that vibe only occurs when the music eases up from its meandering busyness, which mainly occurs in the introductions and bridges of the songs and seldom anywhere else. Ylem is always active in some form: a drawn-out tom roll will push a lingering dissonant chord forward, or the bass adds a warm, tense groove that bubbles into the foreground when the haze starts to clear.
The biggest challenge that dissodeath bands encounter is keeping a sense of melody peeking through amidst the skronk. Sunless have managed to clear this hurdle, and even create an album that has more staying power than their promising debut Urraca. Focused songwriting drives the stark, unflinching atmosphere into your memory, and repeated listens reveal subtle harmonies and grooves you didn't catch the first time around. I could probably say this every year, but I'll say it anyways: Willowtip is having a really good year.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
8: Sulphurous - The Black Mouth Of Sepulchre
Dark Descent / Me Saco un Ojo / Desiccated Productions
This Danish duo gets passed over by many in favor of some of the more obvious standouts on Dark Descent's roster and is perhaps even less hyped than regional contemporaries such as Phrenelith, Undergang and Hyperdontia. There's no reason for this beyond marketing, really; judging by their second full-length, they've got a feeling to them that's as ominous, foreboding and punishing as any of those bands mentioned above. Sulphurous has a distinct cadence to their guitar leads and viscous, lumbering low-end grooves that sets them apart in a becoming-more-saturated-by-the-minute OSDM revival scene, but like everything else that comes out of that area of the world, it's got a massive bottom end while keeping a sense of sinister playfulness in how the riffs move. I call it the "Danish bounce".
I'm not alone in appreciating the qualities of this album, either: fellow MB writer Alex gave Sulphurous a more detailed and glowing review earlier this month. Perhaps they're starting to become less overlooked after all, and there's many good reasons for that, so get on board before the hype train turns into a bandwagon!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
7: Burial - Inner Gateways To The Slumbering Equilibrium At The Center Of Cosmos
Everlasting Spew Records
This may be one of the year's more hyped releases for me personally. This year, I started keeping closer tabs on Everlasting Spew after they captivated me with the new Fractal Generator album. I always knew they had good stuff - Serocs, Goratory, Maze of Sothoth... but something about Macrocosmos made me take a closer look at the label's activities, and I came to realize that they've got some of the best up-and-coming exports in metal right now. This led me to Burial, a band who the Spewers had recently signed and were promoting vigorously.
I wasn't familiar with them beforehand, as they only had about 30 minutes of music between a demo and an EP released beforehand. It sounded promising, but it was also very clear the best was yet to come. Death/doom is tricky though, sometimes a band can have a great tone and theme but end up boring you over the course of a full album because they run out of interesting ideas in the first 10 minutes. My expectations were tempered.
I should have just checked out the musicians behind this to ease my doubts. Burial's main mastermind is Leonardo Bellavista, who is also a core member in the melodic tech death band Coexistence. It seems this was supposed to be a side project that was eventually fleshed out with a full lineup. Collateral Dimension was one of my favorite albums of 2020, as it offered a fresh yet familiar take on Obscura-styled melodic tech death, so anything else Bellavista was involved with is bound to pique my interest. His songwriting chops are still on display in Inner Gateways To The Slumbering Equilibrium At The Center of Cosmos (last time I'm writing that full thing out), as this album has an incredible range of motion and jumps between different themes with complete ease.
There's a wide range of stuff happening that isn't just "dreary slow riffs" and then "riffs that are slightly faster than those riffs, but still slow and dreary". There's even some moments on this that hint at more lush, emotional grounds, with a subtle sense of cosmic wonder occasionally bubbling out of dismal, oppressive guitar lines. The title track exemplifies this splendidly, with an echoing, ethereal guitar line forming the meat of the middle part while a violent frenzy awaits you at the end.
The sense of scope on Inner Gateways… is grandiose, with Burial frequently peeking into the yawning void of funeral doom metal to broaden the horizons of their songs even further. 'Absent Visions Conceive Unspeakable Beings' blends extreme metal tones and a hollow atmosphere with the tact and grace of the legendary Alexander von Meilenwald. I get a lot of Ruins of Beverast vibes from this album, particularly in how this Italian group is able to tie a multitude of distinct features into a singular, cohesive vision - one that is beautifully divine, yet simultaneously ugly and aggressive.
It's only their first full-length album and they've already mastered the art of "less is more". The balance between the torturous creeping and the crunchy, pulverizing parts is perfect thanks to the excellent sense of pacing in the songs. There's appropriately lengthy buildups, but the payoff riffs are always worth it, and the eerie, alluring textures they play with in their clean tones are enough to keep you satiated the whole time.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.6/10
6: Huronian - As Cold As A Stranger Sunset
It's fitting that As Cold As A Stranger Sunset ended up as #6 on the list, because that's exactly how many seconds it took me to decide if I liked it. I've never heard a guitar tone in black metal that punches you square in the face the way this one does, and to highlight this the melodies draw from the catchiest moments from Dissection and Sacramentum, further increasing their force and impact. This is black metal that pops, with some cues taken from the more accessible tenets of the genre without ever becoming fully reliant on their infectious riffing or verse-chorus structure. Who knew a subtle injection of some cock rock could go such a long way?
Of course, I wouldn't have put As Cold As A Stranger Sunset as high up the list as I did if all it had was a few songs with some snappy hooks. What brings you back to these songs after the initial novelty fades off is the smooth yet sophisticated songwriting, clearly the work of seasoned veterans who have done this a few times. Sure enough, this features Marcello Malagoli of Italian tech-meisters Hateful, which comes through in the crisp efficiency of the blastbeats and how tight the fills are. This isn't technical or even a progressive black metal, but Huronian manages to have staying power through subtly paying attention to details in their execution. Riffs that would be considered "generic" in any other band feel powerful and invigorating.
Initially, I struggled to determine why As Cold As A Stranger Sunset stuck with me more than most of the other black metal albums I've heard this year. Then, focused listens of this album revealed a less obvious undercurrent of melodic death metal. There's a lot of nods to the more blackened side of the narrow "melodic death/black metal" Venn diagram, with some similarities to Dawn and Thulcandra, but the more obvious influence at play in the vocals and the driving song structures is some good ol' fashioned Slaughter of the Soul era At The Gates. Huronian's vocalist has a very throaty, tone-heavy screeching style that's generally thought to have been pioneered by Tomas Lindberg. It's not common - probably because it's not easy to do - but man you feel that tone in your core. The only other album this year that had a similar feral power to the vocals was Creeping Fear, who also just so happen to be signed to Dolorem Records (do they have a monopoly on all the throaty vocalists or something?). Catchy, punchy, addictive, and still has the power to grow on you over time.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
5: First Fragment - Gloire Éternelle
Unique Leader Records
If there's one thing I appreciate about First Fragment's sophomore album, it's that they harnessed the quirks of their sound that made them unique and cranked the knobs up to 11. That little "swing" thing that was a side feature on Dasein became a full song, the solos got even more solo-y, and the bass lines are simply fucking disgusting. "Forest" Lapointe, already the penultimate bassist in a deep Quebechnical death metal scene, gives the performance of his life and found the extra gear you didn't even know he had. Just listen to that opening part in 'Solus' and try not to let it scramble the fuck out of your brain.
The songwriting on Gloire Eternelle is more detailed, cohesive and at this point it seems clear Phil Tougas knows what he wants this project to be. The first full-length had a ton of ideas that had been holstered for a long time, almost a decade, until Tougas had the right group of musicians to fully realize his vision (from what I've read he doesn't seem interested in using programmed drums). As a result, Dasein feels more like a collection of scattered songs than a full conceptual piece. The first album is fragmented (omg i'm so funny). It's evident the second album was written in a steadier creative spurt, or at least, the tracks adhere to a theme more consistently. Simultaneously, they also have their own individual little quirks that make select moments stand out. Also there's a track on here that's 19 minutes which is a downright insane fucking thing for a tech death band to swing for, and they pulled it off, largely thanks to that incredible goddamn bass performance.
One of my buddies is always of the opinion that a band's second album tends to be their best one, since you're often experimenting with ideas on your debut and have an infinite amount of time to perfect it, whereas the second album tends to have a deadline. I don't always agree, but it definitely rings true here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
4: Crystal Coffin - The Starway Eternal
A Beast In The Field
Crystal Coffin's strange, cartoony art style almost caused me to hold off on checking this one out, but the combination of "Canadian band" plus "Wolves in the Throne Room" influence was enough to goad me into pressing play. I'm glad I didn't judge an album by its cover because I might have missed out on a top 5 black metal album of this year if I did.
Hailing from the West coast, Crystal Coffin are a band rooted in the Cascadian tradition. Long, sustained marches of frigid tremolo set the tone for the songs, dictating their pace and flow while the warmbass of Aron Shute adds an earthy undertone with subtle harmony. The drums never leave the pocket, with fills and transitions seldom being used lest they detract from the rolling grooves and steady march that propels the songs forward. The Starway Eternal adds a steadier resonance and extra keyboard layers to fatten out the mix compared to its predecessor The Transformation Room. Guitarist/keyboardist Lenkyn Ostapovich writes simple, long-form melodic lines that hold your interest even as they repeat for minutes at a time, and the transitions between riffs are incredibly fluid - the drums hold the same beat, and since you're already dialed into the groove, the next riff slips into your head almost without notice...and then it's just suddenly there, like the song is in a different place and you were so into the ride you didn't even realize where it was taking you.
I rarely touch upon lyrics when reviewing extreme metal, and that's for two reasons: One, you can never tell what harsh vocalists are saying anyways, and two, their lyrics suck 95% of the time. The genre isn't considered a treasure trove of poetic content, and a lot of the time vocalists will make lyric choices based more on how words sound in the context of the music than their profundity. I will, however, touch on Crystal Coffin's lyrical concept because it's interesting, well-written and the vocals are actually legible some! Not only can you decipher the harsh vocal lines, when Shute decides to throw his rich baritone into the mix with clean singing, the results add a layer without changing the vibe the music was going for. Something about the way he enunciates the lyrics in 'The Red Forest', for example, is bone-chilling - weaving a story with just enough color and dread to haunt you even after the track is done playing. I don't like to quote promo paragraphs in my write-ups (it's lazy), but the concept for The Starway Eternal is so specific it would be a disservice if I paraphrased it:
"Cast against the historical realities of the Chernobyl power plant meltdown of 1986, the assumed protagonist - an operator at the power plant - discovers the portalway behind an inoperable console and soon finds that her longing for meaning in this chaotic world answers the opportunity to seek out the purported gods and angels that live among the cosmos in our known solar system. To find such entities would be to imbue a sense of importance in our collective existence beyond the daily disorder and existential despair that one accepts. Her trips into various corners of space reveal little to no such beings, and during one such fruitless endeavor, her portalway back to earth is shut permanently; reactor 4 at Chernobyl back on earth has suffered its meltdown during shutdown operation. Frantic, she makes the decision to return to earth by falling through the fiery atmosphere as a lonely, final and futile act of desperation. Of course, survival is impossible, and such an act becomes a metaphor for our time wandering the earth with little connection to anything beyond the physical world."
Yeah. That. You feel that shit.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.9/10
3: Worm - Foreverglade
20 Buck Spin
"Foreverglade pieces-together everything you love about Gloomlord and adds a colorful and more atmospheric, sprawling template to the primary texture of Worm's music. From Disembowelment to Mystifier, Encoffination, Evoken and My Dying Bride (among many others), Foreverglade delicately prepares a poisonous yet tasty, picturesque embodiment of their phantasmic portrait on their latest funeral/death/black/doom practice."
Full review by Alex here.
MetalBite's Rating: 9/10
2: Necromantia - To The Depths We Descend...
The Circle Music
One of the stalwart legends of Greece have returned after 14 years, with their swansong album - this comes out in the wake of founding bassist Baron Blood's sudden passing two years ago and is a final tribute to him before Necormantia is no more. It's an album that MetalBite loves across the board, with comrade Michael already giving it a perfect 10/10 review earlier this month. The album is equal parts exuberant, bombastic black metal and a somber, haunting epitaph for the Baron, with moments like 'Give the Devil His Due' bringing a resonant pause to the vampiric vibe and preventing it from descending into cheesiness. The Magus is one of the central figures of the incredible and somewhat underrated Greek black metal scene, so it makes sense that he would know how to get it done like few others do. If you like Yoth Iria and don't mind a dash of Cradle of Filth styled atmosphere, you'll love this.
Necromantia is now drawing to a close, and it's done with a vengeance. To The Depths We Descend… consists of the typical Greek black metal elements, which tend to be intertwined with classic heavy metal. The album impresses through a very dramatic, dark and gloomy atmosphere created by the driving riffs, and the keyboards don't feel like a jarring pause. You will be able to find a lot of new things with more focused, frequent listens. For the album Necromantia re-recorded two old classics ('Lord of the Abyss' and 'The Warlock') off the first album but this time with much better sound quality, connecting the beginning of the band with their eventual end.
MetalBite's Rating: 10/10
1: Archspire - Bleed The Future
Season Of Mist
I feel bad for anything else that had to compete with this for Album of the Month. First Fragment stepped their game up in every aspect and came out with an incredible album in their own right, making a desperate bid for "craziest tech death release of the year" with all sorts of neoclassical fretboard mastery, even more jam-packed songwriting, and even dialing up their swing music gimmick. Great stuff...it's still leagues behind this. I also don't want to understate how much I liked the Crystal Coffin album I just talked about above. Again, though, despite a valiant effort in crafting a signature sound with some excellent execution, there's still no comparison. Neither album can top this. Nothing can. I've only just heard the album in full for the first time and I know for a fact it's different. I had sky high expectations for this and this lovely group of B.C. boys fucking shattered them with ease.
I've been listening to the three premiere songs on repeat (title track, 'Golden Mouth Of Ruin', 'Drone Corpse Aviator') and that's all I need to know that Archspire somehow got even fucking FASTER. That they have somehow gotten even more tech when their previous release, Relentless Mutation already unlocked a new skill and speed tier that literally no one had gotten to before that point is just...wow. They already clearly held the tech crown, now they're at least three steps ahead of any other band in the genre - and I say this as a HUGE fan of anything techy, which you would know if you're familiar with these lists. Bleed The Future is like taking LeBron James in his prime and having him compete against high school basketball teams. It doesn't even feel fair.
The secret sauce that makes their mind-boggling musicianship and dexterity listenable is the songwriting. It took a couple albums to figure it out, but once they realized that you can write repeating verses and hummable choruses without sacrificing the chaos, they took it to the next level. You want your audience to actually remember what they heard, even if it is supposed to scramble your brain at terminal velocity. Interestingly enough, Bleed The Future leans a bit more on the linear songwriting of The Lucid Collective - it's more linear and less chorus-focused than Relentless Mutation was, but that serves no detriment at all because there's still several moments on every song that make your head snap to attention while you say "how the fuck do they do that", and you'll just remember those instead. Whether it's that little machine gun strat-stop thing Spencer does, the impeccably smooth death chopping, a disgustingly fast tapping bass line or just a feelsy little guitar lick, something will grab you and take hold. Or a couple things. Or everything at once.
Archspire was already unquestionably the fastest and most skilled band in death metal, and they decided that wasn't enough and needed to one-up themselves. Spencer put even more of a gap between himself and the second place guy (which is like, iunno, John Longstreth or the guy from Viscera Infest or something). There's a part on this album that is fucking 400 BPM!!! If his drums get any faster they'll just be an indiscernible buzzing noise. As is now an expectation with Prewett's work, though, there's a ton of groove and feeling in the inhuman speeds - his drum style is distinct to the point where you can now identify it mere seconds into any song. In addition, though I'm foaming at the mouth over the sheer volume of notes and drum hits Archspire can pack into a single verse, these songs (most notably 'Golden Mouth Of Ruin') lean into the underrated brutal death metal influences and bring a bit of the big ol' chonk to balance out the lightspeed obliteration.
I can't even find a comparable for vocals. The choppy delivery of guys like Corpsegrinder or Dennis Rondum isn't even in the same ballpark as Oli's tape- on-fast-forward style. The penultimate death chopper already set the bar higher than anyone would be able to clear with Relentless Mutation and no one cleared that bar in four years, and then he doubled down on his techniques. Some think his style is too much, another layer of maximalism in music that absolutely did not require it. I'm more of the opinion that this was what harsh vocals were always meant to do.
Vocals were always notoriously the least technical part of even the fastest and most sweep-happy tech-death metal bands. I remember one comment on a youtube video for an Origin song (Finite I think it was) that stated "Origin is three gods and a vocalist" and it had a bunch of likes. It's just common knowledge that the guy growling is far and away the least talented member of the bunch, but now that claim can no longer be made. Everything about Oli's vocal performance - his speed, diction, lyric choices, enunciation, his flow (yes, a death metal vocalist has flow) - is intricately composed with microscopic attention to detail and performed with an inhuman lung capacity and hundreds of hours of practice. On Bleed The Future he takes the parts that make you go "holy fucking wow" on Relentless Mutation and makes them longer, faster, more twisted in their phrasing, sharper, and catchier.
Good musicians play the game, great musicians pace the game, but legends change the game. In that sense, Oli is the Steph Curry of tech death. I don't like to mention my own musical pursuits in my reviews (it's self indulgent and not to mention irrelevant most of the time) but this is the one exception I make since Oli has become my biggest vocal influence in the past few years. I have his instructional video (highly recommended), I watch everything the guy puts on the internet from his cooking show to his up-close and personal #chewcam videos on Instagram, and in my own tech-death band (it's not out yet, don't bother trying to look for it) I'm constantly looking for new ways to rip him off or even replicate a small modicum of what makes his vocals special. You might say I think he's pretty good.
I'm definitely letting my fanboy colors show here, but I'm not exaggerating - Archspire is my favorite active band, and I legitimately believe Oliver Aleron is the single most important pioneer for harsh vocals we've had yet. Relentless Mutation was my album of the year in 2017 when it came out, because it amended every beef I could have possibly had with The Lucid Collective - mostly the unmemorable, scattershot songwriting. There was a period of six months where I listened to that album and that album only. After catching them on the Relentless Mutation tour, it became evident to me just how far ahead of the game this B.C.-based group is. They were fucking perfect live and nailed every single line, drum hit and solo. I could look at any individual musician at any point during the set and go "holy shit look at the crazy shit that dude is doing". I can't even imagine how Bleed The Future is going to sound live. I'm so fucking excited to hear it.
Look, you're on a metal webzine and probably check out new music regularly, you know this is good, but I hope that my incessant fanboy ranting lets you know just how good this is, and how significant of a contribution this is to the technical death metal genre as a whole. When it comes to your album of the year, you don't look at the ratings and compare and contrast different releases - you just know. And with Bleed The Future, I knew.
MetalBite's Rating: 10/10
As always, thank you for using these lists as the source for all the good shit in metal these days. Check out previous lists for some more stuff!
|The Zenith Passage|