MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - November 2021
Welcome to the second to last "best album of a month in 2021" list. As we gear up for year-end lists, there's noticeably fewer new albums that pour out in November, with a lot of the releases featured being last-minute big pushes from heavy hitter type labels such as Nuclear Blast, Napalm, Century Media, and all those familiar friends.
We've got one more of these and then we're gonna do a big year-end round-up, so get ready for that in December. We've got the same three guys (myself, Michael and Benjamin) curating this November list, but hopefully we get some thoughts from more MetalBite scribes for the big one.
Benothing - Temporal Bliss Surrealms
As is the norm from Everlasting Spew these days, we've got versatile, oldschool-tinged death/doom that throws in thrash/speed influence in the frenzied riffing and soloing, hints of psychedelia in the atmosphere, and a seemingly loose, but focused delivery that hits you right in the gut but always leaves room to go in different directions. I've already praised Fractal Generator and Diabolizer enough this year, but you best not be sleeping on some of the more low-key releases on this roster as you put your "best of 2021" list together.
Dauþuz - Vom Schwarzen Schmied
Amor Fati Productions
I don't have much to say about this, but you should still listen to it - very no-frills German black metal with historical mining themes and a workmanlike touch to the steady plodding and robust construction of the songs. Does what it does well. I've been following these fellas for a couple of albums now and they got a good thing going.
Unleashed - No Sign Of Life
The adored Viking death metallers are back with a hell of an album. Fortunately, they didn't reinvent their sound or songwriting - it's a good thing for me, at least, if they did change I would have found it irritating. Johnny Hedlund and the same three guys he's played with since 1995 give us 11 more tracks of solid death metal - it's even a little bit tighter than on the previous albums. No songs with unnecessary riffs, just streamlined, hard-hitting songs. Right from the start, you can hear the quartet was eager to record new music and the enthusiasm sustains through the album. There are no real filler tracks, a rare sight for a band on their 11th release in 26 years. If I had to pick standouts, though, 'Midgard Warriors For Life', 'The Shepherd Has Left The Flock' and 'Did You Struggle With God?' are my personal recommendations to listen to first.
In Aphelion - Luciferian Age
Edged Circle Productions
Shortly after In Aphelion released their first demo, Luciferian Age is just an EP to get you ready for the full-length coming in March 2022, but it is a great appetizer for "Moribund" and shows the musical skill and potential of these Swedes. That being said, this isn't a project of newbies: Vocalist / guitarist/ bassist Sebastian Ramstedt and guitarist Johan Bergebäck are already well-known from their involvement in Necrophobic. Others might know their drummer Marco Prij from Cryptosis (formerly Distillator).
You can find fast, icy black metal riffs on this EP that often lead into atmospheric, melodic cascades. 'Draugr' is a beast of a track in the vein of Bathory, and the title track is a very catchy song with a stomping rhythm and a hypnotic pace. 'Wrath Of A False God' is another fast and malevolent song and the very well performed cover of 'Pleasure To Kill' shows a major influence of the band. That's it - 22 minutes and hardly a weak point to be found.
Stillbirth - Strain Of Gods
Unique Leader Records
I was previously unfamiliar with this group, but after hearing the unfortunate news of Dominik König's passing, I decided to give a listen to the band's forthcoming material. German brutal deathcore with cannabis themes and Black Sabbath influences isn't something I've heard a lot of, so that was interesting enough of the hop. It sounds and looks pretty ridiculous at first - two bassists, the sudden random influences in the songs, the general vibe that they like to fuck aroudn a bit - but when you investigate it further, you realize that the wonky, varied songwriting mixed with surprising technical aplomb is similar to a modern version of stoner deathgrind legends Cephalic Carnage. It's a joke until it isn't, and then it's just a boatload of intricate, multifaceted riffs played with charisma and zeal.
The production on Strain Of Gods is disgusting and massive, somehow sounding like even more of a waveform-brick to the forehead than most deathcore does while still giving room for the bass(es) and drum subtleties to breathe. Dominik will surely be missed, and he was kind enough to leave the world this EP as a swansong of sorts. Rest in Peace.
Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Noktvrn
Season Of Mist
When are more people going to recognize Tobias Schuler is one of the best drummers in black metal? Will it be this album? This guy's got speed and stamina like the guy from Marduk, the atmospheric touch of Jamie St. Merat, and fills that are just straight fucking cash money. I've been singing this guy's praises since at least Finisterre, but pretty much everything he's on is great, mostly by virtue of him being there.
DWEF have expanded their range of motion with this album even more - they've always been about the big crescendo, incorporating a post-rock styled build over multiple tracks that slowly turns into minutes of sustained blasting, but on Noktvrn, Nikita Kamprad went more into the depths of the layered, minimal atmosphere he was toying with as intros and transitions. Songs like 'Immortal' almost give off a post-punk vibe, and despite this having a bit less of Schuler's tasty speed demon skinwork, he's equally as capable when dialing things back, and the band does a good job of interspersing the ambient moments with flurries of speed so no one goes too long without being satiated. In a deep, consistent German black metal scene, these guys have now consistently maintained their position near the top of the atmo-black pile for the last few albums. I do think that I prefer the previous album just a bit more, but anything this band does has the potential to grow on me over time.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Mors Verum - The Living
Total Dissonance Worship
Any time I get the chance to rep local homies, I'm gonna chomp at the bit - but I only do it if the music genuinely has enough going on to snap me to attention. That was never an issue with Mors Verum, who have always been one of my favorite local bands to listen to on record, with a level of craftsmanship a notch or two above local contemporaries. On their new EP, they've taken bigger steps and have truly come into their own. This would have blown me away regardless of when and where I heard it.
I had been crying for ages for them to find a human drummer, as it was perhaps the only area of the music where there was noticeable room for improvement, and they answered my prayers with one of the most skilled hired guns in the scene - the ubiquitous Greg Carvalho, who also plays in prog-death group Aepoch, black metal outfit Stolos, and a handful of other projects, in addition to doing a live stint with Bloodshot Dawn. It's safe to say they found the right guy for the job. His tight blastbeats, clever cymbal placement and almost mechanical synchronicity with the pulsing note changes in the guitars (check out the beginning of 'Inside' to see what I mean) give the guitars the proper foundation to really wander.
Compared to their previous release Deranged, this is a much more dissonant, repetitious, chord-infused affair. There's still flashes of Mrudul Kamble's dextrous fretwork, such as the midpoint of 'Purge', and they bring to mind a more esoteric and focused version of Nile. However, the majority of this plays in a harrowing and tense, yet lush and atmospheric ground that could be compared to a more riff-oriented version of Blut Aus Nord albums (mostly 777 era), with a dash of modern death metal a la early Ulcerate and perhaps a bit of Disentomb as well. It's hard to find a direct comparable, because they've found their own niche and identity, underlined by the wet, cavernous growls of Lyndon Quadros, darting around the fringes of the music, almost so buried in the background that you lose sight of them...yet they're always there, like a shadow that seems to move only in your peripheral. Blut Aus Nord themselves gave this a shout out on their Facebook page, how much else do you need to know to check this out?
MetalBite's Rating: 8.1/10
9: Exodus - Persona Non Grata
Exodus take no prisoners on Persona Non Grata. It doesn't seem like they've been silent for seven years. No disease can stop them - I haven't heard such a furious album by them for a long, long time. Even the title-track (and opener) is brutal as fuck and Exodus doesn't let up. Most of the tracks are the blistering old-school thrash metal you are used to – the typical Hunting riffs, the characteristic voice of Souza - but in some tracks there are some slight changes. You can find a western-style acoustic track ('Cosa Del Pantano') and hints of traditional heavy metal influences. Most of the time, though, Exodus do what they do best - beat the shit out of your head by playing brutally catchy thrash.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
8: Concrete Winds - Nerve Butcherer
Sepulchral Voice Records
Infinite varieties of extremity have been explored by extreme metal since the NWOBHM revolution of the early 1980s devolved into the key sub-genres that make-up the modern pillars of underground music in 2021, and as a result, one occasionally gets the impression that for some bands, the creation of grating noise and frightening velocity is a contrivance, designed to position themselves as a cult band. Concrete Winds remind us of a time when bands like Bathory, Venom and Hellhammer played the way that they did because it was the only way that they could play, teetering on the edge of the limits of their abilities at the time; the unavoidable result of their instinctive response to the music that inspired them. As their skills improved, each of these bands expanded their vision and ambition accordingly, or in the case of Hellhammer, transmogrified into something else entirely. Concrete Winds have more technical ability that the teenage Quorthon, or Tom G. Warrior, but listening to their savage second album, and endearingly wonkily-titled Nerve Butcherer, one is immediately struck by the sense that their sound is the only logical outcome of the way that the band approach their instruments. The result is a blitzkrieg of treble-heavy velocity, that is simultaneously thrash, death and black metal, while also being not quite any of them. A little like Portal's Ion, stripped of the murk and churn, Concrete Winds attack the listener from seemingly every possible direction, with a bewildering flurry of tremolo lines and strangely catchy riffs, while all the while, the rhythm section produce a never-ending clatter which propels the music forward in a slightly uneven and therefore completely organic way. Each song blasts past the listener in a 2 minute blur of aggression, and as such, there is little time to think. All we can do is to surrender ourselves to the thrillingly visceral experience of Concrete Winds' utterly maniacal sound.
Absolute fucking madness. In a genre where everyone tries to sound savage and visceral, Concrete Winds are one of a rare few who exude that manic, unhinged vibe constantly, feeling like the fringe of extremity and chaos in a realm where that frenzy is an essential component. To put it another way, this sounds like Pissgrave on meth. There's a higher degree of musicianship than you typically get out of a war metal band, which only underscores the barbaric pummeling even more. The singular focus on feeding your hands into a paper shredder of riffs can hold your attention for impressive stretches of time - usually I get bored by monotone bursts of extremity, but Nerve Butcherer will slightly alter their angle of attack to create variety while maintaining the tension, and they also have incredibly concise songwriting. The new Archgoat is boring as shit - listen to this instead.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
7: Plebeian Grandstand - Rien Ne Suffit
Debemur Morti Productions
In an already discordant, noise-infused, inaccessible French black metal scene, Plebeian Grandstand consistently defy its already-broad boundaries. They are one of very few bands who has properly replicated the dissonant, overwhelming chaos of Deathspell Omega, and they fuse that with even more adventurous forays into screeching, harsh droning, stark industrialized rhythms, and expansive, drastic shifts. All of this is pieced together via a desperate, strained vocal performance that fully explores each fringe of extreme emotion - the song 'Tropisme' is a good example, since the shrieks and wails are the main feature and do the heavy lifting.
It's hard to properly execute that uncomfortable vibe in music, because there's only so long you can listen to nightmarish, atonal sounds before you long for a degree of musicality, but Rien Ne Suffit does a fantastic job of letting those moments last long enough to make an impact without letting them linger for too long. They're broken up by sections of spirited, manic fury in black metal form, with some surprisingly tasty riffwork hidden in all the banging and clamoring. The stamina displayed in the drum work is impressive, even for someone like me whose musical taste is basically "stuff with blastbeats in it". For all of the debate surrounding whether or not Deathspell Omega's beats are played by a human or programmed, Ivo Kaltchev sure does play similar material with ease. This group exemplifies what Debemur Morti is all about more than any other band on the roster.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
6: Gold Spire - Gold Spire
This self-titled effort is the debut release from Gold Spire, a Swedish progressive death metal act, rising from the ashes of the well-regarded Usurpress, and their first effort immediately marks them out as a band with enormous potential. The opening instrumental is utterly intriguing, acoustic guitars, keys and somewhere in a dense mix, a saxophone burbling away suggests that the listener is in for something a little out of the ordinary, and that is exactly what we get. Although tonally, there are some similarities with the kind of note choices that have bewitched Opeth fans for a couple of decades, Gold Spire are a more avant-garde proposition than their compatriots, stretching unusual but captivating melodies over unconventional instrumentation, before dissonant and crushing doomy guitars shatter the serene soundcapes with a sound that reeks of despondency. The continual presence of the aforementioned saxophone is much more than simply a texture - at times, the way in which it becomes the central instrument of the band's sound, purposefully weaving in and out of the guitars and drums, adds a noirish quality to the band's attack, which variously recalls Ulver circa Perdition City, some of Yakuza's less frantic output, and Ihsahn's After, all references points that any progressive band should be pleased with. Gold Spire switches effortlessly between the lengthy instrumental passages and slightly more up-tempo death-doom, such as on the excellent 'Skull Choirs', where the gothic melodicism combines beautifully with brief snatches of tremolo riffing, layering satisfying crunch over the kind of lush and gloomy metal at which Tiamat once excelled. Gold Spire feels very much an album that fits neatly into a burgeoning progressive extreme metal scene, providing something of interest to fans of Imperial Triumphant, Gorguts, and Rivers Of Nihil, for example, without sounding too much like any of them, and for their first album to display such class means that we can be truly excited about what comes next.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
5: Darkwoods My Betrothed - Angel Of Carnage Unleashed
I never believed that this would happen! Darkwoods My Betrothed, one of my favorite Finnish black metal bands from the 90s, released a new album, their first since Witch Hunts in 1998. Angel Of Carnage Unleashed offers quite a lot – harsh, icy and hateful riffs, shrill vocals blended with very melodic, epic sections underlined by a sonorous voice. After some spoken word overtop of a keyboard (performed by Tuomas Holopainen from Nightwish...huh) the inferno starts. With their style, I doubt anyone would expect such a fierce opener and hateful vocals - the closest comparison would be their 1994 demo (Dark Aureoles Gathering) which was a bit more fast n' grim. On the other hand, there are also songs like 'In Thrall To Ironskull's Heart' that start off more like a ballad and gradually become more epic in scope. Angel Of Carnage Unleashed is Forrest Gump's box of chocolates in musical form, you never know what you're gonna get and it's pretty much always good!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
4: Hyperdontia - Hideous Entity
Dark Descent / Me Saco Un Ojo
Everything that Mustafa Gürcalioğlu is involved in turns to riffs. It's gotta be Newton's fourth law of physics or something. The man has four different bands and they're all great, with a bit of a different flavor to each of them. Hyperdontia has always been the project with the most old-school death metal influence of the four (though it's never absent from Mustafa's writing completely), and new album Hideous Entity adds some extra bit of that Danish bounce, no small thanks to the other guitarist, Mathias Friborg, as well as drummer Paweł Tunkiewicz. You might recognize those two names, as they just put out an album together last month in Sulphurous that appeared on MetalBite's previous top 10 list. If you liked Nexus Of Teeth, this is the same thing but with more little groovy appendages and infectious, chunky riffing, with clear strides being made to give this project a fuller and more well-rounded form. 'Grinding Teeth' has a riff in it that is easily a top 5 contender for "catchiest hook of the year". I'm not even going to tell you where it is in the song because you'll know it when you hear it.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
3: Swallow The Sun - Moonflowers
Century Media Records
I'm not sure these Finns are capable of releasing a bad album. They truly pace the melodeath/doom realm with each new release, and Moonflowers is another worthy addition to an incredibly consistent back catalog. The album is a grandiose 40-minute build into a powerful climax, with each track being a great self-contained song in its own right. Every new movement gets a bit busier and more tense in switches between somber, enchanting arpeggios to warm, thick chords that have either the second guitar or a violin bringing out the lead melody. The album moves back and forth, like a wave, or perhaps a heartbeat given the lyrical themes. Each burst is more vibrant, until finally it lurches into a black metal-esque explosion that can barely be contained. The way vocalist Mikko Kotamäki can keep you dialed into very simple, elegant melodies is, as usual, unparalleled in the genre, and Moonflowers maintains an incredible balance between being accessible while still having the appropriate amount of emotional weight.
I don't usually like to rank "heavy hitter" type albums high up this list, as I'd prefer to give more attention to the up-and-comers that would benefit more from the recognition and exposure (plus Michael tends to hit more of the big name stuff), but I will always make an exception for Swallow The Sun. You've either already heard this album or you need to get around to it, so this is just another reminder for long-time fans that are wondering if they've still got it: they still got it.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
2: Hypocrisy - Worship
After years of Peter being busy with his other project, Pain, on top of his involvement in Lindemann, I wasn't sure if he would come around with another Hypocrisy album. That surprised me, and in addition, the album is killer! The trio performs the typical melodic death metal stuff they know so well, but that didn't go great on the last albums, which were a tad uninspired and bulky. The time off has allowed Hypocrisy to return to their strengths. A lot of the songs (for example 'Children Of The Gray' and 'Worship') remind me of their magnum opus Abducted, with the big, epic space hooks and Peter's snarling highs really taking me back to the past. Some more brutal tracks like 'Dead World' or 'Brotherhood Of The Serpent' found their way in there as well, so you also get some nods to albums such as Into The Abyss or The 4th Dimension. Get your copy right now and worship Worship!
MetalBite's Rating: 9/10
1: Stormkeep - Tales Of Othertime
The "symphonic" tag almost caused me to skip this because I rarely find something in that realm that doesn't make me gag, but I didn't, and man am I glad. I should have known any better than to doubt a project that Isaac Faulk is spearheading, though. He is one of the most versatile and distinct extreme metal drummers right now, excelling at two very disparate styles in atmospheric black metal (Wayfarer) and cosmic death metal (Blood Incantation). He also has an excellent sense of melody as a guitarist and makes that his focus in other projects, such as black/doom group Stoic Dissention, and this newer project. It initially appeared to be a solo venture, but for their first full-length Tales Of Othertime, they've fleshed it out with a full group.
Anything with a "medieval" tinge is tough to pull off without sounding too corny, especially when mixed with the theatricalism and overt presentation qualities of black metal. However, the dungeon synth-y parts of this album might actually be some of my favorite, with great pacing that keep you interested and subtleties that paint a full picture without having to make it too obvious, letting your mind fill in the blanks of a vast landscape being traversed by knights on horseback. The actual metal components are no slouch, either - there's actual Emperor influence, not just because this is symphonic black metal, but because the riffs have that particular discordant cadence that the 90s Norwegians had - lots of melody, yet always sinister enough to avoid any saccharine qualities. Taake and Whoredom Rife are two good musical parallels.
Even with the notable references to older artists, though, Stormkeep immediately has an allure and identity on their own, which is a big feat with a debut album. It makes sense when you consider that most of the musicians involved have been around the block before, but nonetheless this is still a standout within the black metal sphere for this year. It might be a side-project for now, but shit, if they keep putting out stuff this good I might actually end up coming back to this band more than I do Wayfarer, and Old Souls was one of my top 10 albums of the year when it came out!
MetalBite's Rating: 9/10
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!
|De Gevreesde Ziekte|