MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - December 2021
We've finally come to the end of the year for MetalBite's Top 10! Bet you forgot this was a thing with all the year-end lists that pop up around this time. We've got one of those that we're gearing up and getting ready to post, ourselves but that's in addition to this list - we're still staying true to form. If anything, this is a good opportunity to catch up on December releases that you missed because you were too busy trying to remember all the shit you heard this year.
I didn't think I would be keeping this up that long - the only reason I even started this in the first place was because covid lockdowns gave me a ton of time to check out new music and I just...can't stop doing shit.
Life has definitely thrown all sorts of shit in my direction since then, but somehow this month-end list has persisted throughout the year. I definitely have Michael and Benjamin, the other two regular writers who contribute to this list, to thank for that. I wouldn't have lasted 3 months without them covering some of my blind spots and giving these articles enough content to be substantial. (thanks guys!!!)
I would also like to thank anyone who reads these lists and uses them as a source to check out new music. I don't even know for sure if anyone regularly looks at these or not, but if you are, just know you're the reason we do this. Nothing beats the feeling of turning someone on to a sick band they didn't know of before.
Hopefully you're out there somewhere, because we're gonna keep it going again next year, maybe even adding more writers and other features. We'd love to have you along for the ride.
Happy New Year, everyone. Let the metal flow onward and forward!
Dessiderium - Aria
The Artisan Era
Don't you know by this point I shovel anything TAE puts out directly into all my orifices? This is like a more airy, melodic version of the genre-defying Warforged, with just as many long-form diversions and "grower" qualities as that band. At over an hour, there's an overwhelming amount to take in. Anthemic clean singing, complex guitars that will trip you up if you're not paying attention, and expansive, versatile drumwork come together to create a very lush, vibrant iteration of tech death.
Is it just me or has this subgenre been getting…happier and more new age-y lately? Not that I'm complaining…
Malignant Altar - Realms of Exquisite Morbidity
Dark Descent Records
Out of all the Morbid Angel worship I've heard lately, this is one of the only albums that genuinely recreates that dry, alien grooving of the Formulas/Gateways to Annihilation era. I swear I've heard a million albums just like this that either bore me or are actively irritating to hear, but this didn't do any of that. I actually got into it and stayed interested during the back half. Maybe it's the drummer, who stays busy and throws in a ton of fills to add extra little licks into an amelodic mix. Maybe it's the way Malignant Altar writes songs that ebb and flow, actually striving to be more than a collection of riffs that were on Erik Rutan's cutting room floor. Whatever the underlying reason, this is worth a listen even if 90% of your disposable income doesn't go to Dark Descent every month.
Phrenelith - Chimaera
Nuclear Winter Records
Didn't hit me as hard as Desolate Endscape, but it seems to be structured as more of a grower - the songwriting has less immediacy. Either way, they still lay down some of the nasty grooves we came to know and love on the debut.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Ofermod - Mysterium Iniquitatis
When you brush aside all of their controversies, Ofermod have always been one of the more consistent orthodox acts around. No experiments, no trends, just untainted worship of darkness. Mysterium Iniquitatis continues their established style. Pummeling drums paired with icy riffs and harsh, croaky vocals that altogether mesh well and create a harsh, frigid atmosphere. Melodies are secondary, the focus is more on a wall of tremolo riffs and blasting drums.
The songs are kept in a mid-paced tempo, creating a hypnotic and evocative feel that easily seeps into your consciousness. There isn't any overt dissonance, no keyboards and no acoustic interludes. If you like Scandinavian traditional black metal the tried and true way, this will not steer you wrong.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.5/10
9: Pyrexia - Gravitas Maximus
Unique Leader Records
It kind of sounds like a diluted version of old Suffocation, but where Terrance Hobbs liked to write riffs with snaking, convoluted fretwork, even the most active moments of Pyrexia feel blunt and meat-headed. There are many moments where it sounds like the band had no clue what to do, so they just throw in another slamming, hardcore-infused groove, and god damn it, it works! Though disgustingly heavy with sickeningly low growls and squeals, there's a clarity and sheen to the production that makes every single moment feel like a brick to the face. This follows the blueprint of NYDM to a T, but this is a lot more fun and attention-grabbing than other recent albums by stalwarts of the scene like Internal Bleeding and Skinless. Time may very well bump Pyrexia from third-stringer to one of the primary exports of the scene.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
8: Pantheist - Closer To God
Melancholic Realm Productions
This enigmatic project is true to the original spirit of funeral doom metal. Laden with rich, lush keyboards and open, drifting compositions that capture a somber, resonant reflection of divinity and mortality. The metallic tenets of this project are more of a spice than the main ingredient with this. Usually that's a problem, but Closer To God has a substantial enough atmosphere to its seeping, triumphant layers to carry the songs on their own. Ideas change at a glacial pace, with the progression of the songs being very smooth and subtle. The guitar tone, glossy and polished, doesn't feel like it should fit on a doom album at all, but the magic emerges in the space between each musical element - the beauty is in how they complement one another.
Though you're probably only familiar with Pantheist if you're more versed in funeral doom, they've actually been honing their craft for a bit, with their first album coming out in 2003. They don't seem to be super talked about, but generally have favorable reviews from anyone who does decide to give a deeper listen. Time and maturity give the band the confidence to starkly adhere to their meticulous and gradual layering of paints onto a canvas. It's the kind of album that mostly works as a background listen, but is surprisingly intriguing and grabbing when you focus and peel back some of the layers.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
7: Unanimated - Victory In Blood
After two great and pioneering albums in the 90s, a mediocre comeback album in 2009 and the promising Annihilation EP from 2018, Unanimated have put out another full-length. The album starts aggressive, with less of their trademark melodic touch - instead, they are relentless and full of hatred. 'Seven Mouths Of Madness' is one of the fastest tracks the band has ever written and it's a neck-breaker. It seems like the group got more into speedy black metal.
This goes from good to great in the latter half, when you hear the other side of the band finally start to emerge. After 'Demon Pact (Mysterium Tremendum)' the quintet slows it down and focuses more on hooks, showcased most in: 'XII', 'The Golden Dawn of Murder' and the great closer 'The Poetry of the Sacred Earth'. They don't quite reduce things to a crawl, but you can hear more pronounced melodies and the song structures are more straightforward. 'Divine Hunger' is a short track that is the most death metal-like song on the album. This should satisfy the old guard more than their last comeback did, with some surprises along the way.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
6: Cadaveric Fumes - Echoing Chambers Of Soul
Blood Harvest, having only come to my attention relatively recently with the issuing of the most recent Cryptic Shift record, is fast becoming a label, not unlike Dark Descent or 20 Buck Spin, which guarantees a certain level of quality in terms of its releases. Happily, their particular specialism seems to be in ripping, but slightly odd death metal, which is something of a sweet spot for my current metallic tastes. Cadaveric Fumes' debut full-length, Echoing Chambers Of Soul does nothing to dispel these views, being yet another excellent release from the label, as well as functioning as a magnificent parting shot for a band that have been lurking on the fringes of the scene for some time via a string of EPs and compilation releases, but are disbanding upon release of this, their most significant achievement. It is as if Cadaveric Fumes were a monster lurking in the foul depths, accumulating energy and power for a single kamikaze assault on its adversaries, emerging into full view only once, drawing itself to full height to nihilistically attack anything that comes within its considerable range, until finally, drained of lifeforce, it slumps lifeless, returning once more to dust and atoms.
Cadaveric Fumes' brand of death metal tends to favour the Autopsy / Asphyx school of lumbering, lurching riffage, occasionally and unpredictably breaking into faster tremolo sections, but mostly sticking to a scabrous mid-paced churn. As a result the album coils and slithers, creating a creeping mental terror that builds horror gradually, as opposed to the instant gratification of a cheap jumpscare, and it only serves to make the whole thing more satisfying. It also aligns perfectly with the tone of their thick, doom-laden guitars, the merest hint of cavernous murk enhancing rather than obscuring the propulsive death metal, a little like the releases earlier this year from Grave Miasma and Craven Idol, albeit less thrashy than either of those. The record reaches its apex with the infernal harmonies of 'The Engulfed Sepulcher', but maintains an admirably high quality throughout a consistent set of highly impressive songs. If this is indeed to be the first and final full-length, then Cadaveric Fumes are succeeding where many bands fail, and bowing out at the top of their considerable game. And for that, they should be saluted.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.1/10
5: Ethereal Shroud - Trisagion
Northern Silence Productions
December has not one, but two projects that imploded after they released landmark albums! Accompanying the release of Trisagion, mainman Joe Hawker indicated that the album would be the last thing Ethereal Shroud ever did, noting he had accomplished everything he wanted to under that name. It seems like a bit of an over-dramatic statement at first, but then you hear the album and…yeah, this guy covered all the bases.
The massive scope and vast, uplifting grandiosity of this doesn't leave a single stone unturned, and it's hard to think of any area of atmospheric black metal Trisagion doesn't cover. It's got the agonizingly long post-rock crescendos that turn into bright, turbulent storms of triumphant riffing, midpaced wandering that plays with layers and keyboard tones, and a breathing, organic drum performance courtesy of Noltem skinsman John Kerr. Normally I'm turned off by albums longer than 50 minutes, but the sheer magnitude of some of these buildups and explosions makes the 1 hour 15 minute runtime of this album barely feel like enough to contain the grandiosity and power. It is unfortunate that Hawker is never going to make any more music under this name again, but the emotive resonance and depth expressed in this release is something that will take many, many listens to be able to fully digest, so this should satiate his fans for years to come.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
4: Volbeat - Servant Of The Mind
I didn't expect much from the new Volbeat album: after listening to the single output 'Shotgun Blues', I was surprised it wasn't a Guns N' Roses cover. I became a little bit curious when I heard 'Servant of the Mind' though, so I bought the album.
I must say, this album is far better than their last two releases, which had a more commercial flavor. They still have their radio singles, but Volbeat often leave their comfort zone and head into rougher territory. 'The Sacred Stones' is a doomy song that creeps into your ears with a dark, gloomy atmosphere, the aforementioned 'Shotgun Blues' starts with a very impressive guitar riff which could have been on the first three Volbeat albums, and 'Becoming' shows the roots of Volbeat - for those unfamiliar with the band, they were originally known as Dominus, putting out great death metal album (View To The Dim) in 1995.
On the flip side, there are a handful of catchy and melodic tracks that will lift you up during a shitty day. 'Wait A Minute My Girl' is short and sweet, with a jubilant sing-along chorus. 'The Devil Rages On' is a nod towards the King of Rock n' Roll, spreading a warm, charming atmosphere. There's a good deal of variety, so listen and you won't be disappointed.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
3: Mental Devastation - The Delusional Mystery Of The Self (Part I)
Blood Harvest / Suicide Records
It's not a very well-kept secret that much of the best new thrash albums seem to emerge from the South American underground these days, and Mental Devastation, from the hyperactive Chilean scene, are no exception. The initial signs are not totally convincing - the band name is slightly generic and the artwork isn't very inspiring, but any concerns are immediately swept aside as the grandiloquent intro gives way to the intense progressive thrash of 'Ascension', which pummels the listener with a slightly filthier take on the classic Bay Area sound, leavened with a dash of the 4-string heroics of Atheist or Cynic, and overlaid with the type of gruff, rhythmic vocals that Peter Dolving brought to The Haunted. The slightly pretentiously-titled The Delusional Mystery Of The Self (Part I) is quite simply a checklist of everything that one would want from a thrash album in 2021 - crunchy rhythm guitars, acrobatic but memorable riffing, labyrinthine arrangements, and some spectacular fleet-fingered lead work. Indeed, the masterful exhibition of well-structured melodicism that each of the lead passages bring to each track is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the record, reminiscent of the work of the incredible Mustaine / Friedman tag-team on Rust In Peace, and the sections truly enhance the end product in a way that the aimless shredding many thrashers are guilty of would not.
Not unlike some of their compatriots, Mental Devastation manage to deliver modern thrash that sounds like a continuation of the classic sounds of the mid-80s, but without feeling in any way anachronistic, and this is down to the conviction with which they attack each track, as well as the sheer verve and exuberance that they display in tearing through album highlights such as 'Vulcanic Eruptions'. If there is any criticism to be had, it is that the flamenco flourishes of the penultimate instrumental song (this sequencing providing another tip of the hat to the classics) offer a tantalising glimpse of what could be if the band opted to integrate this more deeply into their sound. However, this is not to the detriment of any of the material on this ripping album, but simply new territory to conquer next time round.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.6/10
2: Dormant Ordeal - The Grand Scheme Of Things
This album desperately needs more attention. The Grand Scheme Of Things is pointed, ripping death/black metal that takes big influence from regional blast fiends like Vader, Lost Soul and early Decapitated, and adds a subtle melodic touch. The result is something The Chasm would write if you removed the thrash influence, with riffs hitting you in sustained waves that cycle through a few times to make sure you savor the taste before kicking it up a notch. The choppy, theatrical ranting of the vocals amplifies the energy in the verses, and the drum performance is astounding - Radek Kowal values stamina over varied backbeats or rhythmic textures, and though almost never relenting from his mind-numbing speed, the hyperdrive snare mixed with just the right amount of cymbal play allows the drums performances to dictate the flow of the songs. In a somewhat unconventional way, it sounds like the rhythms were mapped out before the riffs were, which makes for a very percussive album you feel in your gut.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
1: Aquilus - Bellum I
I was unfamiliar with Aussie progressive metallers Aquilus prior to this month, their evidently well-regarded 2011 debut Griseus having passed me by a decade ago. However, it took only a few bars of the impeccably composed intro 'The Night Winds Of Avila' before I was intrigued to hear more, as the swells of classical strings wrapped themselves around the Rachmaninov-style piano runs, before the crunching down-tuned guitars of the first of a number of lengthy tracks signalled the collision of the band's progressive death / black metal with the classical arrangements that surround the band's music throughout. The tonality instantly reminds the listener of much-missed UK progressive types To-Mera, and the band share the cinematic approach of that band, albeit relying to a lesser extent on the metallic part of their complex and bewitching sound.
The 'symphonic' label is, of course, not especially unusual to encounter in the metal underground, even if it has long since passed through the phase in which it seemed a ubiquitous feature of black metal (although Stormkeep's new album may yet drive a resurgence of that particular style). Aquilus, however, are in a completely different category to bands such as Dimmu Borgir or Behemoth in their use of symphonic sounds. Rather than utilising strings and horns as an additional texture to adorn tracks that are primarily built around conventional metal instrumentation, it is, for the most part, the classical elements of the Aquilus sound that drive each track, the guitars and rhythm section often secondary to the enigmatic soundscapes put together by the band's mastermind Horace Roseqvist.
Occasionally, as on stand-out track 'The Silent Passing', raging tremolos and blasting drums emerge through the orchestration to briefly take centre stage. Just as quickly though, laidback acoustic guitars and woodwind lines again win the battle for supremacy, with atmosphere prioritised over aggression, as it is across much of this superb album. Bellum I (the first of two halves of what will be an epic proposition) is a majestic and grandiose achievement, which positions Aquilus firmly at the forefront of the classical / metal crossover, and will indubitably reveal new secrets with every listen.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
And that's a wrap! See you in 2022. Here's all the other lists from this year:
|Körgull The Exterminator|
|One Of Nine|