MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - January 2022
We're back in business! This is usually the time of year that releases drop off because of consumerism and shit (statistically I'm pretty sure this is the time of year that people are buying the least amount of luxury stuff). As such, this was a thin month, but thanks to some solid contributions from MetalBite Album of the Month regulars Michael and Ben, we've got a nice list of 10 things that came out that were worth listening to, plus honorable mentions.
This is somewhat significant in that it's the one year anniversary of these lists at MetalBite, with the first top 10 I did being a way to fill a month of pandemic-induced boredom. Look at what it's turned into now! Happy birthday to us. As always, thanks for being here.
Druid Lord - Relics Of The Dead
Filthy death/doom from some American veterans, with members having ties to Acheron, Massacre and Killing Addiction. If you liked the new Worm album but craved a bit more of an old-school touch, you'll be happy as a pig in shit with this.
Abyssus - Death Revival
Transcending Obscurity Records
Death/thrash that takes a very Master-esque, no-bullshit approach. The folks at good ol' Transcending Obscurity continue to pump out a consistent stream of quality releases at a rate of at least one per month, if not more.
Shadow Of Intent - Elegy
I'm still not going to fully admit to my bass player (who is very into this band) that I'm sold on the overwhelming hype for this Halo-themed symphonic deathcore group, but I will say that they definitely have chops and vocalist Ben Duerr in particular is really fucking good.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Wilderun - Epigone
Century Media Records
I was very excited for this release - it's the big label debut of a band that made a huge splash with their 2019 album, Veil Of Imagination. Despite me not usually gravitating to prog metal that makes me feel like I'm in a Disney movie, that album thoroughly floored me front to back - every saccharine twist hit, more atmospheric and hook infused than anything Tuomas Holopainen could ever hope to conceive. It's my 2019 album of the year, actually.
Century Media took notice of it (as they rightfully should have) and now, Epigone is Wilderun's exposure to a bigger audience and…well, it's a step down. I was hesitant to even include this in a top 10 given I'm not totally sold on it, but I'm giving it a spot because a) it was a thin month for releases b) there's still a lot of things I like about it and c), it's as good an opportunity as any to convince people to get into Wilderun because they're a great listen regardless of your typical musical preferences.
Evan Berry's clean singing is still delightfully rich and charming, and this group of Bostonians still effortlessly draws out a rich, fairytale-like atmosphere with touches of mid-era Opeth and later Enslaved. The issue I have with this album is that it falls victim to what I'm now calling "Rivers of Nihil syndrome" - in an effort to branch out and expand the scope of their sound, songs are no longer grounded and everything feels like a transition. There's a bit too much film score grandiosity and not enough riffin', you know what I mean?
All of that being said, this is structured like a grower album, so the fact that I have to get this list in by the end of each month might be hurting where Epigone will end up on my year end lists. Veil Of Imagination was an 8/10 album on first listen and ended up as a 9.4 after a digestion period of a few months, so that could happen here, too.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.6/10
9: Aegrus - The Carnal Temples
It might only be an EP, but the latest release from Finland's Aegrus packs an almighty punch. In fact, given the relentless jackhammer blast of its four songs, one might justifiably argue that a release of this length is the optimum way to enjoy the Aegrus experience, so exhausting might a full-length prove. Not unlike their spiritual forbears Marduk and Impaled Nazarene, the speed gauge rarely drops below irresponsibly fast, and any variety depends primarily on drum patterns that move between blast and D-beat, anything more intricate rendered unnecessary by the band's ceaseless savagery. It should be noted that this is not a criticism, and indeed, the D-beat passages, in particular, are extremely effective in establishing some semblance of groove from the blizzard of tremolo that rushes past too quickly to grasp for the majority of each track. There is no real light and shade in the realm inhabited by the sickening entity that use the Aegrus monicker, only shade and more shade, and this means that The Carnal Temples is perfectly suited for those occasions when only a cleansing blast of pure hate and disgust will do, its invigorating power dusting away the cobwebs in a way that more sophisticated metal can't quite manage. The highlight of the EP is the brilliant 'Flesh And Blood', which initially bears a passing resemblance to Mayhem's 'Pagan Fears', before it strikes out in a direction all of its own, with the kind of unexpectedly catchy palm-muted riff that seems to be a diminishing feature in a sub-genre that sometimes obsesses over atmospheric soundscapes at the expense of any metal content at all. Aegrus, however, delivers an ultra-solid slab of unashamedly metallic rage that takes no prisoners, and does everything it needs to do and a little bit more in a sadistically exciting 25 minutes.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
8: Dysnerved - Man In The Middle
Harrowing avant-garde black/death metal that has the power to awe and shock you from multiple angles. The drum performance is not mind-bogglingly-technical, but has enough going on to ground the riffs and makes them breathe, even as the tension relentlessly slithers forward. It is perhaps a Greek interpretation of the new album by Italian dissonant masters Ad Nauseam - a little more focused, a touch more consonance, and wet, yet sharp high vocals that seem to be a staple of the region.
It's rare that a debut from a new band with no real connections to established artists or history behind them gets you to pay attention, but this is different - it's very polished, not in a production sense though, it's more that this is meticulously thought out and every section and transition appears composed with delicate care. Perhaps that's why it took 10 years for this group to release any sort of recorded music.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
7: Aethereus - Leiden
The Artisan Era
An Artisan Era release with Sam Nelson art? You know I'm all over that shit. If you're familiar with the label, this isn't going to shatter any preconceived notion - this is an expanded and elaborated version of their riff-abundant, adventurous melodic-blackened-symphonic-whatever else death metal. The Inferi parallels are not just clear, but an apparent necessity of anything on this label, and comparisons could also be made to Stortegn, as Aethereus values songwriting and pacing over showmanship and acrobatics.
That being said, Leiden has higher peaks and more spacious lows, in addition to a modern, American tinge to the verses - the melodic phrasing and tendency to use death metal-influenced chugging to occasionally ground thighs brings to mind Black Dahlia Murder more than Obscura, even though the influence from those Germans is evident in some of the ringing atmosphere and prominent bass presence. Even with the multifaceted songwriting approach, giving you more than enough material for multiple listens, the power and weight in the songwriting is immediately felt. Strong start from a label that always delivers the goods.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.9/10
6: Ereb Altor - Vargtimman
Ereb Altor have quietly built up a large back catalog of quality albums - Vargtimman is already the 9th album of these busy Swedes. It starts with a very epic track called 'I Have The Sky'. As always, this band breathes the spirit of Viking-era Bathory, and there's a touch of good ol' Manowar, too, making for one of the best songs the band's ever written.
However, with the following track the band didn't do themselves a favor. It is a quite unspectacular and slow track which I might have put somewhere else on this album because after listening to the opener it is like falling down into a deep hole. 'Rise Of The Destroyer' brings things back with some faster black metal vibes, with the guitars (and sometimes the vocals) being heavy enough to give you that gut feeling and make you tap your foot. The other tracks on the album are a nice cross-section of all the previously mentioned elements. The band has branched a bit beyond paying homage to traditional Bathory influences, while still giving the longtime fans enough of the Viking vibe to keep them interested. If you take a walk through some icy (or at least lonely) landscapes, you will get the right mood to find access to the album. By the way, if you want to purchase the album, try to get the limited edition because as a bonus you will get the Eldens Boning EP from 2021, too which was only digitally available until now.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.1/10
5: Det Eviga Leendet - Reverence
Another album that has intrigued me this month, even if it does not quite have the overwhelming impact of The Mist From The Mountains, is Reverence, the second album from Det Eviga Leendet (which translates in to English as The Eternal Smile). This Swedish / American black metal troupe are operating on the fascinating and ever-moving margins of the genre, and although not as avant-garde as (early) Solefald, they tap into the same sort of disquieting quality, through their combination of layers of ghostly static noise with strange and hypnotic guitars employing unconventional chord voicings and note choices. These guitars are frequently set to a grating blast, although this is far from the default setting of what is an inspiringly restless and varied album.
The overtly metal sections of each song recall the abrasive and warped riffing that characterised the Blut Aus Nord sound at the turn of the millennium, as they began to develop their sound from their more orthodox beginnings, but Det Eviga Leendet are equally as compelling when they take their foot off the throttle. They do this to great effect on the excellent 'Visage', where fragile shards of guitar are overwhelmed by the frankly terrifying shrieks of despair contributed by Mare Cognitum's Jacob Buczarski, who clearly knows a good thing when he hears it. Through the final strains of the spectacular 'Yield', which pulls the band a little closer to the kind of mournful and yearning black metal of American bands such as Panopticon, it is clear that Reverence is a difficult, but rewarding experience, which makes no concessions to the comfort of the listener across its six bleak and lengthy songs. Despite this, the quality of the band's music is such that it draws one in, like a light in the dark that mankind trudges gradually towards, only to realise that it is the fire that will incinerate us all, leaving only eternal darkness.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
4: Dark Millennium - Acid River
"You can clearly hear death metal influences in the arrangements (and some doom like old My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost) but I wouldn't classify the music as real death metal. It is difficult to say the style the band is playing. Maybe progressive avant-garde death doom? Whatever it is, you can find sounds that let you feel like you're on a trip visiting Alice in Wonderland…"
Full review by Michael here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
3: Wiegedood - There's Always Blood At The End Of The Road
Century Media Records
After closing the trilogy De Doden Hebben Het Goed, I was afraid that Wiegedood would split-up, but fortunately my fears were unfounded. The first track 'FN SCAR 16', starts as you would expect a song named after an assault rifle to, and it's the heaviest and most aggressive track the Belgians ever wrote. Really hectic riffing and insane screaming make this song an uncomfortable opener that gives you high expectations for the rest of the album. And let me tell you, they never let those expectations down throughout the remainder of the album's runtime.
Their first trilogy was more dissonant, leaning more on fast structures and traditional black metal riffing paired with noise collages ("Nuages"). Continuing in this vein, there are still plenty of disturbing and sick parts to be found here. Just listen to the vocals in 'Now Will Always Be' – a truly terrifying performance. You won't find time to relax - once you think you can take a breath, Wiegedood slows the tempo and something else starts happening. It might be samples, faded shrieks, or it could just be lulling you into a false sense of security before things kick back up again. There's Always Blood At The End Of The Road is no easy listen, but a challenging beast that demands further exploration.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
2: The Mist From The Mountains: Monumental - The Temple Of Twilight
Monumental - The Template Of Twilight is both the debut album from a Finnish black metal band who clearly have a bright future, and the best thing I have heard so far in 2022. The Mist From The Mountains present us with the sort of streamlined, but forward-thinking, black metal that modern-day Enslaved excel at, and display a highly impressive level of song-writing for a band with no prior releases (although they can boast some history in other moderately successful bands, such as …And Oceans). Their brand of black metal is unashamedly epic and windswept, and like (Viking-era) Bathory and Primordial before them, the band are meticulous in their construction of an appropriately reverent atmosphere, but also know when to let rip with the kind of razor sharp and stately mid-tempo riff that 'Empyrean Fields,' among other tracks, boasts. The prevailing sound of the band is nominally symphonic black metal, reinforced by the kind of stirring, armour-plated Scandinavian folk melodies and rousing lead guitar figures that have made Havukruunu's recent output so thrilling, not to mention making Moonsorrow such a revered band in the pagan metal scene. There is plenty of variety as the album progresses though, and some unexpected surprises keep things interesting, and ensure that the album doesn't become too formulaic. Dashes of prog-rock organs and female vocals are sprinkled for flavour throughout the songs, and at times, the arrangements are pretty enough to evoke a similar sense of stoic sorrow to that conjured by compatriots Swallow The Sun. The Mist From The Mountains have produced a debut which is spectacularly assured, and packed full of memorable songs delivering a true emotional impact which stimulates the brain as much as it appeals to the warrior within. There is something intriguing that burns at the heart of these Finns, and on the evidence of this magnificent piece of work, there is every chance that it will soon ignite, the consuming fire eventually spreading far beyond the forests of their homeland.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
1: Silhouette - Les Retranchement
A new project proclaimed as a synthesis of DSBM aesthetics and angelic female cleans, this new French group taps into the same ethereal realms as the legendary Alcest. As someone who dorked out hard on their first three albums in the early 2010s (and pretty much anything else Neige was involved with), I'm thrilled - Alcest themselves have ventured into a lighter, more shoegazey direction now, which I vibe with less, and I didn't even realize how much I was craving some new music in that beautiful space where melancholic black metal and bombastic post-rock collide.
That being said, writing this off as an Alcest clone would not only be a disservice to Les Retranchement, but also terribly inaccurate. Despite the "DSBM" attributes mentioned in the promotional blurb, the only real trope of that genre you hear is the shrieked harsh vocals. The heavier riffs have modern influences, though interestingly enough they don't seem to take as much influence from the French scene - I hear more influences along the lines of Mgla and Agrypnie than anything. In addition, there's an undercurrent of melodic death/doom in the writing - the band likes to linger at a middling pace, and when the clean vocals are prominent, there's a careful marching feel reminiscent of Swallow the Sun. That is but an occasional spice, as this has far too many blastbeats to be considered a "doom" album in any respect. There's a handful of different styles being given a tip of the hat on this, and it might seem stilted and disparate if the phenomenal vocal performance didn't tie everything together.
The shrieks are evocative, like Ghost Bath with a hint more grit, but they're not even the star of the show. The clean vocals are absolutely captivating, and have a powerful cadence to them that is one of a kind. Though incredibly rich and vibrant, they have this stark, dry delivery that gives the impression they are being sung by someone who is dead. Not in a wailing banshee sort of way, it's more like an enlightened soul that had a tragic passing and wanders haunted halls, beckoning those who wander by with an irresistible siren call. They're not tormented - they're at peace with leaving their body, even happy. They are so beautiful it's fucking scary.
Silhouette obviously realized that they needed to use that voice as much as possible, but also that there needed to be a balance. Too much candy ruins a good meal, so to get around this, the band had the brilliant idea of using the visceral weight of black metal as climaxes for the stretches of delicate, lush majesty. We're one month into 2022 and I might have already stumbled on my debut album of the year.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
Hope you find something you like in this sea of releases! Also, here's the link to December 2021's AOTM list, which links to all the previous months' articles in case you wanted to go down a new-metal-album-themed rabbit hole. See ya at the end of February!
|The Infernal Sea