MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - February 2022
Welcome back to a way-too-late edition of MetalBite's Top 10. Somehow, we got through most of COVID times without missing a beat, and then just as we're coming out of it, two of our main writers (Michael and Nate) both came down with illnesses leading up to March that delayed the release of this article by almost two weeks. We're all recovered and back at it now.
Our apologies to anyone who was eagerly looking forward to our selections of what's what in the second month of 2022, but hey, better late than never! We'll be sure to have a hefty March top 10 to make up for lost time.
A Pale December - Death Panacea
This was released on Avantgarde, who typically are geared towards more atmospheric, post-rock-tinged artists, and this is an atmospheric black metal release…but only by genre tag, really. There's a lot of active, even aggressive tremolo riffing, as well as tempo shifts to create more push-and-pull as opposed to a steady crescendo in the songwriting. You'd think it would go against genre standards, but it's merged with long breaths of shimmering, ambient guitars and modern, arty melodicism. The band sounds like they're from New York, but they're from Italy, which is intriguing because they lack the flowery Italian romanticism that the power metal and atmo-black in their home region is known for. In a strange way, the unconventional yet familiar sounds of Death Panacea is a perfect fit for a label known for putting out albums on the esoteric fringes of black metal. I'm not sure exactly how much I like this yet - it still needs to hit me in the right mood, I reckon - but I can tell it's more involved and odd than the standard fare on this label.
HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn
Okay, two things: 1) Don't judge an album by its cover and 2) let's just get out of the way that HammerFall is a "love 'em or hate 'em" kind of band. I must confess I'm mostly in the former camp: I love their first two albums, and after their last album Dominion was surprisingly strong I was curious about this follow-up here.
They've convinced me yet again, although this album perhaps lacks an infectious hymn on the level of '(We Make) Sweden Rock'. Either way, there are a lot of typical HammerFall tracks with epic melodies and soaring vocals to make these dark days a little brighter. The opener 'Brotherhood', and the mid-tempo title-track are as good as anything they've done. 'No Son Of Odin' as well, which opens with a very cool riff that could have been on a King Diamond album and...well, King Diamond has a guest appearance. But not here - on 'Venerate Me' which is another typical HammerFall banger with a catchy chorus. There are a few throwaway tracks - 'Reveries' and the last two on the album aren't too exciting. Nonetheless it still manages to be one of the stronger albums that came out in February.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: X.I.L. - Rip & Tear
An intriguing debut from this Texas trio. If you look at the cover you may think it's going to be some Paranoid-esque doom metal stuff, but you would be mistaken. X.I.L. combine very charming speed/thrash metal elements like with a bunch of dirty, punky "fuck off" kind of attitude. I am easily reminded of old Metallica or Megadeth, and the late, great Lemmy even makes a short guest appearance in spirit – just listen to 'Breakneck'. In some of the deep cuts you find some much slower parts, so I guess assuming this was going to be doom wouldn't have been totally wrong.
This doesn't reinvent the wheel - it's a very nostalgic album that let you forget sins like (Re)Load, Lulu and Risk. Though the production could be a bit richer (especially the drums) it's gives the album certain flair and also, this is old school metal, so it doesn't need to be perfect.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.5/10
9: Meslamtaea - Weemoedsklanken
Babylon Doom Cult
"Since the come-back record Niets En Niemendal (2019), the band has taken a new direction. Meslamtaea combines 2nd wave black metal with jazz-, prog-, and psychedelic vibes. This is the most experimental album the band has done so far. You can find a lot of quite unusual instruments like saxophone, flugelhorn, tongue drum and vocoder on it.
Mastermind Floris says about Weemoedsklanken: "We play a lot with atmospheres and contrasts. From straight-forward black metal to twisted rhythms, from hard sounds to tranquil ambient. We like to experiment, but the atmosphere is always on top."
Full review/premiere here.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.5/10
8: Deathhammer - Electric Warfare
Hells Headbangers Records
If you've read anything I've written before, you'll notice I don't praise a lot of thrash. Generally, all of the best works in the genre were made in the 80s, but Deathhammer is not your typical thrash band. They managed to stay sharp and relevant through a balls-to-the-wall approach to the genre: a healthy dose of blackened tremolo, manic, high-pitched ranting with lots of squeals and shrieks, and ton of fuckin' SPEED. While true to their 80s influences in the skeletal chords and rhythmic progressions, the extra dollop of frenzy and slight modern tinge to a riff or two makes this feel different than their contemporaries. You can't listen to a song like 'Crushing The Pearly Gates' without getting that "now that's some heavy fucking metal with some god damn riffs" feeling. It just keeps on shredding.
If there's not enough nuance and substance with an approach like this, it gets boring after two or three tracks, but there's an intricacy and adeptness to Electric Warfare's riffwork. The guitarists have a subtly strong ear for melody, the midpaced breaks always have great hooks to keep you groovin', and the songwriting is always efficient and focused. Songs do a really good job of having enough going on to feel full and "professional", while still retaining some of that visceral jamming-in-a-garage quality you need to keep thrash from being sterile. The vocals contribute to that vibe a great deal, with a somewhat ragged, snarling quality to their delivery that sounds closer to modern harsh vocals (minus the squeals, which are more of an homage to the unhinged shrieks of guys like Sheepdog and Sean Killian). Some of Sergeant Salsten's vocal lines are surprisingly detailed and you could almost call them "technical" if he didn't sound like a rabid dog while he was doing them. His mix of primitive energy and surprising dexterity is a perfect microcosmic example of how the album as a whole toes that exact balance so well.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
7: Ultra Silvam - The Sanctity Of Death
The Devil himself has marked the release date of The Sanctity Of Death as a red-letter day. The Swedish trio plays brutal and rough black metal. Even with a hint of melody, they do their thing without any compromise. It's got that true black metal feeling - you can inhale the dark and coldness that this album spreads. The production is very minimalistic and rough and gives The Sanctity Of Death this very eerie and cold atmosphere a black metal album needs to be convincing.
The tracks are sheer fury with an emphasis on speed, with the title track showing some parallels to good old Dissection (only three times faster). 'Förintelsens Andeväsen Del II: Deicidala' reminds me a lot of Nifelheim and Deggial. Though chaotic and entropic upon first listen, in time you notice that the band has a certain structure behind all this madness. The musicianship is tight and (at least I) can sense cohesion and don't have the feeling that they lost control of anything they wanted to do.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
6: Amorphis - Halo
Atomic Fire Records
The trilogy that began with Under The Red Cloud in 2015 is getting closed with Halo 7 years later. Many things have changed lately in this world and most of them aren't good, but fortunately we can always count on Amorphis. If there are some changes at this point in their career they are marginal and if you like their modern melodic heavy metal sound, Halo will suit you just fine.
Heavily harmonized, bombastic melodies with anthemic clean vocals are contrasted with rough death metal-tinged arrangements, strengthened by Tomi Joutsen's magnificent deep growls. Harsh vocals are used over parts I never thought would fit (like in 'On The Dark Waters'), but they work perfectly. A few tracks give hints of their early death metal past, while the songs that take a melodic and softer direction don't quite reach the "ballad" level of turn-of-the-millennium Amorphis. In general, Amorphis tended towards heavier songwriting on this album, and had more epic arrangements and symphonic sounds than the two predecessors. Growls are more frequently utilized, and producer Jens Bogren (who has worked with the band since Under The Red Cloud), did a very good job with a very modern and well-balanced production which leaves nothing unturned.
A slight point of criticism could be that the album lacks cohesion because of the sometimes jarring switch between softer and heavier songs. On the other hand you could say this gives the album a more varied and interesting touch…
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
5: Devoured Elysium - Void Grave
Gore House Productions
It looks like some generic brutal death metal at first glance, but I've learned over time to trust that anything coming out of Turkey is going to be stupidly thick and heavy. There's clearly a great degree of skill in the guitars, but instad of making obtuse shit that's hard to understand (and as such loses its volatility), they write riffs that are fucking fun! The grooves on this album are danceable - I have no doubt I could slap this on at a more aggressive EDM rave and no one would miss a beat. They use harmonics and little guitar tricks in a way that makes it sound like they still had fun playing them, and it helps to keep fresh what would otherwise be stale and univentive riffs. There's no way one of the main songwriters isn't a young 20-something - at the very least, there's a youthful exuberance to the songwriting, giving a certain novelty that makes the riffs pop.
Combine that proclivity for punchy structuring with a ton of raw talent, and you've got all the makings of a breakout album. The drums are immediately attention grabbing with their big, booming production job and pulverizing foot speed that drills the slams into your brain, but it's the vocals that keep me coming back. Kerem Akman has a bowl-rupturing guttural that he abuses to oblivion, and it's mixed with a beautiful, cavernous reverb that adds a decimating, all-encompassing feel. There might be a deathcore undercurrent in the riffing, but it serves the songs well, and does anyone who doesn't live in their mom's basement really care about that anymore anyways? This shit rules no matter what the hell you call it.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
4: Saxon - Carpe Diem
Silver Lining Music
"Most of the tracks are pretty fast or in some upper mid-tempo area, full of awesome guitar solos that have me astonished that these guys still have such energy after all these years. They're not getting younger, if you know what I mean…if I didn't know that this was Saxon I would guess that this was some guys in their 30s playing a great classic heavy metal album."
Full review by Michael here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
3: Vorga - Striving Toward Oblivion
Transcending Obscurity Records
Transcending Obscurity Records strikes again with one of my favorite albums from the label in a while. I've been out of the loop when it comes to black metal recently but this came pulling me right back in. It's a 50/50 mix of Mare Cognitum and The Spirit, crafted with assembly-line efficiency and succinct songwriting. The guitars provide a steady, repetitious bed and slowly ascend into powerful atmospheric heights similar to how Jacob Buczarski likes to do, with a full, modern sound giving things the thickness they need.
The Spirit's new album ventures into more of a progressive, melodeathy direction, which is taking me some getting used to because my favorite part about that band was their icy Dissection aping. Vorga satisfies my craving by leaning more towards the black metal element of that sound, using subtle death metal elements as an occasional spice/contrast a la Imperialist. The arrangements flow so smoothly you start to wonder if the band used lube, a hallmark of their regional brethren - jarring transitions aren't in the German metal playbook. The highlight of this for me is the track 'Disgust' which reminds me of 'The First Point Of Ares' with its blast-heavy march into the aether, keeping an incredible presence and generating atmosphere effortlessly through simple tremolo riffing. 'Fool's Paradise' is another high point with how well it integrates that classic Immortal-styled chug riff.
It's impressive how naturally "cosmic" this feels, even though it's just straight black metal - something about the steady, rigid pacing and near-unnoticeable transitions creates this futuristic, Star Wars kinda vibe, and there's a remarkable consistency to the melody and pacing. It's super tasty and there's rarely a moment where I feel the need to zone out, and even if my ADD-addled brain does anyways, something always gently pulls you back.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
2: Allegaeon - Damnum
Metal Blade Records
Despite basically being a tech'd up version of modern American melodic death metal a la The Absence, Unearth and the like, Allegaeon have managed to create a slew of compelling albums that have even the pickiest melodeath fans (such as myself) considering them as one of the forerunners of the genre today. It helps that every musician likes to flatter my tech-death sensibilities: Greg Burgess has the tastiest solos in the business, whatever drummer they have playing with them is always tight as fuck, and Riley McShane crafts the most intricate vocal lines made by anyone who isn't named Oliver Aleron. I am a fairly big fan of this band, for sure, but they're on the downswing of their prime, with the peak being the Elements Of The Infinite/Proponent For Sentience duo. Still, anything they put out is a mandatory listen for this fella.
They integrated more clean vocals than I'm comfortable with, no matter how competently performed, which takes getting used to, especially when I crave some choppy verses. They're taking the Fallujah jump - that is, infusing Opethian proggy vibes into their formula. It's more of a natural transition for Allegaeon than it might be for other bands, though, with well-rounded, professional performances from each musician. McShane's clean vocals don't annoy me right off the hop, even though they take some getting used to.
Even while fleshing out their sound to the extent they have, though, there's still a couple of rounded and concise tracks that are among some of the best standalone singles the band has ever done. 'To Carry My Grief Through Torpor And Silence' is a fucking incredible track: the busy, driving verse, the dextrous earworm vocal line that made up the chorus, the absolutely disgusting bass/guitar solo tradeoff…easily a top 3 in terms of songs this band has written. It's hard to tell exactly where this is going to rank among their albums, but the fact that it's already good enough to challenge for a top spot in a strong back catalogue tells you all you need to know about checking out Damnum for yourself.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
1: Immolation - Acts Of God
It's mother fucking Immolation baby! They've never released anything shittier than a 7/10 album in their eleven full-lengths since 1991. They are consistent on a level only rivaled by Bolt Thrower and Immo's streak is even more impressive considering, but they subtly augment their sound from album to album, giving each one a distinct flavor that only ripens with age. In retrospect, Atonement was very clean and emotional, especially when time gives one the chance to reflect, but Acts Of God is furious and nasty right from the hop, with a more pointed, almost thrashy attack coming out of Steve Shalaty's blastbeats, hammering in the uniquely compelling terror of Bob Vigna's iconic riff style.
The New Yawkers were clearly listening to their first two albums a lot, as this is closer to Dawn of Possession than any of their other full-lengths. That being said, 30 years makes a shitload of difference in how Ross, Bob and co. sound - their trademark dissonance is a lot more fleshed out and seems to even be taking cues from the modern torchbearers like Ulcerate and Dead Congregation. Their ability to stay on top of what's hip in death metal and integrate trendy techniques into their signature sound is a big part of what makes Immolation continue to stand the test of time, while other former titans of the genre like Morbid Angel continue to lose momentum by the day.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
Thank you for once again tuning into our tardy top 10 selections! Check out January's picks for last month to get caught up on the best shit in '22 so far. See you in...well, I guess just a couple weeks from now!
|Circle Of Silence|
|Michael Schenker Group|