MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - March 2022
Welcome back to a (moderately more timely) edition of MetalBite's Top 10! As is promised, we've got a big ass list for you, with all three of our main writers (me, Benjamin, Michael) coming out in full force for this one. Springtime seems to be when labels and promoters start to crank up the heat and drop their big names.
Let us know what you were hoping to see that we missed!
Arkaik - Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts
The Artisan Era
Despite being a pretty crazy tech-head I have not listened to this group much (I always get them mixed up with Abiotic in my head for some reason). It's an Artisan Era release so you know it slaps, and you probably know if you'll like this or not before you've even heard a note, so why bother describing it further?
Sanhedrin - Lights On
Metal Blade Records
The ongoing pandemic has already inspired numerous artistic endeavours since its onset in early 2020. Not too many of them have resulted in a modern take on traditional heavy metal that tackles the significant changes that have affected the planet as part of wide-ranging, but topical lyrical themes, however. Sanhedrin's third album, Lights On, does exactly this, bassist / vocalist Erica Stoltz's strident musings on the modern world taking centre stage, against a backdrop of dextrous, melodic instrumentation, which triangulates US power metal, trad metal and prog in a similar way to their spiritual kin; Argus, Hammers Of Misfortune and The Lord Weird Slough Feg. Lights On is hugely enjoyable, although not quite as vaultingly ambitious as the aforementioned defenders of the faith. The song structures are fairly conventional, the vocal melodies are a little more rudimentary, and the instrumental sections do not display the same triumphant virtuosity as some of their peers. This certainly doesn't render the songs themselves any less memorable though, and when the band unleash the kind of Visigoth-style spirited and spiky riffing that they do on the excellent 'Change Takes Forever', it is easy to get carried away in their irresistible bombast. It would be a stretch to suggest that the pandemic has been a good thing for music, but an album such as Lights On is the kind of silver lining that makes the losses recent years a tiny bit easier to bear.
Dark Funeral - We Are The Apocalypse
Century Media Records
If you don't know what you're getting with this, do you even listen to metal? As it stands, Dark Funeral is arguably the single most popular black metal group out there this side of Behemoth. I can't think of any other band that just plays straight-up BM with no outside genre influences that has managed to garner a million followers on social media.
As multiple reviews by our seasoned writers indicate, this is more of the same from Lord Ahriman and co., but if you already like the band, that shouldn't be a bad thing. No sense rambling on about this when everyone is already familiar with Dark Funeral and knows what they sound like, so just listen to it if you haven't yet and want to!
Father Befouled - Crowned In Veneficum
Everlasting Spew Records
I read a comment on a video that was something along the lines of "Father Befouled does oldschool Incantation better than modern Incantation" and on this new album, I'm inclined to agree. Only now, though - It's taken me a while to get into the atonal, anti-melodic nature of this group's riffing, I can't say I return to stuff from their back catalog much. A lot of the times it sounded like the atmosphere got away from them a bit, and they couldn't reel it back in soon enough to keep the listener interested. That doesn't happen here, for whatever reason. Maybe it's just time making this band sound more favorable in my ears, but the guitars on Crowned In Veneficum sound more grounded and I can follow where they're going, and the atmosphere feels less contrived and more like a natural byproduct of the riffs themselves.
Deathspell Omega - The Long Defeat
Norma Evangelium Diaboli
I haven't given this the appropriate amount of time that a DsO album needs to stew before you can fully grasp what they're on to, but a cursory listen reveals some melodies that show flashes of what they were doing on Paracletus, and that's my favorite album by them. They're leaning more towards melody than entropy (with the appropriate amount of their defining dissonance still present) and I am here for it. It's a new album by motherfucking Deathspell Omega, like em or not they're one of the most important extreme metal bands of the 21st century, so shut up and listen.
PS: Dropping albums out of the blue with no promo like these guys do is the ultimate Chad move. They know you'll find them, they don't need to come to you.
In Aphelion - Moribund
Edged Circle Productions
Necrophobic members teaming up with the drummer from newer upstarts Cryptosis to create some slick, no-frills black metal that really impressed the old guard here at MetalBite, with a lot of upbeat thrashy overtones to complement the classic black metal vibes.
Full reviews by Michael and Felix here.
Sidious - Blackest Insurrection
The UK black metal scene has come a long way in the last decade, and where once it was home to a handful of credible acts, and little more, it can now boast an enviable strength in depth, with a healthy underground producing forward-thinking extreme metal that can compete with the best that Scandinavia or the US can offer. Sidious swell the ranks further, with Blackest Insurrection, their third album, and follow-up to 2019's Temporal. Sidious's latest release is a more than solid combination of orthodox mid-tempo rolling minor key riffs, the whirring thrash chugs, and even some more atmospheric passages that recall the aforementioned Winterfylleth, or even their Cascadian cousins in the Pacific Northwest of the US. Even if Sidious have a little way to go before they reach the same level as veterans such as Marduk, Immortal, or 1349, this is the perfect album to tide over those of us bored of waiting for those bands to put out something new, and it might also attract the envious attention of the corpse-painted hordes that are still disappointed about Satyricon moving on from the Volcano era. This record is a reassuring example of contemporary black metal that sits squarely in the genre, but without chasing trends or descending too often into hackneyed riffs and melodies, and exudes the confidence of a band who know that they are only going to get better.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Kostnatění - Oheň Hoří Tam, Kde Padl
Might have flown under the radar since it's an EP and didn't have a massive promo push, but this is a very interesting and unique slice of black metal-themed reinterpretations of Turkish folk music. The idea is very novel in theory, and is a much more restrained and cohesive affair than Hrůza Zvítězí. The discordant madness on that album seemed to forego all conventional notions of how dissonance (and tuning a guitar, for that matter) could be approached in extreme metal. There's still traces of that unsettling string warping that was all over the last album, but the melodies follow much more of a thread, and this also has a superior drumming by virtue of it being a live performance this time around. Jack Blackburn low-key has a stacked resume that includes Inferi, Enfold Darkness and Skaphe among a bunch of others, and he beefs up these three tracks real nicely, with a wide array of tight fills and and quick rapid-fire blast sections to seal any of the gaps, answering any questions anyone had about how Turkish folk would translate to dissonant black metal.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
9: Hellbore - Panopticon
The Artisan Era continued to solidify their monopoly on prog-tech-melodic wank metal with the new Arkaik album, but despite that being a fine release in its own right that earned an honorable mention, the superior listen and most obvious gut punch to come out of this subgenre in March was a little-known English project without any ties to any of the heavy hitters like TAE, Willowtip and Unique Leader.
The first band my brain immediately compares this to is Slugdge, both because of the British parallels and the approach they take to a modern extreme tech sound. There's lots of busy, prominent vocal lines mixed with acrobatic, Beyond Creation-esque lead guitars, even going into proggy clean bridges in some of the deeper cuts. All of that is contrasted with a big, booming yet muffled guitar tone that takes a dry, djenty approach similar to The Faceless or Soreption. This style is now just another one of many in the broad spectrum of metal, no longer being novel or under-saturated, but that's not a bad thing inherently. Hellbore did nothing to reinvent the style or push it forward, they just executed well within the genre's established confines, and I'd like to think that going with what you know and playing to your strengths generally gets you better results than failed experiments.
Bonus points because the drums on this are programmed and I didn't notice until I explicitly looked it up!
MetalBite's Rating: 7.8/10
8: Godless Truth - Godless Truth
Transcending Obscurity Records
The trajectory of this band is interesting and makes for a very messy metal-archives page. They've been around since 1995 and have four full-lengths released between then and 2004, but the guitarist is their only constant and they completely overhauled their lineup some time in the mid-2010s, and the music is different enough that the similarities are only truly in name. In a sense, I consider this the band's debut, because they got a bunch of young blood to fill out the ranks, hooked up with the guy from Vomit Remnants for a logo and one of the most versatile labels for up-and-coming bands today in Transcending Obscurity to put out the album, and in most other ways fully developed and realized their sound. The fact that they chose to self-title the release tells me the band felt similarly.
The reborn Godless Truth is a fusion of oldschool and modern technical death, with shades of 90s extreme prog like Carcariass or Theory in Practice combined with mid-era Obscura, though always maintaining an edge and never fully crossing the bridge into saccharine melody and bass wanking. By straddling the two sounds, they also maintain that delicate balance tech-death needs to where it has to be fast and stimulating enough to keep up with the Archspires and Desecravitys of the world while still having enough restraint to make the music listenable. It feels like they just now are finding their sound after almost three decades of tinkering around with it, a true inspiration for any late bloomers or anyone who feels like they haven't found the right musicians to properly execute their vision. Turns out they might just be 20 years younger than you and haven't learned how to play an instrument yet.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.9/10
7: Cryptworm - Spewing Mephitic Putridity
Me Saco Un Ojo Records / Pulverized Records
Perhaps more than any other genre, metal is an eternal tug of war between those forces that would shape the genre into new forms, splicing the raw genetic material provided by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest et al into their own sound, and those forces that seek to solidify and venerate the genre as it is. And perhaps metal needs this, perhaps the simultaneous reinforcing and breaking of existing boundaries is what keeps metal alive? All of which is a slightly roundabout way of saying that for those of us that enjoy switching between either end of the tug of war outlined above, there is an awful lot of satisfaction to be found in the discovery of new music that emulates and venerates something that we already hold dear, and that is absolutely the case with Cryptworm. The UK death metallers obviously worship at the foetid altar of early Carcass, Autopsy and any number of Scandinavian bands, and Spewing Mephitic Putridity is their take on that sound. While the wheel remains steadfastly un-reinvented here, it is the quality of the delivery which makes this album such a joy to listen to – the elastic, rolling riffs are frequently staggeringly good and amazingly memorable for a brand of death metal that generally relies on visceral thrill rather than considered compositional techniques. Overall, this is a triumphant slab of filth that is as infectious as some of the medical conditions that feature in the band's lyrics, and twice as deadly.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
6: Aethyrick - Pilgrimage
The Sinister Flame
As far as I'm aware, this is the first time that a band has had multiple albums placed in our top 10 AOTM lists (I could count In Aphelion, but one of the write-ups was for an EP that preceded the eventual full length and it had some of the same songs).
Under the radar, Aethyrick is starting to become one of the more prolific bands in the Finnish scene, having put out four full-lengths in the last five years. That's not terribly uncommon for a black metal band, as the minimal, lo-fi aesthetics allow for less time spent in the studio and more time writing new songs, but what makes Aethyrick different is that their slew of albums released in a short time are…actually good? Like, they're listenable and don't bore you, and they don't have to resort to attention-grabbing experiments or random splicing of different sub-styles.
Pilgrimage is finely crafted black metal with no frills, which I find to be increasingly rare nowadays…it seems to get any kind of attention or hype, you have to play balls-to-the-wall jangleblack (Deathspell Omega), incorporate post-rock influence (Wolves in the Throne Room), or add an extra dollop of goth or post-punk to stand out (Lamp of Murmuur). Like their previous album Apotheosis, which I also enjoyed a fair deal, Aethyrick uses their smooth, flowing songwriting abilities to create songs that lock down your attention immediately, despite writing riffs that are essentially just more streamlined versions of October Falls verses. Maybe I just have a particular affinity for their riff style? I mean, that is the whole point of personally picking top albums of the month, after all…
MetalBite's Rating: 8.1/10
5: Slægt - Goddess
Dang, didn't know these fellas got picked up by the big dogs, I had fond memories of jamming their 2017 album Domus Mysterium which had a really nice mix of black metal and heavy metal influences that sat in a nice spot between catchines and extremity. Here's an excerpt from the full review of the album published earlier this month by our familiar friend Michael:
"Goddess is a challenging album that doesn't grab the listener in an instant. You need to engage yourself but it is overall a worthy pursuit. I had my difficulties with it at first but now I really like Goddess and am pretty thrilled about how the band is playing with their musical spices to create a dense and uncompromising atmosphere."
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
4: Kvaen - The Great Below
Black Lion Records
"Black/speed metal" might give the impression of yet another sixth-rate Venom clone - that's what I kind of expected going in, anyway. This solo project grabs you and maintains your attention through sustaining energy while cycling through earworm riffs at a steady pace. The title track has some of the more generic, overtly 80s-influenced riffing present on the album, but fuck if it doesn't rip face way more than all these dime-a-dozen throwback acts. It's a 70/30 blend of black/speed metal respectively, which is an uncommon mixture - and judging by how effective this album is, it probably shouldn't be!
Full review by Michael here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
3: Idol Of Fear - Trespasser
I have become completely smitten with this band in a matter of a month after having no prior knowledge of their existence, despite them being a black metal band from my home province a mere 4 hour drive away. That's partially by design, mind you - Idol Of Fear don't perform live much, with the only evidence that they ever have graced the stage at all being an old event page from 6 or 7 years ago when they opened for Panzerfaust. That may be because Ontario isn't a region that's especially known for abstract, off-the-beaten-path black metal, but Idol Of Fear's relative obscurity may also simply be because this band is too fucking weird, and the world isn't yet ready for them.
Indeed, it's hard to find a direct comparable - while many have cited the later works of Emptiness, a Belgian black/death band that later evolved into a subtler beast with lots of post-punk influence and more focus on ambient minimalism, as a band with similar motifs, Idol Of Fear bring in their own interpretation of this unexplored realm of extreme metal. Right away, it feels different - riffs don't aggressively drive a song forward as the vocal point (as is the general standard), instead choosing to hang in this vacuous, tremolo-laden space, with the echoes and reverberations of the guitars gradually easing another layer into a song as the previously established one slips out of view.
The main aspect that keeps this eccentric outfit in its own realm is how the album is paced - it's a stark departure from the extreme metal songwriting trope of the build and release. Instead, songs circle a drain of eerie, genuinely unsettling emotions, highlighted by the drum performance and vocals. The rhythms always have a certain level of busyness to them, but never rise to the "double bass n' blasting" approach common in the genre. It kinda sounds like a doom metal drummer who always wants to do a fill, creating this stilted, stumbling base that somehow always manages to hit in the right spots to ground the performance. The vocals have a spoken-word quality to them, having less overt distortion and more breathy ranting in their delivery, in addition to being clearly enunciated. The despondent, wailing guitars combine with a haunting, carnivalesque overtone and it all creates uncomfortable emotions I didn't know music could adequately capture.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
2: Aeviterne - The Ailing Facade
Profound Lore Records
Two ex-members of dissonant NYDM band Flourishing make up the core of this newer project, fleshed out with other folks from the already deep and competitive New York scene. I always thought they never really got their due - while Ulcerate's popularity escalated, Flourishing fizzled out, despite having their own gripping and intriguing take on the newer death metal that was coming about. The Sum of All Fossils is arguably a landmark album for the genre, and I don't hear about them much, but this should turn at least a few heads and get people talking about them again.
Aeviterne play a similar style, though natural changes come about with the new rhythm section. It's harrowing, atmosphere-focused death metal with a lot of dissonance, the unique feature being that the shrill side of the tension comes from the same places Coverge-esque post-hardcore does. It's really tasty in a way that a lot of stuff in this vein neglects in pursuit of a more technically layered, high-minded atmosphere - just listen to the way 'Denature' opens up the album. No meandering, no bullshit, just get to the riffs and riff hard. There are still more minimal sections used to draw out the atmosphere, but the focus and pacing in the songwriting is done to precision, and nothing overstays its welcome.
The vocals play a big role in why this digs its hooks into you as well - they've got a tonal, screechy underlining while simultaneously being incredibly consistent and smooth, very similar in their delivery to Horrendous or to a lesser extent At the Gates. Profound Lore has always been fond of the New Yorkers, and in lieu of a new Artificial Brain album (please put something new out soon, guys) this will scratch my itch for tastefully modern death metal while I wait.
As the debut full-length from a cast of characters who have a background in some wildly differing bands (Artificial Brain / Fawn Limbs / Tombs) I wasn't sure what to expect from Aeviterne, other than that it was likely to be complex, challenging, and high quality. It is immediately apparent that all of the above is absolutely correct, and if anything, Aeviterne are even harder to digest than some of the members previous bands, their amorphous sound dripping through the hands of any listener foolhardy enough to try and grasp it for long enough to study closely. At its heart, Aeviterne's debut is complex and monolothic, but not exactly technical death metal, sharing elements of the kind of sound that Dead Congregation, or Immolation specialise in, without ever aping any other band too closely. There are also distinct hardcore and industrial influences gnawing at the fringes of the songs, not least in singer G.B.'s dry bark, and the clanging, metal-on-metal resonance of the pounding bass. Imagine Ulcerate sharing a rehearsal room with Integrity, while Godflesh look on, and you won't be too far away from conjuring the sort of noise that Aeviterne delight in spewing up from their collectively nauseated stomachs. As Aeviterne perhaps find a more singular voice over time, it will be fascinating to witness what could be an exciting evolution.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
1: Downcross - Hexapoda Triumph
Cavum Atrum Rex
Hexapoda Triumph, Downcross's fourth album since the release of their debut in 2019, is a superb release, full of memorable moments, even without the huge contribution of the oddball invention and ingenuity that serves elevate the record to the higher echelons of 2022's black metal releases. There is an uncontrived weirdness to the Downcross sound that makes their songs compellingly unusual, without ever straying into avant-garde, or dissonant territories. The album has the same arcane quality that you find in records by similarly esoteric artists from Eastern Europe such as Root, Negura Bunget or Master's Hammer, a quality which makes it recognisably black metal, but played by musicians who are coming to the form from a completely different perspective and alternative history, producing a natural, but utterly bizarre take on the form. Happily merging NWOBHM-style riffs and thrash grooves, all criss-crossed by brittle tremolo runs utilising unfamiliar intervals and scales, the album is also an absolute haven of headbanging riffs, and perfectly balances the visceral thrill of scything black metal with less immediate, but equally important touches of magic, bringing an intrigue and mystery that will ensure that the listener keeps returning to what is a startling and enthralling album. Hexapoda Triumph shows that the underground still contains some unmined gems, and it will enrich the life of anyone who searches hard enough to uncover a real treasure.
MetalBite's Rating: 9.1/10
Thank you for visiting! Check out previous lists from this year:
|Circle Of Silence|
|Michael Schenker Group|