MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - July 2022
We have returned for July's Top 10 Albums of the Month! It's definitely becoming harder to keep up with this as time goes on. It's almost like there's a lot of bands out there putting out music worth listening to. Who knew?
As such, I'm probably going to give a few days' grace period at the beginning of the month before this list goes up. I used to ardently struggle to have everything ready by the end of the month, but the downside of that is that we typically seem to gloss over stuff that comes out right in those last few days (and/or that we don't have promo materials for), so the list feels incomplete. Maybe I'm just being overly particular with what's on this list. Maybe I'm just lazy. Whatever the case, you might have to wait a few more days in the future. Deal with it.
Anyhow, I think you're here for new music or something? We should probably get on with that.
Inhuman Condition - Fearsick
Listenable Insanity Records
ex-Massacre members making some Floridian throwback death metal that's got a few folks paying attention. Full review.
Altars - Ascetic Reflection
Everlasting Spew Records
Ascetic Reflection is stripped-down, scratchy and natural, with few outside frills - but nonetheless generates a compelling, esoteric vibe. Comparisons are often made to Portal, Ad Nauseam, Mitochondrion et al., which I don't hear as much as others seem to. Sure, the ends are similar, but the means are completely different. Altars doesn't convolute their music as much to get their point across, taking a "less is more" approach to the mid-period Morbid Angel riffs installed into winding, repetition-based song structures.
You can only remove so many elements with a sound like that, but Altars do it all the same. This doesn't have much outright doom metal influence, but nonetheless the atmosphere that exudes reminds me of a more cultured, artistically inclined Father Befouled, or maybe Void Rot with a few extra notes. These Australians are right at home in the Everlasting Spew family.
Hissing - Hypervirulence Architecture
Profound Lore Records
If this wasn't overshadowed by several other monumental Profound Lore releases in the last few months, it'd probably be higher up the list. There's nothing pretty about this. Hypervirulence Architecture delicately balances between spacious dissonance and total claustrophobia, walking a fine line in the space between brute savagery and high art. I'm not getting too familiar with this album now because I want to go in semi-blind when they come to play Toronto in September, but I already know it's gonna be a vibe.
Traitor - Exiled To The Surface
Violent Creek Records
What do have Captain Kirk (R.I.P. Nichelle Nichols….), Agent Mulder and George Michael in common? No idea? Well, they all found their way on the newest album Exiled To The Surface by German thrashers Traitor. The album starts with a frosty introduction called 'Rura Penthe' (you know, the detention camp planet where Kirk and Co were sent to after having assassinated the Klingon chancellor) and after this 55 second opener the thrash assault starts with 'Exiled To The Surface'. The quartet from Baden-Würtemberg mixes aggressive traditional thrash with a modern, balanced production. It's nothing groundbreaking, but the drums and bass sound fantastic and you'll be sure to get lost in it if you're a thrash maniac.
It is really amazing how the band developed since their last album Knee-Deep In The Dead. That wasn't a bad album, but when you put it next to Exiled To The Surface, it appears half-baked and unconvincing... Now I gotta go to the basement and get out my X-Files DVDs, they really hooked me with 'Exeter Street 66'. THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE!!!
Krisiun - Mortem Solis
This is about as much as Krisiun branches out sonically - you can tell they put a lot of effort into giving their trademark brand of blastbeats and heavy tremolo riffs a different texture and groove, piecing songs together to be more choppier and rapidly shifting. On the one hand, it's kind of nice to have an album by this band of Brazilian brothers that's more multifaceted and "artistic", on the other hand…that's not really why I listen to Krisiun. The more they can bludgeon your head with a sledgehammer, the better they are. If you are physically addicted to hearing fast drums like I am, this is worth a listen, but don't expect anything on the level of Southern Storm.
Haunt - Windows Of Your Heart
Iron Grip / Church Recordings
Were you to steal a glance into the window of this listener's heart, the anatomically-minded might be able to identify precisely the place that will always exist there for the kind of hi-octane trad metal / NWOBHM that Haunt have become so adept at blazing their way through. No doubt there will be those that consider them a little lightweight, or even cliched perhaps, but Haunt's homage to 1980s heavy metal is so expertly rendered and so lovingly delivered, that for this listener at least, it effortlessly transcends such unimaginative criticism. Windows Of Your Heart offers little in the way of surprises, but what it does have in spades is a wealth of Haunt's trademark blend of twin guitar melodies, dextrous instrumental passages, and insidiously catchy choruses; all of which positions them somewhere between early Def Leppard, and the less progressive end of a scene currently populated by the likes of Hammers Of Misfortune, Traveller and Lord Weird Slough Feg. Haunt tend to be at their best when they drop the hammer and push the speed limit, and tracks such as 'No Control' and the frankly majestic 'Running Hard' encapsulate everything that's good about this almost quaint US metal institution. Sure, if only Trevor Church could employ the talents of a singer with the soaring pipes of Michael Kiske or Bjorn Strid, they could probably ascend to a higher plane still, but even with Church's own divisive nasal whine carrying the vocals, Windows Of Your Heart is another excellent entry in a burgeoning discography.
Defect Designer - Neanderthal
Transcending Obscurity Records
Remember Diskord? The discombobulated skronk-death weirdos who put out a well regarded album, also via Transcending Obscurity, around this time last year? If they somehow evaded your memory because they were simply too jangly and off-putting, Defect Designer is the safer alternative. They have the same guitarist and bassist as their Norwegian counterpart, with a similar fondness for jovial eccentricity couched in a death metal base.
The main difference is that Defect Designer is, paradoxically, less defective. The songs are smoother and more streamlined, with a big shot of punkish simplicity patching together transitions (as opposed to massive, spiraling vortexes with fills and frills the way Diskord prefers it). Given the stripped-down base, the more overwhelming, grindy moments on Neanderthal are cogent and easy to follow as a result. The bass continues to plunk along with its weird little counter-melodies - Eyevind Axelsen has a way of navigating his instrument that is uniquely intriguing, with walking bass lines a la Imperial Triumphant distilled into a propulsive, kinetic format. Neanderthal is, if nothing else, a nice snack for those that like their tunes noisy and their broth a little spoiled.
Mantar - Pain Is Forever And This Is The End
Metal Blade Records
Two-man black/sludge that follows its own unique path - pissed off, groovy, heavy, and with a certain special chemistry similar bands lack. Full review by Michael here.
Sedimentum - Suppuration Morphogénésiaque
Me Saco un Ojo Records
This Quebecois group makes a worthwhile effort to capture the same sort of filthy, groovy OSDM revival sound that Tomb Mold in particular really bolstered the growth of recently. They even went out and got the same artist to do their front cover! That automatically made it something I was going to check out, and I've revisited it a few times since then. It brings you into that sickly, swampy vibe easily, the production is nice and the transitions are smooth, but my main critique of this (and the reason it's an honorable mention and not in the top 10) is that it doesn't have the "big riff". There's a lot of decent-to-really good riffs on here, but none of them have that effect where they staple themselves into your brain and demand you go back and listen to the song again. There's a lot of diminished notes book-ending the riffs, which would have been far more effective in my ears if they were just a little more…squealy. Whereas something like Defect Designer makes its bread and butter off of abrasive, off-putting garnishes, Sedimentum almost seems afraid to add anything in that would compromise their mix of grimey OSDM worship, and it hurts my overall enjoyment of this a bit. It's consistent, but that comes with the caveat of not having any stronger moments.
It's still a fine album and worth a listen for anyone who owns Pit Viper sunglasses and multiple Blood Incantation longsleeves, but it's not making my final AOTY list, let me put it that way.
Begrime Exemious - Rotting In The Aftermath
Dark Descent Records
This was an eagerly anticipated album for a lot of people, and I can see why: Begrime Exemious exist in that space between Albertan black/death metal (think Revenge and Dire Omen) and back-to-basics 80s thrash with a ton of skank beats underlining the delivery. This isn't necessarily an album with huge, grandiose movements as much as it is a series of sick riffs stapled together in a mostly cohesive manner. That being said - fuck, does this ever riff! Each riff is this full, groovy movement, with no stray haze clouding things up and every little tremolo'd note right where it needs to be. The drums are a little thin production-wise, but it allows the ping of the snare to shine through. Though a bit raggedy and primitive, it's all by design - guitarist Derek Orthner recorded and mixed the album himself, using his expertise to have full creative control and tinker with each element, with it all coalescing to form a very potent whole.
These guys don't get mentioned often alongside the big dogs of their scene, but they probably should - they've quietly been a quality workhorse over the past decade and deserve more recognition than they get.
Reeking Aura - Blood And Bonemeal
Profound Lore Records
A Voltron hybrid of musicians from different corners of the NYDM scene: Ryan Lipynsky, a bunch of dudes from Buckshot Facelift and some guy on drums who's in three other bands (is there any other kind of drummer?). With Big Will manning the vocal helm and a melodic tremolo tinge that sounds parallels to black metal without being directly influenced by it, the occasional Artificial Brain comparison could be made, but Blood And Bonemeal is more primitive and bludgeoning as that title might suggest.
I gotta be honest, I didn't think this was Colin Marston's handiwork until I checked the credits, and I'm impressed - he really captured a different sound than you typically hear from his work. In Arty B, the vocals were always buried in an organic haze, but this album really gives Will Smith's powerfully unique, wet low growl a chance to shine. The mix on this is thick and all-encompassing, yet balanced and clear. Lipynsky's riff style is much less technical than Gargiulo and Locastro, but having two other guitarists backing him leaves a ton of room for subtle flourishes that create incredible tension, or they can just double or triple up in unison to add an extra brass knuckle punch to the riffing, and all of it is captured in there clear as day. Despite the limited color palette in Reeking Aura's fretwork, the ensuing melody that pours out is surprisingly inventive. It doesn't seem like much at first, but rewards repeated listening, and is absolutely worth a shot if you were as big of a fan of the new Aeviterne as I was.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Belphegor - The Devils
Belphegor is a band that, to me, is above any and all criticism. I only came to this realization post-pandemic, however: they were a band I wrote off for years because of all the naysayers calling their sexy Satanic image "generic" or saying that they had "mindless blastbeats" and that "all their albums sound the same".
That last point is the only one I will argue as straight-up untrue, because Belphegor is way more versatile than people give them credit for…but the other stuff is accurate. Belphegor loves their blasting on a level only surpassed by Marduk, and all of their album covers (and inner booklet art) feature some naked chicks, Satan, or a combination thereof. They are perhaps the easiest target for critics of metal's glibness and purposeless edgelord shock value, as nothing about their image and the way these Austrians present themselves could be considered nuanced, intelligent, or even tactful in nature. I absolutely agree that Belphegor has the emotional depth of a puddle.
Here's the thing, though…if any other band tried to do what Belphegor does (and believe me, many have) they would look like idiots and fall flat on their face in the process - but Belphegor doesn't, and that's because they're the only band that can make this shit look cool. Their unwavering commitment to the bit, utmost seriousness during live performances, and low-key songwriting intricacies all comes together to make magic out of elements that would be mediocre in any other hands. Belphegor are the exception to the rule that just further proves that no one else should try this played out shtick, because these Austrians are so good at it, it's unfair.
There are a lot of slower diversions on this album, which may be the only thing that irks me about The Devils, because Belphegor is a band that should have precisely zero ballads. They are best when they are as fast, obnoxious and stupid as possible. It's not that their slow songs are bad - remember, Belphegor is above any and all criticism - they just don't have the same raw Satanic essence that the blastbeat blitzes do. Perhaps they're necessary to balance out the album, who knows.
Anyways, the songs that do go hard on this one are just as dank and earwormy as all of their past albums, and this production job is hella fat. Like, even for a Nuclear Blast band, this sounds absolutely huge. I don't know if this will crack my top 5 Belphegor albums, but it's got a couple songs that will make the rotation, and that's all you can really ask for from a longstanding titan on their twelfth album. Don't listen to what the naysayers tell you, Belphegor are the coolest, sexiest, most powerful black metal band in the world, and anything you could criticize them for is precisely what makes them special, the exception that proves the rule. I don't care if you've been listening to black metal for 2 weeks or 20 years. They'll surprise you all the same.
TL;DR: You should get into Belphegor.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
9: Wake - Thought Form Descent
Metal Blade Records
One of my personal most anticipated albums of 2022 right here. Devouring Ruin was a true breakout album, one that saw the band markedly shift their sound from barebones grindcore to expansive, dynamic and breathing death/black metal with a unique type of melodic discordance. It floored a ton of people and opened the doors to a massive new fanbase. While that album didn't click with me right away, I could hear enough going on in it to warrant some extra listens, and sure enough, the right amount of time turned Devouring Ruin into my 2020 Album of the Year. Watching them enjoy their ascent into metal's collective consciousness, capped off with a contract with one of the big dogs in Metal Blade, was a nice little feel-good story.
The question on my mind as I geared up to hear Thought Form Descent: Was it all a fluke? Was the magic of the album before a one-off, and would the success go to the band's head - or at the very least, cause Wake to dilute and streamline their sound for a wider audience, losing what made them special in the process? As much as I was excited to hear this, I was preparing myself for a wide range of options.
Now that it's finally here…it's a little of column A, a little of column B. This isn't Devouring Ruin, and the band sounds much more comfortable in their established sound as a result. Previously, because they were transitioning into a new style, that made every riff feel like it was breaking new ground, whereas this immediately feels more familiar because of the position it's in. You can tell the elements of Wake's sound they wanted to lean on more after hearing their album back: legato, looping cascades of black metal-esque melody, driving Opethian prog-rhythms, and layers of "deathgaze" type atmosphere are all featured with greater prominence. It still glistens through your ears with the same richness they had before ,and the songs are written as more steady and sustained energy surges.
The vestigial traits from their grind days are all but gone, and the production offers less crunch and more haze. While they didn't top the album before it and didn't write a song as powerful as Kania Tevoro, Thought Form Descent makes it known that Wake and their newfound style are here to stay, and they're happy to have you along for the ride if you're buying what they're selling.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
8: Castrator - Defiled In Oblivion
Dark Descent Records
Even if it weren't for the misandric lyrical themes (which are awesome and refreshing), this would have made the cut for this list without breaking a sweat. Castrator turned heads and twisted nuts with their 2016 demo (and subsequent EP with the same title) - I distinctly remember really liking the idea for the project and wanting to hear more of what the demo offered. Now, thanks to a partnership with one of the best labels for modern death metal in the business, we've got more! It's been six years, just long enough for this group to fade out of my active memory, so this was a pleasant surprise to see.
Even more pleasantly surprising, the music delivers on all fronts. Castrator's riff style sits somewhere between tremolo-heavy NYDM and early 00s brutal death like Disgorge, with some thrashy Slayer sensibilities lining the riff frills and vocal delivery. This doesn't push the boundaries of death metal or create a new subgenre or anything like that, but it still sounds quite distinct and fresh because of how the ingredients are mixed together. Death/thrash bands typically are predominantly thrash with occasional heavier sensibilities, but Castrator's the inverse - Defiled In Oblivion is a brutal death metal album written like it was made in the 80s. The precise combination isn't something I've heard much of this side of Deathchain, which is a shame, because it's meaty, riffy, and super easy to get into.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.1/10
7: Wormrot - Hiss
These fellas have always been one of the most interesting and forward-thinking bands on the grind block, and this might be their most expansive album yet, adding a Gridlink-esque shrill undercurrent to their playfully ripping riff style - and it works even better here. Wormrot is much cleverer than their unhinged delivery lets on - the surgically tight drumming and ability to make disparate sections feel like part of the same song has always been underrated, but Hiss might be the album where it finally gets its due because their sense of subtlety is much more evident.
This has big potential to be their breakout - they're taking the best parts of their sound and evolving them in very music nerd-esque ways. Not only that, all the pieces seem to fit. Deceptively benign album cover? Adding a violinist feature? Vocalist left right after recording? Yeah this has all the makings of a media darling and something that is probably going to end up on Decibel's Top 40 year-end list.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
6: Vomit Forth - Seething Malevolence
I really didn't want to give the time of day to yet another Century Media release that's getting praised to high heaven (you never know if it's genuine hype or if it's just over-exposure from being on a big label)...but yeah, okay, this is really good, and not at all what I was expecting either. I thought this would be some designed-for-a-stadium, hardcore-tinged death metal a la Gatecreeper or Creeping Death, but instead this has nods to primitive 90s slam like Internal Bleeding and Devourment, with a sickly sense of absurdity in the multi-directional vocal performance that evokes the same kind of unhinged horror that Gorerotted and Dripping were going for. The production is a bit clouded and thin, which seems to have drawn ire from a few listeners, whereas it just adds to the draw for me. it sounds…organic. Like, instead of it being mixed poorly in 2020 to sound like it came out of the early 90s, it just sounds like it was actually a high quality mix from 1991. The difference there is small, but very important in the grand scheme.
The thin, wet sounds of flesh hitting a wall could've been spliced in and it would complement Seething Malevolence perfectly, it's got that gory vibe. It's like Autopsy with slams, which is a delicious combination of elements if I ever heard one. Eat up!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
5: Grima - Frostbitten
Might be better in the wintertime, but an album as good as this transcends mood music. This is the solo project of the Sysoev twins, the musical force that also lends a hand to Russian groups such as Ultar and Second to Sun, both operating more in the post-black metal realms. Those are great and worth a listen on their own time, but I'm here to talk about Grima, and that's mainly for a few reasons: one, holy fuck that high. Gleb's shriek is something all its own and one of the finest, smoothest, sharpest vocal rasps I've ever heard. Think Dani Filth but less shrill and with an almost tonal quality to it. Two, man these guys know how to slowly draw out an atmosphere through long form repetition. There's tons of little nods to Agalloch and Alcest mixed in with lush symphonics and the occasional hat tip to Dissection. It's grandiose and all-encompassing while still being carefully paced, always waiting until the end before the best is revealed.
The growth from Rotten Garden to this is abundantly clear by the end of the first track, and the interplay between the guitars and vocals in the grander scope of the album has a wonderfully synchronous give and take. Perhaps making music with an identical twin gives you an advantage in this regard. It takes the right atmo-black band to really turn my crank, but this might be the best thing I've heard come out of the genre since Ethereal Shroud.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
4: Vidres A La Sang – Fragments De L'Esdevenir
One of the biggest joys of listening to so much underground metal, is the unexpected joy of encountering a band, hitherto unknown, but who display the kind of originality and inspiration that grabs the attention almost immediately, utterly refusing to give in until the final notes of the album have subsided completely. Spain's Vidres A La Sang are one such band, delivering a dense, but bewitching album of dark, progressive metal. Perhaps this should be less surprising, however, when one notes that the key players in VALS do double-duty with White Stones. That band, of course, also features Opeth bassist Martin Mendez, who tracks the never less than excellent basslines throughout Fragments De L'Esdevenir. Wrapping sinuous and fluid (almost Portnoy-like) lead guitar runs around a dissonant churn that periodically hints at a classic rock take on Deathspell Omega, but more frequently evokes the downbeat majesty of mid-period Katatonia or even Green Carnation, the overall impact of their combination of aggression and exemplary musicianship is an intoxicating mix. VALS are at their best on the penultimate track 'Fins Aqui', on which they allow the stellar rhythm section to breathe, the track gradually developing into an insidious grooving monster recalling Tool at their most metallic, yet more spellbinding, but tasteful, lead work adding some light to the eldritch atmosphere of the majority of this splendid record.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
3: Greylotus - Dawnfall
The Artisan Era
Oh look, the tech dork jerking off another tech album…even being an Artisan Era release, this was a double mandatory listen because it features Sanjay Kumar, one of my favorite current guitarists in the biz right now. The infusion of melody and technicality he brings into a big, slammin' sound is all his own, and his style blossoms like a beautiful grey lotus flower (god I'm so FUCKING clever) on this album. The uplifting, maximalist fretboard runs infused with oddly-timed, convulsing chug rhythms is like an Ophidian I/Veil of Maya hybrid, and wow does it ever work well.
If all deathcore sounded like this, I'd probably listen to deathcore more. This is lush, vibrant and breathing, in the same ballpark as atmo-deathcore like Fallujah with double the tasty licks and a more natural swing in their wide range of motion. The synths are absolutely tasteless and the breakdowns are as jarring as they are disgusting, and normally I can't stand music written like that, but any clusterfucky moments in the songs are always written with purpose and appropriate pacing. This ain't no Shadow of Intent ripoff, this is a band that is ready to become a force all their own.
I'm really getting into this sort of death metal lately: the kind that makes me feel exuberant, confident and, well…happy. There's something about the way this is pieced together that makes it such a delight: it's very collaborative, with each musical voice having its share of input, but the intricacy and smoothness with which it flows is incredible. There's just enough to dazzle, but it never crosses into overwhelming, overly saccharine territory. Now this band just needs to get their ass up and tour Canada so I can incessantly bug promoters for my band to open.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
2: Antigama - Whiteout
With the occasional exception of stellar releases from bands such as Gridlink, Insect Warfare and Wormrot, one could argue that the grind scene has been languishing a little in recent years, as bands struggle to reconcile the need to remain connected to the crusty origins of an extreme sub-genre that is repetitive almost by definition, while also demonstrating enough progression to stand out from a seething morass of similar sounding acts. Thankfully, so furious and so exhilarating is Antigama's new release that it vaults some distance clear of the competition this month, and will take some beating if it is not going to be my grind release of 2022. Reminiscent of post-Enemy Of The Music Business Napalm Death, Pig Destroyer and the raft of Relapse-associated death-grind bands that emerged at the tail end of the 1990s, without sounding identical to any of them, the Polish grinders have an instinctive feel for the perfect balance between acrobatic riffs, scything grooves, jackhammer blasts, and enough experimental touches to ensure that each brief track is a considered and satisfying arrangement, as opposed to the disorganised pile of power chords and snare drums that can characterise second tier grind. Whiteout is aptly named – there is barely a second of the album in which the intensity level drops below migraine-inducing, and its blend of viscerally thrilling sheet-metal guitars and deceptively clever songwriting will keep this listener coming back for another relentless beating time and time again.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.6/10
1: Protector - Excessive Outburst Of Depravity
High Roller Records
The general rule is that every thrash band releases at least one "stinker" in their career. There is one real exception that comes to my mind - Protector. Even The Heritage, released in 1993 - we all know this wasn't the best time for thrash - was still in the old-school spirit with few flaws. After their reunion in 2011 they always delivered great stuff as well, continuing that trend with Excessive Outburst Of Depravity.
Martin's voice is as raspy and hateful as always, and Protector focus on WWII themes for much of this album. Old-school thrash riffing meets traditional heavy metal riffs, sprinkled with death metal influences (especially in the vocals) all at blitzing tempos. The album only relents on 'Open Skies And Endless Seas' and 'Thirty Years In Perdition', but they are the diversions that gives a break to the brutal thrash avalanche at the right time, preventing boring repetition. The songs work really well together as a cohesive, full album... 'Perpetual Blood Oath' and 'Cleithrophobia' are some of the most demonic and aggressive to my ears, but everyone will have their own favorites because of the top-notch songwriting. Unsurprisingly, Patrick W. Engel delivered a full, powerful production job - I'm struggling to find a weak point.
So thrashers, get your album of the year right now!!!
MetalBite's Rating: 9/10
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