MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - August 2022
Welcome back to MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month! Surprisingly enough, it was thin, at least from the perspective of these lists. Both writers I collaborate with for this agreed that it was tough to think of enough noteworthy albums compared to the juggernaut summer months.
Nonetheless, we still managed to pull something together we think is pretty solid, featuring veteran heavy hitters and obscure new projects alike. Let's see what we managed to dig up.
Hexis - Aeternum
Debemur Morti Productions
Got the chance to open for these guys earlier this year - they're absolute workhorses and have toured in more cities than you'll ever visit in your life. With vocalist Filip Andersen being the only constant, each album is a brash, difficult-to-stomach mix of black metal delivered by way of harrowing, in-your-face hardcore, not unlike Young and in the Way with more swirling dissonance and tom beats replacing the brash rockstar tendencies. The band likes to shake you out of a groove, hammering away at a certain motif for a minute or two, and then contrasting it with a jarring blastbeat section, tense, pained breakdowns, or maybe they just abruptly end the song right there. All in all, it comes together well on stage - the band gets a huge sound out of a modest setup and minimal songwriting, and the strobe light they use live jackhammers it all into your brain.
On record, the brute forced is replaced for a hazy, discordant atmosphere, but a similar overwhelming feeling of dreads enters your consciousness all the same. The key to their off-putting yet entrancing approach is the transitions - they always stick two riffs together you'd never think would fit, but it's always carefully rehearsed so it makes sense. You get the sense the group is very intentional with how they tease you into thinking something will resolve itself in the song, but it never fully does, and then it's over.
Machine Head - Of Kingdom And Crown
Nuclear Blast Records
After the very polarizing (and in my eyes very disappointing) Catharsis the guys around Rob Flynn have once again played to their strengths - more aggression, less half-baked nu-metal. 'Slaughter The Martyr' is boring at first, but quickly turns into a hateful thrash track that could have been on The Blackening. Because it doesn't make you want to turn the album off right away, it's already an improvement from the last one. Machine Head have been doing this for a long time so you should know what you have to expect - I prefer when they go straight forward with their ass-kicking thrash grenades. The album gets a little more groovy and starts to lose me around the mid-section, but ropes me right back in with 'Bloodshot' and 'Rotten', some of my favorite tracks from the band in a long time - catchy, but with a death metal edge to the vocals keeping things sharp. Perhaps Machine Head is just going to be one of those bands that are polarizing no matter what, but for those of you that already bought in, this should be satisfying.
Plasmodulated - Plasmodulated
[Note: This came out in March, but it just got released on CD by Personal Records in August, and it's got Benjamin raving so much that we had to include it in the honorable mentions]
With Wharflurch only just establishing themselves in the modern death metal scene, it seems almost arrogant for that band's Myk Colby to be releasing his latest aural assault under the name of another band still. However, while ostensibly death metal, the old-school thrashing death of Plasmodulated is a world away from the psychedelic ooze of Colby's main band, as well as an outlet for the treasure trove of riffs that apparently pour out of the man. Recalling Morbid Angel, Angelcorpse and a host of European (but not Scandinavian) bands, without aping them too obviously, Plasmodulated are a raging alternative to the complexity and dissonance of much modern death metal, daring to build smart and snappy arrangements from disarmingly catchy death metal riffs. Plasmodulated occasionally slow to an Obituary or Asphyx-style lurch, but the listener just as often finds them rampaging forth at the kind of tempos that Slayer built a career from, the whole edifice augmented by authentically creepy twin guitar melodies. Colby has an instinctive feel for developing a simple idea by altering the feel or drum pattern – tremolo runs transition into chunky, palm-muted mid-tempo riffs, before taking off once again in a flurry of hellish pinch harmonics, all underpinned by rumbling double-bass. The fluidity and natural flow of each track suggests that a highly capable songwriter is at work here, someone adept at firing rusty, jagged hooks into defenceless death metal die-hards. Plasmodulated has the happy feel of unearthing a long-forgotten late-80s demo, and it has this particular listener grinning inanely and hoping for much more to come from a band that are hopefully just getting started.
Amon Amarth - The Great Heathen Army
Metal Blade Records
I can physically see a lot of you rolling your eyes now. Yes, Amon Amarth is the second uber-popular, polarizing band in my top 10 for August. So what? Good music is good music, and what the Swedish Viking wannabes did with The Great Heathen Army is some of the most interesting material they've written in years. The opening track even has some Bolt Thrower vibes with its slow riffing and gloomy atmosphere - a promising start. There's the trademark Amon Amarth gallops, some more upbeat moments and ballad-type songs with deep growls, but there's a few surprises thrown in to keep longtime fans interested. 'Saxons And Vikings' has a very prominent guest vocalist whom one recognizes instantly (I'd give you a hint, but it's already in the title), and the contrast between the guest vocalist and the atmosphere of the band is a wonderful combination. With 'The Serpent's Trail' they may have written their most powerful and atmospheric song yet, and they show they're not afraid to have a little fun with the sing-chanting in 'Heidrun'.
You know you're going to check this out at least once since Amon Amarth was almost certainly a part of your musical upbringing, so might as well just get it over with now!
Soilwork - Övergivenheten
The hybrid melodeath masters have another album, and it got the attention of one of our newer contributors, Julio. Read his full review here.
Conan - Evidence Of Immortality
Conan good. They so heavy my words no work anymore.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Sigh - Shiki
There's some Celtic Frost vibes in ominous, creeping songs such as 'Kuri Kage', but Sigh wouldn't be Sigh if they didn't weave some psychedelic stuff into that, going in a completely different direction by the time the track is over. Mirai's high-pitched vocals underline this insane atmosphere. At first, you wonder if they went for a slow, gloomy vibe, but then you hear songs like 'Shoujahitsumetsu', one of the fastest songs the band has ever written. Classic heavy metal flair springs forth out of the typically atypical black metal vibes, and sometimes the drums have a bit of a thrashy vibe not unlike albums like Hangman's Hymn and Gallows Gallery.
Mike Heller heads the percussion on this one, which is notable as it's a departure from longtime skinsman Junichi Harashima - yet Heller blends seamlessly into the fabric of the band, despite being associated more with the robotic, hyperspeed blasting of Fear Factory and Malignancy. If anything, Shiki is a testament to his versatility and ability to mesh with any musician he plays with, catering to their style effortlessly.
It doesn't have the bursting-at-the-seams energy and intricacy of In Somniphobia, nor the trippy psychedelia of Imaginary Soniscape, but nonetheless it's a new Sigh album and with that comes titillating, creative twists from an extreme metal band that is constantly defining the boundaries of its own genre, then proceeding to break said boundaries with their next album.
Full review by Michael here.
MetalBite's Rating: 7.9/10
9: Aronious - Irkalla
The Artisan Era
No, it's not mandatory for me to mention The Artisan Era in every single Top 10 list, why do you ask?
I actually almost didn't include this one. Perspicacity, the previous release by this group, was praised very highly by a lot of my friends and people I trust, but I could not get into it, despite borrowing the CD for a few weeks and leaving it on in the car so I could get the proper slow-burn effect. Something about the constant start-stop nature of the drumming and the roundabout, indirect songwriting didn't gel with me. Maybe it was just that it has a more stilted, less overly zippy vibe than the rest of the stuff on Artisan's roster, and it threw me off balance. Maybe I just heard a lot of better tech albums that year. I'm not sure. Whatever the case, I figured I should at least see if Aronious evolved in a direction I'm more partial to with their next album.
The bad news: they didn't change much. This is still very clearly the same band. The good news: I…somehow like it more anyway? The songwriting has much more jarring dynamics, the production has a wider scope which enhances the textures the band can play with, and the drummer's unconventional sense of rhythm is utilized to have a more impactful effect. The vocalist sounds less processed and has a more natural menace to his snarl, and it pairs well with the staggering guitar tapping that hints at a touch of mathcore influence. The band just generally sounds more cohesive and ready to fuck your face, a welcome change when you start to get tired of the syrupy Necrohpagist worship that is most modern tech death.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
8: The Halo Effect - Days Of The Lost
Despite playing (genuinely) one of the greatest live sets I've ever been privileged to witness at Wacken in 2003, it is with trepidation that this listener now approaches anything even loosely associated with In Flames, such has been the decline of that once venerable Swedish institution. One suspects that this may be a preconception that dogs the band for some time, which is rather a shame. For it is with surprising pleasure that one sinks slowly into the warm and unavoidably nostalgic waters of The Halo Effect's debut Days Of The Lost, allowing the superlative melodeath of each one of its bewitching tracks to bathe us in comfortable and familiar wonder.
With a full band of ex-In Flames members (even if Michael Stanne is rightly better known for his work with fellow masters Dark Tranquillity) It barely needs elucidating that Days Of The Lost sounds substantially reminiscent of that band's Colony / Clayman-era material. This is less of a retreading of old ground, however, and instead more of a rediscovery and re-imagining of a sound that has plenty of life left in it. Propulsive riffs, florid and Maiden-esque twin guitars, bubbling electronics, and stratospheric harmonised leads are all present and correct, and the title-track even contains the sort of key change that once lifted 'Only For The Weak' to the ecstatic heights that it attained a quarter of a century ago.
Although the quality drops a little towards the end of what feels a fairly lengthy record, it is mostly an utterly joyful reminder of the anthemic and uplifting qualities of well-written and arranged melodeath. With such a strong debut, The Halo Effect have surely given themselves a better than even chance of escaping the In Flames comparison for good, quite apart from effortlessly besting new albums from fellow survivors Amon Amarth and Arch Enemy, and you can bet this is going to absolutely slay live.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
7: Shuriken Cadaveric Entwinement - Constructing The Cataclysm
Despite being headed by some fells that push filthy, gory slop like Lust of Decay and Cesspool of Vermin, this has always been the most clean and non-controversial project to come out of the pit of degenerates that is the North Carolina brutal death scene (the Comatose Music label head plays in bands with both these guys). Thematically, they're more concerned with the Onimusha action/adventure series (never played it) than they are dismembering women and zombies, which is moderately refreshing, but they kind of do the same thing as Abiotic where they have this super cool influence - that also takes cues from the Japanese, funny enough - that isn't integrated into the music to the extent that it could be. Aside from some shoehorned intros, I don't vibe the atmosphere from much else other than the album art. That's not as big of a deal as it was with Abiotic, though, because what remains on Constructing The Cataclysm after you remove all the extra musical frills is much steadier, and more solid listening.
Shuriken Cadaveric Entwinement (what a name, eh) has some side-project vibes, with Jordan Varela (a drummer by trade) handling all the instruments. He's got a nice feel to his beats in Lust of Decay - great foot speed and tasty fills. Some of that carries over to SCE, which is good, but in cleaning up the filth in the mix, the steadily rolling kick has a rounded, flaccid tone if you focus on it too much. A lot of his beats have a similar feel because of the steady, ever-present footwork, which is impressive from a stamina perspective but can grate on your ears a bit from the listening perspective. Some variety in the kick placement or a lil bit of syncopation would have gone a long way.
All those nitpicks being said, this still settles into your ears nicely once you give it a couple of good listens, with the Omnimusha edge tapping into the Kronos school of melodic brutal death metal that is heavily under-represented in metal in general.
MetalBite's Rating: 8/10
6: Liminal Shroud - All Virtues Ablaze
Despite being a label known more for complex, dissonant, boundary-treading works, this is a more restrained, ambient affair. Not to say this lacks artistic proficiency - in fact, relative to comparables of their genre like Gaerea or Uada, there's more detail in the guitarwork, and Liminal Shroud is less afraid to play with odd timings to create a push-and-pull effect. I like that they generate atmosphere through careful song construction, and time has been taken to create their own feel within the now-established black metal scope. It's atmo-black for tech fans, which happens to be a Venn diagram I'm right in the centre of. Check it!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
5: Psycroptic - Divine Council
Out of everything the Haley brothers have done (both together and individually), Psycroptic has always been their baby, and there's a reason for that - even if you're not a tech whore like myself, there's a distinct and insatiable groove to their riffing style that can be found to different degrees on every album. And holy shit, Joe Haley in particular sounds fucking reborn on this one - he realized what makes his leads so delicious, and leaned into it constantly, making for the finest riffing the Aussies have had since Ob(servant). If you're a fan already, this will almost certainly satisfy your urges, and if you're new to the band or previously had been soured on them, this might be just what you need to hear to convince you.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
4: Cyborg Octopus - Between The Light And Air
Silent Pendulum Records
The building blocks are things I never thought I'd like: bouncy sense of melody, unconventional kitchen-sink songwriting, tons of different contrasting instruments and elements all tangentially taken from the metalcore/deathcore arena…it's Between the Buried and Me's approach of "throw shit at the wall and see what sticks" revamped with modern touches…like the non-djent parts djent bands write. Despite it being something I really dislike the aesthetics of, I thoroughly enjoy this. The give-and-take between the band members is really good - maybe it's the major scales and cheery vibes, but I get the sense this is a group of guys that genuinely likes each other and enjoys making music together. It's also refreshing to hear metal that isn't afraid of being campy, jovial and colorful (this definitely draws more from prog rock in that regard) - too often bands miss out on a ton of great ideas because they're not "metal enough" or whatever. The "we are garbage, eating garbage" singalong part is fucking great. Even if this isn't normally your kind of stuff, give Between the Light and Air a listen, it may really surprise you - just remember that a couple of the ideas you hear might seem off-putting. Lean into it.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
3: The Sombre - Monuments Of Grief
The Artisan Era
The almost inconceivably prolific Maurice De Jong, sometimes known as Mories, is clearly an avid compartmentaliser, simultaneously pursuing separately-named projects in numerous extreme music sub-genres, and launching a new bands almost indiscriminately, rather than grouping all of his output under a single monicker. Perhaps best known for the terrifying ambient noise of Gnaw Their Tongues, De Jong has in recent years seemingly been gravitating towards slightly more structured sounds, and in The Sombre, he has an outlet for his death / doom proclivities. Monuments Of Grief is his third album in this style, and is customarily excellent, and consummately performed. Occasionally tilting towards the kind of lush funeral doom perfected by Evoken, The Sombre are an excellent blend of the despondent long-form melodies of early My Dying Bride and the total despondency of Warning, with De Jong's skill in layering electronics frequently offering subtle, but unsettling touches of atmospheric ambience, and deft orchestration. A highlight is the glacially slow and tar thick crawl of 'The Mourning Gloom', which is both devoid of hope and delicately beautiful, like a child's dying breath. Make no mistake, this is music to be wallowed in, as we marvel once more at De Jong's staggering ability to bend almost any sub-genre to his will and twisted vision. Just make sure to escape its pull before it consumes you entirely.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
2: Anchillys - Elan Vital
Self-released / Independent
This is the first album by the Dutch one-man project Anchillys - Very skillful technical death metal in the realm of Suffocation, Cryptopsy and Nile. The focus is more on the technical aspect of death metal than on sheer brutality. This isn't normally the type of music I listen to, but I found it to actually be something I could follow, and not just a sea of mindless brutality with no direction like a lot of bands in this style.
On Elan Vital you can find a lot of different approaches. Sometimes the music is played quite fast like the already mentioned bands play but there are also a lot of creepy, sinister motifs to balance them out.. In 'Gate Of Hades' we hear strong Cannibal Corpse influences, especially in the drums and the multi-layered vocals. The production is done very well, really comparable with some of the pros in this style who have been doing it for a long time. In general, it's hard to tell the difference between this and some of the genre's heavy hitters, which should tell you something about its quality. Check it out!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
1: Carrion Vael - Abhorrent Obsessions
Unique Leader Records
There's no getting around it, losing Trevor Strnad fucking sucked. The man had a ubiquitous quality to him and his presence in extreme metal is irreplaceable. Not only did he churn out a consistent slew of quality releases with his own band, he was an absolute fanatic and spent crazy amounts of time promoting other bands and hyping up their shit, getting them to tour with Dahlia and bringing them to bigger audiences in the process. The dude single-handedly propelled bands like Undeath and Temple of Void into the public eye.
Perhaps it's a coping mechanism, but I choose to believe that Trevor's spirit was released into the aether and permeated the souls of bands like Carrion Vael, who have written what is essentially the next Black Dahlia Murder album, with the natural changes in delivery and influences that come from musicians that are 10 years younger.
I've been following these fellas since their previous album (God Killer) dropped, and that was a solid listen on its own, but when you throw on Abhorrent Obsessions it dwarfs everything about its predecessor. Far from a mere Dahlia clone, they incorporate a healthy helping of speed and tech, with the occasional symphonic touch - never at the forefront, thankfully. The extra notes in the riffing give it more of an Inferi flavour, but with a deathcore feel. Not to say this uses ham-fisted breakdowns - even the parts that could be considered such like the midpoint of 'The Devil in Me' have much more activity and add a wave to the song's flow (rather than bringing it to a grinding halt).
The production is very clinical, but that adjustment can easily be made when you hear the constant activity of the drumwork and riffing. Not only that, when the vocals are going full speed on top of it all, you need to trim the hedges and make sure you can hear it all clearly.
Without reinventing the wheel, this has every little detail in it ironed out to perfection and it's impossible to find areas of improvement. I've been listening to this repeatedly all month, it almost single-handedly made me submit this list a few days later because I forgot to listen to other music. This is one of my favorite things to come out in the realm of tech this year. It riffs hard, is melodic without getting too feelsy, and always has something going on to keep you hooked and drive the song forward. Unique Leader needs to stop signing deathcore and get back on this kinda shit - this is a step in the right direction!!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
As always, thanks for stopping by, and hope you discovered at least one sick new band thanks to this article. If you're hungry for more, here's past lists from this year:
|The Halo Effect|
|Six By Six|