MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - February 2023
Welcome back to MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month!
My apologies that I (Nate) am a little late getting this one up. As we start to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror, live shows are coming back into the fold now, so I've found myself a lot busier with my own musical projects - I'm in multiple bands who are playing live and in the process of releasing new music.
I've also started booking gigs in my area (hmu if you're in a metal band and wanna rip a set in Southwest Ontario), which only adds more balls in the air. Combine that with spending time with/being attentive to my wife so she doesn't slowly start resenting me…oh yeah, I have a day job too. Almost forgot about that.
Anyhow, you're not here to hear me whine about my personal life, here's the thing! Can't stop won't stop. We're featuring a lot more black metal (and have much bigger lists) now that we've got Vlad in the fold, so enjoy the (even bigger) package o' riffs.
Insomnium - Anno 1696
Much like Katatonia on last month's list, this is more of a legacy band that was more of a thing for me in high school than they are now. Nothing will ever top the one-two punch of Above The Weeping World and Across The Dark because those two albums are so thoroughly embedded in my brain, but Insomnium has low-key been hella consistent. One For Sorrow took a while for me to come around to just because it wasn't the masterpiece like the two albums I mentioned above, but it aged really well. Winter's Gate was sweet, too. They're not in the peak of their career yet, but they've had a long plateau at a pretty high point.
On Anno 1696 they love taking cues from prog rock era Opeth like seemingly every other moderately big death metal band, but at least they still keep the blastbeat parts. Finns have always been a little better at this style than bands from other European countries to my ears since they're not afraid to get uber-syrupy with the melodies.
Megaton Sword - Might & Power
Manowar's new single is absolute garbage, but what does that have to do with this album? Well, this embodies exactly what Manowar could not be on that song: loud, hard, strong and fast. Right at the beginning of the album in 'The Raving Light Of The Day' old Manowar references ("Hail To England") immediately come to mind. The vocals are much harsher and rougher, but the influence is clear. But when you add in some epic metal vibes a la Manilla Road (R.I.P.), Eternal Champion or Visigoth, that's what really takes this to the next level. 'Iron Plains', the second song, completely contrasts the opener - driving guitars and pummeling drums, snappy and melodic, and the epic vocals inspire me to take my good old longsword in hand and slay some goblins on the street. (Baldur's Gate 3 is coming out soon, thankfully.)
7H Target - Yantra Creating
This has always been a band that rose above the conventions of slam to become something more right from first listen, and now that I'm into slam even more than I was before, I only recognize the supremacy of 7H even more. I will say that this is a more subdued listen than their previous works - less batshit, more meditative - but it's still got that off-kilter wobble and constant plot twists that I've come to love from this group. They seemed pretty productive for a while there and then dropped off, it's nice to know they're back in the fold and still kicking. As you should know by now, anything Willowtip puts out is an automatic buy for me.
Häxanu - Totenpass
Amor Fati Productions
These seven songs are quite varied, though they don't really break a ton of new ground. Often some keyboard sounds are integrated into the icy clashing riffs, a la the classic In the Nightside Eclipse. However, plenty of tribute is also paid to the pure frenzy that newer bands like Spectral Wound indulge in. The songs are refined and the band knows what they're doing, so their versatility and variety overcomes the predictability - particularly when the band strikes slightly punkier tones with a catchy tempo, as in 'Sparagmos'. Vocals range from manic, desperate and shrill shrieks similar to Silencer and other DSBM bands to completely aggressive and psychopathic screaming.
Totenpass is recommended for a Sunday walk in the dark forest (or mountains) since there are subtler nuances that take some time to sink in. I find I discover many new things in these songs when you give them the space they need.
Festerdecay - Reality Rotten To The Core
It's rare that you get a genuinely tasty, well-crafted slab of goregrind, although the Japanese scene is probably your safest bet in that regard. Early Carcass is the most obvious parallel to this, but there's also hints of regional hardcore influence and even some death/doom a la Anatomia. There's a surprising amount of depth in the muddy guitars and jangly, uber-downtuned bass, couple of big fast parts, a lot of fun, bouncy rock beats - good gory fun to crank real loud in your car speakers so you can get uncomfortable stares from passersby.
That being said, I'm glad they kept the samples and non-musical diversions to a tasteful minimum. Fluids is alright for the shock value, but they're not the kind of band I'm going to come back to repeatedly. Festerdecay let the songs speak for themselves, and have a lot more staying power as a result.
Regnum Tenebrarum - Légendes Noires
Medieval Prophecy Records
Regnum Tenebrarum is the new face in Belgium's underground black metal scene, going onward with their EP Légendes Noires released via Medieval Prophecy Records. Their sound resembles that of Mgła, although with a medieval atmosphere filled with coldness, emptiness and death, all of which is expressed in their guitar riffs and agonizing vocals. This EP is currently only available in physical CD and vinyl form, it's nowhere to be found on digital platforms other than uploads on YouTube channels such as Rites of Pestilence. Perhaps you could see this as an attempt to remain true to their obscurity and preserve their place within the underground, but nevertheless, those who pledge themselves to secrecy, shall not be unveiled to the false masses.
Tryglav - The Ritual
Extreme Metal Music
Tryglav's second and highly anticipated album The Ritual has been delayed for so long, but it finally saw the light of day on February 17th when it was finally released for the world to hear. Some improvements were made in comparison to its predecessor Night Of Whispering Souls, especially the vocal performance by Callum Wright whom I believe will remain the voice of Tryglav's albums in the future. Some songs have very interesting riffs and melodies while others are a bit lacking in terms of songwriting, due to missing their "climax" and standout moments that could have brought this album one step further to glory. Although far from perfect, it shows a great deal of potential that shouldn't be wasted and should only be built upon when Tryglav starts expanding into something greater.
Sanguisugabogg - Homicidal Ecstasy
Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't deny the Bogg knows how to get your attention. Their music is like if deathcore breakdowns only had OSDM influences, and then you combine the whole meme aesthetic, merch designs and social media presence the band has and you can't tell if it was all a stroke of dumb luck or if the band is legitimately just a group of marketing geniuses. It shouldn't work nearly as well as it does. Don't analyze it, just turn the music up as your IQ goes down.
Schizophrenia - Chants Of The Abyss
We return to Belgium with the four-piece death/thrash metal band Schizophrenia and their new EP Chants Of The Abyss. Although consisted of cover songs from bands such as Slayer, Morbid Angel, Judas Priest, Misfits, Exodus and GBH, the entire performance is killer, especially on the cover of Slayer's 'Necrophiliac'. Chants Of The Abyss is a love letter to the 80's and their death-thrashing energy relives the oldschool years of metal and punk by paying a nice tribute to their musical influences, with the extreme sound very much resembling that of Sweden's Repugnant. Even if cover songs aren't your cup of tea, I believe that it won't be too much of a hassle to check out Schizophrenia's new EP.
Iron Curtain - Metal Gladiator
Dying Victims Productions
A little Annihilator tribute intro and the Metal Gladiators of Iron Curtain get going. Mangy production with dirty sawing guitars and rumbling drums makes this a rawer and more inaccessible affair. Personally, I think it's pretty awesome, underscored with a fun-loving attitude and a pinch of FOAD. Musically, the whole thing sounds like Motörhead and Venom with some extra rock n' roll. The guitars and the vocals are clearly in the foreground with their catchy melodies and hooky choruses... If you thought the last Midnight sounded too polished and artificial, you'll be happy here. Dirty street metal at its finest!!!
Ciemra - The Tread Of Darkness
This quintet from Minsk plays pretty tight and modern black metal, similar to that performed by bands like Mgła, Dark Funeral or Marduk. They bring in some unusual stylistic elements, such as in the title track an acoustic guitar, or some bluesy guitar tones underpinned by a fairly slow tremolo riff that seamlessly transitions back into an acoustic part. Ciemra quite cleverly combines these with an icy coldness through the "standard" black metal framework and the very harsh vocals similar to Darkened Nocturn Slaughtercult.
'Vomiting Void' impresses with its thrashy riffs, complemented by slightly melancholic melodies as well as clean and whispered vocals. Another particularly impressive song is 'A Night For The Death', which in turns the dead into nimble and extremely angry Beserkers. With 'Where The Eyes Close' the five musicians have a rather varied closer, changing from disturbing black metal into psychedelia, perhaps influenced by Shining or other slightly disturbed peers. In summary, Ciemra have presented a very strong and varied debut album that has me under its spell and I'll be spinning this long after I write this review... Let's hope that the guys will have a future where the album can be presented live!
Fredlös - Fredlös
Sweden's Fredlös released their self-titled debut album which heavily dabbles in medieval folk metal music in similar vein of bands like Poland's Percival Schuttenbach, transcending the dark age atmosphere with violins, cellos, epic female vocals and slow, doomy and somewhat folk/black metal inspired guitar riffs. It feels like it's a soundtrack taken from a movie or video game, especially with the addition of violins that added an extra layer to this already amazing musical performance. It feels as if I was listening to some lost tracks from The Witcher 3 video game, and for fans of such music I am positive they would like it just as I did.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Moonthoth - Uroczysko
There seem to be two types of weird black metal bands, both of which are to be treasured. There are those like Solefald and Ved Buens Ende, who are peculiar by design, consciously wacky even, intentionally placing non-metal influences in opposition to more orthodox sounds because they enjoy the provocatory nature of undercutting the overt seriousness of much of the sub-genre. Then there are those such as Master's Hammer, or Negative Plane, who one imagines sincerely believe that they are playing totally straightforward black metal, only to be confronted by an outside world that doesn't see it that way. Poland's Moonthoth are another such band, their latest offering Uroczysko obviously a black metal release, but underscored throughout by an off-kilter sense of melody and arrangement. Variously recalling Watain, Aborym, and Dodheimsgard, in Moonthoth's vision of black metal, conventional passages of tremolo blasting frequently collide with heavily-effected vocal lines and discordant drones in a way that is utterly compelling, and moments of synth-driven calm interrupt otherwise furious barrages of sinister melodies. Like some of their spiritual peers, Moonthoth have opted for a mix that gives all instruments breathing room in the mix, as opposed to favouring only the guitars, and as a consequence the listener is able to both hear and enjoy the bass, which often provides an intriguing counterpoint to the rest of the band, like a less flamboyant Mortunary Drape. As a whole, Uroczysko coalesces into a fantastic follow-up to the band's debut full-length, adding subtly psychedelic variations to the traditional black metal template, without ever threatening the kind of contrived complexity that can make some extreme music into an endurance test, and its many facets ensure that each listen rewards in a new and exciting way.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
9: Enisum - Forgotten Mountains
Arpitanian black metal band Enisum from Italy returned this year with their seventh full-length album Forgotten Mountains, released via Avantgarde Music on February 17th 2023. Beautiful ambient and atmospheric black metal tunes with harsh and clean vocals that form a transcendental feel of wandering in the cold mountains while gazing at the icy landscapes which lie on the other far horizon. The songwriting wouldn't be so good if it wasn't filled with such immense emotions and expressive songwriting.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
8: Gottmaschine - Gottmaschine
Gottmaschine is a new blood of black/death metal in the German scene, presenting themselves with their self-titled debut album. Very tight, brutal, epic, heavy, melodic and aggressive songwriting revolving around the themes of hatred, war, apocalypse and technology. If I had to describe this album in some picturesque manner, I'd say that this is a doomsayer's heartfelt preach about the self-destructive nature of mankind, tormented by visions of a gray future where lost souls wander without sense and logic. I was very lucky to accidentally come across this "hidden gem" of a band which in my opinion managed to prove that they're made of pure muscle and balls of steel. I refuse to talk more about their music and the extreme attitude expressed in Gottmaschine's songwriting, you will just have to see for yourself. This is pure German war machinery.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
7: Memoriam - Rise To Power
Those who are familiar with UK's death metal scene, are probably well met with the band Memoriam, formed from the ashes of Bolt Thrower as a tribute to their late drummer Martin "Kiddie" Kearns. These death metal veterans return with their fifth full-length album Rise To Power stronger than ever and have successfully conquered the hearts of many fans out there, deserving its spot among the best releases of year 2023. All those heavy riffs, evil melodies, Karl Willets vocals, lyrical themes of war, along with Dan Seagrave's cover art reminded me why I love oldschool death metal in the first place. Truly a work of art that left its mark on this year.
Full review by Michael here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
6: Mithridatum - Harrowing
God what an absolute monster of a drummer. In case you're unaware, he's the one behind the kit on Planetary Duality, which for a tech nerd is an undisputable classic, while also lending his talents to Abhorrent, who only have one album - but fuck, it's a good one. His style is one that's undoubtedly complex and layered as most of the genre is, but with an incredible amount of groove and feeling buried in. Watching live clips of him is an absolute treat. It's like watching someone zone out while their limbs enter a higher state of consciousness - and the soundtrack is fucking sick.
Mithridatum seems like more of an extension of Abhorrent/Absvrdist, with guitarist Marlon Friday accompanying Cooper, but this is a much more expansive and atmospheric release. It's not that it's more subdued - it's just as intricate with the riffs and arrangements, if not moreso - but there's a tinge of thin treble that brings black metal influences to mind, and the production is more catered to that than the death metal influence. They sacrificed the big, heavy low-end for a sound profile more along the lines of Artificial Brain, with a Colin Marston-style production job - quiet, but warm and organic. This is an album that breathes and creates riffs and textures that don't even feel possible in death metal, even when you start to venture into the more abstract and dissonant realms.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
5: Tramalizer - Fumes Of Funeral Pyres
If you played this album in front of me without giving any background info about the band, you would have totally tricked me into thinking that this is a Swedish death metal album from the early 90's, but in fact, it's not. Tramalizer from Finland has successfully managed to create a masterwork of an album that resembles the Boss HM-2 pedal sound of Dismember, Entombed and Grave, with such attention to detail that you would hardly believe it's a modern-day album at any given moment. Fumes Of Funeral Pyres is a wonderful throwback to 90's Swedish death metal and it will certainly grab the attention of more enthusiastic fans such as myself.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
4: Frozen Dawn - The Decline Of The Enlightened Gods
Transcending Obscurity Records
Cold, blistering Spanish black metal that's filled with tons of great riffs, grandiose buildups and a steady groove with a melodic touch similar to that of Necrophobic or Dissection. Full review by Michael here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
3: Fvnerals - Let The Earth Be Silent
Like many of the best underground labels, Prophecy Productions have a clear aesthetic, primarily releasing sophisticated and mildly avant-garde dark metal, exemplified by past and present features of their roster such as Alcest, Dornenreich, and Fen. UK doom collective Fvnerals are a characteristically neat fit for the label, which is the proud home of their third album Let The Earth Be Silent. Fans of Bell Witch waiting patiently for the follow-up to the monumental Mirror Reaper may well find that Fvnerals scratch a similar sort of itch, and although the band also recall the likes of Shape Of Despair, Evoken and occasionally Thergothon, they also demonstrate enough personality of their own to transcend these comparisons. This is most clearly seen in the lengthy post-rock passages that separate the thick slabs of guitar and bass that represent the doom part of the Fvnerals equation. The band have toured extensively with Emma Ruth Rundle, and at their most accessible, Rundle is a good reference point, particularly her collaborations with Thou, which combine the kind of ethereal female vocal also employed by Fvnerals, with punishing low-end reverberations. There are also hints of the gothic melodrama of mid-period Chelsea Wolfe, albeit with a more free-form approach to song structure, and a considerably more drawn-out tempo. The mesmerising closing track 'Barren' augments their funeral doom with almost soothing layers of synthwave electronics, as if Zombi were covering Abyssal, and it's a suitably cataclysmic and revelatory end to an enthralling piece of work that manages to maintain the listener's attention despite its glacial pace. Time will tell if Fvnerals will ultimately be spoken in the same breath as some of the legends referenced above, but they certainly have a reasonable shot.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.6/10
2: Carnosus - Visions Of Infinihility
God damn, talk about a band that a ton of labels missed the boat on. Swedes don't try their hand at tech death super often, but when they do, the results are bands like Spawn of Possession and Soreption - surely everyone knows this by now? Visions Of Infiinihility is chock full of really slick tremolo grooves, flourishes of talent from every musician in a jam-packed 30 minute album where every second counts, and the vocalist - holy fucking shit. As a vocalist myself, this guy's flow, versatility and creativity makes me incredibly envious. His highs have a Trevor Strnad vibe, and he has a choppy speed that he uses in a way that is completely his own. He's got a huge bag of tricks, with one of my favorite parts being in a little over a minute in 'Castle Of Grief' where he rolls his R during a silent second in the song and I don't know why but it's delicious and a perfect transition. Every little garnish on this album is very meticulously cultivated, and even amidst the brutal riffing and speedy pummeling, Carnosus never forgets how to have fun, which makes this a delightful bop that you want to return to again and again.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.8/10
1: Hellripper - Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags
I am not sure what else I should say about this album that hasn't already been said. It's clearly a masterpiece and a hailed classic by many fans of oldschool black, thrash and speed metal, who've embraced Hellripper with more than open arms, especially when the time came for the third full-length album Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags. There is so much speed riffing, melodic guitar work, aggressive drumming and a ton of first wave black metal. The acoustic section and bagpipes on the title track really surprised the hell out of me, and boy was I thrilled to listen to this album on repeat ever since it came out. This new wicked devilry will definitely be taking its place among the Top 5 releases of 2023. For all of you reading this, do not skip this album, be sure to check it out and see for yourself what Scotland's Hellripper forged from the very depths of hell.
MetalBite's Rating: 9.6/10
Thanks for stopping by! Hope you found one of your new favorite bands today. If you're hungry for more, here's our list for January 2023. That has links in it to go back to all our monthly AOTM lists since the beginning of '21, so have fun getting lost down the rabbit hole.
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