MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - March 2023
Hi friends, welcome back! Sorry this is late. 100% my bad. Thank you for holding out, we'll try and get an extra quick turnaround for April 2023 to make up for it (saying it here now so you can further shame me if it's delayed again).
Alright, no more excuses, just albums now!
Discreation - Iron Times
This long-running German death metal group got even better with the addition of Marc Grewe (Insidious Disease). This is solid, steady death metal, mostly mid-tempo with big, fat grooves. A well-balanced production accents the down-tuned guitars and a merciless drum beats, and Marc Grewe's aggressive, hoarse voice atop the whole package results in a convincing album. If you like Bolt Thrower, Asphyx or Morgoth, you won't get past Iron Times. As a special bonus there are also 'Mercenary' and 'I Am The Sword' cover songs, both of which are also mega cool.
Contrarian - Sage Of Shekhiniah
This Rochester-based group is perhaps one of the more underrated tech/prog death bands out there despite featuring names like George Kollias and Leon Macey at various points in their history. This is my first time really delving into this group myself, and I'm impressed - lots of later-era Death vibes mixed with an absolutely maddening bass performance. Constant twists and turns permeated by shapeshifting rhythms and acrobatic guitars leads flying out at unexpected times. Constantly keeps you on your toes and has a sense of always going somewhere, but the colorful bass lines and well-paced songwriting makes the jarring ride enjoyable all the while. When you talk about technical riffs that feel very intentional and purposeful, this is a really good example. Great stuff for fans of The Sound of Perseverance, Focus-era Cynic, Atheist and VoidCeremony.
Burden Of Ymir - Heorot
Burden Of Ymir is a Canadian one-man band which plays folk/black metal that's heavily inspired by bands such as Windir, Finntroll and Falkenbach. Heorot is the band's fifth full-length album, focusing on the epic tale of Beowulf rather than Norse mythology which was the band's more frequent lyrical theme beforehand. The music is pretty solid and the inclusion of accordion was a nice touch in my opinion, which to me as a huge Windir fan was more than a welcome feature.
Maze Of Sothoth - Extirpated Light
This is one of those rare albums that encapsulates a ton of different things that death metal can be. Riffy? Check, of course. Atmosphere? Constantly flowing out of the music. OSDM influences? Yeah. Dissodeath influences? It's got those too! If there's something you like about death metal, Maze Of Sothoth's got you covered, baby.
Unpure - Prophecies Ablaze
Invictus Productions / The Ajna Offensive
Unpure have had a curious career, with spurts of activity followed by years of inactivity, all of which means that Prophecies Ablaze is just the band's fifth album in over thirty years of existence. The involvement of three of the current Watain live line-up, together with a release of the same transatlantic combination of labels that recently brought us the magnificent new Negative Plane release suggests a band that are now ready to make a serious impact, however, and this confidence is not misplaced. Prophecies Ablaze is a sulphurous and diabolical amalgam of black metal ferocity and incisive thrash metal riffs, delivered at a relentless and even mechanical tempo, but with just enough melody ensure that the album is not simply an invigorating, but forgettable exercise of aimless aggression. The spectre of Watain looms not unexpectedly over Unpure, and there is undoubtedly some crossover with the Swede's sound on Lawless Darkness, but the scything thrash syncopation and air of death metal arrogance that abounds means that the similarities are just that, and there is as much that calls to mind Desaster and Aura Noir, as there is Erik's Satanic warriors. Three decades into a career, Prophecies Ablaze might just see Unpure catch fire.
A new Unpure album! I almost fell off my chair, the first two albums are greatl. However, I must confess that I completely lost track of the band after that and didn't know that they released two more albums in the early 2000s. But now, 19 years after their last album World Collapse they're back, with Kolgrim being the only original member left. However, his new lineup are no strangers to the scene either, having spent time with such illustrious bands as Watain and Degial.
If the band's early days were blunt Celtic Frost worship, the 2023 edition of Unpure is faster and more chaotic. Unsurprisingly, Watain comes to mind, and if you listen to the guitar solos once a little closer, you can even hear a touch of Morbid Angel. However, they balance this out with some catchier, punky songs like 'The Witch Of Upsala' or 'His Wrath And The Red Soil'. Welcome back, boys!
Úlfúð - Of Existential Distortion
Dark Descent Records
This has that mid-era Immortal groove that you know you fucking love. When Dark Descent gives the seal of approval to something outside of their usual comfort zone of new-school old-school death metal, it's gonna have that je ne sais quoi that keeps you coming back.
Raider - Trial By Chaos
Oh look, another band from my neck of the woods! Face-melting thrash from Kitchener/Waterloo that takes the appropriate amount of cues from extreme metal a la Deicide and Demolition Hammer while still definitively maintaining that classic thrash vibe. My issue with a lot of neo-thrash is that it lacks the power and heaviness to keep up with the modern stuff, but this doesn't have that issue - it's just riffs all day, and the vocals being more shrieky and raspy instead of shouty helps to add that extra bite most other styles seem to miss. Having seen these fellas in a live setting, I can tell you that this is the kind of stuff that's made to be experienced in person, with the tight, focused guitarwork cutting through like a chainsaw cuts butter as circle pits constantly form. They just got picked up by Redefining Darkness, so if they heard it and realized it's good enough for them, it's definitely good enough for your sorry ass!
Voltax - Ardentis
Last Warrior Records
"Sure, the new Night Demon record is cool, but have you heard the new Voltax?" is surely what all Keep It True attendees should be saying to each other in Wurzburg this year. Everything about the Mexican's fifth effort suggests a life devoted to metal of the most true, most Manowarian kind, and if this album had an aroma, it would be that of dusty vinyl sleeves, cheap beer, and well-worn denim. There is something endearing and appealing about the uncontrived nature of Voltax's sound, the band exhibiting the kind of obtuse songwriting of early Cirith Ungol, Manilla Road, and any number of long-forgotten Swedish bands that lurk primarily in Fenriz's record collection. Less muscular and velocity oriented than classic US Power Metal or the Teutonic speed metal of Iron Angel; Voltax nevertheless call to mind a similar arcane mystique, and the unpredictable arrangements that frequently launch into lengthy flights of fancy on the part of the lead guitars as on album highlight 'Liturgia Eterna' only serve to create the impression of a band that are simultaneously out of time, but also timeless, in their adherence to the tenets of epic heavy metal. Possibly some tracks meander a little too much, and the vocalists Dirkschneideresque rasp might be a tiny bit one-dimensional, but it impacts little on this listener's enjoyment of Ardentis, a magnificent effort that deserves not be overlooked.
Ignominy - Imminent Collapse
Transcending Obscurity Records
Did you seriously think I was going to do an AOTM list without praising a Transcending Obscurity release? Yeah, you obviously don't read these much. Also, they're dissodeath?? and Canadian??!? This was making the list whether or not I even heard a note of it, that's how sure I was it was going to be good.
I did actually listen to it, mind you, and it satisfies all expectations anyway. The constant angular, jagged riffing punctuated with shrill clanging and guitar effects doesn't give you any hooks or earworm riffs to latch onto, instead just maintaining a tense, unsettling effect until it feels comfortable and natural. The drumming is nuanced and full, but the fills and frills are kept relatively sparse and the speed isn't absurd, so it never feels self-indulgent or without direction. It's just pure, undiluted dissodeath - we're at a point now where new bands in this style can exist and be entirely influenced by other dissodeath bands. The genre isn't in formation anymore, it's been established, and so now we have bands like this that seemingly just listened to nothing but Ulcerate for 5 years before they got together.
Simply put, this label just does not miss. Now, time to aggressively harass these fellas to tour with Mors Verum!
Viledriver - The Rest Are Prey
The line between the bands I fraternize with in my local scene and the bands I review is getting increasingly small, but that's just a sign that Ontario is starting to put out more and more heavy music worth listening to. I've already covered Last Retch and Mors Verum in past lists, and Viledriver is the most frenzied, mathy and intricate of them all. What a band.
There's not a lot of music that sounds like this - it takes a group that knows their way around their instruments well enough to make ugly music appetizing. The approach of constant dissonance, unpredictable, linear song structures and a general need to pack a song with as many jarring layers of noise as a power trio is not one you should attempt if you don't know what you're doing. Even if you are capable enough to play it, it's easy to get boring because it's harder to make chaotic noise have dynamics - when everything is going full blast all the time, it's harder for certain sections to stand out. Viledriver avoid this by having these odd one-off riffs that pop out of nowhere and seem to take influence from a completely different genre of music. It reminds me of another local band, Mulletcorpse, who had a similar mathy tech aesthetic with constantly shifting genres, but the downfall of that group was always that things changed too much, too fast - although The Rest Are Prey is a winding maze of riff fuckery, they leave enough of a breadcrumb trail to get you to the next riff, and the transitions are fluid, frequent as they are. If you get down to Psyopus, Dillinger Escape Plan and perhaps even The Red Chord and KEN Mode, you'll probably find something to get out of this.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Kruelty - Untopia
Just listen to that fucking snare. LISTEN TO IT
If a band is on Profound Lore you know they've already got Internet Clout, and as such probably don't need a ton more hype, but an album that inspires a visceral, primitive reaction like Untopia needs all the coverage from every media outlet possible. I don't usually sing the praises of beatdown - as a tech-head there's not a ton about it to appreciate to me - but if I do listen to it, it better have some filthy death/doom influence. It is also absolutely MANDATORY the band is Japanese. I have no clue why that part of the world is so good at it, but the quality difference is undeniable.
Anyways, I don't even need to actually tell you why this is good, just throw it on and let the snare do the rest.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
9: Smallpox Aroma - Festering Embryos Of Logical Corruption
For some, Thailand is synonymous with scenes of blissfull relaxation, endless luxurious beaches, and perhaps even some genitalia-based entertainment. Smallpox Aroma, hailing from Bangkok, apparently have something of a different take on the delights of their home nation, however, which should probably teach us not to fetishise and make sweeping generalisations about a part of the globe less represented in extreme metal than the traditional powerhouses of Europe and the Americas. Smallpox Aroma's furious grind is shot through with an authentic anger and seething resentment, all of which is set against the backdrop of strangely catchy crust-punk, dextrous snatches of death metal riffage, and jackhammer drums which incorporate a tight snare sound just the right side of St Anger. Insect Warfare and Terrorizer are the most obvious comparisons, but fans of any of the usual suspects of international grind will likely find something that they enjoy here, as will anyone else that used the late 1990s Relapse catalogues as a recommendations list. Festering Embryos… teeters on the edge of chaos at all times, hurtling from warp-speed blasts to chunky mosh sections, as if they are all the while mentally dodging the stagedivers that no doubt litter their live shows like an explosion of human ammunition. If Earache ever started taking grind seriously again, they could do a lot worse than signing Smallpox Aroma, existing as they do a Napalm Death support slot away from a much wider audience.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.4/10
8: Whore Of Bethlehem - Ritual Of Homicide
"Blackened brutal death metal" is an under-saturated genre, all things considered. Sure, blackened deathcore is popping off real good right now, what with bands like Worm Shepherd and Lorna Shore, but there's something to be said about cutting out the breakdowns and adding a pinch of melodic dissonance to the same formula. There's a reason Disentomb got as big as they are now - you throw a bit of color into brutal death metal and it unlocks a whole new well of really effective ideas in a normally pretty restrictive style.
Whore of Bethlehem don't have the same slippery, constantly shapeshifting feel that Disentomb has, and their black metal influences are a tad more obvious - though just as fluidly integrated. 'Sermon of the Malignant Spirit' has a bit more tremolo and restraint, serving as a nice valley in the rollercoaster - but don't worry, there's still a lot of blastbeats. Ritual of Homicide is consistently punishing and there's a wide variety of textures in the riffs that careful listening brings out, toeing the balance between being a work of art and a brick to the forehead like few bands can.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
7: Avern - Hell On Earth
Although it's a bit early to talk about this album since it's initial release date on physical media is officially on April 6th, but the album was pre-released on digital streaming platforms and thus successfully caught my attention. Hell On Earth by Avern from Spain is a mastercraft which combines catchy black metal with hardcore punk, fusing two forms of musical aggression which in my opinion successfully delivered.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.6/10
6: Wilt - Into Nothingness
Another great highlight from Germany in March. Much darker than their colleagues from Discreation, but just as alluring. The East-Westphalians, as you can see on the cover, feel more at home in dark, rotten, swampy bogs, which you can hear in their sound. Classic Swedish death in the style of old Grave is mixed with a few festering scabs of Autopsy and some bloody Bolt Thrower bullet wounds and the result is rock solid death metal that rarely exceeds the speed limit of a leisurely drive over a country road - which gives it that extra festering charm.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
5: Outlaw - Reaching Beyond Assiah
Brazil's Outlaw has released yet another banger in the form of their third full-length album Reaching Beyond Assiah. Outlaw belongs to some very serious black metal acts such as Watain, Dissection, Thy Darkened Shade, which proudly carry the everlasting flame of Anti-Cosmic Luciferianism. I can guarantee that this is a very dissonant, melodic and aggressive album which only keeps it going from start to finish, and will certainly please your undying bloodthirst.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.8/10
4: Mork - Dypet
Norwegian black metal band Mork has triumphed again with their sixth full-length album Dypet which was a worthy successor to their previous album Katedralen, the album that made me fall in love with this band in the first place. Although this album is much more melancholic in comparison to its predecessor, it is undeniably another work of art which keeps the spirit of oldschool black metal alive and kicking.
Although they sport a full line-up for live purposes, Norwegian black metallers Mork are the work of a single man, Thomas Eriksen. As Eriksen reaches his sixth full-length, in the shape of Dypet, it is as if the main lesson that he has drawn from friends and inspirations Darkthrone is that even two members are one too many. Eriksen perhaps feels that the involvement of another might dilute the purity of his vision, and when this vision results in a piece of work as good as Dypet, one has no option but to conclude that Eriksen is absolutely right. If Mork's early work was a little too obviously basking under a funeral moon, an exercise in monochromatic primitivism, the extent to which Mork have spread their wings on recent releases is both surprising and satisfying. This is clearly demonstrated by the wonderfully cinematic 'Forfort Av Kulden', which adds twinkling gothic melodies and post-punk basslines to a black metal foundation without sacrificing any of the frostbitten glory of their previous work, not unlike mid-period Tribulation paying tribute to classic Enslaved, and the rest of the album alternates satisfyingly between Satyricon stomp and grim tremolo blizzard. The way in which Mork combine the spirit of the classics with a restless desire to develop their sound, makes Dypet one of the best black metal releases of 2023 so far.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.9/10
3: Thron - Dust
The southern German black metal combo Thron caused quite a stir in 2021 with their album Pilgrim, to a point that some even compared it to the almighty Dissection. The question now is did they continue where they left off, or has the band developed further? ("development" can be a synonym for "disappointment" in this case). 'Dying In The Mud' and 'Return' still have that same melodic black metal vibe, and it looks as though they're right on track - but then some more surprises kick in. 'The True Belief' starts off with a rocking, dramatic flair. The guitars are unusually catchy and more subdued, similar to Tribulation or Cloak. Later on the song falls into the usual black metal frenzy, but you can still notice a certain change in style. 'Into Oblivion' goes in the same direction. Airy guitars glisten into your ears and complement the icy black metal well to create an immersive atmosphere. Dust throws a lot of curveballs and it's very much worth checking out!
MetalBite's Rating: 9/10
2: Lamp Of Murmuur - Saturnian Bloodstorm
Although I was expecting Mork to be the number 1 on this list, Lamp Of Murmuur from the US has successfully taken that place thanks to their third full-length album Saturnian Bloodstorm. I can describe this album as "pure Immortal worship", because that's what it is all the way down to the riffs, arrangements, songwriting in general. The overall execution is just superb and I believe what comes after this, I am sure it will be just as top notch if not even more so.
MetalBite's Rating: 9.1/10
1: Majesties - Vast Reaches Unclaimed
20 Buck Spin
Twenty years of somewhat underwhelming albums from the likes of In Flames, together with metalcore's bastardisation of melodic death metal means that some have forgotten just what an energising and thrilling form of music it can be. Majesties have certainly not forgotten, and with Vast Reaches Unclaimed, they are the writers of an album that might just be the best album of its kind to have been released this century. Majesties breathe new life into the sub-genre by returning it to the kind of gritty, and slightly off-kilter, take on Iron Maiden that made albums such as Dark Tranquillity's The Gallery and In Flames The Jester Race some of the most adored works in extreme metal. Clearly a labour of love for Tanner Anderson of Obsequiae, it is as if he has embarked on a quest to single-handedly restore honour to a flagging scene, and he achieves this and more through an intoxicating blend of labyrinthine song structures, exhilarating pyrotechnic riffs, and most prominently, utterly regal passages of dual-harmony guitars. The latter cannot fail to bewitch any listener that fell in love with metal at least partly as a result of the timeless quality of the kind of neo-classical melodies that Anderson seemingly has an endless supply of, it is as if the middle section of ‘Master Of Puppets' has been extended to album length. Vast Reaches Unclaimed leaves the listener in wide-eyed rapture at what magic heavy metal is capable of conjuring, an astonishing achievement that will likely resonate for years to come.
MetalBite's Rating: 9.5/10
Thanks for stopping by! Here's links to all the past AOTM lists if you need a little bit of catch-up and/or more rabbit holes to go down:
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