MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month - August 2023
Welcome back to MetalBite's Top 10 Albums of the Month! You know the drill at this point - everything good from the past month (plus a couple of extra weeks for everyone to get their thoughts together), delivered right to your face, shotgun-style. We like to overwhelm you with options and repeatedly remind you that there's more great music coming out every week than you'll ever have the chance to listen to. EAT IT.
Also, we have a contribution from a new writer in this month's article! Fun times all around. Let's get to it.
Dun Ringill - Where the Old Gods Play - Act 1
The Sign Records
This band is a new discovery that I stumbled upon in a German fanzine. I was immediately captivated by the mixture of doom and Celtic folk elements - it reminds me of Skyclad, whom I enjoy greatly as well (and not a lot of other bands sound like them). Very diverse, multi-faceted music that reveals new secrets with every extra listen. Also, they put on a great live show!
Full review by Michael here.
Incantation - Unholy Deification
Is it just me or has Incantation gotten a lot more melodic in recent years? I don't remember so many twin-guitar harmonies and downright discernible moments. Sure, there's always been the crawling death-doom, but this lacks the sheer cacophony and foul, putrid aura of their 90s work. I barely even noticed because their evolution is so slow and gradual - and if I'm being perfectly honest, I haven't paid super close attention to the last couple of full length releases. I do remember them having a little bit more consonance and balance, but on Unholy Deification they really lean into it.
Anyhow, it did hook me a little more than the last few albums did because the melodiousness is fused into the songs as best it can be, though it never fully gels with the atonal, creeping riffs, giving a contrasting effect that makes each section more prominent.
Atoll - Human Extract
Unique Leader Records
This is a good example of how brutal death metal doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to be effective. While I do appreciate when a band can introduce something different into the template, every now and then you just need some bread and butter listening - the kind of stuff you can turn to when you know you want big, thick riffs without any garnish. Not quite as big and boomin' with the bass drops as Extermination Dismemberment, but also not numbingly technical like some of the earlier UL roster, Atoll occupies a nice middle ground that should scratch a good itch for anyone who likes similar music either way. The drummer's got some fast feet he likes to use often, and there's a bit of flirtation with some hardcore vibes in the drops without fully crossing the threshold - kind of like Dying Fetus, but subtler and with more modern production values relied on for the heaviness. It's a good spot to be in if they're a live band, because they could play on deathcore bills and OSDM bills without seeming out of place at either.
Cryophilic - Damned And Decayed
Some thoroughly solid death metal from my neck of the woods. It's mostly modern extreme riffs with a slight blackened edge, but the addition of a new bassist and guitarist on this album (the former in particular) gives this an Obscura-esque melodic juice that helps this to stand out from the pack. It doesn't throw you any surprises, but nothing feels out of place either. Very much a meat and potatoes album if there ever was one.
Unblessed Divine - Portal To Darkness
This has a really ominous groove - the drums are so fast and tight it feels like there's some industrial influence there, especially when you throw in some of the more symphonic overtones. Unblessed Divine is a faster, more menacing take on later Septicflesh. It's the kind of thing that shouldn't work as well as it does. There's a grandiose confidence to this similar to the best monuments of the Monolith Deathcult - focused, precise, organic enough to feel human but powerful enough to make you question it. There's a great balance between the fluid tremolo riffing and more restrained melodies, which comes together as a more inviting version of Decapitated riffs (funny enough, this album actually has an ex-Decapitated drummer on it).
Urfaust - Untergang
It feels fitting that a band known for their slightly off-kilter, alcohol-inspired antics releases a swansong album that sounds painfully bleak and depressing like the worst hangover you've ever had. Best enjoyed with hard liquor, low light, and no one around.
Horrendous - Ontological Mysterium
Season Of Mist
This band has always had elements I really enjoy - the screeching vocals and Swedeath-inspired riffwork have always been a big draw - and I like the unconventional songwriting approach in theory, but I've never been able to fully get behind anything they've done past Anareta. This sounds more cohesive and focused while still keeping the Morbus Chron "slow burn" approach to developing a tune, and it's at least got me considering jumping back into the fold and giving some more time to this generally well-regarded group of Philadelphians.
METALBITE'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
10: Isposnik - Smrt Je Kapija
Sifr Shraddha's newfound project Isposnik delves into a different realm of ideas where musicality is simple yet on point. His debut EP Smrt Je Kapija is a product of primitive and raw black metal with an ominous feeling of death and the omnipresent evil that creeps into both the riffs and the lyrics. Although to some it may be just another addition to his other projects such as Ljuska, Order of the Black Skull, Utvar etc, it's definitely a sign that speaks in volumes that he isn't afraid to go past his comfort zone and continue experimenting.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.1/10
9: Knife - Heaven Into Dust
This month, Napalm have decided to take some time out of their ongoing mission to monopolise the supply of female-fronted gothic metal, and they have used their spare bandwidth well, with the release of the second full-length from Germany's Knife. Despite the relative lack of pedigree of the members (current and ex-members of 'goofy' death-grind merchants Milking The Goatmachine make up 50% of the band), Heaven Into Dust is actually crammed full of energetic, and NWOBHM-indebted blackened-thrash that never even gently suggests that it might overstay its welcome. Each track is a short sharp shock of serrated riffing, riding a wave of surging d-beat rhythms, and given a raw edge by the amusingly-monickered Vince Nihil's Tim Baker-style yelp. They don't quite do it as well as Midnight, but this album will do just fine while we're all waiting patiently for that band's next slab of satanic panic. They are probably a little more diverse and progressive than their American peers too – tracks such as 'The Arson Alchemist' incorporate pre-Rust In Peace Megadeth riffs and leads, as well as some classic metal flourishes, before dropping back into the punky barrage that makes up the majority of the album, but it is a tantalising glimpse of where Knife could perhaps venture if they are brave enough. Until then, however, don your bullet belt, rip off the sleeves of your Motorhead tee, and give your life to Knife!
MetalBite's Rating: 8.1/10
8: Blut Aus Nord - Disharmonium - Nahab
Admittedly, I haven't given this as much time as I would have liked, as a band with the status and pedigree of Blut Aus Nord compels an in-depth, intricate write-up - but the nature of his music prevents such a thing, as it requires the kind of analysis and focus that only several full listens of an album can bring. Everything he releases has the tendency to grow on you, and Vindsval always evolves what he does so that you're never going to get the same thing twice, so you need some time to get used to the precise combination of sounds he has.
This entry into the Disharmonium series follows the same pattern, exploring Lovecraftian, Portal-esque dissonance and horror in that unique way that only this prolific mastermind can. It's hard to say where this will rank among Blut Aus Nord's diverse and incredible back catalog, but I can at least say this has a lot more appeal to me from the outset than anything in the 777 series did, with this feeling like a more realized version of whatever that was going for. Even that comparison is distant at best, though. Like anything else made by the Mozart of modern black metal, this is best approached carefully, and on its own terms.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.2/10
7: Orphalis - As The Ashes Settle
Transcending Obscurity Records
It's been a while since I've heard tech-death this aggressive and punishing. Many bands in the style are more content to prance about their fretboards with delicate wizardry, which is fine in its own right, but sometimes you just want riffs that hurt as much to listen to as they do to play. There's all sorts of themes and textures in the guitars, always clear enough that you can follow it but never fully giving you that clear melody you crave. There's lots of shifting time signatures and liner structures a la Defeated Sanity and a range of motion on the fretboard like Disentomb with an abundance of ear-catching easter eggs on each track. That this band is on their fourth album and isn't more known is criminal.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.3/10
6: The Circle - Of Awakening
This reminds me of The Work by Rivers of Nihil, but less technical and more black metal-rooted. There are remarkable similarities between the two in their sense of scope and songwriting style. The Circle has a very grandiose, multifaceted approach that leaves a breadcrumb trail for you to fall - the guitars are not necessarily the standout element on their own, instead being the vessel for the rhythm and another layer for the atmosphere. There's a lot of minimalism used in contrast with carefully layered elements to create a story-driven path - it's not about where they are right in the moment, it's where they're about to go, and the buildups are meticulously crafted so they never jump the gun or overstay their welcome. This is sick and feels like it's gonna get even better the more I listen to it.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.5/10
5: Temple Of Dread - Beyond Acheron
On this album, Jens' vocals have a wider range, and there's more melodic and traditional metal influences (similar to his other band Slaughterday). But of course the thrash and death metal influences which reach back into the 80s stuff like early Slayer, Death or Possessed or 90s stuff like Asphyx stay in the foreground. Temple Of Dread have created their own niche in the old-school death metal scene by adding some additional atmosphere in with a certain special guitar tone - 'World Below' is a prime example. Full review by Michael here.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.6/10
4: U.D.O. - Touchdown
Atomic Fire Records
Ever since I heard Accept for the first time when I was still a "wee lad", I fell in love with their heavy metal aggression and Udo Dirkschneider's signature dirty singing voice. Although I have not been following his solo project U.D.O., I was very much willing to give it a go with their new album Touchdown, and I've got to say that it was an absolute blast. All the things that made me fall in love with the golden years of Accept with Udo are very much present here, from the heaviest of riffs to the catchiest of choruses and even the melodic and neoclassical guitar solos that should also be mentioned. Aside from the fact that many of the songs on this album are all equally kickass and worthy of listening, what really had me sold was the fact that Udo's vocals are still as great as they were 40 years ago, which is a seldom seen among many vocalists in all of metal. If you are not ready to face the heavy metal breakdown, or in this case touchdown, then beware because the new album by U.D.O. is breaker and a taker.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.7/10
3: Dead And Dripping - Blackened Cerebral Rifts
Transcending Obscurity Records
Long gone are the days where "one-man band" is a sign of amateurish work and a lack of instrumental ability in at least one realm - usually the drums. In the past, it often indicated a lack of variety in the ideas presented as well, because there's only one mind responsible for creative output.
That is, of course, not the case here at all. I first noticed Dead And Dripping back in May 2021, and I was already impressed with the level of musicianship and quirky, intricate songwriting, and the meshing of different tech, brutal and OSDM elements wrapped it up in a tasty package. It was only a matter of time before a worthy label took notice, and sure enough, Transcending Obscurity got on it for the third full length in four years for this band - yeah, you heard that right.
It's even more remarkable because Blackened Cerebral Rifts explores a different strain of their sound while still keeping the project's distinct personality intact. There's more Finnish death metal vibes (Demilich in particular comes to mind) spliced into cosmic weirdness and a touch of modern slam influence that ends up manifesting more as death/doom. Spacey, slow Pierced From Within era Suffocation isn't a bad comparison either. The drums aren't incredibly fast, but this guy still definitely has chops - the constant off-kilter activity and weird snare and fill placements keeps things interesting. The organic, acoustic production also helps a ton, especially because it highlights the fact that he's physically playing - a huge plus for a one-man project of this nature.
MetalBite's Rating: 8.8/10
2: Nordicwinter - This Mournful Dawn
Never before has the blend of atmospheric and depressive black metal used by Canada's Nordicwinter been so utterly desperate, enshrouding and emotional. The clean, pure, fresh like the morning frost sound of the album takes you on a bleak journey the experience of which will linger with you for long. A must-have for any DSBM/atmospheric black metal fan.
MetalBite's Rating: 9/10
1: Vision Master - Sceptre
Gates Of Hell Records
Vision Master sees Christian Mistress's Reuben Storey teaming up with fellow ex-Funerot bandmate Dan Munro for an album of offbeat mayhem, ostensibly built around roots of classic heavy metal, but roots that have branched out unnoticed into the further reaches of oddball thrash, psychedelia, and even primitive black metal. Last year's utterly bizarre Hammers Of Misfortune record is a reasonably good comparison, and while Sceptre generally sticks a little more closely to conventional songcraft, it displays a similar ability to forge impressively memorable songs from sometimes disparate elements. By the time that the astounding alchemy of 'Gossamer Sky', takes flight, melding the progressive gallop of Manilla Road with the kind of furious twin-lead guitarwork that adorns some of the best work of Argus and Slough Feg, this writer is absolutely all-in, ditching all worldly possessions to join Vision Master on their pilgrimage to the illogical conclusion of esoteric true metal, and ready to do battle with whatever we may find along the way. Vision Master adeptly do battle with the fallacy embraced by many bands, which seems to posit that the creation of epic metal is dependent simply on extending the duration of songs to extreme lengths, instead generating the kind of arcane feel and atmosphere found so frequently in the work of many of the bands listed above across an album comprised almost entirely of three minute songs, each one a mini-masterpiece. Highlights abound, but the unfeasibly joyous 'Sandstone' takes first prize, at least until the majestic and untouchable closing track 'Thin Veil', but there's nothing even approaching filler here. With Vision Master's superlative debut, the unerringly brilliant Gates Of Hell strike gold once more with what will surely prove the best traditional heavy metal album of the year.
MetalBite's Rating: 9.3/10
Thank you for stopping by! If you actually read this far, check out the past Top 10s for this year below:
|The Zenith Passage|