August Review Round Up

It’s been a good month. I’m a huge fan of the new Wolves in the Throne Room album. I’m sure the shift to pure instrumental ambience will disappoint genre purists, but narrow-mindedness is not a virtue.

There was lots to like this month on top of Celestite too. Obviously, the honourable mentions deserve attention, but there’s even more on top of that. Read, listen, enjoy.

Album of Month
Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestite
(Ambient – United States of America)
Artemisia Records – 2014/07/08

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Some people are going to automatically dismiss this because it’s not metal, but that’s their loss. Listening to Celestite made me feel like I was in the presence of greatness. The emotional impact this album has is transformative. I was listening to it while driving and what was an ordinary trip through suburbia, soon became a haunting sojourn through an alien wilderness. It takes alienation and isolation, and makes them beautiful.
Try before you buy: Celestite Mirror (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mentions
Alder Glade – Demo I
(Black metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/08/28

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The black and white cover photo of a mangrove is representative of this fantastic demo’s entire direction: traditionally blackened with an Australian bent. It’s not so much grim and frostbitten, as it is oppressive and hailstruck. That’s what I love about Alder Glade; it takes all the traditional elements of second wave black metal, does them well, and makes it sound as though the genre was always an Aussie invention. An impressive new band.
Try before you buy: Imprisoned in the Stars (Bandcamp)

Gnaw Their Tongues & Alkerdeel – Dyodyo Asema
(Blackened sludge – The Netherlands/Belgium)
ConSouling Sounds – 2014/01/01

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Be transported to a scene of abject horror. A man is chained to the ground and is being eaten from the inside out by insects. As his suffering reaches a peak, a rabid death cult bursts forth to cavort and writhe through a ceremony most blasphemous. But, as an unintended consequence of their evil, at the crescendo of their mad rite, the sacrifice bursts forth and cultists are swarmed by ravenous insects. Spoiler alert: the insects win. Impressive for a single.
Try before you buy: All of it. Every second of it. (Bandcamp)

Ofghost – Eeva
(Neue Deutsche Schwärze – Finland)
Self-released – 2014/08/01

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Okay, so the play on Neue Deutsche Härte is a bit off, what with them being Finns. Suomen Uusi Musta (according to Google Translate) would be more accurate. The comparison is accurate enough though, as Ofghost’s incorporation of industrial into black metal, or vice-versa, is seemless. The driving rhythms speak to a post-humanity environment; mankind is dead and this is the music of the machines. Merciless, inhuman hatred.
Try before you buy: Dust (Bandcamp)

Opeth – Pale Communion
(Progressive rock – Sweden)
Roadrunner Records – 2014/08/24

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Opeth exists in a creative sphere that only a select few inhabit. They have the ability to create wondrously engaging soundscapes and to make it seem absolutely effortless. The decision to further explore the depths of progessive rock pays rich dividends. Rich, evocative rhythms are woven through with striking string passages and delicate accoustic movements, creating sumptuously dark listening experience. Sublime from start to finish.
Try before you buy: Moon Above, Sun Below (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Al Goregrind – Asses
(Grinding brutal death- Germany)
Self-released – 2014/08/01

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This is a thoroughly delightful romp. The sheer ridiculousness of the puerile subject matter meshes perfectly the over the top blend of brutal death and grindcore. I’ve often been suspicious of humorous death metal, but Al Goregrind proves that there is a home for bum and fart jokes amidst the brutal. This success lies in the band’s ability to play high quality music. It blasts; it slams; it even deviates into a brutal form of space opera. Fantastic.
Try before you buy: Psychedelic Fart Symphony (Bandcamp)

Alcoholicaust/Arduous Task – Mutilation of the Holy
(Blackened death metal/death metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/16

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As far as things go, this isn’t bad. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s good though. Alcoholicaust’s five tracks come across as being more bare bones than no frills. And I was left with the nagging suspicion that it could have been produced in Mario Paint’s music suite. Arduous Task’s four tracks are better. They’re a fine example of knuckle-dragging brutal death. It’s far from subtle and has all the variation of a metronome, but not without its charms.
Try before you buy: Across the Northern Atlantic (Bandcamp)

Apocryphal – Ritual Entombment
(Death metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/23

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I call it orc metal. It’s ugly as an open wound, evil as hell, and dumb as dog shit. I’m perfectly happy to concede that, while this certainly isn’t my cup of tea, there is definitely a market for this Neanderthal-like smashing of instruments. And I’ve got to further concede that once I got my inner monobrow aligned, I could see the appeal. The doomy slow riffs combine with the latent violence to make a hell of a deathly, but dumb, monstrosity.
Try before you buy: Calcified Death (Bandcamp)

Coffin Birth – Necrotic Liquefaction
(Deathgrind – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/07/31

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If Necrotic Liquefaction were a person, it would be a spree killer armed with claw hammers, mindlessly smashing everything and everyone until being gunned down mid-strike. Bloody-minded and ruthlessly punishing guitars are paired with unrelenting drums to create a soundtrack for violence. It’s good to find a deathgrind band that actually succeeds in embodying the visceral nature of grindcore and the raw evil of death.
Try before you buy: The Ripping and Tearing (Bandcamp)

Downfall of Nur – Umbras e Forestas
(Ambient black metal – Argentina)
Self-released – 2014/08/10

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This feels like black metal made under laboratory conditions; it sounds as though adherence to the scientific method was of forefront concern. I say this because track one is black metal, track two is ambient, track three is an incomplete blend of the two, and track four is the complete synthesis. It’s an interesting experiment with solid performances, but it’s not perfect. It can be a bit overwrought and the overuse of thunder effects gets a bit much.
Try before you buy: Umbras e Forestas (Bandcamp)

Failgiver – Failgiver
(Hardcore – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/08/01

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On the first spin, I hated it. On the second, I loved it. By the third time, I had settled in somewhere in between and I’ve stayed there. This is some very promising hardcore with some moments of brilliance, but you’ve got to be in a punk frame of mind to enjoy it. The production has led to the instruments all being mashed together, to create some sort of unwholesome core stew, with the vocals barked out on top. It works well because it’s punk.
Try before you buy: Animals Like Us (Bandcamp)

Funerary – Starless Aeon
(Funeral doom – United States of America)
Midnight Collective – 2014/08/12

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If you like your doom slow, then Starless Aeon is perfect. Sure, all funeral doom is slow, but Funerary is absolutely glacial. The riffs play out over geological time. And bleak? You betcha. The whole tone speaks to that time when the universe is so old, the lights in the sky are all extinct, all life but dust. The most important thing is that the band is capable of creating this bottomless pit of despair without becoming repetitive. A new vision of hell.
Try before you buy: Beneath the Black Veil (Bandcamp)

Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls
(Heavy metal – United Kingdom)
Sony Music Entertainment – 2014/07/11

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Judas Priest have been around for-Goddamn-ever, so it’s reassuring to see that they are still capable of releasing an album that sounds fresh. I love Redeemer of Souls. It’s catchy. I often catch myself whistling Dragonaut or Metalizer long after I’ve turned the music off. It’s engaging. My critical brain switches off and I let the enjoyment wash over me. For a band that really has nothing to prove, it’s fantastic to see them still going hard.
Try before you buy: Dragonaut (YouTube)

The Mark of Man – Exeunt
(Melodic death metal – New Zealand)
Self-released – 2014/08/21

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Good to see melodeath done properly. The Mark of Man have successfully adopted the Gothenburg sound to such a degree that you would swear they were locals like At The Gates or In Flames. They get the energy right by absolutely nailing the rhythms and the guitar tone. The vocals, while core leaning, are spot on too. It’s almost hard to believe they’re Aucklanders sometimes. There’s nothing novel here, just non-stop, top-notch melodeath.
Try before you buy: The Craven (Bandcamp)

Misery Index – The Killing Gods
(Death metal – United States of America)
Season of Mist – 2014/05/23

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Misery Index are not world leaders at what they do, but I will cheerily throw money at them every time they release an album. Why? Because they are one of the most consistent purveyors of death metal violence out there. The Killing Gods continues this record, blasting out twelve tracks of brutality tweaked with just enough grindcore to make the songs especially unforgiving. It’s the sort of album that absolutely begs to played louder than all the rest.
Try before you buy: Gallows Humor (YouTube)

Origin – Omnipresent
(Technical death metal – United States of America)
Agonia Records/Nuclear Blast – 2014/07/04

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Origin are the most skilled acrobats in techdeath today. Throughout their career they have walked the finest of high wires, pushing the limits of technicality while striving to always preserve listenability. And on first listen, I thought they might have reigned that in, gone for a safer, more strictly brutal approach. But with each additional listen, I picked out more and more technical flourishes. That they pulled that trick off, truly sets them apart.
Try before you buy: The Absurdity of What I Am (YouTube)

Practically Extinct – Again
(Cybergrind – Finland)
Self-released – 2014/07/03

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This one man grinder has made himself quite an interesting sound. It sounds like it was recorded underground or in a tunnel somewhere, with the mic at one end and the man himself down the other. But even though it sounds eerily far off, it doesn’t resound with echo. The music itself wends from the shortest blasts to long oddly accoustic passages. The end result sounds like the aggressive thrashing of a mad sewer dweller, and that’s a result that works.
Try before you buy: WxFxFxFx (Bandcamp)

Predatory Light – MMXIV
(Blackened doom metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/02/20

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Holy crap, these guys need to stick to the doom. It’s not like the blackened part of their music is bad. It’s not, but it’s not fantastic either. Shrugworthy is my best description. But when they stick to the low and slow, it’s devastating. It’s heavy like galaxies collapsing in on themselves and equally awe-inspiring. But just as it’s about to reach a singularity, the blackened creeps back in and kills the atmosphere. It’s worth the highlights though.
Try before you buy: Spiritual Flesh (Bandcamp)

Strife Machine – Radiant Guilt and Agony
(Black metal – New Zealand)
Self-released – 2014/08/17

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I’ve got to admit that I’m getting quite sick of bands opening with a promising intro, only to dash my misplaced hopes upon the rocks of mediocrity. Strife Machine did this quite spectacularly, diving from a high point of promised grim introspection to a nadir of crappy drum machines, elementary level guitars, and inconsistent vocals. It regularly transitions through passable, poor, and terrible, leaving the listener with a sense of jarring dissatisfaction.
Try before you buy: Dawnflock (Bandcamp)

Tenchu – Demo
(Powerviolence – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/08/08

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I’m going to just call this powerviolence. I may be wrong, but this is short, fast, loud, and weird. I have often seen pv described as mutant hardcore; if Tenchu were an animal, it would have been stillborn it’s so damn mutated. It opens with a four minute sludge-grind mishmash and proceeds to delve into further sonic oddness. I’m perfectly willing to dismiss the dodgy demo quality. The roughness adds an appropriate murkiness.
Try before you buy: Nisei (Bandcamp)

The Terrordactyls – Terminally Chill
(Blackened crossover- United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/23

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This really comes across bro metal for satanists. WOOOOOO SATAN! *chest bumps* CHUG CHUG CHUG! Honestly, I spent much of this album wishing they would simply stick to the crossover; the blackened grimness doesn’t add a whole lot to it. I’m not saying their attempts at kvltosity are bad; it’s just not a natural fit with the stoner, party vibe of crossover, so it ends up sounding a bit odd. Definitely worth a crack for curiosity’s sake though.
Try before you buy: Whirling Dervish (Bandcamp)

Vaiya – Remnant Light
(Ambient black metal – Australia)
Natural World Records – 2014/08/08

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This is an absolutely gut-wrenching experience. A lot of ambient black metal tends towards the melancholy, but this pushes way past that. This is distressing. The utter relentlessness of the sonic barrage combined with subtle tonal shifts, appropriate segues into true ambience, and some of the best blackened vocals I’ve heard this year make for an album that packs a truly devastating punch. And it’s all crammed into three thirteen minute tracks.
Try before you buy: Confrontation (Bandcamp)

Verstecktengång – Matters of the Ineffable
(Ambient black metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/08/01

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Matters of the Ineffable has some flaws that mar an otherwise excellent album. Using two introductions is odd, especially when they clash stylistically. And the production value fluctuates song to song, with some tracks sounding like they had major label backing, while others sound like they were recorded in a forest with cardboard gear. But once you get past the issues, you discover a surprisingly engaging slab of blackened ambience.
Try before you buy: Kammer der Engel (Bandcamp)

Vertigo Index – Posthuman v1.1
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/07

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Starting off well is something every band should aim to do with every release. And Vertigo Index do that. Very powerful, high intensity grind is clearly top of their agenda. The problem is they don’t build on this strong foundation and it quickly subsides into monotony. There just isn’t enough about Posthuman v1.1 to hold the listener’s attention for the duration. The songs don’t sound alike, thankfully, but that’s the best thing that can be said.
Try before you buy: Mother Boxx (Bandcamp)

Water Torture – Pillbox
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Nerve Altar – 2014/08/05

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If you like your music aggressive in an odd way, Pillbox is the release for you. Vocals, bass, drums, and noise are Water Torture’s weapons of choice. These weapons are used to make a fearsome and alienating brand of punk, designed as much to discomfort the listener as whip them into a fury. The bass throbs through the body, while the diversions into feedback set the soul on edge. Pillbox is a release designed to show pv at its destructive best.
Try before you buy: Field of View (Bandcamp)

Xothist – Simulacrum
(Harsh black metal – United States of America)
Fallen Empire Records – 2014/08/09

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This is the sound of being trapped in a burning building with no exits. Of almost drowning in a raging river, barely clinging to a rescue rope. The death of the soul by a thousand cuts. Cacophonous, unrelenting, and horrifying, Simulacrum is an undeniably tough listen, but that very toughness is the mark of twisted genius. The screeching wall of noise forces the listener to grab hold of the melody or risk their sanity. Pure sonic evil.
Try before you buy: Side A (Bandcamp)

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July Review Round Up

It’s been a punk heavy month here at Metalshopped. Especially if you consider grind to be an extension of punk.

Special attention does need to be drawn to Trap Them. Many a band have been willing to chance a concept album. Sometimes even two. But show me a band willing to extend one concept across four albums, two eps, and a split that isn’t Trap Them. It’s a phenomenal achievement that’s made even more impressive by the consistently high quality of the music. From Day 1 (Insomniawesome) right through to the final hellish hour of Night 77 (Let Fall Each and Every Sedition Symptom), the band has crafted a brutally full-on narative and has kept the intensity building and brooding through uncompromising musical aggression. Kudos to you messrs Izzi and McKenney for your commitment to your vision, and thanks to all who have filled out your rhythm section over the years. Barren Praise may lie abandoned, but Trap Them will continue. I cannot wait to hear what will come next.

As you can probably tell, Trap Them snagged my album of the month. But backing them up are vicious Arizona grinders, two fantastic Argentinian blasters, some gore obsessed Aussies, and the post-metal behemoths who aren’t Neurosis.

Album of the Month
Trap Them – Blissfucker
(Crust grind – United States of America)
Prosthetic Records – 2014/06/10

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So it’s come to this: the final night in Barren Praise. I don’t pretend to understand the narative that Trap Them have crafted across their discography, but this is where it ends. And from the sounds of it, things didn’t end well for the protagonists. You are pummled with fury and defiance, and yet, track by track, desperation and exhaustion creep in. There is a horror that lies beneath the rage and it’s an entirely fitting end to this sordid tale.
Try before you buy: Lungrunners (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mentions
Lxs Jugadxs – Demo 2014
(Grindcore – Argentina)
Self-released – 2014/07/02

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I fell in love with these mad grinders when I heard their 2013 demo, regrettably too late for my end of year list. So imagine my joy when they put out another demo this month. Now double it. The best part about this demo is that it shows how the band has developed. Most importantly, there are new nuances to their sound. There is more to this than naked rage; there’s something darker in there, possibly grief, possibly melancholy. Spectacular.
Try before you buy: Fallar (Bandcamp)

Pregnancy – Demo
(Goregrind – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/01/19

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Another fine addition to the already outstanding Australian grindcore canon. The five tracks are thick with rot; each riff sounds like it was freshly sluiced off a putrescent corpse. The drums are precise when they need to be and a wondrously horrid cacophony otherwise. And the vocals are abhorrently inhuman, sounding as beastial and guttural as is possible for the human larynx. It’s easily one of the most memorable grind releases this year.
Try before you buy: A Backing-Up of the Bowels (Bandcamp)

Rotten Soil – Los Caretas
(Grinding deathcore – Argentina)
The Olmo Records – 2014/06/02

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Up is now down and black is now white; I’m officially a fan of deathcore. Granted, Rotten Soil’s take on the genre runs the death metal/hardcore mishmash through the grindcore meat grinder, so an already intense sound is condensed for maximum potency. Aside from the in your face immediacy, Los Caretas succeeds in combining hardcore rhythms with death metal tuning in a way that few of their genremates do. Consider me a convert.
Try before you buy: Acércate (Bandcamp)

Tombs – Savage Gold
(Post-metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2014/06/10

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Densely symbolic. Thematically complicated. Tantalisingly unknowable. The superlatives could keep on flowing for Savage Gold, but I think those three best sum it up. Closer to black metal than previous releases, this is about as close as Tombs will let themselves get to convenient genre labelling. It’s still more distinctly Tombs than it is anything else. The things this band can do with vocals, rhythms, and melodies defy expectation and reward the listener.
Try before you buy: Deathtripper (Bandcamp)

Woundvac – Woundvac
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/02/25

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This is more than good; this is exceptional. Woundvac’s self-titled debut is the sound of emerging from a mosh pit, covered in sweat and blood (not all of it mine), nose busted across my face, spitting teeth, and smiling like a madman. Unafraid to take their time, the songs sprawl through all the shades of implied and overt violence. This is beyond a mere sonic mugging; Woundvac is a four-man angry mob, looting and igniting everything in sight.
Try before you buy: Upon the Threshold (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Anathema – Distant Satellites
(Progressive rock – United Kingdom)
Kscope Music – 2014/06/09

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When I need a palate cleanser after indulging in too much scorching metal, I always feel comfortable reaching for Anathema. Distant Satelites doesn’t deviate from the formula laid out in Weather Systems, but it does consolidate it. Gently progressive rock is delivered with utmost care, bolstered with an expert blend of male and female vocals. I think the previous three albums are stronger, but it is still far and away better than their doom days.
Try before you buy: Ariel (YouTube)

The Apache Revolver – The Morningstar EP
(Post-black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/05/01

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Who would have thought a band whose biggest influences are, presumably, Burzum and the Beach Boys would end up sounding like a cross between Alcest and Deafheaven? The combination of black metal and surf rock was always going to produce an interesting result, but I didn’t quite expect that. I don’t think it’s derivative either; I’m pretty sure they achieved this sound through their own unique process. I’m still mystified that it works.
Try before you buy: Morningstar, Son of the Dawn (Bandcamp)

Blown Out – Sun Rot
(Stoner rock – United Kingdom)
Box Records – 2014/03/04

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They must get some quality dope in Blown Out’s part of the world, because this reeks of sativa. The 70s-styled analogue recording is fuzzed out with smoke. The guitar strings are liberally caked in the resin of 1,000 bongs. It’s hazy and slow enough to give you a contact high. In many ways, it reminds me of Earth’s recent albums, but it’s too fast to be drone. It does, however, use repetition to its advantage. You just get drawn in, tune out, and feel the bliss.
Try before you buy: Sun Rot Pt. 1 (Bandcamp)

Earth Mover – Winter Introduction
(Shoegaze – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/02/03

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Shoegaze, by its very nature, is a contemplative genre. Introspective and meditative, it has the potential to uplifting or withdrawn. Earth Mover tends towards the later. In many ways, Winter Introduction feels like it was recorded with the listener as an afterthought. Everything is faded down in the mix. The vocals especially sound as though they were sung for no one outside the band. It shrugs past intimate and pushes deep into isolation.
Try before you buy: Hill (Bandcamp)

Enabler – La Fin Absolue du Monde
(Hardcore – United States of America)
Earsplit Compound – 2014/05/27

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This is not as good as their debut, All Hail the Void, but that album crushed all, so I can’t say I’m surprised. What La Fin Absolue du Monde does do is cement Enabler’s place near the top of the hardcore tree. Short, angry songs are played with genuine emotion and some serious heaviness. I wish it had the shock and awe of its predecessor, but it’s still packed start to finish with quality riffs and deftly spat vocals. A genuinely enjoyable foray into the punksphere.
Try before you buy: Balance of Terror(Bandcamp)

Fucked Up – Glass Boys
(Hardcore – Canada)
Matador – 2014/06/03

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I’ve listened to a good bit more punk than I would have thought this year, but it’s all come from deep in the blood, sweat, and spit end of things. So listening to Glass Boys was like stepping out from some dingy fight club into glorious sunshine. It’s just so damn luxurious. It’s not just the lush guitar work or the infectiously upbeat rhythms that make this such a joy. It’s the sophisticated combination of pathos and optimism that leaves the smile.
Try before you buy: Paper the House (YouTube)

Guilty Parents – The Black Ooze
(Garage punk – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/06/13

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The Black Ooze is bile fuelled invective played with the too drunk to give a fuck quality of garage rock. It’s a pretty effective combination, but risky. Very risky. Intentionally lo-fi recordings can easily turn in to all-too-forgetable mires of poor production. But, to their credit, Guilty Parents got it right. For me, every track harkens back to a smoke filled club with terrible audio being absolutely dominated by a band that knows their craft. Halcyon days punk.
Try before you buy: Head/Basket/Dance/Casket (Bandcamp)

Infección Crónica – El Sotano
(Brutal death metal – Argentina)
Self-released – 2014/07/30

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Infección Crónica took a slightly unusual tack when approaching their brand of brutality. I’m used to brutal death sounding like a soundtrack to murder; this sounds like the dismemberment and other assorted horrors that follow. This is, in comparison to their genremates, slow and deliberate; every note scored to achieve maximum horror. It’s far from the glacial pace of death doom, but it is certainly indicative paraphilic madness.
Try before you buy: Armonia Hacia el Final (Bandcamp)

Jane Dark – Doors to Silence
(Death metal – Serbia)
Self-released – 2014/07/29

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There’s something so very satisfying about no frills death metal, so long as it’s done well. It scratches a specific, visceral itch. Jane Dark doesn’t just scratch said itch; they rake over it with sharpened nails. Part of their success lies in accepting the broader scope of the genre. There are nods to techdeath and progressive death throughout, but they are flourishes applied to highlight the overall level of skill the band bring to their pummelling btand of death.
Try before you buy: Fading of Flowers (Bandcamp)

Juventud Podrida – La Naturaleza de la Bestia
(Crust – Panama)
Self-released – 2014/06/24

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Ever get the feeling that a band is much better live than on record? That’s what I’m getting from these Panamanians. There’s definitely some hints of greatness here; the leads are harsh, while the slow downs are positively smouldering. But there’s a dearth of energy to the EP and I can’t blame the band. It’s like something vital was lost in the studio. They’re definitely a band I’m going to keep an eye on, as they will kill once they get it right.
Try before you buy: Criando Cuervos (Bandcamp)

Kurrakä – Kurrakä
(Hardcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/25

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Blistering all-female punk in the old school hardcore tradition. And by old school, I mean Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, and the whole host of the genre’s godfathers. It positively seethes with agitation and discontent. But scratch beneath the surface and there’s more than just a hardcore act. There are dark edges to the production and the vocals that draw inspiration from death rock. High energy sophistication wrapped in punk.
Try before you buy: Mundo Oscuro (Bandcamp)

Omfalos – Fallacy
(Brutal black metal – Brazil)
Self-released – 2014/07/29

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This certainly came with a twist. A kick in the teeth is probably more accurate. The cover, with its hanged and humiliated imagery, positively screams depressed, possibly suicidal grimness. Imagine my surprise when it launches into a mutant hybrid of black metal and brutal death. Sensibly, they have eschewed the traditionally screeched vocals of the former and the slams of the later. This ensures the resulting three tracks reach maximum hostility.
Try before you buy: Fallacy II (Bandcamp)

Paths – Where the Oakenhearted Dwell
(Psychedelic black metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/07/07

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There are worse things than paying homage to a great band. The important thing is that the band giving tribute do a good job of it. Paths do an excellent job of aping Enslaved. They incorporate the Norwegian’s quite distinct guitar tone into sweeping soundscapes dedicated to the Canadian wilderness. It works as it clearly pays homage to another band, but does it in a personalised way. Hopefully their sound will develop from here.
Try before you buy: Oakenheart (Bandcamp)

Pekla – Speed’n’Roll
(Heavy metal – Lithuania)
Self-released – 2014/07/07

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Landing somewhere between Lemmy approved rock and the current crop of Swedish traditional heavy metal, with a dusting of black metal for character, it really is impossible to dislike this album. I just wish my Lithuanian wasn’t so, how should I put it, non-existant, as I really want to shout along. Packed with solid hooks and catchy solos, each song feels like a party. But the vocals are aggressive enough to sound like the party’s getting rough. Good times all round.
Try before you buy: Nuo Sutemų iki Aušros (Bandcamp)

Portrait – Crossroads
(Heavy metal – Sweden)
Metal Blade – 2014/04/25

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Portrait have grown up a little on this release. It’s still hard to not make the comparison to Mercyful Fate and King Diamond; the vocalist’s range approaches the King’s and the music still maintains that level of grandiose seriousness. This album gives you impression that snide comments about being a tribute band (albeit a cracking one) are a thing of the past. Its galloping guitar work and pantomime grimness have earned their own praise.
Try before you buy: In Time (YouTube)

Qualm – Passive
(Hardcore – The Netherlands)
тide øf тhe εnd – 2014/07/16

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This is hardcore at its most abrasive. It’s lo-fi, angry as enraged hornets, and has the attention span of a three year old dosed up on sugar and speed. These angry Dutch psychos are furious about everything. So it’s pretty representative of hardcore taken to its logical extreme. Impressive, but it comes at a price: it’s really hard to listen to. As a listener, you are given no opportunity to settle in to the experience. Relentlessly discomforting. Try before you buy: Stretch Marks (Bandcamp)

Scalped – Demo 2014
(Hardcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/03/31

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If you like abrasive, dirty, fast, loud, short hardcore, then this will be right up your alley. But a discussion about band differentiation is necessary at this point. There’s nothing wrong with this release, but it does nothing to stand out from its peers. I can’t point to any particular stylistic highlight. That being said, bands like this are great at keeping local scenes vibrant and, for that, we should be thankful.
Try before you buy: Charred Hands (Bandcamp)

Skáphe – Skáphe
(Black metal – United States of America)
Fallen Empire – 2014/05/04

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This may not be the best black metal release I’ve listened to this year, but it succeeds in a way that so many newcomers fail: it sounds unique. With so many other fresh faces, I’m able to say they sound like Mayhem, Marduk, Deathspell, et cetera. Skáphe sound like Skáphe. Like a bubbling pit of volcanic mud, they sound scorching yet sludgey. They are also, to keep the volcanic theme going, capable of great eruptions of fury. A pyroclastic nightmare.
Try before you buy: The Obelisk Gleam (Bandcamp)

Tartarus – Of Grimness and Atrocity
(Black metal – United Arab Emirates)
Self-released – 2014/07/31

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Another addition to the modern black metal canon. The question, as always, is how does it differentiate itself from the rest of the blackened horde. Not being terrible is a big positive. Especially since this EP sounds so vividly similar to both In the Nightside Eclipse and Sworn to the Dark. I suppose if derivative black metal is your oeuvre, setting such a high bar isn’t a bad thing. It’s hardly original, but it’s hard to fault beyond that.
Try before you buy: Axes (of Hatred) (Bandcamp)