December Review Round Up

So here we are at the end of 2014. It’s been a big year and things are getting crowded in my provisional top 50. That gets published next month; I’m still waiting on a few albums to arrive by post and I don’t want to short-change anyone. I have, however, posted my top 50 self-released titles for the year. Please take it all in. Lots of good stuff there.

As for what’s happened this month, Death Fortress is an album you just can’t go past. It’s an absolute standout in a month with more than its fair share of good stuff.

So happy new year, everyone. 2014 was pretty spectacular and 2015 is shaping up nicely.

Album of the Month
Death Fortress – Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable
(Black metal – United States of America)
Fallen Empire Records – 2014/11/15

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This album reminds me of Cobalt’s debut album, War Metal. Aside from fact that it’s absolutely cracking black metal (one of the year’s best bm releases), it’s replete with the promise of dark things to come. Their take on darkness is a contagious invocation of malice and domination, infecting your soul with hatred most profane. Everything about this album is geared towards making you a worse person in the most magnificent way possible.
Try before you buy: Among the Ranks of the Unconquerable (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mentions
Autopsy – Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves
(Death metal – United States of America)
Peaceville Records – 2014/04/21

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I wasn’t sure about getting this. It’s their third album in four years and their brand of gory death, while excellent, doesn’t offer a lot of variety. Or so I thought. I’m so very glad I got over that misconception, as I think it’s the pick of their post-comeback albums. The thing I love most is the rock and roll swagger they manage to incorporate into their chainsaw guitars. It brought to mind a ZZ Top album penned purely for psychopaths. It’s a very wrong shade of right.
Try before you buy: The Howling Dead (YouTube)

The Hyle – Demo
(Doom metal – Denmark)
Caligari Records – 2014/09/17

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It’s demo quality, so it’s a little bit lo-fi. Don’t let that deter you; The Hyle’s debut demo is brilliant example of creeping occult doom. They deliver drawn out lamentations, gloriously heavy on the low end. The low and slow elegantly frames surprisingly delicate vocals. They have a message that they desperately need you to hear, so not a single second is wasted on unnecessary distortion or growls. This is doom at its most deliberately hypnotic.
Try before you buy: Lucifero/Serpent King (Bandcamp)

Interspersing Bone and Blood – Immix Rejectamenta
(Brutal death metal – United States of America)
Torn Flesh Records – 2014/12/01

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Every year there’s at least one brutal death album that reaffirms my love of the genre. Last year it was Devourment’s Conceived in Sewage. This year, although it took a bit to get here, is Immix Rejectamenta. Undeniably grindcore influenced, Interspersing Bone and Blood still give their tracks room to grow and metastasize. They don’t just deliver brutality; they do it in a way that is never dull, derivative, or repetitive.
Try before you buy: Molesting the Massacred (Bandcamp)

Mörkhimmel – Ostří černé kosy zní
(Crusty death thrash – Czech Republic)
Self-released – 2014/12/24

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This is good times music for fucked up folk. To take top quality, high tempo death thrash and then grime it all up with crust is a brilliant idea. Frankly, I’m surprised I don’t see more of it. The vocals are a dead ringer for Martin van Drunen, which, given my love of Hail of Bullets, is a pretty good thing. But the guitar work is the real star here. Nothing is held back, which results in a relentless sonic barrage perfect for fist pumping, furniture tossing, and casual arson.
Try before you buy: Na věky věků (Bandcamp)

Six Brew Bantha – Intravenously Commodified
(Grindcore – Canada)
Dead Heroes et al – 2014/11/12

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I was hoping against hope that I’d get a chance to throw in a Six Brew Bantha review this year. I’ve been a huge fan since their self-titled debut waaaaaay back in 2012. Intravenously Commodified is another brilliant addition to their canon of weird as hell grind. They managed to create an album that sounds as cohesive as a single track, while each individual track retains its own unique character. That’s a hell of an achievement for a grind album.
Try before you buy: Anti-Music Part 2 (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Abysmal Growls of Despair – Lovecraftian Drone
(Drone doom – France)
Self-released – 2014/09/05

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One of this year’s better drone releases. The band actually gets what Lovecraftian actually means. The album almost literally drips with inhuman dread. One of the crowning achievements is that monstrous guitar tone, which simultaneously sounds like the crackling static of a dimensional portal and the susurrus of oozing flesh. I don’t think they could have captured the sound of lurking extra-dimmensional horror any better.
Try before you buy: The Great Old Ones (Bandcamp)

AC/DC – Rock or Bust
(Rock – Australia)
Columbia – 2014/11/28

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Rock or Bust comes at a time of upheaval for the band not seen since the passing of Bon Scott. The departure of Malcolm Young is a huge deal, but Stevie Young is a more than capable replacement for his uncle. The album does lack a killer single, but the overall album is probably their best since The Razors Edge way back in 1990. That’s because AC/DC still rocks. They remain the quintessential rock band and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.
Try before you buy: Play Ball (YouTube – not mobile friendly)

Acid Dream – Lowly Sun Dies
(Stoner doom metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/09/14

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A sub-par effort from these Yoopers. The main problem is that Lowly Sun Dies is a monotonous, soulless affair. It’s a big problem. The vocals lack desperately for range. They can be pretty inconsistent too. The guitar work hasn’t progressed past the “down tune then strum” section of the doom manual. The drumming starts out sloppy but does improve as the ep goes on. And the samples are clearly there to pad not add. Which is not rad.¹ It’s dull stuff.
Try before you buy: Voluntary Human Extinction (Bandcamp)

Barren Altar – A Monument to Endless Suffering
(Blackened doom metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/10/08

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Going to get the criticism done first. The blackened vocals sound like a strangled Gollum. You won’t notice at first, but then they draw attention to those vocals and you can’t unhear it. That aside, this is a remarkable slab of darkness. The riffs are all about maximum impact and the low growls more than compensate for kvlt Sméagol. Everything about A Monument to Endless Suffering is constructed to grind hate into your soul.
Try before you buy: The Nectar of Human Blood (Bandcamp)

Black Reaper – Flames of Sitra Ahra
(Black metal – China)
Pest Productions – 2014/12/26

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Always good to find a band that gets the basics right on their debut. Especially in black metal, which suffers from a surplus of mediocre or worse basement bands. Black Reaper does even better by adding elements of musical sophistication usually seen in bands much further along in their career. It demonstrates that the band understand that black metal needs to be dynamic to matter. Schtick only goes so far.
Try before you buy: Marching Towards the Infinity (Bandcamp)

Blood Urn – … Of Gory Sorcery and Death
(Death metal – Austria)
Terrorghoul Productions – 2014/04/20

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I had to warm up to this one. I find the vocals extremely offputting. Whoever thought using that much reverb was a good idea was dead wrong. It sounds like they were recorded in a wind tunnel and is way more distracting than anything else. But the further I got in the album, the more I realised that the band are actually very talented. There are some amazing riffs and the drums are razor sharp. It’s flawed, but there’s a tonne of promise.
Try before you buy: Katakombic Veins of the Black Earth Below (Bandcamp)

Deadbeat – Demo 2014
(Hardcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/03/23

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It might have taken until December for me to stumble upon these bruisers, but I’m glad I did. They take tracks that would be appropriate for the radio-friendly spectrum of core, strip out all the pretty (while leaving the catchy untouched), and then dial the mayhem up to 11. It’s only eight short tracks, so it’s over in a flash, but that’s kind of a good thing. The sheer immediacy of this demo gives it a visceral nature that draws the listener right into its heart of violence.
Try before you buy: Nuke Fear (Bandcamp)

Evig Hat – Evig Hat
(Black metal – Norway)
Bad Noise Records – 2014/10/22

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I’ll say one thing for Evig Hat; they’re prolific beyond all belief. Essentially a one man band, he has put out five albums and two eps this year. I figured I would start with the self-titled. I had some initial concerns that it would be yet another dose of cookie cutter black metal. Its relentless drum beats didn’t help that initial appraisal. But once I delved down into the depths, I realised I was wrong. There is a deep wellspring of talent in his guitars and vocals.
Try before you buy: Ensomhetens Offer (Bandcamp)

False Flag Attack – Everything is Shit
(Grindcore – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/12/26

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It’s a tough one to review is Everything is Shit. Very tough. The dilemma is that it’s a technically proficient album with a lot to like, but there’s not a great deal about it that lends itself to recommendation. If you like grindcore, you will love it. Guaranteed. If the genre isn’t something you ordinarily listen to, then there’s absolutely nothing here to change your mind. I think that appeal is the big difference between False Flag Attack and this year’s leading grinders.
Try before you buy: Galgenmännchen (Bandcamp)

Gnaw Their Tongues – Wir essen Seelen in der Nacht
(Blackened ambient noise – Netherlands)
Self-released – 2014/11/01

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It’s been a bit quiet on the Gnaw Their Tongues front. I suppose Mories has other projects to focus on, which is probably a good thing; GTT’s fetishism of death, sadism, and eroticism can’t be healthy long term. This ep, however, shows that he can still tap into that wellspring of horror and capture riveting descents into smothering bleakness. It’s jarring as a car crash and as discomforting as sitting on a spike, yet I can’t help but listen to it.
Try before you buy: Wir essen Seelen in der Nacht (Bandcamp)

Gorgonaut – The Foul and the Feral
(Death metal – Sweden)
Self-released – 2014/12/02

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Rough and ready death metal is what this demo is all about. No frills, just a bad attitude. It’s all they need though, as this is entertaining stuff. It’s not original and it is occasionally repetitive, but you can’t deny it’s definitely entertaining. It has just enough grime in its sound to give it an old school flavour. And they’ve borrowed one or two Slayerisms; just enough to give it a kick without turning death thrash. It’s not ground breaking, but it doesn’t need to be.
Try before you buy: Wendigo Psychosis (Bandcamp)

James Doesn’t Exist – The Kid Wins Again
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/06

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Grind eps can be sorely disappointing; their sheer brevity can be a real let down, especially when the music is as good as The Kid Wins Again. James Doesn’t Exist have that special knack of writing tracks that are as infectious as influenza. They put together all the other grind elements well, but that extra level of attention to detail goes a long way to ensuring that the four brief tracks stay firmly lodged in the brain long after the criminally short ep is finished.
Try before you buy: To High to Get High (Bandcamp)

Macerie – Demo
(Black metal – Italy)
Self-released – 2014/11/26

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Macerie is another band to keep an eye on. Sure, they don’t completely nail it here, but this is a demo. Moreover, they’re not a band that churns out demo after demo after demo of shit. This is their start point and there’s a lot to like. Their almost doom like approach to black metal is a selling point. It builds a foreboding malevolence that wouldn’t be possible if they hammered through at top speed. La Luce del Buio alone justifies getting it.
Try before you buy: La Luce del Buio (Bandcamp)

Saloth – Darkness
(Death metal – United States of America)
Music for the Dead – 2014/03/16

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I listened to it. I enjoyed it. I promptly forgot it. That’s not entirely fair; I do have fleeting memories of a satisfying guitar tone. The pinch in my neck would also indicate a degree of headbanging too. So it’s clearly not a bad release. It just suffers from a crippling lack of impetus. No song delivers enough oomph to leave any impact. It’s another fine example of a band having some promise but pissing it away on forgettable dross. Get it if you’re a death metal nut.
Try before you buy: Devil’s Mark (Bandcamp)

¹: Couldn’t help myself. So not sorry.

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