April Review Round Up

It took an almighty amount of time for my album of the month to turn up. The hazards of international ordering and shipping. Shelter is totally worth it though. It had some serious competition to contend with, in the form of Akab, III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb, and Sweven. Any one of those releases could have made the cut in any other month.

There’s also been a lot of crap this month. I’ve needed the awesome releases to clean my mind after such disappointment.

Album of the Month
Alcest – Shelter
(Shoegaze – France)
Prophecy Productions – 2014/01/17

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Alcest has dropped any pretence of metal on their fourth full length and have fully embraced the gentler nature of shoegaze. In doing so, Neige and his collaborators have created an album of light and space, which gives this sonic dreamscape room to soar. Neige’s vocals have a joyous melancholy, which is a wondrous oxymoron. The guitars and synths add a concentrated etherealness. The end result is a sun-drenched journey through the ether.
Try before you buy: Voix Sereines (YouTube)

Honourable Mentions
Black Khox – Akab
(Stoner sludge – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/04/20

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Instantly likeable, high intensity, super fuzzed, stoner sludge. The riffs have that High on Fire-approved heft, but aren’t loaded with the inherent negativity. The other band I feel compelled to name drop is Church of Misery, as Black Khox share that party rock vibe I get from the Japanese rifflords. But with substantially less serial killer obsession. Once the sample fanfare ended and the rock started, I was left with an ear to ear grin.
Try before you buy: Kong (Bandcamp)

Morbus Chron – Sweven
(Death metal – Sweden)
Century Media Records – 2014/02/24

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I have to admit, I’m impressed by Sweven. Morbus Chron’s first album was part of spate of ‘old school above all else’ releases out of Sweden and, while they were promising, they were just another zombie obsessed death metal act. Sweven breaks them from this mould. Their music has an otherworldly quality to it now, which allows them to expand their songwriting into progressive territory, while still indulging in the supernatural.
Try before you buy: The Perennial Link (YouTube)

Twilight – III: Beneath Trident’s Tomb
(Black Metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2014/03/17

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The black metal supergroup is back with slightly less Nachtmystium and slightly more Sonic Youth. Not entirely sure what prompted Thurston Moore to join up with this assortment of USBM’s finest, but his contribution works. I want to call it psychedelic, but it’s no greyscale rainbow. It’s more like the iridescent sheen on an oil slick; grimey and obviously unpleasant. Twilight is black metal that embodies the death of light of their namesake phenomena.
Try before you buy: Lungs (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Aronious – Truth in Perception
(Technical death metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/04

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I like over the top fret masturbation as much as the next techdeath aficionado, but I have to admit that, sometimes, awe inspiring technicality comes at the expense of listenability. Which is probably why I enjoyed Truth in Perception as much as I did, as they incorporate progressive elements in order to mitigate technical excess. This in turn allows space for the technical elements to truly shine. Aronious have crafted quite the sophisticated album.
Try before you buy: Truth in Perception (Bandcamp)

Ego Depths – Oligoria Blodd
(Funeral doom metal – Ukraine)
Self-released – 2014/04/16

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The second piece of Ukrainian funeral doom I’ve listened to this month, and in terms of album construction, they’re similar. First track sets the tone, second track defines the theme, and tracks three through five flesh it out. The similarities end there though. Ego Depths’ brand of mournful dirge is heavy on the futility of existence, from the depths of space to the tiniest spaces between cells, and light on hope, even false hope. Bleak stuff.
Try before you buy: Endosphere (Bandcamp)

Ephemeral Ocean – Honour in the Mask
(Progressive death doom – Russia)
Self-released – 2014/04/05

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Ephemeral Ocean sounds very much like a lower, slower Opeth. They may not have the full range of technical flourishes that Åkerfeldt and co put into their music, but they compensate by bringing the doom. What really puts them in the same ballpark is the feeling of space in their melodies and the organic flow of their song structures. Of course, this is just a three song e.p., so such flattering comparisons may be premature, but they are certainly worth a listen.
Try before you buy: Wrong Dismemberment (Bandcamp)

Execució – Demo
(Thrash – Spain)
Trabuc Records – 2014/02/23

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A big band of the future, right here. Assuming the metal gods will shine down kindly. This is five tracks of old school, no frills thrash. And I mean this in the best possible way. As someone who got into metal via thrash, this is a reminder of everything that’s good. The vocals are on the death metal growl spectrum, but the rest of the music is 100% eighties goodness. And, as much as its old school, it sounds unique. And it’s free. Go get it. Now.
Try before you buy: SSS (Bandcamp)

Firecult – The Essence of the Fallen
(Melodic black metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/04/04

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I’m sure when Firecult formed with the intent of playing melodic black metal, they hoped it would come across as a cross between Watain and In Flames. Regrettably, it ended up sounding like Dimmu or Cradle, but without all the pretty keyboard bits. And not their reasonably solid early work either. It’s a shame, as Firecult aren’t bad musicians; what they play, they play well. The problem lies in their compositional skills. Dull music played well.
Try before you buy: Revelations of the New Aeon (Bandcamp)

Forest of Tygers – Bruises
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Acteon – 2014/04/29

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Ever so slightly singed sludge metal performed by a Nashville couple. It’s technically proficient, but also insubstantial. It’s the sort of release that you can listen to and have completely forgotten about the second it ends. It’s as ephemeral as a puff of smoke. This makes it a problematic release, because it’s enjoyable enough, but without the staying power, what’s the point? It’s a shame, as there is potential for greatness, but it’s wasted.
Try before you buy: Tigerstripe (Bandcamp)

Giza – I Am the Ocean, I Am the Sea
(Instrumental sludge metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/29

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For an album that calls itself ‘I Am the Ocean, I Am the Sea’, it sure does lack the raw, surging power of its elemental namesakes. Its heaviness is technical or scientific in nature; much less of the power of the tidal surge and much more of water being pressurised under lab conditions. This ensures that the e.p. comes across as an oddity. Neither truly good or bad, Giza has crafted a soundscape in homage to a great natural force in a way alien to it.
Try before you buy: Molecular Tsunami (Bandcamp)

Human Collapse – Darkness to Fall
(Death doom – Russia)
Self-released – 2014/04/05

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Another interesting take on death doom. It’s kind of like what Licrest were trying to do last month, but done with more tact. There is still a distinction between the death doom and the true doom, but where this distinction can seem hamfisted in other hands, Human Collapse gets it right. It allows the band to juxtapose anger and grief, highlighting their differences, while acknowledging their commonalities. An earthy and genuine approach to negativity.
Try before you buy: Novembersmile (Bandcamp)

Mashet – The Unconsciousness Acts
(Death metal – Chile)
Self-released – 2014/04/13

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What a waste of potential. When the album kicks off, it sounds like a discount store knock off of Obituary. Standard issue chuggy riffs and public domain death growls seemed to be where the album was headed. Then the first solo started, and I realised that the guitarists are much better than their band. This is a trend that continues throughout the album: completely interchangeable death metal interspersed with top notch solos.
Try before you buy: Kymatic Darkness (Bandcamp)

Neptune’s Inferno – Abyss
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Death Valley Records – 2014/04/25

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I’m often critical of black and death metal for being too by the numbers or, to be rude, lazy. But at least there’s an element of skill in tremolo picking or windmilling death slams. Lazy doom metal? Bah! It’s the fucking worst. When you’re playing at 60bpm or less, you had better make your output menorable. As it stands, Abyss doesn’t pass the test. Prime example: I couldn’t even tell the first two tracks apart. Completely lacking stylistic nuance.
Try before you buy: Night Fever (Bandcamp)

Reivers – State Effects//Trait Effects
(D-beat – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/02/25

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I forgot how much I enjoy D-beat until these Oakland face-smashers reminded me. It’s a four track e.p. that starts off short and sharp, but builds intensity quickly, culminating in a brooding finale that simply crushes. Special mention goes out to the female vocalist, Kate. Her vox reminds me of H.R., of Bad Brains fame, and it just makes the e.p. sound complete. The rest of the band are no slouches either. An excellent example of modern punk.
Try before you buy: Save Face (Bandcamp)

Ringworm – Hammer of the Witch
(Thrashcore – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2014/03/18

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Thrashcore. Not a term I like, and I’m probably not using it correctly. But when it’s too close to metalcore to be crossover and too close to crossover to be metalcore, I’m left in an awkward position. Nomenclature aside, these thugs throw down ugly, bruising music. And that is precisely what makes this album work. Ringworm have been around a long time; they’re not about to reinvent the wheel. But their genuine bile-fuelled anger is timeless.
Try before you buy: Psychic Vampires (Bandcamp)

Sagas – Traumwanderer
(Black metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/04/18

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The first time I’ve come across an Alcest clone. Probably being a bit harsh there, but the combination of black metal and shoegaze is very closely associated with Alcest in my mind. I do like this combination of sounds and I like some of the rhythms Sagas have put to wax. But it’s far from perfect. What’s really lacking is nuance. The insistence on using growls and snarls, where clean vocals would be appropriate is an unfortunate example. Not bad overall though.
Try before you buy: Einsamkeit (Bandcamp)

Sights of War – Annihilate to Survive
(Blackened punk – Canada)
HSP Productions – 2014/04/25

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The tempo and rhythm of dirty gutter punk are matched with the tuning and production values of first wave black metal. It’s a perfect match for those whose disaffection has given way to outright contempt. There’s nothing complicated or pretty about this album; it’s raw, visceral, and blunt. It operates within rigorous self-defined parameters, but does manage to avoid the pitfall of monotony though. It’s an album that lets its anger run riot.
Try before you buy: Terror Unfold (Bandcamp)

Slayer – Implode
(Thrash – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/24

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I ummed and ahed over including this review. It is, after all, a self-released tester single. But (BUT) it is the first piece of recorded material to hit the air in the post-Hanneman era, so it’s a bit of a landmark. Gary Holt more than capably fills the role of axeman, but doesn’t merely imitate the dear departed. His contributions are vibrant. It’s no masterpiece though. It could’ve come from World Painted Blood. Most importantly, it still sounds like Slayer.
Try before you buy: Implode (duh…) (YouTube)

Slough Feg – Digital Resistance
(Heavy metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/02/18

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The Lord Weird returns and, by God, I hate reviewing them. Don’t get me wrong; I love America’s answer to Iron Maiden, but much like their NWOBHM inspiration, they produce metal of such consistent quality that it’s barely worth reviewing. Does it sound like Slough Feg? Yes. Have they deviated from their traditional sound? Not at all. For the unitiated, Slough Feg play traditional heavy metal, in a slightly less expansive way than Iron Maiden. Always worth a listen.
Try before you buy: Digital Resistance (YouTube)

Slow – Unsleep
(Funeral doom metal – United States of America)
Black Plague Records – 2014/04/13

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Apologies if I completely missed the point, but this is how I interpreted Unsleep. It’s an album based on someone committing suicide by drowning, only to have their soul remain trapped within their corpse. It opens with trepidation and a sort of numb euphoria, but quickly turns horrific. Sickly, there are occasional lapses into false acceptance, but by the end there is only bleak resignation. Warning: the bass will ruin speakers.
Try before you buy: Drowned II: Unsleep (Bandcamp)

Стены Льда [Steny Lda] – Белое Безмолвие [White Silence]
(Sludgey Post-hardcore – Russia)
Slow Burn Records – 2014/04/07

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An interesting combination of progressive sludge and post-hardcore. For the most part, it’s quite contemplative. In many ways it sounds like a collaboration between Baroness and Sunny Day Real Estate. The songs are largely instrumental, with the sparse vocals being used just as much to affect a thematic change, as convey a message. It’s an album that is intelligently constructed, well played, and, above all else, a joy to listen to.
Try before you buy: Дрейфующие В Тумане Айсберги, Несущие Гибель И Разрушение [The Icebergs Drifting In A Fog And Bringing Loss And Destruction] (Bandcamp)

Stoic Violence – Chained
(Hardcore – United States of America)
Deranged Records – 2014/04/27

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I would slap the shit out of these guys while screaming, “It’s not the bloody eighties!”, but their output is just too good to get mad at. The songs are short bursts of manic anger, in keeping the truest spirit of early days of the genre. And they’re catchy too, but not because of cheap theatrics that ‘modern’ hardcore acts are prone to. These songs may lack a pro-arena sound, but they don’t lack for bombast. Turn it up, get drunk, and smash shit.
Try before you buy: No Escape (Bandcamp)

Teitanblood – Death
(Blackened death metal – Spain)
Norma Evangelium Diaboli – 2014/03/13

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Teitanblood are purveyors of the filthiest, nastiest, most putrescent death metal there is. Death is an album that strips away whatever few friperies they previously allowed themselves. What remains is a hellraising racket, ripe with mildew of the crypt and the sulphurous tang of damnation. Ferocious blackened riffs relentlessly batter the speakers, while drums blast an infernal, manic beat. These Spaniards are deeply invested in their evil.
Try before you buy: Cadaver Synod (YouTube)

Tetragrammaton – Descendere
(Black metal – United States of America)
Dying God Records – 2014/04/18

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I don’t know what these guys think they’re doing, but they’re doing it wrong. Black metal should not be this soporific. Seriously, this e.p. could easily double as a soothing white noise device. I’m not sure whether it’s the swampy tempos, the deadpan shrieks, or cliché guitar tone that knocks me out. It could just be that they’re taking what was done by second wave black metal and playing it back slower. A disappointing effort that wouldn’t engage die hard genre buffs.
Try before you buy: Filth Goddess (Bandcamp)

This Cold Night – We of Like Minds
(Post-punk – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/03/06

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I found this album infuriating. A less subjective voice may say it’s not terrible, just dull. But I want to be subjective. The vocalist sounds as though he discovered that he can pass off being flat as singing in a minor key. His range isn’t great either. And the guitar work is sub-pop punk in ability. Judicious use of reverb can’t hide that for more than one song. But worst of all is the lack of variation. If I wanted monotonous riffs, I’d listen to drone.
Try before you buy: Eighties Goth Suicide Note (Bandcamp)

Throat Slitter – Demo 2014
(Fastcore – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/01/05

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Odd release date; I got my copy in late April and not because I’m an influential blogger. Meh. Anyhow, I’m a fan of how Throat Slitter approach grindcore. It takes a certain level of skill to release something with no tracks over a minute while ensuring that every track sounds fully developed. These songs sound so well fleshed out that they feel much longer. And not in the ‘oh God, why won’t they stop?’ way. Get this, enjoy it, hope they put out more soon.
Try before you buy: Misanthropic Lunatic (Bandcamp)

WTCHDR – Triumph and Despair
(Metalcore – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/04/02

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Always good to find a band that gives me hope for a genre I consider in decline. It does this by embracing metalcore’s hardcore roots. Rather than trying to wad in as many breakdowns as possible, WTCHDR keep their songs short and to the point, with the majority coming in under ninety seconds. Its fury is lean and precise. Revitalised hardcore with metal tuning, this reminds us what the portmanteau ‘metalcore’ actually means.
Try before you buy: The Sheep (Bandcamp)

Zombie X Incest – Live Demo
(Powerviolence – Nepal)
Self-released – 2014/03/11

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I was going to pass this over. The term ‘live demo’ doesn’t fill me with hope. But how often does Nepalese powerviolence crop up? Obscure much? To be 100% honest, I’m glad I gave in to the hipster urge, as this is an excellent introduction to a really talented band. The audio is admittedly terrible; the vocals and guitars tend to meld. But the genuine raw edge that the band has shines through. I hope a clean release happens. They deserve it.
Try before you buy: Why So Serious? (Bandcamp)

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March Review Round Up

Happy April, everybody. As you can tell I never got around to writing longer reviews. I do like my blurbs though.

Come March 31, I was prepared to hand over my album of the month gong to Tengger Cavalry and their frankly fantastic Ancient Call. But then Plebeian Grandstand came along and blew away all competition. Tengger Cavalry and, now, fellow runner up El Hambre are both fantastic, but Plebeian Grandstand are something else again.

To make up for the previous two months’ lack of links, I’ll post them now. I try to link to official sites, but sometimes it’s just not an option.

Aleph Null: Bandcamp
AlNamrood: YouTube
Amaranthine Lament: Bandcamp
Amnesian: Bandcamp
Behemoth: Official YouTube
Castration Rite/Nihilistic Holiday: Bandcamp (there’s a link to Nihilistic Holiday’s page there too)
Corpsessed: Bandcamp
Cynic: YouTube
Decades/Failures: Bandcamp
Dragons Bane: Bandcamp
Gilla Bruja: Bandcamp
Grand Magus: YouTube
Jackals: Bandcamp
Kindergarten Hazing Ritual: Bandcamp (the Cedric’s Lettuce part of the split is there too)
巨人大虐殺 [Kyojin Daigyakusatsu]: Bandcamp
Larvae: Bandcamp
Lascaille’s Shroud: Bandcamp
Lazarus Blackstar: Bandcamp (the Black Shape of Nexus part is there too)
Parfumerie: Bandcamp
Perfect Beauty: Bandcamp
The Seaford Monster: Bandcamp
Sun Worship: Bandcamp
Sunn O))) & Ulver: Bandcamp
Thou: Bandcamp
The Vintage Caravan: Bandcamp
Waldgeflüster: Bandcamp

Album of the Month
Plebeian Grandstand – Lowgazers
(Technical black metal – France)
Throatruiner Records – 2014/03/31

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I haven’t been this impressed by a black metal album this decade. Demented time signatures are overlaid with uncompromising riffs that border on the mathematical in complexity. It’s a combination of avant-garde darkness and technical fury that creates an atmosphere of relentless misanthropy. This doesn’t simply follow the genre forerunners; it forges a new path. Stunning blackened perfection.
Try before you buy: Flail in the Bliss (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mentions
铁骑 [Tengger Cavalry] – 远古呼唤 / Ancient Call
(Blackened folk metal – China)
Metal Hell Records – 2014/02/01

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I cannot sing the praises of this band loudly enough. The combination of black metal fury and traditional Mongolian music works so well; it’s entirely befitting to celebrate a warrior culture of the frozen steppe. Ancient Call is more blackened than their last album, but it is still an utter joy to listen to. Where Black Steed was a homage to high plains riders, Ancient Call takes said riders to dark, supernatural realms.
Try before you buy: Hymn of the Earth (Bandcamp)

El Hambre – El Hambre
(Grindcore – Spain)
Self-released – 2014/01/13

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What a shameless tease. Five damn tracks, that’s all they give us. Five. Damn. Tracks. And then it’s gone. This is a short, sharp shock of blistering grind, that roughs you up and is gone before you know what happened. I love grindcore for its absolute immediacy and El Hambre is right there, in your face, not giving you the choice to back down. I just wish it was longer. Five tracks of violence isn’t enough.
Try before you buy: Valkiria (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Amora – Violence is Human
(Thrash – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/03/28

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Amora boldly goes where thrash has gone before. I hear the Big Four, the Teutonic three, and all manner of other notable thrashers in their rhythms. It’s essentially a tribute band dedicated to the genre. But, damn it, I just love this e.p. It may be derivative, but it’s put together so well I don’t even care. It’s fast, heavy, and intelligently constructed. It’s a release that celebrates the high energy history of thrash.
Try before you buy: For Those Slain (Bandcamp)

Black i Dekker – Demo
(Powerviolence – Spain)
Self-released – 2014/01/28

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Short songs? Check. Abrasive vocals? Sandpapery indeed. Distortion galore? Yep. A non-commital attitude to time signatures? Very non-commital actually. This demo is packed with what I have come to expect from powerviolence. So what does it do to differentiate itself from the rest? The no guitar approach is a nice touch. Bass, drum, and vox is all this band needs. Occasionally samey, but a fine first effort.
Try before you buy: Estilo Reputado De Hoy (Bandcamp)

ExVx – Contra Violence
(Venncore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/03/04

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Venncore: the crossroads of grindcore, hardcore, and powerviolence. The songs are short, fast, and punk as fuck. They are also backed up with awesome selection of samples, starting the e.p. with a quote from a juggalo documentary and rounding it out with some South Park. It’s a whirlwind of sound that still remains balanced and coherent. That the band can keep the reins on this fury is impressive.
Try before you buy: Parochial (Bandcamp)

Hashe – El Espíritu del Árbol Muerto
(Atmospheric black metal – Chile)
Self-released – 2014/03/06

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The trick to good atmospheric black metal is striking the balance between the atmosphere and the fury. Hashe weaves a strong thread of sinister ambience through his songs, demonstrating that it’s actually possible to have keyboard driven black metal that leaves an emotional mark. This isn’t just an album for the frozen heart of winter, but also for the thin air of altitude. This is exposure given a score.
Try before you buy: El Llamado de los Viejos Robles y Alerces (Bandcamp)

Istrulity – Realm of Disturbed Hopes
(Death thrash – Serbia)
Self-released – 2014/03/06

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Once again, the difference between critical me and the rest of me rears its head. Only, this time, critical me is reminding the rest of me that just because a band plays a brand of music I’m partial too, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fantastic. That being said, Istrulity do play an entertaining brand of midpaced, heavy-end thrash. It’s just a little bit derivative. Pretty good for a demo though.
Try before you buy: R.I.P (Return is Possible) (Bandcamp)

Licrest – Misery
(Doom death – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/03/01

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I like what this one man band is trying to do. It’s a tad generic, but it’s still likeable. There’s a nice, crisp guitar tone and the drumming lays down a sinister undertone. But those vocals are a real enthusiasm killer. Or at least they are for roughly half the tracks. The problem is the album straddles the line between doom and doom death, and the vocals don’t fit with the songs on the doom side of the fence. Stick to the death.
Try before you buy: I Want to Watch You Die (Bandcamp)

Limbs Bin – Only Toture
(Harsh Noise – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/01/03

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How would you review 52 tracks of feedback only distinguishable by the occasional shift in tone and the garble of lyrics? How would you pick just one track out of the maddening clatter of similarities? As luck would have it, a guy drove past me during this period of doubt, listening to skip hop, and I realised that Only Torture was still more listenable than that. It challenged rather than bored me.
Try before you buy: Holy Grove (Bandcamp)

Lurid Reign – Omniscient in the Realm of Despair
(Depressive suicidal black metal – Canada)
SomberLife Productions – 2014/03/21

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My experiences with dsbm, while admittedly limited, indicate that a key element to the subgenre is seduction. Not with the swagger of rock or the sleaze of glam; it’s more like the drag of succubi claws across naked flesh. Dark and painful, yet undeniably alluring. With that in mind, this four track homage to Transylvanian Hunger era Darkthrone didn’t tick the boxes. Depressingly unoriginal.
Try before you buy: Awakened From Inside (Bandcamp)

Masses – Horde Mentality
(Post-punk – Australia)
Rust and Machine Records – 2014/01/31

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Press play and find yourself transported to the early 80s and soak up the vibes of a band that sounds like it could be on the same bill as Killing Joke. Hard to believe they’re Melbournians. The guitar tone is ethereal, yet jaunty. To me it sounds like the saddest surf rock band ever. And the twin male/female leads ensure the traditionally dissonant post-punk vocals have a depth of tone. A genuinely enjoyable patch of sonic shadow.
Try before you buy: Blind (Bandcamp)

Multinational Corporations – Jamat-al-Maut
(Grindcore – Pakistan)
Self-released – 2014/03/23

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Mid-paced grind. It’s a phrase that should be as abhorrent as easy-listening thrash. But these up and comers from Pakistan do it surprisingly well. It’s like they’ve taken Diatribes era Napalm Death and reintroduced the punk to it. It’s a sound that has a lot of potential, but they need to beef it up, as it sounds a little bit too stripped back right now. It’s anticapitalist grind in desperate need of funds for stomp boxes.
Try before you buy: White Collar Communism (Bandcamp)

Nightfell – The Living Ever Mourn
(Frankenmetal – United States of America)
Parasitic Records – 2014/02/03

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I think at its core The Living Ever Mourn is a black metal album, but the blending of additional doom, death, crust, and gothic elements make it an experience that goes much deeper than traditional blackened tropes. In lesser hands this genre melding would be a disjointed listening experience but this two piece handles it with aplomb. This is an album that demonstrates the true sophistication that metal can achieve.
Try before you buy: The Hollowing (Bandcamp)

Satvrnia Tellvs – De Constantia Sapientis
(Blackened something something – Italy)
Self-released – 2014/03/10

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Ugh. Generic black metal trying to disguise its generic nature by using generic flourishes. Generic. I first thought it was trying to be black ‘n’ roll, then I thought it was blackened power metal. Finally, I came to the realisation that, at its core, De Constantia Sapientis is nothing more than black metal suffering an identity crisis. The synths and the solos can’t truly cover what is essentially very mundane.
Try before you buy: De Ira (Bandcamp)

Storm{O} – Sospesi Nel Vuoto Bruceremo In Un Attimo E Il Cerchio Sarà Chiuso
(Post-hardcore – Italy)
Shove et al – 2014/02/21

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A minor critique to start off with: the vocals occasionally sound disconnected from the rest of the music. Once past that I was able to truly appreciate one of the better post-hardcore albums to appear of late. Better because it’s not hung up on ‘feelings’. Better because it’s ‘post’ in the technical sense. Better because these guys play with a grindcore-esque intensity. Best 0.50€ I’ve spent really.
Try before you buy: D’istanti (Bandcamp)

Voidcraeft – Disgust
(Black metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/02/18

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This German one piece act openly name drops Deathspell Omega and Portal as influences on his work and it shows. This twenty seven and a half minute, two track excursion into madness drips with the avant-garde esotericism that make the French misanthropes and Aussie cultists notorious. Voidcraeft is not a creation of stolen riffs however. It is a creature that embodies the primal chaos that exists beyond.
Try before you buy: Where There is No Image (SoundCloud)

Winterfiend – Forest of the Full Moon
(Raw black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/03/18

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Paleolithic production values, a drum kit consisting of a snare and a cymbal, no bass, vocals that sound like they were recorded at distance, and a one guitar tremolo assault – yep, it’s raw. This necro demo is firmly in the ‘no mosh, no fun’ mould of black metal. Which means that it paints with a very restricted palette. Ensuring suitable levels of cvltness and trveness doesn’t allow for innovation.
Try before you buy: Vomit the Blood of Christ (Bandcamp)

X-Box Murder – In the First Circle
(Death metal – Ukraine)
Self-released – 2014/03/30

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In many ways, this Ukrainian band reminds me of Devildriver. Born out of the ashes of a nu metal act, the new band actually puts out pretty solid death metal. But where Devildriver put out Florida-esque death, X-Box Murder sound distinctly Polish. This came as a surprise, as they self-describe as techdeath and deathcore, which this release certainly isn’t. Hardly groundbreaking, but fun nonetheless.
Try before you buy: Kelvin (Bandcamp)

February Review Round Up

Lots to like this month, but nothing could quite top Grand Magus’ latest effort, although Amnesian’s No Atonement came soooooo very close. I strongly recommend getting them both.

I’m thinking about expanding my reviews, making them a bit longer. Can’t help but feel I’m restricting myself. No promises though, because as much as I can write forever about the top albums, getting those extra words out for the mediocre albums is going to be tough.

See you next month, first Monday as usual.

Album of the Month
Grand Magus – Triumph and Power
(Heavy metal – Sweden)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/31/01

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Gotta paraphrase Homer Simpson, because at first I was like, ‘Yes. YES! This rocks!’ and then I was, ‘No. NO! Don’t stop rocking!’ Triumph and Power has everything you could possibly want in a metal album: anthemic choruses, towering solos, fist-pumping rhythms. Even the quiet, folkish instrumental tracks work, because you just know they’re building to something. It’s a masterfully crafted piece of modern heavy metal.
Try before you buy: Triumph and Power

Honourable Mention
Amnesian – No Atonement
(Grindcore – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/02/08

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I love a surprise and this visceral slab of grind nastiness more than fit the bill for me. I simply didn’t expect such a well developed sound from a self-released album. More on the punk end of the grind spectrum, No Atonement allows each song to develop its own character. I could easily ramble about the quality of the performers, but I’d rather marvel in the creation of a sound that is distinctly, and uniquely, Amnesian.
Try before you buy: …Mania

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Aleph Null – Nocturnal
(Stoner doom metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/02/15

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A tough one. The critical me acknowledges this is a good album. It’s uptempo by doom standards, it’s well performed, it’s catchy, and it’s well produced. By rights, it has everything I look for in this sort of album. And, yet, I don’t like it. I know I should; it ticks all my critical boxes, but I still don’t like it. It sounds like it was recorded to earn a record deal. The end result is it sounds good, but lacks the soul of a great album.
Try before you buy: Muzzle of a Sleeping God

Behemoth – The Satanist
(Black metal – Poland)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/02/03

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The blackened titans have sailed through uncertain seas over the last few years with Nergal’s cancer diagnosis casting a pall over the band’s future. But he survived, the band have thrived, and this is a glorious reaffirmation of what Behemoth is. More blackened than their last couple of albums, The Satanist’s infernal sonic wrecking ball should annhilate any doubt about the band’s future. Revel in their balefire.
Try before you buy: Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer

Castration Rite/Nihilistic Holiday – Split
(Noisecore/Grindcore – United States of America/Pakistan)
Subsidence Recordings – 2014/01/12

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Castration Rite don’t really do music. It’s more like crescendos of anger expressed with instruments as well as shrieks. Disjointed and jarring, the songs don’t allow you to fall into any rhythm. Nihilistic Holiday’s take on grind is more coherent than their splitmate’s, but that doesn’t make it any less furious. Their four tracks compliment the previous fourteen by providing direction to the mindless fury.
Try before you buy: Too Sober

Corpsessed – Abysmal Thresholds
(Death metal – Finland)
Dark Descent Records – 2014/02/04

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The debut album by these twisted Finns harkens back to the early days of the Florida death metal scene. It’s willfully dirty production trades crispness for evil and the end result is a wall of Lovecraftian malevolence that crawls across your soul as well as hammers your ear drums. This is a reminder of what death metal in its purist form should be: an ugly noise that gives voice to the primal, raging darkness.
Try before you buy: Trepanation

Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us
(Progressive rock – United States of America)
Season of Mist – 2014/02/14

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If Focus is their metal album, and Traced in Air is their transitional album, that means Kindly Bent to Free Us is Cynic’s rock album. People may disagree with my assessment, but it’s hard to call this shining beacon of light and spiritual fulfilment, ‘metal’. There’s something fundamentally uplifting about this album; the lyrics, vocal style, and instrumental rhythms all come together to make this a joy to listen to.
Try before you buy: Moon Heart Sun Head

Decades/Failures – 002
(Darkwave – United States of America)
Dead Tank Records – 2014/02/06

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What I know about the goth approved subgenres could fit on a postage stamp, but I know what I like. And I like this. The sythns and drum machine are looped and fuzzed out to create an ethereal dreamscape, while the vocals are washed out and distant. To my mind, this is what a shadow would sound like. It’s an album that would feel appropriate being spun at a goth club around 3am, just as the pills are wearing off.
Try before you buy: City Streets

Dragons Bane – Harbingers of Glory
(Stoner metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/02/08

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Not going to lie: the artwork for this E.P. didn’t get my hopes up. Seemed cheesy as hell to me. But the music well and truly exceeded expectations. What becomes clear very quickly is that these guys have spent a lot of time listening to High on Fire and Kyuss, because they’ve clearly learned that you don’t need to play low and slow while off guts. It’s not terribly original, but who cares? Good time chunky riffs all round.
Try before you buy: The Wolf Goddess

Gilla Bruja – Clubbed Hands and Fist Full of Snakes
(Sludgey death metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/02/11

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It’s not a bad E.P., it’s just dull. There. I said it. It’s not that the band is unskilled or incompetent but there is little to nothing to distinguish these five tracks from the myriad of downtuned growlers. It doesn’t help that it also sounds like nu-metal played at half speed. I guess the best way to sum up is that it’s festival filler. It’d kill time before another band without irritation, but it’s not what you came for.
Try before you buy: One Pinch of Blackleaf and Three Across the Eyes

Jackals – No Solution
(Hardcore – United Kingdom)
Hardware Records – 2014/01/15

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With the alternative festival season passing at the time of review, you would be forgiven for having a sense of despair regarding the hardcore scene. Juvenile mindsets and psuedoactivism do seem to dominate. In this light, Jackals came as a warm hug of anarcho-punk fire. Ten blistering tracks, none of them over two minutes, all of them stuffed full of piss and vinegar. Good to see true punk lives on.
Try before you buy: Manipulation

Kindergarten Hazing Ritual/Cedric’s Lettuce – Kindergarten Hazing Ritual x Cedric’s Lettuce
(Grindcore/Harsh Noise – United States of America/United States of America)
37564 Recordings – 2014/02/09

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Kindergarten Hazing Ritual’s blend of 8-bit sound effects, samples, and a.d.d. grind is always entertaining. Thirteen blistering tracks, all with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Good time party grind. Not a description applicable to Cedric’s Lettuce. I truly worry about the sanity of those who listen to this for fun. It sounds like server noise and a car crash run twice through a moog. When I say harsh noise, I mean it.
Try before you buy: I Just Wanted to Show Her My Pokemanz

Lazarus Blackstar/Black Shape of Nexus – Black Shape of Nexus/Lazarus Blackstar
(Sludge metal/doom metal – United Kingdom/Germany)
Alerta Antifascista Records – 2014/02/20

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Going into this, I knew very little about Lazarus Blackstar and some about BSoN. Both bands surprised me. The former’s downtuned, swampy riffs really draw the listener in. Ordinarily, I like low and slow sludge, but I think it often lacks catchiness. Not a problem here. The later surprised me by not being a black hole of drone. Not that I’m complaining. This foray into doom is immensely satisfying. And, again, very catchy.
Try before you buy: Whispering Through Broken Teeth

Parfumerie – Transmundane and Unprofessional Delocation of Superfluous Extremities and Rare Tissues
(Goregrind – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/01/10
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A band I’ll continue to keep my eye on, because, as much as I feel this particular E.P. was merely average, they have the potential to be great. The blastbeats are pummelling, the guitars are dirty yet precise, and the vocalist is so guttural he sounds like he’s gargling organs. The technical elements are all there, but too many tracks sounded the same. They need to improve the sophistication of their songwriting.
Try before you buy: Irrational Phobia of an Untied Navel

Perfect Beauty – Obsidian
(Drone doom – Poland)
Self-released – 2014/01/16

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I have a soft spot for drone; I love how bands operate within such repetitive parameters. Perfect Beauty, in transforming from industrial electronica to drone doom, have produced an album that embraces the repetitive nature of the genre with open arms. One heavily distorted bottom end note feels like it is played continuously, while other notes rise up from it. Its intentional monotony is a thing of beauty.
Try before you buy: III

The Seaford Monster – Live at ‘303’
(Brutal death metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/02/25

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Ahhh, the interchangeable chug of mediocre brutal death combined with the terrible audio quality of what sounds like a straight to iPod live recording. Drums dominate the mix, with guitars and vox fighting for what little audibility is left. And there’s more bass in a castrato choir. Still, gotta give ’em props for the entertainingly puerile song titles and admitting that brutal death can be pretty funny.
Try before you buy: Backpack Full of Shit

Sun Worship – Elder Giants
(Black metal – Germany)
View from the Coffin – 2014/02/22

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These Teutonic misanthropes specialise in drawn out sonic barrages. In many ways they remind of the USBM band, Krallice. And I love Krallice. Minimalist lyrics and hypnotic guitars are meshed seamlessly with blasting drum rolls. It all comes together to create three tracks of malicious menace, which in turn are rounded out by a final track of droning alienation designed to leave the listener unsettled.
Try before you buy: The Absolute is Becoming

Sunn O))) & Ulver – Terrestrials
(Ambient drone – United States of America/Norway)
Southern Lord – 2014/02/03

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It’s amazing what can be done with a minimalist attitude; that so much can be conveyed with seemingly very little. Both bands’ styles are blended to create an album that simultaneously portrays a sense of great desperation and a feeling of total resignation. Sunn O)))’s rumbling bass and distortion combines with Ulver’s judicious use of synths and horns to ably foster this juxtaposition. It’s haunting in its simplicity.
Try before you buy: Western Horn

Thou – Ceremonies of Humiliation
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Dead Tank Records – 2014/01/29

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A compilation of these prolific doomster’s split releases, this is a solid introduction to the band and great warm up to their upcoming fourth LP. It shows the length and breadth of Thou’s talents, from the crushing downtuning to the bile-fuelled vocals and all the way through to the gentler movements that allow a brief respite from the negativity. This may be my first exposure to the band, but it won’t be my last.
Try before you buy: Fleurs de Mal

The Vintage Caravan – Voyage
(Rock – Iceland)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/01/10

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Possibly the best thing to happen to rock since Clutch, The Vintage Caravan is what happens when you take three lads from Iceland and feed them a steady diet of Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Voyage is no mere nostalgia trip though; it’s packed solid with infectious grooves and memorable hooks. It’s the sort of album that instantly lodges in the brain. Air guitar; desk drumming; and bad singalongs are inevitable.
Try before you buy: M.A.R.S.W.A.T.T

January Review Round Up

Slim pickings in January, but there are still some gems and curiosities.

Album of the Month
Larvae – Grave Descent
(Blackened doom death – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/01/14

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An underground Venn metal masterpiece, this album seamlessly melds its three component genres to create toxic aura of black bile and venom. Pitch paced dirges are interspersed with comparatively faster blackened passages, with vocals that land somewhere between a growl and a rasp. Overall, Grave Descent portrays an atmosphere of creeping malevolence that all doom death albums should seek to emulate.
Try before you buy: Fallen, Left to Die

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
AlNamrood – Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq
(Blackened folk metal – Saudi Arabia)
Shaytan Productions – 2014/01/06

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Bonus points for producing black metal in a country that executes blasphemers, but what about the music itself? The distinctly Middle Eastern compositions lend themselves quite well to blackened folk, sounding suitably sinister, and the vocalist sounds like he was trained by Anaal Nathrakh’s V.I.T.R.I.O.L. However, it lacks the level of spite necessary to make it a spectacular blackened nightmare. It’s still a good listen though.
Try before you buy: Bat Al Tha Ar Nar Muheja

Amaranthine Lament – Spirit Geist
(Atmospheric black metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/01/06

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A demo that, more than anything, leaves me confused. Sometimes it’s synth heavy like prison Burzum and sometimes it’s blasting icy venom like Mayhem. But then it channels industrial black metal in the vein of Mysticum and follows it up with pop metal a la Ghost. It even manages to throw some folk in too. The songs are interesting and the musicianship is excellent, but does it work? I don’t know honestly. I really don’t.
Try before you buy: Ulalume

巨人大虐殺 [Kyojin Daigyakusatsu] – Muhaka
(Brutal death metal – Japan/United States of America)
Amputated Vein Records – 2014/01/14

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I’ve said before that brutal death metal often leaves me cold, but I keep on trying it because at his best, it’s amazing. Which brings us to Muhaka. Amazing might be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly is entertaining. It left me a smiling, happy mosh monkey, cheerily daydreaming about windmilling. It has its flaws, such as occasionally tinny drums, but its chunky riffs and bullfrog vocals make it worthwhile.
Try before you buy: Preta Lovers

Lascaille’s Shroud – Interval 02: Parallel Infinities – The Abscinded Universe
(Progressive metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/01/28

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Lascaille’s Shroud is a one man, progressive death band and Interval 02 is an almost two hour long, cosmic odyssey based on science fiction novels, Mass Effect, and a sprinkling of BioShock. Sounds like a self-indulgent wankfest, doesn’t it? And yet, somehow, it’s not. The songs wend and weave in an engaging way, with strong guitar leads and spot on drumming. I just wish it was short enough to enjoy in one sitting.
Try before you buy: Obscured: The Great Aphotic Barriers

Waldgeflüster – Meine Fesseln
(Black metal – Germany)
Bindrune Recordings – 2014/01/10

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Waldgeflüster sits alongside Drudkh and Winterfylleth as a proponent of what I like to call ‘heritage metal’. But their take on pagan heritage is absolutely mournful. The pride in Germany’s pagan history is absolutely washed out with loss, regret, and bitterness. The music speaks of a nationalism that is thoroughly jaded. Depressive suicidal acts could take lessons in emotional songwriting from Meine Fesseln.
Try before you buy: Karhunkierros

Albums of the Year for 2013

I thought I would start out with my best of for 2013. It’s a warts and all list, including pics of inconsistent sizes, my personal take on genres, and (probably) a typo or two.

Enjoy.

1) Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
(Tellurium – Norway)
Candlelight Records – 2013/10/21

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Tellurium is the heaviest of the metalloids, and it is the best term I could think of for this super-heavy, but not truly metallic album. Prog rock; jazz; minimalism; noise; and drone all mingle, while Ihsahn’s blackened roots lurk in the shadows. An ominously composed, willfully improvisational, achingly heartfelt exposé of one man’s soul. And, depressingly for us mere mortals, he makes it sound effortless.
Try before you buy: Tacit

2) Hacride – Back to Where You’ve Never Been
(Progressive death metal – France)
Indie Recordings – 2013/04/19

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Literally breathtaking, this album left me holding my breath in anticipation of what it was going to do next. Like most prog, it’s technically complicated, but its complexity is in its nuances. The song progression often sneaks up on you, and only afterwards do you realise what the hell happened. Masterful.
Try before you buy: Overcome

3) Hail of Bullets – III: The Rommel Chronicles
(Death metal – The Netherlands)
Metal Blade Records – 2013/10/28

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Hail of Bullets are the best death metal band of the new millennium. On Divine Wings and …Of Frost and War should be proof enough, but The Rommel Chronicles puts even those albums to shame. Brutal, chaotic riffs are married with relentless, artillery-like drums, with intelligently themed lyrics perfectly growled over the top. Furious and wild, this is warfare in aural form.
Try before you buy: The Desert Fox

4) Clutch – Earth Rocker
(Hard rock – United States of America)
Weathermaker Music – 2013/03/15

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I expected this album to be good, but I couldn’t have dreamed it would be this good. Clutch, in Earth Rocker, have put together one of the great hard rock albums. A heavy blues influence underscores all the tracks, which gives the album a soul sorely lacking elsewhere. The band like to use the phrase pro-rock, and this is pro-rock indeed.
Try before you buy: The Face

5) SubRosa – More Constant than the Gods
(Stoner doom metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/09/17

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This starts off with gentle, female vocals and soft violins, sounding like any number of faintly occult rock albums. Then that bass tone kicks in. What unfolds is one of the best doom albums in recent memory. There’s an uncomfortable honesty to it; other stoner doomsters layer misanthropy with dope smoke, but SubRosa sounds like they pound cones to mask serious trauma. Beautiful yet tortured melancholia.
Try before you buy: Fat of the Ram

6) True Widow – Circumambulation
(Shoegaze – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/07/23

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The drums are mesmerising, the guitars are hypnotic, and the vocals are enchanting; there is definitely something magical about this album. True Widow put out music they call ‘stonegaze’, which is essentially downtuned shoegaze, and it sounds amazing. The way the tunes loop and merge is like a delta; you’re aware of its complexity, but when you’re down in it, you can only go where it leads you.
Try before you buy: Four Teeth

7) Church of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum
(Stoner doom metal – Japan)
Rise Above Records – 2013/05/21

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Songs about serial killers shouldn’t be this much fun. The riffs are monstrous, the rhythms are infectious, and the vocals are delivered with a Phil Anselmo-esque growling drawl. It sounds like it came staight out of NOLA. For sheer balls out intensity, Church of Misery really should be a staple of any metalhead’s collection.
Try before you buy: All Hallow’s Eve

8) 铁骑 [Tengger Cavalry] – 黑骏 [Black Steed]
(Folk metal – China)
Dying Art Productions – 2013/02/25

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Well, this is a pleasant surprise. This is amazing folk metal with a distinct Chinese edge. Mantouqin and Mongolian throat singing combine with high tempo guitars and drums to create a rollicking high plains soundtrack. All I can think of when listening to this are riders on the plains, riding high in the saddle.
Try before you buy: 出征 [Expedition]

9) Kvelertak – Meir
(Blackened hardcore – Norway)
Roadrunner Records – 2013/03/26

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Meir inhabits a wonderful alternate reality where black metal didn’t go down the humourless path laid out by Bathory, keeping instead the exuberance of Venom. It also manages to build on the previous album by injecting some hard rock sleaze. Play it loud, maybe learn Norwegian so you can join in.
Try before you buy: Bruane Brenn

10) Monolithe – Monolithe IV
(Funeral doom – France)
Debemur Morti – 2013/10/18

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Monolithe takes doom metal to its logical conclusion. They do one long, crushingly heavy track and they do it damn well. Clocking in at 57 minutes, Monolithe IV is not an album for casual listening, but it is worth investing the time. The glacial riffs and the desicated growls are monstrous, while the distorted choral sections lend the album an otherworldliness. But the greatest achievement is this one song is never dull.
Try before you buy: the first five minutes. If you don’t like it by then, you’re not going to like the remaining 52 minutes

11) Gevurah – Necheshirion
(Black metal – Canada)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/05/28

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It’s a rare thing when you can safely say the worst part of an album is that it’s too short. Gevurah’s debut EP is a five track monster. Beaming with Luciferian pride and displaying a mastery of atonal melodies, this is a display that puts many longer established bands to shame. Profound Lore was right to get in early. Expect big things.
Try before you buy: The Essence Unbound

12) Ghost B.C. – Infestissumam
(Heavy metal – Sweden)
Loma Vista Recordings – 2013/04/09

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Owing as much to 70s US hard rock as it does to NWOBHM, Infestissumam is the sort of album that’s just good fun to listen to. It’s got the riffs, it’s got the hooks, it’s got what you need. The gimmick they have put together only adds to the fun. How often can you say that and mean it?
Try before you buy: Jigolo Har Megiddo

13) Deafheaven – Sunbather
(Post-black metal – United States of America)
Deathwish Inc – 2013/06/11

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There is something malevolently unwholesome about this album. The melodies could well be from the world of pop/rock, but they are buried under layers of tremolo picking; blastbeats; and screeching vocals, turning them into twisted mockeries of popular fare. The songs are dragged out, so that when accoustic relief does come, it feels even more unsettling. A riveting listen.
Try before you buy: Sunbather

14) Necrophobic – Womb of Lilithu
(Black metal – Sweden)
Season of Mist – 2013/10 /25

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I almost made a gaffe in reviewing this; I came so close to accusing them of mimicking Watain and joining in a bit of Dissection worship. But I remembered that they are no mere idolators. They are contemporaries of Dissection and are very much the real deal. Their infernal blackened fire is liberally stoked with elements of death metal, creating a blaze that reminds us why they’ve lasted the test of time.
Try before you buy: Furfur

15) Watain – The Wild Hunt
(Black metal – Sweden)
Century Media – 2013/08/14

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Satan’s great high priests are proselytising once more. Few black metal bands can match what they do musically and none do it with such zeal. The Wild Hunt takes what Watain has done before and builds on it, creating an album that is unmistakably black metal yet thoroughly individual. Moreover, there is an experimental side to this album that shows Watain are far from done.
Try before you buy: All That May Bleed

16) Gris – À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…
(Post-black metal – Canada)
Sepulchral Productions – 2013/07/09

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It’s black metal, but not as we know it. Gris’ closest contemporaries would be Alcest or Wolves in the Throne Room, but even that doesn’t quite cover what they do. Subtle orchestral movements are overlaid with spaced out guitar rhythms, which are in turn juxtaposed with wailing vocals and downtuned, sinister passages. It’s a journey of the soul into dark, melancholic realms.
Try before you buy: Igneus

17) Shining – One One One
(Avant-garde jazz – Norway)
Indie Recordings – 2013/04/06

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This is a tight album. These mental Norwegians have trimmed the excess from their metallic jazz, leaving behind nine tracks of convoluted brilliance. The swirling, free form saxophone; the syncopated drums; and the cryptic vocals all combine in a perfect amalgamation of their metal influences and jazz history.
Try before you buy: The Hurting Game

18) Leprous – Coal
(Progressive metal – Norway)
InsideOut Music – 2013/05/20

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Leprous are Ihsahn’s live band, but hopefully Coal will give them the opportunity to shine on their own. The orchestration and arrangement of their music is just phenomenal. The music itself is unusually evocative and the vocals serve to complement an overall musical narative. Very sophisticated stuff.
Try before you buy: The Valley

19) Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu
(Psychedelic black metal – Finland)
Svart Records – 2013/10/11

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An anecdote. I was driving while listening to the last track, and just as the evening sun emerged from behind a building, the track transitioned from ethereal psychedelia to an aggressive, blackened cacophony. For just that instant, all my senses peaked. No drugs needed. As far as psychedelic music goes, this is a big hit of the brown acid. It’s not a happy trip, but it does possess a certain indescribable power.
Try before you buy: Ympyrä on Vilva Tomussa

20) Horseback – A Plague of Knowing
(Psychedelic noise – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/08/20

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Damn well nearly unclassifiable, this fantastic compilation of Horseback’s various splits, singles and rarities comfortably genre hops between ambient; drone; noise; and sludge, often within the same track. But the amazing thing is it works. Despite the creative a.d.d and the breadth of sources, this compilation sounds coherent enough to be an album. A three hour plus monster of an album.
Try before you buy: TV Eye (Live)

21) Accu§er – Diabolic
(Thrash – Germany)
Red Shift – 2013/04/12

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Accu§er is one of many thrash bands in the shadow of the Teutonic Big 3. Diabolic is an album that shows how grossly unfair the previous statement is. With ten tracks way out on the heavy end of thrash, Diabolic doesn’t pull any punches. It’s album designed to ignite furious mosh pits and promote shameless air guitaring. In a particularly solid year for thrash, Accu§er truly are the stand out.
Try before you buy: Cannibal Insanity

22) Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart
(Thrash – Brazil)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/10/25

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Quite possibly the most ridiculous album title for 2013. But moving past that, Sepultura have produced quite possibly their best post-Max album. Eschewing the stylistic tinkering in favour of raw, brutal thrash was the most sensible decision the Brazilian four-piece have made in a while. It’s an album that doesn’t try to justify their continuing existence, but rather it revels in it and cuts a ten song path of destruction.
Try before you buy: The Bliss of Ignorants

23) Dream Theater – Dream Theater
(Progressive metal – United States of America)
Roadrunner Records – 2013/09/24

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What does Dream Theater the album tell us about Dream Theater the band? It tells us that they are brazen enough to wear their influences openly, while being skilled enough to sound thoroughly original. Petrucci can still play at bpms set to ∞, Mangini is more than fit to fill Portnoy’s stool, LaBrie sounds like he’s finally used to his damaged vocal chords, and Myung and Rudess still shine bright. An album worth putting their name to.
Try before you buy: Surrender to Reason

24) Carcass – Surgical Steel
(Death metal – United Kingdom)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/09/13

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I’m always a bit wary when big name bands come out of retirement. All too often it’s the lure of filthy lucre that compels them and the results are mediocre at best. Carcass bucks this trend. Surgical steel is a fantastic comeback, combining their traditional love of the medical with melodic, almost rocky riffs. Good to see the old guard still holding their own.
Try before you buy: A Congealed Clot of Blood

25) Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X
(Classical – Norway)
Jester Records – 2013/08/01

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Ever eclectic, Ulver is a classical group this year. Recorded live with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, it has been mastered like a studio album to add that extra bit of polish. It is a good thing too; losing any hint of clarity would be a crying shame. The music itself touches on religious elements, but is predominantly focused on the all too human conditions of doubt and desperation.
Try before you buy: Son of Man

26) Man’s Gin – Rebellion Hymns
(Dark Americana – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/03/26

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This album comes across like Johnny Cash for the apocalypse. There is nothing about this album that does not meet the criteria for Americana; it’s very much blues and roots meets rock. But it’s put together in a way that makes it wholly separate from it’s contemporaries. In spite of how it sounds, it feels like a metal album. It’s certainly darker than much of the bubblegum that passes for metal nowadays.
Try before you buy: Never Do the Neon Lights

27) Autopsy – The Headless Ritual
(Death metal – United States of America)
Peaceville Records – 2013/06/24

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If Macabre Eternal was a statement of intent by a reborn Autopsy, then The Headless Ritual is a venomous delivery on that threat. It is the definition of ugly music, from the bloodthirsty rhythms through the nasty vocals to the sinister doom passages. Autopsy know how to lay down an unpleasant slab of nastiness. Perfect death metal fare.
Try before you buy: She is a Funeral

28) Tesseract – Altered State
(Djent – United Kingdom)
Century Media – 2013/05/27

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A pretty extraordinary album from one the founding members of the League of Extraordinary Djentlemen. Ten tracks in four movements which can be seen as songs in their own right, which in turn make up an album that sounds like a single cohesive track. Think Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but metal. The audacity to try it is phenomenal, but to actually pull it off is amazing.
Try before you buy: Of Matter: Retrospect

29) Devourment – Conceived in Sewage
(Brutal death metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/02/19

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Conceived in Sewage is that rare brutal death album that rises beyond interchangeable chug. It’s fast, brutal and grim to be sure, but there is a quality to the musicianship and composition that sets it apart from the slavering hordes. What you’re listening to are actually songs. Distinctly individual songs. Given the limitations of the genre, it’s an impressive achievement.
Try before you buy: Fifty Ton War Machine

30) Rotting Christ – Κατά Τον Δαίμονα Εαυτού [Kata Ton Daimona Eautou]
(Blackened folk metal – Greece)
Season of Mist – 2013/03/01

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A blackened folk examination of underworld mythology. The complexity of the subject matter is matched by the polish that Rotting Christ put into their work. The songs are instantly memorable, even if you can’t understand Greek or Russian or Sumerian.
Try before you buy: Gilgameš

31) Enforcer – Death by Fire
(Speed metal – Sweden)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/02/01

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The New Wave of New Wave Heavy Metal’s glitzy poster children, Enforcer have produced an album as polished as it is over the top. As horribly pretentious as this sounds, Death By Fire is a cracking album that works because it’s immensely fun to rock out to.
Try before you buy: Mesmerized by Fire

32) Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl
(Drone – Japan/United States of America)
Drag City – 2013/03/19

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Ensemble Pearl is a collaboration between members of Sunn 0))) and Boris, but it is more than the sum of its parts. It lacks the raw bass destruction of Sunn 0))) and the eclecticism of Boris, but makes up for it through an unlikely combination of the beautiful and the sinister. It is an album that rewards the listener, but not before its humming feedback and monotonous riffs take their toll.
Try before you buy: Giant

33) Windhand – Soma
(Stoner doom metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2013/09/17

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The mark of a good stoner band is being able to hear their thought processes as you listen to them. It’s not about the lyrics or the melody, although these are pretty fantastic on Soma. It’s about hearing the amzingly stoned brains alternating between pulling bongs and penning fat riffs. And that’s what Soma is all about: fat spliffs, fatter riffs.
Try before you buy: Woodbine

34) The Meads of Asphodel – Sonderkommando
(Experimental black metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2013/04/06

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Metal, much like any art form, must sometimes challenge us; must occasionally be uneasy to listen to. A concept album based around the life of the Sonderkommando is just that. The degradation of humanity, from the brutality of the Nazis to the despair of the Jews, is explored with vigour. Haunting and discomforting.
Try before you buy: Sins of the Pharaohs

35) Hatebreed – The Divinity of Purpose
(Metalcore – United States of America)
Razor & Tie – 2013/01/29

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Do you see any other metalcore on my list? No. And there are reasons for that. It’s an uninspired, highly derivative genre populated by incessant breakdowns, lazy song writing and pointless lyrics. The Divinity of Purpose is the polar opposite, hence it’s on the list.
Try before you buy: Idolized and Vilified

36) Evile – Skull
(Thrash – United Kingdom)
Earache Records – 2013/05/27

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Evile are the new thrash titans. Forget the Big Four and their litany of dramas, Evile are the business now. Nine tracks that prove that classic thrash isn’t just holding on, but is still alive. Vital. Even the now obligatory thrash ballad is an example of awesomeness. It’s not a whiny piece of wuss rock, rather it’s a centrepiece for the album; a chance to highlight their many strengths.
Try before you buy: Tomb

37) Darkthrone – The Underground Resistance
(Blackish metal – Norway)
Peaceville Records – 2013/02/25

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Darkthrone have once again put out a thumping good album that thumbs its nose at the kvlt yet oozes the blackened goodness. It’s more black ‘n’ roll than their recent punky output, but that shouldn’t matter. It’s music to throw horns to.
Try before you buy: Valkyrie

38) Blood Tsunami – For Faen!
(Charred thrash – Norway)
Indie Recordings – 2013/03/08

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For Faen! is an album that actually lives up to its genre: it thrashes. It thrashes hard. But why say it’s charred? Because it’s not quite blackened. It’s fierce nonetheless. With tempos bordering on crossover, its meaty, violent tracks don’t give you a chance for a let up.
Try before you buy: In the Dungeon of the Rats

39) The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer
(Mathcore – United States of America)
Party Smasher Inc. – 2013/05/14

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Dillinger keep pushing the limits of what can reasonably be called music. Strictly speaking, they haven’t abandoned narative song structure; it’s more like a narative of a paranoid schizophrenic – horribly disjointed and yet menacingly cohesive. Truly a work of twisted genius.
Try before you buy: Paranoia Shields

40) Vhöl – Vhöl
(Blackened crust – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/04/09

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A supergroup put together by members from Agalloch, Hammers of Misfortune, and Yob. Given how ponderous the parent bands are, it might come as a surprise that this album is so immediate and visceral. But it is. It’s an album of thrashing punk, pulled and distorted through a filter of black metal.
Try before you buy: Grace

41) Trivium – Vengeance Falls
(Core-tinged thrash – United States of America)
Roadrunner Records – 2013/10/15

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Time once again for my ‘Keep Matt Heafy Employed’ appeal. I know Trivium gets under some people’s skin, but Vengeance Falls may be their best album and is well worth a listen. Heafy’s vocals are pretty well spot on, having mostly abandoned the growls, and the instrumentals are polished like an expensive mirror. They will never truly ditch their metalcore roots, but don’t let that cloud your judgement. Give it a try.
Try before you buy: Strife

42) Altar of Plagues – Teethed Glory and Injury
(Post-black metal – Ireland)
Profound Lore Records – 2013/04/30

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A stark audio landscape that portrays a story of alienation and creeping dread. But this is no concept album. The listener is given no clues or assistance in putting the narative together, thus adding to the sense of alienation and making the pervasive despair feel more intense. Or you may draw your own conclusions about what it means.
Try before you buy: Twelve Was Ruin

43) Nails – Abandon All Life
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2013/03/18

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Some albums give you a friendly slap to get your attention, others punch you in the face to make sure you listen. Abandon All Life takes a sledgehammer to you and all your stuff. Seventeen minutes of concentrated vitriol that makes you hate everything, especially the band that penned it.
Try before you buy: God’s Cold Hands

44) All Pigs Must Die – Nothing Violates This Nature
(Crust – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2013/06/28

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Crust is a tough genre to explain, but Nothing Violates This Nature exemplifies it. It’s a hostile brand of punk; as furious as grindcore or powerviolence, but where those genres have an immediacy, this dwells on its fury, broods even. There are few more potent examples of an album purely driven by anger. No hatred. Nothing esoteric. Pure, bloody minded anger.
Try before you buy: Primitive Fear

45) Gorguts – Colored Sands
(Technical death metal – Canada)
Season of Mist – 2013/08/25

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Gorguts’ return from a lengthy hiatus is a fitting addition to their unhinged back catalogue. Avant garde melodies that would be equally appropriate in the kvltest of black metal are meshed with rhythms harking back to the early days of Florida death metal. It’s a sonic assault that, while more accessible than Obscura, is just as intense as their masterful career high point. Welcome back, you mad bastards.
Try before you buy: Enemies of Compassion

46) Human Improvement Process – Deafening Dissonant Millennium
(Technical death metal – Italy)
Memorial Records – 2013/09/10

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Warning: some sources list this band as deathcore. Not true. What is true is that HIP incorporate elements of punk into their energetic brand of techdeath, but it has nothing to do with the pig squealing breakdown shitfest that deathcore lampoons itself with. The songwriting is sophisticated, the musicians are top tier, and the vocalist growls; shouts; and sings like a seasoned pro. Remember: techdeath not deathcore.
Try before you buy: Architecture of a Dying Sun

47) Fleshgod Apocalypse – Labyrinth
(Symphonic death metal – Italy)
Nuclear Blast – 2013/08/16

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Had to give this album a few extra spins before I could write about it; the combination of the complex arrangements and the very intense double kicks makes it seem overwhelming on its first turn round. But once you get into it, once you realise that the music is as labyrinthine as its namesake, you will soon come to appreciate the majesty of this album. Symphonic doesn’t always equal lame.
Try before you buy: The Fall of Asterion

48) Skeletonwitch – Serpents Unleashed
(Blackened thrash – United States of America)
Prosthetic Records – 2013/10/28

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Blackened thrash. Corpse paint in Cons. Except most of them don’t wear corpse paint, but you get the point. Skeletonwitch are my go-to band for demonstrating the genre and Serpents Unleashed is another fine addition to their canon. What they manage to achieve, that so many others fail to, is a seemless blending of the blackened and the thrash. Quick fire melodies, sinister vocals, and razor sharp rhythms are the order of the day.
Try before you buy: I Am of Death (Hell Has Arrived)

49) Voices – Voices From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain
(Deathly black metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2013/03/11

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Rising from the ashes of Akercocke comes Voices. Sliding along the metal continuum from blackened death metal to deathly black metal has yielded an unusual yet highly satisfying result. Jarring avant-garde movements sit comfortably next to darkly gothic passages, all held together by a driving, infernal pulse. Very impressive stuff.
Try before you buy: Fragmented Illustrations of Anger

50) Blockheads – This World is Dead
(Grindcore – France)
Relapse Records – 2013/01/22

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This is an album sold to me on the promise that it was the most brutal grind album since Insect Warfare’s World Downfall. A bold claim to be sure, but it does its damn best to deliver. Harsh vocals, buzzsaw guitars and relentless blastbeats are standard grind fare, but Blockheads do it so well. It inflicts a serious sonic ass kicking.
Buy before you buy: Digging Graves