December 2019 Review Round Up

Happy 2020, everybody. December turned out to be far more distracting than I thought it would. I figured I’d get the one or two things I missed, have a short month, and finalise my lists. Nope. It blew out a bit. Shouldn’t complain though; turns out I missed a lot of good stuff.

Best of the lot was Esoteric’s long awaited A Pyrrhic Existence. It’s a gruelling exercise in funeral doom, but it’s like running an ultramarathon; the pain is worth the endorphin rush at the end.

Next month is my Best of 2019 and Best of the Decade lists. Not sure if I’ll publish monthly reviews on top. We’ll see how we go.

As always, feel free to hit me on Facebook.

Until next month \m/

Buy me a coffee

Album of the Month
Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence
(Funeral Doom – United Kingdom)
Season of Mist – 2019/11/08

It’s been a long time between drinks, but good God am I glad Esoteric are back. I’m also glad they took the time, because it’s clear that found a way to make their already titanic sound even bigger, darker, and more funereal. They’ve created a swirling void of utter despair that threatens to suck all life into its infinite depths.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Abigail Williams – Walk Beyond the Dark
(Black Metal – United States of America)
Blood Music – 2019/11/15

I’ve never truly known what to expect from Abigail Williams, but I’m more than happy to settle for surprisingly complex black metal. I say surprisingly because this initially seems to be very traditional, but the deeper you go, the more you listen to it, the broader its influences becomes clear. For something so dense, it’s pretty seamless.

Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
(Blackgaze – France)
Nuclear Blast – 2019/10/25

Good to see Neige put a little bit more black into his blackgaze. It still has the dreamy otherness that has been his signature throughout this project, but it’s an angrier sort of dream. A lucid nightmare. This isn’t some fae trickster or changeling; this is the wild hunt, riding high in saddle, their doomed quarry hounded by spirit and mist alike.

Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Dark Descent – 2019/11/22

If you wondered what the History Channel at 1am would sound like as death metal, here’s your answer. In order to examine the aliens as masters theme, the band have dialled back the chaos in favour of a more atmospheric approach. They’re still Blood Incantation though. What they do is intensity. The approach may change, but the outcome doesn’t.

Cattle Decapitation – Death Atlas
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade – 2019/11/25

Love the music. Am awed by the drumming (holy shit). Like the growls. Hate all the other attempts at vocals. It’s so tough to recommend an album that is so good on most levels, but has vocals that sound like Dani Filth with autotune. Maybe I’m being super picky, but their distraction value outweighs the talent of everything else.

Diocletian – Amongst the Flames of a Burning God
(Blackened Death Metal – New Zealand)
Profound Lore – 2019/08/16

Diocletian absolutely brutalise the listener here. War metal is nothing if not direct, but the ruthlessness that is unleashed by these Kiwis is direct in extremis. It tears from a to b to c in a line straight down to Planck scale. There’s no wavering. There is no vacillation. There is no respite. There is naught but furious hatred for all.

Diploid – Glorify
(Grindcore – Australia)
Art as Catharsis – 2019/11/22

Given the bands they name check and the literature they cite in the album’s Bandcamp blurb, it won’t come as a surprise to say Glorify isn’t an easy, accessible listen. But don’t let the elevated difficulty level of the album turn you off. This album yields rich, thoroughly satisfying rewards, but only if you put your shoulder to the yoke.

Life of Agony – The Sound of Scars
(Hard Rock – United States of America)
Napalm Records – 2019/10/11

Mina Caputo is one of music’s great survivors and it shows on The Sound of Scars. It’s an album that takes a lifetime of challenges and presents them with both the immediacy of the lived experience and the perspective of reflection. There’s nothing soft about it either; it’s all high-energy swagger and snarl from go to whoa.

Lingua Ignota – Caligula
(Experimental – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/07/19

Equal parts Swans, Diamanda Galas, and raw black metal, Caligula is a harrowing experience. The unfiltered, unrestrained anger is horrifying. In many ways, I feel like I’m too sheltered to fully appreciate the devastating worldview that Kristin Hayter delivers. Her approach to violence is lived in and all the more terrifying and real as such.

Lord Mantis – Universal Death Church
(Blackened Sludge Metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/11/22

With the untimely passing of Bill Baumgardner, and the previous acrimony between Charlie Fell and Andrew Markuszewski, I honestly didn’t expect another Lord Mantis album. But here we are and it’s great. Venomous and poisonous in equal measure, it’s mere existence is a hazard. It heaves vitriol and retches spite with every cursed note.

Nephilim’s Noose – Rites of a Death Merchant
(Death Doom – Canada)
Self-Released – 2019/10/11

As a death doom act, Nephilim’s Noose are supposed to sound monolithic and miserable. And, wow, do they do that. But they further that sound by infusing every cavernous riff with a malign violence; a threat to body and soul that is infectious rather than fearsome. You experience the destruction and you want it even more.

Nocturnus AD – Paradox
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/05/24

Reviving a classic band with a sequel to a classic album is fraught with risks. Fortunately, Paradox delivers everything that you could want from a follow up to The Key. The riffs are infectious and the scifi vibe is intoxicating. The band has lost absolutely nothing over the years; absolutely killer, high-octane death metal.

Öxxö Xööx – Ÿ
(Doom Metal – France)
Blood Music – 2019/11/29

Once again, Öxxö Xööx has come into my life just when I really needed a healthy dose of melodramatic doom. Ÿ is a rich, almost luxurious sounding album; it really allows and encourages you to wallow in its sumptuous riffs. You need to take the time to truly experience the full extent of all nine tracks, as there is a dark majesty on display throughout.

October 2018 Review Round Up

The year might be getting close to wind up, but October served up some mighty releases. Hopefully November and December will keep on delivering even though the release rate slows.

Bliss Signal justifiably took home the Album of the Month. The melding of Altar of Plagues grimness with club scene electronica works in all sorts of ways it shouldn’t.

I have a temporary employment deficit issue going on at the moment, so November and possibly December might be a whisper slower, but I’ll keep going because I love it.

As usual, if anyone wants to contribute to my Red Bull fund, I still have my ko-fi up and running.

And, as usual, if you have critique or commentary, you can reach me at Facebook.

See you next month.

Album of the Month
Bliss Signal – Bliss Signal
(Blacktronica – Ireland/United Kingdom)
Profound Lore – 2018/09/28

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Bliss Signal is possessed of that beautiful, casual genius that you know will never lose its tarnish no matter how many times you listen to it or how long it has been between spins. It’s nice to see James Kelly return to the more abrasive, blackened sounds, but combining it with grime creates a sublime, haunting sound I didn’t think could exist.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Anaal Nathrakh – A New Kind of Horror
(Blackened Industrial Grind – United Kingdom)
Metal Blade – 2018/09/28

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Good to see that a band as committed to unapproachable blackened noise as Anaal Nathrakh can still endeavour to mix things up. With vocals approaching comprehensible and a satisfyingly King Diamond-esque approach to delivery, this may be the closest we get to an accessible album from them. It’s still horrific hell noise though.

Behemoth – I Loved You At Your Darkest
(Black Metal – Poland)
EVP Recordings – 2018/10/05

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Despite being no strangers to blasphemy, this sounds like Behemoth’s Martin Luther moment. Of course, they’re not nailing their list of grievances to the church door; they’re shoving it right down the throat of the church. They understand and articulate their theological underpinnings while making their declaration of eternal war sound so seductive.

Boar Worship – Balance of Terror
(Deathly Sludge Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/09/23

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Balance of Terror takes sludge and breaks it down to its barest elements. Guitar, drums, vocals, no messing about. It’s a risky strategy to strip things back this much, but Boar Worship have truly embraced this stylistic primitivism. It raises the riff to a totemic ideal: a spiritual force comprised entirely of rancor. Boar worship? No. Hate worship.

A Forest of Stars – Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes
(Psychedelic Black Metal – United Kingdom)
Prophecy Productions – 2018/09/28

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This came awfully close to a bad review. It took so many begrudging listens to get to a point where I could review it. But during that last spin, something clicked. Suddenly what was plodding became deliberate, what was melodramatic became operatic. The trick was I had to be alert. This is way too smart an album to be half-arsed.

Gevurah – Sulphur Soul
(Black Metal – Canada)
Profound Lore – 2018/09/28

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Gevurah are where I put my money when asked who I think the most dangerous sounding black metal act is. There’s no lecturing. There’s no preaching. There’s no posturing. There is only black metal at its most fundamentally visceral. Sulphur Soul doesn’t need to deviate from this; something so unhallowed in its simplicity yields its own dark rewards.

High on Fire – Electric Messiah
(Sludge Metal – United States of America)
eOne – 2018/10/05

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High on Fire don’t do bad albums. I’ll just put that out there first. That being said, not all their albums live up to their high standards. Electric Messiah is one of those. It wants for that special combination of resinous sludge and bombastic riffage that make the great albums so memorable. It’s still a good album, but I won’t have any reason to revisit it.

Horrendous – Idol
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Season of Mist – 2018/09/28

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Horrendous faced that nightmare of how to follow up a brilliant album with quiet aplomb. Idol follows Anareta but subtly tweaking the things that made their previous release so good. They haven’t radically changed things; rather, their sound has taken on more progressive elements. It a more complicated experience, but in a good way.

Kurushimi – What is Chaos?
(Avant-garde Jazz – Australia)
Art as Catharsis – 2018/09/13

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No matter how weird/inaccessible you may find [insert metal subgenre here], jazz at its weirdest will always make everything else seem normal in comparison to its batshitness. What is Chaos? is hallucinogenic in delivery, veering wildly between spaced out headfucks and aggressive, grind-esque pummellings. It is absolute madness.

Moss Upon the Skull – In Vengeful Reverence
(Progressive Death Metal – Belgium)
I, Voidhanger – 2018/10/19

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Taking Orchid-era Opeth’s proto-sensitivity, combining it with Cascadian black metal’s hermit tendencies, then wrapping it in trad death metal hostility is ambitious. Extremely ambitious. But fortune favours the brave because I can’t get enough of this. It manages to strike the perfect balance between sophisticated insight and naked hostility.

Pig Destroyer – Head Cage
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Relapse – 2018/09/07

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I love a bit of grindcore that’s not afraid to add a bit of swagger to their blasts. Head Cage has swagger in spades, but there’s no tongue in cheek, no knowing wink. It’s bravado being delivered with maximum aggression. The great thing about this is the combination of white hot anger and rhodomontade is it super catchy.

Revocation – The Outer Ones
(Technical Death Metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade – 2018/09/28

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You’ve got to admire Revocation; they are the hallmark of consistency and innovation. They’re on to their fifth album this decade and again they’ve delivered a corker that sounds substantially different to what has come before, but is still distinctly them. The Outer Ones is sinister, almost blackened in tone and gives their aggressive style an icy precision.

Sumac – Love in Shadow
(Post Metal – United States of America)
Thrill Jockey – 2018/09/21

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Aaron Turner really knows how to score a headfuck of an album. Pounding sludge deconstructs into spirals of noise and free jazz only to resolve itself almost imperceptibly back into form. And then it splinters off in another direction. Then another. But all of this happens so organically, that it’s the only logical way these tracks can play out.

Voivod – The Wake
(Progressive Thrash – Canada)
Century Media – 2018/09/21

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This is a great Voivod ep wrapped up in a mediocre album. The last half is top notch, weird as a Bosch painting Voivod. But those first few tracks are just such an exhausting slog to get through. The problem is they are lifeless. Barren as the lunar surface with about as much atmosphere. Suffer through the insufferable prog-lite, reap the rewards of later.

Windhand – Eternal Return
(Stoner Doom Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2018/10/05

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Of all the stoner doom bands you should know, Windhand are probably the most grounded in reality. There’s no hammer horror, no over the top misanthropy, and no transcendental musings. What there is though is a haunting, sad insight into life. Eternal Return is bleak, but is fuelled by a fire of determination that gives it a curious optimism.