September Review Round Up

September was another milestone month: MORE THAN AN ALBUM PER DAY! Beers all round.

It’s also been the sort of month that makes me think I might be a little soft with the review stick, as a lot of albums landed in my honourable mentions. But in all honesty, it’s just been a spectacular month.

Sólstafir is the undeniable champion though. Ótta delivers in ways that continue to surprise me. Albums like Eparistera Daimones and Celestite immediately plateau at brilliance; Ótta continues to climb into the lofty heights. There is no plateauing. It gets more brilliant with each and every listen.

If I was forced to pick any other release to highlight, it would be Season of Mist’s compilation, One and All, Together, For Home. The earnest folk melodies are beautifully performed, even when played in the most blackened manner.

But, seriously, there is so much to admire this month. Click all the links, enjoy all the music. See you next month, first Monday of the month.

*Edit: amended Videmur’s place of origin. 2014/10/12

Album of the Month
Sólstafir – Ótta
(Post-metal – Iceland)
Season of Mist – 2014/08/29

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Ótta is an album that makes me want to tear up all my old reviews and start from scratch with unsullied adjectives. It also serves as the perfect reminder that metal, at its best, is a thing of abject beauty. Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals are by turns heartfelt and harrowing, while the music itself is truly and uniquely majestic. Meditative and bombastic, Ótta combines the impossible. If you can’t appreciate the wonder of this album, I weep for you.
Try before you buy: Miðaftann (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mentions
Außerwelt – Our Lives Out of Balance
(Post-black metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/09/21

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I lost myself in this album. It’s just as capable of invoking the permafrost as any other black metal band. More so, to be honest. But its true strength lies in its bending of the genre’s tropes, which turns traditional blackened melodies into extended meditations on alienation. It truly is a remarkable ep; every listen unearths something new, nuances in song structure that, while not immediately noticeable, make every song completely and truly vital.
Try before you buy: A Grey Matter (Bandcamp)

Earth – Primitive and Deadly
(Drone – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2014/09/01

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Pretty sure there’s a blues album in here. Buried under mountains of fuzz and distorted into a drone album, sure, but it’s definitely blues in disguise. There’s something heartfelt, bittersweet, and earthy (pun unintended) about their guitar work. It’s captivating. The addition of vocals works. I was sceptical at first, but the finished product assuaged my fears. It can bring a tear to the eye while simultaneously destroying speakers.
Try before you buy: From the Zodiacal Light (Bandcamp)

End Silence – The Waters
(Progressive thrash – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/09/19

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Now THAT’S a thrash album. End Silence have produced the best thrash album I’ve heard in a long time. They did this by breaking from tradition and incorporating progressive elements in a way that shows commitment to making a mature sounding album. I only hope they don’t get a cease and desist notice for the Legend of Zelda homage. It’s awesome by the way. Everything from the vocalist’s range to the intriguing solos is near perfect.
Try before you buy: Soul Charger (Bandcamp)

The Haunted – Exit Wounds
(Death thrash – Sweden)
Century Media Records – 2014/08/25

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Confession time: I haven’t been the biggest fan of The Haunted up to this point. I didn’t find them objectionable, but they didn’t do anything for me either. That changes with Exit Wounds. This is a seemless blend of thrash and melodic death metal, keeping the invigorating energy of the former and the naked aggression of the latter. The end result is an album that delivers on pure enjoyment in a way few albums do. It’s one of those rare ‘anytime’ albums.
Try before you buy: Cutting Teeth (YouTube)

Nachtmystium – The World We Left Behind
(Progressive black metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2014/08/05

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Leave aside the deep well of antipathy that Blake Judd has dug for himself and try to judge The World We Left Behind on its merits. Believe me, it’s worth it. This is not an album he could have done with Hate Meditation; this level of personalised introspection requires prog’s nuances not raw blackened aggression. Bitterness, regret, and occasional self-pity make for a surprisingly honest outcome. A fitting swansong for a troubled legacy.
Try before you buy: Tear You Down (YouTube)

Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/08/19

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I enjoyed Pallbearer’s first album, but I love their second effort. This is true doom as its absolute best. Crisp guitar tones, clean vocals, elaborate melodies: all of these things come together perfectly on Foundations of Burden. The guitar work is fucking majestic. There is no other way to describe it. It draws you in and keeps you nestled in its heart. And Brett Campbell’s vocals are amazing. It helps that the guy can actually sing. Ride the beautiful gloom.
Try before you buy: The Ghost I Used to Be (Bandcamp)

Various Artists – One and All, Together, For Home
(Folk metal – Finland/France/Ireland/Netherlands/Norway/Portugal/Ukraine/United Kingdom)
Season of Mist – 2014/05/23

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Various Artists tells you nothing, so here’s the contributors: Ava Inferi, Drudkh, Häive, Himinbjorg, Kampfar, Mondvolland, Primordial, and Winterfylleth. It’s an impressive list. Good thing it’s an impressive compilation. Ranging from blackened folk all the way through true folk, this is a collection of heartfelt adaptations of traditional folk songs. Serious, moving, and proof that black metal can have some pride without going full Varg.
Try before you buy: John Barleycorn (Bandcamp)

Vermin Womb – Permanence
(Blackened deathgrind – United States of America)
Throatruiner Records – 2014/09/01

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The debut EP from these madmen from Denver sounds every bit as evil as you would expect from a blend of black, death and grind. It’s a testament to their skills that they pulled this together without a single wasted second. Its merciless, pitiless, remorseless blast-driven beat underscores some of the nastiest guitar work I’ve heard this year. This monstosity is further unhallowed by expertly growled vocals. Harrowing stuff.
Try before you buy: Gave (Bandcamp)

YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Neurot Recordings – 2014/08/29

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Another fantastic addition to Yob’s already outstanding catalogue of American heaviness. The beauty of Clearing the Path to Ascend, and what sets it apart from the rest of their discography, are the effortless transitions from crushing heaviness to deliberately wrenching introspection. Deliberate is the best word to describe this album. There is not a single wasted note or beat; everything is vital and necessary. Doom rarely crushes this totally.
Try before you buy: Unmask the Spectre (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Al’s Toy Barn – Al’s Toy Barn
(Mincecore – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/07/27

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This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever heard, but that is kind of the point. I’m right aren’t I, you Tasmanian weirdos? Underneath the intentionally terrible music are genuinely enjoyable songs. Goddamn postmodern grind: it takes the genre to an illogical conclusion and along the way turns atrocious drumming, worse vocals, and simplistic guitars into songs worth listening to. I’m not sure how many repeat listens it’s worth, but everyone should hear it once.
Try before you buy: Free Parking (Bandcamp)

Amnesian – Inhospitable
(Hardgrind – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/09/28

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Second Amnesian release for 2014 and they’ve kept the high standard up. They’ve dialled back the tempo to make an ep that has just as much in common with hardcore as it does with grind. It loses some of the explosiveness that made No Atonement the brilliant release it is, but it still simmers with hostility. And while it never feels like it will boil over, the absolute persistence of Inhospitable’s seething justifies a listen.
Try before you buy: Symmetry Hymn (Bandcamp)

Belphegor – Conjuring the Dead
(Blackened death metal – Austria)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/08/08

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Austria’s favourite goat enthusiasts return with another ten tracks of what they do best: searing blackened death metal. There was never any question about what this album would be: a high tempo blast-a-rama paired with necrosadistic blasphemy. It’s what Belphegor do and they do it with consistently high quality, with smatterings of brilliance. Just don’t go looking for innovation; the concept is alien to them. I hope they never change.
Try before you buy: Conjuring the Dead (YouTube)

Chaotorynth – Eidola Hunter
(Black metal – Ireland)
Self-released – 2014/09/12

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Better than generic black metal played well is the order of the day for these Irish fiends. There’s nothing here that will win any converts to black metal, but if frostbitten fury is your thing, then there is lots to like here. What really sold the album for me was the intelligent use of interludes. Chaotorynth get interludes right, giving Eidola Hunter a sense of narative flow that other blackened bands lack. Highly recommended.
Try before you buy: IV. Breathing Wall (Bandcamp)

Enbilulugugal – The End is Extremely Fucking Nigh
(Blackened noise – United States of America)
Dipsomaniac Records – 2014/09/13

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I went into this expecting unlistenable screeching noise, so it was pretty cool to discover it was listenable screeching noise. It sounds like black metal from the nuclear wasteland. Static and distortion take a mid-paced sonic assault and turn it into an offputting radio signal swimming into range. It’s a promise of imminent violence, but ominousness of not knowing exactly where the threat is. It’s intimidating music written for people who eat skin.
Try before you buy: IX (Bandcamp)

Estigia – Born Guilty
(Thrash – Spain)
Self-released – 2014/09/15

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Born Guilty is proof positive that a band can absolutely nail the basics and still fail to produce a fantastic album. They have a rich, heavy guitar tone pumping out catchy melodies backed up by quality drumming. And the vocals, sung cleanly, are a revelation; crooning instead of shouting suits thrash surprisingly well. But there are no solos. Not a one. Of all Metallica’s lessons, why learn from St Anger? It sucks the virtuosity out of the whole affair.
Try before you buy: The Long Finger (Bandcamp)

Fukpig – This World is Weakening
(Blackened grindcore – United Kingdom)
Devizes Studios – 2014/01/20

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Not so much a new release, as it is a reinterpretation. The band weren’t happy with their previous album, 3, so they hit the studio and redid it. I was unsure at first. I, at least, liked 3. But This World is Weakening is worth the investment. It finalises Fukpig’s transition from slightly punkier Anaal Nathrakh to necrotic grind nightmare in their own right. I think they finally have made an album that lives up to their self-applied tag of necropunk.
Try before you buy: Fascist Moron (Bandcamp)

Galg – Afzicht
(Droning black metal – Netherlands)
Tartarus Records – 2014/09/20

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This is a tale of two tracks. Two tracks suffused with horror barely imaginable. The first, Afzicht, sounds like the inner workings of the worst kind of sexual sadist. It opens with the furious rush of the kill, settles into an uneasy satisfaction, before the violence builds again. The second, Caverns Strewn with Bone, is akin to being forcibly trapped in said cavern. It’s rich with creeping dread and bleak hopelessness, before going out on a whimper of inevitability.
Try before you buy: Afzicht (Bandcamp)

Hegeroth – Three Emperors’ Triangle
(Melodic black metal – Poland)
Self-released – 2014/09/05

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The young me would have lost his shit over this. It’s black metal in the vein of Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir: high energy and accessible. It may lack the melodrama of the former and the flamboyance of the latter, but it more than makes up for those losses by playing straight up, catchy as hell metal. It’s actually pretty refreshing to listen to Three Emperors’ Triangle after enduring some of this year’s sonic maelstroms. Highly enjoyable extremity.
Try before you buy: The Enforcer (Bandcamp)

Home is Gone – Triptych
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/18

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Bit of an odd one this. It opens with a particularly alienating brand of coruscating blackened rage. It’s immediately polarising, but it’s like they second-guessed themselves, as it soon falls into a weird type of symphonic, like Anaal Nathrakh stuck in second gear. Still not particularly accessible to outsiders, but very different to how they started. And the death metal chunks feel out of place. Lots of promise, but inconsistent.
Try before you buy: Just Another Way (Bandcamp)

Human Achievement – I
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/02

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I reminded me of 1980s era Sick of It All: super intense with more than hint of implied violence. But further to this is a think layer of immediacy. Human Achievement want to spend the least amount of time ensuring total destruction. Seriously efficient malice. The final thing that really made me enjoy this was the level of technical skill the band employ. Any band can slam out abbreviated noise; it takes genuine skill to play technically this fast.
Try before you buy: III (Bandcamp)

Ice Dragon – Loaf of Head
(Stoner metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/09/14

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This is mostly enjoyable, if a little disjointed. Some of the tracks are deep in desert rock, let’s do mushrooms and finger-paint territory. Some of them are rooted in Black Sabbath, bong-ripping on a Monday morning slackerdom. They certainly get the respective sounds right. They possibly fly a little close to the suns that are their influences, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stops them from being great, but they’re still damn good fun.
Try before you buy: Walkin’ Tall (Bandcamp)

Irreversible – Surface
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/09/13

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Surface manages to be hypnotic in the good and bad sense of the word. It draws you in and captivates you with just the right blend of heft and delicacy. It makes you believe that it’s a great album. But then, with a click of a finger (or push of the stop button), it’s gone. It’s like it was never there. I can’t think of another album that I enjoyed so thoroughly, but can’t remember a single riff from. It’s tough to draw a firm conclusion, but it’s good while it lasts.
Try before you buy: Degloving Injury (Bandcamp)

Muldjord – Color of My Soul
(Blackened death metal – Denmark)
Self-released – 2014/07/02

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Expectations are funny things. I really had this pegged as a vanity project and, as such, expectations were low. But I was wrong. There are no pretensions of novelty but the guy really knows his craft. The Color of My Soul is thumping death metal with enough black metal woven through to give it a much appreciated sinister edge. Importantly for a one man band he gets all the elements right. It’s an album that any death fan should enjoy.
Try before you buy: A Thousand Paths (Bandcamp)

Reverorum Ib Malacht – De Mysteriis dom Christi
(Unblack ambient – Sweden)
The Ajna Offensive – 2014/09/18

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I normally don’t bother with the running joke that is unblack metal, but the Ajna Offensive is a label I respect, so I gave this a shot. Closer to ambience than true metal, this is still every bit as unsettling as the best of black metal can be. They do execute this differently though, using ambient characteristics to build a cavernous, yet monastic atmosphere. At no stage is the listener allowed to get comfortable though. Challenging material.
Try before you buy: Nw thänthidh (YouTube)

Royal Blood – Royal Blood
(Garage rock – United Kingdom)
Warner Bros. – 2014/08/22

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This is what it sounds like when rock is done right. That such a rich rock sound came out of the humble two piece format is an impressive achievement. I can’t not make the comparison to the White Stripes, but where there is a certain quirkiness to Jack and Meg’s musical endeavours, Royal Blood punches through with a weird mix of noise rock and blues. I also like to think I hear titbits of Muse-esque oddness too. A raucous reaffirmation of rock’s heft.
Try before you buy: Figure It Out (YouTube)

Sineus – Demo
(Thrash – United States of America)
Torn Flesh Records – 2014/09/21

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Nothing like a bit of primitive Slayer worship. There’s something very endearing about these four tracks. It sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. The drums are more papery than basement black metal. And there’s a general hollowness to the sound. But none of this detracts from the fact that they play an entertaining brand of thrash. It’s a tad light on solos, but those they do have are pretty sweet. Cracking first effort.
Try before you buy: Sodom’s Depravity (Bandcamp)

Skinflint – Nyemba
(Heavy metal – Botswana)
Self-released – 2014/09/06

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This is a seriously enjoyable album. It occasionally lapses into moments when you wonder, “Where is this going?” But then it will click into gear with a kick-ass solo or a change of rhythm, so all is forgiven. It’s an album that is as fun as it is because it draws on metal’s earliest heritage, a time when heavy metal and hard rock weren’t all that dissimilar. Nyemba is just as often Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, as it is Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Good times.
Try before you buy: Veya (YouTube)

Torture Chamber – Qayin
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/06/09

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This has tremolo picking, blastbeats, and inhuman vocals; all the hallmarks of a band who really want you to know they’re evil. And they’re a technically proficient group too. So if evil music played well is all you look for in black metal, Qayin is all you need. Myself, I look for a little bit more depth. Something that makes a band truly stand out. Black metal is littered with bands that can do the basics well, but is championed by bands that go further.
Try before you buy: The Blood of Angels (Bandcamp)

Videmur – Finality
(Black metal – Belgium/Puerto Rico)
Self-released – 2014/08/25

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I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had a great strike rate with the depressing stuff in 2014. Videmur changes that. Aside from being an album that encapsulates both the joy of accepting oblivion’s permanent embrace and self-loathing that drives a person to that point, Finality is loaded with surprising musical flourishes. This ensures that the album is consistently engaging, beguiling the listener deeper into the abyss. Beautiful bleakness.
Try before you buy: Desolate Essence (Bandcamp)

Wretched Excess – Away From This World
(Dark ambient – United States of America)
Illuminated Paths – 2014/07/17

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There’s something deeply unsettling about this release. It’s akin to being tortured under heavy sedation; you know it can’t be good for you, but not only do you not care, you actually find the whole process pretty entertaining. The use of subtle atmospherics is remarkably well done, successfully turning dreamy soundscapes into eerie excursions into discomfort. The sheer amount of tact and delicacy it takes to make an album like this is incredible.
Try before you buy: Atlantis (Bandcamp)

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June Review Round Up

June felt like a slow month, but I still ended up with twenty reviews. The new Mayhem album justly deserves its top billing. I was a big fan of Ordo ad Chao, but Esoteric Warfare is something else again. It would also seem that I’m one of the few to truly enjoy Mastodon’s new album, but I think that’s because I really like the space rock vibe they’re rocking at the moment.

We’re at the half-year mark and I’ve got to admit, 2014 has already exceeded many of my expectations. I’m a pretty generous reviewer; I can usually find some redeeming features in whatever I’m listening to, but I’ve got to admit that there has been a succession of genuinely top quality releases so far. Bring on the second half of the year.

Album of the Month
Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare
(Black metal – Norway)
Season of Mist – 2014/06/06

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I read more than a few reviews of Esoteric Warfare before I penned my own. I’m pretty sure every single one of them referenced De Mysteriis dom Sathanas and they did so by way of positive comparison. I’m going to add my voice to this chorus, as this album is spectacular. It’s easily the best thing they’ve done since they defined the genre all those years ago. Credit must go to Teloch; the man’s songwriting skills would make Euronymous proud.
Try before you buy: MILAB (YouTube)

Honourable Mentions
ACxDC – Antichrist Demoncore
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Melotov Records – 2014/06/24

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Okay. Technically it’s a blend of grindcore and powerviolence, but I personally believe it lands further on the pv side of the line. Nomenclature quibbles aside, this is one hell of an awesome racket. Catchy and disorientating in equal measure, only after repeated listens was I able to pick exactly where songs ended. That’s not a criticism either. The sheer level of audio violence crammed into these twenty odd minutes is truly inspiring.
Try before you buy: Vegangelical (Bandcamp)

Eyehategod – Eyehategod
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Housecore Records – 2014/05/27

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I don’t think any band is quite as emblematic of NOLA as Eyehategod. Seedy and swampy, yet possessed of a unique vigour, the comparisons go deeper. Both have been broken, yet they remain unbowed. Thanks to Hurricane Katrina and their own personal demons, the notorious sludge lords truly have been through hell and back. This has translated directly to their music. It’s no wonder they put their name to the album. It is truly theirs.
Try before you buy: Medicine Noose (YouTube)

Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun
(Progressive sludge – United States of America)
Reprise Records – 2014/06/24

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Ordinarily the phrase ‘meets expectations’ implies a faint level of disappointment, as though more could have expected. But that’s not the case with Mastodon. When they meet your expectations, you just know you will be blown away. It’s just what they do. Once More ‘Round the Sun takes what they did with The Hunter and blasts even further into space. It’s a beautiful expedition into progressive expanses, that is challenging, uplifting, and hard rocking.
Try before you buy: Aunt Lisa (YouTube)

Shores of Null – Quiescence
(Gothic death metal – Italy)
Candlelight Records – 2014/03/24

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You don’t often get to associate the word ‘beautiful’ with death metal, but that’s what Quiescence is: beautiful death metal. The use of clean vocals is inspired and, fortunately, the vocalist is absolutely spot on in his delivery. Musically, the album is clearly rooted in melodeath, but is gloomy in its delivery. This combination of clean vocals, gloomy delivery, and traditional melodeath is absolutely stunning. And this is their first release. They should be huge.
Try before you buy: Night Will Come (Bandcamp)

An Anomaly
Jesus Egg – Discography
(Ska grind – United States of America)
Self-released – ????/??/??

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From deep in the grind underground comes Jesus Egg. I don’t know when this was released. I don’t know what the tracks are called. Hell, I can’t even be sure if it’s called ‘Discography’. What I do know is that this is some of the most violent, intense, and downright weird grindcore you will come across. The ska influence ranges between subtle and blunt, but is always undeniably there, turning this blastbeat barrage into something truly out there.
Try before you buy: Discography (YouTube). Available for free download here.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
A Red Nightmare – A Red Nightmare
(Good deathcore – Brazil)
Self-released – 2014/06/02

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I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two distinct deathcore genres: hardcore infused with death metal elements, which is inevitably terrible and death metal infused with hardcore elements, which is often pretty good. This is in the later category. Its production is super crisp; if there were a fly outside, you would have heard it. The music itself comes in on the techdeath end of things, with a tactful use of breakdowns. Damn entertaining.
Try before you buy: Enemy (Bandcamp)

Adversary – Adversary
(Black metal – United Kingdom)
Exitium Productions – 2014/02/12

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There’s a lot of dross in black metal; so many bands trying to make themselves heard, but all of them sounding largely the same. It’s very easy to lose quality bands in the wash. And based on their second demo, it would be a crime against the genre to lose track of Adversary. They deal in frostbitten misanthropy, doing their damned best to channel their inner Mayhem. It’s the sort of release that draws you in from the outset and keeps you totally engaged.
Try before you buy: Illusionary Benefactor (Bandcamp)

Agonized – Consumed
(Grindcore – Malaysia)
Self-released – 2014/02/22

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I love true grindcore: the raw punk spit, the blastbeat barrages, the chainsaw guitars. At it’s best, it’s music that stokes the fires of my inner activist. But there is always the twinge knowing that many a good band will go unnoticed in the fertile underground. That’s why it’s always such a treat to come across awesome demo material, such as Consumed. I know no one grinds for the money, but I hope these guys get some label support. Bloody fantastic.
Try before you buy: Indefinite (Bandcamp)

Barghest – The Virtuous Purge
(Black metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2014/06/17

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When talking about black metal, there are a few adjectives that turn up over and over again. Icy is one. Profane is another. But the term that The Virtuous Purge truly exemplifies is furious. Barghest have produced an album of the purest rage known to man. Ordinarily, this level of blind fury bores me; it becomes one dimensional very quickly. But this held my attention from start to finish. Why? Because Barghest write songs that rock their rage.
Try before you buy: Spent Brass (Bandcamp)

Beastplague – Beastplague
(Deathgrind – United States of America)
Torn Flesh Records – 2014/06/15

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This is a really solid example of deathgrind. It has all the hallmarks of death metal, but is played at breakneck speed and is totally unforgiving in its use of blastbeats. It’s non-stop assault and battery from the get go. And while the ten tracks pass in the blink of an eye, you don’t feel shortchanged. It probably helps that each track has a unique feel, so that they don’t bleed into each other. It’s that sort of creative vitality that grind needs.
Try before you buy: Fortis Quadramanus (Bandcamp)

Choriachi – S.U.F.F.E.R. (Set Us Free From Evil Rewards)
(Stoner metal – Italy)
Red Sound Records – 2014/06/06

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This is one of the most quintessentially stoner albums I’ve ever heard, both in its positives and its negatives. The riffs are chunky and can’t help but raise a smile. And the vocalist has a crooning voice that sounds like he’s in all your friends’ favourite bands: familiar but not instantly recognisable. He is good though. But they, like most stoners, do tend to forget what they’re doing. It’s like they lose focus mid-song, so they tend to get stuck in loops of repetitive riffs.
Try before you buy: Our Vice is a Locked Room (Bandcamp)

Deep-pression – Slave of Events
(Ambient – Italy/Poland)
Self-released – 2014/06/06

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Neatly straddling ambient, drone, and doom, Slave of Events is an album that’s big on depression and small on accessibility. The songs are genuinely engaging, but they weigh on your psyche like ten tonne weights. The synths and guitars are drip melancholy, while the sparse drum work is the pulse of a dying man; desperate, but fleeting. The quality production values ensure this is an album that begs to be heard, but leaves you feeling terrible.
Try before you buy: Star Whispers (Bandcamp)

Ghost Bath – Funeral
(Depressive black metal – China)
Pest Productions – 2014/02/04

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I feel like I’m missing some important cultural nuance when listening to Funeral, as the vocals are jarring to the point of cringeworthiness. They sound like the terrified shriek of a little girl who just stumbled upon a tarantula and they never seem in time with the music. Possibly, this is incorporating a blackened form of traditional Chinese singing; possibly it’s just awful wailing. It’s a shame, as the haunting music holds your attention like a vice.
Try before you buy: Procession (Bandcamp)

Husk – Hymns
(Blackened crust – United Kingdom)
Art as Catharsis – 2014/04/10

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I just couldn’t get into this. It’s high energy and well produced, but it’s soulless. The rhythm section is supposed to propel the music forward, but Husk’s drum and bass gets monotonous quickly, and frustratingly monotonous shortly after that. The leads are punchy. I can’t deny them that and the vocals aren’t attrocious either. But I can’t get past the fact that this ends up sounding like a test run for riffs. Technically sound, but not enjoyable.
Try before you buy: Keelhaul (Bandcamp)

Kognitiv Tod – Dysphoric Whispers
(Atmospheric black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/06/03

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It’s a hard album to get into. The band have attempted to incorporate a lot of different elements, but they haven’t been wholly successful. It’s too up-tempo to be ambiet, lacks the bombast to be symphonic, and is too jaunty to be trve while not being jaunty enough to be folk. They do some things quite well. I especially like the vocals. But overall it’s too much of an obvious mishmash to really hold the attention. I don’t hate it, I just don’t really want it.
Try before you buy: Behind the Veil of Eternal Fog (Bandcamp)

Meatpacker/Fetus Christ – Split
(Grindcore – United Kingdom)
Samizdat Records – 2014/02/16

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Another fine 2014 grind release, these mad Brits don’t have any intention of catering to people with healthy attention spans. Meatpacker, especially, rush through their tracks at an insane pace. Intense riffs and blasts abound. Fetus Christ seem positively glacial by comparison, but then you realise that their tempos may not be as intense but their short, punky tracks are still the stuff fucked up grind is made of. A delighfully biohazardous romp.
Try before you buy: Golden Arches (Bandcamp)

Mother Brain – Rise and Grind
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Mannequin Rein Recordings – 2014/03/01

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Rise and Grind is wholly proficient grindcore that I just can’t get behind. Don’t get me wrong, if grind is your thing, you will like this. And I do too, while I’m listening to it. But once it stops, it’s gone, leaving behind nothing but a faint memory of blastbeats. A specific problem I have is that there is a preponderance of slowdowns. One or two are nice for effect, but there are limits. But I can’t shake the notion that if this were memorable, I could get over that.
Try before you buy: I Didn’t Sign Up for This (Bandcamp)

Nyarlathotep – The Shadow Over Innsmouth
(Blackened doom – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/06/21

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Your name is Nyarlathotep and your album is called The Shadow Over Innsmouth, which indicates more than a passing interest in Lovecraft. I only have one question: where’s the madness? In the lyrics possibly, but it’s not evident in the music. To be fair, I do enjoy their blend of Mysticum and Cathedral. They might need to trim a bit of the fat, but overall it’s a pleasing aggressive sound. But if you’re going full Cthulu, you have to sound fucked up.
Try before you buy: The Gilman House (Bandcamp)

Oberion – Return
(Death metal – Sweden)
Self-released – 2014/06/04

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Another entry in the old school before all else brand of Swedish death metal. It’s a pretty good one too. What absolutely makes this album is, despite the fact it is very much a death metal album, there is a heart of solid rock ‘n’ roll in there. This is positively toe tapping at times. And there are guitar leads that really put Thin Lizzy or Van Halen in my mind. But, as I said, this is death metal. Dirty and unforgiving as any other Swedeath band. But with a soul.
Try before you buy: Eerie (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