April 2015 Review Round Up

I’m way too much of a soft touch. Either that, or I’ve become more discerning somehow, as it’s been pretty well impossible to hate anything this month. Going to chalk it up to good luck at this point.

The album of the month rightfully belongs to Bell Witch. It’s one of those rare albums that should transcend taste. You may not like it low and slow, but you will like Four Phantoms.

Leucrota’s Demo is something to get behind. Throw money at this band. Get them as much exposure as you can. If this is what they’re capable of on a demo, imagine the wrecking ball they could put to wax with enough support.

I’ve decided to retire Om as a basis of comparison. Negură Bunget’s magnum opus is, simply put, such a creative outlier that it will always make other albums in its shadow look weak. People will inevitably listen to Tău, say it’s not as good as Om, and dismiss it. I don’t like that, as it’s certainly better than Vîrstele pămîntului, which was a fine album in and of itself. I honestly doubt that Om will ever be topped by Negură Bunget (or Dordeduh); it’s a masterpiece and, as such, that renders it useless as a tool for critical comparison. I will inevitably retire other similar masterworks in the future, but for now I think I’m just going to bask in the majesty that is Om.

I’d like to give a big shout out State Line Records for sending me the copy of Back From the Land of Nod. I ordered it without noticing that they only shipped to the USA. I may have been a little overwhelmed with Ramallah related excitement. They would have been well within their rights to say no to shipping to Australia and refund me, but they followed through on the order anyway. Super stoked about that.

Hope you enjoy this month’s releases. I know I did. As usual, you can reach me on Facebook. See you next month.

Album of the Month
Bell Witch – Four Phantoms
(Funeral doom – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2015/04/28

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Most funeral doomsters create an atmosphere of all encompassing darkness, crushing the listener with an oppressive atmosphere. Bell Witch do it differently. They let the light in. That doesn’t make it any more pleasant. The flashes may stop the lonely fumbling in the dark, but they do illuminate the barren hopelessness that surrounds you. It’s one of the grimmest albums I’ve heard. That they achieve all of this with only drum, bass, and vocals is amazing.
Try before you buy: Suffocation, A Drowning: II – Somniloquy (The Distance Of Forever) (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mention
Leucrota – Demo
(Crusty hardcore – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2015/02/28

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I love a demo I can really sink my teeth into and Leucrota’s demo is a big hunk of raw meat just waiting for mastication. The promo tag over at Sentient Ruin describes it as, “completely wretched, botched, cruel and self-mutilating hardcore punk” and it’s impossible to disagree with that assessment. But raw masochism only goes so far. Fortunately, Leucrota have the talent to fill out any of the gaps. It’s unforgiving, but absolutely necessary. Buy it. Buy it now.
Try before you buy: Systematic Violence (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Abstracter – Wound Empire
(Blackened doom metal – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories et al – 2015/02/10

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I think I may need to create a word for Wound Empire. Misegony. Not misogyny. Misegony. The hatred of the self. That’s exactly what Abstracter have delivered here. They have taken all of black metal’s misanthropy and reflected it inwards. This amplifies doom’s existing penchant for depression into something much darker and more intense. And yet, it doesn’t sound like a down-tuned suicide note. It’s actually captivating in its misery.
Try before you buy: Open Veins (Bandcamp)

Concealed Blade – Demo 2015
(Hardcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/02/17

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Do you like Sick of It All? I love Sick of It All. And it’s clear Concealed Blade do too. They’ve done a fantastic job of incorporating that high impact energy, without nakedly imitating the sound. Short, catchy tracks are brimming with the sort of aggression that you would associate with a band willing to punch on with their fan base. And they do it without ever becoming repetitive. It’s a direct line to the underground that’s guaranteed to get your blood pumping.
Try before you buy: Don’t Get Caught (Bandcamp)

Deathblow – The Other Side of Darkness
(Thrash – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/04/21

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Deathblow have served up a short but intense serve of classic thrash. It’s like the eighties have only just got to Utah, because this would slot in nicely next to Exodus and Testament on a play bill. As you listen to the five tracks, you will definitely pick out their influences, but there is no way it would fair to call them derivative. They have put together a fantastic package of breakneck thrash. It redlines the whole way through. Even slow passages race by. Roaring good stuff.
Try before you buy: The Other Side of Darkness (Bandcamp)

Dødheimsgard – A Umbra Omega
(Black metal – Norway)
Peaceville Records – 2015/03/16

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A Umbra Omega is kind of like the foie gras of black metal; it’s extravagant, but it’s also a little bit indulgent and to make it, the band crammed an unnecessary amount of material into it. The songs shouldn’t have been trimmed back to 3½ minute standards, but I am fairly certain the 10+ minute tracks could have been pared down. They get everything else right on this album. In many ways it’s revelatory, which is why I’m (probably) unfairly harping on about song length.
Try before you buy: Aphelion Void (YouTube)

Hurricane Death – Demo
(Grindcore – Australia)
Castigated Records – 2015/03/08

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I like this a lot. The Brisbane grind scene is wonderfully fruitful at the moment and Hurricane Death is a particularly choice morsel. They incorporate enough death metal into their work to add some real edge, but not enough to be called deathgrind. In my mind there’s a certain Napalm Deathness to their sound, which is a big plus in my book. It’s raw and rough, but it manages to be memorable in a way that puts most other grinders to shame.
Try before you buy: Gutter Rat (Bandcamp)

Kindergarten Hazing Ritual – Ugly World Order
(Cybergrind – United States of America)
37564 Recordings – 2015/03/31

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Grindcore is often symbolised by two struck-through quavers. Ugly World Order lives up to this emblam, because it is a jarring, disorientating experience. Wonderfully so I might add. It’s kind of like a musical equivalent of 2 Everything 2 Terrible 2: Tokyo Drift; every time you think you get comfortable with what’s happening, KHR throw in some weirdness from left field, bewildering you and yet, somehow, advancing the narative. Odd genius.
Try before you buy: extreme home makeover urban edition turbo hyper fighting (Bandcamp)

Negură Bunget – Tău
(Blackened folk metal – Romania)
Lupus Lounge/Prophecy Productions – 2015/02/27

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I never tire of the soundscapes that Negru and his cohorts create. The blending of haunting black metal and beautiful folk generates near endless possibilities for emotional discovery. Tău itself is the first part of a trilogy dedicated to Transylvanian heritage. There is a profound but extraordinarily proud sadness to it. The combination of the vocal tone, the blackened guitars, and the traditional instruments is both stark and lush. I await part two with baited breath.
Try before you buy: (Bandcamp)

Perspex Flesh – Ordered Image
(Hardcore – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2015/03/31

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The Golden Age of Hardcore (i.e. the 80s) lives on loud and proud in Perspex Death. The guitar tone, the rhythms, the vocals – it’s all spot on with some of the greats. The vocals are initially jarring, but they quickly become absolutely vital. Reminds me of my initial contact with HR. The melodies are infectious. It’s exactly the sort of music that takes me back to the few basement punk gigs I got along to in my youth. It’s a release of pent up tension that is cathartic and joyous.
Try before you buy: Euthanasia (Bandcamp)

Ramallah/Sinners & Saints – Back From the Land of Nod
(Hardcore – United States of America)
State Line Records/Last Punk Rockers Records – 2015/04/28

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Anyone who knew me circa 2007 couldn’t help but know how much of a hard on I had for Ramallah. So I was overjoyed to see them return after a long absence. Getting tracks from Sinners & Saints was a bonus. Truth be told, I feel sort of bad reviewing this. Lind has clearly used this split to exorcise some particularly nasty demons. I miss the fierce political invective, but not so much that I can’t appreciate how devastatingly raw these tracks are.
Try before you buy: Here We Are (Bandcamp)

Torche – Restarter
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2015/02/24

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I challenge you not to like Restarter. If it’s one thing that Torche does well, it’s writing an album that is eminently likeable. Few metal bands do this. They’ve all got agendas and angst and whatnot; Torche just want you smile. It makes them unique. To review this album properly, I have to contextualise it within their canon. It’s a slightly more dour album, but I think that’s a necessary correction after successive albums of gooey thunder pop. It’s still fun.
Try before you buy: Annihilation Affair (YouTube)

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March 2015 Review Round Up

March has been a pretty damn fine month. Psycroptic’s new album is a towering achievement. A focus on songwriting rather than notes per minute delivered an album that is still technical as hell, but is an enjoyable experience.

I chose Leviathan’s Scar Sighted as my honourable mention. Its twisting malevolence cuts deep into the psyche.

Feel free to Facebook me with comments or feedback.

I’m already looking forward to next month. Eyes and ears ever forward.

Album of the Month
Psycroptic – Psycroptic
(Technical death metal – Australia)
Prosthetic Records – 2015/03/09

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Trust Psycroptic to expose the flaws in my reviews. I’ve forgotten far too much of my music theory to give this brilliant album the treatment it deserves. It really does have some amazing thingamajigs and some of the whatchamacallits are frankly jaw-dropping. What I can say for sure is that they haven’t just thrown together complicated strings of notes; they have recorded complex marvels that remain at the forefront of memory for hours.
Try before you buy: Cold (YouTube)

Honourable Mention
Leviathan – Scar Sighted
(Black metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2015/03/03

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This is an album that will steadily improve in my estimation over the year. Every listen uncovers new shades of darkness. Trust Wrest to release an album of inscrutable blackness. His vocals range from the evil to the tortured. Genuinely so across the full range too. Musically, Scar Sighted expertly balances esotericism and malice. This makes for an album that is simultaneously contemplative and destructive. An unmistakable horror.
Try before you buy: Wicked Fields of Calm (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Anti Social Behaviour Order – Anti Social Behaviour Order
(Grindcore – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2015/03/11

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I love grindcore. I don’t love this. Don’t get me wrong, it dots the is, crosses the ts, blasts the beat, and fights the power. It should push all of my grind buttons. But it doesn’t. I just find the whole affair rather uninspiring. The thirteen tracks come and go without leaving an sort of emotional impact. It doesn’t even do enough to make me hate it. It’s another example of a band nailing the genre tropes but doing it in such a trite fashion as to completely kill the atmosphere.
Try before you buy: Eternal Warzone (Bandcamp)

Archelon – I
(Sludge metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2015/03/01

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Sludge is a many varied thing; a wide range of sounds are all recognisable as part of the genre. As such it’s often necessary to find a convenient comparison. In this case, Archelon sound a lot like Torche, but where the later channels as much positivity into their thunder pop as possible, the former goes somewhere darker with it. Much darker. I is thoroughly infectious bleakness. You can’t help but be drawn into it, but it takes a heavy toll on the soul.
Try before you buy: Blood on the Sabre (Bandcamp)

Bleed the Pigs/Thetan – Split
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/02/27

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A fantastic split from Tennessee’s finest noise makers. I wasn’t familiar with Thetan, but they get up close and personal real quick. It was the perfect way to open the split, as their abrasiveness gets the adrenaline flowing and the blood pumping. Bleed the Pigs’ side has more polish, but it’s spit polish so it’s not exactly clean. It’s like Thetan kick in the door and Bleed the Pigs torch the place. They’re different, but they work their violence well in tandem.
Try before you buy: Justified (Bandcamp)

Enforcer – From Beyond
(Speed metal – Sweden)
Nuclear Blast – 2015/02/27

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Enforcer write music for the good times, but with From Beyond they managed to top themselves and write music for the best times. Loudest music, fastest cars, fastest women. Part of this transcendental awesomeness is the fact that they’ve finally harnessed the amazing power of restraint. It allows them to hammer out riff after rollicking riff without coming off the rails. It’s a glorious reaffirmation of everything good about heavy metal.
Try before you buy: The Banshee (YouTube)

Enslaved – In Times
(Progressive black metal – Norway)
Nuclear Blast – 2015/03/06

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From start to finish, In Times soars to the towering heights of majesty. The interplay between the blackened growls and the clean vocals only serves to highlight their strengths. The guitar work is spectacular: intricate, sophisticated, and always engaging. The keyboards, bass, and drums shouldn’t be undersold either. All the elements are perfectly combined into six tracks of unrelenting precision. Black metal is rarely this awe-inspiring.
Try before you buy: One Thousand Years of Rain (Soundcloud)

Ēōs – Ēōs
(Drone doom – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/01/01

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This is glacial doom at its finest. In many ways it reminds me of The Ocean’s amazing, seizure-inducing masterpiece, Pantheon of the Lesser. The key difference is Ēōs layers far more melancholy on top of their misery than The Ocean and their unwholesome preference for misanthropy. Make no mistake though; this is as slow as geological time. It takes a remarkably self-assured band to have such confidence in playing so grave.
Try before you buy: Umwelt (Bandcamp)

Flowers & Fire – Demo
(Post-punk – Canada)
Self-released – 2015/02/24

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2014 was hit and miss for post-punk. At least one release made me want to punch the genre in the face. So it’s nice to have a half-decent demo turn up early in the year. Gives me hope that more bands can also get it right. The music is on the goth end of the spectrum, but is delivered with nuance. There’s more than just an abiding love of the Smiths here. The vocals are a stand out; her voice is soulful and raw in all the right places. Gloom done right.
Try before you buy: Etched in Wine (Bandcamp)

Gay Kiss – Preservation Measures
(Noise punk – United States of America)
Sorry State Records – 2015/02/28

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Gay Kiss are about as far removed from commercial punk as they can possibly get, and I couldn’t be happier. The up-tempo, blisteringly short tracks are performed with a verve that matches their talent. Layers of distortion and other assorted noise complement the musicianship and make for an experience that is quite unlike the overwhelming majority of punk I come across. At no point is listenability compromised either. Awesomely nasty.
Try before you buy: Fatal Earth (Bandcamp)

Lamentations of the Ashen – Libertine Cyst
(Atmospheric black metal – United States of America)
Sylvan Screams Analogue – 2015/02/24

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Welcome to Cocytus in the depths of winter. The lowest plane of Hell belongs to the most damned on the best of days and this is far from that. Hellish winds propel razor-like shards of ice at nightmarish speed, annihilating those few living who could withstand the extradimensional cold. That’s what listening to Libertine Cyst feels like. Its long songs offer only bleakness and despair. This is one of the most horrific hellscapes that has ever seen the light of day.
Try before you buy: II (Bandcamp)

Natanas – Xylophar
(Black metal – United States of America)
Depressive Illusions Records – 2015/03/08

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I’m not going to say it’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard, but it does make some famous turds look inspired by comparison. The melodies are repetitive and simplistic. The vocals are insipid attempts at rasps. The synths sound like the owner has only just learned how to turn off the bosa-nova setting. And, at nineteen tracks, it manages to push through self-indulgence and deep into torturous pointlessness. I hate it more than soup skin.
Try before you buy: Lucid (Bandcamp)

Nest – Nest
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/01/12

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Never have I come across such a bad omen release. Took me most of the month to review it, as every time I listened to it, something went terribly wrong elsewhere on my life. Coincidence for sure, but it sure got frustrating. It’s a shame I have such dark associations with Nest; it’s actually a pretty remarkable release. Crushing, misanthropic sludge is embellished with avant-garde flourishes. Fiercely challenging but satisfying.
Try before you buy: (Bandcamp)

Pyramids – A Northern Meadow
(Post-black metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2015/03/17

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A marriage of grace and heaviness now being consummated atop a colossal mountain of disorientation. Pyramids don’t make things easy for the listener. Melodies are unforgivingly intricate, rhythms are monstrously complex, and the vocals are eerily unnerving. But these are not criticisms; A Northern Meadow rewards the listener with the fortitude to endure it. There are times when it seems unconquerable, but the vistas atop the mountain are worth the climb.
Try before you buy: The Substance of Grief is Not Imaginary (Bandcamp)

Rotten Light – II: A Way of Life that You Can’t Understand
(Depressive black metal – Spain)
Depressive Illusions Records – 2015/02/15

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This is growing on me. The first selling point is that it actually sounds depressed. So many dsbm acts come across as angry about not being sad; Rotten Light come across as legitimately damaged. There is a monotony to the music too, but it strikes me as intentional. This crafts an atmosphere of crippling bleakness from which there is no escape. It’s not a perfect example of the genre but there are more redeeming features than irritants.
Try before you buy: Dreadful Depression (Bandcamp)

Wojtek – Subsuming the Souls of the Coven into Malignant Entity
(Blackened grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/03/08

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This is about as ferocious and uncompromising as it gets. Wojtek combine lo-fi grindcore and raw black metal into a howling cacophony of hatred. Grind often comes across like a punch in the face or a brutal assault; Subsuming is like being stuck in a tornado, being buffeted from every angle while being torn apart by the uncontrollable energy. To say it’s intense is a massive understatement. Unrelenting murderous intent is more apt.
Try before you buy: Suffocating Despair (Bandcamp)

February 2015 Review Round Up

Happy March, everyone.

2015 is shaping up nicely already. Napalm Death’s new album is an absolute wrecking ball of an album. It has that effortless quality to it, as though the band were so confident in what they were doing that the album was always going to come out perfect.

There was a fair bit of competition for the honourable mention too, but I eventually settled on KharmA. Incendiary grind at its best, SubReal is sonic arson.

I have finally got around to setting up a Facebook page too. Drop by and give me a like. If you like.

Until April, enjoy.

Album of the Month
Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
(Grindcore – United Kingdom)
Century Media Records – 2015/01/27

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The Godfathers of grind are back with their fifteenth album. They’re not struggling for material either. Greenway’s vocals, sublimely harsh and expertly spat, are an intelligent examination of the relationship between consumerism and slavery. The music itself is a way more catchy than grindcore has any right being. It still has the visceral hostility that has made them one of the all time greats, but is delivered as a rally cry not raw invective.
Try before you buy: Metaphorically Screw You (YouTube)

Honourable Mention
KharmA – SubReal
(Death grind – Venezuela)
Self-released – 2015/02/06

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I’m a pretty chilled out sort of guy on a day to day basis. I don’t have great insight into revolutionary zeal. KharmA, on the other hand, are made of fiery conviction. Their uncompromising blend of grind and death angries up the blood like few releases I’ve heard recently. The brutal vocals and severe guitars assault the ear drums, with the blasting drums beating a death march for the speed addled. I’m impressed by how well they use music as a medium for rage.
Try before you buy: Obliterados (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Addaura – …And the Lamps Expire
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/01/19

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I probably shouldn’t have listened to this while feeling a bit bummed, as it turned a mild funk into a spiralling depression. Then again, every band should be seeking to make a genuine emotional impact on the listener, so in this regard, Addaura is a raging success. The two long-ish tracks (separated by a short interlude) hit the right combination of guitars, keyboards, and vocals to make a poignant listening experience. Stunningly harrowing.
Try before you buy: Amid the Tumult and Clamor (I Look for the Light Through the Pouring Rain.) (Bandcamp)

Annúlond – The Baker of Aljubarrota
(Blackened folk metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2015/02/17

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An Australian band who self-describe as viking metal doing an album about a figure from Portuguese folklore. Good to see another female folk figure getting some attention. A seven foot tall woman with six fingers on each hand and innate knack for killing is pretty metal. Surprised the good baker doesn’t get more attention to be honest. The music itself is on the dour end of folk, like someone sucked all the joy and energy out of Finntroll. An interesting diversion.
Try before you buy: Rise of Penthesilea (Bandcamp)

Antareth – The Mask of Truth
(Doom metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2015/02/12

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Didn’t have high hopes for Antareth. That cover art set off all sorts of alarms. Being described as avant-garde didn’t sit well either. Pointless weirdness played slow didn’t sound appealing. Happily, the Mask of Truth exceeded my expectations. It’s a little bit dull, but not nearly as excruciating as it could have been. The clean vocals need to be scrubbed from future recordings too. Yes, it’s dull, but it does at least manage to sound original. A small victory.
Try before you buy: The Pearly Road (Bandcamp)

Archgoat – The Apocalyptic Triumphator
(Black metal – Finland)
Debemur Morti Productions – 2015/01/27

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If you want a blueprint for straight to the point, straight for your throat black metal, you could do worse than following Archgoat’s lead. The Apocalyptic Triumphator is an anti-cosmic high mass, leading the profane in worship most blasphemous. It does this through one of the finest combinations of guitars, drums, and vocals in black metal today. They’re not particularly strong on innovation, but given the performance, they don’t need to be.
Try before you buy: Grand Luciferian Theophany (Bandcamp)

Cowards – Rise to Infamy
(Blackened sludge – France)
Throatruiner Records – 2015/02/09

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I feel slightly uneasy about the thought of hearing this live. The malice broadcast through these ten songs should whip a live audience into a dervish of hatred that would tear apart the venue. They strike a fine balance between the heft of sludge’s mighty riffs and black metal’s coruscating fury. Balancing these elements creates an atmosphere of primal anger that the band only just contained long enough to successfully put to wax. Scary stuff.
Try before you buy: Beyond My Hands (Bandcamp)

Death Engine – Mud
(Sludgey hardcore – France)
Throatruiner Records – 2015/03/02

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I love Throatruiner. The label make all their releases available for free download. Rest assured, I went back and purchased a copy of Mud. Death Engine’s speciality is harsh and unrelenting music. Sludgey hardcore doesn’t seem entirely appropriate as a descriptor, but it’s as close to a specific genre as I can get. The raw barks of the vocalist collide with the pitiless melodies in a jagged rhythmic battleground. It’s an exhilarating experience.
Try before you buy: Organs (Bandcamp)

Eall – Scents of a Wandering Ghost
(Atmospheric black metal – France)
Self-released – 2015/02/07

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I detect the fear of failure in this demo. There are some movements that have the potential to be truly spectacular, but they always pull up too short, leaving the listener feeling short-changed. It’s like the band doesn’t fully trust their skills, which would explain why they so readily slide back into the murk of generic Burzum worship. This intermingling of the awe-inspiring and the insipid leaves the demo sounding disjointed. It’s disappointing rather than bad.
Try before you buy: That Brought Shining Visions In A Cold Water Stream (Bandcamp)

Ethereal Shroud – They Became the Falling Ash
(Blackened doom metal – United Kingdom)
Grimoire Cassette Cvlture – 2015/02/21

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This is more grandiose than I expected. In many ways it is a union of miserable metal’s soul mates, dsbm and funeral doom. There’s not an once of doubt that the three long tracks are bleak, but there’s definitely something else to it. There’s a grandeur to it that would be equally appropriate for an epic doom act, were it not so depressing. It’s the guitar movements. There’s a sweep to them that allows the band to generate a dark energy to hammer home the misery.
Try before you buy: Look Upon the Light (Bandcamp)

Gomgoma – Medicine Apophthegms
(Doom metal – Greece)
Self-released – 2015/02/07

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It’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. The vocalist would be better served in a funeral doom act, rather than this somewhat sludgey affair. The drummer is wasted here; easily an A+ performer in a C band. Lays down a triumphant beat that gives the songs at least some semblance of energy. The guitar work is a buzzkill; there’s not a lot to enjoy here. They either need to be slower to pack some wallop or faster to build some energy. Tempo limbo is a killer.
Try before you buy: Asstray (Bandcamp)

Karmageddon – Preborn
(Southern metal – Hungary)
Self-released – 2015/02/08

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Southern metal: typically a term used by bands who owe so much to Dimebag and Vinnie Paul, they might as well drop a sack of royalties off directly at the House of Abbott. Karmageddon don’t exactly distance themselves from this assessment. They’re pretty hard to hate though. The vocals aren’t brilliant, but the rest of the music has an infectious energy to it that you can’t help but enjoy. They’ll never be critical darlings, but they are good, solid fun.
Try before you buy: Faith in Me (Bandcamp)

Marduk – Frontschwein
(Black metal – Sweden)
Century Media Records – 2015/01/19

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This is a punch in the face with black metal. The military theme is well executed, turning the album into a mighty blitzkrieg. I think what appeals to me more is that Frontschwein manages to arrest the Funeral Mist-ification that Marduk was undergoing. I love Mortuus’ other band, but I got into Marduk with Panzer Division Marduk. I’m all about the war themes and the militaristic rhythms, which this album delivers on in a big way. Brutal and hellish.
Try before you buy: Afrika (YouTube)

Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu
(Black metal – Iceland)
Fallen Empire Records – 2015/02/07

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This is a fine addition to world of intellectual black metal. It sounds like it belongs to the wonderfully fruitful French scene that spawned Deathspell Omega and Arkhon Infaustus. Rhythm and melody are tortured into twisted abominations. The vocals, while mostly harshly intoned venom, have a range not commonly seen in this particular neck of the blackened woods. It’s an album that revels in bleak inhumanity. As monstrous and unforgiving as hell.
Try before you buy: Friðþæging blýþungra hjartna (Bandcamp)

Mortum – Ascending Calamity
(Black metal – United States of America)
Vanguard Productions – 2015/02/14

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Mortum, we need to talk. It’s about your intentions. Do you plan on remaining an underground act, only heard by the trve and the occasional falsey (such as myself) who stumbles upon you? Or do you want to be bigger and have wider exposure? I hope it’s the later, because your talent is wasted on basement recordings. I’m very grateful to Vanguard. They did put this out for you and I heard it as a result. But you have talent that deserves to be heard above tape hiss.
Try before you buy: Scourge of Suffering (Bandcamp)

Rusco – Demo 2015
(Grindcore – Italy)
Self-released – 2015/02/22

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As relentless and destructive as an archetypal slasher film villain, Rusco’s demo doesn’t mess about. There isn’t even the illusion of respite during the ten tracks on offer. Bass heavy and jammed to overflowing with blastbeats, they still manage to make each song stand out on its own; they have succeeded in cultivating relentlessness without falling into the trap of monotony. It’s also good to hear organ-gargling vocals outside of goregrind.
Try before you buy: Cloaca (Bandcamp

Seventh Dimension – Recognition
(Progressive metal – Sweden)
Self-released – 2015/02/13

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An entertaining effort from Seventh Dimension. They’re out on the power metal end of prog’s spectrum, so expect something closer to Symphony X, albeit without their panache, than Dream Theater. It maintains an upbeat pace and avoids self-indulgence. It’s crowd pleasing. The cynic in me thinks they have a specific label they’re trying to woo, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that they have produced an album geared up for broad appeal.
Try before you buy: Third Eye (Bandcamp)

Sumac – The Deal
(Post-metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2015/02/17

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Aaron Turner’s latest musical venture, in collaboration with Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook, sees him once again venturing into the realms of post-metal. It’s an impressive release. The Deal comes across like Jovian gossamer; delicately crafted but astronomically heavy. It’s so heavy it forms its own gravitational pull, keeping the listener drawn in until the final note fades. But it’s effortless in its heavyness, allowing the listener to bear the full brunt of its atmosphere.
Try before you buy: Hollow King (Bandcamp)

December Review Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November Review Round Up

Almost at the end of the year, which is normally the time big releases dry up. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing of consequence coming through though. Devin Townsend’s Z² is a spectacular example. A double album covering different styles, both of which are brilliantly done. Few acts are this capable.

Backing up are killer releases from Winterfylleth and the returning At the Gates. So it’s hard to say that all big releases dry up completely. On the independent side of things, Of Doomed Morale have put out one of this year’s better slabs of crushing doom.

You may have noticed that last month I failed to provide a link to Herod 2014, my preferred track from Soused. I still haven’t found one. I’m sure it’s out there. Somewhere. But I have found a link to the almost as good Brando over at Muzu. Enjoy.

Album of the Month
Devin Townsend Project – Z²
(Progressive metal – Canada)
HevyDevy Records – 2014/10/28

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This double album hammers home both Townsend’s talent and his bizarreness. Disc 1, Sky Blue, is pure progressive metal wonder. Engaging, energetic, emotive, and as a result it’s one of this year’s most stunning releases. Disc 2, Dark Matters, sees the return of Ziltoid in all its cheesy metal musical glory. Songs about a coffee obsessed alien, a fluffy death machine, and poozers are patently ridiculous, but are rousing good fun. Brilliant all round.
Try before you buy: Universal Flame (YouTube)

Honourable Mentions
At the Gates – At War With Reality
(Melodic death metal – Sweden)
Century Media – 2014/10/27

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At the Gates are back and it’s like they never left. They have released an album that sounds exactly like it came out of the creative high-point they were in for Slaughter of the Soul. It’s got the high-tempo melodeath guitars, the brain-hijacking drums, and Lindberg’s trademark vocal strength. Sensibly, they have not tied At War With Reality to previous releases; this isn’t a sequel and it rightly deserves to stand on its own as testament to their enormous talent.
Try before you buy: Death and the Labyrinth (YouTube)

Of Doomed Morale – Ritual on Black Mountain
(Doom metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/11/04

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There’s more than a little bit of Dopethrone to this. It may not be quite the masterpiece that Electric Wizard laid down, but it does share the grinding misanthropy and the flagrant ambivalence towards the listener’s well-being. This duo absolutely nail the tone; just the right amount of distortion and drumming designed to assault. Throw in desiccated vocals that sound like they eminate straight from the earth and you have a brilliant example of doom.
Try before you buy: The Haruspex (Bandcamp)

Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity
(Black metal – United Kingdom)
Candlelight Records – 2014/10/07

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There’s something very reassuring about having a Winterfylleth album turn up. They’re onto their fourth full length and, once again, it’s a masterpiece of Anglo-Saxon black metal. Few bands, in any genre, maintain such a high level of performance. The key to this success is their attention to detail. The guitars are furious but clockwork precise, the drums are captivating in their intricacy, and the vocals have a nuance rarely seen in black metal. Brilliant once again.
Try before you buy: A Careworn Heart (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Afterwalker – Afterwalker
(Ambient black metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/10/19

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Definitely one of the most challenging albums of 2014. Four songs are drawn out over the course of over two hours, so don’t expect an easy listen. It’s two hours well spent though, as Afterwalker lead us through stark, dehumanised soundscapes. It’s a soundtrack for a world of windowless concrete edifices and legions of faceless human drones. There is a certain remarkable talent here; that the run time is so long, yet it never loses focus and is never a chore.
Try before you buy: Denied (Bandcamp)

Bloodsuckers – Cheap Trip
(Raw punk – Russia)
Self-released – 2014/07/04

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The spirit of punk is alive and kicking, spitting, stomping, and drinking in Russia. Bloodsuckers are so punk, you can see their mohawks from space. The songs are catchy examples of staccato abrasiveness. The almost blackened cries of the vocalist are totally appropriate for this brand of punk. It’s deliberately raw, but played with such relentless intensity that you can’t help but be dragged along for the ride. An incendiary blast of dirty punk.
Try before you buy: Под политическим штампом (Under the political stamp) (Bandcamp)

Cop Guts – Off the Pigs!!!
(Raw punk – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/10/13

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There’s such a thing as being too stripped back when putting together a raw punk release. This is a prime example. It’s way too repetitive and it sucks the energy out of the whole affair. It’s the sonic equivalent of someone bursting into a government office, spouting polemic and dousing the place in petrol, then leaving sheepishly because they forgot matches. It’s volatile and aggressive, but it’s sorely lacking necessary ignition.
Try before you buy: Best Day of my Life! (Bandcamp)

Día Final – Demo 2014
(Raw punk – Mexico)
Self-released – 2014/07/16

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This is unreservedly hostile stuff. Everything from song structure through guitar tone to vocal quality is a merciless assault on the eardrums. They even make the brave decision to trade catchiness for more vitriol. I say brave because it worked. I may struggle to remember specific riffs or vocals, but I was left in absolutely no doubt about just how devastatingly angry Día Final are. It may be the sonic equivalent of being glassed, but that’s what it set out to do.
Try before you buy: Lluvia de Fuego (Bandcamp)

Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire
(Industrial metal – United Kingdom)
Avalanche Recordings – 2014/10/07

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The return of Godflesh is complete with the release of A World Lit Only By Fire. They’ve done the tours, released a teaser ep, and now the full length. It serves as a monstrous reminder of just how menacing good industrial metal can be. Broadrick has always had a keen ear for atmosphere and, along with Green, he comes through with a cold, mechanical display of inhumanity. The throbbing riffs and the looped drums and synths are hypnotically harsh.
Try before you buy: Life Giver Life Taker (Bandcamp)

Iron Reagan – The Tyranny of Will
(Crossover thrash – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2014/09/18

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Two full lengths in two years for Iron Reagan. That’s some serious productivity. Importantly though, The Tyranny of Will doesn’t sound like an album of material that didn’t make the cut first time round. It’s actually a solid improvement on Worse than Dead, in that it has its own sound; it doesn’t come across as a compilation of grumpy Municipal Waste songs. It’s a blitzkrieg of an album, forging ever forward with as much force as possible.
Try before you buy: Miserable Failure (YouTube)

Job for a Cowboy – Sun Eater
(Death metal – United States of America)
Metal Blade Records – 2014/11/11

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Four albums in and I still hate that name, but it really is the only thing to grumble about when it comes to Job for a Cowboy. They are purveyors of consistently high quality near-techdeath. Sun Eater finds them, once again, in scintillating form. To be fair, they’re not exactly pushing themselves creatively, but they’re not resting on their laurels either. Sharp riffs, excellent drumming, and sophisticated bass lines abound. It’s really hard to fault.
Try before you buy: Sun of Nihility (YouTube)

Landskap – II
(Stoner rock- United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/11/18

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I can hear lots of influences here. A dash of Sabbath, a touch of Clutch, pinches of The Doors and Jex Thoth, and so on; they’ve drawn in a lot, but have done it in a way that allows them to sound somewhat fresh. This isn’t going to anyone’s critical darling, but it’s fun to listen to. Nothing wrong with that either; too many bands try to nail critical appeal and flop. I do grow a bit weary of the vocalist after a while, but that’s really the only serious complaint I have.
Try before you buy: Through the Ash (Bandcamp)

Machine Head – Bloodstone & Diamonds
(Thrash – United States of America)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/11/07

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I think Machine Head need to move on just a little bit. The Blackening was a masterpiece of modern thrash. Unto the Locust kept up the momentum without deviating much from the previous album. That brings us to Bloodstone & Diamonds. There’s a lot to like as usual, but it still sticks to the same formula laid out by The Blackening. Make no mistake, this is a good album by most measures, but it just sounds like it’s been done before.
Try before you buy: Eyes of the Dead (YouTube)

Neurotech – Infra Versus Ultra
(Synthmetal – Slovenia)
Self-released – 2014/10/27

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In the long, long ago, there was a time when I didn’t know heavy music existed and I got most of my music via weekend morning countdowns. During this period Pet Shop Boys released Very, a masterpiece of synthpop. I mention this becsuse Infra Versus Ultra really sounds like it’s taken that particular sound and tweaked it into a metal album. It’s remarkable; it works surprisingly well and I can truly say I have never heard anything quite like it.
Try before you buy: The Longest Time (Bandcamp)

Oak – Oak
(Hardcore – Sweden)
Woodhammer Entertainment/Hoborec/Miss the Stars Records – 2014/07/06

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A healthy dose of intelligent hardcore out of Sweden. Oak goes a long way to proving that a little bit of thought can produce huge dividends. The overtly narative structure to the album, which groups songs into chapters, gives it a sense of balance and flow that is often lacking in the genre. This would mean nothing if the band couldn’t back up the smarts with some talent. Fortunately, the trio are more than up to the task. A well-constructed display of smartcore.
Try before you buy: Chapter II: Haze (Bandcamp)

Obituary – Inked in Blood
(Death metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2014/10/24

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Inked in Blood sees Obituary return with what I think is their best release since Cause of Death. They’ve had a lot of releases in between, so I realise that’s a big call. But I haven’t had a death metal album implant itself in my memory this firmly in a long time. They play it slow and sinister, but they do it with their signature redneck stomp. The stomp has always separated Obituary from their peers, but it’s used with such flair here that it obliterates their recent discography.
Try before you buy: Within a Dying Breed (YouTube)

Revocation – Deathless
(Death thrash – United States of America)
Metal Blade – 2014/10/14

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Good to see Revocation bounce back so quickly after last year’s lacklustre self-titled album. Methinks the change in label did them some good. They’ve moved closer to a death metal sound, rather than a particularly heavy brand of thrash. It’s a bit less technical too. But it sounds so much better. They’ve stripped back the fripperies and focussed on songcraft. The result are songs that stay in your head. Not just riffs; whole songs. A massive return to form.
Try before you buy: Deathless (YouTube)

Serpent View – From Darkness to Light
(Psychedelic doom metal – France)
Self-released – 2014/10/25

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I never really thought of doom as appropriate for a purely instrumental band. As a genre, its grave-ness would, on face value, seem too sparse to get by without vocals. But Serpent View have shown my assumption to be flawed. The lack of vocals allows the listener to truly luxuriate in the riffs. And, believe me, From Darkness to Light contains some sumptuous guitar work. Few releases get this level of sonic richness right.
Try before you buy: The Sun is Going Down (Bandcamp)

TarLung – TarLung
(Doom metal – Austria)
Self-released – 2014/11/22

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TarLung encapsulates the sound of waking up after a month long binge; fingers are nicotine yellow, hair is matted beyond belief, and there is persistent odour of stale alcohol; dank resin; and assorted undefinable chemicals. It’s fuzzed out and upbeat without necessarily being bright. It’s the sound of existence being restarted; it moves along as fast as it needs to, but it fights every step. It comes awfully close to sludge, but is still absolutely doom.
Try before you buy: Last Breath (Bandcamp)

Today is the Day – Animal Mother
(Noisecore – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2014/10/14

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A deliberately exhausting listen, Animal Mother spends its entire run balanced on the fine line between tension and release. It never allows itself to tip over into blessed release, continually building pressure until the intensity starts to fold in upon itself. It is thoroughly unforgiving, but is rewarding in a way few bands can manage. They’ve turned a half-hour album into an ultramarathon, complete with all the pain and all the satisfaction.
Try before you buy: Heathen (Bandcamp)

The Tovver – The Tovver
(Blackened doom – Costa Rica)
Self-released – 2014/11/22

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An unusual release, but one that is very much worth your time. It’s instrumental if you discount the liberal use of samples, but that gives it ample room to show off their considerable talents. The remarkable thing is that the band is capable to segue seamlessly transition between creeping doom and blackened fury. The changes in tempo are so natural that any potential for a disjointed sound quickly evaporates. The Tovver is a band of consummate skill.
Try before you buy: To Sleep and Wake Unafraid (Bandcamp)

While Heaven Wept – Suspended at Aphelion
(Progressive power metal – United States of America)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/10/24

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I can’t help but feel let down. Their previous album, Fear of Infinity, was soaring and majestic; this is merely hovering and pretty. It’s still a pretty good album, but when you know exactly how good a band can be, it’s always a disappointment when they don’t live up to expectations. The main problem I have is it seems underdone. Every track feels like it’s missing something. It does have excellent narative flow, but it’s just not enough.
Try before you buy: Reminiscence of Strangers/Lifelines Lost (YouTube)

October Review Round Up

Took some time off reviews in October. Still got a fair bit done, but I had some Dream Theater related distractions going on. Seriously, if you ever get a chance to see them live, do it. We all know Petrucci’s talent is as colossal as his ego, but I was mesmerised by Mangini, Myung, and Rudess all night. A fantastic live performance.

Back to the reviews and Decapitated delivered the goods this month. Blood Mantra is polished death metal perfection, delivering non-stop pummelling action. It had competion though. Panopticon especially came close to the crown with their novel approach to black metal.

Back to it. November’s going to be huge too. Enjoy October’s releases and I’ll be back next month.

Album of the Month
Decapitated – Blood Mantra
(Death metal – Poland)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/09/26

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Decapitated are back and they have landed with an absolute killer of an album. Underscoring the success of this album is the stellar performance of Młody on drums. What this man can do with the sticks is amazing. From this unshakeable bedrock the rest of the band build a spectacular monument to the grandeur of death metal. The bass lines are monstrous, the riffs huge and memorable, and the vocals pack a hell of a punch. Blood Mantra is a deathly masterclass.
Try before you buy: Veins (YouTube)

Honourable Mentions
Ironic Reversal – Clonus
(Death metal – India)
Self-released – 2014/10/15

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A fantastic debut release, Ironic Reversal neatly straddle progressive and technical death metal while also incorporating traditional Indian song structures. I imagine that had it been poorly executed, it would have been an overwrought exercise in tedium. But they execute it brilliantly. Guitars, drums, vocals, all brilliant. There are so many moving pieces in Clonus; that they keep it all in order is the mark of a band who are masters of their craft.
Try before you buy: Simulants (Bandcamp)

Electric Wizard – Time to Die
(Doom metal – United Kingdom)
Spinefarm Records – 2014/09/29

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The doyens of distortion are back with a new album loaded with bonged out riffs and crushing misanthropy. Moving away from the Hammer Horror of their recent releases and revisiting the raw hatred of the Dopethrone era definitely makes for a more mature sounding album. I love songs about Drugula as much as the next person, it can get a bit much. Thematic chages aside, Time to Die is still loaded with the infectious riffs that make the band brilliant.
Try before you buy: We Love the Dead (YouTube)

Fvck Mountain – Dead Dogs
(Hardcore – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/10/02

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As I listened to Dead Dogs it slowly dawned on me that I may be listening to the best hardcore release of the year. It’s certainly the best of the year so far. I’ve listened to plenty of hardcore that matches them for anger, but no one comes close to them it terms of compositional skill. Other bands are thuggish arse-kickers; Fvck Mountain are professional boxers. They turn violence into a display of utmost technicality. Hardcore at its finest.
Try before you buy: Violence (Bandcamp)

Horsehunter – Caged in Flesh
(Sludge metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/09/30

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These Melbourne sludge lords get everything right on Caged in Flesh. Huge fuzzed riffs ooze along like some sort of monstrous Down/Electric Wizard hybrid. You don’t need to be told to bang your head; you just will. You have no choice. The solos are some of the most spirited efforts you will hear this year. The occasional rough edges somehow add to the atmosphere. Even the weakest track on the album will kill the competition. It’s that good.
Try before you buy: Witchery (Bandcamp)

Iprit – Iprit
(Black metal – Russia)
Self-released – 2014/10/01

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More of this, please. These Russians know exactly how to write top tier black metal. It sounds like they’ve reverse engineered progressive black metal bands, such as Enslaved or later Emperor, in order to make a more primitive version of that sound. This ensures an ep that maintains a rich tone, but always goes for the throat. Refusing to give in to traditionally kvlt tropes only makes the ep stronger. Powerful and dominant from start to finish.
Try before you buy: Солнце не взойдет (Bandcamp)

Panopticon – Roads to the North
(Blackgrass – United States of America)
Bindrune Recordings – 2014/08/01

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Panopticon stands as testimony to black metal’s ability to infest any other genre it chooses; in this case, it’s bluegrass. More importantly, it’s not a gimmick. Roads to the North is absolutely coruscating black metal that incorporates Southern song structure and fiddles in a way that pays due homage to the band’s Kentucky heritage. The end result is an album that is both ferocious and soulful. Thoroughly engaging from start to finish.
Try before you buy: Where Mountains Pierce the Sky (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Advent – Touched
(Doom metal – Russia)
Existential Delirium Records – 2014/10/09

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This is a doom album, so I’m kind of concerned that I can use criticisms that I usually level at metalcore. Firstly, the clean vocals are not good. But, thankfully, they are sparse. Secondly, and more importantly, is the music is thoroughly inconsequential. It maintains a simple rhythm that can be headbanged along to, but there isn’t anything beyond that to recommend. That they manage to not sound terrible is not a selling point to boast about.
Try before you buy: Anthem of Regrets (Bandcamp)

Albura – Origen
(Hardcore – Argentina)
Self-released – 2014/10/05

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Fuck pretty. Fuck complicated. Fuck it all. Albura write stripped back hardcore: big on catchy riffs, bigger on outright violence. Each track is the equivalent to a punch in the face. Even slower tracks have an air of lingering malevolence, like your attacker isn’t quite sure where to hit you. Yet. This whole panoply of aggression would fall apart at the seems but for the fact that the songs are memorable in their simplicity. Classic hardcore menace.
Try before you buy: Hipotensión (Bandcamp)

ColumnIII – Forrotian
(Noise rock – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/10/15

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Noise rock (and noise metal for that matter) is not the easiest sound to pull off. Bands like Today is the Day and Unsane do it well; ColumnIII not so much. It’s unfortunate too, as they produce a racket that could be entertaining. They even produce flashes of brilliance that, if maintained, could make them huge. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that most of their tracks are stodgy, monotonous, and dull. I still have hope for the future though.
Try before you buy: Custom to Bury (Bandcamp)

Defamer – Monolith of Filth
(Death metal – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/08/19

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Monolith of Filth is an excellent example of evil condensed into sonic form. The guitar tone is ripe with sulfur and brimstone, while the vocalist spits pure balefire. But unlike other death metal acts who incorporate this sound, Defamer actually manage to keep the listening experience enjoyable. When you press play you can be confident that you’re not descending into a pit of murky, indistinguishable riffs. Lots of bands do evil, few try to look beyond it.
Try before you buy: Conflagration of Divinity (Bandcamp)

Ellorsith – 1959
(Raw black metal – United Kingdom)
Caligari Records – 2014/07/26

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I’ve mentioned before that raw black metal is a commitment to a style of music with a very limited range; only the grimmest and kvltest need apply. Bearing this in mind, Ellorsith have done something remarkable: they have created an ep that truly stands out. There’s no listening for the subtle tonal or thematic differences, as 1959 is wholly unique. It remains firmly entrenched in the raw style, but still outside it. Brilliantly original murk.
Try before you buy: Lichryre (Bandcamp)

Haunt – Solar Forest
(Black metal – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/10/09

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Bizarro World self-released black metal, in that it started off by killing my expectations before recovering and actually delivering a good release. The opening track rigidly adheres to traditional black metal tropes, to its detriment. It starts dull and stays there. But the remaining tracks repair all the harm, producing sophisticated tracks that hold the listener’s attention in all the ways that track 1 fails to. Excellent value for money for ¾ of the tracks.
Try before you buy: Solar Forest (Bandcamp)

Memest – Bastards and Liars
(Stoner metal – Spain)
Discos Macarras – 2014/10/01

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Nothing slow or lazy about Bastards and Liars. It may sound lush and fuzzy like any self-respecting stoner album should, but it maintains an upbeat energy that is far more in keeping with Judas Priest or Motörhead than anything sludgey or doomy. I like to think of them as spiritual descendants of Karma to Burn, except capable of including lyrics. The most important thing to take away here is that Memest know how to bring the rock and the fun.
Try before you buy: We Love Rats (Bandcamp)

Pig Pride – Demo 2014
(Crust – Hungary)
Black Moon Tapes – 2014/07/01

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I hope to hear more from Pig Pride, as their brand of punk is flat out enjoyable from start to finish. There’s never a dull moment. Not that you get a lot of moments for anything across its six and half minute run time. After briefly opening with whst I assume is a Magyar news broadcast (apologies if it’s not), they launch into song after song of the catchy punk. The execution, while not innovative, is close to flawless. It’s impossible not to like.
Try before you buy: Szilánk (Bandcamp)

P.S. Fuck You – You Still Suck
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/10/17

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I kind of wish this was a straight up grindcore release. The noisey and swampy interludes, while well executed, seriously detract and distract from the excellently frenetic grind passages. I know that powerviolence is supposed to be jarring and uncomfortable, but that’s not the problem with You Still Suck. The problem is that too often it smashes everything with awesome grind, then takes an energy killing breather. A pity.
Try before you buy: Pass the Knife (Bandcamp)

Ragnell – Consumed by the Eternal Darkness
(Blackened death metal – Mexico)
Frozen Archives – 2014/10/23

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I’m going to summarise by saying Consumed… is pretty good, but the band need to work on their diversity. There is great potential for Ragnell to become a Belphegor-esque blast machine. It’s all there: menacing vocals, intimidating guitars, intense drums. They get thst right. The problem is they are repetitive. It’s only a five track ep and I found myself wondering if I left my player on repeat halfway through track three. Not a good thing.
Try before you buy: Embrace My Soul (Bandcamp)

Ride With Death – Endless Victories
(Heavy metal – Netherlands)
Come to the End – 2014/09/14

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Why can’t I hate this? It’s as derivative as you can get without being plagiarism. And it’s really not very good technically. It’s hit and miss even with simple riffs. WHY CAN’T I HATE YOU, DAMN IT!? It’s probably because it’s cheesy enough for bottomless nachos night. And although I can’t tell whether they’re taking the piss or just give zero fucks, it’s played with such exuberance that critical concerns vanish temporarily. I’m ashamed of not being scathing.
Try before you buy: Heavy Metal Takes Its Toll (Bandcamp)

Schizocaria/Ulgard – Fögrum Dauðr
(Depressive/ambient black metal – United States of America)
Cvlminis – 2014/09/28

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Ulgard’s the winner on this split, but both bands need to work on their song structure. Schizocaria’s one track is a mournful dirge that sounds like they use the one staticy riff for the first six minutes before finishing off with two minutes of spooky keyboards. Ulgard at least make their effort listenable, but bulking out their tracks with bird song and recorder seems unnecessary. Also, the keyboards sound like samples from Bubble Bobble. Mundane stuff.
Try before you buy: Zohungaar Bandcamp)

Seth.ECT – DiMethylTriptamine
(Deathly electronica- Turkey)
Self-released – 2014/10/19

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Based on their bio I was expecting something very different to this. I went in expecting Obituary meets Rammstein; I got heavy electronica for people who like to headbang while wearing furry parachute pants and pinging off guts on ecstacy. Having never actually tried DMT, I can only assume they were trying to replicate the experience musically. It starts out angry but becomes increasingly spaced out and psychedelic. An interesting diversion.
Try before you buy: Orison III (Bandcamp)

Silent Wood – III – Autumn’s Light
(Black ambient – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/10/01

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Let me preface this review by saying I enjoyed this album. It has its flaws, but it’s still more than worth a listen. It can be a bit meandering, even by ambient standards. And there are times when you feel like the band blundered into a chill out tent at a bush doof and rolled with it. These grumbles aside, Silent Wood still succeed in creating an evocative piece of grimness that never comes close wearisome. In a genre that has raised boredom to art, that’s high praise.
Try before you buy: XIII (Bandcamp)

Slipknot -.5: The Gray Chapter
(Nu-metal – United States of America)
Roadrunner Records – 2014/10/17

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Grief and catharsis fit Slipknot much better these days and has seen the band make up for the meandering effort that was All Hope is Gone. Naysayers will still point to supposed Stonesourness, but that’s unfair; every song is appropriate to the tone of the album. The band has a lot to process with the death of Paul Gray and the departure of Joey Jordison. To their credit, they have turned this negativity into an album of maturity and depth.
Try before you buy: Custer (YouTube)

Spawning Abhorence – The Cursed Earth
(Brutal death metal – United Kingdom)
Self-released – 2014/10/05

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Seriously enjoyable brutality from Leeds. Resisting the urge to just chug away with grunt and slam, Spawning Abhorrence flirts with techdeath. While they never truly embrace technicality, it does allow the band to explore a sound that is truly brutal but is never repetitive or dull. They achieve this through a distinct guitar tone and one of this year’s best brutal rhythm sections. It also helps that the vocalist trades gutturalness for clarity. Nasty stuff.
Try before you buy: Delaying the Inevitable (Bandcamp)

Scott Walker and Sunn O))) – Soused
(Drone – United States of America)
4AD – 2014/10/21

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Sunn O)))’s second collaboration for the year 2014 is a little challenging to get into. Scott Walker’s vocals are, unsurprisingly, starkly different to Attila Csihar’s and initially don’t seem like a natural fit. But as the album progresses it becomes apparent that his vocals are as vital to the album as Sunn O)))’s performances are. This isn’t just Walker contributing to a drone album; it’s also Sunn O))) contributing to an avant-country album. It works.
Try before you buy: Herod 2014

The Walls Concave – Void
(Deathcore – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/10/05

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A few years ago, Brian Posehn wrote a song called, ‘Metal by Numbers’. After listening to Void, it popped straight into my head, as The Walls Concave have put together a generic as hell ep. It’s not bad. It’s pretty catchy to be honest. And it successfully naviagates around all the tropes that can kill a deathcore album. But there is nothing here to differentiate this band from any of the other core bands out there. It’s mosh fodder; engaging, but hardly special.
Try before you buy: Guts (Bandcamp)

Witchface – Skrekk and Gru
(Hardcore – Norway)
Self-released – 2014/10/31

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A little bit too raw for its own good, Skrekk and Gru has some absolutely killer riffs and top quality vocals buried beneath far too much distortion. I get it; I assume it’s an attempt to recapture the energy of a high energy gig in a traditional, punk-friendly dive bar. And it does sound like you’re at the rail, being covered in the vocalist’s spit and getting annihilated by crowdsurfers. The problem, of course, is that it’s not live and cleaner production would be appreciated.
Try before you buy: Kunsten Å Glemme (Bandcamp)

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)