August 2018 Review Round Up

I entered August without a whole lot on the shopping list for the month, figured I’d clear out some of my bookmarks, and ended up with a surprisingly solid month. Believe me; it’s really good.

It was a crowded field for album of the month, but I eventually settled on Michael Romeo’s often batshit, but always engaging War of the Worlds. It’s pretty impressive what can be done by someone with his level of talent when it’s married to a singularity of purpose.

Never let it be said that I’m above digital panhandling, because judging by this awesome Ko-fi page I set up, I’m very much not. I’d set up a Patreon, but I have no idea what rewards to offer. Maybe in the future. Until then, any tips towards the Metalshopped Needs Red Bull To Live fund are muchly appreciated.

And, as always, you can hit me up on Facebook.

Until October, stay trve. Or false. Whatever works for you.

Album of the Month

Michael Romeo – War of the Worlds/Pt. 1
(Symphonic Neoclassical Metal with Experimental Bits – United States of America)
Music Theories Recordings – 2018/07/27

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Don’t think that this will be more Symphony X just with Michael’s name at the forefront; you’d be wrong. This album pulls into strange territory at times. And it’s all the stronger for it. It still has all the technical merit you’d expect from one of metal’s great guitarists and composers, but it comes without any of self-indulgent baggage of solo projects.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Barren Altar – Entrenched in the Faults of the Earth
(Blackened Doom Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/06/12

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Metal is at its strongest and most engaging when it has something to say. That the band has a message that can only be expressed through growls and blasts and riffs. Barren Altar exemplify this and them some. This album is venomous, filthy and aggressive, but is delivered with such diligence and vigour that nothing gets lost in the malign fury.

Crawl – Rituals
(Death Metal – Sweden)
Transcending Obscurity – 2018/08/20

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We live in a world where Swedish death metal doesn’t hold up to what came before. In Flames, Soilwork, DT; still good live, but that’s about it. Crawl is here to help put things right. Nine tracks, eight of them under three minutes, all of them honed for maximum aggression. It’s a searing beast of an album loaded with killer riffs and an undercurrent of punk sneer.

Divide and Dissolve – Abomination
(Drone – Australia)
Self-Released – 2018/02/16

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Describing the post-colonial experience and its ongoing negative impact on those dispossessed and enslaved through the medium of drone was a surprisingly engaging experience. The rumbling, almost subaudible bass and the machine precise drums create a unique atmosphere of palpable discomfort. Best drone release in a long, long time.

Facegrinder – Kugelblitz
(Grindcore – Australia)
Self-Released – 2018/08/01

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Fearsome, technically precise grind is a beautiful thing and Facegrinder deliver it like an impressionist master. It comes across as techdeath of the more ridiculous variety (think Origin or Necrophagist) that has been stripped right back to the barest essentials necessary to wreck shit in under a minute. Blastbeat nirvana.

Hadal Maw – Charlatan
(Technical Death Metal – Australia)
Self-Released – 2018/08/03

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The more I listen to them, the more I’m convinced Hadal Maw are the best sinister techdeath band out there right now. The way they craft their songs ably marries their undeniable technical skill with pall of tenebrous bleakness. Charlatan continues from this and progresses it further. It’s an album that plays with primal fears like a monstrous 8 string.

Hell to Pay – bliss.
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/03/16

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First impressions were Hell to Pay were going to fill the hole Trap Them left with their split. It was aggressive, abrasive, and fun to listen to. But then shit started getting weird. The tone got darker, song structures got more cryptic, and the whole affair took on a far more menacing demeanour. This is no substitute; this is a new obsession.

Innumerable Forms – Punishment in Flesh
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2018/08/17

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About as slow and ominous as old school death metal can get, Innumerable Forms understand what it takes to turn a joyless existence into quality listening. Miserable dirges are juxtaposed against pulverising aggression to create an album that is as bleak as it is satisfying. It’s an album that wants you to embrace your inner darkness.

ION – A Path Unknown
(Ambient Black Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/01/28

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It always amazes me how much one little detail can affect an overall review. I really quite like A Path Unknown. It’s long form approach to ambient black metal is mostly engaging. But I have an issue with drum tone. Not all of it, but the kicks sound somewhere between a speed ball being punched, rustling cardboard, and a wet fart. Takes me right out of the moment.

Lurid Panacea – Demo
(Grindcore – Australia)
Self-Released – 2018/07/11

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Melbourne has a very fertile grind scene, absolutely loaded to the gunwales with potential. Lurid Panacea’s potential just happens to be swampy and very much on the deathgrind side of things. This is nasty, visceral grind. Even if it had better-than-demo production values, this would be a rough listen. And that just how these sickos want it.

Neckbeard Deathcamp – White Nationalism is for Basement Dwelling Losers
(Black Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 21/07/2018

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I love how unsubtly subversive this is. It takes fantastically delivered black metal and then turns the typical genre tropes on their head by invoking a steady stream of left wing invective. I hope this isn’t a gimmick. I hope it’s not a one shot for shits and giggles. I want this band to keep on punishing the ear drums with pulverising blackened fury.

Obscura – Diluvium
(Progressive Techdeath – Germany)
Relapse – 2018/07/13

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Obscura, for me at least, has always been one of those bands always just shy of greatness. And I’ve tried to give them a chance. Diluvium was my final crack at them. Make or break. And they made it like you wouldn’t believe. Where has this been? Their blend of pulsating technicality and inventive prog comes together seamlessly and joyously.

Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
(Mathcore – United Kingdom)
Holy Roar – 2018/03/02

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Unlike most of the mathcore I’m used to, Rolo Tomassi allow their songs to take their time and luxuriate. The end result is an album that successfully manages to indulge in a soothing, Sunny Day Real Estate-esque sensitivity while being able to turn up the aggression to Dillinger/Converge levels of fury as required. It offers a different level of sophistication.

Sleep – The Sciences
(Stoner Doom Metal – United States of America)
Third Man Records – 2018/04/20

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I’ve had to battle some cognitive dissonance to get into Sleep. You hear so much positive press about a band that it turns you off. Glad I finally got over that hurdle because The Sciences is an absolute beast of a doom album. Its four substantive tracks are some of the most fuzzed out, resinous music to ever be heavy. It’s satisfyingly dank.

Urfaust – The Constellatory Practice
(Ambient Black Metal – The Netherlands)
Ván Records – 2018/05/04

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Urfaust are stretching the definition of black metal into bizarre contortions. Aggressively meditative, it sounds like the mad chant of a cultist trying to distort their chakras to awaken a dark godlike force in themselves. And despite the ambient nature of the album, there is no doubt this is black metal to its malevolent core.

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Albums of the Year 2017

Metalshopped is back. I tried to put it behind me, but I just couldn’t. I love metal. And I enjoy writing. So, here I am. Back again.

2017 was solid year for heaviness. A great blend of big label blockbusters and independent gems wended their way through my ears. Some albums you will probably recognise from other end of year lists. Others, I hope, will be completely fresh.

I’ve changed things up a little bit. Instead of a list of 50, I’ve pared it down to 11. Yes. I’m doing a very faint Spinal Tap reference. But every album here deserves the attention and to be turned up to, well, you know. 11. I’m also doing it as a countdown. Best of at the bottom. Gotta give 11-2 their due.

Also going to indulge myself and give out some named awards. They’re going to be a little bit self-explanatory this year, but if I carry them forward it’ll be pretty sweet.

And, the last thing before the best of 2017 kicks off, some housekeeping. I never published my best of 2016, so here it is:

Cobalt – Slow Forever
SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
Swans – The Glowing Man
Inter Arma – Paradide Gallows
Altarage – Nihl
Nails – You Will Never Be One of Us
Revocation – Great is Our Sin
Dälek – Asphalt for Eden
Mizmor (מזמור) – Yodh
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King

And, as usual, there’s a long list of albums I missed. This is a list of most serious regrets for the year:

All Pigs Must Die – Hostage Animal
Amenra – Mass IV
Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard
Integrity – Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume
Pyrrhon – What Passes For Survival
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
Tombs – The Grand Annihilation
Ufomammut – 8
Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Wolves in the Throne Room – Thrice Woven

So, without further adieu, here’s the best damn 11 albums 2017 sent my way.

11) Hadal Maw – Olm
(Technical Death Metal – Australia)
EVP Recordings – 2017/02/03

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A damn fine example of technical death metal, but not what you might expect. This is less like being torn apart by a visceral assault, and a lot more like the grinding of entropy. Its fretwork is undeniably powerful, but it isn’t afraid to slow down and let the pressure build. Topped off with outstanding vocals, there’s a reason I extended the list to eleven to fit them in.

10) Hummingbird of Death – Forbidden Techniques
(Fastcore – United States of America)
To Live A Lie – 2017/12/01

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Deliciously punk, Forbidden Techniques is like unearthing a hidden gem from the height of 1980s New York Hardcore then trying to play it on a turntable stuck on cyclonic. Tracks fly by in a flurry of beats and barks and grime. Absolutely relentless and, in case you’re unfamiliar with fastcore, blisteringly fast, this is the best way to kill 20 minutes.

The Prurient Award for Best Album that Doesn’t Lend Itself to Easy Reviewing
Prurient – Rainbow Mirror
(Ambient – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2017/12/01

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Languid yet thoroughly unsettling ambience spread out across 4 cds, this is an endurance test as much as a listening experience. Utterly gruelling, but totally worth it.

9) Heresiarch – Death Ordinance
(Blackened Death Metal – New Zealand)
Dark Descent Records – 2017/07/07

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So, this is war metal. I’ve seen the term. I know about the bands that exemplify the subgenre. But now I get it. This takes the blood-drenched psychopathy of brutal death, combines it with the void-touched malevolence of black metal, then douses itself in a mix of diesel and napalm and self-combusts. It is the raw frequency of total destruction.

8) Friendship – Hatred
(Powerviolence – Japan)
Southern Lord (Vinyl/Digital)/Sentient Ruin Laboratories (Tape)/Daymare Recordings (CD) – 2017/11/03

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Hatred lives up to the powerviolence moniker. It’s anchored by a rhythm section that sounds like a roof collapsing during a cyclone. Make no mistake; it’s immensely powerful and monstrously violent. Over the course of twelve tracks, Friendship whips through blistering tempos and sneers through venomous sludge. No swagger, no bravado, just (as the name suggests) hatred.

7) Enslaved – E
(Progressive Black Metal – Norway)
Nuclear Blast – 2017/10/13

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E. Or as it’s represented by on the cover, Ehwaz. Forward energy and movement, if you believe in the power of runes. An excellent way to simply sum up what Enslaved has produced on this album. It’s more than just their ongoing voyage through the progsphere; there’s an inventiveness to their song construction that makes this a standout.

Mariusz Lewandowski Award for Best Art
Mirror Reaper by Mariusz Lewandowski for Bell Witch

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Looks impressive, doesn’t it? Wait until you see the full spread.

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See? See!? It’s just so majestic. A towering, grim edifice for a haunting, grief-stricken album. Mariusz’ art is truly something to behold.

6) Kreator – Gods of Violence
(Thrash – Germany)
Nuclear Blast – 2017/01/27

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The Teutonic thrash titans’ 14th album is a hellraising good time. From the grandiose opening drum march of Apocalypticon to final epic chords of Death Becomes My Light, it entertains in the most aggressively positive way imaginable. I honestly don’t think any other 2017 album has spent as much time on repeat. Good God, I love thrash and this is why.

5) american – Violate and Control
(The Intersection Between Black Metal and Noise Without Truly Being Either – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2017/06/23

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Too often I’ll say an album “hates”; that is not appropriate here. Hatred is far too human an emotion for this nightmare. american makes post-apocalyptic, post-human noise. This is a beast of shattered concrete, burning plastic, and rebar slowly corroding in the blood of humanity long rejected and gone. Monstrous and enthralling in equal measure.

4) Obituary – Obituary
(Old School Death Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2017/03/17

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This is an album that keeps the faith in metal strong. It’s proof that a great band, even if it has a down patch, can be great again. No more going through the motions, this self-titled effort proves Obituary are still the kings of Florida Death. It’s their best album since Cause of Death. And Cause of Death is their best album, so that’s high praise indeed.

The Dillinger Escape Plan Memorial Award for Most Kick Ass Live Act
Meshuggah

I feel privileged to have seen two of the most amazing live acts in 2017. But, by the time this will be published, DEP will have jumped off their last stack and smashed their last guitar, so that leaves the sublime, hypnotic, and monstrously heavy Meshuggah to take the crown. And it’s well deserved. The five men on stage perform seamlessly. And their lighting guy might as well be member six, because his contribution is massive. It turned a concert into an audiovisual hallucinatory headfuck.
Here’s a small bit of footage I took at their Brisbane gig to hopefully back me up.

3) Leprous – Malina
(Progressive Metal – Norway)
InsideOut Music – 2017/08/25

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A seamless amalgamation of rock, metal, prog, and jazz, Malina is a new high water mark for Leprous. Einar’s contra tenor vocals will never not be polarising, but I think they’re absolutely vital and wonderfully mesmerising. The music has a sophisticated, organic feel to it; it pulses, throbs, and flows. It’s like a mighty river that also happens to be a circulatory system.

2) Altarage – Endinghent
(Blackened Death Metal – Spain)
Season of Mist – 2017/10/13

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The angry swarm of wasps guitar sound this opens with should be a warning that Endinghent is no trifle of an album. By the time it’s over, things are even clearer: Altarage have taken febrile power of a long lost god of madness and weaponised it in sonic form. Hypnotic yet savage, fevered yet horrifyingly coherent, but, above all else, brilliant.

Heads up, this is awesome but probably not epilepsy friendly. I’ll also post the bandcamp link.

1) Alder Glade – Spine of the World
(Blackened Folk Metal – Australia)
Self-Released (Digital)/Northern Silence Productions (Limited Edition CD) – 2017/09/01

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Winterfylleth. Primordial. Negură Bunget. Drudkh. Alder Glade. It may seem a little odd to include an Australian band with a focus on Asgardian lore in that list, but with Spine of the World, they have earned it. As aggressive as a good Black metal album should be, it also possesses both a haunting melancholy and an ethereal sadness. It’s a beautiful album, worthy to sit alongside the other greats of the genre.

There you have it; Metalshopped’s best albums for 2017. I had a great year listening to music and picking out just 11 albums was tough. I couldn’t be happier to see Alder Glade take the win. I’ve been talking them up since Demo 1 because I knew they an album like this was possible. I’m also pretty stoked to see Altarage crack my top 5 in consecutive years. I hope they can maintain that terrifying level of intensity.

Here’s to 2018. I already have my eyes set on some big name releases, but I’m always on the lookout for hidden gems from small labels and self-released artists.