October 2018 Review Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

See you next month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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March 2018 Review Round Up

2018 is shaping up to be a great year. I haven’t heard a genuinely bad album yet. Pickyness has helpes, but even when I have bought an album on a whim, I’ve got lucky and landed something entertaining each time.

All that aside, Noose Rot’s EP The Creeping Unknown firmly deserves its place as Album of the Month. Its intro toys with your expectations and then builds into a monstrous, heaving beast of old school death metal.

An awful lot of black metal related stupidity happened this month. I’m not going to editorislise extensively, but I will say if people want to act provocatively, they can’t really complain when they provoke people.

As always, I can be contacted on Facebook.

See you next month.

Album of the Month
Noose Rot – The Creeping Unknown
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/02/16

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If old school death metal is your thing, then Noose Rot have delivered a monster for you. And if old school death metal isn’t really your thing, then you should probably listen to this anyway. Four tracks, all of them gold, all of them landing with such impact it’ll change your perspective on the genre. Or at the very least, they bloody well should. An unstoppable juggernaut.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Ataraxy – Where All Hope Fades
(Death Metal – Spain)
Dark Descent Records – 2018/02/16

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While it lacks that special something that makes a great album, this is still a perfectly enjoyable slab of death metal. Ataraxy have written an album that is about as slow and malevolent as a death metal album can be without being death doom. The aggression needed to keep the music engaging shines through in deft tempo changes. Nasty fun.

Esoctrilihum -Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken The Blind Sovereigns Of Nothingness)
(Black Metal – France)
I, Voidhanger – 2018/02/23

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I love this album. It absolutely has its flaws, but I love this album. The big flaw is it’s self-indulgent as hell; every track noticeably runs longer than necessary. But you can get past it. Especially since it rocks so hard. It pushes black metal as far as it can into death metal without being blackened death metal. You will absolutely enjoy the knives out approach to the esoteric.

Feral Chaos – Mankind in Ruin
(Grindcore – Finland)
Kuolema Records – 2018/02/03

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Feral Chaos get that Finnish grind sound spot on perfect. Easily passes the loud test; turn it up and feel the earth-shattering good times. But it also passes the quiet test. The quiet test is what separates great grind from the rest. Play it at a sensible volume and levels of sophistication reveal themselves. This is a genuine genre and scene highlight.

Insect Ark – Marrow Hymns
(Instrumental Doom Metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2018/02/23

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Instrumental doom can either be cripplingly dull or crushingly cool. Insect Ark’s combination of true doom, drone, and slide guitar definitely guarantees Marrow Hymns falls in the latter category. The southern twang of the slide guitar lends a curiously satisfying tone of Americana to the throbbing, intense doom. A genuinely unique sound.

Judas Priest – Firepower
(Heavy Metal – United Kingdom)
Epic Records – 2018/03/09

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At this point, Judas Priest can do whatever the hell they want. They’ve earned that right. So it’s lucky for us that they’ve decided to continue putting out rollicking, badass heavy metal. Firepower starts strong with the title track and never eases off for its hour run time. They have the energy of a band thirty years their junior. Metal’s first wave still delivers.

Serpents Lair – Perpetual Hunger
(Black Metal – Denmark)
Amor Fati Productions – 2018/02/15

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Serpents Lair keep on delivering. They keep on improving too. From their demo through their first album to this EP, they have shown a capacity for sonic evil that doesn’t diminish. Indeed, Perpetual Hunger is well-named; the three tracks demonstrate a rapaciousness rarely seen in black metal. No preaching. No lecturing. There is only a horrific, ravenous void.

January Review Round Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albums of the Year for 2013

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

Enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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