Part 3 of 4. Getting ever closer to the top of the tree. The bands that have got themselves this far have truly produced some amazing work to get here. Not just to beat out the previous 60 acts, but to also beat out the 100s of great albums that almost made the list. For the record, if I’m asked why [insert album here] isn’t in the top 100, it came in at 101.
As usual, enjoy.
40) Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Relapse – 2016
Crushingly heavy. I swear, I’m going to overuse that phrase, but it’s so useful. And there’s a surprising amount of room to move with it. For example, Paradise Gallows is akin to being caught in one of those moveable wall traps. Think the garbage pit scene from Star Wars, except it doesn’t stop. It’s implacable and remorseless in its attack on your ears. The combination of sludge and drone, held together with blackened threads, is a methodical juggernaut. It cares not for what’s in its path.
39) Nadja – Sonnborner
Broken Spine Productions – 2018
I still find the pacing of this album thoroughly confusing. Opening with that titanic, 30 minute track, then following up with a handful of significantly shorter songs is odd. And, yet, it works so well. They present drone in a way that’s beautiful in a haunting sort of way. The distortion and the sustains warm the soul. And then it transitions to a more up-tempo approach, which breaks the reverie and re-engages the listener with reality. It’s a welcome reinterpretion of the genre.
38) Esoteric – A Pyrrhic Existence
Season of Mist – 2019
Is this actually slow? It seems pretty damn fast in places. The confusion is pretty intense. The thing you have to realise is that Esoteric have hit that terminal point of heaviness. The singularity. Black hole density. Listening to A Pyrrhic Existence puts you firmly past the event horizon and time starts to distort, to lose meaning. It’s satisfyingly weird to have something so crushingly heavy yet dexterously mercurial. It gave me a fresh insight into how funeral doom can shift within its own boundaries. Innovation can be a jovian weight to bear.
37) Batushka – Litourgiya
Witching Hour Productions – 2015
May the metal gods continue to bless the black metal drama machine and keep its cogs oiled and toothsome, because I would never have discovered this gem of an album if the band didn’t go the full Gorgoroth. Whatever your opinion on the acrimony, there’s no denying that Litourgiya is the work of a very skilled band. The interplay between Eastern Orthodox liturgical music and black metal is thoroughly engaging. I wanted, no, needed to keep listening to it; I had to unravel all its hidden truths.
36) Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation
Profound Lore – 2019
Death metal, by its very nature, has a certain degree of inherent violence. It’s up to each band to decide how exactly they want to channel it and how they want it dressed. Pissgrave come at the violence with absolutely zero artifice. Their approach is horrifyingly stark. There’s no attempt abstract or obfuscate their aggression; they lay it out naked and unadorned for the world to recoil from. To listen to it is to allow yourself to be dehumanised. It’s sadistic in a way that defies description.
35) Kvelertak – Kvelertak
Indie – 2010
When this came out in 2010 I had no idea how much I would want it. Then I got a taste of their faintly blackened, definitely over the top punk rock hullabaloo and it’s an album that’s been on regular rotation ever since. It’s got punch in the face tempos, ridiculous hooks, and the catchiest damn Norwegian lyrics ever. I don’t understand a word being yelled, but I yell right along with it. Or at least as well as my understanding of phonics will let me. I still get that rush every time it kicks off.
34) Lxs Jugadxs – Demo 2015
Self-Released – 2015
I very nearly cheated and put down all three of their demos in one entry. They’re a hell of an act. But doing that would undersell how good these four songs actually are. They’re a whirlwind of absolute madness, forever threatening to completely tear itself apart but always hanging on by the loosest of frayed threads. That the closing track feels so titanic at just under two minutes is indicative of just how brilliantly wild the preceding three tracks were. I hope they continue to play and release material.
33) Today is the Day – Pain is a Warning
Black Market Activities – 2011
One of my go-to albums for getting amped all the way up. It’s not just that it’s an energetic exercise in noise rock; it’s that it’s so smartly delivered. The slow passages brood with barely constrained intensity, the fast movements drive with pulsating dynamism, the clean vocals croon with genuine soul, and the harsh vocals are like acid, hallucinatory and corrosive, on the ear drums. It’s a sonic package so expertly delivered that it continues to surprise and amaze years after release.
32) Blood Incantation – Starspawn
Dark Descent – 2016
No band does death metal like Blood Incantation. They work at an intensity level that deliberately pushes them far outside conventional comfort limits. They take hostility and magnify it to apocalyptic rage. They take dread and amplify it to chthonic horror. And they take bloodlust and warp it into a febrile, extrasensory longing that can never be satiated. Starspawn attacks you and it’s up to you to endure it. It’s unhinged and does what it wants. Such a monstrosity is something that needs celebrating.
31) Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat
Century Media – 2015
That the grindfathers of grindcore have released an album of this vitality so far into their career is testament to their relentless drive and commitment to their message and to their craft. It’s not just that they blast incendiary beats as hard as they can; it’s that they’re willing to throw in curveballs for the listener. The industrial vibe of album’s title track and the oozing sleaze of Dear Slum Landlord… are prime examples. It’s a furious album that indulges in the many faces of anger.
30) Alcest – Les Voyages De L’Âme
Prophecy – 2012
Alcest are probably my favourite practitioners of blackgaze and Les Voyages de L’âme is definitely my favourite album. It perfects the interplay between shoegaze and black metal. The songs are written with a beautiful, dreamy ambience that fills the sonic space with light. But that light, glorious and blinding, casts long, inky shadows. In those shadows lurk beasts, sharpened fangs, and razor claws. An insatiable hunger lies at the heart of this album and all the splendour does is mask its ravenous intent.
29) Leprous – Malina
InsideOut – 2017
Malina is possibly the most depressing album on this list but certainly the most beautiful. Leprous have taken inspiration from a piece of bleak and oblique Austrian literature and transformed it into a gorgeously affecting prog opus. Heavily syncopated, the album conveys a necessary level of turmoil and unrest without sacrificing narrative flow. And I cannot think of a better vocalist for this than Einar. His contra-tenor is thematically perfect. Sad, sensitive, wonderful.
28) Bell Witch – Four Phantoms
Profound Lore – 2015
I still struggle to reconcile the sheer power of this album to the fact it’s a two piece: bass, drums, vocals, that’s it. It’s so heavy that it sets everything nearby rattling; so much so that you can’t play it subtly. If it’s on, you will feel it. But the amazing physical phenomena on display pales in comparison to the music itself. Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s delivered with such a deft touch that it transcends funeral doom. It creates a hypnotic effect where the crushing weight traps and holds the light.
27) Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen
Metal Blade – 2014
Soaring, majestic, and strident, Where Greater Men Have Fallen is a stirring lament to the modern ills of this world. It has the requisite level of bitterness for this style of black metal, but it’s delivered as a call to action; Primordial don’t want the listener to passively mourn the what-ifs of this existence, they want people to be pissed off and engaged with their rage. This dynamism and purpose is truly what sets them apart. They want compatriots not witnesses.
26) High on Fire – Luminiferous
eOne – 2015
An unstoppable beast of an album, Luminiferous sounds like nothing less than an out of control freight train made entirely out of thunder. There’s no second guesses and no chance to over-think things; there are only titanic riffs rolling over everything in their path. And the beauty of it all is that this is not a simple album. There’s a sophistication to it that is only enhanced by the rampaging juggernaut beat down it inflicts. It leaves you with things to think about once you’re standing and have found your teeth.
25) Horrendous – Anareta
Dark Descent – 2015
I think the highest possible praise I can give to Horrendous here is that Anareta gives me the same satisfaction that Leprosy does. Yep, I’m comparing them to Death. While they are very much their own band with their own approach, the end result is an album that marries visceral intensity with distinctive technical flourishes and is delivered with passion and an ear for the listener. In that regard, it’s very similar to a certain, dearly departed Floridian’s oeuvre. A classic album born of legendary roots.
24) Bölzer – Hero
Iron Bonehead – 2016
The moment the intro track, Urðr, starts, you know you’re listening to something different. Something special. It somehow succeeds in being extremely traditional black metal and a wholly new approach to the genre all at once. It burns as brightly as the most powerful stars in the sky, but is kept grounded by a chill groove that is unusual stylistically yet thoroughly welcome. It’s an album of contrasts, as the band juggle the infernal and the mortal. It’s a remarkable album from a remarkable band.
23) Watain – Lawless Darkness
Season of Mist – 2010
Stirring anthems and soaring choruses aren’t just for power metal, you know. Done right, they have a happy home in any genre, irrespective of how ordinarily abrasive it usually is. This is an excellent thing for Watain, who have approached their proselytising for the Dark Lord with both the fire of abject zealotry and the huge hooks of stadium rock. Some may cry “FALSE!” Fuck ’em. As devotees of darkness, they understand that preaching to the choir is reductive and self-defeating. Darkness for all!
22) Enforcer – Diamonds
Earache – 2010
As great as this album is, it still manages to sound like a deliciously guilty pleasure. On a technical level, it’s brilliantly delivered speed metal. Driving rhythms, killer riffs, memorable vocals, the whole deal. But then you get to what it is thematically and it is gloriously lurid. High stakes gambling and swordfights on the neon-washed streets of Tokyo seems to be the narrative they were aiming for, but they also threw in a liberal dose of the devil. It’s utter madness and it all the better for it.
21) Trap Them – Darker Handcraft
Prosthetic – 2011
The absolute kings of Entombedcore and the high priests of HM2 worship, Trap Them took a chainsaw approach to their punk, creating an unmistakably hellish racket in doing so. Nothing exemplifies this as much as Darker Handcraft. Once again, you’ll find yourself in Barren Praise, the ghost town the band centre their narrative around. But this particular trip is harrowing, miserable, and dangerous. Their blend of grindcore and hardcore shouldn’t be this gloriously atmospheric, but it is.
20) Sólstafir – Ótta
Season of Mist – 2014
Winner of the “Holy Shit I Should Learn Another Language” award goes to Sólstafir. Ótta is haunting, lonely, and dripping with ennui. It’s evocative of a weary traveller crossing the tundra on a misty evening. I just wish I could match the lyrical themes to the music. The lyrical delivery is so delicate, sounding so pained yet so inviting at the same time. The emotional depths that this album plumbs transcend language barriers; I may not completely understand it, but I remain touched and enthralled throughout.
19) Altarage – Endinghent
Season of Mist – 2017
I probably overuse the word relentless. I don’t really think about that sort of thing usually, but upon revisiting Endinghent, it’s abundantly clear that I do. And shame on me for watering down the word through overuse, as no other album embodies relentlessness as completely and overwhelmingly as Altarage’s second full length. It’s as delirious and as terrifying as a fever dream in a war zone. Every beat and every riff sounds like they are trying to tear down the walls of reality. Relentless indeed.
18) Alder Glade – Spine of the World
Self-Released – 2017
It still strikes me as odd that an album so deeply rooted in Nordic heathenism could be made to such high quality by one man in Brisbane, Australia. Brisbane: the city winter forgot. But whatever journeys brought him to this point payed dividends, as Spine of the World is possessed of a true blackened aesthetic that makes you believe magic is very real and very dangerous. It helps that the magic is backed up by a unique approach to the genre. It’s crisp and sharp, like it’s been flash frozen in nitrogen.
17) Cloud Rat – Pollinator
Artoffact Records – 2019
This is nothing less than a startling vision of what grindcore could be. Of what it should be. Here is a band that is unafraid to take their fury and vitriol and wrap it in something more than blasts, shrieks, and distortion. It still has all those things, but the band unleash them with a sophistication more akin to prog or post-metal. They present their anger with as much complexity musically as there is in day to day existence. The real world isn’t simple and Cloud Rat dare to acknowledge that.
16) Revocation – Chaos of Forms
Relapse – 2011
Revocation’s signature blend of technical death metal and classic thrash was perfectly realised on Chaos of Forms. Oddly enough, I firmly believe the key to marrying the two genres together this well lies in David Davidson’s jazz background. He understands how to channel different sonic forces and wield them together to create a seemless, yet unpredictable union. In this sense, the title “Chaos of Forms” is entirely apt. Every song is a whirlwind of sound, a technical wonder and a classic banger all in one.
15) Clutch – Earth Rocker
Weathermaker Music – 2013
This is an album that never fails to get me, as they say, right in the feels. So you don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t some florid, weepy exercise in melodramatic sentimentality; rather it’s a powerful testament to healing powers of rock and roll. I never really thought about how much music has helped me get by in life until Earth Rocker stirred me up and got me assessing things. It’s an album that puts its existence up in lights and justifies the ever-living shit out of it with pure rock fury.
14) Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine
Century Media – 2012
There’s an awful lot of awful things you can say about Nachtmystium’s front man, Blake Judd. Junky, thief, and conman leap to mind. But there’s no doubt that when he channelled his self-destruction into his music instead of himself, the results were intense and inspired. Produced just before his life fell completely to shit, this is an album all about the stuttering flame of hope being snuffed out. It’s industrialised, progressive black metal at its most despairing.
13) Hacride – Back to Where You’ve Never Been
Indie – 2013
If you had asked me at the start of the decade which emotionally mature French progressive death metal act would make the most impact on me, I genuinely doubt Hacride would have been on my list. But BtWYNB is an absolute revelation. It sounds absolutely huge; the sumptuous and verdant soundscapes they create are a joy to luxuriate in. And yet, the songs are so personal, so intimate that it feels almost like an intrusion to listen to them. Their combination of hefty sonic bombast and intense emotion leaves an indelible impression.
12) Turbonegro – Sexual Harassment
Volcom – 2012
This is more than a return to form; this is a glorious, sleazy, denim-clad triumph over adversity. The Duke of Nothing on vocals isn’t Hank, but that’s the point. The ten tracks on offer require a rougher approach and that’s what he brings. Sexual Harassment doesn’t just showcase the band’s still-sparkling talent; it allows them to exorcise all the demons born of their turbulent hiatus. It makes for an unusual, yet real mix of hostility, bitterness, relief and gratitude. Catharsis sometimes requires raucous partying.
11) Swans – The Glowing Man
Young God – 2016
Come. Come to the great high mass. Give yourself to the church of sound and abase yourself upon the altar of Swans. Michael Gira’s masters of post-punk have always delivered in ritualistic, almost fevered fashion, but The Glowing Man is transcendent. It offers mania and catharsis, but it requires time and commitment. Exposing yourself fully to its complete panoply of sound is to give yourself over to a devotional that extends to almost the two hour mark, but will leave you feeling the touch of the divine.