November 2019 Review Round Up

It’s almost the end of the year and I figured, as a treat to myself, I’d break the mold a little bit and do a label spotlight.

It didn’t really take a lot of mulling over for me to settle on Sentient Ruin Laboratories. They were the first label to ever reach out to me and request I look at their material, so I really do consider them friends of Metalshopped (despite never having met anyone at the label and living on opposite sides of the planet). It also helps that they maintain an excellent standard for their releases. Abstracter, Altarage, Atrament, Friendship, and 夢遊病者 are all amazing bands that I only know about because of Sentient Ruin. And they keep finding bands of similar calibre. It’s uncanny.

So read on and discover some of the best releases from one of metal’s foremost vanguard labels.

As always, I can be contacted via Facebook.

See everyone next month. It’ll be the new year, so it will be best of season.

Buy me a coffee

Album of the Month
Pseudocommando – A Home Beneath the Floorboards
(Harsh Noise – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/08/23

I’m normally able to use harsh noise as a way to meditate, to scrub the mind of consciousness and simply be. Pseudcommando don’t allow me that luxury. Their take on noise is so aggressive that you can’t escape it. It fills your reality with noise to the point that even the air starts to feel heavy. Embrace your masochism and listen.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Black Earth – Gnarled Ritual of Self Annihilation
(Black Ambient – Spain)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/09/27

It took me a long time to wrap my head around this. It initially sounds like an impenetrable wall of cold metal. But it clicked. I got it. This is ritual. The album unfolds in movements, but it is all one hadal ritual. The sorcery at its core is dark and this is reflected in its horrific ambience. Brilliant, but not for the faint of heart.

Cthonica – Typhomanteia: Sacred Triarchy of Spiritual Putrefaction
(Blackened Death Doom – Venezuela)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/10/25

Blackened death doom should sound like a band is bringing hell with them, as it combines three distinct shades of evil. Cthonica absolutely live up to this, while adding a certain earthiness that all too appropriately goes with their name. This is an album of suffocating weight and lightless depths. It’s music for the damned and rotting.

Hold Me Down – Hold Me Down
(Industrial Metal – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/04/05

Don’t for one second think this is KMFDM, Ministry, or Rammstein. Hold Me Down do oppressive, anti-human noise and they do it so well. Evocative is what I look for in an album, and this does it in spades. Sure, the image is an infernal, planet-wide factory where humans sweat, toil, and die at the hands of malevolent ai, but it’s very well done.

Imperial Cult – Spasm of Light
(Black Metal – Netherlands)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/08/23

I love bands that experiment with form and Imperial Cult is no exception. Spasm of Light is one track of blasting raw black metal stretched out over thirty-odd minutes. The warping effect the persistent assault has on the senses is something worth experiencing. It sucks you in and traps you. Time distorts and leaves you gasping.

Nightfucker – Nightfucker
(Sludge – Canada)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/07/12

This is a miserable dirge, suitable for playing at an open casket funeral for someone who died alone and had mostly liquified before being found. It’s real noisome, fetid stuff. Slow and tortuous too. It really puts the sludge back into sludge. Each note is mired in viscous, enervating grime that constantly threatens to envelop you.

Suspiral – Chasm
(Black Metal – Spain)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/05/10

Symbolism is one of black metal’s best friends. Why beat the listener over the head, when you can let them beat themselves. Suspiral gets this. Chasm is a yawning lightless abyss of an album; you can plumb its depths, searching but never finding meaning. But that futility is meaningful in and of itself. Purpose and hope are the enemy here.

Sutekh Hexen – Sutekh Hexen
(Black Ambient – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/03/29

Ominous and unsettling, Sutekh Hexen have put their name to an album that uses ambience as a weapon. It conjures images of howling winds, cutting sleet, sheer crags, and unrelenting bleakness. Otherworldly and esoteric, but still terrifyingly coherent, it’s a madman’s vision of hell put to music. Sends shivers down the spine.

Sutekh Hexen/夢遊病者 – Split

I don’t cover a lot of splits, but when they’re done as well as this, they’re worth a mention. Sutekh Hexen sounds like they’ve taken field recordings from Venus then incorporated them into black metal.夢遊病者 are malevolent and creeping, like they plan violence and it might come soon. Combined, the two tracks come together as one cohesive nightmare.

Previously Reviewed But Worth A Revisit Since It’s A Label Spotlight
Miscarriage – Imminent Horror
(Atmospheric Sludge – United States of America/Sweden)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/02/22


I know what they were attempting. I know they succeeded. But it’s way outside my comfort levels. It’s the fetishisation of suffering. It’s a perverse, transgressive ritual that starts with erotic vivisection and culminates in a noisome, necrophillic hatefuck. It’s definitely not my sonic kink, but if it’s yours listen to it, watch some Salo, and leave me alone.

夢遊病者 – Ѫ
(Avantgarde Black Metal – Japan)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2019/04/26

Discordant and dissonant, 夢遊病者 have produced an ep that is overwhelming in its auditory assault. It’s a serenade and a lullaby and howl of rage and scream of madness all at once. Schizophrenic in its delivery of a spectrum of emotions, the end result are two tracks of harrowing, terrifying, captivating grandeur.

November 2018 Review Round Up

Welcome to a slightly abridged version of Metalshopped. Given the employment circumstances, I’m actually pretty happy with how much got done. There was a period during the month when I worried there would only be two reviews.

One of those reviews was always going to be the Album of the Month, You Won’t Get What You Want. Daughters nailed their comeback album. Nailed it right to the wall. I loved what they had done before, but this is an altogether different beast.

Preparations for the best of 2018 list will begin in earnest in December. It still won’t actually get published until February. Always like to give the postie a reasonable timeframe for delivering December purchases.

As always, if you have critique or commentary, you can reach me at Facebook.

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Album of the Month
Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
(Noise Rock – United States of America)
Ipecac – 2018/10/26


I would have sworn blind that Daughters had broken up, but here we are; they’re back and they’re brilliant. With guitars that sound like a musical air raid siren, drumming that consistently surprises in the best way, and one of the most evocative vocal deliveries I’ve heard they have delivered one of the most welcoming forays into discomfort ever.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Fucked Up – Dose Your Dreams
(Hardcore. Mostly… – Canada)
Merge Records – 2018/10/05


Fucked Up have returned with their second turn at scoring a hardcore opera. And in using music to tell a story, it has allowed them to delve into sounds far removed from their core origins. Dandy Warhols-esque alternative, saxophone driven jazz, and thumping electronica all add a very distinct, truly unique sound. Its sophistication transcends punk.

Gaerea – Unsettling Whispers
(Black Metal – Portugal)
Transcending Obscurity – 2018/06/22


It’s uncommon to find black metal that operates at this level of sophistication. Unsettling Whispers achieves a level of emotional depth that most of their genre mates can only dream of. Not just from song to song, but within songs there is range of dark feeling. They grieve and rage and hate and explore all the dark recesses of humanity.

Hank Von Hell – Egomania
(Glam Punk – Norway)
Headbanger – 2018/11/02


Welcome back, Hank. Egomania is great example of what happens when someone takes their negative life experiences and turns it into creative gold. It’s got the riffs and the rock that you would expect, but what really impresses is the pathos. Hank clearly understands where he’s been and where he is now, and he uses it to sell deathpunk that touches you.

Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Season of Mist – 2018/10/26


Hate Eternal come out swinging on this one. And in a death metal environment where every band seems to bring the fight like an MMA ground and pounder, it’s nice to see an approach more like Wladimir Klitschko: landing super-heavy blows with punishing cleanliness and devastating precision. They’re not here to fight; they’re here to win.

Outer Heaven – Realms of Eternal Decay
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2018/10/12


Gristly and fetid death metal is what’s on display here, but in this year’s spirit of keeping the old school flame alive, Outer Heaven have produced an album more nuanced than your average gore-fed zombie blaster. Flourishes of technicality rub up against doomy chug in ways that allow distortion of the true death sound without diminishing it.

Psycroptic – As the Kingdom Drowns
(Technical Death Metal – Australia)
EVP Recordings – 2018/11/09


More technical than their self-titled album, less technical than Sceptre of the Ancients, Psycroptic are trying to balance the old and the new on this album. It mostly works too. It’s definitely nice to hear an album that sets out to challenge from them, especially since it doesn’t try to alienate either. Not flawless, but it will certainly entertain.

Shining – Animal
(Hard Rock – Norway)
Spinefarm – 2018/10/19


The blackjazz merchants are back with something definitely not blackened, nor jazzy. This is straight up “we owe royalties to Bon Jovi and Adrenaline Mob” hard rock. Nary a saxophone in sight. Not what anyone should expect, but it’s damn entertaining nonetheless. It’s delightfully boisterous, doubly so given how unexpected it was.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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)