September 2019 Review Round Up

That was a hell of a September. It was a catch up month for Metalshopped, so shout out to the taxman for giving me a nice refund of my own money. It felt good to mostly clear the ol’ shopping list.

You know what else feels good? Listening to Empath. Devin Townsend has unleashed a spectacular, insane hit of joyous ridiculousness. It’s prog without limits.

Also reviewed this month is Blut Aus Nord’s Hallucinogen. Another cracking album for sure, but it should have been included next month. Some dick leaked the album early, so Debemur Morti responded by upping the release date. While it’s nice to have the album early, it’s bullshit that it happened that way. Support content creators; fuck pirates.

The year and the decade are both winding up, but there’s still a hell of a lot of good in the pipes. Got pumped, stay pumped.

As usual, you can hit me up on Facebook. Always happy to hear feedback and suggestions.

See everyone next month.

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Album of the Month
Devin Townsend – Empath
(Progressive Metal – Canada)
InsideOut – 2019/03/29

Proving that any emotion delivered stridently enough can provide an intense experience, Empath is a manic blast of over-the-top positivity. The album is an extended love song to existence, and not in the bubblegum, everything-is-awesome sense. This is a shining beacon highlighting the warts and all nature of life in all its glory.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
01101111011101100110111001101001 – SDSS J0333+0651
(Brutal Death Metal – Antarctica and Mars but actually Argentina)
Amputated Vein – 2019/08/09

I’m ashamed of how much I like this, because, let’s be honest, astronomy slam sounds like the Dunning-Kruger effect put to music. But I don’t think anyone other than the band could have predicted how precise and energetic SDSS would turn out. No lazy interchangeable chug here. There’s not a second of wasted energy; all mosh, no rest.

Abyssal – A Beacon in the Husk
(Death Metal – United Kingdom)
Profound Lore – 2019/06/21

Abyssal continue to be one of the most ably evocative metal acts out there. Like their previous album, Antikatastaseis, A Beacon in the Husk takes me deep into the hell realms of Dante’s Inferno. This time, I’m transported to the Wood of the Suicides. It’s dread. It’s horror. It’s entrapment. It’s the knowledge of damnation at your own hands.

Blut Aus Nord – Hallucinogen
(Progressive Black Metal – France)
Debemur Morti – 2019/09/20

It’s an irritating but necessary pun that best describes Hallucinogen; it’s intoxicating. From its diverse vocal range to its Hendrix-meets-Mayhem melodies, it’s an album that pushes progressive black metal in directions it doesn’t usually go. It challenges expectations and rewards the active listener with its psychedelic visions.

Cloud Rat – Pollinator
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Artoffact – 2019/09/13

Who would have thought grindcore could be so grandiose? So majestic? Dare I say it? Epic. Pollinator is something very special. It’s the vast vista of humanity with all its foibles and tumults, but sped up to the bpm of a stressed hummingbird’s heartbeat and viewed through an obscuring heat shimmer of pure ferocity. A stunning act of musical severity.

Consummation – The Great Solar Hunter
(Blackened Death Metal – Australia)
Profound Lore – 2019/06/07

The fury of the ascendant sun combined with the patience of the greatest hunter; it’s hard to think of a more appropriately named album. Especially since it’s, well, great. It’s always impressive to see a band manage an elevated level of aggression with the forethought and maturity to build up to bigger pay-offs. And this album pays off big time.

Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear
(Progressive Metal – Sweden)
Metal Blade – 2019/09/20

Cult of Luna give themselves all the room in the world to craft their music. It’s an expansive approach that yields the dividends they were expecting, as the band’s signature part-progressive, part-post metal sound is given free reign to soar to dizzying acrophobic openness and crunch into claustrophobic oppression. Stirring stuff.

Darkthrone – Old Star
(Blackish Metal – Norway)
Peaceville – 2019/05/31

I love Darkthrone’s “We don’t give a shit; we play what we want” attitude. You couldn’t have an album like Old Star without it. It plays out like Mayhem covering Lynyrd Skynyrd, or maybe vice versa. Oozing with attitude, it’s an album for getting smashed around a camp fire with mates after a hard day of blasphemy and church burning.

Destruction – Born to Perish
(Thrash – Germany)
Nuclear Blast – 2019/08/09

Destruction have to start aiming up. Thrash doesn’t have the luxury of resting on its laurels anymore. To plateau is to stagnate and the genre is littered with albums that, while not bad, fail to inspire because they’re a rehash of what came before. It’s been like that for a long time and these German titans seem to have missed the memo.

Devourment – Obscene Majesty
(Brutal Death Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2019/08/16

For a band that has been held up as a pillar of a genre often (self-) described as super ignorant, there’s an awful lot of intelligence packed into these ten songs. Suspiciously melodic passages too. It’s like the band care why their fans are smashing each other to a pulp in the mosh and are trying to give them better reasons to do so.

Fall of Rauros – Patterns in Mythology
(Black Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2019/07/19

Ordinarily, I tend to use ephemeral as a pejorative. Light weight. Lacking substance. That’s not the case with Patterns in Mythology. It’s ephemeral in the fae, life is fleeting way. It gives the black metal on display a curious otherness; it allows the band to explore airier, more beautiful sounds while still retaining the blackened fire.

Full of Hell – Weeping Choir
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Relapse – 2019/05/17

Full of Hell have tended to land their grindcore firmly in the experimental, avant-garde camp. Very easy to see their talent, not always as easy to enjoy their efforts. Weeping Choir breaks free of this. Still absolutely willing to experiment with grind’s form, but it is delivered as such an all-out assault that all niggling doubts vanish.

Gaahl’s WYRD – GastiR — Ghosts Invited
(Black Metal – Norway)
Season of Mist – 2019/05/31

This feels like an important album. Like there’s another leap forward contained within, up there with Bathory’s early work or Mayhem’s De Mysteriis dom Sathanas. The icy ferocity of the music is matched with a dark poetry that you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with the genre. Gaahl truly is one of this generation’s greatest skålds.

Garsdghastr – Slit Throat Requiem
(Symphonic Black Metal – Sweden/United States of America)
Profound Lore – 2019/04/26

Damn, this is sharp. I don’t expect symphonic black metal to have such a wicked cutting edge to it. But there’s no florid Dimmu-esque melodrama; there is only a ruthless dedication to making the most hellish synth-led racket they possibly can. It serves as an almighty reminder that black metal should, in all its myriad forms, intimidate.

Grand Magus – Wolf God
(Heavy Metal – Sweden)
Nuclear Blast – 2019/04/19

I am, and will remain, a big fan of Grand Magus, but my fandom isn’t so one-eyed that I can’t acknowledge their faults. And vocal delivery is certainly a problem. JB’s vocals don’t have a great deal of range, which is fine when there’s a cornucopia of badass riffs to distract. Wolf God, alas, does not distract. It’s all a bit flat and uninspiring.

Inter Arma – Sulphur English
(Sludge Metal – United States of America)
Relapse – 2019/04/12

Coming across as less cataclysmic and more cathartic, Sulphur English still sounds distinctly like Inter Arma. And, yet, not. Subtle stylistic deviations are the mark of a band expanding their sonic brand. They still build tension deliberately and intensely, but they direct it differently. It’s an organic evolution to their approach to darkness.

Mgła – Age of Excuse
(Black Metal – Poland)
Northern Heritage – 2019/09/02

Complacency is the greatest enemy of consistency. It’s understandable that a band with a distinct sound and approach to their craft might to resistant to change to the own detriment. It’s why Mgła are so impressive. Age of Excuse sounds as fresh and intimidating as Groza did ten years ago. And they’ve sacrificed none of their signature sound along the way.

Mizmor (מזמור) – Cairn
(Blackened Doom Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2019/09/06

Cairn sounds like an album attempting, but failing, to outrun itself. A great jovian heaviness acts as a gravity well, forever smashing the fevered black metal back to earth and forcing it to crawl at a near drone. It’s a thoroughly entertaining synergy of energy levels, merging the anti-human and the inhuman into one malign force.

Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind
(Nu-Metal – United States of America)
Roadrunner – 2019/08/09

A fine return to form, Slipknot have moved past the necessarily disjointed Gray Chapter and the terrible Stone Sourness of the previous two albums before that. The band’s sound has matured, maintaining a familiar level of vitriol but has become more expansive, as befits their status as one of metal’s most bankable acts.

Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
(Death Metal – Canada)
20 Buck Spin – 2019/07/19

If you’re going to be prolific, you’d better hope you’re good. And the thoroughly restless Tomb Mold are just that. Planetary Clairvoyance breathes fire into every track, making what is essentially an old school album fresh again. This is what happens when a band deeply care about their end product and have the smarts to deliver.

October 2015 Review Round Up

When I started writing this month’s instalment, I forgot to set it to draft. So, there’s most of a month’s worth of spoilers there. No matter. I’ll be more careful next time.

Windhand killed it for album of the month. They get that great doom requires great emotional investment. And there is an almighty heaviness to their commitment on Grief’s Infernal Flower.

Despite being a bit spoiled for choice, it was hard to go past Deafheaven for the honourable mention. They may not be the trvest band ever. Far from it frankly. But fuck that petty scene shit. They play some of the most innovative metal there is and fully deserve their plaudits.

Getting close to the business end of the year. Still hanging out for some big releases though. It’s good to be this engaged.

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Until next month.

Album of the Month
Windhand – Grief’s Infernal Flower
(Stoner doom metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2015/09/18

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I get the feeling there’s a personal tragedy at the heart of this album. I could be wrong, but it sounds like someone trying to cope with unfathomable loss. At its core there is self-loathing and rage, which is obfuscated by clouds numbing dope smoke. It makes for a powerful but depressing experience. It’s fantastic to see a band approach stoner doom from an angle different than fuzzed out melancholy.
Try before you buy: Hesperus (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mention
Deafheaven – New Bermuda
(Post-black metal – United States of America)
Anti Records – 2015/10/02

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Hipster cred will soon fade. Beards will recede. Ironic tattoos will be regretted. Once this happens, all that will remain is song-writing talent. It’s a good thing then that Deafheaven has more talent than they know what to do with. The five tracks on New Bermuda have that rare knack of being instantly memorable without being simplistic. Even for a forward thinking band, such an evolution is impressive.
Try before you buy: Come Back (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Archivist – Archivist
(Post-black metal – Austria/Germany/United Kingdom)
Alerta Antifascista Records/Grain of Sand Records – 2015/06/02

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How does one mend a broken heart? Light Bearer going on permanent hiatus halfway through a four album conceptual piece was gutting. Good thing Archivist is here to fill the void. They do the contemplative hard work of Light Bearer, but with substantially more aggression. It makes for a very intense listen. I was concerned going in that it would just be a rebound. But there’s potential for a lasting relationship here.
Try before you buy: Hades (Bandcamp)

Boar Worship – Boar Worship
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/07/08

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I love a release that has strong narative flow. I’m not talking about a concept; I’m talking about how well-crafted music draws the listener in, builds tension, and closes in appropriately climactic fashion. Boar Worship have a crystal clear understanding of these principles. The four tracks of dark, harsh sludge build (and release) tension like a classic horror film. The pervasive misery is masterful.
Try before you buy: Two (Bandcamp)

Children of Bodom – I Worship Chaos
(Melodic death metal – Finland)
Nuclear Blast – 2015/10/02

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This is the sound of a band treading water. It’s still distinctly Bodom and it’s not objectively bad, but they’re not exactly pushing things to the limit here. I am prepared to say it’s a better album than Halo of Blood or Relentless Reckless Forever. That doesn’t excuse the band for getting stuck in a deep well of creative ennui. The question now is, where do Laiho et al go from here? Hopefully there’s some forward momentum left in them.
Try before you buy: Morrigan (YouTube)

Christian Mistress – To Your Death
(Heavy metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2015/09/18

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Christian Mistress continue to be one of the most consistently entertaining purveyors of old school heavy metal. The key is that they don’t nakedly imitate NWOBHM. They take that glorious 80s sound and bring it into the new millennium. To that end, To Your Death is loaded with riffs that bring out your air guitar. And I don’t think there’s been a greater female voice since Doro than Christine Davis. Strong, energetic metal.
Try before you buy: Eclipse (Bandcamp)

Clutch – Psychic Warfare
(Rock – United States of America)
Weathermaker Music – 2015/10/02

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This album is so much more entertaining when you treat it as the rambling legal statement of a conspiracy nut trying to stave off whatever actual trouble his life, loves, adventures, and misadventures have created. It’s high quality rock and roll, as you’d expect from Clutch, but the concept makes it all the better. Make sure you use your equaliser properly though. It suffers without levelling.
Try before you buy: X-Ray Visions (YouTube)

Cruciamentum – Charnel Passages
(Death metal – United Kingdom)
Profound Lore Records – 2015/09/04

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Charnel Passages is kind of like being trapped aboard an aggressively haunted ship while it’s being buffeted by a severe storm. I may have drawn inspiration from the cover art for that, but it’s more than appropriate. The cacophonous darkness of the rhythms is punctuated by howling melodies which swell into fierce solos. It’s a sinister sounding album, with no space for light or hope.
Try before you buy: Piety Carved From Flesh (Bandcamp)

Hate Eternal – Infernus
(Death metal – United States of America)
Season of Mist – 2015/08/21

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Hate Eternal is much like the Ferrari of the death metal world. They don’t reinvent the wheel, but they do use it with great precision and at high speed. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sometimes you just want to hit play and know exactly what you’re going to get. With such aggressive fret work on display, there’s no possible way to be disappointed. When your riffs are earth-shattering, you don’t need to be ground-breaking.
Try before you buy: Pathogenic Apathy (Bandcamp)

Ironic Reversal – Dysgenic
(Progressive death metal – India)
Self-released – 2015/10/15

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I felt like a real shitheel leaving Ironic Reversal off my overall best of last year. They are a genuinely fantastic death metal act. Their follow up ep, Dysgenic, cements this. It’s a tightly constructed concept piece that allows both progressive and technical expertise to shine through. Make no mistake: these guys can write riffs that put most other death metallers to shame. Innovative, intelligent and severe.
Try before you buy: Consume (Bandcamp)

Kylesa – Exhausting Flame
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Season of Mist – 2015/10/02

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I’m waiting for Kylesa to make a bad album. I’m curious as to how they’d manage to do it. Exhausting Flame is another excellent addition to their discography. Lush, verdant riffs played over one of the most indomitable rhythm sections in metal. It’s what they do and, yet, it’s not more of the same. Groovy in the good way, but possessed of a gnawing melancholy, this may just be the most upbeat sad album you’ll hear.
Try before you buy: Out of My Mind (Bandcamp)

Mudbath – Corrado Zeller
(Stoner sludge – France)
Lost Pilgrims Records – 2015/01/31

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It’s not a happy type of stoner here. There’s a bleakness at play here that isn’t typically found among the stoner folk. The drawn out riffs verge on the psychedelic, looping around and fuzzed out like the worst kind of sonic psilocybin. It does start to actually feel mind altering after a while. It has some flaws, the chief of which is the repetition is occasionally dull rather than atmospheric. But the misery they put to wax is definitely worth a listen.
Try before you buy: Salmonella (Bandcamp)

O – Pietra
(Grinding black metal – Italy)
Grindpromotion/Unquiet Records – 2015/10/02

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O (pronounced Circular Sign) have an odd but satisfying aesthetic going here. To my ears, it’s a reimagining of Enslaved, where the fascination with Pink Floyd and King Crimson is replaced with an overdose of Napalm Death and Brutal Truth. That may sound impossible, but there are key tonal agreements that more than make it work. It packs a hell of a punch as well. Always a bonus when an experiment works out.
Try before you buy: Maledetto (Bandcamp)

Panopticon – Autumn Eternal
(Blackgrass – United States of America)
Bindrune Recordings/Nordvis Produktion – 2015/10/16

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I continue to be impressed with the blackened take on Kentucky that Panopticon produce. They understand nuance in a way that great bands do. They’re not a folk metal band; loading their laments with fiddle would severely diminish them. Instead they focus on taking bluegrass technique and scorching the hell out of it with blackened fire. In the process, all the joy has been burned out, leaving only a charred stump of bitterness.
Try before you buy: Oaks Ablaze (Bandcamp)

Sovereign – Deceptum
(Crusty black metal – Italy)
Self-released – 2015/06/04

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If black metal with a tinge of punk is your thing, then Deceptum will more than fit the bill. They play with maximum aggression and a total dearth of pity, compassion, or mercy. Not a lot on offer to win converts to the cause though, until you reach the total black majesty of the final track. That’s the disappointment here; they are clearly capable of something jaw dropping but they hold themselves in reserve until the last. I still recommend them, but I am also left wanting.
Try before you buy: Colourless (Bandcamp)

TesseracT – Polaris
(Djent – United Kingdom)
Kscope – 2015/09/18

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TesseracT continues to be one of the few bands to make djent look good. The palm muting is still there, but TesseracT go out of their way to not sound like a poor man’s Meshuggah. Polaris is an album that pushes their progressive proclivities to a new level. Intricate, often delicate melodies are held up by a distinctively djent low end. The clean vocals are crisp yet soulful. Entertaining from start to finish.
Try before you buy: Survival (YouTube)

Trivium – Silence in the Snow
(Core-tinged heavy metal – United States of America)
Roadrunner Records – 2015/10/02

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Trivium have clearly put some effort into making Silence as anthemic as possible. Almost every track has a memorable, sing-along quality. Fist-pumping good times. I do wish they could settle on whether they want to be Metallica or Maiden. Consistency matters. But there are some fantastic solos and the complete absence of metalcore screeching is more than welcome. Their maturation as a band continues.
Try before you buy: Blind Leading the Blind (YouTube)

Unwanted Existence – Silhouettes of a Mental Disorder
(Depressive suicidal black metal – Venezuela/Mexico)
Winterwolf Records – 2015/09/17

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Don’t listen to this for the vocals. They don’t sound like the vocalist’s testicles are being repeatedly flicked with an elastic band, but they’re not far off. The real selling point are the instrumentals. You can actually tell that they were penned in the throes of suicidal mania. Gentle melodies that sound like stitches being unpicked. Harsh sections reminiscent of smashing your skull into bricks. Flawed, but the pain is genuine.
Try before you buy: Black Procession (To My Grave) (Bandcamp)

Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss
(Industrial folk – United States of America)
Sargent House – 2015/08/07

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This is my first encounter with Chelsea Wolfe. It’s a new kind of heaviness for me. New and thoroughly satisfying. Vocals are skilfully delivered with both the passionate power and reflective restraint that only the greats can manage. And the way rumbling industrial is interwoven with melancholy folk is revelatory. It’s a smart, challenging album that rewards with each and every chord.
Try before you buy: Grey Days (Bandcamp)