September 2018 Review Round Up

We’re reaching the crunch point for the critical year. August was impressive, but September really stepped it up as bands and labels try to maximise their visibility. I can’t wait for October.

The album of the month is from Florida death metal veterans, Deicide. You have no idea how surprised I am to have written that. But credit where credit is due, they absolutely nailed that super-hostile sound.

Not too much else to say. Starting to look towards my end of year list, which is always fun. And given that 2019 is just around the corner, I’m starting to look seriously at my best of the decade list too.

As always, for comments and critiquing, you can reach me via Facebook. And I’m still always in need of Red Bull, if you don’t mind the panhandling. I wish I could get the fancy widget to work, but alas, I’m not that competent.

Album of the Month
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2018/09/14

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If you thought this was going to be another piece of stodgy filler in Deicide’s extensive catalogue, get to the back of the class! It’s easily their best since Stench of Redemption, and I’m going to have to realisten to that to make sure it’s still their best. I have my doubts to be honest. This is laser beam focussed and whip cord taut. Fuck it; it’s their best album ever.

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Archgoat – The Luciferian Crown
(Black Metal – Finland)
Debemur Morti – 2018/09/14

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Archgoat’s best album. Just going to put that straight out there. I buy Archgoat for their signature blend of Fimbulwinter cold and sulphurous balefire. This album more than delivers on those fronts, but is also unexpectedly loaded with sinister groove and infernal sexuality. It’s rare to find a black metal album that so ably encapsulates damnation.

Aura Noir – Aura Noire
(Blackened Thrash – Norway)
Indie Recordings – 2018/04/27

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Aura Noir’s intertwining of thrash and first wave black metal has always yielded razor sharp riffs. Aura Noire continues this trend. They haven’t exactly built extensively on what they’ve done before, but that’s not what this is about. This is, as it always has been, about cramming venomous thrash all the way down your throat.

Black Matter Device – Modern Frenetics
(Mathcore – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/04/06

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Fast music for the short tempered. Modern Frenetics is an album for people who don’t have the patience for soft things. It helps that Black Matter Device are (appropriately) mathematically precise. The relentless pummelling that ensues is one of the smartest arse-kickings you will experience. It’s like getting mugged by a mortarboard.

Clutch – Book of Bad Decisions
(Rock – United States of America)
Weathermaker – 2018/09/07

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It’s funny how after all these years Clutch still find a way to deliver just what you want while still surprising you. Book of Bad Decisions comes across as rawer and dirtier than the high octane output of their previous few albums. Real music for smokey dive bars and, by God, it’s beautiful. It gets you right in that part that knows a bit of grime is good for the soul.

Common Eider, King Eider – A Wound of Body
(Black Ambient – United States of America)
Sentient Ruin Laboratories – 2018/09/21

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Dealing only in the bleakest of black ambient, Common Eider, King Eider have turned loose an audio horror upon this world. It creeps and slithers and contorts its way around your psyche; never pushing all the way through, but never letting you get comfortable. Albums that do their work quietly are a challenge, but I recognise darkness when I hear it.

Drawn and Quartered – The One Who Lurks
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Krucyator Productions – 2018/07/27

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How on earth have I managed to get to 2018 without hearing about Drawn and Quartered? These guys have been pounding out old school death metal for ages now and it’s taken until this monster landed for me to know they existed. It’s an appalling oversight on my part. Guttural, almost brutal, The One Who Lurks is a visceral gut ripper.

Grave Dust – Pale Hand
(Death Metal – United States of America)
Self-Released – 2018/08/24

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What is up with 2018 and top notch death metal releases? I’m running out of superlatives; I’m either going to start repeating myself or start using nonsensical adjectives. But, dead set, Pale Hand is another death metal monster. It’s a rumbling, aggressive, menacing beast, but it comes with that vital element of catchiness that lodges the songs in your brain.

Hyperdontia – Nexus of Teeth
(Death Metal – Denmark)
Dark Descent – 2018/09/06

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Nexus of Teeth is a fine death metal record that may not set the world on fire but is definitely enjoyable. It suffers a little from repetitiveness, but in Hyperdontia’s defence, they do a couple of things really well, so it makes total sense that they play to their strengths. You can put this on in a room of genre buffs and they will be headbanging all over the place.

Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury
(Technical Black Metal – United States of America)
Gilead Media – 2018/07/13

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This is different. Cacophonous black metal played with a level of technicality that should require an engineering degree all wrapped up with Fritz Lang-esque noir. This is what a smokey jazz dive sounds like in hell. I like this a lot, but I’m not going to lie; it’s a tough album to get into and even once you’re in, it can be overwhelming. Extremity done differently.

Kaerulean – The Orwellian Dream
(Blackened Death Metal – Australia)
Truth Inc – 2018/08/10

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It makes a hell of an entertaining racket. But, more than that, it impresses on multiple levels and you will get more out of it with each subsequent listen. For starters, I genuinely didn’t expect the clean vocals to be as good as they are. And the rhythm section is just a fucking beast underneath. This band deserves much broader exposure.

Mantar – The Moden Art of Setting Ablaze
(Sludge Metal – Germany)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/08/24

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Finally getting around to Mantar and I totally get why they are, and rightly should be, considered sludge’s premier arsonists. Their incendiary songs roll along with a pyroclastic flow that ensures that everything in their path is obliterated. I know I’m not the first to say it, but it’s amazing that this sonic firestorm is made by just two people. Incredible stuff.

Nadja – Sonnborner
(Ambient Doom Metal – Canada)
Broken Spine Productions – 2018/09/14

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Open your ears and marvel; Nadja have produced a masterpiece of dreamy, inspired doom. The 30 minute opener is an album in and of itself. It’s awe-inspiring too. It weaves, lilts, and flows beautifully. The following four tracks include dramatic and jarring tonal shifts, giving the ambience some unexpected, but welcome exhilaration.

Primordial – Exile Amongst the Ruins
(Blackened Folk Metal – Ireland)
Metal Blade – 2018/03/30

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I can only assume that Primordial are sick of Metal Blade, as this sound like nothing more than a contractual obligation album. All the hallmarks of a Primordial album are there, but they’re so listless and seemingly dialed in. It’s tough to listen to something that sounds like nobody cared. It’s especially tough when it’s a band as hugely talented as Primordial.

Thou – Magus
(Doom Metal – United States of America)
EVP Recordings – 2018/08/31

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Other bands must wish they could match Thou’s ability to be both prolific and talented. Magus is their fourth release this year, the second to get a review by me, and easily the best thing they’ve done recently. Which is impressive, because they are consistently excellent. The raspy growls, the subtle melodies, the monstrous low end; it is amazing.

The Vintage Caravan – Gateways
(Rock – Iceland)
Nuclear Blast – 2018/08/31

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I love what The Vintage Caravan have done previously, so it really pains me to say this: Gateways is boring. At best it’s dull, at worst it’s tedious, and it all balances out as boring. There’s nothing on display here to get the listener actively involved in the music. It just kinda plods along without doing anything noteworthy. At least it’s easy to forget.

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September 2016 Review Round Up

An abbreviated review collection this month. Metalshopped’s hard earned cash was geared towards live music this month. How could I turn down tickets to Enslaved, Opeth, Meshuggah, etc? They’re not going to see themselves, now are they?

That being said, there was some absolute gold this month. SubRosa’s phenomenal For This We Fought the Battle of Ages ran first with distance for second. Other albums this month were good, even great; but SubRosa stood apart.

Insomnium’s colossal one track album, Winter’s Gate, more than deserved its honourable mention. Listening to what is traditionally a melodeath band put out such a complicated slab of prog is very satisfying.

As usual, feel free to hit me up on Facebook. Especially if you’ve got a release you think is worth a listen.

Until next month
\m/

Album of the Month
SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2016/08/26

In doom circles, SubRosa has always been in a league of their own, but this album sees them push out even further. It’s a perfect combination of ethereal vocals, surprisingly technical guitars, and lyrics that delve deeply into uncomfortable truths. Here is the beauty in despair; here is death’s loving embrace.
Try before you buy: Despair is a Siren (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mention
Insomnium – Winter’s Gate
(Progressive death metal – Finland)
Century Media – 2016/09/23

This is what I like to see; a prog band actually taking a calculated risk to progress themselves as a band. The album’s one track runs for forty minutes, but it uses that time well. In a literal sense, it tells a story. A damn good one. But it’s their music that fleshes out the drama. Riveting.
Try before you buy: the first ten minutes should provide ample introduction. (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
(Psychedelic black metal – Finland)
20 Buck Spin/Svart Records – 2016/02/26

Your average psychedelic black metal album is the result of taking a load of hallucinogens and embracing the darkness. Oranssi Pazuzu aims to break the mold with Värähtelijä. This is an album that sounds like it’s supposed to be the drug. Its ebbs and flows worm their way into the cracks in your psyche. It wants to alter you. It almost succeeds.
Try before you buy: Saturaatio (Bandcamp)

Schammasch – Triangle
(Black metal – Switzerland)
Prosthetic Records – 2016/04/29

Put some time aside, because at three discs, Triangle needs some time to get acquainted. Humming with monastic contemplation and possessed of a Behemoth-esque fervour, this triple album challenges you to think and rewards you with intensity. There’s something almost perverse about something so austere sounding so lavish.
Try before you buy: Awakening from the Dream of Life (Bandcamp)

Sumac – What One Becomes
(Post-metal – United States of America)
Thrill Jockey – 2016/06/10

This isn’t a bold splash into new territory, which some may see as disappointing. Not me though, because what it does is continue on from where The Deal left off. This isn’t an endnote or an unnecessary sequel; this is an album born of the same creative impetus that gave us one of 2015’s better albums.
Try before you buy: Clutch of Oblivion (Bandcamp)

Tombs – All Empires Fall
(Post-black metal – United States of America)
Relapse Records – 2016/04/01

What Tombs does better than pretty well any other post-black act is subtlety. They blast and howl. They swoon and meditate. This isn’t unusual for the genre. It’s how they incorporate the extremes of style in such an organic, almost imperceptible way that is. An uncannily expert performance.
Try before you buy: Deceiver (Bandcamp)


September 2015 Review Round Up

[insert editorial content]

That’s how it feels this month. Maybe if I had a broader focus than reviews, I’d have more to wax editorial about. But I like reviews. It keeps a hermit like myself engaged with the community.

The picks of the month, Motörhead’s Bad Magic and Goolagoon’s Patrickviolence Demo forced me to re-evaluate some core beliefs.

Motörhead will always be Motörhead. You know what you’re going to get. But Bad Magic proves that albums that stick to a well worn oeuvre can still demolish expectations, so long as the delivery is up to scratch.

I ordinarily have a not unjustified suspicion of gimmicks and a Spongebob themed anything that’s not actually Spongebob has no right to work. Again, the delivery is what matters. Goolagoon exemplify this. They could sell any idea with delivery that sharp.

Feel free to Facebook me. If you share my beloved vanity blog, tag me too. I like to keep up with publicity.

See everyone next month.

Album of the Month
Motörhead – Bad Magic
(Rock and Roll – United Kingdom)
UDR Music – 2015/08/28

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Bad Magic is a friendly reminder that Airheads, despite its flaws, got it right: Lemmy is God. Forty years of performance and Motörhead are still capable of releasing an album that blows you away. All bands long for this sort of longevity. Phil Campbell’s guitar work is nothing short of spectacular. And Mickey Dee owns the drum kit like a kid half his age. They rock and they roll and they bring the energy and they do it damn well.
Try before you buy: Fire Storm Hotel (YouTube)

Honourable Mention
Goolagoon – Patrickviolence Demo
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Dickcrush – 2015/03/30

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If you’re going to a band with a gimmick, you better not be tiresome. If you’re a gimmick band in the grind/crust/pv family, you had best be fucking awesome. If your pv gimmick is based on Spongebob fucking Squarepants, you better be blowing my skin off with awesomeness. Boy howdy, do Goolagoon deliver on that. I sit here, flayed, wondering how a concept so stupid can pay off with such overwhelming satisfaction.
Try before you buy: Walking Small (Bandcamp)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Blutbad – Abandonment
(Harsh noise – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/09/19

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So. That’s a harsh noise wall. Kind of unnerved that I don’t hate it. The unrelenting cascade of static is alienating and unnerving. It’s also oddly soothing. It creates the effect of listening to a comforting, repetitive noise, like a waterfall crashing. It’s relaxing, but after a while it sounds like someone is drowning in the endless stream of water. It gets discomforting once you start to hear it. Unsettling. Very much so.
Try before you buy: Ritual (Bandcamp)

Cavernlight – Corporeal
(Droning sludge – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/04/07

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Each listen draws you in more and more. The first time you listen to it is like crossing an event horizon; you may not realise it, but you’re inexorably and inevitably drawn to a crushing black hole. The first three tracks of droning sludge pave the way for the final, crushing track of true drone. Subsequent listens allow the listener to truly appreciate sophistication of this release. It’s intricate in its slowness.
Try before you buy: Upon the Threshold of Reason, Embracing Our Corporeal Forms (Bandcamp)

Concilium – Demo
(Occult doom – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/09/08

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I’m a huge fan of occult-flavoured doom, especially the sort that features a strong female vocal lead. Blood Ceremony and Jex Thoth are huge in my book. But even I have to admit that the field has been a little saturated of late. Concilium is a fine example of this. They have a damn fine singer; her vocals are as silky as Jex’s. But the music, while atmospheric, lacks the necessary power to hold interest. It’s regrettably dull.
Try before you buy: Tempest (Bandcamp)

Devoid – II
(Droning sludge – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/06/09

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The second low and slow release for the month, and it too is a damn fine example of drone metal. The sustains have Sunn O)))-esque malevolence and the distortion can easily ruin your equipment. It’s not afraid to up the tempo either, which makes for well-considered stylistic changes. There’s no doubt that II is at its finest at its slowest though. It manifests a palpable sense of dread and aguish with every tortured note.
Try before you buy: Excavation (Bandcamp)

Iron Maiden – Book of Souls
(Heavy metal – United Kingdom)
Parlophone – 2015/09/04

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It’s a testament to Iron Maiden’s obvious love for their craft that so shortly after Bruce’s run in with cancer, they put out their best album since Matter of Life and Death. Admittedly, the vocals do sound a little chemo affected still, but not in a way that’s an overall detriment. The decision to make a double album paid big dividends too. Never have Maiden songs had this much room to soar. Another classic.
Try before you buy: Speed of Light (YouTube)

Monolith – Legacy of the Opium Eater
(Death metal – South Africa)
Self-released – 2015/09/12

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Rumbling along, this ep is about as slow as death can get without being death doom. Ordinarily, this sort of deathly barage comes across like a plague of zombies; a slow, steady, relentless crush leading to an inevitability bloody end. Monolith tweak this a bit. It’s far from a mindless barrage; there are some evil smarts at work here. Instead of zombies, it’s more like wights. Possibly bodaks. Slow, but intelligent death at work.
Try before you buy: Seemingly False Fantasies (Bandcamp)

Mouth Breather – Mouth Breather
(Grindviolence – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/09/14

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Mouth Breather is one of those tough releases that definitely not mediocre, but it is still hard to get enthusiastic about. They do grindcore with an endearingly lunkheaded charm. And, despite the racket, it’s not a sloppy release. Every bark, every blast well considered. But it’s lacking something. It feels like they have held something back; as though the option to go to eleven was there, but ten suited them fine.
Try before you buy: Death Metal Hell (Bandcamp)

Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed
(Brutal techdeath – United States of America)
Nuclear Blast – 2015/08/28

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Memory is a funny thing. Every time a new Nile album rolls around, I’ve done the mental gymnastics to convince myself I don’t like them. I waste a lot of time; time that could be better spent listening to Nile. I broke the cycle this time and jumped straight in. Even by their already high standards, Unearthed is monstrous. It strikes a perfect balance between technicality and brutality that every band in the genre should strive for.
Try before you buy: Call to Destruction (YouTube)

Sermos – (husk)
(Death metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/07/04

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Some death metal exists to wallow in misery. Some exists to ruthlessly molest frets. And some simply exists to be enjoyed. Sermos is definitely in the latter category. (husk) has a loose, faux-sloppy sound that is just a joy to listen to. It’s the sort of release that begs to be drunkenly headbanged to. It has some forays into guttural territory, which don’t work as well, but overall it’s a fine release that every death buff should get into.
Try before you buy: The End of Flesh (Bandcamp)

Slayer – Repentless
(Thrash – United States of America)
Nuclear Blast – 2015/09/11

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Definitely sounds like Slayer. Any concerns about the transition from Hanneman to Holt have been assuaged. I think the transition has had a positive effect. The songs have a depth that has been lacking from recent releases. It no longer sounds like a collection of solos loosely stitched together with melody. It’s a welcome reminder of why Slayer is one of metal’s most important acts.
Try before you buy: Repentless (YouTube)

Steel Chains – Demo 2015
(Post-punk – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/02/14

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I spent way too much time trying to fit this demo into a convenient genre. It’s post-punk. But it’s really upbeat. But it’s gloomy as hell. But. But. But. I eventually settled on the moniker, Tsunami Punk. It’s got the upbeat slacker sound of surf punk but it’s infused with a pervasive sense of imminent doom. I love having my expectations messed with. And I’m happy to find another post-punk band that is a joy to listen to.
Try before you buy: Hard to Follow (Bandcamp)

Verheerer – Archar
(Black metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2015/09/12

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This is a release for fans of Dissection, Watain, and Necrophobic. It’s firmly in the mould of melodic yet aggressive black metal made great by the aforementioned. Importantly, Verheerer’s take on majestic darkness is a hell of a racket. It allows a minor lack of originality to be completely forgiven and forgotten. It’s proof positive that operating in genre boundaries can work.
Try before you buy: Archar (Bandcamp)

Woundvac – Disgraced Convert
(Grindcore – United States of America)
Self-released – 2015/09/08

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There’s nothing quite as satisfying as grindcore done well. The intrinsic violence played out in short, sharp bursts isn’t so much a thoughtful musical exercise as it is a raw emotional outburst. Woundvac is one of the bands that best exemplify this. Their songs see anger and disaffection collide in explosive blasts of discontent. It’s like they put the barest minimum of effort into control, allowing for an unhinged sound.
Try before you buy: Disgraced Convert (Bandcamp)

Zombie X Incest – The First Violent Step
(Powerviolence – Nepal)
Self-released – 2015/09/12

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This is raw. I’m left wondering whether it’s a limitation of the recording environment or a stylistic choice. Whatever the answer, the coarse grain sandpaperiness of their sound works to their advantage. It comes across like the band are right there next to you instead of in a studio/basement thousands of kilometres away. The in your face aggression is complemented by damn entertaining melodies too.
Try before you buy: How is punk dead when powerviolence is still alive? (Bandcamp)

September Review Round Up

September was another milestone month: MORE THAN AN ALBUM PER DAY! Beers all round.

It’s also been the sort of month that makes me think I might be a little soft with the review stick, as a lot of albums landed in my honourable mentions. But in all honesty, it’s just been a spectacular month.

Sólstafir is the undeniable champion though. Ótta delivers in ways that continue to surprise me. Albums like Eparistera Daimones and Celestite immediately plateau at brilliance; Ótta continues to climb into the lofty heights. There is no plateauing. It gets more brilliant with each and every listen.

If I was forced to pick any other release to highlight, it would be Season of Mist’s compilation, One and All, Together, For Home. The earnest folk melodies are beautifully performed, even when played in the most blackened manner.

But, seriously, there is so much to admire this month. Click all the links, enjoy all the music. See you next month, first Monday of the month.

*Edit: amended Videmur’s place of origin. 2014/10/12

Album of the Month
Sólstafir – Ótta
(Post-metal – Iceland)
Season of Mist – 2014/08/29

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Ótta is an album that makes me want to tear up all my old reviews and start from scratch with unsullied adjectives. It also serves as the perfect reminder that metal, at its best, is a thing of abject beauty. Aðalbjörn Tryggvason’s vocals are by turns heartfelt and harrowing, while the music itself is truly and uniquely majestic. Meditative and bombastic, Ótta combines the impossible. If you can’t appreciate the wonder of this album, I weep for you.
Try before you buy: Miðaftann (Bandcamp)

Honourable Mentions
Außerwelt – Our Lives Out of Balance
(Post-black metal – Germany)
Self-released – 2014/09/21

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I lost myself in this album. It’s just as capable of invoking the permafrost as any other black metal band. More so, to be honest. But its true strength lies in its bending of the genre’s tropes, which turns traditional blackened melodies into extended meditations on alienation. It truly is a remarkable ep; every listen unearths something new, nuances in song structure that, while not immediately noticeable, make every song completely and truly vital.
Try before you buy: A Grey Matter (Bandcamp)

Earth – Primitive and Deadly
(Drone – United States of America)
Southern Lord – 2014/09/01

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Pretty sure there’s a blues album in here. Buried under mountains of fuzz and distorted into a drone album, sure, but it’s definitely blues in disguise. There’s something heartfelt, bittersweet, and earthy (pun unintended) about their guitar work. It’s captivating. The addition of vocals works. I was sceptical at first, but the finished product assuaged my fears. It can bring a tear to the eye while simultaneously destroying speakers.
Try before you buy: From the Zodiacal Light (Bandcamp)

End Silence – The Waters
(Progressive thrash – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/09/19

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Now THAT’S a thrash album. End Silence have produced the best thrash album I’ve heard in a long time. They did this by breaking from tradition and incorporating progressive elements in a way that shows commitment to making a mature sounding album. I only hope they don’t get a cease and desist notice for the Legend of Zelda homage. It’s awesome by the way. Everything from the vocalist’s range to the intriguing solos is near perfect.
Try before you buy: Soul Charger (Bandcamp)

The Haunted – Exit Wounds
(Death thrash – Sweden)
Century Media Records – 2014/08/25

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Confession time: I haven’t been the biggest fan of The Haunted up to this point. I didn’t find them objectionable, but they didn’t do anything for me either. That changes with Exit Wounds. This is a seemless blend of thrash and melodic death metal, keeping the invigorating energy of the former and the naked aggression of the latter. The end result is an album that delivers on pure enjoyment in a way few albums do. It’s one of those rare ‘anytime’ albums.
Try before you buy: Cutting Teeth (YouTube)

Nachtmystium – The World We Left Behind
(Progressive black metal – United States of America)
Century Media – 2014/08/05

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Leave aside the deep well of antipathy that Blake Judd has dug for himself and try to judge The World We Left Behind on its merits. Believe me, it’s worth it. This is not an album he could have done with Hate Meditation; this level of personalised introspection requires prog’s nuances not raw blackened aggression. Bitterness, regret, and occasional self-pity make for a surprisingly honest outcome. A fitting swansong for a troubled legacy.
Try before you buy: Tear You Down (YouTube)

Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Profound Lore Records – 2014/08/19

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I enjoyed Pallbearer’s first album, but I love their second effort. This is true doom as its absolute best. Crisp guitar tones, clean vocals, elaborate melodies: all of these things come together perfectly on Foundations of Burden. The guitar work is fucking majestic. There is no other way to describe it. It draws you in and keeps you nestled in its heart. And Brett Campbell’s vocals are amazing. It helps that the guy can actually sing. Ride the beautiful gloom.
Try before you buy: The Ghost I Used to Be (Bandcamp)

Various Artists – One and All, Together, For Home
(Folk metal – Finland/France/Ireland/Netherlands/Norway/Portugal/Ukraine/United Kingdom)
Season of Mist – 2014/05/23

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Various Artists tells you nothing, so here’s the contributors: Ava Inferi, Drudkh, Häive, Himinbjorg, Kampfar, Mondvolland, Primordial, and Winterfylleth. It’s an impressive list. Good thing it’s an impressive compilation. Ranging from blackened folk all the way through true folk, this is a collection of heartfelt adaptations of traditional folk songs. Serious, moving, and proof that black metal can have some pride without going full Varg.
Try before you buy: John Barleycorn (Bandcamp)

Vermin Womb – Permanence
(Blackened deathgrind – United States of America)
Throatruiner Records – 2014/09/01

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The debut EP from these madmen from Denver sounds every bit as evil as you would expect from a blend of black, death and grind. It’s a testament to their skills that they pulled this together without a single wasted second. Its merciless, pitiless, remorseless blast-driven beat underscores some of the nastiest guitar work I’ve heard this year. This monstosity is further unhallowed by expertly growled vocals. Harrowing stuff.
Try before you buy: Gave (Bandcamp)

YOB – Clearing the Path to Ascend
(Doom metal – United States of America)
Neurot Recordings – 2014/08/29

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Another fantastic addition to Yob’s already outstanding catalogue of American heaviness. The beauty of Clearing the Path to Ascend, and what sets it apart from the rest of their discography, are the effortless transitions from crushing heaviness to deliberately wrenching introspection. Deliberate is the best word to describe this album. There is not a single wasted note or beat; everything is vital and necessary. Doom rarely crushes this totally.
Try before you buy: Unmask the Spectre (YouTube)

The Rest in Alphabetical Order
Al’s Toy Barn – Al’s Toy Barn
(Mincecore – Australia)
Self-released – 2014/07/27

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This is the worst piece of shit I’ve ever heard, but that is kind of the point. I’m right aren’t I, you Tasmanian weirdos? Underneath the intentionally terrible music are genuinely enjoyable songs. Goddamn postmodern grind: it takes the genre to an illogical conclusion and along the way turns atrocious drumming, worse vocals, and simplistic guitars into songs worth listening to. I’m not sure how many repeat listens it’s worth, but everyone should hear it once.
Try before you buy: Free Parking (Bandcamp)

Amnesian – Inhospitable
(Hardgrind – Canada)
Self-released – 2014/09/28

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Second Amnesian release for 2014 and they’ve kept the high standard up. They’ve dialled back the tempo to make an ep that has just as much in common with hardcore as it does with grind. It loses some of the explosiveness that made No Atonement the brilliant release it is, but it still simmers with hostility. And while it never feels like it will boil over, the absolute persistence of Inhospitable’s seething justifies a listen.
Try before you buy: Symmetry Hymn (Bandcamp)

Belphegor – Conjuring the Dead
(Blackened death metal – Austria)
Nuclear Blast – 2014/08/08

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Austria’s favourite goat enthusiasts return with another ten tracks of what they do best: searing blackened death metal. There was never any question about what this album would be: a high tempo blast-a-rama paired with necrosadistic blasphemy. It’s what Belphegor do and they do it with consistently high quality, with smatterings of brilliance. Just don’t go looking for innovation; the concept is alien to them. I hope they never change.
Try before you buy: Conjuring the Dead (YouTube)

Chaotorynth – Eidola Hunter
(Black metal – Ireland)
Self-released – 2014/09/12

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Better than generic black metal played well is the order of the day for these Irish fiends. There’s nothing here that will win any converts to black metal, but if frostbitten fury is your thing, then there is lots to like here. What really sold the album for me was the intelligent use of interludes. Chaotorynth get interludes right, giving Eidola Hunter a sense of narative flow that other blackened bands lack. Highly recommended.
Try before you buy: IV. Breathing Wall (Bandcamp)

Enbilulugugal – The End is Extremely Fucking Nigh
(Blackened noise – United States of America)
Dipsomaniac Records – 2014/09/13

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I went into this expecting unlistenable screeching noise, so it was pretty cool to discover it was listenable screeching noise. It sounds like black metal from the nuclear wasteland. Static and distortion take a mid-paced sonic assault and turn it into an offputting radio signal swimming into range. It’s a promise of imminent violence, but ominousness of not knowing exactly where the threat is. It’s intimidating music written for people who eat skin.
Try before you buy: IX (Bandcamp)

Estigia – Born Guilty
(Thrash – Spain)
Self-released – 2014/09/15

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Born Guilty is proof positive that a band can absolutely nail the basics and still fail to produce a fantastic album. They have a rich, heavy guitar tone pumping out catchy melodies backed up by quality drumming. And the vocals, sung cleanly, are a revelation; crooning instead of shouting suits thrash surprisingly well. But there are no solos. Not a one. Of all Metallica’s lessons, why learn from St Anger? It sucks the virtuosity out of the whole affair.
Try before you buy: The Long Finger (Bandcamp)

Fukpig – This World is Weakening
(Blackened grindcore – United Kingdom)
Devizes Studios – 2014/01/20

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Not so much a new release, as it is a reinterpretation. The band weren’t happy with their previous album, 3, so they hit the studio and redid it. I was unsure at first. I, at least, liked 3. But This World is Weakening is worth the investment. It finalises Fukpig’s transition from slightly punkier Anaal Nathrakh to necrotic grind nightmare in their own right. I think they finally have made an album that lives up to their self-applied tag of necropunk.
Try before you buy: Fascist Moron (Bandcamp)

Galg – Afzicht
(Droning black metal – Netherlands)
Tartarus Records – 2014/09/20

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This is a tale of two tracks. Two tracks suffused with horror barely imaginable. The first, Afzicht, sounds like the inner workings of the worst kind of sexual sadist. It opens with the furious rush of the kill, settles into an uneasy satisfaction, before the violence builds again. The second, Caverns Strewn with Bone, is akin to being forcibly trapped in said cavern. It’s rich with creeping dread and bleak hopelessness, before going out on a whimper of inevitability.
Try before you buy: Afzicht (Bandcamp)

Hegeroth – Three Emperors’ Triangle
(Melodic black metal – Poland)
Self-released – 2014/09/05

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The young me would have lost his shit over this. It’s black metal in the vein of Cradle of Filth or Dimmu Borgir: high energy and accessible. It may lack the melodrama of the former and the flamboyance of the latter, but it more than makes up for those losses by playing straight up, catchy as hell metal. It’s actually pretty refreshing to listen to Three Emperors’ Triangle after enduring some of this year’s sonic maelstroms. Highly enjoyable extremity.
Try before you buy: The Enforcer (Bandcamp)

Home is Gone – Triptych
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/08/18

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Bit of an odd one this. It opens with a particularly alienating brand of coruscating blackened rage. It’s immediately polarising, but it’s like they second-guessed themselves, as it soon falls into a weird type of symphonic, like Anaal Nathrakh stuck in second gear. Still not particularly accessible to outsiders, but very different to how they started. And the death metal chunks feel out of place. Lots of promise, but inconsistent.
Try before you buy: Just Another Way (Bandcamp)

Human Achievement – I
(Powerviolence – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/04/02

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I reminded me of 1980s era Sick of It All: super intense with more than hint of implied violence. But further to this is a think layer of immediacy. Human Achievement want to spend the least amount of time ensuring total destruction. Seriously efficient malice. The final thing that really made me enjoy this was the level of technical skill the band employ. Any band can slam out abbreviated noise; it takes genuine skill to play technically this fast.
Try before you buy: III (Bandcamp)

Ice Dragon – Loaf of Head
(Stoner metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/09/14

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This is mostly enjoyable, if a little disjointed. Some of the tracks are deep in desert rock, let’s do mushrooms and finger-paint territory. Some of them are rooted in Black Sabbath, bong-ripping on a Monday morning slackerdom. They certainly get the respective sounds right. They possibly fly a little close to the suns that are their influences, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stops them from being great, but they’re still damn good fun.
Try before you buy: Walkin’ Tall (Bandcamp)

Irreversible – Surface
(Sludge metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/09/13

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Surface manages to be hypnotic in the good and bad sense of the word. It draws you in and captivates you with just the right blend of heft and delicacy. It makes you believe that it’s a great album. But then, with a click of a finger (or push of the stop button), it’s gone. It’s like it was never there. I can’t think of another album that I enjoyed so thoroughly, but can’t remember a single riff from. It’s tough to draw a firm conclusion, but it’s good while it lasts.
Try before you buy: Degloving Injury (Bandcamp)

Muldjord – Color of My Soul
(Blackened death metal – Denmark)
Self-released – 2014/07/02

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Expectations are funny things. I really had this pegged as a vanity project and, as such, expectations were low. But I was wrong. There are no pretensions of novelty but the guy really knows his craft. The Color of My Soul is thumping death metal with enough black metal woven through to give it a much appreciated sinister edge. Importantly for a one man band he gets all the elements right. It’s an album that any death fan should enjoy.
Try before you buy: A Thousand Paths (Bandcamp)

Reverorum Ib Malacht – De Mysteriis dom Christi
(Unblack ambient – Sweden)
The Ajna Offensive – 2014/09/18

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I normally don’t bother with the running joke that is unblack metal, but the Ajna Offensive is a label I respect, so I gave this a shot. Closer to ambience than true metal, this is still every bit as unsettling as the best of black metal can be. They do execute this differently though, using ambient characteristics to build a cavernous, yet monastic atmosphere. At no stage is the listener allowed to get comfortable though. Challenging material.
Try before you buy: Nw thänthidh (YouTube)

Royal Blood – Royal Blood
(Garage rock – United Kingdom)
Warner Bros. – 2014/08/22

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This is what it sounds like when rock is done right. That such a rich rock sound came out of the humble two piece format is an impressive achievement. I can’t not make the comparison to the White Stripes, but where there is a certain quirkiness to Jack and Meg’s musical endeavours, Royal Blood punches through with a weird mix of noise rock and blues. I also like to think I hear titbits of Muse-esque oddness too. A raucous reaffirmation of rock’s heft.
Try before you buy: Figure It Out (YouTube)

Sineus – Demo
(Thrash – United States of America)
Torn Flesh Records – 2014/09/21

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Nothing like a bit of primitive Slayer worship. There’s something very endearing about these four tracks. It sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom. The drums are more papery than basement black metal. And there’s a general hollowness to the sound. But none of this detracts from the fact that they play an entertaining brand of thrash. It’s a tad light on solos, but those they do have are pretty sweet. Cracking first effort.
Try before you buy: Sodom’s Depravity (Bandcamp)

Skinflint – Nyemba
(Heavy metal – Botswana)
Self-released – 2014/09/06

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This is a seriously enjoyable album. It occasionally lapses into moments when you wonder, “Where is this going?” But then it will click into gear with a kick-ass solo or a change of rhythm, so all is forgiven. It’s an album that is as fun as it is because it draws on metal’s earliest heritage, a time when heavy metal and hard rock weren’t all that dissimilar. Nyemba is just as often Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, as it is Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Good times.
Try before you buy: Veya (YouTube)

Torture Chamber – Qayin
(Black metal – United States of America)
Self-released – 2014/06/09

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This has tremolo picking, blastbeats, and inhuman vocals; all the hallmarks of a band who really want you to know they’re evil. And they’re a technically proficient group too. So if evil music played well is all you look for in black metal, Qayin is all you need. Myself, I look for a little bit more depth. Something that makes a band truly stand out. Black metal is littered with bands that can do the basics well, but is championed by bands that go further.
Try before you buy: The Blood of Angels (Bandcamp)

Videmur – Finality
(Black metal – Belgium/Puerto Rico)
Self-released – 2014/08/25

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I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t had a great strike rate with the depressing stuff in 2014. Videmur changes that. Aside from being an album that encapsulates both the joy of accepting oblivion’s permanent embrace and self-loathing that drives a person to that point, Finality is loaded with surprising musical flourishes. This ensures that the album is consistently engaging, beguiling the listener deeper into the abyss. Beautiful bleakness.
Try before you buy: Desolate Essence (Bandcamp)

Wretched Excess – Away From This World
(Dark ambient – United States of America)
Illuminated Paths – 2014/07/17

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There’s something deeply unsettling about this release. It’s akin to being tortured under heavy sedation; you know it can’t be good for you, but not only do you not care, you actually find the whole process pretty entertaining. The use of subtle atmospherics is remarkably well done, successfully turning dreamy soundscapes into eerie excursions into discomfort. The sheer amount of tact and delicacy it takes to make an album like this is incredible.
Try before you buy: Atlantis (Bandcamp)