Metal of the Month: February’s 15 Finest Releases (2019)

METAL OF THE MONTH is a monthly feature that examines just that, a grip of fifteen of the most essential heavy metal (and sometimes non-metal) related releases from each month in the year 2019. I’ve chosen these entirely based on my opinions, meaning I’m primarily taking into account the hours of immersion, personal connection and the lasting value of each album before moving on to other things. There are several albums that I will have to leave out of this list, but they’ll all still be considered for end of the year lists. This monthly feature will largely focus on records I’d either reviewed or spent the most time with, as well as a few releases where the review is still in the draft stage. The feature will update with links for those as later reviews roll in. Do not think I’ve overlooked any promotional material, I am but one man and I’ll get to all of the promos I’ve received throughout the year. I am eternally grateful to have so much to choose from. Thank you.

Lightly suffocated by a few feet of snow and voided by the lack of sunlight throughout, the month of February here in Seattle was a mild but expected mental grind. It highlighted an inevitable quasi-acceptance of social media as a thoughtless morass of tasteless fucks, weirdly competitive children, and greedy false allegiances. In reflecting upon the year past I’ve come across very few genuine people outside of Facebook interactions. I feel a swine-scented steam rising off of those I encounter, especially from dull-witter attention deficient Twitter users, where it seems every pedantic, shit-eating, self-conscious fuck is working some grift or feigned political angle and all while assuming everyone else is too. So, to get to the actual point: I’ve cut down on Grizzly Butts ‘social’ internet efforts considerably and jumped back into reading books. I’m thinking of writing a few book reviews next month but, they’ll largely serve as a test for interest. Otherwise no great big changes in February; The ongoing Thrash ‘Til Death feature saw four more entries (Dorsal Atlântica, Loudblast, Flames, and Dragon), so if you’re interested in heavy/thrash metal bands that morphed into death metal groups as the early 90’s wave peaked towards 1993 check those out, I’ll be covering some more popular bands here soon. Things will continue at a slightly faster pace in March as I will be slowing down on rants and heavily researched introductions and focus on more coverage of music that isn’t reliant on interesting concepts. February was incredible, though I could have used a few more standout death metal releases. Here’s a glimpse of stuff I’m still planning on reviewing that released in February:

February releases still in consideration for review: Candlemass, Grafvitnir, Graves, The Wandering Ascetic, Blodskam, Hexvessel, Pig’s Blood, Maestus, Pounder, Putrid Coffin, Electrocution, Chainbreaker, Gatekeeper, Pernicon, Rebirth in Flames, Miscarriage, Tankograd, Bellrope, Pensees Nocturnes, Scars of Pneuma, Il Vuoto, Soen, Blot & Blod, Evulse, Der Rote Milan, Los Huayacos, Se Lusiferin Kannel, Destroyers of All, Ormagna, Blackdeath, Ad Patres, Sordide, Ysbryd, Necrogosto, Wretched Fate, Booze Control and a few more. Most all of these band’s current releases will still be reviewed post-February in some form in the coming weeks. I’ve also received a few requests direct from bands as well as a handful of 2018 releases and those will almost all be included in Ten From the Tomb features or full reviews. No guarantees, all things are considered.

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Artist Funereal Presence
Title [Type] Achatius [Full-length]
 Rating [5.0/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

Back in 2014 when Funereal Presence released their debut ‘The Archer Takes Aim’ I wrote a short review that concluded by describing it as “if Horna paid tribute to Bulldozer and Nifelheim with Paul Chain writing the guitar parts on speed” and while that seems kind of trite five years later it almost still applies to the project’s second album ‘Achatius’. Of course Bestial Devotion has shifted gears on this record in his quest to make the music that he wants to hear and it turns out his vision for first wave black metal colliding with epic speed metal finds precision atmosphere and raw energy a step beyond the graves of Tormentor, Bathory and early Root. The theme here is irreligious rather than anti-cosmic and it feels a bit like an ancient relic’s rebirth in the moment. This is certainly the first ‘masterpiece’ I’ve come across in 2019 though February was particularly fruitful across the board in terms of niche.


Artist Werian
Title [Type] Animist [Full-length]
 Rating [5.0/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW!

Anonymous German psychedelic ritualistic blackened doom metal project Werian finally bring their psychedelia infused Lunar Cult art unto a full-length debut with ‘Animist’. I haven’t connected with a piece of music so immediately since the release of Ghastly‘s ‘Death Velour’ last year and readers should not be surprised if this record ends up at or near the very top of my end of the year list. There is something truly transfixing about ‘Animist’, it has this ancestral grip upon my psyche that whirls my mental fortitude into intense focus. Normally psychedelia in extreme metal tends to enhance dissociation but I really ‘felt’ this release with every listen. There are some incredible progressions here with this ‘jam under the stars’ approach to professional recording that you’ll likely also feel in the latest Demon Head record, it is organic and ‘driven’ in its approach. If you like bands like Yith and Saturnalia Temple as much as you do Morbus Chron or Head of the Demon there is a bit of something for the esoterica loving everyman within this record.


Artist Critical Defiance
Title [Type] Misconception [Full-length]
 Rating [5.0/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

Unspeakable Axe Records had an insanely good year last year and it looks like they’re going even bigger in 2019. Coming essentially out of nowhere, as far as my Chilean thrash radar is concerned, Critical Defiance‘s debut does everything I love about classic thrash metal ’83-’89 and doesn’t even touch 90’s nonsense for a second. Bay Area thrash dynamic, Coroner‘s technical ability, and Kreator‘s fiery rage had me flipping my lid for ‘Misconception’ and I honestly haven’t stopped listening to it despite finalizing my review on the 2nd. I took some shit from a few folks (via e-mail) for the 5/5 but let me clarify for folks who don’t follow the site closely: Ratings on this site are based on a level of recommendation, you can decide the quality yourself. I’m not suggesting that this is better than many of my favorite 80’s thrash classics but that it is entirely on par with them! If this is the quality of work that they’re coming with out of the gates, I can’t wait to see what Critical Defiance do next.


Artist Ossuarium
Title [Type] Living Tomb [Full-length]
Rating [4.5/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

Of all of the rotten, stinking freakin’ death/doom on the verge of breakthrough within the Portland and Seattle area scenes I was honestly surprised that Ossuarium were up on the docket so quick. They shut me the hell up the moment I fired up ‘Living Tomb’, the entirety of the record shows a ‘stepping up to the plate’ sort of maturity for a debut, a readiness that I was blindsided by. Instead of getting a rote old school death metal record Ossuarium confidently grasp several niches of death/doom and hammer them into their own tasteful forms. Sure, if you’re a die-hard you’ll feel the Ceremonium, Dusk, and a hint of Hooded Menace (alternately Druid Lord) in there too but, you know you’re listening to Ossuarium no matter where they go. It isn’t as raw and noisy as their first demo had suggested and I eventually felt like that was for the best, ‘Living Tomb’ is slick and serious in its doom and I really appreciated the variety therein.


Artist Pulchra Morte
Title [Type] Morte Divina Autem et Aniles [Full-length]
 Rating [4.5/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

Going into Pulchra Morte‘s debut full-length completely blind was a great asset in the sense that the discovery of ‘Morte Divina Autem et Aniles’ felt intensely special as it happened. Had I read the press release (I swear I usually do!) and seen that the band had members of Eulogy I’d have gone in with my USDM snob hat on instead of just enjoying the classic Paradise Lost-meets-90’s Bolt Thrower sort of sound Pulchra Morte come with. Not only are there several very catchy moments here but a hint of classic non-hardcore sludge guitar work just slightly grooves its way into the heart of those ‘hooks’ and it turns out I am a sucker for it. I get as much Candlemass as I do Crowbar within a somewhat melodic death/doom feeling that sticks to an ‘old school’ approach devoid of tasteless excess. This is another record I really ‘felt’ in an honest way this month, you can chalk that up to my own predictable points of depression but I’d personally give credit to the earnest toiling that inspired Pulchra Morte‘s songwriters.


Artist Seer
Title [Type] Vol. 6 [Full-length]
 Rating [4.25/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

Hmm, epic doom/sludge with high-concept themes and members of Black Wizard (!) and Empress (!) and they kinda have a vibe that goes from early Pallbearer all the way up to chilled out The Flight of Sleipnir? Yeah man, Seer is great and their second album is absolutely one of the best doom and/or sludge records released so far this year. ‘Vol. 6’ is an eclectic and ethereal atmospheric doom metal beast and holy hell vocalist Bronson Norton really whips out the most fantastically expressive range across the whole of it. “Seven Stars, Seven Stones” sold me on this band fast and is definitely a ‘must hear’ song for February.


Artist Demon Head
Title [Type] Hellfire Ocean Void [Full-length]
 Rating [4.25/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

Although Demon Head drop a bit of their more obvious proto-doom leanings in favor of a heavy psych/hard rock album ‘Hellfire Ocean Void’ is by no means a flatly accessible or vapid experience. I’ve been following the bands work since ‘Thunder on the Fields’ (2017) and no doubt I was surprised that they’d followed up their ‘The Resistance’ (2018) EP with something warmer, fuller in sound, and with less of the homespun clangor they’ve become somewhat known for. It turns out the polish offered by famous Danish producer Flemming Rasmussen (Metallica, Morbid Angel) offers a positive amount of change for the band. ‘Hellfire Ocean Void’ is an album of subtle earworm and subversive occult rock music that doesn’t feel cheaply ‘retro’ but still feels related to groups like Beastmaker, Witchcraft or Dunbarrow.


Artist Cénotaphe
Title [Type] Empyrée [EP]
 Rating [4.25/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read my REVIEW!

The heart of French black metal is immediately exposed as the first few bars of Cénotaphe‘s ‘Empyrée’ play, there is a shrieking desperation to “Centaures” that sets a tone of ecstatic torture throughout; A persistent emotive value presents itself within hills and valleys of scorn, inspiration, defeat, and defiance within. The whole of this release is valuable because of that churning of existential dark and light motif, there is always some sort of joy within the disheartening guitar work that is pure catharsis that is not forced or falsely performative. It is of course melodic black metal and coming from former members of Necropolé and the mastermind behind groups like Caverne. Their lineage is usurped by this new name, a grand signet for quality now set in steel. Though I feel this is a moderne vision of a band like Seigneur Voland it does match the emotive heights and quality of groups like Spectral Wound and Forteresse. A must listen for folks interested in genuine melodic black metal.


Artist Feral Light
Title [Type] Fear Rides a Shadow [Full-length]
 Rating [4.25/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

With a former member of Wolvhammer now taking even more complete control over their sound and compositions Feral Light finds more distinct vision and expression in this leaner, more thoughtful second full-length. I think it’d be almost reductive to label their style black n’ roll but little else fits as closely for their style which incorporates post-metal, atmospheric black metal, and a slight blackened hardcore edge. Fans of Glorior Belli, Kvelertak, and Tombs will find a bit of everything they like within ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’ but it all comes without big ‘hooks’. This is an album of rhythm, a textural experience that lights up with subtle variation and larger melodic arcs, something you’re more likely to hear within the adventurous atmo-black scenes of the Netherlands today. I found ‘Fear Rides a Shadow’ to hold considerable performative value, it didn’t register as highly personal or particularly impressive from a technical standpoint but Feral Light work so well as a duo in terms of creating a brilliant rhythmic stream of consciousness that I kept coming back to.


Artist Death Worship
Title [Type] End Times [EP]
 Rating [4.25/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

Canadian musician Deathlord of Abomination and War Apocalypse (R. Förster) is best known for his work in Conqueror as well as his two decade career with Blasphemy and you’ll no doubt recognize his guitar work here. ‘End Times’ feels more precise in terms of war metal, offering a late 80’s grindcore meets Sarcófago level of precision that brought with it some welcome variation and intensity. The whole of the EP is short but intensely detailed. I referenced Nausea (pre-Terrorizer), ‘I.N.R.I.’, and Blasphamagoatachrist in the review and I think that should give a rough idea of where it all winds up. Blasphemy‘s vocalist and Förster‘s ex-Revenge bandmate J. Reed both also feature here, so you’re pretty much getting the continent’s finest throughout this 13+ minute EP. Even if you’re not a war metal kind of person I’d still say check this one out, it could very easily convince you otherwise.


Artist Witchgöat
Title [Type] Egregors of the Black Faith [Full-length]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

This El Salvador based black/death/thrash project skinned my skull with their ‘Umbra Regit’ (2018) demo and right on the heels of that release we get their unexpectedly rich debut full-length ‘Egregors of the Black Faith’. Their sound is rooted in a sort of early Merciless style of death/thrash with hints of black metal willing to break into Nifelheim and Kreator territory just as often. Witchgöat‘s black/thrash sound infuses enough melodic black metal ideas (well, think early Necrophobic) had me describing them as Absu-meets-‘Terrible Certainty’ and I think the level of riffing and intensity suggested there really does fit the experience of listening to this album. February was definitely a month for fine black and thrash metal hybridization and I was able to find several albums that really brought the kind of guitar work fans of ‘old school’ extreme metal will connect with.


Artist Opprobrium
Title [Type] Fallen Entities [Full-length]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] REVIEW coming soon!

Outside of their first two albums as Incubus in the late 80’s we’ve had to wait about ten years between each full-length under their Opprobrium moniker and the space has been filled by many, many reissues, compilations and remasters of the Howard brother’s back catalog. Finally we’ve gotten ‘The Fallen Entities’ in 2019 and I have to admit I am surprised that Frances has put so much work into the riffs this time around, it really does hearken back to their heyday as Incubus. It specifically seems to point towards both ‘Serpent Temptation’ at times with a sound that fits dead center next to early Death and Sepultura, right where I think most fans connect best with Opprobrium. This review will take a while as I don’t get promo stuff from HR Records and I’d assumed it’d be out on Mike’s label Brutal Records. Either way, this is a great ‘old school’ death/thrash album full of fantastic guitar work and that should be reason enough to check it out.


Artist Lucifera
Title [Type] La Cacería de Brujas [Full-length]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW!

Although I kind of ragged on the early days of Lucifera in my review I have nothing but respect for their work since discovering the band on their 2017 record ‘Preludio del Mal’. This Colombian black/thrash metal band are a sort of distant cousin to the heavy metal inspired work of long-gone compatriots Acutor in the sense that they bring snarling first wave black metal as much as they do modern epic speed/thrash metal guitar work. HellRazor performs all of the instruments here and I could not be more impressed by his work from the intensity of the classic thrash riffs, the wildly memorable lead guitar work, he is a beast. All of it compliments A. Blasfemia‘s layered rasps and powerful snarls, she has this wild cadence throughout that truly is some kind of black magic; As I said in the review, you might need some understanding of Spanish (I am no expert, though) to ‘get’ why Blasfemia‘s vocals work so well, it is just very securely within the tradition of fine underground South American heavy metal. Fans of evil cacophonous thrash metal and witching metal addicts should flock to this release.


Artist Maestus
Title [Type] Deliquesce [Full-length]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] REVIEW coming soon!

Though they’re labeled as ‘blackened’ doom metal most everywhere this second album from Portland, Oregon quintet Maestus is quite clearly a semi-melodic funeral death/doom record a la Shape of Despair and Mournful Congregation. Steven Parker (Pillorian, The Will of a Million) has long impressed with his mostly self-directed work in Oregon’s woodsy black metal scene but with Maestus he merely drives the massive extreme doom metal ship. With the weird dissolution of Pillorian happening mere days ago, the hope is that Maestus will serve as the main project of Parker as this is undoubtedly the finest production he has been a part of to date. ‘Deliquesce’ is phenomenally atmospheric, imposing but sour in its builds towards quiet moments of reflection. Exactly the sort of extreme melodramatic doom we all need more of, that which is lead with melody and given some life with atmospheric black metal guitar work.


Artist Traveler
Title [Type] Traveler [Full-length]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] CLICK/TAP here to read the full REVIEW

There is no doubt that pure heavy metal cannot ever lose its appeal among the devout and this fact makes a band like Traveler almost too much of a ‘no brainer’ for fans of the Priest spectrum of the genre. The pairing of Canadian musicians Matt Ries and Jean-Pierre Abboud is so cooperatively inspired that it feels like they’re both bringing their best, a union of old pros rather than fresh upstarts. Abboud is typically effortless and on ‘Traveler’ he is challenged and inspired enough that some true charisma gushes out of the speakers as the record plays. He hasn’t quite hit this level of energy since his work with Borrowed Time, as impressive as he is in Gatekeeper. It has the speedy late 80’s arena punch of a band like Wolf or Enforcer but the catchy songwriting a fan of High Spirits / Professor Black will appreciate immediately. Though they aren’t breaking any new ground, I think that is exactly the point… To make an incredibly effective heavy metal record within that ‘Painkiller’-esque mold.

Honorable mentions [Click/Tap to Read Reviews]

Did I miss your favorite metal/rock/whatever album released in February? Tell me about it, I know I missed a lot! This list is representative of my opinions and personal favorites taking into consideration influence, innovation, replay value, arrangement, cover art, production style, nostalgia, quality of experience etc. There are hundreds more releases from the month and I might have overlooked something amazing, let me know. Don’t worry, no piece of music is ever too old to review! Again I want to thank the bands, labels, hardworking PR folks, and my Patreon Patrons for their support and contributions! This is a dream for a lifelong fan and collector like me.

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