Metal of the Month: December’s Finest 15 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 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. 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.

December isn’t even half over but it is time to take stock of everything I’ve gotten my hands on this month before the year ends. Taking a break from constant reviews has been Hell, and I don’t think I’ve fully reviewed a single December release yet. Everything included here will be covered more extensively at some point and all were considered for end of the year lists. I am so thankful to receive such a wide range of promos every week and this month was again an overwhelming gift to be given, even if I didn’t get to review a third of what I’d wanted to. Before we dig into the list let me plug a few features: Make sure check out the (every) Friday news column SYNCHRONY which includes a Grizzly Butts site ‘week in review’, upcoming releases, and new releases you might’ve missed. This month the ongoing Thrash ‘Til Death reached its end with #49 and 50 out of 50 entries with two more discography dig-ups: and Death and Sepultura so if you’re interested in heavy/thrash metal bands that morphed into death metal (or death/thrash) groups as the late 80’s/early 90’s wave peaked towards 1993 check those out. I’ll list all 50 with links for my Year in Review feature soon. List season is nearly over with three more to finish before I start on Honorable Mentions; 20 Underground Doom Metal Albums You Missed in 2019, Top 50 Albums, a Year in Review feature. There will be no PDF version of the final 2019 AOTY list as planned, I’ve moved on to a different project in the meantime.

December releases still in consideration for review: Hvile I Kaos, Skullcrush, Mosaic, Xantam, Nova, NEDXXX, Solace, Helleborus, Revel in Flesh, Blot & Bod, Unbegotten, Penitence Onirique, Growing Horns, Haxandraok, Inverted Matter, Daemoniac, Oak, Dreamlord, Bloodlet, Angelblast, Grand the Sun, Cult of Erinyes, Depressed, The Bastard Within, Irae, Verthebral, Goatblood, Horrid, Cianide & a few more.

I am constantly in a state of gratitude when I consider the multitudes of great bands, record labels, PR companies, readers and donors supporting the continuation of this site. If you are a regular follower of the site, potential advertiser, or content contributor please note that I’ve updated the FAQ/Contact Me section of the site to reflect opportunities for writers, graphic artists, advertisers, and independent/unsigned bands. Grizzly Butts won’t expand beyond its current state (site design, staff) without interest from contributors and I cannot pay contributors without advertisers. So, please consider the options I’ve detailed there. The goals and ethos of the site have not changed, it will remain independent and the aim is sustainable expansion. Thank you all!


Artist Oath of Cruelty
Title [Type] Summary Execution at Dawn [Full-length]
 Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on Dark Descent Records’ Bandcamp

Death metal fans couldn’t rest on the first eleven months of releases in 2019 because December is packed with countless true death slaughterers. At the top of the heap is Houston, Texas based trio Oath of Cruelty who burn and raze everything in their path for 35 minutes of the hardest, heaviest death/thrash metal this year. Early Massacra comes to mind first but they cross the line into brutality a la Angelcorpse and Sadistic Intent. ‘Summary Execution at Dawn’ is a study of the frantic death/thrash riff through the ages from Teutonic rivalries towards the brutal thrash and death metal of the late 80’s, and in keeping with that theme they’ve covered a Merciless (Sweden) song, “Denied Birth” to tie everything together. If you liked Sadistic Ritual, Infernal Conjuration, and Maligner‘s most recent records this’ll be the right shit to fuck up your too-hasty end of the year list!


Artist Horrified
Title [Type] Sentinel [EP]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Testimony Records’ Bandcamp

British death metal act Horrified appeared to have found themselves, their sound, and a pathway towards generally higher craft on their third album ‘Allure of the Fallen’ (2017) having developed towards that point with releases on Memento Mori, Stormspell Records, and Shadow Kingdom Records. This MLP or 12″ EP is more or less a fourth full-length at a succinct 31 minutes that moves away from the melodic black/death metal epics of the previous album towards a sound that is nearly identical to that of Horrendous. To be fair their vocal approaches were similar to begin with and Damien Herring has mixed/mastered each of their releases since ‘Of Despair’ (2016). The full listen should immediately conjure that second album from Horrified with its stifled rhythms and wide-swinging leads but beneath that re-polished veneer these compositions are much more in line with a technical/progressive form of melodic death metal (see: ‘Anareta’). It isn’t as slick as the second Sentenced album, nor is ‘Sentinel’ all that melodically viable, but the value of this release comes with its jogging NWOBHM-esque rhythms that resemble progressive death metal as much as they do epic heavy metal structures. This release grew on me over time but I’ve not yet fully gotten over how much they sound like a ‘buttoned up’ Horrendous here and I think most listeners will likewise take a while to see past that resemblance.


Artist Cianide
Title [Type] Unhumanized [EP]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Hell’s Headbangers Records’ Bandcamp

The eternal ones return, grinding you down with their everlasting doomed death metal machine. Of all of the death metal bands to come out of the greater Chicago, Illinois area Cianide are one of the most distinct, true, and nothing has changed for the trio since 2001 or so. Those huge overblown early Celtic Frost (eh, Hellhammer) grinds and ruthless riffing that they’re known for are in full swing here, not missing a beat since their last full-length ‘Gods of Death’ (2011). ‘Unhumanized’ keeps everything pretty mid-paced and avoids hitting the wah pedal at all, so it’ll feel like ‘A Descent into Hell’ (1994) for a lot of longtime listeners. All those younger bands I’d compared to Cianide these last ten years don’t seem all that heavy anymore.


Artist Blot & Bod
Title [Type] Ormekongens Argelist [Full-length]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Iron Bonehead Productions’ Bandcamp

Although I’ve seen Danish black metal trio Blot & Bod labeled as ‘black metal/punk’ the actual expression of their sound is a puritans charge of ‘old school’ black metal, the primitive and violent stuff that formed its crust during the advent era of extreme metal. Based in Copenhagen and part of the Korpsånd circle the band label themselves part of the new wave of Danish black metal and though most of these associated acts are raw few strike upon the level of violence that Blot & Bod do. ‘Ormekongens Argelist’ is far less raw compared to ‘Ligæder’ and the Hellhammer influences are much less prominent in terms of the actual riffs with fewer dips into slower sections. I’ve found myself massively addicted to this LP if only because it is so easy to pick up and spin at about 30 minutes in length and pure killer all the way through. They mix it up just enough to differentiate from their first album but this album is a laser-focused attack all the same. If you loved the most recent releases from Wulkanaz, Bone Awl, and Ritual Knife this should be the right stuff.


Artist Mosaic
Title [Type] Secret Ambrosian Fire [Full-length]
 Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Eisenwald’s Bandcamp

As a huge fan of his black/death metal band Alchemyst, I can count Martin van Valkenstijn as one of very few artists who have expanded my interest of occult and mystic atmospheric extreme metal this last decade. Mosaic has found him intermittently inspired towards folk, ambient, ritualistic and atmospheric black metal releases but he’d not yet fully decided upon an entire presence for a full-length until ‘Secret Ambrosian Fire’, which expresses somewhere in between prime Dead Can Dance and Dornenreich. Eclectic but not entirely avant-garde or ‘progressive’ most of Mosaic‘s official debut involves a peaceful and downright beautiful expression of one man’s pagan spirituality that transcends ‘metal’ itself almost entirely. There are a few black metal songs interspersed as “Brimstone Blossoms”, “Cloven Fires” and the 10+ minute “The Devil’s Place” bring enough reverb soaked tunneling tremolo-picked riffs and over-sized percussive weight that you’ll only feel alienated for about a third of the experience if seeking some form of black metal. Guests/session musicians from the extended circle include members of Grift, Vivus Humare, Wolfhethan, Ain, Ulven, and Empyrium among others. It’ll be a while before I fully review this record as I’d like to have more time with it but all of my thumbs are up for this one.


Artist Nova
Title [Type] Veniamo Dal Cielo [Full-length]
 Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on ATMF’s Bandcamp

Italian black metal act Nova might have steadily improved with each full-length thus far but that isn’t to say that they started in a low place. Having spent about a decade honing thier sound before ever releasing anything, the Veneto quartet produce a highly professional and dryly stoic paganistic form of semi-melodic black metal that exudes grandeur and violence. As they roll through ‘Veniamo Dal Cielo’ there are no obstructions only enriching tirades and restless asides that intensify their streams of often highly melodic verses. It is notably their most balanced recording to date and somehow feels like an full hour despite its brief 35 minute length. Check this out if you’re a fan of Nagelfar (Germany) and Janvs.


Artist Xantam
Title [Type] Altered State [EP]
 Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on Blood Harvest Records’ Bandcamp

Southern California based black/death metal solo project Xantam comes from the mind of musician Kyle Armendiariz who’d conceived the project alongside Tideless after his first band Abscission released a demo in 2014 and quieted down. Without even considering how solid this EP is, you can watch this guy skateboard to Gorement on the internet… Was already sold right there, honestly. ‘Altered State’ fucks around with about six minutes of atmospheric keyboard work reminiscent of Scandinavian youths circa the mid-90’s while extruding a core ~17 minutes of righteous and bounding melodic blackened death metal, as if Armendiariz were plucked out of Malmö in 1993. Xantam is carved from the epic, the melodic, and the stoically brutal co-existing in glorious parallax, striated and heavily atmospheric whilst never losing their vitally directional nature. The emotional core of “Pseudogods” expresses as if tracing a great set of peaks under the influence of early 90’s death metal and mid-90’s black metal zeitgeists, it isn’t necessarily as Dawn as that might infer, rather something like Mi’gauss or The Chasm-esque like Ænigmatum. A fantastic EP that sets this project high on my ‘bands to watch’ list going forward.


Artist Revel in Flesh
Title [Type] The Hour of the Avenger [Full-length]
 Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on War Anthem Records’ Bandcamp

Formed between ex-members of several notable death metal bands (Deathvastation, Dawn of Dreams, Immortal Rites) nearly a decade ago Revel in Flesh have achieved a meaningful balance between rumbling Dismember influenced Boss HM-2 guided death metal and the melodic lineage of German death metal beyond. This fifth album ‘The Hour of Avenger’ is perhaps the most melodic so far, equaling (or, outdoing) the loftiness of recent Bodyfarm and Entrails records while sounding more like Revel in Flesh than ever. I don’t think I’ve sat there and said “This is really catchy” about a death metal album in ages and that sentiment will be undeniable by the time you hit “The Nihilistic Nothingness” on the tracklist; From the moment I received the album I haven’t been able to simply preview it, as I end up listening to the whole thing each time I press play. An excellent full listen and a great example of why you shouldn’t stop looking for new music just because November is over.


Artist Skullcrush
Title [Type] Archaic Towers of Annihilation [Full-length]
 Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on Redefining Darkness Records’ Bandcamp

Phoenix, Arizona area death metal band Skullcrush have found the ideal link between early albums from Krabathor, Vital Remains and the weighty thud of mid-90’s Bolt Thrower on their debut full-length ‘Archaic Towers of Annihilation’. That’d be a loose description of their sound more than anything else, they’re an ‘old school’ death metal band that employs a mid-paced and sometimes doom-encrusted dirge as the core of their sound. There are a few inspiring slower sections on the album but most of this debut aims to establish a straightforward lightly atmospheric modus for the riff-obsessed quartet beyond their well received demo back in mid-2018. I love their sound, that big guitar tone in particular, and the things they’re able to do with a mid-paced jog is already exciting enough but nothing about the songwriting on ‘Archaic Towers of Annihilation’ is particularly memorable. An excellent debut.


Artist Cult of Erinyes
Title [Type] Æstivation [Full-length]
 Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on Amor Fati Productions’ Bandcamp [12/17]

Certain deadlines seem entirely damning when faced with numerous depthy, well-thought and detailed extreme metal releases and despite my timeworn fortitude an album like ‘Æstivation’ takes some time to absorb. So far, I can say that the addition of vocalist (and producer) Déhà alongside drummer Ahephaïm (Sabathan, ex-Enthroned) has more than elevated this Belgium based act beyond their Blut Aus Nord influenced past towards a more distinct, ‘modern’ future sound. Déhà has a fine sense of texture in terms of production and this surely sunk in as I’ve been working on a review for his funeral doom act Slow in tandem to listening to ‘Æstivation’. The record isn’t as exciting as say, the most recent Kosmokrator LP but what it lacks in surprises or avant-garde twists Cult of Erinyes makes up for with maniacal personality that goes beyond typical stoicism towards mania. The experience is thus far memorable and draining, the peaks reached on the final three tracks are unexpected and massive.


Artist Haxandraok
Title [Type] KI SI KIL UD DA KAR RA [Full-length]
 Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on Van Records’ YouTube

Qliphotic sorcery, hexcraft, ulterior planes of infinite dark ness, black magick, and the draconian constant emanate from the willed hands of S. (Devathorn, Shibalba) and M. (Inferno, Besatt) for this enraptured mystic black metal debut from Haxandraok. I’m not entirely sure how to classify this as it stretches between numerous musical influences and melodies that span a certain percentage of eastern European, Mediterranean, and well… all of this should be fairly familiar for folks who’d ever explored exotic melodies in extreme metal. The main interest here comes with sharp and often unexpected guitar runs, an almost progressive lean to very aggressive black metal style, and a very devout exploration of the occult. It is as explosive as you’d expect when combining the guitarist from Acherontas and the drummer from Inferno’s (Czech) ‘Gnosis Kardias (Of Transcension and Involution)’. Fine work but certainly needs more time to gestate in my mind and the full packaging seems entirely necessary.


Artist Touch
Title [Type] The Darkness Reflects [Full-length]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on 9 Lies’ Bandcamp

One of the finest hardcore punk LPs comes super late in the year by way of Budapest, Hungary band Touch who are more experimental than ever on ‘The Darkness Reflects’. Acid punk, 80’s hardcore, and a generally more adventurous self reveals itself here on this unassuming record which looks like it was pulled right out of a Revelation Records catalog circa 1996. It isn’t my hardcore punk album of the year but one of the few that really caught my attention and held it.


Artist Solace
Title [Type] The Brink [Full-length]
 Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on Blues Funeral Records’ Bandcamp

However they’ve managed to do it, New Jersey stoner metal lifers Solace have rolled out of whatever depths they’d sunken into for the last decade and awaken strong enough to deal with the harsh, broken reality of today. Active in some form since the early 90’s Solace are among the myriad stoner metal groups that’d cropped into view as groups like Kyuss and Cathedral began to see bigger support beyond ’96 or so as Ozzfest and other fuckery drew in a new generation of Black Sabbath exposed fans. I only know of this band due to my Cathedral fandom as this is one of the first bands folks’ll recommend if you’re into the post-’94 stuff from them. At first ‘The Brink’ felt like a return to the ’13’ (2003) era of the band I was most familiar with but this record is little bit longer, much more serious, and darker in general. I’m a huge fan of any band that’d put a Pentagram cover on the same record as an Agnostic Front cover, they’ve got my vote and thankfully that vote goes towards a solid stoner/doom metal album.


Artist Depressed
Title [Type] Beyond the Putrid Fiction [Full-length]
 Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on Black Lion Records’ Bandcamp

Although I was drawn to this record thanks to the fine Mark Cooper artwork on the front ‘Beyond the Putrid Fiction’ wasn’t necessarily what I’d expected it to be. Depressed are a Brazilian death metal band who’d gotten a false start back in 1999 during the São Paulo areas most brutal hey-day only to reform around 2012. They’ve released two albums through Black Lion Records since and this is the second one. Entirely restaffed since their debut the sole founding member Giovani Venttura directs a much more brutal affair akin to the prime apex of bands like Rebaelliun and Nephasth (alternately, that era of Sinister or Malevolent Creation) without going full-on hyper speed. The album itself is comfort music, a solid record that anyone heavily into death metal in the 2000’s has heard many times, and doesn’t thrill but satisfies instead.


Artist Sacrifizer
Title [Type] La Mort Triomphante [Full-length]
 Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on Dying Victims Productions’ Bandcamp

Although the CD and cassette versions of this first official EP from French speed metal act Sacrifizer released back in April the 12″ LP and digital versions come by way of Dying Victims Productions with their 2018 demo ‘Night of the Razors’ included. The opener “The Grave of Nosferatu” really riled me up for a while until I realized it was basically note-for-note a riff from the first Massacra album. From that point I was a bit more wary of too-obvious pulls from old greats but ‘La Mort Triomphante’ is a fine EP all the same. Sacrifizer have a great sound with reverb collapsed vocals and a ripping speed metal sound that’ll appeal to folks who’re into Vulture, Antichrist, early Slayer, and witching metal in general. None of it is all that original but they nail the sound, the speed, and the precision of the riffs. The demo tracks are just alright, inevitably less polished than the EP itself.

Honorable mentions

  • NEDXXX – NEDXXX (NoEvDia, 2019)
  • DAEMONIAC – Dwellers of Apocalypse (Xtreem Music, 2019)
  • ANGELBLAST – Rotting Paradise (Edged Circle Productions, 2019)
  • VERTHEBRAL – Abysmal Decay (Transcending Obscurity Records, 2019)
  • HELLEBORUS – Saprophytic Divinations (Redefining Darkness Records, 2019)

Did I miss your favorite metal/rock/whatever album released in December? 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/design, 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. Again I want to thank the bands, labels, hardworking PR folks, and donors for their support and contributions! This is a dream for a lifelong fan and collector like me.

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