THE TOP 20 ALBUMS OF THE MONTH is self-explanatory in concept, a grip of twenty albums that’d resonated most powerfully throughout the month. If you’re new to the site, it’ll be about 85-100% metal albums. Choices are selected based on temporal immersion, personal connection, impressive style, and with great consideration for 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. Links to full reviews will be provided when applicable. Do not think I’ve overlooked any promotional material, I am but one man and writing about music is a passion I afford as much time as is manageable. I am eternally grateful to have so much to choose from. Thank you.
The cold February sky gave birth to as much rain as it did sun, a glimpse of life without a true winter in the pacific northwest United States as harrowing floods and searing sunlight already express their intent by way of threatening scouting parties. Seven days of rain before a flickering between downpour and glorious rays flashes on, and on like a mischievous devil hammering the lights on and off. One day I will wash away in the river nearby, drowned and in a horrible panicked death by suffocating mud and the debris of crushed houses. Depression, nihilism, rage, occult worldviews, acceptance of death, poetry of love (for others, and nature itself), valuations of life, and a sharp increase in escapism toward the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s all feel exactly appropriate for the inevitable end. Experience it all in a feigned and weakened renaissance, try to remember the greatness of all of our ancestors before we became soft and listlessly complaining cherubs and do so while enjoying some heavy metal, eh softy?
February releases still in consideration for review: Angellore, All My Sins, Hecatombe, Orphan Devil, Road Warrior / Gravebreaker (Split), Loits (Reissues), Grave Bathers, Wormwood (Reissue), Verikalpa, Profeci, Crowhurst, Xenobiotic, The Night Flight Orchestra, Banisher & a few more.
Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels and PR firms who choose to work with me as well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. The goals and ethos of the site have not changed in 2020 but this year I will continue to focus on more reviews, less features, and keeping up to date with new releases. So far this year (late December ’19 through February ’20) I’d like to thank A.K., M.N., K.A., D.B., L.L., R.L., M.M., K.J., A.B., for their donations to the site and a particularly big thanks to J.C. who has paid the entirety of the site hosting costs for the year! I will continue to strive to do better, to evolve and improve so that I might live up to the kindness extended to me. Thank you.
|Title [Type]||Inimicus Generis Humani [Full-length]|
|Invictus Productions||FULL REVIEW|
There is such great value in the caveman who’d touch the monolith and make a great leap in evolution without losing their history, and that primal core serves Swedish death metal band Ensnared to a point of feverish occult madness on their second full-length ‘Inimicus Generis Humani’. A nihilistic spell upon mankind, this second record from the Gothenburg based band isn’t the stream of consciousness you might’ve expected after their fantastic ‘Dysangelium’ record a couple of years back and instead it is a puzzle of 80’s death metal applied to the fiery extremity of today, blackened around the edges and hating all life to the point of spiritual devotion to the dark. Well, and knowing me there are a ton of riffs on this album and the composers have found a way for frequent interludes to actually enhance the experience rather than interrupt it with unfitting mood pieces. There is no sign of my love of ‘old school’ thrashing death metal devolving beneath a constant fixation and I was glad to have this record to remind me of what energizes me most. Invictus Productions + collaborators have some world smashers lined up early in the year thus far and this was an incredible way to start their 2020 campaign, easily the album of the month for my tastes.
|Title [Type]||Gravity [Full-length]|
|Listenable Records||FULL REVIEW|
Of course I’ve already gone on and on about ‘Gravity’ the third album from this Swedish occult psychedelic doom metal band, probably going gleefully overboard in the process but my enthusiasm for this album will not die anytime soon. I love the ancient crunch of its sound, the depth of the themes within, and the experience of sitting with ‘Gravity’ will be unforgettable for the rest of this year. It is 70’s heavy psych taken beyond any typical desert rock or Sleep-like buzz and amplified to a lumbering brutality all their own. Scathing, twisted, and perhaps less stoney than the previous records and so exactly up my alley. I hadn’t intended for dark spirituality and occult wisdom to so thoroughly take me over this February but without a doubt an album like this does a lot to push me to read, to learn, to listen and to grow. I had the privilege of premiering this album when it released, the guy who won a free CD still hasn’t responded!
|Title [Type]||No Good to Anyone [Full-length]|
|BMG Music||FULL REVIEW|
In the midst of reminiscing on how Today is the Day opened my mind, along with Neurosis, back in the mid-to-late 90’s the weight of this album began to disintegrate for a moment while nostalgia and a feeling of thanks for those contributions took over. I’d actually take an extra week to shake this off and let ‘No Good to Anyone’ just be its own weird noise rock, sludge-post-etc. being for a few more days and see how the score might shift. Oddly enough it actually improved when I let Austin‘s what, fourteenth album be its own thing, a personal and modern record that wasn’t all that concerned with pity, anger, or all that much aggression that one might expect. Despite all of the rumblings of blackened sludge-rock and such that the first single suggested, Today is the Day managed a sentimental exorcism of those old demons along with the garbled and noisy bulge one would expect from the artist. There is a meaningful progression to the album that’ll probably stun some longtime fans as forceful rage quickly turns to futility and when softened, the attack dog ruminates on love and loss with hopes of healing. Even without any context addressed, this is a cool mix of sludge rock, noise rock, post-metal, and some of their ‘prettiest’ stuff to date.
|Title [Type]||Moksha / Nirvana [Full-length]|
|Beyond Eyes Shop||Review coming soon…|
Depending how you approach it this duo of ~35 minute records from Prague spiritual black metal band Cult of Fire could be a revelation or a long overdue dump of dormant ideas. The full review will allow me to wax on duality, Buddhism, and some of my personal favorite subjects a bit but more importantly each of these records showcase why Cult of Fire are still inspiring passion in very patient fans nearly eight years since their last full-length. ‘Moksha’ is a melodic black metal album and an inventive one at that, traditional at its core but always searching for an odd angle to pulse within its storm. ‘Nirvana’ is a different sort of melodic black metal album, inspiring and folkish with an oddly uplifting feel. Together they are dark, light, grey and all manner of colorful wisdom. Will try not to rant on too long on the full review, for now the album is all up digitally and 2X LP/CD sets should be coming sometime soon.
|Title [Type]||Atavisma / Void Rot [Split LP]|
|Everlasting Spew Records||FULL REVIEW|
When I’d seen that Atavisma and Void Rot were doing a split LP together I didn’t expect it to be one of the best records of the month, but rather just some B-sides and leftovers. Instead you’ll note that both bands have grown remarkably since their last releases in 2018 and each side of this split is fantastic. The developments within Atavisma were already remarkable when they released their full-length in 2018 but they’ve wowed me with their gnarled riffs and brutal sound here. Still one of my favorite newer death metal bands for sure. Void Rot have leaned into their heady death/doom sound without becoming too lost in their atmospheric intent, now resembling Krypts to some degree and yeah, that places them even higher on my own personal hype-shelf in my mind palace today. This is also just a cool package, the red and black cover art from Misanthropic-Art and the slick LP design speak to me and yank at my wallet enough to make it a compulsory grab.
|Title [Type]||Refractions [Full-length]|
|Blues Funeral Recordings||FULL REVIEW|
Having discovered this band through a split with Nebula back in the day and not finding them remarkable until hindsight was 20/20 it came as a great surprise that Stockholm, Sweden based desert rock/sludge rock band Lowrider would ever return and put out a record just as good as their (now) classic debut in 2000. ‘Refractions’ just feels good, in fact it feels great to put on this record and just let it swing those big dumb fuzz riffs and gluey vocals for its duration. There is no fat, no filler, no strange mess to be made just a tight and perfectly rounded spin. The production on this record is ‘modern’ in some sense but timeless with all things considered, and it thankfully doesn’t aim for 90’s Kyuss quirk or retro-stoner rock edges which would’ve diluted some of the punchiness of ‘Refractions’ bigger riffs. Fair enough if you’re not into the heavier side of stoner rock/metal and only go for the pure doom stuff but this should please Torche and Windhand fans alike.
|Title [Type]||Death Clan OD [Full-length]|
|W.T.C. Productions||FULL REVIEW|
A refined and somewhat melodic black metal album from this Greek/Swedish band featuring members of Head of the Demon, Embrace of Thorns, and with spiritual/lyrical contributions from Thomas Karlsson who also ties into Saturnalia Temple as one half of Shadowseeds. Well, beyond what trivia I could come up with the important thing is that ‘Death Clan OD’ is the long awaited return of this band after the brilliant ‘Erotomysticism’ (2015) where the band had really found their sound. Hypnotic, moving, and incredibly violent there was a period of several weeks where I could not tear myself away from this record, its ornately written themes, and some general appreciation for the progression of the project over the years. There are some damned catchy riffs here which cannot be denied even if you’re not interested in the knighthood and their worldly thought. Just listen to “Hexcraft”, if you cannot be fulfilled on some deeper level by the sheer hook of that song, you’ve made some terrible mistake along the way.
|Title [Type]||Eleventh Formulae [Full-length]|
|Pulverised Records||FULL REVIEW|
‘Eleventh Formulae’ is the third album from Indonesian death metal band Exhumation and it should be a pleasant surprise to discover for fans of ‘old school’ death/thrash and blackened death metal from the late 80’s and early 90’s. With that said, Exhumation are not interesting just for the fact that their craft sounds authentically ancient and bristling with the energy of extreme metal’s first decade but for the ingenious bout of twists and turns they’ve written into each song. Like Ensnared‘s record earlier in the month ‘Eleventh Formulae’ is both brutally nihilistic and punctuated by interludes that enhance the album rather than starkly slice it into pieces. As for their sound, the band’s core duo of songwriters have evolved from an early Deicide and war metal influenced chunk n’ blast towards a sound closer to Chilean blackened death/thrashers like Perversor or southeast Asian bands like Abhorer. Tons of fast ’89 death/thrash riffing, some blackened death ripples, and lots of Mortem (Peru)-esque dive-bomb solos. A fantastic record that I still can’t stop listening to for its savagery and turn-on-a-dime riff changes.
|Title [Type]||Before the Age of Mirrors [Full-length]|
|Relapse Records||FULL REVIEW|
This fourth full-length from raw black metal influenced post-punk band Raspberry Bulbs comes after a long hiatus beyond their peaking resonance of ‘Privacy’ (2014) where it’d seem the New York based band had refined their vision with increasingly effective songwriting. Capable of writing catchy punk songs with hardcore aggression and noise rock jerkiness Raspberry Bulbs would begin as a tuneless blackened punk solo act, steadily improving every aspect of their sound once becoming a full band. ‘Before the Age of Mirrors’ is the first record with Relapse Records and this means slightly clearer fidelity, much more ambitious songwriting in terms of creating real punchy and catchy songs. I mention Nihilistics, Black Flag, Brainbombs, and even UK Subs in my review so you know it was all hitting me in my favorite spots as I listened. The real point of influence comes most obviously from Rudimentary Peni‘s version of deathrock (or, deathpunk if you prefer) and despite the gothic side of this idea being popular today it is refreshing for the Lovecraftian dark punk side of things to get a bit of an extreme metal application here by way of some more raw black metal aesthetics.
|Title [Type]||Bloem [Full-length]|
|Eisenwald||REVIEW coming soon…|
Forward-thinking, paganistic, futuristic, darkly naturalistic, and yet familiar in a sublime post-punk meets atmospheric black metal kind of movement ‘Bloem’ is a remarkable point of evolution for this always impressive Netherlands based trio. Just as Belgium’s Witch Trail stunned the skin off my bones so does Fluisteraars‘ new movements, which aren’t so avant-garde or brazen with their sound design as much as they are intricately melodic, voiced in grand and complicated movements that gain momentum in the mind from listen to listen. Maybe it is fantastic drugs, spirituality, dedication, or some maturation over time but it seems the atmospheric/post-black circles in the Netherlands are exploding at the seams with creativity and truly inspired works. This and the most recent Turia record are colorful and bounding-free works, both appear to pour from the soul of the songwriter, producing great rivers of imaginative flow inspired by atmospheric rock, post-punk, and post-music as much as they offer an angle on the continued evolution of atmospheric black metal. “Nasleep” is such a bewildering event, and a good example of the genius within but it is “Eeuwige Ram” that will spark the ears of Sólstafir fans and really help ‘Bloem’ stick in many more minds. Much more to say when the full review is finished.
|Title [Type]||Attunement to Death [EP]|
|Iron Bonehead Productions||FULL REVIEW|
One of the most promising occult blackened death metal bands out of Chile today, Invocation have outdone themselves with their biggest work to date, ‘Attunement to Death’. It is a fairly sizable EP that takes its time developing shadowy atmosphere and ritualistic movements while Invocation build complexity as the tracklist progresses, finding deeper and more ornate riffing in the last two pieces therein. The aim is in service to the utter dark, to create ritualistic occult death music that provides a hypnosis for the listener with spiraling death metal riff-shocks and psychedelic levels of reverb applied. The review rants on a bit more but you get the idea, plenty of atmospheric value and inspired rhythms that include plenty of jagged and memorable riffs.
|Title [Type]||Degen van Licht [Full-length]|
This third full-length from Netherlands-based atmospheric black metal project Turia is the enduring reflection of nature in our beings, the burning sun upon the mountain and a thrilling tumble of psychedelic black metal that I am still listening to quite often. To start, I love this guitar tone, it is reminiscent of what Werian used on their last record but the way they’ve used it on ‘Degen van Licht’ it is like Drudkh on steroids, a sea of reverberations that are plucked from an ancient harp of destruction. Cheesy as it might seem coming from me, there really is the sense that Turia have done justice to the mid-summer presence of the mountains they’ve used as inspiration and theme for this record, a movement out of the darkness into the burning light. Musician O. (Iskandr, Solar Temple, Nusquama, etc.) is quickly becoming one of my favorite guitarists in atmospheric black metal not only for the tones he chooses to work with but for the thoughtful progressions he writes, which often end up sticking in my head beyond the moment of impact. Getting a record from Turia and then Fluisteraars in the same month has been overwhelming because both have competed strongly for my attention these last 4-5 weeks.
|Title [Type]||Helios [EP]|
|Godz ov War Productions||FULL REVIEW|
Lifting some of the murky veil of their production and finding ruinous, live wire electricity as the proper foil for their ode to ‘Helios’, Portuguese atmospheric death metal band Summon grind out a screaming hard and blackened horror with this latest EP. They’ve added a second guitarist and they’re still cranking up the reverb but ‘Helios’ finds the band escaping from that tunnel and roaring aloud for what is their most conceptual and reasonably avant-garde approach to composition and sound design to date. The electrical snap of the distorted bass guitar on these songs feels enormous and enriching for Summon‘s sound, which was always impressive but maybe closer to ‘caverncore’ than they’d intended. ‘Helios’ is exceptional, experimental and a fantastic direction for the band as they prepare for their next full-length, which I believe is planned for release this year.
|Title [Type]||Cryptomass [Full-length]|
|Seeing Red Records||FULL REVIEW|
Per the full review: “Much of what I’d had to say in review of Suum‘s debut still stands. The bigger picture of thier sound points towards a mix of ‘updated’ sonic semblances shared in lineage with the innovations of Candlemass and Saint Vitus at their most nascent and pure stages of unadulterated doom. In motion, and especially if you’re a die-hard doom fan such as myself, this’ll feel reductive as a description because Italy has its own history of doom metal that echoes similar scenes in Finland, Australia, Germany and the United States over the last three decades. The lessons learned with each decade’s updates to the traditional doom metal classics count for the next and Suum express in a knowing fashion, resembling the greats while putting their own mark on songwriting and sound design without appearing trendy or flippant. ‘Cryptomass’ notably expands the atmospheric reverberations of its predecessor with the overall dynamic of the full listen in mind, emphasizing the calm with thickened dread and empowering their dirges with guitar and bass tones that are simultaneously more electrically charged and soaked with psychedelic effects.”
|Title [Type]||Reflections [Full-length]|
|Profound Lore Records||FULL REVIEW|
Being comprised of former My Dying Bride, Solstice, and Vallenfyre members created high expectations of Godthrymm before they’d ever play a single note and I think their presence as a new entity was made much easier to acclimate to because they resemble that classic British doom metal sound from the early 90’s, and not just the slower gothic doom stuff but the traditional bands like Warning and Solstice. Otherwise, you’ll absolutely hear easy nods to early Paradise Lost and such throughout. ‘Reflections’ appears to exorcise some personal demons and seems to be sincerely presented, plus the actual sound and the listening experience is leagues evolved past their 2018 EP “A Grand Reclamation”. The mix of epic doom metal and gothic/melodic doom metal is much more sorrowful and slow than expected, I’m not sure if they’d aimed for the dark pit in the middle of the album but it’d certainly felt like an impactful theme in the midst of itself.
|Title [Type]||Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden [Full-length]|
|Fresh Tea||FULL REVIEW|
Per the full review: “Hex A.D. are still well powered by the ‘stronger lookin’ back’ punches of Cathedral or Spiritual Beggars, letting loose some of that punchier ’83 NWOBHM athleticism while enjoying the fidelity of their 90’s spanning station. These Norwegians’ heavy blues rock presence is far too heavy to place prior to or within the 90’s yet, the songwriting itself slides fully back towards the most classic theatricality of Rainbow or the brassy freethinking jogs of post-occult era Demon thanks to a heavy use of keyboards as a major driver. The keys are a huge part of the action for my own tastes, I sure as hell grew up loving Cathedral and seeing that band evolve into the peak of ‘The Guessing Game’ primed me for the tonality and artistic vision of Hex A.D., you can at least see the inspiration even if these Norwegians have found their own way using a similarly vintage font of inspiration.”
|Title [Type]||Another Cruel Dimension [Full-length]|
|Carbonized Records||FULL REVIEW|
Per the full review: “Without dwelling to hard on the pun, Hallucinator are a trip… or their first album represents a meaningfully arranged world tour kicked off in the hardcore-sped Bay Area shred of Insanity, Sadus and Possessed up through northern Europe (Bathory, Merciless) barely scratching the back of the Teutons before raining hell down upon the polluted shores of New Jersey on through the mystic swamps of Florida where it ends. They’re not as brutal and precise as some of those nods might suggest but the fact that they slipped in a R.A.V.A.G.E. cover towards the end and made it work is a small testament to the versatility of Hallucinator‘s 80’s death metal inspired sound thanks to a prime cohabitation between the early days of extremist thrash and black metal. By the time “Chapel Perilous” lets out its last bellowing snarls the appeal of what these guys have put together should be clear enough.”
|Title [Type]||Subaqueous [Full-length]|
|Prophecy Productions||REVIEW coming soon…|
Seeing most of musician Markov Soroka‘s (Aureole, Krukh, Tchornobog) projects get signed to Prophecy and even some reissued was really excellent news, particularly that blurry Tchornobog record from a couple years back. It was even more exciting to have a new record from his funeral doom metal project, Drown, also on the way. This dreamy (well, drowny) almost Esoteric-esque project began as Slow back in 2012, perhaps not cognizant of Déhà‘s Slow when naming it which, to be fair, was not funeral doom until later in their discography. Professional as all of Soroka‘s work is there is still that bedroom funeral doom charm to ‘Subaqueous’ which gives its precise but intentionally watery guitar work some rough edges by way of (what sounds like) programmed drumming. Two giant 20+ minute movements make up the whole of ‘Subaqueous’ and the build of “VII: Father Subaqueous” is probably one of the more remarkable acts of funeral doom dynamic so far this year. A really fine pair of songs and a record I’d almost just buy for the sake of the cover art.
|Title [Type]||Grieving Birth [Full-length]|
|Blastasfuk / Iron Lung||LISTEN on Bandcamp|
Although we’d gotten a reissue of their first album ‘Mental Hygiene’ (2014) in recent years Internal Rot don’t yet command the amount of hype they deserve considering how brutally satisfying their death-tuned take on classic grindcore heaviness is. Comprised of folks who’re better known for Contaminated, Faceless Burial, and countless grind bands otherwise Internal Rot are based out of Melbourne, Australia. ‘Grieving Birth’ picks up right where ‘Mental Hygiene’ left off, the sound is a bit bigger and the riffs come at a sharper clip but this is that Insect Warfare, Wormrot, Excruciating Terror kind of shit that blasts out hard as hell and carries some death metal heaviness when things ease up. If you like 90’s grindcore and all the worthy throwbacks since, chances are this’ll kick even more ass and have twice as many riffs as whatever other band you’d compare them to. We rarely get the good stuff like this anymore so eat it up while its out in the wild.
|Title [Type]||Haunted by Cruelty [Full-length]|
|Expansion Abyss||LISTEN on Bandcamp|
Sentient Divide are a death metal band out of Spokane, Washington who’ve always been able to rip out a heaving chunk of earth with their class ‘old school’ death metal sound but I don’t remember their first album incorporating this level of melodic black/death metal influence. Of course I love that change, not only are they still a bounding slime-splattering death machine but the tirades into Dissection-esque modes really pull ‘Haunted by Cruelty’ out of the mud and into cosmic levels of horror. Any band that can whip into a sleepy Dawn riff out of a ‘Manor of Infinite Forms’ styled swamp stomp is doing it right in my book. Definitely the most inspired release from an independent death metal band I’ve heard this month and one of my favorite blends of style in recent memory.
- Xenobiotic – Mordrake (2020)
- Goblinsmoker – A Throne in Haze, A World Ablaze (2020) | REVIEW
- Nawaharjan – Lokabrenna (2020) | REVIEW
- Banisher – Degrees of Isolation (2020)
- Tzun Tzu – The Forbidden City (2020) | REVIEW
- Faustian Pact – Outojen Tornien Varjoissa (2020) | REVIEW
- Slaughter Messiah – Cursed to the Pyre (2020) | REVIEW
- The Spirit – Cosmic Terror (2020) | REVIEW
- Disbelief – The Ground Collapses (2020) | REVIEW
- The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic (2020)
- Karg – Traktat (2020) | REVIEW
Did I miss your favorite metal/rock/whatever album released in February? Tell me about it, send it to me, I know I missed a lot! There are hundreds more releases from the month and I might have overlooked something amazing, let me know. This list is representative of one dude’s opinions and you really shouldn’t get bent out of shape over it. 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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