I. On this one hundred item list you will find the product of several tandem-pursued specializations honed in clusters over the years, all of them bearing their own uneven contributions to heavy rock music: Death metal, black metal, thrash metal, speed metal, doom metal, traditional heavy metal, heavy psychedelic rock, progressive rock, noise rock, hardcore punk, metalpunk, etc. and their permutations, all intermingling within various states of downturn and revival. The pursuit of all of these things at once ad nauseam is an act of crazed passion, not a typical reaction to the idiocy of generalized populist music. These selections are tuned exclusively to rhythms and voices which speak to great unknowns with wonderment, the unanswerable nihil of existence taken in as morbid transcendental muse. The saw is ultimately the law.
II. Upon completing the fifth year of this website’s existence one hundred selections does not feel like enough. Alas, I understand this number will already prove unreasonable or unwieldy for many readers. A process of reduction from well over a thousand viable items to less than one tenth of everything means the result is potent, sometimes fixated, and cannot be all-inclusive.
III. These items were first ordered by highest general ratings then entirely reconsidered one-by-one by way of my enduring metrics: Temporal immersion (lasting fixation), personal connection (earned bias), thematic gumption/lyrical finesse (actionable lore/written expressivity), impressive audio/visual style (cohesive presentation, sound design, artwork), and with great consideration for the lasting value of each album over the course of time. I keep track of the number of listens via automatic data collection, allowing for an objective tiebreaker when needed. No additional metrics were needed/used this year.
IV. Each day I meditate with all-consuming gratitude aimed toward the bands, labels, distros, artists and PR firms who choose to work with me as well as the kind few readers who donate to the site intermittently. Thank you!
V. The first twenty four items are in list form with links to streaming and full reviews. The remaining items from #75 through #1 also include some manner of description and/or additional thoughts if any are warranted.
Bucharest, Romania-based dredgers and moldering filth warrior quartet Rotheads now leave the astute death metal listener’s ear a tightened amount of negative space to fill with imagined horrors as the terrifying expansion of their sound finally grows a thousand spindly legs, their clicking n’ joint-cracking masses wriggling enough to crawl from up the sewers and… into the warmth of the basement. ‘Slither in Slime‘ will only disappear in mind as bluntest ‘old school’ murder music when you’ve stared long enough into the shadows, made out the silhouette of their sewage-dripping weapon in hand, and begun to scream along with their mid-paced stabbing motions beyond. ‘Slither in Slime‘ is a “hyperbolic” death metal influenced experience in the sense that it emulates not only ‘old school’ death metal’s nascent rhythmic sensation but also the physical experience of listening to death metal as it echoes through a real space, the effect is awesome and they’ve got plenty of riffs and creep-ass solos to keep it all engaging throughout.
NEAR DEATH CONDITION – Ascent From the Mundane (Unique Leader Records)
Focused intently upon determinant applications of Jung’s concepts of the personal unconscious and the dualism inherent to the shadow psyche, this fourth full-length album from southwestern Switzerland-borne death metal trio Near Death Condition presents eldest adage of contrasting physical-spiritual shards of self and experience wherein acknowledged personal darkness not only provides crucial and necessary pairing to light but, also balances it. One may never overtake the other without catastrophic end result, an illness of imbalance beyond the natural verves of entropy. ‘Ascent From the Mundane‘ manifests in glorious confluence with its proposed theme, an inherently conflicted beast which manages to become well-rounded by way of realizing its own measures of darkest chaotic angularity, solar-beaming eerie, and the self-examination resultant of full expression of each. It is not only the finest work to date from an massively underrated two decade strong death metal project’s keen ideation but an experience which palpably steels the mind when engaged for both its finer minutiae and grooviest, broadest strokes.
SLOW DAWN – Into the Machine Haus (Cardinal Fuzz/Centripetal Force)
Eh, a succinct and easily enjoyed psychedelic rock record however you’d cut it. — The intoxicating, candlelit garage psychedelic and occasionally sax-jammed condition of Canadian trio Slow Dawn‘s gig finds its amplified potency on this third full-length album, leaving behind much of the id-crumbling noise of their prior records for the sake of wandering less and steeping more heavily within their most esoteric nature. ‘Into the Machine Haus‘ bears a broken blacklight sort of glow, a solemn yet curious mindset speaking its eerie truth in a drugged and slurring language. It is the all roll anti-rock sidling of kosmiche musick, space rock and neo-psychedelia’s earliest vibrancy draped in the blank face of post-punk a bustling beat driving a watery, searching sort of abandon that -moves- and continues rambling-on entirely sure of itself in an admirable if not brief mannerism-rich rouse.
EMPTY– Omnia Amet Lorem (Drakkar Productions/Negra Nit)
A morbid calm, a disturbingly vivid realism settles over Zaragoza, Spain-borne quartet Empty who have for the sixth time created bleak black metal sophisticate which encourages solitude within ‘Omnia Amet Lorem‘, another dire and eyeless soul engaged with stinging resentment and existential dread wracking the brain. Never one to conjure distress for the sake of wallowing, instead they’d generate a state of mind which leaves one wandering toward the unknown fearlessly, embracing all that cannot be seen by those who run hurriedly toward the comforts of survival. Sitting with this sixth damning penitence assures the listener that pain, suffering, the sorrow of aging and physical decay can be harnessed for enlightenment yet the impending void remains an inescapable truth.
In seeking timelessness by way of sharpened tongues and well-trained hands Greek progressive black metal quartet Aenaon have made a name within grasp of greatness between three full-length albums yet it is the fourth which ultimately goes its own way, speaks its own mind(s) and takes hold of ear by way of admirable personification. ‘Mnemosyne‘ finally completes the long self-edifying walk from the crimson curtain’d and spot-lit opera hall into the blackest lounge, a former opium den still reeking of several decades aged and shaken-loose thoughts emerging as surrealistic, stargazing highs. It is the sort of prog-black record the dreaming-loud mind hungers for when considering the potential differentiation available to the classic progressive rock experience.
BLACK FUCKING CANCER – Procreate Inverse (Sentient Ruin)
A band like San Jose, California-based trio Black Fucking Cancer don’t necessarily warrant a long-winded review or consideration for the sake of how unpretentious and directly threatening their approach to black metal is. A napalm whipping, riff-obsessed bolt of black electricity is all they do, and honorably compared to groups like Katharsis (see: their cover of “Krossfyre”) these folks present a worthy successor to their self-titled Osmose debut eight years ago in ‘Procreate Inverse‘. The grand spectacle of eruptive, expositional martial riffing they’ve managed here spans the entirety of this album in great chunks, crippling the senses without more than a few breaks. By treading deeper waters within longform pieces, which range from about eight to fifteen minutes, this bestial form of black metal has to work hard to hold my attention but eventually wins by attrition as they force the issue.
FALLS OF RAUROS – Key to a Vanishing Future (Gilead Media/Eisenwald)
Portland, Maine-based atmospheric post-black metal quartet Falls of Rauros have internalized the great panicked existential weight upon current and future generations in presentation of their sixth full-length album, observing the gamut of their selves and expressing it via six well-condensed forms with some notable, universal appeal. ‘Key to a Vanishing Future‘ speaks loudly as a point of passionate renaissance for the musicians involved as they achieve something aggressively new, a brilliantly engaging collaboration inarguably refreshed by a collective process of internalization and experimentation. Their efforts here should be considered one of, if not the most distinct and engagingly voiced records from the band thus far.
INANIMATE EXISTENCE – The Masquerade (The Artisan Era)
Consistently intense, technically proficient, and experimental in terms of both metaphysically charged lyricism and modern death metal mutations the Inanimate Existence sound was entirely undecided yet noteworthy in the realm of modern technical and progressive death metal as they stumbled through various line-ups over the course of their first three albums, the identity did however finally arrive beyond that point. If we consider the broader influence of groups like Decrepit Birth, Spawn of Possession and even Obscura in this regard the road forward is narrowly achieved in the actual spirit of death metal, only rarely landing by way of the hands and minds of groups like Inanimate Existence whom have developed their own signature sound beyond 2016 within a trilogy of deeply introspective full-lengths, each meeting a high standard of virtuosic performance and songcraft while presenting a viable reason for such flair by way of engrossing experiential brutality.
A classics touched modern noise rock/post-hardcore record. Richmond, Virginia-based noise rock quartet Prayer Group aren’t levelling me out, all of the smoothing of my ever-wrinkling brain is scrunching back in as this skull tapping, balls heavy debut full-length of theirs ‘Michael Dose‘ soaks in deeper than anticipated. Beyond the upper chest barked mania of vocalist Matt Vogel and the Albini-sized live resonant production values afforded the rhythm section it is the twisted left hand technique of guitarist Nate Dominy that’d held me captive on initial spins of ‘Michael Dose‘. Pedal-clicking, space-faring, scrawling and cutting jabs worm action into every second of the album’s well-set guitar tone and performance, finally hooking me with the wriggling paw of the verse riffs on the title track, expert level volume knob and bend-heavy work.
Warsaw, Poland-based trio Species appear to have naturally gravitated to this realm of backwards-facing thrash metal contortionism as they’d developed. Their first moment of glowing neon abstraction, that which greets us in view of their debut full-length ‘To Find Deliverance‘, speaks directly to the conflict of existentialist desire for autonomy within the confines of a very controlled and challenging existence today yet it won’t too-directly indicate the genuine ‘old school’ thrash metal sensation of progressive metal they’ve inflicted upon the general public ’til you’ve jumped in. The various appealing aspects of classic thrash metal abstraction, underground specific riff-oriented enthusiasm, and certain brand of performative introspection all hail together for this inspired debut — Though it might take a specific idealist to find their taste matched, the ride on offer will ultimately redeem when given due attendance.
IRONHAWK – Ritual of the Warpath (Dying Victims Productions)
Stealing the flame from its keeper. — Character built from action, interruption, adaptation and the will to go on attacking it day after day most often manifests the most prime, steeled result from any decent or halfway serious band. By various global circumstance, plenty of road-testing and rehearse Tasmanian extreme metalpunk trio Ironhawk have had us waiting seeming ages for their inevitable debut record to give rise to their new reality and, hey, this one is an even bigger throat-jabber than expected. ‘Ritual of the Warpath‘ is the hardcore punk’s rhythmic mind expanded within a suit of fantastic metal armor, a growling and constantly kicking rush from a band who’ve by chance or sheer determination landed a record well worthy of the metalmorphosed mid-80’s mohawk’d hardcore punk-meets-speed metal classics it resembles. Perfectly strange production values and intense album art push this one up in mind but it is the wallop of their performances that kept me engaged with this one all year.
OBSCENE – …From Dead Horizon to Dead Horizon (Blood Harvest Records)
Indianapolis, Indiana-based death metal crew Obscene duly impress the second time around with a smarter, sharper and even more charismatic sophomore full-length. The six 3-4 minute pieces which comprise the meaty center of ‘…From Dead Horizon to Dead Horizon‘ still reflect the easy-thrashing riffcraft of their past works but now consider their placement and tension in a sort of ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious‘-esque interlocking fashion, the run-on crunch and Bill Steer-esque chord-bending rests of “Faith Through Pain” and the cyclic snappiness of “The Burrowing Hiss” presenting a sort of less is more attack that gets right to the point with appreciable finesse. Of course I think they’ve even better stuff in their future but I am impressed with the trajectory they’ve managed so far.
VERBUM – Exhortation to the Impure (Iron Bonehead Productions)
The fanatic’s broken jaw’d smiling upon Death’s arrival. — The anonymous procession of Chilean underground death/doom metal ascetic nihilists Verbum places its action at a bloodied street corner pulpit, side-stepping the tendency for performative self-obsession of today for their own illustrative depiction of painful spiritual penance, an outrageous display of devotion by way of cruel mental and physical discomfort; Through destructive waves of classicist death-attuned doom metal movement we whip, bind and further mortify grey matter as seekers of death worship under example of this fine project’s scathingly raw endtyme existentialism. ‘Exhortation to the Impure’ finds the doors of the most elite skull-rattling death/doom tradition flung open by way of horrifying sigh, a terrifying and seeming endless whorl unto the abysm of the ‘self’ beyond selflessness.
Presenting iris-exploding nihility at the exact right density of ideation, the twisted stabbing limbs of Stockholm, Sweden-borne blackened death-crust band Encryptment achieve distinction in reaching for their own tastes and tendencies with prior restrictions stamped-out. Though their pupils are doubled in size in sight of the possibilities arriving, the aperture of this first full-length album set much darker, a punishing rip far beyond now obsolete beginnings. The quartet’s long in development command of ‘Dödens Födsel‘ is in fact intimidating and dramatic to the point of conveying existential dread within a state of glass-eyed surety. Though their craft leans towards harrowing, downward-cast doomsaying this debut’ll be a great eye-pricking point of curious light for fans of death metal/hardcore punk in sophisticated abstraction, a brief yet charged brilliancy in mutation and a solid death metal spin otherwise. The blackened edge of their sound shows promise, their grasp of death metal is supreme but their tuneful crust touch is the clinching factor herein.
A window into the expansive possibilities offered by personalized occult magickal inspiration delivered by pseudonym’d individuals Egregore, whom are likely based out of the fertile Vancouver, Canada underground, ‘The Word of His Law‘ has all manner of moon-mirror’d insight to yank from its thousand-armed, hundred-voiced first corpse but really, the obviate and up front appeal of this record is its goddamned riffs and the aura which surrounds them. Delivered in a communicative yet dramatic fashion which should naturally recall the bar risen in the hands of groups like Absu and Nocturnus, the thrashing speed and intensely detailed black-death gnarled technicality of this band still holds up as an introductory experience. A brief yet detailed burst of ideas.
The betterment of the self through high-sentient witness is the ammunition Minneapolis, Minnesota-borne melodic black/death metal duo Inexorum horde as they reveal the inspired mental oasis of their third full-length album. There is a distinctly North American vision beyond European melodic black/death metal advent to behold within ‘Equinox Vigil‘, an album which reads as a decidedly modern yet classics cognizant (see: Rotting Christ circa ’96, and mid-90’s melodic death metal as well) singularity in the melodic metal headspace. The already substantive musical core of the duo’s craft now stabs even more at its emotional centre and unto oft-stunning results the ‘feeling’ of this album will be the argument to pick it up first. This record has be an absolute pleasure to revisit several times throughout the year, easy to pick up and get caught within its consonant guitar threads and sharp production values.
Die ewige Wiederkehr. — Bathed in cinematically charged stroboscopic light, the mysteries revealed by the crushing wheel in dizzying whorl herein depict an infinitesimal far-gone march of the mind unchained. The horror of our shared cyclic existence is a roaring machine and feature-length panoptic harass in the hands of London, England-area death metal duo Qrixkuor who press on with their longform howling acknowledgement of ghastly truths, a sinister piece too dark and sprawling to reveal itself outside of devotional examination. ‘Zoetrope‘ is a single 20+ minute song which is as thousand-armed as one would expect from the artist who gave us ‘Poison Palinopsia’ not too long ago. This mLP finds them following up with a markedly different conceptual undertaking which manages to reskin, restate and reinforce their core dissolution of death music tradition with prominent orchestrated layers and a wealth of detailed ideas in hand.
ZATYR – Where Light Would Not Dare (Self-Released)
Gothenburg, Sweden-based sepulchral heavy metal band Zatyr were hard to pin down on their debut EP a while back, I knew I’d enjoyed liked it but wasn’t sure what to call it. The sort of late 70’s metal side of Omen, the raw and kicking roll of early Running Wild, and some venomous Mercyful Fate-esque guitar work surely set their ideal somewhere nearby the early-to-mid 80’s evil heavy metal crew but as we find here on their debut LP they’d had a bit of NWOBHM pub-spirited life in ’em alongside a dose more Motörhead in their blood than expected. The Satanic mister Hyde version of early Tank, I guess. Here’s hoping they push on this this sound, they’re onto something.
DOLDRUM – The Knocking, or the Story of the Sound That Preceded Their Disappearance (Katafalque)
There exists an entire world of terrible wonder at the hidden doorways of the Earth, right beneath our feet. — Colorado and Massachusetts borne occult-infused black metal fellowes Doldrum reveal an auld niche of uniquely American folklore through the ‘corpse eyes’ of these sorts of alchemically gifted, natural philosophic artistes as an exacting opportunity to craft science fictive and thought-provoking allegorical fiction of their own in presentation of this, their inspired debut full-length. ‘The Knocking, or The Story of the Sound that Preceded Their Disappearance‘ is itself a unique work of hollow earth fiction, a tale of three fellowes with only their wits, a wild notion of edible fungi/moulds and their pickaxes in hand as they tunnel toward an answer to the spiriting of their kin and a breach into newfound Great Earth. In practical terms it is an odd-colored weirding black metal record which thrives as an impressive debut release.
A dark opalescent, nearly seventeen minute progressive death metal epic from Roman atmo-cinematic death metal abstractionists Bedsore and a fourteen minute classicist death/doom metal haul from Tokyo-bound quartet Mortal Incarnation make for an absolute storm of cosmos tormented, over the top death-magick envisioned on this brilliancy of a split LP wherein two of my favorite bands of the last few years illustrate a righteously set pair of alien realms. One of my favorite examples of cover art this year, also.
CHAOTIAN – Effigies in Obsolescence (Me Saco Un Ojo/Dark Descent Records)
The major challenge of creating this prime Danish death metal debut full-length seems to have involve Chaotian finding their own path (or, voice) within this well-trodden realm of filthy, basement level death metal while still keeping the production values at a proper standard. The answer seems to have been taking additional nods from Finnish death metal and ‘Here in After‘-era Immolation stretched and mangled for the sake of developing this exceptional band’s normative-with-a-twist grooves, which range from simple moshable Florida death metal scuzz n’ sway and Dead Congregation‘s cumulative brutality to somewhat technical machine-gunned cleverness; Think of Golem‘s ‘Dreamweaver‘ if the drummer was extra high on ‘Nespithe‘, some NYDM (see: Side B) and the guitarists liked a bit of the dumb, chunky hardcorish stuff coming out of the states these days and you’ll have a decent enough grasp of what it is to sit and stew within ‘Effigies of Obsolescence‘. Not a perfect debut but still at a standard well above average.
ULTRA SILVAM – The Sanctity of Death (Shadow Records)
Obliteration of the ‘self’ achieved by sharpened blade of no-mind, a resonant blast of death-worship scattered from a spire of heightened ecstatic gnostic state, ‘The Sanctity of Death‘ is the unifying cull of the worm-filled masses, the thud of millions of eerily grinning corpses toppling in horrifying unison. Our doorway, a thorn-scattered road of pumice and exploded flesh, twists and unbinds as Ultra Silvam opens with mortifying fanfare, their fraught psychic expulse intensifying to a reckless, mayhemic pitch. The Malmö, Sweden-borne black metal trio continue their decisive tirade through sharpest Scandinavian black metal classicism while making sure to trample any too-cloying nostalgic representation along the way. This second full-length finds the entity angling less harshly toward a certain destructive type of austerity, achieving a no-less callous bridge burning spell set to burst the old, over-worshipped skulls of the past with fresh blackened fire. The leads are particularly good on this record when they fire off with purpose.
BEYOND MORTAL DREAMS – Abomination in the Flames (Lavadome Productions)
Australian death metal quartet Beyond Mortal Dreams return with an exceptional full-length which leads with brutal and technical sharpness to start and then develops longer, more involved pieces later on in the album. ‘Abomination of the Flames‘ may be their second album in an eon yet its well-prepared voice is the skull clobbering check that nowadays death metal sorely begs for, a certain extremity and boldness which is virtually unheard of today beyond a few enduring greats. The full review was a bit tortured back in April but I loved this album and continue to get mileage out of it.
The return of relocated and re-revivified (now) Montana-based heavy metal band Hammers of Misfortune for this seventh full-length album is a nuke, a reckless and fittingly overwhelming dive-bomb into maximal progressive thrash metal. ‘Overtaker’ is guaranteed to sound like nothing else you’ve heard this year, at least not all that close, as an energized prog-thrash experience crammed with riffs enough to leave the mind tingling with transcendence and the body radiated into slop. Fans of proper thrash guitar work and the late 80’s/90’s progressive metal it spawned will appreciate just how hard this record goes for something unheard of, sophisticated yet obsessive in its aggressive undertaking. The key to this success is the interplay between the guitars, keyboards/organ and the exceptional drum performances on this outlandish record. Certainly memorable for how different it manages to be from any thing they’ve done before.
Why is one of my all-time favorite death metal bands all the way down here on my Best of 2022? This thing is fifteen songs deep and nearly an hour long making for an overall great showing of still prime material from the long-standing group but few places to feel the impact of any one song. For my own taste it is both a perfect companion to the successes of ‘Atonement‘ and a newer darkest age from the band which largely avoids restating that work, getting to the point with a varietal set of songs, just I guess three or four too many this time around.
DESOLATE SHRINE – Fires of the Dying World (Dark Descent Records)
A modernity dazed enormity setting its own lumbering waypoint for over a decade now Finnish death metal trio Desolate Shrine offer us a fifth pillar-and-altar along their treading of the endtimes, a journey taken from afar-glowing magisterial domains to the ever-swallowing throat of the absolute abysmal dark. At the end of the day ‘Fires of the Dying World‘ is a massive, experiential death metal record that bears its own singularly monolithic feeling, a record which finds the visionary group shaping the formless spiriting of the past, re-carving and smoothing their established modus with detail rich insight.
SPECTRUM MORTIS – Bit Meseri-The Incantation (Listenable Records)
Ancient rites, ceremonies of relief-bringing commune with the wishes of the spirits are weaponized in the hands of ritualistic occult death/doom metal extremists Spectrum Mortis whom prick the ear with passageways to unthinkable darkness on this, their debut full-length. ‘Bit Meseri – The Incantation‘ offers necromantic spells through the snaking tongue of auld Sumerian beliefs, transcendental audience with vengeful and unpredictable forces which churn the history of man in callous, unperturbed ways. It is only through long-developed mastery that the Madrid, Spain-based quartet begin to achieve all-embracing ceremonial captivation in conjure. A concept album in some sense and a movement towards a more polished sound influenced by death/doom metal this is an unexpectedly colossal debut from this band. The leap they’ve made here has been far too underrated, a listening experience which has been a pleasure to return to over the months.
The mind-flaying hadean grinding of Finnish death metal solo act Desecresy and their seven pillar’d conquer of transcendental signature and die-hard station in an unwelcomed sea of primitive, prawn-like skittering fools. ‘Unveil in the Abyss‘ delivers exactly what the discerning ear foams for with humbling fervor, a return to the indefatigable hollowness of the artist’s vision, a peering beyond the edge of unknowable depths unto the skeletal-crowned visage of deified death. The realization sinks in slow as the wheel closes in, that our feigned purpose and the living curse of sentience was little more than senselessly churning matter — Stare upon death, eye to eye, and come to terms with doom. Eh, and this time around the production is a bit cleaner and the riffs no less involved. Everything this fellowe has done with this band is perfection and this time around there is little more to really say beyond giving emphatic approval.
PENSÉES NOCTURNES – Douce Fange (Les Acteurs de L’Ombre)
De chaque spécialité défectueuse — By way of alley echoing brass-banded n’ squeezebox’d bellows the rhythms of Parisian avant-black metal visionaire Léon Harcore present us with a 19th century hooligan street operetta, a drunken thug-chorale of rue level vaudevillian chaos and absurdism in ‘Douce Fange‘. Voiced in gaseous, fiendishly over the top rants and handled by a troupe of musette hugging vandales we experience face-first the meaty conspire of the boss and his quartet’s enforcement of fist, face, concrete and the grime of the pub-to-bordello shakedown trip presented on Pensées Nocturnes‘ sixth full-length release. The gang does fantastic work here in what is an appropriately maximal continuation of what cinema the artist becomes increasingly capable of, overwhelming the mind with chaotic, meandering pieces so soaked in French spiritus they can’t help but transport direct to the heart of wildest, differently dangerous times. See also: Ashenspire.
Luciferian incantations echo through our scum-incensed crypt, an inverted skull delivered fire by a spittle-flecking naming and channeled by the full-bodied, chest-first writhing of a burning sacrifice. Where He is arisen so do riffs follow. The superior tradition of occult horror and heavy/extreme metal manifests itself in the wily, ranting occult mind palace of Brazilian black metal duo Necromante whom present their second full-length album, now in even greater service to the only dangerous cult left in underground heavy metal. ‘XI‘ spooks and shatters the mind with its horror-toned possession, a crypt borne illness in tune with the best traditions of occult-obsessed black metal’s maniac brutality in mind. Fans of Mortuary Drape, Malokarpatan, and Necromantia should grab this one immediately.
Helsinki, Finland-based progressive, epic, death and heavy metal project Serpent Ascending trace the point of personal origin back to the ethereal and imaginative realm of ancient folklore for the sake of a examined self here on their second full-length album. A homebrewed underground ‘epic’ of ethereal extreme metal progressivity aiming to capture the magic air of tall tales and/or stark realism, ‘Hyperborean Folklore‘ is a graceful and eerily earnest trampling of past-set expectations as it unfolds into a glorious, sweeping set of four outsized movements. This record stands as a curious outlier next to new works from both Slugathor and Desecresy this year yet it’d been all the more interesting to repeat for its odd coloration. Unlike anything else released this year.
The self-driven and long studied acts of psychic, spiritual-physical accost which Spanish death metal quartet Orthodoxy hypnotizes with become a true diabolic force on this second wave of pulverization which feeds mind and body heightened capability of profound destruction. ‘Ater Ignis‘ is a fiery blood pact of death worship set to mesmerizing song, a purest and potent philter for those seeking a truly poisoned state of death metal intoxication. This Domains-related group ring with the urgent tides of Immolation and some more modern groups but this is a largely superficial observation of forms and rhythm guitar influences. This one is more of a grower, a slow-burning state common of mid-paced death metal which I tend to enjoy when the rhythm guitar work is as fine as this. The bid addition that sets this one apart is the finer touch of the lead guitars, though.
Italian classicist progressive death/thrash metal quartet Miscreance appear as mid-evolution operatives, a nigh historically accurate recreation of the logical pathway from elite mid-to-late 80’s thrash metal supremacy unto progressive death metal nascence. In the process of personalizing tics of performance they absorb the emergent, abruptly stabbed-at nature of the greats and merely curve and blur the lineage, admirably contributing to but not misunderstanding the physical, spiritual significance of this rarely mastered artform. It is well-fitting that they’d name their resulting debut full-length ‘Convergence‘ as the alchemical combination served is picturesque in its elementally “in-merger” state, showing ripples and oddly carved surfacing as these ancient worlds connect tectonically in eerily natural harmonization. The shorthand way of saying this is that this album sounds just like Atheist‘s ‘Unquestionable Presence‘, with a bit more thrash metal in hand and a performative register closer to Van Drunen-era Pestilence for a a proto-progressive death/thrash metal abstraction within the adept tutelage of these pure thrash metal infused souls.
GEVURAH – Gehinnom (Profound Lore Records/End All Life Productions)
Falling deeper still the feeble, sightless realism of mankind within the knowing illustrations of Montreal, Québec-borne black metal duo Gevurah intimidates as they stride us through the blazing-lit residue of a four year path of propitiation in Gehenna. In the Luciferian tumult of ‘Gehinnom‘ death, dissolve and bleakest nihil are desirous symptom of the inevitable transformation of flesh, a sign that resurrection is impending and transcendence achievable through such impossibly wielded craft. In plainest (as possible) terms, we have the modern highest standard for black metal as I see it achieved within this recording. A rare occurrence in general which comes from an artist who has demanded improvement upon ideal, set wide their vision, and produced both brilliant artistic curation of the physical item as well as detailed meaning within each aspect of the music be it lyrical narrative or the greater curvature of the listening experience otherwise. We do not get a complete paradigm shift away from these highest standards, but instead a signature example.
MIRROR – The Day Bastard Leaders Die (Cruz Del Sur Music)
Cypriot heavy metal quartet Mirror plant a bloodiest, heaviest flag with their third full-length ‘The Day Bastard Leaders Die‘ today, a defiant stand in the best tradition of loud all-in heavy metal spiritus. This third full-length finds these fellowes running on just the right octane hum for my own taste, the exact sort of pure heavy metal that sticks to my skull without warning and fixates in the best way possible, only improving spin-after-spin. Of course this means there is a bit of speed metal in there, too.
With the poise of Artemis. — From the haunted cathedral rafters where we hang, to the hissing rivers of desert-hot sand whirring outside, there is a fantastical and abysmal post-apocalyptic world implied within the bluesy psychedelic doom metal gloom of Toulouse, France-based quintet Deathbell‘s second full-length album. It arrives in the form of staggered ooze-and-stalk psychedelia, a satisfyingly waltzed occult rock stomp that’d serve revelation beyond their buttoned up and scene-ready debut, an essential leap into the deep end of gloriously layered doom-rock abysm wherein ‘A Nocturnal Crossing‘ generates its own warming, deeply burnt resonance. The listening experience is the best sort of ‘grower’, a slowly cast boon of entrancement that’ll tilt heads aback in ecstasy when left on repeat for hours at a time.
In utter solemnity, preservation and perseverance. — There is a following, a well-read and in line cult of sombre benevolence gathered around the tomb’s tale told within every word chanted by musical director, conductor, author and philosopher Mark Deeks‘ (Winterfylleth) doom metal project Arð. An uncounted yet imposing number of voices gather and harmonize in presentation of that which grants ‘Take Up My Bones‘ its weighty, dramatic gravitas. A portrayal of a historic two centuries long monastic pilgrimage of saintly remains wherein the religious timbre inherent to this debut full-length from the Northumbrian artist resounds in the spirit of the devout in accordance with newly Romanized England in transition to fresh conquer and shifting religious regime. In plainest terms, we witness man accepting that which is bigger than himself and well-meaning legion following in spirit. In practical terms, it is a fantastic doom metal record braced by “Gregorian” chants and sombre vocal harmonies.
A concept album divided into two chapters which conclusively intersect despite divergent starting points Uppsala, Sweden-borne melodic death metal quintet Sarcasm‘s fourth full-length album ‘Stellar Stream Obscured‘ offers two perspectives from the edge of human annihilation, an science-fictive apocalyptic event crafted with a revelatory vinyl experience in mind. Side A‘s first chapter Terra Incognita details a world leader’s encounter with overseers at world’s end and the not-so obviously intertwined Terra Vis shifts to a different protagonist on Side B, ultimately finding satisfying answer to queries introduced prior. The lore crafted by vocalist/lyricist and sole original founder Heval Bozarslan (Third Storm, Gold Spire) is as thoughtful and elaborately conveyed as his performances, detailing imaginative revelations several decades into our apocalyptic endtyme whilst further signaling that this legendary project will not only live on but that they are prepared to thrive within their high-functioning, stargazing state conjured well into the future. For my own taste this is a considerable piece of melodic death metal music from a band who’ve proven long-standing legs in my own collection with prior releases.
PREDATORY LIGHT – Death and the Twilight Hours (20 Buck Spin)
Through the eyes of death. — The serpentine glow of Santa Fe, New Mexico-based black metal quartet Predatory Light sparks in staggered reveal of four sets of eyes, piercing the frantic murk of these blackest endtimes with bardic treatment of the reaper’s gloom imagined in four parts. Agleam in morose, atrophied physic, ‘Death and the Twilight Hours‘ peers skull-first from a high place in presentation of a most tragedian quartet in rondo’d exit, a triumph cast over life whilst gazing down upon leagues of sorrowful collapse. Most often compared to Negative Plane this lead driven magickal black metal act finally get the big-deal showcase they’ve long deserved and it is a glorious thing per these long and hypnotic narrative pieces.
Away from society, the wilderness’ coldness far more bearable. — The fourth chapter of Finnish melodic black metal duo Aethyrick‘s naturalist Satanic litany, a ‘Pilgrimage‘ brimming with purpose beyond the chilling events that’d made it all possible. Colored with reflective red coral and glowingly lush arcane atmospheric thrush, we find these fellowes now achieving a state of fluidic trance that is impenetrable for the sake of its uninterrupted rhythm yet quite easily enjoyed in a restful, folded state. A sublime outlier in the general Finnish black metal space. They’ve also put out an mLP more recently to mark the winter solstice.
Maryland-based progressive heavy/doom metal quartet Mythosphere arrive duty-bound to reason, kitted with checks-and-balances to weigh an insane world out of its panicked, greed n’ grief stricken survivalist mania. ‘Pathological‘ not only inhales deep of traditional purpose but exhales its own beauteous oaken timbre’d heavy psychedelic rock, ‘epic’ heavy metal, and tinge of progressive doom metal character which amplify beyond the sum of these traits unto an inspiringly realized and impassioned work which affirms, mourns and delights like nothing else.
Chirurgia ad praeterita — Amidst the open-air tracts of valley-bound wilds in central Sweden the incessantly smoking spawn and thriving curse of Lifvsleda reeks of soured ancient knowledge, a hidden hand which bears the cut of its own bladed sacrificial mark deep across their palm’s print. Arisen for the sake of forgotten ideals, murderous ideas, and the simple art of death worship in mind the entity wills itself back into view for the sake of deafening demand for their sermon, a second tomb to grow moss upon as ‘Sepulkral Dedikation‘ stirs the quivering guts of its faithful in coldly dogmatic claw-fisted event, shunning all. An intensifying morbid reality calls, speaking to death’s fascination and here they’ve answered this memento mori with a work worthy of remembrance. There is a misery to this otherwise oft triumphal and elaborate black metal work which grounds its resonance in a cold place, not only the wilds but places of rest and death which linger as it plays. An album which inspires just as much as it haunts.
SUPPRESSION – The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh (Unspeakable Axe/Dark Descent Records)
A feat of virtuosic yet brutal death-thrashing perfectionism. Santiago, Chile-based quartet Suppression have expertly grasped the exact spirit of 1992-level death metal craft by way of groups like Sadus and Atheist, both of whom had chosen to remain violently aggressive versus the more beauteous and contemplative touches found on nearby records from the communion of Death and Cynic around that same time. This means ‘The Sorrow of Soul Through Flesh‘ sits shoulder-to-shoulder with the inventive mastery of Sadus‘ ‘A Vision of Misery‘ in spirit but raises the bar of aggression to a similar level of Monstrosity‘s under-appreciated debut ‘Imperial Doom‘ wherein technique is a major part of their riff-obsessed attack but the brutality of pure death metal is always informing movement. This isn’t all that these guys accomplish on this album but for the right type of death metal fan that’ll be all the information needed to quickly go and grab a copy.
JADE – The Pacification of Death (Pulverised Records)
Infinite darkness and transcendental luminance in revolving trait. — The Bolt Thrower-esque charges and melodic swings of this declarative, heavily atmospheric and imposingly dramatic debut long-player from Germany/Spain-based atmospheric death metal trio Jade represents an early-onset maturation which arrives alongside incensed purpose and determined tone. Honing in on memorable delivery ‘The Pacification of Death‘ delivers a sublimation of arcane death and sometimes deaht/doom metal storm elevated to a nigh psychedelic level of Bølzer-esque atmospheric futurism, an impassioned experience guaranteed to perk the ears of the open-minded classist and the psilocybe’d avant-gardist alike.
Their sights undeterred from the beauteous destroyer above, the awe of the esoteric spiritualist within increasingly hinges existential drought upon the adage that what entity once gave life forever reserves the right to take it away. Norse paganistic black metal in tribute to Sól emerges freshly raw and uncompromised as Swedish black metal trio Seid find their strongest resolve to date, embracing newfound echoing resonance the size of celestial body as key momentum behind tightened, primally impactful works. ‘Svartr Sól’ is a tapestry of simple yet dramatic movements, iced-over and atmospheric black metal arcs unavoidant of heavy metal guitar work and paganistic chorale while taking several leaps of insight beyond their past. Humble yet meaningful work which I couldn’t stop listening to earlier in the year.
Within the willful, pleasantly atmospheric progressive death/doom metal throes of Dream Unending‘s uninterrupted flood of inspiration the duo’s second album in two years, ‘Song of Salvation‘, dwells upon what comes next beyond the tail-end of spiritual awakening while presenting said futurity in a more glorious, far less introverted, and glossiest-yet point of refinement. This whole gig is still at least conceptually one part Disembowelment and one part (post-2012) The Ruins of Beverast in tonic spiritus thanks to their deeply atmospheric, lead-striking sections relevant to the dreary early-to-mid 90’s melodrama of Anathema and Paradise Lost. The line begins to draw between professional grade modern atmospheric doom metal and death/doom metal, and I am interested to see where they might take it next.
COSMIC PUTREFACTION – Crepuscular Dirge for the Blessed Ones (Profound Lore Records)
Out of the body, bursting from the chest. — Through the watery, sunbaked looking-glass we witness the horror of transcendence as a sole survivor topples forth, landing in view of abstract yet brutally violent depiction of human extinction via the rapid painterly strokes of northern Italian death metal act Cosmic Putrefaction‘s third full-length album. ‘Crepuscular Dirge for the Blessed Ones‘ is at once sorrow and mania felt at a jackhammered pace, the eerie of an outer-world perspective beset by the immediate showcase of mayhem and disorder. Now on this project’s third full-length release in four years G.G. has the sound and fury of the band down pat, showcasing his knack for inventive rhythms and atmospheric yet brutal climes while providing riffs, headbanging run-on monstrosities which impress to no end.
CORPSESSED – Succumb to Rot (Dark Descent Records)
Summoning redemption. — Finnish death metal quartet Corpsessed return with a truly disturbing sense of vengeance in hand as they present their third and finest yet full-length to date. ‘Succumb to Rot‘ is, from my point of view the record they’ve been aiming to achieve for the last decade, a truly monstrous full-spectral representation of classicist and atmospherically rife death metal forms which lines up with the original intent of the band, now setting them next to peers Gorephilia, Lantern and Krypts as the new guard of late 2000’s/early 2010’s Finndeath each reaching fresh points of mastery today. An undeniably top-tier death metal album which is righteously representative full package (the cover art is insane, too) that’d left me dumbfounded and seeing stars with each successive spin.
DEATHSPELL OMEGA – The Long Defeat (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
With them they brough ruin, pestilential thought and nuclear fire. — A surprising amount of longtime Deathspell Omega fans took this drastic bout of change with uncanny stride whereas I’d found myself re-learning the entire anatomy of the creature while thrilling upon the parable and illustration set in the middle of this rubble adorned eighth full-length. Then again, I distinctly remember the general public, those few who were privy, scratching heads at ‘Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice‘ back in the mid-2000’s. The key to ‘The Long Defeat‘ as a continued point of interest is, well, of course the entirely unique muse and bent of the music but also the lingering sense of contradictions defining human perception. A small thought, and one of many, which pack into mind as this seeming infallible band continues to incite wonder into the drying-up world of black metal.
POISON RUÏN – Not Today, Not Tomorrow (Roachleg Records)
Poison Ruïn is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based dark post-punk quartet who’re seemingly oi influenced. Their music has proven insanely popular right of the bat thanks to their stark-minded melodicism and knack for working up kicking yet distraught anti-anthems. The frustration available to this 7″ single nearly outpaced its infinitely repeatable collection of catchy apocalyptic punk songs. Fans of ’79 post-punk who might appreciate some lo-fi dreariness alongside fringe dungeon synth elements should flock to buy their likely already sold out everything. Cannot get any collectors to part with this one for less than forty-five bucks and I think that says something about the band being great, limited releases being a bummer, and asshole record flippers being scum.
HELLISH – The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents (Dying Victims Productions/Unspeakable Axe Records)
All that survives of umpteenth generational extreme thrash festers and excites herein. Infused with chaotic dread, possessed by malevolent spirits and forced to focus on their craft at stabbing speed Chilean blackened thrash metal quartet Hellish propose an unholy arrival of pure evil thrash metal doctrine from a darkest realm, one of armageddon age terror and resurrected arcane pantheon hell-bent on cataclysmic decimation of mankind. Their third full-length album ‘The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents‘ yet achieves a thinking man’s sentience under the grip of this new daimonian caste, no less obsessed with death spells and occult tales as its ~34 minute rifling of riffs cracks off with darkly introspective intensity. The result is the best thrash metal release of the year, hands down.
The fuming release of the unheard-of self, an exodus unto passionate sustain. — Exercising their right to die an honorable death beyond a slow and likely agonizing process of self-actualization southern Danish ex-thrashing heavy metal quintet Encyrcle grant us an unexpected shift in style and an admirably passionate, ascetic pouring of the self on this much anticipated swansong. ‘Deeper‘ should be treated as a penultimate statement on introspection, the mind’s palace cracked open by force and gored of its cosmic dread if only for the sake of taking a long stare into the artist eye, the essence of intimate consciousness in bittersweet revelry. In practical terms it is a daring, plaintive yet tuneful fusion of theatric speed-shot heavy metal, dramatic post-punk thrilled dark rock and hints of their vestigial interest in extremes. This record incites an all-or-nothing response in mind as it continues to captivate and inspire me months later, an experience which cannot stop once it begins playing.
TOUGHNESS – The Prophetic Dawn (Godz Ov War Productions)
Eyes filled with relentless visions of upheaval in otherworldly realms and heads swimming with ancient indoctrination eastern Polish death metal quartet Toughness arrive upon their debut full-length with an already accomplished approximation of period-specific progressive and surrealistic craft, perfectly jagged and irrepressibly morbid in purpose. ‘The Prophetic Dawn‘ offers an exceptional study of arcane relics, dangerous intersections of kosmiche horrified literature and intuitive psychic magicks applied to a tradition of irrational yet readable death metal music. Fans of earlier Diskord, Mvltifission, and of course anything influenced by Demilich should appreciate the weirding stalk of this band but there is more than boggling guitar physics to appreciate here as the thread pushes on for nearly fifty minutes.
Staring into the abyss of mourning, seeking solace in the everlasting resonance of nature. — Sorrowful delve within these irrepressibly turbid, churning eutrophic bodies promises to enrich and enrobe as French black metal quartet Caïnan Dawn ease to express a most earnest, spiritual course on their fourth full-length album. ‘Lagu‘ charms before it stuns, tugs at the reigns of yearning and grief well before it lands a punch, if at all, yet it will serve as beacon and catharses for the willfully entranced ears it manages to catch. Too often we find black metal appreciated as if a hardened stream of stone, a practical thing for hapless observers to chisel away at yet in the case of this irrepressible recording the depth available is in fact an emotionally driven craft unsatisfactorily slotted into the empathy void mind. The effect of listening is as important as the minutiae of detail available herein, this goes a long way towards ‘Lagu’ standing out as unforgettable, affecting and stunningly immersive work.
GUTVOID – Durance of Lightless Horizons (Blood Harvest Records)
Clairvoyance for the enduring lurker’s path, eyes squinting from the shadowed realm. — Many approached Gutvoid under the impression that the result of ‘old school’ influenced modern death metal should somehow be ancient itself yet ‘Durance of Lightless Horizons‘ is distinctly a circa 2022 death metal release in style and its own substantive voice. That said, they’ve still some heavy shades of Krypts, Demigod and even a bit of Spectral Voice-esque death/doom metal feeding into their introductory form herein, a gaseous spectre of gloom. They’ve inked no contract with the listener that their work must feed riff-after-riff into gullet rather than their own fully rounded atmospheric bristling, and for sure this album feels its mood in earnest before it chops away at a muscular riff or two. Engrossing, meandering, disparate yet dense this’d been the sort of record that’d called back for another listen countless times throughout the year.
Reykjavík, Iceland-based black metal quartet Misþyrming shed the modern rock beats and atmospheric/melodic black metal poisoned tip of their previous album for the brute head-charge of thrashing mad heavy metal to kick off ‘Með hamri‘ and it is nothing short of a screaming firebrand reveal. A physically charged yet precision act, this music is admirably daunting yet accessible, and experience which bursts forth from bloodied teeth and hands with a vigorous and engaging purpose. The dreamlike sentimentality and rapturous semi-dissonant hum of 2016-2019 era of the band is generally left behind yet the signature of the artist begins to protrude more clearly from each work considered in discography. As with each record from the band this’d appear summoned by forbidden knowledge by folks years ahead of whatever curve others deign to replicate.
ATARAXY – The Last Mirror (Dark Descent Records/Me Saco Un Ojo)
Through the morbid prose of a tortured soul the unholy self is revealed. — The evolution of Spanish death metal band Ataraxy‘s sound has been thus far brutally underrated and without question ‘The Last Mirror‘ is their best realized effort to date. This record features a small uptick in keyboards for effect, aiding in the tragedian atmosphere they’ve leaned into but it is the intermittent shove unto doom which threatens to shape their future, still retaining the ratio of pragmatic classicist death derivation expected while leaving plenty of space to develop the intense existential suffering of death/doom metal. Don’t worry, they are still a classicist death metal band with a sound rooted in Theo Loomans-esque vocals but they make a case for something different here without losing their severity. Another fantastically stylized, irreverent and evocative death metal record from these fellowes.
STANGARIGEL – Na Severe Srdca (Hexencave Productions)
Western Slavic folkloric and naturalistic melody making Bratislava, Slovakia based black metal duo Stangarigel brew a heaping cauldron full of mid-to-late second wave black metal inspired atmosphere in creation of their debut full-length ‘Na Severe Srdca‘. A plot of wildering fables and breathtaking mythos, this passion project from guitarist/bassist Lesodiv, whom is best known as key songwriter and guitarist for renowned black/heavy metal band Malokarpatan, arrives in a state wherein there’ll be no escaping the artist’s distinct flourish and knack for ancient black metal with a forest-borne spirit. Ancient, Falkenbach, and earlier Moonsorrow come to mind sporadically but of course the artist’s own personality is at the forefront. Immersive, memorable, and charged in its indulgences.
True nature nurtures none. — This second and most ambitious chapter in the slow-unveiling sentience of southeastern French avant-progressive death troupe Epitaphe arrives with their knack for contrasting coloration of forms still set to heavy-blooming light, a blinding wax-soothed abrasion atop the most inflamed run-on strikes of their darkest scene-setting to date. ‘II’ undoubtedly deserves its progressive death/doom tag in partial purview for the sake of their vision touching upon profundity nearby that of The Ruins of Beverast (in scope, if nothing else) and Esoteric though the trio’s travels find them measuring broad distance from the swath of prior-set expectations here. With some brilliantly considered skill for transformative presentation these Claix-borne folks fashion a moderately challenging yet inspirationally listenable avant-garde blurring upon the edges of extreme black/death metal’s modern abjection, molding both smoother and sharper edges ’til the result is reflective of their own personage. Do not pass by this album without sitting with the entirety of “Melancholia”, all ~19 minutes of it, at least once.
Nosce te ipsum — On a wrathfully hurled journey of supernatural punishment we achieve the celestial command of the eldest gods committed to memory in the wake of Santiago, Chile-based quartet Inanna‘s third burst of high-evolutionary death metal accelerant. Far-flung from the severed silver cord of modern man’s living sub-conscious, our nightmare existence cannot fathom the worlds beyond without some manner of superior guidance, at this time and in this mind palace their ‘Void of Unending Depths‘ is that acherontic hand. In this realm they’d create meaning which directly commands action, here purpose beyond style and symbolism fuels great works as the riff never divagates from the pure death metal intent of the band. A long-anticipated return, and without mercy, as they present their most imposing and dense work sure to check all the boxes for folks who love ‘Here in After‘, Serpens Aeon, and such. Brutal yet intense works which are forcefully delivered and this time around move away from their 90’s progressive death metal ways towards a different set of guitar techniques which leave far less breathing room. The final two songs on the album sound a bit more like previous records otherwise.
RUINE – Révolte et Crânerie Paysanne (Self-Released)
The personal, revolt-driven sojourn of Québécois black metallic post-punk duo Ruine‘s second album is delivered with a humble yet sincere passion as these folks position themselves behind ‘Révolte et Crânerie Paysanne‘ to call for insurrection, an decisive toppling of power by way of a revolution without a name. The sharp-eared and evolved listener will be reminded of recent records from Raspberry Bulbs and Wagner Ödegård to some degree, for the mid-80’s post-punk/black metal influenced rhythm section and determined tone of contempt. Coldly stated yet personal, existentially searching yet leaning nihilistic this is perhaps one of the most memorable, tuneful records I’d enjoyed all year. Note: This is not any of the bands with the same name on Metal-Archives.
A matter of time, wherein atmospheric escape begets lifeforce by violent acts of nature. — Northern Italy-borne funeral death/doom metal quartet Assumption return for a long-considered and perhaps newly defining sophomore full-length album. ‘Hadean Tides‘ is a second effort from these (newly expanded) fellowes which thrive within classic yet experimental death/doom imposition whilst taking a long, undisturbed divining stare at the possibilities beyond traditionally stark ambiance, filling the eyes with visions of hellish landscapes, the ears with synapse-sluicing wonder and the mind with hallucinatory tremors alike. There is an alluring psychedelic gloss which coats this record with intrigue throughout, coming to a head with “Triptych” of course but justifying its extended length in full per its grotesque mid-paced thread.
AEVITERNE – The Ailing Facade (Profound Lore Records)
Their tunneling voice persists, an afterlife more than a resurrection. — New York-based experimental death metal quartet Aeviterne do not intend to be the revival of Flourishing they do however provide an incredible experience to ease and/or amplify existential dread by way of lofty post-punk whirled death-magick and deeply buried oft industrial scalded rhythms tunneling their smoke-shrouded thrill right to the cortex. If there is any serious future for death metal being built outside of trendy sound design and boring mosh-kid shite, part of it seems to be brimming in the minds of these ever-forward thinking folks. Beyond those points, really, this album is such a pleasure to pick up every time per its unique rhythmic voicing and the production values, which indicate a possessed, then abandoned ghostly machine mid-haunt.
ARES KINGDOM – In Darkness At Last (Nuclear War Now! Productions)
The core tenets of extreme metal restated emphatically. — Ares Kingdom have long connected lines traceable between nascent black, death and thrash metal which we find in influence from Slaughter Lord, Hellhammer, early Bathory and the untouchable genius of records like ‘‘’Pleasure to Kill‘. The trio essentially revived their sound on their previous record, not having lost anything but leaning back into rawness unheard of since the late 90’s. Fans of ‘Return to Dust‘ (2006) and their previous contributions to Order From Chaos will immediately appreciate what this record is doing. The vocalist goes nuts here, over the top in the best way and the band deliver one of their absolute best records to date.
MORTIFY – Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow (Chaos Records)
Wade into the tides of the isolated mind and be horrified. — Concepción, Chile-based death metal band Mortify‘s second full-length album represents a surprisingly elaborate evolution beyond their 2017 released debut but not one without precedence in keeping with the history of classic death metal. Their work is introspective, confrontational of mental illness and very much in line with the apex of creativity in underground death metal while the sub-genre had reached its first commercial peak otherwise. That is to say that fans of Death influenced next-level groups such as Atrocity, Gorefest and Loudblast will recognize what is special about ‘Fragments at the Edge of Sorrow‘ up front. Their only contemporaries in this regard is perhaps the rare sublimity found in Question. The essence of peak thinking man’s death metal prior to 1995 spills from this album and yes, they ultimately elaborate upon those tenets in their own way as the album proceeds to unravel its tome. I’ve found it to be one of the more lasting and involved experiences in the ‘old school’ space this year.
HEAVING EARTH – Darkness of God (Lavadome Productions)
Corpses of defiance hewn in stone. — The mild tragedy available to underground death metal today is that the few folks writing about it with any real vested interest beyond social media clout lack any memory (or investigative skills) for precedence yet they’ll often depend upon known paradigms for a quick escape from critical thinking, true examination of an original work. This was largely the case from most folks attempting to examine the density of ideas feeding the desolate, tragedian tonality of Prague, Czechia-based band Heaving Earth‘s long awaited third full-length, a heavier turn towards technical death metal with less of a direct focus on the fineries of post-‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh‘ charisma, now taking stabs at heavily layered pieces written for three+ guitars. Though the production values are somewhat in line with the heady atmosphere of ‘Stare Into Death and Be Still‘ this is an aesthetic comparison and doesn’t take into account the performances, the arrangements and the unique lead-driven threads which express throughout the full listen. There are so many redeeming facets to this work that’ve gone unnoticed, to the point where I’d become frustrated with the surface level bullshit of metal blogs all over again early in the year. A severely underrated album. See also: Altars Ablaze.
THE CHASM – The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow (Lux Inframundis/Vic Records)
Portal-to-portal as the irreplicable, irreplaceable sovereignty realigns. — Macrocosmic heavy metal influences set into a long-developed signature the long history of Daniel Corchado‘s work stretches back as far as the late 80’s and in this sense the artist leaves no key inspiration behind when manifesting The Chasm. We can see the exploration found on ‘The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow‘ as both a follow-up to ‘Farseeing the Paranormal Abysm‘ (2009) but I’d generally felt this record touches upon classic thrash metal more often, enjoys many of the permutations explored on their 2017 instrumental record and ultimately acts to reassemble the thread with a new approach to form and function.
In grand reveal of what should have been, what is, and what endures. — Roughly ten years ago Altars would release what many are now far enough removed from to consider a classic in ‘Paramnesia‘, a death metal record which embraced the dissonant affect of Morbid Angel while skirting the apex of what many called caverncore back in the day via a hint of ‘Obscura‘. Returning with Convulsing‘s Brendan Sloan and now a seeming tenfold experience in hand they’ve manage some wizardry here in wielding said dissonant death voicing into memorable, engaging pieces which never forget to riff and writhe in the surreal moments they create. The breakthrough ever lingers in their hand, keeping their best moments close to chest and letting them explode at just the right moment on each piece.
EMBRACE OF THORNS – Entropy Dynamics (Nuclear Winter Records)
Permutations of free willed ascension, a leap beyond sapping disorder. — In the space of about four years Athens, Greece-borne black/death metal cult Embrace of Thorns rethought, reconstituted and reaffirmed their entity through what appears to have been intense rehearsal and development which’d lead to the elite style we find on ‘Entropy Dynamics‘. It is an hourlong exploration of classic mystic death metal, thrashing mania before it and a fluid form of black/death which is comparable to the Satanic majesty of earlier Swedish cults such as Necrophobic at times. Otherwise fans of their somewhat more death metal leaning side beyond bestial/war metal beginnings will likely appreciate just how well rounded this release is in terms of style, pace and substantive delivery upon ideas. They’d impressed me to such a degree with ‘Scorn Aesthetics‘ (2018) that it took a while to accept that this is something equally, if not more impressive.
Unbound by ritual of manna, the innermost revealed in primordial woods. — Access to the unseen, the unknown by glimpse or direct channel purports to foster and ultimately realize as personal spirituality within the brilliantly finessed black gloom which Finnish duo Unfyros creates on this debut full-length. Though it’ll naturally feel built upon a black/doom palette ‘Alpha Hunt‘ brings its own alchemically charged voice to mid-paced and sinister immerse. Though I dug into this album a bit beyond its release it has quickly become one of my most listened to records of the year. Fans of Faustcoven, Head of the Demon and of course Dolorian should rush to this release.
VERBERIS – Adumbration of the Veiled Logos (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)
The sinew of limbs stretched to celestial reach. — Though equally lost and captivated upon initial rides through this second full-length from this New Zealand-borne and Germany based entity constitutes a great leap beyond past works. Elaborate longform pieces craft menacing, resilient statements in search and depiction of the numinous, even several months later Verberis‘ latest provides an out-of-body yearning sensation which extends their ‘Drought‘ influences and shakes off some of the more raw, bestial encumbrance of the past into a stoic, celestially gazing work which borders on the fixation of psychedelia and the lustre of Ulcerate. Demanding as the experience is, ‘Adumbration of the Veiled Logos‘ guarantees some meaningful return on time invested, a serious yet exploratory work in generation of what understanding can be had between gods and men.
Sense and sentience endure despite the spectacular blaze of the end creeping in. — While the New Wave of British Heavy Metal is a potential lifetime’s worth of charming street level, working class heavy metal deserving of obsession I’d found no band spawned nearby ’79 anywhere near as impressive, consistently heavy, and on-point with their message and music as Newcastle Upon Tyne’s Satan. The same way so many folks ride Maiden like a bike, I am a truly ridiculous fanatic for this group, at least to the point of some obsessive collection and some long-standing insistence that they are my favorite heavy metal band. They’ve given me no reason to stop saying as such with ‘Earth Infernal‘ wherein the signature attack and classic tunefulness of the band rises back to fever pitch beyond their previous record, which’d been a bit easier going. Four albums and eleven years after reforming, name a band as undefeated and brilliantly class as these folks upon “comeback”. An absolute inspiration.
FACELESS BURIAL – At the Foothills of Deliration (Dark Descent Records/Me Saco Un Ojo)
Vexing the array, adventures in the rotten expanse. — For years I’d gone on insisting that Melbourne, Australia-borne death metal trio Faceless Burial not only had potential to hit us with multiple perfect death metal albums but that ‘Grotesque Miscreation‘ was already closer than many ever get. This third full-length hits the gold standard of ’93-’96 (Gorguts, Suffocation, Adramelech) just as ‘Speciation‘ had while putting more of themselves into its intensely technical power-trio symbiosis. This feels like a stab into more progressive territory without losing their raw and brutal authentically early 90’s attack, easing on the moshable side of the last album for the sake of prog-death flourishes which suits their knotted arrangements perfectly.
NEGATIVE PLANE – The Pact… (The AJNA Offensive/Invictus Productions)
Faustian fables, urbane treatise on delusions of power and their consequence. — Though it may very well be the least intellectual argument one could make up front, it is worth suggesting New York City-based quartet Negative Plane craft black metal that should rightfully inspire musicians to pick up a guitar and foster their own evil heavy metal current and, to a finest degree. There is a narrative charisma which extends beyond vocals into the strike of the guitar herein which lends a stunning, skillful personae to ‘The Pact…‘, exceeding the reverb-scorched excess of past releases yet retaining their character. Sitting with this record the first time was unforgettable, a kaleidoscopic black/heavy metal guitar language patiently detailing beautifully writ and illustrated chapters in this long-awaited yet instantly distinguished great work.
ROTTEN TOMB – Visions of a Dismal Fate (Crypts of Eternity/Death Division Rituals/Nuclear Winter)
A call from the grave, this terrifying enlightenment. — This Chilean death metal quartet’s debut full-length has been a creature of absolute possession per my experience with it thus far, a fast and enduring favorite which nothing else could dethrone. From the first listen ‘Visions of a Dismal Fate‘ struck me with two aesthetic touches, drums which recall ‘Schizophrenia’ per their tom hits and vocals which recall Gorement‘s spacious yet violent debut, and to be sure these characteristics were merely an “in” to begin appreciating the doomed, dismayed and abominant craft these ‘old school’ death metal devotees have been working on since 2016. Many bands cranked away at interesting rhythmic ideas, unique melodic threads, and all manner of guitar sounds this year to fine enough results but it was Rotten Tomb who’d gotten together in their rehearsal room and came up with goddamned riffs. The leads are crazed ex-thrasher bombs, intense swells straight out of ’92, the perfect touch upon rhythms which manage their brilliant waltz between brutality and lumbering dread throughout. It is a pristine listening experience, the grotesque skull-face of death metal proper and a feat which called to me more than anything else throughout the year.