PopMatters is proud to announce its new monthly metal review, which is set to commence in September and brought to you by our resident metal beacons—Craig Hayes and Dean Brown. Independently, Craig and Dean cover a diverse range of metal for PopMatters and this new feature will run in tandem with their solo pursuits. In celebration of this, both writers have joined forces to shine a light on 20 of the best metal albums released so far this year, which they have yet to cover individually.
Gaza - No Absolutes in Human Suffering
Woe to you, oh earth and sea, Gaza is back with No Absolutes in Human Suffering, and it is a barrage of grinding mathcore and sludge set to leave you wrung out and shell-shocked. The Salt Lake City, Utah-based band is renowned for its fiery political and anti-religious tirades (see previous full-length, He Is Never Coming Back). The new album follows suit, stacked with seething diatribes. Dissonant, bruising, and apoplectic with rage, No Absolutes in Human Suffering begins with a wave of feedback on “Mostly Hair and Bones Now”, before Jon Parkin’s red-raw vocals arise, and the withering assault begins. Forty-three minutes of scornful, flailing noise follows. With Gaza administering deft, albeit ragged, doses of melody, the band exhibits far more control of its abrasiveness—which isn’t to suggest it is any less angry. But there is maturity here; stronger production and a greater use of varying tempos make for a more nuanced, responsive and effective battle plan. No Absolutes in Human Suffering reveals a band more attuned to the dominance of shifting rhythmic weaponry, and the alternation between desolate dirges and scorching surges makes for the band’s most powerful album yet. Craig Hayes
Cancer Bats - Dead Set on Living
There is something quite endearing about Toronto, Ontario’s own Cancer Bats. This gang of hardcore punks—who share an affinity for Southern rock and Iommic doom riffs—have slam-danced around the traps that snared most of their contemporaries, choosing instead to doggedly tour the world in between writing albums. Impressively, Dead Set on Living is their fourth release in eight years, and in line with their new home at Metal Blade, sees Cancer Bats ramp up the more metallic aspects of their predominately hardcore sound. The eleven tracks that comprise this cross-over album are crammed full of Scott Middleton’s pole-axing riffs and his tightly wound grooves rupture with infectious energy; often resembling the powerful, pinch-harmonic attack of Dimebag Darrell and Zakk Wylde. Bringing up the rear; a knuckle-dragging, no-frills rhythm section nails everything into place, punctuating the passionate howl of vocalist Liam Cormier—who has never sounded as animated. This time around there is no need for Cancer Bats to include an attention seeking Beastie Boys cover to create a stir; the strength of the tracks that form Dead Set On Living do enough to damage on their own to make a lasting impression. Dean Brown
Eagle Twin - The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale
Mantle-rattling riffs, hammering percussion and mythological symbolism make up Eagle Twin’s, The Feather Tipped the Serpent’s Scale. Continuing the bloodthirsty tale established on its debut, The Unkindness of Crows, the duo takes one guitar and a drum kit to craft dense and brooding subsonic paeans. Similar in impetus to hallucinogenic traveller OM, Eagle Twin stalks comparable though much darker transcendental byways. Dreamy mutterings and roaring muscular bellows provide extremely heavy grooves to get lost in. That there are only two members has no effect on the band’s burliness. The album is bound to a serpentine, cold-blooded narrative, but boundless heat and potency are on offer. Infused with sludge, drone, doom and amp-fusing acid rock (and thick with low-end rumblings and cyclical meditative rhythms) the album toys with tension. Shuddering moments of crushing intensity are as important as sprawling atmospherics. The two-part “Ballad of Job Cain” binds thunderous throat chants, billowing riffs and driving percussion, and “Snake Hymn” and “Horn Snake Horn” exhibit skull-cracking weight. But progressive rock, blues, and a gigantic swaggering tempo ensure things never settle into a predictable pattern. A master class in minimal instrumentation set to maximum effect. CH
Grand Magus - The Hunt
Grand Magus came from doom beginnings, but over time this band has become highly skilled at crafting traditional heavy metal anthems in the same vein as Judas Priest, Manowar and Rainbow. Their songs have that chest-thumping quality that refuse to age, and any band that can summon such classic influences to create songs that resound with such might and accessibility, are a bit special. The Hunt flows perfectly from its successful predecessor Hammers of the North, with JB Christoffersson’s riffs hewn from the same Swedish granite as before. JB’s battle-worn vocals are also in fighting form and this album contains some of the best songs Magus have ever written; especially “Silver Moon”, “The Hunt” and the Viking charge of “Valhalla Rising”. The dramatic “A Son of the Last Breath” is the centrepiece of the album and an epic in the true sense of the word—a song built upon moments of medieval folk, gallant metal and JB’s innate story-telling ability. Bar this track, The Hunt contains no major surprises or stylist changes—nor is there any need for them, as Grand Magus continue to sharpen their song-writing swords; gifting their fans with another collection of thunderous tracks to throw fists in the air and spill beer to. Positively triumphant as always, Grand Magus is the purest heavy metal band of this generation. DB
Furze - Psych Minus Space Control
Furze is the long-running experimental black metal project from Norway’s Woe J. Reaper. Psych Minus Space Control is a mind-melting, metaphysical display of unrestrained eccentricity. Furze dismantles the traditions of black metal until the remaining frostiness is more likely to be found gathering on a space capsule window than exhaled atop a fjord. Prog, jazz, Krautrock, and an overpowering stench of doom all play a role on the fragmenting dementedness of Psych Minus Space Control. Cosmic dust litters the tunes, as excavations to the core of doom metal veer off into wildly different tunnels of noise. Remnants of songs exist—partial, menacing eclipses—as do hollowed-out echoes of gloom-laden artistic delirium. Heavy-lidded hedonism is blended with galaxies of tremolo riffs, and instrumental insanity. Doom and black metal shuffle forth, wrapped around the fuzz of space rock and the buzz of garage punk, and sinuous tempos almost create a semblance of structure. But the pandemonium of dissonant and disorienting avant-garde clamoring, and sparse bitter grunts, cackling laughs and opiate slurs, all ensure that compositions remain wholly abstract. Metal doesn’t get much weirder, inventive, or more thrilling. CH
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