Deck the hall with entrails.
Welcome to another edition of Mixtarum Metallum, where a raft of albums from the heavier realms have their best features amplified and illuminated. Collected here are a stack of releases very worthy of stacking in your stocking come Yule—including a few albums that contain some of the finest music you’ll likely hear all year.
As usual, bands from across the metal spectrum are indulged, from the subterranean to the experimental, with the only prerequisite for appearing here being a strong sense of wholehearted (or even better, blackhearted) zeal.
Upcoming, of course, is the end of year list season, where we’ll all have the opportunity to rant and rave about our picks for the best heavy music from 2013. PopMatters will be running its annual Best Metal list, featuring contributions from a number of writers, while I’ll be off wandering the vaults to highlight some underground gems, with my final Ragnarök column for the year.
Until then, I hope you’ll find something to add to your end of year list naughty list here. Hail Santa, and deck the hall with entrails. Let the noise begin.
Drummer L Wilson and guitarist Decaylust from Australia-based blackened thrash crew Nocturnal Graves already contributed to a wonderfully murky black and death metal collision on Denouncement Pyre’s Almighty Arcanum earlier this year. And with Nocturnal Graves, they’re involved in yet another thoroughly enjoyable and primeval pile-up on ...From the Bloodline of Cain.
...From the Bloodline of Cain finds Nocturnal Graves continuing their quest to pay tribute to ye olde South American and German thrash, black and death metal, and the album rips and rages with the vitriol and velocity set on 11. Tracks like “Promethean War”, “The Conqueror’s Flame” and “The Great Adversary” are neck-snapping reminders of thrash metal’s most intensely visceral years—where every ugly metallic element was thrown in the cauldron for good measure. Much like Deströyer 666, Nocturnal Graves mine filthy finesse from old-school hovels, and while ...From the Bloodline of Cain isn’t revolutionising metal whatsoever (not that that was ever on Nocturnal Graves’ agenda) there’s plenty of bloody chaos to get bespattered by here.
Speaking of old-school charmers, UK-based Craven Idol also dives deep into subterranean thrash and black metal on its full-length debut, Towards Eschaton. Featuring more fantastical and mysterious cover art from Paolo Girardi (metal artist of the year, undoubtedly) Towards Eschaton wraps traditional metal’s snaggletoothed bite around death metal churns and blackened thrash screeds.
Like Nocturnal Graves, Craven Idol mentions bands like Sarcofago, early Slayer, and Bathory in passing, but there’s also a thread of classic doom weaving through Towards Eschaton that brings dark and portentous lurches to tracks like “Codex of Seven Dooms” and To “Summon Mayrion”. Obviously, Craven Idol isn’t presenting anything new here, per se, but what the band does exceptionally well is keep the momentum mercurial, and wholly homicidal. Be it a flash of Autopsy, a NWOBHM sprint, or a fat dirge of doom, Craven Idol mixes a heavily ritualised potion that boils away with an alluring slaughterhouse tang.
The last full-length from Texas-based duo Cara Neir, 2011’s Stagnant Perceptions, took black metal, hardcore, and crust punk, and pulverised it in an anarchic musical blender—making for a powerful coalescence of genre with razor sharp barbs. The band’s new album, Portals to a Better, Dead World does much the same. Only this time, Cara Neir has added in even more crossover ingredients, with math-core, post-hardcore, and progressive rock being ground up too.
All of that means that Portals to a Better, Dead World once again ignores any and all boundary restrictions, and it’s Cara Neir’s most experimental album to date. Multi-instrumentalist Garry Brents, and vocalist Chris Francis, certainly set out to challenge on bristling compound metal/punk punishers like “Peridot”, “Red Moon Foreboding” and “Dust Collector”, but they don’t let any highfalutin endeavors overtake the emotional rawness and caustic, hybridised sounds. Portals to a Better, Dead World is impressively sophisticated, but at its heart there’s a simple purity, all set around some hellishly hooky riffs.
German troubadour of traditionalism, Atlantean Kodex, crafts the kind of grandiose classically influenced heavy metal that would do Manowar proud—while featuring none of the oiled muscles, or leather posing-pouches. The White Goddess is Atlantean Kodex’s follow-up to 2010’s well-received The Golden Bough, and while that album was epic enough, The White Goddess steps things up another level in the bombastic stakes.
The White Goddess features eight tracks of irreproachable classic metal. Four of the album’s monumental odes pass the 10 minute mark, all are linked by instrumental interludes, making for an hour of unadulterated (and irony-free) head banging heaven. With masterful and anthemic riffing, Herculean percussion, and the triumphant vocals of frontman Markus Becker, echoes of symphonic arrangements, Bathory’s bite, and Candlemass’s unrelenting doom are both heard in the tempos and temper. Atlantean Kodex lays out a lyrically rich mix of mythology and history around heart-stirring and dauntless melodies on songs like “Sol Invictus” and “Enthroned in Clouds and Fire”, but all tracks are monumental metal sermons, delivered from the mount of might and majesty. All hail the eternal glories of heavy metal.
It’s easy to imagine Atlantean Kodex headlining a European metal festival in front of 30,000 rabid fans. However, somewhat earlier in the day, you’d probably find a band like US-based Argus on the bill. That time-slot is no indication of any lack of prowess—like Atlantean Kodex, Argus delves back in time to the roots of metal traditionalism, but features far more of Manilla Road’s underground tenacity, or Slough Feg’s fiery grit, than any over-the-top histrionics (and the band is all the better for it.)
Argus’ latest album, Beyond the Martyrs, is a worthy follow-up to 2011’s excellent Boldly Stride the Doomed. Once again, guitarists Jason Mucio and Erik Johnson weave the duelling melodic six-strings and uptempo soloing, while vocalist Brian Balich roars over the top. Argus has found a superlative balance between wielding all the accoutrements of orthodox power-metal and doom, without dipping into any pastiche. Songs like “Endurance We Conquer” and “Four Candles Burning” are reminders of the ready appeal of Iron Maiden-like melodic gallops, steely vocals, and burly, fist-pumping choruses.“The Coward’s Path” and “Beyond the Martyrs” bring more slow-motion grimness to the album, but what Argus bring most of all is authenticity and integrity—and Beyond the Martyrs keeps it true, 100 percent of the time.