Like January and February 2014, March and April proved to be strong, if not stronger, months for metal releases. As far as the Album of the Month goes for March, it was a head-butting tie between the remorseless doom that Conan brought down upon us on their second studio album, Blood Eagle, and the rapid evolution shown by Morbus Chron on Sweven. Both albums—although totally different in sound, style and overall objectives—are powerful arguments against naysayers who either believe that there’s no scope left in terms of what can be done with doom and those who still (stupidly) think that young bands experimenting with the formula that brought them attention (in Morbus Chron’s case, death metal) are fatally foolish.
April’s Album of the Month lands between the statuesque sounds of Behemoth’s The Satanist and Triptykon’s Melana Chasmata: Contradiction by Basel, Switzerland’s Schammasch. Schammasch have made a monumental creative leap on their second studio release, the 80-minute double-disc Contradiction. A work of vast scope and supreme execution musically, conceptually and visually speaking, Contradiction spans many sub-genres from death and black metal to doom and progressive metal, and beyond extremity into ‘80s goth rock and neo-folk. Such genre labels and the comparison to two metal bands held in high esteem are not detailed to simplify the artistic merit or devalue the individuality of Schammasch, however; but more to stress, stylistically, the kind of company this little known band outside of Europe’s metal underground now keep. The upper echelon now has a new beast to feed at its table.
In terms of the rest of March and April’s metal releases, Mixtarum Metallum IX is consumed by ten other deadly albums chained, or loosely chained, to metal’s monolith.
Crystalline (Season of Mist)
The Welch sludge power-trio Taint left a massive hole when they decided to call it quits after their final release, 2010’s All Bees to the Sea. However, the force of the riff refused to relinquish its grip on guitarist/vocalist Jimbob Isaac, as he has now made his full-length return with his new band HARK (the band is completed by ex-Whyteleaf bassist Nikolai Ribnikov and drummer Simon Bonwick). HARK’s debut album, Crystalline, prowls around the same sludge-sodden terrain as Taint, with its monstrous rolling riffs bucking and stomping their way across the album’s 56-minute run-time. Not only that, there is the same progressive urges that individualized Taint slow-burning in the background, not to mention a vicious noise-rock streak that pokes its head out during songs like “Black Hole South West” and “Breathe and Run”. Angular riffs, huge grooves, throaty shouts and knotted rhythms all tangle and find room to roar thanks to Kurt Ballou’s signature production job. The result is a debut album from veteran riff-smith that stands up to anything his celebrated former band ever created.
The Joy of Motion (Sumerian)
When a new sub-genre rises you always get frontrunners who become restless because of the stigma the sub-genre places around their necks. These artists make it their goal to separate themselves from the bland bandwagon-jumpers and in the process of doing so they generally tend to create their best work. Animals As Leaders have done just that with their third album, The Joy of Motion, and consequentially the band led by virtuoso guitarist Tosin Abasi have further distanced themselves from djent and its banal bands raiding Meshuggah’s bunker of b-sides. Abasi’s supreme talents again dictate the entirety of The Joy of Motion, yet his extensive musical ability is never at the expense of the songs. With a guitarist who can do it all you need equally dexterous musicians to add stability, and Animals As Leaders are stacked with the talent required to push progressive metal into the future. If they continue to develop their song-craft and refrain from leaning on the (now) clichéd Meshuggah-isms, they may even go on to define their own genre some day.
Death Mask (Profound Lore)
A musically vile and thematically controversial album, Lord Mantis’s Death Mask has created quite an amount of noise online for all the wrong reasons. But what the commentators seem to be missing is that this album is painfully focused inward, with Charlie Fell’s (vocals, bass, lyrics) loathing directed at his own self. Outside of its shocking album cover and its, at times, terrible choice of words, the music of Death Mask is where his self-loathing is most clearly conveyed. Every destructive riff, pneumatically powerful beat, and bleak scream is laid down with hatred and disgust—it’s so real that you can’t relax for one moment. From the statement of brutality that is “Body Choke” through to the mechanical malice of “Possession Prayer”—which sounds like Godflesh covering Times of Grace—and the no resolution ending of “Three Crosses”, Death Mask will offend and make you squirm in your seat… but you dare not look away. This is as extreme as it gets.
The Oath (Rise Above)
The Occult Rock Renaissance that has been in full Satanic swing since The Devil’s Blood dropped Come, Reap in 2008 isn’t far off saturation point. At present, we’re smothered by bands professing a deep dedication to the Occult and a fanatical adoration of Coven, Mercyful Fate and Pentagram. But interestingly, the quality of the material has yet to dilute, and with bands like the Oath appearing with their tantalizing blend of doom ‘n’ garage rock and disappearing as fast as they materialized, it seems we’re nowhere near creative collapse. Smokey, sultry and entirely legit, the Oath’s self-titled debut for Rise Above oozes sex appeal and effortless cool from every pore. The blonde-bombshell pairing of guitarist Linnéa Olsson and singer Johanna Sadonis—backed by Kadavar bassist Simon Bouteloup and drummer Andrew Prestidge—have a keen ear for classic-sounding vocal melodies and a simplistic yet memorable guitar hooks, and it is this bare-bones approach to songwriting along with the aforementioned attitude that defined the band’s short existence. The Oath’s recent break-up will undoubtedly add to their cult status.
Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves (Peaceville)
The death metal legends who were buried in filth for 15 years have, surprisingly, become a prolific band since they permanently reunited in 2010. Tourniquets, Hacksaws and Graves, Autopsy’s third album since 2011’s Funeral Macabre and second studio album in a year sees drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert and Company in disgustingly great form. Everything we’ve come to know and love about Autopsy remains dead-set in place: the creepy-crawl of the sludgy death metal riffs (this time with chunks of blues), the cavernous sounding and loosely played drums, and Reifert’s maniacal approach to purging his own larynx. While some of Autopsy’s songs since their resurrection have been too long in the rotted tooth, these twelve songs tighten around your neck until your eyes bulge and pupils bleed out. There are few sounds as fascinating as a veteran act on the top of their game long after the release of what critics and fans deem as their “classic material”, and like Cannibal Corpse and Carcass, Autopsy continue to exist outside of trends. Studio album number seven is another lesson in death metal grotesquery from one of the genre’s greats.