best metal albums of february 2023

MetalMatters: The Best Metal Albums of February 2023

February’s best metal albums feature Ulthar embracing their progressive ambitions and Anatomy of Habit’s descent to the depths of experimental doom.

From the tops of traditional heavy metal with Megaton Sword, to the depths of experimental doom goodness with Anatomy of Habit and drone/noise rock grandeur with BIG|BRAVE. Last month’s best metal albums see traditional takes on death metal, with Tithe and Siege of Power, still holding strong, yet the pushing of boundaries presented by the likes of Depravation, Act of Impalement, and Uthar opens up new possibilities. Similarly, conventional doom motifs are extended into the death metal domain with Cadaver Shrine or the funereal realm with Oak and reach a state of absolute disfigurement with Crawl. 

Melodic black metal and hardcore/scream hybrids, avant rock and death metal that returns to its punk roots. This month really has something for everyone. So dig in! – Spyros Stasis

Act of Impalement – Infernal Ordinance (Caligari)

Act of Impalement - Infernal Ordinance

Although non-metallic influences in death metal seem to be the main leitmotif of this month’s column, the ones that Act of Impalement indulge in crust, punk, and hardcore. Whatever elements the Tennessee trio borrow from black, doom, and sludge, they put in a blender, turn it on, and lift the lid. The resulting explosive splatter of styles found on Infernal Ordinance, their sophomore LP, is equally repulsive and irresistible. On “Summoning the Final Conflagration”, crawling sludge riffs are suddenly propelled into a haphazard sprint, leaving behind a trail of screaming feedback and grave-digging bass lines, before ultimately settling into a doom metal dirge.

Elsewhere, “Bogbody” embraces filthy hardcore-driven black metal insanity, and “Atomic Hecatomb” feels like prime Cannibal Corpse and old-school death metal worship. Aside from these scorched Earth, high-speed takes, “Death Hex” is perhaps the most emblematic of both the album and the band: a mid-tempo, towering drone-doom affair that soon turns into ritualistic riff madness. – Antonio Poscic

Anatomy of Habit – Black Openings (Independent)

Anatomy of Habit - Black Openings

Formed in 2008, Anatomy of Habit are one of those bands whose existence seems to outweigh a purely musical purpose. Alex Latus (guitar), Isidro Reyes (percussion), Skyler Rowe (drums), Mark Solotroff (vocals), and Sam Wagster (bass) have been connected by a network of friendships and collaborations going back to their teenage years. Anatomy of Habit has thus become a vessel that enabled these relationships and life stories to manifest in art.

Their third LP, Black Openings, is another of their narratives set to music. It’s a sprawling and gorgeous triptych that mixes post-metal idioms with motorik rock, sludge, doom metal, and psychedelia. Here, Solotroff’s vocals become a beacon of sorts. His mad reverend-like delivery guides the surge and abatement of instrumental attacks, gliding between abstract drone crescendos, crunchy Giant Squid-like plateaus of progressive doom, and moments of seductive goth atmospheres. As a whole, the sound of Black Openings lives in a solitary niche, with BIG|BRAVE as their closest and possibly only neighbors. – Antonio Poscic

BIG|BRAVE – nature morte (Thrill Jockey)

BIG BRAVE - nature morte

The seismic capabilities of BIG|BRAVE are, at this stage, well known, so it feels like an introduction is redundant. Following up their 2021 record Vital with their Thrill Jockey debut, nature morte, the Canadian trio keeps unleashing deep, heavy, emotive music. What has become apparent is that BIG|BRAVE are masters of space and timing, understanding these concepts and how to best utilize them. They do not fear sparsity, instead, they embrace it. “the one who bornes a heavy load” feels overwhelming just through a minimal presence. Similarly, the harrowing effect of “a parable of the trusting” is achieved through very subtle means.

Feedback and distortion, sound design, and crushing drum hits. It feels like that is all BIG|BRAVE need. The guitar is constantly experimenting, traversing through noise rock motifs in “carvers, farriers and knaves” to deep drone depths in “the fable of subjugation”. The cymbal rain down, heavily affected to generate a direct and immense mesh of frequencies further colored by the roaring feedback in “my hope renders me a fool”. Of course, Wattie’s vocal delivery gloriously sits on top of all this. At times there is a gentle and elegant perspective, beautifully detailing the tales of “the ten of swords” and “the fable of subjugation”. But, it is when it stretches beyond recognition, in tracks like “the one who bornes a heavy load,” that it becomes a true force of nature. nature morte is simply another excellent addition to an impressive discography. – Spyros Stasis

Cadaver Shrine – Benighted Desecration (Chaos Records)

Cadaver Shrine - Benighted Desecration

Maurice de Jong is easily one of the most prolific artists in the extreme music scene, mostly known for his blackened noise/industrial/experimental project Gnaw Their Tongues. His newest (probably?) project, Cadaver Shrine takes a trip down memory lane to the early days of death metal. These are dark times when the doom influence ruled, and a hardcore/punk ethos was still being evoked. Soon enough the guttural stench of Autopsy rises to the surface with the sonic barrage of “And Death Crawls”. At the same time, the polemic quality of the early Bolt Thrower can be felt throughout, especially in the complete rampage of “The Black Door” and “Faceless Abomination”. This is where the punk-ish lineage also makes an appearance, either in the form of a great breakdown in “Tongues Spread” or the more traditional chaotic progression of the title track.

In this mix, the spirit of more underground acts is also present. The deathly doom of dISEMBOWELMENT is a driving force, its slithering touch affecting “Dragged Away”. It is also a component that gives rise to intricate guitar work. Staying dissonant but with a slight leaning towards melody, the lead work is key. Established beautifully in the opening track and further exposed through the piercing solo of “And Death Crawls” it constructs hooks with a hallucinogenic effect. In the end, Benighted Desecration does not offer something novel, yet it is a well-worked-out album, and its adherence to the old-school death/doom vibe is quite astounding. – Spyros Stasis

Crawl – Damned (Profound Lore)

Crawl - Damned

Sightings of Michael A. Engle’s project Crawl are rare, but they sure pack a punch. Flying beneath the radar through independent releases, Crawl came into prominence through split works with the likes of Haunter and Leviathan. The constant factor in all their works, and in their new full-length Damned, is of course a nihilistic outlook. This is a despairing and harrowing offering, combining the weight of doom and sludge, alongside the bleakness of black metal and the majesty of dungeon synth.

The dark and dense atmospherics combine the fantastical with the mechanical, shining at the start of the “Rennaissance of Worthlessness”. Moments of extreme sound design further contribute to this oppressive sense, as the noise bliss halfway in “…This Lesser Form” and the ending of “10,000 Polehammers” suggest. From there on, it is all about the doom weight. The slow riffs come crashing down, the pace reaching a glacial level, bringing to mind some of the harsher experiments of Khanate.

Within this post-apocalyptic scenery, Crawl add a majestic touch. The synths dress the background in glorious soundscapes, while the subtle piano line of “Poisoned and Shadowmad” adds to the claustrophobia. Damned is an excruciating piece of work, one that calls upon the darkest corners of the lineage left behind by Cold Meat Industry, while drenching those in the darkness of drone/doom. – Spyros Stasis