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.

Depravation – IV: Letvm (Independent)

Depravation - IV Letvm

Germany’s Depravation have been playing a sort of scuzzy, ragged black metal for more than a decade now, but their third full-length IV: Letvm glows with renewed intensity. Bits and pieces taken from hardcore, thrash, doom, and death metal are woven tightly around a core of second-wave black metal, resulting in music that roars, screams, and blazes relentlessly. At times, this concoction of styles becomes pure destruction and dissonance delivered at breakneck speed. At others, it grows patiently, flowing through black metal crescendos, before ultimately exploding in a spectrum of scintillating tremolos. – Antonio Poscic

Frozen Dawn – The Decline of the Enlightened Gods (Transcending Obscurity)

Frozen Dawn - The Decline of the Enlightened Gods

With the growing influence of state-funded ventures in modern football (soccer), the survival of smaller clubs is becoming ever more reliant on talent discovery. Thus, the best scouts are nowadays seen as important and influential as managers and coaches. Translated to the world of music, Transcending Obscurity’s Kunal Choksi is one of the best at this job. The Indian label’s head has an incredible penchant for discovering and bringing under the limelight some of the most exciting metal bands from across the world, with a particular fondness for truly extreme and out-there styles. Madrid’s Frozen Dawn are the latest of his finds.

Rooted in melodic black metal, the trio plays a more focused style compared to most of Transcending Obscurity’s roster, but dispel any sort of familiarity or sense of safety with unfettered, blazing energy and legitimately inspired songwriting. There is not a single filler second across the ten tracks on their fourth LP The Decline of the Enlightened Gods. Instead, each of the cuts maintains momentum and continues the non-stop Sturm und Drang with stomping blast beats, blistering, supremely catchy guitar leads, and bouts of possessed-sounding growls. With a few crafty nods to their influences from Children of Bodom (“Frozen Kings”) and Necrophobic, who they also cover on “Blinded By Light, Enlightened By Darkness”, Frozen Dawn round off a near masterpiece and one of the most impressive black metal records of the year so far. – Antonio Poscic

Häxanu – Totenpass (Amor Fati)

Häxanu - Totenpass

Alex Poole of Chaos Moon and L.C. of Lichmagick have already released a strong debut album with their project Häxanu. Snare of All Salvation stood on the fundamentals of black metal, focusing on its aggressive and relentless form. The follow-up with Totenpass still thrives in the legacy of the genre but does introduce some additional components. Accompanying the relentless Nordic influence this time around is a nod toward the melodic qualities of the Greek black metal scene. “Death Euphoria” opens up this pathway, introducing an epic and triumphant approach. That towering perspective shines even brighter with the mid-tempo groove of the title track. It contrasts the bleak and brutal perspective, something that shows through “Thriambus” and “Threnoidia”. 

On the other hand, the furious blackened quality is still drawn from the Scandinavian lineage. Disfiguring and unforgiving in “Sparagmos”, bitter in its epic presence and reminiscent of the darker days of Bathory. Monotony and dissonance combine, while the cyclothymic nature of tracks like “Ephodion” reveals the duo’s most aggressive face. Subtle additions in the keyboards and acoustic guitars complete the puzzle by enhancing the melodic and epic inclinations, or by injecting a more robust atmosphere. Overall, a very well-rounded black metal work. – Spyros Stasis

Hellripper – Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (Peaceville)

Hellripper - Warlocks Grim and Withered Hags

Leather jackets and pentagrams. It is this side of 1980s extreme metal that Hellripper, the solo project of James McBain, brings to the front. Their third record, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags ushers in the nostalgia. The old-school, thrash start to “The Nuckelavee” brings to mind the best that early black metal had to offer. Echoes of Slayer and Bathory scream through the eons, while “The Cursed Carrion Crown” sees the early days of Sodom being revisited. Touches of Celtic Frost, with the mid-tempo stampedes in “I, The Deceiver” and further expansions on the black/death axis with the explosive moments of “Master Stoor Worm”, complete this imagery.

While Hellripper pay tribute to the past, they also open up different pathways. At times, their melodic lead work brings to mind some of the classic aspects of NWOBHM. There is also of course the matter of the attitude they carry, at times embracing a rock ’n’ roll quality reminiscent of Motorhead. Sprinkle this with the darker qualities of Bathory, and some of Quorthon’s epic perspective on the title track and “Mester Stoor Worm” and it seems like you cannot ask for much more from Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags. While there are other acts that unearth this past, most noticeably Midnight and Toxic Holocaust, there is something intriguing about Hellripper. The dedication to the scene is one thing, but the technical aptitude and the pristine production elevate them further. – Spyros Stasis

Historically Fucked – The Mule Peasants’ Revolt of 12​,​067 (Upset the Rhythm)

Historically Fucked - The Mule Peasants' Revolt of 12​,​067

The overarching aesthetic of the Manchester (et al) quartet Historically Fucked harkens back to the late 1960s and 1970s when improv groups like AMM and the infamous NYC creative scene were creating unhinged, out-of-the-left-field musical pieces that bordered with performance and theatrical arts. There is a sense of that same restless, stream-of-consciousness kind of energy on Otto Willberg, David Birchall, Greta Buitkuté, and Alecs Pierce’s fourth album together, a blast of creative intensity compressed into 24 minutes.

While the idiom might be familiar, the humor and biting rage that Historically Fucked wrap around it is undoubtedly modern or, perhaps, simply timeless like their name would suggest. There are moments in which the confluence of screamed glossolalia and roaring guitars resembles something from John Zorn’s Naked City oeuvre. In others, the quartet coalesces towards a more progressive vision, not unlike the freewheeling avant-rock of Richard Pinhas’s Heldon or the rebellious spirit of Rock-in-Opposition. Overall, their impact is both cerebral and visceral, but above all magnificently fun. – Antonio Poscic

Megaton Sword – Might & Power (Dying Victims)

Megaton Sword - Might and Power

Although the sophomore release by Megaton Sword falls within the safe confines of heavy metal’s epic and doom-inclined resurgence in recent years, it rises above the rest of the field through sheer energy and quality of songwriting. Might & Power is everything that 2020’s Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire was and then more: a slab of monumental heavy metal built upon even meatier riffs, more fluid songs and hooks, and a general sense of the band finding their voice within the genre.

Apart from their fundamental Manowar and Manilla Road-inspired, sometimes scorching, sometimes slowly meandering mixture of heavy and doom elements, the Swiss metallers borrow inspiration from across the metal spectrum. On “The Raving Light of Day” they sprinkle bits of Grave Digger-like Euro power, while “Babe Eternal” turns to piano-led balladry in the vein of Savatage. Vocalist Uzzy Unchained plays a major role in maintaining this sense of variety within an otherwise fairly familiar style. His vocal lines mutate through inflections—some rough and grunting, others soaring and tugging at emotions with a lyricism that reminds of Jon Oliva—but remains the guiding light of an altogether excellent performance. – Antonio Poscic