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.

Oak – Disintegrate (Season of Mist)

Oak - Disintegrate

Founded by current and previous members of Gaerea, Oak shift their focus from black metal and dive into the darker territories of doom/death. With an excellent debut album, Lone, already under their belt, the Portuguese duo return with their Season of Mist debut, Disintegrate. Featuring a single, 45-minute-long track, this is a journey through beautiful soundscapes and crashing riffs. The melancholic parts tastefully mix melody with a sorrowful edge, balancing between the delicate and the expansive. It is this quality that gives rise to the atmospheric touch, with Oak navigating the emotive corridors of Disintegrate. Clean interludes add to the ambience while epic build-ups boost the explosive crescendos.

Oak’s focus is on the extreme side of doom/death. Although they do owe a fair amount of their sentimentality to the early days of the Peaceville Three, their edge moves them closer to acts like Evoken and especially Scepticism. The glacial pace is just one part of this. But their incorporation of more extreme elements seals it. Switching gears, they suddenly explode in brilliant parts of death metal anguish, the vocals becoming harsher and blastbeats filling up the space. It is this duality between the ethereal and the guttural where Oak thrive, coupling their melodic edge with the devastating doom. – Spyros Stasis

Siege of Power – This Is Tomorrow (Metal Blade)

Siege of Power - This Is Tomorrow

Featuring current and former members of death metal stalwarts Asphyx (Bob Bagchus, Paul Baayens) and Autopsy (Chris Reifert), Siege of Power’s sophomore release comes with the sort of pedigree and references that guarantee a satisfactory death metal record. In reality, This Is Tomorrow is more than just solid. Its eleven songs explore death metal’s soundscape far and wide, touching upon old-school and contemporary elements with supreme gusto and with an assortment of takes that keep things fresh from track to track.

Consider the opening “Force Fed Fear”, for example, which dishes out thrashing swirls of death metal figures as if trying to incite a circle pit, only for “Sinister Christians” to veer toward brutal slam and driven grooves. The same back-and-forth between styles continues over the next few cuts, as “Scavengers” explores melodic riffs and an epic atmosphere reminiscent of late Iron Maiden, “Zero Containment” explodes with Slayer-esque dissonance, and “Deeper Wounds” digs deep into Novembers Doom-adjacent doom-death metal. Similar to Street Tombs (reviewed elsewhere in this column), there’s a punk energy underscoring the music that elevates everything into a spirited, toe-curling experience. – Antonio Poscic

STORMOEndocannibalismo (Prosthetic)

STORMO - Endocannibalismo

The fourth record from the Italian screamo/post-hardcore act, and their debut for Prosthetic, Endocannibalismo does not find Stormo at a stage of renovation. The recipe is set, the identity is solid, and the act sounds as poignant as ever. Post-hardcore grooves roam, from the get-go with “Valichi, Oltre”. The intricate rhythmic component is meticulously weaved together, and hints towards the mathcore chaos are applied through the push/pull nature of tracks like “Sorte”.

Even though Stormo don’t venture as much into off-kilter territories, there is still some of the Botch DNA that imbues their sound. The complex notions of “Spire” and “Disequilibrio” are a testament to this, as is the frantic overload of “Vipere, Ombre”. Coupled with some furious old-school injections, as the pseudo-D-beat progression of “PV77” and the polemic quality of “Frame” and “Sopravvivenza e Forme” there’s no denying how much of a walloping Stormo bring. Within this schizoid quality, Endocannibalismo still reaches for the melodic. That is mainly a heavy dose of the Envy methodology, bringing in glorious melodic inclinations and a cathartic quality to tracks like “Anabasis”. – Spyros Stasis

Street Tombs – Reclusive Decay (Carbonized)

Street Tombs - Reclusive Decay

Santa Fe’s Street Tombs play a serrated and mean variant of death metal constructed from the genre’s grimiest branches, where each corroded riff, blast, and growl drips with filth. The press blurb for the quartet’s debut Reclusive Decay is spot on as it mentions early Sepultura and Bolt Thrower in reference to their sound, but these elements coexist alongside more than a few nods to contemporary, crust-infused groups like Acephalix. Still, the main driving force behind the music is a particular punk aggression and directness, which turns moments of D-beat stomping and death-doom tension, like those found on “Diseased Existence”, into headbanging, thrilling roller coasters. Lovely gnarly stuff. – Antonio Poscic

Tithe – Inverse Rapture (Profound Lore)

Tithe - Inverse Rapture

After a very strong debut in Penance, the death/doom/grind menace that is Tithe are following up with Inverse Rapture. In principle, the trio does not alter the recipe here. The death/doom defines a portion of the groove, the introduction with “Anthropogenic Annihilation” and the sluggish start to the title track encapsulates this mode. Yet, Tithe are masters in switching gears. They dive into the nitty-gritty of grindcore, with brutal explosions leaving nothing standing in their wake. The title track sees a barrage of aggression, with a slight carryover from a punkish lineage.

The foundation around the doom progressions and the grind menace is still based on the death metal principle. Here, Tithe’s technical aptitude is impressive, the schizoid guitar assaults in “Demon” carrying the genre’s edge. The slight thrash feel is only natural, and it leads to devastating moments like “Killing Tree” and “Pseudologia Fantastica”. A few drips of black metal allow the dissonance and venom to creep in. At the same time, the black/death approach in the likes of “Luciferian Pathways of the Forked Tongue”, puts the finishing touches on an impressive, dense work. With Inverse Rapture Tithe packs a ridiculous amount of modes, grooves, punch, and quality in just under 30 minutes of extreme music. – Spyros Stasis

Ulthar – Anthronomicon/Helionomicon (20 Buck Spin)

Ulthar - Anthronomicon Helionomicon

Featuring some heavyweights of the current extreme metal scene, Ulthar are amongst the best to invoke the black/death spirit. With 2018’s Cosmovore they set the foundations to their sound, while their sophomore, Providence, saw them push further. Now, they return with their most ambitious work in the dual releases of Anthronomicon and Helionomicon.

Anthronomicon is the natural evolution of Providence. The black/death maze is constructed, from the relentless start to “Cephalophore”, as shrieks and howls combine. While the vision is still set within the extreme metal sphere, Ulthar display a movement towards the progressive. The technical aptitude is at a high, as moments like “Cultus Quadrivium” let on. The absurdity of the guitar work is also front and center, mutating in starting to resemble a spawn of Voivod. “Flesh Propulsion” delivers this thrash-minded paradigm, something that also appears in the temporal domain, the rhythmic section relishing this maniacal push/pull structure in “Saccades”, while keeping things ambiguous, unpredictable, and nauseating with “Coagulation of Forms” and “Larynx Plateau”.

On the other hand, if Anthronomicon is the next step then Helionomicon is the next leap. Comprised of two long-form tracks, the record sees Ulthar pushing their vision even further. Sonically, they are very close to Anthronomicon, but they dial up the experimentation. The dissonance of Voivod and the progressive inclinations are stronger. The urgency and brutality cause a fervent quality to peek through, as the schizoid lead work lays waste. There is also a more loose play with the groove and the narrative of this work, as Ulthar drop the pace for some excellent beatdowns and even going towards a slower, doom-inspired theme. Finally, ambient interludes, intros and outros further enhance the harrowing quality of the eschatological themes. 

What is crucial about this release is the cohesion that Ulthar retain across the two albums, while still being able to display different aspects of their creativity. Listening through the albums in sequence it is great to see the transformation of Ulthar, the ideas becoming more challenging and daring from Anthronomicon to Helionomicon. This will be a tough one to follow. – Spyros Stasis