Best Metal Albums of February 2024

MetalMatters: The Best Metal Albums of February 2024

In best metal albums, Spectral Voice craft soul-wrenching death/doom, Borknagar’s unique blend remains relevant, and Darkspace dare us to stare into the abyss.

The year is in full-throttle mode, and February offers some outstanding releases. On one hand, we see many new acts capitalizing on solid introductions. Utopia continue with their exhilarating velocity, elevating the technical extravagance of Stalker with Shame. Pestilength dig deep into the obscure depths to unveil their primal black/death/doom brew with their third record, Solar Clorex. LVME and Hulder represent the various strains running through the black metal tradition, and both return with astounding works in their sophomore records. Let’s not even start with Spectral Voice’s astounding return with Sparagmos, elevating themselves in the death/doom pantheon.

But, at the same time more historic acts have made a return. Borknagar continue to investigate this unique space they have carved out from their black metal foundation and folk leanings with Fall. The Body continue their series of collaborations with like-minded spirits, this time working with the wonderful Dis Fig. From the depths of the Greek 2000s underground, Sun of Nothing rise once more, proving how relevant (and deeply missed) their extreme sonic amalgamation is. Finally, the legendary Swiss cosmic black metal act Darkspace make their long-awaited return with a 45-minute-long descent into the abyss. That and much more, so dig in! – Spyros Stasis 

Aureole – Alunarian Bellmaster (Prophecy)

Markov Soroka’s relationship with extreme music is multifaceted, delivered through his different solo projects. With Tchornobog, Soroka highlighted the gritty and ugly intersection between black, death, and doom in the project’s 2017 debut. However, his first investigations explored a different space. With Aureole, Soroka examines the ambient underpinning of black metal since the project’s 2014 debut Alunar. With the project’s sophomore work, Aurora Borealis, Soroka took a detour into harsher black metal territory, but he is now returning to Aureole’s original vision with Alunarian Bellmaster.

This is a rich work of immersive quality. Alunarian Bellmaster is heavily informed from both the dark ambient and dungeon synth spaces. The first sees Soroka take on pensive and obscure motifs, relying heavily on a minimal procession, highlighted in both “Arrival of Deathless Interlopers” and “Alunarian Surrender.” The full descent to the minimal is complete with “UGC 2885″, a completely stripped-down-to-the-bones journey, while “Warpstorm” offers a trippier twist. The dungeon synth dimension creeps in with the excellent usage of melodies, creating strong imagery. This can be felt through the hooks of “10000 Bells Resonate Cosmos Untold”, or the intricate placement of sonic artifacts (around 30 different bells have been sampled) in “Orbiting Among Alunarian Ruins”.

Still, within this deeply atmospheric space, Soroka finds places to return to the fundamentals. The black metal identity might be hibernating beneath the surface, but it still makes some nasty appearances in “Alunarian Ghosts of Bellmaster” or through the industrial-inclined “Beware That Which Inhabits The Bellmaster.” Further rock elements appear through abstracted guitar solos appearing through the darkness, a more staccato approach at times revealing an electronic influence. But, for the most part is the ambiance that wins it for Aureole, and its detailed description and meticulous setting make Alunarian Bellmaster the strongest offering from the project. – Spyros Stasis 

The Body & Dis Fig – Orchards of a Futile Heaven (Thrill Jockey)

They sure know how to pick them! Through the years, the duo of Lee Buford and Chip King, The Body, have released excellent collaborations with many kindred spirits. From like-minded sonic terrorists in Thou to black metal legends Krieg, all the way to heavy drone rockers Big | Brave. This time, they collaborate with Felicia Chen, aka Dis Fig, one of the pivotal electronic artists of this generation, known for her exquisite debut PURGE, and her collaboration with the Bug. The result of this collision is a deeply meditative work in Orchards of a Futile Heaven, which balances between the cacophonous and the sublime. Known for extreme applications, the Body make use of their entire arsenal. From the cacophonous, distorted cataclysm of “Eternal Hours” to the doom-infused progression in closer “Back to the Water”, they construct impressive soundscapes only to demolish them.

Within this space, Dis Fig’s presence is a catalyst. Her vocal performance adds to the ambient dimension, usually through a pensive approach. The unearthly procession of “Dissent, Shame” sees Chen craft a hazy and elusive atmosphere. Similarly, her delivery is like a beam of light through the chaos and incoherence of “Holy Lance”. But, it is also her electronic background that further transforms this work. The excruciating movements of “Coils of Kaa” are nurtured from their abstract beginnings to a post-dance crescendo. It is a maddening rhythm that morphs from metal to electronic, from sludge to ambient. Yet, the interesting point of alignment is the adherence of both acts to this electrifying aspect of noise.

The thunderous quality of “To Walk a Higher Path” sees this moment of convergence, where tribal injections appear in a moment of fragile serenity. It is the calm before the storm, a quasi-peaceful step where Chen’s vocals fill the space and the foreboding noise is kept at bay. This ominous quality defines Orchards of a Futile Heaven, and how the Body and Dis Fig have captured it is nothing less than awe-inspiring. – Spyros Stasis 

Borknagar – Fall (Century Media)

The evolution of Øystein G. Brun’s Borknagar has been nothing short of astonishing over the past three decades, as the group abandoned their early black-adjacent roots and embraced folk and progressive rock influences. Nowadays, on albums like 2019’s True North and the latest Fall, their black metal beginnings can be heard in vestiges of ICS Vortex’s growls, swirling tremolos, and the occasional blast beat—most readily evident on the majestic album opener “Summits”—but these elements have all been absorbed into a more complex overarching architecture.

On “Nordic Anthem”, this fusion of styles results in a momentous, Wardruna-like epic, while “Stars Ablaze” and “Unraveling” flow along like classic 1970s progressive rock, but with a hardened metallic edge to its guitar attacks, thrilling melodies, and big choruses. Yet another very strong, ever so slightly tweaked entry in a varied and consistently excellent discography. – Antonio Poscic

Chapel of Disease – Echoes of Light (Ván)

Chapel of Disease’s free-flowing style is uniquely positioned between death metal, occult rock, blackgaze, and gothic leanings, simultaneously evoking the likes of Beastmilk, Tribulation, and Morbus Chron. Within their discography, Echoes of Light is perhaps the strongest specimen of this assemblage of styles, showcasing gorgeously melodic leads and solos and a sensibility for lyrical, arcane-sounding balladry while allowing for moments of sharper onslaught that further emphasizes the mystic beauty of the rocking, grooving riffs and clean vocal lines around them. A simply beautiful record. – Antonio Poscic

Darkspace – -II (Season of Mist)

I have been waiting for this since the re-awakening of Paysage d’Hiver with 2020’s Im Wald. Darkspace is a singular entity in the black metal space, subscribing to an ambient and cosmic flavor of the genre. Through the years, the Swiss trio has seemingly explored the dark corners of outer space. Now, with the departure of original bassist/vocalist Zorgh, Wroth and Zaarahl are joined by new member Yhs, to unleash -II. From the very start, it feels like navigating the dark waters of old, as this human voice appears as a long-forgotten message lost in some time capsule. It is a familiar foreboding element, and Darkspace take full advantage to meticulously and slowly craft an overwhelming presence.

While in the past Darkspace have explored the electronic and industrial sides, -II does so in an extensive fashion. The synthetic percussion merges with the repetitive riffs, its monotonous procession becoming an unbearable mantra. The soundscapes slowly shift, at times presenting an ethereal self through the arachnoid-like synthesizers and then turning towards something more depraved and harrowing. The long-form track takes its time, rooted in an elusive black metal self that re-establishes its former aggression through the cutthroat vocals.

Even though it is an impressive procession, it feels like something is missing for Darkspace here. The ambiance and demeanor are intact, but the lo-fi explosions and bitter, cataclysmic riffs are not to be found in this scenery. It makes -II, in many ways, feel like a record of transition, something that builds up to what is to come next. And this is the only downside because, as impressive as it might be, it leaves you on the lookout for when this promise will be fulfilled. – Spyros Stasis  

Farsot – Life Promised Death (Lupus Lounge)

The opening of German group Farsot’s fourth LP, Life Promised Death, feels like a deliberate sleight of hand, a misleading sequence of sizzling textural noises that wouldn’t feel out of place as an introduction to the work of an atmospheric post-metal band. Soon enough, though, their true black metal nature bursts through, forming a meaty and mean-sounding wall of black metal attacks. As the album progresses, aggression makes way for moments of psychedelia, opening up the sound until it stumbles into a faint post-punk groove and begins vacillating between the melodic, folk majesty of Agalloch (“Into Vertigo”) and intricate progressions and twisty, thrashing riffs reminiscent of Virus, Ved Buens Ende, and Voivod (“Chimera”, “Lost Momentum”). One of the most low-key unusual and interesting black metal albums released so far this year. – Antonio Poscic

Hasturian Vigil – Unveiling the Brac’Thal (Invictus)

Grim and brutal, with a traditional twist. That is what Ireland’s Hasturian Vigil have to offer with their debut record, Unveiling the Brac’Thal. Not losing time, they descend into the Cthulhu mythos from the start of “Ikaath The Seven Horne.” Initially relying on a slow pace, reaching an almost doom tempo while also crafting an eerie, blackened atmosphere through the piercing lead work, they establish this looming sense, one reminiscent of Negative Plane and Mortuary Drape at their finest. The image is complete when the old-school black metal meets head-on with the Celtic Frost-ian groove of “Apparitions of Torment”, or when the schizoid lead work of “Nine Bellowing Hounds” collapses into a heavy metal spirit.

Because this is what lies beneath the dark demeanor, stainless steel inherited from the traditional spirit of the 1980s. The contortion of the black/death inharmonicity from its evil, bacchant spirit into an Iron Maiden-esque recital with the dual guitars of the opening track is exquisite. Similarly, the attitude of Motorhead is invoked through the kick-off to “Nine Bellowing Hounds,” as Hasturian Vigil switch between old-school thrash and proto-death metal, only to return a NWOBHM outbreak. To top it all off, they conclude this endeavor by invoking the timeless epic approach of Bathory before they descend into their primal black/death nature. All in all, a strong introduction that while relishing the black/death spirit, their pedigree travels further back. – Spyros Stasis  

Hulder – Verses in Oath (20 Buck Spin)

Hulder’s 2021 debut, Godslastering: Hymns of a Forlon Peasantry, is a work deeply embedded in traditional, old-school black metal. From the production to the riffs, from the cutthroat vocals to the atmospheric tinges, everything oozes with the spirit of the second wave. With her follow-up, Verses In Oath, Marliese Beeuwsaert continues to dig deep into this folklore. The elements of Hulder’s past are still pivotal here, the blazing ferocity taking over from the get-go with “Boughs Ablaze”, as searing riffs tore through everything. At times, there is an early Immortal-esque energy that prevails. It comes through the pummeling and polemic approach in “Vessel of Suffering,” but it is not the sole force therein. The Finnish black metal scene has an equal footing here, with moments like “Enchanted Steel” and “Veil of Penitence” showcasing the Impaled Nazarene and Horna impact.

What clicks, however, is the subtle extension towards ambiance. That is felt throughout with the excellent use of keyboards, combining Satyricon’s harrowing approach, circa Dark Medieval Times, and the more modern interpretations of Këkht Aräkh. From there on, a few folk inclusions bring to mind the mighty Bergtatt, but Bathory’s spirit elevates the entire effort. It can be felt through the mid-tempo stampede of “Cast Into the Wall of Remembrance”, but it is the epic passages of “Hearken the End”, where the overall orchestration points to Quorthon’s fiery vision. It is the slight refocusing that provides Hulder with more potency and fervor, making Verses In Oath an excellent work in the traditional black metal tradition. – Spyros Stasis

LVME – Of Sinful Nature (NoEvDia)

In 2019, LVME unleashed their debut record, The Blazing Iniquity. A black metal tour de force from the mysterious entity that adhered to the recent teachings of orthodox black metal. Fragments of the current Icelandic black metal scene, the reverse ecclesiastical nature of Funeral Mist and Ofermod, alongside the feverish dreams of Ved Buens Ende, come together spectacularly. The motif remains the same with LVME’s sophomore, Of Sinful Nature

Even though Of Sinful Nature is a brutal and explosive work, LVME do not neglect the ambiance. To that end, they piece together the Swedish scene’s terrifying grandeur, the eerie introductions to many of the tracks pointing towards that influence. Similarly, they perfectly evoke the discordant black metal edge and the majesty of Written in Waters to create an otherworldly sense, both through the fluid introduction to “The Venomous Fire” but also the potent, sickening tone of “Int Ashen Stone”. From there on, many themes intersect. The black metal foundation stands front and center, augmented by a subtle touch of noise rock to look outwards, but also a slight melodic tinge (“Without Light Or Guide”) to ground this work in the metallic tradition.

What is impressive, however, is how LVME can produce this amorphous mesh, a ferocious work capable of lashing out in singular brutality but also encompassing many of the teachings from the avant-garde branch of the genre. It is the sign of a work that has been meticulously constructed, and it reveals the depth of its quality. – Spyros Stasis