The first batch of 2024, and it is a scorcher! Historic acts like Madder Mortem and Master continue to justify their stature in progressive doom and death/thrash, respectively. Diving into the black metal depths, The Infernal Sea continue to rally around the traditional black metal flag, while Bloody Keep infuse their blackened rawness with a healthy dose of dungeon synth. In the hardcore sphere, Negative Prayer and Junta take an old-school approach, their exhilaration becoming infectious from the get-go, while Infant Island subscribe to the modern, post-applications of the genre. In death metal, Drowned carry the flame of the underground spirit, while Vitriol wreak havoc with their overarching vision of the genre. That and much more to kick off the year, so dig in!! – Spyros Stasis
Andracca – To Bare the Weight of Death (Vendetta)
The sophomore record by UK four-piece Andracca is a good example of the sort of high-quality and often unconventional black metal championed by Germany’s Vendetta Records, a label with a keen eye for intriguing acts from the genre’s underground. To Bare the Weight of Death is a beguiling affair, full of haunting beauty—riffs that swirl like whirlwinds caught in a wild stream and scintillating melodies wrapped around them—but also one that is possessed by a dark, threatening id that bursts through spikes of aggression and dictates an overarching threatening, unnerving atmosphere. The sort of music that feels capable of swallowing you whole. – Antonio Poscic
At the Plates – Omnivore (Independent)
If Slugdge have taught us anything, it’s that humorous novelty acts can make seriously good music. The same rings true for Reston, Virginia’s At The Plates. Beyond their cuisine-inspired lyrics and imagery, the trio led by multi-instrumentalist Tony R mixes ingredients from several death metal styles to great effect, accompanying litanies about marinating meat with some righteous riffing, growling, and blasting.
On “Kitchen Gone”, they sound like a dark and gnarly Swedish melodeath group, particularly reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity circa The Mind’s I era. Fittingly, the Swedish group’s former guitarist Niklas Sundin also contributes artwork to Omnivore. Then they switch into higher gear, dishing out seesawing chords on “Punish My Waistline” as an homage to At The Gates and dropping into a fluid, heavy metal via In Flames-inspired stride on “Roastwell 47”. Elsewhere, “Open Buffet Surgery” sounds like prime death-grind à la Carcass, and “Incarnated Syrup Abuse” doubles down on frolicking melodies, screaming leads, and high-tempo black metal incursions in the vein of Children of Bodom and Kalmah. Fun stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Beryllium – Your Laughter Is an Echo in My Head (Total Dissonance Worship)
Among the various forms black metal has been morphed into, from jazzy avant-garde to extreme noise, there is something particularly alluring to the decidedly textural explorations of the genre. Insofar underexplored, the few black metal projects that have toyed with presenting black metal as a monolithic, sustained sonic experience rather than a concrete, unfolding composition like Belarus’ Pa Vesh En have yielded interesting results, but the anonymous project Beryllium pushes this notion to its essential extreme.
Squeezed somewhere between diffuse drone, shimmering dark ambient, and the serrated surfaces of raw black metal, Your Laughter Is an Echo in My Head is an alien but, in hindsight, obvious proposition. At first, it’s a thoroughly disorienting affair. Conditioned by years of idiomatic black metal, you try to latch on to familiar elements, expecting traditional progressions and blast beats underscoring tremolos, only to be led astray into a barely audible murmur or lush surge of vibrating noise. Then, as the music’s tendrils draw you deeper and deeper, things start making strange sense. You begin to acclimate until, ultimately, you fully appreciate the subliminal rules and crepuscular, dream-like narratives of Beryllium’s debut—one of the more original pieces of music I’ve heard in a while. – Antonio Poscic
Bloody Keep – Rats of Black Death (Grime Stone)
Intentionally or not, first and second-wave black metal have always been over the top, outrageous genres capable of dazzling with daring musical choices that, taken out of context, could easily come off as goofy. In turn, the best black metal albums were those that truly understood this aesthetic spirit and consciously played to the strength of its elements. The dungeon-synth-cum-raw-black-metal project Bloody Keep by Old Nick and Grime Stone Records head honcho Jesse Terres alias Abysmal Specter dives unabashedly into the idiosyncratic extremes of the style.
Overlaying superb guitarwork, relentless blast beats, and vampiric growls with achingly lovely synth orchestrations—organs, strings, brass—he creates music that is at once absurd and truly enveloping. Compared to previous releases, Rats of Black Death is given a more bombastic and cleaner production that further underscores the uncanny beauty found in its cuts, like the roaring “The Beast of Gévaudan” and its accordion leads and the gothic “Wampyric Depression” that sounds as if set in a 19th-century Parisian theater. There’s pure musical joy to be found here. – Antonio Poscic
Dissimulator – Lower Form Resistance (20 Buck Spin)
Alongside the technical death metal rejuvenation, led by the likes of Blood Incantation, there is a similar process brewing in the tech thrash/death intersection. Acts like Cryptic Shift and Vektor have produced extraordinary works, and now Dissimulator has joined the fold with their debut, Lower Form Resistance. The Montreal act goes through an absolute rollercoaster, one that starts in traditional ground. The thrash quality defines most of the work, from the beginning of “Automoil & Robotoil” they apply this nostalgic sense. Yet, smeared all over are the schizoid dreams of Sadus that brilliantly explode in “Neural Hack” with frenetic energy and fiery demeanor.
From there on, Dissimulator add simple flourishes that provide incredible depth. The death metal gear is applied where necessary, leading to the explosive spams of “Hyperline Undertow”. But, it is also the traditional, from solid thrash ground to spaced-out craziness, that is performed flawlessly. It is all mirrored in the solo of “Outer Phase” as the initial traditional metallic quality is soon warped into something that would make Voivod proud. Chaos constantly ensues, and Dissimulator freely move towards off-kilter ideas, be it the clean vocals of the title track or the distorted echos of “Warped”, the post-metallic applications of “Automoil & Robotoil”, or the Death a là “Cosmic Sea” detour in “Cybermorphism/Mainframe”. No matter the individual case, Lower Form Resistance is an ambitious work that already places Dissimulator on the current scene’s upper echelons. – Spyros Stasis
Drowned – Procul His (Sepulchral Voice)
Considering that Drowned’s debut, Idola Specus, was released 20 years after the band’s inception, the ten-year silence leading to the sophomore full-length Procul His is no biggy. Kidding aside, Drowned are a force in the old-school, verging on cult death metal scene, featuring longtime Necros Christos bassist Tlmnn alongside G.ST and T.E of Essenz fame. Procul His feels like a natural follow-up to Idola Specus, with Drowned bouncing between the past and the retro-present state of death metal. So, into the deep dungeons from the start of “Star Tower”, where the groove of Celtic Frost via the animosity of Autopsy comes through. Further decorating this brutal groove with the infernal lead work of early days Slayer and Possessed, Drowned offer a tour de force as fragments of Morbid Angel’s poignant pace in “Phantom Stairs” and a touch of Bolt Thrower comes into the fold with “Blue Moth Vault”.
Yet, there is a lot in Procul His that mirrors today’s scene. No surprise here, there is a fair amount of Necros Christos that finds its way into the structures, even more so than in Idal Specus. The primal groove of “Corpse God” and the grand presence of “Seed of Bones” are examples of this influence. At the same time, some of the doomy aspects of Essenz find their place in “Machite Mirror”, also adding a blackened perspective over the proceedings. The ferocity of Grave Miasma and some of the menacing quality of Cruciamentum also make their way in Procul His, completing this sadistic offering. The only criticism is that while Idola Specus felt a bit more fresh and novel while still relying on the old-school death metal tradition, Procul His sees Drowned play more into their comfort zone. Still, a very good record of old-school death metal. – Spyros Stasis
Infant Island – Obsidian Wreath (Secret Voice)
Screamo is defined by duality—this ability to tap into raw aggression but, at the same time, beautiful emotion. Hardcore beatdowns merge with brilliant hooks, the wings of despair and angst highlighted by soaring melodies. But a second aspect of the genre is its accommodating nature. Case in point: Infant Island, who have made it their absolute playground to tinker and stitch together dissident genres into the screamo backbone. Returning now with their fourth full-length, the Virginia band is at its strongest with Obsidian Wreath.
The brutality here is increased, “Another Cycle”, making it a point early on as brutal death metal growls go hand in hand with the cutthroat lead vocals. It is an unforgiving march, which becomes relentless as “Fulfilled” comes in with its brutal takedown and discordant lead work. This frantic motif is mirrored in the repetitive progression of “Clawing, Still”, where the pummelling approach takes on grindcore elements to achieve murderous ends. Further transformations ensue as Infant Island traverse into the post-punk and shoegaze-induced territory with “Veil” and “Kindling”.
In mapping their distorted vision to this modus operandi, they further deconstruct their sound. “Found Hard” finds them descending into the ambient domain, while “Amaranthine” and “With Shadow” combine clean guitars with furious execution. It is an inspired mix that Obsidian Wreath offers, and the epic closer “Vestygian” brilliantly summarises an exquisite work. – Spyros Stasis
The Infernal Sea – Hellfenlic (Candlelight)
With a steady presence in the UK black metal scene, the Infernal Sea release their fourth record (and Candlelight debut) Hellfenlic. With a sound deeply rooted in the Norwegian black metal scene, there are not many surprises here. The immediate call to arms in “Lord Abhorrent” brings to mind 1349’s, 20 years past, exclamation with “Chasing Dragons”. From there on, the traditional quality of the genre takes the wheel, be it through Gorgoroth-inspired moments like “The Hunter”, or the nihilistic, cold touch of Darkthrone that prevails in “Shadow of the Beast”.
There is still some room for the Infernal Sea. The mid-tempo barrage of “Frozen Fen” and its vitriolic nature bring to mind the heyday of Satyricon. But, they travel further into the past, relishing some of Celtic Frost’s unearthly groove in “Bastard of the East”. The surprise here is that they move further outside at times. A thrash perspective comes in with “Black Witchery”, but it is the NWOBHM injections that provide a different gear. “Witchfinder” sees them relish the razor-sharp riffs of Diamond Head, applying a darkened veil on top to make for a very classic, heavy metal overture. On a different note, they add a slight folk touch in closer “Messanger of God”, the violin producing a strange sentimentality over the bitter black metal foundation. Overall, a solid release of traditional black metal with a couple of nice twists. – Spyros Stasis
Junta – Junta (Sentient Ruin)
The debut record from Junta comes through like a gunshot. Rooted in the punk ethos, they are relentless about their approach and demeanor. “House of Knives” relishes this old-school spirit, while “Vision de Los Vencidos” seems them incorporate a rockier energy, adding more groove. While, for the most part, it is an exercise in attitude and fervor, Junta are still drawn towards different fields. The start of “Mi Violencia” is a prime example of this, diving head first towards a grindcore perspective. This undying energy fuels the likes of “Sin Piedad Master” and the absolute storm that is “Devil’s Highway”.
On the other, they still find moments to extend toward metallic territories. Thrashy motifs complete the picture in “Mi Violencia”, but it is not until the rigid pace of “Venga y Vea” and the Celtic Frost-ian beatdown in “Screwdriver” that it all comes full circle. Even then, Junta still find the space and time to contort their punk towards a more extravagant motif through the dissonant aspects of “Prisoners of the City” and the disturbing push/pull of “Policia no me Jodas”. Wreaking havoc in a variety of ways, this is an excellent introduction to these newcomers. – Spyros Stasis
Madder Mortem – Old Eyes, New Heart (Dark Essence)
Metal bands that nurture a style that can be called truly unique are usually a mythical concept, yet I struggle to think of any peers that sound quite like Madder Mortem. Even after three decades, Agnete M. and BP M. Kirkevaag’s particular amalgam of progressive and doom metal with gothic and alternative rock elements remains instantly recognizable, propelled by angular riffs and Agnete’s reverberating, powerful voice while losing none of its quality or vigor.
Even within their extremely solid discography, Old Eyes, New Heart easily ranks among the best works. “Coming From the Dark” opens the album on a high note in classic Madder Mortem fashion as vocal melodies and the cascading roar of riffs conjure a grandiose, melancholy atmosphere, while later cuts vary from harrowing doom metal pieces interspersed with blues elements (“On Guard”) to blistering bouts of intense progressive metal that land in the vicinity of Symphony X’s best works (“Things I’ll Never Do”). – Antonio Poscic
Master – Saints Dispelled (Hammerheart)
Whether it’s down to the cyclical nature of taste and trends or the constant subliminal presence of retro-fetishism—a phenomenon that plagues more than just music and art—the past few years have seen a resurgence of sorts for classic heavy, thrash, black, and death metal acts, especially those that rose to fame in the 1980s. Originally from Chicago, bassist and vocalist Paul Speckmann’s Master belonged to the OG wave of groups that took thrash metal and mutated it into the gnarlier, faster, and altogether more malignant form of death metal.
While Master have been active almost continuously since their formation in 1983, releasing a studio album every few years, they have undergone numerous lineup changes and periods of hiatus since then, with Speckmann ultimately moving to Czechia and assembling a new iteration of the group. Now with Alex “93” Nejezchleba on guitars and Peter Bajci on drums, Saints Dispelled manages to elegantly balance between classic death-thrash tropes—Speckmann’s demonic rasp sounds particularly vintage–and more contemporary leanings, bridging decidedly modern bouts of death metal (“Destruction in June”, “Walk in the Footsteps of Doom”) and purposefully grimy thrash explosions (“Marred and Diseased”). Played tightly, with gusto, and sprinkled with tasty, inspired riffing, Saints Dispelled hits hard and right. – Antonio Poscic
Negative Prayer – Self // Wound (Chaos)
Yeah, elevating antifascist, anarchist, and socialist ideas through folk and crust-infused black metal is cool, but have you ever tried just punching the oppressor in the face? That’s what Portland, Oregon’s Negative Prayer are all about. Charles Koryn and Kyle House—both tenured death metallers with outfits like VoidCeremony, Acephalix, and Ascended Dead—debut as a duo with Self // Wound and take things back to basics, looking towards D-beat, hardcore punk, and primitive death metal to strike against systemic injustices with such incandescent rage that it threatens to rip apart the very fabric of the world. It’s a thrilling ride in nine parts, relentless from start to finish, regardless of entertaining groovier segments with a semblance of respite (“Caged”) or simply trembling with anger (“Negative Prayer”). – Antonio Poscic
Resin Tomb – Cerebral Purgatory (Transcending Obscurity)
A few years ago, a meme was circulating on Twitter that had the photo of a bespectacled, nerdy-looking Tobey Maguire captioned, “If the hardcore band’s guitarist looks like this, you are about to die in that pit”. Were it not for their t-shirts adorned with Ulcerate, Faceless Burial, and Judiciary logos, Aussie outfit Resin Tomb would indeed look like five normal dudes doing totally normie things.
Just like in the meme, after you proceed to press play on their LP Cerebral Purgatory, your face gets torn off, and your body is ripped to shreds. A few minutes shy of the half-hour mark, the album is an unstoppable, take-no-prisoners barrage of swirling riffs that feel like getting swept up in a piranha tornado of death. Throughout the nine cuts, the quintet shift gears from punishing to oh-my-lord-I-can’t-take-it levels of brutality, at times upping the death metal elements, at others digging into the soul-crushing heaviness of sludge. What a ridiculously heavy and nerve-wracking debut! – Antonio Poscic
Sovereign – Altered Realities (Dark Descent)
Despite having been around for just five years, there is something classic and timeless to the progressively tinged death-thrash metal sound of Oslo’s four-piece Sovereign. They show off this inspired amalgam of styles to the fullest on their debut LP, Altered Realities, which sounds like a long-lost collaboration between Voivod, Coroner, Death, Possessed, Sadus, and probably several other legendary groups.
While they wear many influences on their sleeves, the songs themselves are as fresh as they can be, with each of the seven tracks veering between sections that feel like being chased by a raging demon down a dark labyrinth (“Altered Reality”, “Counter Tech”), moments of sustained, sludge-adjacent pressure (“Absence of Unity”), and demonstrations of energetic technical brilliance (“Nebular Waves”), which must be a blast when played live. Old school but definitely still very cool. – Antonio Poscic
Vemod – The Deepening (Prophecy)
It is nearly impossible to predict where you will be a week from now, let alone a year. For Vemod, it has been 12 years since their astounding debut, Venter på stormene. The Norwegian act coalesced the best that atmospheric black metal had to offer, from the usual suspects in Ulver and In the Woods…, all the way to the bleak darkness of Paysage d’Hiver. Without even a peep until today, they return with The Deepening, a deep reformulation of their sound and vision. It is a work that sees them traverse from the atmospheric/ambient black metal space and into post-black metal territory.
The grand start of “De Guder Dør” momentarily brings back the black metal foundation. Tinges of the folk roots of the genre make an appearance, building a mystical perspective. The main difference here is that there is a slight constraint over their aggression. While the record does not hold back, it does not feature the lo-fi meanness of Vemod’s debut. On top of that, the stellar production shines a bright light on the compositions, dragging them out of the primal darkness and into the light. There are still moments when the spirits of the past rage on, the epic presence of “True North Beckons” calling upon the Bathory circa Blood Fire Death lineage.
But, for the most part, Vemod ascend into the shoegaze skies, especially with “Inn I Lysande Natt” and the title track. So, while Vemod have naturally changed and evolved through the years, they still can produce works of stunning beauty. The minimal ambient leanings of “Altets Tempel” have given their place to the impressive build-ups of “De Guder Dør”. The acoustic guitars of “Ikledd evighetens kappe” no longer fill up the space, but it is the fantastic clean vocals of “The Deepening” that hit this melancholic note. But as was the case in the past, Vemod can still transfer you to the fjords and mountains of their homeland, although this time, the mist has cleared, and the starry night sky shines its pale light upon them. – Spyros Stasis
Vitriol – Suffer & Become (Century Media)
While their commitment to death metal is unwavering, Vitriol always displayed an overarching view of the genre. That is true with their debut record, To Bathe From the Throat of Cowardice, and it carries on with Suffer & Become. There are many aspects here that speak of the glory old days. The old-school death spirit thrives through the imaginative lead work, which taps into the Morbid Angel vein in “Nursing From the Mother Wound”, but also through the Domination-era and Hate Eternal grooves of “I Am Every Enemy”. But, all this is turned on its head, and Vitriol explore the modern applications of the genre. Their technical aptitude and affection for dissonance leave a mark in “Flood of Predation”, the exquisite start of “The Flowers of Sadism”, and in a more slithering fashion with “The Isolating Lie of Learning Another”. In those cases, it is the eschatological nature of Ulcerate and the frenetic energy of Baring Teeth that drives the endeavor.
But where is the connecting link? Well, for Vitriol, this lost bridge is found through an understated epic and dark underpinning. From the get-go with “Shame And Its Afterbirth”, Vitriol unveil an approach toward grandeur. In that case, it is the orchestration that defines the splendor, but soon enough, it is background synths in “Locked In Thine Frothing Wisdom.” It all clicks with the primal otherworldliness of “Survival’s Careening Inertia,” which pulls back the veil, revealing the influence of Nile. To go hand-in-hand, Vitriol throw in some of the blackened malice, circa-Demigod brutality of Behemoth. Both “Weaponized Loss” and “He Will Fight Savagely” see this form fully blossom. It is a link that makes perfect sense, and in uncovering it, Vitriol produce a record that is far-reaching in its death metal and yet incredibly cohesive. – Spyros Stasis