Outer Heaven – Infinite Psychic Depths (Relapse)
The greatest strength of Outer Heaven on Infinite Psychic Depths can be found in their ability to compose absolutely vicious and visceral death metal attacks from insanely complex instrumental elements and melodic fragments. When you hear it, the Douglassville, Pennsylvania five-piece’s sophomore full-length roars and growls like the most disgusting fusion of old school and contemporary death metal imaginable, yet it also hides surprising compositional cleverness—tempo alterations, slamming breaks, abrupt chord changes, spiraling tremolos—and technical virtuosity beneath that immediate layer of brutality. This characteristic makes the album infinitely replayable beyond that first feeling of awe, which surfaces when faced with its sheer, almost physical power, as each subsequent run reveals a new clever turn of the phrase or moment of inspired flair. – Antonio Poscic
Oxbow – Love’s Holiday (Ipecac)
Even though their style did not drastically change, Oxbow went through a rejuvenation with Thin Black Duke. Their strange avant-garde concoction clicked, the classical and jazzy themes combining perfectly with experimental rock and noise. This motif carries into their follow-up, Love’s Holiday. The start of “Dead Ahead” takes on the post-hardcore and noise rock teachings to heart, as discordant riffs let loose to create a vortex of energy. It is a mode that stretches further with “The Second Talk” and “Gunwale” as Oxbow move into the experimental territories that act like the Birthday Party first uncovered.
What has been true for all Oxbow works is the underlying feeling they radiate with. This is where the band shines, as they take the standard rock form and progression to morph into something unique. Moments like “Icy White & Crystalline” feel like a mutated Soundgarden tune. This is where the intimacy really comes into play. The dreamlike, and yet torturous, manifestation of “1000 Hours” stretching the duration of the day is something everyone can relate to.
Similarly, the mantra-like repetition of “The Night the Room Started Burning”, with its mesmerizing effect, builds a hazy atmosphere. But, in the end, it is all revolving around a romantic feeling, something that hauntingly appears in moments like “All Gone” and in a more grand perspective with “Million Dollar Weekend”. To sum it up, this is what Oxbow have always excelled at, and Love’s Holiday is no different. – Spyros Stasis
Porta Nigra – Weltende (Soulseller)
While Germany’s Porta Nigra definitely fit under the broad umbrella of avant-black metal, their music has little to do with the dissonance and extravagant, jazz-inflected musical flourish donned by the likes of Imperial Triumphant and Portal. Instead, their avant-garde tendencies surface through their sardonic, nearly theatrical investigations of the most depraved, decadent, and depressing crevices of human history. Where 2015’s excellent Kaiserschnitt was a sarcastic consideration of the Prussian empire, Weltende directs its scornful eye towards the period leading to World War I and the sufferings that came with it.
While the band cite expressionists like Georg Trakl and Georg Heym as inspiration in the materials accompanying the album, their harmonically rich, flowing, twisting, and turning atmo black metal instrumentals and André Meyrink’s mercurial, Thespian delivery transport me into the perverted, subhuman era of the Herero and Namaqua genocide as depicted by Thomas Pynchon in his novel V. Even putting aside Weltende‘s rich conceptual nature, Porta Nigra’s music stands on its own as a stunning bit of progressive, atmospheric black metal. – Antonio Poscic
Sutekh Hexen and Funerary Call – P:R:I:S:M (Sentient Ruin)
Sutekh Hexen coupled the raw black metal energy with an ambient leaning. Throughout their prolific career, they have always balanced between these two forces. This makes their pairing with Harlow MacFarlane, aka Funerary Call, so enticing. Indeed from the start of “Meridian Oo”, everything feels natural, as synth pads craft the background and excruciating whispers torture all. The primal sense is combined with this eerie and desperate quality, making moments like “Infernal Folly” and “Perilous Shade” conversing with a specter or “Towards The Eastern Gate” being tormented by a demon.
It is all about the setting and scenery. The strongest aspect of P:R:I:S:M is the different flavors it offers. At times there is an icy and crystalline presence, making tracks like the opener feel fragile. Combining the musique concrete aspect with the blackened core makes for a difficult experience. From this glacial perspective, the two artists move to the detached, as the ominous quality of “Pangea Ultima2 (Dread)” comes into view. It naturally leads into this strange, minimalistic tribal passage, as chimes lead the way through “Perilous Shade” and “Shores of Purgatory”.
It is a similar effect that the crackling fire has in “Iscend Obsidia”, turning the tribal approach towards a hypnotic rendition. Noise roars, completely dissolving vocals and synthesizers into a deconstructed abyss. This lies in the core of P:R:I:S:M, a work that takes the familiar qualities of genres and projects them through this abstract negative space. – Spyros Stasis
Thra – Forged in Chaotic Spew (Translation Loss)
It feels like Thra have absorbed all the sun and heat their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, is known for and spawned darkness and doom in return. Thra are an act combining the ferocity of death metal with the weight and desperation of sludge. These worlds collide in the opener, “Flame Lurker”. The repetitive beatdown and groove point towards the New Orleans sludge scene, while the outbreaks of blastbeats awaken the death metal spirit. No matter the case, Thra have traded in the downtrodden aspect of sludge for a polemic and fervent attitude derived from the hardcore scene. “Cosmic Scourge”, with its unapologetic manifestation, displays as much, while “Drag” and “Blistering Eternity” carry on with punk infusions and hardcore breakdowns.
But that is not all for Thra. Elements of the post-metallic scene come into view, at times some of the riffs reminiscent of Neurosis or early days ISIS. This also opens up the pathway to further experimentations; the sound design of “Terror Vessel”, parts one and two, and the droning feedback of “Vesuvian” showcase this need to explore further. However, the return to the extreme metal core is what brings Thra closer to their outcast kin. The eerie touch of “Blistering Eternity” and its discordance bring to mind the sinister excavations of Coffinworm. The ability to hone the death metal ferocity and combine it with the sludge self, as with “Primordial Engorgement”, suggest the influence of Death Mask era Lord Mantis. It is what makes Forged in Chaotic Spew an excellent record and a very promising start for Thra. – Spyros Stasis
Wyrgher – Panspermic Warlords (I, Voidhanger)
Another act featuring the prolific Meneketel of Ateiggär and Ungfell, Wyrgher sees yet another side of the artist’s vision. Where Ateiggär leaned on the melodic side of black metal and Ungfell relished their folkish roots, Wyrgher sets the eye outwards toward the cosmos. It is an off-kilter ride defined by much of the past. There is the distinct dissonance drawn from the feverish visions of Ved Buens Ende, moments like “Dormant They Drift” see this aspect come to full view. Of course, there is a definite homage towards the traditional black metal sound, the grand presentation of “Destroyer of the Promethean Path” seeing this come together, while “Supreme Leader of a Dying Star” and the title track bring in the brooding trademark sound of the scene.
On top of that, the ambient allusions definitely point toward the cosmic direction. Either incorporated in the main structure of the tracks or a standalone offering, as with “Summoning the Meteoric Titans”, it reveals a kinship with the likes of Darkspace. Of course, Wyrgher do not descend into the same depths of darkness that Darkspace are known for. But, when combined with their technical aptitude and fierce approach, it brings closer to the acts like Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum, especially in moments like “Solar Harvest”. Panspermic Warlords ends up being a great mix of different stylistic interpretations, and while this amalgamation is not necessarily novel, it is very well structured, played out, and enjoyable. – Spyros Stasis