Johnny the Boy – You (Season of Mist)
Justin Greaves’s Crippled Black Phoenix have endured so many lineup changes and, to some extent, drama that it is not at all surprising how varied their output has been—both in style and quality—over the past two decades. Despite all these ups and downs, a spark of authentic creative genius persisted underneath the layers of flashy complexity and embedded in rare but truly stupendous moments of excessively long tracks. Named for a character from George Miller’s post-apocalyptic flick Mad Max, the new project by Greaves, Crippled Black Phoenix vocalist Belinda Kordic and occasional bassist Matt Crawford strips away all excess flesh to reveal a lean and mean, slightly progressive take on black metal and sludge.
The music of Johnny the Boy is direct and utterly potent as they make You twist and turn, moving from insane, tremolo-fuelled black metal blitzes towards a more grooving and free-flowing sound before ending up in territories of filthy, raw sludge in the vein of early YOB (think Elaborations of Carbon). While the group borrow from a number of different genres—”CROSSING” basks in gothic darkness, “DRUH” is driven by d-beat and punk energy, “WITHOUT YOU” feels psychedelically occult—each of these stylistic incursions is kept restrained and used tastefully, eschewing CBP’s compositional excesses. An incredibly strong debut. – Antonio Poscic
Kostnatění – Úpal (Willowtip)
It is always interesting to see classic recipes projected through a different lens. This is exactly what D. Lyons does with his solo project Kostnatění, and has produced some excellent specimens in the band’s debut record Hrůza zvítězí, and their 2022 EP Oheň hoří tam, kde padl. The concept is the same with Kostnatění’s new album, Úpal. The familiar elements are collected through the discordant edge of black metal. The inharmonicity of Written in Watters is obvious in the opener, “Řemen”, as the mid-tempo groove has this hallucinatory effect.
At the same time, Kostnatění enrich their progression through a different off-kilter approach. The contradiction between chaos and technical aptitude comes in full force, radiating with intense fury in the likes of “Hořím navždy”. At times it brings to mind the early days of Krallice while also seeing a kinship to the math-informed vision of Serpent Column, especially in moments like “Slunce svázáno s krvácející Zemí” and the ferocious “Nevolnost je vše, čím jsem”.
However, what’s different here is that there is a bright intensity that replaces the usual cold and detached aspect of black metal. A blazing sun that sets flame to everything in its path with its spikey approach. That is quite apparent in “Rukojmí empatie”, as Kostnatění enrich the scenery with some Middle Eastern influences, which are even more prominent in the title track. It is quite an unusual approach, yet it really works for Úpal, giving it a quite novel twist to a well-trusted modus operandi. – Spyros Stasis
Legion of the Damned – Poison Chalice (Napalm)
Having been around since 2005—or 1992, if you count their years under the name Occult—thrash-inflected death metallers Legion of the Damned are the epitome of a reliable outfit. While this might sound like damning the Dutch group with faint praise, in reality, it’s a sincere compliment well-earned by their long-lasting and consistently excellent career. Poison Chalice doesn’t reinvent their style, nor does it really need to. Instead, it takes everything that made Legion of the Damned great in the past, from Maurice Swinkels’s hefty growl and Twan van Geel/Fabian Verweij’s tasty twin guitar riffing to the occasional influx of melody and harmony, and crafts from it ten new cuts.
While all of the songs are very good by default, swirling, imposing scorchers like “Skulls Adorn the Traitor’s Gate” and “Chimes of Flagellation” elevate Poison Chalice into the upper echelons of Legion of the Damned’s discography, right alongside their classics like 2007’s Sons of the Jackal and 2008’s Feel The Blade. – Antonio Poscic
Loma Prieta – Last (Deathwish)
Loma Prieta have become a staple in the screamo and post-hardcore scenes. Since their inception back in 2005, the act from San Fransisco has produced top-quality, extreme, and deeply emotional music. Through the years, Loma Prieta have taken on more melodic elements, leading to the release of 2015’s Self Portrait. This is where the follow-up record, Last, finds them. Here, the sentimentality becomes transcendental, setting a dreamlike state with tracks like “NSAIDs” and “Glare”. It is a hypnotic sense, as shown in “Circular Saw” and Loma Prieta are very good at incorporating these moments within more brutal offerings, as is the case with “One-off (part 2)”.
However, the foundation is still built upon the extreme and unforgiving aspects of post-hardcore and even powerviolence. The incorporation of noise is spectacular, magnifying the brutality of “Sunlight”, through the stunning use of distortion. A further step is the approach with “Fire in Black & White”, where the noise completely disfigures the song structure. It is something that ties in with the fervor that Loma Prieta always display, taking on aspects of classic hardcore in “Dose” or more metallic implementations with “One-off (part 2)”, but it has another gear. The sheer force of tracks like “Circular Saw” and “Dreamlessness” is astounding. To find this in a band reaching about two decades of existence is quite unique. – Spyros Stasis
Pupil Slicer – Blossom (Prosthetic)
Pupil Slicer’s sophomore full-length Blossom is simply… more. Compared to their debut Mirrors, it’s a more intricate, wilder, angrier, emotionally deeper, and ultimately unshackled affair that blossoms from a drop of mathcore into an infinitely branching, sky-tearing tree of grindcore, alt-metal, sludge, shoegaze, black metal, progressive rock, post-hardcore, and whatever the fuck else Kate Davies, Josh Andrews, Luke Fabian, and Frank Muir decide to fit in-between. As crucial as the music, the lyrics and thematic framework are dense and convoluted, yet at the same time straightforward in their expression of pain and elation, grief and healing, powerlessness and triumphant emancipation. A devastating achievement. – Antonio Poscic
Saturnus – The Storm Within (Prophecy Productions)
While most of the first wave of death-doom metal groups from the early to mid-1990s, like My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, Anathema, and Katatonia, have since abandoned their style in search of different but equally poignant aesthetics, Denmark’s Saturnus have remained dedicated to those archetypal, emotionally and sonically heavy expressions. Perhaps this is in part thanks to the time and patience they put into each album, allowing that initial source of inspiration to replenish and never run dry.
Arriving 11 years after the excellent Saturn in Ascension, The Storm Within is a prime example of this approach. The seven long, epic songs on the album veer from crawling funeral doom dirges to free-flowing, melodeath-propelled balladry but retain that maudlin sense of romanticism that had made their past four albums—and the original death-doom sound—so enthralling. Although the album emanates quite a bit of nostalgia, this wistful patina is less a quality of the music itself and more of a projection and reflection of its listeners. Gorgeous stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Seek – Kokyou De Shinu Otoko (Silent Pendulum)
First record for the Japanese act from Osaka, and they do not hold back. Seek’s sound is based on the post-metallic and dark hardcore scenes of the 2000s and 2010s, which defines their debut record Kokyou De Shinu Otoko. That much is obvious as the dark and ominous tonality creeps in with the opener, “Mejitsu”. The level of desperation is high, and the agony is palpable. Heavy riffs come crashing down, the sludge methodology taking over in epic fashion with “Shinkai”. It is a gear that Seek also use to create this depressive narrative. The heavy doom presence in the latter parts of “Tonari De Onaji Hi Wo” relishes in that sonic quality.
While the sludge element comes in to crash things down, the post-metallic aspect creates a thicker ambiance. The Neurosis influence is clear, especially with tracks like “Kuroi Ame” reaching towards this grand essence. However, the band that seems to have defined Seek is Downfall of Gaia, and they really take their teachings to heart. The black metal injections in “Kokyou De Shinu Otoko” reveal that kinship, while the pensive process of “Tonari De Onaji Hi Wo” further establishes the blackened, post-metallic approach.
Within this space, the hardcore lineage really thrives, as Seek unleash Fall of Efrafa-inspired assaults in “Mejitsu” and “Kuroi Ame”. Gearing up to grindcore-esque bursts of anger, they set forth on furious assaults, either through isolated events, as with “Ichiaku No Zanka” or in fully fleshed-out tracks like “Ikyouto”. While Kokyou De Shinu Otoko is mostly defined by its influences, Seek deliver a record that retains the listener’s focus and is solidly built. Once they have found their way to differentiate and uncover fully their identity, they will be a potent force. – Spyros Stasis
Thantifaxath – Hive Mind Necrosis (Dark Descent)
It has been nine years since Thantifaxath, the elusive avant-garde black metal entity, released their debut record, Sacred White Noise. What stood out about Thantifaxath was their ability to be adventurous and open-minded without losing their black metal foundation. That remains true to this day with the release of their sophomore full-length, Hive Mind Necrosis. The traditional black metal mindset is pivotal, unleashed in furious fashion with “Surgical Utopian Love”. However, there are moments when a duality dawns upon the compositions. The technical aptitude displayed in “The Lost Kingdom of Wolves” and “Mind of the Sun” compliments the old-school mentality yet opens up new pathways.
This is where the eerie lead work begins to stretch the mind. “Burning Kingdom of Now” sees a bizarre timbre rise, a strange, atonal, and almost flavorless approach. It feels as if all color has been extracted from the music, leaving behind just a grey sketch work. Here, the noise rock cacophony shines, enhancing the discordance. Coupled with the unpredictable rhythmic component, the overall listening experience becomes much more excruciating. From the furious black metal parts to almost doom-infused moments, Thantifaxath unleash perfect despair halfway through “Surgical Utopian Love”.
The atmospheric aspect augments this approach, the eerie leadwork making these nightmares turn into flesh. Yet, it is the more abstract offerings that establish the off-kilter identity. “Sub Tunnels of Lilith” solely lives on the minimalistic edge, where sound design and elusive playing create an otherworldly experience. It is no mystery why it has taken Thantifaxath so long to release their sophomore work. Hive Mind Necrosis is a meticulously constructed work of avant-garde black metal from a band that has taken extreme care in structuring and building everything that makes it so great. – Spyros Stasis
Vulture Industries – Ghosts From the Past (Karisma)
In an alternate universe, in which Finland’s post-punk, gothic metal outfit Beastmilk continued existing after their excellent debut Climax instead of reconfiguring as the disappointing Grave Pleasures, Ghosts From the Past could easily have been the sort of album they’d be making in 2023. Norway’s Vulture Industries got to this point following a different path, but their latest record takes all the best elements of Climax and weaves them around a progressive, avant-metal core.
In its essence, Ghosts From the Past is a daring reframing and transposition of music by the likes of the Cult and Idle Hands/Unto Others into a labyrinthine metal context, but one that, crucially, retains the seductive atmospheres and nocturnal glamour of occult and goth rock, even in moments of trumpet-backed rocking (“This Hell Is Mine”) and during descents into forlorn, piano-led balladry reminiscent of Savatage (“Tyrants Weep Alone”). – Antonio Poscic