In this month’s best metal albums feature, many historic acts return, from monolithic doomsters Acid King and black/thrash cultists Unpure. Even heavier names make an appearance with Enslaved establishing their progressive inclinations, while on the other hand, Rotten Sound continue to do what they do best. At the same time, newer names enter the fold. At the Altar of the Horned God and Spirit Possession both return with their sophomore releases, continuing to amaze with their creative capabilities and solidifying their position in the scene. Yet, it is the sheer amount of debut records that gives great hope for the future. Noise rock weirdos the Turin Horse, polemic death metallers Kommand, industrialized extreme metal fiends The Skrying Mirror, and Icelandic black/death metallers Úlfúð, all make a statement with some excellent outings. That and much more! So, go ahead and dig in! – Spyros Stasis
71TonMan – Of End Times (Transcending Obscurity)
71TonMan more than live up to their name. The amalgam of extreme metal styles played by the Polish quintet feels like a hammer made out of neutron stars, unimaginably heavy as it comes down and crushes space and time. Of End Times, the group’s third LP is the most realized version of their sonic extravagance, remarkably varied in its alteration of funeral doom plods, filthy black metal and sludge-infused strikes, and diffuse, abstract drones. The music is as bleak as its post-apocalyptic lyrical themes, suffocating and breathless yet absolutely irresistible. – Antonio Poscic
Acid King – Beyond Vision (Blues Funeral)
Acid King have been making sparse appearances in the doom/stoner scene for almost three decades now. They always relied on the classic side of the scene, not deviating much from its basis. However, with Beyond Vision, they shake things up a bit, moving into an abstract dimension. The doom/stoner motifs are obviously still fundamental to Acid King, the Black Sabbath-ian spirit breathing through each retro-sounding lead piece and heavy riff. Be it in form of a majestic force in the title track or an aggressive outbreak in “Color Trails”.
What has changed is the solid form of Acid King. Beyond Vision sees the track structures and progression become looser, combining space rock and psychedelia within its heavy core. The introduction of “One Light Second Away” kicks off this otherworldly journey, while the minimal perspective of “90 Seconds” and the desert scenery of “Electro Magnetic” spawn alien landscapes. The trip takes a turn towards the cosmic, the subtle guitar lines expanding the hallucinogenic effect of “Mind’s Eye” and the mantra-like repetition enhancing the psychedelic component. It is not a new perspective on the sound of the scene, but it is a style that really fits Acid King, giving their sound a novel twist. – Spyros Stasis
Anarkhon – Obiasot Dwybat Ptnotun (Debemur Morti)
Anarkhon shed away their initial gore-death form in 2020 with the release of Phantasmagorical Personification of the Death Temple. Infusing their brutal death metal with blackened influences, their work now oozes a sense of unease. Now, Obiasot Dwybat Ptnotun follows the same tradition, a blackened malice rising from the get-go. A rare melodic intent aids in the transition to this otherworldly domain, and soon enough this sweet guitar work turns bitter. A horrific theme, descending from the great old ones, as they creep through the keyhole that is “Whispering the Mantra of Death in Horrendous Ecstasy”.
This psychic assault sees nightmarish entities rising, a dark mesmerizing effect settling in. The perfect companion to this is the earthy death metal quality. The gore-infused essence still provides a gnarly perspective in “Levitating Among Unspeakable Cosmic Anomalies”. It conjures this primordial force, awakening true chaos in “The Devourer of Eons Manipulates the Inanimated”, and an animalistic presence in “Dissolution of the Firmament Through the Wrath of Spectral Emanations”. Adorning their death metal self with these black metal flourishes has been pivotal for Anarkhon, and their current manifestation reaches new heights. – Spyros Stasis
At the Altar of the Horned God – Hear of Silence (I, Voidhanger)
At the Altar of the Horned God is the experimental vehicle of black metal musician Heolstor known from Mystagos. In their 2020 debut, Through Doors of Moonlight, the act’s backbone comprised ambient influences alongside tribal and quasi-folk inspirations. Black metal was still a prevalent component with tracks like “Prayer” and “Malediction”, but it was not the focal point. Now, Heart of Silence arrives attempting to balance things out. The black mentality is smeared through this work, the cutthroat vocals and screeching guitar of “Closing Circle” making this abundantly clear. Similarly, the polemic tone of the title track and the maelstrom that ensues in “Anointed With Fire” both display the destructive black metal design.
While Heart of Silence does not exclusively embraces the black metal form, it can still be felt through a multitude of expressive motifs. The tribal mantras of “Listen” project a meditative piece, but the grimness is still present, hidden beneath the surface. Here, Heolstor draws a parallel from the more accessible works of Cold Meat Industry. Industrial machinations contort the structures, “Chthonic Summoning” setting the stage for this flavor, while “Severing Light” sees a grander perspective. It opens up pathways to bleaker worlds, but then again there is a direct quality in this music. The catchiness is undeniable and tracks like “God Is in the Rain” relish in their trance-inducing immediacy. It is an exciting chapter for At the Altar of the Horned God, with Hoelstor expanding the project’s scope. – Spyros Stasis
Dawn Ray’d – To Know the Light (Prosthetic)
Despite what many apologists like to proselytize, separating art from the artist makes as much sense as trying to separate a person from their actions. That rings especially true for black metal whose archetypes’ raison d’être is, more often than not, explicitly political and ideological. The same, of course, extends to red and anarchist black metal. In order to fully understand the new album by Liverpudlians Dawn Ray’d, one thus must also embrace the messages of worker rights and class struggle fuelling each of its ten cuts.
Folksier and less aggressive than the records that came before it, To Know the Light follows in the wake of the evolution of the band’s themes. Their previous aura of resistance and confrontation against systems of oppression is still alive and kicking, but here it becomes surrounded by a sense of radical empathy, creating corridors of raw black metal anthems that lead into atmospheric clearings sprinkled with plaintive fiddles, a cappella chants, and near spoken word inflections. As a whole, it makes for an album that feels simultaneously more musically varied and spiritually urgent. A vital and visceral piece of art that leaves any notion of autotelia in the dust. – Antonio Poscic
Downfall of Gaia – Silhouettes of Disgust (Metal Blade)
Germany’s Downfall of Gaia have been one of the more interesting groups to come out of and subsequently survive the post-black metal hype. Their music thrives on a conflict of uncut black metal, rebellious punk, and tense post-metal, which allows this volatile mixture of disparate elements to create a whole that is much larger than the sum of its parts. Like records past, Silhouettes Of Disgust fuses profound explorations with unabashed directness, which often feels like a punch to the face, into a work that is as much philosophical as it is musical.
Compared to their 2019 gem Ethic of Radical Finitude, Silhouettes is an angrier and terser affair, with some of their early crust punk influences resurfacing to take charge over everything else. This stands true both on sharply chiseled, Ancst-evoking cuts like “The Whir of Flies” and within the dynamic atmo black, Altar of Plagues-reminiscent inclinations of “Unredeemable”, while closer “Optograms of Disgust” combines haunting atmospherics and blazing insanity into one explosive unit. – Antonio Poscic
Enslaved – Heimdal (Nuclear Blast)
Out of all second-wave Norwegian black metal groups, Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson’s Enslaved has undergone the most astonishing artistic evolution, from the raw, folk-tinged black metal of their early days to the open-minded outré metal concoctions of their latter years. In a sense, Heimdal bridges these eras, combining their recent almost purely progressive tendencies with the experimental black metal they pioneered around the turn of the millennium. Some songs like “Congelia” and “Forest Dweller” are reminiscent of 2003’s Below the Lights in particular—an album they played live in full during the pandemic—while others take that thrashing, voluminous, and synth-infused black metal aesthetic and drape it around increasingly technical (“Caravans to the Outer Worlds”) and atmospheric (“The Eternal Sea”) skeletons. – Antonio Poscic
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