best metal albums of may 2023

MetalMatters: The Best Metal Albums of May 2023

In best new metal, Khanate return to unleash drone hell, the Ocean open up post-metal to further interpretations, and Yakuza thrive with their progressivism.

It appears to be a month for death metal. Vomitory unleash the gnarliness and groove of their native Swedish scene, while Nightmarer showcase their modern, technical approach. Traveling a bit back to the origin of the genre, Ascended Death relish the proto–extreme metal of Slayer, while Impetuous Ritual travel to the lo-fi, cult edge of the spectrum.

On the more extravagant side, there are a number of acts that continue to defy being pigeonholed. JAAW explore the various aspects of the alternative metal space with their debut, while the Ocean further transform their sludge-informed post-metal. Even deeper is the approach of the long-awaited Yakuza return, with the progressive mindset settling in. Finally, of course, Esoctrilihum return with another ambitious record, spanning courageously both in duration and in genre-hopping. And a lot in this month’s feature, so dig in! – Spyros Stasis

Ascended Dead – Evenfall of the Apocalypse (20 Buck Spin)

Despite the pedigree of the members of San Diego death metal outfit Ascended Dead and the quality of their 2017 album Abhorrent Manifestation, their new release is a blindsiding success in terms of quality and power. Simply put, Evenfall of the Apocalypse is an album marked by sheer death metal ferocity, encapsulated in eleven pieces that feel simultaneously like vicious, face-melting attacks and sprawling, haunting soundscapes.

The whirlwind of riffs—and what riffs they are!—bumbling rhythms, and growls woven around the labyrinthine core of openers “Intro / Abhorrent Manifestation” and “Ungodly Death” is just a taste of the madness scattered across the cuts, which include squealing, Slayer-esque leads and solos on the crunchy scorcher “Tantum Bellum”, Tom Araya-like screams on the wild “Visceral Strike”, Al Di Meola goes metal acoustic segments on “Passage to Eternity”, and a general sense of controlled loss of control on the dissonant, swirling, and supremely brutal “Nexus of the Black Flame”. The whole is much more than the sum of all these parts, of course, and makes for one of the most gripping and intense death metal listens of the year. – Antonio Poscic

Bloodgutter – Death Mountain (Trollzorn)

Bloodgutter’s Death Mountain is as well-rounded a debut as any band could wish for. The Danish quartet play a filthy, utterly sickening sort of death metal, born from an unholy marriage of the genre’s old-school traits with hardcore, sludge, thrash, and doom metal. Heinz B. Jacobsen’s guitar tone is the star here. Equal parts roaring purrs and rusty chainsaws, his riffs conjure maelstrom after maelstrom, attracting growls and spastic D-beat rhythms and igniting each of the 11 songs into harrowing blazes.

At times, Bloodgutter roar with death metal intensity found in the arsenal of bands like Bolt Thrower and unleash snaking, intricate riffs, speeding up until reaching grindcore-like frenzies. At others, they slow down, way down, and descend into sludge-tinged doom death metal, where they find an unexpected groove or galloping segment, like the marching start-stop roll that closes the standout “Our Final Conflict” and the album. – Antonio Poscic

Botanist – VIII: Selenotrope (Prophecy Productions)

Roberto Martinelli alias Otrebor’s latest LP as Botanist continues the evolution of his dulcimer-driven vision of black metal. Like 2020’s Photosynthesis, VIII: Selenotrope continues stretching this concept to its limits. Elements of black metal are deconstructed and repurposed into collages of atmosphere and gorgeous constructs that resemble post-rock but eclipse the genre’s limitations with dynamism and an inherent sense of beauty.

Across the eight songs—adorned predominantly with clean rather than growled vocal lines—Baroque angelic synths become dense, Deafheaven-esque dirges, before rising into Sigh-like avant-black metal idiosyncrasies and dissolving into grooving rhythms. All the while, Otrebor’s at times intense, at others gentled hammered dulcimer lines become a conductor’s baton to lead his ensemble of guest musicians—Daturus on drums, Tony Thomas on bass guitar, Krieger on dulcimer, and Mar on vocals and keyboards—and the constellation of sounds they release down a common narrative. Enthralling, nocturnal music. – Antonio Poscic

Esoctrilihum – Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac (I, Voidhanger)

If Asthâghul’s 2022 record Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh saw the French musician take Esoctrilihum’s unhinged vision of black metal—the suffocating, psych-laden atmosphere of cosmic dread, the swirling riffs, the surges of idiosyncratic elements—and compress it into a tight, forceful package, then Astraal Constellations of the Majickal Zodiac is the yin to that album’s yang.

Spread over three discs and comprising over two hours of material, Astraal is an immense space opera told through Asthâghul’s signature style, with each of its three parts leaning more heavily into a particular strain of Esoctrilihum aesthetics to amplify their storytelling effect. Although imposing, the music maintains a continued sense of flow, following the indecipherable stories of zodiacal deities with equally arcane sonic figures, all the while building a subconscious, liminal sort of understanding. Rarely is a work as ambitious and yet successful as this one. – Antonio Poscic

Impetuous Ritual – Iniquitous Barkarik Synthesis (Profound Lore)

Hailing from the depths of the Australian cvlt death metal scene, Impetuous Ritual have been a consistent force. Now, their fourth full-length Iniquitous Barbarik Synthesis finds them once more doing what they do best. This is an offering of chaos and disorder, as the faster pace and sadistic intent of the opener comes into view. A mayhem of blastbeats and schizoid lead work constructs this vortex of entropy, taking it to a gruesome level with “Intramural Axiom” and a primordial decadence with “Lecherous Malestation”.

It is the relentless attitude that does it for Impetuous Ritual, making them sound that much more extravagant in moments like “Necromantic Esuriance” and “Rite of Impalment”. When they push too far they actually blur the boundaries of extreme music, for instance, with “Grail of Enmity” the distortion is so harsh it turns the entire soundscapes into a noise setting.

As the record progresses things get more interesting. Especially the final three tracks find Impetuous Ritual take on a towering and oppressive form. Altering the tempo and allowing a more dropped-down pace makes for a horrific experience. “Psychic Necrosis” becomes that much more potent through an experimental outlook, flourishing through the extensive use of audio effects and ambiance. On the other hand, “Sacrilegious Penance” opts for a slight Voivod-ian injection within the old-school death metal framework, while “Metempsychosis” collects all these subliminal elements into a nightmarish rendition. So, not many surprises here. Just an excellent work of dark, oppressive extreme metal. – Spyros Stasis

Inherus – Beholden (Hypnotic Dirge)

The style of New York-based four-piece Inherus is a rather unique thing. Their music blends together black metal atmospheres and occasional assaults with the towering heaviness of progressive doom metal, flickers of 1970s hard rock energy, psych rock headiness, and post-metal crescendos. While on paper this might appear like an overload of idioms and influences, in practice the music on Beholden is fluid and melodic, with each of the borrowed tropes subdued into playing a part of a cohesive whole.

This approach results in music that meanders between styles but stays on point thanks to a songwriting approach that serves as an anchor, instilling in each of the pieces a sense of progression, allowing exalted post-metal plateaus to coexist with sections of thrilling, uneasy doom-death and sludge. A strong, well-rounded debut. – Antonio Poscic