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.

JAAW – Supercluster (Svart)

Supercluster, the debut record from JAAW lives and breathes the heavier side of alternative metal. The opening with “Thoughts And Prayers” explores the band’s dichotomy, caught between the noise rock presence and the industrial mindset. It is something that brings to mind the glory days of Killing Joke. With a line-up that includes members of Therapy?, Petbrick, Squarepusher, and Mugstar that should not be surprising. In fact, JAAW further bounce between these sides, “Hellbent on Happiness” oozing with the erratic quality of Lightning Bolt, while “The Dead Drop” brings to mind the alternative mold of Therapy?

This framework is constructed on top of two pillars. On one end, the meticulous industrial self. It brings precision and weight to this work. A sadistic approach that enhances moments like “Reality Crash” and the towering “Rot”. At the same time, an elusive psychedelic twist roams through Supercluster, bringing to mind the mighty Chrome. “Bring Home the Motherlode, Barry” sees this come to full effect, while the acidic quality cuts through the mechanized rhythms of “Total Protonic Reversal”. All excellent qualities for a great work of off-kilter heavy music. – Spyros Stasis

Hasard – Malivore (I, Voidhanger)

Everything comes full circle. When the enigmatic Hazard first entered the extreme music domain, he did so through Raven Circle who would eventually become the avant-garde act Way to End. After that, Hazard established Les Chants Du Hasard, diving into the classical music domain, yet informed by a black metal quality. Now, his new project, Hasard goes back to the avant-garde black metal roots in a triumphant manner with Malivore.

Discordance is at a peak here, a terrifying form through the piercing notes of “Hypnocentrisme”. It is an offering that stretches the mind, applying inhumane pressure through not just the guitar lines, but also the pacing and progression of the work. “Vicivers” is a vivid example of this wretched havoc, the avant-garde spirit guiding through, while the martial proceedings of the title track further the volatility. 

While this boundless aggression is a key characteristic of the genre, Hasard inject majestic elements drown from their classical interests. The opener sees the piano lines sprout forth, joining these two distinct worlds. The drums blasting away in “Hypnocentrisme” and the grand finale in “Vicivers” bring to mind the dramatic quality that Emperor trademarked. At the same time, the crazy piano lines in “Choral Inane” awaken the feverish dreams of 666 International, sans the industrial and electronica leaning.

Malivore completes the cycle for Hazard, acting as the counterpart to his classical investigations. It will be interesting to see how the artist continues to balance between these two scenes. – Spyros Stasis

Khanate – To Be Cruel (Sacred Bones)

At last! Fourteen long years have passed since the release of Khanate’s last record, Clean Hands Go Foul, and now the masters of drone and despair have returned. To Be Cruel is not only their comeback, but it is also a restoration of their early selves. This work stands proudly next to their self-titled debut and the outstanding Things Viral, digging deep into the true essence of suffering and affliction. From the ominous start of “Like a Poisoned Dog” this ride is at the very least disturbing and at the very best torturous. The sporadic drum hits do not make the process easier, as piercing feedback engulfs this rude awakening in a cosmic fashion.

It is all about mastery of time and space. It is an understatement to say that Khanate take their time. This otherworldly ceremony is glacial, a ritual taking place in the furthest, darkest corner of the cosmos. The punishing drone doom comes together in a nihilistic fashion for “It Wants to Fly”, while the musique concrete lineage extends the dimensionality of the track. Within this minimalistic, alien space the voice of Alan Dubin stands as the last remnant of some essence of humanity. A tortured and disfigured specter, clinging to its formal self while the feedback and distortion paint this negative space.

It is such a decadent state where the inclusion of the cleaner parts still retains the excruciating sense of their progression. Even when Khanate turns towards a pensive quality, as is the case with the second half of the title track, there is no catharsis to be found. Ever. – Spyros Stasis

Nexorum – Tongue of Thorns (Non Serviam)

The biggest compliment I can give to the sophomore record by Norwegian outfit Nexorum is that it reminds me of Keep of Kalessin’s flash in the pan, the majestic 2003 EP Reclaim. Tongue of Thorns nurtures a similar style of melodic yet fierce blackened death metal, but where their Norwegian compatriots accosted this amalgamation of elements from the black metal side of things, Nexorum’s previous works like their 2020 debut LP Death Unchained leaned heavily into death metal.

In this sense, Tongue pushes the scales onto the blackened side of black/death metal by appropriating several typical second-wave tropes, from the blazing tremolo harmonies to unrelenting but fluid blast beats and generally simpler, atmosphere-focused song structures. Despite this change in style, Nexorum remain as impressive as they’ve ever been in both songwriting and execution, as they switch between brutal dissonance reminiscent of late Behemoth (“Eldritch Abominations”), symphonic touches (“Cult of the Monolith”), and Nile-on-steroids snaking and thrashing inflections (“The Pestilential Wind”). – Antonio Poscic

Nightmarer – Deformity Adrift (Total Dissonance Worship / Vendetta)

Nightmarer subscribe to the modern death metal take, this small space where technical brutality and eerie atmospherics combine. Their debut record, Cacophony of Terror, drew such influences from the scene’s greats like Ulcerate and Gorguts, but Nightmarer still retained a distinct identity. This is something they hone even further now with Deformity Adrift, as the creeping, harrowing essence of “Brutalist Imperator” comes in. On the one hand, they employ the venomous lead work of discordant black metal, shining in the likes of “Suffering Beyond Death”. Then the death metal side erupts, guttural representations exploding in a manifestation that causes pure shock and awe. The tumultuous and unpredictable progression of “Baptismal Tomb” shows as much, while more direct implementations are even more potent in “Hammer of Desolation” and “Taufbefehl”.

Still, within this well-defined recipe, Nightmarer find slight augmentations. Subtle jazz passages open up mysterious dimensions, while a slight atmospheric leaning makes interludes like “Tooms” and the final part of “Suffering Beyond Death” that much more enjoyable. Standard tempos intersect the brutal takedowns, the mid-pace grandeur of “Throe of Illicit Withdrawal” and the epic closer “Obliterated Shrine” display as much. The last twist arrives as the keys in “Taufbefehl” add more depth to an already rich tapestry. A wonderful work of darkened extreme metal with a few tricks up its sleeve. – Spyros Stasis

The Ocean – Holocene (Pelagic)

Throughout their career, the Ocean have rarely colored within the lines of post-metal and progressive rock, yet Holocene is their most significant and daring departure from that fundamental sound. Rather than around Robin Staps’s musical concepts, this latest album and conclusion of the Phanerozoic trilogy is rooted in synthesist Peter Voigtmann’s compositions originally meant for pure electronics, then expanded to a rock band format. The resulting music is staggering, equally indebted to trip-hop reminiscent of Massive Attack—whom they quote as a major influence—1980s synth-pop in the vein of Ultravox, and electronics-laden progressive rock à la late Genesis and Porcupine Tree.

The eight tracks on Holocene are deceptively simple affairs that trade structural complexity for textural lushness and atmosphere, moving from pulsing synth wave on “Preboreal” to a crushing mixture of soulful synth brass and Deftones-like wall of sound and singing inflections on “Sea Of Reeds”. The undulating groove on “Atlantic”, Årabrot vocalist Karin Park’s subtle, gorgeous vibrato on “Unconformities”, and the flickers of Middle Eastern modes on “Subatlantic” are just some examples of exquisite touches sprinkled across a contemporary progressive rock album that the likes of Soen can only wish they could make. – Antonio Poscic