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.

Onkos – Vascular Labyrinth (I, Voidhanger)

Each edition of this column includes musicians and acts that stretch the meaning of metal, but even in the company of the likes of Botanist and Threadbare, Robert Woods-LaDue’s music remains utterly puzzling and unclassifiable, posing ontological questions about the nature of the genre. Vascular Labyrinth, the second LP by the San Francisco-based musician under the Onkos moniker, certainly feels like metal. The genre’s spirit can be found embedded in growls, structures, and rhythmically ferocious sections, even as electric instruments are replaced by trumpets, saxophones, and clarinets, and textures are made to rise from vibraphone and marimba oscillations rather than frenzied guitar riffs and tremolos.

Played by Woods-LaDue and an ensemble of notable contemporary jazz musicians and improvisers like Dan Rosenboom and Cory Wright, Vascular Labyrinth is a narrative-driven affair. But the story it tells is as esoteric and unknowable as the music, embodied in cuts that sound like a meeting of I, Voidhanger labelmates Esoctrilihum and Neptunian Maximalism with the New York school of avant jazz, acoustic takes on Neurosis, and deconstructed blackened death metal, often over the span of one song like the sprawling, sensational “Lux’Lac”. Mind-bending stuff. – Antonio Poscic

Óreiða – The Eternal (Debemur Morti)

The first two records from Óreiða, the instrumental black metal act from Iceland, thrived in the lo-fi origins of the genre. There, the second-wave black metal specter shines through layers of crushing noise and atmospheric passages. The Eternal slightly alters the approach from the one-man project, seeing the core aspirations taking on some novel elements. The bleak and raw sound still prevails, kicking off things with the downtrodden and oppressive “The Path”. It is a bitter journey defined by a dread presence, as “The River” suggests, but one that manages to morph between dissonance and melody. 

There is a strong leaning towards the earthy sense that Paysage d’Hiver are renowned for. This powerful sense of melancholy becomes overwhelming. A force of nature, creating a sonic snowstorm in moments like the title track. Similarly, a few touches of early days Ulver imbue a slight folk twist in isolated parts, mainly in “The River”. However, it is an allure towards the darker, nightmare-ish qualities of the latest Blut Aus Nord outings that pushes The Eternal further. The dark post-metallic element coupled with the cacophonous hallucinogenics of “The Apex” and “The Climb” is a testament to the evolution of Óreiða. – Spyros Stasis

Örnatorpet – Evigt främmande, evigt fjärran (Nordvis)

In true prolific fashion, Örnatorpet have accumulated an impressive discography featuring six full-length records and a number of collaborations within a five-year timespan. Now, the dungeon synth project returns with their Nordvis debut and seventh overall full-length Evigt främmande, evigt fjärran. “På Jordrygg Ett Slott Är Rest” sets the scenery, turning back the clock to the early 1990s as haunting vocal samples accompany the dark, synthetically driven soundscapes. The morphings are quite interesting, at times Örnatorpet appear grand and impressive, as with “Fientliga Stjärnor Stiga”. But then, they opt for a more mysterious essence, highlighted by the likes of “​​Likt Ett Rött Sken Ur Fjärran”.

At times it is easy to detect a certain kinship to black metal, the opening track can be projected through distortion to construct a majestic piece, while “Människornas Hav” features a more folky twist. However, as the record’s name suggests (Eternally Alien, Eternally Distant) this is not an earthy work. Initial qualities such as the liquid forms of “Fientliga Stjärnor Stiga” suggest as much, while the fragile essence of “Världsalltets Stränder Blinka” and “Lyss Till Den Röst Som Sjunger” reveal an intriguing vulnerability.

It all comes down to the choice of textures from Örnatorpet, creating an alien-like setting, an immersive experience with tracks like “Midnattens Mara Är Över Oss Fallen” and the strangely sentimental “Den Nya Tiden Blickar Ned På Jorden”. So even though Evigt främmande, evigt fjärran does not necessarily break new ground in the scene, it does offer a quality insight into the various facets of dungeon synth. – Spyros Stasis

Ruïm – Black Royal Spiritism – I. O Sino Da Ingreja (Peaceville)

Rune Eriksen, commonly known as Blasphemer, is one of the most well-known figures of the Norwegian black metal scene. With a long tenure in Mayhem and also a core member of Aura Noir, Blasphemer is responsible for some of the most gnarly black metal produced. Now, Eriksen returns alongside drummer César Vesvre, in a new project Ruïm. In their debut record, Black Royal Spiritism, the duo awakens many of the qualities that define the genre. It all starts from an old-school approach, the likes of “The Triumph (Of Night & Fire)” featuring the cyclothymic essence of Mayhem. The quasi-atmospheric elements of “O Sino De Ingreja” bring to mind the modus operandi of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and its more brutal extensions. On the other end, the more traditional and straightforward approach of Darkthrone shines through the dark corridors of “The Black House”.

Still, for the majority of the record, Ruïm actually bounce between the technical and majestic/atmospheric sides of black metal. The apt drumming and meticulous pacing of “Blood.Sacrifice.Enthronement” show as much, while the frenetic energy with these exuberant twists and turns of “Evig Dissonans” reveal the high-level aptitude of the duo. It is there that the atmosphere comes together, the opening track retreating to an ambient form, similar to the ending of “The Black House”.

At times it feels like a less over-the-top Emperor motif, with tracks like “Falls of Seraph” evoking a less theatrical side of the legendary act. Still, Ruïm travel further, with a psychedelic quality that rises through the darkness, as the title track and “Ao Rio” showcase. Black Royal Spiritism is a very well-worked-out record, featuring some of the best aspects of the genre, executed in brilliant fashion. So, while it does not bring much novelty to the fold, it is very difficult not to be stunned by Ruïm’s prowess. – Spyros Stasis

Usnea – Bathed in Light (Translation Loss)

Portland, Oregon’s Usnea continue lumbering down a unique, seldom traveled path on their fourth full-length Bathed in Light. The foundation of their music rests in the funeral doom tradition, but to reduce them to this single signifier means to rob them of the kaleidoscope of sonic elements and emotions that float in their massive sound. Take the opening “Bathe in Light”, for example, which erupts like magma from a dormant volcano, turning patient post-metal ambiance into a stream of sizzling funeral doom, its lethargic progress enrobed in black metal textures and pillaring riffs. Growled and screamed vocals intertwine, while guitar leads and pummeling drum hits unfold a stunning dance of death.

Throughout the album, the music remains riff-driven, voluminous, and dynamic, allowing expansive atmospheres to grow around the central mass of sound before blossoming into unexpected attacks and moments of shimmering beauty. Utterly captivating stuff. – Antonio Poscic

Vomitory – All Heads Are Gonna Roll (Metal Blade)

Released 12 years after their previous full-length Opus Mortis VIII, All Heads Are Gonna Roll captures the Swedish death metal stalwarts at the top of their game and marks another excellent addition to their consistently great discography. Since their beginnings in the early 1990s, Vomitory have nurtured a curious and fairly unique take on the genre, mixing and matching elements from Swedish and Floridian schools of death metal to great effect.

This melting pot approach is once again evident across the ten cuts on All Heads, from the nimble yet bombastically heavy title track and the grooving riffs of “Decrowned” to the Autopsy-evoking, unwavering brutality of “The Deepest Tomb” and the At the Gates-inspired, buzzing melodic metal romp that is “Raped, Strangled, Sodomized, Dead”. The formula shifts slightly from song to song, letting vicious attacks be consumed by monumental grooves, but remains rooted in supremely well-thought-out and executed old-school death metal, culminating in the grueling, sludge-like crawl of “Beg For Death”. – Antonio Poscic

Yakuza – Sutra (Svart)

It has been 11 years since the release of Beyul and Yakuza finally make a return with its successor, Sutra. Their debut record for Svart finds the Chicago-based act returning to their unique formless self, amassing many elements under their progressive guise. That much is obvious, with “Alice” relishing the progressive sludge sound as heavy riffs and heavier grooves rush through. It is a work that stretches from the harsh and menacing to the catchy and melodic, as Yakuza unfold the lead works of “2is1” and the in-your-face and direct approach of “Echoes From the Sky.”

Yet, the all-over-the-place method of Yakuza makes Sutra shine, the same way it did for all their previous works. The psychedelic fumes of “Embers,” the veil of heavy guitars in “Never the Less” and the sentimental tones of “Capricorn Rising” all build towards that essence. At the same time the jazz themes of “Echoes From the Sky” see the larger-than-life presence of the saxophone take over.

Top all this with the fervor of tracks like “Burn From Reading”, the hardcore-esque groove of “Into Forever”, and the slow sludge-y progression of “Walking God”, and you have another solid release from Yakuza. They do not dwell on the extravagance of Samsara with the grind explosions of “Cancer of Industry” or the deep psychedelia of Meditations with the disfigured Faith No More mutation that is “Reus”. Yet, Sutra sees a more mature version where the boundless experimentalism has honed into a more contained progressive vision. – Spyros Stasis