best metal of may 2024

MetalMatters: The Best Metal Albums of May 2024

In May’s best metal, the Hope Conspiracy return to pure hardcore form, Unleash the Archers claim power metal fame and Primitive Warfare declare war against all.

May did bring many great records. Gatecreeper represent the old-school death metal rejuvenation, giving the genre their unique spin. On the other hand, Nocturnus AD embody the very spirit of forward-thinking death metal, something that they have been challenging since their 1990 opus, The Key. Botanist open up their initial black metal point of origin toward a freer form of extreme expression, while the Finns weird supergroup Haunted Plasma continues to forge a cosmic representation of the genre. On the other side, acts like Sotherion and Fir, both releasing their debut records, prove that there is still much value in the traditions of old.

However, May also brought some of the saddest news, in the tragic passing of Steve Albini. Firstly, I would like to offer my condolences to all of his close ones since Steve might have been an exceptional artist, engineer, and visionary, but he was, first and foremost, someone’s family and someone’s friend, and these are the people hurting the most. Many in-depth articles, playlists, podcasts, and stories of the experiencing self coming into contact with Albini’s work are worth checking out. All the above detail his brilliance as an engineer, his boundless creativity with acts like Big Black and Shellac, and his thorough opinions on the music industry, but they foremost praise his character. Years back, I came across an excellent film on the DIY culture, with the apt title D.I.Y or Die: How to Survive As an Independent Artist, which I highly recommend to every fan of independent music and art in general.

In the documentary extras, there is an interview excerpt with Albini, which is one of the most insightful commentaries on music and creativity. While his breakdown of the music business as a system is spot on, what I find most valuable is his discussion on the artist and the role of creativity. Both in terms of empowering the artist by adopting a DIY approach, picking up many new skills, and becoming self-reliant, but most importantly in remembering that the goal of the creative process is primarily to bring satisfaction (be it pleasure or catharsis) first and foremost, to the artist. If that is not the case, then the artist’s passion is in danger. This needs to be avoided at all costs because if passion fades, creativity will follow it. Listen to the interview, and give the new Shellac a spin. It is a great album that, unfortunately, reminds us that the world is poorer today than it was on the 6th of May 2024. – Spyros Stasis

Aquilus – Bellum II (Northern Silence Productions)

Living in a post-Fleshgod Apocalypse world, I’ve grown so accustomed to overly saturated, unnecessarily over the top, and boorishly insipid neoclassical and symphonic black/death metal that any semi-competent release will get a begrudging thumbs up from me. In such a dire constellation, truly excellent works like those of Melbourne, Australia-based Horace Rosenqvist feel like an incredible triumph.

On the second of Aquilus’ Bellum releases, he is joined by several instrumentalists—violinists, vocalists, and percussionists—but it’s his songwriting acumen that remains at the center of attention, carrying all the weight once more as it flows wildly from one exhilarating cut to the next, interspersing bouts of fervent black metal with gentle piano and acoustic guitar balladry. Regardless of the stage, Bellum II finds itself in—lavishing swells of strings or growling with the meanest of guitar riffs—it delivers a consistently enthralling experience. – Antonio Poscic

Botanist – Paleobotany (Prophecy)

Initially envisioned as Otrebor aka Roberto Martinelli’s one-person project, Botanist have come a long way since their formation in the early 2010s. Joined by Ron Bertrand on drums and Tony Thomas on bass—both members of technical death metal group Dawn of Ouroboros—and vocalist Mar Stacey, Paleobotany is perhaps the first record on which the San Francisco-based outfit feel like an actual metal band.

Listen to the opener, “Aristolochia”, and the repercussions of this change become immediately evident. In contrast to the gossamer, abstract structures that came to define Botanist, the music’s flow is now progressive and resolute. Otrebor’s hammered dulcimer, Bertrand’s nimble but steadfast drum patterns, and Thomas’s bass lines provide a stable background for Mar’s bittersweet croon, whose clean singsong is a far cry from Botanist’s use of ghostly textural vocals in the past.

There is a Vintersorg and ICS Vortex reminiscent progressive black metal vibe to it all, embellished with moments of gorgeous shoegaze, then elevated by the hammered dulcimer’s shimmering reverberations. On “The Impact That Built the Amazon”, the instrument’s distortion dissipates naturally into folksy, gentle balladry. On “Dioon”, it grows into jangling riffs, the cut’s unstable ramble evoking the likes of Virus, Ved Buens Ende, and Manes. Despite the shift in style, Paleobotany is Botanist through and through, another chapter in the story of a consistently excellent project. – Antonio Poscic

Cardiac Arrest – The Stench of Eternity (Hells Headbangers)

Since 1997, Chicago’s Cardiac Arrest have belonged to a select group of death metal acts whose music meets and exceeds their putrid album and track titles. The quartet play the sort of filthy, oozing, scuzzy death metal that feels oh so very wrong on so many levels, and each cursed riff, growl, and blast makes you wish you could jump out of your skin. The aptly named eighth LP, The Stench of Eternity, is no different. The record brings ten new vicious cuts to the table, from the unbearably filthy and dissonant “Maggot This One” to the utterly brutal “From Civilized to Sadistic”, that mix and match the cruelest and most vicious elements from old-school death metal, crust grindcore, slam, and even punk into a pungent concoction. Toxic—handle with care! – Antonio Poscic

Fir – De Stilte Van God (Tour De Garde)

Another project of the mysterious and elusive the Spectre (Old Tower, Blood Tyrant) Fir rise from the dark dungeons of the Dutch black metal scene with a work submerged in past glories. For their debut record, De Stilte Van God, the year is always 1993; the skies are gray, and the rain is pouring down. The artwork further calibrates this descent to the past, and when the monotonous riffing of the Scandinavian black metal scene pours through, it comes as no surprise. This is grim work that evokes both the polemic lineage of Bathory (“Morgenster”) and the sorrowful undertones of Burzum. The latter is particularly evoked through the slower tempo of “Laatste Licht” and some of the animalistic tendencies of “Offer”.

Fir’s black metal alone has a great deal of atmosphere and world-building. However, they also tap into foreign territories, diving into the ambient realm. The opener, “Zelfschisma”, first introduces this idea with the keyboards adding a hallucinatory tone. But, it is also emitted from the clean guitars with both “Laatste Licht” and “Morgenster”, perfectly swapping the gray skies and vast forests for starry nights and icy winds. This is where Fir differentiate themselves, moving away from the black metal pioneers of atmospheric music and leaning toward the nightmarish visions of their sister project, Old Tower. It is a fundamental aspect of De Stilte Van God and fully glorifies Fir’s underground spirit. Oh, and it also delivers one of the strongest black metal works of the year. – Spyros Stasis

Gatecreeper – Dark Superstition (Nuclear Blast)

Seeing the growing number of new metal bands toying with that familiar 1990s melodic death metal sound, perhaps it’s time we reconsider the term old-school death metal. Case in point, certain segments on Dark Superstition by Arizona’s Gatecreeper sound as if taken straight from an early In Flames or Entombed record, complete with black metal-tinged sections that came to be associated with Dark Tranquility (see 1997’s The Mind’s I).

Despite the obvious influences, the group’s third LP is nothing short of excellent, varied, and fresh, characterized by strong songwriting and even better playing, whether they embrace their inner flame and twin guitar harmonies on “Dead Star”, slow down to groove in the vein of actual OSDM (“Masterpiece of Chaos”), or turn up the brutality and tune down their guitars (“Mistaken For Dead”). This is classic-sounding melodic death metal for the modern era. – Antonio Poscic

Hässlig – Apex Predator (Sentient Ruin)

The unbroken link between punk and black metal will always be there. Probably the first to remind us was Darkthrone with 2006’s The Cult Is Alive, but recently, it is up to acts like Bone Awl and the early days of Raspberry Bulbs that push this message. Hässlig subscribe to this latter rejuvenation, unleashing a raw and uncompromising assault with their debut record, Apex Predator. The attitude-ridden energy comes through like a knife in “Yellow Bile”, the groove manifesting as a bear tearing through the forest chasing after whatever messed with her cubs. This primal sense defines the core of Hässlig, appearing in Neanderthal-ian fashion in “Shattered” and causing absolute chaos in “Siege”.

The flip side is the early black metal ethos. Helmed by D.B. of Negativa fame, it is no surprise that Hässlig have a firm grasp on this sound. Indeed, the production points to the early days of the Norwegian black metal scene, with the lo-fi quality becoming all-encompassing. But, it is the feeling that prevails. The cold and detached malice of Deathcrush finds a home in “Flesh and Bone”, while the traditional riffing defines “Psychopathic Triumph”.

When it elevates further, it reaches a scathing aspect, an epic quality akin to early Bathory with “Abgrund” and a much meaner lashing with “Raping the Exoskeleton of Life”. Still, the winning attribute is the ability of Hässlig to not give in to one trope, forgetting about the other. The connective tissue there is forged in part with the Celtic Frost-ian attitude of “Watch Them Hung” but also the early Midnight decadence, with a cover of “Unholy and Rotten” acting as the deserved ending to this record. – Spyros Stasis

Haunted Plasma – I (Svart)

Haunted Plasma’s debut I sounds exactly as you’d expect a project that comprises members of kosmische black metallers Oranssi Pazuzu (Juho Vanhanen), experimental dark electronic rock trio K-X-P (Timo Kaukolampi) and avant rock mavericks Circle (Tomi Leppänen) to sound, yet is simultaneously unlike anything else out there. Take the opening “Reverse Engineer”, for example. Emerging from a sci-fi primordial soup of modulating, pulsing synths, the piece soon embarks on a black metal trip across the cosmos before its melodic riffs force it to land on a planet trapped in an eternal synth-pop party.

Elsewhere, “Machines Like Us” is drenched in 1980s neon as it gallops towards art and post-rock territories, evoking at turns Radiohead and Godspeed! You Black Emperor. “Spectral Embrace” sounds like a later-day Cynic cut from an alternate universe—complete with vocodered vocals. “Haunted Plasma” is a bumpy, analog-digital noise-tinged progressive rock ride reminiscent of the exploratory journeys of Kavus Torabi’s Utopia Strong. The potential of this outfit seems limitless, as if we’ve only begun exploring their world. – Antonio Poscic

Hell:On – Shaman (Archivist)

Ukraine’s Hell:On play a relentless sort of blackened death metal that feels like an out-of-control, speeding freight train passing inches from your face. Sprinkled with the occult vibes of long-lost civilizations (think Mesopotamia), their style aligns with Nile’s, Melechesh’s, and Behemoth’s more unhinged attempts, but with enough distinct elements to elevate them into something more than yet another copycat.

Just as on 2020’s Scythian Stamm, Shaman sees the quintet take a bombastic, often grooving metallic core—emphatic and fascinating on its own—and adorn it with opulent layers of instrumentation, from voluminous riffs and screaming leads to hypnotic hand drums, snaking lyre licks, and ominous throat singing. There’s nary a moment of filler here, and each of the album’s eight tracks can stand as a highlight on its own. Mind-blowing stuff. – Antonio Poscic

High Noon Kahuna – This Place Is Haunted (Crucial Blast)

Now, this is a record for the summer! This Place Is Haunted is the second full-length from rock form explorers High Noon Kahuna, and it immediately taps into a deeply spiritual vein with “Atomic Sunset”. The laid-back demeanor forms an uneasy alliance with the high distortion, while the circular progression sets up the mesmerizing motif. It is a near-perfect introduction that encapsulates many of the themes that High Noon Kahuna visit. At the same time, it provides the record with a very organic and live quality, an old-school approach that compliments the elusive style of the act.

The two main foundations for This Place Is Haunted are not so much genres but rather modes. The first is the psychedelic vibes where High Noon Kahuna completely lose themselves, as with “The Devil’s Lettuce”. From there, they bounce between the cosmic, a là krautrock notions with “Flamming Dagger” and the epic closer “Et Ita Factum Est”, but also the earthy. The desert rock influence is clear with “Prehistoric Love Letter”, and it feels like their hallucinogenic brew is coming out of the Rancho De La Luna mystique, especially with “Brand New Day” and “Tumbleweed Nightmare”.

The flip side is that This Place Is Haunted still packs a punch in its high-octane rocking lineage. “Lamborghini” and “Mystical Shit” rely on their speed and flair, while “Good Night God Bless” and “Sidewalk Assassin” trade it for groove and attitude. This holistic approach makes This Place Is Haunted an enchanting listen and one that I will be spinning throughout the summer months. And hey, maybe even into winter. – Spyros Stasis

The Hope Conspiracy – Tools of Oppression / Rule By Deception (Deathwish)

It felt like unfinished business, did it not? It was 2006 when the Hope Conspiracy released their Deathwish debut and third full-length, Death Knows Your Name. At that time their old-school sound becomes more nuanced, and D-beat progression combines with catchy hooks to create a compelling result. And that was it! It took about 20 years to get the follow-up, but finally, Tools of Oppression / Rule By Deception is here. And it feels like nothing has changed for the Hope Conspiracy, who pick up where they left off. Tapping into the Boston hardcore scene essence, they introduce some of their hardest-hitting material with “Those Who Gave Us Yesterday” and “The Prophets of Doom”.

The lineage is clear; the tradition of Discharge defines the progression of “A Struggle for Power”, savoring its primal and animalistic sense in “Broken Vessels” and turns fully belligerent with “The West Is Dead”. Crust elements sprout from the underground, the fury of “Live in Fear” twisting the knife. This is where the Hope Conspiracy pick up their melodic elements and the foreboding epic grooves of “Shock By Shock”, with the latter moving towards a sludge narrative. Finally, the additional flourishes with the subtle guitar experimentation in “Of a Dying Nation” and the noise rock touch of “Confusion, Chaos, Misery” complete this exquisite return to form. – Spyros Stasis