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.

Lifvsleda – Evangelii Harold (NoEvDia)

What clicks with Lifvsleda is their ability to navigate the waters between the orthodox and the melodic black metal scenes of their native homeland, Sweden. Their third album stays the path. They easily descend to the icy depths (“Det Perfekta Sinnet”), relishing the immediate brutality. Only to then unfold their cyclothymic nature as the title track weaves together these relentless assaults with beautiful, eerie melodies.

With Evangelii Harold, the melodic inclinations take a step forward. They come in different manifestations, at times tapping into rock motifs (“Bland Likbodar Och Vintergrafvar”) and their infectious groove, and then into a more direct methodology that brings force and vigor to the forefront, as with the closer “Helige Död”. Yet, additional implementations are present. “Sönderfall” finds them adopting a mid-tempo groove that provides a Bathory-ian epic sense, while “Griftefärd” raises the atmospheric form.

Within this mold, they even experiment further with their progression, adopting a martial procession in the title track. It becomes a glue between the dim ambiance and spooky melodies to tracks like “Trämälningen”. So, Lifvsleda continue their tradition of walking this fine line between melodic gratification and orthodox ambitions. Few do it better. – Spyros Stasis

Nocturnus AD – Unicursal (Profound Lore)

This is how life goes, is it not? Having released a true opus of forward-thinking death metal in 1990’s The Key, it looked like Nocturnus would fade into obscurity. Yet, through the years, some other (unfortunately forgotten) weirdos like Timeghoul would pick up these pieces, leading to the explosive ascent of acts like Blood Incantation. So, Nocturnus return at the right time (as Nocturnus AD) with 2019’s Paradox picking up where The Key left off, and this glorious tradition now continues with Unicursal.

The innovations of Nocturnus remain relevant and dominate Unicursal. The epic underpinnings of the intro set the stage, the synthesizers majestically expanding the scope in “Mission Malkuth” while adding more depth to their death metal finesse in “CephaloGod” and “Organism 46B”. Perfectly placed effects perform a similar task, enhancing the spatial dimension of “Yesod, the Dark Side of the Moon”. Within this fold, the technical aptitude shines as the guitar work dazzles through frenetic explosions, invoking emotion through its melodic applications.

On the side of lineage, the early abominations of Morbid Angel thrive in “The Ascension Throne of Osiris”, while the attitude-ridden groove of “CephaloGod” and especially “Mesolithic” reminisce the experimental moments of Celtic Frost. Nocturnus entwine beautifully all the above to create this complex and multifaceted work. The only criticism might be that they do not diverge from their past. But, given how unique their sound has always been and that there is a genuine hunger on their side to continue to drill on both their sound and lyrical context (five more planets to visit, right?), you better strap in for the ride. For now, enjoy Unicursal. I know I will as I re-read the Hyperion Cantos (I know this is supposed to be Dr. Magus on the cover, but I am getting serious the Shrike vibes.) – Spyros Stasis

Primitive Warfare – Extinction Protocol (Stygian Black Hand/Godz Ov War)

Honestly, the name alone says it all. Primitive Warfare, in their debut record, Extinction Protocol, fully embraces the annihilatory black/death visions of Blasphemy. Through relentless blastbeats, the warmongering nature is palpable, swarming you with visions of machine guns firing and bodies dropping in “Iron Sight Omnipotence”. It is a hostile strike, which brings them close to compatriots like Antichrist Siege Machine. Yet, unlike ASM, Primitive Warfare don’t tap into the grindcore blazing ferocity, relying instead on some hardcore flourishes. The slower, grueling moments of heavy groove in “Witness!” and the title track are prime examples of a heritage that feeds their animalistic self.

What is more, despite the appearance and the initial shock, when you take a closer listen, you begin to realize how much attention Primitive Warfare put into Extinction Protocol. This is not a mindless assault (even if it tries to appear as such) but a more nuanced affair. This walloping is precise; simply listen to the execution and poignancy of “Spears of Emission”. It’s not offered through a muddy and incoherent production but rather through a clinical recording process that preserves and augments the devastating experience.

To summarize, this is a fucking impressive debut work that you should not miss out on. As a final sidenote, Black Stygian Hand is a label to watch for. Apart from these maniacs, they have released earlier works from Antichrist Siege Machine, Hulder, Left Cross, Black Eucharist, and Bog Body. So, it’d be wise to check what else they uncover. I know I will be watching. – Spyros Stasis

Reversed – Wildly Possessed (Invictus)

Alright, here we have veterans of the Vancouver metal scene coming together to alleviate the nostalgia for the early days of extreme metal. The debut record from Reversed, Wildly Possessed, is a love letter to a time when black and death metal were interconnected with thrash. “Maelstrom Juggernaut” sees this primordial form come into view, calling upon speed metal’s sense of progression and colliding with a thrash attitude. Along these lines, the devilish guitar work awakens the early black/death nightmares derived from the schizoid lead work of Slayer.

In many ways, Wildly Possessed is a work of retro lust. However, Reversed perform this invocation not only with thought and care but also unwavering conviction. This is felt through the combative nature of “Final Death” and the Possessed-informed poignancy of “Black Seed”. Yet, they also forge a stronger bond with the off-kilter, looking into the Celtic Frost-ian groove and Sodom’s early blackened manifestation, but also to the traditional. Reversed don’t shy away from the heavy metal melodies that greatly informed this scene, diving deep into the hooks of “Beneath Evil Eyes” and the dual guitar work of “Hungry Graves”. Add to that some further creative notions, through the audio-effected a capella ending to the “Hungry Graves” or the inventing progression and playing of “Rusted Breath”, and you end up with a strong end result. – Spyros Stasis

Rope Sect – Estrangement (Iron Bonehead)

Soul-crushing comes in many forms. Sure, your doom/death and sludge or a bit of depressive black metal can drive you to the edge of your sanity, but some people can achieve that through a subtler touch. Case in point Rope Sect, who perform a resurrection of deathrock demeanor and post-punk groove with their third full-length Estrangement. Much of the magic of that scene and time are captured here perfectly, as the weaving melodies of “Nefelibatas” and the downtrodden angst of “Hindsight Bias” showcase. While at other times, it is a step further out that does it. The ethereal dreams of the Smiths appear in “L’Appel Du Vide” before the heavier investigations of Sisters of Mercy prevail. To that end, Rope Sect traverse into more traditional metallic territory (“Mementote”) and NWOBHM notions (“Massenmensch”).

It is an easy comparison to make, but it is difficult not to see the approach of Katatonia, circa Discouraged Ones mirrored here. That is not on the sound dimension but on the vision front. Both acts relied on immediacy, catchy choruses, and hooks to drive their grim message through, although there are times when Rope Sect lost their patience. This is where you get some of the most brilliant moments of this work, be it the doom manifestation of “Cesspool of Vice” exposing a Black Sabbath-ian grin or “Rope of the Mundane” almost exploding into a black metal assault. These are deviations from the mean that elevate the whole, but Rope Sect retain their focus, and the result with Estrangement is glorious. – Spyros Stasis

Sotherion – Vermine (WTC)

It has become a cliché to speak about the old-school black metal ethos. The razor-sharp riffs, depressing atmospheric and lo-fi production. But it would be a disservice not to say that Sotherion’s debut is an homage to this scene. The solo project of BST, of Aosoth and Order of Apollyon fame, taps into the spirit of the second black metal wave. The production alone is a testament to that fact, but soon enough, the ultra-fast picking of “The Fallen” points toward the early Emperor demos and Mayhem’s live tapes. The lines of aggression blur, and suddenly, the Darktrone-ian attitude in “Schwarmgeist” merges with the Antaeus-informed ferocity of “Famished King” and “Shrine of the Chosen”.

The dedication to this scene is so discernible not only because BST is evoking the beasts of old but also their influences. “La Mort Pour Compagnon” calls upon The Return without forgetting some of the rockier aspects of Bathory’s self-titled debut. Similarly, “Flame of Deliverance” relishes the grueling Celtic Frost tonality but wraps it under layers and layers of harsh distortion. Within this torturous landscape, Sotherion find the sweet point when evoking the traditional black metal riffing. In those moments the fierce emotion pierces through, driving through sadness and sorrow, dragging you deeper into the abyss. Yeah, this is old-school black metal, alright. – Spyros Stasis

Thou – Umbilical (Sacred Bones)

Dig up and uncover the core. Follow the cord to the point of origin. Having released some of the quintessential works of extreme music of the century, Thou return with Umbilical, a work that strips down their identity to its basic component. The doom/sludge notions still play a part, relishing the brutality and weight, echoing with the spirit of the New Orleans scene in “I Return As Chained and Bound to You” and the absolute epic closer “Siege Perilous”. At the same time, the expected atmospheric tinges are there. Stripped-down parts augment the misery and sorrow of the proceedings. But, it is the hardcore energy that drives this endeavor.

Umbilical is a record of momentum and angst. The long-form compositions of the past are not to be found here. This is a direct and immediate assault, channeling the raw and awkward hardcore vibe to fuel moments like “House of Ideas” and “Unbidden Guest”. Old-fashioned motifs intersect with modern interpretations, where the extreme noise terror of fellow extremists Primitive Man and the Body can be felt, as with “Lonely Vigil” and “The Promise”. It is a devastating statement that Thou is making, reforging this lineage of old. It is a work filled with malignancy and oppression, one that gleefully smirks as it delivers an absolute beating. Is it the best that Thou have achieved? That is difficult to say, but it is the most fervent work they have produced. And that is saying something. – Spyros Stasis

Tzompantli – Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force (20 Buck Spin)

Certain music can hit so hard that you can’t help but laugh at its sheer sonic power. In recent years, it was an electronic music album that made me feel this way, and now Tzompantli’s sophomore record. Right from the first notes of “Tetzahuitl”, Beating the Drums of Ancestral Force is a steamrolling pinnacle of death-doom metal, equally brutal in its more stomping cuts like “Chichimecatl” and the slower, doomier strut of “Tlayohualli” or the melancholy atmospheres of “Icnocuicatl”.

Aside from being absolutely crushing, Beating is also surprisingly texturally and thematically rich, with layers of percussion, animal noises, flutes, and didgeridoos emerging beneath the thick death metal attacks. None of these elements are purely ornate or here by accident either, as Brian Ortiz (of Xibalba fame) and his warriors draw from Indigenous Mexican rituals and lore and shape a new emancipating narrative into a war waged against conquerors past and present. – Antonio Poscic

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats – Nell’ Ora Blu (Rise Above)

Putting aside the significant impact that Cambridgeshire’s Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats have had on psych and stoner rock and sludge since their inception in 2009, anyone who’s ever listened to the group’s music will be familiar with the sensation of something more—something different—hidden in their bent down, purple tinted riffs and sonic architectures. In this sense, their turn towards cinematic music, specifically music crafted in the image of Italian giallo and poliziotteschi films, should not be as surprising.

Unlike Fabio Frizzi’s rock revisiting of his own score for Lucio Fulci’s horror Zombi 2, Nell’ Ora Blu is not a real soundtrack but a piece of music lovingly modeled after those iconic scores. As such, it is simultaneously familiar and fresh, at times riding a rough synth line like those found on Steve Moore and Anthony Paterra’s Zombi record (“Il Sole Sorge Sempre”) or reaching for Uncle Acid’s sumptuous psych expressions (“La Vipera”), at others settling into ambiance and enveloping foley (“Pomeriggio di Novembre Nel Parco – Occhi che Osservano”). Put together; these pieces form a strange, transporting, and simply gorgeous record. – Antonio Poscic

Unleash the Archers – Phantoma (Napalm)

Sometime after 2017’s transformative Apex came out, I fully expected Unleash the Archers to become the blueprint for contemporary power metal, detached from the tired tropes of old and cleverly borrowing elements from pop, thrash, and death metal. Seven years on, the Canadian outfit remain pretty lonely in the niche they’ve carved out for themselves but show no sign of tiredness. In fact, Phantoma brings another ever so slight twist on the formula they’ve been perfecting since 2017, with ample space left for scintillating solos, melodies, and ABBA-like vocal hooks on one side and a toned down, more conservative placement of growls and ripping high BPM roller coasters on the other.

While ostensibly this stylistic shift brings the band closer to traditional power and symphonic metal—especially its European variants à la Amberian Dawn—and the anthemic atmosphere of classic arena rock, Unleash the Archers are too talented and inspired to let this airier and varied approach drop their music into the cookie cutter bin. Instead, they use the diversity and sheer catchy allure of the compositions to their advantage, composing an album that works particularly well from start to finish and features many standout tracks that dazzle with their unique individual flair. – Antonio Poscic