An embarrassment of riches once again for November. The month really has something for every taste. From the sludge lineage of 16 to the crossover revival ideals of High Command, this is an excellent batch of releases. On the more classic side, Judicator continue to show their quality in their all-encompassing power metal sphere, while Dissilusion carry on with their ambitious ride through the landscapes of progressive extreme metal. Various flavors of extreme metal arrive, from the melodic inclinations of Vittra to the avant-garde point of view from Skythalla and Kamra. The folk pathways of old shine through the return of Haavard and the latest work from Ofdrykkja, while at the same time the likes of Lykotonon and Fell Ruin and Marc Urselli’s SteppenDoom show a way into the future. That and much more so dig in!
16 – Into Dust (Relapse)
Although guitarist Bobby Ferry, the sole remaining founder of Los Angeles sludge pioneers 16, has a more than 30-year-long career behind him, Into Dust sounds so determined, varied, acute, and enraged that you’d think he was just starting out. With their instruments resharpened and their voices even angrier than on 2020’s Dream Squasher (which purported to channel positivity?!), 16 express their dismay with this cruel and crummy world infected by capitalism, but also preach compassion and empathy by clobbering everyone and everything with uncut ire.
Augmented by sludge’s hardcore roots, anger, and aggression clash together and become punk scorchers. Then, they get dragged through d-beat and NOLA blues swamps, before ultimately growing into Yob-like anthems thickened with doom metal’s skull-shaking riffs. There’s more variety outside of (post-)hardcore and metal-derived styles at play here, too. The grungy “Ash in the Hourglass” leads with a Sabbathian riff, “The Deep” dissolves into shimmering noise-ambient, and “Born on a Barstool” alternates saxophone-smoked lounge jazz and explosions of feedback-drenched riffs. As Ferry himself puts it, 16 “continue screaming headlong into the abyss”. Long may they do so. – Antonio Poscic
Black Anvil – Regenesis (Season of Mist)
It has been quite the evolution for Black Anvil. The New York act started things off with a deep appreciation for the intersection between black metal and thrash. Their first two records, Time Insults The Mind and Triumvirate, reveled in the Aura Noir and Absu traditions. From there on, Black Anvil started to incorporate further elements, becoming more progressive and melodic. The result of this metamorphosis was two excellent works in Hail Death and As Was, and it is where they pick things up now with Regenesis. Force and aggression still prevail, the ferocity of “29” shining through a relentless approach, while the title track traverses the bitter and agonizing. Yet, what defines the majority of Regenesis is melody and depth.
The guitars’ entrance for “In Two” sees this melancholic approach rise from the darkness. For each part of eeriness and discordance that one might find in “Castrum Doloris,” there is an abundance of melody and catchiness, coming through in the choruses of “8-bit Terror” and a more traditional heavy metal approach. This is the key for Regenesis and the biggest leap that Black Anvil manage to make. The setup, progression, and lead work speak towards a vision of blackened heavy metal, something that pierces through the crisp riffs of “Silver & Steele” and the doom inclinations of “Echoes & Tapestry”. The mix is complete when more grand elements set up the towering presence of “The Bet”, the psychedelic fumes of “8-bit Terror” or the industrial machinations of interlude “VV”. It is all this wealth that makes Regenesis a modern work of extreme metal. – Spyros Stasis
City of Industry – Spiritual West (No Funeral Records)
Third record for the chameleonic hardcore act City of Industry. With Spiritual West, the Seattle trio continues to deliver their dark and harrowing take on modern hardcore. It is a work that ticks all the boxes. The fervent approach is of course the foundation, moving into a bastardized old-school D-beat territory with “Chalk Up This Assault” and “Death Sickness,” to then switch into grindcore gear. Short bursts of anguish explode in “Ships of Mercy” causing absolute havoc. Yet, on the return instead of hammering down that much harder, City of Industry tend to return with their melodic inclinations. “Everybody’s Cross These Days, Darling” and “Raindrops” see this presence, the first within a noise rock context while the latter on the heavy punk rock side.
It is clear that City of Industry approach hardcore in a holistic manner. Indeed, they drop the tempo and deliver heavy riffs that are usually found in sludge. “Commoners Garden” and “Perruquier” relish this downtrodden tone. At the same time though, they do offer moments of off-kilter noise rock-inspired progression, and even some post-metallic touches with closer “In Cloud And Majesty And Awe.” Finally, the ambient investigations have now expanded, seeing tracks drift off into this abstract domain in “Commoners Garden” and “Dissociation,” while the title track offers a brutal vocal delivery over the serene synthesizers. All in all, City of Industry display great growth. They have focused and compressed the anthemic aspects of Conspire Conspire Conspire, and have swapped out the clean passages found throughout False Flowers for the darker, ambient recitals. – Spyros Stasis
Disillusion – Ayam (Prophecy)
Disillusion made a dent in the progressive metal sphere with their 2006 sophomore record Gloria. The act from Germany took elements from extreme metal and mixed these with electronic and industrial music, placed them under a true progressive mindset, and delivered a record ahead of its time. A long silence would ensue, eventually broken in 2019 with the release of The Liberation. The record saw them return to the more metallically grounded days of their debut Back to Times of Splendor, and now their newest offering Ayam carries on this tradition.
Disillusion’s music travels through peaks and troughs. On one hand, they are creating these epic contortions, appearing majestic with “Am Abgrund,” absolutely shattering in “Tormento” and dark and mysterious with “The Brook.” Then they switch, dwelling into ambient and acoustic territories, the start of “Driftwood” stunning in its simplicity. A bit of augmentation takes things a long way as “Longhope” injects synthetic elements into this desolate core. But, it is the kaleidoscopic vision of progressive metal that sticks out. Disillusion hone the best that the forward-thinking side of extreme metal has to offer, from the early days of Opeth’s heavy sentimentality to the grand dreams of Edge of Sanity. This leads to the next cornerstone of Ayam, and a staple in Disillusion’s identity; the melodic inclinations. Despite their extreme metallic outlook, Ayam does not shy away from catchiness and directness. The alternations between the heavy and the pristine in “Abide The Storm” are masterful, while the melancholic twist of “Nine Days” is stunning.
Disillusion do not disappoint with Ayam, they deliver a work of depth and complexity. The long-form structures, the labyrinthine pathways, and the alternations between the melodic and the extreme are perfectly illustrating that. Even though they do not re-awaken some of the off-kilter characteristics that made Gloria stand out, Ayam is still one of the progressive records that you need to listen to. – Spyros Stasis
Dysgnostic – Scar Echoes (Transcending Obscurity)
Rivaled perhaps only by I, Voidhanger, Transcending Obscurity, the Mumbai-based metal label run by Kunal Choksi, continues to be enviably consistent when avant and generally idiosyncratic variants of black, death, and doom metal are concerned. Take Denmark’s technical death metal outfit Dysgnostic (formerly known as Defilementory) as an example. The quartet flows from funeral doom and blackened sludge to brutal death metal with understated elegance and ease to weave a dense, oftentimes textural structure around them. This mercurial approach enables them to indulge in quick one-two exchanges of otherwise clashing styles, fusing Gorguts-like dissonance with burrowing old-school death metal grooves in the same moment. Scar Echoes, the first release under their new name, is compact and to the point yet also layered enough for each listen to hold attention with new detail and trick: a winnowing riff, an unexpected drum fill, or a hair-rising guttural growl. – Antonio Poscic