It is always nice to see established figures explore new avenues for their work. Lee Bufford and Steven Vallet go back to their roots, resurrecting the Dead Times project and finally unleashing their experimental noise debut. False Fed, led by members of Amebix and Discharge, investigate the link between the ferocity of the punk scene and its eventual evolution into post-punk. Similarly, Rebecca Vernon unearths the folk and American roots that fueled the mighty SubRosa, while Marziona Silvani transitions from her punk heritage to the heavier side with Marthe.
At the same time, several acts continue to deliver the goods. Afterbirth, one of the bands that helped to establish slam death metal, continue to explore their progressive applications to the scene. On the other hand, On Thorns I Lay complete a cycle as they travel back to their doom/death foundation with their self-titled record. The beloved Cirith Ungol, whose work has been instrumental in the foundation of epic heavy doom, return vibrantly with Dark Parade.
Of course, there is much more that October has to offer. The destructive doom/death/noise/sludge amalgamations of Body Void, the harrowing avant-garde black metal visions of Laster, and the ambitious and grand black/death of Vertebra Atlantis are just some of the highlights. So dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Afterbirth – In But Not Of (Willowtip)
While their work in the 1990s set the stage for the onset of brutal death metal and slam, the evolution of Afterbirth’s sound in the past ten years has been nothing short of astonishing and just as important. Although vestiges of brutal death metal echo throughout In But Not Of, the Long Island group’s third LP, the music is primarily driven by an unusually progressive approach, despite having very few things in common with other bands in the genre.
Most of the 11 cuts are highly technical, mind-blowing roller coasters, of course, but the focus seems to be on their overarching purpose and poise, not sensory overload. This paradigm shift allows the band to elegantly move from screeching dissonance and brutal rampages (“Devils With Dead Eyes”) and frolicking, bumbling tech death metal (“Autoerotic Amputation”) to cosmic, synth-filled ambiance (“Hovering Human Head Drones”, “Time Enough Tomorrow”) and progressive post-rock reminiscent of Dredg (“In But Not Of”) and Devin Townsend (“Angels Feast on Flies”). – Antonio Poscic
Baring Teeth – The Path Narrows (I, Voidhanger)
Baring Teeth have been part of the vanguard of the current technical death metal wave, releasing their exquisite debut record, Atrophy, back in 2011. Through the years, they have only improved, arriving now with The Path Narrows for another tour de force through complex structures and brutal renditions. The progressive death metal sound is unleashed through the very start of “Obsolescence”, taking on the teachings of latter-day Gorguts for a stunning result. Intricate rhythmic applications add flourishes, while dissonant touches in the likes of “Rote Mimesis” highlight this volatile state.
There is also an interesting balance that Baring Teeth keep here. On one end, there are certain leanings towards an old-school style, highlighted mainly through the lightning-fast lead work of “Culled” or the incredible picking speeds and impeccable drumming of “Wreath.” And while this moves them closer to the likes of Artificial Brain, there is still a further dive into the eerie that pulls towards a different direction. The atmospheric touches of “Liminal Rite” see this perspective, while the mid-tempo groove of that track and closer “Terminus” brings to mind the black/death experiments of Ulcerate. Still, no matter the mode they operate in, Baring Teeth deliver as promised, making The Path Narrows an excellent addition to their discography. – Spyros Stasis
Body Void – Atrocity Machine (Prosthetic)
“Turn on the cop show / Murder for free / 24/7 free live stream / The victims / You and me.” Delivered with earnest pain and angst, the fourth full-length by Body Void sources its lyrics and boundless sonic heaviness from a raw, unfiltered reality. Eschewing metaphors and artistic misdirections, Atrocity Machine taps into the horrific underbelly of Western, particularly US society, turning police brutality, capitalist destruction, and post-truth narratives into some of the most crushing heavy music of the year.
Edward Holgerson (drums), Janys-Iren Faughn (electronics), and Willow Ryan (guitars, voice) lay down a monumental sound that encapsulates the sensation of a freight train passing millimeters from your face, combining riffs heavy enough to move mountains, rhythmic patterns that sound more like tanker explosions than drum hits, and electronic sirens, walls of noise, and beastly screams to make your skin crawl. Harrowing, beautiful stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Cirith Ungol – Dark Parade (Metal Blade)
Like NWOBHM legends Satan, California’s Cirith Ungol are one of those rare success stories of heavy metal reunions done right. On this second post-resurrection album, Greg Lindstrom (guitars, keyboards), Robert Garven (drums), and Tim Baker (vocals) feel as vital and inspired as they were in the 1970s and 1980s. With the help of bassist Jarvis Leatherby (of Night Demon), they show just how capable they are of extracting fresh music and inspiration from that primordial soup of epic heavy and doom metal that we considered long dried up.
Their new album Dark Parade holds no surprises in this sense and continues where 2020’s Forever Black left off: attacking with absolutely tasty, crunchy riffs and laying grooves and harmonies on top of galloping rhythms. Meanwhile, Tim Baker is left to spread out his expressive full range, which rises from Hansi Kusch-like velvety baritone proclamations to soaring cries, once more establishing Cirith Ungol as masters of heavy metal. – Antonio Poscic
Cult Burial – Reverie of the Malignant (Independent)
Death, black, or doom metal? Melodic or dissonant? Brutal or atmospheric? All of the above. The music of London trio Cult Burial is a mishmash of styles, influences, and moods that nonetheless manages to sound cohesive and quite addictive. In contrast to their 2020 self-titled debut—which garnered significant hype and buzz in underground metal circles—Reverie of the Malignant adds emphasis on the dulcet and expansive facets of their style but still finds plenty of space for merciless tendencies. While tracks like “Parasite” dig deep into doom metal territories by unleashing slowly drifting masses of riffs, others such as “Umbra” and “Strive” provide welcome counterpoints, stumbling between bumbling black, death, and blackened death metal assaults. Someone sign this band already. – Antonio Poscic
Dead Times – Dead Times (Thrill Jockey)
It might be the debut for the Body’s Lee Bufford and Steven Vallet project Dead Times, but their collaboration goes far back in time. Back in 2009, the duo released their first demo through the short-lived Aum War label, in effect setting the cornerstone for the current explosion of industrialized, noisy, extreme metal. This eventual return to form sees Dead Times re-awaken all their brutal characteristics, from the industrial and power electronic components, but also embrace their melodic leanings.
It is a dichotomy between the horrific and the pristine. The entrance of “Rosewater” perfectly encapsulates this duality, the mutilated church choir providing a grand presence while vibrant color is splattered over the voices. “Be Glad” sees a similar approach, the distorted beats going hand in hand with the mesmerizing synthesizers. Yet, for the majority of this work, the prettier aspects are contorted towards a pensive representation. The martial procession of “Their teeth are spears and Indian swords” is a prime example of this, while closer “METAXU” takes this disfiguring element to new heights.
Melody and brutality come together, creating moments as obscure and menacing as the post-industrial beats to “Psyche Surpises Love” or the dystopian lashing that is “Black Paintings”. Yet, there is also something more ethereal that dwells beneath the wreckage, as the pretty guitar lines in “Comfort and Control” let on. It is a definite progression from the earlier works, where harsh electronics and blackened industrial solely ruled. It sees Dead Times evolve, and while taking on many soothing aspects, the overall result is as hard-hitting as ever. – Spyros Stasis
False Fed – Let Them Eat Fake (Neurot)
Seeing how past and present members of Amebix and Discharge have come together in False Fed, it would be quite natural to expect a record rooted in the hardcore punk tradition. Yet, the act’s debut record, Let The Eat Fake, does not confine itself in this sonic territory. Sure, there is a lot of the punk ethos and energy that drives this work. The fervor in “Superficial” has something of the crust scene, while “Mass Debate” sees this energy drawing from a metallic lineage.
However, there is a definite tilt towards two additional domains. Firstly, there is a strong post-punk aspect, something that is mirrored in the progression and grand vocal delivery. The weaving melodies of “Echoes of Compromise” see a Sisters of Mercy quality rise, which is also achieved through the overdubs of “The Big Sleep”. On the other hand, there is a strong industrial touch that creeps into the flow. The hard-hitting approach of “The Tyrant Dies” and the guitar sound of “Dreadful Necessities” have something of the early Prong ferocity and experimentation. What is more important is that False Fed can harmonize these different elements, providing a very intense and condensed ride through Let Them Eat Fake. – Spyros Stasis
Furia – Huta Luna (Pagan)
Furia are a curious black metal band. While they were never considered overtly experimental—at least not to the measure of Imperial Triumphant or Bekor Qilish—the spastic stylistic jumps that accompany their albums, the place they occupy in Poland’s art scene, and the fabric of their music suggest something utterly avant in their intentions. Take the seventh studio album Huta Luna as an example. Its frenetic instrumental flesh sounds like something taken from Enslaved’s early pagan era and blown up tenfold, while vocals are delivered not as growls embedded in a barrage of tremolos and blast beats but as disembodied chants and spoken word overflowing with Thespian drama.
Trying to connect the makeup of this album to any of their previous works is a puzzling undertaking, even if we leave aside the left-field closer “Księżyc, czyli Słońce”—a half an hour long ambient drone, composed of in situ folk recordings, found sounds, metallic fragments, and electronics, that rounds off an equally strange and mesmerizing listen. – Antonio Poscic
The Keening – Little Bird (Relapse)
From the late 2000s to the mid-2010s, SubRosa opened the door towards a grand representation of doom metal. With a discography filled with stellar works, the band’s eventual dissolution in 2019 left a gaping void in heavy music. The majority of the members would continue with the Otolith, offering a direct continuation of SubRosa’s heavy themes, but Rebecca Vernon would carry on with her solo project, the Keening. Turning her gaze towards folk music and Americana, Vernon produces an exquisite debut record in Little Bird. The grand sense now points more towards a Southern Gothic element, a score to accompany the works of William Faulkner or Flannery O’Conner.
At times it is a stripped-down affair, with understated acoustic guitars and violins adorning the simple folk domain of “Autumn”. It is a restrained approach, but it can still produce magical results as with “The Hunter I” and its excellent use of harp. Still, there is a heavier sense that overcomes the essential core, reaching for crescendos in “Eden”. These are powerful moments, bringing to mind the more devastating aspects of SubRosa, especially in “The Hunter II” as the distorted guitars join. No matter the approach, restrictive or explosive, Vernon can create a strong narrative through Little Bird.
A heartbreaking ride by digging deep into sorrow and melancholy but without losing track of a sense of wonder and, at times, even joy. In leaving behind the heavy music of SubRosa, the Keening have repurposed all the indispensable elements from their core. – Spyros Stasis
Krieg – Ruiner (Profound Lore)
The thing with Krieg is that they are so prolific that it’s difficult to keep track of how long it has been since they last released a full-length. It has now been nine years since the exquisite Transient and the Pennsylvania act finally return with their Profound Lore debut, Ruiner. In essence, this is a work of devastating black metal in the spirit of the US black metal scene. From the opening moments of “Bulwark”, the overwhelming feeling is undeniable. It morphs through discordant themes in “Solitarily, A Funeral Renounced” and frenetic upheaval in the likes of “An Execution in the Kingdom of Ideas”, or presented as a force of nature in “Manifested Ritual Horror”.
Where Transient found them pushing the extreme sound towards elements like noise, with the likes of “Circling the Drain” and a return to a raw, punkish form with “Return to Fire”, Ruiner finds Krieg aching for a fuller embrace of tradition. The second black metal wave finds a home here through the icy touch and eerie lead work in “Fragments of Nothing”. It is something that opens up a more melodic and almost catchy” with “Red Rooms”. But it also naturally leads to moments of Bathory-esque grandeur in “The Lantern and the Key” or Emperor majesty with “No Gardens Grow Here”.
At moments it even feels like they are aiming to diverge further, adding an atmospheric dimension that echoes the otherworldly essence of Celtic Frost circa Into the Pandemonium. Ruiner overall is quite an unexpected turn of trajectory, considering where Krieg were with Transient. Yet the core components remain unchanged. This raw, brutal energy. The uncompromising ferocity that is so key to black metal. Krieg always understood the importance of these elements, and as long they keep these in focus, and they do with Ruiner, they will keep delivering great works. – Spyros Stasis