15. Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse (Avantgarde Music)
Gorguts. Krallice. Lychgate. Ad Nauseam? The fearsome Italian foursome and their dissonant, disorienting take on avant-tinged technical death metal appear like the perfect candidate to become the next element in that sequence of non-idiomatic groups. And Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is their statement of intent. A no holds barred affair. An hour of getting thrashed in all directions by dissonant and disjointed attacks, spiked structures that rise high then collapse onto themselves, and rhythm and tempo changes that stumble and crash into each other.
This music can be a downright daunting experience. It’s simultaneously looser and more violently deconstructed than Gorguts, more abrasively atonal than Lychgate, yet often armed with a laser-sharp focus and rumbling drive like that of Krallice. Phase-shifted death metal riffs growl angrily at each other. Pointillist drum rolls become swept away in a tide of string ensembles tuning in. A guitar tremolo buzzes like a swarm of bees then disappears into cosmic synths and atmospheric noises. Lightly syncopated cymbal hits and snare brushes meld distorted post-bop with mercurial metal blasts. Just as you grab onto any particular pattern, it slips out of your hands and makes sure you’re aware of its elusive, ephemeral nature. – Antonio Poscic
14. Autarkh – Form in Motion (Season of Mist)
Autarkh are the natural evolution of the great, sadly defunct Dodecahedron. Many of the former’s outfit characteristics echo through the dark corridors of Form in Motion. It’s a starless record with a razor-sharp edge. The cacophony is front and center from the moment “Turbulence” kicks in, as repetitive patterns entwine with a brutal progression that does not reveal any signs of remorse. Math-informed structures and breaks take over, while the heavy layering makes this a very dense offering. And yet, within all this, Autark turn their attention outwards, looking beyond black metal and into the electronic domain.
The rhythmic backbone of this work carries a heavy dose of IDM, while the cold, detached and mechanical outlook is perfected through an industrial injection. And yet, this is not where all the weirdness stops, as bizarre dance motifs fit in “Introspectum”, dark ambient and abstract electronica feature in the record’s interludes, and a rap-like delivery in “Lost in Sight” is an absolute scene-stealer. This combination makes Form in Motion a formidable record, one that draws influence from the best that experimental black metal offers. What is even more daunting is that despite the richness and quality of this work, it feels that Autarkh still have ground to cover. We’ll just have to wait and see how they can surpass themselves. – Spyros Stasis
13. Hellish Form – Remains (Translation Loss)
We have been spoiled, in recent years, by an influx of excellent sludge, drone, and doom lit with the bright fire of introspective motifs and intimately poignant reflections on social struggles filtered through personal experiences. The already heavy music gains an irresistible, albeit suffocating momentum within these themes, ensuring that its message is heard loud and clear. In this context, vocalist and guitarist Willow Ryan has gifted us with two of the year’s most potent releases.
After exploring outwardly through the sludge and drone of Body Void’s Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth with Eddy Holgerson, Ryan joined forces with Jacob Lee to venture inwards on waves of funeral doom as Hellish Form. Remains is such a gorgeous and deeply affecting album that it should be enjoyed in a vacuum of expectations. Writing about the dynamism hidden within huge, enveloping riffs and the shiver-inducing piano chords that cut open “Your Grave Becomes a Garden”, the synth arpeggios that brighten the Sunn O))) like darkness and YOB melancholy of “Shadows with Teeth”, or the funeral blackgaze “Another World” feels like giving away spoilers. These pockets of pristine beauty within the abyss should be experienced firsthand, not read about. So go on. Give up and give in to Remains. – Antonio Poscic
12. Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon (Relapse)
Coming back after such a prolonged break is daunting. What can we expect from Genghis Tron? Will they be able to recapture the magic and essence that made their two full-length records so awe-inspiring? The trick is not to overextend, not try to outdo your previous self but to explore new pathways, and that is what Genghis Tron do with Dream Weapon. Many things have changed for Genghis Tron, the line-up has been altered, and for the first time, the band has a drummer, none other than Nick Yacyshyn of Sumac and Baptists fame. This causes the digital backbone to subside, providing Dream Weapon with an organic and more humane touch.
Much of the grindcore lineage is left behind, with Genghis Tron instead focusing on the intersections between progressive and psychedelic rock with a post-metallic touch. Elements of electronica combine with mesmerizing rhythmic patterns, achieving a hypnotic edge. Waves of synthesizers fill the space to build this ambient domain. Further avant-metal characteristics are introduced, injections of post-hardcore and noise add to the multi-layered result. It is easy to dismiss this evolution as a taming that has occurred over time, but it is not so much that Genghis Tron have lost their edge but that they have claimed their maturity. It is the simple fact that while Board Up The House reveled in chaos and disharmony, Dream Weapon relishes in serenity and tranquility. – Spyros Stasis
11. BIG|BRAVE – Vital (Southern Lord)
While previous albums by Montreal’s BIG|BRAVE often chose one atmosphere and one type of attack – like the immovable but expanding drones on 2017’s Ardor or the chilling sonic strikes of 2019’s A Gaze Among Them – Vital fuses styles gracefully, sacrificing form to matter. Perhaps their emotionally heaviest work yet, the album embraces guitarist and vocalist Robin Wattie’s self-reflective lyrics about identity and race and uses them to canvas the dynamics between individuals and an often hostile society.
Throughout the album, guitarist Mathieu Ball and drummer Tasy Hudson explode their riffs and fill with the impact of a thousand drone and doom metal bands playing a folk song in unison. Start-stop rhythms and roaring feedback fence off a mass of metal aftershocks. All around them, as if cradling their sonic thorns, Wattie’s voice soars with a mixture of fragility and spite. Her story is the story of all people of mixed race. She needs to tell it and wants to be heard, even when it seems no one is listening. Through sheer will, BIG|BRAVE create a musical manifestation of the struggles behind and fights ahead. – Antonio Poscic