10. Oriflamme – L’Égide Ardente (Sepulchral)
Oriflamme subscribe to the extreme modus operandi of their native Canadian underground black metal scene. They establish an obscured ambiance, tearing through the void with devastating cataclysmic assaults but still finding moments of bliss and beauty amongst the ruins. Echoes of Akitsa’s influence on the scene radiate through the title track, with Oriflamme furiously taking over and unleashing hell with their wrath and angst. But, Oriflamme don’t remain contained in a single gear approach, brutally dropping the pace and offering some truly torturous moments of mid-tempo havoc as in the ending of “Un Mal Ancien”.
Still, no matter the modus operandi they choose, Oriflamme can always awaken a feeling of grandeur, of music that is epic and endless. They take their time with their compositions, allowing them to evolve slowly into long-form structures. And it is within these explorations that they uncover moments of extreme brutality, as in the onslaught that is “Sacrifices!”, or through moments of introspective beauty as with the stellar “Ultime Rempart”. It is this momentum and purpose that makes L’Égide Ardente shine so brightly. – Spyros Stasis
9. Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever (The Laser’s Edge)
Since releasing their first LP, Suspended Animation Dreams, in 2015, Subterranean Masquerade have been one of the most idiosyncratic yet consistent progressive rock and metal outfits globally. While ear-catching melodies anchor them neatly in Middle Eastern folk, their music expands through various genres, borrowing equally from ’70s progressive and symphonic rock, psychedelia, and death metal. In doing so, they demonstrate a keen sense of alternating almost spiritual sections with harsh ones, shifting in the blink of an eye from Jon Anderson-like ornamented rock to the emphatic forms of Orphaned Land.
Mountain Fever is a further refinement and perhaps even the peak of their discography. Throughout the record, they pass through avant-pop patches reminiscent of late-era David Bowie, dance amidst intricate narratives that evoke modern prog metallers such as ARK and Ayreon and end up in territories of pure doom-death. But for all the eccentricities of this approach, the resulting whole is coherent. The best way to describe their music is by calling it stunning, thanks to their well-thought-out compositions in which each style, rhythm, and mood change makes sense as a part of an overarching, larger context. Our progressive rock/metal album of the year. – Antonio Poscic
8. Utopia – Stalker (APF)
A common problem with works that travel to technical heights is that there tends to be a one-dimensional result. The artists focus more on crafting super-complex structures, combining strange scales. While sounding impressive, the approach appears to be a touch pedestrian. Thankfully, this is not the case for Utopia, and Stalker is a work that goes through many different modes. The start shows an appreciation for old-school death metal, especially the jazz/death fusion of pioneers such as Atheist. But, that is not all. The majority of the time for Utopia is spent in a strange mathcore foundation. Grind inclinations define “Spirit Wives”, with the vocals going for the jugular.
It’s in the moments of strange that the weird rock vibes stand out. The off-kilter progression of “What About Me” carries a Swans-ian influence, while “Moscow Holiday” scoops a healthy dose of noise rock and adds to the mix. But still, Utopia travel further, moving towards the sludge and post-metal frontiers explored by the likes of ISIS. With “A Projection of Me on You”, they set on a path of destruction through sludge riffs and post-metal grandeur. In the seemingly saturated world of technical extreme metal, Utopia’s Stalker feels like a breath of fresh air. – Spyros Stasis
7. madam data – The Gospel of the Devourer (PTP)
Built on top of kinetic narration that desires agency in the real world, The Gospel of the Devourer by multifaceted artist madam data is concrete poetry and emotion manifested on a cosmic scale. Like the best sci-fi stories, the tales of interdimensional war told here occupy an interstitial space between metaphor and reality. They encapsulate all the pasts, presents, and futures at once, then explode the cathartic pain and elation across galaxies and stars.
The music these concepts inhabit is mercurial. It flickers into life through barrages of diffused black metal, then embraces Sunn O)))-like voluminous drones and trickling hypnagogic ambient. At times, the narration floats on barely perceptible undulations of bass and hissing textures, mimicking sonified microwave background radiation. At others, it pushes forward relentlessly with harsh noise.
Time passes differently in these microcosms as the voices of Moor Mother or King Vision Ultra become the only points of reference. “I want the water to guide me / I want to forgive the water,” one of them whispers. “With open eyes seems like a mystery,” concludes another before it. As this future history fades, it begins anew. The triumph becomes a disaster. After all, “we are not luminous; only opaque beyond understanding, unending and inevitable.” – Antonio Poscic
6. Antediluvian – The Divine Punishment (Nuclear War Now!)
The brutality and aggression that have defined the past of Antediluvian are still strong and vibrant with The Divine Punishment. This is not a graceful death metal approach, nor is it based on the eerie black metal progression. No, barbarians have stormed the gates with polemic intentions, and they leave nothing standing in their path, as opener “Obscene Pornography Manifests in the Divine Universal Consciousness” takes over. This is the core mode for Antediluvian, a characteristic that they have assimilated from Revenge’s teachings.
Yet, Antediluvian are not content with simply gratifying their primal nature. Sure, this is a caveman mentality, but it arrives with a broader palette and in a very thought-out manner. The duration of the tracks (and the album) have expanded, allowing for moments of further experimentation. Drone and abstract elements, feedback from unknown sources, and cymbals rise from the deep. This is the time before the great flood, and that is how Antediluvian set their atmosphere. Choirs appear in “How the Watchers Granted the Humans Sex Magick”, adding to the track’s depth. Acoustic parts materialize amidst a storm of noise in “Guardians of the Liminal”, and the descent to the dark ambient realm is complete with the industrialized spoken word hell of “White Throne”. It is this that makes The Divine Punishment a record that can propel an entire scene forwards. – Spyros Stasis