5. Dordeduh – Har (Prophecy Productions)
It’s difficult to discuss the music of Romania’s Dordeduh without at least touching upon the venerable Negură Bunget and their cult album OM. When Edmond Karban and Cristian Popescu left Negură Bunget in 2009 to start Dordeduh, they took a significant part of their old band’s style and character with them. Unsurprisingly, with Dordeduh’s 2012 excellent debut LP Dar de duh they continued the natural evolution of black metal infused with folk and progressive influences but never quite reached the pinnacle that was OM. Meanwhile, led by sole remaining member Gabriel Mafa (Negru), Negură Bunget stagnated and ultimately dissolved after Mafa’s untimely and tragic death.
More than an homage or re-enactment of the past, Har is the first Dordeduh release that appears as a world of its own, haunted by epic, sprawling cuts, each of them pulsing with vivid melodies and bittersweet atmospheres. The songwriting, playing, and production are exquisite here. Yet in many ways, these technicalities don’t seem to matter, as Har is an album that is ultimately felt rather than just heard if you allow its misty moods and mystique to expand into the ether and flow through thoughts. Striking stuff. – Antonio Poscic
4. King Woman – Celestial Blues (Relapse)
King Woman has been balancing between the gritty and the ethereal. The earthy and the otherworldly, a feature that has been highlighted in the split between doom/drone motifs and shoegaze verging on dream pop. It is a split that defines Celestial Blues, appearing straight away through the opening track. Bluesy in its demeanor, in that it carries a certain melancholy but at the same time being elevated to celestial heights. The Sabbathian heritage here is projected through a heavy indie approach, masterfully merging these two disparate worlds. It’s this progression, starting from the mysterious in “Boghz”, moving in mesmerizing notions to explode in huge fits of doom grandeur. While there are times when an even harsher approach is taken, with the punkish attitude of “Coil” seeing an escalated energy driving the endeavor.
Be it the hymnal invocations of “Golgotha”, the evocative nature of “Ruse”, or the direct approach of “Morning Star”, this work feels like it is reaching towards a spiritual level. The Miltionian aspect seals it all together through the minimal “Paradise Lost”, leaving you with the lines from “Morning Star” echoing in your head, “You know that it could have been you, so don’t you judge the things that I do”. King Woman’s finest moment so far. – Spyros Stasis
3. Divide and Dissolve – Gas Lit (Invada)
The heaviness of the third LP by Australian duo Divide and Dissolve with Takiaya Reed on saxophone and guitar and Sylvie Nehill on drums emanates primarily from the subjects of gender and race that inform the music. The desire for decolonization and trampling over white supremacy is the core and moving spirit; everything else is a consequence. Rather than playing extreme variants of drone, doom, sludge, and post-metal just for the sake of sonic extravaganza, Divide and Dissolve’s musical choices become driven by their messages and turn into subversions of the genres’ tropes and usual machismo.
What on its own might sound like a typical overdriven and distorted doom metal riff, here becomes a defiant and righteous roar against racism. Incandescent blast beats turn into war cries against oppression. Yet the most affecting moments come when everything crumbles and goes up in flames, releasing Reed’s smoky saxophone phrases. Here, we finally feel the empathy and fragility behind all the rage. We experience the unrelenting desire for equality that fuels Gas Lit. We hear an awesome statement. – Antonio Poscic
2. The Armed – Ultrapop (Sargent House)
There was always something unique about The Armed. The mysterious collective from Detroit aptly moved through in harmony with multiple extreme music influences. Yet, their fourth full-length endeavor in Ultrapop is on a whole different level. Many of the characteristics that drive The Armed are still present. Noise rock and post-hardcore, mathcore complexity, and grindcore fury are all to be found here. Yet, running beneath all this is a direct and catchy foundation. Amidst all the chaos and havoc, The Armed still find a way to place perfect hooks.
It’s what makes Ultrapop a record of perfect dichotomy: Dreamy and joyous synthesizers colliding with the noise rock spine of “All Futures” or post-punk illusion appearing in “An Iteration”. None of the unpredictability and raw energy is missing. Both “Faith in Medication” and “Average Death” leverage this duality. But, the product is even more stunning. Because what Ultrapop leaves behind is an overtly joyous and, almost, life-affirming quality. The erratic energy, the unassumed maximalism drive a perfect injection of positivity through the Armed’s music. That’s not simply an addition to an already excellent discography. Ultrapop is potentially an evolution of extreme music. The Armed have revealed one way into the future, and it is here now! – Spyros Stasis
1. Archspire – Bleed the Future (Season of Mist)
Like Archspire’s previous release, 2017’s Relentless Mutation, Bleed the Future is a technical death metal masterpiece, which you listen to with your mouth wide open from start to finish. The jaw drop is never solely a result of the inhuman level of musicianship demonstrated here, either. Instead, it stems from the fact that the mental speeds and bursts of acceleration and deceleration that dominate each second don’t gimp the exquisite song structures and sense of melody present in their cores.
As you start to untangle the layers of spiraling riffs, fragmented growls, plump bass lines, and minigun-like fills, you realize just how painstakingly architectured this music is, as if the laws of time didn’t apply when they weaved and manipulated their hyper intricate compositions. Each section of the eight songs is thus a breathtaking miniature in itself, sprinkled with dazzling flourishes of neoclassicism, ingenious musical twists, and even bits of humor. When put together, these musical cogs make up a devious machine – an obvious choice for our metal album of the year. – Antonio Poscic