I will keep this one simple. This month really has been all about death metal. Not only the volume, but the sheer quality of these works is nothing short of astounding. Tomb Mould lead the charge, but the likes of the well-established Wormhole, the obscured Acausal Intrusion, and the bonebreaking Fabricant are just the peak of the iceberg. Of course, there is much more to dive into here, from KEN mode’s excellent conclusion of 2022’s NULL with VOID, to Hexvessel’s embrace of their black metal roots, all the way to the heavy metal barrage of Cruel Force and By Fire & Sword. But again, it is about death metal. For crying out loud! Dying Fetus have a new record out, and Gridlink return after almost a decade. Rejoice and dig in! – Spyros Stasis
Acausal Intrusion – Panpsychism (I, Voidhanger)
Acausal Intrusion bring this month’s serving of dissonance-laden blackened death metal. Bookended by industrial electronics and found sounds miniatures, Panpsychism rides a wave of thorny, occasionally abjectly technical death metal. Partly due to its layers of synthetic strings and feedback and moments of thrashing rapture, the US duo’s concoction of styles is at once atmospheric and brazenly aggressive. This balance of powers is maintained throughout the main six cuts, with only occasional detours into heady psychedelia (“Pillar Of Rationality”), groovier plateaus (“Continuum Magnitude”), and crawling, funeral doom-infected black metal inflections (“Molecular Entanglement”). Although not easy an easy album to digest at first, Panpsychism is thoroughly rewarding on repeated listens. – Antonio Poscic
Baroness – Stone (Abraxan Hymns)
It looks like the color era is over, or at least in pause, for Baroness, who return with their new record Stone. While this symbolic departure from the past is a key statement, much of the foundations remain the same for the Georgia band. The progressive sludge has been steadily tamed throughout the past decade, allowing for the prog rock and psychedelic elements to flourish. At the same time, the emotional bravado has been extended, something that shines in Stone through the chorus of “Last Word” and through the obtrusive and harsh progression of “Under The Wheel.”
Where Stone makes its dent is in applying a more direct approach. The traditional metallic components are essential on that front, providing fuel for “Beneath the Rose” and “Anodyne”. Similarly, progressive rock takes a bigger part of the pie, with Baroness digging deeper into that lineage through “Shine” and “Choir”. In turn, the intricate touch of psychedelic rock is still present, but more understated. It provides slight augmentations to the lead work with its intricate presence, and through the processed, spoken word parts. At this point, the identity of Baroness is solidly defined, but it is good to see the band still toying around with different ideas and ways of presenting themselves.
However, it feels like something is missing from Stone. The more elusive elements, and the absence of this out-there and experimental aspect, always feel like they are around the corner, but they never arrive. Baroness still show that they are more than capable of recapturing their trademark magic, for example with the sublime “Magnolia”, but this leaning for the immediate has taken something, in my opinion, more significant away. – Spyros Stasis
By Fire & Sword – Glory (No Remorse)
Despite their faux Christian, burlesque shtick, Boise, Idaho’s By Fire & Sword play some mighty fine heavy metal. That definition, however, seems reductive, considering how their debut Glory actually weaves together a number of strains of traditional heavy music—from 1970s hard rock to doom and power metal—into a rather unique whole. While Tom Newby’s velvety, intentionally exaggerated, sermon-like tenor steers the music into the camp of Ghost, the songs themselves are much more focused and inspired rather than just built upon eccentricities. This holds true from the lovely drive and choruses of opener “Leave a Little Room” and right down to the last minutes of the Euro power metal romp “Dear Reverend (Please Take My Hand)” that closes proceedings. – Antonio Poscic
The Chronicles of Father Robin – The Songs & Tales of Airoea – Book 1 (Old Oak)
The music of Norwegian group the Chronicles of Father Robin encompasses several eras of progressive rock at once, equally likely to take hints from 1970s legends such as King Crimson and Gentle Giant, their contemporary Nordic colleagues Anekdoten and Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s universe and aeon-spanning project Ayreon.
The Songs & Tales of Airoea – Book 1, both the group’s debut and the first album in a planned trilogy, opens with the sounds of waves and a terroir that suggests a trip to mystical, distant lands, perhaps located somewhere in Narnia. Soon enough, the fuzzy synth strings, harpsichords, and minstrel-like atmosphere of “The Tale of Father Robin” transport us near King Crimson’s seminal 1969 record In The Court of the Crimson King, only for “Eleison Forest” to jump into modernity with heavy prog inflections in the vein of Threshold and Gösta Berlings Saga.
This dialogue between the old and the new continues over the next few cuts, mixing familiar Canterbury tropes, Jethro Tull evoking flutes, and bits of Hawkwind’s spaced-out explorations with the more angular and labyrinthine modern understanding of the genre. Despite a slight anachronistic aura that surrounds the music, this idiosyncratic fusion of styles is rendered into exquisitely cohesive pieces, each of them telling their own story while connecting it to a larger narrative. – Antonio Poscic
Cruel Force – Dawn of the Axe (Shadow Kingdom)
Cruel Force play an unmistakably Teutonic, Sodom-inspired amalgam of heavy, black, and thrash metal, and they are freaking good at it. Like their previous full-lengths, 2010’s The Rise of Satanic Might and 2011’s Under the Sign of the Moon, Dawn of the Axe is a total rout that shifts from surf rock evoking gallops and uppity tremolos to gnarly speed and heavy metal that sounds like Mercyful Fate on a particularly bad night out. There’s more than a sprinkling of impishness and zesty tongue-in-cheek at play here that make the primitive but dynamic cuts increasingly appealing with each subsequent listen. Special mention goes to the album’s cover, which rounds everything off with a lovely touch of 8-bit game aesthetics. – Antonio Poscic
Dying Fetus – Make Them Beg For Death (Relapse)
Dying Fetus’s marvelous 2000 album Destroy the Opposition was probably among the first death metal records I had ever heard, and definitely, the one that showed me just how sonically extreme metal could get, to the point of overload. While its bombastic production, the pummeling combination of riffs and growls, and Kevin Talley’s organ-shaking kick-drums might have been a bit too much for my teenage ears, the band’s name has become emblazoned among what I consider the death metal’s elite. With their ninth LP now out, they show no sign of stopping.
The style of slamming, brutal death metal played by the Baltimore, Maryland trio is particularly difficult to keep fresh, even across the duration of an album, let alone an entire career. Yet Make Them Beg For Death succeeds with aplomb, never letting ferocious attacks and technical flair slide into tedium. The music here is utterly dynamic and astonishingly varied. A tasty riff leads into a grooving, sputtering break, then takes the long way around, winding through a tunnel of grindcore-like brutality and speed, only to end up tangled up in another melodic chord. Recommendation: Blast it loud until your ears bleed. – Antonio Poscic