In Aphelion – Moribund (Edged Circle Productions)
I’ll cut to the chase, In Aphelion’s Moribund is not only an astounding debut for the Swedish-Dutch group but one of the best and most distinctive black metal albums in recent memory. Necrophobic’s Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck and Marco Prij open the album with “World Serpent (Devourer of Dreams),” a song steeped in John Carpenter’s horror and Italian giallos from the 1970s, then spend the next hour developing this vibrant atmosphere into an intricate web of occult rock infected black metal. At times relentlessly attacking with smoking tremolos and possessed blast beasts, at others superbly fluid and lost in pseudo sacred vibes akin to those found in Hellenic black metal, Moribund is a thrilling ride with no fillers, no throwaway songs, and no missteps of any kind, really. – Antonio Poscic
Konvent – Call Down the Sun (Napalm)
When I wrote about their full-length debut Puritan Masochism in 2020, I likened the Copenhagen quartet’s occult, witchy atmosphere to that of Electric Wizard and characterized their music as “simple music, reliant on atmosphere and utter sonic heaviness.” Two years later, Konvent’s new release Call Down the Sun has unshackled itself of any direct influences. Rather, this sophomore album feels like a very welcome evolution—the sound of a group finding their own conviction and voice.
While still indebted to death-doom titans past, these nine new tracks sound fresher and bolder, with monolithic riffs dragging pained, devotional growls through the desert, only to trace a path in the sand for roaring melodies and bumbling, grooving start-stop sections. The intensity of songwriting and musicianship is maintained throughout and serves as a hefty underline to what is ultimately a seriously tasty doom metal record. – Antonio Poscic
Messa – Close (Svart)
After two excellent traditional if drone-inflected doom metal albums, 2016’s Belfry and 2018’s Feast for Water, with Close Italy’s quartet Messa deliver the first true statement release of their career. Unlike the fairly predictable structures and songwriting of their first two albums, Close feels experimental and daring, weaving together occult rock in the vein of The Devil’s Blood with pagan folk, ambient, and doom jazz, while a plethora of other styles gets a nod in passing.
Nothing is off-limits. This loose and libertine approach allows the Spaghetti Western setting, moody saxophone licks, and folk guitar solos of “0=2” and the doom balladry of “If You Want Her To Be Taken” to be obliterated by a sudden and shocking burst of near-grindcore and thrash on “Leffotrak.” As a whole, it’s an intoxicating, often disorienting, and earthy mixture, reminiscent of a heavier and more adventurous Hexvessel, but with the atmosphere and soul of a music quite their own, emblazoned by Sara Bianchin’s soaring invocations. – Antonio Poscic
Midnight – Let There Be Witchery (Metal Blade)
The awesome thing about Athenar alias Jamie Walters’ one-person retro-fuelled combo of thrash, speedy, heavy, and black metal is that unlike most bands dabbling in the genre, he seems to draw inspiration from the bands and music that inspired Judas Priest, Slayer, Bathory, Venom, Iron Maiden, Darkthrone, Motörhead, and other pioneers in their vicinity. To recreate these “originals”, Midnight dives into the past and constructs its mischievous, aggressive, and abrasive sound from (proto-)punk, rock and roll, and blues, then packages them into contemporary and surprisingly fresh cuts.
The result is music that rarely stays still. Instead, it is rather fluid in its genre-hopping, which enables Let There Be Witchery to seamlessly roll from hardened and blackened prog thrash à la Voivod on “Telepathic Nightmare” to the mellower mid-tempo grooves of “In Sinful Secrecy” before ramping back up again with “Nocturnal Molestation” and its vast arsenal of solos, leads, and riffs. Taken as a whole, Let There Be Witchery is sleazy, raw, and extremely fun. We wouldn’t want it any other way. – Antonio Poscic
Pestilength – Basom Gryphos (Nuclear Winter/Sentient Ruin/Goat Throne)
An anonymous entity from the Basque Country? No, this is not Altarage. Pestilength arrived on the scene in 2018, flooding their discography with a myriad of demos and single releases. And while they do encompass the same sonic space as Altarage, their take on black/death carries a more old-school ethos. Instead of today’s all-encompassing and chaotic approach, inspired by the likes of Portal, Pestilength display a firmer control over the genre’s intricacies. And they showcase exactly that with their sophomore record Basom Gryphos.
Straight from the entrance of “Tamm”, the pungent stench of the past creeps in. The polemic nature of the black/death juxtaposition flood in, with a sound that is condensed and yet expansive. Making moments like “Entglant Suhb” become overwhelming, while the martial progression of “Thelegm” completes this stampede. And on top of that, Pestilength display an incredible grasp on the technical aspect of their sound. The frantic progression of “Phorme”, with the blastbeats alternating, and the erratic switches of “Tephra Codex” make for an incredible ride. And they experiment further, certain post-metallic dissonances creeping into their compositions, infusing their black/death with a slightly off-kilter twist.
It is these further experimentations that take Basom Gryphos over the top. Instead of being content with a nostalgic black/death notion, Pestilength take things to further extremes. Atmospheric tinges bind with the brutality, as the whispering screams of “Entglant Suhb” take form. It is an eerie setting, and it becomes that much more damning when the doom-inspired themes arrive. Either by a simple drop of pace, as with “Thelegm”, or with a slimy, slithering characteristic in “Vexed”, Pestilength display a rich arsenal of weapons. And it is this ethos, the denial of getting trapped in the past while still paying tribute to it, that makes Basom Glyphos such an exquisite listen. – Spyros Stasis