Perturbator – Lustful Sacraments (Blood Music)
A change has been afoot for Perturbator. Following James Kent’s magnum opus The Uncanny Valley in 2016, it felt that Perturbator had reached a creative peak. Cyberpunk aesthetics combined with dark atmospherics to create an infernal and yet cathartic tour de force. So, where do we go from here? It is actually the New Model EP that gave away the first clues, as Perturbator started to morph into something different, and now this transformation is complete with Lustful Sacraments.
Synthwave aesthetics still define what Perturbator is all about, appearing strong in the hectic moments of “The Other Place”. Yet, the lurking influences of industrial rock and post-punk (verging on the darkwave) have been awakened, coupled with a distinctly pop directness. In essence, there is a turn towards the romantic for much of Lustful Sacraments, beginning with the EDM tinged lyricism of “Secret Devotion”. Perfectly employing the dreamy melodies of the darkwave scene, Kent unleashes moments of fantastical gloom, as “Excess” arrives with a stunning vocal delivery and the (Darkthrone-ian inspired title) of the grimmer “Dethroned Under a Funeral Haze” sets its mesmerizing tone.
It feels that Kent has traded in parts of Perturbator’s energetic and constantly revolving progression for a more intimate and darker sense in many cases. Tracks like “Death of the Soul” sees the electronica of Perturbator taking a bleaker turn, dimming the lights, while at the same time organic inclusions in closer “God Says” provide the darkness with its distinct voice. And of course, it is not all soothing and dreamy, as things can turn into chaotic nightmare scenery quite quickly, as is the case with “Messalina, Messalina”. It is a fitting evolution, and one that has really paid off with Lustful Sacraments. – Spyros Stasis
Portal – AVOW (Profound Lore)
It is the return! Back to the mountains of madness we go. Even within the extreme metal domain, its obtuse and primal underground Portal have always stood out on a league of their own. Disfiguring distorted guitars, a relentless pace and these inhuman vocals, the screams of the great old ones echoing through the depths of the ocean while the howls of the outer gods arrive from the blackness of space. It is through these tools that Portal have built an exquisite discography of extreme experimental death metal. Three years after their magnum opus Ion, they return to once more spread horror and disgust with AVOW.
Ion’s key attribute was staying and hammering on the dissonant path. Shorter compositions with a fierce shrieking cacophony that carried much of Voivod’s distorted DNA. While this influence was always there for Portal, it became clear as day with Ion, and so the next chapter begins. AVOW is a work that tries to merge Portal’s brutal and maze-like structures with the inharmonious attributes beaming in Ion, and in many ways, it does that. When the twisted guitar playing reaches an absolute peak, the slides in “Catafalque” sound like the work of demons. Yet, it moves further than this.
Digging up into their approach from Vexovoid, Portal resume this uncanny ability of sound crafting. The instrumentation takes on an almost elemental manifestation; a storm of ice mercilessly pummels down on the listener. “Manor of Speaking” sees this stampede come to life, while “Bode” soon becomes excruciating torture. Even when “Eye” sees the tempo drop, the result is still the same: complete and utter devastation. That doom perspective is clear, grandly presenting itself with “Offune”, and absolute anguish with “Drain”. The only slight dent here is that while Ion did break new ground for Portal, AVOW finds the band in a more familiar setting. However, that does not mean that said setting is any bit more comfortable. – Spyros Stasis
Seth – La Morsure Du Christ (Season of Mist)
Bordeaux’s Seth seem to be late bloomers because 26 years into their careers, La morsure du Christ is easily the sextet’s best release to date. Still rooted in second-wave black metal (as the band has always been), the album brings a refreshed energy to the table and reveals their knack for embellishing the genre’s familiar tropes with supremely tasty elements. Insane tremolos are now possessed by medieval music inflections and a gothic sense of defiled sacred spaces as they move at the speed of light and leave trails of melodies behind them. Inhuman growls and vibrating overtones are shadowed by mockingly eerie chants and grandiose atmospheric sections. Gorgeous harmonies rise and drown in booming blast beats. Combined these elements make for an explosive, brutal, and beautiful concoction. – Antonio Poscic
Stormruler – Under the Burning Eclipse (Napalm)
Compared to Seth’s decades of existence, Stormruler is a youngling, but the St. Louis duo’s music is anything but childish. Growing from a similar soil of black metal’s second coming, their approach is inspired by the world of the action role-playing video game Dark Souls, and other Hidetaka Miyazaki works. That means that its artistic heart is as hard and punishing as those games, sprinkled with blazing black metal serpentines and insurmountable grooves throughout. The few moments of respite here are provided by atmospheric interludes—complete with symphonic elements, pianos, and strings—that glue together the unforgiving cuts into a self-contained narrative. If you’ll excuse me, I need to replay all the Souls games with this album as the soundtrack. – Antonio Poscic
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 in the world. While ear-catching melodies anchor them neatly in Middle Eastern folk, their music simultaneously 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. A strong candidate for progressive rock/metal album of the year. – Antonio Poscic