Music

MetalMatters: March 2019 – Beware the Ides of Metal

From Drastus' monumental second LP to Mystifier's righteous comeback, to Venom Prison's evolution towards death metal infamy, and enthralling debut full-lengths from Devil Master, VLTIMAS, Heaume Mortal, and more, March's MetalMatters highlights a bounty of subversive brilliance.

"The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones." ― William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

The incendiary events of the well-documented Norwegian black metal scene of the 1990s played out like metal's version of a Shakespearean tragedy—most comparably, Julius Caesar. Indeed, both tales share parallel themes of power control, patriotism, friendships soured, conspiracies, suicide, murder, twisting public opinion to suit ills, and martyrdom. And like the aforementioned historical play, the destructive drama that gripped Norway's small extreme metal scene has been brought to life for the big screen.

Based on and named after the sensationalist 1998 book of the same name (written by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind), Lords of Chaos is directed by former Bathory drummer and music video producer to the stars (Madonna, The Prodigy, Beyoncé), Jonas Åkerlund. On paper, Åkerlund's formative ties to black metal as a past member of an influential band that spearheaded the first wave of the frostbitten sub-genre gives the film a clout of credibility—if anyone could do the story enough justice to satisfy most metal fans, it's him. Or so you would hope...

Yet in reality, Lords of Chaos, on a casting, screenwriting and production basis, is cringeworthy from start to finish, and the only good thing about it is that it'll drive the curmudgeonly black metal diehards into apoplexy.

Åkerlund must have blown most of the film's budget on the burning of a wooden structure made to resemble Oslo's Fantoft Stave Church, set alight and turned to ash by Burzum mastermind and metal's most-hated arsonist, racist, murderer, and roleplay gamer Varg "Count Grishnackh" Vikernes, because VICE's funds certainly didn't go into hiring actors with any real, you know, acting ability. However, the masterstroke of the casting has to be the hiring of a Jewish actor, Emory Cohen, to play the confirmed anti-Semite Vikernes. Cohen's very bizarre witchy laugh for the Vikernes character is one comedic feature in a film with quite a few of them—most of which appear to be unintentional. And weirdly, all the Norwegian musicians documented here, with very few receiving any character explanation or development, speak with broad American accents while the local authorities speak English with a Norwegian accent—a pretty glaring continuity error.

Rory Culkin, playing Mayhem's leader and the figurehead of the entire scene, Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth, is probably the most recognizable face, yet outside of his surprise six-pack (which is definitely not factually accurate—I'm pretty sure Euronymous wasn't a proficient user of ab rollers), there's nothing really special about his performance; he lacks magnetism from the start. In comparison to the others' atrocities to the acting profession, though, he's like Marlon Brando.

The film is angled towards portraying Euronymous without mystique as a sweet, but troubled music fan turned talented artist and label owner. He is a brother, son, boyfriend (the sex scene involving Euronymous and his love interest, played by Sky Ferreira, is laugh-out-loud terrible as Culkin romps around the bed while wearing full corpsepaint), and friend to those in his inner black metal scene, the Black Circle. However, as expected, it's his more complex relationship with the otherworldly Mayhem vocalist Per "Dead" Ohlin (complete with skull fragment necklace scene and a fun twist on the lore), and the subsequent power struggle with Vikernes that receives the most attention throughout the movie.

Metal fans will be very familiar with what happens with those three figures, and the gore is handled well even during the most extreme scenes; Emperor drummer Bård "Faust" Eithun's brutal murder of Magne Andreassen, a gay man he lured to the woods to stab to death, is particularly uncomfortable to watch—especially given the forgiveness afforded to Faust following his release from prison. Yet as a whole, it's hard to see how anyone from outside metal's walls would have any interest in watching this clumsily executed slog of a film other than out of morbid curiosity. For those familiar, it's car-crash-watching—you won't be able to turn it off despite really wanting to, and you'll be tempted to follow Dead into the abyss before it's over (please don't).

Sometimes a certain level of folkloric mystery is better than reality when it comes to some stories, and this is one of them. Thankfully, the legacy of the timeless music created by the artists portrayed in Lords of Chaos as dangerous teenagers filled of raged will not be affected in any way by the film. The sub-genre they helped fortify with their musical talents is still thriving decades later due to a rampant cross-pollination with other styles of metal, as highlighted below in this month's bumper MetalMatters by stand-out debutant acts such as Devil Master, Obscuring Veil, Totaled, and Heaume Mortal. So, in the immortal words of the Bard (that's Shakespeare not Faust), as we delve in this month's best metal releases, the time has come to "Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war!"—Dean Brown

Brutus – Nest (Sargent House)

The closest ties to black metal that Brutus have are the peppering of blast-beats on their exciting 2016 self-titled debut. This Belgian trio—Stefanie Mannaerts (drums, vocals), Stijn Vanhoegaerden (guitar), and Peter Mulders (bass)—prefer to smash together post-hardcore, punk, post-rock, metal and pop, and their fresh sound makes for a glorious ride. Second album Nest didn't need to rewrite the formula, and as expected, Brutus have worked to their established strengths to euphoric effect.

Mannaerts' impassioned, borderline histrionic range recalls Björk at her most acrobatic, and her shifting rhythms behind the kit are just as athletic. It's her kinetic chemistry with her male counterparts, however, that really sets up the musical pyrotechnics on Nest. Beginning with the urgent, aching and resonant "Fire", a locked in clarion call that thrives on forceful dynamics, and rushing through the brattish yet spacious "Django" towards the most metallic emission here, "Cemetery", Brutus sound like they're on a naturalistic ascent. The emotionally raw "War", an album centrepiece, careens with hardcore abandon one moment and later takes flight through a swelling crescendo, while "Blind" goes toe-to-toe with White Lung's punk attack and "Sugar Dragon" provides contrast through widescreen post-metal.

This is not an alienating album by any means; there's something thrilling to be found here for fans of all kinds of music. In fact, it wouldn't be a surprise if the mainstream gets hooked in 2019 on Brutus' thumping polyrhythms, glittering arpeggios, shoegazing guitar flourishes, noise-rocked basslines, punkish outbursts, and Mannaerts' distinctive voice and ability to write insistent refrains.—Dean Brown

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Devil Master – Satan Spits on Children of Light (Relapse)

Devil Master's promo shots make the band look as though they could have been loitering outside Euronymous's Helvete record store during the 1990s—they're a melange of second wave corpsepaint, depressive BM hoods, gothic candelabras, cyber-punk trench coats, and a singer who appears as though he meant to audition for a deathrock band but turned up to the wrong rehearsal space. Live, they play from behind a cloud of cobwebs, and such ghoulish aesthetics will always have a place in metal no matter how schlocky they appear.

Devil Master's name has been whispered in dark corners of the underground for a few years now, and the waspish black metal and gothic turns of their debut full-length for Relapse will no doubt summon a sizeable following. Interestingly, the band's hooks come from the guitars since the pained vocals are deep in the purposefully lo-fi Arthur Rizk mix. Liberally borrowing from the sacred texts of first-wave legends Hellhammer and Bathory, there's the prominent ramshackle punk rock of "Black Flame Candle" and "Dance of Fullmoon Specter", and "Her Thirsty Whip" and "Devil Is Your Master" display the same love for trad metal as heard on albums by fellow black metal heathens Midnight and Rebel Wizard.

Reaching back even further in time for influence, the brilliantly titled "Christ's Last Hiss" features spooky surf guitar licks and the tom thumping of "Nuit" summons Cozy Powell's "Dance With the Devil". There's even lashes of the supernatural death/black metal of Tribulation or Venenum on "Gaunt Immortality" and "Desperate Shadow", leaving a tantalizing promise of what we can expect from beyond the Devil Master crypt in the future.—Dean Brown

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Drastus – La Croix de Sang (Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

Even if the one-man project Drastus plays black metal and hails from France, your run-of-the-mill, Blut Aus Nord copycat avant-black this ain't. No, this is a different kind of animal, with the characteristic dissonance of French black metal suppressed and compressed into a compact and ferocious package. Drastus's take on the genre oozes with impact and immediacy, conjuring imagery of a hellish Vantablack train plowing through an icy, snowy landscape at full speed.

Minus the atmospheric interlude "Hermetic Silence", the songs on Drastus' sophomore release all go straight for the jugular. Contorted riffs buzz and wail as if trying to free themselves from the anchor of Sad's frenetic blast-beats. "Nihil Sine Polum" and "Ashura" are prime examples of this combination of unrelenting brutality, dissonance, and avant-tendencies. The two centerpieces, "Crawling Fire" and "The Crown of Death" then vary the formula by occasionally dropping into slower and hazier segments adorned with clean vocals and sprinkled with scorching bursts of insanity. It's pure bedlam enclosed in a controlled environment. The end result? Another superb black metal release that should find its way to the top of year-end lists.—Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

East of the Wall – NP Complete (Translation Loss)

On review, East of the Wall's existence seems troubled: they've been a going concern for almost 15 years, but have shrugged away so many members it'd be fair to expect frequent crises of confidence and identity. Instead, the band's fifth album and first in six years is as confident and complete a release as you could hope to hear if your tastes lean prog-ward.

NP Complete is all twitchy rhythms, quicksilver riffing and songwriting that beats you roughly about the head one minute and offers sweet, sweet succour the next. Each of the album's shifting, shimmering layers is expertly crafted and impeccably played, while the band's lapidary approach ensures djent-y crunches and soaring vocals have as much of a place at the table as synths and trumpets. It's the lyrical content, however, where the album's singular oddness really shines, with lines like "taste is solely for lords and dandies" making you feel a strange alien intelligence might've absorbed a library's worth of reference material and reconstructed human syntax so as to communicate strange new concepts.—Alex Deller

WATCH: "Somn 6"

Elizabeth Colour Wheel – Nocebo (The Flenser)

Elizabeth Colour Wheel are a difficult band to pinpoint, and that's their main charm. Before even hitting play on their debut record Nocebo, there are a few hints as to what one might expect. The name of the band is derived from Lilys' second track off the band's debut record In the Presence of Nothing, suggesting a leaning towards shoegaze and an airy presence. On the other end, the record's cover outlines something more in line with a heavier, darker sound, something that dragged itself out of the extreme end of the music spectrum.

Indeed, Elizabeth Colour Wheel encapsulate all these contradictions. The record opens in dreamy shoegaze fashion, performing a powerful overture before transitioning to a hardcore-esque groove and progression. That is also the point when it becomes apparent why the band chose their name: What they present on Nocebo is a colour wheel of sounds, blending parts of shoegaze, indie rock, and hardcore all the way to post-black metal with hints of grind and sludge. It is a rollercoaster of a record, one that sounds not unlike a collaboration between Julie Christmas and Steve Albini, with a rich tapestry that presents bitter and aggressive explosions in "34th", subtle lyricism and clean balladry in "Life of a Flower", or catchy hooks and powerful choruses with "23".—Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Heaume Mortal – Solstices (Les Acteurs de L'Ombre Productions)

Heaume Mortal's debut is startling on a number of levels, not least for the lack of fanfare with which it was unleashed. Composed and conceived by Guillaume Morlat (known elsewhere as Guillaume Taliercio for his work with underrated metallic hardcore mob Cowards) between 2011 and 2014, Solstices is a sickeningly bleak mix of modern metal sounds.

Black metal and doom take center stage in terms of influence, but the vast abyss that the band open up is definitely far deeper than most try-hards would care to mine. The manic tremolo picking and lugubrious doom plods are expertly deployed, but it's the keen grasp of atmosphere and the clear sense of mania that warrants welcome comparison to extreme metal outliers like Primitive Man and Terra Tenebrosa. The genuinely distressing vocals, meanwhile, are the icing on the cake—they trickle like rivulets of acid eating through bone, and bring to mind the ravings of a man who has stared deep into the future and seen nothing there for him whatsoever.—Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Henge – Nothing Head (God Unknown)

Since we last saw them, London-based noise-rockers Henge have apparently gobbled down greedy fistfuls of magic mushrooms and embarked on a harrowing vision quest. They've returned from the wilderness bulge-eyed and clutching to their hollow chest a slurred, blurred odyssey wherein much of the crunch—and much of the immediacy—has been traded in for staggering uncertainty and faltering neuron misfires.

In lesser hands this could have been disastrous, but with Nothing Head Henge have managed to fashion something as beautiful and terrifying as a star in mid-collapse. The traipsing gait, fuzz-swaddled riffs and dislocated moans variously suggest the Stateside shagginess of Kyuss, Bardo Pond and Carlton Melton, but it's closer to their home where we should really be looking, and to the warped heaviness of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and Hey Colossus. The resulting brew is strange, potent and deeply unpredictable, but for those willing to have their minds bent into interesting new shapes it's more than worth the challenge of those first few uncertain gulps.—Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Low Dose – Low Dose (Brutal Panda/Knife Hits)

Low Dose are the spiritual continuation of heavy post-hardcore act Fight Amp. What made the sound of Fight Amp enticing was the combination of post-hardcore and the dirty, gritty essence of sludge. In 2016, Fight Amp disbanded, suggesting they had reached the end of their musical endeavors, but the three band members did not remain idle. Instead they recruited vocalist Itarya Rosenberg and established Low Dose.

Low Dose's debut inherits many aspects of Fight Amp. For one, the sludge element seems to always be just a step away, either through its groovy form in the basslines of "Away", or in its more ethereal presence with "Otherworld Motives". Similarly, the punk attitude is also prevalent; the band delivering some frantic explosions with an old-school touch, as on "For Sure".

Yet, where Low Dose diverge from the Fight Amp sound, is in their melodic side. The record is filled with almost grungy hooks; big choruses are here to stay as on the fantastic "Start Over", and there's a pronounced sense of lyricism that makes the record feel more personal, especially "Legendary Divorce". You're left with the feeling that Low Dose is a record that was conceived at precisely the right time, when the three members of Fight Amp were looking to expand their sound and Rosenberg was searching for a way to purge her recent adversities.—Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Magic Circle – Departed Souls (20 Buck Spin)

Now three albums in, the narrative of hardcore/punk dudes playing traditional doom metal isn't really a talking point anymore since Magic Circle have already proven their keen understanding and execution of this style of metal.

Departed Souls happens to be their most musical album yet. Sure the Sabbathian centre of their sound remains paramount, but the doom riffs don't bludgeon, they instead shroud you in the same bluesy haze as heard on classic LPs by the likes of Mountain, Free, Cactus, or Blue Cheer. Like contemporaries Witchcraft and Graveyard, Magic Circle know exactly how to set up strong verses to flow into resounding choruses, where to position lead guitars for maximum effect, and how to sequence the album to flow in engaging fashion on vinyl (eight songs, four on each side, just like Paranoid or Machine Head)—plus the production they've gone with is fitting without trying to sound overly retro.

"A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares" tunes into Zeppelin mysticism, "Nightland" begins like a Kansas jam before opening into a splendid prog section, and the Rainbow-esque "Gone Again" truly sounds like it's from another age. These are the tracks which really expand Magic Circle stylistically, but every idea is driven home emphatically by vocalist Brendan Radigan, who has the impressive ability to channel Ozzy Osbourne's innate introspection and paranoia while also possessing the balls-out, jut-chin swagger of Bon Scott.—Dean Brown

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Misery Index – Rituals of Power (Season of Mist)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. For Misery Index, this is true of both their music and the sociopolitical phenomena they dissect. Despite several stylistic and lineup reshuffles, Jason Netherton and his cohort have now been delivering albums of an admirably consistent quality for 16 years. Rituals of Power is no different as the foursome again manifests a variety of influences while remaining faithful to their bewitching deathgrind baseline.

Yet, the record's opener "Universal Untruths" is a subdued, repetitively static cut. It feels like a sonic and lyrical bookend while it slowly sinks us into metaphysics of truth of a post-factual, uncertain world and questions the nature of reality. It's on the propulsive "Decline and Fall" that the music turns into Misery Index's familiar bludgeon and crushes layers of alternative facts with an incisive, sweltering sound.

Throughout the following eighth songs, the band remains relentless. They turn to thrashy guitar attacks on "Hammering the Nails", descend into frenzy on the grindcore-propelled "New Salem", and revisit Dying Fetus's Destroy the Opposition on the groovy, imploding "They Always Come Back". As the brutal and brisk, yet surprisingly melodic "I Disavow" tapers off, the message becomes clear: Misery Index are trve.—Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Mystifier – Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia (Season of Mist)

Returning after 18 years in the abyss, Brazilian horde Mystifier quite easily retake their place as one of the most idiosyncratic bands in extreme metal history. Their comeback album is just as musically intense as anything in their raw back catalogue, yet their black/death metal amalgam is much more inventive, ornate, ritualistic, and powerfully produced than anything they've released before, including oddball black metal classic Göetia.

This album deserves to be heard beyond Mystifier's staunchly underground fanbase, as they inhabit an esoteric realm similar to Season of Mist labelmates Rotting Christ or Japan's Sigh, one where each track is layered with a number of striking embellishments (duel vocals, creepy keys, Middle Eastern melodies, acoustic guitars, etc.), all of which elevates the arrangements above the barbaric primitivism associated with South American extreme metal.

Mystifier have always been an outlier, and they write with that mentality in mind, which means there's a freedom to experiment with established tenets that most bands don't have the acumen to attempt, never mind achieve in such inspirational fashion as this standout release from an influential act fully reborn.—Dean Brown

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Noisem – Cease to Exist (20 Buck Spin)

Noisem do not fuck around. As we've come to expect from the Baltimorean threesome, Cease to Exist is another record built on top of a merciless mixture of death, thrash, and grindcore that grooves as hard as it slays. The group plows through the ten condensed tracks as if possessed, moving rapidly from cut to cut in a total craze, yet managing to inject a variety of crunchy, delicious riffs.

There's again an incredible energy and sense of urgency to Noisem's third full-length. They pick up where they left off on the excellent Blossoming Decay and take things a step further by introducing subtle variations in their sound and a certain restraint in their playing. Occasionally, they'll loosen their constant attack with slower, demolishing parts on "Eyes Pried Open" and "So Below". Elsewhere, they'll read from the book of Slayer-inspired speed metal on "Penance for the Solipsist" and finally entertain a wonderful break on "Sensory Overload". Despite this variety of aggressive styles and influences, Cease to Exist remains coherent and interesting through repeated listens. And at only 21 minutes, you'll want to spin this one again and again.—Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Obscuring Veil – Fleshvoid to Naught (I, Voidhanger)

Fleshvoid to Naught is one of those records which should be absorbed on a subconscious level and experienced organically rather than analyzed cerebrally. Here, the music's black metal essence is only the backdrop. Instead of black metal elements, it's an infernal abstract texture of discordant noises, haunting operatic moans, and shrieking guitars that's pushed to the front, shrouding tremolos and blast-beats in its belly. "Do You Want to See the Knife I Used?" and "Spirit Me Away, O Murdered Star" are both lengthy, decidedly creepy horror vignettes fleshed out into nefarious soundscapes. As death growls reverberate amidst a slow moving river of cacophony, unexpected segues accompanied by cryptic sounds lead us down the path of madness. It's a bafflingly appealing, hallucinatory, and masochistic sort of delirium.

And as if it wasn't enough that the musicians—illustrious characters from the black metal scene like Ævangelist's Matron Thorn and Gnaw Their Tongues's Mories—decided to create the most fucked up music they could think of, they underline it with a filthy, unruly production. What a terrific debut this is.—Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Oozing Wound – High Anxiety (Thrill Jockey)

The 2000s were marked with a revival of the old-school thrash metal sound, with most of the scene promoting a sense of nostalgia for the heyday of the 1980s. However, this decade has seen a radical change of perspective, with the new generation of thrash bands displaying a need to push it forward, that has culminated in seminal works such as Power Trip's Nightmare Logic or Vektor's Terminal Redux.

Oozing Wound are proud members of this new club, producing music that refuses to adhere to the orthodoxy of other thrash revival acts. In fairness, Oozing Wound's take on thrash is more adventurous, with the band taking on progressive, noise-rock and crossover influences. And while the previous generation indulged in a playful, party-like rendition of the style, these guys bring forth works of dark, sardonic humor. This is something that's displayed in the song titles of their latest record, High Anxiety; for example, "Birth of a Flat Earther".

It is also something that feeds the musical energy of this record, as the band merges sharp riffs with hardcore rhythmic progressions, often D-beat-induced. This attitude results in a powerful, high-octane record, with the band raging with conviction through full-blown thrash assaults on "Surrounded by Fucking Idiots" or hooky breakdowns on"Die on Mars".—Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Pissgrave – Posthumous Humiliation (Profound Lore)

Some metal fans were outraged online (nothing new there!) when Profound Lore revealed the repulsive artwork for the new Pissgrave LP. Imagine, a death metal band with a history of hideous artwork and the band name Pissgrave choosing the mangled visage of some unfortunate fellow as a cover? Oh, won't somebody please think of the children! Look, the history of the sub-genre is riddled with poor taste and we don't need to "do better" in this instance—bring back Carcass-levels of gross.

Anyways, on to the music: Pissgrave's raw, nasty, putrid death metal is like biting down on a live electrical cable for the entirety of its run-time, as the noise-wracked atonal riffs and über-harsh Arthur Rizk production feels as though it could cause sharp, face-smouldering neuropathy. But there's method to the madness, too—Pissgrave are not out to just offend your sensibilities and reduce your eardrums to a gooey mess. These perverse gents have chops and can write memorable gnawing riffs aimed to punish those who understand death metal at its most extreme.

Even if your seasoned on Deicide or Teitanblood you'll feel every single second of this album, mind. That includes when Pissgrave relent somewhat such as during the Mayhemic dirge at the end of "Euthanasia" or on the funeral doomed "Rusted Wind". It's a truly painful experience, but so is life. We're in an age now where tastemakers are desperate to sanitize art, and that's the wrong approach to take in a world of turmoil. Pissgrave turn a mirror back at our own depravity and it's shocking, but it's essential to see before us, man's inhumanity and physical infallibility.—Dean Brown

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Sinmara – Hvísl Stjarnanna (Ván)

In recent years, a wave of black metal has overwhelmed the Icelandic extreme music scene. Iceland did not play a major part in the genre's second wave boom of the early 1990s, but today it has become a stronghold of black metal ethos. The scene has taken a collective approach, with members crossing over various bands, releasing some incredible opuses of chaos, ranging from the puristic annihilation of Svartidauði to ambient-induced psych-visions of Wormlust.

Sinmara faithfully follow the template of the Scandinavian black metal tradition, presenting an excellent example of it on their 2014 debut record, Aphotic Womb. The return of Sinmara with second album Hvísl Stjarnanna finds them at their songwriting best. The record kicks off with a barrage of double-bass hits alongside dissonant, continuous riffing. It is a bitter start, filled with instrumental cacophony and rabid vocals that arrive with an unyielding stance.

Soon enough, the band start to visit different modes, unleashing an icy, eerie rush with "Mephitic Haze" and a dropdown pace with "Crimson Stars", before resuming their extravagant chaotic form with "The Arteries of Withered Earth". But what really shines for the band is the melodic element that they are able to add within this bitter sphere. The title track sees them at this terrifying form as they let loose pure menacing hooks with an early Emperor influence.—Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Totaled – Lament (Profound Lore)

Lament, the debut record from the anonymous Totaled, kicks off with a beautiful, clean melodic intro in "Deplete". It is an uneasy feeling, though, because it is possible to fathom what dark passageway it will lead to. And soon enough Totaled arise through a furious black metal onslaught with "As Below". Constant, ear-splitting riffing and blasting drums fill a darkened void, but suddenly the band take a hardcore detour as D-beat progressions take over, leaving you rattled.

Within the first minutes of the album Totaled have shown to have impressive control over black metal and hardcore, revealing also a subterranean grind presence and a tilt towards the melodic side of death metal. Now, that is a lot to pack into one record, but the war-ready mentality of Totaled is what gels their sonic identity together so well. The relatively short duration of Lament also bolsters this volatile attitude, allowing the band to condense their material but not their scope. While this work revels in brutality it is also not without catharsis, and the melodic death metal lead-work that Totaled administer speaks to that end. The beautiful leads of "Eclipsed" and "Bereft" smooth the dissonant themes, making for a record that sounds stylistically complete, one with no loose ends.—Spyros Stasis

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Venom Prison – Samsara (Prosthetic)

Venom Prison's first full-length was a bloodthirsty thing that more than earned a sleeve featuring a fella being force-fed his own junk, but even the biggest fans of that record might not have expected the follow-up to be quite this savage. Samsara begins with the cruel hip-stomp of "Matriphagy" and its tactics only get dirtier as things wear on: a tangled blast of vicious, viscous, uncontainable death metal that seems to have jagged metal, broken glass and writhing tentacles as its core ingredients.

Larissa Stupar's voice sounds capable of reducing whole armies of scumbag misogynists to ash with every ferocious exhortation, and while she might have gazed inward for the album's inspiration, the external manifestation is a sense of terrifying physical tumult. For sheer heaviness, invention and whipstrike smarts the likes of Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse and Imprint-era Vision of Disorder all serve as musical points of reference, but it's the spirit where things are really at: Venom Prison are fiercely political, fearsomely intense and utterly intent on destroying all the sorry bullshit that so sorely needs to be changed. In short, they're exactly the kind of metal band we need right now.—Alex Deller

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Vimur – Triumphant Master of Fates (Boris Records)

It's ironic how metal's most orthodox sub-genre became a most malleable source of inspiration for styles reaching well beyond the confines of the genre itself. Endangered by blasphemous fusions with shoegaze and dissonant avant-experiments, quality raw black metal became endemic. However, Atlantan trio Vimur are one of those rare flowers that still blossom with a very serious (or facetious?) worship of black metal's origins. While deeply rooted in traditional black metal, Vimur infuse unexpected sounds into that crude framework.

Triumphant Master of Fates is thus a rolling, crushing boulder of black metal whose path is interspersed with harmonious tremolos, contagious melodies, and cyclical but fluctuating blastbeats. Tempos and riffs shapeshift constantly on the opener "Seditious Apertures" as its ever-present melodic subtext and midpaced, galloping segues evoke memories of Pale Folklore-era Agalloch.

Vimur's touch is progressive and delightfully technical. They toy with death metal on the absolutely mad "Nuclear Desecration" before settling into a doom dirge on "Our Dearest Hopes Lie Buried Here", the earlier pandemonium suddenly slowed down and suspended in air. As the album closes with the epic, mercurial "Supreme Preemption of the Lightless Empire", there is no doubt in mind—Vimur have delivered one of the year's best black metal records.—Antonio Poscic

LISTEN: Bandcamp

VLTIMAS – Something Wicked Marches In (Season of Mist)

It's hard to know at this stage whether VLTIMAS will be just a once-off endeavour for former Morbid Angel frontman/bassist Dave Vincent, Cryptopsy's drummer extraordinaire Flo Mounier, and the guy who replaced Euronymous in Mayhem, guitarist Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen. Judging by the tight interplay between the trio and the sense of genuine fun and excitement they create on debut Something Wicked Marches In, however, you'd hope that this is the beginning of a lengthy collaboration between these esteemed veterans.

This is Vincent's first metal album since that Morbid Angel abomination in 2011, and he steps into his role on this album surely keen to silence critics. Without question, Vincent is a premier death metal vocalist and he's on classic form here, imbuing each track with his signature occultism, treading the old line between genuinely threatening (the title track, "Diabolus Est Sanguis") and cartoonishly evil ("Total Destroy", Monolilith").

Mounier and Eriksen, meanwhile, set down a combustible yet catchy framework of guitar discordance and jackhammer blast-beats and double-bass grooves. Both musicians already had an established writing relationship prior to VLTIMAS and you can hear how in-sync they are, whether playing in hyperspeed ("Praevalidus", "Truth and Consequence", "Everlasting") or adding slower paced drama to Vincent's love song to demoness Lilith ("Monolilith), or a combination of both on the defiant Satanism of closer "Marching On".

Very few supergroups in metal live up to their billing, but VLTIMAS happen to be one of the best we've seen from extreme metal musicians. It's a great, redemptive return for Vincent, backed by two supremely gifted individuals who can make complex musicianship sound immediately gratifying.—Dean Brown

LISTEN: Bandcamp

Fave Five: JR JR

After the biggest hit of their career, the indie-quirk all-stars JR JR return from a multi-year break with a new label and two new albums. As they count down their "Five Albums That Shaped My Musical Taste", we learn of how Josh used to call Sunny Day Real Estate band members at home.

Evan Sawdey
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