Chassm – Falling Forever (Ars As Catharsis)
Brisbane’s Chassm are Elijah Lee on guitars and vocals and Storm Mahan on drums. They are a young band in all senses of the word, but you’d be hard-pressed to conclude as much just by listening to their debut Falling Forever. Their command of the cornucopia of genres brought together here—from crust and hardcore over doom, sludge, and post-metal to black metal and drone—is nothing short of breathtaking. While touted as a nostalgia trip, falling into the world of the album felt like anything but that. Instead, it appeared as a vision of things to come. A physical manifestation, even, of the darkness, uncertainties, and injustices weighing over us and our futures. As Lee puts it, he was trying to “invent a new emo music that isn’t fucking lame” and succeeded in full.
The record’s seven cuts are all stunning miniatures, capable of bridging brilliant blues-infected doom and sludge reminiscent of Earth with sections ablaze with black metal blasts and tremolos before dissolving into a revolving post-rock crescendo. Equally impressive to the smart progressions and song structures is the precision with which they are played. Lee and Mahan pull off a compact and technically impeccable delivery on all instruments and vocals, the latter drifting between clean vibratos and tortured growls. Complete with a few curious snippets of dialogues from the TV show Westworld, Falling Forever ranks high as one of the best debuts of 2021. – Antonio Poscic
Crypta – Echoes of the Soul (Napalm)
It turns out that Luana Dametto and Fernanda Lira leaving Brazilian thrashers Nervosa was a good thing for both the band and its former drummer and bassist/vocalist. Nervosa went on to release an excellent album this year, while Darnetto and Lira’s managed to hit a home run with their first attempt in their new band Crypta.
Completed by Tainá Bergamaschi and Sonia Anubis on guitars, Crypta play an exhilarating, high-energy sort of death metal that reminds me most of Vader, Kataklysm, and Vital Remains. Although the album is ruthless, there is melody and soul on the ten cuts here. But even beyond the gusto with which they play—made evident in Lira’s infernal growls, Dametto’s spastic but precise drumming, and Anubis and Bergamaschi’s swirling riffs—the subtle style variations and ability to switch things up and down make Echoes of the Soul a very successful whole. It’s one of the best old-school death metal albums I’ve heard this year, if I dare say so. – Antonio Poscic
Gorgon – Traditio Satanae (Osmose Productions)
The first post-reformation album of French black metallers Gorgon, 2019’s The Veil of Darkness, showed promise but ultimately fell short due to songwriting and production issues. It felt as if Christophe Chatelet still had plenty of things to say through this vessel but was not yet quite sure of how to shape and deliver them. In a way, he lacked the focus and primal energy that made 1995’s The Lady Rides a Black Horse such a great record.
In contrast, Traditio Satanae feels absolutely on point. Having dealt with the occasional looseness and meandering of the previous album, Chatelet and guests deliver 11 cuts of prime, absolutely blazing black metal. Simultaneously melodic and brutal, it’s a thrilling ride without any fillers. Each time a wall of tremolos, a spark of melodies, or majestic blast beat attack threatens to become too much of a good thing, Gorgon reshuffle the deck with a change of rhythm and pace, settling down into slower tempos only to ramp up again. Ultimately, the record doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but, hell, I don’t want it to. This is plain and filthy black metal to be consumed raw. – Antonio Poscic
Hellish Form – Remains (Translation Loss)
We have been spoiled, in recent years, by an influx of excellent sludge, drone, and doom lit with the bright fire of introspective motifs and intimately poignant reflections on social struggles filtered through personal experiences. The already heavy music gains an irresistible, albeit suffocating momentum within these themes, which makes sure that its message is heard loud and clear. In this context, Vocalist and guitarist Willow Ryan has gifted us with two of the year’s most powerful releases.
After exploring outwardly through the sludge and drone of Body Void’s Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth with Eddy Holgerson, Ryan joins forces with Jacob Lee to venture inwards on waves of funeral doom as Hellish Form. But before I write another word about the album, I’d urge you to stop reading and listen for yourself. Because Remains is a simply gorgeous and deeply affecting album that should be enjoyed in a vacuum of expectations. Writing about the dynamism hidden within huge, enveloping riffs and the shiver-inducing piano chords that cut open “Your Grave Becomes a Garden”, the synth arpeggios that brighten the Sunn O))) like darkness and YOB melancholy of “Shadows with Teeth”, or the funeral blackgaze “Another World” feels like giving away spoilers. These pockets of pristine beauty within the abyss should be experienced firsthand, not read about. So go on. Give up and give in to Remains. – Antonio Poscic
Iceburn – Asclepius (Southern Lord)
In the early 1990s, Victory Records were ushering in a new generation of hardcore. Metallic hardcore overlords Integrity and post-hardcore/alt-metal powerhouse Snapcase are just some of the names that rose through the label’s ranks. But, at the same time, the experimental force of Iceburn released Firon through the label. Distinctly different from the 1990s hardcore sound, Iceburn were incorporating post-rock influences in their early, but that is not where they stopped. Progressive rock notions in Hephaestus, jazzy themes for Poetry of Fire and then complete submergence into the experimental with Meditavolutions. Iceburn, either as a band or a collective, would continue to surprise until their breakup in 2000. Brief reunions would occur, but now finally, the band are making a return with Asclepius, their first full-length record in 21 years.
The years may have passed, but some things do not change. In the fashion of their cyclical works, where beginning washes over end only to circle back where it all started, Asclepius sees this progression still hold true. The ritualistic pacing and dissolved rock form construct an ambient realm with “The Healing of Ouroboros”. Off-kilter melodies and sparse drum hits meet to full mystical effect. From there on, it is a barrage of Sabbath-ian riffs that Iceburn let unfold, coupled with their punk-ish attitude. Twisted leads follow, then jazzy themes make an appearance, with Iceburn losing themselves in a recital of free-form improvisation.
Without ever abdicating complete control, they offer a smooth interpretation through progressive themes, looping over and over before they close the track the exact way they started. Similar is the case with “Dahlia Rides the Firebird”, doom riffs rising and free-spirited improvs joining, this time around with more pronounced noise rock and no-wave character. It makes for a completely immersive and meditative experience. As Asclepius smoothly and effortlessly comes to an end, it’s only natural to let it repeat. Just like an ouroboros. – Spyros Stasis