Phrenelith – Chimaera (Nuclear Winter)
The underground death metal scene is at a peak. Established groups like Dead Congregation, Cruciamentum, and Grave Miasma have excavated the teachings of the scene’s pioneers. Denmark’s Phrenelith subscribe to these ideals, and through their active presence in the culture, they have ushered forth a number of works. Reaching a creative peak with their Dark Descent debut, Desolate Endscape, Phrenelith return four years later with the devastating Chimaera.
Here, Phrenelith establish their death metal vision. It’s a dark landscape, filled with nightmares made flesh. The ambient leanings, as with the clean guitars of opener “Awakening Titans”, simply enhance this otherworldly scenery. It is a technique that adds to the majesty of Chimaera because Phrenelith’s death metal arrives in a glorious form, taking on the slow, groove-fused teachings of Incantation. This slower pace makes the process much more excruciating, with the likes of “Phlegethon” standing out. It also acts as the perfect counterweight to the fervent moments, channeling Dead Congregation’s stampede-like procession in “Gorgonhead” and “Chimaerian Offspring – Part II”.
Chimaera is imbued with the death metal spirit, though not bringing much novelty. The distinct momentum, mirroring an avalanche-like event, sees Phrenelith become a primal force. With the sole purpose of wreaking havoc, as with “Kykytos”. These seemingly simple things, like the impeccable lead work balancing between melody and dissonance and the addition of Greg Wilkinson (famously worked with Autopsy, Vastum, and Ossuarium) on mixing/mastering duties, make Chimaera a work of proper death metal potency. – Spyros Stasis
Rökkr – Rökkr (Chaos)
The debut of the duo of Kyle House (Decrepisy, Serpents of Dawn, ex-Acephalix, ex-Vastum) on vocals and guitars and Adam Perry (ex-Vastum) on drums embraces the sort of epic atmosphere that is usually reserved for the grimmest black metal albums. But rather than staying put within territories championed by the likes of Bathory and Immortal, they widen their aesthetic by drawing from blues-rock, folk, Viking, and death metal to create a simultaneously cold and cozy record.
While recorded way back in 2011, their self-titled debut sounds fresh and carries a timeless grandeur. It conjures vistas of frozen forests and perilous peaks with deep synth textures and grave piano stabs that soak in the landscape before making way for a deluge of colossal guitar roars, haunted growls, and solos swirling with melody and folksy inflections. Despite the album’s relatively short length, its inner world seems to unfurl over eons. – Antonio Poscic
So Hideous – None But a Pure Heart Can Sing (Silent Pendulum)
New York’s So Hideous aren’t the first metal band to reach for an eclectic assortment of external influences complete with string and reeds accompaniment. Yet the evolution of their post-black metal idiom on None But a Pure Heart Can Sing is one of the most cohesive and well-rounded attempts. Woven around a central narrative, the opening “Souvenir (Echo)” finds the band—on this album joined by the Number Twelve Looks Like You’s DJ Scully and Michael Kadnar—cultivating explosions of majestic metal with flourishes of noisy electronics, delirious string tremolos, and trembling piano hits.
Later, things turn cinematic. “The Emerald Pearl” fuses retrofuturist Spaghetti Western and post-rock elements. Meanwhile, “Motorik Visage” and “From Now (Til the Time We’re Still)” take turns sounding like screamo-sludge variations of Liturgy’s best moments (but with more focus) and successfully replicating the avant-garde insanity of Canada’s Unexpect. That the album packs so much in a reasonably compact unit without sacrificing coherency is just short of a miracle. – Antonio Poscic
Unanimated – Victory in Blood (Century Media)
Sweden has been famous for its extreme metal scenes. On the one hand, the pioneering death metal front, the fuzzed-out guitars of Entombed, the guttural stench of Grave, and the brutal inclinations of Dismember. The melodic edge of Dark Tranquillity and In Flames are on the other end. Still, one often forgotten scene is the melodic black/death that was ushered in by pioneers like Dissection. This rich ecosystem featured some unbelievable acts in Sacrament, Necrophobic, Dawn, and Unanimated. The latter, short-lived, only released two full-length records before calling it quits. But, to this day In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead and Ancient God of Evil are landmarks of the melodic black/death ethos.
Unanimated’s initial return in 2009 with In the Light of Darkness was more than welcome. However, it saw the act once more return to a state of hibernation, and it is only now, 12 years later, that we get the follow-up with Victory in Blood. Thankfully, listening to their fourth record, there are no signs of saturation for Unanimated. They still carry on with the same conviction and vibrant spirit that made them stand out in the ’90s. The energy of “Seven Mouths of Madness” is exhilarating; the melodic lines have lost none of their vigor.
“The Devil Rides Out” sees this dedication to the lighter side of black metal, yet on the other hand, the cacophony is just one step away. “Demon Pact” sees the dissonant edge come forth, brutal and unforgiving. It has all been part of the dichotomy of the cosmic black metal of death. Atmospheres rise, acoustic passages solidly defined in interludes “With a Cold Embrace” And “Chaos Ascends”. These come hand in hand with the devastating explosions of “As the Night Takes Us” and the thrash-like energy of “Scepter of Vengeance”.
And even with all that ground covered, it is good to see Unanimated travel further. Dropping down the tempo, they go into this slower, bitter mode. The final part of “Demon Pact (Mysterium Tremendum)” explores this facade, but it is the follow-up in “XII” that really ties together. With solid groove, Unanimated all upon the epic presence of Unleashed, albeit with a blackened edge. And then, they further explore this grand perspective with the exquisite closer “The Poetry of Scarred Earth” and its slight Bathory-ian edge. It is great to see an act that played an important part in establishing the melodic black/death scene return today and really hit the mark. – Spyros Stasis