MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of January 2021

Wardruna investigate Scandinavian folk dimensions, the Body forge an assault of extravagant noise and distortion, and Portrayal of Guilt eloquently cross over between hardcore and extreme metal.

Divide and Dissolve – Gas Lit (Invada)

Taking it to extremes, doom metal can turn into an otherworldly and profound experience. The ceremonial investigations of extreme doom/death and the abstracted concepts of drone/doom are just a couple of instances of this mindset. Divide and Dissolve investigate this exact soundscape, an intersection where extreme distortion and glacial pace can awaken an almost spiritual experience. Having released a couple of intriguing records in Basic and Abomination, Divide and Dissolve return with their Invada debut, Gas Lit.

In many ways, Divide and Dissolve take a cue from the drone and post-rock/metal scene of the 2000s. The old-school doom forms are abstracted away, heavy riffs crushing over in “Prove It”, the distortion out of control creating havoc with each note. Meanwhile, the relentless beating of “Denial” showcase a truly relentless aspect of this duo. Yet, Divide and Dissolve dig deeper, tapping into an experimental domain with the caustic “Far From Ideal”, borrowing a punk induced angst and noise influenced perspective.

Still, there is more room for experimentation, and this is where Divide and Dissolve genuinely shine as the minimal investigations of “Mental Gymnastics” and its incredibly desolate sax performance lead into the emotive and grand “We Are Really Worried About You”. It is not often that you find an act able to walk this thin line between heavy and beautiful music, but that is what Divide and Dissolve deliver with Gas Lit. – Spyros Stasis

Grabunhold – Heldentod (Iron Bonehead)

While I dearly appreciate all the wondrous directions in which black metal has evolved in the past few decades, coming back to the genre’s roots feels like comfort food. Familiar and nostalgic, perhaps, but unmistakably pleasurable. And if there are many acts whose music still harks back to the first and second wave of black metal, there are but a few so accomplished in their intentions as Grabunhold. Founded in 2016, the Dortmund quartet’s debut LP is a wonderful example of how simplicity in style and approach can yield excellent music if the material is crafted with thought, care, and just a bit of spice.

Woven around melancholy subjects and the darker shades of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy world, the music on Heldentod flows through sections of blazing, tremolo, and blast beat backed black metals akin to Dissection. It swerves into dusky meadows and folk mists as if Wardruna played black metal. It finally washes ashore in calm atmo black passages and their chilly textural melodies. – Antonio Poscic

Lice – WASTELAND: What Ails Our People Is Clear (Settled Law)

There are two aspects to the debut record by the Bristolian band Lice. On a purely musical level, WASTELAND is a post-punk tour de force that assembles, disassembles, and reassembles itself from scraps of found sounds, field recordings, the group’s DIY instruments (inspired by Futurist Luigi Russolo’s intonarumori), and vague, abstract noises on top of the usual rock instrumentation.

Mostly devoid of structure, WASTELAND is an album that feels as if it were floating, suspended between being and becoming, and that only temporarily possesses familiar post-punk forms. That is to say, for every shimmer of Wire, Minutemen, Psychic TV, or, more recently, Shame and IDLES, there’s an accompanying dissolution into textures and whispers and slurred spoken word and concrete poetry turned to sound. While I’m a sucker for anything post-punk, this formula elevates Lice clearly above the rest of the crop, embodying a style that gives you something familiar to latch on to, only to take it away in the next moment. Strictly musically speaking, this is a triumph.

But there’s another side to the album: its conceptual and literary makeup. The skeleton to which the music attaches itself—gluing flesh around bones, bringing tonus to dead words on paper—is constructed around criticism of prevailing cultural hegemonies in the West through a critique of vacuous satire. Its phenomenology is made material as a sort of manifesto-libretto, which traces transgressions similar to Futurists—who, let’s not forget, had close ties with fascists. In this pamphlet and surreal story, whose fragments seep through the lyrics and music, the band denounce both left and right extremes, criticizing mob mentality and cancellations while seeking a “common ground” where one cannot exist.

While not without merit, this discourse is a slippery slope. Here, the narrative falls victim to the overly ambitious and slightly self-absorbed implementation that, ironically, cannot distinguish the nuances needed to understand that both sides are, indeed, not the same. Thus, the text’s dialectics become ambiguous, opening avenues for interpretation and weaponized misinterpretation, throwing a shade over what is otherwise an excellent piece of art. – Antonio Poscic

Malakhim – Theion (Iron Bonehead)

Malakhim may be newcomers in the Swedish extreme metal scene, but their pedigree can be traced to some of their country’s prestigious acts, like Naglfar and the Duskfall. Adhering to the traditions of the second black metal wave, Malakhim released their debut demo in 2017. Beneath the raw and uncompromising sound was an uncanny technical prowess that gave the 16-minute demo an exciting twist. Malakhim would carry on this tradition in their II EP, further expanding their vision towards melodicism and grandeur. Now, they establish their blistering perspective with their debut record Theion.

Malakhim, without a doubt, stand as disciples of the traditional black metal methodologies. Fierce riffs splatter through the soundscapes, harrowing vocals rise through the abyss, and the pressure they apply is always constant and unyielding. “Chalice of Ruin” showcases this chaotic side, graphically spiraling out of control through the dissonant haze, while “The Splendour of Stillborn Stars” sees this cacophonous attribute reach new heights. Yet, this is not where Malakhim stop. Traveling further back in time, “Hammer of Satan” and “Chalice of Ruin” awaken the schizoid spirit of proto-death metal legends Possessed and the early days of Slayer make an appearance.

Still, there is another gear that Malakhim can switch to at a moment’s notice. In their darkest manifestation, it’s their melodic essence that gives the eerie, majestic twist that Theion needs. The opener “There Is a Beacon” provides fantastic infernal imagery through its central theme, while the mid-pace control of “His Voiceless Whisper” masterfully drives that point home. Despite the initial impact of Malakhim suggesting a straightforward black metal onslaught, Theion proves that there are layers to this act and speaks volumes to their multifaceted nature. – Spyros Stasis