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.

Balothizer – Cretan Smash (Louvana)

Full disclosure: I’m cheating a bit. Balothizer‘s Cretan Smash was released back in November, but the album is such a gem that it deserves everyone’s attention. Three factors make this one of my favorite (late) finds from 2020. First, the basis of the London-Greek band’s music is in Cretan folk. Having originated on an island that exists at an intersection of worlds, both spiritually and geographically, the incredible, particular style combines an inherent avant-sense of structure with primordial, unrestrained energy. Look no further than the music of Psarantonis (alias Antonis Xylouris) and his son George Xylouris for proof.

Second, Cretan Smash’s songs come into being not as bastardizations of the folk material but as genuine interpretations with metallic instrumentation. The six tracks are still proper folk songs in their core—especially the closing lament “Anathema”—just brought to life on waves of highly combustible layers of electric lutes, yearning violins, edgy guitars, pumping bass, double drum pedals, and hardcore-cum-folk shouts. At times proto-metal, at others pure punk, they sound as if Voivod joined Killing Joke in a delirious syrtaki.

Third and most important, Crete was one of the focal points of antifascist resistance in occupied Greece during World War II. This unassailable, defiant spirit is still alive today, and it radiates both through Balothizer’s folk influences and their music. As essential as ever, this sentiment explodes from each note on the album, uniting the downtrodden, bringing together those separated by authoritarian discord, and cheering us on in the ongoing struggle. – Antonio Poscic

The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need to See (Thrill Jockey)

Throughout their musical endeavors, the Body have made it a point to create sounds so encompassing, so asphyxiating to have an almost psychophysical effect on the listener. Starting from a loose doom and sludge base, the duo of Lee Buford and Chip King gleefully turned all the dials to 11. Minimal pace, extreme noise applications, spacey sound effects, and heavy basslines have prevailed throughout the Body’s prolific output. Numerous collaborations, demos and EPs, more than a handful of full-length records, and the Body are now returning with another devastating performance in I’ve Seen All I Need to See.

In their latest tour of the abyss, the Body return to a core perspective. Leaving behind the prominent electronic implementations of the past few years, Buford and King re-establish the overarching guitars, disfigured bass lines and destroyed drums as the focal point of their work. In particular, the percussion is stunning, not only due to the amount of distortion that the Body have pushed it through but also regarding the foundation it provides. Drawing an influence from the heavy hip-hop methodology, “Eschatological Imperative” and “The City Is Shelled” arrive in the most hard-hitting way possible.

On the other end, the feedback is merciless, seemingly bending time with its presence as in the daunting “A Pain of Knowing”. Harrowing vocals rise from the distance, painful screams howling through the darkness as the sporadic percussion provides a more solid substance to the proceedings. The inclusion of spoken word parts in the likes “A Lament” augment the experience, proving a further edge to the already excruciating arsenal of the Body. The polemic pace of “They Are Coming”, the minimal free form obliterations of “Path of Failure” and the glitch induced progression of “The Handle the Blade” further showcase the potency of the Body and rounds up their latest work in dim fashion.

What remains is this feeling that despite this constant pursuit for the extreme and unbearable, under tons of mechanized sounds and weaponized progressivism, there is a humane and almost endearing aspect to the latest work of Buford and King. Somehow this makes I’ve Seen All I Need to See that much more terrifying. – Spyros Stasis

Devotion – The Harrowing (Memento Mori)

​Formed by veterans of the Spanish underground death metal scene, Devotion were bred and nurtured in the European extreme metal scene’s glory. Emphasizing the groove and grandeur, the slow pace and utter weight that acts like Asphyx and Bolt Thrower advocated, Devotion unleashed their debut record Necrophiliac Cults in 2012. Unfortunately, due to not being the most prolific of bands, it would take nine years to return this mighty beast with the sophomore work The Harrowing.

Once again, Devotion turn back the clock to the late ’80s and early ’90s. Digging up the stench propagated by Swedish visionaries during that time, Devotion open up with the brutal and dissonant “God Forlorn”. The disfigured distorted guitars and the deep, guttural growls appear through the sickening groove, while the synthesizer flourishes add another dimension to this endeavor. And this is where Devotion really shine, as they can awaken the experimental aspect of death metal, be it through the glorious presentations of Morgoth or the conceptual prowess of Pestilence. Harrowing riffs in “The Mournful Beam” meet with the brutal death metal ethics of “Demon Sleep”, while the eerie lead work of “Birth of Horror” awakens a nightmarish essence to complete this opus. – Spyros Stasis

Dipygus – Bushmeat (Memento Mori)

Along with Altered Dead and Devotion (reviewed by Spyros elsewhere in this column), Dipygus’ Bushmeat completes Memento Mori’s deadly triptych of death metal releases to start the year right, in a gruesome and dastardly way. Of the three records, the Californian quintet’s sophomore release is definitely the filthiest. Founded on Autopsy’s idea of death metal, yes, but sickened with doom, grind, and sludge infections.

For all its filthy heaviness—growls arise from a muddy abyss, riffs contort under layers of distortion, drum hits make concrete walls tremble—and perfectly rough production, the album is often surprisingly twisty. It undulates and meanders both in song structures and dynamic contrasts, which oscillate between suffocating and curiously airy sections. As if giving us a breath of fresh air once in a while to emphasize the prevailing, disgustingly exquisite rot. – Antonio Poscic

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