MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of November 2020
Solstafir bravely continue on their adventurous post-metal path, Blood From the Soul return after 27 years in furious fashion, while Skelethal unleash another excellent death metal specimen.
The end of the year is just around the corner, and when it comes to heavy and experimental releases, we are getting an excellent finish. Heavy/epic metal newcomers Megaton Sword don a 1980s retro style to unleash debut record Blood Hails Steel - Steel Hails Fire. In opposite fashion, Blood From the Soul return more than two decades after their seminal debut, with DSM-5 modernizing their death/hardcore/industrial/grind amalgamation.
On the extreme edge of the spectrum, two distinct black metal methodologies are invoked, in Obscurae's atmospheric approach and Mongrel's Cross' exhilarating black/thrash bastardization. Once more, death metal delivers with Skelethal's new brutal outing Unveiling the Threshold , and former punksters Of Feather and Bone reach their creative peak with Sulfuric Disintegration. In the romanticized intersection between doom and death, one finds Pulchra Morte's excellent sophomore Ex Rosa Ceremonia, while deep in the doom edges where sludge meets with drone, and where psychedelia and kosmische musik run afoul Dark Buddha Rising continue their twisted ceremonies. Further into this post-metal mentality, Kevel conjure a blackened offering with their stunning debut record Mutatis Mutandis. Meanwhile, Solstafir travel further away from their black metal roots and into the infinite possibilities laid before them.
In the fringes, powerviolence legends Dropdead make a triumphant return, as angry as ever. The Psychotic Monks continue to traverse a world filled with noise rock, post-punk and no-wave ideals, while Finn psychedelic rock explorers Pharaoh Overlord continue to bend time and space with their extreme interpretations of heavy synths and processed vocals. Finally, in the realm of electronic music, Kevin Martin, aka the Bug, resumes his dystopian dancehall visions with help from vocalist Dis Fig for the mesmerizing ride that is In Blue. – Spyros Stasis
Blood From the Soul - DSM-5 (Deathwish Inc.)
There is no argument in how pioneering a role Shane Embury has played in developing extreme metal. Of course, the contribution through Napalm Death has been pivotal, but his influence goes further. In the early '90s, Embury established Blood From the Soul, alongside Sick of It All vocalist Lou Koller in a herculean effort of modernizing extreme metal. Fusing elements of hardcore, grindcore, and industrial music, Blood From the Soul's only record To Spite the Gland That Breeds acted as the progenitor to the industrial onslaught of Fear Factory and the establishment of the current NWOAHM scene.
The singular effect that To Spite the Gland That Breeds had was radical, but Embury and Koller decided not to continue with the project. Still, today Blood From The Soul is reformed, with Embury now being joined by a prestigious ensemble of musicians, including Jacob Bannon (Converge), Dirk Verbeuren (Megadeth, ex-Soiwork), and Jasper Liverod (Nasum, Burst). Their new output DSM-5 brings the original vision of Blood From The Soul up to date, projecting a fusing vision of hardcore, grindcore, melodic metal, and industrial under a shared foundation. Grooves are defined by the hardcore lineage, as opener "Fang Tooth Claw" and "Ascend The Spine" set an aggressive path through extreme metal debris. Still, Blood From the Soul uncover the value of melodic inspirations, setting up excellent hooks with "Calcified Youth".
From there on, DSM-5 becomes a fantastical ride through the punk induced grooves of "Terminal Truth" and "Self Deletion", moving bravely through the industrial tropes of "Debris of Dreams" and "Dismantle the Titan". Converging melody with dissonance, straightforward mentality with an experimental spirit, closing the record in the nightmarish ambiance of the title track proves that Blood From the Soul is a force deeply missed in the last 27 years. – Spyros Stasis
The Bug feat. Dis Fig - In Blue (Hyperdub)
Dissident visions from the future, a cyberpunk interpretation regarding the coming days of electronica. Kevin Martin has been exploring this futuristic space with many projects through the decades, but it is his main vehicle, the Bug, that has seen him take some of his most daring decisions. Dim dancehall atmospherics collapsing on top of a hazy ragga quality, it is this very mixture that found Martin delivering some of his finest moments in London Zoo and Angels & Devils. Following a collaboration with fellow experimentalists Earth in Concrete Desert, Martin returns to his core ideals now with In Blue, featuring one of the most talented electronic producers and vocalists in today's scene, Dis Fig.
Initially an instrumental record, Martin soon realized a need for a stronger humane element to breathe new life into In Blue. In that way, the bleak ambiances of "Around Me" are enriched by Dis Fig's ethereal delivery, creating a stark contradiction between the mechanical body and the human heart. This coalition of opposites becomes much more apparent with "Come", a true marvel of subtle electronica, combining a noisier edge with a melancholic, soulful delivery. Moments of harsh power electronics arrive through the labyrinthine progression of In Blue, the sharp percussion and powerful rhythms of "Destroy Me" and "Blood" causing havoc while the spiraling rendition of "Forever" carves a nightmarish scenario with its industrial backbone.
Yet, through the power of these explosions and the militaristic vision of tracks like "Blue to Black", there's always the subliminal presence of Dis Fig providing the necessary counterpart. The subtle quality of "In 2 U", the otherworldly approach of "You", with its incredible vocal hooks, and of course, the minimal grandeur of "End of Blue" showcase the soul underneath all the metal. And how beautiful that is. – Spyros Stasis
Dark Buddha Rising - Mathreyata (Svart)
The darkness of outer space collapsing into the shadow of the human psyche. Dark Buddha Rising have always looked at these two dimensions, the within and the without, creating tenebral rituals that connect these two worlds. Through this exploratory journey, their weapons of choice are a combination of drone and sludge, bastardized through blackened elements and a deep appreciation for kosmische musik. Now, following the release of their 2015 opus Inversum and their collaboration with fellow Finns Oranssi Pazuzu in Waste of Space Orchestra, Dark Buddha Rising returns rejuvenated with Mathreyata.
The plunge into this otherworld is immediate, the faint atmospherics of "Sunyaga" soon giving way to the heavy, echoing riffs. The feedback roars for eons, while the exquisite keyboards and the spot-on use of audio effects create a spiraling manifestation. Chants appear through the void, a faint light shining through this cosmic darkness as Buddha Rising continues this arduous ascension. And while the monotony of the opener sets the scene, it is the experimental edge of "Nagathma" that opens up Mathreyata's vision further.
The krautrock approach is distinct. The off-kilter progression with the rich background creates a bitter psychedelic experience, elevated through the subtleties and ethereal approach of "Uni". Combining all in its towering form, "Mahatgata" traverses immense ground connecting drone and sludge, krautrock, and post-metal, with the blackened quality completing this impressive tour de force. – Spyros Stasis
Dropdead - Dropdead 2020 (Armageddon Label)
Bred and raised in the underground punk spirit of the late '80s and early '90s, Dropdead were true heralds of the extreme sound yet to come. Their powerviolence amalgamation, blending hardcore, old-school punk with a thrashoid edge and grind-esque aggression, resulted in two pivotal full-length records and a myriad of splits and EP releases. Still, through the years, their output became sparser, and their sublime 1998 record did not see a follow-up for many years, until today. Returning to form now with their third self-titled record, Dropdead justify just how relevant their output still is.
A compact and precise assault, Dropdead is not about underlying themes and bubbly structures. No, this is a no-bullshit all-out assault, delivered in 23 tracks clocking at just under 24 minutes. Distilling the thrash spirit and combining it with the punk groove in "Prelude" and "Torches", Dropdead reveal a "take no prisoners mentality". This is weaponized hardcore, filled with angst and a sense of necessity, furiously marching through blastbeats, heavy riffs, and a raging vocal delivery. Switching it up even more, "The Black Mask" sees the grinding face of Dropdead take form as the New York hardcore groove mutates to a blastbeat field of ruin. It is an overwhelming presence that Dropdead can conjure, similar in the case of "Stripped by the Knife" and "United States of Corruption".
Still, this is not the sole gear that this legendary act has on display, making a point in using their heavy groove to mesmerizing effect with sludge-oid offerings in "Book of Hate" and "Hatred Burning". With their latest work, Dropdead establish their immense influence on today's hardcore genre. To dissipate any doubts, Armaggedon Label is re-releasing the band's first two full-length alongside two new compilation albums featuring demos from 1991, their 1992-1993 period, and their 1995-2013. If you want something urgent and furious to get you through anything, well, you just found it. – Spyros Stasis
Kevel - Mutatis Mutandis (I, Voidhanger)
In a sense, Kevel have been victims of time. Their debut full-length, Hz of the Unheard arrived a touch too late in 2014. With the post-metal and progressive sludge scenes having already passed their creative peak, the Athenian band took it on themselves to explore the edges and borders of that sound. Though raw, their debut record featured intriguing concepts as the instrumental sceneries expanded through a creative sonic exploration of dissonance, while their explosive progressions verged towards a post-hardcore paradigm. As promising as Hz of the Unheard was, I doubt anyone was expecting a giant leap from Kevel. And surprise, surprise, that's just what Mutatis Mutandis brings.
Kevel approach post-metal as an ever-expanding jigsaw puzzle. And as they have based their core and foundations on much of the genre's principles, they are constantly looking to expand further. The ethereal weavings of progressive sludge crush against the eerie blackened sense in opener "Of Being", the lead guitars constantly moving through dissonant means while drums erratically switch the narrative from majestically ceremonial to full-blown chaos. The incorporation of a vocalist was another missing piece that Kevel have addressed, increasing the inherent angst and unpredictability of "The Apophatic" or awakening the mystical essence of psychedelic overture moments like "Terraforming".
Traveling further towards outer space, Kevel brilliantly fit their hazy psych-rock movements, altering the weight of their sludge core to deliver stunning moments of overwhelming grandeur in "Cosmic Domination" and "Utopia Planitia". Still, what separates Mutatis Mutandis is the level of craftsmanship that Kevel have put into this work. The complex structures and furious advances, the fluency of their long-form compositions are perfectly encapsulated throughout Mutatis Mutandis. It's a gem brightly shining through the mirk underground. – Spyros Stasis
Megaton Sword - Blood Hails Steel - Steel Hails Fire (Dying Victims Productions)
Listening to Swiss quartet Megaton Sword's full-length debut for the first time brought me back to my early forays in metal music when each record was a small new world unto itself just waiting to be discovered. Discographies of (proto) epic heavy metal stalwarts like Saxon, Manilla Road, and Manowar were a special pleasure of mine at the time, with their huge riffs and over-the-top delivery providing gateways for the exploration of the broader universe of metal.
In this context, Blood Hails Steel - Steel Hails Fire is an instant classic, as it could have existed along with the defining works of those pioneers during the heyday of the genre. And it would have been considered a proper gem back then. But more than just retro-sounding, it is also an album that fits equally strong in today's metal scene. While it's meaty riffs, galloping rhythms, nifty songwriting, gruff vocal delivery, and grandiose atmosphere carry a certain vintage patina, the music here is all the better for it. Thanks to their pure and simple understanding of the genre and its influences, Megaton Sword have created one of the best (epic) heavy metal releases in recent years. – Antonio Poscic
Mongrel's Cross - Arcana, Scrying and Revelation (Hells Headbangers)
Despite their themes being overloaded with Satanism, witchery, and all other sorts of occult and sinister stuff, the music of Australia's black metallers Mongrel's Cross is ludicrous fun. It possesses an elusive quality, with the source of the joy within their darkness difficult to identify. Perhaps their inherent ardor is a result of frolic melodies, impish demon growls, and outrageous guitar harmonies, leads, and solos that intersperse all songs.
It could be they sound as mighty as they do thanks to the general energy that emanates from their fusion of black and heavy metal idioms, the tasty transitions between mid-tempo and blazing fast sections, and the bits of atmospheres and hymnal moods thrown in for good measure. Maybe it's the sum of all the above. Whatever the reason might be, one thing is certain: Arcana, Scrying and Revelation is a cracking ride. – Antonio Poscic
Obscurae - To Walk the Path of Sorrows (American Dreams)
There aren't many, if any, extreme metal genres that Chad Davis hasn't touched in his three-decades-long career. Best known for his doom metal journeys under the moniker Hour of Thirteen, Obscurae is among his youngest projects, this time around detached from doom variations and devoted to the world of atmospheric black metal. But in a sea of atmo black metal one-person bands, Chad Davis's effort is a forlorn lantern. Submerged in cloudy waters while its bright yet muted shine illuminates the darkness.
Like 2016's Ensomhet, To Walk the Path of Sorrows—an album "dedicated to the majesty of the Night"—is once more centered around expansive, endless textures, not riffs. Layers of shimmering tremolos, growls, and synthetic orchestration assemble a vast hissing background, which undulates rather than rolls forward accompanied by drilling drum-machines. This amorphous, open-ended sound is thoroughly captivating as it inhabits a state of mind similar to the dark ambient and industrial of artists like Nordra and Chra. The contrasting noir subtlety of extreme sonics is maintained even as particles of melody, disembodied choirs, and malevolent moods start dancing in its light, drawing it towards night. – Antonio Poscic
Of Feather and Bone - Sulfuric Disintegration (Profound Lore)
A fascinating specimen of death metal, Of Feather and Bone dedicated their early days free of confinement. Blending extreme metal tropes in death and a touch of doom/death with the hardcore lineage did the Denver act a great deal of good and resulted in their powerful debut Embrace the Wretched Flesh. But, since then, Of Feather and Bone turned away from their hardcore influences, shedding away their presence in the brutal Hymns of Bestial Perversion. Grind elements, a low-fi production that inadvertently provided a cult aesthetic, prevailed through the 30 minutes of pure onslaught that comprised their sophomore record. Now, their transformation to one of the major death metal forces of the current era is seemingly complete with Sulfuric Disintegration.
Schizoid and all-devouring, Of Feather and Bone's death metal is a pure assault. Even though the hardcore influence has dissipated from the compositions, much of their attitude and pedal to the metal approach is possibly still rooted in their past. The fast pace and serpentine lead work of "Regurgitated Communion" unleash a tempest of vulgar energy, twisting through the claustrophobic corridors Of Feather and Bone set up. The influence of the '90s US scene is clear, with "Noctemnania" conjuring the relentless approach that many residents of Morrisound first exhibited.
Dissonant shrieks and unearthly grooves create a monstrous manifestation, as the ending of "Consecrated and Consumed" suggests. Having also moved away from their lo-fi applications, Of Feather and Bone now enjoy their best production to date, something that makes their work that much more potent and asphyxiating, making Sulfuric Disintegration the pinnacle of their discography. – Spyros Stasis
Pharaoh Overlord - 6 (Rocket Recordings)
Rocket Recordings has become the home of much of this generation's psychedelia. And psychedelia of all kinds, be it the elusive anthemic electronica of Teeth of the Sea, the extreme noise injections of Gum Takes Tooth, or the minimal improvisations of Paisiel, an abundance of extraordinary releases have come through the label. It is now the turn of Finnish psychedelic aficionados Pharaoh Overlord to step into the fold, unleashing the latest entry in a prolific discography with 6.
For Pharaoh Overlord, maximum impact is achieved when worlds collide. In the case of 6 , the focus is split between a melodic electronic edge and an extreme, metallic vocal rendition. The soothing waves of synthesizers and the catchy basslines of "Path Eternal'' crush on top of the processed vocals creating havoc when they meet. Yet, these seemingly dancehall rhythms have a most disturbing underbelly, one that becomes more apparent as 6 unfolds. "Arms of the Butcher" crafts an intricate ambiance filled with sonic illusions and mind-melting distractions.
Taking things even further, "Tomorrow's Sun" achieves a cosmic interpretation while also blissfully beaming with an almost cheesy perspective, as the almost brutal death metal introduction of "Without Song All Will Perish" becomes the perfect contradiction for the kosmische musik rendition that soon ensues. Through a rich tapestry of sounds, catchy progression, and a meticulous arrangement Pharaoh Overlord achieve a state of otherworldly nirvana, highlighted perfectly in the closing track's "Blue Light Hum", to complete a masterfully spacey and ethereal manifestation. – Spyros Stasis
The Psychotic Monks - Private Meaning First (FatCat)
Originally released in 2019 on Vicious Circle Records and now with a new home on FatCat Records, the Psychotic Monks's Private Meaning First is an album that I've lived with for a year and a half, and yet one that I still don't fully comprehend. Instead, I'm left with shards and splinters of its music lodged deep in my mind. An insistent, repeating, distorted guitar riff that might have made the Jesus Lizard blush. An interrupted syncopation and start-stop motion that the Fall forgot to record. A surge of distortion that dropped off the shelf during a particularly dissonant Sonic Youth song section. When strung together, these elements form an ephemeral narrative. Seemingly disjointed and surreal, it makes perfect sense as you become part of its inner world, wandering around paths and forks.
In an hour of music, the band often plays with almost obsessive conviction. At one point, they might drone sprawling phrases with krautrock gusto, only to find King Crimson-like insidious melodies hidden within them. At another, they emanate Swans' maniacal energy, then crush and crash into a wall of post-punk psychedelia and free improvisation. But despite all of these sounds and styles whose roots lead somewhere else in the past, Private Meaning First is nothing like any of them. Not only a thing of its own but a thing outside of it all. – Antonio Poscic
Pulchra Morte - Ex Rosa Ceremonia (Transcending)
The first and lasting impression of Pulchra Morte's amalgamation of death/doom is that of elegance. Whether it's the huge, roaring riffs, the sense of dynamism and understated soft-loud contrasts, or the ability to infuse melody into harshness at just the right time, Ex Rosa Ceremonia exudes a delicate charm. That holds true even as the quintet traverse more direct death territories with "Locust Humanity", burst with anger on "To Suffer (The Way You Do)", or allow themselves the use of non-idiomatic metal elements like synths, spacious modulating frequencies, and found sounds of old radio transmissions on "Ex Rosa Ceremonia" and "Prince Among Shadows". This is music to be listened to in the dead of night, perhaps beside a fireplace and with a glass of red wine. – Antonio Poscic
Skelethal - Unveiling the Threshold (Hells Headbangers)
First, a fact: 2020 has been an insane year for death metal. If you've been following these columns closely, you might have noticed that each month featured at least one or two sublime releases in the subgenre. And with Skeletal's sophomore LP, the deluge of destruction continues as the year nears its end. Indeed, the French quartet sound absolutely in-form on Unveiling the Threshold while playing those filthy, murky, and old school death metal-tinged assaults that one would expect from labels like 20 Buck Spin.
Throughout the eight cuts, they deliver blow after blow of brutal death metal insanity. Their approach is one that rolls and bustles, starts and stops, yet always maintains a compact, incisive sound, even when entertaining looser thrashing sections or fixating on malevolent blast-beats and grooving masses of riffs. Just the thing to end the year in style. – Antonio Poscic
Solstafir - Endless Twilight of Co-Dependent Love (Season of Mist)
How much distance can one travel in a quarter-century? Founded in 1995, Iceland's Solstafir were initially enamored with the romanticized edge of the black metal spectrum. Their early Isa-era Enslaved influence brightly echoed through the Viking themes of their debut album I Blodi Og Anda. What followed was spectacularly rebellious, with Masterpiece of Bitterness performing a total U-turn, leaving much of the black metal heritage in favor of post-metal mechanics with a healthy dose of a hardcore attitude. Still, that was not the end, and through the years, Solstafir have been fearless in always looking outwards and taking risks, which has now led to their most recent release Endless Twilight of Co-Dependent Love.
Solstafir walk a fine balance between two tumultuous realms. On the one hand, there is always the post-metal and post-rock mentality, harnessing the soundscapes' intrinsic power and their ethereal representations. This is where the idyllic side of Solstafir resides, with moments like "Rokkur" and "Her Fall of Grace" beautifully unfolding with a subtle sentimentality. In contrast, the heavier side of the genre is fully exposed in majestic and furious renditions in the more tense moments of "Or".
On the other hand, hard rock has allowed Solstafir to project their art directly and straightforwardly. It's a morphing trajectory, at times appearing loose and in an almost power ballad form, for instance in "Drysill", and then taking on a heavy rock representation with "Alda Syndanna" awakening a 1970s infused glory. Violent outbreaks from the black metal past still roam, at times terrifying as ever as with "Dionysus", but for the most part, Solstafir distance themselves from the past and look forwards. It is exactly this tendency that makes them so exciting, and their unwillingness to conform to a specific craft or sound makes them such a unique act. – Spyros Stasis