In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.
July is a great month for the outliers. Prolific phenoms Boris return with
NO, a fiery work that sees them embracing the DIY ethic and returning to their punk/doom conceptual origin. At the same time, André Bratten reinterprets the black metal ethos, channeling its eerie and abrupt essence through minimal and ambient electronics. And then there is, of course, the anticipated return of Imperial Triumphant with Alphaville, an abrasive and poignant work, holding the banner for the off-kilter, forward-thinking rising black metal avant-garde.
But that's not all. Relative newcomers Gaerea return with their sophomore release Limbo encapsulating the traditional black metal core with a modern twist, while Dkharmakhaoz fuel pure hatred to deliver a lethal blow with Proclamation ov the Black Suns. On the other end, Skeleton and Spirit Possession craft true time machines, reinvigorating the flames of early extreme metal, the first through a brutal, purist approach and the latter with a rebellious, eccentric twist. In a different experimental zone, there's Khthoniik Cerviiks who channel the Voivodian dissonance and blazing progression for a twisted ride through Æequiizoiikum. Adjacent to this grim mentality is Rebel Wizard, whose nonchalant attitude has spawned another exhilarating entry in Magickal Mystical Indifference adding to a growing discography.
The death metal stench is also represented with a trio of excellent works, as technical death metal veterans Defeated Sanity return with The Sanguinary Impetus reaching new levels of brutality. Meanwhile, Lantern continue to open up the classic, old-school death metal tone with Dimensions and newcomers Bedsore perform a deep dive in the psychedelic depths of the genre. On the fringes of crust and punk, we find Entry with a 15-minute scorcher of a work with Detriment. Finally, in the power metal realm, Judicator solidify themselves in the genre's pantheon by combining the heritage of the European and US scenes in Let There Be Nothing, while Haken reach a new peak in the progressive metal journey with Virus. – Spyros Stasis
Bedsore - Hypnagogic Hallucinations (20 Buck Spin)
Now, this is a recipe that requires a very delicate and subtle touch. The brutality and extremity of death metal have always been tampered with, combined with other obscure influences, be it the eerie essence and devastation of black metal or the technical mastery and boundless improvisational ability of free jazz. Yet, where things get tricky is the injection of psychedelia within the death metal core, with only a handful of bands being able to pull off this balance, amongst them the likes of Morbius Chron, Mithras, and Nocturnus, and of course newfound giants of the scene Blood Incantation. Yet, despite the difficulty of the task, Italy's Bedsore tackle it head-on, combining their progressive tendencies with their love for no-bullshit death metal to unleash a dreamscape of a record in Hypnagogic Hallucinations.
Crafting an intricate ambiance through stunning melodies and a combination of synthesizers and keyboards in the introduction "The Gate, Closure", Bedsore fully unleash their ravaging visions with "The Gate, Disclosure". Continuous blastbeats, utter aggression, and anguish collide with beautifully placed melodic lead work, crisp transitions to downtempo moments of extended grandeur, all creating a hallucinatory scene of impressive depth and beauty. It is a strange mold that Bedsore are awakening, standing between the nightmare realm and the ethereal dreamscape. The infernal, spiraling leads of "Deathgazer" are assembled in stunning contradiction to the ambient overtures of "Cauliflower Growth", with Bedsore conjuring some of the prowess of majestic doom/death to complete this imagery. – Spyros Stasis
Boris - NO (Independent)
One of the most prolific acts out there (probably their only rival in that respect is Melvins), Boris have been genre-hopping and unleashing their output in a stream of consciousness fashion through the years. In conjuring this vast discography, there have been numerous instances when the band from Japan caught lightning in a bottle, be it the heavy, stoner presence of Heavy Rocks, the drone leanings of Akuma No Uta, the ambient collaboration with heavy alchemists Sunn O))) in Altar or most recently their shoegaze retreat in New Album and the collaboration with legendary noise artist Merzbow.
Today Boris return with NO, a completely independent release that follows the DIY ethic. And it is within this setting that they feel the need to dig deep, finding the roots of their sludge spirit in the intersection between doom and punk. The introduction of "Genesis" with its heavy riffs, as if slowly shoveling mud through sheer and overwhelming distortion, melts away and carries on naturally into the hardcore explosion of "Anti-Gone", before the complete punk transformation is upon us with the highly noisy extravaganza "Non Blood Lore".
This frantic spirit defines NO, and Boris do their best to coalesce the two sides, the Black Sabbath weight and the Black Flag free spirit. Faster pace dictates "Temple of Hatred" as the drums keep pummelling, while the slow, processional doom essence is king in "Zerkalo". The best is still to come when Gudon's "Fundamental Error" comes through, with all the fury and poise of the 1980s punk scene. Meanwhile, Boris still offer a temporary retort from this brutal mix with "HxCxHxC - Perforation Line", driving their post-rock sensibilities through shoegaze implementations all the time with a still fervent, no holdback approach. Almost 30 years in their career, and Boris still successfully catch lightning in a bottle. – Spyros Stasis
André Bratten - Silvester (Smalltown Supersound)
At first glance, the semantics and phenomenology of Norwegian producer André Bratten's new album have nothing to do with metal or even his earlier techno and contemporary classical works. Superficially, the five cuts on Silvester all appear as fragments of a vast menhir of dark ambient whose amorphous and malleable exterior allows bursts of rhythm and glistening textures to escape its core. As if taming and binding Shapednoise's or Container's industrial techno bea(s)ts into mellower restraints.
But, in reality, the substance of Silvester is the ultimate expression of black metal's tormented and often problematic soul, distilled and concentrated into electronic forms. While based on the flux and inner logic of the genre's elements and myths in general, it is more precisely and directly inspired by German experimentalist and Kosmische pioneer Conrad Schnitzler's "Silvester Anfang", a piece commissioned by an obsessed Euronymous for Mayhem's debut EP Deathcrush. Dissolved, repurposed, and reabsorbed, the marching motorik heart of Schnitzler's piece continues ticking eternally within Silvester, clanking along and colliding in the dark with torn down and rebuilt black metal idioms.
Never explicitly referenced, but always felt, it's Weltschmerz is imbued in each subtle gradation of sound and each saturation of noise. Like the hushes, crashes, and rustles that sound like found objects collected from a black metal record and move like shadows at the edge of vision on the opening "Witching Hour". Or the echoing pulses and screeches rising from nothingness on "Silvester Anfang" and the sense of black metal enmity and grim augustness reminiscent of Wardruna on "Untitled 1" and "Untitled 2". All of them paint an abstract, caliginous landscape to disappear and be disappeared in. – Antonio Poscic
Defeated Sanity - The Sanguinary Impetus (Willowtip)
Unlike the tight and fearsome death metal and slam attacks of Afterbirth and Abysmal Dawn or the technical brutality of Wormed, Defeated Sanity play the style with a certain looseness, delivering contorted riffs and blast beats in a blistering but never suffocating fashion. That is especially obvious during slamming grooves, such as on the merciless "Dislimbing the Ostracized", which always leave a bit of air around the trailing edges of notes. Riffs dissipate into melodic twirls, and blastbeats allow for hanging reverberations in place of surgical precision.
These characteristics and songwriting choices make The Sanguinary Impetus a surprisingly accessible brutal death metal album, one which dazzles with changes of pace and churning riffs, but that can also be enjoyed in an almost relaxed and leaned back state. Even when traces of Dying Fetus's massive grindcore style and angular breaks surface on "Conceived Through Savagery" or drums transform into an unnaturally limber pneumatic drill on "Drivelling Putrefaction". Repugnantly tasty stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Dkharmakhaoz - Proclamation ov the Black Suns (Iron Bonehead Productions)
Belarus duo Dkharmakhaoz are one of those black metal bands who don't need gimmicks to create an absolutely evil sounding, soul-piercing manifestation of their artistic ideas. Just filthy riffs, well-crafted songs, and an inherent penchant for writing odes to cosmic forces.
At its most abstract level, Proclamation ov the Black Suns is fully immersed in second-wave black metal, with sprawling yet compact riffs wrapped around tight black metal attacks. The formula might be simple, but its execution requires alchemy. And if you listen a bit closer, wedged between tremolos and blast beats, suddenly you'll discover compelling touches throughout the record, such as the spiraling breaks on "The Cycle of Omega," the on-point synths and melodic leads on the title track, or the sudden burst of avant-garde tendencies on "Ascension". All are subtle, but crucial pieces of a superb slab of black metal. – Antonio Poscic
Entry - Detriment (Southern Lord)
It is good to return to the basics now and again. For Clayton Stevens, guitarist of acclaimed post-hardcore act Touché Amoré, this return to the point of origin arrives with Entry. Founded by Stevens and Sara G, and soon being joined by Sean Sakamoto of Sheer and Chris Dwyer, Entry travels back through time to the original state of the punk and hardcore scenes. The spirit of Discharge and Minor Threat, with a touch of the crust ethic displayed by the likes of Tragedy and the off-kilter early days of Converge, are all blended into a condensed form and unleashed through maximum projection.
Following their No Relief EP, Entry return with a full-length containing 15 minutes of feral punk, with an old-school ethos yet modern flourishes. The pedal hits the metal in this one from the get-go, as "Your Best Interest" savagely brings down the hammer with an infecting groove and in-your-face attitude. This insane assault carries on in crust glory with "Vulnerable" with Entry offering no relief whatsoever and in an even more brutal fashion with the cacophony and over the top explosions of "Secondary".
Dropping the tempo carries an even heavier punch, as Entry breakdowns prove monolithic and inescapable. The old-school pace of "Not Your Decision" carries much of this swagger, while "Selective Empathy" takes it a step further with its D-beat induced moments of anguish. Still, the pinnacle is closer "Demons" with Entry descending to an infernal state, the devilish guitar work meeting with a truly blazing atmosphere to create a terrifying moment, an intense procession through exalted brutality. – Spyros Stasis
Gaerea - Limbo (Season of Mist)
Portugal's venture in black metal might have been limited, yet it has produced some astonishing works throughout the years. Be it the raw early days of Moonspell, the infernal symphonies of Sirius, or the bitter take of Corpus Christii, Portugal showcased an interesting underground scene filled with hidden gems. Far detached from the initial black metal boom, the country's latest addition to the genre in Gaerea are nothing short of astounding. The mysterious act, appearing in hooded masks and refusing to present their line-up burst into existence with their 2016 self-titled EP, before unveiling their debut record Unsettling Whispers in 2018 through Transcending Obscurity. Now, it feels like their journey has moved them to new heights, releasing their most complete work to date in their Season of Mist debut, Limbo.
Gaerea take a centric position when it comes to their black metal brew, making for an incredibly balanced and tasteful result. Their outlook is aggressive and filled with fury and dissonance, clearing felt through the kick in the teeth that is "Null". In a more expansive tone, "Urge" showcases the bleakness that Gaerea can conjure when applying this violent procession, yet this is just part of the story here.
The pace drops, allowing the hypnotic tentacles of "Conspiranoia" to creep in with their subtle, acidic quality. It is a nightmarish scenario, one that does not hold back from injecting twisted melodies within the bitter core. It is a similar attitude that Gaerea present whenever a crescendo is reached, with "Glare" showing this tempest form as the havoc momentarily retreats and allows moments of perfect clarity while exposing an epic wealth running beneath the surface. – Spyros Stasis
Haken - Virus (InsideOut Music)
One of the defining characteristics of Haken's conception and flavor of prog metal has always been the ability to combine progressive metal's technical prowess and compositional meanderings with harder, straighter metallic attacks and the effervescence of art-pop. While the DNA of these elements has changed over time—their sound, in turn, adopting an edgier attack—the relationship between individual stylistic strains has, crucially, remained in balance.
In the context of the London group's career, Virus continues where Vector left off, fully immersed in djent but completely aware of the road that brought them where they are today. Simultaneously complex and tuneful, the album moves elegantly and imperceptibly from grooves to soaring choruses, and from surprisingly heavy, chugging sections to balladry that feels earned and essential, not a shoehorned filler.
Thanks to the brilliant songwriting and compositional inventiveness that glues all of these elements together, Virus sounds and feels like a nearly flawless record. A harmonious work of prog metal that is also wickedly smart in its use of extra-musical elements, self-references, and ties to earlier recordings, but one that fundamentally thrives on advancing both sonic and lyrical narratives. Yet the bottom line is straightforward: Haken have crafted not only the best prog metal album of 2020 but potentially the most well-rounded and accomplished album of their already magnificent career. – Antonio Poscic
Imperial Triumphant - Alphaville (Century Media)
If the New York avant-black trio's 2018 masterpiece Vile Luxury was a serenade for the coming apocalypse, then Alphaville is a vision of the world that survives it. Simultaneously wildly grotesque and painfully sobering, the album collapses the possible states of Western society – its good, bad, and ugly pasts, presents, and futures – into a superimposed destiny. And in this tentative tomorrow, the debauchery of late-stage capitalism meshes with the quiet beauty found on the outskirts of post-digital existence.
Because of this change in scenery and ambiance, the music here is less direct and explicitly grandiose. Instead, the trio opt for touches of groveling, slowed down eccentricities akin to the permutations of Virus or Howls of Ebb, and place them amidst menacing and threatening syncopations. Resurfacing with anger, they release Gorguts-like dissonant squeals into the ether, and come close to inventing Zeuhl metal during several full-on jazz segments that buckle under the grandeur of their instrumentation. These passages prove to be crucial.
Out of all the music Imperial Triumphant have recorded so far, Alphaville is the most obvious example of how contemporary and avant-jazz's idioms and aesthetics have influenced the band's music, infecting it with a sense of freedom. A boldness that even enables them to reach for elements of augmented field recordings and found sounds. A unique album from a unique group. – Antonio Poscic
Judicator - Let There Be Nothing (Prosthetic Records)
To put it bluntly, there are not many (if any) power metal bands active today that can hold a candle to Salt Lake's Judicator. Armed with a style that swings with heft between genre tradition and contemporary currents, they play music of distinct energy and structural quality. They are equally indebted to European heavy and power metal histrionics championed by Helloween, the towering pomp of Blind Guardian, and the thrash attacks of Jag Panzer.
Building on top of a tried and proven formula, the group's fifth full-length Let There Be Nothing doesn't need to stray far from their beaten path. Instead, the freshness of the material is kept through slight adjustments and variations, and by pouring familiar elements into new molds. On "Let There Be Light", lovely vocal harmonies and polyphonies turn into Maidenesque gallops and big, Savatage inspired refrains. Later, "Tomorrow's Sun" shows us the band's technical and aggressive sides, while "Gloria" floors everything with a majestic chorus line. Beyond the music itself, Judicator deal with complex and well-researched historical themes to craft similarly intriguing lyrics, and an all-together excellent package. – Antonio Poscic
Khthoniik Cerviiks - Æequiizoiikum (Iron Bonehead)
Travelers of the extreme end of black/death usually are drawn to the raw aggression and intensity of this natural intersection. The point where the death metal stench combines with the detached and pummeling repetition of black metal, resulting in works of astonishing brutality. Yet, others find an interest in the extreme dissonance that such a union can offer, contorting the impressive technical aptitude with a cacophonous eeriness. That is where Khthoniik Cerviiks feel most at home, and with the trio from Dortmund having already released a stellar debut full-length and a collaboration with fellow black/death experimentalists Howls of Ebb, they now return with Æequiizoiikum.
The foundations of Æequiizoiikum feel as if you are standing on top of quicksand, as the fast and slithering progressions of Khthoniik Cerviiks twist and turn in "Odyssey 3000". Blastbeats and all-out assaults suddenly spasm to intense breakdowns, strange rhythmic patterns roam, and the lead work warps reality with its inharmonicity. Spreading their wings, "Δt (Kriitiikal Mæss)" sees them take on epic characteristics opening up their black metal sensibilities to extend from their bitter origins to sounds of intrinsic grandeur. Through this malleable and flexible approach, Khthoniik Cerviiks enhance their demoniacal facade in moments of pure chaos, as with "Kollektiing Koffiin Naiils" and "Bloodless Epiiphany" as they craft a web of darkness and disorder through their Voivodian pedigree. – Spyros Stasis
Lantern - Dimensions (Dark Descent Records)
Imagine this, it's 2020, and a band influenced by old school death metal actually does something new with that classic sound instead of just wallowing in rehashed riffs and motifs stuck in perpetual déjà vu. If that sounds good, may I introduce you to Finland's Lantern, who have spent the past ten-odd years honing a sound that pushes OSDM into the future by blowing up its internal makeup with progressive and black metal interventions.
Throughout the six cohesive cuts on the band's third album, they are intent on not letting any one phrase or theme overstay its welcome. They alter tempos, move from blazing tremolos to thrashing and grooving riffs, and expand from driven, over-the-top attacks into crawling doom sections. If this all reads and sounds like an archetype of what great contemporary death metal could and should be like, it's because that's exactly what Dimensions is. – Antonio Poscic
Rebel Wizard - Magickal Mystical Indifference (Prosthetic)
To be fully honest, I expected the success of the heavy-cum-black metal histrionics of Australian one-person band Rebel Wizard to remain limited to the project's first LP Triumph of Gloom. The appeal and novelty of the project's characteristic lo-fi, whimsical shtick, would surely soon wear off, I thought. How wrong I was. Because here we are, four years after that breakout record and Rebel Wizard's sole member NSKV aka Bob Nekrasov is releasing his third, and possibly best album overflowing with an ungodly concoction of styles.
Once again knotting trad metal gallops and doomy passages with the aggression of black metal and thrash, Magickal Mystical Indifference occupies a curious space between serious-mindedness and irony, equidistant from hermetic black metal affectations and the joyful flourishes of heavy metal. Coupled with simply excellent, varied songs and top-notch musicianship, I no longer have any doubts about the future of Rebel Wizard. – Antonio Poscic
Skeleton - Skeleton (20 Buck Spin)
Showing a deep appreciation for the rise of extreme metal and the early days of hardcore infusions, Skeleton have been roaming the underground scene of their native Texas. Having released a couple of obscure EPs through the Austin-based Super Secret label, the act caught the attention of 20 Buck Spin, who capitalized immediately. Now, the obscure Skeleton returns, fanning the feverish flames of the blackened aura over their punk origins with their self-titled debut.
This work oozes in the purity of the early days of extreme music, the time when genre definitions were still vague, and everything fell within the heavy metal and punk domains. That is true for Skeleton, as they produce a record filled with razor-sharp riffs, in your face groove and no bullshit attitude. Fast pace and conviction provide "Mark of Death'' and "Taste of Blood" with a thrashy sense, ruthlessly exploding through the D-beat onslaught. On the other end, it is the heavy groove that brings back memories of early Celtic Frost either through the eerie investigations of "The Sword'' or the monstrous weight of "Ring of Fire".
Yet, no matter the case this quality and sharpness of the compositions still arrive with a deeply traditional heavy metal sense, with moments like the opening riffs of "Toad", the ballsy progression of "A Far Away Land" and the delicious chugging of "Turned to Stone'', all standing as testaments to this lineage. And when it is time to embrace the darkness fully, Skeleton do so with open arms, closing the record in their most blackened and most nihilistic sense with "Catacombs" where the ethereal meets the devastating. – Spyros Stasis
Spirit Possession - Spirit Possession (Profound Lore)
Oh, the good old days of black metal. Before the rise of the Scandinavian scene, back when all the flavors of extreme metal combined into a singular form. Black and death, heavy metal, and thrash, everything forged into a distinct sonic offering. The duo of S. Peacock (Ulthar, Mastery) and A. Spungin (Ormus) have tapped into this very energy with their new project Spirit Possession, turning back the clock to the early days of black metal in its initial form, albeit with some exquisite augmentations.
For Spirit Possession, the riffs and groove all originate from the heavy metal tradition. Razor-sharp guitars and a dedicated pace lead the way through the 35 minutes of their debut record. Instead of relying on heartless blastbeats, the duo implement a thrashy speed up, resulting in the furious moments of "Twin Tongued Pathways". At the same time, the devilish element and the dissonant touch does not originate from the eerie black metal riffs, but from the incorporation of off-kilter scales, creating the wonderful cacophony of "Amongst Inverted Castles and Holy Laughter" and the schizoid concepts of "Diamond Depth Illumination".
Yet, despite their leaning towards the past, there is a distinct forward-thinking aspect of Spirit Possession. The application of synths, the bizarre structures of the tracks, carry an air of the avant-garde hidden beneath this retro cloak to perfect this multilayered opus. – Spyros Stasis
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