Afterbirth – Four Dimensional Flesh (Unique Leader)
An obsessed, out of control motorized orchestra. Heavy machinery scraping, digging, and repaving a serpentine road. Even these descriptions seem mere euphemisms for Afterbirth’s vicious style. While ostensibly rooted in brutal death metal and slam, the Long Island, New York quartet wrestle the genre into submission, refining it and lighting up its monotonous blackness with scintillating flourishes.
Channeling their inner Wormed, on “Beheading the Buddha”, they detour into technical extravaganza as precisely placed cymbal hits expand the otherwise high pressure, compact rumble, and nausea-inducing drum hits. Technicality turns into wobbly slam when “Spiritually Transmitted Disease” takes off on a crescendo of riffs and a sinuous, fretless-sounding bass line. The music is always on the verge of implosion, enraged and then soothed by sharply cut breaks, rhythm changes, yelps of melody, and moments of unexpected calmness.
While the attack of Four Dimensional Flesh is as brutal as it gets in the genre, these explicit and implicit atmospheric interjections – like the jazzy, early Atheist evoking “Dreaming Astral Body” – create a clearing in the auditory space, a reinforcing sci-fi emptiness for their all-permeating ferocity. – Antonio Poscic
Faucet – Bitter Insane Melting (Independent)
The music of Richmond, Virginia’s Faucet is so fucking angry that it manifests as sonic ectoplasm, filthy noise dripping over loose and dangly hardcore skeletons. Always on the brink of disentangling, eight corrosive and corroded cuts chug with ferocity as if the Jesus Lizard broke through a wall of Helmet and into a world of real Black Flag nightmares. On “Crawl”, John Graham and Landon Walker arrange deranged post-punk riffs around the slippery drum pulses of Abdul Hakim Bilal, evoking his work with Among the Rocks and Roots, while Laura Marina’s vocal lines pierce flesh and soul. “I will crawl,” Marina screams, words crawling under the skin, and carrying a faint melody – a sickly sweetness to the bitterness.
The only moments of suspicious, misleading respite come through three harsh ambient pieces, “(Bitter)”, “(Insane)”, and “(Melting)”, where haunted television transmissions and environmental noise spell out the album’s title in pauses, under breath. Bitter Insane Melting is the sound of an inner scream, of being confronted with a world so corrupt and wrong that there’s no amount of cognitive dissonance that can deal with it. It’s the sound of tearing off your skin in anguish. And fuck, does it feel good. – Antonio Poscic
Human Impact – Human Impact (Ipecac)
Attempting to resurrect sounds of past eras is a tricky business. In most cases, what you get is at best an aura of nostalgia, and at worst, a rewarming of past recipes that appear only stale today. The demise of Unsane in 2019 found Chris Spencer in a creative place, ready to take the next challenge, and its name is Human Impact. Alongside Spencer is an excellent array of musicians, including Jim Coleman of Cop Shoot Cop, Chris Pravdica, and Phil Puleo, who have both participated in the resurrection of the mighty Swans.
The brainchild of this meeting of the minds does indeed turn back the clock. The scene is, of course, New York, but it is not in the now. It is the era of no-wave experimentation, the days of Swans and Sonic Youth. Human Impact rely on the pummeling and punishing essence of that scene, harnessing an industrialized ethos through Coleman’s fantastical use of electronics and the throbbing rhythm section of Pravdica and Puleo. The heavy riffs of “November” arrive with a detached sense, making the passages through this dim landscape appear treacherous and menacing as Spencer’s delivery slowly guides the way.
Off-kilter ideas find their place, be it through the strange hooks of “Cause” and its pseudo-anthemic approach, or the strangely ambient take of “E605”, expanding its darkened tentacles through the sparse guitar notes. What Human Impact have achieved is creating a testament to the New York noise rock scene, without making their work feel dated. It is a record that tributes the past, but it fits in today’s world. – Spyros Stasis
Huntsmen – Mendala of Fear (Prosthetic)
From their debut record, American Scrap, it felt like Huntsmen were onto something. The Chicago scene has produced excellent specimens of post-metal, be it through the psychedelic experimentations of Yakuza, the mystical atmospherics of Minsk, or the heavy, forceful assaults of the Atlas Moth. Yet, Huntsmen feed their post-metal with something more earthy, an Americana influence that provides their heavy, pensive renditions with a deeply ingrained sense of lyricism. This essence is now further exposed to a fantastic extent with Huntsmen’s ambitious sophomore record, Mendala of Fear.
Spanning over 80 minutes, Huntsmen fit an incredible plethora of information to a singular body of work. The DNA of sludgy, post-metal is front and center for most of this journey, seeing the band unleash some devastating moments of grimy weight in the likes of the groovy “Colossus” the otherworldly “Bone Cathedral” to the monumental opus that is “The Swallow”. In this treacherous climb, Huntsmen display influence to kin forces, the psychedelia of Kylesa, the unforgiving attitude of Inter Arma, and the delicate hookiness of Baroness.
Still, they always retain their own distinct identity. It is an element that comes forth with their intuned lyricism, in tracks that can only be described as borderline romantic. The soft interlude of “Loss” and the guitar explorations of “Hill People Drugs” tell that side of the story. But it is the moments when Huntsmen’s weight combines with their ethereal spirit to unleash a perfect storm that elevates this endeavor, in closer “Clearing the Sand” with its moving lead work and “God Will Stop Trying” and its stellar vocal delivery. – Spyros Stasis
Jonathan Hulten – Chants from Another Place (Kscope)
It is wise to gaze into the past from time to time. That is a practice that Jonathan Hulten takes to heart with his solo project. With Tribulation, the guitarist has been attempting to redefine and modernize the classic heavy metal sound, without blindly adhering to tradition but not fully denying it either. Yet, at the same time, through his personal work, Hulten has been exploring the lineage of folk music, be it through its legendary figures like Nick Drake or today’s revisionaries in Fleet Foxes and their metallic kinship with Hexvessel.
Chants from Another Place marks the debut record on this trip down the path of tradition. The stripped-down mentality and minimal settings are perfect in this excellent specimen of intimate storytelling. The desolate sceneries of this world are beautifully weaved through straightforward, yet powerful renditions like “The Mountain” and “The Call to Adventure”, reaching philosophical proportions with “The Roses” and upbeat outbreaks like “Next Big Day”.
Ambient passages, intriguing synth sounds, and a cappella interludes all make an appearance, fanning the experimental needs of this record, but Hulten follows an old and tested recipe. Simply put, sometimes less is more. – Spyros Stasis
Lurker of Chalice – Tellurian Slaked Furnace (Nuclear War Now!)
The early fiery works of Leviathan always encapsulated an experimental outlook, gazing outside the bleakness and misanthropy of black metal and straight into the abyss of dark ambient. At some point, Jef Whitehead felt that Leviathan on its own could not stretch far enough and contain all his creative tendencies, and thus Lurker of Chalice came to be. The project was unfortunately short-lived, releasing a couple of demos before the 2005 brilliant, self-titled debut and then dissipating into the aether. Around 2004, Whitehead mentioned that there was an abundance of works for Lurker of Chalice, enough to release four full-length records, which still have not seen the light of day. That is where Tellurian Slaked Furnace comes in, being a collage of unreleased materials patched together by Whitehead to create one coherent testament for Lurker of Chalice.
This 70-minute long collection is a drive in the fast lane for what Lurker of Chalice would eventually become. The project’s debut album heavily featured black metal, while its ambient touches and flourishes were distinctly more pronounced than in Leviathan. Still, Tellurian Slaked Furnace sheds almost all of Whitehead’s black metalcore in favor of this experimental need. And it is not a one-dimensional approach that Whitehead is following.
There are moments of delicate, intricate passages through almost neo-folk alterations, where clean guitar and serene atmospherics rule. And then there are times when Lurker of Chalice further descends into this dark abyss, passing through industrial beats, no-wave early Coil aesthetics through howling samples and disturbing voice overs. Black metal still finds its place within that fold, but it is not the highlight, nor does it need to be. Weight and fury have never been Whitehead’s sole weapons, and Tellurian Slaked Furnace reminds how versatile of an artist he is. – Spyros Stasis
Lychgate – Also sprach Futura (Debemur Morti)
The 20-odd minutes of Also sprach Futura are like endless time-lapses depicting the rise and fall of universes, cosmic memoirs immortalized in avant-black frescoes. Bordering on the Luddite, the London-based outfit project an apprehension of the future through the mysteries and philosophical archetypes of the past, creating another piece of music that is as enjoyable as it is frightening. Textures of desecrated organs twirl, wail, and haunt the music’s black metal core of buzzing tremolos and blast beats, morphing them beyond recognition.
Even when a lone moment of respite comes along or a pattern tugs at familiar genre elements, they are soon obliterated by an avalanche of purposeful dissonance. Gripping insanity and elevating it to ecstasy, the group move through progressive segments, disappear under grandiose doom monoliths, and explore atmospheric nocturnal clearings, but ultimately thrash away in the throes of bustling death metal. Another exquisite release by a fascinating band, only rivaled by Imperial Triumphant in today’s avant-garde black metal landscape. – Antonio Poscic
Ruin Lust – Choir of Babel (20 Buck Spin)
It feels like an echo from the past. Ruin Lust appeared in the emerging US underground black metal scene, featuring Mike Rekevics (at the time of Fell Voices, currently also of Yellow Eyes and Vanum). What was quite interesting about this act was an unwillingness to conform to a singular extreme outlook. At a time when the bitter, long-form black metal of Fell Voices and Ash Borer was on the rise, Ruin Lust chose to also look towards the death metal realm. Finding a sweet spot between the war metal resurgence and the cult black/death outbreak, Ruin Lust became the voice of an intricate intersection.
Unfortunately, Ruin Lust came to an abrupt end in 2013 following the release of their debut record, not fulfilling all the promises that their furious blend entailed. Thankfully, they would return in 2019 with their Sacrifice sophomore record, and now they are unleashing their most devastating offering to date with Choir of Babel. Ruin Lust is not an act to hold back, and following a ritualistic, noise-induced introduction, the title track swoops in to create absolute havoc. Schizoid solos come from all directions as Rekevics’ blastbeats lay waste. It is an erratic progression, filled with the will and power of rotten death metal before the cyclothymic riff barrage of “Prison of Sentient Horror” and the unholy groove and weight of “Worm” take over.
Choir of Babel is a work with a poisonous intent, the guitars dripping with venom and dissonance in the likes of “Bestial Magnetism”, and with an underlying dystopian notion shining through moments such as the marvelous closer “Rite of Binding”. Welcome back, guys! We sorely missed you. – Spyros Stasis
Solothus – Realm of Ash and Blood (20 Buck Spin)
Rarely is an album as bewitching on first listen and immersive with each further spin as Solothus’ Realm of Ash and Blood. The Finnish group play a particularly grooving and morbidly luscious variant of death embalmed doom metal on their third LP. From track to track and from section to section, they vary the tempo and gait of an imposingly heavy stroll, romping through bluesy crunch and space-opening tremolos on “Father of Sickness”, falling into the funeral doom pits of “The Gallows’ Promise”, and climbing back up over the towering death metal of “Below Black Waters”. Throughout, the band’s massive sound is always on the verge of implosion as guitar riffs harmonize and undulate in unison, leaving behind seas of metallic tar, while canorous leads and solos part and join them again. Deviously tasty music. – Antonio Poscic
Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum – Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine (I, Voidhanger)
Redefining the meaning of a “split album”, Wanderers is a collaboration majestic both in scope and expression, expanding and fusing the palettes of the two one-person atmospheric black metal projects. Throughout the first eight cuts, Ayloss’s Spectral Lore and Jacob Buczarski’s Mare Cognitum take turns in building and destroying frameworks of cosmic proportions articulated through intimate sensations. First, Spectral Lore weaves a dense sonic fabric, simultaneously driven and atmospheric, to create meaning from nothingness, as if amplifying the noise of background radiation and wrapping it around a core of post-black metal. “Mercury (The Virtuous)”, “Earth (The Mother)”, and “Saturn (The Rebel)” meander between lonely guitar chords lost in a vacuum, sustained funeral doom sections, and slowly unfolding post-metal crescendos, tracing the silhouette of a mystical, but lonely universe.
Then on “Mars (The Warrior)” and “Neptune (The Mystic)”, Mare Cognitum unleashes an angrier and thoroughly aggressive barrage of tremolos, narrowing their gaze from a cosmic to a planetary level. They throw themselves into the center of storms brewing throughout the Solar system, sonify the harsh conditions, and make us feel their full, raw force. Occasionally dropping into sonorous black gaze and huge drones, the Mare Cognitum pieces highlight and elevate the fragility found in the imposing Spectral Lore vignettes that precede them, working alternately against and in unison with them.
Finally, on “Pluto (The Gatekeeper)”, Ayloss and Buczarski join forces, embark on a lengthy exploration into existential moods and auditory sparseness, only to soar into metalized ambient and blackened death blasts. A dazzling finale for a dazzling, monumental record. – Antonio Poscic
Velnias – Scion of Aether (Eisenwald)
The early teachings of Ulver, through their seminal Bergtatt debut album, laid the early seeds for a whole movement in folk induced black metal. Many would follow those footsteps, creating deep atmospherics through traditional influences, not shying away from the melodic applications that those could bring. Velnias are true students of this motif, but they choose not to follow but further expand on this concept. The black metal core is not enough for them. Thus they expand within a doom induced progression. They thrive on the ambiance of folk pathways but turn to the tempests that only post-rock practices can awaken. That has been Velnias’ path so far, and now eight long years after their second full-length RuneEater, they return with Scion of Aether.
In the world of Scion of Aether, everything has its place and purpose. The slow introduction of “Fissures with Construct” paves the way, and the doom mentality arrives with the first notes of “Pariah of the Infinite”. From that point on, the build-up takes on grand post-rock proportions for Velnias, as fleeting lead parts traverse the vast soundscapes and ritualistic drumming sets the tone. The explosion finally arrives when the distortion joins in, and the deep, prominent vocals contrast the melodic guitars. Velnias make sure they hit everything here.
Melody and dissonance combine, ambiance and outbreaks join together to create this epic ride that becomes that more adventurous with the heavier “Aurora Rune” and its majestic clean vocal delivery. Scion of Aether does not falter. It stays on point harnessing the bleak black metal ethos with “Supernal Emergent” and the overly ambitious, verging on astral closer “Oblivion Horizon – Null Terminus”, sees Velnias produce their finest work to date. – Spyros Stasis
Video Nasties – Dominion (APF)
I’m usually wary and weary of bands that decide to bet everything on a certain shtick. In most instances, once the novelty factor wears off, they are left with nothing but a thin musical skeleton. Luckily, that’s not the case with the full-length debut of Liverpudlians Video Nasties. While the quintet’s thematic focus is indeed narrow and expressed through an obsession with horror movies and John Carpenter’s signature audiovisual tropes, in particular, their music stands fully on its own.
The homage is never on the nose, but instead tastefully conveyed through stylistic flourishes embedded in a modern take on old school death metal. It makes for an instantly captivating listen, one equidistant from Killing Joke and Bathory and intensified with just enough ’80s synths, sprinkles of black metal’s aggression, occasional punk rawness, and endearing snippets of Adolph Caesar‘s classic horror narrations. As a whole, Dominion oozes atmosphere and cool riffs, even as it thrashes around a big, Anthrax-like chorus or rolls tormented by d-beat grooves. – Antonio Poscic
Vredehammer – Viperous (Indie Recordings)
Vredehammer’s Viperous is everything I hoped Svart Crown’s latest record would be: a perfected, compressed stream of savage black/death metal that never rests and never falters. The Norwegian trio led by Per Valla moves through the nine cuts as sharp as a knife’s edge, assembling unabashedly fast and aggressive patterns of intricate riffs, bumbling bass, and pummeling drums into exquisite structures.
The album as a whole follows a wavy progression, temporarily burgeoning into larger, marginally more expansive forms on “Aggressor” and “Suffocate All Light”, before letting resonant, chromatically aberrant synths lead the title track into collapse. Meanwhile, the relative slowness of songs like “In Shadow” is soon forced into a grooving martial cadenza. Although the surface of the music seems familiar at times, with bits and pieces of bands like the aforementioned Svart Crown, Nile, and even Fleshgod Apocalypse scattered around, the end product is of such quality that all other arguments disappear screaming within Vredehammer’s metallic bedlam. – Antonio Poscic
We are living in extraordinary times, and therefore I don’t wish to bore you with a long-winded introduction. We have included 13 releases across the extreme music spectrum (and one that trespasses into the folk territory), which will hopefully momentarily allow you to escape from this harsh reality. I wish all of you all the best in these troubling times. Keep calm and stay safe. We will get through this. – Spyros Stasis