Last days of summer. The end of vacation and the impending return to the old routine. Normally, August is regarded as a slow month when it comes to new music. However, year after year, this suggestion seems to be more of a myth rather than reality. This year August dropped an abundance of black metal, spreading across the spectrum. From symphonic and melodic offerings, like Ex Deo and Modern Rites, all the way to black/death malice in Gnosis and Ixtalhuac, and hybrid combinations in Our Place of Worship Is Silence and Oxygen Destroyer.
Big names return with Wolves in the Throne Room, following up Thrice Woven and Hour of 13, resurfacing with their first full-length in eight long years. The infamous and legendary Nunslaughter is back with evil intentions in Red Is the Color of Ripping Death. At the same time, newer acts come to the front. Aenigmatum hone their melodic, yet brutal, death metal, Fluisteraars outdo themselves in record time, and OSI and the Jupiter continue to explore magical, folk pathways. So dig in; it’s an excellent crop. – Spyros Stasis
Aenigmatum – Deconsecrate (20 Buck Spin)
Hailing from the booming scene of Oregon, Aenigmatum arrived with their self-titled debut in 2019. A blazing core of black/death metal with a slight melodic inclination, Aenigmatum seemed to be onto something. That was immediately detected by 20 Buck Spin, whose collection of death metal grandeur is ever-growing and are now releasing Aenigmatum’s sophomore full-length. Deconsecrate sees Aenigmatum at their most ambitious, joining opposing forces to find their own identity in an off-kilter fashion.
Where the debut featured a black/death paradigm, Deconsecrate sees Aenigmatum morph into something different. The black metal side has subsided, leaving in its place a blackened facade. However, what accommodates the technical brutal death metal of Aenigmatum is a heavy dose of early Gothenburg sound. It is an unlikely ally to this endeavor, but through the proto-Swedish sound, Deconsecrate gains an incredible momentum coupled with a distinct melodicism. The relentless opener “Forged From Bedlam” sees the technical and brutal aspects merging into a frantic dance. Complex and over-the-top rhythmic structures collide with dissonance, but still, in places, melody prevails. Uncannily the Iron Maiden DNA finds its way into the lead work, twisting the monstrous “Fracturing Proclivity” and providing an exhilarating gear to “Despot of Amorphic Dominions”.
From there on, Aenigmatum explore progressive and outlandish ideas. It’s performed in a parallel fashion to how early At the Gates approached extreme metal. While never leaving the comfort of their death metal, Deconsecrate still explores the unknown. Jazzy inspirations, particularly prevalent on the basslines, speak to that effect in the likes of “Disenthralled” or the incredible “Larker, Sanguine Phantom”. All in all, Aenigmatum have found a very intriguing and rare combination. Ultra technical death metal with a Gothenburg-ian injection does not come often.
Yet, it feels that Aenigmatum are still just scratching the surface here, and they can still improve on a couple of areas. The record, impressive as it is, feels like it’s moving on a single gear for the most part. And the production, although clear and pristine, feels like it lacks a bit of character. However, this is an immense step forward, and it is simply exciting to contemplate what the future will bring. – Spyros Stasis
Annihilus – Follow a Song From the Sky (Federal Prisoner)
Chicago’s extreme metal scene always had a very much inspired off-kilter tinge. Chicago always had its distinct sound and identity, from punk legends Shellac to post-metal icons Minsk and Pelican. Now, Luca Cimarusti comes to add to the wealth of that scene in a reasonably divergent manner. In 2019 Cimarusti established his one-person black metal project, Annihilus, through the band’s self-titled debut EP. Annihilus worked through various singles and EPs in a frantic state, working toward their 2020 debut full-length Ghanima. While relentless and noisy, something separated Annihilus from the herd, and Cimarusti further explores these elements with his sophomore release in Follow a Song From the Sky.
The guitar sound defines this work, implementing both the harsh background and allowing the lead work to move the progression forward. While, in many ways, the approach that Cimarusti takes carries a distinctly black metal vibe, there is something else lurking beneath the surface. The harsh and monolithic implementation of “The Grand Illusion”, while reminiscent of the black metal approach, does not adhere to the lo-fi aesthetics of the genre. It’s much closer to the wall of sound, fuzzy and wooly methodology that noise rock artists would undertake. That is driven further, with Annihilus taking on and applying post-punk methods rather than traditional black metal riffing. Even one step further, “Draw the Beast” sees Cimarusti awakening punk origins with an old-school hardcore vibe infecting the track’s groove.
Still, black metal makes up for the lion’s share of Follow a Song From the Sky. “Twist Ending” goes for a guttural assault, verging on depressive black metal at times. Here, Annihilus showcases the teachings of the solitary black metal figures, diving deep within the solitude that mirrors Scandinavian sceneries in “Winter Song”. The inherent meanness is intact, personified through the cold and unyielding barrage, and unleashing pure grimness in “Isolation Tracking”. Everything in the track screams of the early Darkthrone glory days, while at the same time, “The Voice of Shai Hulud” employs epic underpinnings to its blackened hostility. It all slowly morphs, the different influences converging onto the title track.
Finishing the record strong, Annihilus take on a ritualistic procession using atmospheric means and mantras to reach a nightmarish end. You are left with the echoing “Together in death” screams as the record fades away, wrapping up a unique twist of the black metal genre. – Spyros Stasis
Bonehunter – Dark Blood Reincarnation System (Hells Headbangers)
Exhilarating. That’s how Bonehunter sound. Absolutely exhilarating. The Finnish power trio combine black, heavy, and thrash metal with punk’s propulsive zest to brew potent miniatures. They roar and thrash and buzz and groove relentlessly, equally likely to entertain tremolos and blast beats as they are to soar with scorching melodies. In other words, they slay.
On some tracks, such as the raging “Black Magic M16” and “Virgin Devil Princess”, Bonehunter play like a version of black metal legends Immortal that went mad from listening to one too many early Helloween power metal songs. On others, they channel a coked-up Killers era, Iron Maiden, during a neon-soaked weekend bender, as epitomized by the grumbling bass, guitar harmonies, and galloping rhythms on “Parasite Eve.” That and all other album cuts are elevated to perfection thanks to Satanarchist’s blazing guitar leads and solos that are technically impressive and stunningly melodic. As a whole, Dark Blood Reincarnation System is a gem and the band’s best record to date. – Antonio Poscic
Decrepisy – Emetic Communion (Chaos Records)
Portland’s Decrepisy play a particularly filthy and crust-infused variant of death metal reminiscent of Vastum and Incantation. It couldn’t have been any other way, perhaps, considering how the group’s four members have played in or with those bands and other death metal stalwarts in the past. At the same time, there is a twist to the formula and a unique, almost spiritual spice in the delivery of their first LP Emetic Communion that distances them from influences.
While their grumbling and rumbling slabs of death metal are often fascinating on their own, the chilling atmospheres and sense of menace they conjure are even better. The result of such an approach—equally interested in building aural attacks as in forging sustained moods—is an album that eclipses death metal and its focus of dynamic impact on a visceral level. Because alongside those default characteristics, Emetic Communion crucially creates an immersive and transporting experience from familiar tropes. This balance of elements without compromise makes it a rarity in the genre. What a debut! – Antonio Poscic
Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years of Nero (Napalm)
I’m usually skeptical about bands that set up all of their albums around a particular conceptual shtick because, in most cases, such thematic framework serves as nothing more than a peg leg for ho-hum musical content. But when Quebecois symphonic death metal powerhouse Ex Deo are concerned, the obsession with Roman history and mythology is reflected emphatically in their style.
While Ex Deo’s melodic death metal essence doesn’t stray far from the breakneck acrobatics of vocalist Maurizio Iacono’s main band Kataklysm, flourishes of arcane-sounding instruments and grandiose symphonic elements become crucial augmentation on The Thirteen Years of Nero. With Iacono’s Kataklysm colleagues Jean-François Dagenais and Stéphane Barbe on guitars, Ashes of Eden’s Dano Apekian on bass, and Goregäng mastermind Jeramie Kling on drums, Ex Deo balance between unbridled aggression, progressive grooves, and epic atmospheres. The result is a sound akin to Nile or Dying Fetus being transported to the Roman Empire and made for entertaining emperors and their entourages. It’s deliberately and ridiculously over the top yet somehow performed with ultimate conviction. – Antonio Poscic