MetalMatters April

MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of April 2021

This month in metal: Spectral Lore push progressive black metal’s boundaries, post-rock pioneers Godspeed You! Black Emperor return, and modern thrashers Evile tweak their sound to arise after eight long years.

This month crosses the whole spectrum of heavy music. On the slow, heavy edge, the doomed have risen, first with epic metallers Wheel and then with doom/sludge hybrids in the latest offerings from Oryx and the crushing experimental takes of Body Void. Taking things a step further and into the extreme doom/death edge, Alexander provide an alternative take on the grim perspective of the genre. The logical next stop is death metal, with great representation from Iron Flesh who deliver on the promises made in their debut record, with an excellent sophomore album, Summoning the Putrid. Pushing the genre to its polemic edge, Wode return with their 20 Buck Spin debut, unveiling their most complete work to date with Burn in Many Mirrors. Still taking the sonic boundaries to further extremes, Altarage deliver the finishing blow with the black/death onslaught of their fourth full-length Succumb.

On the black metal front, there is of course Ungfell enriching the genre’s bitter core with folkish elements and an anthemic approach, while Labored Breath unveil a devastating debut record stepping on the black metal tradition while adding slight death metal enhancements. At the same time, taking a more traditional approach, Spectral Wound unleash a cataclysmic record of old-school grandeur with A Diabolic Thirst. Moving onto the progressive edge, Spectral Lore resume their devastating path through progressive soundscapes with the epic Ετερόφωτος, while Sleepwalker continue down their avant-garde path. Moving into traditional progressive highways, Liquid Tension Experiment make an unexpected return with LTE3, reminding everyone what happens when some of the most talented musicians of the metal scene collaborate. And yet, another unexpected return sees Evile resuming their thrash onslaught, albeit through a slightly different lens, after eight years with Hell Unleashed.

Finally, moving to the outskirts, Amulets plunge the listener into their drone domain with Blooming, BRUIT ≤ push the post-metal genre to its experimental edge while Kauan’s Ice Fleet continues a string of excellent works. Montreal legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor return with a melancholic yet hopeful opus, while post-punk/noise rock outfit Arabrot alter their recipe once more, aiming for a more melodic and direct message in Norwegian Gothic.

Alexander – I (Schneider Collaborations / Plastic Head)

“Funeral drone.” That’s what ZAUM’s Kyle Alexander McDonald and Jealousy Mountain Duo’s Jörg Alexander Schneider call the style of their first collaboration under the Alexander moniker. A portmanteau of funeral doom and drone, it promises emotionally suffocating and aurally extreme music and delivers on both fronts.

At first, there is nothing but feedback amidst a vast, static ocean of droning noise. Then a distorted bass incantation appears and creates concentric circles in the darkness – an illusion of motion through quivering mantras. Within it, Attila Csihar-like growls float, displaced and omnipresent, while a drum roll is locked into a repeating pattern. The concoction of sounds moves forward as if Sunn O))) encountered Lightning Bolt, Aluk Todolo, or one of the more vicious Black Spirituals cuts.

This mass ebbs and flows within similar boundaries throughout, dissipating heat into ambient noise and whooshing like echoes from a black metal concert, complete with giggling, demonic voices and wallowing textures. Confounding and confusing, incapable of standing still, each new listen of I yields a different, yet equally thrilling experience. – Antonio Poscic

Altarage – Succumb (Season of Mist)

In recent times, it’s not the extended brutality of death metal or the eeriness of black metal that pushes metal sound to its limits. Rather, it is the intersection of the two, the polemic perspective and essential hatred, that black/death can conjure. And this sound has come a long way since the early days of the likes of Blasphemy, producing an array of disgusting spawns across the globe. From Revenge’s blistering assaults to Mitochondrion’s occultism, and from Abyssal’s doom injections to Antediluvian destructive prowess. One of the newer entities to enter this scene is a mysterious entity from the Basque Country named Altarage. Having already released three delicious works of black/death malice in Nihil, Endinghent and The Approaching Roar, Altarage now return with Succumb.

As has always been the case with Altarage, this record is just a constant pulling of teeth. Unyielding and remorseless, they traverse death metal brutality in all its glory with opener “Negative Arrival”, injecting twists of black metal dissonance through its passages. This relentless perspective also prevails in “Magno Evento”, before Altarage opt for a heavier beatdown in the slow and gritty “Maneuvre”. What remains through all these twists and turns is an impeccable technical ability, both in terms of rhythmic structures and malformed musicality. Yet, Altarage keep unveiling ideas that do not necessarily mirror their black/deathcore.

Without performing moves as daring as those that genre defiers Portal are accustomed to, they still push the genre to its limits. Be it through an impregnable wall of guitars to accommodate the guttural grows in “Watcher Witness”, ambient interludes in “Fair Warning”, or even notions traveling to post-metallic dimensions with “Vour Concession” and even further into drone and abstract territories with “Devorador De Mundos”. These moves really lift Succumb and showcase the potential of Altarage for breaking from the black/death molds, and by consequence, expanding the genre’s scope. – Spyros Stasis 

Amulets – Blooming (The Flenser)

Randall Taylor has a unique ability of crafting expansive and intricate works that possess an understated quality. For the artist from Portland, beauty is found in the ambient places, the subtle atmospheres, and the innate, meditative element of sound crafting. Taylor’s main vehicle for exploring ambient music is Amulets, and the project has gleefully bounced through the drone approaches and the abstracted notions of electronica, always retaining an experimental edge. And it is exactly this path that Amulets’ newest record Blooming continues to drive on.

If the entirety of the record has to be described in a single term, that would be “soothing”. And at a time like the present, there is no better offering amid a global crisis than a record such as Blooming. The expansive soundscapes of “The New Normal” open up beautifully, a kaleidoscope of sounds shining in brilliant colors through a restrained, minimalist approach. It is moments like that, like the downplayed guitar lines of “Observer Effect” partly obscured by the heavy ambiance, or the blissful field recordings that follow a storm of noise in the title track, which capture the essence of Taylor’s vision. And that is to create a completely immersive experience, one that captivates with its charming view of the human condition.

Even at tumultuous times, brought forth in the grand and overwhelming noise crescendo of “Collapse in Memory” or the destructive finality of “Whirl”, the same vision keeps its laser-like focus. Making Blooming an exquisite vehicle for escaping into a stunning realm. – Spyros Stasis 

Arabrot – Norwegian Gothic (Pelagic)

It has been quite the ride for Arabrot. Looking back at the Norwegian band’s discography, the journey has started at a pole of fervent anguish and angst and has gradually moved towards a shrine of enlightened maturity. For Arabrot’s first steps in the extreme music scene were, well… very extreme. Drawing from metallic influences, the weight of doom, and the gnarly essence of sludge, alongside a punk attitude, resulted in a string of absolutely brutal offerings. Proposing a Pact with Jesus relished this energy, freakishly deforming rock norms to drive its point across, something that carried on with Rep.Rep.

But, what fuelled the vehicle of aggression was not so much the straightforward and direct approach of punk music, but rather the forward-thinking perspective that acts like The Birthday Party first uncovered. And since the ‘10s, Arabrot has been steadily evolving, perfectly embracing the noise rock, no wave, and art-rock sounds. Within this form, they unleashed some of their most stunning works in their self-titled record and The Gospel. But, this is not where the journey ends, and once more Arabrot shed their skin, making another change for Norwegian Gothic.

While feasting upon the life-blood of adventurous rock pioneers, Arabrot found an uncanny ability to connect their dissonant and asphyxiating rock with a certain catchiness. The pressure that “I Run” from The Gospel applied was coupled with fleeting synth melodies and incredible hooks from the vocals. Similarly, the dirty distortion of “A Sacrifice” from Who Do You Love was enhanced with a majestic and grand presentation, again with melodies creeping into the hardcore theme. But, Norwegian Gothic makes a concentrated move towards the melodic and the romantic. Here, the harder metallic and punk elements have, for the most part, been evaporated, with even the more direct moments of the album like “(This Is) The Night” featuring more pronounced melodies and an incredible chorus.

The same is true for the doom aspects, with “Hounds of Heaven” standing out in its distorted majesty but moving more towards a heavy blues tone rather than a destructive sludge rendition. Still, that does not mean that Arabrot do not spread towards multiple domains, opening up pathways towards minimalism with the beautifully sparse “Hallucinational” and the gloriously no-wave excellence of “The Moon Is Dead”. From there on, it’s an array of earworms with tracks like “The Lie” and “The Crows” that will stick in your brain for a long time. In many ways, Norwegian Gothic reaffirms that Arabrot is a constantly changing entity, always looking forwards and moving. – Spyros Stasis