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.

Labored Breath – Dyspnea (Sentient Ruin)

Jamison Kester is mostly known for being the vocalist of Oakland based black metal act Void Omnia, who have released some auspicious offerings in two splits with doom/neofolk act Isenordal and Greek black metal traditionalists Insanity Cult along with their debut full-length Dying Light. Staying within the black metal element but travelling to its more primal and raw form, Kester has established his solo project Labored Breath and is now unleashing his debut record Dyspnea.

While Void Omnia’s cataclysmic black metal barrage was enhanced by specks of melody and a certain emotive quality, Labored Breath is simply the return to the harsh reality. Dyspnea is a mean and devastating record, filled with the heavy layering and relentless approach that the French underground scene uncovered through acts like Antaeus. “Belie” is a blistering experience, a retaliation towards everything featuring an unstoppable progression that lays waste to all. Hints of a slight death metal stench are also present, but they do not shift the black metal focus. Dissonance and cacophony roam in “Pathogenesis”, while a true blitzkrieg approach awaits in opener “Hypoesthesia”. Still, there is a hint of the atmospheric for Labored Breath, be it through ambient interludes, the psychedelically infused “Serpent Womb”, or the doom-y elements of “Agnosia”. These all come together to complete a very promising debut work. – Spyros Stasis

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3 (Inside Out)

Considering the disappointing run of form that Dream Theater has had in the past two decades, the drama that plagued the relationship between some of its members, and the fact that it’s been 22 years since LTE2, my expectations for the third release from Tony Levin, John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, and Jordan Rudess as Liquid Tension Experiment were fairly low. At best, I felt we could expect a rehash of LTE2. At worst, we were up for an uninspired mess of self-indulgent progressive metal well past its date of expiration.

The good news is that LTE3 is on par if not actually better than LTE2. The sound is, unsurprisingly, a familiar one—a good thing in my book—at once heavy and intricate, reminiscent of 20th century Dream Theater and those first two LTE releases, but with a renewed vigor in the playing.

There is, of course, plenty of instrumental showmanship on the record, but apart from a few unfortunate neoclassical moments, they fit neatly into the material’s flow. As a whole, the album feels balanced and streamlined, as each improvisation and flashy moment is counteracted with segments of interesting melodies and purposeful songwriting, moving from cinematic and moody to stunning heavy prog sections. While potentially influenced by nostalgia, I feel content as I give it another spin. – Antonio Poscic

Oryx – Lamenting a Dead World (Translation Loss)

“Contempt.” “Misery.” “Last Breath.” “Oblivion.” The song titles from Lamenting a Dead World, the fourth LP by Denver’s doom & sludge group Oryx, tell a story by themselves. They weave a narrative of decline and extinguished empathy, of a crumbling society and disappearing solidarity at a time when they were most needed. The music reflects this word for word, sound for sound, and bruise by bruise as Abbey Davis, Tommy Davis, and Eric Dodgion create a wall of filthy, angry sludge to carry their emotions. Make no mistake, this is ugly music for an ugly world, even when moments of beauty shine through unexpected grooves, YOB-like mournful ballads, and bittersweet, blues-infected dirges. – Antonio Poscic

Body Void – Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth (Prosthetic)

If there are traces of hope, of simmering grace in Oryx’s music, Vermont’s duo Body Void know no such thing. Their third LP Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth echoes the existential turmoil and pain of label mates Vile Creature, reflecting intimate effects of cruel currents. While the music of Oryx is without, Body Void’s sonic poetry lives within, transposing questions of earthly destruction onto inner spaces, only to then project them back as caustic, roaring drones that offer no respite. And when they stop, it’s to wind up for another harder, deafening blow or hammering hardcore segment. More than ugly—gorgeously agonizing music. – Antonio Poscic

夢遊病者 (Sleepwalker) – Noč Na Krayu Sveta (Sentient Ruin)

Malleable. Even in its early days, black metal pioneers realized the genre’s shapeshifting potential. It is no surprise that just a couple of years after Darkthrone and Mayhem delivered the right cross, it was Ved Buens Ende that succeeded with the left hook followed by a barrage from the likes of Arcturus, Dodheimsgard, and Thorns. Opening up the genre to further experimentation in such a short amount of time is astounding, and it was this open-mindedness that led to a near-infinite number of interpretations. This is the tradition that multinational act Sleepwalker are honoring with their approach through a very prolific output since 2017, and are now returning with Noč Na Krayu Sveta.

Sleepwalker’s approach is endlessly elusive. Sure a black metal notion exists, somewhere in there, but its presence is like a fleeting specter rather than a solid core. That much is apparent through the long-form compositions of their new record, as the trio spread across three different countries delivers a dark trip through the hazy cosmos. The ground they cover just in the first half of opener “Boundless Love/Resilience” is astounding, setting off from minimal ambient beginnings, mesmerizing dark jazz lounges to explode in noise rock confusion and havoc. Brutal vocal deliveries add to the blackened perspective, appearing like wraiths through the mist while the interstellar krautrock spirit acts as the perfect vehicle for exploring this cosmos.

Still, as the second long-form offering, “Redemption/Retaliation”, unfolds, all these different flavors melt into one another, psychedelic rock licks diving straight into traditional black metal riffology and middle-eastern influences adding to the overall mysticism. One thing to note is that Sleepwalker do not simply follow the great pioneers of experimental extreme music. They rather make their own path. – Spyros Stasis

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