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.

Spectral Lore – Ετερόφωτος (I, Voidhanger)

For Spectral Lore, it is all about commitment to the craft. The project of Ayloss set out to explore the atmospheric edges of black metal back in the mid-’00s, releasing the act’s first two full-length records independently. Returning in 2012 with Sentinel was the first clear message that Spectral Lore was something special, something that was made concrete with 2014’s III. Ambitious and spanning across genres, Ayloss achieved near perfection through a kaleidoscopic view of genre-bending inclusion. Since then, Spectral Lore has offered more specimens of brilliance, through some EPs, with 2015’s Gnosis particularly standing out, before unleashing their devastating split with fellow travelers Mare Cognitum, Astrology of the Nine. Now Ayloss returns with another ambitious work in Ετερόφωτος, seven years after the monumental III.

Spectral Lore’s work has always been defined by astute attention to detail. Concepts blend into compositions in a world where everything has its place and purpose. Behind this contraption, Ayloss stands, like a modern Daedalus crafting away his intricate maze. Mirroring more a journey into the dark unknown, Ετερόφωτος starts in an absolute tempest as “Atropos” comes in with thunderous riffs that shake the very earth. It is an exhilarating listen that gives away many of the intricate aspects of Spectral Lore. The off-kilter black metal representation through the adoption of progressive elements is the main message that gets through. The guitar parts are especially spectacular, buzzing away into the storm and erupting in purposeful lead work and solos.

Listening to the start of “The Sorcerer Above the Clouds”, the combination of the atmospheric passage with a progressive take on the Greek black metal scene’s modus operandi is undeniable. Pushing on, Ayloss reaches moments of delicious experimentalism, capable of building an entire track around it, as is the case with “Apocalypse” and its dizzying, minimal form. And then plunges down the landscape recordings and musique concrete are also a most welcome gift in closer “Terean”. And so, through plethoric compositions, an uncanny ability to fit so many different ideas together, and a labyrinthine progression, Spectral Lore continue to push ahead with their progressive take on black metal. – Spyros Stasis


Spectral Wound – A Diabolic Thirst (Profound Lore)

It is always exquisite to see regional black metal scenes rise. For the Great White North, the Quebec scene has shown great promise in recent years, stemming from a long tradition that started back in the ‘90s and has now blossomed. Carriers of the flame and advents of the raw and the eerie, Spectral Wound established themselves in the scene with 2015’s Terra Nullius. Wrapped in raw production, the record carried a terrifying edge that was subtly smoothened in 2017’s Infernal Decadence. Today, Spectral Wound complete the trifecta with their Profound Lore debut A Diabolic Thirst.

The ferocity and primal essence that Spectral Wound can evoke is monumental. When they are at full force, blastbeats blazing, cutthroat vocals screaming, and guitars roaring they take an almost elemental form. “Soul Destroying Black Debauchery” is an absolute tempest of rage and dissonance, while the raging storm still ensues with “Fair Lucifer, Sad Relic”. Yet, Spectral Wound can also tame their enthusiasm for something much bleaker. The eerie melody of “Frigid and Spellbound” is captivating, while the acoustic break brings to mind dark, medieval times. Similarly, the infernal twist coupled with the ceremonial pace in “Mausoleum Drift” exposes the darkest of mysteries. Meanwhile, the final surprise of a rockier attitude in the title track blazes in defiance. A final kudos needs to go to the record’s production that accommodates the raw feeling and, in pristine fashion, Spectral Wound’s handiwork. – Spyros Stasis


Ungfell – Es grauet (Eisenwald)

Like Minenwerfer and others I’ve previously reviewed in this spot, Switzerland’s Ungfell play grandiose anthemic black metal whose defining characteristics are its age-old, mountain-dwelling soul and Teutonic inflection. They are members of the mysterious and always interesting Helvetic Underground Committee. The duo build a delicious, meaty sound from this arcane folklore and medieval atmosphere by bookending bouts of glorious melodies, blast beats, and rushing tremolos with woodland noises, acoustic minstrel songs, and invigorating chants. The conjured mood is so transporting and vivid that you can almost smell the high grass in the untouched meadows and feel the gentle spring breeze in your hair, moments before being thrown amid an arcane drama. – Antonio Poscic


Wode – Burn in Many Mirrors (20 Buck Spin)

In the split between the textural and the polemic, the atmospheric and the hard-hitting, Wode know very well which side they stand on. For the Mancunian act, it is of paramount importance to awaken the spirits of early black metal explosiveness and no bullshit attitude. That much was apparent from the early days with the band’s 2016 debut record, yet it was Servants of the Countercosmos that found Wode’s vision completely exposed. Still rough and animalistic, Wode’s sophomore record thrived in its rich metallic tradition, drawing from a long lineage of proto-death metal, thrash extensions and pure metallic melodic inclinations. It’s this finding that Burn in Many Mirrors comes to explore further.

There is an exhilarating approach that Wode undertake, a no breaks attitude that makes this ride so enticing. Be it through the mid-tempo grooves of opener “Lunar Madness” or the thrash-oid madness and dissonance of “Sulphuric Glow”, there is angst and urgency that Wode bring to the surface. Celtic Frost-ian nightmares rise from the abyss in the sludge-y buildup to “Vanish Beneath”, while at the same time eerie, anthemic pathways are expanded in “Fires in the Hills”. Adding a touch of the Swedish scene’s melodic take on black metal works wonders here, unleashing insane guitar hooks in “Serpent’s Coil” and creating a chilling effect in long-form closer “Streams of Rupture”. For the last adventurous twist, there are the synths, adding another dimension to the experience with their otherworldly placement, in the likes of “Serpent’s Coil”. It’s these aspects that show Wode’s respect and admiration to a lineage that is still carrying on strong. – Spyros Stasis


Wheel – Preserved in Time (Cruz del Sur)

If you’re a fan of classic doom, heavy, or epic metal, you really should be closely following the output of Rome-based label Cruz del Sur. In recent years, they’ve released music by Stygian Crown, Pale Divine, and Smoulder which rivaled and even eclipsed the work of media darlings like Pallbearer and Khemmis. Their newest acquisition, Germany’s Wheel, have been around since 2009, but, as if by magic, their first album for the Italian label is easily their best.

Starting from a foundation inspired by Solitude Aeternus, the quartet are not afraid to bring a variety of other doom traditions into the mix. On “When the Shadow Takes You Over,” they turn a mid-tempo anthem into a bluesy ballad riding the waves of Sabbathian riffs, throwing a shadow over the bright, gorgeous vocal polyphonies of “At Night They Came Upon Us.” Elsewhere, the attacking “Hero of the Weak” is left to seethe with anger, while “Aeon of Darkness” is something that could easily fit in the epic section of Iron Maiden’s discography. Closing with “Daedalus,” they get their psychedelic freak on with rings of “wahing” guitars on what is the album’s most varied and dazzling cut. Throughout, the musicianship remains splendid, enveloped by a warm and fuzzy production and topped by Arkadius Kurek’s controlled, but high-reaching voice. – Antonio Poscic

PopMatters