MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020
Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.
Given everything that is happening worldwide, a very unusual summer has ended, and back to the grind, we go. And to accompany us during this time of transition, we have a plethora of heavy, extreme, and experimental tunes to share. On the hinges of the metallic Black Magnet refuel the fires of the 1980s industrial scene, while Uniform further modernize industrial and noise rock through their fourth full-length, Shame. At the same time, Russia's Dunwich mix a potent dose of doom and post-punk with progressive influences and a darkwave facade in debut Tail-Tied Hearts.
Los Angeles-based indie rockers Sprain leave behind the directness of their past and opt for an elusive abstracted no-wave form in the powerful tour de force As Lost Through Collision. Den Weiss returns with the long-awaited follow-up to the stellar Starebaby with Natural Selection mixing free jazz with avant-metal to accomplish max sonic weird awesomeness. BANGLADEAFY continue to invest in their monstrous synth and drum combo in Housefly. To top off this experimental trip, there is the new Anna von Hausswolff, pipe organ exclusive, All Thoughts Fly for a deep meditative ride through abstracted soundscapes.
It's been an excellent month for death metal, primarily because veteran grind/death legends Napalm Death return with another astonishing work in Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, solidifying their ageless talent. Old-school purists Skeletal Remains continue to grow their strong discography, with the latest rotten chapter oozing with the stench of the 1990s US scene. Minnesota's Void Rot turn back the clock to the early rise of death metal, the slow, guttural procession that naturally combines with doom, producing a fantastic debut in Descending Pillars. Fellow newcomers Plague Years, return with sophomore record Circle of Darkness, further exposing their death/thrash energy through a maze of schizoid riffs and heavy grooves.
Sharing the trash component, but moving towards a blackened direction, Blackevil relish the sharpness classicist heavy metal tones to create an exhilarating ride in Forever Baptized in Eternal Fire. Digging up the gems left behind by melodic black metal pioneers, Uada return with their third full-length Djinn in their most ambitious work to date. Meanwhile, Vous Autres blur the lines between traditional black metal and the genre's post tendencies in the surprisingly balanced Sel De Pierre. Nubivagant, the newest project from Omega, one of Europe's most prolific black metal musicians, takes flight with a hypnotic and mesmerizing overture through the eerie and the discordant.
Closing this month's feature, Oceans of Slumber continue to pave a rich legacy of progressively inclined doom with their self-titled album, while Svalbard's When I Die, Will I Get Better? further traverse the distance from post-hardcore towards post-metal with their most complete album to date. – Spyros Stasis
Black Magnet - Hallucination Scene (20 Buck Spin)
It was back in the 1980s when the precision and weight of industrial music started to infect the rock form. Post-punk pioneers like Killing Joke were amongst the first to experiment with this relentless approach, unleashing pivotal records in the likes ofPandemonium. Meanwhile, Ministry forced a more metallic interpretation of the genre, and Godflesh took it to further extremes, exploring new territories. From that point on, aspects of industrial metal, its overwhelming weight, and detached, cold outlook spread through the metal scene. Yet, there was something truly different and magical about the early days, and it is exactly this spirit that James Hammontree captures with his solo project Black Magnet.
Black Magnet's debut record Hallucination Scene is a feverish dream. It is a time machine, transferring back to the days that post-punk was at its peak and cyberpunk was taking off. It is when the industrial poundage and the rock sharpness find a delicate balance, neither overwhelming its counterpart. "Divination Equipment" forms a mechanical backbone, a strict automaton dictating the pace, as the heavy guitars roar through shearing feedback, creating a hellish ambiance. The electronic and dance inspired elements are also heavily featured, bastardized through soulless synthesizers in "Trustfucker", they shine a flickering light radiating from an otherworldly disco ball, while the punk point of origin is always just a breath away as "Punishment Map" lets on.
Anthemic moments like "Anubis" and "Walking in the Dark" find Black Magnet confidently exposing their melodic underbelly with catchy choruses arriving through the bleakness. It all makes Hallucination Scene feel like a record conceived in the past. While extraordinary acts like Statiqbloom and Corrections House can modernize this scene, dragging it to the present day, Hammontree projects his consciousness to a past era, unearthing all of its treasures. – Spyros Stasis
Blackevil - Forever Baptised in Eternal Fire (Dying Victims Productions)
Imagine a sound rooted in black metal, complete with the genre's signature rawness and impish growls, then augmented with thrash's blazing attacks and heavy metal's inherent melodies. That's exactly how the sophomore release by Blackevil sounds. While there has recently been an influx of bands entertaining a similar mixture of styles—from the filth of Deathhammer to the idiosyncrasies of Rebel Wizard—the German power trio turn the energy pot up to 11, imbuing the nine songs on Forever Baptised in Eternal fire with an overflowing, exploding sense of power.
Even if the music's heart is all about this sinister, body-moving spirit, Blackevil tie the produced adrenaline into exquisite knots of instrumentally and compositionally diverse songs. Flowing from Mercyful Fate inspired twin-guitar gallops on "Satan's Crown" through Coroner-like breakneck twists and turns on the aptly named "Black Fire Tornado," only to end up in the grandiose hymn that is "The Final Book", which could have easily come off an early Grave Digger record. "1943" finally provides a thrilling exclamation to a thrilling album by releasing a heavy metal scorcher from its ballad pupa, not far removed from Crimson Glory's soaring style. – Antonio Poscic
Dunwich - Tail-Tied Hearts (Caligari)
There's a dark pastoral shimmer at the core of Dunwich's full-length debut Tail-Tied Hearts. An arcane soul that bends elements of gothic rock, doom metal, folk, and pop, transforming the music of the Moscow trio into a mystery. Here, bright synths scatter and make way for engulfing tremolos. Ballads filled with resonating yet fragile vocals reminiscent of Zola Jesus and Hope Sandoval soon scream with angry growls. Vibrating organ lines born in a cloudy forest among Hexvessel's occultism dissolve into gentle synthpop ballads before reassembling into attacking post-punk. While disparate, all these manifestations ultimately form a uniquely beautiful piece of music. – Antonio Poscic
Nubivagant - Roaring Eye (Amor Fati Productions)
In place of Dunwich's instrumental and songwriting intricacies, Nubivagant's Omega, aka Gionata Potenti, opts for much simpler, hypnotic songs to carry his equally stirring music. Early in their lives, these reach and hold plateaus of post-black and doom metal amalgamations, serving as pedestals for Potenti's poignant voice. He delivers his lines in a sort of emphatic monotone, brimming with emotion while narrating tales of the occult. Perhaps this is what Current 93 would have sounded like had David Tibet been a metal musician. – Antonio Poscic
Anna von Hausswolff - All Thoughts Fly (Southern Lord)
Not adhering to norms or traditions, Anna von Hausswolff is a true experimental artist. Her first full-length Singing from the Grave beautifully combined contemporary music elements, neo-classical inspirations with a soft spot for the adventurous, and combining ethereal art pop with a darkwave ambiance. Despite its rough edges, it was a masterful output, and since then, von Hausswolff has only been getting better and better, resulting in her creative pinnacle Dead Magic. The dark and the mystical combined in perfect harmony, producing a mesmerizing work that drew upon the majesty of drone rock by way of no wave. Yet, von Hausswolff's latest offering tears down many of these traditions, resulting in her most minimal work to date.
All Thoughts Fly consists of a single instrument, the pipe organ. The rock form of Dead Magic and the off-kilter art-pop of The Miraculous are absent here, with von Hausswolff focusing on the ambiance. While this is not necessarily new territory, considering the fantastical opening to "Ugly and Vengeful" or the interlude "The Marble Eye" from Dead Magic, the attention to detail is that much more pronounced, resulting in a well-crafted work that travels through emotions by building impressive soundscapes. Magical sceneries and lost worlds are constructed in the grand opening of "Theatre of Nature" as an almost elemental essence that comes to the surface. While this introduction is certainly on the lighter side, the journey takes a trip for the more tragic through the melancholy of "Dolore Di Orsini" and the dissonant extravagance of "Sacro Bosco".
Darkness ensues in "Persephone", while a touch of the psychedelia emerges through "Entering" before the title track swoops in, melting away all sense of time through its long-form, ecstatic build-up. Exploding in an array of colors and flavors, it is concluded by the most subtle piece of this record, "Outside the Gate (for Bruna)", offering a respite from the angst and pressure, closing the work in a dreamlike sense. A different ride from von Hausswolff, but All Thoughts Fly highlights her potency as an artist and composer, using every tool at her disposal to bring forth a work full of emotions and depth using the most minimal of instrumentations. – Spyros Stasis
Napalm Death - Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (Century Media)
Early passions usually fade, aggression becomes dull, and a once rebellious perspective begins to conform. These are the usual signs of a creative decline, something common in acts that have been going on for a long time. The early dedication and vision fade, a once-mighty entity, now just going through the motions. Well, that is not the case for Napalm Death. The grindcore pioneers have been going strong for more than 30 years now, and they do not show any aging signs. The seminal early works inScum and Enslavement to Obliteration gave way to a creative peak in the '90s with Harmony Corruption and Fear, Emptiness, Despair.
Yet, the 2000s saw them still hungry and able to outdo themselves, unleashing excellent works in Smear Campaign and Time Waits for No Slave. And still, in the past decade they have once more positively surprised everyone with the seminal Utilitarian and Apex Predator - Easy Meat. Now, in the dawn of a new decade, they once more bring it with Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.
The saying is, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it.: For Napalm Death, it is more like "well, it is definitely not broken, but we can do even better". The explosiveness that awaits when "Fuck the Factoid" comes in is relentless, blastbeats, and piercing vocals being maniacally delivered through a punk ethos. This is an unforgiving process, as these veterans lay waste with their trademark lightning-fast pace, while also leaving some space for the heavy groove. This addicting quality, the headbanging procession, oozes with Napalm Death's death metal inspirations. "Backlash Just Because" features this heavy chugging narrative, exploding into a hardcore breakdown near the end, while "Invigorating Clutch" turns back the clock with its primal, Celtic Frost induced ambiance and majesty.
A turn for the dissonant is still only a step away, with the inharmonicity becoming prominent through the schizoid lead work of "That Curse of Being Thrall" and the maniacal unfolding of "Zero Gravitas Chamber". And still, Napalm Death find space to explore their more off-kilter leanings, be it through a post-punk injection in the earworm that is "Amoral" or a deep industrial dive with the exquisite "A Bellyful of Salt and Spleen". Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism proves that while most age, there are some that simply mature and Napalm Death belong in the latter category. – Spyros Stasis
Oceans of Slumber - Oceans of Slumber (Century Media)
"We refuse to fail / Refuse to lose to their hateful ways / Their cross high above us / But salvation has been long denied / No room for a peaceful resolution / Long gone is a hope for building any bonds." Cammie Gilbert's voice is as affecting and powerful as ever while singing, proclaiming, and resounding these words. But there is a rougher edge to her inflection now. A mixture of defiance and tiredness possessing her lines. As if for the first time, Oceans of Slumber fully connect the personal with the political in their music, breaking free from the usually insular and self-absorbed shell of the genre.
While the music of Houston's prog-doom sextet has always been equal parts emotion and instrumental technical prowess, their eponymous fourth full-length thus rises above anything they've done before through pure resolution. Most of this is down to the sheer power of the lyrics and their ambiguous, but clearly political message appropriate for the world they're brought into. They affect Gilbert's delivery and warp the music around her, transforming intricate progressive segments, blues-inflected ballads, grandiose doom crescendos, and bouts of melodic death metal into vessels of change. Into impressive battle cries. – Antonio Poscic
Skeletal Remains - The Entombment of Chaos (Century Media)
Old school death metal is like pizza. No matter how often you eat it and no matter its quality, you rarely get tired or fed up with it. In this sense, California's Skeletal Remains are master pizzaiolos. They craft old school death metal of the highest quality. Compositionally simple and closely tied to threads of tradition, yes, but played with exceptional gusto and skill. Their mid-paced yet unrelenting concoction of buzzing riffs, infernal growls, malevolent blast-beats, and screaming leads rolls along familiar paths. Interspersed with brutal shifts of direction and tempo, the visceral music instantly pulls you into a world of horrors and depravity. Just as the chefs intended. – Antonio Poscic
Plague Years - Circle of Darkness (eOne)
In contrast, Detroiters Plague Years spice up their death metal with flourishes of thrash insanity. Existing somewhere between Slayer, Power Trip, and Morbid Angel, their music is furious with anger, roaring on from staggered chugs, through maelstroms of dissonant riffs, to huge grooves and deranged growled screams. The ten cuts on Circle of Darkness are continually haunted by a foreboding sense of total fucking obliteration lurking just around the corner, mixing pleasure with pain as if capturing the excitement and violent essence of an imminent wall of death or circle pit. – Antonio Poscic
Sprain - As Lost Through Collision (The Flenser)
In the hinges of the indie rock spectrum, at the far edge where the melancholy and emotional tonality of slowcore thrives, one would find California's Sprain. Nurtured in the Los Angeles underground, Sprain would begin their journey through their self-titled EP. With the lo-fi ethic to guide them, Sprain create a very subtle offering filled with a rich emotional tapestry, as they tap into Low's beautiful dreamscapes and Slint's early post-rock sensitivities. With a sardonic taste, naming their opening ballad "True Norwegian Black Metal", it felt that Sprain were comfortable within this space. Well, their return with As Lost Through Collision completely unravels this idea, as Sprain return in fierce fashion with a multifaceted and ambitious work.
Straight from the start with "Slant", and it is apparent that Sprain have traded in their melodic indie sensibilities for a more brutal and unforgiving no-wave tone. The dissonance is astounding; the distortion and the feedback take over before a Spiderland informed psychedelia ensues. This is just the tip of the iceberg, with Sprain using a Swans-ian anguish to navigate through a tumultuous sea of motifs and emotions. The complex structures and ideas truly flourish when Sprain embrace their rock formations, with moments like "Worship House" and its frantic lead work on top of the off-kilter track development. Screaming vocals and harsh effects appear, plunging the work in a pitch dark abyss.
Diving into their sense of minimalism, Sprain unfold the peaceful ambiance of "My Way Out", crafting marvelous soundscapes only for the punishing riffs to come to once again crash it all down. It is a formless progression, meticulously digging deep to unearth something primal and animalistic. The two final offerings see this promise come to full fruition, as "Constant Hum" builds an avant-garde drone-rock motif fully plunging in the extreme drone realm, processional drums settling in and cutting sharp vocals echoing through infinities. This change of perspective for Sprain makes As Lost Through Collision an absolute revelation, and an astounding debut record. – Spyros Stasis
Svalbard - When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Translation Loss)
A complete descendant of the post-metal generation, Bristol's Svalbard have been stitching together the heritage of the 2000s in terrific fashion. In a rude awakening, Svalbard delivered a series of brutal blows with their early EPs, especially Gone Tomorrow and Flightless Birds. Fuelling a fervent rage, established through a hardcore punk foundation, Svalbard unleashed furious devastation through these short and targeted bursts. Still, within the savage offerings, there was another element completing the duality of Svalbard. This essence, leaning towards a post-rock aesthetic, was steadily exposed, shining more and more through the act's full-length records, One Day All This Will End and It's Hard to Have Hope. Now with When I Die, Will I Get Better? these two sides feel more balanced than ever before.
It is a sorrowful progression, epic yet at the same time elusive. Svalbard open up their third record with such an amalgamation of feelings as "Open Wound" takes flight. The constructionist viewpoint has the clear influence of the post-metal scene; in latter days, Isis and their rockier brethren in Explosions in the Sky. Of course, Svalbard do not remain bound within this trope and instead revolt towards the post-hardcore emotionality of the likes of Envy. This volatility, a violent outlet reaching for catharsis, shines in moments like "The Currency of Beauty" and through the heavy grooves of "Throw Your Heart Away". Yet, Svalbard's quality does not just come from their knowledge of the field and their precise execution. It's found in the underlying feeling that When I Die, Will I Get Better? radiates. It's a feeling of angst and hardship, making the post-hardcore outbreaks that much more real, the blackened essence that much more desolate, and the post-metal soundscapes that much more majestic. – Spyros Stasis
Uada - Djinn (Eisenwald)
While most of the second black metal wave reveled in the punk and, by extension, thrash ethos, some outliers thrived through an '80s-informed heavy metal sharpness. The astounding melody, the underlying epic essence. While Darkthrone and Mayhem were conjuring bleak worlds through dissonance, Sweden's Dissection relished an Iron Maiden inspired riffology. This tradition has passed through the decades, and in recent years it has been coalesced with the in your face attitude of punk, resulting in fantastic acts like Mgla. Portland's Uada are another act that live between these two worlds but have a soft spot for the melodic edge of the genre. Having released two excellent records to date, they are now unleashing their most ambitious work in Djinn.
Uada do not hide away their influences but openly embrace them. The introduction of the title track immediately grips you with its spiraling playful melody. Yet, much as their predecessors in Unanimated and Sacramentum, they can twist the joy of these moments, transforming it into something masterfully eerie. This ability to flip the script, at moments, using these classic heavy metal tropes only to then unleash explosions of furious anger is what makes Djinn such an enticing ride. Both "The Great Mirage" and "No Place Here" display Uada's ability to build up an epic essence, the melodic work suddenly trailing off, leaving in its stead a perfect storm.
Then there is the descent into the bleakness, closing "No Place Here" in ethereal fashion as samples join to enhance this trip. Yet, what separates Djinn is the level of craftsmanship that Uada bring. Knowing very well their style and identity, they are free to roam and expand their vision resulting in long-form tracks that always remain interesting, as with the spectacular journey that is "Between Two Worlds". – Spyros Stasis
Uniform - Shame (Sacred Bones)
Right from the screeching industrial crunch that introduces the fiery "Delco", Shame dons a different feel compared to earlier Uniform records. Namely, on their fourth LP, the NYC-based noise rock outfit sounds surprisingly direct and personally involved in their mesh of extreme genres. The shards of abrasive textures, deconstructed techno beats, and post-punk start-stop marches no longer float in isolation. Now they are consolidated around a central axis, spawning forth devouring, often furious metallic attacks. These pummel progressions with Godflesh-like industrial groove and Isis's feeling for post-metal crescendos.
While startling at first, their new barbed robes—almost like parts taken from a part-machine part-human being like Tetsuo: The Iron Man—suit Michael Berdan, Ben Greenberg, and new drummer Mike Sharp neatly, gifting a threatening edge to their explorations of liminal spaces between the intimate and the social. They are no longer just commenting but participating. Making music that is as emotionally suffocating as it is sonically heavy. – Antonio Poscic
Void Rot - Descending Pillars (Sentient Ruin)
Nostalgia has never felt so punishing. Brewing in the underground, somewhere between the death metal stench and the doom weight, Minnesota natives Void Rot keep perfecting their craft. Building on top of their debut EP, Consumed By Oblivion, and their split with fellow doom/death travelers Atavisma, they return with their debut album Descending Pillars.
For Void Rot, doom/death is not defined by the melancholy takes and sorrowful ambiances of the Peaceville Three. No, instead, they find a calling in the early days of the genre, the times when Autopsy would slow down their groove, the early days of Winter's dark reign and dISEMBOWLMENT's guttural reek. "Liminal Forms" oozes with these qualities, the lineage, and pedigree of Void Rot shining through the determined pace and controlled outbreaks, conjuring tempests through distorted riffs and otherworldly howls.
Atmosphere still plays a role here, although instead of the pensive tone, Void Rot take on a more stomach-turning approach as with the introduction to "Descending Pillars" or the interlude "The Weights of a Thousand Suns". Still, what always shines through is this hellish, infernal demeanor. An indication towards a dark and damned offering, a deep Incantation influence, which perfectly defines the closer "Monolith". It's an exquisite first step that promises even more. – Spyros Stasis
Vous Autres - Sel de Pierre (Season of Mist)
Vous Autres exist in the volatile center of the black metal spectrum. For the band from Nantes are unwilling to converge to the genre's orthodoxy. Yet they are reluctant to embrace its avant-garde potential fully. The mysterious duo manifested in the scene with the Trente pièces d'argent EP, breathing in a modern outlook to a fairly strict set of traditions. While retaining much of the feel and conviction of the genre, its dissonant edge, and hellish ambiance, there was also a move towards exploration. That became more obvious with Vous Autres' debut full-length Champ du Sang, as post-metallic ideas further evolved, crafting an imposing ambiance and stacking a multi-layered offering. Vous Autres continues to pursue this balance now even further with their sophomore record, and their Season of Mist debut in Sel de Pierre.
It is the joining of generations that Sel de Pierre brings. The venomous lead work of "Onde", dissonant and stinging with poison, reminiscent of Satyricon's middle period edge. Adding an elusively ethereal element, Vous Autres conjure an asphyxiating ambiance without losing their majestic touch. That's where the post-metal elements shine, as the guitars lose their form, beginning to explore the vast soundscapes with their cataclysmic quality. Further descending into this abyss, one finds an industrial leaning, with "Vesuve" swinging like a heavy pendulum between a detached, mechanized sense and a dark ambient take.
That is fully realized just on the following track, "Ecueil", with the interlude embracing the electronic element fully. Then, there is the ceremony of opposites: a furious and relentless assault in "Sans Sèves" while "In Humus" sees the industrial and post-metal components in unison, a perfect harmony against the blackened backdrop. Sel de Pierre thrives with the opposing forces it aims to contain. Adherence to the past and yet a forward-looking sense of modernizing the genre's core. – Spyros Stasis
Dan Weiss Starebaby - Natural Selection (Pi Recordings)
When it comes to crossovers of jazz, free improvisation, and metal, two approaches surface. In the first corner, bands like Chicago's Threadbare arise from free jazz and improvisation, bringing avant-phrases into metalized structures. While their music's rhythmic and textural surface mimics metal idioms, their organs remain rooted in other traditions. In the opposite corner, groups such as Catatonic Effigy cement metal in their foundation, but only to tear it apart, deconstruct its flow down to micro-components, and reassemble it into something new. The catch here is that Brooklyn drummer Dan Weiss's Starebaby project doesn't fit into either of these two categories.
With a band composed of sublime, heavy metal-loving free jazz and improv musicians Matt Mitchell, Craig Taborn, Ben Monder, and Trevor Dunn, the music on Natural Selection instead teeters between realms, jumping with frantic determination from dooming and thrashing metal sections to texture-driven ambient parts deeply aware of their surrounding spatial cues. Gently brushed snares drive themselves crazy and become propulsive syncopations. Progressive and grooving jazz-rock parts harden and turn into sludge-like monsters rolling on waves of distortion, blast beats, and synthetic organs, before disappearing into expansive synth interplays.
Disjointed, arrhythmic piano patterns and sinuous bass lines get buried by the wails of discordant guitar riffs and avant-metal expressions befitting the I, Voidhanger label. Like a sinister child of Le*Silo, Caterina Palazzi, and Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Starebaby continually float between dimensions, not allowing themselves to be anchored to any particular style or form. Almost as if the musicians had challenged themselves to make the most out-there of out-there jazzed up metal or metallic jazz records. And, oh boy, have they succeeded. – Antonio Poscic
BANGLADEAFY - Housefly (Nefarious Industries)
Were it not for the sheer brilliance of the aforementioned Dan Weiss album, New York duo BANGLADEAFY's cray Housefly would sit comfortably at the top of the best weird metal records of the month. Vocalist and keyboard player Jon Ehlers and drummer Atif Haq create a vinyl consuming, part-nightmare part-wet dream tech metal experience that is as tight in its charges as it is maniacally loose in its concepts. Prickly drums and mercurial synths mesh and clash propelled by violent rhythms. Electronic effects scream and undulate like an ambulance siren, then pierce the night sky on the back of digging bass lines.
This frenzied style recollects the similarly compact future-punk by the likes of Lightning Bolt or FAT32 but with an added layer of expansiveness in upper registers courtesy of Ehlers' analog-sounding synthesizers and samplers. With thirteen songs packed into a little more than seventeen minutes, Housefly is prime proof that the strongest poison comes in small doses. – Antonio Poscic
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