Anaal Nathrakh - Endarkenment (Metal Blade)
Birmingham's Anaal Nathrakh play an extreme take on extreme metal. Everything is pushed beyond the point of breaking in their style, yet they somehow remain in control of it. By combining the most out-there and visceral of metal subgenres—grindcore, industrial, black, and death—with unrelenting speed and brutality, they project a sort of parallel demonic dimension. As if summoning Hellraiser's Cenobites by accident, their music can become overwhelming at times and their attacks too punishing for our fragile brains. But endure through that initial shock of pummelling chaos. Don't let yourself be misled by pockets of melody and clean vocals. Embrace their darkness, and you'll soon come to appreciate the delicious insanity that permeates Endarkenment and understand just how pleasurable pain can be. – Antonio Poscic
Armored Saint - Punching the Sky (Metal Blade)
Except for the late Dave Prichard – here replaced by guitarist Jeff Duncan – Armored Saint in their current incarnation are the same Armored Saint that started their voyage some four decades ago. However, listening to Punching the Sky, you might easily mistake them for a bunch of high-schoolers playing in their parents' garage. Brimming with such an enthusiastic and authentic energy, it's hard to believe that these guys have been around and playing together (on and off) for so long.
The 11 songs on the album balance between thrash, power, and heavy metal with all thrills and no fills, relying solely on excellent songwriting performed with extreme gusto. Being the seasoned veterans that they are, the band even allow themselves to taste a surprisingly grooving mid-tempo on "Bubble", melancholy grunge on "Unfair", and aggressive, prime thrash cuts on "Do Wrong to None". Above all, the album's quality is driven by the fact that it seems to have been recorded by the band for the band. Out of sheer fun and joy of heavy metal. – Antonio Poscic
Botanist - Photosynthesis (The Flenser)
Conceptually and instrumentally a unique black metal project, Otrebor's Botanist not only thrived through their, albeit peculiar, description of flora but pioneered in swapping electric guitars for the hammered dulcimer. Carrying the tradition of folk-influenced black metal, Botanist's initial releases reveled in a dissonant and extravagant facade. Cacophony was at a high, their progression always aggressive and overwhelming; it was a methodology that led to stunning works in the likes of IV: Mandragora and especially VI: Flora. In recent years, Otrabor opened up the project to become a collective, inviting musicians to collaborate and expand Botanist's vision. This move breathed in a new life into the project, allowing novel ideas to appear and swapping the loose avant-gardisms for a more defined progressive affluence.
Photosynthesis is the latest entry in the collective era of Botanist, and in many ways, it redefines much of the project's concept. The hammered dulcimer is still at the center of it all, naturally fitting within the brutal black metal methodology, particularly poignant in the more bitter moments of "Dehydration" and "Bacteria". The flipside of the instrument's piercing quality is that it can lend more presence and brightness to Botanist's melodic leanings, which seemingly has been expanded as the melancholic lead work of "Light" and the pensive themes of "Chlorophyll" unfold.
And while Botanist puts on multiple black metal masks, indulging in both the brutal and the melodic, it's an underlying progressive attitude that drives much of Photosynthesis. Working with Dan Swano on the production, a master in putting a progressive twist on extreme metal, these ideas appear more natural. The overwhelming outbreaks of "Palisade" finally wash over a progressive break, while the amalgamation of clean vocals with a hazy, psychedelic background in "Stroma" and "Oxygen" stand in stark contradiction with Botanist's extreme core. This evolution continues to bear fruits. – Spyros Stasis
Convulsif - Extinct (Hummus Records)
Amalgamations of metal and jazz are notoriously difficult to get right. Confusing trivial genre-melding for experimentation, they often end up as nothing more than ho-hum metal foundations fronted by a saxophone or trombone instead of a guitar. Swiss band Convulsif have no such problems. Structurally and rhythmically rooted in post-rock, post-metal, and grindcore, they let their songs flow naturally, venturing into jazz territories when it makes the most sense while allowing themselves moments of pure sludge and noise affectation elsewhere.
This patience and attention to song building are then rewarded tenfold in moments when their parallel crescendos coalesce. Somewhere, a clarinet blazes. Gurgling and rolling, it reaches for heavens with its tense vibrato but falls all the way down to hell. Accompanied by a languid, hulking mass of drums, discordant violin riffs and bellowing bass lines embrace the clarinet's impassioned cries and dig for it a passage from the netherworld. Tracing a musical path that extends in all directions yet remains compact and cohesive throughout. – Antonio Poscic
Crippled Black Phoenix - Ellengæst (Season of Mist)
Justin Greaves's Crippled Black Phoenix are a band that seem to exist in an eternal state of turmoil and flux. Members come and go, swept up in sparks of drama. Ellengæst follows one of these transformative moments and sees the group reduced to a lean core. Perhaps it's this smaller format—Greaves is joined by Belinda Kordic, Helen Stanley, Andy Taylor, and Ben Wilsker—making the album sound focused and direct. As always, Greaves has a lot to say about the state of humanity, but in place of overwrought and meandering cuts, he channels his thoughts into succinct phrases.
With his post-metal arsenal by his side, he ventures into dark jazz moods and Wovenhand-like alt-country in one passage and switches to grandiose gothic and post-punk romps in the other. Throughout, the simultaneously visceral and fragile mood is underlined by vocal performances. While Kordic's velvety wistfulness takes center stage and dictates the album's atmosphere, she is alternately joined by a series of guest vocalists like Vincent Cavanagh, Gaahl, and Jonathan Hulten. Their contributions integrate elegantly into the band's sound and become a key component of Ellengæst. – Antonio Poscic
Draconian - Under a Godless Veil (Napalm)
Since they first came to the scene some 20 years ago along with the likes of Tristania and Theatre of Tragedy, Draconian's gothic-tinged fusion of death and doom metal has been a constant dark passenger in spheres of somber, beautiful metal. Immersed in an eternal and vast sense of melancholy, they've grown into a sort of reliable companion, always there when the only way of fighting bleakness becomes bleakness itself. By definition, their style is static and unchanging, moving slowly like glaciers in the Antarctic. Under a Godless Veil, the Swedish outfit's seventh full-length, thus contains no surprises nor dramatic shifts. Once again, they amplify emotions as they did before, embracing their echoes with forlorn death-doom instrumentals and singing them lullabies in Heike Langhans' dulcet and Anders Jacobsson's hoarse voices. Giving us another lovely taste of darkness. No more, no less. – Antonio Poscic
Dysylumn - Cosmogonie (Signal Rex)
While October was fairly light in terms of black metal releases, the third album by Lyon's Dysylumn would have topped it regardless of competition. The duo of Camille Olivier Faure-Brac and Sébastien Besson play an interesting blend of styles. They start from the bleak dissonance and intrepid experimentalism of the French black metal scene, only to intersperse it with spikes of death metal, insidious melodies hidden in raw riffs, poignant atmospheres, and a constant sense of progression. At 80 minutes in length, Cosmogonie often feels like a mental journey through the cosmos where our brain patterns are carried on waves of expansive tremolos, throbbing blast beats, and growls like spoken word, while yesterday, today, and tomorrow blur into one another. An endless journey that you don't want ever to end. – Antonio Poscic
Empress - Premonition (Petrichor)
Vancouver's Empress leave a tough year behind them. A year during which they lost their founding bassist Brenden Gunn and dealt with various personal issues such as guitarist and vocalist Peter Sacco and his family's struggles with mental health. Then, Premonition comes with a sense of urgency and out of necessity as confession and catharsis. It becomes a way of dealing with demons and the harsh reality, a vessel of progressive sludge for intimate, often painful thoughts and feelings. But even as I write the words"progressive sludge", they form a cage, a restrictive moniker for Empress's wide-ranging music.
Their impeccably crafted songs move in and out of sludge, stoner, post, and progressive metal idioms, even touching on shoegaze and hardcore, and wrap all of it in energetic and heartfelt instrumental and vocal performances. Comparisons to early Mastodon, YOB, Baroness, ISIS, and Black Tusk come naturally here, but this album is much more than a sum of its influences. It is a piece of music that feels genuine and alive, like a gift with which the trio reach out to the world, hands open. Premonition is quite simply one of the most complete and compelling records of the year. – Antonio Poscic
Hellripper - The Affair of the Poisons (Peaceville)
There's something simply exquisite about the nasty, merciless style of Scottish one-person band Hellripper. Unlike many other solo projects, there is no place for expansive atmospheres or introspection on their albums. The Affair of the Poisons is no exception as James McBain plays like a man possessed, making his instruments spout forth a hellish concoction of black, thrash, and heavy metal. While technically impressive, this music is so fierce and ripping that its furor obscures everything else.
For starters, McBain heaps buzzing riffs and demonic growls on top of blasting attacks. Then he makes his move, launching from the rawness of proto-black metal, rolling through the invigorating energy of 1980s European thrash metal, and jumping right into the dissonance and evilness of Slayer. Throughout, his ferocious playing channels a sort of frenzied punk energy and a playfully historical, quite fitting thematic context of France during the reign of Louis XIV, known for episodes of possessions, witchcraft, human sacrifice, and poisonings. The sort of thing to be considered and sung about during the witching hour, beneath a full moon. – Antonio Poscic
History - History (The Flenser)
Living in the fringes of punk and hardcore, Daisy Caplan of Foxy Shazam and Lung and Leo Ashline of Street Sects began their collaboration over the internet in 2011. Starting from an aggressive and extreme perspective, Caplan and Ashline tied their hardcore lineage with an art-rock sensitivity under an experimental motif. The result of this collaboration, and their project History, would remain obscured, never seeing the light of day until today when the Flenser finally delivers a missing piece of the modern hardcore puzzle.
History's work is defined by the Weird. The initial explosions of "Breadline" fall flat into a strange progression, taking a cue from the no-wave scene and sprinkling on top the gems left behind by pioneers like the Birthday Party. Breakdowns and synthesizers intertwine in the opening track, while processed vocals cut through the manic recital in head-splitting fashion with "Fiscal" only to then lash out a sinister sense of melody and lyricism with "LandHammers". The short duration of the tracks standing in contradiction to the maximalist collage to intensify this ride, as "Clown" arrives with an industrialized weight and an epic underbelly, severing the connection to the earlier fast and aggressive unfolding.
It is then "Fear", closing out the work in a strange ambient bliss sense through immersive synths and a softer perspective, wrapping up the boundless creative input of History. In just over ten minutes, Caplan and Ashline create a document that long laid dormant, for the best part of a decade, but still showcases how forward-thinking their perspective has been. – Spyros Stasis
Infera Bruo - Rites of the Nameless (Prosthetic)
Embracing the raw and relentless black metal form, Infera Bruo found ways to explore further horizons. From their early days and especially with debut album Desolate Unknown, the Boston outfit propelled a sound that was as devastating as it was otherworldly. While retaining the genre's structures and traditions, they added a bitter mystical twist, reaching a sense of darkened psychedelia. This polarity has been slowly transforming through the years, the black metal element still rebellious while the psychedelic dimension dwindles and taking on an alternate quality, which would result in excellent works with In Conjuration and Cerement.
Rites of the Nameless continues to push this transfiguration, as Infera Bruo relish the direct approach of their latter days. Showing their teeth from the get-go, the second wave of black metal chaos rushes in with "The Breath of Chaos", not shying away from its Emperor-ian influence, stretching dissonance to extremes they do not forget the other side. Creating this pathway for further interpretations, "Latent for the Arcane" swoops in beautifully with its melodic underbelly, fitting nicely to the overarching epic theme that Infera Bruo are constructing. It is this joining of opposing forces, the melody, and the cacophony, the unforgiving onslaught of "Frayed" compared to the subtle withheld and ritualistic pace of "Cimmerian Shade" that makes Rites of The Nameless so enticing.
Having effectively traded their grim psychedelia for the adventurous spirit of progressive heavy music, Infera Bruo have opened up their vision to new ideas and concepts. While at the same time drawing from other metallic elements in the energetic thrash presence and the classic feel of heavy metal, the Bostonians have ushered some of their most ambitious offerings in "Rites of the Nameless" and "Cimmerian Shade". – Spyros Stasis
Mr. Bungle - The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (Ipecac)
Mr. Bungle have been pivotal in opening up metal and extreme music in general toward new and exciting directions during the 1990s. Many remember the latter-day experiments of the core line-up composed of legends Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn, and Terry Spruance when ska and funk combined with fusion and art rock aesthetics under an alternative metal guise. A triptych of monumental records stands as a testament to the timeless quality of the act, while their earlier days are mostly forgotten. That is what Mr. Bungle's fourth full-length comes in to rectify.
In their early years, Mr. Bungle were fervently enamored not with the plethora of experimental rock but with the passion and in your face attitude of thrash. It is exactly this essence that the reunion of Patton, Dunn, and Spruance re-awakens, with the line-up now extended to include Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo. The goal here is to rejuvenate the past's glory, and to that end, Mr. Bungle have opted for re-recording their debut demo. While the feverish dreams of "Grizzly Adams" set an elusive ambiance, the sharp and direct riffs of "Anarchy Up Your Anus" resets the harsh thrash reality.
Everything oozes with the essence of the 1980s thrash, covering the ground between both the Bay Area sound and its progressive tendencies, without forgetting the hardcore heritage of the New York scene. Schizoid solos lead in "Raping Your Mind", hardcore breakdowns rule in "Bungle Grind", and the progressive overtones of closer "Sudden Death" open up the ambitious take of Mr. Bungle's thrash vision. There is room for some sandbox experiments, as in the dual cover of "La Cucaracha" with SOD's bastardized "Habla Espanol O Muere". It is amazing to see how well the compositions still hold, given they were conceived in the 1980s. Yet, that speaks volumes to the timelessness of this act. Expected nothing less. – Spyros Stasis
Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full (Sacred Bones)
Collaborations become increasingly more interesting when the participants start off from disparate beginnings. Through her career, Emma Ruth Randle has combined elusive and ethereal post-rock methodology with a folk-inspired heritage, carefully crafting expansive minimalist dreamscapes in Marked for Death and On Dark Horses. On the other end of the heavy spectrum, Thou relish the dirty, guttural essence of sludge, the roaring feedback and the screeching vocals. An overwhelming presence that leaves nothing standing in a path paved through pivotal works in Heathen and Magus.
Some might think that combining these two forces would be like trying to mix oil and water, the elements failing to coalesce pushing away from one another. Yet, May Our Chambers Be Full is nothing if not cohesive, without either Rundle or Thou having to sacrifice part of their identity. Finding a common denominator, indulging for the psychedelic, "The Killing Floor" expands through clouds of surrounding feedback, subtle melodies rising through its mists. Yet, it is when Rundle's melodic delivery combines with Bryan Funck's subliminal growls that everything falls into place. Dissonance and harmony meet in this strange place, both persisting, neither shying away from its counterpart and combining to a stunning emotive peak.
The heavy grooves build a monumental pace with "Out of Existence" before the progression takes a turn for the subtler, sparse leads paving the way for Rundle's epic conclusion. More impressive is the complete coalition of these two worlds with "Ancestral Recall", contrasting moments of sludge superiority in "Monolith" and "Magickal Cost". Yet, it is the closer, "The Valley", that perfectly encapsulates this work. It brings a strong ending with Rundle beautifully dominating for most of its duration in an emotive ballad-inspired approach, before Thou's heavy onslaught abruptly concludes this work. In this aftermath, the idea of Emma Ruth Rundle collaborating with Thou doesn't sound bizarre; it like the most obvious thought anyone has ever had. – Spyros Stasis
Shame - White Man (Cacophonous Revival Recordings)
For a significant part of its history, noise music and especially its harshest variants have been the musical weapon of choice of entitled, angry white men. Musicians who raged impotently against perceived injustices of the world and cultivated toxic atmospheres from edgy rhetoric. In this sense, Abdul-Hakim Bilal's Shame project is about taking back the affecting power of noise, deconstructing its destructiveness, and repurposing it into a reverie. Thus, the eight spiraling cuts on White Man don't approach noise as an inherently negative sonic phenomenon.
Instead, each squeak and flutter of distortion, every susurration and sigh of an altered voice, and all swells of white noise become words in a sentence. An anguished testimony. An incantation turned against the exploiting whiteness. A witnessing shriek of those affected by racial injustice. A transporting roar "gives the listener a feeling of being torn apart by this inherently racist system". Fragility alternates with empowerment. Finally, pain and introversion become a razing scream. "This is my land, and we will be free," shouts Bilal's disassembled and reassembled voice under a waterfall of coins clinking against glass before an endless plane of harsh textures consumes (us) all. – Antonio Poscic
Spirit Adrift - Enlightened In Eternity (20 Buck Spin)
It's much harder than many would assume to undertake the task of resurrecting a past era's soul. It is a herculean task to pay homage while at the same time not nostalgically rehashing the same old recipe. Yet, for Spirit Adrift it's their love for the classic heavy metal sound that makes their experiment not only successful but lasting. When Nate Garrett established the project, it was clear something interesting was brewing underneath the retro facade and the heavy doom element. Chained to Oblivion and Curse of Conception, excellent in their own right, today appear as simple heralds of what would follow with Divided By Darkness and now Enlightened In Eternity.
Spirit Adrift's dedication to the heavy metal sound transcends decades. The introduction of "Ride Into The Light'' captures the essence of NWOBM, as the sharp riffs combine with the blistering lead work and a tremendous pace dictated by drummer Marcus Bryant. From this 1980s-induced vision, Spirit Adrift travel further back in time to the 1970s with "Astral Levitation" ever so slightly letting go of their pedal to the metal mentality for a beautifully crafted, verging on the progressive composition. Full-on outbreaks of energy provide an injection of rush and purpose as the likes of "Cosmic Conquest" and "Stronger Than Your Pain'' unfold, while the epic undercurrent rushes to the surface in the fluid "Screaming From Beyond" and the spiraling "Battle High".
Spreading exquisite hooks, powerful choruses, and memorable melodies act as powerful earworms, but that does not mean that Spirit Adrift display a superficiality to their compositions. Performing a deep dive with the ten-minute-long opus "Reunited in the Void" showcases their ambitious side, beautifully concluding the record. Once more Spirit Adrift have outdone themselves, the pristine production of Enlightened in Eternity allows their ideas to shine more clearly, and given their prolific output so far, we can hope that they will continue to do so in the near future. – Spyros Stasis
Sumac - May You Be Held (Thrill Jockey)
It is all about evolution and craftsmanship. Looking back at Sumac's discography, produced in such a short timeframe, it's mind boggling to comprehend how much things have changed. In 2015, Sumac's The Deal was a passionate reminder of the post-metal and sludge potency, an oppressive and menacing ride through heavy, slow riffs, pummelling breakdowns, and distorted soundscapes. What One Becomes, while following the post-metal narrative, began to show signs of further experimentation, the tracks losing their rigid form and becoming free-flowing. Still, no one expected the complete embrace of free-rock that Love in Shadow brought, as Sumac masterfully incorporated the teachings of pioneering artists like Caspar Brotzmann and Keiji Haino into their mold. This journey now reaches another pinnacle with May You Be Held.
On their fourth full-length, Sumac carry on their mixing of sludge, post-metal, free-rock, and abstract ambient motifs. In true noise form, the record rears its ugly head with "A Prayer for Your Path", slowly setting its darkened ambiance. Then, what ensues brings to mind Sumac at their most furious, with the repetitive barrage of heavy basslines and fluid drumming coming full force with "May You Be Held". It's an exhilarating listen that reawakens the sludgecore in triumphant form before the free rock interlude arrives. Losing themselves in their guitar exploration, combining the heavy post-metal side and their noise-rock affection, Sumac assemble a magnificent long-form overture that ends in drone devastation, as the full force of the rhythm section explodes, crushing it all to smithereens.
It's this ability to incorporate their different sides together that makes May You Be Held stand apart. While Love in Shadow forced this union between free rock improvisation and sludge tradition, May You Be Held allows for these two elements to fall into place seamlessly. It's this absolute harmony between all the parts of the Sumac machine that make the extravagant experimentation of "The Iron Chair", the navigation of noise spaces, the hardcore explosions of "Consumed", and the ambient solitude of "Laughter and Silence" so devastating and mesmerizing. – Spyros Stasis
Svabhavat - Black Mirror Reflection (Eisenwald)
While hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the duo of Svabhavat don't conform to their regional scene's style. Distancing themselves from the Cascadian approach ushered in the early 2010s, Svabhavat turn to the origins of the second wave of black metal to perform a blasphemous and torturous introduction with their debut full-length Black Mirror Reflection.
The atmospherics and demeanor take a turn for the occult and nasty as the harrowing introduction of "Mysteries of the Odious Path" unfolds. What ensues is a barrage of dissonance and aggression, seemingly lifted from the great tradition of the Norwegian scene. The polemic attitude, the inharmonious outings, and the cutthroat, animalistic vocalizations complete this scenery, as extra flourishes in unconventional sound effects and samples add to this distressing result. While this onslaught of riffs and blastbeats is on one extreme, there is nothing more terrifying than when Svabhavat drop the pace in the second part of the opening track or in "Abhicaara", opting for a sinister and eerie representation.
Although there's a distinct divergence towards a more melodic approach at times and an overarching epic substance, those are twisted bizarrely, only to appear grimmer under this dim light. The lead work of "Chalice of Poisoned Souls" sees this melodic edge mutating, drifting in and out of dissonance, while the epic progression of "Aghori, Flame of Knowledge" raises a formidable and ruthless presence, perfectly leading to the tempest that is the title track. With Svabhavat's displaying a strong handle on the dark and damned essence of black metal's point of origin, Black Mirror Reflection becomes an enticing debut that reinforces much of the genre's early days glory. – Spyros Stasis
Undeath - Lesions of a Different Kind (Prosthetic)
Here's a statement simultaneously ironic on so many levels yet undeniably true: old school death metal is living its second youth. After excellent releases from the likes of Tomb Mold, Blood Incantation, and Skeletal Remains, Rochester, New York's quintet Undeath finally bring forth their own vision of the genre encapsulated within a highly anticipated (for real!) and hyped full-length debut. And guess what? It slays. Indebted in equal measure to Cannibal Corpse, Incantation, Suffocation, and Bolt Thrower—the who's who of death metal in the 1980s and the 1990s—the music on Lesions of a Different Kind is varied and dynamic. It explodes from towering grooves, then plows through neck-breaking tempo and rhythm changes, navigates twisty tech death metal serpentines, and finally devours squealing, dissonant solos. For all its homages and nods to predecessors, this is vicious and viciously exhilarating music. – Antonio Poscic
Wayfarer - A Romance With Violence (Profound Lore)
Since its inception, black metal was tied to a sense of tradition and heritage. During the early days of the second black metal wave, the folk landscapes uncovered by Ulver unleashed a deep atmospheric sense to the genre. Through time this led to fantastical discoveries, enabling further the epic tone of acts like Primordial or the introspective bleakness of Agalloch. Wayfarer proudly carry on with this tradition, incorporating elements of their native Denver sound to combine grimness with a touch of Americana.
Now on their fourth record, A Romance With Violence and Wayfarer are perfecting their vision. The raw days of Children of Iron gave way to intricate compositions in Old Souls like the majestic "Old Souls' New Dawn" gathering the lifesblood for what would be their finest moment in World's Blood. Now, this is surpassed once more, as Wayfarer bring a record with a much more graphic essence. Opener "The Curtain Pulls Back" effortlessly transfers you back in time, the scenery is of course the American frontier in all its majestically beautiful and at the same time brutal manifestation.
This is exactly where Wayfarer stands as "The Crimson Rider" unfolds, bouncing between the traditional extreme sense of black metal and its melodic side. Violent outbreaks intertwine with epic soundscapes, building this intriguing narrative. Here, the Americana touch arrives with its distinct twang transforming the black metal notions with its defiant structure, as with the main theme of "The Iron Horse", or offering respite from the polemics of "Masquerade of Gunslingers" with a retreat to an acoustic shelter. Then it can dictate the entire of a track, as is the case with the excellent closer "Vaudeville", lending a romantic touch to its black metal edge. It's Wayfarer's ability to combine the black metal tradition and the Americana spirit that has made their sound so exceptional, and it has now produced their finest work to date. – Spyros Stasis