Best Metal Albums of the Month–April 2020

Kvaen v. Sweven–Battle of similar final syllables!  I’m lame as fuck!

 

1. Kvaen–The Funeral Pyre

I am just a sucker for the word “pyre” this year–perhaps because the whole world has become one? Like Slaughter Messiah last month, Kvaen is here to bring the speed and bite back to your black metal. And fuck if it isn’t just about as fun as the Midnight album.

Like Destroyer 666 and Watain without the guilt!

 

2. Sweven–The Eternal Resonance

Morbus Chron died so Sweven could live.  Fair trade.  If you loved the album Sweven but favored the Pink Floyd over the Pestilence aspects, you just found your album of the year. The record avoids the jam band crutch of pure meander, picking up the pace and focus with uncanny timing to snap the songs back into form.

 

3. Black Royal–Firebride

When you think “this sounds like if Asphyx fucked Mastodon,” you are probably listening to a good album.

 

4. Lucifer III

Warning–Lucifer is a band I am simply in the bag for now.  Don’t listen to anything I have to say in the guise of criticism, because my objectivity is out the window.

But do listen to me when I say this–Lucifer is rad. Is this their best record?  Does it approach The Oath?  NO, but who cares? It is awesome that Lucifer is a thing that exists, so turn it up and get loose.

 

5. Rosy Finch–Scarlet

A nod to the excellent angrymetalguy blog for another under-the-radar recommendation here. This record is an interesting Melvins/Royal Thunder mix. Though the songs don’t have enough hooks to really lodge in your brain, the band provides a welcome throwback to quality early/mid 90s alternative, and is well worth a look.

 

6. Earth Rot–Black Tides of Obscurity

Earth Rot are in a similar lane to Sulphur Aeon and The Great Old Ones. They are technically excellent, and the record is always engaging, but they play a style of death metal that does not hold my attention at the upper-echelon level of, say, a Tomb Mold or Horrendous. This is a shame, because when Earth Rot clicks into place like on the swaggering stomp in the middle of The Cape of Storms, it’s hard to imagine better death metal coming out all year. A strong effort, and a band that can absolutely reach the next level–but not there just yet.

 

7. Wake–Devouring Ruin

I’m not feeling the new direction. For many metal fans, this will be a year-ender, and I get that on an intellectual level. It is certainly dense and ambitious, and I intend to keep spinning it in the hopes it grows on me.

Misery Rites didn’t have to grow on me. Sure, it featured atmospheric touches and tempo changes, but it never stopped going for the throat. And when a visceral, vicious metal band decides to stop writing coherent songs in favor of atmospherics, they risk losing what made them powerful in the first place. This might be the old gatekeeper streak in me. This isn’t grindcore, pussies!

Simply put, Devouring Ruin leaves me cold, as most dissonance-focused metal projects tend to. The only exception is Gorguts. And Wake may be objectively great, but they ain’t Gorguts.

From now on, if I see the terms “dissonant” and/or “noise” as descriptors, I am steering clear. He said while planning to buy the new Ulcerate record.

 

I also want to mention the two great, and one not so great, rock records I spun this month:

1. Pearl Jam–Gigaton–A welcome return to form. If you wanted to put it on top of the Binaural-Lightning Bolt era, I wouldn’t argue. Only quibble is it may be lacking that one transcendent moment, like an Unthought Known. Sometimes with PJ, though, you can’t make that judgment until you hear the songs live. I’m thinking Superblood Wolfmoon and Quick Escape have real potential to enter the pantheon, and hopefully that hypothesis can be tested again before I fucking turn fucking 40.

2. Local H–Lifers–Big riffs, killer lyrics, permanent sneer–sounds like Local H to me.

3. The Strokes–The New Abnormal--Ugh.

Hey Rick, how should this chorus go?

I don’t know Julian, maybe just shoehorn in an abject Billy Idol rip-off, then follow it up with the only riff we have that’s actually good? That way people will really feel how awful the chorus is?

Cool with me, can I go play in a band I actually like now?

March Rankings

2020 continues to be a strong year, though I’m not so sure there were any album of the year contenders here. Solid outings all though, with some encouraging returns to form and pleasant surprises from bands first coming across the radar, so all in all a very engaging batch. Let’s get to it:

1. Tombs–Monarchy of Shadows

I loved Path of Totality, liked Savage Gold, and was lukewarm on the Grand Annihilation, so the prospect of some new Tombs music did not inspire the level of excitement it once did. That is, until about 30 seconds into the first song and title track, when it becomes apparent that Tombs decided to stop fucking around and just rip out some throats. The cavernous horror of Paths of Totality and goth leanings from the last two are not gone, but they are de-emphasized in the name of playing METAL. Monarchy is relentless in this pursuit. The frostiness of Once Falls the Guillotine and Man Behind the Sun pair well with a mid-section in Necro Alchemy that invokes of Satisfaction-era Hatebreed (not complaining). Even the re-recorded track has a new vitality. Tombs is back.

2. Slaughter Messiah–Cursed to the Pyre

Terrible Certainty-era Kreator doing coke with Aura Noir. Pyre is a front-runner for song of the year, with a turbocharged back half that seems like it can’t possibly keep kicking this much ass until it starts kicking more.

3. Kvelertak–Splid

This record puts into full focus what was missing from the last two. This band is about having fun in true Norwegian punk fashion, man. Pure Euroboy-Scandanavian-Leather-King-of-the-Rodeo shit. Mix in elements of extreme metal, and you are on to something. Kvelertak back to roots and sounding like the…wait for it…PARTY ANIMALS we know they are.

4. Godthrymm–Reflections

I was late to the brit-style doomdeath party, and I still don’t really give a shit about Anathema. Paradise Lost, on the other hand, grabbed me, and by extension so does Godthrymm. Katatonia and Paradise Lost, in different ways, each incorporate hooks and rock enough that there’s a propulsive spirit amongst the mope. I’m not sure Godthrymm pulls that off. This record is heavy and mournful and exhausting, which means (a) they executed their vision well, but (b) it is not something you will return with great frequency. If this is your genre, though, it’s a can’t-miss.

5. Blaze of Perdition–A Harrowing of Hearts

This was an interesting one. The atmosphere was reminiscent of Tribulation or In Solitude, more towards the gothic side of the black metal asthetic than the frightening side. The songwriting is strong here as well, but similar to Godthrymm, this is just not the type of music that is going to hold my attention for too long.

6. Oath of Cruelty–Summary Execution at Dawn

Angelcorpse-worship war metal. There isn’t too much else going on here, but if you get the itch, this one will satisfy. So will Exterminate or The Inexorable though, so prob just listen to those.

February Rankings and March Pickups

*This was delayed by the apocalypse. Please help any way you can, including giving to bands and venues affected by tour cancellation, and also the Red Cross and UNICEF and the like.*

February, the last normal month in human history, at least gave us an early favorite for album of the year.  I fucking loved these records and expect they will stay on heavy rotation all year, so let me say up top–all of them are highly recommended.  But if I must parse:

1.  Midnight–Rebirth by Blasphemy

Their best album by a mile and my favorite record since…well, Crypt Sermon I suppose, but still.  Holy shit!  I expected dirty, Venomous nonsense of the highest order.  I did not expect a United-style Priest anthem in the middle, or songs with real emotional heft behind the sleaze, but just listen to Rising Scum and You Can Drag me Through Fire.  A next level jump by a band already at the upper echelon of the underground.


2.  Xoth–Interdimensional Incantations

The cover art says it all.  The last Vektor album with an injection consisting of equal parts death metal and mania. Might be too out there for some, but if you like thrash and losing your mind, get to it. 


3.  Haunt–Mind Freeze

Haunt is the most consistent and reliable trad metal band going right now.  If those adjectives don’t get your heart racing, that’s on brand too–nowhere on Mind Freeze do they blow your mind, same as with If Icarus Could Fly and each release before that. But they aren’t swinging for the fences–they are trying get on base with each song. Would you rather have a record with 2 great songs and 6 garbage ones, or 8 pretty good ones, any of which could do the job in your live set?  Haunt favors the latter, and I can’t knock them for it. 

 

4.  Aethyrick–Gnosis

An outstanding melodic black metal album. Aethryick tends towards the atmospheric/mood side of the spectrum–think Dawn as opposed to Dissection or Naglfar. And they do so brilliantly, able to ring real emotion similar to Mgla’s brand of alchemy. Let’s just hope they don’t share some other things with Mgla…


5.  The Great Old Ones–Cosmicism

I really enjoy GOO’s brand of death metal. They nail the Lovecraft aesthetic, and routinely have passages that come out of nowhere to just demolish the listener. These parts must be something to behold live. But they can never maintain that power throughout a whole song, let alone a record, which keeps them from rising to the very top of the genre. The album is still worth your time, and is perfectly suited to a particular type of mood, but you won’t be reaching for it like you do Tomb Mold or Horrendous records. 



6.  Blessed Black–Beyond the Crimson Throne

Blessed Black is a rock band. There is nothing wrong with that, but don’t go in expecting to hear stoner metal in the vein of Khemmis or even The Sword, because these guys are much more in the Kyng/Droids Attack/Taint lane.  With that in mind, this is a solid collection of songs with good riffs and some standout soloing, and enough adventures towards the edges of traditional song structure that bodes well for the future.  I will definitely see these guys live, and if they arrive at a sound and vision that’s truly their own, look out. 

 

March Pick Ups:

Early thoughts–Interesting batch where each band has a seemingly obvious like for like (see below).

Hopefully some nuance reveals itself in the next few weeks, but even in this framework these are really enjoyable records. Tombs and Kvelertak sound reinvigorated, and Slaughter Messiah is the pummeling Destroyer 666-type machine I’ve been missing.

Provided this isn’t actually the Stand playing out, I’ll rank ’em up in about 3 weeks. 

Slaughter Messiah (Kreator)

Godthrymm (Paradise Lost)

Oath of Cruelty (Angelcorpse)

Blaze of Perdition (Tribulation)

Kvelertak (Turbonegro)

Tombs (shit…um…Tombs)

2020 Preview and January Rankings

It’s winter, so to once again keep us all from that ledge, here’s a reminder that there is a reason we all endure these 3 (fine, 4) fucking months of nonsense–cool metal shit is on the horizon:

1. Festivals

Decibel Metal and Beer–Philadelphia–April 3 and 4

Converge playing Jane Doe and Pig Destroyer doing Prowler in the Yard?  Holy shit!


We are locked in this year, so look for a full report, provided I can remember any details. 

Also, can we get Philly locals Crypt Sermon involved?


Migration–Pittsburgh–August 1 and 2

My hometown of Pittsburgh becomes the center of the US extreme metal universe in August.  Tomb Mold, Spirit Adrift, Vastum, False, Falls of Rauros, Witch Vomit–20 Buck Spin has the deepest lineup of any label out there, and they’ll all be playing in beautiful Millvale, PA, right next to an old steel mill.  To be fair, that’s everywhere in Pittsburgh.

See you fuckers at Grist House.



2. New Records

Carcass–There’s no way it will be as good as Surgical Steel, but then again none of us thought there was any way Surgical Steel would be better than Heartwork, but here we are.

Deftones–On this list last year.  Let’s not make this a Tool thing, guys.

Enslaved–I am nervous about this one, but they are still Enslaved. Remember songs, Ivan?  See if we can get a couple of those on this record. 

Fuck, that’s really it. I hear rumors Argus and Pharaoh may have something in store? Let’s hope see, because otherwise it is shaping up to be a lean year. Though the new Midnight album fucking rules so no one else really needs to put anything out anyways. 


3. Shows

-Opeth–February 14–Riviera

Opeth with Graveyard, two bands I used to love who have…progressed?…into areas I’m not so into.  Still, I recall vividly multiple occasions where an Opeth show stopped my fucking heart, and Mikel is still a great stand up if nothing else. Hopefully the fact that I’m making this our Valentine’s Day celebration doesn’t stop my engagement in its still-fledgling status, but that is a distinct possibility. So boys, how about playing Bleak? That way it won’t be all bad when I’m recounting to my therapist why my life fell apart so I could see a band I’m kind of over. 


-Vader–February 20–Reggie’s

Reggie’s is welcoming some legends this “spring,” starting with Poland’s favorite Slayer-aping death metal lifers. That’s not a knock, by the way–Vader sounds like mechanized Slayer, get over it. De Profundis is still one of my favorite death metal albums ever.  Litany and Revelations both rule, too.  I haven’t kept up with the last couple, but I’m guessing they sound like Slayer. 

 

-Autopsy–March 7–Reggies

Legends part 2.  With Tomb Mold, Vastum, Witch Vomit and others flying the flag of the dirty, gurgling side of death metal, Autopsy is as relevant as ever. And on the back of their own strong output since reforming, this is likely to rule pretty hard.  Also Professor Black is opening! It is probably too much to ask that he mix in some Dawnbringer, but if Superchrist songs don’t give you dumb-metal-face, I mean, what the fuck man.


-Insomnium–March 22–The Forge

On quite the roll with Winter’s Gate and Heart like a Grave. Who wants to drive me to Joliet?

 

-Midnight–March 27–Empty Bottle

Fuck me Athenar.


-Monster Magnet–March 28–Metro

Powertrip in full!  Finally the band realizes this is by far their best record, and won’t play a bunch of BORING SHITTY MEANDERING NONSENSE FROM SPINE OF GOD AND SUPERJUDGE!!

Wow that felt good.  Whew. Fuck you all.  Powertrip and Monolothic Baby! are where its fucking at, and go see the damn show if you don’t believe me. 


JANUARY RANKINGS

An odd grouping of stuff from the year-end lists I didn’t hear the first time around.  A lot of prog/power, but theres also a band called Funeral Fukk, so I’m not getting too classy.

 

1.  High Command–Beyond the Wall of Desolation

Do you wish Power Trip wrote lyrics like The Sword’s first 2 records?  Do you occasionally headbang involuntarily until you stumble into a wall in your apartment? Get this shit immediately. 

 

2.  Wilderun–Veil of Imagination

Well damn, this was out of control.  I had to keep checking that I wasn’t listening to Blackwater Park, and not because the material is too close (though on occasion…). The melding of death metal with legitimate heft and progressive rock hasn’t been done to this level by anyone since Akerfeldt hung them up.  

 

3.  Funeral Fukk–Carnal Confessions

This album is shockingly successful. It executes everything it sets out to do, and invokes Woods of Ypres and Solitude Aeturnus in equal measure while establishing its own lane.  So why isn’t it number 1 of the year, let alone this list? 

Because its a concept album about the victims of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. It is SO fucking good, but how often are you going to find yourself in the mood for that?  Turns out, not that often.  

Let me be clear though–the songwriting is captivating, the riffs are memorable and crushing, and the atmosphere is pitch perfect.

Just–fucking ew, guys, come on.  Ew.  

 

4. Arch/Matheos  and 5. Dimhav

Every year I see power metal albums at the very top of charts, every year I scoop a few up, and then every year I’m reminded–I just don’t really dig power metal.

Except for Pharaoh, for whatever reason.  Get your asses back out here, Pharaoh. 



Up next

Aethyrick–Gnosis

-Blessed Black –Beyond the Crimson Throne

-The Great Old Ones–Cosmicism

-Haunt–Mind Control

Midnight–Rebirth by Blasphemy

Xoth–Interdimensional Invocations

 

December Rankings

It was a strong close to the year, though maybe not as I may have expected:

1. Blut Aus Nord–Hallucinogen

Lives up to its name.  Truly hypnotic and a worthy successor to the Memoria records, Blut’s finest hour.

2. Gatecreeper–Deserted

I liked what I had heard before, but I fucking loved this. Mid-period Dismember if instead of melodic death metal, it injected a healthy dose of Bolt Thrower. Best surprise–how damn catchy and memorable it is.

3. Blood Incantation–Hidden History of the Human Race


Believe the hype.  I didn’t find it as engaging as the absolute top tier of death metal this year, your Tomb Molds and Gatecreepers. But it is worth acknowledging that engagement is not their concern.  This is challenging and intricate while still pummeling, and I will gladly keep peeling the levels away.

4. Vastum–Orificial Purge

Equal parts cerebral and primal, Vastum lives in a peculiar murk but is so damn engaging that you will keep wading through.

5. Refused–War Music

Damn, if this wasn’t so close to IT.  A true successor to Shape of Punk…But this album always steps back from the brink of true abandon, even at its most frenetic.  The urgency is there in the lyrics, but counter to Dennis’ words, the songs don’t ever let the wick burn all the way down to a full explosion. 

6. Obsequiae

Do you like Jester Race and The Mind’s Eye?  Step right up.

7. Die Choking

Only this low because grind is not my wheelhouse, this album is top quality and I recommend it highly for anyone who gravitates to this genre.

8. Exhumed

You know what you are going to get with Exhumed. When you want some straightforward, gorey death metal, there is no substitute. But you won’t find yourself returning unless you have that particular itch.

9. Leprous


After Malina, anything was likely to be a letdown, but this is an unlistenable vanity outing for the vocalist.

 

December Pickups and News

Rankings to come later, but here’s what I am listening to this month:

-Blood Incantation

-Obsequiae

-Vastum

-Exhumed

-Gatecreeper

-Refused

-Leprous

-Blut Aus Nord

-Die Choking

Early indications are Refused is back, Leprous is gone, and the year of death metal continues.

Some big announcements this week to stem the oncoming winter depression as well:

-Gatecreeper added to Decibel tour

-Bloodbath touring in May

-Vader touring in February

Death metal can’t be fucking stopped. Long may this continue.

June Records

ALBUM OF THE MONTH

Amon Amarth–Berserker

True to pattern, the album after subpar outing Jomsviking is a return to form. Berserker’s best quality is the presence of songs seemingly designed for their live show, to be sung in unison by drunk people with alehorns hoisted when Hegg commands. Thats the point of Amon Amarth.

The Rest (descending order)

2. Black Sites–Exile

The first song has a Machine Head riff at its core, which may or may not be a deterrent. But give this one 3 or 4 spins before making any conclusions–it is a real grower for a band with a unique sound in progressive metal. I kept getting a Queensryche vibe–again, maybe a deterrent for some, but a big compliment from this Mindcrime-obsessed listener.

3. Lord Vicar–The Black Powder

The whole album is good, but the opener steals the show. Best doom song since Candlemass’ prime? Quite possibly.

4. Spirit Adrift–Divided by Darkness

A great album, but also a disappointment. I expected this to be on top of any and all lists this year, but it is lacking that songwriting spark that elevated their last one. Don’t skip it by any means, but check expectations.

5. Ketzer–Cloud Collider

A unique album, thrashy black metal but always played with restraint.

6. Haze Mage–Chronicles

Silly but fun. Each song sounds like Danzig singing about a weird comic book character over a Taint song. Not a bad thing.

7. Possessed–Revelations of Oblivion

Very impressive that Jeff Becerra is capable of this so long after 7 Churches, and the perserverance he’s shown is beyond comprehension (check out the decibel article). But I don’t feel compelled to return to this album. It is competent but rarely inspired.

8. King Gizzard–Fishing for Fishies

King Gizz with another disposable one.

Of 2017’s 5 albums, I would go:

1. Flying Microtonal Banana

2. Polygonwanaland

3. Gumboot Soup

4. Murder of the Universe

5. Scenes of Brunswick East

Fishes is unfortunately most like Sketches. But the next one is apparently a full on thrash album, so no bumming out here.

9. Enforcer–Nadir…I mean Zenith

I really tried with this one, but it is basically a Poison album.

October/November 2018–New Records

I limit myself to new music once a month, because otherwise I’ll get new stuff every day, listen to it once and then totally forget about it.  And that’s a bullshit effort to give a band, particularly metal bands that still put out full, cohesive records.

I’m old.

Here’s what I scooped up recently, and what I thought about it after a few spins:

1. High on Fire–Electric Messiah

The new High on Fire is remarkably good, and that feels to great to write after the complacency of the last two.  There were cool songs on Luminiferous and De Vermis, but nothing that just grabbed your fucking attention like Rumors of War or Snakes for the Diving or Fire Flood and Plague and the like.  But here, right out of the gate, 3 of the first 4 tracks are classics.  Sanctioned Annihilation is the best mid-paced crusher they’ve done since Blessed Black Wings.  Perhaps a little let down on Side B, but not by much.

An excellent return to form, making Matt Pike’s recent injury and tour cancellation all the more disappointing.  Get well soon.

2. Anaal Nathrakh–A New Kind of Horror

I check in with these guys every so often, and it usually leaves me cold.  I keep looking for that feeling the first time Eschaton clicked in for me.  I don’t think that feeling is coming back.  Stick to Between Shit and Piss we are Born.

3.  Drive By Truckers–The Dirty South

I love this band.  Out of place on this list, sure, but a great rock band that scratches that Lynyrd Skynyrd itch like just about no one else out there.  I know Southern Rock Opera and Decoration Day really well, but seeing them recently inspired a revisit to the catalog.  This was the consensus next best one, and I get it.  As with the other Truckers albums I’ve heard, there are plenty of swings and misses, but the hits really connect.  If it was just Where the Devil Don’t Stay and Lookout Mountain, the record would still be a worthy entry into their catalog.  But just focusing on those two would do a disservice to Isbell’s tunes.  Danko/Manuel, Never Gonna Change and Goddamn Lonely Love are beautiful tracks that Cooley and/or Hood would be proud to have written.

4.  Revocation–The Outer Ones

Always mean to give these guys more of a chance, and always end up missing their show or just not picking up the new one because a few other records look a little more interesting.  Don’t fall into that trap for The Outer Ones–it is excellent.  Fills the void The Red Chord left behind.

Plus they covered Pull the Plug the one time I did sack up and see them.  That’s worth supporting.

5.  Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats–Wasteland

Not quite up to the level of the first record, but I put it above the second and on par with the last one.  The highlight for me is Uncle Acid unveiling a few new moves, including some twin guitar attack on Blood Runner and some real doomy groove on No Return.  These are welcome changes of pace alongside the tried and true Uncle Acid formula on tunes like Shockwave City.  Their tour with Graveyard next year should be worth a look, even if Graveyard’s last couple records were pretty disposable.

6.  Horrendous–Idol

This is an amazing record, a worthy successor in their string of home runs, and a contender for album of the year.  The best comparison I can think of is post-Human-era Death.  You know every record is going to be heavy, catchy, complex, inviting, familiar and innovative all at the same time.  Horrendous may have unseated Enslaved as best active metal band for me (especially since the last Enslaved was kind of…boring…you didn’t hear me actually say that).  They also put on a high-energy live show that isn’t too self-serious, a rarity in progressive death metal.

7.  Behemoth–I Loved You at blah blah a fucking Children’s Choir?  Really Nergal?

I don’t have much else to say beyond the above.  There are two cool tracks in Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica and Sabbath Mater.  The rest is kinda butt, though not insultingly so.  Sometimes Behemoth is meh, like the Apostasy, and sometimes they are awesome, like on the Satanist.  The Amon Amarth dynamic.  Unfortunately, this one is on the down cycle.

 

All in all an excellent set of records, sans Behemoth and Anaal unfortunately showing their age.  New shit from the Ocean and Bloodbath on deck!