BELL WITCH & AERIAL RUIN Stygian Bough Volume 1
After reaching the precipice of funeral doom’s development with Mirror Reaper, Bell Witch had a lot to live up to. The drum and bass duo looked to an old friend to further its sepulchral crusade of sluggish merosity. Aerial Ruin’s acoustic musings become the perfect foil for Bell Witch’s glacial dirges. Granted, these guys aren’t exactly strangers to playing with one another, but this full-length collaboration still breaks new ground for all three musicians. Volume 1 leaves a desire for Volume 2.
Listen to "The Bastard Wind."
NERO DI MARTE Immoto
This Italian band's third album reaches a truly mind-altering niche of extreme metal’s avant-garde. Many passages on this album are more akin to the delicate free-improv passages hidden away in King Crimson’s discography. Perhaps even more strange is the way Nero Di Marte ties these minimalist tangents into a penchant for mutated brutality and alien melody. It’s definitely a lot more “post” than “metal,” but it’s hard to think of a better band to do the trail-blazing.
Listen to Immoto in its entirety.
PROTEST THE HERO Palimpsest
Read Max's review of Palimpsest.
Protest The Hero is the kind of band that doesn’t need to change its Queensrÿche-meets-BTBAM approach to bring something interesting to the table. The band’s modus operandi remains taking its style as far as possible, and apparently that's a gift that keeps on giving. Add to that the riveting, socially conscious wordplay, and Palimpsest becomes the gift prog-metal needs going into the new decade.
Listen to "From the Sky."
UMBRA VITAE Shadow of Life
Read Max's review of Shadow of Life.
It takes a special band to mercilessly beat and cerebrally torment in equal measure. Umbra Vitae certainly packs as much intensity as possible into under 30 minutes, but Shadow of Life looks beyond blunt force trauma. For every grimacing mosh riff, there’s a reprieve of emotional relevance. Every blitz-speed blast section maintains a moody undercurrent. These guys use their experience and chemistry to elevate an aural stampede into a deeply gratifying experience.
Listen to the title track.
WAILIN' STORMS Rattle
Read Max's review of Rattle.
If Wailin’ Storms set out to scare the bejesus out of everyone, it’s hard to think of a better method than Rattle. The band’s blend of southern gothic, post-punk, and doom rock begets a road-weary, earnest, and unflinching look at human frailty. Rattle explores carnal desires, pain, and fear, only to point at the ultimate demise. While its aura remains thick and mysterious, this album’s disturbingly realistic account makes it one of the most unsettling listens of the year.
Listen to "Grass."
AFTERBIRTH Four Dimensional Flesh
A masterful balance of musicality and brutality. Afterbirth's latest traverses a vast spectrum of influences, from bone-crunching slams to dissonant, technical passages where the shred is on full display, and even a few spacey synthwave sections that sound straight out of Blade Runner.
The vocals sound like a clogged garbage disposal, courtesy of world-class growler Will Smith (also of Artificial Brain and Buckshot Facelift) while the song titles and lyrics seem more akin to Radiohead than death metal.
A quarter-century since bands like Cryptopsy, Demilich, and Suffocation challenged the limits of extreme music, Afterbirth continues this mind-melting quest to the fourth dimension.
Listen to "Never Ending Teeth."
PAN-AMERIKAN NATIVE FRONT Split with Ifernach
The drums of battle rage on. Pan-Amerikan Native Front is the one-person project of Kurator Of War, an indigenous headbanger whose songs focus on the bloody history of native people against western expansion in North America. Kurator's new split is steeped with the desolate aggression of Deathcrush-era Mayhem and early Darkthrone, but with a refreshing air of life, and told from an often underrepresented perspective in heavy metal.
The music creates a bleak sonic landscape, matched with punk tempos and blast beats. The result made this listener both depressed and ready to kick some serious ass.
This is real war metal, plain and simple.
Listen to Pan-Amerikan Native Front's split with Ifernach.
SOLICITOR Spectral Devastation
Solicitor remind us that no matter how times change, heavy metal is still the law. Their full-length debut of these Seattle speed metal maniacs expands their attack to include flashes of death metal and black metal brutality, to sharpen the edges of their musical golden axe.
Amy Lee Carlson's voice chills my spine in all the best ways. It's got a fierce timbre reminiscent of Doro Pesch with some blood-curdling shrieks for grim measure. Songs like “The Red Queen” are instantly quotable heavy metal classics. Spectral Devastation will undoubtedly lead to many “European Metal Festival” style sing-along moments if live shows ever resume.
Feel the steel!
Listen to "Betrayer."
STALLION Slaves of Time
These rowdy rockers from Germany deal a loaded hand of sleazy, speed addled mayhem. Slaves Of Time is a masterpiece of speed metal technique, racing with all the chug-a-chug-a-chugging riffs of a runaway locomotive.
The vocals command the songs with a ferocious vibrato. Like any great heavy metal singer, their vocalist Pauly hits those high notes and makes it seem effortless.
Above all, this one made me want to grab my buddies and stay up all night drinking and playing cards.
Listen to "Kill the Beast."
WITCHTRAP Evil Strikes Again
Witchtrap is one of Colombia's longest-running thrash institutions, going back as far as the early nineties.
Evil Strikes Again dazzles with an unmistakable nod to the classic German albums from Kreator, Destruction, and Sodom. The menacing vocals of frontman and guitarist Burning Axe Ripper often sound like Pleasure To Kill-era Mille Petrozza. The riffs trade between hyperactive yarns with classic Metallica-style solos to break up the pace.
I couldn't help but smirk at the lyrics in “Death To False Metal” and “Dealing With Satan.” There's an eternal, youthful exuberance that comes across from these dudes. This poison gets deadlier with age.
Listen to "Dealing With Satan."