NAPALM DEATH – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
Photo By Gobinder Jhitta
Napalm Death’s 16th LP is a testament to the songwriting prowess and tireless creative drive of Shane Embury, who penned the entire album. While this is no doubt Embury's crowning personal achievement to date, it’s also one of the best Napalm Death albums in their trail-blazing, dogma-challenging existence. Signature grind-explosions go off at triggered times and have the desired impact, but it’s the outlier tracks—referencing Killing Joke, Big Black, Swans, Voivod and other indomitable acts—that make this record such a diverse and thrilling listen, heightened by vocalist Mark “Barney” Greenway’s vitriolic, socially conscious and painfully relevant diatribes.
CRYPTIC SHIFT – Visitations from Enceladus
Cryptic Shift’s wondrous debut begins in ludicrously audacious fashion, with the near-26-minute “Moonbelt Immolator”. It's a progressive death-thrash intergalactic voyage where the listener drops down a Dimension Hatröss wormhole and hyper-speeds right through Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence, Cynic’s Focus and Gorguts’ Obscura. The alien intelligence behind its structural DNA feels immense, but this insane music was written by four guys from Leeds, England. Hard to believe. All credit to Cryptic Shift, however, because their complex sci-fi concept and expert extreme metal chops have coalesced here to put them right at the vanguard of progressive DM alongside Blood Incantation and Horrendous.
VAMPIRE – Rex
While their previous albums understatedly worshipped heavy metal’s most cherished ‘80s progenitors—Rhoads/Lee-period Ozzy, Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden—the greater amplification of those influences on Rex has risen Vampire’s melodic black/death to a higher plane. The flair-filled guitar duelling of Sepulchral Condor and Black String now acts as a formidable stand-out feature for this Swedish band; their slick riff-trades, flash-freeze leads and scorching harmonising seemingly charged by the anti-cosmic spirit of Dissection’s Jon Nödtveidt. Malevolent refrains echo out from infectious yet deadly tracks, as vocalist Hand of Doom comes into his own, leading with an aphotic aura worthy of Watain’s Erik Danielsson.
MEGATON SWORD – Blood Hails Steel – Steel Hails Fire
DYING VICTIMS PRODUCTIONS
The diminutive Megaton Sword frontman, Uzzy Unchained, is a damn force of nature. This guy has Dio-levels of vocal command, and his very unique tone and phrasing are on par with the odd histrionics of Cirith Ungol’s Tim Baker, Pagan Altar’s Terry Jones or Accept’s Udo Dirkschneider. Big praise—but the way Unchained leads Megaton Sword’s victorious trad metal from the front with power and panache, is simply jaw-dropping during this incredible full-length debut. The Swiss band’s 2019 EP, Niralet, was just a taste of the compositional control and fist-pumpin’ sorcery these skilled heavy metal upstarts innately possess. Trad metal’s fiercest new warriors are here to conquer.
ULCERATE – Stare into Death and Be Still
DEBEMUR MORTI PRODUCTIONS
Stare into Death and Be Still sees Kiwi technical black/death metallers Ulcerate temper the overpowering dissonance of their signature style with atmospheric restraint. In doing so, the impact of the trio’s inhuman multi-sensory assault has striking repercussions on both the knotted compositions and the listener’s appreciation of them. It’s an age-old tale of quiet/loud dynamics; this arrangement tool has endured because of how effective it is when wielded by masters of tension and release such as Ulcerate. The axis-shattering atonality that pulses and moves stealthily like an apex predator throughout this record makes it the band’s definitive statement.
UADA – Djinn
Photo By Adrianna Michima
Uada have been working towards this album since forming in 2014. The searing melodic black metal of Cult of a Dying Sun (2018) is the launch pad from which this majestic record soars skywards before exploding vibrantly in many elemental directions. The biggest evolution here is how rampant blast beats and Swedish-influenced tremolo-picked swarms are expanded upon by swathes of heavy metal grandstanding, but also subtle elements of goth and post-punk. As a whole, it sounds life-affirming—an ironic descriptor for BM. But Uada, while respectful of second-wave tenets, care not for pandering to elitists, and yet, this individualistic approach is exactly what makes Uada part of the current elite.
SPIRIT ADRIFT – Enlightened in Eternity
CENTURY MEDIA/20 BUCK SPIN
Photo By Dave Creaney
Enlightened in Eternity continues an excellent run of form that began on second album Curse of Conception (2017). Now four full-length studio releases in since 2016 and incredibly, sole founder Nate Garrett just keeps improving as a songwriter; the hooks get bigger and bolder just as his vocals get more distinctive, confident and compelling. The gilded riffs spanning doom, thrash, trad metal and classic rock also match the progression, with raging opener “Ride into the Light”, the Corrosion is Conformity-worshipping “Cosmic Conquest”, the turbo-charged gallop of “Harmony of the Spheres”, and “Stronger Than Your Pain”—a mid-paced thrasher that modern Metallica would give their saggy balls for—acting together as a massive source of positive force.
ORANSSI PAZUZU – Mestarin kynsi
Photo By Tekla Valy
No one could dispute the fact that Oranssi Pazuzu are one of only a few truly progressive maestros operating in extreme metal today. The Finnish psychedelic post-black metal act warps time and space through the machinations of their musical madness. Truly unnerving is their collective ability to summon sinister vibrations from the most head-fucking of avant-garde movements. Cyclic motorik beats emerge from trip-hop/dark electronica-sourced passages of eerie unease, then dissipate, replaced by loping, bass-heavy black metal drones, as fork-tongued vocals slither and croak out. That’s just one example of their ominous sleight-of-hand. Fall face-first down Mestarin kynsi's sonic rabbit-hole for the rest.
SWEVEN – The Eternal Resonance
This natural spiritual successor to Morbus Chron’s untimely swansong, Sweven—a modern progressive death metal classic—takes the listener further into the fantastical mind of young songwriter Robba Andersson. Andersson’s unhinged screams remain steadfast, but his guitar playing has become richer, more expansive and expressive than ever before. These days, neoclassical, neofolk, progressive and psychedelic rock are greater influences on his sonic palette than Autopsy, Entombed or Death. However, his regenesis here does have Chuck Schuldiner’s class and compositional adventurism to it. This opus free-flows in multi-dimensional ways with the naturalistic ease and grace only someone with full control over their musical abilities could achieve.
IMPERIAL TRIUMPHANT – Alphaville
Photo By Alex Krauss
Alphaville is everything an avant-garde extreme metal record should be. It really challenges even the most seasoned listener's ability to comprehend tonal discordance, musical complexity, and the subsumption of non-metal genres, and upends ingrained beliefs on what constitutes metal these days. This is a masterpiece of a metal album—the first of the decade—and it’s so eloquent, brutal, regal, exciting and often surprising in its boundary-pushing endeavours (the clever use of Japanese Taiko drums; a damn barbershop quartet on “Atomic Age”). The performances here are exquisite, too—all three mask-shrouded players take the lead role at various times throughout. Imperial Triumphant’s next-level chops servicing the extraordinary vision of the album as a whole, has laid down the gauntlet for their closest peers. This record is a stunning accomplishment for any genre of music.