Artwork By Adam Gersh/Shane McCarthy

HELLRIPPER – The Affair of the Poisons

PEACEVILLE RECORDS

Firing right ahead of Midnight and Rebel Wizard to take the leading black-thrash position this year, Scottish highlander James McBain, as Hellripper, unleashes a rampaging Venom-ous Motörhead-banger in the form of second album The Affair of the Poisons. This young hell-raiser takes the likes of Kill ‘Em All, Overkill, Welcome to Hell, Bathory, Hell Awaits, Now, Diabolical and Filth Hounds of Hades and creates an animated new weapon out of them all. Every battle-jacket-wearin' die-hard into any of the aforementioned albums will shit their ill-fitting jeans as Hellripper gallop outta Lucifer's charred stables, wildly swinging this LP like a deadly scythe.

 

ARMORED SAINT – Punching the Sky

METAL BLADE

Photo By Stephanie Cabral

Veterans Armored Saint have always been consistent—underratedly so. Too hard rock for high-topped thrashers and way too metallic to appeal to dullards whose idea of heavy is Boston, Armored Saint have existed in their own world. While this has been alienating for them at times, they’ve proven longevity comes from replotting the course because of significant life challenges and focusing on honing your craft. A declaration that Punching the Sky is their best album since 1991’s classic, Symbol of Salvation, might seem hyperbolic, but the strength of the songwriting and John Bush’s god-tier vocals have forged a career-high collection of iron-clad über-anthems. The title of the “headbangingest band in L.A.” still applies.

 

ENSLAVED – Utgard

NUCLEAR BLAST

Norse crimson kings Enslaved’s status as a preeminent progressive metal act is indisputable at this point in time. However, a disconcerting sense of familiarity had crept into their music during the last decade. The addition of keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje (a young musician who dreamed of being Deep Purple's Jon Lord growing up) for E (2017) provided a necessary songwriting shake-up, though, and Enslaved were revitalized and refocused as a result. This vivacious vein of creativity has carried forward to Utgard, with drummer/vocalist Iver Sandøy an important new inclusion on what is their most ambitious album since 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini.

CODE ORANGE – Underneath

ROADRUNNER RECORDS

 

Code Orange smashed the glass ceiling on 2017’s Grammy-nominated Forever. Its confrontational hardcore came rippling with industrial clangs, alt-rock melody, jarring stop-starts and other studio trickery. It was polarising; but hell, it was a bruising thrill-ride. Underneath is no different in that respect. In fact, this record is hardly classifiable as hardcore at all given the increased swathes of frazzling electronics, ‘90s alt-metal, goth and noise rock layered seamlessly in intentionally disorientating ways through unforeseen tempo and style shifts. Its individual components are long established, but the innovation in melding them brazenly marks Code Orange as a genuinely exhilarating band.

INTRONAUT – Fluid Existential Inversions

METAL BLADE

Photo By Vince Edwards

Intronaut had the potential to reach similar commercial heights as Mastodon with their polyrhythmic prog-metal. Yet as strong as their previous albums are technically, they seemed more interested in blinding us with their musicality rather than making sure the songwriting engaged the listener on every sensory level. With Alex Rudinger (The Faceless/Whitechapel) now on drums and seemingly playing with eight limbs, Fluid Existential Inversions sets itself apart from past LPs by zoning in on vocal and instrumental melodicism. So much so that the hooks here would fit Baroness or Ghost albums with ease. That development and the increased synth-heavy prog passages, help usher in a welcome mainstream-baiting era for Intronaut.

PAYSAGE D’HIVER – Im Wald

KUNSTHALL PRODUKTIONEN

 

Incredibly, 2020 has finally brought us the full-length debut of Paysage d’Hiver. Mastermind Wintherr (also of Darkspace fame) has created an idiosyncratic world within isolationist black metal across numerous demos and splits since the band’s inception in 1997. He’s a rare talent, full of deep, considered contemplation. Sure, the gargantuan two-hour run-time of Im Wald is off-putting in this pathetic throw-away digital age, but when the weather matches the stark album cover, sometimes there’s nothing better than disappearing inside a raw yet all-consumingly atmospheric recording. This year’s finest example of black metal in its purest, most affecting form. 

WAYFARER –A Romance with Violence

PROFOUND LORE

 

Dark-hearted Americana burns incandescently in the black metal pit of Wayfarer’s making. With added weight from post-metal, this Denver band has a gritty Blood Meridian or Deadwood score on their calloused hands. The jaunty and aptly titled “The Curtain Pulls Back” gives way to a gripping two-part suite (“Gallows Frontier, Act I & II”) that invests USBM with the kind of white-knuckled intensity and high drama not heard from within the scene since Panopticon’s Kentucky landmark. The epic sonic terrain the rest of this album traverses is rife with unforgettable moments of melancholy, bloodshed and brutal aftermaths—a deeply immersive trek through the harshness and hostility of the Wild West. 

ETERNAL CHAMPION – Ravening Iron

NO REMORSE RECORDS

“I Am the Hammer”, the first song on Eternal Champion’s modern cult classic debut, The Armor of Ire (2016), was as bombastic an album opener as you could ever hope for. Second LP Ravening Iron doesn’t start with such a startling anthem, but there’s prime Metallica to “A Face in the Glare”, which offers an equally meritorious angle. Instead, this record’s own immediate standout comes three songs in: the absolutely dominant stomp of “Skullseeker”, featuring former Iron Age vocalist Jason Tarpey on world-beating form. There’s arena-straddling confidence to this track and many others here by this bad-ass modern heavy metal band.

NECROT – Mortal

TANKCRIMES

Photo By Chris Johnston

Deathly grooves and gnarly riffs hack and slash wildly, decipherable growls spit copious amounts of bile, and blunt-force songwriting recalls death metal’s early-‘90s heyday in all its gut-spilling glory. While that description of Necrot’s Mortal might also directly apply to their ace Blood Offerings debut from 2017, that’s not to say that there hasn’t been some noticeable enhancements afoot. The riffs are that bit more disturbing, the arrangements more knotted without losing the immediacy that's key to the band’s neck-wrecking appeal, and, most noticeably, lead guitarist Sonny Reinhardt’s solos play out like mini symphonies of sickness. Flawless fatality.

PARADISE LOST – Obsidian

NUCLEAR BLAST

Photo By Ann C. Swallow

The latest marble slab from the despondent gents in Paradise Lost runs the gamut of styles they've explored—and often pioneered—over their long, industrious career, from their death/doom beginnings to their gothic metal mastery and back again. Tracks as poignantly grim as “Fall from Grace” (its chantable “We’re all alone” refrain, a dose of stark reality), the rousing goth-rock anthem “Ghosts” (one of their best songs since the Draconian Times era), the regal death-march of “Forsaken”, “Ravenghast”’s chilling subterranean croak and the album’s fitting denouement, “Defiler”, all converge to soundtrack to this physically, financially and emotionally paralysing period.


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