Artwork By Ian Miller

UNDEATH – Lesions of a Different Kind

PROSTHETIC RECORDS

Photo By Jared Welch

U.S. death metal is stacked these days, so it takes something special to stand out from the ravenous pack. Interestingly, when it comes to New York’s Undeath and their first full-length, these guys focus on sharpening barbed musical and vocal hooks with serial killer intent, similar to the modern incarnation of Cannibal Corpse. And still, there’s a ragged looseness synonymous with old school death metal present, which shows they have obsessed on the classics until their ears oozed. As a result, a gory mauling between traditional and contemporary DM ensues, and Undeath loom victorious as one of 2020’s standout debutants of destruction.

TEMPLE OF VOID – The World That Was

SHADOW KINGDOM RECORDS

Temple of Void’s 2017 LP, Lords of Death, was an underground death/doom hit, despite the band staying well within the aesthetic confines of their chosen sub-subgenre. Hooded Menace, Incantation, Asphyx, Morbid Angel and the early gothic works of the Peaceville Three—all were rendered together in instinctual ways by this band composed of scene veterans. Its follow-up, while no less enamoured with extremity, casts its vision wider and emphasises a greater reliance on catchiness in its songwriting. Some curmudgeons will baulk at such refinement, but Temple of Void nail their ambitions through adept songcraft, not unlike Paradise Lost’s ‘90s grand metamorphosis.

HYBORIAN – Volume II

SEASON OF MIST

With a multi-album concept inspired by Robert E. Howard lore, Kansas City prog-sludgers Hyborian could disappear up their arses and alienate listeners. Instead, the power trio write tightly focused tracks full of chantable double-headed vocal refrains, Mastodonian riffs bristling with thrash ire and interlocking rhythms befitting early Baroness albums. Complexity is not wielded as a bragging right; it is only there to service the songs. This track collection therefore takes the potential promise of Hyborian’s 2017 debut (re-released in 2018 by Season of Mist) and beats the difficult balance of intricate musicianship powering concise, traditionally constructed arrangements.

GODTHRYMM – Reflections

PROFOUND LORE

This earthy doom debut helmed by Hamish Glencross of My Dying Bride, Solstice and Vallenfyre fame gets more enveloping and emotionally exposed with repeated sonic self-flaggation. Outside of fans of Glencross’ previous musical endeavours, those who weep to the solemn liturgy of Warning or bask in the green glow of Type O Negative’s terminal dirge, World Coming Down, will find plenty to trigger an existential crisis here. Stately, ornate, very human and quick to cut to the core, Godthrymm’s Reflections is the epitome of traditional doom and the internal pain and struggle without proper answers associated with metal’s first venerable movement.

ULTHAR – Providence

20 BUCK SPIN

Photo By Melissa Petisa

Ulthar’s Steve Peacock is an exciting name in USBM because of his sinful deeds with Mastery, Pale Chalice and Spirit Possession (the latter’s 2020 debut is primed hard for fans of off-kilter black metal). For Ulthar, Peacock teams with Vastum’s riff-deviant Shelby Lermo and former Mutilation Rites skinsman Justin Ennis, and the trio’s meeting of warped minds results in an insane black/death bastard. Oblique, razored, tense, furious riffs criss-cross in sharp inverted shapes while the dual vocals of Peacock and Lermo add to the abstract drama, as histrionic shrieks and guttural soul-purges abound. “Consume horrid gory pustule brain spasm”, indeed.

THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE – Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic

METAL BLADE

Photo By Andrew Faulk

It’s about time The Ocean’s founding member Robin Staps was given the full credit he deserves as a progressive metal composer, multi-instrumentalist and conceptual director of considerable erudite depth. The band may be titled as a collective these days, but that doesn’t take away from Staps role as its visionary. Two decades in, he has amassed an impressive body of work worthy of multiple theses. As expected, Phanerozoic II complements its 2018 predecessor’s deftly sculptured post-metal heft while heightening melodic dimensions. Katatonia (Jonas Renkse guests here) and Gojira are two of many prime influences found within this album’s enthralling and explorable layers.

WINTERFYLLETH – The Reckoning Dawn

CANDLELIGHT RECORDS

English folk excursion The Hallowing of Heirdom (2018) helped rekindle the core ferocity of UKBM leaders Winterfylleth. Thus, The Reckoning Dawn bursts forth with the same chest-thumping national pride as their earlier LPs. Opener “Misdeeds of Faith” barrels with vicious intent, and outside of some instrumental neofolk stylings—such as the beginning of “Absolved in Fire”—Winterfylleth are this battle-ready throughout. Additionally, there’s a level of class to the band’s songwriting arsenal which is absent from many of their contemporaries. For example, few could create a grandstanding closer like “In Darkness Begotten”: a bombastic BM blast that elicits epic-era Bathory before resolving in symphonic reverie.

DROPDEAD – Dropdead

ARMAGEDDON

33 Drop DeadPhoto By Hillarie Jason

This jacked and punked-up grindcore polemic acts as a relevant short, sharp shock to the socio-political system. Nothing else was expected from these perennially pissed hardcore-punks, and they deliver incendiary rage like an unexpected Molotov cocktail explosion. The biggest difference between this untameable screed and previous chaotic emissions is vocalist Bob Otis. Sure, he still screams and shouts with spittle-flyin’ fervour, but there’s a punkish drawl to his delivery that recalls Jello Biafra in “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” mode. It all adds to the reckless coming-off-the-rails aggression admirably captured by Kurt Ballou, who keeps painful squalls present and correct.

 

LAMP OF MURMUUR – Heir of Elliptical Romanticism

INDEPENDENT

Lamp of Murmuur exist in the darkest recesses of USBM’s cobwebbed corners. Fiercely independent, M. crafts in solitude, similar to forebears Judas Iscariot, Xasthur or Leviathan. Debut Heir of Elliptical Romanticism rapidly follows the March 2020 demo, The Burning Spears…, and fully exceeds its burgeoning underground buzz. Mystique may enshroud this artist, though one thing is certain: M. is supremely skilled in BM tenets of many geographical disciplines—and his exciting take on the grimmest subgenre will elevate his status considerably. Behind every atmospheric thud, growl, blast, queasy riff and outpour of bitter spite is serious compositional confidence.

CIRITH UNGOL – Forever Black

METAL BLADE

The mighty Cirith Ungol ariseth from slumber to wreak vengeance upon weaker trad-revivalists and doomslayers of lands the world over. A band that formed in 1971 has no right to be this commanding almost 50 years on. But, here we are, gifted with 2020’s finest comeback album. Straddling doom, NWOBHM and traditional heavy metal, with Tim Baker’s pained warble at the forefront, monuments King of the Dead and One Foot in Hell thankfully found modern audiences over time. Interestingly, Forever Black and its ample production and classic yet contemporary take on Cirith Ungol's peculiar sound, doesn’t diminish this legendary band’s cult status in any way—it actually signals an unexpected creative revival.  


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