Artwork By Craig Mulcahy

PLAGUE YEARS – Circle of Darkness

ENTERTAINMENT ONE

Photo By Rian Staber

Plague Years’ crossover death-thrash will cleave your head off and leave your blood-soaked torso spouting like a decorative water fountain. Combining the antagonistic streak of Hatebreed with Obituary’s primal bludgeon, the groove-metal street-grit of Burn My Eyes-era Machine Head and lashings of whiplash thrash akin to Sepultura, D.R.I., Kreator and Slayer, this Michigan four-piece’s punishing second LP really puts them on the metal map. While we still lick our collective wounds following the tragic 2020 passing of Power Trip’s beloved frontman Riley Galey, Circle of Darkness, through its fucking-hostile intensity, goes towards filling that massive post-Nightmare Logic hole.

BLACK CURSE – Endless Wound

SEPULCHRAL VOICE RECORDS

Featuring members of Spectral Voice, Blood Incantation, Primitive Man and Khemmis, Black Curse’s extreme metal credentials were long settled before their debut’s release this April. This talented collective play occultic black/death metal; the kind of manic-blasting, distorted, more-kvlt-than-thou sonic devastation that some war metal bores would blood-let for. Instead of just hiding behind a wall of reverb-riddled guitar feedback and barking incoherently over it like many of their gauntlet-sportin' brethren do, Black Curse impart power to their caustic riffs and allow the Mayhemic atmosphere to emanate out from within. A worthy contender for the most evil-sounding record of the year.

IN THE COMPANY OF SERPENTS – Lux

INDEPENDENT

The fact that these Denver-based prophets of doom metal remain unsigned to a sizable label is a microcosm of the injustice in the music industry—or at least what’s left of it. Lux, the band’s third full-length in less than a decade, conceptually navigates the universe’s prima materia, and, in turn, ITCOS manifest a weighty philosopher’s stone of their own. The end result is an alchemical blend of YOB’s transcendental sludge and Neurosis’ fire and brimstone apocalypticism and seismic spiritualism, distinguished further by a metallic take on dusty Americana during “Daybreak” and “The Chasm at the Mouth of the All”.

KATLA – Allt þetta helvítis myrkur

PROPHECY PRODUCTIONS

Photo By Kuggur & Laura Diamond

Katla drew direct comparisons to drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason's former band, Sólstafir, with their 2017 debut. Musically, an identity was needed. With Allt þetta helvítis myrkur, however, Pálmason and co-conspirator Einar Thorberg (all other instruments/vocals) have found their niche through the dynamic use of disquiet offset by a rich cinematic vastness that would complement a soundtrack by the much-missed Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. A truly resounding production elevates ominous movements formed out of Thorberg’s heartrending vocals, doom, black metal, post-punk, drone and the foreboding tones of horror folk scores. This immersive and moving LP will drag you into pure Icelandic darkness.

EXOCRINE – Maelstrom

UNIQUE LEADER RECORDS

Technical death metal can fail on its suppression of songcraft over its urge to blind you with dazzling displays of musical dexterity. While the latter is impressive, losing the former results in a circle jerk, with the listener left looking like a Jackson Pollock painting. When tech-DM bands balance instrumental prowess with compositional acumen, the consequences can be staggering. When they also make impenetrable layers of musicianship atmospheric—then you have something special on your hands. Exocrine are one such example, and Maelstrom is their magnum opus; its atypical progressive flourishes, keen melodicism and fitting nautical ambience operating in complete unison.

GARGOYL – Gargoyl

SEASON OF MIST

Photo By Samantha Carcasole

Banish repulsive images of Scott Stapp, with arms wide open, bedecked in Dream Theater merch, because “progressive grunge” band Gargoyl sound more like Layne Staley fronting Norwegian avant-guardians Virus. Or as The Black Dahlia Murder’s Trevor Strnad recently described them: “Krallice in Chains”. Pun prowess aside, that descriptor kinda works. With post-black metal riffs reminiscent of Ved Buens Ende, albeit gone full Voivod, Revocation’s Dave Davidson and Ayahuasca’s Luke Roberts lock tight in discordant yet melodic fashion with the fluid rhythm section of Brett Leier (bass) and James Knoerl (drums). Roberts’ Staley-into-Snake-Bélanger vocals, meanwhile, are a ghostly beacon through each labyrinthine passage.

EXPANDER – Neuropunk Boostergang

PROFOUND LORE

This 10-song face-melter from bizarro Texan thrash-punks Expander is their second with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge/Kvelertak) harnessing the fury. Released by bastion of extremity Profound Lore, its turbo-charged intensity makes gains on their 2017 debut, while Expander continue to toy maniacally with any remaining expectations, or prejudices, conservative thrashers may have. Yet again, there’s no Bay Area mimicry to be found; Expander exist in the leftfield realm ruled by Voivod or Coroner, with crust, hardcore, feral Scandinavian black metal, noise rock and skewed post-punk all fighting for supremacy in their sound. A thrilling amalgam enriched by multidimensional artwork.

SVART CROWN – Wolves Among the Ashes

CENTURY MEDIA

 Photo By MKP

Through increased atmospheric ingenuity and more coherent tempo control, 2017’s Abreaction helped distinguish Svart Crown’s blackened death metal from their earlier releases. In comparison to fifth full-length Wolves Among the Ashes, however, it was a work of transmutation. This Gallic powerhouse of an album is stacked with insightful, daring songs honed to a vital quintessence. Consequently, Svart Crown take their place at the obsidian altar beside their two biggest influences, Behemoth and Gojira, while staring contemporaries, such as Schammasch, dead in the eyes and declaring themselves as leaders, ready to take extreme metal towards the final event in the divine plan.

 

INCANTATION – Sect of Vile Divinities

RELAPSE RECORDS

Photo By Derek Soto

Twelve full-lengths into a deep and dank lineage, John McEntee’s ‘80s-summoned death metal grotesquerie shows zero signs of faltering blasphemous energies. Sure, the thunderous production of recent albums doesn’t hold the same aura of sulphuric malevolence as Incantation’s landmark Onwards to Golgotha, but what they’ve sacrificed in murky tonality is recouped in precision and power—similar in effect to the sonic evolution over decades of Cannibal Corpse or Immolation. McEntee’s talent remains tethered to some Babylonian deity given how forceful his arcane riffs remain, whether on the death/doom abyss-opening of “Propitiation” and “Unborn Ambrosia'' or the throttling death-charge of “Black Fathom’s Fire”.

EMMA RUTH RUNDLE AND THOU – May Our Chambers Be Full

SACRED BONES

Photo By Craig Mulcahy

Collaborations often collapse from an inability to be greater than the sum of their parts. In recent years, though, we’ve had some fantastic collaborative projects, such as Julie Christmas and Cult of Luna or Scott Walker and Sunn O))). Thankfully, Emma Ruth Rundle—a folksy post-rock troubadour—and Baton Rouge sludge titans Thou also exceed expectations. Thou are no strangers to collusion or adapting their death-on-Christmas-morning heaviness to Seattle-based ‘90s alt-rock; their lived experience and that particular stylistic angle informs this project. At its best, Rundle’s breathless yearning and Bryan Funck’s poisonous shrieks interlace around leaden chords that fall and crush spectacularly through natural gravitational pull.


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