(NCS writer Austin Weber brought us this big list of his personal favorites from 2014, divided into 7 categories.)
I hate to begin with the obvious and easiest intro, but 2014 really was one hell of a prolific year for quality metal releases from all stripes and sub-genres. I felt slightly overwhelmed, but I found a lot of killer releases by new bands this year, in addition to new releases by the many bands I was already aware of, many of whom took evolutionary leaps my feeble mind could not have possibly predicted. And the future still looks bright for metal potential. So, all is well.
As I did with my last two years’ “best of” lists, I chose to skip over many of the names that would appear on most lists, in favor of more underground or less championed fare. This is to give you, the reader, a shot at hearing more quality releases from the year, beyond the same pile of releases whose names will be hammered into your brain by a multitude of other year-end lists. The intro to this article goes on for too long; if it’s TLDR to you, skip to the lists.
It does pain me not to do a typical list sometimes, because obvious names such as Archspire, Thantifaxath, Gridlink, Artificial Brain, and many, many more, would be at the very damn top. A few bigger names do appear below, but only because I feel they won’t be on very many year-end lists; they may be known in some circles, but in spite of their brilliance, have failed to break through into the many times unquantifiable, but somehow real, greater metal “consciousness”.
In order to save time, yet still provide a reason to listen to the music listed here, I will quote from my reviews/articles, with some new write-ups interspersed for music I loved but ran out of time to review in full before this point in the year. I hope our readers enjoyed my posts from 2014, and I look forward to bringing a lot of song premieres next year, as well as covering a lot of bands you probably won’t know but should!
One last point: If you have followed my posts from this year, there are only going to be about 25 releases you won’t know about. So, those in that camp may be familiar with some/many on the following lists. I mainly compile this list to cram all the notable quality underground stuff I wrote about for the year in one post, because I know most people probably never saw even half of what I wrote about this year. Without further ado, and in no particular order per style….
Dimesland – Psychogenic Atrophy
I hesitated in deciding where to place Dimesland on my list, as they defy pigeonholing and truly live up to their self-described label of Abstract metal. But I decided to place them in the death metal category since there is a fair bit of it in their sound, as well as some of the darker, drearier aspects of black metal and some non-obvious but noticeable Voivod nods in the mix. In a way more structural sense than in the actual sound of the music, they also bring to mind the riffs, jazzy factor, and rhythmically bonkers nature of Atheist.
Dimesland are masters of discomfort and alienation; nothing about this is easy listening. Yet, in spite of the amorphousness that makes categorizing or comparing the music very hard, it’s a damn interesting album to listen to and very rewarding.
Vocals are very sparsely employed, but with as many hairpin twists, turns, and unexpected sonic pit-stops into new territory as Psychogenic Atrophy contains, it never feels like vocals are missing, or necessary when they aren’t there. Now that’s the sign of a damn good band — the music truly speaks for itself.
When the music does contain vocals, it’s almost exclusively a reverb-soaked yell that comes across like a mix between Kelly Schaefer (Atheist) and Denis Bélanger (Voivod), with a few howls from time to time, but they aren’t quite death metal. Every time I spin Psychogenic Atrophy, I am reminded of Mr. Bungle, because like them, I feel like I’m hearing 4 or 5 different records of different styles mashed into one unholy hell that is brilliantly composed and an insanely immersive experience unlike any other.
As someone who hears significantly more metal than your average fan, and likewise has heard so much more than most, it takes a lot to impress me. But all I could think while taking in the bewildering experience of Psychogenic Atrophy was “holy fuck”. These days, not a lot of records make me recoil with bulging eyes and a dropped jaw, so it was a real treat to experience Psychogenic Atrophy, and to be so pleasantly befuddled and brain-scrambled by it that my inner mantra became stuck on “holy fuck”. Definitely one of the most original and daring albums I’ve heard all year.
*Psychogenic Atrophy is being released today, December 9th.
Desecravity – Orphic Signs
Every time I listen to Desecravity, I scratch my head as to why they haven’t broken through into the greater death metal conscious of fans and writers. Maybe it’s because they are from Japan, maybe it’s that Willowtip doesn’t promote them enough, as evidenced by their new album not getting sent out to most reviewers, which would have greatly increased their presence. Or maybe it’s that they have never toured the US, or Europe, as far as I am aware. Whatever the explanation may be, if you haven’t heard these guys before, now is your chance.
The band have largely kept the hyperactive chaotic sound of their first record, Implicit Obedience. Which for those unaware, comes across like a rabidly rampaging Hate Eternal-meets-Origin crossbreed with a penchant for blatantly obvious, but awesome, Jon Levasseur (Cryptopsy)-influenced solos littered throughout. Although mainly following the template they came up with on their debut, Orphic Signs finds ways to show signs of growth and evolution in the band’s sound. They occasionally let a Cryptopsy influence in beyond their solos, featuring more subtle, brief pauses from the mania, sprinkling in a higher ratio of more “traditional” sounding meaty death metal riffs, and including an extended instrumental opening on my favorite track, “False Signs”.
But the biggest change is the even more sophisticated and complex songwriting, no small feat considering what the band came up with on their first record. Beyond the ridiculous sweeps, there is a more pronounced lead guitar presence on this record, even venturing into hybridized neo-classical playing that is pretty damn stunning. While many records are front-loaded, Desecravity invert that tradition by featuring the album’s strongest material in the last three tracks. I must stress, though, that just because the last three are my favorites in no way means the rest of the material is not up to par.
To make things simple, if you liked this years Archspire album, you will love Orphic Signs.
Hadal Maw – Senium
“Sonically, Hadal Maw come across like an Australian counterpart to what those modern uniters of various strands of death metal, Rivers Of Nihil, have accomplished in the U.S. Hadal Maw are masters at creating thoroughly ferocious death metal spiked with memorable leads, backed by a penchant for hefty grooves courtesy of their usage of 8-string guitars, and rounded out with a tendency to let atmospheric passages build. All of their combined attributes converge into a sound that, while modern and influenced by Gojira and Morbid Angel among others, is a cut above most of their peers in both delivery and songwriting. Senium is a mesmerizing self-released debut album, very professionally done and quite multi-faceted. “
Primordium – Aeonian Obsolescence
“Imagine the slithery nature of Spawn Of Possession or Gorod meeting the brutality and heft of Beneath The Massacre, with the end result getting a hefty injection of melody, and you would arrive at the sound of Primordium. Primordium are a new upstart technical death metal group from Indianapolis, Indiana, and Aeonian Obsolescence is their very first release as a band.”
Embryonic Devourment – Reptilian Agenda
“With their latest release, Reptilian Agenda, Embryonic Devourment have even further embraced old school death metal tendencies into the fold of their technical brutal carnage that warns of the true reptilian nature of reality. This is a big step up for them, and fans of old school death metal should certainly give this a listen. In spite of its swarming Origin-meets-Malignancy veneer, a lot of the riffs are superbly evil, meaty, and groovy in an old school way. “
“Reptilian Agenda is not an album to skip over; this is one of the best death metal albums I’ve heard in awhile. High-quality releases such as this are precisely the reason why I’m not impressed by a lot of the death metal I hear.”
Warforged– Essence Of The Land
I don’t know who “they” is, but I keep on hearing that “they” say time is money, so I continue expecting shorter and shorter metal releases that keep me coming back with the same frequency as full-lengths. Sadly, few EPs this year seemed to match the weight and awe-inspiring power of the multitude of quality exploding full-length releases I heard. Yet Warforged and their brief EP, Essence Of The Land, rose above the clatter and bitter cries for recognition that clamored for my attention, and yours.
I will sadly admit that in a state of probably (un-music related) irritated reading, I initially dismissed them as “just another band”. Thank god (or satan), for the power of a live performance, because seeing the intensity and emotional gravitas that Warforged brought to the stage certainly changed how I felt about them.
I became instantly hooked after seeing them in my hometown of Louisville, KY, and perceived a new dimension to their music, one that, while not lacking on record, seems to come to life differently in a live setting. Yes, I am totally in the wrong for failing to click with them until seeing them live, but hell, better late than never.
If ever a new rising star in tech-death were appointed, these guys are gunning for it, not only for their sonic diversity, but for their unique genre mix employed in their songwriting and perfect balance of atmospheric meets aggression that transcends genre tropes, while including keyboards and black metal in a sometimes tired formula. In doing so, they deliver a foreboding sensibility into a genre I love, yet that often comes across as soulless, in spite of how much I hate that overused characterization.
Orbital Frame – Orbiting Catastrophe
“It’s a wild trip, traversing a space-oriented journey fueled by a fusion of melodic, technical, and progressive strains of death metal. Orbital Frame’s frequent proggy keyboard inclusions certainly set them apart and are interwoven in a way that would likely appeal to fans of Lascaille’s Shroud and Nocturnus. Orbital Frame is a band to watch for sure.”
Hannes Grossman – The Radial Covenant
This also breaks my year-end rule of focusing on lesser-known artists, but it fucking has to, because this album is too damn good for me to miss seeing it on year-end lists. Shame on everyone!
Pyrrhon – The Mother Of Virtues
While Pyrrhon technically break my rule of not covering well-known bands on my year-end lists, they deserve it, mainly because The Mother Of Virtues seemed to garner more praise from metal writers than from metal listeners. And for that, I say fuck you to those unwilling to invest the time required to truly understand and enjoy a record such as this one. The other reason it appears here is that I don’t suspect I will see it on many year-end lists. And to that, let me throw another fuck you at the metal community!
If you are looking for death metal that spends more time playing non-death metal, then The Mother Of Virtues is the 21st century deconstruction of the genre that you’ve been waiting for. For all the weird and experimental music I heard in 2014, this takes the cake in terms of originality and boldness. If you haven’t already checked it out, you really need to do so. Unless your idea of a good time is the new Slipknuts record, in which case, move along.
Orgone – The Joyless Parson
“Pittsburgh extreme death metal act Orgone came to fruition at the right time in tech-death’s growth during the mid 2000s. During that period there seemed to be a bit more experimentation, versus the largely codified style and sound of what we expect when we hear that term now. Orgone released a stupefying, near-impenetrable debut called The Goliath in 2007 and then disappeared. Now they’ve returned with The Joyless Parson, a further test in pushing the boundaries of death metal.”
“The Joyless Parson is supported by a graceful chasm of sprawling doom, which the band use as eloquent unfolding cesspool pockets that balance and support their furious jaunts. The mood of The Joyless Parson is one of wounded anguish, still fiery, but more contemplative than the apocalyptic chaos conjured on their first record. Tortured black metal riffing and jazz elements likewise find their way into their back-and-forth flailing songwriting, as do piano playing and cello on one track. The analytically focused, at times almost poetic, lyrics are quite an interesting accompaniment to the heady, potent music.”
Ingurgitating Oblivion – Continuum Of Absence
“It’s been a long wait for this for me and it does not disappoint. Continuum Of Absence has some nice doomy Immolation and black metal influence upgrades, while retaining the Suffocation-meets-Gorguts-inspired rampage they started with. The end result twists and turns in and out of horrid labyrinthine corridors, never ending, merely blasting off into new pockets of insanity and blast-beat beatdowns.”
“Consider Continuum Of Absence a very fine addition to this new trend of dissonant black metal and Ulcerate-influenced death metal. They’ve chopped up all their influences in such a way that they do indeed have a sound all their own. Continuum Of Absence is a creepy album, so come get your creep on ya’ll! This album is not one to pass over; in fact, it’s quickly become one of my favorites of the year.”
Defilementory -The Dismal Ascension
“Defilementory do not play a typical slam-oriented or straightforward version of brutal death metal. Their brutal death leanings instead carry them into more technical and frantically choppy territory. Defilementory further fill in their identity with interesting and strangely placed clean guitar passages, subtle Deathspell Omega-esque black metal riff nuances, and a terrific, prominent bass performance that often gets to shine solo and adds further dimension and variety to The Dismal Ascension.”
“The Dismal Ascension sees Defilementory stake their own take on the atmospheric death metal style. There’s an immersive richness to the album, one that reaches a strangely meditative state at times. Don’t miss out on one of the ugliest and most misanthropic outpourings of death metal to come out this year.”
Noneuclid – Metatheosis
“One might also be tempted to characterize the music as thrash/death, but this isn’t thrash with a death metal bite, nor is it death metal that gallops and is guided by thrashy outriders. This is a full-on science experiment, muddling the two styles into contrasting, coalescing forms that are inseparable yet elastic. From thrash, they cycle to prog, demolish with demented death metal, and collapse into doom — all of which has been done somewhere before, but not in this order, nor composed with these ingredients amorphously clustered and countering each other in the way they do here.”
“Re-thrash has its place as temporary fun, but Metatheosis is a work of higher art with a longer shelf life. Noneuclid improbably reach into the past and freshly distill and recombine what they unearthed in an adventurous way that is not limited to thrash alone. When bands like Noneuclid take thrash to such new and challenging heights, can we really say that thrash is played out?”
Posthumous Blasphemer – Exhumation Of Sacred Impunity
“They aren’t your average technical brutal band. Their songwriting is in a higher class than a lot of groups plying this sort of style. Unholy mind-bending jams await. Hit play now, and absorb the tumultuous insanity within.”
Invidiosus – Malignant Universe
Did this year’s Origin not live up to what you expect from the band? If so, Malignant Universe will be exactly what you are looking for.
“With so many different people (collectively) having written the music contained on Malignant Universe, there is a healthy diversity to their generally grind-blasted death. Malignant Universe exhumes the past and yet doesn’t reside their. It takes restrained guidance from modern, more technical deathly forms, and yet doesn’t wholly reside there either.”
Inanimate Existence – A Never-Ending Cycle Of Atonement
Quotes from my review:
“With their first record, 2012’s Liberation Through Hearing, Santa Cruz-based Inanimate Existence showed themselves to be much more than a technically competent brutal death metal act. A full half of the album was an experimental instrumental affair of great diversity. As a result, the evolution of their sound present on their sophomore follow-up, A Never-Ending Cycle Of Atonement, is not completely surprising. Yet it’s still stunning that they’ve managed to merge their progressive and experimental side with a series of ferociously cutthroat, frenetic death metal songs.”
“While this record would have been golden even if it had only focused on pounding listeners into dust, it certainly displays a higher, multifaceted ambition with the lofty, epic, and graceful excursions on which the band thrive. Inanimate Existence continue to write some of the most interesting and memorable songs of any group toying with similar sonic ingredients. A Never-Ending Cycle Of Atonement is a fascinating effort, a true journey for your ears and mind that’s well worth experiencing again and again.”
Terracide – Existence Asunder
I just want to say that this is my favorite melodic death metal album of the year. An underrated gem any fan of the genre should look into.
“Terracide cover quite a bit of ground, residing somewhere between Into Eternity, Allegaeon, and Iced Earth. There’s quite a bit of cheese present, but it’s basically a finely aged premium Swiss type of cheese if anything. Existence Asunder is one of the fresher sounding melodic thrash-y, death-y, metal-y albums I’ve heard in awhile. Pump your fists and feast on goopy aural cheese, Existence Asunder has finally arrived.”
Solace Of Requiem – Casting Ruin
“Overall, their style weaves around massive bone-crushing columns of racing riffs and brimstone-exploding blast beats, topped off with highly venomous vocals. But to further dissect it, the death metal side of their sound often brings to mind the jackhammering propulsive beatings that Hate Eternal brought to life. In addition, they accent each song with a plethora of aggressive melodic leads and round them out with scathing infusions of blood-curdling black metal blasphemy.”
“The band’s unique push and pull between frenzied melodies and steamrolling spasms frequently converge into memorable collisions that lend their music the sensation of a roller coaster. The songs on Casting Ruin are largely non cyclical in structure, making for a jagged, twisting mass whose course cannot be controlled or predicted. This lack of repetition in the songs gives each of them a unique depth and flow and makes for a staggering amount of music to absorb.”
Diskord – Oscillations
“Diskord are firmly rooted in old school death metal, but the delivery comes across in a more modern way — revolving around a spastic, stop-start, blast-and-lurch approach. Although the production follows a natural and grimy old school death metal aesthetic, the music itself doesn’t squarely fit into the box of new old school death metal, at least when compared to the purely primitive manner with which other bands are delivering it. This is something else entirely, and to my ears, far more interesting.”
“Their previous material sounded like a Frankensteinian, stitched-together bastard of old Gorguts, Demilich, and Atheist stewing in a cesspool of doomy pauses in the vein of Autopsy. For Oscillations they’ve kept the same framework of influences, but have stepped up their game, as it’s certainly more complex material this time around. Fortunately, the songwriting still retains its trademark manic, chaotic nature — the band writhing and thrashing about like newborn animals, blind and bereft of the indifferent world into which they are being born. By this point in their career, Diskord have their own sound and style that is recognizable and distinct, no small feat in today’s crowded metal scene.”
Phobocosm – Deprived
“A lot of modern death metal is shiny, flashy, and in addition, purely cutthroat. Well, the Montreal-based group Phobocosm are nothing like that. They are relentlessly ugly and unforgiving, often content to stew in misery at a slower pace, entrenched in massive, sickening riffs that churn bowels and cause minds to enter a state of hopeless insanity. If a cutthroat death metal record feels like a physical assault, then consider Phobocosm masters of taking that assault directly into your brain, feeding you clouded questions that don’t lead to any answers, submerging you in a sadness and longing that reeks of perversion. Deprived offers an evil and different take on the death metal sound. Yes, there is plenty of lively double-bass, and the album has its frenzied moments, but often this is a skulking, wounded beast — preaching a horror beyond gore, beyond death.”
Singularity – Singularity
“Singularity are experts at fusing a malleable, shifting mixture of black metal and technical death metal together, to arrive at a new, previously unexplored horizon of majestic grimness. They are aided in their goal by a grandiose veneer of powerful orchestral key work, a characteristic present on all tracks, in a way somewhat akin to Fleshgod Apocalypse. Yet musically, they are a completely different group whose music is worlds apart; the orchestral sound just happens to be integrated and fuels the fervor of the tracks in a similar way.”
The Conjuration – Surreal
“After a long wait, The Conjuration’s new album, Surreal, has finally emerged—and it’s a gloriously twisted avant-garde beast that lashes out in progressive and schizophrenic fits. This is death metal turned upside down. Corey Jason has proved once again that he doesn’t need a band, only himself. He composed all of it, played all the instruments, did the vocals, and handled the production himself, too.”
“On Surreal, Corey skillfully pushes the limits of what a one-man death metal act is capable of creating. Most acts of this nature that play death metal are lacking compositionally and all too often create music that is too samey in the songwriting, and too often lacking a vital creative spark.”
Serdce – Timelessness
“Serdce have been creating Meshuggah groove-gliding-influenced death metal long before most of the pack who followed that lead, and they continue to do it better than most. But for those who are groove-averse, that’s far from the totality of what they have to offer. Throughout Timelessness you will hear a lot of piano playing and orchestral/carnival-esque synths, and in addition, the vocals are primarily sung this time around. Overall, the strong Cynic-vibe of the record comes not only from the riffing and fusion elements; the effusive, prominent, and exploratory bass playing brings that comparison to mind as well.”
Baring Teeth – Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins
“To my ears, Baring Teeth’s music resembles what would happen if Dysrhythmia decided to adorn their heady progressive essence with an avant-garde death metal veneer. It’s hard to grasp, and even harder to get into, but once Ghost Chorus Among Old Ruins sinks in, it hits like a goddamn nuclear bomb. It lingers and haunts you, beyond its overwhelming initial explosive impression and heft. The record leaves something with you that never goes away, continuing to poison and influence your every cell.”
Super Massive Black Holes – Calculations Of The Ancients
“Super Massive Black Holes are truly a modern death metal band, in the sense that their sound is a composite of multiple influences and sounds that are entirely non-death-metal. Few have attempted to cook the sort of mix-and-match brew they’ve crafted. Calculations Of The Ancients consists of melodic-rooted death metal that diverges into fusion, thumps with a thicket of grooves, and builds up delicately with jazz and progressive layers. “
“Tracks like ‘Holographic Principle’ remind me in several ways of almighty legends Martyr. Yes, I just compared them to Martyr, and it’s an accurate and non-exaggerated comparison that is a testament to the high caliber of metal offered up on Calculations Of The Ancients.”
Architect Of Seth – The Persistence Of Scars
Okay, this one is cheating, because it came out in December 2013. But, I didn’t know about it then, and an album this damn good only comes along every once in a rare while. Plus, they are not well known, and you need to hear this. Trust me.
Architect of Seth fit confidently within technical death metal realms, but they are not so heavily focused on the usual shred-heavy approach, more so because of their quite complex riffs, though there are a lot of killer leads in between those spidery, ripping and roaring riffs.
This intricacy makes each song on The Persistence Of Scars a chaotic and unpredictable experience. At times, the intensity and ferocity hit an apex that can only be labelled with the hard-to-describe tag of “extreme metal” — notably on tracks such as “Transhumance astrale”, “Embrace of anguish”, and “Hybrid consuming flesh”, all three of which play back-to-back and together serve as the angrier part of the album, the other tracks filling in different shades and employing experimental tactics. At other points, things get quite proggy, sometimes even piano/orchestral–synth-infused or celestial in nature.
Hard to believe this album is the work of just two guys, Paul Rousseaux on guitar/programming and one other guitarist named Yohann Kochel. The Persistence Of Scars sounds mature and multi-faceted, like the work of a full band. They list acts such as Death, Theory in Practice, Coroner, Atrocity, Pestilence, Nocturnus, Emperor, Martyr, and Necrophagist as influences. Since theirs is a heavily hybridized and compact sound, I would venture to say that the influence of every one of those bands can be heard at various points during The Persistence Of Scars. Drawing from such a vast span of ideas and styles lends a jack-of-all-trades aspect to the album, and creates a whole hell of a lot of variety and different parts to keep track of.
CULLED KVLT COLD CUTS
Downfall of Gaia – Aeon Unveils the Thrones Of Decay
“While my metal tastes are not as honed in on the ongoing post-metal wave as on other genres, I can always respect and love a band of any stripe who go beyond the tropes and usual containments of a style to find their own identities, alone in a place none have gone before. Bands like that are worth the investment of time in what they have to say about the world and themselves.
“That’s precisely how I feel about the new Downfall Of Gaia album, Aeon Unveils the Thrones of Decay. The only other reference that might give you a ballpark idea of their territory is Agrimonia — both have perfected a blend of post-metal and crust-punk woven into a swirling, multi-genre template that retains an aggression lost in most post-metal, although Downfall Of Gaia thread in a lot of menacing black metal, full of killer riffs, into their tapestry, with many more aggressive moments than in Agrimonia’s music.”
Stargazer – A Merging To The Boundless
For many years now Stargazer have churned out some of the finest and strangest black/death metal to ever come from Australia. The band don’t fit in any single-genre box or specific point of reference. What they do comes across very progressive, and yet primitive and hearkening back to old school black and death metal at the same time. It’s this very dichotomy that fuels their sound — that, and an old school heavy metal influence in odd places. Prominent-in-the-mix bass playing has always been a Stargazer staple, and this time very little of the bass playing follows the guitars, making for much richer songs overall.
Softer Eastern sounding melodies and quieter moments punctuate and swell throughout, yet Stargazer find a way to make these moments just as rich and beautiful as the rest of their faster, oddball, twisting parts. It’s been a long time since their last album, so my anticipation for A Merging To The Boundless was very high. Let’s just say, I’m not disappointed, and I think a lot of people would really love this record as well. It’s a fresh take on how to conjoin black and death metal, while supplementing that core with a variety of other sounds and sonic explorations. Also, the artwork is a great, and to me it fits as a visual metaphor for how they’ve broken out of the normal mold, and found themselves in a new place adorned with a different form.
Veilburner – The Three Lightbearers
“Veilburner are a two-man death/black band from Pennsylvania whose strength lies in oddball mania, conjuring an unearthly interstellar feeling. Veilburner burnish an esoteric atmosphere throughout The Three Lightbearers as they dig in dissonant ditches, arising frequently with technical guitar-led passages, some of which bring Gorguts and Obscura to mind. Veilburner often back up their aggressive core with experimental soundscapes of an industrial and occult feel that is oddly psychedelic in nature.
“Simply hellish stuff, and damn fun to listen to death metal infused by a cold clinical black metal embrace. This album is killer from start to finish, and to me, frequently sounds like a black metal companion to the immersive insanity Gigan conjure — rife with psychedelic inclinations and robotic/reverb heavy vocal effects amid a massive mix of horrific undulating riffs and spine-shattering drum work. I recommend listening to the whole album at once, but if you need a starting point, go with “Nil Absolute”. The Three Lightbearers rips wormholes open in your mind, leading to self-collapse from within. Get your mind explosion on!”
Epistasis – Light Through Dead Glass
“While the band take a scathing, blazing approach to portions of the music, their off-kilter experimental side still exists and manifests itself at just the right moments, eloquently breaking up the black metal sensations. This is challenging, unpredictable music that cycles through numerous sonic amalgamations and combinations of black metal, doom, noise rock, and classical music (courtesy of Amy Mills’ mesmerizing trumpet playing). Epistasis do this with class and a skill at scraping together hair-raising sickness, noisey grooves, and mournful beauty, stirring all the ingredients together in a way that will both shatter you and seep into your brain.
“Taken as a whole, Light Through Dead Glass is a dizzying, dissonant dream that blooms with cold melodies. The six songs contained within overflow with distinctly different feelings, flavors, and textures that beg to be replayed to better fully experience them.
“By shifting their direction after already establishing a unique sound, Epistasis have become purveyors of a highly varied and unpredictable strain of experimental black metal unlike anything I’ve ever heard. If Light Through Dead Glass doesn’t show up on numerous year end lists, I quit.”
Exhausted Prayer – Ruined
“Melo-death riffs and melodies are cleverly spun inside torrential black metal storms throughout the album’s duration. The manner in which they execute this makes for some chilling, as well as fist-pumping, moments. Yeah, melo-death integrated beautifully into black metal, it’s certainly an impressive oddity. In execution it comes together like a torrid mix between Enslaved and At The Gates – with a pinch of brutal death metal, Death, and Opethian prog sensibilities given room to flourish throughout in equal measure.”
“This is not a record that tries to be the most evil, the fastest, the angriest, or the epitome of any other genre trope — Ruined merely exists in its own sphere, as a unique statement.”
Jute Gyte – Ressentiment
“Ressentiment stands as yet another soundtrack to apocalyptic endings and split-second trainwrecks embodied in a tortured microtonal form of black metal comparable to none. Put succinctly, Jute Gyte is a world unto itself, and the nightmare realms explored within are so strongly fermented by disgust that it’s almost too much for the average person to want to venture inside. But for those who crave ugly sounds, Jute Gyte is among the best at creating it.”
“Like many of his releases, these new songs are of an extended, multi-part nature, covering a range of tempos and vacillating between abyssal faster riffs and swallowing, emptier, shrill chords that scrape at the insides of your brain.”
Jute Gyte – Vast Chains
If you find yourself drawn to Ressentiment, this will appeal to you as well. Much more need not be said really. Except that this is equally album-of-the-year material, and I didn’t just put it on here because it’s another album by him.
“The first track ‘Semen Dried Into The Silence Of Rock And Mineral’ is a swallowing, lumbering introduction to the unearthly aura Jute Gyte vomits forth freely, and track two ‘Endless Moths Swarming’ is the unsettling dissonant arena where things kick into high gear. Additional props go to the title of the next track, ‘The Inexpressible Loneliness Of Thinking’; couldn’t agree with that title more, and the musical picture it paints of that theme is vividly morbid.”
Plebeian Grandstand – Lowgazers
“Sometimes a band’s evolution is so extreme, it’s as if a totally different group has emerged, completely shedding its sonic skin and realizing a new sound. It’s rare for this to happen, but in the case of Toulouse, France natives Plebeian Grandstand, it’s taken them to a whole other level.”
“How they sound on Lowgazers is a deep departure from how they began, which was a sort of experimental take on Converge’s style of hardcore with some mathcore and punk elements in the mix. They’ve largely traded in their prior stylings for dissonant, bone-chilling blackness, energizing the sinking weight of their sorrow with grind and powerviolence at just the right moments.”
“This is ugly music that’s hard to love, but filled with a hate that’s hard not to love. You won’t find any hooks, flashy guitar-work, headbangable moments, or grooves — but what you will find offers more doom than a doom record and it will leave you profoundly disgusted and dreary. Lowgazers thrives on discomfort, and the band’s execution leaves the listener with a desire to hide, fall down a flight of stairs, or physically lash out at someone, rabidly. The experience is frightening throughout, and for those who enjoy it, may make you question why you get so much pleasure out of something so perfectly disgusting.”
Ignis Haereticum – Luciferian Gnosis
“There is a lot of Deathspell Omega influence in this band, though they are more than a mere copyl. Fortunately, Luciferian Gnosis has a defined and measured flow — starting with a couple of chaotic anchors, then wisely cooling into a miasmic madness that stirs and broods for a couple tracks, before closing with a final burst of speed. That mid-album transformation into a much slower-paced band provides a nice contrast to their head-spinning faster songs, as well as a chance for them to show what else they can do besides bombard you to death and beyond. It also allows them to show a different side of chaos — like burning embers that flicker about randomly, the sounds that mirror life dying out, akin to being submerged with water-soaked lungs longing for the ocean floor.”
Warpstone – Into the Phantasmer Celestial Castle
Islander has written about these guys, an old school oriented newly twisted progressive minded black/death hybrid. Absolutely killer stuff. You can only check out two songs from the album on their Bandcamp, but it’s worth buying.
Infinite Earths – Spiral From Spacetime
“The way in which this Florida-based group delicately craft progressive metal is superb. They strike an interesting balance between black and death metal within this proggy context. While often a technical aggressive force, they frequently pause and unwind into ethereal arcs and spacey ascensions, sometimes building up into restrained non-poppy singing and piano passages that never come across in a contrived manner.
“Spiral From Spacetime may be the group’s first release, but it certainly doesn’t sound that way. Clearly the band have worked hard to achieve a sound all their own, and if they continue making music like this, I’m interested.”
Aenaon – Extance
“I’ve grown attached to Aenaon as of late. These horrific Greek black metallers have a multi-faceted approach that always keeps you hooked and guessing. They just dropped a new album at the end of January called Extance that features Mirai from Sigh and numerous additional instruments including piano, alto and tenor saxophone, various synth effects, harmonica, and cello, as well as other guest vocal contributions.
“While I agree with the band’s label of progressive black metal, it’s more than that. In fact, I would say that it’s more often avant-garde in the way they incorporate non-black-metal elements into the songs. Tracks such as ‘Funeral Blues’, with its gypsy lounge spurts and defiant singing, that later dive-bomb into a gutter blastbeat heaven, show you the range and versatility Aenaon possess. It’s wonderfully different and highly creative.”
CunninLynguists – Strange Journey Volume 3
At this point in their career, CunninLynguists have proven themselves as highly consistent hip-hop connoisseurs, with a fondness for dissecting and discussing humanity and society. Their latest, Strange Journey, Volume 3, is a smooth, relaxing ride, formed around sparse rock and blues-embedded beats that exude a peaceful feeling amid the serious lyrics. Their introspective approach imbues tracks like “In the City,” “Beyond the Sun”, and “Dying Breed” with a wise soulfulness that captures the essence of our struggles, as well as the hope that exists.
Volume 3 comes loaded with quality guest spots, a veritable who’s who ranging from the Aesop Rock and Sadistik tongue-twister-fueled “Castles” to Tonedeff’s frenetic verses on electro-hype closer “Urutora Kaiju.” Volume 3 shows that CunninLynguists’ journey is far from over, and they’re enjoying the ride.
*My review of this album was originally published in Leo Weekly Magazine, a weekly Louisville, Kentucky print magazine with additional online content
The Grouch x Eligh x CunninLynguists – The Winterfire EP
If you check out that Cunninlynguists album, and find it as powerful as I do, then check out Winterfire. It’s a collaboration between Cunninlynguists beatmaker Kno, with contributions by that group’s MCs, and rappers The Grouch and Eligh. All the beats are grade A and sublimely unique, as Kno is known for, supplemented by skillful DJ scratching by him as well. It’s like Cunninlynguists, but featuring a more cerebral lyrical focus to match the atypical beats. The Winterfire EP exists as proof that hip-hop still has more to say, and what they are saying speaks to the soul and mind more than mere material desires. Give it a spin if this sounds like your type of rap.
MATH-METH AND GRAND GRIND
Pretty Mouth – The Endless Mistake
“Pretty Mouth call their music experimental grindcore, which is certainly an accurate description–with heavy emphasis on the word “experimental”. They are an innovative group who have evolved considerably on their latest album, The Endless Mistake, shifting further away from their prior grind-centered nature in favor of slower experimental heaviness. The sound they create falls somewhere between The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza (minus their chugging/groove tendencies) and the eclectic genre-spanning vitriol of Gaza – which makes for music that is revoltingly ugly and mind-numbingly vicious–with no regard for pleasant sounds or conventions.
“The Endless Mistake is revulsive stuff, caustic and unnerving in an original way. Adding to their instrumental uniqueness as a grind act, the vocals also venture into uncharted waters, often bridging a hard-to-describe gap between paranoid spoken word and a yell, though there is a fair bit of more straightforward vitriol in a lot of the vocal delivery. This unique vocal approach adds a completely different pacing to the disorientating and cold chaos at hand, massively upping the alienation and oddness factor. Yet it never fails as an experiment.”
Kataplexis – Downpour
“This Canadian wrecking crew are relentlessly crushing, suffocating, and pummeling in approach. They offer a fair bit of contrast not readily present in most deathgrind, vacillating between short, purely grind-blasted death bursts and longer grindcore-fed chaotic death metal numbers. All of which pairs nicely with the occasional black metal poisonous riffs in their veins, coursing a darker shade of rot into the proceedings.”
“Listening to Downpour also certainly brings to mind the particularly virulent and complex strain of deathgrind that Uphill Battle created in their heyday – from the mixed genre riffs, to the zany from-death-to-grind volleying song structures, to the screeched vocals. But I hesitated to mention that as an initial comparison since few know of them.
“Downpour is exactly as its title suggests, and once it begins to rain down upon you, akin to a hail of knives and errant boulders, even its crushing weight bearing down on you is mesmerizing in itself. Though the correct move would be to get the fuck out of its path.”
Buckshot Facelift – Living Ghosts of the North Shore
“What Buckshot Facelift deliver here is a lot more diverse and off the beaten path, not falling within the typical punk end of the grind spectrum, nor delivering purely short songs. While there is a fair bit of death metal meat and heft to Living Ghosts of the North Shore, it’s not presented in a way that deathgrind typically sounds like, in style or in structure. As it appears here, it’s more like a monstrous slab of flesh surrounding and sloshing about between spirited grind bursts.
“Buckshot Facelift are onto something very special with Living Ghosts of the North Shore. I’d easily rank them among my very favorite grind bands now, and oddly and ironically enough, it’s because of how far away they are from your typical grind band.”
Say At Last – Who Art Thou?
“Last I wrote about Joey Molinaro here at NCS, I was obsessed by his violin covers of Discordance Axis’ The Inalienable Dreamless album, which I had found due to his contributions on the new Gridlink album. Well, now he is a part of a full group called Say At Last, and damn this is nuts.”
“Say At Last provides Molinaro and several other players the opportunity to create their own grind concoction. It’s a caustic odyssey led by dreary and creepy violin and cello layers, and topped off with punk-spewed vocals courtesy of Joey as well. Joining him are drummer Alex Cohen (Pyrrhon/Epistasis/Imperial Triumphant/etc), guitarist Kevin Wunderlich (Epistasis), and Valerie Kuehne on cello (Super Coda). I’ve written about Epistasis several times here at NCS, and they are quite an incredible group.”
“Together, this lineup joins several highly creative and eclectic musicians to create something experimental and wonderful. To borrow the term the band espouses on their Facebook, its chamber-grind. Can’t say I’ve ever heard anything like this before, and damn is it haunting and lively.”
*If you like this, you will also enjoy another album he released this year, International Coven Of Dangerous Violinistry, which I will link to below.
Yautja – Songs Of Descent
This one also kind of breaks my rule, since it was well-reviewed, but it’s on here because they still aren’t well known enough in spite of that.
“Yautja frequently divide between expansive, sprawling sludge and terrorizing grind, which gives Songs of Descent a unique flow, with fast and slow tracks expertly paired for maximum impact. Sometimes there’s even a noise rock feel present within some of their angular, lurching grooves, which splay back and forth like powerful oceanic currents, violently pushing and pulling everything they come in contact with.
“Yautja have crafted a gargantuanly heavy and headbangable hodgepodge that always knows when to shift tempos and flavors for maximum contrast and diversity. Songs of Descent rarely sticks to one thing for long; the switch-ups between/grind/hardcore/sludge/punk/death metal-ish riffs come often and are expertly ordered and arranged in a plethora of different ways.”
Bird Eater – Dead Mothers Make The Sun
“Bird Eater began as a side project of Gaza, started way back when the band was still active. They released an EP called Utah back in 2007, and then sort of disappeared off the map. All of a sudden, without much notice, they’ve quietly dropped their debut full-length, Dead Mothers Make The Sun, a few weeks ago. The line-up on the record includes Gaza’s monstrous vocalist Jon as well as guitarists Chris and Anthony, who were both former bass players for Gaza, a point of interest for those missing out on that band’s sound.
“Although this is probably a bit more death metal focused overall, that Gaza feeling and delivery is definitely there in the riffs and the songwriting. In fact, sometimes it sounds like Fuck The Facts, too, which works for me. This isn’t an album to merely tide you over with until the Cult Leader record drops soon. This is a grim, misanthropic journey that deserves more than a momentary place in your music collection.”
Hardcore Anal Hydrogen – The Talas Of Satan
“If you can for a moment, try to picture the chaotic and wacky merger of Irony Is A Dead Scene-era Dillinger Escape Plan with the sensibilities and experimental side-routes of Fantomas, wrapped around a black-death-grind-groove frenzied assault. Sounds like a congested clusterfuck right?
“Hardcore Anal Hydrogen fuse anger and avant-garde into an inverse circus for the truly deranged. Keyboards, flute, DJ scratching, rock, occasional rap-style vocal patterns, and world music rarely fit well when thrown inside aggressive-focused metal. Yet somehow Hardcore Anal Hydrogen make those head-scratching elements indispensable factors in their sound, in non-gimmick fashion. Proceed with caution, listen at your own risk!”
Under The Pledge Of Secrecy – Black Hole Mass Evolution
This Germany-based group of experimental metal adventurers have been around for some time, plying a complex stew of mathcore-fueled death metal, liberally stuffed with grind bursts — enigmatic, powerful, and hyper-active music. While some of you may have heard the song premiere I did for them a few months back, the full album recently came out. Having heard all of it way before the release courtesy of their guitarists, I can more than attest to its ferocity and musical insanity.
Black Hole Mass Evolution truly reaches for the stars, and in the end, achieves its aim of finding a unique sound — as well as decimating your brain at the same time. Tracks such as “Black Forest” channel their mathcore spirit the strongest, while interspersing it with their death metal side in a way that defies categorization, but ends up sounding wholly unique and fresh. If you want to hear oddball aggression in a new form, give Black Hole Mass Evolution a spin; I doubt you will be disappointed.
Casino – Revealer
I don’t know when precisely St. Louis-based Casino finished their full-length, Revealer, but very recently they released it on late terms according to them, in addition to saying several months ago that they are back to active status. Take that as you will, but make sure to at least give a listen to Revealer in the process.
This is among the cream of the crop for mathcore-fueled grindcore. Granted, it does owe some debt to The Sawtooth Grin, but I’m not complaining, because this is far from a carbon copy, or solely in the mold of what that band did in spite of its influence on their sound.
Some of my favorite tracks from the album, such as “Blasphemy”, feature an audible bass-driven intro and a groove focus that sets them apart from the pack, not to mention their “longer” songs, which is unusual for being both a grindcore and mathcore influenced act. But it’s never wasted space.
Revealer shows that Casino are skilled songwriters that never leave you disinterested in the moment at hand. Upon hearing of Casino merely a bit over a month ago, I’ve been unable to stop listening to their album. Take that as you will as well. But please give Revealer a chance if you like either of the styles they showcase and manage to madly intertwine so well, definitely bringing something new to the table in the process.
Torrential Downpour – Truth Knowledge Vision
My poetic summary:
Unaware comedic bodies collapse. Mechanical forms spill shrouds of binary guts. A digital vessel to embody paranoia. Beams of light too late to mask matter. The head replaced. Eccentricity ends the electric engine. Gears grind, while the old molds stutter into broken rust.
The Divorcee – Heartfucker
If spazzy chaos is your thing, then the UK-based act The Divorcee will be right up your alley. While this came out in June of this year, I just recently became aware of it, and so should you.
Heartfucker shows you in spades why what they do as a math-grind-oriented act trumps and tops the majority of most grind –in both diversity and songwriting prowess. It’s nastier, more aggressive, and altogether way more fucked and insane than your average hero worship grindcore. Listening to music like Heartfucker is more than half the reason I still have faith in new grind releases. Again, take that as you will.
Its occasionally odd but somehow fitting spoken-word diatribes bring to mind another band I wrote about this year, Canada’s, Pretty Mouth. Heartfucker does far more than fuck your heart, it invades both the brain and bloodstream. Those who are faint of heart, stay far away from the causticness spread across every moment of this release.
The Last Of Lucy – Exalted Compositions
I’ve been a big fan of Cali mathcore/deathgrind advocates The Last Of Lucy for some time. Unfortunately for us fans, the band broke up for a while after releasing only a single EP, and then this year have come back with a fury on Exalted Compositions. Words alone cannot express the insanity contained herein, but suffice to say, if you can imagine Psyopus and See You Next Tuesday smashed together, and that sounds good, then you are in for a real treat with this one.
The Heads Are Zeros – All The Men I Love Are Dead
“If you’re a fan of grind, Baltimore natives The Heads Are Zeros just dropped a caustic annihilating album you would most likely enjoy. All The Men I Love Are Dead is a powerviolence-driven wrecking ball crackling with spazzy noise, shaped by machine-gun drumming, heavy and furious octopus-like riffing, and banshee screams from a deserted heaven. They pull this sort of thing off with more intensity, originality, and unique identity than the majority of bands plying with the same group of distilled influences.”
DOOMED BY DOOM, SWAMPED BY SLUDGE
Anatomy Of Habit – Ciphers + Axioms
Chicago-based Anatomy of Habit have quickly become a band I’m stuck on as of late. They play a very weird type of industrial rock mixed with liberal amounts of doom and noise, if that makes any sense. This is one of those records that will either click with you or repulse you. Not much middle ground in between, and if nothing else, that’s a testament to the bold vision they’ve brought to life on Ciphers + Axioms.
For what it’s worth, I think these guys are awesome, and represent the logical progression from industrial rock into an even stranger and darker place. The album is split into two, just over 20-minute tracks, and the vocals are probably the most divisive part. I like them, in all their spoken-word nature, and odd dry phrasing, but I mention this because I know how picky metalheads are about vocals. Although track two, “Radiate And Recede”, takes a somewhat different approach vocally in places, featuring a more raspy bite in some sections, and changing the delivery toward singing rather than a spoken-word delivery in other parts.
Ciphers + Axioms is a bold merger of industrial rock, noise, and doom, producing something more than the sum of its parts. To quote the almighty McDonalds: I’m loving it.
Culted – Oblique To All Paths
This is hands-down one of my favorite records of the year. No doom/sludge record topped it for me, and not to knock Indian totally, but this is a far stronger record than that one, and I only say that because that got press and recognition that this Culted record bizarrely did not. Not to knock Relapse, who put out both this and the Indian record, but I suspect that this one was not promoted like that record was.
Hell, the near 20-minute sprawling opener, “Brooding Hex”, is worth the price of admission alone. With no extraneous fat, it moves through multiple movements, building toward a long eerie mid-song climax that is one of my favorite musical moments of the year, one that I have found myself repeating a ridiculous number of times. It’s that good.
“This is unsettling doom, bound in a sense of torment that seeps from every note and scream. Oblique To All Paths is sludgy, sometimes drone-y, and graced with piercing black-metal, reverb-soaked screams. Culted have a tendency to dress up the desolate proceedings in soundscapes that capture a morbid and mellow Swans-esque feel. This being a doom record, there are copious amounts of reverb and feedback swirling around, which only serve to magnify the deliciously suffocating and quite tripping duality conjured on Oblique To All Paths.”
Tellusian – Collision
“When Crowpath bit the dust a few years ago, the metal scene was poorer for that loss. Thankfully a group with former members of Crowpath called Tellusian exists, and it comes as no surprise that they are likewise a highly talented and forward-thinking act.
“Collision takes shape from a dense re-combination of various styles sewn together in a variety of different ways to create a destructive force that thrives on a counterbalance of melody enhanced by progressive experimentation. The core of Tellusian’s sound lies within technically adept sludge, with their use of off-kilter leads amidst heaving grooves coming across in a way that reminds of both The Ocean and Mastodon. Interspersed throughout their high-quality sludge antics are a smattering of death metal, shards of black and thrash, and grind–inserted in whatever way best suits each song and particular moment, for transition purposes and to build and release tension expertly.”
Bowl Ethereal – Bowl Ethereal
“Bowl Ethereal are a sludge group from Virginia that consists of metal god Pen Rollings on drums and Brian Metz on guitar and bass.
“Considering Pen Rollings originally played guitar and wrote songs in Loincloth and legendary math-rock progenitors Breadburner, I don’t think it’s a coincidence how this sounds: Bowl Ethereal is a unique sludge release, full of angular rhythms and technical shifts. Furthering their separation from most sludge, while also furthering the comparison to Loincloth, are the concise and very short length of the songs, all of which clock in at a very lean 1 minute and 1 second, a perfect dose of mathy sludge without dragging on or milking riffs for too long.”
Marty Friedman – Inferno
“While Friedman already has created numerous absurdly high-caliber albums, I can confidently say this is right up there with his very best work. Marty Friedman delivers ample evidence on Inferno that he is still hungry and evolving, a trail-blazing guitar icon not content to confine or repeat himself. He has created his heaviest, shreddiest, and most experimental solo record yet. Clearly the man is still on fire — spin the flames of Inferno until headbanging severs your head from your neck.”
Fall Of The Albatross – Enormous Cloud
“Enormous Cloud is a lot of things at a lot of different times. But to try and break it down into its elements, you could say that they smash together lots of wild tapping, heavy-as-hell moments of pure Dillinger rage, split-second grind bursts, just the right amount of post-rock builds, some grooves, and polyrhythmic chugging that’s always paired with different combinations of riff/leads/sweeps/tapping and is never overdone. Meanwhile some of their rhythms and melodies certainly remind of math-rock at times, while their forays into jazz, Latin, funk, blues, and fusion slide in and out of this ever-changing mass.
“Jarring though some of the transitions are, the songs all manage to have a unique identity, flow, and structure. This is very progressive and dense instrumental metal indeed.”
El Drugstore – Plague Ship
While this record came out last year, it came out on Dec. 31st, the last day of the year. Meaning that not only could I not put it on my 2013 list, but that anyone who heard it probably didn’t do so until this year anyways.
“After Kevin Conway departed East Of The Wall last year, it didn’t take him long to release something new, through a project called El Drugstore, and their debut album Plague Ship. Rounding out El Drugstore’s line-up is current East Of The Wall drummer Seth Rheam, and bassist Roland Alvarado.”
“El Drugstore often remind me of the mind-numbing dexterity and style of fellow instrumental metallers Electro Quarterstaff, both structurally and riff/drum-wise, especially during ‘Wheel Of Sadness’ and ‘The Natives Are Getting Useless’, and at certain parts of other songs. The heart of the rest of their identity resides somewhere between Botch, Keelhaul, and Dysrhythmia.”
Asurim – Deus-Ex Novus
“Asurim are an instrumental jazz-fusion-oriented metal band with a multi-national line-up. Their core member and architect is guitarist/composer Levi Dale, who resides in Australia. He has done an outstanding job recruiting top-notch talent to accomplish his mellow yet engrossing vision on the band’s debut EP, Deus-Ex Novus.
“In this effort he has enlisted the help of two ex-Obscura members — both drummer extraordinaire Hannes Grossmann and phenomenal fretless bassist Linus Klausinitzer – as session players/band members. With a pedigree of such a high caliber, you are going to want to give this a listen and see what it’s all about.
“In merely three songs, they pack in so much music, and do so with an incredible fluidity and dynamic range. These are very involved and complex compositions, and beyond the graceful and luscious guitar-work, the drumming and bass playing easily match it; together, all three of them intertwine and meld beautifully to create some highly stunning music that reaches for the stars.”
Save Us From The Archons – Thereafter
“They come across like a math-rock and mathcore-supercharged cousin to Chon. Weaving a similar melodic tapestry, but more chaotic than Chon, they are also an instrumental band. Thereafter abounds in challenging music that swerves between bubbly melodies and hard-hitting riffs, giving the music a superb sense of head-spinning dynamics. This album is dazzling, but never at the expense of listenability; it’s smooth in spite of its roller-coaster chaotic nature.
“Save Us From The Archon do not write simple easy-listening instrumental music. This is involved, calculating stuff. It just happens to have a light uplifting feeling to it in spite of its complexity. Thereafter is schizophrenically beautiful, an arresting and amorphous work of art.”
Goodthink – Interim
“I featured Goodthink’s 2013 album Ascend on my year-end list here for good reason — its diverse blend of instrumental metal laced with a heavy portion of nonmetal ideas is powerful, often moving music, awash in melancholic feeling. I’m particularly a sucker for the beautiful and peaceful tracks that Goodthink deliver with ease, and this side to their material shows up frequently on new EP Interim.
“Interim features soothing post-rock and ambient-meets-metal numbers, and my personal favorite ‘Snowfall’ is a lush addictive track I can’t seem to stop playing — though the other tracks are no slouches either, with elements of groove and mathcore making their presence known and never in a dull way.”
Anewabyss – Dreading My Thoughts
“California’s own Anewabyss create some wild instrumental metal on their recently released debut Dreading My Thoughts. The music the trio have so elaborately crafted resides within a unique merger of jazz fusion and death metal that transcends the boundaries of both styles, bringing something stunning and fresh.
“I can’t say I’ve heard any band who sound quite like this. Some tracks, such as opener ‘Sypher’, are more solidly fusion, while some align more closely with various shades of death metal, as witnessed on the epic closer ‘Whirlwind’. But most of the time the album is a dynamic, heady mix of the two that shifts from simple and beautiful to spastic and speed-riddled with a fluid sense of grace. In addition, the artwork is sick. This is far from your typical instrumental metal, so make sure to give it a listen!”
Divine Realm – Abyssal Light
“Abyssal Light is beautiful and uplifting overall, but not in a lull-you-to-sleep-way. It’s more like watching delicious bacon slowly sizzle into perfection, or watching the tide roll in at the beach on acid.
“To give you a sonic picture of what they do so well, imagine an instrumental Allegaeon, playing highly complex shifting music backed up by grooves, lit up by mechanically toned rapid-fire bass playing, and driven by demolishing drumming. There are frequent moments of fusion-esque playing that appear, as well as some licks that wouldn’t sound out of place on many a prog album. Sometimes they border on power metal melodies, and at other times they resemble technical death metal. Of course, the band wisely punctuate the music with periods of faster tempos and occasional spikes of furious fretwork to punch things up and add variety.”
Essence Of Datum – Event Horizon
“Essence Of Datum are an instrumental technical death metal act from Minsk with obvious old school nods sprinkled throughout. The album art immediately draws you in and showcases yet another stunning piece by the grotesquely talented efforts of perennial NCS favorite, Paolo Girardi. A love for Death and stunning shred voyages tinted by evil abound on Event Horizon. I’m not usually big on instrumental death metal but these guys keep it varied and interesting with an alternating progressive and aggressive split approach.”
Trioscapes – Digital Dream Sequence
“While many are familiar with them as the side-project of Between The Buried And Me bassist Dan Briggs, saxophonist/flute player Walter Fancourt (ex-Mars Volta) and drummer/electronics artist Matt Lynch deserve just as much credit.
“When Separate Realities was released, I immensely enjoyed it — but the band have experienced an exponential growth in their sound on Digital Dream Sequence. The leap into larger uncharted waters on the new record is simultaneously jaw-dropping and smile-inducing. They may be the same band toying with the same ideas, but the expanded and more unconventional depths of these new compositions gives the band a fuller, more adventurous sound than they previously exhibited.”
OVERFLOW OF NON-METAL
Atomic Ape – Swarm
“If I so much as find out that a band or project includes members of Estradasphere, Secret Chiefs 3, or Mr. Bungle in their ranks, I know to check it out and that my enjoyment of it is almost guaranteed. It’s been rough, personally, to witness such a brilliant act as Estradasphere fade into obscurity. They were basically a more metal version of Mr. Bungle — supremely eclectic and coming up with frequently bizarre genre mash-ups defined by a twisted sense of humor.
“I say this because I was on Web Of Mimicry’s site recently and a band with a link to Estradasphere caught my eye — the band in question being Atomic Ape, led by former Estradasphere multi-instrumentalist Jason Schimmel. For those familiar with fellow Web Of Mimicry experimentalists Orange Tulip Conspiracy, Atomic Ape came to life as an outgrowth of that band. Featuring nearly the same lineup and sound, Atomic Ape do explore new avenues sonically, all the while still retaining their former bands’ avant-garde no-boundaries compositional approach.
“This leads to interesting collisions between authentic Jewish Klezmer-styled jazz, Eastern melodies, prog rock, jazz, surf rock, and any number of other sounds and styles they wish to stitch together into odd entrancing forms. If you want to hear music that will stretch your ears, confuse you, and maybe make you eat a plate of glass — then Atomic Ape is for you. I urge everyone to immediately pick up a copy of their recently released debut, Swarm, as soon as possible.”
Moon Hooch – This Is Cave Music
I first encountered Moon Hooch live, very unexpectedly, through one of my favorite bands, alt. rock gods They Might Be Giants, who had brought them along on tour when I saw them in my hometown of Louisville, KY in 2013. I was pleasantly blown the fuck away and ready to dance, even though that is not who I am as a person.
Moon Hooch are a strange group, consisting of only two saxophone players and a drummer, and when I saw them playing material from their first album, were totally instrumental. Now on their new release, This Is Cave Music, the band have adopted some hip-hop influence and occasional vocals, yet still base their sound on sax and drum-fueled dance tunes that are infectious in a way you cannot even fathom. Yet the freneticism and technical nature of their rhythms may certainly appeal to some in the metal crowd.
They get heads bopping with ease, as evidenced by the fact that Dan Rather profiled them recently and by their being banned from playing both Central Park in NYC, as well as that city’s subway system, because city officials have grown irritated at the large crowds of dancing individuals who form around them as they busk for money.
Truly a one-of-a-kind group who defy the normal trappings of boring dance music, even as they have shown that they write their music on keyboards, only later to transcribe it into playable saxaphone tunes. Even with using circular breathing techniques, it’s a wonder to me that they don’t run out of breath and fall over dead from the hyperactive nature of their music, of which those saxes and the drums are the sole focal point. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t even like dance music, besides Daft Punk of course, because you would have to be a fucking moron to not like Daft Punk!
If you are into this release, I’ve included a link to one of the sax players’ solo works, which is basically ambient sax music that is quite meditative, interesting stuff in itself.
Aphex Twin – Syro
In my estimation, Aphex Twin, aka Richard D. James, continues to hold sway and position over most EDM, and if nothing else, he is a massive and understated influence, having achieved such a position not merely from being covered and re-interpreted by acts as different as The Dillinger Escape Plan, but also because of his penchant for sampling real-life sounds and instruments — along with his desire and ability to construct electronically focused music that breathes, builds, and beautifully ebbs and flows instead of merely repeating nearly the same sequence ad nauseum like most modern electronic music.
For an artist seemingly caught between minimalism and misunderstood complexity, Syro delivers a completely different mood and flavor than i the majority of his gloriously eccentric back catalogue, a discography that is not only laudable, but schizophrenically leaps between two concrete extremes: Ambient and drugged-out, with a propensity for nausea-inducing moments of bliss.
On his latest, he seems to have found an impossible middleground between the two, perhaps a sign of contentment in his new-found role as both a father to children and a married man with a wife. Those changes in his life seem to have bled into his latest interview, leaving him sounding upbeat and optimistic, as opposed to his usual sarcastic, droll, and troll-friendly interview-tired demeanor.
As a result of these obvious changes in his life, Syro now comes across as possibly his happiest and most accessible work yet. Which isn’t to say anything prior was hard to get into, but it contained a disturbing edge to some songs that is missing here. While he has put out some work under other pseudonyms, it’s been a very long time since any new Aphex Twin material was released. While Syro is not a huge evolution sound-wise, it is distinctly more cheerful, and certainly not a let-down.
Secret Chiefs 3 – Perichoresis
After waiting such a long time, rife with delays, for the release of last year’s Secret Chief – Book Of Souls: Folio A album, I was shocked that the band dropped a new one this year called Perichoresis. For those not in the known, Secret Chief 3 are one of several post-Mr. Bungle-member groups, and probably the most adventurous and in the spirit of that band to come from it. It is led by guitarist, composer, and ridiculously talented multi-instrumentalist architect, Trey Spruance, and sometimes includes ex-Mr. Bungle drummer Danny Heifitz, and on one song on last year’s release, also ex-Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton.
As is typical for the band, they released Periochoresis with no promotion or early song releases; it just suddenly came out of nowhere quite recently. And the world is all the better for that, because Secret Chiefs 3 are in my estimation one of the greatest bands ever.
While the band are known for their extravagant system of “satellite” groups as a way to play a jaw-dropping number of styles, Periochosis sticks with the Middle Eastern folk vibe and ideas that Folio A explored in depth last year. So, it works like a companion album of sorts, if you will, save for the new compositional concepts that it’s built upon.
To quote his label Web Of Mimicry’s press release (since the writer of it goes unnamed),
This is the first recorded composition to introduce Spruance’s evolving system of musical ideas patterned upon specific geometrical relationships found in certain polyhedra, and some tessellating patterns derived therefrom. In fact the other pieces in Song Cycle 3 are more directly-related to polyhedra, whereas this piece takes a cue from the techniques discovered in the process, and applies them instead (with good reason) to several senses of the term ‘Perichoresis’.
The word derives from the Greek “chora”, or ‘space’ / Latinized “khoreia” or ‘dance’ (verb form “chorein”, ‘to make room’, ‘to go forward’), attached to the particle ‘peri’ meaning ‘around, about’ –as in perimeter, peristyle etc. There are three rhythmic layers of the Ishraqiyun piece that are ‘choreographed’, in ways mirroring the static sense of ‘mutual-indwelling’ described by the term Perichoresis in the early part of the term’s history. The composed music is but a static snapshot of a process that is itself endlessly dynamic (hence the verb form ‘perichoreo’ being more akin to a performance than a recording).
Consider The Source – World War Trio Pt. 1
I’ve written about these guys earlier in the year at NCS, so to save a bit of time, I will quote from my previous post about them:
“They’re not predominantly metal, though it is an influence occasionally, but regardless of that point, Consider The Source are one of the coolest jam fusion/world music bands you may not have heard of.”
“Consider The Source sound like Mahavishnu Orchestra mixed with Funkadelic and Return To Forever, pretty wild indeed. “
D’Arkestra – Little Voices
“D’Arkestra are for fans of experimental and adventurous new music, which it seems a lot of metalheads are. They are from my hometown of Louisville, KY, and consist of 9 members who work in precise unison to craft jazz rock of the highest sublime order.
“Their first album Ghost Town consisted of mainly jazz-focused compositions with snatches of rock, while Little Voices sees them merge their prior stylings with a lot more rock this time, to interesting and unique results.”
We are polar opposites on the metal spectrum..I think the only band we actually share in common on your list is Phobocosm
That’s what truly makes this site so great – so many people specializing in so many areas digging to find releases you yourself never would have stumbled upon otherwise. Yeah, my end of the year list looks nothing like this, despite hearing many of these bands, but I definitely enjoy exploring those I didn’t and appreciating things outside my realm of awareness. It’s the best.
I’ve heard about 1/4 of these, my listening habits this year were way different but I’ve got a long list of stuff I need to check out now. Including Orbital Frame, weird seeing my own music pop up on a site as “for fans of”. If I had fans why am I not a millionaire like Andy and the rest of Beyond Grace?
Wait a minute…
Holy shit!!!!! Great bands in this list
Gracias senor 🙂
Dammit, more stuff I missed and need to check out. TAKE MY MONEY BANDCAMP!
Yeah this is a massive list a lot of stuff I need I need to check out! I haven’t heard many of these albums at all.
That’s why I do what I do 🙂
awesome list! : )
A lot of great stuff I haven’t heard. Awesome.
Awesome list! I haven’t heard of most of this stuff now I got a ton to check out! And here I thought I did a good job of keeping up with new releases this year!
D’arkestra and that trip-hop collaboration caught my interest. Good to see many covers by our national treasure Paolo Girardi here!!!
I didn’t recognize half of the albums listed here. Half of the other half, I listened to briefly with the mental note to give it more spins because I liked it, but never got to it.
So it seems that I still have a LOT of catching up to do with regards to this years’ metal releases..
Oh and great list by the way!
Thanks man! When people tell me my year end list gave them a lot of new stuff to check out… all the time I spend becomes worth it 🙂
Heavy list is heavy
Damn it, meant to check out that Aenaon album earlier, never did. Shame on me 🙂
Wow. Talk about beat into submission with great releases!
Can’t thank you enough for the time it took to put all this together. I’ll have plenty here to dig through for the next few weeks easily. I Immediately clung to Ingurgitating Oblivion, Defilementory, and Pyrrhon.
Dude, that means a lot. Thank you. I’m very glad I could help you find some cool bands.
Thanks for taking the time to post this and for embedding all those band camp samples.
Man this list is gonna take some getting through,awesome stuff!
Thanks so much for putting this gigantic list together. I don’t think I’ve heard of a single band on here, but I’m really digging quite a few! This had to take a long time to put together, and you even went the extra mile to filter out the ones that will be on every other top metal list. Definitely appreciated man.
It did take forever to do, but getting such nice comments has put a smile on my face. Glad to help you find some new music.
I listened at least one song from from each of these bands and I did it mostly today. What a ride! Some of these bands are really familiar to me, but mostly it was all new. The only rap entry on the list, Cunninlynguists, sold themselves to me instantly with those relaxed and varied beats. I’ve only liked two rap/hiphop bands this year and Cunninlynguists is easily the third one. I found few other good ones as well.
Good list as expected. Surprised to see some releases on here and some that were left out. Run the Jewels, Teitanblood, Musk Ox and others.
Well if you read the intro to the post…..you would know that the reason some of the albums you just mentioned were not on this list is because I make a point to try to exclude all albums I see pop up on other year end lists.
I see that would make sense. Though I haven’t see Musk Ox on anyone’s list yet.
What are your thoughts on the new Skinfather album?