(Here’s the second installment of DGR’s 5-part year-end effort to sink our site beneath an avalanche of words and a deluge of music.)
This segment has some interesting patterns in it. The grindcore power hour makes its appearance here, as I’m a sucker for a whole lot of high-speed songwriting over blasting drums, and there’s still some spill-over from the veterans who remained fairly consistent (which you’ll note, defined a lot of part one). As we reach the bottom of the list you’ll start to see some new faces, stunning debuts and incredible full-lengths, and from here the list only gets more and more wild.
As of this writing I’m not sure how to describe the next few segments, but you’ll note that the albums tend to get a little bit more heartfelt, vicious, and a whole lot more passionate as we get further and further into this list. If anything I’d say the immediate thing I’m noting is that the high-twenties of this affair fully sell me out as having had a giant tech-death party. But right now, let us enjoy this current batch of madness as we bounce around from the worlds of grind, to high speed death metal, to a pleasant prog-death and sludge metal break, only to finally close things out with a tremendous crushing of skulls.
40 – Afgrund – The Dystopian
Welcome to grindcore power (half) hour.
2018 brought us an early release from grind-stalwarts Afgrund, and the revelation that possession of the name was currently disputed by two versions of the band. The version that brought us this year’s release — The Dystopian — features three longtime members and some founders of the band within its ranks. I’ve loved Afgrund’s discography as a whole over the years and they’ve been one of my go-to’s to help power me through work shifts since I came across them, so the announcement that they had a new album coming was very exciting.
The Dystopian was actually one of the first releases of the year, having come out on January 5th, but the eleven-track and slightly over twenty-three minutes journey into the ugly and world-ending was a great way to start said year. The Dystopian is an interesting release in part because it feels like it’s the purest Afgrund have been in years, a little knocking the rust off, and a whole lot of three dudes just doing what they know best — the most-old school Afgrund they’ve been for some time.
They pull from all sorts of different grindcore tropes on The Dystopian and also pay tribute to a few of the more mid-tempo grinders that have been part of the scene. Thus, the album isn’t a full-on high-speed shitfit, and although there are plenty of sub-two-minute songs on the album, the band throw in a few more punk-flavored tracks and even the occasional hardcore groove. The one groove that pops up during “Re-Exordium” happens to hit especially hard and it happens early enough that after the initial blur of the album’s first two songs, you can’t help but headbang along to it. It’s also a masterclass in grindcore tropes as well, some of it because Afgrund play it kind of safe, so while I may have instinctively sighed when the ‘fire and fury’ quote popped up, the band manage to mine the current political climate for a handful of really awesome samples — even breaking out a few old chestnuts like the “I am become death, destroyer of worlds” quote.
What makes the twenty-plus minutes of The Dystopian work so well, though, is that it’s a little bit more dynamic than the usual celebration of the blast-beat and hyper-guitar that some of these discs become. The Afgrund crew are old hat at this style by this point, so much of The Dystopian is expertly done, adapting some of their sound to be a little bit more armageddon-esque and at other times just going for a straightforward fifty seconds of sheer noise. Yes, part of its appeal is that it’s great to have Afgrund back in some form or another, but The Dystopian is also an awesome example of what made the crew such a highlight in the first place.
39 – Axis Of Despair – Contempt For Man
Speaking of the high-speed grind fits though….
Now, it’s fair game to say at this point that I’m a huge fan of the grind-school in which groups like Rotten Sound, Nasum, et. al, are based, so I very much get a Pavlovian response as soon as that specific sound kicks in. It is also one that has been well-studied, archived, and practiced upon, so sometimes they tend to come from the oddest of places. Not so with Axis Of Despair, mind you, as this is one of those bands that are basically artisan-made specifically for that taste, and their first full-length release (after two EPs) pretty much proved that point.
The group, which is composed in large part of ex-Coldworker gentlemen (and admittedly, one of whom was part of Nasum), unleashed said full-length release in July of this year, expressing Contempt For Man. Punching in at a hefty half-hour and twenty some odd songs the band discharge basically every permutation upon the gnarled-distortion and constant hammering of a drumkit that they could think of. Every driving riff, every single hefty hit, and every concentrated blast that has been in some form worked into a grind song seems to find its way into Contempt For Man — resulting in a package that is admittedly very familiar but in the same beat a ferocious bit of comfort food in grind form.
Axis Of Despair have their hands in a few different jars but there’s certainly an obvious throughline for the band. They spend much of Contempt For Man just blasting everything to bits, most of the songs moving at a fast clip and the guitar and rhythm section tagging along for quite a percussive experience. When people describe the higher-speed segment of grindcore as having a hammering nature to it, they’ll likely find Axis Of Despair support that theory because many of the songs are just one piled-on rhythm segment after another — with a ton of bass guitar jangling included, and with vocalist Joel Fornbrant‘s harsh bark laid over the whole thing, at times even channeling Napalm Death with some of his rapid-fire delivery.
Thirty minutes with Contempt For Man can run a little long, which is why it’s up here on my year end list rather than down among the lower numbers, but by the same token it’s hard to tell which of the songs I would do away with, because Axis Of Despair‘s songwriting style does boil down to one blast after another, so that Contempt For Man becomes a thirty-minute mood/violent outburst more than individual songs. Funnily enough, though, there do happen to be standouts, as “Pre-Emptive Nuclear Strike”, “To Smite”, “A Life Of Ceaseless Grind”, “Pawn Sacrifice”, “Into The Hard Earth” (which spills into “The Pain Maze”), and “A Brutal Truth” are all songs I enjoy whenever they pop up separately from the rest of the disc.
Contempt For Man is a solid offering of auditory violence, and like Afgrund’s record prior to this on my list, was one of the constant go-to’s to power me through the day whenever I was dragging ass, often by sheer force alone.
38 – Coffin Birth – The Serpent Insignia
Probably the freshest release in this here archive of the year-of-our-heavy-metal-2018, the deathgrinders in Coffin Birth managed to hammer out their debut album The Serpent Insignia just in time to make the end of November. The band, made up in large part of current and former Hour Of Penance members (and yes, one of them is a pivotal Fleshgod guy) and a prolific death metal vocalist in Frank Calleja, whose mid-range bark manages to sound more like he’s actually angry with us than a death metal delivery, packed that HM-2 fueled beast with ten songs that have almost no fat on them whatsoever.
While my review of the disc goes far more in-depth, the main gist of it is that the Coffin Birth crew’s album is certainly music to my ears, and the sleek no-bullshit nature of their work is one that has made me tremendously happy. In fact, were it not for the limited time that I’ve had with this disc since release, I imagine Coffin Birth might’ve actually crawled higher on this year-end list. But the fact that it’s been out for less than a month as of this writing and is already joined by some pretty hefty company in this grindcore power block that I’ve unintentionally made should speak volumes. So come back in 2019 when I’m still singing the praises of just how hard “Christ Infection Jesus Disease” actually hits.
We’ve spilled some ink for “Red Sky Season” already as well, but the constant repetition of it over a solid deathgrinding chug makes it something of an earworm, and “Casket Ritual” a few songs later benefits from the same effect. “From The Dead To The Dead” and “The 13th Apostle” help fill out the bruiser category on The Serpent Insignia‘s checklist, and pretty much every song has a hard-driving gallop or two, as the crew of Coffin Birth mine the death metal and grind scene for some classic guitar riffs alongside their own particularly heavy spins.
The Serpent Insignia can sometimes feel like part tribute album, part proof that “yes, we can do that shit as well”, and part full-blown original release, but if there’s one thing it’s good for, it is the fact that it is another hefty half-hour block of high-speed and white-knuckled adrenaline-rush heavy metal.
37 – Order Of Riven Cathedrals – Göbleki Tepe
The shrouded-in-mystery duo behind Order Ov Riven Cathedrals returned to us this year with their newest album, Göbleki Tepe, nearly a year after the group’s stunning debut, The Discontinuity’s Interlude.
The surprise-released album coming in not even a full year later can be best described as more of The Discontinuity’s Interlude — just expanded outwards to the point of breaking in a variety of directions. It seems the pair behind the hyper-fast, hyper-blasting death metal band decided that the debut album’s formula was good enough to run with, and the only thing it really needed was more. It’s true for a large part of the disc — there’s an expanded tracklisting, more usage of samples, and a whole fucking lot more music present on Göbleki Tepe in comparison to its predecessor. It totals out to about fifteen minutes more music, and this time the album isn’t as quickly bookended by ambient pieces.
There’s still the obligatory intro and Breaking Bad sampling outro, but in between is a band stretching and trying their damnedest to see what does and doesn’t work for them. As a result, despite its longer runtime, Göbleki Tepe still does like its predecessor, and absolutely blurs by you. Order Ov Riven Cathedrals like their chosen tempo to stay around the insanely fast mark, so any symphonic flourishes packed in hit fast, any guitar solos are just as quick, and the vocals belched from the fiery pits of hell are barked out with enough speed that at a certain point it’s questionable to actually try to follow along lest you get flung off the spinning whirlwind that is whichever song you’re on.
The band even experiment a little bit, breaking away from the hell-choir that they let follow them on every song and actually pop in an obvious, blatant synth line in the song “Invocation Ov The Kavod”. The fact that it comes in over one of the few moments where the album has a braindead death metal chugging riff actually turns it into a highlight, if only because it’s a slight breather from the otherwise all-out assault that is their bread-and-butter.
I reviewed this disc earlier in the year, and my brain is still somewhat rattled by just how much the band launched forth in the forty-five minutes that they asked of us. Other than that, Göbleki Tepe is particularly impressive simply because the band managed to get damned close, quality-wise, to their debut, with limited time between the two discs. It is still very much the maelstrom you’ve come to know and love, and if you don’t already love it, you can probably find it in your heart for one more hyperspeed death metal group. Order Ov Riven Cathedrals make a good case for doing so.
36 – Obscura – Diluvium
Honestly, I did not expect a new album from technical death metal crew Obscura so soon after Akroasis hit. I know it’s a stupid assumption, because honestly how many difficulties with lineups can a group have, and remarkably in the two years between Akroasis and Obscura’s 2018 release Diluvium the lineup remained fully intact. Diluvium serves as the closing act to an album arc started ages ago, and mostly serves as an immediate sequel to Akroasis — the long and short of it being that if you loved Akroasis then you can stop here; Diluvium is great, and honestly makes for one hell of a double-feature when the two are paired together.
I’ve long held the belief — and previously stated this theory — that Obscura are the most melodically minded of the tech-death crews out there. It’s part of what makes them great, as starting on Cosmogenesis the group had become something of a melodeath tech-death band, if that makes any sort of sense. That trend continues on Diluvium, so you’ll get plenty of guitarist/vocalist Stefan Kummerer as a singing cyborg alongside the traditional no-notes-left-behind guitar playing and wall-to-wall rhythm section.
Bassist Linus Klausenitzer turns in a performance that sees him and drummer Sebastian Lanser in a duel to find out who can make the other pass out first, and when they aren’t in their own private realm he’s wandering up and down his fretless bass enough to make people think that he’s become another lead-guitar player for a band with enough intricate melodic lines that they could sell them to other bands and still have plenty for another disc.
Diluvium remains predictably dense as well, but not in the stuffed-to-the-gills way that a lot of tech-death albums have been, but more because this was an album that really saw Obscura exploring their chosen sound. Using Akroasis as a solid foundation, Diluvium expands upon a few themes and at other times is just as happy to add a few more bricks to the building already in place. For listeners, that means you’re already guaranteed a certain mark of quality, and Obscura execute upon that to its fullest. The ten-track/fifty-minute listening session (eleven songs if the idea of the instrumental/ambient piece “A Last Farewell” really rocks your world) comes absolutely recommended in a year that found itself packed with excellent releases already.
35 – Arsis – Visitant
The very first time I ever heard Arsis they blew my mind. It was the song “Seven Whispers Fell Silent” form A Celebration Of Guilt, and my one thought at the time was that I had never heard anyone sound as harsh as James Malone did on that song — a high, black metal-esque shriek on top of a hybrid black metal and melodeath guitar playing style that would come to color the band’s career, even as the lineups changed and the songs got more and more complicated. While Arsis would see several genre switches over the course of their career, James Malone has continued to sound as harsh as ever — a full “I don’t know how the fuck he does that” experience, even after having seen them live three times.
The group’s newest album, Visitant, coming in five years after the release of the monstrous Unwelcome, sees changes to the band in a number of ways. Visitant is probably the most traditionally death-metal-focused album the band have done to date, and somehow, James has managed to change his vocal delivery to something that presumably works better for him… and yet is somehow harsher sounding than ever. Weird how oddly attached one can get to a vocal style, but I do look forward to many more years of wondering ‘how the fuck does he do that” live.
The classic-horror-themed album — which hit in early November — has Arsis iterating on the increasingly blastier side of the death metal focus that was starting to show its ugly face on Unwelcome. Arsis still leave plenty of room for both James and Brandon to shred their guitars to pieces but the rhythm section work their way into the limelight more so than they have since the hyper-frenetic performance that was turned in on the tech-death We Are The Nightmare.
Songs like “Hell Sworn”, “A Pulse Keeping Time With The Dark”, and “Fathoms” are there for those looking for the catchier side of the band, as all three have their anthemic moments, and likewise the back three of “Death Vow”, “Dead Is Better”, and “Unto The Knife” prove to be a lot of fun as well, and not just because of the death obsession for two-thirds of it. Leadoff single “Tricking The Gods” has the band getting a little proggy with their constant shifting of death metal genres and the song continually morphs and stretches while they find ways to extend the length. Even though the song only seems to loop three or so times, it feels like way more simply because it’s a surprisingly complicated track.
Visitant, though, is not as newbie-friendly as one might think, so there’s no immediate catchiness to hook on to. In fact, the songwriting is about as harsh as James‘ new vocal approach, so it starts to feel like your skin is peeling as you travel further and further into its abyss, yet Arsis still manage to choke some new life out of their new-found skull-obsession and make Visitant one hell of a listen.
34 – Aborted – Terrorvision
I was curious to see where Aborted would wind up with their latest album, Terrorvision, after the group’s previous disc Retrogore seemed to pull, push, and prod at their formula to the point of breaking it. Despite the fact that the two discs share similar run-times and tracklistings, Retrogore at the time felt like the furthest they could push their current sound, which had been refined on Global Flatline years ago. The high-speed grind/death metal combo found their ultra-mosh-heavy writing at something of a breaking point, which made that disc feel far more packed than its forty-three minutes suggested.
I’m still not sure where Aborted will travel from here, as Terrorvision is something of a side-step, like an alternate reality take on that album as well, as if Necrotic Manifesto had presented a fork in the road and Terrorvision was the other path. Just as media-obsessed as Retrogore was, Terrorvision does a ton of work in terms of atmospherics this time, presenting the band plenty of opportunity to have echoing guitars ringing out on top of the constant rapid-fire, part-after-part approach that has become their hallmark.
Aborted use that to their advantage as well, as it also allows them to write some longer songs than the three-to-four minute assaults that are kind of the base ingredient of many Aborted tracks. Hearing the band go long-form on “The Final Absolution”, “Exquisite Covious Drama”, and “Vespertine Decay” especially is an interesting experience, because most of that time isn’t just ginned up from the fact that the band are writing slower segments. Instead, they wind up with the most shifting movement that Aborted songs have had in some time, and the band leave plenty of room for the other seven songs (not counting its intro, which is pretty much not present) to be the high-speed shrieking beatdowns one might expect. “Squalor Opera” especially is a great listen for its frenetic and start/stop nature and seems like the most natural progression from what the group had released prior to this in their Bathos EP.
The three guest spots, from Seth Siro Anton of SepticFlesh, Sebastian Grihm of Cytotoxin, and the ever-present Julien Truchen of Benighted, all do their own heavy amount of work as well, with the last two appearing on the last two songs of Terrorvision. Seth pops up early on in the album’s title track and basically defines the whole thing; despite however many words vocalist Sven de Caluwé may handle there, I’ll be damned if I don’t see the word Terrorvision typed out and automatically have the “demonic manipulation” line going in my heard as it is uttered in the song.
While Terrorvision doesn’t quite provide the ultra-forward look into a band’s career that we wbesites tend to have fun prognosticating on, it’s a solid release whose frantic songwriting often proved to be what was needed to grind through the day.
33 – Mire – Shed
There’s always going to be one EP that breaks my poorly defined rules and winds up on my year-end list. Denver, Colorado’s Mire get to be the band that does that this year with their EP/album Shed, a six-song, thirty-two minute prog-death hammering that is so impressive in its artful groove that it quickly found its way into the constant-spin column for me this year.
The pairing of Ryan Glisan and Benton McKibben has managed to create one of those rare releases that you have to keep listening to after it starts; one song feels incomplete without the others following it. It’s an almost-perfect encapsulation of what is happening with the proggier side of tech-death on this side of the world, yet with such a sense of hammering groove that the group can at times channel the bellowing low-end of bands like Dyscarnate and Gojira. Over the course of Shed, Mire somehow manage to find a way to the part of the brain that makes you instinctively nod along to just about everything that they do. Never anything hyper-fast, Shed’s songs all have a rhythmic quality to them that make them headbanging masterworks.
Shed begins on “Lightless”, which is built around a percussive chugging riff that just basically plows its way through those five minutes in a near relentless fashion, but the rhythmic nature of it makes it so goddamned catchy — especially once Benton deploys his singing voice and slowly starts to layer more and more effects on it throughout Shed. By the end, he sounds almost robotic — like Shed was partially a recording of how he plans to transform into the vocoder Paul Masvidal of Cynic fame uses. Hell, by the time the band have descended into the EP/album’s closing strains in “Inside” and “A New Found Rain”, he pretty much has — transferring from a sharp and harsh yell into the sung vocal sections, especially during the song prior to both of them in the alien-groove of “The Solar Being” — which also features some absolutely gorgeous lead guitar work within its confines.
Even though I’m at risk of repeating myself — and likely will across this whole affair — Shed is stunning. It’s a moody piece that doesn’t go for heavy metal’s shock-and-awe effect. Instead it’s the sort of release that grows on you like a fungus and it was one of the many releases this year that I felt absolutely had to receive the front-to-back treatment whenever I listened to it.
32 – Witch Ripper – Homestead
I feel like I have been waiting on this one for ages, after becoming a fan of the Seattle based Witch Ripper‘s 2012 self-titled EP, and yet that wait was rewarded with the group’s first full-length release in the sludge-soaked Homestead — an album that has the band fully giving over to their most Neurosis– and Mastodon-like tendencies while still keeping things as smoke-hazed and fuzzed-out as their first EP promised.
Homestead‘s seven songs total out to nearly forty minutes of music, and the song-lengths vary wildly. The album is bookended by two seven-minute monsters and in between you can expect anywhere from three-to-six to be the de-facto standard, save for “Bog March” and it’s sub-two-minutes of instrumental groaning atmosphere (which, as an aside, I have to give Witch Ripper a shoutout for here, as the band list the lyrics on Bandcamp as “Stuff Stuff Stuff Drums Drums Drums Stuff Stuff Stuff” and that hasn’t ever failed to make me laugh since Homestead’s September release).
The band shift from heavy to the atmospheric so flawlessly that the segment early on during “Wasteland”, as the group are grinding through the swamp that they have dragged themselves into and then suddenly go for this heavy ultra-melodic double-bass roll and guitar-lead segment, becomes an early-album highlight. “Swarm” was a constantly returned-to song on my part as well, off of the sheer strength of that opening segment before the band settle into a bouncing rhythm section and a killer guitar solo. Yes, it’s probably one of the more ‘single’ oriented songs on an album more suited for full run-throughs on a cloudy day, but goddamn is “Swarm” a blast outside of that, especially with that closing segment just bringing the whole thing crashing down around them.
It’s hard not to just spend this whole writeup talking about how great it is that these guys finally got to jam out a full-length and expand upon what they were doing with that EP. Homestead is a great addition to the band’s discography and one that you should absolutely get in on the ground floor with. It’s an album that just sounds “Big”, just an absolutely tremendous amount of noise coming from just four musicians, yet it feels like they could fill any room with what they’re doing on Homestead.
31 – Apophys – Devoratis
Speaking of “Big” albums, let’s talk about the Netherlands-based tech-death band Apophys and their sophomore release Devoratis. If I were to succinctly characterize this death metal album my first descriptor would be that it is just absolutely ‘beefy’. This is the weight-lifter tech-death album. Whether intentional or not, the Apophys guys let the rhythm section run wild here, and as a result it is an album so full of heavy groove-segments and hefty guitar chug that the tech-death assault layered on top of it feels almost like nuking an anthill.
The science-fiction concept disc’s thirty-six minutes is so packed with different highlights that it has the effect that a lot of death metal releases created this year — it is one worth constantly going back to, if only to discover different things each time. Devoratis came out at the tail end of January, yet to this day if I give it a spin I find new things that will make me want to headbang along with it, and that’s outside of the usual sense that I need to headbang along with it because otherwise the disc itself will personify and smash me into the dirt.
Devoratis was an album that found itself being paired alongside Soreption’s Monument Of The End for me, just this constant thudding assault that wasn’t afraid to throw its weight around. In fact, I genuinely enjoy the fact that the Apophys team saw fit to name their ambient instrumental in the center of the disc “Respite”, because it really does feel like it after the five songs preceeding it. “Xiux-The Parasite” is an absolutely crushing, slow-moving beast of a song that spills over into the much faster-moving and up-front passages of “Matters Unresolved” — a song built around its crashing rhythmic nature that has the guitars just flying along until all of a sudden they’ll have to stop, shift quickly, and then return right back into flinging out more sound.
“Matters Unresolved” is the sort of song where you think you have a hang on it until all of a sudden you note that you’ve fallen behind, and it probably happened during one of the sudden start-and-stop machinelike riffs that make up its opening segment before the song’s blast-the-world-to-bits bridge. This happens constantly throughout Devoratis, and it makes listening sessions into an event.
Devoratis is a record that seems to be flying a little under metal’s radar, and that shouldn’t be the case. If anything it should be treated as a picture of where things are headed in the future. It’s another hyper-complicated death metal disc for sure, but you can hear and understand everything clearly; the blastbeats aren’t just there because they need to get from one segment to another; everything has a purpose, and goddamn does Devoratis hit hard. Absolutely recommend spending the time with this one.
On Mechina’s Remasters and the future Telesterion release
While I’m in a sci-fi mood, I figured I’d touch briefly on Mechina and what they’ve been up to. I know I promised that the closing sections of these installments would be a sort of “not metal” archive, but in this case I’m willing to make an exception simply because I’ve often joked that I always have to set a spot aside on my year-end list for these guys, and actually didn’t have to do so this year. What they did do was something that I found to be incredible though, in that they actually made a pass over their first releases again and effectively did historical revision to them — making it so that every album sounded similar, both thematically and instrumentation-wise. That is an insane amount of work, especially since the group started with Conqueror and then made every disc sound like it had been recorded around the time of their latest album, 2017’s As Embers Turn To Dust.
The ‘Compendium‘ releases at first might seem like they’re for serious fans only, but the amount of work they’ve done is a sight to behold. As a longtime fan it made for a fantastic excuse to go back to earlier discs and hear them re-imagined, and if anything, the amount of effort they devoted to the ambitious-as-hell record Acheron has kind of turned it into a centerpiece of the whole thing. It became one of my favorites of the reimagined albums, alongside the already front-runner in the super-heavy Xenon.
If somehow you haven’t listened to the symphonic Sci-fi epic that these guys have been crafting or passed over them whenever they popped up in my year-end tomes, I would swear to you that the Compendium re-releases of those discs are absolutely essential, especially since the band even worked some of the pre-album release singles into the main tracklistings this time. They are the historical versions-of-record as far as I’m concerned.
Hell, and not only that, the band are now teasing a new release entitled Telesterion for Spring of 2019. It’s going to be an exciting time to be a Mechina fan on that front.
Damn, i missed Coffin Birth! It kills.
I honestly expected Obscura’s album to be lower on your list. Although it is more or less crafted from their pre-existing formula of technical mathematics, it still runs circles around most other groups in the tech/prog death realm. There are some tech bands that just play at fast speeds, hoping that speed and precision alone will earn them the fame they are seeking, and then there are groups that will sloppily throw in every possible modified solo/piece they heard from five other tech death bands that influence them. But, then there are some, such as Obscura, who play it so good that one quickly can jump to the conclusion that they are the Shakespeare of tech death. But, thirty-sixth is better than fiftieth or not on the list at all.
Very pleased to find Apophys, Arsis, and Aborted on here–they did well on my top 100 list as well. Axis of Despair also kicked ass faster than I could lift both legs in sequence. Order Of Riven Cathedrals are onto something. They’ll likely be one of those bands that just get better and better with each subsequent album.