(Today we begin counting down NCS staffer DGR’s year-end list, with records “on the bubble” and then numbers 50 – 41.)
Every year I find myself making the same problem for myself. I love doing it, but kicking out these gigantic lists will take a lot out of you and in a year where there wasn’t a lot to be taken, this one truly felt like a work of passion. It took me a bit, but coming to slowly hammer away at this year-end list was something of a comfort. I got to look back at the year as a whole and kick myself in the head multiple times for outright forgetting releases. And I’m not going to lie, the yearly panic attack of ‘oh shit, did that come out in 2019?’ is always good enough to keep me awake for a few hours.
2020 proved to be an interesting year overall and it saw an absolute flood of releases once it became clear that there fucking wasn’t going to be much else going on for music. Cities around the world fucking failed their live venues and have let many close, effectively murdering any sort of live scene and a potential reason to live within those cities’ bounds. At first when we were all hopeful this would blow over in about three to four months, because we were relying on people to ‘do the right thing’ ™, we rescheduled all our shows for fall or early 2021. Boy, that was cute, wasn’t it?
This initial part of the list covers a pretty varied smorgasbord of music; I’ve got my bubble list here, as well as the ones I’ve ranked fifty to forty-one. Remember, this is a personal list and not representative of the site overall. NCS doesn’t do a grand site-wide year-end list/ Instead you get all of us thinking we’re special and we can hog your time recommending a fucking ton of new music to listen to. This first part is surprisingly comfort-food heavy. You’ll notice a handful of big names and that’s because those groups just kicked out some consistently good music this year, and because I genuinely enjoy those bands anyway. There’s still a few that took me by surprise and a couple newbies that I think people will enjoy as well. But without spoiling too much, I really hope you feel like listening to a whole lot of different variations on death metal today.
Before We Begin: The Bubble
Anybody who reads these lists or makes them knows the concept of the bubble. The honorable mentions. The crew that just didn’t quite make it. The ones WHO RELEASED ALBUMS AS I WAS WRITING THIS *cough*. In all seriousness, the top parts of my year-end archives are a little more like freewheeling parties, so if you didn’t make a numbered entry you shouldn’t feel bad. These rankings shift, morph and change so often that they really don’t become solid-ish until number fifteen or so, and even then I’m so wishy-washy that at best I could rank you a top 5 for the year.
However, these are releases I feel should be heard and noticed because they really do have something to offer and some of them are killer as well, I just discovered them way too late and didn’t have the time. At some point I need to shit or get off the pot and I don’t subscribe to the idea that I should wait until the midnight hour of a new year before I look back. I’ll be three sheets to the wind by then, hopefully.
Centinex – Death In Pieces
It may be due to Martin Schulman’s involvement in both, but Centinex and Demonical both were fighting to the death to make my upper reaches this year. It truly came down to what felt like a musical coin flip. Did I prefer the old-school throwback death metal of Centinex and their album Death In Pieces at the moment, or was Demonical’s modernized take during World Domination ringing more true with me at the time? Centinex barely missed it but Death In Pieces is enjoyable as hell, especially if you love the death metal one-two constant ‘whump-whump’ sound out of the drumming. It’s muddy, buzzsaw riff driven, surprisingly clear at times, and beer-swilling when it needs to be. Death In Pieces is a lot of fun and red meat as hell for death metal fans.
Lik – Misanthropic Breed
I think Lik’s Misanthropic Breed is a hell of a motherfucking improvement on their album Carnage, which was already a pretty fucking good starting point to work from. Somehow the band sound meaner and sleeker than they did on Carnage, but also manage to get some earworm-as-hell riffs jammed into their eleven songs this time around. Weirdly enough, it’s “Morbid Fascination” that is constantly stuck in my head but the driving way that song moves is bound to grab anyone.
I’m not going to make excuses for why I don’t have them in the numbered section of my year-end list, but the September release date meant that Lik were already up against an increasingly stacked musical year. The gore and skulls obsessed ethos of Lik still held strong though, so if you haven’t gotten the chance to check out their latest then you should absolutely do so.
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
The incredibly hard to pin down (genre-wise) ambition of Dawn Of Ouroboros caught my ear late – as in, like, two weeks ago – so unfortunately I haven’t been able to spend the time I would’ve loved to with the Oakland, California crew. Consequently, I can’t quite claim to have any solid grip on what is happening during The Art Of Morphology outside of thinking that a pretty good chunk of it is incredible. The group play a pretty ambitious mix of post-black and prog stylings which, like I said, is a little hard to pin down. But I think that’s bound to happen any time you have a couple folks from the Botanist crew in your lineup.
However, they slot in perfectly with some of the bleaker and blast-heavy groups that have hit this year, and if you’re looking for something to blow you away really early on in these listings, then you need to check out Dawn Of Ouroboros. I swear up and down every time that I’m not going to apologize for being unable to give a band more time, but damnit, this is one that really hurts to have discovered so late.
Profanity – Fragments Of Solace
Well, shit. This is just unfair. As I am working on this list both Profanity and Deeds Of Flesh drop some absolute whoppers of tech-death albums within a week of each other and I know damn well I have no hope of really getting a grasp on the technical clusterfuck/wizardry happening within the confines of either. Hell, in the future I wouldn’t be shocked to see reviews of one or both of these from me where I pretend this moment never happened. But right now the best I’ve got is a few cursory listens to both.
Thing is, I enjoy Profanity’s overwhelming take on the brutal death/tech death genre and the way they insist on absolutely steamrolling people, and Fragments Of Solace looks to continue that trend. They sound a little sleeker and more melodically minded at times but are still relentlessly accurate and breathtakingly heavy on Fragments Of Solace – and it’s made extra-special by the fact that every band photo of has just seemed like a couple of unassuming dudes, who then blindside you with absolutely massive albums like The Art Of Sickness and Fragments Of Solace.
Deeds Of Flesh – Nucleus
This band’s first album after the unfortunate passing of Erik Lindmark sees the group assembling an all-star cast of musicians to really knock one out of the ball park. Andy already ranked it among the great albums that came out this year but I’ve really only had a week to listen to it since its release on December 11th. There are parts of the album that I find fascinating in just how thick the grooves are, and the endless procession of guest musicians has really helped to keep Nucleus interesting.
I would’ve guessed initially that it would continue their trend of being brutal as all hell, and they definitely keep to that – Deeds were always among the traditionally heaviest on the Unique Leader roster – but I also appreciate just how far-reaching Nucleus seems to be. It’s a hell of a release for the band to count in their discography, even given the rough circumstances surrounding it. It truly does feel like a brutal death and tech-death communal effort here.
The List Begins!
50) Berzerker Legion – Obliterate The Weak
I’ll admit that the upper reaches of my year-end collections always feel a bit chaotic. Albums will pop into and out of space almost randomly, as if my arbitrary rankings were a branch of quantum physics and we were seeking specific particles. That is due in large part to the fact that as I listen to albums throughout the year I will privately keep track of stuff that I keep going back to, and combining that with a combing of our own review archives will usually provide me with a pretty comprehensive list of everything I’ve enjoyed throughout the year. However I will admit that until you get to about thirty-something things don’t really crystalize. It is just a massive collection of discs that I think people should really give a chance to because they continually popped up in my own listening habits.
Berzerker Legion may be kicking off the whole affair but it’s not so much a comment on the quality of the disc as a recognition of how it managed to stubbornly hold on amidst an absolute shitfire of a year – this coming from a guy who used a photo of a dumpster on fire for last year’s list.
Berzerker Legion are a group of death metal musicians with a surprisingly deep resume, counting among them people who have played in Asphyx, Dark Funeral, Sanctification, and then the immense catalog of projects that both drummer James Stewart (Bloodshot Dawn, Decapitated, Vader) and vocalist Jonny Petyerson are involved in. When you have a roster that deep, you can’t help but be interested in the project from an ‘at first glance’ standpoint. And so the group’s full-length Obliterate The Weak – released on January 29th, 2020 – was something that we had on our radar around here, even if it took a while to get around to actually writing about it in depth.
When you raffle off the projects that its various members are involved in, it’s kind of hard to imagine what exactly they’ll play when fused together, so imagine the surprise when Obliterate The Weak actually hewed pretty modern and with a melodic sensibility, sometimes even dancing in the same yard that groups like Amon Amarth have called home for four or five albums now.
In some ways, I feel like the first few albums within this grand archive of stuff that struck my fancy is a testament to the power of a straightforward double-bass roll backed by dumb riffing all the way. It speaks to primal sensibilities at times, so even though you can easily recognize everything Berzerker Legion get up to during Obliterate The Weak, there’s power to the battle anthems that the group put forth. It is all music written for circle pitting and circle headbanging in about equal measure, self-aggrandizing about how you’re the army of the strong casting aside the non-metal heathens be damned.
They probably could’ve gotten away with growling their shopping list for the week and musically it would’ve turned out just fine. There’s power in the gallop, power in the rock-stupid one-two thump that drives a song forward, and there’s a lot of power throughout Obliterate The Weak. It became one of my go-to ‘lighter fare’ albums in an increasingly ugly year. That it held on from late January ’til now is an accomplishment.
49) Demonical – World Domination
Continuing on with the trend of how much power there is in the solid double-bass roll and the blasting gallop, another contender would enter the fray in the back half of the year, nearly nine months after Berzerker Legion‘s initial volley and very much in the same musical spheres.
Demonical returned to us in late October with their album World Domination, sporting a new vocalist and a returning drummer since 2018’s Chaos Manifesto, yet still keeping bassist Martin Schulman busy, as Centinex – the more old-school stomping death metal side of Demonical’s modern genre coin – would also release a new album this year (which you might’ve read about already in the sort of bubble/glass ceiling segment above). Demonical’s latest hybrid of blasting fury and battle anthems won out this year based purely on of the fact that it might be one of the most un-pretentious and no-bullshit releases to hit in the latter half of 2020.
At thirty-six minutes and only eight songs, the events contained within are punchy and move quick. I dove way more in depth into World Domination and its arms-crossed gentlemen in one of lame attempts to try and catch up on the backlog review collections, if you’re looking for a more thorough reading of World Domination‘s entrails than I plan to do here. I will contend that the three tracks mentioned in that review — the collection of “We Stand As One”, “Victorious”, and “Slipping Apart” — still make for a fantastic trilogy of songs running through the latter half of the album, but if you’re looking for grooves, then a song like “Aeons Of Death” will absolutely have you covered.
I was a bigger fan of Demonical’s decision to keep things moving much quicker this time around though, so having five-to-six of the songs land firmly in the constant guitar-butchery territory was pleasant when drawing a blank as to what to listen to recently. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to returning to the glorious stomp of “Hellfire Rain” – even after recognizing every piece of machinery that makes the beast move – more than I can count these days. Like a handful of others that will appear throughout the much grander collection that is this year’s musical archive, World Domination does not do a lot to break boundaries or experiment with its blueprint, but it does work from a solid musical foundation and manages to kick out a very enjoyable bit of genre-fare.
48) Question – Reflections Of The Void
Reflections Of The Void from Mexico’s Question is one of the bigger releaes I can remember stealthily finding its way into the NCS office and blindsiding me with a fair bit of ‘suddenly quite a few of us are talking about this album’. The album was released in late-June but it wasn’t until the run-up to one of our first guest DJ spots over at Gimme Metal that I fully dived into it, partially based off the fact that “First Fragmentation” had fought its way into our collective playlist and was one of the more commonly mentioned songs when people brought up the disc. I can instantly understand why too, as it’s the first song that shows up when you look at the album on Bandcamp too, so clearly someone recognizes the strength on that end as well.
After a few listens, I could admit that I absolutely get why people are all over Reflections Of The Void, but man is it one of the most slippery death metal discs in a while. I wrestled with this a bit in a completely unrelated review for White Stone’s Kaurahy a while back, describing the album as a sort of nebulous mass that for some reason, right when I thought I’d gotten a grasp on why I was enjoying it, it seemed to slide write out of my intellectual grip and leave an ink cloud behind it. For one, I absolute commend the aesthetic Reflections Of The Void has going for it – the album art and logo treatment are all sorts of alien and bizarre, the color work suggesting a prog-death release if you really had to pin it down, but initially being shown the sort of bright contrasts of Reflections Of The Void might at best engender a ‘dude, I don’t know what’s in here’ reaction.
Where the album is enjoyable though is that it is equal parts matching its aesthetic of massive groove and angular riffwork that ties it all together in some of the most tenuous strands out there. There are times across Question’s sophomore release where things shouldn’t quite work, yet the band continue to buzz like an insect hive-mind until its eight tracks and thirty-six minutes (actually, a lot more like Demonical’s World Domination than initially spotted, for a fun numbers fact) and two ruminations on death in the form of “A Fate Worse Than Death” and “Mysteries (About Life & Death)” send things into the album’s closing five-minute song.
There is a ton of old-school influence couched in Question’s sound – especially their love of making a guitar squeel out like car on a slick road – which is clearly part of the draw for them, but it never fully feels like the band are going down the route of hero worship, doomed to be the next band added to the yearly pile of ‘wow, this band sounds like such and such era’ and then you never hear about them for their followup releases. Reflections Of The Void moves in big, lumbering fashion at times and maintains an apocalyptic sound, with a torrent of differing parts that at times do seem to be tumbling out faster than the band can fully hold onto. It’s part of the fun and gives them their aforementioned angular feel. Definitely one of the more fun surprises of 2020 as it bubbled up from the underground to land on my radar – abyss worshiping production and all.
47) Cytotoxin – Nuklearth
Of course, it wouldn’t be one of these year-end lists if we didn’t go for the hard swings. We go from the tradional murky-death worship to the the sleek and shiny for one of the more ‘fun’ releases this year in Cytotoxin’s tech, core, and brutal-death hybridizing fourth album Nuklearth.
You could accuse Nuklearth of being immensely single-minded in its attack, but goddamn if that immense single-mindedness doesn’t also work in its favor. Cytotoxin like to go crushingly fast and have written everything for the sheer purpose of destruction. When your band is composed of musicians who seem to double in their role as weaponry, you can’t help but pull out the arsenal in favor of musically blowing shit up. Cytotoxin start Nuklearth at about one hundred on the intensity scale and then remain there the whole time via sheer determination to spread their radioactive bludgeonings.
Since its release in August, Nuklearth has been a go-to when the need for near-non-stop music makes itself known. Cytotoxin are in the business of generating an endless torrent of music that is written to rip your head from your shoulders. Listening to this new record is often like being thrown into an industrial sized clothes dryer with a couple of cinder blocks as your only company. Everyone here is at the top of their game, and musically Cytotoxin walk a very fine tightrope between three very distinct scenes and manage to turn them into a musical hydra all their own.
Every year I seem to find a handful of albums that have a focus like this, where the music is ceaseless, the riffwork endless, and the combination of the two with some of the finest in wall-punching chug segments makes for an apocalyptic time. One year, it was Kronos and their album Arisen New Era – also a Unique Leader release – and another year it was Gloria Morti’s Kuebiko – which hit via Willowtip. This year, the one that’s the odds-on favorite for that title is Cytotoxin’s Nuklearth.
There is certainly an argument to be made that differentiating songs on Nuklearth is difficult. You really have to get a couple listens in before you can point out exactly when specific song breaks seem to happen, given how breathlessly the music happens. However, we in the metal world are used to finding discs that seem to be more ‘mood’ than collections of songs, as if they are one larger work – hence Cytotoxin’s checkpoint-based objective of destruction. I wouldn’t suggest that the band are pretentious enough to be writing a suite of music, or performing an act like Ulcerate’s where releases are often dissonant atmosphere and suffocation first, whether the song starts and stops second. But, what Cytotoxin have here is a relentlessly fast, terrifyingly accurate and technical beatdown that was one of the more common adrenaline hits to the system for me this year.
46) Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
Because normally this wouldn’t be the case, I was pleasantly surprised by how well some of the more mainstream black metal and black-metal-adjacent groups did with me this year. Granted, Dark Fortress have a pretty high bar for quality already, so Spectres From The Old World finding its way onto quite a few year-end lists – even in just honorable mentions – was probably a foregone conclusion. This being the group’s eighth album in a career spanning well over twenty years, Dark Fortress are in the enviable position of basically doing whatever the fuck they feel like. Even though there was a somewhat sizeable gap between this album and its predecessor Venereal Dawn, the band certainly haven’t left aside the sense of adventurism, as Spectres From The Old World travels all over the musical sphere.
The album covers a lot of ground, and even though it doesn’t all hit as strongly as some of the group’s prior releases did, the combination of overall ferocity and the band’s prog-leaning ambitions and death metal stretches still meant that trips into Dark Fortress‘ world were worth taking. It asks for nearly an hour of your time so there’s already a pretty strong investment in the band up-front. There is still a ton of material here that is well within Dark Fortress‘ black metal comfort zone, but part of the fun of this one for me was seeing where they would poke and prod at the genre and what sort of weird off-the-beaten-paths journeys the band might take.
Credit where credit is due, as a good chunk of that impression can be awarded to the three-fer lying in the center of Spectres From The Old World — in the form of “Pali Aike”, “Pazuzu” and “Isa”. Combined for nearly twenty minutes of the album’s runtime, the group go full prog-death for a while after an initial volley of fiery songs. “Coalescence” to the titular “Spectres From The Old World” play out like a welcome-home party for fans of the group’s previous two albums.
If you loved the scorching musical abyss that was portrayed on Venereal Dawn, you get three songs right up-front that slowly get more and more angular as you travel deeper into the album. In fact, it isn’t until the aforementioned title song that things slow down a bit. Thus, after hurtling their listeners at rocket speed through the initial blast-furnace, the band settle in for the strange and slow for a bit. I draw great amusement from the fact that “Pali Aike” and its slow, monstrous stomp wound up being one of the songs Dark Fortress made a music video for, because even in the face of Spectres From The Old World‘s grand experimentation throughout, it is still one of the moments within the whole run that catches you off guard – though I approve of it fitting into the subset of black metal that seems to be embracing a good, big ole dumb riff.
The joy of Spectres From The Old World‘s steadfast refusal to find a distinct place to sit the fuck down is that you get to make statements about how you love all the bizarre twists and turns the whole mid-section of the album takes and then also make yourself out to be a total hypocrite by saying you love the traditional blastfest that is “Pulling At Threads”. Aside from the glorious clean singing that has Dark Fortress treading into light “Metanoia” by Schammasch territory, that one is a three-minute Molotov cocktail of a song. But, as mentioned, that’s the joy of a disc like this.
While it may not be the most consistent work that Dark Fortress have kicked out, the weird flow of it as it bounces all all over the place, while still being played with a rigid and trained technicality, means that Spectres From The Old World will likely have a few songs for everyone – or if you’re brave and willing to sacrifice a whole hour to it, an oddball journey through blackened realms that gos from scorching fire, to progressively weird, to shifting and angular, and the back again. Could it be trimmed down? Oh, sure, but it’s still a whole lot of fun to work your way through all of it.
Seriously, the gusto it takes to jam an instrumental into all of this is almost worthy of applause.
45) Godthrymm – Reflections/The Vastness Silent
Godthrymm’s Reflections and their newest single release of “The Vastness Silent” – which slipped out the door right at the beginning of December via Profound Lore – are interesting releases to add to a year-end list, if you’ve been lucky enough to follow the group’s work since their founding. Godthrymm are a newer band with a deep roster that between the three members can count time spent in bands like Vallenfyre, My Dying Bride, Anathema, and a handful of others that have been sprinkled throughout the British death and doom scene. Their first album – after two previous EPs – hit earlier this year and that single emerged around the time this list was being worked on.
I’m including the single here because that song feels like a natural addition to Reflections and could’ve slotted perfectly into the lineup. The fact that the single includes a reworked take on the song “We Are The Dead” is an added plus, because with this and Reflections that will now be the third time Godthrymm have put the song out into the spotlight — its debut appearance was on the 2019 EP Dead In The Studio.
Reflections is a weird beast at its core. Constructed partially out of material the group had issued on their previous EPs and reinforced with newer material it is – if you’ll forgive the pun – reflective of where the band were at during particular moments. Given the way the disc flows between those specific songs, it often feels like Reflections is unfolding as a series of snapshots throughout the group’s formation. Funnily enough, at times it can have Godthrymm sounding a bit like Paradise Lost – one of the few of the bigger early goth-doom titans that none of its members has spent time in.
Godthrymm are built around vocalist/guitarist Hamish Glencross, who spends much of Reflections surfing within the rolling sea that the band produce musically. At times, he soars above specific songs and at other times he lets himself be washed away within the song, drowning underneath each crushing moment as songs either lurch forward or slowly groove their way throughout their usual six-plus minutes of song time – “Cursed Are The Many” being the real heavyweight, clearing nine minutes with ease. That Reflections clocks in at a hefty fifty-five minutes across eight songs should give you a fantastic idea of Godthrymm’s chosen doom-esque tempo. “The Vastness Silent” would add another seven-and-a-half minutes to that for a pretty sizeable amount of music dished out in 2020.
Placing Reflections here is largely to show that this part of my year-end list shifts constantly. It’s really only when you get into the top twenty or so that things start to really crystalize. But I felt that it would’ve been criminal on my part to not include the Godthrymm crew and their optimism-dimming songwriting within the year-end archive, considering how much I’ve listened to them throughout the year. Upon its release in February, Reflections was in near-constant rotation as 2020 seemed to be lurching forward towards a cliff’s edge before finally throwing itself off – we’ve been in freefall ever since and only recently has it felt like we might’ve remembered to pack a parachute.
While early-year releases tend to get overlooked in the making of these, Godthrymm had some serious misery-induced staying power. And as shown by their recent single and the way Reflections tends to move throughout their collected works from EP songs to newer tracks, they are only getting better as they fully form as a band. Am I excited to see where they go in the future? Absolutely. It’s nice to see a revival in this specific subset of doom and I will happily take as much as I can get from a collective that has a ton of experience in it already.
44) Koronal – A Gift Of Conciousness
While traveling through this year-end archive you’ll likely notice a couple of thematic arcs developing in regard to my listening tastes. With the presence of Poland’s Koronal and their album A Gift Of Conciousness, one of the bigger ones is at play: I love a big, dumb series of grooves that hit with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the skull.
Immediate listenings to A Gift Of Consciousness will have you noticing that Koronal are well within Meshuggah’s (chaos)sphere of music here. They have a similar grooving approach, and a love for low-end guitar tuning especially, and they’re one of a small handful of bands that have been able to capably play in the same ballpark of necksnappery – which I believe is the official medical term for it. Packed with metaphysical and psychological ruminations, as well as the occasional mouthful of a song title like “Disappointing Truth Split Into Two Comforting Lies”, you have a recipe for a disc that will likely rob you of said gift of consciousness for at least a few minutes.
I appreciate the sort of stark and up-front honesty that Koronal have in regard to their music, instead of trying to mask their influences or what brought them into that specific songwriting mindset. By embracing it, it seems as if Koronal do a lot better than their genre compatriots are, and in doing so they’re free to just make eight tracks of bludgeoning riff work. They keep things tight and fairly trim on the album, with songs in a three-to-five-minute range and rarely stretching outside of it. They settle into a couple of solid grooves and then work at them until they hit with the force of a jackhammer, so you can’t help but find yourself headbanging along with it as they leap well past appealing to the part of your brain that could appreciate the philosophical bent to some of the lyrics and song titles and instead find yourself drawn to the part where a song title like “Sunken” might seem like it was two letters too long.
A Gift Of Consciousness plays out near exactly as you’d expect it might if you went off of the first few minutes of its opening song. It’s a big slab of heavy-hitting music and shamelessly glories in it. There’s a few segments where Koronal show themselves to be a little more prog-minded and angular than you might expect, but otherwise the album as a whole is just one big headbanging pyro hit after another. I’ve enjoyed it tremendously since I picked it up around its late-April release, and though we’ve been banging the drum about for a while now at this here site, A Gift Of Consciousness is just as fantastic a starting point as any. If you enjoy big hooks in the guitar segments alongside the big wall of polyrhythms and hyper-complicated terminology the band throw at you, then you’ll have a great time with Koronal’s latest.
43) I The Intruder – Hunger
I elaborated on this a lot more in my review of Hunger, the newest album from Tunisia’s I The Intruder, but sometimes you can tell within the opening few songs exactly why an album came sliding across your metaphorical desk. In the case of Hunger, it’s because musician Mahdi Riahi‘s songwriting style is basically “everything, all at once, as if launched from a railgun”. In other words, we’re swinging hard from big grooves in the album before this on the list to one that is basically the musical equivalent of being trapped in a landslide.
I The Intruder straps itself to a rocket on the opening sections of Hunger and then ignites it, riding it all the way until it finally explodes when the album wraps up. If you think I’m joking, just keep in mind that every song on Hunger is delivered about as breathlessly and nihilstically as one could imagine, with drum programming so violent that at times it seems to be more focused on attacking the listener than driving the song forward… and man, is it great for it.
There is a grim sense of prescience when it comes to having a song title like “Fuck The Revolution, Bring On The Plague” within the track list, but Hunger is not a polite album by any stretch of the word. Mahdi basically spends the whole album spewing forth lyrical violence at such a rapid pace that his voice becomes another instrument in the album’s arsenal, just one more hail of bullets being issued forth from the album’s machine-gun writing style.
It’s a blessing in disguise that there isn’t a single song that extends past the deep four-minute mark here, simply because the whole purpose of Hunger at times is just to overwhelm you. The landslide comparison early on may feel like hyperbole at first, but ‘long about the time you hit “Slow Suicide”, you’ve already been rolling downhill in a mass of debris for three other songs that have been delivered at a similarly rapid tempo. It both hurts and helps, depending on how you’re feeling about how your day is going at that particular moment, that I The Intruder finds a very fucking solid musical foundation early on – something like a rhythmic hurricane – and then sticks with that for the entirety of its nearly thirty-three minutes.
Where Hunger came through for me this year was that it was one of those albums that really helped power me through work. I speculated during my review that its sort of breakneck sensibilities fell in line with an album like last year’s To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice by Vitriol, and the fact that I loved that disc’s dedication to nonstop hostility was probably why Hunger was sent my way. You’d be right in that respect; Hunger also hews very close to an endless torrent of musical destruction, with every song a rapidly bubbling pit of musical parts that are held together more by sheer velocity than a particular structure.
You kind of hit the max acceleration speed early on within Hunger, and since you’re already likely to be nothing but a stain on the ground by the time things wrap up, there never seems to be any reason to slow down and take a moment. Instead, I The Intruder just continues to hurl you ever forward with little regard for any object in front of you. Because it’s one of those discs that I often used to power myself through work, I always feel the need to repay those albums when the year ends; those truly do become some of my favorites.
42) The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
There is a part of me that is always kind of surprised by the fact that The Black Dahlia Murder‘s newest album Verminous only came out this year. In a year that has felt like it was a decade too long, Verminous has seemed to have been an ever-present part of it since its middle-of-April release. It is kind of surprising actually, since The Black Dahlia Murder tend to rank pretty high with me overall. They’ve effectively become one of my “pop” bands, versus my more extreme tastes.
For a while now, their career and seemingly ever-rotating lineup have been constructed out of finding both a fantastic throughline in the current scene of heavy metal – adapting newer stuff to their sound – while still sticking pretty rigidly to a high-tempo and blast-heavy core. When fellow writer Andy jokingly refers to some bands as being Black Dahlia-core, he’s probably more on the nose than we should be giving him credit for.
One could argue that since Nocturnal – or if you’re feeling spicy and tremolo picking happy, Miasma – the band have become one of the ultimate go-to shuffle groups. A gateway band, much like Amon Amarth, Revocation, and to some extent Skeletonwitch, where no matter which album you get, their music consistently lands around an eight or so on the heavy scale while maintaining a fair sense of approachability. Being that consistent means you can just throw a band’s whole discography on and generally have a pretty good time. While your favorites may differ from others – for a long time, up until the Everblack and Abysmal pairing, I found that I tended to like the odd-numbered albums more – overall the band’s music remains solid.
Verminous feels like the most natural continuation of the group’s sound in some time. You could view the band’s whole career as a series of different style on one disc, iteration on it the next one. Nightbringers before it came off like one of The Black Dahlia Murder‘s most refined takes on their sound yet – one of the few albums of theirs that actually felt “too short”. Verminous basically picks up right where Nightbringers left off with the same core group of musicians and this time a creeping thrash and death hybrid influence slowly worming its way into the mix from the outskirts. It actually makes sense when you consider that one of the bonus tracks for the EU edition was their cover of Megadeth’s “Go To Hell”.
However, ten songs – nine regular, one brief interstitial – and about thirty-six minutes still equals out to one hell of a fun time. Mining their usual subject of all things gruesome and horrible with an extra spotlight on all things rat- and roach-related, The Black Dahlia Murder kicked out another album of anthemic tracks that honestly, had this year not gone the way it had and my own mental mood been a little more positive, probably would’ve moved way into the higher ranks of my year-end list. As it stands though, the lithe and sleek way this disc moves from one song to another still held a shit-ton of appeal — it’s just that my personal tastes trended far dumber and far bleaker than I initially would’ve imagined.
I still appreciate the ungodly amount of shred that the band have worked into their sound now, and much like other Black Dahlia discs, once this one is on, I have found very few reasons to reach to ye olde music player and shut it off until it is done. Now, however, I find myself very curious where the band will head to musically from here because oh boy, three in a row landing with me as well as Nightbringers and Verminous have would be one hell of a feat.
41) Necrophobic – Dawn Of The Damned
I think a lot about bands that are gateways into certain genres, whether they’ve willingly gone that route or sort of unintentionally became one of those sort of approachable poster-children. I’m not sure where Necrophobic see themselves in the infernal halls of black metal, but their highly melodicized and sort of gloriously campy tackling of all things dark and satanic has made them one of those groups, perfect for guiding people as a gateway band, all the way to the gates of *holds flashlight under chin* hell.
Dawn Of The Damned has both the fortune and misfortune of being a direct followup to the group’s previous album Mark Of The Necrogram, an album that was so dangerously hook-heavy and catchy that it kind of elevated the band into something beyond evil for pure evil’s sake. Dawn Of The Damned is essentially Necrophobic planting their flag firmly within that musical soil and going at it again, this time playing with slightly altered ingredients but otherwise executing on what made Mark Of The Necrogram work so damn well. It’s that sense of familiarity, and admittedly the late-in-the-year release of the disc, that has had Necrophobic haunting the upper rafters of this year-end list – much like their video for “Mirror Black”, albeit with less of a lighting budget on my part. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s any less good.
Dawn Of The Damned has a little bit more of the ‘known quantity’ factor in play, as the core of Necrophobic has managed to remain largely intact the since their last go-’round with us, save for a shiny new bassist. This means that barring the “epic build-up intro song” ™ you’ll get eight tracks of snarling and surprisingly catchy black metal hybrid, and one kind of out-of-nowhere thrashier number in “Devil’s Spawn Attack”, which features Destruction‘s Schmier pulling some guest vocal work for a fun bit of dual-vocal attack. It feels a little more like a fun bonus added on to the end of the album, as Dawn Of The Damned really does feel like it wraps up neatly after the seven-minute epic of “The Return Of A Long Lost Soul” (yet it’s not the longest on the disc, by about half a minute), but also you probably don’t shoot down the opportunity to have Schmier show up and bark out some vocal work to go along with your guitar butchery.
It’s hard not to embrace and have fun with Necrophobic because for all of the auspices of evil and various Satanic colorings, rarely do you get a glorious guitar solo in almost every song in music like this. Necrophobic have once again shown that they write some of the catchiest stuff that ‘evil’ can put forth, all reinforced by a damned solid rhythm section and a vocal snarl perfectly built for their sound. I will own up fully to the fact that I can’t help but smile at the “Mirror Black” video – I think setting the band in a combo of empty building and lighted stage a la ’80s hair metal video is brilliant – but by that same token, I genuinely enjoy how sort of no bullshit and sleek Necrophobic have become. It’s a surgical attack and the band are ultra-tight and knife-sharp on that front, and I think Dawn Of The Damned slots in rather nicely next to its predecessors for a very solid chunk of music.