(Andy Synn presents three more albums from last year that you may have missed)
You may not realise it, but I’m actually a little behind (already!) with this series of “Unsung Heroes” articles, as I’d originally meant to start posting them last week.
Unfortunately I’ve been sick with a (thankfully relatively mild) dose of that which shall not be named for a little while now, and between the lethargy, breathlessness, and general mental fuzziness I’ve not really had it in me to get any writing done.
Until recently, that is, as you may have already noticed that we’ve published one of these articles already (focussing on Grieving, Kollapse, and Monument of Misanthropy), with at least one more… and possibly another after that… lined up to follow this one.
So let’s all cross our fingers and hope that this renewed burst of mental energy I’m feeling portends a quick recovery, as I’ve got lots of albums from last year still to write about even before I get started on whatever 2022 has to offer!
MAGDALENE – LIGHTCARVER
There was a hell of a lot of good Blackened Crust/Hardcore released this year, and while I tried my best to cover a lot of it – from Anti Ritual to Arid, Dödsrit to Morokh, and more besides – one which I unfortunately didn’t have time to write about was the absolutely abrasive debut from Portland’s Magdalene.
Opener “Exsanguination” is about as perfect an introduction to the band’s sound as can be, beginning with an eerie, slow-burn melodic intro that eventually transitions into a blistering Blackened Hardcore gallop, all scorching, snarling vocals and wicked, neck-snapping beats, building to an absolutely annihilating eruption of blistering blastbeats and a climactic finale of gritty, growling grooves.
“Frailty” is a furious, four-and-a-half minute Black Metal anthem of heaving riffs, howling vocals, and head-banging hooks, reminiscent of early This Gift Is A Curse, while both the title-track and the fire-breathing “Famine” mix-up the band’s blackened impulses with a much bigger dose of moody melody and propulsive, punky energy in a way that recalls the highly underrated Totem Skin (who later became Dödsrit, fact fans).
Keeping the punkier vibe going, “Moloch” is a short-but-sweet shot of doom ‘n’ gloom which recalls the darker, moodier approach of the dearly-departed King Apathy, after which both “Alma” and “Anemoia” (the latter of which in particular incorporates some seriously bombastic, bass-driven grooves) strike a delicate (and devastating) balance between the crusty audio-anarchy of Iskra and the eye-watering intensity of Ancst.
Last, but by no means least, “Descension (A Worthless Penance)” weaves together all the threads of the band’s identity – the brooding, melodic menace, the choppy riffs and churning rhythms, the spiteful vocals and searing venom – into one climactic burst of crusty, blackened catharsis that ends the album on a harrowing high note.
Definitely give this one a listen if you’re looking for something which doesn’t pull its punches.
MAHA SOHONA – ENDLESS SEARCHER
And now we come to a band album who didn’t quite make the cut for my “Personal Top Ten” this year, but definitely would have made my “Personal Top Twenty” if that had been a thing.
Part swaggering Stoner-grooves, part drifting, dreamlike vibes, it’s definitely one of the most chill Metal albums of the year, the sort of record you just have to give yourself over to so it can take you on a journey into an auditory astral realm of vivid sounds and vibrant colours.
It’s almost six-and-a-half minutes, for example, before the band decide to properly crank up the fuzzy distortion on opener “Leaves”, but chances are you won’t be worried about that, as the track’s hauntingly hypnotic, mesmerisingly melodic aura should keep you utterly enthralled regardless.
And while songs like “Luftslott” and the groove-tastic “Scavengers” get their riffs on a little sooner, and a little more frequently, it’s still the limber bass lines and lilting guitar melodies which are the heart and soul of the track.
Speaking of… the soothing, soulful singing of guitarist/vocalist Johan Bernhardtson also plays a major role in making each of these songs as compelling as they are, although even when the band go fully instrumental (as they do during swaggering Stoner-Metal centrepiece “A Black Star”, or pensively powerful closer “Orbit X”) they still conjure a captivating sonic spell.
So if you’re after something a little different, something with a little more of a “laid back” vibe, then give Endless Searcher a try. You just might find what you’ve been searching for.
MIRE – A NEW FOUND RAIN
Well, this is going to be interesting, since we’ve actually reviewed an early version of this album back when it had a limited digital release under the name Shed in 2018 (and you can read what we wrote about it here).
For whatever reason, though, the band pulled it from the internet soon after and went dark for a while, only to reappear in 2021 with an expanded/reworked/re-recorded version of the record, entitled A New Found Rain.
The core of the group’s sound is still a proggy “Death Metal meets Metalcore” mix that sits somewhere between the rhythmic heft of early Allegaeon (which shouldn’t be a shock, considering Mire‘s chief riff-monger, Ryan Glisan, was a key part of that band’s early years) and the rugged emotional impact of God Forbid, while their fluid songwriting helps them pack an impressive amount of hooky musical motifs and catchy-yet-clever riffs into one compellingly concise package, crowned by an impressively dynamic vocal performance by Benton McKibben.
But, there have been a few changes, mainly the addition of a real drummer (ex-Black Crown Initiate sticksman Jesse Beahler, whose performance makes the whole thing seem much more lithe and lively) in place Shed‘s programmed percussion, and the inclusion of four new tracks which flesh out the record to “full album” length.
It’s these new numbers which pull the album in more of a proggy Metalcore direction, largely I’d imagine, due to the increased involvement of ex-As I Lay Dying guitarist Nick Hipa (FYI – it’s amusing how much of the promo for ANFR has revolved around it being Hipa’s “new band”, when it’s very clearly Glisan with his hand on the tiller), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when they lean on the more melodic and morose side of things (as they do during “Callous”).
Still, the best stuff here – “Lightless”, “Suffering”, “Solar Being”, and especially the absolutely outstanding title-track – is the material which errs towards a hookier, hybrid style of Progressive/Melodic “Death Metalcore”, and while this means that the record’s high points might be familiar to some of you, chances are that the majority of those reading this are going to get to enjoy the album’s many highlights with a fresh set of eyes and ears.