(NCS contributor Gonzo rejoins us with a selection of seven albums he’s been greatly enjoying over the summer that’s now drawing to a close.)
Summer has a habit of hitting me harder and faster than an Archspire blast beat, so with that in mind, I’ve developed a tradition of compiling my usual monthly columns into one bigger-than-usual compendium at the end of August.
There was plenty to sift through over the past three months – along with some other shit that was released before then that somehow flew under my radar. Let’s dig in.
RADIANT KNIFE, PRESSURE
We’re gonna start this one with something delightfully weird. Straight from the swamps of southern Louisiana, the duo known as Radiant Knife cite influences that range from Yes to Today is the Day, and they somehow work those extremes into one cohesive sound. The results have been consistently impressive.
Pressure is all at once dizzying, complex, and nuanced. It takes the elements that have already made their previous albums so good but injects a fair helping of wacky time signatures and jolting stop-starts. You never know where this one’s going next, and you can’t help but enjoy the shit out of the ride you’re on. It’s part sludge, part post-hardcore, and one of the more unique records I’ve heard all year.
ORBIT CULTURE, DESCENT
I was fortunate enough to catch these Swedish melodic death maniacs live at Graspop this June. Their set was early in the day, but it still shook the festival grounds with just as much magnitude as the headlining sets that followed that evening.
Orbit Culture originally caught my attention with 2016’s Rasen, which was criminally underrated when it came out. With the release of Descent, though, I don’t think anyone’s going to underestimate this band any longer. This is a band firmly planting a bloodied flag in the increasingly saturated melodeath scene, rising above many of their peers with focused fury.
“Black Mountain,” “Sorrower,” and “From the Inside” are enough of a three-headed monster to power most of Descent on their own, but it would be a gigantic disservice to not acknowledge the other seven tracks. The violent double-bass thump of “Vultures of North” will smash your skull into a fine white powder, while the moody intro of “The Aisle of Fire” demonstrates the band’s songwriting chops aren’t just about blast beats and going all-guns-blazing. Stop what you’re doing and spin this one up.
URNE, A FEAST ON SORROW
After 2021’s Serpent & Spirit blew my mind and earned a top spot on my best-of list for that year’s Listmania, I was starting to wonder when we’d hear from London’s Urne again. Not only has the wait ended, but the follow-up was more than worth said wait.
Sonically, Urne might be a little hard to classify – they vacillate between hardcore, sludge, thrash, and doom – but the result of this smattering of styles is no less engaging. This is true even when the band dole out tracks that run north of 11 minutes, which happens twice on this record.
That’s not to say the trio (!!!) gets overly wrapped up in an identity crisis. “The Burden,” “Becoming the Ocean,” and the title track are riff-driven groove machines that skip the “fuck around” stage and go straight to “find out.” And with such a range of styles and influences injected into the multi-headed hydra that is their sound, it’s kind of amazing that Urne manage to make music that’s so damn memorable.
RING OF GYGES, METAMORPHOSIS
Iceland always delights me with its musical creativity. Skalmold (well get to them later), Mispyrming, and Ophidian I have all released albums in the past few years that have made waves on this website and far beyond it. It’s only appropriate, then, that another new band from Reykjavik would get added to that list.
Ring of Gyges might have more in common with Leprous and Sermon than their heavier countrymen listed above, but that takes nothing away from how great Metamorphosis is. Combining proggy hooks, angular riffs, and a bit of ’70s psychedelia sprinkled in, the Icelandic quintet have crafted one hell of a captivating release. “Go” even brings to mind a more progressive Coheed & Cambria (with better vocals), while “Holy Water” brings in more atmosphere than an Icelandic blizzard. All the while, drummer Einar Merlin Cortes puts on an absolute clinic.
MAJESTIES, VAST REACHES UNCLAIMED
Ready to strap your ass into a time machine back to Gothenburg circa 1992? Good, me too.
Released all the way back in March but only discovered by this oblivious scribe in August, Pennsylvania’s Majesties have managed to conjure the melodic death metal royalty of early At the Gates with their debut album. (Worth mentioning, I can’t believe this record is actually a debut.)
Filled with enough ageless grooves and lo-fi shrieks to make Tomas Lindberg start a circle pit in his living room, Vast Reaches Unclaimed is an acerbic example of how modern metal has been so successful at channeling the heavier sounds of a bygone era. What surprised me here, though, is a lot of the guitar harmonies remind me of Obsequiae. It’s not quite as over-the-top “castle metal” as the Minnesotans like to dub themselves, but the similarity is most certainly there.
What separates Vast Reaches Unclaimed from many of their peers, though, is how the production value even harkens back to three decades ago. It’s surprising enough that Majesties are from the US and not Sweden; what’s even more surprising is this album isn’t actually something that somebody dug up in an Earache sampler CD. There’s just enough low-end in the mix to balance out the highs, but it doesn’t sound overproduced or artificial in the slightest.
It’s not often that a Viking metal band (or any metal band, for that matter) gets a public shout-out from their home country’s head of state, but Icelandic president Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson really fucking loves him some Skálmöld.
Citing their contributions to Scandinavian history and the music itself, Jóhannesson made his fandom of the band known some time ago. Personally, I’ve followed this band for a long time during my annual trips to Iceland, but Ydalir might very well be their finest hour. With powerful vocals, stirring leads, and memorable choruses (despite my lack of fluency in Icelandic), Skálmöld has come a long way since 2011’s Baldur.
Everything I’ve heard through all nine tracks here just screams “growth.” The songs are more focused with more emphasis on the songwriting, rather than the full-throttle bludgeoning the band routinely delivered on previous albums. There’s still plenty of bludgeoning to be endured here, though – it’s just that it comes in more punctuated ways now, without being a blur. After several listens, I think my favorite moment here is “Ratatoskur,” with its medieval-ditty-turned-descent-into-Hell formula. It works so well, as does the rest of the album.
FLESHVESSEL, YEARNING: PROMETHEAN FATES SEALED
Speaking of descents into Hell, there might be no better way to describe the stunning debut album from Italy’s Fleshvessel.
The Italian metal scene doesn’t always get as much attention as it deserves, but whatever the alleged human beings in Fleshvessel are doing to create their brand of unhinged dissonance, they should share. Featuring four vast soundscapes interloped by three brief interludes, Yearning doesn’t play by anyone’s rules. Is it symphonic black metal? Kind of. Dissonant jazz-death? Sure. Improvised fucking pandemonium? Definitely.
Whatever you take from my descriptions above, you’ll probably end up disagreeing with me when you hear this one. Leadoff track “Winter Came Early” will be enough to prime you for what’s to come, but it might not prepare you. “A Stain” takes you into bizarre territory; a Willy Wonka tunnel of madness that takes you on more unexpected twists and turns than you could count.
Finally, “Eyes Yet to Open” sounds like what would happen if Deathspell Omega jammed with Arcturus. It’s weird as hell but like any good circus, you just can’t look away.
Like what you hear? Follow my best-of-2023 playlist for selections from everything you’ve just read, and a whole helluva lot more.