(Here we are with DGR‘s penultimate post of the week)
Every year these take a lot out of me. I’ve always said that it gets easier as you get closer to the end but this year that hasn’t been the case.
I’ve been terrified to repeat myself and so I comb over this stuff again and again to make sure that you’re not seeing the same turn of phrase to often. I know I’m slowly turning into a sentient jar of mustard as I get older but at the very least I don’t want it super obvious that I don’t language no good more these days.
This block is where a lot of the heavy hitters lay, not in terms of critic-bait or the ones that are shared on a lot of people’s lists – though I’d hazard about half of the bunch here are popping up elsewhere since I am a simpleton – but because the music may be some of the punchier stuff I’ve included thus far.
We’ve also got the much vaunted “watch DGR describe a bunch of music that he lacks the vocabulary to do so!” bit, which is always fun as those have often felt like I’m attempting to ride downhill with a plastic trash can lid as a sled and the amount of control suggested therein.
The party – and the cheap shots at my fellow writers [someone’s forgotten that I have editorial control – Andy] – continues tomorrow and I’ll finally send this damned thing off with coins over its eyes to pay the ferryman.
I’ll see you then. Hopefully.
20 – Aetherian – At Storm’s Edge
Greece’s Aetherian are a band I’ve been following for a while now and they may actually be one of the few traditional Melodeath bands in the year end garbage pile.
You’d think that by now they’d be a known factor, but At Storm’s Edge is only the band’s second full length and there was a six year gap between releases up to that point.
And yet, I found myself walking away from the album quite impressed with what they’d managed to conjure up for a second go around.
You would’ve figured that Aetherian‘s follow-up album might’ve hewed pretty closely to what the band were already doing back in 2017 with The Untamed Wildernes , but somehow they returned a little leaner-moving, a little more battle-hardened and – by adding more elements to their overall sound – even larger than before.
At Storm’s Edge veers a little harder into that weird fusing ground of Folk and Prog infused Melodeath that has resulted in some truly epic sounding and longform tracks which make healthy usage of the sort of galloping riffs which sound – as the song title might suggest – like an “Army Of Gaia” all their own.
Its fun to see the waves that a band like Insomnium make now that they’ve become a pillar of the Metal scene, as you can see that influence weaving its way in and out of a song like “Advent Dreams” (which is one of several reasons why I really enjoyed that song).
In fact, the whole “Advent Dreams” and “Advent Breath” segment of At Storm’s Edge is a stunning set of songs, placed right in the middle of the album, making this a definite case of seeing the gears turn but not truly caring.
At Storm’s Edge is a release that really does feel like a group maturing into their own, and though it came out in the dead center of Summer it could easily conjure up the cold just as much as it could whip up a heat wave.
19 – Sarcoptes – Prayers To Oblivion
Generally speaking – or at least since the days of The Living Infinite and Beyond – we have tried very, very hard to not review the same album multiple times (unless you’re at the end of the year and talking about the previous year in which case that sort of shit gets fed into a woodchipper anyway).
Because of this effort we’ve had multiple reviews happen late after the album’s release because we were pretty sure ‘someone else is going to cover that‘, right?
And its not like we’re actually going to communicate with each other. We’re grown men, we don’t do that.
The upshot of that here is that we’ve reviewed Sarcoptes‘ 2023 release Prayers To Oblivion twice, which has to be way more attention than anyone from Sacramento has ever gotten before.
Hell, we probably made them nervous and had them lifting the blinds any time they heard a car out front.
We reviewed this album all the way back in December of 2022, two months before it’s release, and I reviewed it again in March…. which show’s how little I notice stuff going on at the site sometimes. One day we’ll get this right, I swear [Sure we will – Andy].
The reason for the bemusing opening bit here is that Sarcoptes‘ newest album, Prayers to Oblivion, is only five songs long and each of them is an individual story of historical atrocity all to its own.
The band’s hybrid of Black Metal, Thrash, and a tiny bit of symphonics, is one that has been honed into such a sharp blade that even though three of the five songs laugh at the idea of being shorter than ten minutes, Sarcoptes still managed to hold your attention., locking people in as it goes from big and sprawling epic to short barn burner and back again.
Yes, Sarcoptes are a band who – and this is mostly my fault here – we’ve been blowing the horn about for some time now, so you had to expect Prayers to Oblivion was going to show up somewhere.
And I’m making it easy for you now to hit the play button and give this one a chance, because when Sarcoptes decide to show their fangs the best way to describe it is the word “blistering”.
18 – Calligram – Position | Momentum
Calligram are a band that were perfectly suited for the plague years of 2020 and on, with a combination of Hardcore Punk, Grind, and Black Metal that was so acidic as to become caustic to your ears.
Their previous album, The Eye Is The First Circle, was a release so perfectly placed (and paced) for its time that you could understand why quite a few people took notice of it and even, dare I say it, had the gall to include it among that year’s finest.
Three years later and Calligram returned with Position | Momentum, an album that dropped in the dead of summer and has spent the time since its release proving that the band have learned a lot since then – mainly how to be a hell of a lot angrier and even more blindingly furious than they had been before.
The obvious progression for a lot of albums once a group has really hit upon something is to take it and size that material up. Yet after listening to how fiery The Eye Is The First Circle was, it would be hard to fathom just how much more Calligram could push it without everything falling to rubble around them. But somehow they did it and the result is just as much of an ass-beating as it was three years ag.
You might’ve caught our words on this album previous as Andy covered it as part of a Best of British column back in July, but here’s a choice quote to help hammer home why this gnarly bastard is camping out in this year end wall-splattering:
“These aren’t just songs… they’re statements, each one a declaration that the band have no intention of compromising or conforming, even as their star continues to rise.”
And it’s true. These are songs that are knives out from the word ‘go’ and they all have something to say. They’re Calligram putting their music under the broiler and watching it fry.
It’s not a fun album by any stretch of the word, but there are, however, some fucking standout moments in this one – like the closing few songs and the tracks “Ex-Sistere” and “Eschilio” – that seem like they’ll bite you if you get too close.
Don’t believe me? Listen to opener “Sul Dolore” and then let the thought run in your mind that Calligram somehow manage to keep up that intensity across a whole album. That’s why Position | Momentum gets to hang out where it does here.
17 – Metasphaera – Metasphaera
Hey, remember April? I’m trying not to.
We’ve now entered a big block of bands that I can best describe as being so far in the DGR realm of musical taste that I can see the more kvlt amongst us now throwing their hands up and leaving the room, and the next few are part of a pretty solid wave (or an an ever increasing flood) of Tech-Death that hit throughout 2023.
Such was the case with Germany’s Metasphaera and their self-titled full length, which was released in late March and, in typical fashion for yours truly, was reviewed here… eventually.
It was a release that upon hearing it, I felt like I had to write about it, partially because this was one where the music was so perfectly befitting the modern Tech-Death scene and so perfectly ‘played’ on that front that it felt worth lighting the signal fire for.
This is one where I would’ve felt like a total blowhard – as opposed to the usual somewhat blowhard – if I didn’t create a starting point on this site and then proceed to talk about them non stop if and when they get around to releasing a follow up. I do enjoy me a good narrative arc.
Metasphaera are like a machine on their self-titled – the rhythm section in particular is perfectly synced up on the guitar front, and there’s enough noodling and wall of notes style playing between each of them to keep us instrument nerds very interested.
“Exit”, “Einheit”, and “Katharsis” all are brutally heavy and the two-part “Realitäten” has Metasphaera at their most adventurous on an album that already journeys well beyond the usual musical bounds.
This was an album that came out of nowhere for me, and part of the reason why I was so determined to write about it when I did was the hope that it would catch you all by surprise as well.
16 – The Zenith Passage – Datalysium
Look, I expected a lot from Datalysium. Not only was it a long time coming but it is also an album that has a stacked roster of musicians behind it.
There was no chance that the band could ever exceed my expectations simply because everybody that makes up The Zenith Passage‘s roster for Datalysium is already proven.
And considering that I also already enjoyed the band’s prior album a whole lot, the wall was already pretty goddamned high for them to climb over it, so I was just going to be fucking thrilled if they managed to meet them.
The results, of course, bore out that they did, in fact, meet my expectations when Datalysium was released in late July and that, for lack of a better term, fucking rules.
It’s not often that you get to play “Tech-Death fantasy draft” and assemble a line-up of musicians that then basically stake a hell of a claim for the throne (one that many of them had previously sat upon at one point or another), but that’s kind of what The Zenith Passage do on Datalysium – even if that’s not the intended goal.
I’m not here to strike up animosity or sling dirt on musicians, nor am I here to treat this as if Tech-Death is a competition – and really, let’s face it, that particular arms race went nuclear a while ago – but I’ll be damned if Datalysium didn’t make me feel like I did when I was constantly blasting The Faceless way back when.
In my review I delved into how expectations were a weird thing when it came to Datalysium and just how exciting it was that they managed to meet those expectations because by doing so, you’d know that Datalysium was going to be killer. A very specific form of killer, sure, but one that hadn’t been met in a very long time.
Not only that, but Datalysium also keeps things concise with very little room for bullshit, with every movement being deliberately considered even as the band are sweeping back and forth like practiced janitors.
I enjoy a good two parter so the “Divinertia” pairing were a consistent spin since its release and even though both were songs that were long known before Datalysium‘s release I have to own up to still jamming “Algorithmic Salvation” and “Synaptic Deprivation” quite a bit.
Datalysium was a lot of fun and a hell of a follow up album, even if The Zenith Passage became kind of a new band in the time between.
15 – The Voynich Code – Insomnia
This is absolutely, ten thousand percent, completely and totally some recency bias in play that makes The Voynich Code rank so fucking high with me in the year end list.
This is a band where I could probably pick apart, put back together, and tear apart again, ala a Hellraiser film, and dissect every single strain of music that the band have put out, yet you have no clue just how many times I’ve probably listened to Insomnia in the last month alone.
It goes without saying at this point in my year end parade – and overall if you really want to pscyhoanalyze this – that I absolutely adore a guitar-riff-avalanche style album and goddamn if Insomnia isn’t just that, providing a pretty recognizable blend of Tech-death and Deathcore – with some light backing symphonics and synth work – which never really lets up.
Not only that but they then have the gall to launch into an almost-instrumental halfway through the album that still keeps about the same tempo as the rest of the disc – never straying from that relentless pace that has made Insomnia one of the albums I keep going back to.
Part of the reason I enjoy Insomnia so much is likely the same reason I enjoy releases by bands like Cytotoxin, Sensory Amusia, and Cognizance, bands where the wall-to-wall playing never lets up yet still somehow manages to have a hook or a lead that can work its way into my brain, even as the music has managed to plough through six or seven other things by the time my own thought processes catch up.
The Voynich Code do plenty of that across Insomnia in between riffs that type out like a room full of secretaries and it was initially hard for me to even get past the one-two punch of “Slaves To A Machine” and “A Flicker Of Life” in the opening segment of the album – much less get all the way to “The Art Of War”, which you’ll quickly realise just why they made that one a lead-off single for the disc.
A band like The Voynich Code record as if it were going to be the last thing they ever do, and while that makes it a lot to take in on that first few go arounds – clocking up a dense fifty minutes of music – it’s one that I also spun a whole ton because of that.
If you want to explore more of the album, Andy included it as part of a Things You May Have Missed column back in early November, alongside a few other notable surprises.
14 – Man Must Die – The Pain Behind It All
In a just world, the distance between Man Must Die full lengths wouldn’t be as fucking long as it was between their 2023 album The Pain Behind It All and 2013’s Peace Was Never An Option.
Man Must Die are a band that have always felt too important to have distances like that between releases, and with only the Gagging Order EP in between it was hard not to be constantly checking on the band to make sure there was some sort of pulse there with the Scottish crew.
They’ve always been absolutely lethal musically and one of the few bands for whom all the yelling and anger has always felt very ‘real’ and justified, which is why the near-decade between albums was crazy, because you’d see so many groups picking up the Man Must Die baton and never nailing it quite as hard as ha been done on albums like Peace Was Never An Option or No Tolerance For Imperfection.
The Metal world felt lesser without Man Must Die yelling at me about something, and that’s why the reveal and release of The Pain Behind It All was so exciting for me, even as multiple listens spelled out that this was going to be a release that was somewhat different from the sledgehammer style of music the group were known for.
Man Must Die have always been a force unto themselves on the anger front and I’d still be down for vocalist Joe McGlynn to yell a shopping list at me if he wanted to, but I was honestly surprised by how different a lot of The Pain Behind It All felt.
There’s certainly some classic Man Must Die tracks scattered throughout this album – “Bring Me The Head Of The King” still kills – but there’s also a lot of slow, sludgier moments, and a small handful of quiet ones, and though it was initially strange hearing the band be something other than unrelenting force we were familiar, this was one of the reasons that The Pain Behind It All won me over.
The Pain Behind It All doesn’t try to compete in the magnitude olympics that previous Man Must Die albums were part of, but it was still pretty goddamned enjoyable to see them trying new things alongside the near-patented world flattening they’re so good at.
13 – Alkaloid – Numen
The fun thing with this Alkaloid release was that even after two albums I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I know this much about the band: They’re now a four piece – though Danny Tunker did contribute to this new album – and the guys that make up Alkaloid are still terrifyingly good at their instruments.
They’re also a band that are remarkably free to do whatever they want within their own signature Prog-Death/Tech-Death/something else soup.
Alkaloid have the freedom to be ‘weird’ because they’ve proven they can do conventional with their other projects and this album – with all of their space-squid mythos still in tow – has some of their most approachable moments and, equally, some of their heaviest (the band just cannot resist a good Morbid Angel groove whenever the opportunity presents itself).
I was a damned sucker for their first album, and an even bigger nerd for their follow-up, so you’d better believe that I’m here once again – an equally slavering idiot – when it comes to Numen… though surprisingly enough a little less so than I’ve been in years past.
Let’s face it, Numen is an album where Alkaloid have fully bought into their own bullshit. Every band does and for some bands that kills a little bit of the flair they might’ve had. Not so much with Alkaloid though, even if they do take an oddball turn every once in a while because… well… that’s just what Alkaloid do.
Andy delved into this a bit in his review and then not long after the band asked us to host a premiere of the album, which got a second set of eyes and ears on it to explore its warping hallways and twisted paths.
Yes, a song like “Clusterfuck” is a little on the nose for them but I’m a damned sucker for that sing-song chorus anyway [I’m just saying, it should have been the opener. – Andy], and the closing batch of songs alone in “The Folding” and “Alpha Aur” make the journey worth it in its own right (though the strange strains of the titular “Numen” are also fun).
Numen is a lot of everything you want from Alkaloid and if this is your first time with the band, welcome to an album of them taking whatever boundaries they had (if any) and purposefully blowing them up simply because they feel it’s their purpose to do so.
Mysteries, black holes, sentient space squids, a lot of eldritch analogies, and veiled mysticism await.
12 – Gorod – The Orb
I joked about it for years – years I tell you – about how a lot of Tech-Death album art in the early to mid- aughts were basically some sort of planet or orb with a crazed font over top of it.
I even, jokingly, held an awards ceremony once for ‘best usage of planet and/or boat on an album cover‘ about a decade ago, and now – lo and behold – the frenetic, kinetic, and outright quixotic Tech-Death oddballs in Gorod have only gone and called their latest album The Orb!
But of course, there’s much more to it than that because Gorod have never been one to stick closely to the Tech-Death world’s tropes and stereotypes. Skirt close to them? Yes. Play with them? You bet.
But there’s more at play than what you might expect when it comes to The Orb and that’s why it’s positioned as well as it is within this year end traffic collision.
I’ve always been prone to describing Gorod as being one of the ‘thrashier’ Tech-Death groups out there, carving out their own little niche within the overarching genre, by leaning that little bit harder into the faster guitar playing and more frenetic soloing.
They were the one of the more nimble ones from the first few Tech-Death waves and the ones that I’ve found to be the most adventurous (if not the most colorful on the cover art front), and I’d recommend their previous albums Process Of A New Decline, A Perfect Absolution, Æthra – and even the Kiss The Freak EP, as goofy as it is – to anyone.
The Orb, despite the five year gap between releases, snatches the baton from Æthra and runs with it, and the two could easily be seen as older and younger siblings as it seems like Gorod really found a sound to play with on that earlier record and decided that this time around they were going to really blow it out of the water.
You get all of the Gorod hallmarks throughout the disc but you’d think that of all the recommendations the title track would have to be among them, right? Sure, if you’re just here for the guitar fireworks then you’d probably be more suited to a song like “We Are The Sun Gods” or “Victory”, but if I was forced to pick a track that sounded the most like Gorod, then yes, I’d recommend “The Orb” for all of the sharp turns (including spoken word, jerky, jagged riffs, and strange singing) that the song takes.
I’ve always described Gorod as being the masters of coming out of left-field, even when musically they’re an incredibly fast tech-death group, and there’s few bands out there capable of putting out something as organically weird – or who possess the bravery to take a crack at some of the concept work they do – as The Orb.
11 – Cattle Decapitation- Terrasite
You had to know this was coming right? Have you read Andy’s review of this one so you can call me out on my bullshit throughout?
This album has been hovering in the periphery for three editions of this year end list, and waiting to see this cover art pop up has likely been like waiting for the axe to fall on your neck.
Well, here we are. We’re finally going to talk about Cattle Decapitation and their 2023 album Terrasite.
In a lot of ways I really enjoy Cattle Decapitation’s latest metallic maelstrom of oh my god, what the hell is that yet I found that because I’m familiar with the guys now I can take it a little more easy.
That being said, I do appreciate that it seems like Cattle Decapitation themselves realized that you can only stretch a particular style so far, and after the monolithic Death Atlas [That’s one word for it – Andy] they clearly felt free to both explore and alter things a little – which, in the case of Terrasite, means a whole lot of experimentation as well as returning to a bunch of what made them great to begin with.
Terrasite is an album of a whole lot of ideas – although, because it tries to be so many things, there are times where it doesn’t quite land as hard as maybe it oughta to – with some fantastic songs coupled alongside it.
Yet I wouldn’t want it any other way because, for all its bizarre lumps and strange turns and things that may not work for me as well as they do for others, it shows that even as Cattle Decapitation are becoming an absolute massive act they’re not going stick within a comfort zone and push out ‘product’ just yet.
Much like Gorod‘s The Orb and Alkaloid‘s Numen, its that sense of adventurism that kept me hanging around with Terrasite, as though there are songs that are, simply stated, exactly as they present themselves from the go – they’re Death Metal songs, through and through – it seems like Cattle Decapitation are fully aware of this and make huge effort to not just fall into the formula of “clean sung chorus, aggressively intense verse, count-off start song, repeat”.
Over the course of the album they mix things up and frequently throw a lot of that blueprint into a blender, so that one of the strongest clean-sung hooks only appears right at the end of the song in “Solestalgia”, while also clearly having a lot of fun playing to “the cheap seats” (which includes yours truly) a little bit in a song like “Scourge Of The Offspring”, and you know that when they do decide to go into that particular comfort zone, manic as it is, that they’re going to do it well.
Yet you also have straight-up brutalizers like “Dead End Residents” and “We Eat Our Young” in the mix as well, and it’s this sort of stubborn refusal to not just repeat themselves and force together blocks that otherwise wouldn’t click that made Terrasite so interesting to me.
There’s plenty of headbanging groove, monstrous drumming, abrasive grind and annihilating vocal work – basically everything the band are known for – on Terrasite, but it’s the work put in to keep this one distinct, giving the band some of their heaviest moments and equally some of their lightest, which has them scraping right up against the top ten for me this year.