Dec 062019


(This is the last installment in Andy Synn‘s week-long series of essays about metal in 2019, closing with a Top 10 list of personal favorites.)

In many ways today’s article, the last one of my seasonal “Listmania” (which is a lot like Hulkamania, only with better hair), is the easiest one to write.

After all, it’s not making any big claims about being “the best” albums of the year, nor is it trying to achieve any similarly lofty goal like my “Critical Top Ten” was. It’s just a list of the ten albums I’ve listened to most and/or which have connected with me most strongly, over the last twelve months.

But precisely because this is such a personal and subjective list, it’s been the one most constantly in flux, with the positioning and ordering of what bands/albums were included switching and changing right up until the wire.

Still, I think (I hope) a lot of you are going to discover (or rediscover) some cool new artists and albums here. Continue reading »

Dec 052019


(Andy Synn‘s week-long round-up of metal in 2019 continues with this list of his picks for the year’s “Critical Top Ten” across a range of metal genres.)

Let’s be honest, most “Best Of…” lists aren’t really about identifying the “best” albums of the year.

Most of the time they’re either just a single writer’s personal favourites or, in the case of the major magazines, a wholly predictable round-up, written by committee, designed to confirm and reinforce the expectations of their readership and sell future ad space.

And, you know what? I get it. That’s fine. But I’ve always felt that it’s possible to do better, which is why I came up with the idea for the “Critical Top Ten” in the first place.

Rather than presenting these ten albums as a strict, authoritative list of the “best” albums of the year, the purpose of this article is to provide a representative sample of both the brilliance and variety of the underground Metal scene in 2019, at least as it stands from my perspective.

This year’s selection includes three albums from the USA, two from Germany, two from Spain, and one each from Australia, Switzerland, and the Ukraine. The earliest release is from February, the latest from just last month, and at least three of these records are making an appearance here at NCS for the very first time, so, hopefully, there’s still a few surprises in store for all of you! Continue reading »

Dec 042019


(This is the third part of Andy Synn‘s five-part reflections on the year in metal that’s about to end.)

Today’s list collates those artists and albums which I felt represented the top tier of this year’s metallic output, drawn from a variety of styles and sub-genres, and a multitude of different countries.

Certainly there’s some variance in their quality too, from absolute game-changers to albums which some of you might argue belong more on yesterday’s list (and vice versa), but these records are honestly the ones which I think deserve the highest praise (for various reasons) this year.

Of course if you don’t see something here, and can’t find it on yesterday’s list, then that just means I didn’t get a chance to listen to it.

In fact, I can tell you now that, despite my best efforts and best intentions, I never got round to listening to the new albums from Mayhem, Spirit Adrift, Falls of Rauros, Wilderun, The Drowning, Devourment, or Ossuarium, so sadly you won’t be seeing any of them appearing in the list below. I do hope they were everything you wanted them to be though.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me, let’s get to it, shall we? Continue reading »

Dec 032019


(We dom’t publish a single “official” NCS year-end list of best releases. Instead, each of our staff members compiles his own individual list.Andy Synn‘s week-long series of personal year-end lists continues today with his list of 2019’s “Good” albums.)


It’s important to clarify, right now, that both today’s list and tomorrow’s are NOT in any way an attempt to rank (at least not in any detail) the various albums which I’ve listened to this year.

The purpose of these two lists, today’s “Good” and tomorrow’s “Great”, is simply to provide a round-up of the various new releases which have found their way into my eardrums this year.

Of course, even these two lists (which together total somewhere approaching 300 albums) don’t provide a comprehensive account of everything that’s been released in 2019, but I sincerely hope that every one of you reading this right now comes away from this article with at least a handful of new bands/albums to check out.

As always I’ve broken things up into various categories to make the reading easier/fun, and (where possible) I’ve included a Bandcamp link to the album in the full list at the end of the article. Continue reading »

Dec 022019


(We do not publish a single “official” NCS year-end list of best releases.  Instead, each of our staff members compiles his own individual list. A week earlier than we did this last year, today we’re beginning the roll-out of Andy Synn‘s five-part series of year-end lists. As usual, we’re starting with an installment that veers off our usual theme of focusing on music we enthusiastically recommend. Feel free to disagree — some of us here may disagree as well — but also feel free to share in the Comments your own thoughts about 2019 albums that disappointed you.)

Normally I’d wait until a little deeper into December before writing/publishing my End of the Year lists, but various circumstances (including a short run of dates supporting Hour of Penance next week) mean that I’m going to be pretty busy for the rest of this month (though hopefully not too busy to do at least a little bit of writing for NCS), so you lucky people are getting the benefit of my yearly round-up a little early this time around.

As usual I’m going to kick things off with a short (shorter than usual, in fact) piece on the most “Disappointing” albums from the last twelve months, which this year contains a mix of big names, over-hyped newcomers, and, sadly, some of my personal favourite bands.

And because some of you might be a little unfamiliar with the format of this particular piece, I’m going to quote from our friends over at Last Rites, who I think summed it up nicely in a recent piece:

The idea of this feature isn’t just to bash bands or records — it’s ultimately more about us, as fans, lamenting the releases that disappointed us the most. And, of course, disappointment implies some heightened level of hope that a release might be, y’know… good.” Continue reading »

Nov 292019


(The month of November has nearly expired, but before it gasps its last breath Andy Synn has delivered a SYNN REPORT for the month, and in this edition he reviews and streams music from all the albums created by the German band Krater, including their latest work Venenare, released by Eisenwald earlier this month.)

Recommended for fans of: 1349, Mgła, Dark Fortress

I’m a little sick and tired of explaining it but, here it is again for those of you too slow to grasp this very simple truth…

Black Metal comes in many forms and many guises.

It can be dense and dissonant, ethereal and atmospheric, thrashy, punky, proggy… and everything in between. Sometimes all at once.

Don’t get me wrong, I still firmly believe that there are certain features, certain elements and ideals, which are fundamental (even though we can argue about what they might be ’til the cows come home) and without which you’re simply not playing Black Metal at all. But I have very little time for those whose limited vision restricts what they’ll “allow” Black Metal to be.

Germany’s Krater clearly share a similar view, as their back catalogue is a testament to evolution and expanding vision, beginning life as a more “classic” second-wave style band but swiftly developing into something far darker, far heavier, far more technical, and far more atmospheric, than their more primitive origins might have predicted. Continue reading »

Nov 272019


(To the Grave come our way from Sydney, Australia, and this review of their new album (released on November 7th) comes our way from Andy Synn.)

I’ve been slowly but surely compiling my “End of the Year” lists over the last few weeks (you’ll get to see them very soon, in fact) and have reached a couple of interesting conclusions.

One of which is that there really hasn’t been much of the old ‘core that’s grabbed my attention this year.

The new Carnifex is solid (if a little uneven), as is the new Whitechapel, while the new Osiah finds the band stepping up their game, without reinventing the wheel. And I’ve heard a few good things about (though I haven’t actually heard) the new Despised Icon too.

But overall nothing has really blown me away.

Global Warning, however, is a welcome exception to this rule. Continue reading »

Nov 252019


(Andy Synn has again compiled reviews and streams of new records by bands from the UK.)

It was last week, I think, when I stumbled across another one of those weirdly throw-away lists purporting to feature “ten of the best up-and-coming UK Metal bands”.

Intrigued, and hopeful to discover some new names to help promote in turn, I gave the article a click, only to find that pretty much entire list was made up of bands who were already pretty well known, or made up of ex-members of other bands who’d previously received a fair bit of hype, and/or mates of the band responsible for the article in the first place.

Not only that, but pretty much every band featured played some variant of Death Metal/Deathcore, and clearly all came from a very similar clique. And while I get that it’s not always easy to think of other bands to recommend at the drop of a hat, the UK Metal scene is such a rich and vibrant cesspool of metallic morsels that this seems like a missed opportunity.

Not that I’m necessarily any better. Chances are you’ll all have heard of at least one of the bands I’m about to recommend. But, hopefully, over the course of the last 11/12 months I’ve presented a solid (though far from exhaustive) cross-section of the versatility and variety that represents “the Best of British” in 2019. Continue reading »

Nov 232019


(Andy Synn returns with another episode in his series on metal lyrics, and today we have answers from Nathanael Underwood, lyricist/vocalist/guitarist of the UK death metal band Dāmim, whose latest album was released in June of this year.)

To quote my own review, the new record from Progressive Death Metal maestros Dāmim is “an album that doesn’t just stand on the shoulders of giants, but is more than capable of standing right alongside them.”

And since I’m such a fan of their new album, not to mention the fact that I’m going to be playing a short run of shows alongside them next month, I thought it was high time we heard from frontman Nathanael Underwood about what exactly it is that makes the band’s difference engine tick. Continue reading »

Nov 222019


(Today Sentient Ruin Laboratories is releasing the debut album of the multinational black metal entity Decoherence, and to commemorate the occasion we have Andy Synn‘s laudatory review of the record.)

It still never fails to surprise me, although I probably should have learned by now, how conservative and parochial some Black Metal fans can be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a firm believer that every genre (not just Black Metal) has certain key features, certain boundaries, which define them, but it’s not hard at all to find bands pushing and exploring and expanding these boundaries in a way which still maintains the fundamental essence of the style.

That’s not enough for some people though, especially in Black Metal, where the issue of what is “true” and what is “false” often gets simplified down to “whatever I happen to like is real Black Metal, and whatever I don’t like isn’t”.

Still, even the most obsessive and obdurate of refuseniks will have a hard time denying that Ekpyrosis is one of the best Black Metal albums of the year. Continue reading »