Dec 182020



(Andy Synn follows yesterday’s installment of “Unsung Heroes” with another one, this time presenting reviews and streams of new albums by two French bands and one Italian group, all of which provide well-deserved exceptions to our “Rule” about singing.)

As I’ve tried to stress several times – not just this year, but every year – it is literally impossible for any “Best of…” list to be totally comprehensive and/or definitive.

There’s only so much listening time available, and so many, many albums released each year, that the most you can ever really hope for is a representative sample of the year’s “best” releases.

It’s in acknowledgement of this unfortunate, but incontrovertible, fact of life that I first started writing these “Unsung Heroes” articles in the hope of providing some well-deserved, albeit retroactive, coverage for a bunch of artists and albums which I/we didn’t get chance to cover in proper detail before now, and which you, our readers, may well have missed out on too.

Today’s article has a particularly doomy focus although, as you’re about to find out, each of the three bands featured here has a distinctly different take on the genre.

Of the three artists I’m about to (possibly) introduce you too, one of them is a very recent discovery that I didn’t stumble across until my week-long list-a-thon was almost finished, while the other two I was hoping to be able to write a paragraph or two (or five) about prior to “List Season” commencing, but just never found the time. Continue reading »

Dec 172020



(Andy Synn wrote the three album reviews collected in this post.)

As you may know, List Season is now officially over (for me anyway, though not for the site)… which means Post-List Season is officially open!

Now I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your attention that over the past few years (and beyond) we’ve been experiencing another one of those periodic Old School Death Metal “revivals”, where it seems like everyone has been competing to find the most effusive and hyperbolic way to praise the latest batch of Floridian-meets-Finnish Death Metal disciples (especially, or so it seems, if they’re American).

One reason for this, I’d imagine, is that we’ve now reached a point where a certain generation of bands, fans, and writers who weren’t old enough to take part in the original rise of the genre, or the early waves of Old School nostalgia, have risen to positions of prominence/notoriety, and by praising, supporting (and sometimes over-hyping) the current crop of retro riff-mongers they’re now able to relive – if only vicariously – the “classic” days of the genre which they missed out on.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some absolute gems to have come out of all this (several of which we’ve written about here before now), and so I’ve decided to dedicate today’s edition of “The Unsung Heroes of 2020” to three more of them, one of which was a firm favourite on my “Good” list, another of which took a prominent position on my “Great” list… and the third of which might, if I’d discovered it sooner, have forced a major rewrite of my “Critical Top Ten” this year! Continue reading »

Dec 112020


(This is the last installment in Andy Synn‘s week-long series of essays about metal in 2020, closing with a Top 10 list of his personal favorites.)

You might think that, compared to the struggle for objectivity and insight that is my “Critical Top Ten” every year, that putting together a list of “Personal” favourites would be a walk in the park.

But, actually, the requirements and restrictions which help me define my “Critical” selections make it easier to put together the initial short-list, since removing (or, at least, downplaying) any sense of personal favouritism means it’s possible to focus more on the “objective” qualities of ambition, execution, and emotion.

Making a list of favourites though? Just ten of them? Now that’s hard…

In fact this year it was harder than any other time I can remember as there were simply so many bands/albums I loved this year, so many that I wanted to highlight and hype up – from Rannoch to Uprising to Hexer to Nug – that cutting it down it down to a mere ten entries was an almost physically painful process this year.

But I managed it. Just. So here are the ten albums – drawn from both my “Good” and “Great” lists – that struck the biggest/deepest chord with me this year, and that I simply can’t stop listening to.

As always, this list is less about overall, “objective” quality, and more about giving our readers some insight into my listening habits and personal preferences (while also giving a shout out to some damn fine albums). Continue reading »

Dec 102020


(Andy Synn‘s week-long round-up of metal in 2020 continues with this list of his picks for the year’s “Critical Top Ten” across a broad range of metal genres. You might also want to read his round-ups of the year’s “Great“, “Good“, and most “Disappointing” albums to see what you may have missed.)

So here’s the thing… I recently came to the realisation that there’s more than one reason why this article is referred to as my “Critical” (that’s the key word) Top Ten, and not “The Best of…”.

It’s not just because it symbolises me putting on my “critic” hat in an attempt to inject a sliver of objectivity and self-awareness into the proceedings (because of this my “Critical” and my “Personal” lists rarely cross over), but because I believe that these ten albums are critical if you want to gain a fuller, more rounded grasp of the visceral variety and creative vitality of the Metal scene in 2020.

Of course, ten entries is woefully insufficient to cover the full breadth and depth of the year’s output, but you’ll find that the albums I’ve selected still encompass a range of styles and sub-genres, and feature releases ranging from as far back as January to as recently as a few weeks ago.

As always the list isn’t ranked – this article isn’t about saying which albums are better/worse, but about presenting a representative sample of the year’s best – and I’ve again included an extra “bonus” recommendation alongside each main entry, so even if you’re already familiar with something picked out there’ll should still be something new for you to listen to as well/instead.

This year it really feels like I’ve diverged quite a bit from the common consensus (not on purpose, I hasten to add), as there’s only really one entry here that I would call an “obvious” pick, but I still stand by every one of my choices regardless of how divisive and/or controversial they might be.

And so, without further ado, let’s get critical. Continue reading »

Dec 092020


(We continue our week-long series of personal year-end lists compiled by Andy Synn (which actually began last Friday), and today we have his list of 2020’s “Great” albums, again crossing a wide range of genres. You might also want to read his round-ups of the year’s “Good“, and most “Disappointing” albums to see what you may have missed.)

On one hand today’s article was much easier to write than yesterday’s, mainly because it’s less than half the length.

However, it’s actually more difficult in other ways, largely due to the fact that greatness comes in many forms – whether it’s a fantastic debut that instantly puts the band on the map, a career-defining milestone from a band finally realising their full potential, or a career re-defining return to form from a legendary artist – and so choosing where to draw the line is infinitely harder.

Some of the artists you’re about to read about were included because their music pushes the boundaries in brave new directions. Others made it onto the list by simply being the best there is at what they do. Some of these bands found a way to put their own unique spin on otherwise familiar sounds, while a handful of them have come to define an entire sub-genre all by themselves.

Ultimately there’s no one rule which dictates who does, and who doesn’t, make the cut, but I’ve tried my best to remain at least a little bit objective and self-aware when making these selections. Continue reading »

Dec 082020


(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 year-end lists continues today with his large collection of 2020’s “Good” albums across a wide range of genres.)

So, now that all the fury and furore about yesterday’s list has (hopefully) died down, it’s time for us to get stuck into the good stuff.

And I do mean the “good” stuff, as today’s list features a wide variety of albums and artists all of whom I think are worth giving a listen to, some of which came very close to making it onto tomorrow’s “great” list, while others sit more in the “flawed, but still fun” category, but which all ultimately offer something worthwhile whether or not you’re a new listener or a long-time fan.

As always, I have to point out that this list is in no way “ranked”… it’s more of a general round-up of things (over 200 of them at last count) which I’ve had chance to listen to and form a semi-coherent opinion on over the course of the last twelve months… and is designed primarily to help our readers discover (or give a second chance to) things they might otherwise have missed or dismissed.

Oh, and if anything does catch your ear (and if nothing does then perhaps you’re on the wrong site?) then just give the band name a click and it should take you to their bandcamp page (or equivalent).

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get going, shall we? Continue reading »

Dec 072020


(We don’t publish a single “official” NCS year-end list of best releases.  Instead, each of our staff members compiles his own individual list. As usual, we have begun this year with a series of lists compiled by Andy Synn. Last Friday we published his list of 2020’s best EPs, and this week we’re rolling out the rest of them, day by day. As in the past 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 2020 albums that disappointed you.)

And so it begins…

Once again I’m starting off my annual week-long listravaganza with a round-up of those albums which I felt ultimately failed to live up to their promise and potential (and, in some cases, hype).

As always, however, I come here today not to praise Caesar… but not to bury him either…. but simply to point out that sometimes, sometimes, the emperor is a little under-dressed.

Of course, if I’m being totally honest, doing this column actually makes me a little sad, as it frequently (including this time) features bands who I consider some of my personal favourites.

But, by the same token, I think it’s important, and necessary, to acknowledge that even the best bands, even the bands we love the most, aren’t perfect, and sometimes come in under the bar.

This is especially relevant to this year’s article, as it contains a number of big/famous/seminal names, all with lengthy careers behind them (and hopefully lengthy careers still before them), who – for various reasons – simply didn’t produce their best work this year.

Chances are you won’t agree with all of my choices here. Some of you may even be upset by them (though you don’t need to be, this won’t harm any of the bands – in fact it might even help them identify some weaknesses in their overall game). But, no matter what, I hope we can all remain civil and polite in the comments.

After all, we’re all here because we love music… even when it sometimes disappoints us. Continue reading »

Dec 042020


(The time has come for us to again launch the rollout of year-end lists by NCS writers and guests, and as always we begin with Andy Synn‘s lists. As has usually been the case, Andy begins with his personal list of the year’s best EPs. We’ll continue with his other year-end lists every day next week.)

Well, here we are again.

Next week I’ll once again be rolling our my yearly round-ups of the “Great”, Good”, and “Disappointing” albums which I’ve heard this year, culminating, as always, in my attempt to narrow down these literal hundreds of entries into ten “Critical” selections and ten “Personal” favourites.

But, first of all, I want to give a shout-out to the many, many, fantastic, fascinating, sometimes frustrating, EPs which I’ve heard over the course of the last twelve-ish months.

This isn’t, obviously, intended to be in any way comprehensive (I never got round to listening to the new Carcass, for example, and I’m still digesting both the new Nexul and Descend to Acheron EPs),  nor is it a definitive statement about which EPs are the year’s “best” (though some of them definitely are) but my hope is you’ll all discover something new in what you’re about to read.

So, with all that out of the way, let’s get started, shall we? Continue reading »

Nov 302020


(This is Andy Synn‘s SYNN REPORT for November 2020, and this month he lines up reviews of all the albums by California’s Vampire Squid.)

Recommended for fans of: Cattle Decapitation, The Red Chord, Slugdge

Being in a Metal band and not taking yourself too seriously, while also treating your craft and your audience with the respect they deserve, is a difficult line to walk – but not an impossible one.

Matter of fact, some of my favourite bands are dead serious (and highly professional) about what they do while also being fully aware of the innate absurdity of using the medium of Metal to bellow barely decipherable lyrics about historical atrocities or struggles with mental illness or scorn for global politics… or any one of a hundred other deadly serious, and seriously dark, issues.

And while lyrically Southern California Tech-Grind crew Vampire Squid may be slightly less serious than some – most of their songs are based around the classic Death Metal themes of blood, guts, and dismemberment, albeit with a suitably briny twist – musically speaking they’re cut from the same creative cloth as bands like The Red Chord and The Faceless, marrying the angular technicality of these groups with a rabid intensity reminiscent of Cattle Decapitation and Benighted, all topped off with a dose of the complex-yet-catchy songwriting style of their mollusc-based brethren in Slugdge (with whom they also share a love for pun-tastic song titles).

But, hey, if all that sounds too good to be true then why not see/hear for yourself and join me on a free dive into the crushing depths of the band’s discography for this month’s edition of The Synn Report? Continue reading »

Nov 272020


(We present Andy Synn‘s combined reviews of the three EPs released this year by the Nevada band Holy Death.)

Today’s edition of “Short But Sweet” is a little different.

Rather than covering three EPs by three different bands, instead we’re going to be taking a look at three different EPs by the same band, Las Vegas-based Death/Doom disciples Holy Death, whose debut EP, Supreme Metaphysical Violence, came out back in February, and was followed soon after by June’s Celestial Throne ov Grief.

Then, right at the end of last month, they dropped Deus Mortis, which is around about the time I jumped on the bandwagon… which brings us right up to date.

Continue reading »