Jan 042021


(In this post Andy Synn reviews three 2020 album “reissues” that in different ways gave the original releases a new lease on life.)

“Out with the old, in with the new!”

That has, traditionally, been the mantra that accompanies the end of one year and the beginning of another.

And so, in that spirit, I’ve decided to bit adieu to 2020 with a look back at three albums which originally reared their ugly heads in 2016, 2011, and 2004, respectively, but which were all given a new lease on life last year.

So I guess that opening mantra should have been “everything old is new again…”, shouldn’t it? Continue reading »

Dec 302020


(For the final SYNN REPORT of 2020, Andy Synn reviews all the rcords in the significant discography of the unorthodox German black metal band Maladie.)

Recommended for fans of: Solefald, Sigh, Dødheimsgard

Well, it’s the end of the year as we know it and I feel… well, to be quite honest I’m not sure how I feel.

After all, it’s been a very strange (not to mention challenging) twelve months for most of us, with this site being one of the very few constants capable of brightening the bleak monotony of daily life in 2020.

So, I thought to myself, why not end the year with a feature on a band who are, in their own way, just as strange, and just as challenging (though far more rewarding)? Which is why you’re about to read my in-depth analysis of the still-expanding discography of the multi-headed metallic entity known as Maladie.

Musically-speaking the band’s sound is rooted in Black Metal, sure… but it’s also wilfully Avant-Garde, wickedly Progressive, jazzily indulgent, turbulently Technical, and everything in between, running the gamut from strafing blastbeats to swirling saxophone to groove-heavy riffs to grandiose synths, all topped off with a cacophonous chorus of shrieks and snarls, barks and bellows, sonorous croons and high-toned harmonies delivered in a polyglottal mix of English, French, Spanish, German, and Latin!

As complex and chaotic as all that sounds though, Maladie aren’t afraid to deploy hooks and/or heaviness to keep their listener(s) engaged, and – as a result of the band’s kitchen-sink-in-a-blender approach – there’s a good chance that there’ll be something here to appeal not just to fans of the three bands mentioned above (Solefald, Sigh, and Dødheimsgard) but to people who love Satyricon, Sear Bliss, Arcturus, Ne Obliviscaris, Vintersorg, In Vain, Ihsahn’s solo work, and more. Continue reading »

Dec 222020



(As the year limps to the finish line Andy Synn continues to recommend 2020 albums we haven’t yet covered in detail, bringing us three more reviews today.)

For today’s edition of “Unsung Heroes” we’re looking out towards the edges of the nascent (and slightly controversial) “Post-Death” scene, with three bands who – each in their own way – have taken a sound rooted in the firm foundations of Death Metal and nurtured it, cultivated it, in a much more expansive and progressive direction, cross-breeding it with outside elements and influences in an attempt to produce a new, hybrid-strain of heaviness which is more than just the sum of its varied parts.

Have they been successful? Well that, to an extent, is in the eye of the beholder, but I’d say that each of the three bands featured here shows a lot of promise and potential (in some cases a frankly incredibly amount), to the point where some of them (perhaps even all of them) may one day become future leaders and trailblazers in this slowly evolving sub-scene. Continue reading »

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 »