Jan 312024

(Gonzo returns with another end-of-month roundup of recommended releases, this time shining a light on albums and EPs released by six bands in January.)

January is such a bullshit month.

It’s cold as all fuck, everyone’s burned out – financially, emotionally, professionally – and shows/tours are few and far between. To pile it on, it’s also customarily a terrible month for new music. I wasn’t expecting to unearth much during my monthly search of metal’s grimy underbelly to include in this feature.

Lo and behold, I was dead fucking wrong. 2024 has already seen so many good releases in just over three weeks that I actually had to figure out what not to include here. (Coincidentally, three of the releases are from France, so make of that what you will.)

Regardless of geography, the sharp rise in early-year quality in 2024 is making me rethink old paradigms. Is the January curse on its way out? Am I reading too much into this? Is reality a lie? Are the machines reading my thoughts? Fuck. Continue reading »

Dec 272023

(To help bring life to the dead week between Christmas and New Year’s Day we continue presenting year-end lists by our writers. Today we have Part II of a two-part list by our Denver-based contributor Gonzo. You can find Part I here.)

It’s only when you start to write your year-end list that you realize how much shit you didn’t listen to each year. I’m not even sure how that happened, given that I’m borderline psychopathic about keeping track of what I listen to every week, but the result here – the top 10 in my yearly two-parter – is something I feel represents the best of what I heard throughout 2023.

I could make up for that with a list of “honorable mentions” that didn’t quite make the cut, but in all transparency, the day job and life have culminated into a real bitch of a time-suck this month. So, this will be briefer than I’d prefer, but here it is no less. Continue reading »

Dec 262023

(To help bring life to the dead week between Christmas and New Year’s Day we continue presenting year-end lists by our writers. Today we have Part I of a two-part list by our Denver-based contributor Gonzo, with Part II to follow tomorrow.)

While it’s one thing to have your Spotify Wrapped viciously critiqued by an army of your peers, only the truly dedicated (or most antisocial) among us will go so far as to lock themselves in a room for several days to list out – in lavish detail – what they feel are the best albums to be released over the past year.

And just like my ability to craft an absurdly long sentence to begin the exercise of assembling such a list, this year’s top picks spared no expense in grandeur. From post-metal gems to forward-thinking, avant-garde atmosphere that we all might look back on in 10 years and think, “good god, this is underrated,” 2023 had a little something for everyone in the world of metal.

I’ll get right to it, then – this is the first half of my top 20 albums of the year. For those of us keeping track at home, that means you’ll find #11-20 below and #1-10 will follow soon. (Provided my day job doesn’t try to kill me in the process.) Continue reading »

Dec 142023

(Denver-based NCS writer Gonzo didn’t miss the Decibel Metal & Beer Fest in Denver on December 1st and 2nd. We’ve already published his report on the fest’s first day (here), and today we present his report on Day 2.)

Festivals are always full of surprises. Most of the time, these surprises are new bands I discover or friends I meet for the first time, but when I woke up in the morning after day 1 of Decibel Metal & Beer Fest, the true surprise was that I didn’t have a crippling fucking hangover.

Ah, but there was still time. Tonight would be a glorious second installment of the festivities orchestrated by the Philly-based Decibel crew. And if last night was any indicator of what I could expect this evening, there was much reason for excitement. Continue reading »

Dec 072023

(Denver-based NCS writer Gonzo didn’t miss the Decibel Metal & Beer Fest in Denver on December 1st and 2nd, and somehow he recovered quickly enough to turn in the following report on the fest’s first day — and he’ll be sending us a report on the second day as well.)

We all know the story with sequels – they rarely live up to the expectations set by their predecessor. The trend is so common that it makes one wonder why it’s seemingly always the case. Heavy lies the crown of precedent, I suppose.

Music festivals are not immune to this trend. The first go-round of any festival could easily be a trial-and-error situation resulting in way more “error” for most people’s liking. The logistics, planning, promotion, marketing, and everything that goes in between is a waking nightmare to comprehend, and it’s a hell of a lot easier for me to sit here and write about it than it is to organize and execute. When it’s done right, though, people will come back for Year 2, and they’ll bring their high expectations with them.

All that being said, after spending this past weekend at Summit Music Hall here in Denver for the second incarnation of Decibel’s now-annual Metal & Beer Fest, I can happily say that the curse of sequel mediocrity does not fucking apply here.

If anything, the bar has been thoroughly raised for this glorious weekend of revelry and ear-splitting savagery, even though my liver is scowling in disapproval as I type this. (Sit this one out, you whiny little mass of meat. You’ve suffered enough.) Continue reading »

Nov 102023

(With October now behind us and November well on its way, our friend Gonzo returns to NCS with reviews of some October releases that made a very positive impression.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the ways music connects us as a people. The metal community is, more often than not, a refuge for this kind of thinking. It’s especially noticeable when everything else in the world starts to suck.

A couple of weeks back, I saw Blackbraid open for Wolves in the Throne Room. The former’s unapologetically indigenous approach to their music was, and always is, a great reminder of how heavy music isn’t just for one group of people. It’s for everyone. Hearing such music in a live setting, in the company of other like-minded humans, was refreshing. It reminds me why I make time to write about this shit in the first place.

And I know I’m not alone in saying that it’s all too easy to go down a doom-scroll rabbit hole these days. Between that sense of existential dread and the aforementioned gratitude for metal, I had plenty of inspiration for this month’s roundup. I was right – it turned out to be a real fucking doozy.

(As I’m typing this, at least one person is secretly jotting down “Doom Scroll Rabbit Hole” for the name of their one-man psychedelic black metal project.) Continue reading »

Oct 052023

(Our Denver-based contributor Gonzo is back with another end-of-month column, recommending five albums released in September that he thoroughly enjoyed.)

I have to admit that I love fall, if for no other reason than the temperatures stop trying to boil me alive.

Music-wise, though, there was actually too much good shit that came out in September than I had time to write about, so I had to trim down some stuff that otherwise would’ve appeared here. But I loved what ended up making the cut – some of it was full of surprises, and some of it was stuff that lived up to the hype.

Let’s get weird. Continue reading »

Sep 282023

VOLA – photo by Heli Andrea

(Denver-based NCS writer Gonzo had himself a hell of a good time at a show about two weeks ago, and made time to show his appreciation in the following review.)

Denmark’s VOLA has always been a fascinating band to me. On one hand, their sound is an angular, merciless assortment of riffs that pay homage to the likes of Meshuggah, while on the other hand, one could be forgiven for comparing their vocals to that of Radiohead.

It sounds like a confusing juxtaposition on paper. But the way these Danes (and one Swede) in VOLA have cultivated their sound into its final form is no less remarkable. Their 2022 album Witness was a favorite of mine from that year and continues to get much of my attention now.

When they announced their biggest North American run yet, I circled the date on my calendar and let the excitement build. My hopes were already high, but the addition of Finland’s Wheel and Boston’s Bent Knee as supporting acts only bolstered the anticipation levels.

The result, as it turned out, would be a night I would not soon forget. Continue reading »

Sep 012023

Radiant Knife

(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.

Continue reading »

Aug 142023

Astral Tomb

(After a bit of a hiatus, Gonzo returns to NCS today with a pair of reviews for albums released last month.)

So, here we are again. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve been able to post on these venerable pages; the reasons for which are now, thankfully, in my rearview mirror. Alas, despite being in the recent past, said reasons are no less infuriating, and a grim reminder of how chaos and discord can overtake your life in the span of one simple afternoon. But we won’t get into that mess here.

It’s been a stressful summer, to be sure, but forcing myself to withdraw from the world and delve into music has always been a sacred source of therapy for this maladjusted writer. (People I work with would refer to this as “disassociating,” but I call it…well, shit, you got me in a box here, forget it.)

In a few weeks, I’ll have my yearly end-of-summer roundup ready to post here, supplanting my usual monthly column. There’ll be plenty for you to sort through when that happens.

But for now, I thought I’d preempt that with two albums that share at least one thing in common: The new albums from Denver’s Astral Tomb and Toledo’s Astralborne. Besides sharing the word “astral” in their respective band names, these two acts have unleashed searing new records that deserve to be heard. Continue reading »