Dec 172018


(Our year-end LISTMANIA series continues this week, beginning with NCS contributor Wil Cifer‘s Top 20 list.)

Yes, you can re-read the title: It says the top 20 “heavy” albums, not the top 20 “Metal” albums. I prefer for music to be heavy sonically and emotionally, more than I demand that they be metal. I think the more open-minded metal head can certainly appreciate heaviness in many forms, though those represented here are more often metal than not, since I have other platforms on which to rant about post-punk or shoegaze, and albums by Nothing or Marissa Nadler don’t belong in a conversation about heavy music even as good as those albums might be.

In 13 out 20 of these albums, screamed, growled, or otherwise tortured vocalizations are the primary method of delivery. Melody comes in many forms, for me the darker the better. No one sub-genre stole the show here; I think doom and black metal are neck-and-neck; there are also a couple of more hardcore albums, and some with a progressive leaning. The one unifying point is the dark and emotive current that runs through the bulk of these albums, which reflects the fact that I grew up a poor goth child, who was too metal for the clove smokers and too goth for the denim and PBR crowd (however, selling weed in the early ’90s made the most die-hard Cannibal Corpse fans tolerate my Type O Negative). Continue reading »

Nov 132018


(On November 16th Candlelight/Spinefarm will release the new (11th) album by the Japanese band Sigh, an album about madness and the blurring line between sanity and insanity, with 90% of the lyrics in Japanese and cover art by Eliran Kantor. What follows are Wil Cifer‘s thoughts about it.)

The term progressive metal can bring to mind some cringe-worthy images, among them Berklee dropouts making long sprawling songs with obtuse riffs written with one thing in mind — “How will this sound if I solo over it?“ What sets Sigh apart from such bands, aside from their black metal past, is that their sound actually progresses. It is not stagnant wanking. You know only to expect organized chaos when you go into one of their albums. So I should have not been surprised by the opening track of Heir To Despair (“Aletheia”) sounding like a space-age take on Jethro Tull as a metal band; it makes perfect sense. Continue reading »

Oct 112018


(Wil Cifer reviews the new album by Evoken, which will be released by Profound Lore on November 9th.)

Funeral doom might be my favorite subgenre of metal, with depressive black metal not far behind. It invokes deeper emotional layers and creates powerful sonic places than doom bands content with just worshipping Black Sabbath. Jersey doom band Evoken might be America’s best when it comes not only to funeral doom, but to doom as a whole.

On their new album Hypnagogia they pick up where they left off with Atra Mors. There are a few changes, such as synths being more prevalent in the mix, which creates thicker atmosphere. Mood-wise the album is dark yet not as filled with despair as the previous album. Lyrically, it uses World War I as a metaphor regarding more personal topics. This is done without the need to maintain some contrived narrative that concept albums tend to have. Continue reading »

Oct 012018


(This is Wil Cifer’s review of the new sixth album by Author & Punisher, which will be released by Relapse Records on October 5th.)

Not being satisfied with heavy as merely blazing fast double-bass with even faster guitar solos, I require something out of left field with a great deal of sonic intensity. Author & Punisher’s brand of sludged-out industrial fits the bill.

At first listen, what Tristan Shone does might seem like a novel concept…”Oh yeah, he’s the dude that plays with machines”. Six albums in, that novelty has to be taken out of the equation to leave the focus on the songs. He delivers in this regard, while working against the abrasive drone that tends to dominate his sound. Continue reading »

Jul 112018


(This is Wil Cifer’s review of the new album by Deafheaven, which will be released on July 13th by Anti Records.)

Like everything after Roads to Judah this new album is going to offend metalheads, especially considering how this time it weighs more heavily on their post-rock side.

The first time I saw these guys they were opening for Alcest and blew them off the stage. The energy seemed very genuine, though it felt more like a hardcore show than a black metal one. I am not going to debate how troo or cvlt they are, but focus on what is actually going with their music as it’s being delivered to us in 2018. Continue reading »

Jun 252018


(This is Wil Cifer’s review of the new album by the Swedish black metal band Craft, which was released on June 22nd by Season of Mist.)

Either bands change or they become stagnant. Going into this album I hoped the venom this Swedish band would unleash might make black metal hate again. It stands to reason, however, that after 20 years in existence the band’s fifth album might find them tiring of the punk-tinged aggression that drove the first four. I loved how Void (2011) was a big middle finger, and that is the soundtrack I think the world needs, but these guys have other ideas.

This is obvious right from the smoother guitar tone of the first song (“The Cosmic Sphere Falls”). Normally I would tell you how I have grown weary of blast beats and want black metal bands to not depend on them. Blast beats prove not to be the problem, as the band creates enough of a sonic sprawl that they don’t sound like they are just playing color-by-numbers with only marginally different shades of black, Instead we are getting a dark coat of gray dripping from these songs. Continue reading »

May 222018


(Wil Cifer wrote the following review of the new three-track EP by the Finnish black metal band Curse Upon A Prayer, which will be released by Saturnal Records on June 21.)

Saturnal Records is releasing an EP from this Finnish band who couldn’t give less of a fuck about the polite society of metal. On The Three Woes they lash out at Islam. People have complained for the last decade that Christianity is too easy a target. So they are taking aim at another religion. Strip this theme away and it boils back down to one question… What are these guys doing different that we’ve not heard other black metal bands do a hundred times?

The first song (“Let Thy Kingdom Come”) doesn’t give a clear-cut answer. It seems to be their level of hateful aggression. The standard tools of the black metal trade are all in place. Thundering double-bass, blast beats, and tremolo-picked guitar do their part to make this black metal as fuck. Hints of melody haunt the sometimes thrash-influenced guitar riffs. The passion with which they throw themselves into their music compensates for any time when they might not be the most original band on the planet. Continue reading »

May 102018


(This is Wil Cifer’s review of the new album by the UK band Lychgate, released in March by Blood Music.)

If you show up for this album expecting black metal, it might be a jarring turn for you. The fact that it is not black metal but still manages to be just as dark and interesting made me willing to go along for the ride. Not every movement on this shifting landscape of angular chaos connects with me, but I approve of the sense of adventure and rebellion against the black metal status quo.

The atmosphere and melancholy of the first song make the angular math of the guitars more balanced, and they get into some proggy abstraction on “Unity of Opposites” to the point that it might be too much like free-jazz for even Deathspell Omega fans. Like it or not, the band has to be applauded for doing their own thing. Continue reading »

Apr 052018


(Few bands have made as dominant a mark on the progression of extreme metal as Necros Christos, and that makes their new album an event worth focusing on — and Wil Cifer does that here, in this review.)


I am a sucker for niche sub-genres. “Occult Death Metal” was one of those. It meant… we masturbate on our copies of Onward to Golgotha, but we’re dark enough to lure people like you in. even with the influences worn plainly on their little black sleeves.

One of the best bands to emerge from that was this German band, who have heralded this album as their last. This supposed swan-song finds the band coming out from the murk of cavernous reverb to a more organic brand of death metal with less Incantation worship. For that matter, there are a few moments that sound like Morbid Angel. Continue reading »

Mar 152018


(Wil Cifer reviews the new album by Judas Priest.)

I have now given this album time to sit with me. My first concern about a Priest album at this point in their career is how is Rob’s voice going to hold up? We might be able to live without KK, but as the Ripper Owens years proved, Rob’s  voice is one of the defining traits of this band.

The first two songs are pretty much dialed-in versions of their former arena-rock classics. Think closer to Defenders of the Faith, which found  the band trying to replicate the massive success of Screaming For Vengeance. While the ghost of Priest past might haunt some of the songs, it is without a doubt a better album than Redeemer of Souls. It has the up-tempo aggression that influenced the thrash bands that would follow. “Lightning Strike” has more of a gallop than the opener. The over-dubbed vocal layers that show Halford’s upper range are pretty convincing. Continue reading »