PICK OF THE WEEK: Battle Hag’s expansive doom lights fires on land-toppling ‘Celestial Tyrant’

Remember when everyone was really excited for 2020 to end so that 2021 could get here and automatically change things for the better, and we’d all be really happy again and be able to resume our lives in peace? Yeah. It was always a lie, or perhaps just a way to ease our nerves, but here we are two weeks in, and things aren’t feeling much different.

The relieving thing is we already have a nice bit of good heavy music in 2021 to keep us gainfully distracted, and the one coming our way today arrived via a heads up in my email about “Celestial Tyrant,” the new crusher from Battle Hag. The music has been available digitally for about a month, but the three-track, 45-minute opus is being issued via cassette by Transylvania Tapes, and is it ever worth devoting your time to this outright mauler. The band—guitarist/vocalist Dan Aguilar, guitarist/vocalist Danny Ensele, bassist Neal Oliver, drummer Grey Cat—just clobber you but also make your imagination soar to planes beyond this one as they play tricks with your mind while leaving you battered.   

“Eleusinian Sacrament” is the 12:47-long opener, and it’s the shortest song on the record, just so you know what you’re in for. Glorious riffs burn like a freshly lit candle crackling as growls slither and slowly maul, and the leads begin to glimmer in the sky. Things get moodier and then crunchier as a psychedelic edge sets in, and the low end absolutely pulverizes. The vocals smear, the playing barrels you over, and then elegantly slow leads transfix as waters rush, and the guitars trickle away with it.

“Talus” runs a hefty 13:12 and is introduced by drums tapping and guitars bleeding in before everything lights up and blinds, with doomy melodies melting into guttural fury. Grime and sorrow meet as the riffs get darker and more dangerous, even moving toward Sabbath territory. Things then get faster and more aggressive as the leads take over and cut through, wild howls punish, and the bloody ice melts and leaves the ground stained. “Red Giant” is the 19:15-long closer, and it unloads with snarling growls and dark tidings, with a stoner-style vibe feeling thick and mesmerizing. The growls rumble as the guitars leave sunburn, pushing into psyche territory before things get cold and icy. The track flows slowly for a stretch before the sludge returns and starts landing body shots, emotionally spilling its guts all over the ground. A deluge of power pushes its way in, and the band begins stomping as the growls punish and the guitars take off and set uncontrollable blazes. That sets the stage for the fiery finish that feels like it’s pulling the world apart at the seams as the playing and noise sizzle away.

“Celestial Tyrant,” the second record from Battle Hag, is an early-year revelation, a tremendous doom document that’s a soaring fireball across the sky that’s screaming toward the surface. It’s expansive and imaginative, heavy and smoking at the same time. It’s an album that hopefully puts the band’s name in more people’s mouths as they talk who’s keeping doom’s fire burning so dangerously.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/battlehag

To buy the album, go here: https://transylvaniantapes.bandcamp.com/album/battle-hag-celestial-tyrant

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TransylvanianTapes

Portrayal of Guilt continue to destroy senses with metallic chaos on ‘We Are Always Alone’

Photo by Addrian Jafaritabar

Usually when we discuss black metal bands that try to stretch their reach beyond a particular sound, we kind of laugh at the idea that there are specific lines in which one must paint and a template for how to create art. It’s silly. You don’t get that handcuffed approach in other subgenres of metal and heavy music in general, as experimentation and creativity often are celebrated and rewarded.

Austin trio Portrayal of Guilt likely would not be super cooperative in the confines of a strictly structured genre, and so they light all the rules and expectations on fire on their explosive second full-length “We Are Always Alone,” the follow-up to 2018’s scathing “Let Pain Be Your Guide,” itself an eye-opening release. It would be easy to name hardcore as a root for the band, but you can just as easily say punk or doom or black metal, since they fuck with all of those, but you’d never really put your finger on exactly what’s going on here. The band—vocalist/guitarist Matt King, bassist Alex Stanfield, drummer James Beveridge—bring volatility, passion, and chaos to these nine tracks, and from moment one to the end, there’s not any time to catch your breath or seek cover, because the assault is relentless.

“The Second Coming” burst from the gates with gnarly vocals from King as well as violent, yet melodic tributaries. The track is short but effective, agitating fires as we head into “Anesthetized” where the bass drives and takes total command. Wild shrieks crush as the riffs shift into a strange doomy haze, smearing blood into clouds as we move toward “A Tempting Pain” that’s an outright demolition from the start. The playing is smothering and coats your lungs with soot while orchestral noise warps and drags the song to its end. “It’s Already Over” starts with clean notes, which only adds confusion, and then things pulsate as a post-hardcore-style haze floats overhead. Shrieks carve as the song slowly unfolds, bringing tension and thorniness that slam shut the door on your hand.  

“Masochistic Oath” has strange riffs reigning as the shrieks hammer away, and black metal melodies enter the mix and make things more sinister. Things push into mystical terrain before the vocals slice veins, the drums unload, and everything ends in industrial chaos. “They Want Us All to Suffer” is complete savagery as things start, with more black metal influences erupting and the vocals carving flesh. The guitars send jolts through your system and things abruptly end, paving the way for “Garden of Despair” that has a Nirvana feel to it as it gets started. The track comes unglued as sludge piles on top, eventually taking on a hardcore vibe, and then it gets weird and trancey. But that’s temporary as it’s not long until blows rain down again, as the repeated shouts of, “Searching for ecstasy,” leave bruises and psychological damage as things end in noise. “My Immolation” is tempered as it begins, but you know the punishment is coming as King taunts, “Breathe in, breathe out,” before the track melts into dreamy rock. Clean singing numbs as the track gets hypnotic and wiry, ending in a bloody slither. The title track ends the record with sounds rushing, muddy madness pushing, and the vocals caving in your skull, meeting up with a singular guitar than stings your nerves. Wild cries hang in the air, the tension builds, and things come to a bludgeoning end.

If anyone thought Portrayal of Guilt was going to settle shit down or pump the brakes on their maddening sound, “We Are Always Alone” is all the proof you need that any thoughts of that nature were silly to have had in the first place. This band’s stinging sound and relentless energy are all over this record, playing games with your nerve endings and psyche. There is no calm, no healing, no solace, as everything staring you in the face is psychological violence you cannot side step.  

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/portrayalofguilt/

To buy the album, go here: https://orcd.co/portrayalofguilt

For more on the label, go here: https://closedcasketactivities.com/

And here: https://evilgreed.net/

And here: https://deathwishinc.com/

Thou, Rundle deliver dramatic doom sludge, absolutely killer cover on wiry ‘Helm of Sorrow’

(Photo by Craig Mulcahy)

It’s no question 2020 gave us a lot of total bullshit that still is free flowing into 2021, a year that so far is high on the potential cancellation list after last week. Holy hell. But in the interest of not trying to sound too sad and pessimistic about things, there was a handful a good things that came from last year, the association of Thou and Emma Ruth Rundle being high on that short list.

Lucky for us, the two sides still had some good content they were holding back, and we get that now in the form of four-track EP “The Helm of Sorrow,” a collection that treats us to the rest of the songs they came up with together. Will you be shocked to learn this thing is great, just the thing we need to power us past the darkness we’re all experiencing? On top of that, we get one of the best cover songs we’ve heard from a heavy band in some time, but more on that later. Again, just like their collaborative full-length “May Our Chambers Be Full,” the music is a true meeting point for both sides as they craft a sound that’s truly their own thing, with hefty influences from each participant that meld together perfectly. If you liked the full record, there’s no way in hell you won’t love this one.

“Orphan Limbs” starts off with calm water and Emily McWilliams taking lead vocals, as her voice soars into the atmosphere. She sings of “the puzzles of deformity, ugly and grotesque” as the momentum slowly picks up and finally is full bore in a storm as Thou’s Bryan Funck’s howls enter the picture and take over. His shrieks hammer as Rundle calls in the background, and the band smears you with power before finally relenting. “Crone Dance” is a barnstormer as Funck lurks out front wailing as the band delivers a doomy charge, jabbing and pounding. Rundle slips in behind, adding a level of dreaminess to the brutality, and then sludgy menace crawls ominously, winding its way into hell. Funck and Rundle join up and punish together before the track fades into a bed of acoustics.

“Recurrence” starts in a dark, echoing pocket before vicious howls mar the calm, and the track feels like vintage Thou. Rundle emerges more forcefully on the chorus, injecting even more life as the filth gathers. The growls then get more muscular as the track crashes to a spiraling finish. “Hollywood” is a cover of the Cranberries track, and it’s a fucking volcano of emotion. Rundle handles the verses eloquently, matching Dolores O’Riordan’s quivering intensity, and then the chorus just combusts. Both Rundle and Funck wail away, howling, “Run away, is there anybody there?” blasting fiery magic into song, capping this great EP with this unreal take on an underappreciated cut from a band lost too soon.

One of the real blows of 2021 is losing Migration Fest and Thou’s performance with Rundle, which is something I was looking forward to with great excitement. This “The Helm of Sorrow” EP is at least a nice consolation gift that is a powerhouse for sure, with that absolutely killer Cranberries cover at the end. This collaboration has been an amazing success and resulted in two awesome recordings, and let’s just hope this is the start of a long-running association for both sides. And maybe we’ll all still get to revel in their combined presence live one day.

For more on Emma Ruth Rundle, go here: https://www.facebook.com/emmaruthrundle/

For more on Thou, go here: http://noladiy.org/thou.html

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/frontpage/products/sba008-emma-ruth-rundle-thou-the-helm-of-sorrow

For more on the label, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

Aberration mix black and death metal with suffocating doom on smoking, devastating debut EP

We’re probably all a little tired of wallowing in terror and darkness and hopelessness for an entire lifetime after the past 12 months, but metal doesn’t abide by ordinary laws and ideas, and the genre is going to force-feed us pain and misery as long as it’s around. But at least when it comes to metal, it isn’t going to give us a lethal pathogen. It’ll just beat the shit out of us psychologically.

We say that as Aberration’s debut self-titled EP is about to be in our laps, and it’s nasty and pounding and feels like hell slowly creeping across the earth. It’s but three tracks long, but the weight of this thing and the way it mashes the planet is not just something you can shake. Your best bet is to strap in and go along for the ride as the band—guitarist/vocalist JH (also of Void Rot), bassist/vocalist DH (also of Suffering Hour), guitarist AW (of Nothingness), and drummer EC (of Tvaer)—rumbles across the earth, crossing the streams of death metal, doom, sludge, and black metal into a sickening cauldron that, if we’re being honest, kind of smells awful. But the music is fucking killer.

“I” burns into the picture as the track begins to rumble, and the growls bring menace. Infernal hell erupts as the pace scrapes along, collecting flesh behind it, and the guitars begin to boil and give off wilting heat. The playing then gets gazey as it lets loose, letting fires rage as the band clobbers with force, beating you down until everything bleeds into dust. “II” keeps the tempo trudging as furnace-style heat burns your face, and the low end absolutely pummels. Growls hiss as the playing drills into the earth, building to a violent crescendo that eventually combusts. “III” ends things in a wave of total violence that unloads as nasty doom works its way into the mix. The guitars gain momentum as hell is unleashed, and monstrous growls wrestle you into the dirt. Atmospheric leads erupt and spread through your bloodstream as the battering continues until they finally grant you submission.

Aberration’s initial slice cut into this world is a deadly one, seemingly promising that things only will get meaner and heavier as they progress into their full creative realization. This self-titled first EP is just a taste of what this band can do when having their way with death and black metal, as well as doom, and it’s a frightening storm of power that’s contained here. This is a great start, and I can only imagine what’s coming from them next.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Aberrationdeath

To buy the album, go here: http://sentientruin.com/releases/aberration-aberration

For more on the label, go here: http://sentientruin.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Transilvania mash death, thrash into black metal with ‘Of Sleep and Death’

There was a time, and not that long ago, when black metal had a very strict boundary from which bands didn’t often veer, and if they did, it could be detrimental to the artists in the event they go too far beyond where they stand. Luckily, we’ve moved the goalposts in the last few years, chances are taken within black metal’s confines, and we’ve been better off for it, to be honest.

We have another shining example of that progress with “Of Sleep and Death,” the second record from Austria’s Transilvania, a band that doesn’t seem all that concerned about obeying rules. And good for them because this record, which landed on the first day of the year, is an exciting, vicious, sprawling display that’s a blood rush from beginning to end. There also are roots that have grown from Transilvania into metal’s formative years, but it’s there as a texture and not as a commitment to the past. It all makes for a remarkable effort by this band—bassist/vocalist P. Čachtice, guitarists O. von Schwarzenberger and D.D. Stumpp, drummer H. Paole Grando—one that takes what they established on 2018 debut “The Night of Nights” and takes that even further into the stratosphere to mesmerize us all.

“Opus Morbi” stirs from the start as organs swirl and the guitars awaken before everything is ripped to shreds. Melodic fury and explosive growls send ripples, while crunchy and disorienting playing make your eyeballs hurt. A fiery charge keeps hammering away, racing before everything burns off. “Hekateion” has guitars mashing and gruff growls staggering as speed and melody unite. Complete savagery is fueled by adding gasoline and echoing shrieks as the playing takes on a classic metal feel as guts are stomped into the ground. The title track arrives amid spellbinding guitar work and splattering vocals as the pace is a lightning jolt to your system. The pace is pummeling, but it eventually is vaporized and chills the atmosphere as guitars boil and again delve back into classic era terrain, which makes the heart swell with drama. Everything explodes anew as the track races, the simple, effective chorus strikes again, and the track ends in a cloud of smoke. “Lycanthropic Chant” lands stiff punches as everything comes to life, and the chorus fattens lips. The drums hammer and leave everything powdered while the guitars scrape at scabs and end the track in heated fashion.

“Vault of Evening” has riffs snarling and the pace clubbing away as things get speedy and volatile. The leads bleed color as the assault trickles into a hazy dream, turning your brain into warm mush before the attack is under way again. From there, the offensive is on as the leads glaze and melody buries you in shallow soil. “Heart Harvest” has a punchy start as the growls lacerate, and the howls attack your central nervous system, causing your heart to race. The guitars heat up as the growls eat into your psyche, tunneling toward your anxiety as gang shouts echo, warm leads rush, and the track bleeds its last.  “Mortpetten” has riffs going for broke and challenging speed records while raw growls pick at flesh, and the tempo relentlessly gallops. The leads destroy as the vocals bludgeon, causing vertigo as the track finally relents. “Underneath Dying Stars” is your closer that bleeds into the picture as Čachtice bellows before the track comes unglued. The entrancing pace plays tricks while the guitars go off and unleash hell. Grisly growls turn into furious roars as the pace speeds along, and the drums power the song to its devastating end.

Sure, there remain those people who hold black metal to silly ideals born like three decades ago, but more and more artists are doing whatever they see fit, and Transilvania are one of them. “Of Sleep and Death” has its share of death metal, thrash, and even gothy shadows, but its base is undeniable, and it remains heavy and ashen dark. This is one hell of a record containing music that pays off the imagination and wonder it promises at the front door with its cover art and continues to expand the idea of what it means to play the heaviest, darkest music on earth.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/transilvaniaaustria/

To buy the album, go here: https://invictusproductions666.bandcamp.com/album/of-sleep-and-death

For more on the label, go here: https://invictusproductions.net/

Dallas’ Frozen Soul inject their death metal with grisly frigidity on rumbling debut ‘Crypt of Ice’

When thinking of some of the more frigid areas in the United States, places cold enough to inspire death metal that feels like it’s freezing your bones in order to break them into dust, you’re probably considering Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, Colorado, etc. Your brain isn’t automatically going toward Dallas, but it looks like we’re all going to have to recalibrate how we answer that question.

Frozen Soul hail from Dallas, though you’d never guess that after taking on their destructive first record “Crypt of Ice,” being released by metal giants Century Media. But despite not being in what most consider frigid territory, they somehow breathe freezing sentiments into these 10 tracks and 39 minutes of bruising power that leave you ravaged behind them. The band—vocalist Chad Green, guitarists Michael Munday and Chris Bonner, bassist Samantha Mobley, drummer Matt Dennard—imagines all angles of wintry torture and demise, as they unfurl snarling death that leaves bruises and mental wounds behind. It’s a dawn-of-the-year excursion into the weather most of us feel outside right now, with us trying to avoid falling victim to the reaper’s blade. It’s a fucking muscular record.

The title track starts the record with strangeness before the guts are torn out and spilled into the snow. Grinding death pummels you as the leads cut through, the growls gurgle blood, and the trudging pace thrashes shreds muscle. “Arctic Stranglehold” has slithering growls and chunky power as the growls slither through madness as Green vows, “Your time has come.” Slow-driving fury picks up the pace as growls boil and the playing mashes until it fades away. “Hand of Vengeance” has keys dripping in before the whole thing lights up and explodes. Forceful playing rattles your brain inside your skull as growls sound scraped from Green’s guts, the leads catch fire, and the final moments melt flesh. “Wraith of Death” begins ominously as doomy muck gathers and spills through cracks in the walls, and the playing takes on a deliberate tone. The track crushes and ushers in darkness, ending in beastly carnage. “Merciless” ramps up quickly and gets super heavy in a hurry, chewing up flesh in its gears. The playing lays in a beating while the growls open wounds, and the track is devoured by an unforgiving wind.

“Encased in Ice” brings with it whipping gusts and a slower beast, though everything is just heavy as fuck. Raw growls make their way as vicious bludgeoning cracks skulls, the guitars push you to the limit, and everything ends in an icy grave. “Beat to Dust” is frigid from the outset before the pace begins to clobber, and crunchy death savages its victims. The growls mash amid a thrashy wave, battering through mud and slush before ending abruptly. “Twist the Knife” lets loose strange growls that echo in the atmosphere before the playing opens fully and kills. The bass is thick as hell, feeling like it’s coming for your throat, while complete misery is served with bloody coldness, slaughtering all the way to the end. “Faceless Enemy” has its riffs carving pathways to damnation as grim growls set a darker tone, and a stomping fury loosens the earth. The chorus smashes through rock while thick riffs add pressure, and the meanness of the tempo adds insult to your pile of injuries sustained. “Gravedigger” caps off the record by setting up a synth gaze before everything comes unglued. Animalistic rage and massive fury make a formidable duo while gritty vocals lay waste, and sinister guitar work burns everything to ash.

Entering just their third year of existence (though each member has plenty of experience elsewhere), Frozen Soul already have captured the attention and commitment of one of the biggest labels in metal and issued a killer debut with “Crypt of Ice.” This is especially suiting the season we’re experiencing in the Northern Hemisphere (where it’s already been snowier and icier than in many years previous), so this record is hitting even harder as we strive to stay warm. This is a promising debut by a band that is starting the year with a supreme dose of death metal served cold, and it’ll be really interesting to see how their profile increase as this year matures.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/frozensoultx/

To buy the album, go here: https://centurymedia.store/store

For more on the label, go here: https://www.centurymedia.com/

Severoth’s rushing black metal feels frigid and atmospheric on entrancing, mind-racing ‘Vsesvit’

Music goes hand in hand for me with weather as there are artists that remind me of certain times of the year based on how their music or records strike me. Or it could be the time of the year when I was first introduced to the artist. For example, Arckanum always will feel like the dead of winter for me because that’s when I got into them. Windhand is a good autumn band because that’s always when I’ve seen them live.

Ukrainian one-man black metal project Severoth never really had a definitive style of weather attached to them in my head before, but their new record “Vsesvit” changed all of that. My first experience with the record took place in mid-December during a rather dark period for me when it also happened to be in the midst of a heavy winter-style storm. Taking in these five tracks and 64 minutes of atmospheric black metal power was rather breathtaking at a time when I was feeling morbid and lost as I was able to escape into what’s going on here and feel the frigidity in all of my extremities, making me feel as alive as I was going to be able to at that time. Severoth said the record’s original intent was to spread brightness and even help people recharge, though things that happened to him along the way of creating this fourth album helped add some darkness and ripples that basically mirror real life. I don’t understand the words he’s calling because I don’t speak Ukrainian, but the spirit of these songs overcomes that, as it’s impossible not to be emotionally impacted by this album   

“Вище неба” starts the record mystically as horns cut through strangeness before everything bursts to life. The pace staggers as the leads light up, leading into a brief woodsy calm before the track explodes again. Clean vocals barrel as the playing rushes to the surface, melodies lap, and harsh cries leave damage. Wondrous playing opens your lungs as the keys drip, the breezes pick up, and the track fades into glory. “Ненаписані листи” hammers with life as the guitars lather, and the vocals wrench before strange tidings take over. Murky blasts team with clean singing, as the chorus digs deep into your chest. Wild cries rip out as the pace hammers the earth, melodies gain intensity, and the storm clouds rush overhead as the darkness engulfs the light.  

“Порожнеча” begins with rains falling and the playing slowly building before an atmospheric punch blasts, and a wrenching pace acts as a backbone of this 15:17 track. The track feels like a steady storm soaking you as hypnotic tones make your head spin, and a deep synth coat works alongside scraping guitars. The music then creates a sort of whiteout feel as the leads burn brightly, and the scene slowly fades out of sight. “Срібні зорі весни” enters with birds chirping and cawing before slashing melodies pummel along with wrenching cries. A halo of sound envelops you before the playing stampedes, the growls crush, and bellowing speaking gets into your brain. A gothy fog gets thicker and more oppressive as shrieks pummel, the playing pumps up its chest and heads right for you, and everything bows out in a flood of weirdness. “Холодна ніч чужих облич” ends the record by trickling in through the mists, playing eerie before the thorns are exposed and fierce cries open wounds. Melodies bring heat as steam rises, and then the riffs accelerate as a deluge of power arrives, the vocals gush, and keys plink as everything retreats into mysterious shadows.

Severoth’s ambiance makes it easy to think about listening to this record in deep winter when the snow and ice can be both breathtaking and frigidly overwhelming. The music on “Vsesvit” can captivate your imagination and take you on a journey into nature as you crunch over frozen branches and icy ground, your lips chapping from the oppressive winds. This is black metal that sounds exactly right based on the elements, and considering many places are in seasons of deep freeze, this could not have come at a better time.   

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/severoth

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sound-cave.com/it/band/severoth/vsesvit-splatter-vinyl

For more on the label, go here: https://avantgardemusic.com/

Morbid Sphere’s cataclysmic mix of death, doom metal warps the mind on raw introductory demo

At first, I was thinking we’d ease into the year with a smaller release, something to get our juices flowing again and to set a tone for the coming 12 months. But that plan only partially worked as the demo we’re featuring today is a shorter release, but it’s also thunderous and heavy as hell and contains members of many other bands we’ve discussed on this site before.

The beauty of Bandcamp is you can find cool shit there that isn’t necessarily going to end up in your inbox from a publicist or label, and that’s how I came across Morbid Sphere’s introductory “Demo I,” released on the first day of the year, delivering mind-warping black and death metal that makes it feel like you’re losing your grip on reality. Formed by members of Vanum, Ruin Lust, and Yellow Eyes (among others), these two tracks give a hint to what’s ahead for this band—guitarist E. Priesner, guitarist S. Bennett, bassist J. Wilson, drummer/vocalist A. DeMaria—that being relentless chaos and black and death metal that feels like it’s going to cave in your head and chest.      

“Red Sluice” starts with strange, spacey noises wafting over as the drums open and clobber, and the band utterly unloads. The vocals crush as sinister hell boils over, disorienting as the riffs spiral before the violence is truly unloaded. Death snarls lurk before the growls engorge as things get feral in a hurry. The attack rains down panic, noise sizzles, and the final moments enrage the fire and scorch flesh. “Into Form” runs 10:47, 26 seconds longer than the opener, and thunderous chaos melts into deliberate power, drums crashing into filthy hell. The leads sting as things continue at a massive, smoldering tempo, swimming in insanity. The playing eventually brings numbness to the extremities before the power hints at fading, only to reignite on the other side as furious guitars lead the strike. Weirdness mixes with crushing intensity as feedback builds up dangerously before the song fades away.

Morbid Sphere’s fiery, noise-slashed first gust into the metal world is a promising one as this initial demo proves over its two lengthy tracks. This isn’t a surprise considering the forces involved with the project, and their punishing penchant for brain-mangling death and black metal hints at the larval stages of what could be another subgenre-warping band we’ll all be talking about before the end of 2021.

For more on the band or to buy the album, go here: https://morbidsphere.bandcamp.com=/

1. LANTERN, ‘Dimensions’ (Dark Descent)

This strange year could only end with a No. 1 record that I didn’t see coming as the one I would enjoy the most during this stretch of 12 months. “Dimensions,” the third album from Finnish black/death metal crushers Lantern, turned out to be that album, and the journey there is an interesting one. Well, to me, anyway. This was a year that didn’t have a super obvious top record for most of the time as more music came in and I did more writing. This beast dropped in July, and its six tracks and almost 39 minutes of run time was one that had a definite impact first few times I heard it. I knew this one was going to have a major impact the entire year, but I never guessed just how big that crater would be. The more I kept thinking about what my top record would be, the more I was listening to “Dimensions,” and the deeper these songs were digging into my psyche, the more I acknowledged what was happening. The band—vocalist Necrophilos, guitarist St. Belial, guitarist/bassist Cruciatus, drummer J. Poussu—managed to make a record that’s obviously quite heavy, but it has so many weird twists and tuns, so many neck-jerk moments that jar you into awareness that it grew on me like no other record did these past 12 months. It’s their best record, and considering I haven’t seen this thing on too many lists, I’m worried it fell under the radar for many. Hopefully everyone else wakes up and realizes what a stunning display “Dimensions” truly is.

“Strange Nebula” begins trucking right away, piling into crunchy, thrashy playing while Necrophilos’ trademark throaty growls begin to pool blood. “Unleashed from the source, the origin of chaos and death!” he howls while the chorus swoops in where he warns, “Beware the sky!” Finger-tapped guitars usher in a new darkness as the soloing explodes, bones are turned to dust, and the back-end trudges right into the mouth of hell. “Beings” has guitars hanging like a storm as gruff shouts and wrenching guitars team up. A humid heaviness makes its presence felt while Necrophilos declares, “You are one with them!” “Shrine of Revelation” starts in a destructive manner while vicious howls lash at you, and the pace continually adds more fire to its repertoire. Solid soloing emerges and rides through the dark, bringing with it violence and melody that continue unloading until finally subsides. Closer “Monolith Abyssal Dimensions” is a beast at 14:17, yet it doesn’t feel half that long. Dark tunneling gets us into the body of the track where ungodly growls and carving playing brings you deeper into the abyss, while a thrashy assault leads to a blast of weirdness. That works with the wilting temperatures as things slowly work back into punishing order, humid guitars add a level of steaminess, and Necrophilos warns, “Kingdoms, mountains, and times succumb to the dark.” All hail Lantern and their brainy, warped approach to death and black metal, and may “Dimensions” find the legion of bloodthirsty followers it deserves, as it’s a force the likes of which don’t come around very often. (July 10)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/lantern666

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

To hear the album, go here: https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/dimensions

For more on the label, go here: https://www.darkdescentrecords.com/

2. ULCERATE, “Stare Into Death and Be Still’ (Debemur Morti)

For whatever reason, New Zealand death metal warriors Ulcerate were a band I always liked and respected but that didn’t click with me totally. Hard as I tried, and I’ve positively reviewed their records in the past, they were always a group that it seemed the people around me found a level of appreciation I couldn’t discover myself. Then their sixth record “Stare Into Death and Be Still” arrived in April, and this eight-track, nearly hourlong opus changed everything in my DNA when it comes to Ulcerate. This record made everything fall right into place, as every ounce of this album completely destroyed and regenerated my metallic DNA, and I’ve returned into their back catalog with a newfound desire, and the music has answered me back. Maybe the horrible times we all were experiencing this year helped push this, as their ashen, bleak, technically astounding playing matched the darkness of the times as the band—vocalist/bassist Paul Kelland, guitarist Michael Hoggard, drummer Jamie Saint Merat—recommitted to their creativity and their smoking penchant for delivering bruising music on one of the most original records on a resume full of open mindedness.

“The Lifeless Advance” punches its way open as spindly guitars ignite, and deep roars make their way into the mix. Melody bursts and slathers into hell while the drums dust skulls, and cavernous chaos opens and swallows you whole. “Exhale the Ash” begins with an energy surge, and the tempo blasts as the drums climb up and pulverize, as the guitars send body jolts. The growls you can virtually feel in your chest as the leads burst and add different colors, while the bruising floods, and the ends comes in a pit of punishment. “There Is No Horizon” has a dark and hazy beginning as it simmers in shadows before tearing its chest wide open and mangling listeners in its gears. Cool guitar work drips through like leaking pipes before the leads explore the atmosphere, and the growls carve a path back to the center. “Inversion” explodes immediately and lands blows as monstrous growls and devastating playing loosen screws. The guitars sting and feel like they’re pulling in alien transmissions while the playing swims inside your head, making you feel disjointed and lost before the back end of the song mashes in your head. “Dissolved Orders” is your closer, and it starts with clean notes that help the song slowly flow along until it meets up with a flooding guitars and grisly growls. The pace tends to hypnotize in spots and freezing winds chill your soaked flesh, while heavy growls sound like they’re trying to digest you. This cursed collection of 12 months at least finally gave me my emotional connection to Ulcerate, and that’s a fire that’s not going out any time soon thanks to this record. (April 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ulcerate

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://debemurmorti.aisamerch.com/

Or here (Europe): https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/12-eshop

For more on the label, go here: https://www.debemur-morti.com/en/