1. SubRosa, ‘For This We Fought the Battle of Ages’ (Profound Lore)

subrosa-coverAnyone who has paid attention to our humble little site the past five years has to know how we feel about SubRosa. I think what it is about them is they encompass everything I find important in life. Metal, energy, passion, crushing darkness, and stories that grip at your heart. You’re not just getting a record with SubRosa. You’re getting a drama. Never has that been more accurate and apparent than with the band’s fourth full-length album “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages.” Not only is it the best record of the Salt Lake City band’s 11 years together, it also falls at a time where its themes could not be more apropos or sobering or frightening. In many ways, it feels like this record laid out a potential vision for what’s ahead of all of us.

The record itself is inspired by Russian writer Yevgeny Zamayatin’s novel We, from the concept, to the lyrics, right down to Glyn Smyth’s artwork. We, released in 1924, is a tale of a future dystopian society where dreams are thought to be a product of mental illness, and mind-altering substances and sex for pleasure are deemed illegal in the society of One State. People live in glass apartments, allowing for strict state surveillance, and protagonist D-503 documents his day-to-day struggles in a journal he hopes to have placed in a spaceship being used to invade other planets. He falls in love with I-330, who reveals a plot to bring down the One State. The band—guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon, violinist/vocalist Sarah Pendleton, violinist/vocalist Kim Pack, bassist/vocalist Levi Hanna, drummer Andy Patterson—are at top level on these songs, letting crescendos build, the drama sweep you away, the black heartbreak grip you, and the heavy waves of doom topple over you. From the incredible opener “Despair Is a Siren”; to “Wound of the Warden” and its misguided call of, “I know one day they’ll be grateful, I know one day they’ll worship me”; to “Killing Rapture,” which essentially is the end of the We story, everything comes together beautifully and tragically. Then there’s closer “Troubled Cells,” one of the saddest, most upsetting songs of the year, and Vernon’s response to the Mormon church’s disappointing approach toward LGBTQ people. Not only will the music stop you in your tracks, so will every single word. No exaggeration.

We were lucky enough to have Vernon take time to talk more in depth about “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages,” why this story was so vital to be retold now, and the reaction she has gotten from the very bold, heartbreaking “Troubled Cells.” SubRosa truly operate on their own plane and are one of the most unique groups in all of metal. We’re fortunate to have this band in our stratosphere, and we are thrilled to have their music to write about and their words about their art on our site.

MEAT MEAD METAL: We are naming “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” as of our top metal release for 2016. This is an astonishing piece of work that pushes SubRosa even further into the realm of one of the most special metal bands out there. How do you feel about the music now that you’ve fully digested it and presented it live?

Rebecca Vernon: Thank you very much. Well, it’s ironic, because we have have actually not presented three of the songs live yet, and have a lot to prepare for Roadburn (where we are playing the whole album live). “Troubled Cells” and “Killing Rapture” are especially hard to perform live because of my singing style in those songs. But I guess as a whole, we are proud of the album and see it as a forward step in our evolution, which is good and bad. It’s good for our progress, bad because I think the album is harder for people to get into. But that’s OK.

MMM: You chose the book We as an inspiration for the record. You could not have known at the time just how apropos that would be upon the record’s release and the state of the world and America right now. Does that give you chills at all?

RV: It is strange. We have had other interviewers point this out as well. And when interviewers point it out, I feel like you are getting why we connected with We and why we had to write an album about it; that it is a warning, a dark mirror of what earthly societies and cultures have become in the past and can become in the future.

I am scared for the world. They say that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. I’m afraid not enough U.S. citizens have studied history, the rhetoric of dictators, the warning signs of a dangerous leader. I blame our corrupt political system, the voter suppression that went on in the Democratic primaries which led to the nomination of the weaker candidate, our lack of emphasis on education, the angst of the ignored working-class, sick-of-establishment politics. It was a perfect storm.

MMM: The band’s songwriting keeps getting more expansive and epic, but never at the expense of the impact of the songs. For example, “Despair Is a Siren” takes up one full album side, and if anything, it gains momentum all along the way. Is it a matter of everyone working so long together and understanding the vision that you keep pumping out these mini-epics?

RV: Thank you. I think working together for a long time together does help us write songs together. We do all move almost as one fluid creature when writing and usually think the same way about everything, reach agreements very quickly, communicate very well.

With this album’s songwriting, I wanted to emulate the song structures of operas or symphonies; different movements bleeding into each other that sometimes never repeat. We did this with “Black Majesty” especially. And “Despair is a Siren” is the closest to an opera concept in that it musically depicts the plot of We in chronological order. I don’t know if we’ll do this again for the next album. Maybe we’ll just write a bunch of four-minute doom bytes.

MMM: Album closer “Troubled Cells” is an absolute heart crusher. I don’t know that there’s a sadder line this year—within the context of the song, of course—than, “If there’s no way through for you, there’s no way through for me.” We again are at a scary point with LGBTQ folks and the incoming administration. Have you heard back from any members of the community, and what was the impetus for writing this song? What did this mean to you?

RV: You know that quote from Eli Wiesel, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” That’s how I felt, and still do.

I have heard back from some members of the community. My LGBTQ friends who grew up in the church –their opinions were the most important to me, and they all liked the video. A therapist from Boise, Idaho, come up after our show there in November and thanked us and the film crew for the video. That meant a lot to me because he has seen the suffering firsthand that this policy has caused in his LGBTQ clients.

Photo by Amber Martindale

Photo by Amber Martindale

MMM: What has been the reaction among the Mormon church, if any, or even members of the Salt Lake City community? Do you worry about any backlash from them?

RV: I’m sure the leaders of the Mormon church have not seen the video. If they saw it, I’m not sure what their reaction would be. There has been no backlash. I honestly thought the video might be more controversial, and I braced for it. But so far, most people just say they felt touched and some say it made them cry.

MMM: Parts of the metal community also have not been terribly welcoming when it comes to LGBTQ folks and minorities wanting to feel included within metal’s fabric. If you stand for those folks, you’re instantly an SJW or a white knight in some people’s eyes. Not sure if you’ve paid attention to any of that on your end, but what do you feel about metal’s acceptance levels toward these groups of people? Are things getting better? Is this just a very vocal minority?

RV: I am proud because I think doom and sludge metal are generally very accepting of minorities and LGBTQ. I was really proud of Sleep for playing the benefit in Orlando for the victims of the Pulse shooting. Other subgenres may not be as accepting as ours, I’m not sure.

I agree with many people’s sentiments that SJW can become irritating, though, especially when it comes to their obsession with policing language in very minute ways. I don’t really have all the answers for where the balance lies between standing up and speaking out, and realizing that your stand is becoming condescending and heavy-handed. At the same time, I’d rather take the risk of being seen as an SJW when I speak out against something that is causing genuine harm, than to remain comfortably silent.

MMM: There’s obviously, among the book’s storyline and the record’s, the concept of having to shield your feelings and desires. The line, “To feel is the enemy, to be a dead tomb is a mercy,” from “Killing Rapture” comes to mind as particularly poignant. Do you think we’re nearing that level at all?

RV: I think there are plenty of messages in society that are calculated to numb you. Too many to count, and it’s getting worse. Everything from having advertisements piped into your brain no matter where you go on the Internet, to the stupidity of much modern entertainment, to the subtle pressure to conform to society’s/culture’s prescriptions. Religions of the world also, of course, are guilty of assault on the life of the inner world. Your inner world should be yours. No one should own it but you, and no earthly mortal has the right to infringe on it.

MMM: This record, like your others, features amazing artwork by Glyn Smyth. How does the artwork fit into the overall story arc?

RV: Glyn Smyth does amazing work. The girl on the front is a depiction of I-330, the main female protagonist of We. The botanicals on the inside of the album are from the book—plants and flowers that have heavy symbolism attached to them. Glyn did a very careful reading of We and read blogs about it and put a lot of thought into the album art.

The style of the art, too, is from the 1920s, when We was first published. Glyn was inspired by ex-libris bookplates, the art deco movement, and silent film-era actresses, the latter for the portrayal of I-330 on the front.

MMM: The band is stretching out to the East Coast a bit next year for Maryland Deathfest. Can we expect to see the band on this side of the country in other places around that event? What else does the band have planned?

RV: We are playing St. Vitus on Saturday, March 4, in Brooklyn. Other than that and Maryland Deathfest, we don’t have any East Coast dates planned right now, but it is our top touring priority for next year. It has been way too long since we’ve been back. We are also playing some summer fests in Europe in June and Roadburn in April, of course. We are working on tour dates for summer and fall. More will be coming soon, I’m sure!

(Released Aug. 26, 2016)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

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

2. Oathbreaker, ‘Rheia’ (Deathwish Inc.)

oathbreaker-coverA band truly coming into its own is a very exciting thing, especially if you’ve followed said musicians during their time together. Anyone who has been a fan of Belgian band Oathbreaker since their beginning had to know they had a world of potential, and that truly came to the surface on their stunning third full-length “Rheia.” Not only did this album open plenty more eyes and ears, but it also pushed them from just being a forward-thinking hardcore band into one that employed elements of doom, black metal, and post-rock expertly, weaving it into their overall narrative.

This 10-track record not only pushes the band ahead artistically, but also emotionally. The flashbacks to one’s formative years, the scars that resulted, the pain, and the absolution practically are physically tangible. Vocalist Caro Tanghe’s performance also goes above and beyond both in her words, which are absolutely gripping, and her singing that is as flexible and punishing as anyone else’s. To go from hushed singing, delivered mostly a capella, on opener “10:56” seamlessly into demonic ripper moments later on “Second Son of R.” (I’ve witnessed it live, and the transformation is unreal) proves her ability and might as a performer. The rest of the band—guitarist Lennart Bossu, bassist Gilles Demolder, and drummer Ivo Debrabandere—provide muscular, moody, passionate backing on songs such as “Being Able to Feel Nothing,” “Needles in Your Skin,” and the poetic triptych “I’m Sorry, This Is,” “Where I Live,” and “Where I Leave.” These four artists have gone from being a very good, reliable band to something absolutely special. It took them creating “Rheia,” a statement that will stick with you long after the music ends. Where they go from here is anyone’s guess.

Unfortunately, due to touring and other scheduling issues, we were not able to connect with Oathbreaker to discuss this great album. But we hope to be able to in the future. Instead, here’s what we had to say about “Rheia” in our September review:

“10:56” and “Second Son of R” open the record as conjoined tracks (they even released a video containing the two cuts together). The first song begins a capella, with Tanghe recounting someone plunging out of a window and landing face-first on the cobblestone. Bleeding and in disrepair, the music enters and rises as Tanghe melds along with them into a horrific explosion. From there, memories of childhood dash across the frantic song, laying waste to everything, poking at memories dashed with rejection and filth. The screams and growls are fire-breathing and dangerous, as the guitars crush and over the chorus, through gritted teeth, Tanghe wails, “Don’t make me pity you.” The song sounds like it’s buttoning up, going cold and quiet, before hell engulfs the world, and animalistic, surely cathartic cries blast from Tanghe’s body almost as if she can’t control the emotion. “Being Able to Feel Nothing” exposes itself from its title, as dark fury pelts and raspy singing uncovers “the stains I’ll never manage to remove.” The lava pours anew toward the end, and Tanghe wails the title over and over again. “Stay Here” pulls back some, with acoustic guitars leading, the singing as strong as anywhere, and a touch of noir adding more shadow. “Needles In Your Skin” is another highlight, with clean singing and Tanghe calling, “I’m reaching out for you,” before the guts are torn out. The storm hovers overhead and tears down walls, with the track trudging, melody merging with volatility, and Tanghe wondering, “How could you go without me?”

“Immortals,” an interesting title if you know anything about the myth of Rheia, has slurry singing and a punchy tempo before the lid if pulled off. The pace explodes, with terrifying howls switching off with passionate singing, the pace crushing but sometimes bringing serenity, and later the pounding arriving all over. Tanghe sings over the smoke pits, while the guitars gaze, and the song comes to an atmospheric end. The next three cuts are interconnected, with “I’m Sorry, This Is” a pocket of ambiance and peripheral noise, mixing into “Where I Live” that has sounds penetrating and voices buried beneath. The song then takes off, with horrible cries and screams cutting through the center, and noise squalls pushing into “Where I Leave.” There, guitars chime, and a fog situates over it all, with the pace plodding along as Tanghe levels, “I’ll be a lonely child.” The song has ample amounts of power, though it’s widely delivered at mid-pace, and the ending run of refrain repetition and hypnotic playing leave your head spinning. Closer “Begeerte” has voices spiraling in a vortex before clean guitars drip, static drums punch holes, and a pace that feels like feet trying to make their way through thick mud spreads. “I draw pleasure from it,” Tanghe calls, as the song begins to lift off from the earth and disintegrate into the sky.

(Released Sept. 30, 2016)

For more on the band, go here: http://theoathbreakerreigns.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://store.deathwishinc.com/category/new.html

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

3. Spirit Adrift, ‘Chained to Oblivion’ (Prosthetic/War Crime Recordings)

spirit-adrift-coverPositivity. Now there’s an element that doesn’t come up very often when conversing about some of the best heavy metal records in the world. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and for Spirit Adrift’s primary creative driver Nate Garrett, he’s changing that. His project’s first full-length record “Chained to Oblivion” is one that could fill your heart and mind with rays of light and push you toward trying to make yourself a little better. After all, Garrett had no choice in the matter. His life was at stake.

Garrett is very public about his battle with alcoholism and how it nearly claimed his life. Once he completed an aggressive rehabilitation treatment, he sought to put his past behind him and use Spirit Adrift as a vehicle for burning his demons and getting his life back on track. And things are working out for the best for Garrett. “Chained to Oblivion” is a fully immersive, emotional, and blood-rushing experience, 5 tracks and 47 minutes of melodic doom that, while it can crush you at times, also works to lift you up. And it’s the second piece of great music Garrett released under this banner in 2016, and his initial debut EP offering “Behind – Beyond” worked as the perfect doorway to the first full-length. Garrett took time from his schedule to answer our questions, and he spoke at length about the making of “Chained to Oblivion,” how it impacted his life, his life now that the music is out in the world, and what the future holds for him (including touring with his other band, crushing death metal unit Gatecreeper). We’re unabashed fans of Nate. His music has helped me out in ways I’ve never expressed, and it’s great to see him coming out on top. Being positive runs counter to so much metal that it’s practically kvlt. That’s truly taking power and reforming it with your hands.

MEAT MEAD METAL: We’re naming “Chained to Oblivion” one of our five favorite metal albums of 2016. This obviously hasn’t just been about music for you but also about transforming your life. How are things now at the tail end of the year?

NATE GARRETT: First of all, I want to say I’m a huge fan of your work. You and Jonathan Dick have been my favorite music writers/journalists/critics (or whatever term you prefer) for some time now. It’s a rare thing in this business to have integrity and passion, whether you’re a writer, musician, label employee, whatever. You’ve always made it about the music first and foremost, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that as a musician and a fan. I’m honored to be on your year-end list. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Totally only keeping this in because Nate asked. Haha.)

To answer your question, things are great. This past year I went on a few of my favorite tours I’ve ever done, hung out with a lot of great friends who I rarely get to see, released some music I’m really proud of, and got married to the best person I know. Right now, I’m just trying to stay as busy as I can to keep my mind off the holidays, as there are some painful associations there. On a day-to-day basis, I have good days and bad days like everyone else. Some days I wake up depressed for no reason, and it’s difficult to get motivated. I’m much better at getting out of that rut now. I don’t stay down for very long anymore. At the end of the day, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude no matter what. My life has become something that I couldn’t have dreamed of, even as recently as a couple of years ago.

MMM: This record, while it certainly has its dark moments, also feels uplifting. Not very cult, Nate. Joking aside, what do you hope listeners take away from the music?

NG: Put simply, I hope it makes people feel better than how they were feeling before they listened to it. Music did that for me in my most formative years, which led to me really getting into guitar. I’m thankful for that, and I want to pay that forward to the best of my abilities. Shit, music still does that for me. I listened to “Journey Blind” by Magic Circle yesterday and was so inspired. Music can change your whole perspective of a single day, or even your perspective regarding your entire life in the long term. I read Levon Helm’s autobiography recently, and he was talking about growing up in Arkansas and working in the fields. He said the one thing everybody had in common no matter their race, age, background, or social standing, was that they all looked forward to the feeling music gave them at the end of the day. I’m not religious in the conventional sense, but I can say that music is a spiritual, higher-power-type thing to me. It’s really important. It’s not some fun, ironic, ha-ha, retweet, witty type shit to me. That’s why I appreciate your writing so much. A lot of people these days treat everything like an inside joke, or some ironic thing. It’s almost like it’s not cool to actually care about or be invested in anything. You clearly care about what you write, and so do I. Music has the power to help people.

MMM: You’ve since assembled a full lineup for Spirit Adrift, but this record is all you. Tell everyone a little bit about the creation process and what it was like to own every section of this album.

NG: The creation process for both the EP and full-length was hectic. I’d even say it was brutal for the full-length. I would write and demo the riffs first, then things would come together naturally and sporadically after that. I would basically re-write and re-record demos all day every day until I was satisfied with the songs. I practiced drums relentlessly. I did that nonstop until I went into the studio. For both recordings, I had the studio time booked before I had the material written, and I think I actually function best under that type of pressure. Believe it or not, it’s almost kind of a neutral feeling knowing that I did all of it myself. It was more out of necessity than any desire to feel accomplished. I’m not, like, world-class at any of the instruments I play. I’m not a world-class singer either. I just had this music in my head, and I figured I would have an easier time playing exactly what I was hearing, rather than having to explain it to other people. I’m thrilled with how the album came out, and I am proud of it. But I’m not necessarily proud of playing every instrument, specifically. That was me just doing what needed to be done.

MMM: There was a really warm reception to this record among metal fans. It seems like the music really resonated with people. Did you expect to get that kind of reaction? What did it mean to you?

NG: I tried to not allow myself to think about how people would react. That said, I did expect a positive reaction. I knew if I did the best job I possibly could, it would affect some people. Once we got about halfway finished with vocals, I realized that I had done the best job I could have done in every phase of the record up to that point. I’m not saying it’s perfect, just that I did my absolute best. Hearing the final product, I was moved, so I knew it was a success in that respect, and beyond that I even approached it a little more logically. I did a sort of inventory, like, “Did I work as hard on the writing process as I possibly could have?” “Do I mean every word of this?” and that sort of thing. There wasn’t any major issue that bugged me. I’m truly thrilled that it resonates with people, and I appreciate all the support and feedback from everyone who digs it. But even if everybody in the world hated it, I would still be just as satisfied with it. Positive feedback can get your mind and intentions just as twisted as negative feedback, if you let it.

Photo by Gabrielle Burton

Photo by Gabriele Burton

MMM: While your style definitely is in the melodic doom arena, it feels like there’s a lot more that goes into your creative process. You and I have talked about artists outside of metal before, such as Sturgill. Do any of those types of artists influence your work, and if so, how so?

NG: Old-school country and bluegrass is in my DNA. It doesn’t have so much of an acute, direct influence as it does a sort of constant, overarching presence. It’s part of who I am. I would say the biggest impact Sturgill has had is with the next record I’m working on, in the sense that his newest album was approached from such a radically different angle than the one before it. He’s inspired me to approach the next Spirit Adrift album from a totally different angle as well, rather than try and outdo what I already did on “Chained to Oblivion.”

As far as non-metal music in general is concerned, music that is not metal is far more important in every way than metal music. Don’t get me wrong, hard rock, metal, and its various offshoots, that’s my favorite type of music. But my opinion doesn’t mean shit, and neither does anyone else’s. The reality is, in the grand scheme of things, metal is but a fraction of a greater whole. Music is music. In a way it’s all one big thing, and all these genre classifications are yet another example of the human mind seeking patterns so it can feel comfortable, part of a tribe. Metal wouldn’t exist without the blues, which wouldn’t exist without hundreds of other “genres” of music before it. Any musician would be remiss to limit their influences to one tiny fraction of the universe of sound that’s out there. Metal and/or heavy music is one drop in an ocean. When I saw Dave Lombardo do a drum clinic, he said his number one piece of advice for musicians was to listen to and draw from every style of music you possibly could. He said the combination of his own upbringing with Cuban music and (Jeff) Hanneman’s love of punk is what made Slayer special, something more than just a Judas Priest cover band. So if there are any cvlt or darksided folks out there who don’t like what I’m saying, take it up with Dave Lombardo, because he said it first.

MMM: We alluded to this a little in the first question, but this record was a major bounce-back project for you after a very personal struggle. Does that make playing these songs more meaningful to you? Have any led you to reflection where you were and where you are now?

NG: We haven’t played live yet, though we recently booked our first show for 2017. The last few practices, however, I can say that I’ve finally allowed myself to really feel what I’m singing, and it’s intense. There’s not really any third-person stuff going on in these words. In a way, I’m glad that I’ll have to sing this stuff for as long as Spirit Adrift is around, because I think it’ll help keep me humble and grateful. I’ll sing something and it’s like re-opening a wound. It’s a very clear reminder of exactly how bad of fucking shape I was in. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to summon a vivid memory of what it felt like to be in that condition, but singing these songs helps bring it back. It’s good. I don’t want to forget how bad things were, because I never want to be tempted to go back down that path.

MMM: The dog inside the album. New Spirit Adrift mascot? The only correct answer is yes.

NG: That’s Lizzy (named after Thin Lizzy). My wife and I brought her into our family when she was just a couple months old. She’s our daughter, man. She’s even more than a mascot. She’s basically a member of the band and co-writer as far as I’m concerned. She’s the only other living being that is around for the entire writing process from start to finish. She’ll give me a look and I’ll know the riff I’m working on sucks. She’s a helpful editor. Spirit Adrift does have a mascot, though. The chick on the cover of the albums is Brenda. She’s like our version of Vic Rattlehead or Eddie. One thing I can tell you for sure is that she’s going to be way more along the lines of one of those guys on the next album cover. The dude doing the art is a straight-up legend, and his art is metal as fuck. Which is appropriate, considering how the songs on the next album are shaping up.

MMM: Talk about what’s next, not just for Spirit Adrift but also you. You mentioned there’s already new Spirit Adrift music on the horizon. And Gatecreeper tour? You’re going to be busy, no?

NG: Spirit Adrift has a really exciting release planned for next year. It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and it’s finally working out. I can’t talk too much about that yet, but it’s not a full-length. As far as the next actual album goes, the basic song structures are all done. Today is Dec. 16, and at about 2 a.m. I finished lyrics for tracks one and two. I could record it tomorrow if I had to, but realistically it’ll probably get recorded about halfway through next year. A lot of that depends on Gatecreeper’s schedule. We’re doing FYA in Tampa in early January, some shows with Code Orange and Youth Code in late January, then that U.S. tour with Nails and Toxic Holocaust in March. Also a bunch of other stuff we can’t announce yet. In the midst of all this, I make a serious effort every day to appreciate things and be as positive as possible. My natural state is to be a selfish, deeply misanthropic and relentlessly negative person. So I’m always working on that. Anytime I feel too busy or overwhelmed, I think about what my life was like a couple years ago. For whatever reason, I was given a second chance, and now I’m making up for a lot of wasted time.

(Released Aug. 12, 2016)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://warcrimerecordings.bigcartel.com/

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

4. Anicon, ‘Exegeses’ (Gilead Media/Avantgarde Music)

anicon-coverI think the era may have passed where people buy a record based on its cover art alone. At least I don’t do that anymore. I’ve been burned too many times. But if there are those out there who still do determine their purchases based on artwork, Anicon’s debut full-length “Exegeses” would have to be one of those that jumps right off the rack and into the front seat of a buyer’s car. Then that person would go home, put on the record, and get their head ripped right the fuck off.

Kari Greer’s photography is so gripping, especially when you experience the gatefold experience of the vinyl presentation, you can’t help but wonder what’s inside. The answer is some of the most creative, intelligent black metal of the entire year and an album that pummels you with riffs and savagery over its seven tracks and nearly 49 minutes of power. The band—guitarists/vocalists Owen Rundquist and Nolan Voss, bassist Alexander DeMaria, and drummer Lev Weinstein—keep you spellbound and savagely beaten, though this record isn’t just about brutality. The way the songs build and the playing weaves its way around your psyche could have you staring for the entire run of the record. Experiencing the band live is another matter altogether, as they find a way to transfer that heavy fury to the stage. Rundquist and Voss were kind enough to take some time to answer our questions about “Exegeses,” and they discuss its creation, the breathtaking Greer cover art, and their relationship with both labels—Gilead Media and Avantgarde—that released this music. If you somehow missed out on this record, don’t let another second pass. Your cell structure may never be the same again.

MEAT MEAD METAL: We’re naming “Exegeses” as one of our top 5 favorite metal records of 2016. What took you guys so damn long to get out a full-length?!

OWEN RUNDQUIST: Well, first, thank you. I guess it has taken a little while, but we’ve released a lot of material over the past four years. Our first EP was in 2012, and between now and then, we’ve released at least two LPs worth of music. It’s just come out in the form of splits and EPs. Touring and other musical commitments have probably played a role in delaying things too. 2015 was a really busy recording year for us with “Aphasia,” the Unsacred split, the Forest of Tygers split, and “Exegeses” all in like a 10-month period, so it does feel good to finally have it out. The FOT split should surface sometime next year, too.

MMM: Before we even get into the music, let’s talk about the album art. What was it about this piece that was the proper visual accompaniment for this album? What’s the symbolism involved?

OR: We’ve been pretty lucky with all of the art we’ve used as it’s always found its way to us very easily. I came across Kari Greer’s work kind of by chance and was looking at her site and really enjoyed the painterly aspects of some of her photography. We’d briefly talked to another painter, and I had worked up a layout with photographs I took in Yellowstone Park in the ’80s, but when we found Kari’s stuff it was just the right fit and feel. I emailed her, and we quickly found that we had a lot in common having grown up near each other and having been involved in the music scene in the Northwest, so that personal connection really helped cement the decision.

I think as an image the art has multiple meanings: It’s a destructive natural force dwarfed in an even larger landscape. The vastness and emptiness of the landscape in the American West is an integral part of the mythology of this country and a defining aspect of our national identity. The image of this uniquely American landscape burning seems in keeping with making countercultural music. Forest imagery is also such a cliché of black metal, which can, as a genre, suffer from excessive traditionalism. Similar to the image we used for the “Aphasia” EP, we felt that this cover was a little bit iconoclastic and reflected our writing, wherein we make the music we want to hear and don’t concern ourselves with how it fits into any particular genre or aesthetic.

MMM: Anicon obviously is no stranger to the road (you’ve been in Pittsburgh twice since the record came out). How are the songs coming along in the live setting? Is there anything from the record you enjoy playing the most? Have any of the arrangements changed?

OR: Almost all of the songs had already been road tested at length before they were recorded, though there were a few that were written in the interim between our tour with Forest of Tygers and the studio session. There have been some changes in the playing like tempo or adding a bent note here and there and ways we approach riffs or emphasize things differently, but no major re-arranging. Really the biggest changes have been in the vocals, because we worked out all the phrasing in the studio, so there are some things on the album that work a little differently in the heat of a performance.

“The World As Will” was the last song to be written on the record, and that one’s a favorite of mine personally. “In Shadow and Amber” is also just one super meaty riff after another with a lot of different styles of playing. Nolan does almost all of the vocals in that one, so I enjoy getting to just zone out and play the fuck out of it. Really there is stuff in each song that I really enjoy playing.

Nolan Voss: “From Teeth and Tongue” is one of my favorites to play live. I really like how the beginning is subdued and builds but then gets pretty raging as the song progresses. This song has a unique sound compared to the rest of the record. What I enjoy the most is the wide use of dynamic parts throughout. “Hallucinating Fate” is always fun to play. While on tour with Wayfarer, we usually played that one first. That song has a steady blast beat, and I like how the structure is simple but aggressive sounding. I’m usually warmed up for the rest of the set after playing it.

MMM: The title “Exegeses” is an interesting one. What was it about that singular word that defined this collection of songs?

OR: The title suggests looking at things with a clear, critical eye, and I think that is one of the most valuable roles of art in a society. Typically, an exegesis is an examination of a religious text, and lyrically we are concerned with issues of religiosity, though it isn’t a defining theme for us as it is for a lot of bands. Anicon is also a pretty straightforward musical endeavor in most ways. We are four people who get together, write the riffs, turn them into songs, and then we play the songs.  No pseudonyms or altars or makeup. So, it’s kind of like a statement of intent. It’s also just a great looking and sounding word. I like the vowel/consonant pattern and the repetition of the E.

MMM: Anicon’s music obviously is heavy. It’s black metal. But you also weave a ton of melody and drama into the music. How important is that aspect to the band as opposed to just abject heaviness?

OR: Yeah, absolutely I think those elements are pretty key to what we do, but they kind of just work their way into the music. I don’t think there’s ever been a conscious decision to make something more melodic. If anything, I can recall the opposite kind of decision being made. Like to dirty up a part, or I remember bringing something into practice and everyone deciding it needed to be played faster or it was just too corny. Too on-the-nose, as Nolan likes to say. I think melody, drama, and heaviness are all related things that are inherent in any song, so they have to be considered, similar to tempo or duration. Different songs will have different trajectories, and so some aspects will be considered differently from song to song, but they will all be considered.

NV: I agree, it’s important to have different elements, especially when writing for an album. But I think it’s important to have a balance between heaviness, melody, and drama. I think focusing on that balance helped shape the sound of “Exegeses.”

aniconMMM: Lyrically, your songs are kind of abstract. There are none of the normal trappings of a black metal band. What types of things inspire your song lyrics?

OR: Our lyrics take inspiration from a variety of sources, but are heavily influenced by our personal experiences of life. I’m interested in existential questions and tend to read a lot of fiction that kind of probes at those and uses a lot of metaphor. I guess I like lyrics to ask questions. Not necessarily literally, but I’m more interested in the unknown of a situation than platitudes or rigid opinions about it. It’s a little oblique, but “Exegeses” is a very critical album lyrically, so maybe that’s another way the title ties in.

NV: I concentrated on self-reflection and fears that I deal with daily for these songs. In the past, I would write in a concrete, sequential way focusing more on a story or theme, but now I found myself writing about things that affect me on a personal level.

MMM: The record came out on both Avantgarde and Gilead Media. What was it about those two labels that were the right home for Anicon’s music?

OR: We’d been talking to Gilead ever since our first EP came out and have always been impressed with (label owner Adam Bartlett’s) curation of the label and the quality of his releases. Being an American-based label is helpful, too. We met at the Dissociative Visions fest in Brooklyn last year, and we were able to just talk on the phone about the album and what our expectations were of each other. I kind of talked Adam’s ear off when we were finalizing the agreement. I had like a page of notes and questions that I was ticking off throughout the conversation.

Avantgarde is a great label that also has an excellent history of releases, having put out some really formative stuff very early on. He has handled a lot of Krallice’s stuff, so Lev had already had worked with him and was very happy with how he treated them. We sent him the album, and he was excited about it, and it just seemed like a really good fit.

We’re all very happy with the work both of the labels have done. Both the LP and CD versions came out beautifully.

MMM; Obviously, the band was pretty busy in 2016. What do you have planned in 2017? Looking at more touring? Any new music rolling around in your heads?

OR: We’ve talked with some other bands here in New York about doing some shows overseas, and that would be exciting. We had such a good experience doing the fly out for Migration Fest, I think we’d like to do more of that. As of yet nothing is set in stone, though. We were prepping songs for the album for a year or so leading up to recording and have been playing them for the past year now that the album’s come out. So I think we’re ready to get back to work in the practice space. We were on a roll writing after the recording was finished and joked that we’d have the next album written before the first one came out. That didn’t happen, but we have a good start on a new batch of material and are working on more now. In contrast to “Exegeses,” which was written over a fairly long period of time, I’m looking forward to working up a body of music in a more succinct fashion and seeing how that affects the overall feel of the next album.

(Released July 7, 2016)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/

Or here: http://avantgardemusic.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

And here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/

5. Eight Bells, ‘Landless’ (Battleground Records)

eight-bells-coverIt’s not easy for a record to stick with you from the starting pole of the year to the end, but that’s just what Eight Bells’ amazing “Landless” did. I had the music right around the turn of 2016, and from the first listen, I was utterly enraptured and remain so to this day. Getting to see them perform some of these songs live was incredible icing on an already delicious cake.

Sadly, the momentum didn’t last for Eight Bells. Guitarist/vocalist Melynda Jackson suffered a serious leg injury on tour due to some shit bags running into her from behind, and as time went on, the lineup dissolved in front of her. But not to be deterred, Jackson worked through her injury, picked herself up, and started to reassemble Eight Bells from the ground up. The band has started playing some shows again toward the end of the year, and now Jackson and Eight Bells are beginning to think about new music. Jackson was kind enough to our questions about “Landless,” its incredible music and story, how she’s recovering, and the state of the band. Thanks so much to her, and we wish her all the best moving forward. The metal world needs her creativity and heart.

Meat Mead Metal: We’re naming “Landless” one of our top 5 metal albums of the year. For us, the music has had amazing staying power, considering it’s been out almost a year, and we’re still enthralled by it. How do you feel about the music now that you’ve lived it and played it live?

Melynda Jackson: The songs on “Landless” are important to me as there are a couple of milestones on the album. One of those is lyric writing. I wrote the lyrics and melodies for “Hating,” “Landless,” “Touch Me,” and part of “Hold My Breath.” I have never shown my writings to anyone, or thought of them as lyrics. The lyrical content of those songs is an honest representation of a time in my life. There is no pretension there.

The other is recording my voice. I suppose there is a third thing—(producer) Billy Anderson. Over the last two EB recordings, (he) has taught me to enjoy the studio. I always hated it, hating hearing myself, hated the process except for the final mix. That has changed and it is pretty cool.

Recording and writing “Landless” was great, but performing those songs live presents difficulties. The major one having to do with getting a mix where we can actually hear the vocals—flying blind is brutal. Another issue was the loss of Chris VanHuffel as the drummer. This put the band in a situation of trying to use a long-distance drummer (Rae ‘tiny ninja’ Amitay) and it was totally amazing for recording but not good for me in terms of writing or getting enough actual band practice to be able to perform well on a consistent basis. I am just not that kind of musician. Still, I thought it was worth trying since I have such a fond affection for Rae both the human and the drummer. I am always learning.

MMM: The story behind the record started on “The Captain’s Daughter” and now reaches over to this record, where the girl lost at sea has returned to find things desolate and lonely. Tell me how you came up with this story and what it means to you? Is the tale over?

MJ: I don’t think the story ends until the character dies. I kind of feel like I live a parallel life with this character, and we are living it day to day. I am obsessed with the idea of vastness and loneliness. I grew up in a rural and desolate part of Texas. Like the ocean, it had its sounds and smells, and it is both beautiful and cruel. I am an only child and grew up alone. It can be loneliness or it can be solitude. I am comfortable with both. The idea being “the captain’s daughter” rather than an individual in her own right is not an unfamiliar concept. A woman is always someone’s daughter, someone child, someone’s wife, someone’s lover, someone’s ex. How do you find something that is always changing hands? She is looking for herself outside of what she is to someone else. I think that all people are doing this regardless of gender. Feeling lost doesn’t mean a person doesn’t know where they are. It can mean they don’t know WHO they are. Looking for something with your eyes closed.

MMM: Musically the record is a really exciting, dramatic one. The guitar work might be my favorite part other than the story, as there are so many lines and riffs that get jammed in my head. I get the idea from hearing how well the music flows that it might have come very naturally to you, these songs. Is that the case?

MJ: Thank you. All in all, I would say the music itself came naturally, and if you listen to previous music I have made, you can hear a natural progression there, but you can always tell the guitar is me. Getting the record finished and out was not easy or natural, as we were working under an impossible deadline with various issues going on. We worked really hard through quite a bit of adversity to get these songs done. In the beginning of the process, our drummer Chris VanHuffel became ill and was unable to commit to the band because of ongoing health issues. We found another drummer who helped us to remain active during this time, as we were being considered for a tour. He learned what material we had from “The Captain’s Daughter.” but we were unable to write with him, so Chris came back to help us complete “Landless.” We recorded a demo around that time with Billy Anderson and started sending it around. Battleground Records became interested in putting the album out, and at the same time, it became apparent that Chris would not be able to record the record as he was undergoing some pretty intense medical treatments.

MMM: You suffered a pretty bad injury when the band was on the Voivod tour. How’s your leg healing? And how were you able to finish those last few days on the tour?

MJ: Ugh. My leg. Yes, I was injured at the show in Atlanta (was not in the pit at all) by three dudes who slammed into me side stage as I was taking video of Voivod. I dislocated my kneecap, tore my meniscus, damaged my articular cartilage, had torn ligaments, had bone bruising, and my knee filled up with blood. I should have gone to the hospital that night but thought/hoped maybe it could be a sprain or something and would be better in the morning. I could not weight bear at all.

It was worse in the morning, so we went to urgent care then were sent to an orthopedic doctor at the hospital. The doctor scheduled me for an MRI the next day. He told me squatting low would probably not be a thing I should ever do again and fitted me with a brace. He said I should try to do simple exercises to avoid a blood clot. I thought about going home, and then I thought about how that would be to buy plane tickets for three people on the tour then another person to help Haley (Westeiner, bassist) drive home on top of missing all those shows, so we drove to Indiana to drop off our merch person/driver at home and then drove through a blizzard to get to Chicago and finished the tour.

I was in a lot of pain and had pills but didn’t take them too much because I didn’t want to be wasted. I played sitting and could not move any gear. I have to shout out to Frank (Chin) and Blake(Anderson) from Vektor for setting me up and breaking me down for that last few shows. Holy shit they are the best.

Anyway, I got home in a wheelchair and started physical therapy. There was some improvement, but in July I had knee surgery and am still in physical therapy. I lost a lot of muscle mass in that leg from the injury. I can squat to 90 degrees and do stairs with less pain. I seem to be at standstill on the improvement though. I hope it keeps getting better. I did find out that I will likely develop knee arthritis and be disabled in old age. Something to look forward to. That said, I need to do as much as I can before that happens, and then I shall rule the world from my recliner.

Melynda Jackson (by Ted Reckoning Photography)

Melynda Jackson (by Ted Reckoning Photography)

MMM: It seems like as “Landless” was gaining momentum, things came to a halt. You had a major lineup shakeup that I know was very hard on you. How are you doing after everything that went down, and how is the new lineup of the band coming along?

MJ: Yes, it has been really hard. We didn’t do a bunch after getting back for a few reasons. I was out of commission due to my injury, and that is one reason you didn’t hear from me for a bit. I also parted ways with our bass player in March about a month after getting back. That wasn’t an amicable parting but I felt it was best for the band as an entity and better for me personally. Having an out-of-town drummer also put a damper on playing shows very often because it was a situation that required time not working for Rae, and plane tickets, things the band couldn’t really afford.

Very recently we started playing with THEE SLAYER HIPPY (Steve Hanford) from IT and Poison Idea on drums, and that is going really well. He also produces music, so that is another plus. Most of all, I love having play arguments with him and the yelling. We have already mostly written a song arrangement in just three sessions, writing pretty much on the spot using a riff I have been carrying around for years. Melynda (Amann, keyboards/vocals) and I came up with vocal parts together on the spot as well. I feel inspired for the first time since before the tour, and that is a relief. After everything, I felt like maybe I don’t even like music anymore. That feeling caused me to feel utterly depressed and exasperated. I have been there before and it passed those times, so I wait.

MMM: Battleground Records included test presses of “Landless” as one of the items being sold to help raise money for Planned Parenthood. What are your thoughts on that effort? Were you happy to have “Landless” involved?

MJ: It was not even something that I would feel like David (Rodgers) would need to ask me about. I am honored to help Planned Parenthood, the only source of medical care I had in my 20s, and I am sure it is the same for many people. David’s idea about the test pressings made me feel proud to be in association with Battleground Records.

MMM: The band finally got back to playing some shows toward the end of the year. How did it feel to get back out there?

MJ: Kinda terrifying honestly. It was an honor to play with and hang out with the SubRosa crew, but the shows put a lot of pressure on a new lineup, and we had three practices with Rae before the first show. We had practiced with a recording of the raw drum tracks before she arrived, but that doesn’t really do it for me. I felt great about being able to walk well enough to play shows though. Haha! Ultimately it is clear that writing is in order, and moving past “Landless” as well. We will likely play a couple of “Landless” tunes in the future, but for now we are focusing on new music.

MMM: I always try to end these by asking what’s coming next. But for Eight Bells, that question is even bigger considering what happened this year. Is new music in the works? More shows? What does the future of the band look like right now?

MJ: New music. New music. New music. Less trials and tribulations.

(Released Feb. 12, 2016)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.facebook.com/battlegroundrecords

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

Best of 2016: 10-6

khemmis-cover10. KHEMMIS, “Hunted” (20 Buck Spin): In just four years, Denver’s Khemmis already have accomplished enough to make them one of the most exciting younger bands in metal. Their 2014 debut “Absolution” put them on the map, but it was this autumn’s great “Hunted” that pushed them into special territory. It took no time at all for people to catch onto the album (Decibel recently named it its No. 1 album of the year), and the music packed into this album sounds like that of a band just coming to realize their true powers and are willing to spread their energy across the world.

At five songs and nearly 44 minutes, you’d probably be led to believe you are going to encounter a handful of dense epics. The songs definitely are meaty and heavily packed, but it’s amazing how much life and energy pulsate from these songs. The tracks are heavy and smothered with killer riffs, but they also have great melodies and cool hooks that keep you coming back for more. They also can get punishing and grisly (the harshness of “Three Gates”) in case you need a bit of brutality, but this one mostly shines on its blistering catchiness. Khemmis have made a record that should start pushing them further into people’s awareness, and it won’t be long until they’re one of metal’s unquestioned forces. If they aren’t that already. (Oct. 21)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/collections/music

For more on the album, go here: https://www.20buckspin.com/

Blood Incantation cover9. BLOOD INCANTATION, “Starspawn” (Dark Descent): It’s not terribly common or easy for a band to generate the amount of pre-release excitement that Blood Incantation drummed up for their debut album “Starspawn,” but these guys certainly did just that. Much of that comes from their amazing EP “Interdimensional Extinction” that arrived a year earlier and generated a serious fervor, and the promise displayed by that collection had death metal feasters frothing at the mouth for what was to come on their full-length release.

It was clear mere moments into tackling “Starspawn’s” mammoth opening track, the 13:38-long “Vitrification of Blood Part I,” as it starts to stretch its grip across the universe, that something is different and special here. Yes, you’re getting a huge dose of violently played classic death metal, but mixed into that are murky, crushing forays into the cosmos toward things humankind only could dream of experiencing before. The band, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Paul Riedel (Spectral Voice, Abysmal Dimensions), guitarist Morris Kolontyrsky (Spectral Voice, Stillborn Fawn), bassist Jeff Barrett (Spectral Voice, ex-Velnias), and drummer Isaac Faulk (Wayfarer, Abysmal Dimensions) can devastate you physically and put a toll on your body, but you’ll also be stretched intellectually. That forces you away from physical experience and into something that’s above and beyond where we can go with our bodies alone. This band may have set the entire death metal world on an entirely new course. (Aug. 18)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Blood-incantation-508899805936788

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

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

pow8. PALACE OF WORMS, “The Ladder” (Broken Limbs): Balan has done some immense, dramatic things with his Palace of Worms project, and “The Ladder” is his most fascinating effort so far. PoW always has been black metal at its base, but from there, he always has branched out in other directions and brought different elements to his sound’s chemistry. That continues on this record, an out-of-the-ordinary experience, even for someone familiar with Balan’s decade of work. This is the third Palace of Worms record, and the first since 2010, with the wait being well worth it since this knocked us, and I’m sure most of its listeners, for a loop.

While this is Balan’s project, he’s joined by other notable musicians such as fellow members of the Bay Area music scene, with Bezaelith (Lotus Thief) adding backing vocals on two tracks; Ephemeral Domignostika (Mastery, Pale Chalice) offering soloing on two cuts; and Mattia Alagna (Abstracter, Atrament) providing vocals/lyrics on the track “Wreathe.” You are met with the unpredictability on opening cut “In the Twilight Divide,” where flourishes of classical music clash with metallic fury; “Nightworld” has a doomy atmosphere and a moody pace, with Balan lamenting, “Cannot escape you, cannot reason with you,”; and “Strange Constellations,” where Balan howls, “The stage is set for annihilation!” is pure fire. This is another wondrous experience with Palace of Worms, a record that still reveals itself even after a million listens. (April 8)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.brokenlimbsrecordings.net/#!store/azhdm/products/blr076-palace-of-worms-the-ladder-lp

For more on the label, go here: http://brokenlimbsrecordings.net/

auroch-cover7. AUROCH “Mute Books” (Profound Lore): There’s plenty of good death metal out there, but not all of it leaves you feeling like you’ve been burned in a furnace and smeared all over the ground. Auroch’s records, especially their new one “Mute Books,” are like a physical degradation, as their technically insane playing pulls you through pits of damage and spits out your chewed-up body. It’s weird that this record hasn’t gotten more attention this year, and its release date cannot be blamed, so are people just sound asleep? This is some great work. Get with this.

The band—vocalist/guitarist Sebastian Montesi, vocalist/bassist Shawn Haché, and drummer Zack Chandler—certainly jumps into the weirdest sections of hell on this record, a seven-track, 30-minute burst that is perfectly timed and explosively effective. From the opener “Billowing Vervain” that starts in an eerie fog before the Earth is gorged, through to “Say Nothing” that has swirling choral parts before unleashing war-torn damage before a sci-fi-splashed ending, and into closer “Cup of Hemlock” that fucks up your mind just like the title hints that it might, you’re left gripping for safety. You never feel quite the same after an Auroch record, and this third album of theirs “Mute Books” will incinerate your soul to a crisp.  (Oct. 21)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

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

ustalost-cover6. USTALOST, “The Spoor of Vipers” (Sibir): There are those bands that come out of nowhere every year, rendering you useless until you can get the music out of your bloodstream. Ustalost, the project of Yellow Eyes member Will Skarstad, is one of those forces, and “The Spoor of Vipers,” the debut record under that banner, is one that had a serious impact. Funny enough, we didn’t write up this record on the site this year, and here it is this high on the list. But that happens. You discover something way later than you should have, and it ends up devouring a shit ton of your time. Then again, we might have time to give this full treatment early next year. More on that at the end.

Like his work in Yellow Eyes, much of what is on this record is grounded in black metal. But it pushes further than that an injects melodies that cause your blood cells to freeze up and the parts of your mind that allows you to break beyond your cranium and reach onto new things. Here, six tracks that run over 43 minutes all get simple Roman numeral names. That’s a nice touch, and it prevents preconceived notions from entering your thinking and just lets you absorb the music. “I” has a murky entrance before it opens its doors to delirium and dreamy haze; “II” follows in a similar path and is bathed in sinewy riffs and thick basslines, with the shrieks piercing the flesh; “IV’ feels like an out-of-body experience with its synth wash and echoed screams; and “VI” flexes its prog muscles while bloodying your lip with black metal creativity. Oh, as hinted, it’s also not too late to get on board with this thing. Gilead Media has the vinyl version up for pre-order, with records set to arrive in late winter. (April 5)

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

To buy the album on vinyl pre-order: https://www.erodingwinds.com/

Best of 2016: 15-11

15. ASTRONOID, “Air” (Blood Music): The (silly) sentiment that metal only can be played one way and must be inherently evil came to an annoying head again when Astronoid’s superb “Air” was released this summer. It’s everything that cult black metal is not, in that it’s bright, fiercely catchy, and will etch itself into your psyche forever. This isn’t brutal music, but it’s damn heavy, and the band’s way with melody is something to behold and absolutely respect. It’s safe to say no other metal record sounded like “Air” this year and probably never will.

“Air” is the first full-length record on Astronoid’s resume, and they can act as a burst of euphoric energy to your system. How can that be bad? Yeah, it might not fill you with the devil’s horrors, but these nine songs that stretch over 50 minutes can rocket you into outer space, with you finding a way to fill your lungs despite science insisting that’s impossible. There are a ton of killer songs on here from “Up and Atom,” one of the best metal cuts of the year and 6:17 of pure power; the black metal-infused insanity of “Resin”; and “Tin Foil Hats” that has a chorus that’s nearly jubilant. Astronoid is one hell of a revelation, and this record is jammed with glory. (June 10)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/store/store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.blood-music.com/

lotus-thief-cover14. LOTUS THIEF, “Gramarye” (Prophecy): Bay Area metal band Lotus Thief doesn’t rely on the normal trappings of metal in which to find their influence. Instead, they’ve been known to tear backward through literature to motivate their music, and perhaps that’s what makes them stand apart so successfully. On their excellent second album “Gramarye,” their first for Prophecy, they conjure Homer’s Odyssey, the Merseburg Incantations, The Book of the Dead, and Crowley’s The Book of Lies to spread their darkness and wonder over these five songs.

Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/composer Bezaelith, drummer Otrebor (Botanist), and synth player/vocalist Iva Toric (the lineup since has been reconfigured) still situated themselves in space for a lot of this record, but they also blend in black metal and doom to bruise tracks such as “The Book of the Dead,” “Circe,” and gazey, post-punk-flavored “Salem.” The record has a mystical, magical feel to it, and like so many of the records we chose for this year’s list, it easily can transport you to other places in your mind. On top of that, the music very well may cause its listeners to dig deeper into the texts that inspired these songs, which should enrich your mind and soul. (Sept. 16)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.lotusthief.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://en.prophecy.de/pre-order-bundles/

For more on the label, go here: http://en.prophecy.de/

Marsh Dweller cover13. MARSH DWELLER, “The Weight of Sunlight” (Eihwaz): Just a few months ago, John Kerr joined up with us to create the drunkest interview in the history of this site, a feat that has not been, and may never will be, repeated since. All of that was to shine light on his Marsh Dweller project’s excellent new record “The Weight of Sunlight,” an eight-track, 42-minute debut offering that should make friends with anyone into atmospheric black metal and those who still devour the glory days of Swedish death metal.

The album is both a very personal journey for Kerr as well as an homage to naturalistic pantheism, immersing himself in the journey he’s been on the past few years while also remembering to respect the surroundings that have become a part of his DNA. Amid three instrumentals that work as gateways during the record, Kerr brings fluid riffs, punishing playing, and grisly vocals to tracks such as “The Dull Earth” that has a sword-sharpening medieval sound to it; “Monumental Collapse” that brings the melodic death metal fire; and tremendous “Forks on the River,” where it feels like the glorious guitar work laps over you like a cold body of water, enveloping you and pulling you toward a new home. This is a really promising debut from an artist who is bound to keep surprising us. (Aug. 15)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://thecollectivedistro.com/

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

ash-borer-cover12. ASH BORER, “The Irrepassable Gate” (Profound Lore): The weight of an Ash Borer can feel like gravity going heel and pushing all its weight down on you. Their drone-glazed black metal keeps morphing just a bit on every record, and we hear that again on “The Irrepassable Gate,” an album that barely made it under the deadline for 2016 releases. We may have had to wait until the waning days of autumn, but having this six-track, 53-minute album in our grasp means we ended this dreadful year with another excursion into this band’s warped chaos.

The three members of Ash Borer—K on guitars and vocals, A on guitars, R on bass and vocals, M on drums—also create terror in bands including Triumvir Foul, Predatory Light, Urzeit, Vanum, and Serug Dreg, but they make their deadliest magic on this project. They prove that time and again on “The Irrepassable Gate” by unloading tracks such as the doomy, wrenching title cut that opens the album; “Lacerated Spirit” that haunts and pummels at the same time, making you feel out-of-body chills; and “Rotten Firmament,” the album’s beefiest track at 12:37 that boils, confounds, and erodes over its run time. Ash Borer’s level is not attainable, which they make painful clear on this smothering album. (Dec 2)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.ashborer.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

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

predatory-light-cover11. PREDATORY LIGHT, self-titled (Invictus/Psychic Violence): Not to suggest that Predatory Light isn’t a diverse bunch, but the point of their volcanic, self-titled record appears to be outright violence for its sake. It’s a doom-filled expression of black metal that goes right for the throat. Sure, the music can set off into unexpected terrain now and again, but for the most part, you realize you’re in for a savage beating that’s going to last the bulk of these six track and 41 minutes of torment. If you feel like you’ve visited the mouth of hell when this is all over, you’re not alone.

This band—guitarist/vocalist L.S., guitarist K, bassist D.F., drummer N.M.—is built with parts of several other notable band including Triumvir Foul, Vanum, Ash Borer, Anhedonist, and Drought, and they bring their collective fire together for an astonishing first act that will keep your head spinning. From the total mind-fuck first minutes of “Laughing Wound,” it feels like they’re headed into the galaxy, yet they instead level you with sooty doom and feral power that acts as a blazing assault. “Lurid Hand” spirals all over with a mighty blaze and adds dizziness to their fury; “Dark Membrance” simmers in horrific psychosis; and “Born of the Wrong Blood” feels like black metal panic that whips up tornadic winds and nausea. This album is dangerous, smoking, and skull crushing, and it’s terrifying to think that this is Predatory Light’s first full shot fired. (Sept. 23)

For more on the band, go here: https://predatorylight.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.invictusproductions.net/shop/

Or here: http://psychicviolence.bigcartel.com/

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

And here: https://www.facebook.com/PSYCHICVIOLENCERECORDS/

Best of 2016: 20-16

Dust Moth cover20. DUST MOTH, “Scale” (The Mylene Sheath): Much of what we do around here is immersed in absolute heaviness. I got a better idea of that putting together this best-of-2016 list. Damn, we do a lot of doom and black metal and death metal, and it makes sense considering our focus. But brutality isn’t the be all, end all, and it’s not the only thing that makes a band and its music heavy. Seattle’s Dust Moth are one of the bands that might not blow out your hearing, but they’re sure to take you somewhere that will quake your insides.

Dust Moth’s full-length debut “Scale” is a perfect example of a record that might not tangle with the beasts, but it’s got enough power to push you. Their music has its sure bursts of power, and when those moments strike, they’re very effective. But psychedelic dreaming and spacey wonders are at the heart of this thing, and the music is so alluring and catchy, it’ll get stuck in your head for days. Led by expressive singer Irene Barber, the band pushes you through nine expansive tracks that’ll infect your mind, including swirling opener “Space Legs,” amazing and infectious “Corrections,” and drizzling closer “Essex.” This is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises as far as debuts go, and their adventures from here will be devoured wholly by us as soon as they arrive. (July 22)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.mylenesheath.com/pg/preorders

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

sumerlands-cover19. SUMERLANDS, self-titled (Relapse): Get an old car, wait until a warm evening, and go buy some good beer in order to properly digest Sumerlands’ first record. This feels like a lost album recorded in 1984 that sat on someone’s shelf, foolishly neglected, and only surfaced now. Think Judas Priest, Dio, and mid-1980s Ozzy Osbourne and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect on this band’s first record. My first visit with the album is nearly described above, and I listened with optimal volume during a hot summer day while on vacation in Rehoboth Beach, and it was absolutely perfect.

The band has former Hour of 13 singer Phil Swanson out front—he has some of the best pipes in all heavy metal—and by his side are members of bands such as Magic Circle and War Hungry. Together, they put together a perfectly sized album at eight tracks and 32 minutes, and this thing is packed with great riffs, doom-laced classic heavy metal, and singing that’ll cut to your metallic heart and leave it bleeding silver. Tracks such as “The Seal,” “Guardian,” “Spiral Infinite,” and “Lost My Mind” are modern-day metal gems made by a band that is trying to revive the genre’s golden roots and spread them all over the world again. (Sept. 16)

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

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

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

urfaust-cover18. URFAUST, “Empty Space Meditation” (Ván): Transcending is something you cannot get with every heavy metal band. But Dutch duo Urfaust are not like any other metal band, and each of their releases offer something completely different to their audience. No two Urfaust records are the same, or even close for that matter, and their fourth full-length “Empty Space Mediation” continues to push their sound and direction deep into the psyche. This is music you’re not going to put on because you want to punch it full speed down the road and fill yourself with adrenaline. This is music that can help you center yourself and transport to another plane of existence.

These six songs all are called “Meditatum,” with an accompanying Roman numeral, and each track takes you one step further to pushing yourself beyond earthly boundaries, even if that’s only in your mind. There is heaviness involved for sure, which you’ll find with the horrifying screams of “II” and the chants and fire-breathing guitars on “V.” But then there are the chilling, swirling synth passages and the dream-soaked compositions that stretch over opener “I” and the mentally stimulating closer “VI” that’s splashed with Indian-style melodies, a chamber of hypnosis, and melodies floating in and out of your brain. Urfaust never repeat themselves, and “Empty Space Meditation” is a huge mind fuck.  (Oct. 28)

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

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://www.van-records.de/

MIzmor cover17. MIZMOR, “Yodh” (Gilead Media): What causes people to get up every day and carry through a life that can be buried in multiple difficulties varies for each person. We all have our own motivation, and we all decide to carry on for one reason or another and forge through yet more challenges. Those circumstances that will our survival is at the heart of “Yodh,” the second record from this A.L.N.-driven project that absolutely crushed our world this year.

Mizmor (also known under the Hebrew spelling מזמור) packs doom, noise, drone, and black metal in heavy layers that are damn-near impenetrable, and the five tracks on here deal a serious bludgeoning from start to finish. Despite the negativity and poisonous surroundings that could mar our everyday lives, Mizmor find a way to steamroll through those barriers and into whatever comes next. This music is corrosive and powerful, and from opener “Woe Regains My Substance” to cataclysmic closer “Bask in the Lingering,” A.L.N. drags you through an abrasive journey that could help find some answers amid your suffering. (Aug. 12)

For more on the band, go here: http://mizmor.virb.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.erodingwinds.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

Blood Ceremony cover16. BLOOD CEREMONY, “Lord of Misrule” (Rise Above): For the past decade, Toronto’s occult-based band Blood Ceremony have spent their time sharpening their blades, getting more infectious, and luring in more listeners. They’ve also kept their music varied enough that each of their records stands apart, and that continues on their excellent fourth effort “Lord of Misrule.” This thing is darker and grittier than their more approachable “The Eldritch Dark” but also maintains a lot of that record’s power.

Vocalist/flautist Alia “O’Brien is at her very best on these songs, sounding raspier and more sinister in spots but also soaring like a ritual fire. The rest of the band matches her mastery and intensity, firing hard on tracks such as “The Devil’s Widow,” “The Rogue’s Lot,” the impossibly catchy title track (especially its psyche-friendly chorus), “Half Moon Street,” and “Old Fires.” Witchcraft and magick always feel like they’re flowing heavily on a Blood Ceremony record, and that’s never been more accurate than on “Lord of Misrule.” I’m already excited to find out what dark corners they take us to next. (March 25)

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

To buy the album go here: http://www.riseaboverecords.com/shop/

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

Best of 2016: 30-21

Forteresse cover30. FORTERESSE, “Thèmes pour la Rébellion” (Sepulchral Productions): History and progress are made locally, and that’s something fresh on the minds of Quebec-based black metal band Forteresse. Their fifth record “Thèmes pour la Rébellion” is one of the most unique of the year, not only for how it sounds but for its subject matter, that being the Lower Canadian Rebellion that took place in 1837-38. The sense of vengeance and fighting for freedom bleed throughout this record, and amid the band’s devastating sound, you practically can hear forces moving through the villages, setting fire to the enemy, and going on a rampage. It’s a fascinating listen, and it’ll make the blood rush to your head. Violence, history, and chaos swell this thing, and it’s one hell of a monstrous experience. (June 24)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Forteresse-312227428819928

To buy the album, go here: http://www.sepulchralproductions.com/collections/preorders

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

waldgefluster-cover29. WALDGEFLÜSTER, “Ruinen” (Bindrune/Nordvis Produktion): It’s impossible to put on a Waldgeflüster record and not feel a huge tidal wave of genuine passion and emotion. It’s been that way since Winterherz put together this project as his own solo project, and it remains this way as the band has grown into a full unit. “Ruinen” is a great serving of folk-influenced black metal, the stuff you can imagine listening to on a mid-winter jaunt through the forest as you look to either connect with nature or just clear your head. The black metal elements are as heavy as anything in the band’s history, and the quieter moments serve as a perfect counter to the building storm. The band’s heartfelt playing and spirited songwriting are so strong on “Ruinen,” and it’s another powerful entry into Waldgeflüster’s impressive resume. (Oct. 14)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.waldgefluester.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://thecollectivedistro.com/

Or here: http://store.nordvis.com/

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

And here: http://www.nordvis.com/

Moonsorrow cover28. MOONSORROW, “Jumalten aika” (Century Media): Not sure what got into Finnish metal legion Moonsorrow’s blood when they were making their seventh record “Jumalten aika,” but hopefully that continues to infect these guys. This album is vitriolically heavy and brutal, not that past records haven’t been, but it hasn’t been to this extent. Moonsorrow seem to have been extra agitated when they made this record, and good for them, because it’s the best thing they’ve put out in some time. Their Pagan spirits are in full effect on this record, and there are some amazing highlights (I can’t get the opening title track out of my head, as it’s one of my favorite songs of the year). This album is 67 minutes of the best Moonsorrow have to offer, and it’s great that this far into their run that they’re gushing vital, relevant blood with such intensity. (April 1)

For more on the band, go here: http://moonsorrow.com/

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

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

Abbath cover27. ABBATH, self-titled ‘’ (Season of Mist): Abbath leaving black metal institution Immortal likely will be a death blow for that band (or at least a debilitating full-body bruise), but it sure didn’t hurt the man who fronted that legendary group for years. Abbath’s solo debut is a fiery steamroller, proof that this experienced warrior still has ice in his veins and winter at his heart. What’s also cool is this isn’t exactly an Immortal album with different players. Those elements are there (they would have to be), but the band also explores all sorts of metallic sounds to make this a record a total crusher. Opener “To War” is a boots-on-the-ground stomper, while “Winterbane” stands as the best song on this record, one that rivals anything on the last Immortal outing. Abbath is alive and well, ready to take your head off. And he’s already making a new album!  (Jan. 22)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/

Or here: http://shop.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/

Ashbringer cover26. ASHBRINGER, “Yūgen” (Avantgarde Music): Nothing beats a great riff. It makes metal what it is. So how about an entire record filled with killer riffs stitched together and draped over eight tracks and 55 minutes on Ashbringer’s second record “Yūgen”? Put this record on, and see how long it takes to get your heart racing with the band’s energetic, melodic blend of black metal that is powerful and catchy at the same time. This Nick Stanger-led band truly arrives on this record. There are plenty of bands out there that do something similar to Ashbringer, but very few put the pieces together quite as well as this band. From “Solace” and it’s Maiden-like leads to “In Remembrance” and its reflection on loss and pain to amazing closer “Glowing Embers, Dying Fire” (which has some of the record’s best lyrics), Ashbringer deliver something truly special and memorable. (June 3)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://avantgardemusic.bigcartel.com/

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

urzeit-cover25. URZEIT, “Anmoksha” (self-released): So much metal is centered on hate. That’s one of the most obvious statements in the history of the site, eh? But it makes sense to point out in this case because Urzeit’s “Anmoksha” is an album that center on self-hatred and the results of that inner torment (the made-up title essentially means without peace). Combining members of the Vrasubatlat circle, A.L.N. (Mizmor), R.F. (Ash Borer, Triumvir Foul), and M (also of Ash Borer, Triumvir Foul) create chaotic, charred black metal that sound like it oozed out of their bruised souls. Over 10 tracks and 51 minutes, this band delivers painfully heavy punishment and bile-soaked music that will make you know for certain this hatred-filled ritual is real, and that few other bands can match the hellish darkness at the center of this album. (Oct. 10)

For more on the band or for a digital version, go here: https://urzeit.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://vrasubatlat.bigcartel.com/

Or here: http://mizmor.bigcartel.com/

Mare Cognitum cover24. MARE COGNITUM, “Luminiferous Aether” (I, Voidhanger): Examining the human condition from a level of compassion and true exploration for a good answer to what ails us probably seems to go against the black metal ethos of hatred all the time. But Jacob Buczarski isn’t your everyday musician, and his Mare Cogntium project always has set itself apart from the rest of the metallic field. You can hear that all over the band’s fourth full-length “Luminiferous Aether,” a five track, nearly 51-minute excursion that continues Buczarski’s penchant for imaginative music and explosive playing. There is anger and ferocity to this record without question, but Buczarski’s decision to push his music more toward a hopeful perspective is both a bold move and something of which we could use more as we all stare an uncertain future right in the face. (Sept. 16)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

saor-guardians-front-cover23. SAOR, “Guardians” (Northern Silence): Andy Marshall has spent the past several years carving out his own pathway in Celtic-flavored black metal, and “Guardians,” his third record under the Saor banner, keeps things moving toward the atmospheric and lush. These five epics combine for nearly 56 minutes of breath-taking and punishing music that’s good for the psyche and the soul. Getting helping hands from Bryan Hamilton (Cnoc An Tursa) on drums; Meri Tadic (Irij, formerly of Elueviete) on fiddle; John Becker (Austaras) on strings; and Kevin Murphy on bagpipes, Marshall pushes his art into the green, thriving wilderness with a dose of black metal that would be fitting no matter the time of year but probably will sound best once the spring is bursting to life again. Soar is one of those projects that’s been gaining momentum over time, and “Guardians” only should solidify that push. (Nov. 11)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.northern-silence.de/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.northern-silence.de/

inter-arma22. INTER ARMA, “Paradise Gallows” (Relapse): There’s no questioning the creativity and refusal to adhere to any rules displayed over the past decade, and the band hit its high-water mark on their amazing third full-length “Paradise Gallows.” At nine tracks and 70 minutes, this album is incredibly unpredictable and always volcanic, pushing you to expand your own parameters for what heavy music can be. Simply put, these guys should be the trend setters, the band spawning a new wave of followers who also demand more from themselves and this sound, and Inter Arma achieve that excellence over and over on tracks including “An Archer in the Emptiness,” “Primordial Wound,” insanely penetrating “The Summer Drones,” the great title track, and the total come-down of a finale in the folk-infused “Where the Earth Meets the Sky.” Just an incredible collection of songs. (July 8)

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

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

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

Hammer of Misfortune cover21. HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE, “Dead Revolution” (Metal Blade): Traditional metal has become more plentiful that past several years, and we can point in the direction of San Francisco’s Hammers of Misfortune as one of the seed planters. The band’s sixth record “Dead Revolution,” their first in five years, kept pushing the fiery melodies, gravelly and glorious singing, and incredible drama. John Cobbett continues to write the shit out of great riffs, Sigrid Sheie’s keyboards take an even bigger role, and singer Joe Hutton, who survived a serious motorcycle accident, is in total command. There are so many great moments on this record, including stellar opener “The Velvet Inquisition,” which builds its momentum nicely; my personal favorite track “The Precipice (Waiting for the Crash),” where Hutton’s calls of, “And all you hear is sky!” pastes itself into your head; and amazing curveball finish “Days of ’49,” their heavy take on the traditional folk song based on Joaquin Miller’s poem about the gold rush of 1849 that shows just how outside the box this band thinks. Hammers of Misfortune literally is incapable of disappointing us.  (July 22)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.indiemerch.com/metalbladerecords

For more on the label, go here: http://www.metalblade.com/us/

Best of 2016: 40-31

Temple Nightside Cover40. TEMPLE NIGHTSIDE, “The Hetacomb” (Iron Bonehead): Iron Bonehead puts a lot of great, sooty black and death metal into the world, and their best contribution this year was this second selection in the history of Aussie beasts Temple Nightside. When we wrote up “The Hetacomb” this summer, we marveled at the terrifying sounds that have come out of Australia, and these guys are helping lead that charge. At nine tracks and nearly 43 minutes, it contains some of the filthiest and scariest death metal heard this year, and it has kept our blood boiling ever since the album first landed in the MMM inbox. If we keep getting death this good from Temple Nightside, their profile will have no choice but to escalate violently. (Aug. 5)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.ironbonehead.de/en/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.ironbonehead.de/

anagnorisis-cover39. ANAGNORISIS, “Peripeteia” (Vendetta): Metal can be a very personal, exploratory art, and nowhere was that more obvious than on Anagnorisis’ latest album “Peripeteia.” This record is a psychological awakening for vocalist Zachary Kerr, as the music explores his childhood and the events that have formed him into who he is, fueled by two tapes he found from his upbringing where he is interviewed. Those clips on their own are chilling enough, and then taking this journey with Kerr through his formative years and into the present is spellbinding, sad, and sobering. Musically, it’s fittingly complex and massive, pulling listeners through a black metal-laced trip that will leave you wholly affected. (Oct. 21)

For more on the band, go here: http://666.anagnorisis.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://vendettarecords.wordpress.com/shop-webstore/

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

vlk-cover38. VLK, “Of Wolves’ Blood” (self-released): We don’t get to review everything every year, and there are records that we don’t really come to know until later on. It was over the summer that, after reading a few tweets from folks I trust when it comes to music, I got onto “Of Wolves’ Blood,” the debut full-length from Chicago’s Vlk. This record was one of my more visited pieces on my Bandcamp account, and it seems to work well no matter what mood I’m in or what time of year it is. The bleak black metal feels morbidly violent but also strangely triumphant, as if it is being played at the tail end of a bloody battle in which troops were lost to the wilderness and wild clashes, but victory ultimately is the result. It’s a brutal album, and it’s so ridiculously good. (March 21)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://vlkisch.bandcamp.com/

Zhrine cover37. ZHRINE, “Unortheta” (Season of Mist): The Icelandic metal scene is alive and very well, and Zhrine pummeling us with their mighty debut “Unortheta” made it clear the onslaught is just beginning. It was fitting they toured this year with Ulcerate, a band with whom they share some metallic DNA, though Zhrine is proving to be the more creative of the two right now. The record douses the listener in death metal so bludgeoning, it feels like it was created after years breathing in the filth of a dank coal mine. But they also inject some creative wonder into the music, as if they plan to launch this into space to prove their meddle to anyone who might be listening beyond our planet. This band is damn good, and they’re just getting started with this project. (April 8)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/

Or here: http://shop.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/

WITE cover36. WOMAN IS THE EARTH, “Torch of Our Final Night” (Init): South Dakota may seem like an odd place for the transformation of USBM’s chemistry to take place, but that’s exactly where Woman Is the Earth are plying their trade and changing what we know heavy music to be. On their excellent fourth record “Torch of Our Final Night,” they expand the boundaries of black metal and their own psyches with six tracks that comprise about 39 minutes of music. Heaviness and brutality are there, but so is compassion, atmospheric energy, and incredible heart, making this an album that could help you transcend. If more black metal bands could be as bold as WITE, the scene would be healthier and a lot more interesting in which to delve. (April 15)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.womanistheearthband.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://initrecords.corecommerce.com/

Or here: http://www.womanistheearthband.com/woman-is-the-earth—store.html

For more on the label, go here: http://www.initrecords.net/

high-priest-cover35. HIGH PRIEST OF SATURN, “Son of Earth and Sky” (Svart): This is going to be way too much sharing, but on weekends, I like to take long showers at night with the lights out so I can breathe and relax. Typically, I’ll choose music that helps me push through the misery of the week, and High Priest of Saturn’s masterful second record “Son of Earth and Sky” very often is my album of choice. It’s a collection that reaches even higher if your mind is altered, but that’s not even necessary for this music to push you into a psychedelic haze. This band sort of walks the edges of metal and injects a ton of psyche rock, jazz, and some bluesy notes, making it something that could have landed in the ’60s or ’70s and been right at home. Merethe Heggset’s singing in a huge highlight of this collection, as she can soar when the need arises or pull back the intensity when the quiet takes over. This record is intoxicating and immersive, and it’ll keep soothing my mental bruising well into the future. (Feb. 26)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/

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

Crowhurst cover34. CROWHURST, “II’ (Broken Limbs/Dullest): Jay Gambit is one prolific dude, and Crowhurst is a project that takes some serious dedication if you want to track every piece of music under that banner. This year, the band’s highpoint was “II,” an effort that mixed industrial smoke and fire with black metal fury perfectly, and six tracks here can get under your skin and increase whatever anxiety you’re feeling naturally. Teaming up with Andy Curtis-Brignell (Caina) and Matron Thron (Ævangelist), Gambit comes up with a record that’s one of the finest in Crowhurst’s massive collection, one that’s soaked in darkness and torment. Every moment of this feels like a psychological bloodletting, and that all culminates on the record’s crushing 13:28 closer “Dried Blood of Old Earth” that take you on a noise-infested metallic fog from which you cannot easily escape. Great work. (Aug. 30)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://dullestrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ii

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

And here: https://www.facebook.com/DullestRecords

Pestifere cover33. PESTIFERE, “Hope Misery Death” (Eihwaz): The earth is fucked. I mean, it’s really fucked. At least with the way the United States is bound to approach natural elements for the next four (holy shit, please only be four) years, it’s a terrifying effort to wonder just how far down the drain we will go. Luckily, we have bands such as Pestifere putting up the good fight, which they do on their excellent second record “Hope Misery Death.” This Minnesota-based band launches a fiery, melodic black metal assault on this record that will get your blood flowing but also touch your conscience when it comes to how we conduct ourselves as humans. We’re not the best stewards of Earth, something Pestifere warn often with these eight tracks, all hitting a crescendo on soul-shaking closer “To Those Who Lost Their Home,” which brings the whole collection to a rustic, rousing finish. If you slept on this one, change that. (July 15)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://thecollectivedistro.com/

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

Sumac cover32. SUMAC, “What One Becomes” (Thrill Jockey): Aaron Turner can make anything he touches feel like an earthquake. Sumac’s thunderous second record “What One Becomes” is proof of that, as he, Brian Cook and Nick Yacyshyn do supreme damage here. But that’s not all they do. Their playing also runs circles around you, as they make the most of their prowess by proving their technical chops match their heaviness. Lyrically, the record hits home for me as it centers on anxiety and the building blocks that lead one to experience this potentially crippling phenomenon. Here, the band focuses on identifying anxiety’s source and mapping out a battle plan to address and balance it. It’s like therapy put to the sounds of planets exploding. It’s Sumac’s best work and hints that they’re only scratching the surface at what this trio can accomplish. (June 10)

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

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

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

Vektor cover31. VEKTOR, “Terminal Redux” (Earache): Did you see “Rogue One”? It ruled. Seriously, such a fun night at the movies that pays off some long-wondered questions. Nothing’s better than a good space opera, and that’s something thrash demons Vektor deliver on their aggressive, ambitious concept album “Terminal Redux.” It gives Earache one of metal’s most forward-thinking bands, something for which they’ve been searching for a long time since their glory days, and metal audience a fun, ferocious group that can keep their brain cells charged. The record has moments that are so goddamn cheeky that you can’t help but smile and a serving of technical wonder that could inform other musicians that they can play it heavy and purposely geeky at the same time. Oh, and they fucking deliver live. This record is 10 tracks and 73 action-packed minutes that feels like a thriller you can imagine in your mind as the music blows you away. This shit’s made for the big screen, and this record will help you remember than metal can be incredibly fun. We seem to forget that too often.  (May 6)

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

To buy the album (U.S.), go here: http://uswebstore.earache.com/vektor

Or here (Europe) http://webstore.earache.com/vektor

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