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

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

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

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

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

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

1. LANTERN, ‘Dimensions’ (Dark Descent)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. MOLASSESS, ‘Through the Hollow’ (Season of Mist)

The demise of The Devil’s Blood following Selim Lemouchi’s death in 2014 left a huge gap in the world of heavy music, robbing us of their 1970s-fueled proto metal and the remarkable vocals from Farida Lemouchi (she was known as the Mouth of Satan). Their purely devotional music to the darkest forces also were rousing hymns and bombastic displays that, even if you didn’t bow to the devil, you could find a ton to like in the music. Here we are six years later, and the mission has been revived by Molassess on their debut full-length “Through the Hollow.” The band contains former members of the Devil’s Blood including Farida as well as guitarists Oeds Beydals and Ron van Herpen, and bassist Job van de Zande, and they’re joined by drummer Bob Hogenelst and keyboard player Matthijs Stronks on this new project that continues to carry the spiritual mission started by Selim into whatever chaotic future is ahead of us all. The art remains in the same vein but also has changed, as these tracks are more longform doses of psychedelic driving and shadowy seduction that very much eases the blow of losing their original project. This record is that good.

Photo by Ryannevan Dorst

The title track starts with strange noises floating in before guitars spiral, and a trippy feel is achieved quickly. Lemouchi’s unmistakable singing unfurls as a sprawling journey spreads out and carries the bulk of this 11:06-long track. Keys haunt as wordless calls soothe, and the music keeps tunneling as Lemouchi calls, “No more bridges left to burn,” amid a psyche haze that fully intoxicates. “Get Out From Under” has guitars trickling and more exceptional singing straight from Lemouchi’s guts. The chorus is tremendous while the vibe is mesmerizing and driving. “Corpse of Mind” flows in mystically as melodies spread and the vocals float, with Lemouchi commanding, “Break through the eyes of time.” The singing feels otherworldly while the end of the track disappears into a void. “I Am No Longer” melts in with guitars liquifying and dreamy slowness dictating the pace at first. Drums bustle, joined by keys perfect for nighttime as Lemouchi declares, “I am forever haunting.” “The Devil Lives” is the perfect final cut, a 10:33-long anthem that feels like it stitches its path from the last band to this one. “Something’s amiss, and you KNOW it,” Lemouchi stabs with a line that’ll chill your bones while the guitars intoxicate with a mix of blues and psychedelia. Farida’s declaration of, “The devil’s blood is within me,” as the track rounds out is both a pronouncement their message is alive and a promise that the mission will continue to rage with fire as long as they’re all drawing breath. (Oct. 16)

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

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/band/molassess/

Or here (International): https://shop.season-of-mist.com/

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

4. FOLTERKAMMER, ‘Die Lederpredigt’ (Gilead Media)

December records always seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to making year-end lists because so much stuff gets wrapped up and decided on early, that the later releases never seem to get the respect and love they deserve. Luckily for us, we’re not really forced into a timeframe for making up our top 40, so that’s how “Die Lederpredigt,” the debut record from Swiss-American black metal band Folterkammer, managed to rank so highly. This isn’t a recency thing. We’ve had the music for this record (its title is translated to “The Leather Sermon”) for a few months, and from our first visit with this astonishing display, we were floored. Vocalist Andromeda Anarchia is an absolute force, going operatic and then digging right into guttural growls within moments, her German feeling like its gnashing your wounds. She’s joined by guitarist Zachary Ezrin (of Imperial Triumphant, who also are no strangers to challenging, mind-defying music), bassist Darren Hanson, and drummer Brendan McGowan on a record that conjures the evil spirits of black metal, exposes the abusive nature of religion and authoritative power, and comes from the perspective of a scorned goddess looking to shed blood.

“Die Nänie” dawns with organs swelling and Anarchia’s hushed singing before she goes operatic and tears paint from the walls. Her shrieks cause muscle spasms as the pace goes nuclear, delivering spellbinding madness as the chorus wooshes back for more, and the track ends in a sticky pool. “Die Hymne” arrives with Anarchia going for the stratosphere vocally, as the playing lands heavy punches, and her shrieks are nuanced by her theatrical hacking and splintering, which is just a morbid joy. “Das Gebet” enters the room frantically as Anarchia mixes operatic singing with vile speak-like growl bursts that crawl up your spine. It’s madness. As the song progresses, it actually turns into a really catchy, almost pop-like display that explodes like sugar in your blood, and Anarchia’s playful, manic gush of words is both utterly charming and completely terrifying, calling out for dark forces that likely cannot be controlled. Das Zeugnis” closes this experience with organs signaling doom, and slow, dark tidings bleeding ever so slowly. The singing pushes, starting with a glimmer of hope before turning ugly, and the song unloads with ill will, bringing with it pumps of Gothic soot and black waves of horror. This band is here to scramble your brains and fight back against a power structure that has suffocated too many. The fact they do it in such a savagely gorgeous and spellbinding manner only ups the ante on this great record. (Dec. 11)

For more on the band, go here: facebook.com/folterkammer.music

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/products/folterkammer-die-lederpredigt-lp

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

5. ATRAMENTUS, ‘Styigian’ (20 Buck Spin)

The first time I saw the Mariusz Lewandowski-created cover art for Atramentus’ debut record “Stygian,” it was a few months before it was released when 20 Buck Spin announced the record, and I immediately got lost in that image, wondering if it would equal the torment and doom that the vision seemed to promise. Turns out, I wasn’t prepared for how dreary and dark this three-track, 45-minute record actually was, as it delivers funeral doom in an extremely slow, Arctic-blasted elegance. It just gushes with frigid drama following the tale of a nameless knight granted immortality through the gift of God’s sword, only to watch the world die all around him, leaving him to wander, unable to perish, in a world of cold and unforgiving blizzards. The band—vocalist/guitarist Phil Tougas, guitarist Claude Leduc, bassist Antoine Daigneault, keyboardist/dark element conjurer François Bilodeau, drummer Xavier Berthiaume—weave their magic in other groups such as Chthe’ilist, Funebrarum, and Gevurah, all mighty and noteworthy, but this band and album could be their collective greatest achievement yet.

“Stygian I: From Tumultuous Heavens… (Descended Forth the Ceaseless Darkness)” opens the record and runs a healthy 16:28, starting with keys chiming and Tougas’ lurching growls boiling over. Guitars drain into a freezing funereal pace as glorious leads flood with light, while deep croons slither into another section of bubbling growls, and keys glimmer and cause you to shield your eyes. “Stygian II: In Ageless Slumber (As I Dream in the Doleful Embrace of the Howling Black Winds)” is a bridging ambient piece where sounds shuffle and float into darkness. Keys create a wall of sound while voices quiver, and the dark ambiance leads us to our final chapter. “Stygian III: Perennial Voyage (Across the Perpetual Planes of Crying Frost & Steel-Eroding Blizzards)” ends the album, a 23:17-long finale that feels like it drips in slowly from the atmosphere, as Tougas’ voice creaks, and strangeness is in the air. Guitars give off a classic psyche haze while deep growls shove along, meeting with an exquisite, alien ambiance that takes over, ushering in moody guitars and beams of light that caress the frosty terrain. This record is a cold soul navigating the night, trying to fend off frostbite and hypothermia, attempting to figure out what actions could justify such a horrible curse. It’s the best funeral doom record not just of the year but in many years. (Aug. 21)

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

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

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

BEST OF 2020: 10-6

10. SWEVEN, “The Eternal Resonance” (Ván): The untimely demise of Morbus Chron was a gut punch, as they had just gotten started showing how imaginative and expansive death metal can be when they called it quits after 2014’s landmark “Sweven,” their second record. Six years later, MC’s driving creative force, guitarist/vocalist Robert Andersson, regrouped, named his new band after world-toppling record, and released “The Eternal Resonance,” this project’s first record and one that nobly continues that mission but takes it even further than before. It really ices the blow of losing Morbus Chron because Sweven feel like having them back in spirit.

“The Spark” is the instrumental opener that has clean guitars fluttering before the pace steps up, going into a progressive plunge that pushes into “By Virtue of a Promise,” a 9:21 cut that trickles slowly before things flow eerily into anguish before Andersson’s wails jar. “Reduced to an Ember” has a jazzy start that chills the flesh before the tempo is shredded apart, and riffs spiral into a cascading section that bleeds imagination. Rough wails and exploratory guitars combine and create a chaotic feel before keys and acoustics buff the edges. “Mycelia” plays tricks with your mind, as hand drumming paces, and grim howls fan the flames. The tempo picks up and stomps bones as the vocals rip down your neck, and the playing keeps adding intensity. “Sanctum Sanctorum” closes the record by entering slowly, creating an ambiance before the guts are torn out. The track starts racing hard, making your adrenaline gush before it settles in the clouds and appears ready to drift away. I cannot wait to hear where this band travels from here, as I’m along for the entire ride. (March 20)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://van-records.com/

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

9. MSW, “Obliviosus” (Gilead Media): The world is suffering right now from a horrible virus that has impacted our everyday lives (even the assholes who refuse to admit this is real), but at some point this will end. But there are other problems that exist that won’t be able to be expunged by a jab in the arm and can’t be avoided with distancing and mask wearing. MSW, the mastermind of doom smashers Hell, tackled one of those head on with his solo debut “Obliviosus,” an album that was inspired by his brother’s addiction problems. The scars are evident, the pain bleeds through these four songs, and your heart just has to go out to him and his family as they navigate this darkness.

“O Brother” starts with guitars clashing and doom falling as sorrowful guitars bleed into the night. Carli McNutt’s vocals immediately haunt as she calls out before the ground breaks, and MSW’s shrieks penetrate. The tempo chugs hard as McNutt’s singing swirls in air, while the playing begins to punish hard. “I will never forgive you,” MSW wails painfully while an angelic haze drops, and guitars rain down like ice daggers. “Funus” is an instrumental bridge that immerses itself in darkness and piano drips like a cold rain, and the strings scrape in and later flood into full body. The title track ends the record and starts with guitars agitating before a doomy storm laps shores, and the leads light up the sky. Strings flood as wordless calls connect, while the music feels like it’s floating along on a clean tide. About 10 minutes into this 19:40-long cut, MSW’s first shrieks tear open as the bass clobbers and the guitars rush. A gazey caterwaul brings added pressure, pounding away as it gusts, as MSW jolts, “Our family destroyed, dragging your fists through the open void, where are you, my brother?” Indescribable pain aside, this is such an immersive, incredible record that is some of MSW’s best work. (July 3)

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

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

Or here: https://loweryourhead.bandcamp.com/album/obliviosus

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

8. SPIRIT ADRIFT, “Enlightened in Eternity” (20 Buck Spin): It should be no secret that Spirit Adrift are a favorite at this site and have been ever since they arrived four years ago. Nate Garrett and Marcus Bryant have remained busy as they pick up praise along the way and have created some of the best records in all of metal, and that continues on their fourth LP “Enlightened in Eternity,” one of the best sounding and most lively of their stellar run. As luck would have it, the songs were designed to be a positive, uplifting experience, and they succeed at that goal, but tragedy struck both members of the band since with the passing of each of their beloved dogs, who you can see galloping gloriously on the album’s cover art.

“Ride Into the Light” starts the record with the riffs killing and hugely chugging as everything comes to life. “If we make it through the night, we’ll ride into the light,” Garrett declares over the chorus as the track charges, and the soloing catches fire. “Cosmic Conquest” has the bass driving up your blood pressure and more great leads that make your heart surge. Guitars flex before the soloing adds more fire, hitting glorious highs that’ll have your serotonin levels cruising. “Battle High” opens with a bass line that reminds of “Black Velvet,” as everything snakes in around that, with Garrett warning, “Save yourself, war is hell.” The chorus gushes through the center of its rigid body while the music is charred and leaves pockets of smoke behind. Reunited in the Void” is the 10:48-long closer that dawns over the horizon as the guitars lather, and a slower pace is achieved. “Pain is just an inner guide, voices from the other side,” Garrett wails as synth rises, and the emotional toll gets heavier, “you and I will be one eternally.” Spirit Adrift are one of the best bands in any metallic sub-genre, and even bigger things surely are in their future. (Oct. 16)

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

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

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

7. THOU/EMMA RUTH RUNDLE, “May Our Chambers Be Full” (Sacred Bones): When it comes to dream unions, it’s hard to think of anything more satisfying than putting together doom maulers Thou with bloody-heart-smeared-on-sleeve artist Emma Ruth Rundle. Yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean them making music together was going to be an automatic sure thing, but their first collaboration “May Our Chambers Be Full” alleviated any worries that came along with the idea. This record is so good and so satisfying that it’s hard to put into words, but we’re hoping this is just the first of a fruitful artistic endeavor together (Spoiler! There’s a new EP coming in January!)

Rundle takes the bulk of the lead vocals, with Bryan Funck playing a lot in the background and helping enhance the edges, though KC Stafford also gets a chance to drive, which is always a good choice. “Killing Floor” starts with guitars rising from ashes before the track bursts open, and Rundle’s voice leads the way. Funck plays more of a back-up role here as his growls complement the singing, while the chorus trudges on, and Rundle calls, “Move your body from this place.” “Monolith” is crushing and clobbering from the start as Stafford takes lead, adding their dusky tones to the mix. The pressure keeps building as Stafford’s singing swelters, with the back end picking up filth, and the track mauling on its way out. “Magickal Cost” starts rusty and like something that crawls out of the evening dusk, a track that wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Rundle’s solo albums. Guitars echo and moan as the sun sets and splashes oranges and purples across the sky, and then the ugliness rears its head as Funck digs into the center. “The Valley” ends the album, and it’s a monumental track, an 8:58-long rush of emotion that makes your heart cry out. Strings swell as Rundle’s singing slithers into the murk as she calls, “The fear of giving up is in the valley.” This record is an utter triumph, dark, heavy, vulnerable, and massive to the end. (Oct. 30)

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

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

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/releases/products/sba007-emma-ruth-rundle-thou-may-our-chambers-be-full

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

6. INEXORUM, “Moonlit Navigation” (Gilead Media): Without going into too much detail, it’s been a very dark and depressing year for me, and finding things that truly make me feel good, especially recently, has not been terribly easy to come by. It is what it is. Anyway, one thing that has managed to lift my spirits has been “Moonlit Navigation,” the second album from Minneapolis-based Inexorum, an eight-track, 42-minute exercise in supreme melodic riffing and positive energy. Yeah, yeah, black metal is supposed to be grim, but I don’t remember reading a rule book on the style, and Carl Skildum (guitars/vocals) and Matthew Kirkwold (bass/vocals) refuse to adhere to that standard.

“Ouroboric State” gets things off to a rousing start as the drums come to life, and the riffs start cutting down their path. Right away you get a sense of what’s to come, that being huge riffs and vocals that wrench at you, as the leads blast through, and a sense of delirium strikes. “Dream and Memory” is a massive deluge out front, with punishing roars and a mass of energy creating a great force. The drums decimate bones as a charge jolts your chest, making your blood rush, before the tempo calms and melds into the fog. “Signal Fires” lands punches as everything lights up, while the playing destroys everything in sight. The growls have an added conviction as they jar your ribcage, while the drumming once again rocks your insides. The chorus is powerful as hell, while the back ends trudges before becoming breezy, and all the elements blend into dusk. Closer “In Desperate Times” inflicts damage with a rage of riffs, melodic growls, and razor-sharp guitars that work their magic as Skildum laments “when all is lost and nothing’s left to save.” That isn’t a sign of submission as the battle continues, and a blistering chorus does its best to get you going. I’m not exactly overflowing with positivity right now, but this record always reminds me to refuse to quit and to find the power I have hiding somewhere within me. (June 26)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.net/collections/pre-orders

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

BEST OF 2020: 15-11

15. COUCH SLUT, “Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Gilead Media): Absolutely, 100 percent don’t be fooled by the title of Couch Slut’s third record “Take a Chance on Rock ‘n’ Roll” as some sort of record blasting good time jams you’d want to hear during your big summer BBQs. OK, well, I’d actually play these tracks at mine, but I have no regard for anyone’s feelings, but this shit is dark and scaly and filthy and, at times, really fucking scary. Their blistering mix of noise, metal, punk, and just a little jazz (that sax!) actually is a blast to hear, and it’s infectious as hell. But it has an utterly diseased heart based on the horrible experiences that went toward informing these songs.

“The Mouthwash Years” kicks off with the band’s trademark noise and trudging guitars as things get whipped into a frenzy in a hurry, and Megan O’s vocals start peeling at your skin. The pace pummels as she sneers, ” Now you’re dried out, what do you want for it?” “All the Way Down” charges up with the bass leading the way and the guitars sweating up a nasty swagger. The tale is horrifying, complete with blood in a sink and terrible events going on behind a bathroom door. “In a Pig’s Eye” already is relentless when it starts as hard shrieks pulsate, and the story is one where the woman, having been assaulted, is questioned about her motives. “They wanna know, they asked if I’m a whore,” Meg howls as the cops search her car and basically provide no help, only adding to the vitriol in the song. Closer “Someplace Cheap” that is a true story that happened to Meg and her previous bandmates when they decided to tour and ended up in Ohio. It’s a breathtaking and inexplicably true tale about being drugged and used, having some dude jerk off over you, and ending with a vow by one of the abused to finish it on their terms by inviting the culprits to find them at a LensCrafters where he worked. It’s a mind-spinning finish to a record that will leave you forever scarred mentally. (May 1)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/take-a-chance-on-rock-n-roll

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

14. BLACK CURSE, “Endless Void” (Sepulchral Curse): We spent time yesterday talking about how much great death metal is out there in the world, and black metal has that same quality, though it’s not as easy to find due to the glut of music blocking up this subgenre. Leave it to some metal veterans and members of other acts such as Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, Khemmis, and Primitive Man to do it right on Black Curse’s massive debut record “Endless Void.” The record is dark and blistering but also delves deep into outer space as well as your crumbling psyche.

“Charnel Rift” tears the lid off the thing and immediately sends you into the mouth of hell. Fiery shrieks echo while the pace hammers away relentlessly. “Enraptured By Decay” has a huge open before everything builds into a massive assault, and wild shrieks rain down like shrapnel. Blackened doom blood flows and congeals as hypnotic chugs have their way, and the playing makes your brain swim in its own chemicals. “Seared Eyes” knifes through your guts as demolition is carries out, and death growls gurgle in blood. Deranged wails and strange gasps add to the horror while the playing continues to lay waste to your physical and mental state. “Finality I Behold” closes the album, and it starts by wrecking shit, crushing wills as the fire blast ravages everything in front of it. Growls and shrieks mix, bombarding as eerie doom clouds descend, trudging in mud before the vocals destroy. Absolutely killer stuff. (April 2)

or more on the band, go here: https://blackcurse-svr.bandcamp.com/releases

To buy the album, go here: http://www.sepulchralvoice.de/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.sepulchralvoniric Perversions” ice.de/

13. LAMP OF MURMUUR, “Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism” (Death Kvlt Productions): Olympia, Washington, based project Lamp of Murmuur has had a fairly prolific year with an EP, split, and demo, all preceding enthralling debut LP offering “Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism,” a record that’s gotten a lot of attention as of late, which it absolutely deserves. Helmed by sole musician M, who we know next to nothing about, this band revisits the raw elements of ’90s black metal, the rise of solo black metal artists that came to prominence a decade or so ago, and an onslaught of melody, riffs, and gothic darkness that put this band in a group all its own.

It doesn’t take long into opener “Of Infernal Passion and Aberrations” to understand you’re dealing with something a step above what every highly polished and forgettable black metal band tried to pull off this year by instantly showing its heart and violent ambition that’s just a rush. That continues on “Bathing in Cascades of Caustic Hypnotism” and its riffs that grab you from the start and make you its captive. The raw howls from M and the relentless pace race through this 9:45 monster that is completely impossible to ignore. If black metal can make you move, this song is the epitome of that. “Chalice of Oniric Perversions” keeps piling fuel on the fire as the track completely bludgeons, with a mid section coming to life like an early Immortal track. Just when you think you can’t be surprised more, the record ends with a cover of Dead Can Dance’s “In the Wake of Adversity” that sounds almost like it was a black metal stunner from its inception as M owns every moment and puts his own stamp on it, complete with bellowing clean vocals. Great fucking record. Let the label bidding war for their services begin. (Oct. 2)

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

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

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

12. DOØL, “Summerland” (Prophecy Productions): Doøl’s second record definitely is the only one on our list that is fueled by contemplating where we go when we die (the title “Summerland” is a pagan reference to the afterlife), and it also takes inspiration from the Richard Matheson novel “What Dreams May Come” that tackles the Biblical visions of hell. Vocalist/guitarist Ryanne von Dorst, who absolutely exudes charisma on this album, used that to add more emotion and dramatic bombast to these songs that are incredibly infectious with adrenaline gushing despite its dark subject matter.

“Sulphur & Starlight” opens the record with guitars chiming as van Dorst’s velvety voice booms, especially over the chorus when she calls, “When will you stop pouring starlight over me?” before later noting, “I’ve never seen fortune in your flames.” “Wolf Moon” has a tempered start, pushing through with another great chorus that follows mesmerizing verses. Keys drip in later while the singing remains top notch before bowing out on the chorus. The title track follows, running over 8:25, slipping into gothy waters, as van Dorst delivers higher-register singing than usual. “The Well’s Run Dry” bursts in as van Dorst delivers deeper singing before the playing heads off to the sun. A wave of eerie speaking flows into mind-altering soloing as the playing spreads out, intoxicating before fading into chills. “Dust & Shadow” ends the record, pulling from “What Dreams May Come,” shimmering and floating off into the cosmos. “I stand before infinity, it calls to me,” van Dorst wails as the playing continues to gain momentum, the volume floods, and the track disappears into a black hole. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to this record, and its heavy rotation won’t end any time soon. (April 10)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/dool-summerland

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

11. MARE COGNITUM/SPECTRAL LORE, “Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine” (Entropic Recordings/I, Voidhanger): Every year, this one included, we do a feature on the best EPs and split efforts of the previous 12 months because they generally don’t qualify for the album of the year list. But we make exceptions, and Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore absolutely forced our hand with their incredible joint effort “Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine,” that pays homage to the planets of our home galaxy. The album is a total beast at an hour and 55 minutes (falling five minutes short of the longest album on our list), and every chapter is a master class in atmospheric black metal and spacious power.

“Mercury (The Virtuous)” has Spectral Lore starting off the collection with a storm whipping, which very well could be solar, before the track builds and colors rush. Finally, the playing begins to ravage as Ayloss’ screams destroy, and the pace is relentless. Mare Cognitum deliver “Venus (The Priestess),” a 12:27-long track that greets you with elegant playing and a breath of calm before a huge deluge lands, and Jacob Buczarski’s vocals cut through that. Heat melts into the fog and mist, as a freezing gaze pushes through smashing and smearing, and the playing wells up. He follows that with rousing “Jupiter (The Giant), a 15:05-long cosmic storm, while Spectral Lore have another powerful highlight in “Saturn (The Rebel)” and envelopes you in shadowy darkness. The two units unite at the end of the collection with collaborative cuts “Pluto (The Gatekeeper)” parts 1 and 2, the first an instrumental, the second a full-bore excursion to the galaxy’s edge. This record is a monster, but you should carve out the time to experience it front to back for maximum effect. (March 13)

For more on Spectral Lore, go here: https://www.facebook.com/spectral.lorebm

For more on Mare Cognitum, go here: https://www.facebook.com/MareCognitumMusic/

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

Or here: https://marecognitum.bandcamp.com/album/wanderers-astrology-of-the-nine

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

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

BEST OF 2020: 20-16

20. NECROT, “Mortal” (Tankcrimes): Death metal is in pretty good health despite its name, and the amount of good newer bands help making it that way is plentiful. No doubt Bay Area maulers Necrot are part of that contingent, and their second record “Mortal” is a huge part of why they’re so highly regarded. This record, which is seven tracks over 38 minutes, is an ideally portioned record that’s incredibly impactful on first listen and then keeps gaining muscle every time you visit.

“Your Hell” churns open and begins pounding away heavily, as Luca Indrio’s growl’s open lacerations, and the drums mash your life into pieces. “Dying Life” thrashes away as the growls lean in and start bruising, and the guitar work takes off and leads to rapid-fire dizziness. “Asleep Forever” starts in a vicious spiral as the guitars encircle, and gruff growls up the ante on the sickness. Guitars light up and rip out guts along with the chorus where Indrio howls, “Everything leads to the end when we’ll be asleep forever.” The record ends with the 8:33-long title track that explodes from the gates with riffs menacing and raw growls choking as Indrio howls, “Mortal dies, lost, carried away, mortal dies, everything fades away.” Great, timeless death metal album that’ll be remembered as one of the era’s best. (Aug. 28)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://tankcrimes.merchtable.com/?

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

19. VÖLUR, “Death Cult” (Prophecy Productions): Creativity and imagination certainly are two things not devoid in metal, but some bands have it in greater numbers than others. As for Toronto-based trio Völur, they bring something entirely new to the heavy music world and always have, and that explodes through the roof on their amazing third album “Death Cult.” The record was partially inspired by Germanic tribes near the Baltic Sea in the earliest days of A.D. sacrificing slaves via drowning to their goddess Nertha, and it’s a dramatic, sweeping album that sounds like no others.

“Inviolate Grove” begins with electric violinist Laura Bates’ strings sweltering as the playing begins to pump, and melodies enrapture. Both Bates and bassist Lucas Gadke sing (they trade off throughout the record) as the violin makes inroads into your soul. Dead Moon” simmers in eerie choral circles and a bed of strings. The first portion is rather calming, with the violin quietly shuffling like a ghost before they begin to soar and ache. Bates’ shrieks then strike and tear through flesh as the playing is utterly gut wrenching. “Reverend Queen” is your closer, bathing in feedback before the strings loop in, and a choral section opens its jaws. Things turn ugly as the growls hammer, melodies stir, and Bates’ violin strikes back and blares with agitation. No one sounds like Völur, and no one should really try. They’re that special. (Nov. 13)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/voelur-death-cult

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

18. SVALBARD, “When I Die, Will It Get Better?” (Translation Loss/Church Road): Svalbard’s second record is one of the most necessary listens of the entire year for two reasons, one good and one bad. First, their fresh and enthralling mix of metal and hardcore found another level on “When I Die…” as it just explodes with energy and power. The negative is the album highlights so many societal issues (sexism, abuse, people ignoring others’ mental wounds) we still are battling and apparently always will be that it makes it feel like pure darkness to realize these problems never seem to get proper attention. Hopefully Svalbard’s messages can wake people up, while their raucous music aims to soothe the soul and light fires among those who hurt along with them.

“Clickbait” opens in moodiness as darkness spreads, and then the whole thing explodes as guitarist Serena Cherry’s voice smashes over the verses, leading into the venomous, “We are used as fodder to generate comments, because the presence of a woman is apparently reactive, fuck off!” “Listen to Someone” is one of the most important tracks here lyrically, as it conveys the hurt and confusion of mental illness coupled with people who just won’t absorb their words. “Silent Restraint” quakes the ground as Cherry’s voice blasts holes in the earth, and guitarist Liam Phelan joins in with his melodic, powerful singing, as both trade back and forth. “I’m sick of feeling like a burden, I’m sick of having no control.” “The Currency of Beauty” pours open as Cherry immediately stabs into the scene, calling, “I am not your trophy, I am more than my body,” while the track gears up and crushes everything in front of it. This band is on fire through this entire record both musically and emotionally, and hopefully they can help break into people’s black hearts and give them a much-needed slap to the face. (Sept. 25)

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

To buy the album (US), go here: https://translationloss.com/collections/pre-orders

Or here (UK): https://churchroadrecords.limitedrun.com/categories/pre-order

Or here (Japan): http://store.tokyojupiterrecords.com/#_=_

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

And here: https://churchroadrecords.limitedrun.com/

And here: https://tokyojupiterrecords.com/

17. BEDSORE, “Hypnagogic Hallucinations” (20 Buck Spin): We just got done talking about the embarrassing riches of death metal we have right now, and Italian weirdos Bedsore also are a major reason for that, as their bizarre debut “Hypnagogic Hallucinations” can attest. This was one of those records I liked from the first time I heard it, but the more I took on this seven-track, 40-minute album, the pathways into its psychosis and the bizarre ferocity truly took hold, making it one of my favorites of the year.

“The Gate, Disclosure (Intro)” opens the record with organs sweltering and the drums awakening before a synth fog hovers over the area. Things feel proggy and weird before elegant guitars unfurl, and we float into a psychedelic dream and toward “The Gate, Closure (Sarcoptes Obitus)” where guitars heat up and enter a death spiral. “Deathgazer” has riffs electrifying as the tempo stomps guts, and the playing stymies. Animalistic howls jab into your sides while the pace chews up again, leads boil and moisten your skin, and then things start to rip apart again before ending abruptly. “Disembowelment of the Souls (Tabanidae)” aggravates blues strains again, floating in your head, then guitars burn, and the screams become acidic. The playing feels like a slow-droning crash for a stretch as guitars light up again, and the ground rumbles. Closer “Brains on the Tarmac” then lurches forward as things begin reflectively as cold guitars slowly awaken into a dark noir and things gallop open, as maniacal devastation sets its trap. This is devious and ugly and will leave chills down your spine that refuse to relinquish their grip. (July 24)

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

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

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

16. VILE CREATURE, “Glory, Glory! Apathy Took the Helm!” (Prosthetic): Hamilton, Ontario, duo Vile Creature always have filled their apocalyptic doom with heavy shadows and darkness, something so impenetrable that it weighs you down while destroying you. Yet, on their awesome third record “Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!” they aim for something different, that being lighting the fires of human compassion and refusing to de drubbed into malaise when things seem to be too much. Vic (drums, vocals) and KW (guitars, vocals, percussion) still find darkness, but they work their hardest to make sure they don’t give in.

“Harbinger of Nothing” opens the record in the midst of a crushing storm as doom lands, and burly riffs flex their muscles. The track then settles into a mid-tempo bashing that hints at calm but quivers on its edges as Vic wails, “Tell me who I am, if you’re all knowing, the arbiter of moral purity.” “When the Path Is Unclear” has guitars awakening as things slip into a trippy vibe, and melodies drip into space buzz. Vic speaks the words, “The champions of your past conquered nothing, and neither will you.” A two-headed beast “Glory, Glory!” and “Apathy Took the Helm!” closes off the record with some of the most emotionally heavy playing of the entire year, as they’re joined by Laurel Minnes with her band and choir Miniscule, and they make it feel like the world is beginning again, like drops of sky are falling. On the second half, Vic’s vicious shrieks rain down as they also mutilate behind the kit, thickening the doom waters with blood. Angelic hell rises to the surface and seems to quell the fires before everything kicks back in again. Vile Creature followed this great record with spending 2020 giving their fans fun surprises at every turn, making this terrible time a little more bearable.  (June 19)

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

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

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

BEST OF 2020: 30-21

30. PAYSAGE D’HIVER, “Im Wald” (Kunsthall Produktionen): Swiss black metal project Paysage D’Hiver has been in existence since 1997, but 2020 finally brought us the band’s first full-length “Im Wald,” a 13-track, TWO-HOUR display of wintry, noise-scuffed black metal that really is quite the handful. Yes, taking on this entire record at once isn’t a wise choice based on the sheer girth of this thing, but however you take it on, you’ll find wondrous, nightmarish, freezing black metal that sole creator Wintherr has been dreaming about for years. (Jan. 25)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://en.kunsthall.spkr.media/

For more on the label, go here: https://kunsthall.ch/

29. DRAINBOW, “The Tower of Flints” (self-released): Nicholas Sarcophagus, why are you trying to destroy us? “The Tower of Flints,” his debut record under the Drainbow moniker, isn’t just one of the most batshit insane metal records of 2020, it’s one of craziest things I ever heard. And it’s a wonder to behold and experience, which you’ll likely do with cocked head the whole time, as tracks including “Funeral for an Imaginary Rabbit,” “The Death Owl in the Tower of Flints,” and “Callipygian Hunger” callously poke you in the eyes and insult your panic attack. (July 7)

For more on the band or to buy the album, go here: https://drainbow1.bandcamp.com/

28. ORANSSI PAZUZU, “Mestarin Kynsi” (Nuclear Blast): Finnish wonders Oranssi Pazuzu brought some maniacal psychedelic trauma into our world with their fifth album “Mestarin Kynsi,” their first for giant Nuclear Blast. Yet, the new, larger label didn’t impact their creativity or Krautrock-fueled weirdness as they continue to push into alien terrain on this six-track, 50-minute record that further solidifies this band as one of the most imaginative and entrancing in all of metal. Oh, and when you can again, see them live and be blow away. (April 17)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/index.html

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

27. ULTHAR, “Providence” (20 Buck Spin): These Bay Area brawlers upped the ante on their second album “Providence,” an eight-track, 37-minute piledriver of a display that never relents. The band piles layers of vicious, pointed destruction that digs inside your nerves and chews them up so you can feel the same horrors that punish every corner of the world in which this record inhabits on tracks such as “Undying Spear,” the tumultuous title track, and “Narcissus Drowning.” Just a killer record.  (June 12)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Ulthar-386850314846106/

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

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

26. FORMER WORLDS, “Iterations of Time” (Init): Former Worlds make music that you can get inside of psychologically and take the emotional journey along with the band, as their great debut “Iterations of Time” will make clear right away. Combining vocals from Erin Severson and a session vocalist brought in for the vocal tradeoff, the band creates music that can align with your blood cells and grow in light and dark such “Spectre,” “Variations on a Cave,” and epic closer “Widow Moon” that’s treated with their brand of sludgy doom.  (Jan. 31)

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

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

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

25. CANIS DIRUS, “Independence to the Beast” (Bindrune Recordings): Minnesota black metal duo Canis Dirus hadn’t released a new album in eight long years, but “Independence to the Beast” ended that string, and the world is better for it. This six-track crusher feels explosive and raw at the same time, a new blast of fury from two guys (vocalist Rob Hames, multi-instrumentalist Todd Paulson) who take their time and craft their work to their own specifications. This is forestal black metal designed to bring out the wolf that lives within you. (March 6)

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

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

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

24. WAR ON WOMEN, “Wonderful Hell” (Bridge 9): Punk/metal firebreathers War on Women have been battling against injustice, sexism, and abuse for years, and they keep bringing that fight on “Wonderful Hell,” their best record so far. As much as this album revels in the hell the Trump admin created, it also infuses the music with hope and a stuff kick in the ass to keep working and never forget what dragged us here so we can ensure it never happens again, with a blistering vocal performance delivered by the great Shawna Potter. Highlights are opener “Aqua Tofana” “This Stolen Land,” justified punch back “Her?” and dark closer “Demon.” (Oct. 30)

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.b9store.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.bridge9.com/

23. EYE OF NIX, “Ligeia” (Prophecy Productions): “Ligeia,” the third full-length from mind-warping progressive metal machine Eye of Nix, is almost like standing in the eye of the storm, trying to figure out which way you’ll be forced. Named after one of the sirens in Greek mythology that lured sailors to their demise, the record has its moments of dark seduction that pull you into devastating waves. Joy Von Spain is spellbinding as always going from beastly to angelic, and the stirring progressive doom the band creates just keeps getting more immersive and wondrous. This is ideal music to take on when you’re in the midst of heavy storming. (June 19)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://prophecy.lnk.to/eye-of-nix-ligeia

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

22. AARA, “En Ergô Einia” (Debemur Morti): The first thing that really struck me about Swiss black metal duo Aara’s second record is the total wave of melodies that lap up and practically pull you under. “En Ergô Einia” delivers five tracks in about 33 minutes and adds a sense of effusive power into what’s otherwise a sub-genre that revels in utter negativity. Vocalist Fluss and multi-instrumentalist Berg soar on imaginative, crushing tracks such as “Arkanum,” “Stein Auf Stein,” and bursting closer “Telôs,” which brings to an end a record that won’t let you drown in the shadows. (April 3)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Aara-941630312665011/

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

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

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

21. FEMINAZGUL, “No Dawn for Men” (self-released): The incel babies have had a real fit with this record, which we absolutely fucking love, because anything that upsets those weaklings pleases us. But “No Dawn for Men” also packs passionate, destructive moments as trio of lead vocalist Laura Beach, multi-instrumentalist Margaret Killjoy, and violinist/theremin player/vocalist Meredith Yayanos packs savagery, sorrow, and ridiculous amounts of melody into their ashy black metal that refused to let a virus prevent its entry into the world. We just love “Illa, Mother of Death,” “Bury the Antler With the Stag” and “Forgiver, I Am Not Yours,” though every track kills. (March 17)

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

To buy the album, go here: https://feminazgul.bandcamp.com/album/no-dawn-for-men

Or here (vinyl): https://tridroid.bandcamp.com/

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