Monday, December 12, 2016

Favorite Releases for 2016

Albums
Highlights:
Aborted - Retrogore
Brutally Deceased - Satanic Corpse
Crowbar - The Serpent Only Lies
Despised Icon - Beast
High Spirits - Motivator

Insomnium - Winter's Gate 
Sentient Horror - Ungodly Forms
Sumerlands - Sumerlands
Testament - The Brotherhood of the Snake
Witherscape - The Northern Sanctuary

Notable:
Anthrax - For All Kings
Asphalt Graves - The New Primitive
Defeated Sanity - Disposal of the Dead / Dharmata
Interment - Scent of the Buried
Megadeth - Dystopia

Ribspreader - Suicide Gate - A Bridge to Death
Less Notable but Still Noteworthy:
Asphyx - Incoming Death
Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule
Funeral Whore - Phantasm

Meshuggah - The Violent Sleep of Reason
Metallica - Hardwired…To Self-Destruct

EP
Highlights:
dawnbringer -  XX
Scour - Scour
Pallbearer - Fear and Fury
Voivod - Post Society
Voidspawn - Pyrrhic
Notable:
Aborted - Termination Redux 
Abysseral Throne - Storming The Black Gate
Agoraphobic Nosebleed - Arc
Dischord - Epitaph
 

Gruesome - Dimensions of Horror

Compilation / Splits
Avulsed - Deathgeneration
Disma - The Lost Vault of Chaos
Cemetery Filth / Ectovoid / Sabbatory / Trenchrot - 4 Doors to Death


The Disappointments
Ade - Carthago Delenda Est
Anaal Nathrakh - The Whole of the Law
Gatecreeper - Sonoran Depravation
Ghoulgotha - To Starve the Cross
Gorguts - Pleiades’ Dust
Krypts - Remnants of Expansion
Megascavenger - As Dystopia Beckons
Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us
Superjoint - Caught Up in the Gears of Application
Volbeat - Seal the Deal & Let's Boogie

Album Art























































 Worst





















Best Packaging/Layout




















Sunday, January 3, 2016

Top 20 Albums of 2015

# 20 - Ghoulgotha - The Deathmass Cloak
Dark Descent Records

 

Definitely not an album for everyone who enjoys the doomy side of death metal.  Ghoulgotha use dissonant guitar harmonies that may sound a bit "off" to some.  I admit I had to listen repeatedly before I got what they were going for.  (Had the same reaction to Demilich).  These atonal harmonies are the focal point here and they add a gloomy kind of funereal atmosphere to their music.  Thumbs up to Damian Herring for the dynamic mix and master job.  It really brings all the instruments to life; especially the drums.  Topped off with some creepy cover art, The Deathmass Cloak is worth checking out if you like your death metal weird.

# 19 - Desolate Shrine - The Heart of the Netherworld
 Dark Descent Records

 

Dark and chaotic; The Heart of the Netherworld hits your speakers like a storm determined to tear apart your definition of "heavy".  The vocals and drums are standouts for me here.  They help drive the wall of guitars that seem to come at you from all directions.  Their first few releases were decent but this one showcases their strongest songwriting to date.  Best enjoyed in solitude with a bowl of weed.

#18 - Ereb Altor - Nattramn
Cyclone Empire



I picked this up on a whim not long ago and it ended up bumping another album off my list.  Ereb Altor sound like viking era Bathory combined with elements of black and doom metal.  What really shines on Nattramn is the vocals. They manage to effectively blend both clean and death/black metal styles.  Unfortunately the drums are somewhat suffocated by the rest of the instruments so the bass guitar ends up covering all of the low end.  Only a minor gripe though as the songs are strong enough to make this an enjoyable listen.  

# 17 - Cradle of Filth - Hammer of the Witches
Nuclear Blast Records

 

I never thought a Cradle album would end up in my favorites for the year but here it is.  With Hammer of the Witches, they rekindled the energy and flair of their mid 90's outputs.  The dual guitar melodies inject some much needed life into their sound.  Dani's vocals are more controlled and his signature howl hasn't sounded this good in years.  This one was a huge surprise for me.

# 16 - Gruesome - Savage Land
Relapse Records

 

Yeah they're definitely not winning awards for originality with Savage Land but that wasn't the point.  This is simply a fun tribute album to the death metal forefathers.  They did an excellent job capturing the early Death sound from the vocals to the solos and even the production.  Highly recommend reading the track-by-track breakdown Harvey did for Decibel.  It made me appreciate the album on a whole new level.  

http://decibelmagazine.com/blog/2015/4/17/gruesome-savage-land-track-by-track-breakdown-with-matt-harvey

# 15 - Morbid Vomit - Doctrine of Violence
Ranka Kustannus Records



Killer new band from Finland specializing in Swedish styled death metal.  Although this scene is somewhat saturated at the moment, these guys manage to sound refreshing (unlike the new Entrails).  I hear some heavy Bloodbath and Grave influence;  how can you go wrong?

Blast Head Records released Morbid Vomit's first demo and EP earlier this year.  Check it out - https://blastheadrecords.bandcamp.com/album/return-to-the-crypts

# 14 - Obscure Infinity - Perpetual Descending Into Nothingness
F.D.A. Rekotz



This album flew under the radar of a lot of people which is shame because I really can't say enough good about it.  The term "old school" is thrown around too easily these days but these guys truly play the part.  This is straight up death metal for people who enjoy the power of the riff.  Soaring leads, tremolo riffs, blasting drums - it has it all.  Not to mention some awesome cover art and one of my favorite sounding records of 2015.

# 13 - Slayer - Repentless
Nuclear Blast Records



Repentless received a lot of slack from the sometimes obtuse metal community.  I admit to having low expectations but this album managed to thoroughly kick my ass.  Repentless has some of Slayer's catchiest tunes they've written since the 90's.  Gary's addition to lead guitars adds a nice dimension and it's refreshing to hear Slayer work with a different producer other than Rubin.  With that said it isn't without it's flaws.  It would have been interesting to hear Slayer step outside their comfort zone and try something new. Also there are a few parts on the album that would have benefited from a guitar harmony or two (end of "When the Stillness Comes" is a good example.)  Despite this, Repentless is solid output from these speed metal veterans.

#12 - Amorphis - Under the Red Cloud
Nuclear Blast Records



Yet another worthy installment from Finland's Amorphis.  This one doesn't have the immediate impact that "Circle" did for me.  Under the Red Cloud falls more in line with the sound that Amorphis has been crafting over the years where "Circle" had some different elements.  Not to mention it was their heaviest album since the early years.  Red Cloud is still full of catchy songs and even some moments that remind me of Elegy.  A great album!

#11 - Demonical - Black Flesh Redemption
Agonia Records



This is actually an EP release but I couldn't not include it in my list.  Demonical walk amongst kings when it comes to modern Swedish death metal.  4 albums, some split releases and an EP with not one single falter.  This little gem provides 17+ mins of catchy guitar hooks, tasteful drums fills and Sverker Widgren's solid vocal delivery.  If you love Swedish DM and haven't heard of Demonical, you need to change this asap.

#10 - Orphans of Dusk - Revenant
Hypnotic Dirge / Solitude Productions



Orphans of Dusk are a young international band that caught me by surprise.  Technically this is a 2014 EP release but Hypnotic Dirge and Solitude Productions released it on CD this year.  Orphans combine the soothing sounds of Type O Negative with death doom acts like early My Dying Bride and Katatonia.  The result is an epic, dark and creative soundscape of auditory bliss.  I also have to mention the snare on this recording sounds amazing.  Very impressive first release from these guys.

#9 - Unrest - Grindcore
Unspeakable Axe Records



There's only a small handful of grindcore releases that I gave a shit about this year and Unrest is at the top of the pile.  The aptly titled Grindcore album is nod to classic bands like Nasum, early Napalm Death and Terrorizer.  I love how each song seamlessly flows into the next.  Reminds me of the first time I heard Inhale/Exhale.  I highly recommend this album.  In fact, I'm going to go as far as saying this is my favorite grind release in years.

#8 - Grave - Out of Respect for the Dead
Century Media Records



One of the most consistent (and awesome) bands out there; Grave return with another slab of death metal from beyond the tomb.  This one has a similar vibe to 2012's Endless Procession of Souls with mid to fast paced songs mixed with dark doomy passages.  The riffs are classic DM style with enough finesse to keep things interesting.  Once again produced by Ola Lindgren who seems to be stepping it up as a producer and engineer.  Glad to see one of the innovators of the genre staying relevant and showing the new generation how it's done.

# 7 - Fear Factory - Genexus
Nuclear Blast Records



The first 2 singles didn't really catch my ear but after spinning this a few times in the car, I was hooked.  Genexus sounds like the album they should have made after Obsolete.  Tracks like Dielectric, Regenerate and Expiration Date cause me to reach for the repeat button.  Their last album was mostly a write off but Genexus is a damn fine release.

# 6 - Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction
Metal Blade Records



All the same ingredients as Monolith of Inhumanity but the recipe has been slightly modified to taste.  I like that they added more of the melodic sections which really made Monolith shine.  The minor snag here is that this album doesn't offer you anything fresh; which isn't always an issue but Cattle have somewhat based their career on this album-to-album evolution.  Curious to see where they go from here.

# 5 - Ghost - Meliora
Loma Vista Recordings



Ghost are one of those polarizing bands.  I don't expect everyone to like them but I think people spend too much energy looking for the negative and miss the fact that Ghost write some damn catchy songs.  Meliora employs elements from both their debut and sophomore albums but with a more modern touch.  The also have some heavier almost doom like moments which is a nice compliment.  A few of the tracks took me some time to get into (Spirit, Mummy Dust) but overall this is one of my favorite albums to sing along too. 

#4 - Sulphur Aeon - Gateway to the Antisphere
VAN Records



Germany's Sulphur Aeon deliver another monolithic and horrifying glimpse into the chthonic universe.  These guys do a brilliant job of producing a nightmarish atmosphere with their music.  I like the way they infuse melody into their dark and sometimes chaotic songs.  The production on Gateway to the Antisphere has that cavernous quality but the instruments are slightly more intelligible than their last album.  I do wish the kick drum had a bit more presence but the snare and toms make up for it.  Like Desolate Shrine, Sulphur Aeon is best enjoyed at home with the volume turned to 11.


# 3 - Crypt Sermon - Out of the Garden
Dark Descent Records



Traditional doom is usually not my thing but man I really love this album!  What's most interesting about Crypt Sermon is that many of their riffs are structured around 2 rhythm guitars playing similar but distinctly different harmonies.  On top of that we have Brook Wilson's amazing vocals.  You would think this guy spent an entire career doing this.  Pretty impressive considering they only released a demo prior to Out of the Garden.  Definitely a band to watch out for. 

#2 - Horrendous - Anareta
Dark Descent





After Ecdysis, I had some pretty big expectations for this.  In fact I wasn't too sure what to expect.  Anareta is not as instantly gripping as it's predecessor.  If I had made this list back in October, it probably wouldn't be on it.  Many of the same elements are present here but with a more technical and progressive feel.  The HM-2 is gone replaced with a cleaner tone which works better in this context.  From a musicianship and production perspective, Horrendous has crafted their masterpiece.  Just listen to the track Stillborn Gods and you can hear what Horrendous is all about.  While I can't say this is my favorite offering from them, this is undoubtedly a fantastic record.

# 1 - Wolfheart - Shadow World
Spinefarm Records



Somehow Wolfheart managed to out do themselves and make an even better album than Winterborn (which also kicked some serious fuckin' ass!)  Front man and mastermind Tuomas Saukkonen is one of the most hardworking and talented musicians out there and it really shows on Shadow World.  All of the same fundamentals that make his projects great are present here but everything has been turned up a notch.  Glad to see him working with drummer Joonas Kauppinen again as he's one of the more stylish players in the scene.  I can't say enough good about Shadow World.  A modern masterpiece to these ears.

Honorable Mentions:

Thulcandra - Ascension Lost
Napalm Records

 

Third album from this melodic black metal band from Germany who think they're from Sweden.  While a lot of their riffs are reminiscent of Dissection's style, I feel like Thulcandra are starting to develop their own identity with Ascension Lost.  Some impressive multi-layered guitar work going on throughout every track.  A very good album!

Bodyfarm - Battle Breed
Cyclone Empire



Some really great Asphyx/Hail of Bullets/Bolt Thrower esq death metal from the Netherlands.  Bodyfarm keep things simple but know how to craft a catchy song.  Some parts of Battle Breed remind me of mid era Hypocrisy which is a definite win for me.  Great guitar tone here as well. 

Disappointments:

Napalm Death - Apex Predator - Easy Meat
Nile - What Should Not Be Unearthed
Skinless - Only the Ruthless Remain
Kataklysm - Of Ghosts and Gods
The Kill - Kill Them…All
Entrails - Obliteration

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top 20 Albums of 2014

It's kind of interesting how important these lists have become in the metal community.  Everyone from reviewers to journalists to everyday fans are compiling their top albums for the ever expanding global audience to see.  The upsurge of social media has given people a platform to make themselves heard.  As trying as it can be to endure countless simpleminded comments from some, I do enjoy reading people's lists and getting a perspective on what they are listening too.

Looking through my top 20 picks for 2014, I realize that this year was about variety.  It was difficult to rank them in numeric order so regardless of where they fall in the list, all of these albums kicked my ass in one way or another. 


  # 20 -  Job For a Cowboy - Sun Eater
Metal Blade



The evolution of this band is remarkable.  Arguably their best output yet.

# 19 - Necrophagia - WhiteWorm Cathedral
Season of Mist



Listening to Necrophagia is like watching an old school horror movie.  A fun album when you're in the mood for heavy riffs and horror.

# 18 - Brutally Deceased - Black Infernal Vortex
Doomentia Records



Crushing Swedish style death metal from the Czech Republic.  They may not be pushing the boundaries of originality but they keep it interesting with some catchy guitar work and punishing blast beats. 

# 17 - Vinterbris - Solace
Nordavind Records



A hidden gem of 2014.  This melodic black metal band basically came out of nowhere with this magnificent 2nd album.

# 16 - Human Infection - Curvatures in Time
Blast Head Records


 
I did a review for this one earlier this year.  Check it out here.

# 15 - Aborted - The Necrotic Manifesto
Century Media



Maybe not quite as gripping as "Global Flatline" but definitely another blood soaked slab of brutality from Aborted.

# 14 - Cannibal Corpse - A Skeletal Domain
Metal Blade



Longtime Cannibal Corpse fan here and "A Skeletal Domain" is top shelf.

# 13 - Dead Congregation - Promulgation of the Fall
Martyrdoom Productions / Profound Lore



Very impressive sophomore release from these guys.  "Promulgation of the Fall" is raw, evil and uncompromising death metal.

# 12 - drowned - Idola Specus
Sepulchral Voice Records



Germany's drowned have been around since 92 but only just released their first full length this year.  Great riffs topped off by a killer guitar tone. 


# 11 - dawnbringer - Night of the Hammer
Profound Lore



A latecomer to the list.  Catchy early hard rock influenced heavy metal with some black metal thrown in the mix.

# 10 - Misery Index - The Killing Gods
Season of Mist
 


Hard to believe it's been 4 years since Misery Index's last album.  On "The Killing Gods", the boys deliver their brand of deathgrind with the precision and integrity that they're known for.  Most noteworthy is the vicious drum performance by Adam Jarvis.  This guy is always on top of his game and he completely destroys the kit on this album.  The only real draw back for me here is track 3.  Having a second instrumental track so close to the intro kind of disrupts the flow.

Choice Cuts:  Conjuring the Cull / The Killing Gods / Cross to Bear / The Weakener

# 9 - Winterfylleth - The Divination of Antiquity
Candlelight Records



Winterfylleth craft majestic soundscapes meant to evoke an emotional response in the listener.  They rely on atmospheric passages to carry their songs rather than sheer brutality.  At times they can boarder line on repetitive but the way they mix elements of folk with their brand of melodic black metal keeps things interesting.  An album best enjoyed in full. 

Choice Cuts:  The Divination Of Antiquity / Whisper of the Elements / Over Borderlands

# 8 - Winter of Sin - Violence Reigns Supreme 
Cyclone Empire
 

The 4th album from this Dutch band and the first with God Dethroned members Henri Sattler and Michiel van der Plich.  A little different than their early stuff but definitely a step in the right direction.  Some really intricate guitar work going on here combined with some stellar drums and vocals.  It's too bad the master is totally brickwalled because the mix sounds great.  Also one of my favorite cover art pieces this year.

Choice Cuts:  Astral Death Reign Algorithm / Eternal Winter / Violence Reigns Supreme / Inheritors Of Pain

# 7 - Behemoth - The Satanist
Metal Blade


I have to admit I was very surprised by this one.  Up until now I never considered myself a huge fan of Behemoth (although "The Apostasy" is great.)  "The Satanist" presents a very dark and mystical side of Behemoth.  The songs are multi-layered and listening to them feels almost ritualistic.  Nergal's vocals are some of the most tortured I've heard from him and I love the way the bass guitar sits in the mix.  Very well done. 

Choice Cuts:   Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel / Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer / The Satanist / O Father O Satan O Sun!

# 6 - Insomnium - Shadows Of The Dying Sun
Century Media



Insomnium once again come out on top of the melodic death metal food chain.  Hope to see these guys keep up this level of consistency. 

Choice Cuts:  While We Sleep / Black Heart Rebellion / Lose to Night / Collapsing Words

# 5 - doom:vs - Earthless
Solitude Productions 



doom:vs captivating 3rd release "Earthless" is nothing short of impressive.  Equipped with some tasteful songwriting, crushing production and eerie cover art, "Earthless" is brilliant listening experience for fans of melodic funeral doom and beyond.

Choice Cuts:  A Quietly Forming Collapse / Oceans of Despair / The Slow Ascent

# 4 - Incantation - Dirges of Elysium
Listenable Records



The forefathers of darkened death metal showing the younger bands how it's done.  I have to applaud Incantation for being one of the most consistent bands in the scene.  "Dirges of Elysium" has all the elements of their impressive 2012 "Vanquish in Vengeance" album but slightly faster and darker.  The mixing/mastering was once again handled by mastermind Dan Swano.  "Dirges" is a testament to how death metal should sound.

Choice Cuts:  Dirges of Elysium / Debauchery / Bastion of a Plague Soul / From a Glaciate Womb / Impalement of Divinity

# 3 - Bloodbath - Grand Morbid Funeral
Peaceville Records



Swedish death metal at it's finest.  The haunting melodies and raw heaviness of this album really hit home for me. I try to stay away from the new vocalist debate but for what's it worth - Nick doesn't have the deep tone of his predecessors but his delivery has a unique and sinister quality that is just not found in a lot of modern vocalists.  Along with some razor sharp guitars and top notch drumming, the CD version comes in a high quality digibook.  Killer stuff!

Choice Cuts:  Let the Stillborn Come to Me / Church of Vastitas / His Infernal Necropsy / Grand Morbid Funeral   

# 2 - Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden
Profound Lore


  
"Foundations of Burden" takes the bands' signature brand of doom metal into even deeper depths of sorrow.  The song writing has improved from their debut and is brought to life by some crushing production courtesy of Bill Anderson.  Each track on the record stands on it's own displaying a variety of different elements and emotions.  Front man Brett Campbell brings forth an amazing vocal performance here paired with some very heavy and melodic guitars.  "Foundations of Burden" received a considerable amount of critical praise and is bound to put Pallbearer on the map.  

Choice Cuts:  Worlds Apart / Foundations / The Ghost I Used to Be

# 1 - Horrendous - Ecdysis 
Dark Descent Records



Horrendous made a fairly large impact on the death metal scene with their impressive 2012 debut album "The Chills".  Their somewhat unique take on traditional Swedish death mixed with Floridian and Dutch elements was refreshing to say the least.  There has been a plethora of bands surfacing over the past few years sporting the "new wave of old school death metal" sound, but Horrendous are one of the few who are able to present it in an infectious and meaningful way.  Even their 5 song demo from 2009 is leaps and bounds better than a lot bands' outputs who are signed to high profile labels.

With "Ecdysis", we see the band shed their skin and re-emerge as a slightly altered being.  The dark haunting melodies of their debut are still present but Horrendous take their sound to a whole new level.  I read a recent interview with Damian Herring (Vocals/Guitars) who stated that they spent a lot of time writing and recording "Ecdysis" to ensure they were happy with every single aspect of the record.  It definitely shows.


The evocative build of the first track "The Stranger" gives you an idea of what you're in for.  What's interesting about this song is that despite it's lengthy intro (doesn't really get going until the 2 min mark), it doesn't feel like it's being dragged out.  The driving force of "Weeping Relic", "Resonator" and "Nepenthe" shows the band more aggressive side while still showcasing the more progressive nature of "Ecdysis".  The biggest surprise of the album is the instrumental heavy metal/rock influenced track "When the Walls Fell".  The traditional heavy metal influence makes an appearance on a few other songs but this particular track really rocks out NWOBHM style.  Well done.  The final song "Titan" is an epic and melodic journey into madness.  One of the best album closers I've heard in a long time.


On top of some killer song writing, the production on "Ecdysis" is superb.  The sound is raw but offers amazing clarity and outstanding dynamics.  The mix is well balanced with each instrument sitting on it's own little shelf.  I really love the way they did the vocals this time around with Matt taking a more active role trading off with Damian.  Over all "Ecdysis" is everything I want in a death metal record (maybe a few more blast beats would have be nice:)  Highly recommended! 


Choice Cuts:  The Stranger / Resonator / Nepenthe / When the Walls Fell / Titan


Check out the album on Bandcamp:


https://darkdescentrecords.bandcamp.com/album/ecdysis
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Honorable Mentions:

Megascavenger - At The Plateaus Of Leng 
Chaos Records



One of many Rogga Johansson projects.  I'm not usually into albums with a buffet of different vocalists but this one actually works very well.

Tyranny Enthroned - Our Great Undoing
Blast Head Records



Blackened Death Metal from a young Missouri band.  These guys have a lot of potential and it shows here.