2017 is firing on all barrels. After an incredible January, containing several potential Album of the Year contenders, February further solidifies our firm belief that we are in the Golden Age of metal. Of course, this list contains more than metal, as befits Heavy Blog today, but just look how prolific our community is across multiple sub-genres. Reissues of classics, progressive stoner, crossover thrash, post death metal; many sub-genres are enjoying an unparalleled period of fertility. Amidst the ocean of new releases, we’re committed to helping you these thankfully turbulent waters. With that in mid, here’s our Editors’ Picks for February 2017!
Born of Osiris – Eternal Reign
Perhaps it’s cheating to pick a remake of an album I already love, but it’s technically a new release! The New Reign by Born of Osiris is not only one of my favorite albums, it’s also the album that defined a genre and spawned many copycats. I’m generally against remakes, especially when the original sounds fine. They often lose sight of some endearing flaws that made an album great, and change it in ways it doesn’t need to be changed. The Eternal Reign, however, sidesteps that entirely. It’s not only a celebration of a decade of Sumeriancore, it’s also a vastly improved version of an album that I didn’t know need to be improved. The production is crisp yet not lifeless. The synths are fuller and modernized. The vocals are actually comprehensible now, and they’ve gained more character. The instruments all hit together in just the right fashion to make every note sound as powerful as possible.
Not only is it a better produced re-recording of the original, but it’s taken further. There are many additional flourishes, some new lead sections and clean vocals added here and there that make The Eternal Reign a fresh experience for fans who have already memorized every note on the original. They’re all welcome additions too. Additionally, the band have re-recorded a song from their earlier days when they were named yourheartengraved as a bonus track for this version, and it’s a nice bookend to the early days of their career. Here’s to ten more years of Born of Osiris.
Grails – Chalice Hymnal
I’m going to keep this brief because I already said all I feel I needed to say about this album in my review of it a couple of weeks ago. That said, I really cannot stress enough what makes this album special as a lover of great instrumental music and also as a great appreciator of fantastic soundtrack music. Chalice Hymnal is not a soundtrack, but it should be one. It requires a special kind of skill and touch to be able to paint a picture as vividly as Grails do in the span of a few minutes. Each track has such a distinct feel and evokes the senses so strongly that it’s exceedingly easy to conjure up scenes and memories to fit the mood. It’s not entirely surprising that a group of people who love to obsess over classic Italian film soundtracks and other vintage records and sounds, including 70s softcore, would write music that frequently hits the feeling of old cinematic music, dirt and all. What is surprising is that they’ve been able to do it for so long and seemingly only getting better at it while not completely repeating themselves. Grails are doing something that very few can, and that’s turn an album into a true experience. Chalice Hymnal is an experience, and one that you will likely find yourself wanting to return to many times after.
HARK – Machinations
We’ve spoken a lot recently about progressive stoner and the seeming explosion of creativity the sub-genre seems to be undergoing. However, the sheer amount of work making itself known to the community at large can also breed repetitiveness and a certain stale aura to the tones and riffs utilized. Luckily, some bands are hard at work at dispelling these stenches, like HARK. These Wales natives blend three pillars into one massive monolith.
First, thickness. You won’t find a bass tone more prominent and rich nor riffs so dominantly pungent with prowess and power even if you looked for years. Second, groove. The heavy weight of the composition and tone doesn’t prevent HARK from dancing circles around you with their song/album structure, throwing sucker punches left and right (best seen on this album on the closing track “The Purge” or the much shorter and trippier “Comnixant 30”). Lastly, vocals which take their influence from none other than Neil Fallon of Clutch, who else had a guest spot on their last record.
Put the two first things together and crown it with the priest-like definitions and you’ve got yourself a winner. Machinations is much better at making those pieces fit than the previous passes (although those were also excellent attempts) and everything just meshes so well together as to create what will surely become one of this year’s most underrated albums.
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic
There’s no point in beating around the bush with a band as obvious and obviously fucking rad as Power Trip: this record kicks serious ass. In just about every way, Nightmare Logic is an improvement on what made their debut LP, Manifest Decimation, an excellent piece of nostalgia for the heyday of crossover thrash. It’s a trip (insert forced laughter) hearing something that just blatantly gives this little of a shit about what the audience thinks or what people might want out of a new album from a band like this, opting for an “our-fist-your-face” approach to riffing that results in a half hour of genuinely great, extremely fun punky thrash metal, replete with chugs and dive bombs galore. Between the last record and this one, Power Trip has barely tweaked their formula, if at all; they’re not a band that could be seen as making particularly intelligent music or anything even remotely resembling something progressive, but that’s certainly not their MO: Nightmare Logic stands tall on the strength of its riffs, and by God, these are some damn good riffs. From the aggressive chugs of the title track, where the band lurches through four minutes of monolithic groovage (is that a word? I’m making that a word) like a runaway tank crushing everything in its path, to the fist-swinging mosh riff that defines “Ruination” before the song explodes into a nuclear force of speedy, thrashy hardcore, every track serves a fantastic helping of perfectly-written riffs that make Nightmare Logic an absolute joy to listen to. Clocking in at a short but sweet 32 minutes over all, it’s easy to feel like this record is over as soon as it begins, but that just makes it perfect for repeat listens to get the most out of that sweet, sweet crossover sound. For those in need of unmoderated aggression and the ultimate give-no-shits aesthetic, don’t worry: Power Trip has your back now and forever.
Sunless – Urraca
Riding the wave of weird death metal set forth by Gorguts and championed by Ulcerate, Minnesota’s Sunless up the ante on the style with their debut Urraca. Where Ulcerate go for dynamic shifts in atmosphere as a counterweight to their brutality, Sunless’ approach is more of a direct assault of obtuse and technical riffing and chaotic, discordant songwriting. This isn’t just skronky razorwire guitar noise masked with a muddy mix; Urraca is packed with creative guitar acrobatics and expertly helmed by Krallice’s own Colin Marston on the mixing board.
What helps Urraca stand out is attention to detail on a per-track level that many bands of this style can lack. Sunless are more succinct than their peers, with most tracks across Urraca clocking in under five minutes in length where others go long. With this in mind, each track has its standout moments, from the palm muted chugs and blastbeats in “Gathering at the Skull’s Eye” to the strange chord progression in “Magpie.” Oddball earworms aside, Urraca is no doubt incredibly dense and challenging record that settles comfortably within its niche. If you’re not already a fan of Gorguts, Ulcerate, or Mitochondrion, there’s not much here for you. Then again, if you’re not a fan of any of those bands, then I’m not even sure why you’re here in the first place, to be honest.
Visible Cloaks – Reassemblage
While glitch and ambient music are necessarily on opposite ends of the spectrum, their structural differences are pretty stark. Glitch is usually chaotic in its collage or playful in its subversion of normal sounds, while ambient soundscapes are crafted from much simpler, beautiful textures. Yet, despite this difference, Visible Cloaks is able to seamlessly blend the two on their gorgeous, mystical seventh album Reassemblage. The duo of Ryan Carlile and Spencer Doran feed these genres through a progressive electronic filter, pairing the styles as comrades rather than playing of their contrasts. In doing so, Reassemblage culminates into a lush array of sounds which extracts ambiance from glitched runs while also providing plenty of variety within these extended, simple moments.
The duo add an additional layer to the mix by tastefully incorporating Japanese instrumentation and recitations. These moments further adding to the light, youthful nature of the album, as if Forest Swords and Tim Hecker collaborated in a Buddhist temple on a snowy mountain top. As with most music in this style, Reassemblage is best experienced as whole; tracks often ebb and flow into one another and paint a vivid portrait of sublime wonderment. It’s a mystery as to why it took Visible Cloaks seven albums to garner the attention they deserve. But albums like these are statements that stand out within a discography for years to come and act as shining entry point into an equally valuable discography.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
DispersE – Forward [nu-prog]
Allow me to respectfully disagree with our official review by saying that this album is the best thing that nu-prog has ever given us. It’s light, technical, fun and evocative at the same time while somehow staying fresh and accessible.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana [stoner/psych rock]
Although the modus operandi of these Aussie psychedelic garage rockers hasn’t changed, Flying Microtonal Banana is still as fresh, fun, and interesting as anything these guys have put out, even able to stand its ground next to last year’s phenomenal Nonagon Infinity. The secret: experimenting heavily with microtones (as the name implies) to bring a strong sense of Eastern melody to their hazy, distorted jams.
Labirinto – Gehenna [post-metal]
It takes a lot of gall and talent to create music that blends two titans of heavy instrumental rock – Russian Circles and Godspeed You! Black Emperor – and somehow winds up sounding just as good, if not better, than anything either band has released in a while. Brazil’s Labirinto accomplished this in Gehenna though, and it’s an album that is sure to launch the band into much greater acclaim worldwide.
The Necks – Unfold [avant-garde jazz/minimalism]
As we outlined in our Soundtracks for the Blind post on Unfold, the album is both a unique and excellent installment in The Necks‘ prolific discography. The band’s choice to craft four vignettes rather than one, hour-long epic leads to a more diverse collection of sparse meditations. Expect a contemplative, masterful combination of avant-garde jazz, minimalism, free improvisation and ambient textures.
Zeal and Ardor – Devil Is Fine [experimental black metal]
This album was originally released independently last year, then was retracted when the band got signed. Now it’s seeing official release, and it can reach a larger audience. Combining gospel and avant-garde black metal, Devil is Fine is one of the most unique albums out there. To Zeal and Ardor‘s credit, it’s not just a gimmick either. The songs are actually creative and great, so they can transcend the gimmick. This is a must-listen if not just for the sake of its sheer uniqueness.