Editors’ Picks – March 2018

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already made it a quarter of the way through the year, particularly because of how extensive each of our Editors’ Picks columns has been over the last three months. Every time we coalesce to flesh out which albums will make the cut, we’re always surprised to see just how many quality releases came out over the last thirty-ish days. Often times we’ll each have a handful of albums that could easily take over our main recommendation for the month (hence the addition of shorter, “further listening” blurbs). This is what makes Ed Picks such a highlight for us each month. Not only does it afford us a platform to further showcase albums we’ve already given high praise, but it allows us to raise up records we may not have had a chance to cover extensively until now. We compile a diverse list in the process, though as one half of our Death’s Door crew, I’d be remiss if I didn’t spotlight yet another insane month for death metal. Noyan and Eden’s main picks of Augury and Rivers of Nihil are unquestionably well-deserved, and in our further listening section, we shout out a slew of other incredible death metal albums from March, including two of my personal favorites from the month – Of Feather and Bone and Order ov Riven Cathedrals. Death’s Door for March will be coming down the pipeline in the next few days, but in the meantime, there’s plenty of quality releases here to quell your appetite, both for DM fans and otherwise.

Scott Murphy

Augury – Illusive Golden Age (tech death)

This is one of those albums that I dared not dream would happen, let alone be good. Augury were one of the strongest and unique voices in tech death while tech death hadn’t fully hit the mainstream. Combining Cryptopsy’s brutality and Atheist’s creativity, they were just too good to be true. Of course, they disappeared after two albums, and suddenly, after nearly a decade, they come back. No way do I expect that album to be as revelatory as their old stuff was, right? Well, turns out I should have, as it’s just fantastic.

2018 is already a great year for progressive death metal, and Illusive Golden Age only strengthens that roster, and maybe even comes out on top. Any band that has Dominic “Forest” Lapointe is already an automatic keeper, but this is perhaps the only band in which he doesn’t automatically dominate the sound with his unique and over-the-top playing. Frontman Patrick Loisel’s guitar playing and ridiculous vocals are definitely the centerpiece here. Despite growing immensely, the tech death scene still doesn’t really have another band like Augury, and they definitely haven’t been made obsolete by the passing of time. If anything, the void left by their absence is just deeper, and this comeback is that much more important.

If you like technical or progressive death metal, especially with mildly jazzy influences and lots of speed, weird riffs that only the finest of the French Canadian scene can put out and overall a crushing experience, don’t miss out. Augury has always been masters, and they’re back to claim the throne.

Noyan

Between the Buried and Me – Automata I (metalcore, prog metal)

Admittedly, my initial reaction to prog metal stalwarts Between the Buried and Me’s eight full-length record Automata I was kind of lukewarm, which is a tragedy as the local megafan. It was familiar and certainly sounded like Between the Buried and Me, but the hooks didn’t sink as deep on initial listens as they might have on previous releases. However, after having time to sit with it and get comfortable with its ins and outs, Automata has shown itself to be a very fruitful listen, and is an album with potential longevity in its own right, missing second half notwithstanding.

As with any BTBAM record, its structure may take time to get accustomed to thanks to its twist and turns, sprawling tracks, and preconceived notions about what a BTBAM record has to be. On initial listens, for instance, I was primed to believe the sub-five-minute “Millions” was a weird transition track but is now a standout track that is an interesting experiment in writing shorter contained melodic tracks. It’s a good look, but the real treats on this release are “Yellow Eyes” and “Blot,” which are longer tracks packed with synths, dynamic shifts in time and tone, and the odd BTBAM-isms we know and love. Time has also allowed the record to impart its own unique tone, aesthetic, and weight compared to the rest of the BTBAM discography; if you placed Automata I between The Great Misdirect and Parallax, it would feel right at home. It’s a nice turn of events following the divisive Coma Ecliptic.

After about a month of this record hitting our inbox, it’s grown into a favorite and will surely end up on my personal year-end-list of records, and among the best of the month, even with competition from such a stacked March with heavy hitting progressive metal records out of Rivers of Nihil and Augury. It’s still a shame though that we have to wait until summer to hear the rest of the album.

Jimmy Rowe

Mournful Congregation – The Incubus Of Karma (funeral doom)

I’ll put it plainly: Mournful Congregation’s fifth full-length record The Incubus of Karma is the best funeral doom album to be released over the past few years. With excellent records from Loss, Shape of Despair, Ahab, Bell Witch, Slow, and Usnea cluttering an already stuffed subgenre, that’s a tall order. But Mournful Congregation do the low-and-slow better than anyone in the game, and their latest record once again proves this to be the case, but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, there’s plenty of hefty, lengthy, mercilessly slow passages throughout this record, but the principal draw here is the absolutely breathtaking songwriting, which incorporates enough arpeggios, soaring guitar harmonies, and melody to fill any number of lesser records. This is funeral doom at its most beautiful, expansive, and fully realized. It’s glorious.

While the songwriting is a key component of this album’s success, no record survives on songwriting prowess alone. The Incubus of Karma is elevated to epic status due to its fantastic performances, with Damon Good and Justin Hartwig’s guitar work serving as the principal highlight of the record. These are the best performances of their respective careers thus far, with their dueling leads and thunderous rhythm playing filling songs like “Whispering Spiritscapes” and the album’s title track with enough emotive guitar work to fill an entire record. But those two tracks only comprise about one-quarter of the album’s nearly eighty-minute runtime. Album standouts “The Rubaiyat” and “A Picture of the Devouring Gloom Devouring the Spheres of Being” are both mercilessly long and relentlessly beautiful, and are two of the best tracks of the band’s long and storied career. Drummer Tim Call’s measured, patient, and controlled performance adds an overwhelming sense of gravity to the proceedings (especially the latter two tracks mentioned above), while Ben Newsome’s bass work serves as a worthy rhythmic accompaniment throughout the record. This is a band operating at the peak of their collective powers, and the result is their best record to date.

Love or hate funeral doom, give this album your undivided attention for its runtime and be transported. This is the type of record that converts non-believers and lifts the faithful to transformational ascendancy. Do not skip this record. It is well worth the time you invest in it.

Jonathan Adams 

Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name (progressive death metal)

2018 is the year of the progressive death metal album. We’re not only seeing plenty of releases in the sub-genre but also genre-redefining ones, some of them from young bands, some of them from veterans, and some of them from however you’d like to classify Alkaloid (who are a new band consisting of scene veterans). One of the strongest examples of this is Rivers of Nihil’s release, Where Owls Know My Name. Following their much-hyped debut and their career stabilizing sophomore release, Rivers of Nihil decided to make the right call and jump into the deep end. Instead of being satisfied with another iteration of their established sound, the band has decided to mix things up and inject new influences into their formula.

The result is an album which has plenty of blast beats and riffs but which also relies heavily on influences from psychedelic rock, jazz and prog rock. No better example can be found than the second track, “The Silent Life”, which features a beautiful saxophone solo followed by an equally great and resplendent guitar solo. These are bracketed on either end by all the growls, riffs and blast-beats you’d need; it’s not that the track has “calm” tracks and “heavy” ones, but that Rivers of Nihil’s base sound has changed to contain all of these elements right into the mix. That becomes immediately apparent when the saxophone returns, this time not regulated to its own passage but baked into the basic composition.

In a sense, Rivers of Nihil has perfected the trend championed by Fallujah’s latest releases, that of atmospheric, progressive and modern death metal. The result is an album which keeps you coming time and again because it just contains so much; from eerie, almost spoken word segments, to blistering death metal attacks through saxophone and treble-heavy guitar tones, Where Owls Know My Name is one of the best progressive death albums of recent years. And it’s not even the best one this year. Get hyped.

Eden Kupermintz

Rolo Tomassi – Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It (metallic hardcore, post-hardcore)

How exactly do you adequately describe what the fifth album from UK sorta-mathcore-but-really-just-whatever-they-want-core Rolo Tomassi sounds like? It’s mathy, it’s hardcore, but also it’s art-pop, it’s post-rock, it’s jazz-tinged fusion? How do you circle the square around a band capable of putting out such beautifully dreamy and triumphant alt-rock work like the atmospheric opener “Towards Dawn” and banger “Aftermath” followed by the razor-sharp melodic hardcore of “Rituals” and the darkly gorgeous “The Hollow Hour” that feels like the previous three tracks thrown into a blender? What are we supposed to do with this even? These sort of attempts at “eclecticore” or post-genre experimentation within metal and heavy music aren’t new, but on Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It, Rolo Tomassi manage to concoct such an unexpected and intoxicating brew of disparate influences and sounds that the experience of listening to it for the first time is as likely to make your head spin as bang or nod along.

Despite not actually sounding all that much alike (aside from both featuring a versatile female vocalist), the closest thing I find myself able to compare the album to is the similarly genre-bending and convention-defying cosmic post-metal of Cult of Luna’s Mariner. Like that album, TWDALWBI possesses an incredible knack for building luring and bright melodies and atmospherics before dropping the hammer and plunging into the depths of positively grim and manic menace. Tracks like the aforementioned “The Hollow Hour,” “A Flood of Light,” and “Contretemps” are the kind of densely varied and rich musical tapestries that can take several listens to really unravel but offer more than enough immediacy to get you immediately hooked. Eva Spence’s vocals are a siren song of sweetly alluring lullabies that bely the barely-contained shrieks and blood-curdling screams that lay just beneath the surface. And the vibey Rhodes sound of James Spence’s synth through much of the album only adds another layer of seemingly incongruous mystique, as the jazzy touches like the bookends of “Balancing the Dark” create yet another sonic knot to untie amidst the pummeling drum and bass and frenetic guitar riffs.

For a band who have built up a reputation for defying all expectations and conventions of genre and label, TWDALWBI is yet another confounding but brilliant piece of work. The level of comfort and confidence it requires to take so many seemingly disparate elements and continually make each feel fresh is more than impressive. It might just make it one of the best albums to have come out so far this year in any of the genres it touches and beyond.

Nick Cusworth

Further Listening

Conjurer – Mire (blackened sludge metal, progressive death metal)

You like chaos? You like abrasive vocals which sound like someone’s soul is being scrapped from within? Conjurer has that and more, on a release that runs the gamut between hardcore, death, sludge, doom, mathcore and a dozen other genres. This is progressive metal done right in the year 2018.

EK

Flora – The Bottom (math rock, post-rock)

If you’re a fan of mathy instrumental music but with a solid post-rock foundation, boy do I have an album for you. Flora’s sophomore record more than delivers on the promise of their debut and is one of the most immediately invigorating and straight-up cool instrumental releases of 2018 thus far.

-NC

Judas Priest – Firepower (heavy metal)

How do you continue to remain relevant as a band when your glory days are literally decades old? Write an album that is your best in literal decades. Firepower is everything I wanted from a latter-day Judas Priest record, and one of the most enjoyable heavy metal releases of the year.

JA

Malady – Toinen Toista (prog rock)

How many times will I tell you to listen to this album? As many as it takes; Toinen Toista is the best 70’s prog worship album I’ve heard in years and probably the best albums in progressive rock in a decade. Yeah, it’s that good.

EK

Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (blackened death metal, progressive black metal)

Who could have guessed that one of the best death metal albums to be released so far this year would be from a band who exclusively write songs about slugs? Get used to it. Esoteric Malacology is utterly fantastic from start to finish. Don’t believe me? Listen and be proven wrong.

JA

The Absence – A Gift for the Obsessed (melodeath)

Below a Silent Sky – A View From Afar (post-metal)

COAST – COAST (modern jazz, nu jazz)

Instrumental (adj.) – Reductio ad Absurdum (prog fusion)

Kubbi – Taiga (chiptune, video game music)

Man Mountain – Infinity Mirror (post-rock)

The Men – Drift (experimental rock)

Nightmarer – Cacophony of Terror (mathcore, tech death)

Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart (gothic metal, prog metal)

Of Feather and Bone – Bestial Hymns of Perversion (deathgrind)

Oneida – Romance (experimental rock, psychedelic rock)

Order ov Riven Cathedrals – Göbekli Tepe (avant-garde tech death)

Ulvesang – The Hunt (neofolk)

Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar (alternative R&B, neo-soul)

Peter Zummo – Frame Loop (avant-garde jazz, experimental)

"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger - something better - pushing right back." - Albert Camus