Every year, it seems like Summer is more impossible. Are we growing old? Is it actually hotter? Is it both? Who knows (it’s probably the former). But the sad fact remains that patterns of routine that have helped us cope in the past, a cold glass of water here, a welcome shady corner there, are becoming more and more diminished, the returns just less effective at getting us home. It’s truly a death by a thousand cuts or, rather, death by a thousand drops (of sweat).
It seems that this is the case with music as well. Beyond the countless researches out there, beyond the folk wisdom and common sense, all pointing to a drop in curiosity and musical acceptance as we age, there is an anecdote. Each year, it seems harder and harder to collect our lists, to file music into neat little rows. Part of it is because there’s more of it; years like 2018, where music is firing on all cylinders, just seem to come more often. But it’s also that we’re tried and we’ve heard a lot of it before.
All of this is no complaint; it’s simply a testament to the power of the music gathered here and in lists like it on Heavy Blog (and, indeed, across the industry). Even with this much fatigue, with so many years weighing down on our ears, we still care a lot about these releases because that’s just how good they are. They’re good enough to cut through the noise and make us perk up in our seats, fighting against the weight of humidity and the heat. They’re good enough to make us want to write about them so that you can listen to them as well; won’t you indulge us?
Between the Buried and Me – Automata II (progressive metal)
Post-Colors, Between the Buried and Me is as divisive as ever with the release of double-but-not-really-album Automata. Its first half, released back in March, was a fine addition to the group’s storied discography and turned the heads at some who were left disenchanted following the more rock-leaning nature of Coma Ecliptic. There are some cuts on that first half that will surely stand the test of time as live staples, and they managed to bring some of the heavy back, even if it isn’t quite as inspired and adventurous as, say, Parallax II.
But these final four tracks of Automata released this month cap off the experience at a high point. The duo of “Glide” and “Voice of Trespass” are the much-talked-about revelations of the new record, with the band committing to avant-garde and swing/big band music for a significant portion of the playtime. The tracks provide some of the much-needed levity, experimentation, and playfulness BTBAM have been known for some time but has recently played second fiddle to serious conceptual storytelling. Make BTBAM silly (and heavy) again.
While “Trespass” has dominated the discourse surrounding this album’s release, “The Proverbial Bellow” is certainly underappreciated as a prog metal gem, with some dazzling instrumentals and a sense of drama that works above all other attempts from the band in the past. “The Grid” is also a track that this longtime fan has warmed up to, ending the story in a more positive place, with a floaty and content aesthetic throughout.
Sure, Automata at large has some issues that aren’t worth getting into again here, but this second half is engaging and exciting, and successfully defied expectations set by the first half. It’s not their strongest release, but as far as this fan is concerned, the band have yet to release a complete dud, and with this upswing, there’s still hope yet for another masterpiece.
Covet – effloresce (math rock)
One of the things I love seeing in bands is growth. I’m not talking about the oft-misused “maturity”, flung around mainly in the progressive metal circles to describe bands who have become too tired to try and make something exciting. Growth in music, as in nature, can take many paths; some of them seem like a step backward but are actually a return to something wild, to something good and hungry. In Covet’s case, it’s more a turn towards refinement and control but it achieves the same result: great music.
effloresece is nothing but a second (or third) wind for the band. In a genre that’s often known for flash over substance, and with releases under their belt that might hint at such a path for the band (although they were great releases), the cards were stacked against me liking this album. But, instead of disappointment, I found a strong, cool, Northerly blowing in my face, setting my heart ablaze.
The guitar compositions, elaborated upon and streamlined at the same time, the great groove section accompaniment which feels more cohesive this time around, and just the whole approach towards writing and performance on this release is exactly what this band needed. Effloresce is the promise of Covet fulfilled, their core sound brought forward and polished in just the right way as to not lose force of delivery but gain a whole lot in elegance.
Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (post-black metal)
To say that I am an objective observer of Deafheaven’s career would be a blatant, outright lie. I love this band deeply and with gusto. I still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard the band’s fantastic sophomore record, Sunbather. I was in bed, actually, searching for new music to send me off to dreamland. I had seen that particular record mentioned a few times on sites and playlists that I generally trusted, so at 11:30pm my exhausted self decided to give it a spin while I drifted to sleep. By 1:30am the next morning, I was starting yet another spin. Enthralled, mesmerized, and utterly captivated by its melding of styles and sheer passion. I’ve never shaken that memory, and each release from the band since has been colored (rose-colored, some might say) by it. I’m not ashamed of this fact in the slightest. I adore Deafheaven, and I don’t care who knows it.
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, the band’s fourth full-length release, was one of my most anticipated albums of the year thus far, and it most certainly didn’t disappoint. Thankfully, OCHL is most certainly a Deafheaven record, containing all the emotional bombast and lush instrumentation one would expect from the band, but it is very far from a retread of their established sound. These compositions here are even more grandiose than those found on Sunbather, and are most certainly less abjectly heavy than the songs on New Bermuda. Dare I say that OCHL is Deafheaven’s most ambitious record, and the payoff is tremendous.
It’s pretty easy to tell that Deafheaven are turning over a new leaf as soon as the keys begin to play in opener “You Without End”. An unexpected, initially somewhat off-putting track, it takes a moment or two to get adjusted to what the band are presenting listeners here. Acoustic guitars, gentle, sea breeze-like drum and electric guitar work, and Nadia Kury’s soothing voice performing a spoken-word reading from “Black and Borax” by Tom McElravey, taking the literary conceit found in the title (pulled from Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair) to heart and wrapping some of the band’s most gorgeous music to date around it. One would be forgiven for failing to recognize this track as one from Deafheaven until George Clarke’s wretched screams punch through the silky instrumental veneer about halfway through. It’s one helluva unique opener that sets the tone immediately and with conviction.
Those worried that the bands heavier, blackened edge had been lost need only make it to the album’s second track, “Honeycomb”, to have their fears allayed. Dan Tracy’s sensational drumming surges to life in raucous form, pumping blasting double-bass blood through the track’s veins. Subsequent titan “Canary Yellow” continues this epic, 10-minute-plus composition trajectory, shifting in tone, intensity, and texture like a musical chameleon, combining the band’s best traits into one of the most effective tracks the band has yet written. With the titanic sounds that come crashing through your speakers, the gentle track “Near” feels like the calm after a tumultuous storm, washing away the intensity of the previous two tracks with crooning cleans and ethereal guitar work. Speaking of crooning, Charlotte Wolfe lends her considerable talents to “Night People”, another soothing track that eventually melts into album finale “Worthless Animal”, which sends OCHL out on a melancholic high note.
It’s hard to tell where to place OCHL in the Deafheaven catalog, but after repeated listens for the past few weeks I’d put it neck-and-neck with Sunbather as the band’s most ambitious and best. If you love Deafheaven, there are infinite delights here. If you hate them, you’re wrong, and this record won’t change your mind. But for this fanboy, I got everything I didn’t even know I wanted and then some. A truly fantastic record.
Imperial Triumphant – Vile Luxury (avant-garde blackened death metal)
Typically, when I sit down to write my Editors’ Picks blurbs for the month, I look for an exceptional release that both tops my favorite albums of the month and hasn’t received coverage from us or me before. This usually isn’t difficult given my tastes stretch far beyond our range over coverage, even with the broad scope we’ve grown over the last several years. I do this not just to ensure I’m pouring fresh words on the page, but also to ensure the blog and I recommend as many unique releases as possible. Yet, this month, there was no doubt in my mind that Imperial Triumphant had to be my main pick for July. Even after penning a 1,000+ word review for what’s easily my metal AOTY, I still find myself with plenty of things to say about Vile Luxury. I firmly stand behind my assertion that this will go down as one of the most essential listens in the history of avant-garde metal.
What’s most striking about Vile Luxury is its seamless synthesis of experimental ideas in lieu of merely juxtaposing disparate ideas to make a cohesive whole. As much as I love bands like maudlin of the Well, a common critique levied detractors of avant-garde metal has to do with bands’ bricolage approach. Several prominent bands in the genre earn their avant-garde title by bringing bizarre elements into the fold, and in several cases, that involves blocks of sound stacked together. I’m a fan of this approach when done well, but admittedly, this can be quite jarring. This is the point, of course, but it’s equally refreshing to see a band like Imperial Triumphant who can build a cacophonous symphony with exceptional flow and development of concepts. Instead of swapping between dissonant blackened death metal and avant-garde stylings like piano, operatic vocals and brass orchestras, the trio instead throws themselves fully into the void and blends them together into an intoxicating elixir.
As I wrote in my review, the band works from a death metal foundation built with Gorguts-brand lumber, and from there pursues a marriage of chaotic black metal in the vein of Deathspell Omega and grimy, suffocating death metal along the lines of Portal. Additionally, the band draws influence from modern composers and songsmiths like Krzysztof Penderecki, Dmitri Shostakovich and Scott Walker, which only adds to the band’s unique sonic oddities. The results are truly inventive and invigorating avant-garde blackened death metal which should challenge and awe even the most adventurous metal fans. It may be cliche for a reviewer to claim an album must be experienced to be fully appreciated, but in the case of Vile Luxury, this couldn’t be truer. There’s really not much more to say than what I wrote in my review and echoed here – several years down the roads, I’ll be genuinely surprised if this isn’t remembered as one of the most crucial metal albums of the decade.
The Lion’s Daughter – Future Cult (sludge metal, synthwave)
How do you really classify this album? Someone in our editors team decided on “sludge/synthwave”, but that doesn’t even really capture it. We have death metal, black metal, industrial (which I normally hate), and more. Honestly, if someone decided to call this “Future Cult Metal” that’d be fitting. The Lion’s Daughter have previously been a band that’s completely off my radar. Going back to their older material, it’s really not my thing. But Future Cult is something else. Agitated synthwave melodies that lead into blast beats and tremolo picking might sound like a recipe for disaster for purists. To appreciate Future Cult, you have to leave your preconceptions at the door.
Ok, now that we’re past that stage, let’s go deeper. Which is what The Lion’s Daughter did as well. The integration of the bizarre synth elements isn’t simply skin deep. The reason Future Cult works is that it’s not just some extra stuff thrown over a regular sludge package to give it some spice. To continue with the food analogy, the ingredients have been integrated from the beginning of the cooking process. They use these different sounds like it’s always been part of their repertoire, as if they’re veterans at this game. It’s a brilliant idea as well, since my major problem with sludge is the general air of monotony. Midtempo riffs that all have a similar vibe can get old quite fast, and instead of simply supplanting it with more guitar intricacy they just throw in an entirely cacophonic element.
This album is all about chaos and being unsettled. The clash in tonality is what makes it work. Two entirely disparate genres that are on their own, mostly rather rote, come together in well-crafted ways to create something that works better as a whole. Future Cult is brilliant, weird, simple yet complex, and overall a fantastic experiment that actually pays off in droves. This could, and by most reasonable expectations, should have been a disaster, but instead it’s a masterpiece. Thumbs up.
Mutilation Rites – Chasm (death metal, black metal)
The only really accurate word for the sound that Mutilation Rites aim for on Chasm is “filthy.” This album is filthy, nasty, downright ugly death metal that feels much more related to the gloomy, nihilistic creep of Cobalt or Lord Mantis than any other bands in the genre that Brooklynites Mutilation Rites employ to great effect on their third full-length outing. It makes sense, too: given the proclivity towards crusty, sludgy black metal that the band displayed on their last two records, it’s easy to see exactly why their take on death metal sounds the way it does.
Chasm is a death metal record, first and foremost, but it doesn’t feel like any of the other great death metal coming out this year. Where Tomb Mold and Extremity thrust the genre’s nascent weirdness into the light face-first and Ataraxy and Burial Invocation decided to slow everything to a crawl and let psychopomp song progressions alternate between gloomy beauty and face-smashing aggression, Mutilation Rites takes what they’ve learned from two albums of American-style black metal and uses that to put some serious musculature on their new death metal skeleton.
It’s hard for bands to move into genres that are gaining popularity the way death metal is right now and have it not feel disingenuous, but man, Mutilation Rites just knows exactly what to do and exactly what boxes to check to make sure any such presuppositions about the reasons for such a switch being annihilated minutes into Chasm. At its core, they’re the same band they were on Empyrean and Harbinger: brutal, nasty, and consistently able to tear shit up while not sacrificing riffing power for the sake of mood (or vice versa). Chasm is a masterclass in extreme metal. Listen to it.
Tangled Thoughts of Leaving – No Tether (post-metal, drone, jazz)
I want you to think about instrumental post-metal, the music specifically. What do you hear? You probably have one or two bands in your mind’s eye (or ear) that you’re pulling from, but that sound would also probably pretty closely describe almost every other post-metal band working today. That isn’t intended to be a knock on post-metal per se. Anyone who follows me here knows I love the music, but even I will admit that it is exceedingly difficult to distinguish 95% of the bands in the scene from one another barring intimate knowledge of their catalogs. The problem is that, for most, the genre has been defined too narrowly and too circumscribed within a specific sonic palette for it to really develop beyond what most already know of it. So even when bands manage to color outside the lines a bit by bringing other influences or genres into the mix it’s still rooted in the same foundation.
So that abstract post-metal I had you think about? Chuck it away and then try listening to Perth’s Tangled Thoughts of Leaving. Starting out as a more heavily progressive jazz-influenced group on their acrobatic Tiny Fragments EP and diving more into textural and more conventionally post-y sounds on their debut LP Deaden the Fields, the band made a pretty big shift on their sophomore album Yield To Despair into darker, more noise and drone-influenced territory without losing the improvisational flair at the core of their sound. Yield To Despair caught enough of our staff’s attention to land a place on our Top 50 list for 2015, and since then, the biggest question has been whether the band would follow it up with an album in a similar vein to Yield or would take another step in a different direction. That album, No Tether, certainly falls into the former category but doesn’t sacrifice any of its impact and surprise by continuing to develop that sound in incredible ways.
No Tether is certainly intended to be a spiritual successor to Yield, right down to the Teo Treloar-produced artwork that forms the visual core of both albums. While Yield represented an insurmountable dark and bleak force that slowly, but surely would consume anyone listening to it, No Tether is an experience of living after having succumbed to that void. From the artwork, one can see a sense of smallness, isolation, and loss of identity, and the music throughout the album serves those themes well. Ambient opener “Sublunar” primes the listener for the cold emptiness to come, which explodes into frenetic chaos on “The Alarmist,” combining the dark-edged grooves of “The Albanian Sleepover, Part 2” off of Yield with the punchier riffs and hits of their earlier work.
That burst of energy turns out to be a bit of a feint though as the bulk of what follows lives in much more open and eerily uncomfortable places. “Cavern Ritual” is a sparsely-littered hellscape of rough edges and destroyed objects, forcing you to sit and simply endure the emptiness as the dirge-like music inches steadily forward. “Signal Erosion” takes that jittery anxiety and turns up the heat with an unrelenting pulse and droning foundation, all the while Ron Pollard’s signature twinkling keys offering points of light constantly on the verge of being entirely subsumed. Though the band have been playing with elements of drone for a while, “Signal Erosion” is easily their most affecting effort yet in this realm as the atmosphere they construct is downright suffocating before it comes to a frantic head. And much like the jangly “Shaking Off Futility” from Yield, “Inner Dissonance” offers a much-needed temporary respite, veering into near free jazz territory as Pollard and drummer Ben Greene play off of each other brilliantly, eventually adding in guitarist Paul Briggs and bassist Luke Pollard. The meaty middle of the album forces you to sit with your thoughts, your anxieties, and your fears, and amplifies them into a feedback loop of stifling discomfort.
All of which is what makes No Tether’s climax in “Binary Collapse” and the title track closer all the more effective. The two tracks represent some of the most technically complex work the band have put to tape since the Tiny Fragments days, and the explosive quality of the former track is a perfect jolt to the senses. It also features the band’s first foray into including horns since the incredibly epic “Landmarks” off of Deaden the Fields. The swell of brass that unleashes all hell is simply perfect and demonstrates just how much the band have grown and matured compositionally the past few years. Meanwhile, “No Tether” starts off with some more menacing free improv that grows and grows until it nearly collapses under the weight of its own chaos, only to resolve in a flurry of pummeling riffs and a blitzkrieg of drums, a fitting end to such a fitful album. No Tether proves that TToL have not only become masters of their own sound and direction, but that when it comes to the world of instrumental post-metal, they’re not just coloring outside the lines; they’re drawing entire new shapes.
Bloodsoaked Necrovoid – Demo 1 (death metal, death-doom)
I get the feeling these guys heard that Spectral Voice record last year and went, “alright, bet.” Some of the darkest, most anxious, gloomiest, existentially terrifying death metal out there. It’s brutal as fuck, too.
Burial Invocation – Abiogenesis (death metal)
One of the most riveting and expertly executed death metal records of the year, Abiogenesis is both Burial Invocation’s long-awaited debut and raucous shot across the bow. Absolutely crushing death-doom passages ala Incantation bludgeon and beat you into submission, only to be consumed by wrath-filled sections of speedy blasting that blend all of the best elements of old school death metal into one complete, brutalizing package. It’s so damn good. Thank me later, listen now.
Frontierer – Unloved (mathcore)
The Dillinger Escape Plan are gone, but that doesn’t mean that mathcore died with them. Intercontinental noisebringers Frontierer (sister act to another 2018 highlight Sectioned) dropped their much anticipated follow-up to 2015’s breakout underground hit Orange Mathematics and somehow managed to capture lightening in a bottle a second time. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an album more pissed off this year, and the insane guitar acrobatics and subtle experimentation make this mess of chaos highly listenable.
Merzbow + Hexa – Achromatic (dark ambient, noise)
The inclusion of Merzbow‘s name was probably enough to grab your attention on its own,. However, it’s important to highlight the entire power trio behind the suffocating soundscapes on Achromatic. The underrated duo of Hexa is comprised of Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu along with veteran experimental producer Lawrence English. Together, the trio produces some of the most noteworthy dark ambient, noise and drone music you’ll engulf yourself in this year.
Morrow – The Weight of These Feathers (progressive black metal)
What I want in young bands is some guts for crying out loud. Morrow have that in droves, spreading their wings to fly over a field rich with acoustic breaks, harrowing blast beats, shrieking vocals and tremolo picks and an approach to composition that belongs to bands twice their veterans. Listen to this now so that you don’t have to jump on the bandwagon later when these guys get big.
Obscura – Diluvium (progressive death metal, tech death)
You know that whatever Obscura are offering is going to be good. There was obviously cause for concern after the release of Akroasis lead to yet another lineup change for the ever-inconsistent tech death mainstays, but Obscura have managed to pull it together yet again for a fun and incredibly listenable death metal record packed with dazzling musicianship (so many bass solos!) and catchy melodies.
Slowly Rolling Camera – Juniper (nu-jazz)
After parting with powerhouse vocalist Dionne Bennett, the UK soul/jazz group Slowly Rolling Camera decided to move forward as a fully instrumental group, and their newest album, Juniper, provides every reason to still be excited by them. The compositions featured hew further from neo-soul and more towards skittery nu-jazz featuring more electronics, at times conjuring up classic Jaga Jazzist and more. What hasn’t changed is that Slowly Rolling Camera are putting out technically crisp and emotionally satisfying jazz that is more than worthy of your attention.
Zu93 – Mirror Emperor
THIS close to being my album of the month, this collaboration from Current 93’s David Tibet and Italian music-makers Zu is as close to perfect as experimental/dark folk gets. Describing the music contained on this record is not a particularly easy task. Strings, guitars, ominous atmospherics and Tibet’s haunting spoken-word delivery all combine to create one of the most utterly hypnotizing listening experiences I’ve had in ages. A remarkable, exceptional record.