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Panopticon – Roads to the North

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Panopticon has fast become a trusted name when it comes to the furtherance of black metal. The project, lead by Louisville area resident Austin Lunn, (relatively) broke out of obscurity with 2012 record Kentucky, an ode to the early 1900′s coal labor strikes and the protest songs born out of the movement. Lunn combined the contemporary Post-Black Metal school of thought popularized by the likes of Wolves in the Throne Room with traditional Americana and Bluegrass passages, creating an absolutely striking and unique blend that has never been seen before on such a scale. Since then, Kentucky has already been heralded as a modern classic, and the metal community has been aching for more “blackgrass” (it’s okay; no one actually calls it that) ever since. Following up such a masterpiece can be a daunting task for one man to make, but Lunn doesn’t falter with its informal sequel, Roads to the North.

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Never again to return to their gruesome sludge roots, fearsome Atlanta foursome Mastodon have been tweaking and refining a sound ever since 2006′s Blood Mountain, consistently and constantly moving in a different, more progressive direction that peaked in unspeakable ways in 2009 with Crack the Skye. Admittedly, the band will never have an album as cohesive or as gut-wrenching as the partial homage to Dailor’s deceased sister, but they move forward nonetheless treading these new territories and exploring fuller sounds that push their boundaries beyond compare.

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Hadal Maw – Senium

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Atmosphere is key in many genres of music and in metal specifically. At the end of the day, there’s only so much emotional weight that your instruments can generate based on established tools, even with the endless variations available to the modern artist. Where albums truly rise above the norm is in the spaces between those compositions, in the way the entire thing comes together as a whole. One could cite The Ocean‘s Pelgial or Gojira‘s From Mars to Sirius and one would do well to do so in this context. Hadal Maw‘s Senium definitely draws on those two albums to create a monolith: a towering pillar of death metal and atmosphere that swallows the listener whole.

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Within the Ruins – Phenomena

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It was only a year ago that Within the Ruins released their junior album Elite, which was by far their most divisive work yet. Fans either loved the cut up riffing and b0unce that the album brought to the table, or they thought that the band could have focused more on the technical writing that brought them to prominence in the first place, courtesy of Invade. Now, we have Phenomena, which could very well be the cross between the gimmick/effect driven sound of Elite and the driving technical flair of Invade.

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RAPIDFIRE 18-7

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Volumes – No Sleep

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It has been three years since Volumes released their debut album Via and left us waiting to see what they could accomplish and improve upon in the time between records. Here we are with their sophomore album, No Sleep, which may just be a testament to how hard this band seems to work, jumping from tour to tour and never staying in one place for too long. It also could be a way to tell us that they have been working hard to craft this album for their fans, thinking of new ways to go about doing things and how to improve upon what is already working. After all, the only constant is change. Things have definitely changed, but are they for better or worse?

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Hailing from New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Hate Division are an absolutely vicious deathgrind outfit who churn out a technical and groove-laden style of metal influenced by the likes of Man Must Die, Misery Index and Origin. Their debut album, Strategy of Obsolescence, was released in 2011 and appears to have flown under a lot of metalheads radars, which is a shame, because these guys sure are talented harbingers of chaos. Despite this, Hate Division are going strong in the underground, and with the release of their latest album, Order of the Enslaved, these guys should begin to fit in more comfortably with the modern metal scene and hopefully start making more of a name for themselves.

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Distorted Harmony – Chain Reaction

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Sounding modern is a double edged sword at times. Fans often clamor for rawer production, even in genres where such an expectation makes no sense. In addition, and perhaps even more so, the danger of sounding the same as a thousand different bands out there is very real. It takes a certain security in your own sound to come out of the process sounding unique. Distorted Harmony, an Israeli progressive metal band that’s been making a name for themselves in international arenas, exhibit such a security in their new release, Chain Reaction. It’s an album with a direction and a purpose and thus ends up sounding interesting and cohesive.

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Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails

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On paper, the brick-wall brutality and chaotic technique of death metal is the antithesis of chilled out ambiance and lush atmospheres. That hasn’t stopped bands from trying to shoehorn the two disparate tones together over the years to varying degrees of success. The idea is becoming easier to execute these days, with modern groups like Ulcerate and Fallujah making like-minded yet differing approaches in letting soundscapes steep between the blistering drums and hulking vocal style of death metal. As opposed to Ulcerate’s more organic use of dynamic shifts to create ominous atmosphere during creeping phases of introspection, Fallujah’s speed rarely ever falters, with huge effects-laden guitar melodies and ambient pads working directly with the mechanically driving forces — something the group has finally mastered with their sophomore album The Flesh Prevails.

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Pentakill – Smite and Ignite

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It’s so often that a “virtual band” can be quickly dismissed as a gimmick or a fad. “Cartoon characters can’t be musicians,” some would mutter under their breath, relegated to their old-thinking ways that only touring musicians can be considered “true artists” or some such nonsense. With the onset of the digital age, however, we saw the rise of people collaborating across states and over seas to create music, with some musical projects coming to life that may otherwise never have happened. 1998 saw the rise of virtual creation Gorillaz, led by songwriter Damon Albarn and animator Jamie Hewlett, to much adoration outside of Blur‘s normal fanbase.

Enter Dethklok years later in 2006, who continue to be a cultural force, producing four albums worth of music spearheaded by animator and guitarist Brendon Small. With success in the animated medium, Small was able to enlist the abilities of legendary drummer Gene Hoglan (ex-Death, ex-Strapping Young Lad, ex-Dark Angel…you get the idea), Michael Keneally, the “leading progressive rock genius of the post-Zappa era,” and Bryan Beller, whose bass-oriented associations are as numerous as they are excellent. Rather strange how such a ridiculous concept, a fictional band, can draw even the most talented musicians in order to manifest as a live, touring act, right?

Now, we come to Pentakill, a fictional band created from the heart of Riot Games. That’s right, the very same team that made free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena League of Legends not only put together an all-digital band comprised of champions within the universe (namely, Karthus, Mordekaiser, Sona, Yorik, and Olaf), but the band actually exists within the context of the game’s universe (each of these characters have a unique skin to represent their affiliation!).

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