With so much great music out there and so much music that our staff reviews (and plenty that we don’t), it can be difficult to keep up with it all and determine which releases are the most worth your time. Harnessing the wide-ranging and diverse tastes of our editorial staff, our monthly Editors’ Picks column is our gift to you to guide you towards the music that’s impacting us the most. You can read our picks from previous months right here.
We knew it was coming. April marks the beginning of spring release season, when the number of marquee albums starts going sky high and incredible albums are suddenly dropping left and right. And yet looking back at this past month it’s just utterly astounding how much amazing music came out even from the get-go. April 1 was a humongous day for releases, and it simply did not stop after that. Narrowing down this huge wealth of albums to a select few was nearly impossible, but thankfully we also have our “short”-list to include everything else we completely loved, all of which are included in our Spotify playlist for the month, which is embedded here and on our front page. And with that, let’s get to our editor picks for April!
Aborted – Retrogore
At this point, it’s fair to say that we expect nothing short of greatness from Aborted. For a band that’s doing things with increasing success since their inception, it’s near impossible to pick one album out of their discography as their best; not because they don’t have a “best” album, but because each subsequent album is better than the last. Retrogore continues that trend. From the spectacular album artwork to the crushing songs on this record, it’s apparent that Aborted understand how to do things extremely well while stick retaining a small formula that makes them who they are today.
The title track really kicks things off, and from there, the rest of the record is one massive onslaught of blast beats, near guttural vocals, and insane guitar riffs for days. It’s become very clear that the band has absolutely no desire to slow down, and this album is proof. Even the slower songs are still incredibly complex, covered in layers of guitars and screams that you can feel in your bones. While other bands have stumbled after being around the scene for so long, Aborted have used that as fuel to make sure they stay consistent, getting better and better with each passing year, and pumping out music at an incredibly fast pace while still maintaining its value and overall quality. Aborted have become the new poster child for longevity, and you should be listening.
Babymetal – Metal Resistance
Love ’em or hate ’em, Japan’s BABYMETAL are here to stay. The immensity of the metal-idol fusion group taking the world by storm in a wave of morbid curiosity and genuine enjoyment is the stuff of legend. Here, two years after their self-titled release in 2014, we have Metal Resistance, an album just as catchy, but ever-more-varied than its predecessor. Where the previous album was deeply rooted in death metal with a pop overlay, sometimes venturing into popular electronic elements and even tinged with some rap, Metal Resistance has no fear embracing the eclectic possibilities. From its death metal origins to power metal and even getting a face full of palm mutes with straight-up djent, each song effortlessly transitions from one genre to another without so much as a hiccup in flow. Don’t be fooled by lead single “Karate.” This album has figuratively has it all. If you’re a new fan or have been enjoying the project since the beginning, Metal Resistance is sure to be a treat.
Cult of Luna + Julie Christmas – Mariner
When Eden and I wrote our post about the future of post-metal last fall, we obviously had no idea what was to come the following year. But if the first few months of 2016 and what we know is yet to come are any indication, then this year is going to be an incredible one for both post-metal and post-rock. And at the top of the pack will likely be Mariner, the phenomenal collaboration album between Swedish post-metal veterans Cult of Luna and the fiercely enigmatic and electric Julie Christmas. From beginning to end, Mariner is a sprawling and adventurous piece of work that lives comfortably within the frameworks of post-metal convention while utterly shattering its boundaries, hurtling itself towards a sonic event horizon. Its sound is huge, filled with the type of thunderous and sludgy undercurrent we’ve come to expect from Cult of Luna, but the addition of Julie Christmas injects an entire new life to their compositions and Johannes Persson’s raspy screams into the void. It’s an album that is somehow punishing and prickly and yet retains a sense of radiating warmth, even if it comes in the form of red-hot madness.
Above all else, Mariner proves that it’s possible to create post-metal that can be as heavy and fierce as anything out there while still being catchy as fuck. The vocal hooks on tracks like “Chevron” and “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” are the kinds of earworms that will simply be lodged inside your skull for months or years to come. Even though all 5 of the tracks on the album possess runtimes typical of the genre, the music has a constantly pulsing ferocity and momentum to it that it all goes by in a flash, and you’re left wanting even more by the time it wraps up. The music of Mariner can be difficult to describe adequately because it feels so unlike anything else being done right now. It’s heavy, ponderous, razor sharp in writing and production, and just plain exciting. It’s everything post-metal can be and where it needs to go to remain relevant and vital. Cult of Luna knew they were taking a risk with this one – Persson wrote recently that at one point he was convinced this would become their LuLu – but it’s exactly this kind of risk-taking that will undoubtedly make Mariner one of the best albums of the year, in post-metal and any other kind of metal.
Deftones – Gore
We’re not even a month removed from the release of Gore and it has fast become the most controversial and divisive Deftones record to date. Charting the band’s evolution, it’s hard to understand why; the vivid lyricism, romantic themes, and use of ambiance have been cornerstones to the Deftones sound ever since 2000’s White Pony, and Gore’s aesthetic has been informed by years of progress. These compositions are not a far cry from the successful Diamond Eyes or Koi No Yokan, and they’re all absolute earworms; “Hearts/Wires”, “Prayers/Triangles,” and “Phantom Bride” (featuring a magnificent solo from Alice In Chains’ Jerry Cantrell) will undoubtedly stand the test of time among the Deftones discography.
Guitarist Stephen Carpenter notoriously had a few hang-ups on the album’s tone, which certainly exacerbated anxiety among fans, but while considering the Deftones of now a “metal band” would be a stretch, the band continue to craft some song-carrying riffs. For instance, the off-kilter “Geometric Headdress” is exhilarating in its guitar hook in the verses, and “Doomed User” features a number of chunky 8-string grooves. Gore is a diverse record and is definitely not the floaty naval-gazing record some may be making it out to be. It may be a grower, but it’s easily one of the best rock records we’ll experience this year.
Fallujah – Dreamless
One of the most anticipated releases in death metal, Dreamless was surely going to be noteworthy one way or the other. Despite being a fan of Fallujah since way back, I hadn’t been too impressed with their previous release, The Flesh Prevails. While they brought post-rock elements into a tech death context, the end product was less than the sum of its parts. Given that, I was cautious about Dreamless. The singles released before the album indicated that the band were going even more intense with their combination of dreamy elements and death metal. However, this time it seemed like they came at it from an entirely different approach. Instead of seemingly writing run-of-the-mill death metal and adding mellow leads on top of it, the band have created songs where the dreampop sound and the death metal sound are integrated into each other, not fighting for attention but working in unison.
Oddly, Dreamless is still less than the sum of its parts like its predecessor, but it works so much better than it. The band’s approach still falls short of perfect. They demonstrate so much potential on this album that it almost hurts, considering they only barely realize it. While it might be hard to notice at first, they’ve switched from technical death metal to progressive death metal, and switched the mood of their atmospheric elements from “melancholic” to dreamy. These two changes bring a whole new energy to their sound, creating something even more unique than before. There is simply nothing else that sounds like Dreamless, and even though the band constantly demonstrate that they are 10% of the way away from greatness, coming 90% close still results in a pretty incredible album. The ethereal interludes, female vocal sections, whammy-bent leads that actually interact with the rhythm guitars instead of fighting them, and a constant, powerful presence of synths result in a powerhouse of a listening experience. Most bands can’t even come close to creating something so powerful and exceptional.
Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows
Black metal has been deprived of Deathspell Omega’s signature discordance for far too long; even more so in terms of proper albums. Fortunately, there have still been purveyors of black metal bastardization operating in DSΩ’s stead, carrying on with a murky crock of chaos. Last year, Mastery raised the bar with Valis, before using that bar to roundly bludgeon their remaining competition to death. Yet, not only did Howls of Ebb manage to survive that beating, zELeVthaND (vocals/guitars/bass) and RoTn’kbLisK (drums) have enhanced upon everything that made their 2015 EP The Marrow Veil fantastic and produce an early contender for black metal AOTY.
It’s unlikely that masochistic black metal fans will discover a more unsettling testament to the genre’s chaotic side than they will with Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows. Armed with a modest track listing and run time, the breadth of HoB’s sonic trajectory is nothing short of extraordinary. In just seven-minutes and change, “The Apocryphalic Wick” transforms from field recordings of the bowels of the lowest circle to a searing, metallic drone into an unwieldy foray into black metal’s noisiest tendencies. And when HoB tires of these exceptional black metal romps, they transition into other experiments with ease, such as the seamless krautrock midsection on “Cabals of Molder” that’s about as catchy as black metal could ever hope to be. And though all of these sounds may not settle well with all fans of the genre, this remains an essential listen for anyone who likes their black metal mixed with an extra hue of twisted darkness.
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Ihsahn – Arktis
What is an author? The term has been transformed by society’s perceptions for centuries now, ever since the idea of ownership started appearing. For us, it is a unique vision, an artistic will which focuses a project, an album or a band. The works this author might create are different but something in the underlying message and direction communicates a singular agenda or feel. Ihsahn is perhaps one of the greatest examples of this ideal: no matter what style he touches, something of his unique voice shines through.
Arktis is no different. Turning this time to a weird mix of progressive death metal, 80’s synth-pop and modern metal, Ihsahn is able to produce a record which goes many places but remains cohesive. It has a little bit of something for everyone: “Mass Darkness” overwhelms with sheer epicness, “South Winds” draws blood with its stark condemnations. “Celestial Violence”, featuring Einar Solberg of Leprous transcends with a complex balance between quiet and loud. In short, a wheel spins in wide circles but there’s someone at the driving wheel, directing the madness.
All of this and more makes Arktis an undeniably complete album. Coupled with masterful execution, these ideas find fruition where younger, less experienced artists would have squandered them. Plenty have had the ideas that Ihsahn has and even, perhaps, his vision but none have married those with such a degree of expertise. This then, is the author: a visionary but one which has the tools to make his vision a reality. In that sense, Ihsahn is an ultimate author, capable of turning even his ambitious ideas into solid, pleasing reality.
Three Trapped Tigers – Silent Earthling
If there’s ever been a band that embodies the word “lush,” it’s Three Trapped Tigers. This trio (go figure) of London natives fuse together the worlds of math rock, post-rock, and pedal-driven electronics to form some of the most impressive and expansive soundscapes this side of the 15+ minute odysseys genre mates like Godspeed, You! Black Emperor has become known for, each track clocking in at around the four-to-six-minutes mark. Taking the pulsing, methodical feel that post-rock is known for – the slow crashes and crescendos, the swan dives between tidal wave after tidal wave of beauty – and fuse it with bursting, energetic math-rock/electro-fusion.
Throw in some fantastic melodic writing, a shoegaze sensibility towards feeling out riffs and letting them drift on their own to wherever they might go next, and production that allows every instrument to come together in an organic way, and you have Silent Earthling. This album takes everything that’s good about post-rock/math rock/pedal-play hedonistic fuckfests of sounds and brings it all together in a smorgasbord of sounds that plays like You Slut!, Tera Melos, and And So I Watch You From Afar got together, decided to slow everything way down and write some My Bloody Valentine-inspired jams. To be entirely honest, if you’re not on board with this yet, you probably have no soul: this is everything one could want out of an album centered around building sonic pictures and then some.
Seriously, I can’t overstate how cinematic and just beautiful every moment of this album is. Sure, some parts are notably better than others, and it drags towards the end at times, but I have yet to hear anything this year that is as brilliantly woven together as Silent Earthling. For real, it’s in a totally different league than anything else that’s been released so far in 2016. Just put this on and let the tones wash over you. You won’t regret it, trust me.
Other Notable Releases:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
The Algorithm – Brute Force
Aliases – Derangeable
Andy Stott – Too Many Voices
Black Mountain – IV
Brian Eno – The Ship
Bossk – Audio Noir
Colin Stetson – Sorrow
Entheos – The Infinite Nothing
Eths – Ankaa
Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
The Field – The Follower
Haken – Affinity
John Carpenter – Lost Themes II
Mogwai – Atomic
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Primitive Weapons – The Future of Death
Slice the Cake – Odyssey to the West
Tim Hecker – Love Streams
The Zenith Passage – Solipsist