Summer! Putting my personal biases aside, there’s plenty of things to love about it. However, it also has its disadvantages (many of them, if you ask me) and it’s a complicated time for the music industry. Releasing material early in the year has the virtue of being fresh and standing alone. Releasing music later in the year has the virtue of being fresh in the reviewer’s ear when it’s time for end of year lists and fresh in the consumer’s ear when the holiday season comes along. But summer? Summer is caught in the middle, creating a desert of sorts; music releases slow down, people take vacations, podcasts go AWOL (I need my Night Vale fix, damn it) and there’s a sort of lethargy which takes hold of the community at large.
But, of course, we at Heavy Blog must soldier on, toiling under the blistering heat to pick some great albums to recommend to you fine people! What an arduous task. In all seriousness, it can be daunting, as the constant barrage of releases we are usually faced with slows down to a more manageable battering. This, however, is when smaller bands can get their moment to shine and new music can often be discovered. Take a look at the list below for proof; except for a few entries, most of the music on this is by bands we haven’t really covered before. Thus, summer offers its own opportunities and, even if it doesn’t, we still have the internet. Can any period really be a quiet one when we have the internet?
So, take a deep breath and peruse this list while we button down our hatches in preparation for September (seriously, do a little Googling of release dates to get prepared for September. Everything is being released). It has some excellent stuff from established bands but more importantly, some truly brilliant additions from bands that you might not be familiar with.
Happy August. Stay cool.
Boris – Dear
Releasing a new album as a band that has been in existence for over twenty years brings with it a certain batch of expectations. For some bands we can expect a string of back-to-basics records that attempt to rekindle the flames the band diminished during their inevitable post-ten-year “experimentation phase”. For others, age brings with it an opportunity to essentially do whatever they want, because after this amount of longevity why in the hell not? Boris’ excellent new album Dear does a little bit of both of these things, bringing in a doom-oriented sound fans of the band’s previous work will recall and relish, while never once failing to push their experimental bent forward. The only predictable thing about Boris is that each new release will be unpredictable, and Dear maintains that track record by unleashing upon us a doom-infused album that strives to be much more than the sum of its parts, and succeeds dazzlingly.
The tracks contained on this record often unfurl at a glacial pace. “D.O.W.N. –Domination of Waiting Noise-” sounds about exactly like you’d expect it to, with monumentally heavy guitar passages crashing and roaring through the track’s opening minutes, as the vocals soar in an almost chant-like haze that co-exists with electronic chirps and blips. Despite the inherent heaviness, Boris does what they do better than most everyone else: Inject beautiful and effective melody into places you wouldn’t initially think it belonged. “Deadsong”, “Biotope”, and “Dystopia – Vanishing Point” all work in variations on this theme, while tracks like “Absolutego” and “The Power” work in a sphere far heavier, creating some of the most monolithic soundscapes of the band’s career. This variety only adds to the effectiveness of the album, creating a sonic space that shuns repetition-induced boredom by effectively optimizing noise to create in some cases a trance-like experience. It’s a trip, and one well worth taking.
This is an album that is diverse without feeling unfocused, ultra-heavy without sacrificing melody, and doomy without succumbing to simple repetition. It’s a masterclass from a band that has been blowing minds for nearly thirty years. It is arguably the band’s best release in a decade, and you should give it a listen. If you like Boris, doom, or noise-oriented metal even slightly, you will not be disappointed.
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Cytotoxin – Gammageddon
Dubious use of Cyrillic aside, Cytotoxin are awesome. The concept of mixing deathcore and brutal tech death is nothing new. I mean, even this month alone we have a new Rings of Saturn album. But taking two genres where it’s really easy to go off the rails and making a coherent fusion of them is no small feat. But hey, Cytotoxin have done it, and it’s great. Gammageddon‘s secret to success is that it’s more Brain Drill and less Oceano. In fact, it’s borderline Brain Drill. Sweeps, taps and all sorts of other guitar shenanigans, coupled with blast beats and a variety of gurgles and growls are the norm, not slow open note chugs. Not that I have anything against deathcore as a genre, but this edge of the spectrum is less explored, especially by bands with a more modern sound.
What makes Gammageddon tick is the ease with which Cytotoxin turn technical flourishes into catchy riffs. In the end, what matters is the ability to write a solid song, and they do it in spades here. Juxtaposing rhythmic syncopation against a fast ascending riff never felt more satisfying. The modern-yet-not-comical production really helps as well. Some modern technical death metal bands turn the knob on the editing of notes way too much to a point where all energy in the playing is choked out. While Gammageddon sounds nowhere near natural, they’ve managed to strike a sweet spot of making it sound crisp. In the end, balance is the name of the game. That feels silly to say about an album that is so over the top, but that they know when to go out and when to hold back is exactly the thing that makes Gammageddon so good. That’s the balance. Enjoy.
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Dvne – Asheran
The expansive soundscapes of stoner and doom metal are something that’s second to none, when done properly. Luckily, the genre (or, more accurately, the mix between the two) has been experiencing a great period for a long time now. The best evidence of this is that great bands just seem to keep popping up alongside the great and established names. Such a band is Dvne. Asheran, which I’ve already reviewed extensively for the blog, is their more than worthy addition to the ongoing momentum of that mix and an interesting one as that.
There aren’t many bands who pull off the sheer range that’s on Asheran. Most of them, save for the few truly great, stick to one of side of the pendulum. They’re either heavier and more tilted towards doom or lighter and more predisposed to solos and fuzzy distortion. But Dvne do both, delving the pits of blackened doom with a track like “Thirst” while exploring the heady, celestial spaces with tracks like “Sunsets Grace.”
The overall result is a fantastic album which draws deeply on the entire gamut of the subgenre in which it operates. It’s also a concept album, as I suspected, which should afford it even more longevity. Regardless of that, and because of their unique balance, there is so much to be explored on Asheran that, even after the extensive number of listens I’ve given it, I’m still discovering something new to enjoy with every repeat.
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Less Art – Strangled Light
The key to launching a successful supergroup is knowing how to safely navigate the team dynamic and, more importantly, the hype. Even a perfect configuration of all star musicians can fall prey to pre-release expectations—fans expect the resulting album to be an incredible sum of its parts, and the longer they’re allowed to stew over lead singles, the more time they have to grow impatient and more difficult to impress. And if a supergroup’s album is actually a genuine misfire, they best prepare themselves for a bloodied onslaught from their disgruntled horde of fans. Less Art aptly avoided all of these pitfalls by quietly and confidently releasing Strangled Light, a debut with an incredible lineup producing even greater music.
Speaking of that lineup, let’s take a moment to admire the beauty of a marriage of the minds between members of Curl Up & Die, Kowloon Walled City and Thrice. As you’d expect from a blend of disparate genres—art rock, hardcore, mathcore, metalcore, noise rock, post-hardcore, post-metal, sludge metal—the final synthesis on Strangles Light is a unique beast all it’s own, rooted in Kowloon Walled City’s gruff post-metal with Thrice’s artsy, melodic sensibilities and Curl Up & Die’s extra helping of heaviness. You probably never knew you wanted to hear what it would sound like if Have Heart or Touché Amoré covered Isis, but now that’s it here, you better learn to scream through your tears as the band shreds through emotions and riffs galore.
It’s truly as incredible as it sounds—nine gritty melodic hardcore diatribes aimed directly at the blackened heart of a callously indifferent universe. This feeling reverberates through every note, but even more impactful are the album’s lyrics, delivered with raw, Sisyphean optimism by vocalist Mike Minnick (Curl Up & Die). On “Optimism as Survival,” he laments over loved ones lost to suicide while finding introspection in how his own depression relates to their pain—I can’t help but worry/Is that same blood in me?/I link the future to the past/Is that same blood in me/These days it seems like there’s no escape/I only come home for tragedy/Like for instance, a death in the family/…I’m too curious to kill myself/Everything passes, even doubt/What I can’t control won’t keep me down/I use optimism as survival. And with “Wandering Ghost,” Minnick and the band link for a crushing climax on the chorus as he tears into the addiction that plagues him—I’m sick, I’m sick from addiction/And I’m afraid, I’m afraid to love/I’ll never know how much I mean to anyone/Still I scream, I scream and I reach/With my claws, my talons, my teeth/Ruined voice, blood from my mouth/From where the words used to come out.”
There may not be space in this column to diver further into the emotional labyrinth on Strangled Light, but you should use this limitation to five headfirst into Less Art’s exceptional debut. If the group decides to make this a one-off side project, fans should take quintet to task until we’re graced with a follow-up; there’s too much flawless chemistry here that shouldn’t be abandoned.
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Sarin – Darker Lakes
Post-metal, unsurprisingly, takes many forms. For such a wide and nebulous/poorly-defined genre, it’s still pretty easy to tell when a band is doing it well even as it brings in a bunch of other influences and genres into the mix. Sarin’s sophomore album Darker Lakes (or D A R K E R L A K E S if you wanna get all “aesthetic” about it) is a murky, sludgy, yet strikingly beautiful piece of work that at times can sound like a whole slew of post or at least post-adjacent bands thrown into a blender, but still very much retains its own haunting identity. Take some of the doomy sludgy post-metal of bands like Minsk, Neurosis, and even the aforementioned Boris, some of the more driving grooves and vocals of The Ocean, the black metal-inspired atmosphere and riffs of the likes of Sannhet, the depressive but cutting emotion, use of piano, and buildups of Swarm of the Sun, and really countless others I’m not even thinking of, and you may have an idea of what Darker Lakes sounds like going in.
For a band that relies largely on instrumental music though, they’ve managed to bulldoze through one of the most common complaints about this kind of music – its monotony, its bloat, its overindulgence, and its lack of clear direction – through a masterful compositional instinct and brilliant track sequencing. “Embers Circling Downward,” the second longest track on the album at just under 8 minutes, is clearly a highlight of the record, but it’s elevated further by it being sandwiched by two of the “Darker Lakes” interludes, a sound collage of guitar feedback, indistinguishable spoken word, and other noises that serve as perfect palate cleansers for what’s to come. Or take “Ocean Burn” with its heartrending vocal harmonies partway through (seriously, post-metal bands aren’t supposed to do vocal harmonies, right?) before returning to business and driving a thick groove home. The album manages to say a whole lot without overstaying its welcome at under 50 minutes, and it’s an incredibly refreshing and engaging piece of post-whatever that ought to put Sarin on the radar of many.
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Tchornobog – Tchornobog
I am, without a doubt, as tired of the phrase “this has been a good year for experimental extreme metal” as the next guy, assuming the next guy has kept up with experimental extreme metal this year. But really, we just keep getting amazing albums; we’re finally reaping a harvest that’s been in the works for quite some time. Tchornobog is yet another excellent new addition to 2017’s growing pantheon of trailblazing weirdos with a self-titled debut record that’s been marinating for about eight years now. And boy, is it a doozy.
The brainchild of Markov Soroka, known widely in underground metal circles for his phenomenal black metal project Aureole (who put out an excellent record with Mare Cognitum last year that Eden and I discussed in a Deep Dive on outer space), Tchornobog takes the same inimitable talent to weave tangible soundscapes and puts it to use for something much, much darker. Fusing the sort of obfuscated, clouded atmosphere of Artificial Brain with the constant speed and intensity of Mithras, Soroka describes Tchornobog as a sonic meditation journaling of sorts: the album is “a result of heavy meditation in a desert landscape from the perspective of a vessel mountain which harbors a nest for the Mind’s Eye to be imprisoned.” Across four tracks, the shortest of which clocks in at a comfortably broad 12 minutes, impossibly harsh sandstorms of death metal twist and blaze across vast, empty expanses, alternating between eruptions of sonic violence and desolate, plodding calm.
Tchornobog stays interesting throughout, even as tracks stretch beyond the 15-minute mark with plenty of room to spare, which is a feat that one cannot routinely attribute to death metal. Soroka’s main strength as a composer, his ability to conjure atmosphere and emotion that plays perfectly into his complete artistic vision for the record, is here in spades, and this is perhaps his best work as a musician to date. Nobody who’s had their eye on 2017’s constant stream of incredibly competent extreme metal should pass this record up. This is the sound of a master at work.
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Other Notable Albums
Contrarian – To Perceive Is to Suffer (progressive death metal, tech death)
If you’re longing for the early days of progressive death, this is the album for you. Brilliant guitar work and abrasive vocals à la Death, Atheist and Cynic.
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Mike Cooper – Raft (ambient, electroacoustic)
Room 40‘s roster has spent this year bolstering the label’s avant-garde street cred, and Matt Cooper is no exception. Imagine Loren Connor‘s wandering ambient guitar licks played in a slack-key style, or Hawaiian fingerstyle guitar with open tuning. It’s a blissful listen that truly does feel like the musical embodiment of wind caressing a wooden raft drifting down a tranquil river.
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Fox Vibes – Mantra (math rock, nu-prog)
Call it nu-prog. Call it math rock. Call it whatever. But after listening to the debut EP from this Massachussetts instrumental band you’ll certainly be calling it great.
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Jute Gyte – Oviri (avant-garde black metal)
Midwestern experimental black metal/death industrial/noise/whatever messiah Adam Kalmbach is back with another incredible release that follows in the vein of last year’s Perdurance. Microtonal serialist black metal fuses in a semi-organic, mostly-robotic lock-step with industrial drum machines for some of the already-labyrinthine composer’s most mind-bending work to date.
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Order ov Riven Cathedrals – The Discontinuity’s Interlude (tech death)
This anonymous duo have a simple formula that reaps an endless bounty of tech death goodness. Their airtight technicality feels like Nile paired with the most astrophilic elements of Origin, supported by a constant flurry of blastbeats comparable to rapidfire meteor showers crushing a field full of typewriters. Sprinkle in some tasteful symphonic choruses and sound samples straight from an Area 51 disaster and you have a tech death album that hits all the right notes more quickly than you can comprehend.
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Seer – Cult of the Void (progressive doom metal, sludge metal)
Seer join the ranks of other great doom-oriented metal bands releasing excellent albums in 2017 with their doomy, sludge-tinged debut effort Vol. III & IV: Cult of the Void. This thing has riffs galore, so jump on it if that’s your jam.
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Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder (indie rock)
Coca Leaf – Deep Marble Sunrise (experimental rock)
Enderie – Tape 1 (industrial techno)
Heresiarch – Death Ordinance (war metal)
Sinmara – Within the Weaves of Infinity (Icelandic black metal)