For this month’s introduction to this, our Editors’ Picks, I decided to run a little experiment by going back to the last three years of April installments and see what’s what. I had a suspicion that proved to be correct: April is usually a goddamn amazing month. Whether it’s because of Spring and its mercurial effect on our blood or just the “end of the beginning” effect for the year, April has been an incredibly strong month for music these past few years.
Back in 2018, April gave us incredible and diverse releases from veterans like Panopticon’s ambitious The Scars of Man On the Once Nameless Wilderness and Sleep’s The Sciences, which was literally decades in the making, alongside new-comers like Reformat’s excellent electronics, or Messa’s long anticipated second album. It also gave us one of the decade’s best hip-hop/R&B albums in the form of Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. It was, overall, a month to be remembered, hitting on multiple fronts for effect.
Then, 2017 offers us a technical death metal double whammy, with Artificial Brain’s Infrared Horizon and the incredibly ambitious Vision Wallows In Symphonies of Light from Ingurgitating Oblivion. These two releases alone make it one the heaviest entries in Editors’ Picks history. Alongside them artists like Colin Stetson, Asira, and Ulver diversify the list further, channeling heaviness in very different themes and moods. This April’s list is probably the most well-rounded one, as the Further Listening segments contains excellent black metal, mathrock, ambient, drone, vaporwave (yes), and doom metal.
Finally, 2016 is no disappointment. It features Cult of Luna + Julie Christmas Mariner, an album which I think is safe to say will go down as a classic for its genre, in this decade and beyond. It also features Ihsahn’s triumphant return with the impossibly good Arktis and Three Trapped Tigers’ Silent Earthling, an album that still features prominently in my rotation. To top it off, the Further Listening section contains some hidden gems like Haken’s Affinity, Eths, and Aliases.
And then we have this year’s April and oh boy, does it live up to the legacy. It was literally impossible for us to fit in all that we wanted to into this post; editors have been tormenting themselves with their choices, ranking, de-ranking, and then ranking all over again the myriad releases they wanted to include this month. The end result is yet another diverse, strong, and fascinating April, populated with veterans alongside newcomers, the loud alongside the quiet, the massive, and the intimate. Most of all, it contains some excellent fucking music. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Ceremony of Silence – Oútis (blackened tech death)
Every once in a while, I like to pick a curveball for this post. It’s somewhat because it gets boring to pick the same kind of stuff over and over again but also because I like to make sure what we highlight as the cream of the crop stays fresh. And so, we find ourselves with Ceremony of Silence, yet another excellent death metal band released on the incredible Willowtip Records. This time around, the death metal is both incredibly blackened and atmospheric, creating the kind of suffocating weight of a band like Spectral Voice on one hand yet wielding the cold technicality of a Mithras. The end result is an extremely challenging album but also an innately powerful one, a heady mix of many notes, deep vocals, and bottomless timbres which set your heart atremble.
At the core of Oútis lies the production. The bass is somehow both barely inaudible and extremely present, tickling the lower registers of the human ear with its inhuman mutterings. The drums cut through this perfectly clearly, though their tone itself is grimy and thick. In those murky bottoms swim the vocals as well, like so many roots of sickly trees which open their arms up to the stars. The guitars, while certainly churning in their own regard, also play lead roles which hover above all of this in timeless, astral derision, offsetting the rest of the sound and creating the contrast which keeps the album moving forward. This kind of momentum is best exemplified on opening track “Invocation of the Silent Eye”, which fires on all barrells right out of the start.
And move forward it does; one might say it even progresses (see what I did there?) Shameful puns aside, Oútis is indeed progressive to a degree you might find surprising. Instead of hammering away at those dolmen like chords, the band aren’t afraid to venture far and wide, injecting those deeper registers with alarming dexterity. When the riffs aren’t pummeling you, notes fly hither and thither. Listen to “Black Sea of Drought”, which comes on the heels of the atmospheric and dredging “Upon the Shores of Death”. While the opening is all speed and fury, the bass especially going hard for these initial moments, things are very quickly infused with a kind of progressive groove that’s damn hard to resist.
All of these elements, alongside the rest of what’s on the album and there’s plenty more, make Oútis a difficult to decipher but incredibly addictive album. When I was just listening to it for the first few times, I found myself bewildered but also inexorably drawn back to it, to try and make sense of what I had heard. Over time, as I have grown to know its twists and bends, it’s allure has become that of the cathartic power of excellently made death metal. Which this album surely is.
Dead to a Dying World – Elegy (progressive doom metal)
There’s a lot going on in Dead to a Dying World’s third full-length record, Elegy. Atop its standard seven member cast, Jarboe (ex-Swans), Dylan Desmond (Bell Witch), Thor Harris (also of Swans fame), Emil Rapstine (The Angelus), and others offer their more than serviceable talents to this record, potentially creating a top-heavy talent overload that would sink an album in less capable hands. But Mike Yeager, Heidi Moore, Sean Mehl, James Magruder and all their friends are more than capable of handling such a challenge, building a melodic narrative that flows seamlessly and with great care through six memorable compositions, culminating in the band’s best record yet.
Those memorable compositions are split into two musical halves, interlocked together in a pattern that is both simple and highly effective. Opener “Syzygy” is the first of three shorter, more intimate melodic tracks that serve as effective interludes as well as slow-burn introductions to the giant compositions they precede. “The Seer’s Embrace” opens the floodgates of the band’s capabilities in long form, highlighting in particular Eva Vonne’s spellbinding string work, which separates the band’s sound from much of the post-everything crowd. Melding elements of doom, black, and progressive metal together in such an expansive package is most certainly no small feat, and Dead to a Dying World handle these compositions with admirable nuance and reserve. After several listens, I’m still wondering how they were able to manage bringing so much awesomeness into so compact a package. That’s for them to know and for us to enjoy, I suppose.
I really cannot recommend this record highly enough. With Elegy, Dead to a Dying World have refined their sound into something that is both accessible and mysterious, beckoning further avenues of investigation with each subsequent spin. It’s a smorgasbord of delicious musical offerings that you won’t tire of any time soon. I certainly haven’t. One of the best records to be released so far this year, and far and away the band’s most complete and exceptional release.
Fractal Universe – Rhizomes of Insanity (progressive tech death)
Despite being quite the niche genre, progressive death metal often feels rather stale. It’s almost like the amount of freedom offered by the descriptor ends up being a curse instead of a blessing, with bands often lacking a focus or a concise aesthetic. One could have even said this of Fractal Universe previously. They used to be an artist that I loved, but didn’t really feel quite passionately enough about. Well, enter Rhizomes of Insanity.
Weird clean vocals, off-beat riffs, a lot of tapping, vocoders, groovy drum fills, etc. are all staples of the genre, but not a lot of bands encompass the entire spectrum of these elements. Psycroptic have creative guitar playing, but mostly focus on groove. Alkaloid have all the weird stuff, but sometimes go too weird and end up not being heavy. Obscura and Gorod sit right in the middle these days, but having been one of the prominent voices of the modern wave of the genre, it feels like their sound isn’t as fresh anymore. Fractal Universe are able to simultaneously sound like veterans who have been at this for a very long time, but also young-and-thirsty creatives. If you’re looking for a breath of fresh air into the genre that is also familiar in the best ways, look no further. Rhizomes of Insanity is, well, insane, and if you’re even remotely interested in any of the bands mentioned so far, you owe it to yourself to immerse yourself in it.
Hath – Of Rot and Ruin (progressive melodeath)
So far, I’ve found 2019 to be a less exciting year, music wise, than any other I can recall—especially those in recent memory. The surrounding recommendations and seemingly perpetual torrent of fantastic releases highlighted elsewhere on Heavy Blog, lead me to believe that my lack of excitement has more to do with my personal tastes or current situation than any objective dip in quality. Another explanation is that—having had access to the album since late January—everything released this year has simply been eclipsed by Hath’s phenomenal debut, Of Rot and Ruin.
I’ve already gushed, at length, in my original review, about the album’s supurb blending of Opeth-ian textures with more modern progressive death metal sensibilities, which recall (reigning Heavy Blog AOTY) Where Owls Know My Name by Rivers of Nihil. The album isn’t as expansive or as boundary-pushing as its primary points of reference. Nevertheless, it serves as a remarkable culmination of all the death metal experimentation that preceded it and is only made more impressive by the fact that it is the band’s debut full-length release. Hath are a band who have clearly done their homework, and it shows.
Moreover, while Where Owls Know My Name had some stiff early competition to contend with— in the form of Alkaloid’s Liquid Anatomy and Slugdge’s Esoteric Malacology, just to name a couple of examples—Of Rot and Ruin so far stands as a monolith in progressive death metal achievements for 2019 (he said as someone who is yet to hear the new Warforged album in full). Yet the album succeeds in spite of, rather than because of, its singularity, and I personally would take it over all but Owls in terms of last year’s many outstanding progressive death metal releases.
If everyone else appears markedly less inspired, it’s perhaps only because Hath embody enough inspiration to easily outshine them all. I’ve hardly stopped listening to the album since it came out and I imagine it’s going to take something pretty special to unseat its early position at the top of my “best of 2019” list.
Latitudes – Part Island (post-metal)
The UK’s Latitudes have hinted at making an album like Part Island before. The fearsome post-metal quintet had been honing their special brand of heavy as all fuck post-metal inflected with tones of black metal, doom, and classic prog across a little over a decade and over 3 LPs and 1 EP. Each successive release represented a slightly different facet and twist on this formula, producing a vaunted body of work in the process. What truly set the band apart though was their ability to simultaneously hype the listener with their instrumental melee and then simply tear them apart emotionally as soon as Adam Symonds unleashed his melancholy falsettos and deep warble. There is a reason why tracks like “Antechamber,” “Imitation Ruin,” and “Body Within a Body” are some of the most memorable parts of the Latitudes discography. But although we positively adored their previous album Old Sunlight, there remained a nagging thought in my mind while listening to it: These vocals are so good, so why are they doling them out so sparingly?
Evidently the band was on the same page this time around. Within 30 seconds of hitting play on “Underlie,” the lead track of Part Island, for the first time, I knew I was in trouble. And just to prove how deadly serious I am about this, I have proof in the form of a Slack chat between myself and Eden:
Part Island did, in fact, turn me into an emotional puddle and crush me. It is the first Latitudes album to feature vocals prominently on every track, and after listening through it entirely it’s even more difficult to imagine how the band got this far without doing just this. The album so naturally blends dark, moody art rock with progressive leanings and heavy slabs of crusty post-metal that it truly feels like everything they’ve been working towards. It achieves a similar kind of beautiful sweet spot that Katatonia managed to hit in their dark art rock opus The Fall of Hearts but without completely losing sight of the brutality that got them here. Though there are tracks like the standout and gorgeous “Moorland Is the Sea” that don’t aim to hit as hard or heavy as most of their previous output – especially compared to the particularly bleak effort that was Old Sunlight – Part Island still manages to pack an incredible punch. “Dovestone” and “The Great Past” in particular are vicious rippers that perfectly marry these two ends of the Latitudes emotional spectrum in a torrent of constant push and pull.
In the end though, it’s Symonds’s unflashy and vulnerable vocals and the incredible compositional work of the entire band to make them shine that turns Part Island into a transcendent experience. Symonds is not an overwhelmingly powerful or particularly forceful vocalist, employing minimal vibrato and possessing an almost hushed quality. But it’s precisely that understated quality that causes them to draw an even greater contrast with the blunt and forceful edge of the band’s instrumentals. The incredible climax of the closing title track – a masterful example of controlled and consistent build in itself – is the epitome of this as Symonds rings through the turmoil with the clarion call of “Bury me right there, right there. Carry me right there, right there.” There is so much weight carried in those words that it’s near impossible not to feel every ounce of weight pressing on you as you hear it. Part Island is in every way the work of a band continuing to up their own game and set the pace for emotive post-metal for everyone else, and it is surely one of the best albums to come out so far this year.
Periphery – Periphery IV: HAIL STAN (progressive metalcore)
Just as we included Devin Townsend’s new album Empath in last month’s editor’s picks out of some quazi-obligation to stay on-brand (though Empath is very nice!), Periphery’s fourth self-titled (and sixth overall) album is too important to not include on our monthly roundup of most notable releases. But like Empath, it helps that the record is actually very good. It’s packed with memorable songs while taking some considerable risks, like opening with their longest song to date (“Reptile”) and including a poppy industrial rock track (“Crush”) later in the album.
I’ve already reviewed Periphery IV and gave it high praise, so there’s not much else to say than what’s already been said: “This is Periphery continuing to perfect Periphery, and it’s everything a fan could ask for. It’s heartening to know that this is where the band is at when freed by oversight; incidentally not much different, but given the time and space to get it right.”
Town Portal – Of Violence (progressive math rock)
Mapping the trajectories of genres is one of music history’s most intriguing exercises. After Slint founded math rock with Spiderland, who would have predicted the style would morph into the frenzy of unbridled energy exhibited by Battles, Ruins and others? And could anyone have guessed that Talk Talk‘s “synthpop” swan song would light the spark for post-rock? I cite these two genres specifically because of their own unlikely marriage as of late, with a young, exuberant wave of post-math-rock bands splicing traditional and modern interpretations of the genres.
In my view, no band I’ve heard up to this point has executed this approach better than Town Portal. With Of Violence in particular, the Danish trio excel at every aspect of what a band needs to execute to not only produce a great album, but a record that will effortlessly stand the test of time. My initial spins of the album transported me back to the first time I listened to bands like Fugazi, Drive Like Jehu and Slint, all groups that presented an iteration of rock music seemingly tailor made for my specific tastes.
Specifically, Of Violence strikes a startlingly seamless balance between the introspective mood of post-rock and the intricate guitar work of math rock. This is due in large part to the band’s airtight interplay. The trio of Christian Henrik Ankerstjerne (guitars), Malik Breuer Bistrup (drums) and Morten Ogstrup Nielsen (bass) could not be more synced up with their performances, and it adds an extra spark to every note. From shimmering passages to gritty, pummeling riffs, the intersection of each member’s contributions elevates the collective composition immeasurably. The album’s production plays a huge role as well, as each instrument sounds as crisp, resonant and impactful as an intimate show in the band’s practice space.
The actual structure of album feels fully complete, as each track segues beautifully and progresses for the perfect length of time. The entire album is a collection of highlights, but I’ll focus on a few personal favorites. “Archright” launches things off in a comprehensive and stunning manner, as the boisterous, crunching riff the band opens with eventually subsides in favor of subtle, evolving melodic sequences. Immediately after, “Veysnorians” runs the full spectrum of heaviness and melody by revolving around an infectious, sliding riff.
Both “Receiving End” and “Othering/Anothering” take on an intriguing sapcey air, surprisingly similar to the tone Grizzly Bear struck on Yellow House. Finally, to bring things full circle, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shoutout how much the slightly off-kilter riffs on “Roko’s Basilisk” felt like a fitting shoutout to Fugazi and Spiderland. Plus the bass and double kick breakdown on the track is arguably the album’s strongest heavy moment.
After all that, I haven’t even touched on the clever, subtle inclusion of trumpet and saxophone included throughout the album. To me, that speaks to the endless appeal of Town Portal’s music, which is at it’s peak across Of Violence. It’s hard to think of anything the band could do to improve from here, but I’m for sure looking forward to them proving me wrong and continuing to expand their already expansive horizon.
Druids – Monument (progressive stoner metal)
Is the latest release from this Des Moines trio a remarkably close sonic cousin to classic Blood Mountain-era Mastodon? Sure. Does that make Monument any less of a shit-kicking, hook-filled thrill ride? Absolutely not. This is everything progressive stoner should be and more, and it’s easily one of the most straight-up enjoyable and satisfying things I’ve heard this year.
Helms Alee – Noctiluca
I’ll go right out and say it: Helms Alee is one of the most underrated bands in operation right now. Working in that oh so special Washington State hardcore scene, they make some of the brightest, most engaging post-punk/hardcore/rock/whatever music these days. Noctiluca is them doing what they do best, namely writing and executing hook after hook after, you guessed it, hook.
Inter Arma – Sulfur English
The only reason this album isn’t my main pick this month is because I’ve already reviewed it. Sulfur English is yet another stroke of genius from one of the best contemporary metal bands and it’s seriously heavy to boot. Look no further for your share of deep riffs, harsh vocals, and overwhelming blast beats.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Fishing For Fishies (psychedelic rock, roots rock)
Don’t let the more tongue-in-cheek, playfully goofy singles fool you. The latest from the absurdly prolific and eclectic Aussie psych rock enclave is chock full of meaty, jazzy, mathy, and unexpectedly serious tunes while still being one of the most outwardly fun and joyful album they’ve put out in a while.
Marina – Love + Fear (electropop)
Marina (formerly Marina and the Diamonds) is not an artist I was familiar with prior to this release, and cursory suggests Love + Fear is a significant departure from her previous more indie/electro-inspired material. Though far less experimental, the album reminds me of a more mainstream take on Björk’s 90s aesthetic, through its blending of a minimalist electronic backdrop with a captivating vocal foreground. My current semi-disillusion with more extreme forms of music has seen me looking outside of rock and metal more so than usually would and, while the returns have been largely minimal, there’s a depth and vulnerability to Marina’s treatment of her titular subjects on this record that’s seen it stick with me more than any album of its ilk since discovering Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion (2015).
Numenorean – Adore
Adore is touted as a post-black metal record, but it’s so much more than that. There’s larger genre brushstrokes heard across this record that tap into intricate groove metal and post-metal; the title track pulls from Gojira as much as it does Alcest, and it’s a pairing of influences that works to great effect to create an absolutely massive and haunting record from this Canadian black metal force.
Sunn O))) – Life Metal
Each time I spin this record (around my fifth or sixth journey at this point), I find myself more enamored by Sunn O)))’s relentlessly heavy mission to bring some level of catharsis to the metalhead masses. Life Metal is their most uplifting and mesmerizing release yet, and a record well worth investing your time and patience into.
Vaura – Sables (gothic post-punk, darkwave)
I spun the promo for Sables early and often after it landed in my inbox, so I almost forgot it came out this month. I’m glad I didn’t, though, because it’s easily on of April’s standout releases. There’s little more I can rave about here that I didn’t already celebrate in my review, but I’ll reiterate that this is some of the most fantastic experimental rock you’ll hear this year.
Zvi – Deer Pink (experimental art rock, post-industrial)
The promos Eden sends me prove time and time again how well he knows my taste, with Deer Pink being the latest shining example. Zvi check off everything I look for in experimental music, which is why I took an extra deep dive into the album with my review last month.
Allegaeon – Apoptosis (tech death, melodeath)
Archivist – Triumvirate (blackened post-metal)
Atsuko Chiba – Trace (prog rock)
Big Business – The Beast You Are (sludge metal, stoner rock)
Blankenberge – More (dream pop, shoegaze)
Blind Monarch – What Is Imposed Must Be Endured (sludge metal, funeral doom)
Chevalier – Destiny Calls (heavy metal, speed metal)
Cosmic Putrefaction – At the Threshold of the Greatest Chasm (progressive death metal)
Kornél Kovács – Stockholm Marathon (deep house)
Lizzo – Cuz I Love You (hip-hop, R&B)
Lost In Kiev – Persona (prog rock, post-rock)
Richard Luke – Glass Island (modern classical)
MAGAM – Another (dark jazz)
Mark de Clive-Lowe – Heritage II (jazz, breakbeat)
The Mountain Goats – In League with Dragons (indie folk)
Nekrasov – Lust of Consciousness (experimental black metal, harsh noise)
PoiL – Sus (avant-prog, brutal prog)
Pyramidal – Pyramidal (psychedelic prog rock)
Pyramid Scheme – Everything But Rap and Country (experimental math rock)
Amon Tobin – Fear in a Handful of Dust (progressive electronic)
Tuba Skinny – Some Kind-a-Shake (NOLA brass band)
Valence – Cognitive Dissidents (instrumental prog metal)
Wand – Laughing Matter (indie rock, garage rock)
Waste of Space Orchestra – Syntheosis (avant-garde metal, psychedelic sludge metal)
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (progressive folk, chamber folk)
Wishfield – Wishfield (experimental blackgaze)