It’s been one year since we first had the idea to invite a staff member to participate in this column. On this occasion (which, of course, doesn’t actually mean anything beyond my brain’s love for round numbers) I’d like to take a brief look with you behind the scenes and talk about this whole concept of “editors” and how it fits into the realities of running a blog today. That might be boring to some of you so feel free to skip ahead – the music is once again excellent, blah blah blah 2019 is amazing, we are collapsing under the weight of so much fantastic stuff, August is really hot, there you go. Go listen to some music.
For those of you who are still around reading this introduction, think about where the word “editor” comes from. It has its roots in the obsessive need for quality assurance which came with “slow” journalism; if your article gets sent out via letters (which is where we get the word “newsletter” from by the way, they were the proto-newspaper) then you can’t really correct a mistake until the letter has been sent back to you. That might take months and in the meantime, whatever will the Marquis say about your sloppy handwriting? With time, of course, editors became much more than just people who stare over your shoulder and correct your writing (and, eventually, typing mistakes). If you have a gatekeeper in front of content, that gatekeeper is going to start having opinions of itself about what should be printed, how it should be written, and when. And thus, the all-encompassing role of editor was slowly born as someone who curates, edits, gives feedback, corrects, and overall controls the flow of content to your readers.
But, of course, that role is completely obsolete nowadays. In a world where publishing an article is a click away and typos can be corrected on the fly, the “editorial” role has transformed more and more into something that really should be called a “curator” or a “facilitator”. That’s how it mostly works at Heavy Blog; beyond organizing the schedule and making sure things go up on time (both crucial things), the editorial body at Heavy Blog is mostly concerned with helping other writers write. But that’s also not entirely accurate: editors also write a lot of the stuff on the blog itself and participate in all the columns. We also handle incoming promos, divvying up reviews. We work with PR to find new bands. We trawl Bandcamp for new releases. We look out for new writers, when needed.
All of this is not to toot our own horn but to say that there’s really no more “editor” as the traditional industry understands the term. The name has just come to mean “the people who run the blog”. But here’s the thing: the blog is made up of all its members, writers and editors both. If all the writers who write for Heavy Blog one day disappear (probably because the editors had finally had enough and the drones were dispatched), the blog would grind to a halt. Even more so, does the reader actually care about who wrote an article and whether or not it was a writer or an editor which recommends an album? Probably not; the most important thing is that the music is good, right?
And yet, I love Editors’ Picks because I truly think that the group of people we call “editors” today have a wide-ranging and interesting taste. But I’m also really happy that we have a staff guest spot every month because, surprise, I also think our writers have great taste. I guess there’s no punchline here beyond a general call to look at titles and terms which you inherit and ask yourself what they mean today. Do they still mean what you think? What lies hidden within their meaning? What sort of outdated or crucial boundaries do these terms endorse and create? And, at the end of the day, do they still matter? Are these terms and concepts still useful or should we discard them for something new? If we should, then let’s do it and think up better words, ideas, and systems to conceptualize our lives. If we come to the conclusion that the current ideas work, let us enjoy a newly invigorated and secure relationship of use with them.
Enjoy August’s music. It is, once again, fantastic.
Devourment – Obscene Majesty (brutal death metal)
Death metal, in its most primal, foundational manifestations, is built to punish. It’s a violent form of music that aesthetically, thematically, and musically is tailor-made to crush skulls and melt brains through a borderline relentless assault on the senses. Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, and many of the genre’s earliest practitioners embodied this philosophy through and through, but as time has expanded death metal’s confines the focus on sheer brutality has become a less prominent component of the music.
You wouldn’t know that from listening to anything released by Devourment, though. Across a blistering two-decade career, these Texans have laid waste to countless an unsuspecting soul by unleashing some of death metal’s most pulverizing sounds. Firmly entrenched as kings of the brutal death metal subgenre, having released some of its most prominent works, one might suspect that their new records may hold less sheer antagonism than their seminal releases. Not so, as their latest opus, Obscene Majesty, clearly indicates. It’s not only one of the most utterly destructive and titanically heavy releases of the year, but may be the best album the band have yet produced.
Writing about Obscene Majesty is both a breeze and a particular challenge. Mainly because the level of literally relentless brutality makes the entire record almost feel like one long experimental slam track. Clocking in at a whopping 47 minutes, it’s no brief jaunt through the graveyard either. In less capable hands, Obscene Majesty could have been an absolute disaster. But this is Devourment, and they make their claim to the brutal death metal throne abundantly convincing from the opening moments of the record. “A Virulent Strain of Retaliation” kicks things off with an ominous atmosphere that sets the tone for the coming onslaught beautifully. From there, it’s merciless guitars, a blistering rhythm section, guttural growls, and some fantastic production that ties the whole insane mess together in a surprisingly cohesive manner.
I was not bored for a single second of this record, which given its length is alone a milestone. This is due in large part to the band’s prowess as songwriters. “Sculpted in Tyranny” and “Modium Sui Morte” showcase a subtle knack for variety and nuance in the band’s songwriting that, on first listen, flits by without a second thought. Subsequent listens open this seemingly impenetrable wall of noise into something that has just the right amount of complexity for a brutal death metal record, balancing technicality and execution with expert precision. Is just about everything I could ask for in a brutal death record.
Up there with the likes of Wormed and Disentomb in 2019’s best of brutal death department, Devourment have here released a sterling example of singular and uncompromising vision leading to immaculate results. Obscene Majesty is an absolute stunner, and one of my favorite records released this year. The sheer magnitude of this record is about as close to overwhelming as this type of music gets, and if you’re looking for a record that will make your head feel like it’s been shoved into a blender, look no further. Spectacular, bile-filled stuff.
Richard Henshall – The Cocoon (prog metal)
Unlike a fair number of my fellow writers, my love of prog took quite some time to develop. I appreciated my dad’s Pink Floyd and Yes albums as a kid but otherwise found myself unimpressed by the theatrics and relative polish of music labeled as “progressive.” It wasn’t until Leprous dropped Malina (2017) when something finally clicked; the melody, technicality, and grandiosity that I once found pretentious suddenly appealed to me as a sort of detailed, high-budget production. My hunger for prog has been voracious ever since as I catch up on years of seminal bands helping to move the genre forward.
This process is partially responsible for sparking my obsession with The Cocoon. The debut solo outing from Richard Henshall (Haken, Nova Collective) is an exceptional celebration of the styles that have defined prog metal over the past decade, written and executed in a way that perfectly balances cohesion and variety. Naturally, Henshall enlisted a star-studded lineup of modern prog and art rock mainstays to feature on the album, including Ross Jennings (Haken), Chris Baum and Jessica Kion (Bent Knee), David Maxim Micic, Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and others. Suffice it to say, this is mandatory listening for every type of prog fan.
The aforementioned point of “cohesion meets brevity” is worth reiterating, as it’s the core theme that elevates this album from excellent to essential. Every track weaves in a new flavor of prog while still maintaining key melodic structures and recurring themes. The final result is a dazzling display of technical ability and masterful songwriting, which begins with a fantastic launch point on “Cocoon.”
The track opens with vocoder and atmosphere before twisting and thrashing about with some truly aggressive prog riffing. Much of the darker, more crushing parts on the album sound like the heavier moments from Animals as Leaders‘s discography played with a keener interest in pushing more experimental and nosier ideas. The latter half of the track features a fantastic sax freakout from Adam Carrillo that fits in perfectly and isn’t subsequently overused on the track or the remainder of the album. And of course, it wouldn’t be a prog album without guitar solos, something both “Cocoon” and The Cocoon excel at. The solos throughout are exactly the type I prefer: obviously impressive on a technical level, but still musical and necessary to the rest of the composition.
The strong foundation on “Cocoon” helps the remainder of the album to launch into equally enthralling territory. “Silken Chains” is a stunning melodic track that makes tasteful use of vocoder to create a celestial atmosphere. It’s the musical equivalent of stargazing out of a flying vessel. Fittingly, the lyrics unravel the album’s central theme in a crucial way, illuminating Henshall’s message of achieving personal growth and triumph in the pursuit of ultimate freedom. Album closer “Afterglow” is a sort of a reprise to these musical and lyrical themes, with Baum’s violin accenting the swell of melodic prog atmospheres that bring the album to an epic conclusion.
There’s several other amazing tracks before this point, though. “Limbo” is perhaps the most ethereal sonic representation of purgatory I’ve heard, with truly angelic proceedings of synths, guitars, and pounding drums. Right after, “Lunar Room” opens with some eerie spoken word turned to off-kilter rapping before the track turns into a fun, snappy jam initiated by Marco Sfogli‘s immaculate guitar solo. Finally, Henshall brings out all the stops on “Twisted Shadows,” which progresses from massive staccato riffing to funky grooves and jazzy passages before turning toward some traditional heavy prog metal songwriting.
At this point, when you finally do reach “Afterglow,” you’ll surely be basking in the finale’s aura and processing everything that just transpired. Henshall had already proved himself to be an excellent songwriter and musician through other avenues, but The Cocoon truly cements him as a leading voice in modern prog. I’m just glad I found this at this specific point in my journey with the genre, so I could appreciate it the way it deserves to be celebrated.
Read More: The Anatomy Of
Pijn & Conjurer – Curse These Metal Hands (progressive sludge, post-metal)
I still remember the first time I heard “A Horse Named Golgotha”. It introduced me to Baroness’s Red and Blue albums and started an infatuation that would last for a little over a year. I was unable to play any other band for an extended period of time; I would just come back to Baroness, again and again. Their work had an unbridled energy that was hard to resist, the melodic elements setting off the harsher tones in a way that was perfect for me. Admittedly, I have come to be disappointed with the direction they eventually ended up taking. I wish that the contrast between the harsher touches and the melodic elements was preserved and perhaps even deepened but that’s not the direction the band chose to take and that’s totally fine. It’s just not exactly for me but I still revisit those earlier releases very often.
I did not expect to receive an album that made that wish of mine come true, let alone an album from two of Britain’s up and coming artists but that’s exactly what happened. This simulation is wild, huh? When Pijn and Conjurer first announced a collaboration album my first reaction was: “Cool? I guess”. I didn’t really see how their sounds would blend together and what would come out of it. But then I started hearing whisperings: this album was basically Baroness but heavier. It channeled the early days of the band and brought them screaming and kicking into the present. And the bands were totally aware and onboard with that description. I had to hear it for myself and, after fellow writer Simon Clark reminded me enough times, hear it I did.
And I was blown away. “High Spirits” is basically everything I’ve wanted from Baroness for years. It has that wild, far-flung sense of adventure that I love about them. It has the bright melodic timbre. It has powerful clean vocals, screamed more than sung. But it also has blast-beats and growls, the much heavier tint I’ve always wanted Baroness to have. And the rest of the album proceeds in that fashion just as much, digging way into the comparisons to Baroness while still bringing much to the table that evokes both of the bands involved (listen to the deep, slow chords on the aforementioned “High Spirits” and hear Pijn. Listen to the heavier parts of “Endeavour” and hear Conjurer).
Most of all, the bands are here to have fun with it. At ArcTanGent, they not only played an exuberant, inebriated, and fun set but they also sold shirts that literally say “Gives You! Baroness Energy” (yes, I have one) and have the Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven artwork on the cover (but the hands are throwing the horns). This entire project is just drenched with youthful mirth and musical homage and that elevates just that one degree higher. The end result is an album you can have both ways; you can listen to it as an enjoyable musical effort on its own or as an homage to one of the bigger bands of the last decade or so. Either way, you’ll have lots of fun so spin it right away.
SECT – Blood of the Beasts (dark hardcore, punk)
Other than dropping a few non-descript hints, SECT showed no real intention of releasing their follow-up to 2017’s No Cure For Death, yet the somewhat supergroup managed to crash a small portion of the Internet this past weekend by unleashing seventeen minutes of murky, vitriolic hardcore punk. This was not the album I’d originally intended on writing about for my guest entry, but after listening to Blood of the Beasts about a hundred times since it was released, I positively had to spit praise all over it. It’s not as brutal as Devourment, or jaunty and light like Curse These Metal Hands, but the vegan-edge hardcore that pummels and rolls out of this absolute treat of a surprise hits as hard as death metal, and triggers the same pleasure receptors as the smoked-out jam band of CTMH. How much more convincing do you need?
The anthemic aggravation coming from this band – with members of Cursed, Earth Crisis, Undying, and Fall Out Boy (yes Fall Out Boy) – shouldn’t be underestimated. It would be unwise to do so. Nails have told us that we’ll never be one of them, SECT share their music to aide and arm their fans and peers alike. Chris Colohan’s painful declarations and poignant messages are clear, even through the natural distortion of his twisted, instantly recognisable voice. Atop the rolling, thunderous beats provided by Andy Hurley and the crunchy, gravelly guitars and bass (handled by Kurt Ballou, adding another layer of hardcore royalty to the already luminous names in lights), Colohan’s voice stabs vocal patterns over d-beats and slashing chords. It’s not fancy. At all. But it’s fucking splendid. It also kind of (kind of, don’t have a go at me) sounds like early Darkest Hour but way, way more pissed. I love Darkest Hour.
Blood of the Beasts doesn’t rewrite anything, and doesn’t contain a single element that the band can’t perform on stage themselves, but there’s so much to devour on this brief, bullish record. Hurley’s hammer-fisted fills and blasts deserve a listen through of their own, and it’s worth a couple of spins just to swim in that rich, signature guitar swamp of Ballou’s. My album of the year contender’s keep knocking each other off the top spot, and this may not take the final spot come December, but there won’t be a record with more plays than this by the time 2020 comes rolling in. If you aren’t really a hardcore person, this MIGHT be the one record that tips you into my world. Come join. We have the most fun.
Unprocessed – Artificial Void (djent, progressive metalcore)
I harp on djent as a genre a lot, but it’s not that the sound is inherently bad. It’s just that there was a gold rush of artists trying to lower the bar and ride the hype train, which led to a bunch of really uninspired music. But at the core, it can be quite interesting. Unprocessed are proof of that. This German 5-piece group came out of nowhere and blew me away. Artificial Void isn’t their first full length, and going back through their catalog I realized that I was missing out, but it’s still phenomenal on its own and perhaps their best work yet.
What makes this album so special? Well, everything about Unprocessed is high effort. One thing you don’t see in a lot of djent bands is the vocalist also handling guitar duties because of the complexity of the material. Well, Unprocessed co-founder Manuel seems to disagree. He does screams, singing, and plays guitar. And the guitar playing isn’t compromised as a result either, in fact it’s some of the most compelling in the genre. The band has a very unique voice with their riffing, blending very fast staccato with long chord-based runs without making obvious “djenty” note choices. Even when they’re doing the requisite low string chugging they go for difficult, interesting riffs. The drumming is also not just a retread of the same low notes that the guitar plays; instead it’s augmentative to the rest of the band.
All in all, Unprocessed exemplify the best of the genre with their creativity, talent and polish. If you like djent, you’ll obviously love this album, but even skeptics will find something to enjoy here.
Read More: Review
WRVTH – No Rising Sun (progressive death metal, post-metal)
I can imagine few things more simultaneously burdensome and freeing than producing a premeditated “final” album. On the one hand, knowing that this will be your final artistic statement as a band, the stakes seemingly couldn’t be higher to go out feeling that you left everything out on the field and go out on a high note. No one wants their last album to hit with a resounding thud and leave fans forever with a sour taste. However, there is undeniably something incredibly freeing about knowing that this is it. If there was any time to really just go for it and not worry about the consequences, this is it. The final album is a time to push yourself creatively to the edge and peer over it to glance at the void beyond.
For Wrvth (formerly Wrath of Vesuvius), the announcement that their fourth album as a band and just second since the name change would be their last came as a huge surprise and shock. After the equally shocking heel turn that saw them transform from an impressive up-and-coming tech death outfit to a murkier and more sonically intricate mixture of post-black metal/blackgaze and progressive metal with some remnants of tech death thrown in for good measure, it seemed like the band were only just getting started showing the world what they were capable of. That self-titled album still holds a hallowed place in our hearts, and the possibilities from that point seemed limitless for them. Though the decision to call it quits was hard to hear and understand, you have to respect a band that knows when they feel they’ve said and accomplished all they set out to do and are packing it in before the whole thing grows stale. And when that final album is as pristine and near perfect as No Rising Sun is, it makes the whole thing feel okay.
I know some will not share my opinion on those points, especially those who have followed the band from the start and come from a more distinctly tech death background. Though Wrvth de-prioritized those sounds in favor of more atmospheric black metal and post-metal, it could still be classified as a kind of blackened death. No Rising Sun finally sheds the last remnants of their tech-death origins to complete the transformation into a full-fledged atmospheric and emotionally-charged post-black outfit. I will also freely admit that I was a bit sad and disappointed that the band didn’t bring back the use of sax that helped give Wrvth a very distinct profile (especially given that 2015 was still a time when using sax competently on an extreme metal release was far more of a rarity than it is now). All of that aside though, where Wrvth was a sprawling and experimental behemoth and melange of sounds that somehow worked in harmony, No Rising Sun succeeds specifically because stripping back the other elements allowed them to dive fully into pushing the post-black side of things to its limit.
Like most works of this milieu, No Rising Sun is far better considered as a whole than as a collection of songs. Its impressionistic style comes in ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys throughout the album that all build towards a singular vision. Of course, certain tracks manage to stand out above others. Opener “Eventide” is the ethos of No Rising Sun in a microcosm, its mysterious and gloomy intro building to a cacophony of howls and raw emotion. “Undertow” presents a different facet with its use of ethereal female vocals to tear at the heartstrings. “Enshrined” is a menacing beast that wrings every ounce of beauty out of its composition while showing off the benefit of having a group well-versed in highly technical playing perform this kind of music, particularly in the massive and intricate drumwork of Joseph Serrano. “Dust and Moonlight” is pretty much everything that I hoped Deafheaven would be post-Sunbather but wasn’t, its triumphant major-themed progressions bringing a welcome change of pace to an otherwise dark affair. And closer “Furrows of a Dying Tree” closes the album out on perfect terms as the final brutal and clawing fury decay into the ether.
For those who have stuck with the band over the years, No Rising Sun may prove to be a complicated capstone to a legacy of constant evolution and change. But for those who can appreciate the band on the terms they set for themselves, it is a crowning achievement and one of the most thoroughly beautiful and haunting albums of the year. Hopefully this is not the last we will hear from this crew even if it comes from various and splintered projects. At least there will always be a legacy in Wrvth worth leaving behind.
Big Dead – Bone White Branches (nu-jazz, art rock)
Combining groovy nordic nu-jazz of the likes of Jaga Jazzist with earworm art-rock melodies and more contemplative psych-rock, the debut LP from Australia’s Big Dead is an ambitious and sprawling cross-pollinating affair that is as satisfying as it is intriguing.
Infinity Shred – Forever, a Fast Life (post-rock, electronic rock)
From their chiptune and glitch background and into the heady spaces of electronic post-rock, Infinity Shred have become one of my favorite projects. Listen to this album for urban soundscapes, evocative build-ups, and cathartic crescendos, all with an electronic twist.
Keys of Orthanc – A Battle in the Dark Lands of the Eye… (Black metal)
If there were a category for “most improved metal band, 2019”, it would go to Keys of Orthanc. Which sounds like a veiled insult, but I assure you that’s not the case. The band’s fantastic debut Dush Agh Golnauk filled my Tolkien-thirsty goblet in so many ways, but their sophomore effort just kicks things up several notches in every respect. The songwriting, atmosphere, and performances are all significantly improved from the band’s already excellent debut, moving the band from promising, talented upstarts to bona fide black metal power players. An astonishingly good record that I cannot get enough of.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Infest the Rats’ Nest (crossover thrash, stoner rock)
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard might run out of new genres to experiment with by the time they disband. In the last couple of years alone, the prolific rock band have tried their hands at boogie rock and roots music (Fishing for Fishies), polyrhythmic prog rock (Polygondwanaland), lounge-themed jazz-rock (Sketches of Brunswick East), heavy psych and garage rock (Murder of the Universe), and microtonal krautrock (Flying Microtonal Banana), just to name a few. With perhaps their most politically charged experiment yet, the band have returned with an environmentally-conscious concept album that pays homage to classic thrash, stoner rock, and proto-metal. The results are surprisingly well-executed and incredibly fun from start to finish.
Pharmakon – Devour (death industrial, power electronics)
Margaret Chardiet continues to dazzle and disturb with each new Pharmakon release. If you’re looking for truly unsettling soundscapes on the outer edges of industrial music, then Devour is tailor-made to soundtrack your nightmares.
Read More: Review
Jessica Ackerley – A New Kind of Water (jazz rock, avant-garde jazz)
Besvärjelsen – Frost (prog rock, stoner rock)
Bon Iver – i,i (folktronica, art pop)
Book of Wyrms – Remythologizer (stoner doom, psych rock)
Cloudkicker – Unending (instrumental prog metal)
Diocletian – Amongst the Flames of a Burning God (war metal)
Freedom of Fear – Nocturnal Gates (progressive tech death)
Ghost Funk Orchestra – A Song For Paul (jazz funk, jazz fusion)
Glåsbird – Svalbarð (ambient)
Grogus – Four Kings (progressive sludge)
The Hold Steady – Thrashing Thru the Passion (heartland rock, pub rock)
Horseburner – The Thief (stoner doom, heavy psych)
HRBRT – Melopoeia (jazz fusion, nu-jazz)
Bryony Jarman-Pinto – Cage & Aviary (neo-soul, vocal jazz)
meth. – Mother of Red Light (hardcore, mathcore)
Mylingar – Döda Själar (blackened death metal)
Northlane – Alien (djent, nu-metal)
Rae Spoon – Mental Health (alt-rock, indie rock)
Ride – This Is Not a Safe Place (shoegaze, dream pop)
Saint Pepsi – Mannequin Challenge (vaporwave, nu-disco)
Sheer Mag – A Distant Call (glam rock, power pop)
Thee Oh Sees – Face Stabber (psych rock, krautrock)
Uniform & The Body – Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back (industrial rock, experimental rock)
Wizard Rifle – Wizard Rifle (noise rock, stoner rock)