If it seems like I always mention how much good music has been released during the previous month that’s because that’s probably correct. The fact is that we’ve been enjoying an insane outpouring of music for years now and these posts, keyed as they are to some sort of “summary” aesthetic always catch the brunt of that deluge. But let me be honest when I say that a month like this October is still a rarity, even in our over-inundated times of excellent releases. When the Slack thread that’s used to make these posts is filled with people figuratively grabbing their heads and complaining about option paralysis is when you know that shit has hit the fan, in the most positive of ways possible.
I mean, there are at least four other albums which contended for my spot on the list; I ended up choosing Xoth because I felt it was a great album that’s not getting enough attention, not necessarily because it’s “better” than the others I had considered. The “Further Listening” section of this post could extend almost indefinitely it seems, populating its own group of thousands and thousands of words about the amazing releases that came out this month. Lastly, it’s obvious that the breadth and depth of the music that’s characterized 2019 so far still haunts October (get it? Because it’s the spooky month). The sheer variety of the list below is testimony to the fact that barrels are firing across all genres and that it’s going to be very hard to pick a narrative when this year comes to a close (watch us; we just won’t).
And so, as usual lately, I’m left with only one choice and that’s to point to all of this and say: enjoy. There’s been some truly magnificent releases this month and this time when I say that, I mean even more magnificent. Join us and let’s dive into the prolific month that was October.
Alcest – Spiritual Instinct (blackgaze, post-metal)
In my review, I posed the question about whether Spiritual Instinct was Alcest’s best record to date. It’s certainly the best since 2010’s Ecailles de Lune, without question; Alcest have never sounded better in terms of songwriting and production, and they’ve seemed to hit that sweet spot in the intersections of post-metal, shoegaze, and black metal. Whether the French post-black progenitors have another genre classic on their hands Like Ecailles de Lune is something that only time can provide an answer for, however.
In the present, though, Spiritual Instinct is a blast. There’s the blackgaze bend that one would expect from Alcest based on 2016’s Kodama, but elaborated on in unexpected ways. “Protection” for instance taps into the band’s post-metal lineage with a powerful main riff and “L’Ile des Morts” gets almost as close to Tool as “Sapphire” gets to Smashing Pumpkins, which is pretty close. Between these moments of inspiration, Alcest goes wistful, ethereal, and nostalgic, going full crescendo-core on “Le Miroir”. It’s refreshing to hear Alcest continue to explore their space instead of falling into the trap of stagnation. The fact that they’ve managed to pull off a career-defining album six records deep into their discography is a blessing, and it’s one of this year’s best albums.
Read More: Review
Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean (art rock, indie rock)
Over the course of four albums, Bent Knee had built up a well-deserved reputation for being fiercely eclectic, quirky, and impeccable in their music. They’re the type of band that somehow can tour with the likes of Leprous, Haken, and Thank You Scientist as well as The Dillinger Escape Plan and thoroughly captivate everyone in their wake. Starting with their previous album, Land Animal, they were signed to a significant progressive label (InsideOut Music) and continuing to build up support and pick up critical accolades along the way.
And yet coming out of that album there was a palpable sense of restlessness, both creatively and professionally. In my first interview with vocalist Courtney Swain following Land Animal’s release, she expressed as much, stating that “we were almost having this kind of crisis where we’re like ‘Shouldn’t we be changing more?’ This album is the best we’ve done, but at the same time it’s still kind of in the same vein, and I think we’re kind of looking to see what’s next.” And in my most recent interview with guitarist Ben Levin and bassist Jessica Kion, Kion was blunt about their evolution in attitude one decade in: “I think we’re at the point, you know, the band’s existed for 10 years, where we’re kind of just like, ‘Oh, we don’t have to bend over backwards for people who are going to stomp on our heads.’”
Take all of that fervent energy, throw this group of six together in a room to write songs from scratch together for the first time, and what you come out with is apparently an album like You Know What They Mean. Not that I can really describe what exactly an album like YKWTM actually is. It’s certainly their rawest, most immediately powerful album since their masterful sophomore effort Shiny Eyed Babies. It feels remarkably loose and organic, a product both of the way the music was written and their decision to have the production match the intensity of their live sets. But it’s still as precise and polished as their more recent work.
At times it sounds like the band are working through multiple crises in real time, in particular on the jagged “Bone Rage,” the venomous “lovemenot,” and the knife’s edge tension of “Garbage Shark,” which Levin described as a “slow motion car accident.” At other points they’re being their most playful and fun selves, injecting a sense of dancey momentum throughout on tracks like “Hold Me In,” “Cradle of Rocks,” and “Catch Light.” And then seemingly out of nowhere they pull out moments of delicate sincerity and beauty, where the light “Birdsong” and sweeping “Golden Hour” act as much-appreciated musical rest stops.
YKWTM is an album bursting at the seams with deeply impactful ideas, head-spinning twists and turns, and some moments of pure aural bliss and beauty. So, basically, another Bent Knee album. In many ways this is perhaps the most Bent Knee-sounding album, a true encapsulation of the group’s chemistry, whimsy, and musical alchemy. It sounds like the album they’ve been wanting to make for years and finally arrived at. Perhaps more importantly, one decade and five albums in, Bent Knee sound as fresh and full of wonder as ever, and every indication is that they’re still just getting started.
clipping. – There Existed an Addiction to Blood (experimental hip-hop, industrial hip-hop)
Experimental hip hop’s most exciting, dynamic, and inventive trio is back after three years of pursuing their own solo careers, but holy shit, you could have told me they’d spent every hour of the past thousand-plus days fine tuning every detail of There Existed An Addiction To Blood and I would believe you instantly. This record is so sonically rich and constantly straddles the exceedingly thin line between indulgence and excess. The instrumentals are cinematic to the highest degree, pulling equally from the language of horror soundtracks – icy, distant synthesizers, sparse pianos and off-kilter rhythms are plentiful here – and the abrasive mix of industrial, harsh wall noise, and power electronics that have defined their earlier forays. There is an abundance of excellently curated guest features here as well, ranging from rappers like Benny the Butcher and La Chat and singers/vocalists like Ed Balloon and Sarah Bernat to noise features from The Rita and Pedestrian Deposit.
Eden has already beautifully analyzed this record from a conceptual perspective (and don’t just take my word for it). There’s not much I could say on this front that he hasn’t already said better, so you can probably just skim this paragraph, but I’d like to give my own take on this. There is a reason that horror as a genre is sitting right now at the forefront of modern culture: there is a reason figures like Jordan Peele and Ari Aster occupy their space in the zeitgeist as of late. Horror is tied inextricably in modern America to the idea of necropolitics, the philosophical investigation into how the threat and omnipresence of death are wielded as psychological weapons by those in power against those they seek to oppress. Horror is forced embodiment made into art, an unavoidable reckoning with danger and death in a way that can either reinforce the necropolitical ideal or dismantle it by facing it head-on.
Clipping. are, of course, completely aware of this and use it in both ways at various points on TEAATB: in “He Dead,” the listener comes face-to-face with the paranoia and terror that living in a police state inspires; in “La Mala Ordina” the fronting, flaunting, and even sometimes faking of trauma in rap music reaches a boiling point and ends in torture and death; on the title track the body becomes a weapon that fears no death, an arrow straight to the heart of the colonial regime. Clipping. reckon beautifully across this record with the interlocking nature of horror and necropolitics and in doing so have made an album that is not only phenomenal from a musical perspective but a veritable text, a poetic manifesto and raised fist of rebellion against the modern American regime.
Read More: Review
Fit For An Autopsy – The Sea of Tragic Beasts (deathcore)
Seeing the progression of Gojira since 2008’s The Way of All Flesh has been rather disappointing. Prior to their recent turn, the band had blended death metal with introspective and atmospheric elements in a way that retained heaviness yet added nuance. After TWOAF, they started focusing on the nuance part and abandoned the heavy; but as a shadow without light is meaningless, so has been the sadness without the punch.
Enter Fit For An Autopsy. They’ve been picking up the slack that Gojira have been leaving for a while now. Starting as a deathcore band, they’ve evolved into the best Gojira replacement; perhaps better than the Frenchmen themselves. The Sea of Tragic Beasts definitely isn’t their first attempt at this, 2017’s The Great Collapse also had similar ambitions, and I loved that album as well.
This one is a whole different story though. They’ve almost completely shedded the eye-roll-inducing parts of the deathcore trappings. Instead, they’ve fully embraced the atmospheric and emotional sound, and the results are glorious. I could go into detail about every single thing they do, how the tapping sections accentuate the heavy rhythms, how the clean vocals are used sparingly but incredibly well, how the caveman deathcore moments are perfectly timed. But this album is definitely more than the sum of its parts, so listening to it is the best way to understand it. This is album-of-the-year territory we’re talking here.
There’s also a meta level here regarding the trajectory of the deathcore genre. The genre started with full of promise and bringing creative new ways to blend death metal with metalcore, but quickly turned stale. In some ways, this post-mortem blow from the genre both transcends the status quo and fulfills the original promise. The Sea of Tragic Beasts is truly the best of all the worlds it engages with.
Read More: Review
Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel (brutal prog, noise rock)
Virtually everything about Lightning Bolt defies logic. They’re a duo that sounds more massive and energetic than much larger ensembles. They’ve released seven albums over 25 years yet still sound consistently fresh and reinvigorated with every new release. Oh, and then there’s the fact the drummer performs vocals through a gas mask contraption and the bassist uses banjo strings and a stage full of effect pedals. You know, just little oddities like that.
A quarter of a century is a long time for any relationship, yet Brian Chippendale (drums, vocals) and Brian Gibson (bass) have maintained an incredible creative relationship, made all the more impressive by the bizarre musical setup outlined above. At this point in music criticism, it’s usually cliche, hyperbolic, or both to pull out the “no genre defines them” card when describing a band. Yet, Lightning Bolt are one of those rare appropriate cases. Sure, you can safely call them “noise rock,” but only because they’re incredibly noisy and technically play “rock” music. They’re a bit too unhinged and physical to be considered straight-up math rock or psych rock, and too loose and versatile to be full-on brutal prog. Instead, let’s just call them Lightning Bolt, a unique, endlessly inventive duo informed by a variety of influences.
Sonic Citadel arrives four years after the excellent Fantasy Empire (2015), a slightly more straightforward iteration of their style that served as my gateway into the band’s back catalog. While not as wild as classics like Wonderful Rainbow (2003), the album placed an emphasis on hooks and memorability, which turned out to be far catchier than you’d initially assume their style could be. Then again, with such consistently colorful album artwork, it’s no surprise the band fancy themselves sonic chameleons on every record.
That kind of flexibility is on full display across Sonic Citadel. The duo seemingly looked at the noise-ridden and hook-laden aspects of their sound, shrugged, and asked, “Why not both?” From track to track, Lightning Bolt consistently present some of the most boundary-pushing music of their careers, stretching their sound in every which way to cover new and familiar territory. Only a duo like Lightning Bolt could make an album this sonically dense and abrasive sound cohesive and organized, all while throttling through some of their most energetic performances to date.
I’d actually like to start by highlighting the album’s finale, “Van Halen 2049.” It’s an absolutely bonkers track that perfectly displays what Lightning Bolt’s core sound is about. You have Chippendale hitting every part of his drum kit as fast and frequently as humanly possible while Gibson constantly tries to improve his notes-per-second average. It’s nothing short of electrifying, and it gets even more off-kilter when the duo throw in what sounds like train whistles as their interplay reaches a fever pitch. If you only listen to one track, make it this one.
But don’t actually do that, since the rest of the album is chock full of highlights. The band did a fantastic job naming their tracks, with song titles like “Blow to the Head” and “Big Banger” being literal descriptions. The former track opens up the album with a pulsing syncopation, punctuated by cymbals and a mechanical, heavily distorted bass riff. It’s catchy but still loud and brash. “Big Banger” revolves around one of the album’s greatest songwriting motifs, as a sliding, distorted riff warrants meditation and headbanging in equal measure. It’s oddly danceable, as long as that dance involved running headfirst through a wall.
Again, there’s plenty of Lightning Bolt tropes to go around on Sonic Citadel. Tracks like “USA Is a Psycho” offer up the brand of galloping percussion and thick, resonant riffs that have endeared them to so many listeners over the years. Chippendale, whose vocals mostly sound like a deranged prophet shouting through a megaphone, tries out some prominent vocal effects on this track that add even further sonic depth to the track. On the melodic side of things, the amazingly titled “Hüsker Don’t” is vaguely pop-punk-inspired (in a good way, surprisingly), while “Don Henley In the Park” is one of the band’s most direct forays into math rock, with plenty of psychedelic atmosphere and noise to make it distinctly their own.
Believe me, I could go on, but there’s a seemingly endless list of things I could dissect. Each new spin has revealed new angles that I didn’t hear in full (or at all) on prior listens. There’s nothing quite like falling back in love with a band that already earned your fandom, a feeling that’s even more satisfying when they’re in the advanced stages of their career. Lightning Bolt seem to have no interest in slowing down anytime soon, and I couldn’t be more stoked about that.
Teitanblood – The Baneful Choir (blackened death metal, war metal)
Over two full-length albums in a career spanning a decade-and-a-half, Madrid’s Teitanblood have unleashed a style of blackened death metal chaos that few bands in this space have been able to replicate. 2014’s Death was an utter barrage of audio violence that ended up being one of my favorite albums of that year, and to say I’ve been eagerly anticipating its follow-up would be an understatement. It took five years to get here, but the band’s third full-length The Baneful Choir more than makes up for the wait by being Teitanblood’s most sonically diverse and epic record to date. It’s also their best, and one of my favorite releases of the year.
Fans of the band’s previous work will find all of the band’s essential elements present in The Baneful Choir: Suffocating production, expert musicianship, and aggressive compositions filled with bludgeoning riffs are all present in spades on Teitanblood’s latest. Patterns drawn from contemporaries like Portal and Diocletian continue to abound, as the band’s songwriting veers between technical wizardry with Slayer-like solos and straight-up war metal vibes in the sheer intensity department. But the execution and pacing of these elements present the most notable change to the band’s sound on Choir. Rather than barreling along at break-neck speed for 100% of the record, Teitanblood display a much greater emphasis on atmosphere, incorporating several spaces for dark interludes that live up to the album’s title.
Opener “Rapture Below” is a crackling live wire of atmospheric world-building, setting up the doom-ladened “Black Vertebrae” and utterly insane “Leprous Fire” for high impact. The lead of “Insight” and “…Of the Mad Men” into the album’s title track is a dalliance that on a lesser record from a lesser band would serve as nothing more than a drag on the album’s pacing. But here these more atmospheric moments work, adding significant amounts of dread and weight to an album that is already dripping with murderous intent. This is the band’s most compositionally and thematically expansive record to date, and your mileage with it may well depend on whether this approach works for you or not.
Whether or not the band’s newfound focus on atmospherics is to your liking, there’s plenty of the band’s traditional violent blackened death to relish. “Ungodly Others”, “Inhuman Utterings”, “Sunken Stars”, and “Verdict of the Dead” can all hang with the most violent and brilliant songs in the band’s catalog, churning out skin-peeling riffs at a manic clip. But the balance struck between speed/aggression and atmosphere/more patient pacing is what really sets this record apart. Sure, we’d all love another batch of bananas death metal gyrations from Teitanblood, but what The Baneful Choir gives us is more complex, interesting, and rich than that, and I for one am all for it.
There’s very little to critique here. The Baneful Choir is an unapologetic, thoroughly engaging record from start to finish, and displays the greatest leap in ambition and songwriting prowess for the band yet. Those turned off by the album’s more atmospheric passages may find themselves skipping around a bit, but I think the album is best consumed as a whole. It’s a triumphant return for one of modern blackened death metal’s defining voices, and is an album I will be returning to with regularity.
Xoth – Interdimensional Invocations (technical thrash, tech death)
There probably isn’t one band in metal that has influenced the previous three decades more than Death. The band, and the mastermind behind it, one Chuck Schuldiner, birthed not only the eponymous genre for which they are known but also, in their experimentations and unique approach to composition, the deviation from the standard that would come to define the genre. Just ask Xoth; these Seattle based wildlings have the smack of Death’s influence all over the music and not just because they break-necking riffs. At the core of their latest release, Interdimensional Invocations, bubble influences from thrash and even heavy metal, reminding us of the latter direction towards which Schuldiner’s career appeared to be trending.
This gives Interdimensional Invocations irresistible air of immediacy and a wild sheen to Xoth’s eyes and fingers; you just never really know what the hell this album is going to do next. Things seem to start clearly enough with “Casting the Sigil”; the riffs go hard, reminding us of a faster Contrarian. The bass is especially pleasing here, turned appropriately loud in the mix and chugging along with fantastic panache underneath the chaos of the guitars. But then “Mountain Machines” opens and those riffs sound awfully power metal, don’t they? I mean, that edge to the tone that screams death metal is still there and the growls are way too low to be power metal but god-damn if the main riff doesn’t scream mountain halls, warhammers, and enchanted swords. Eventually, the track even utilizes a galloping rhythm, completing the reference and solidifying the influence in our minds. The end result sounds like a heavier DragonForce or a more D&D oriented Death.
But that solidification doesn’t last very long. Throughout the album, Xoth will shed, wear, and shed again these styles, sounds, and influences. Because death metal informs and communicates these styles at all times, the cohesion of the album is maintained but boy do Xoth dance close to the chaotic line. There are moments where it seems as if the album will lose you completely, only to rein things and send a slab of good ol’ progressive/technical death metal your way. The result is that aforementioned wildness; Xoth sound like they’re about to lose control at all times and that’s what makes their music exciting, like watching someone pull of a bike trick and not knowing until the very end if they’re going to make it through. Xoth definitely do, sticking the landing and creating one of the most furious albums of recent years. How’s that for a mixed metaphor, huh?
Read More: Review
Battles – Juice B Crypts (experimental math rock, electronic rock)
Battles have never been one for stability. Their early meteoric rise from their early EPs through their classic debut Mirrored was based on a quartet heavily featuring Tyondai Braxton, who left during the writing of their follow-up, Gloss Drop. That album had to be re-conceived as a trio album and featured a slate of impressive and eclectic guest vocal spots. Their third album, La Di Da Di is the only follow-up to feature the same lineup, and ironically it’s also the one that’s had the least staying power.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that Battles — now a duo featuring the core powerhouse of multi-instrumentalist Ian Williams and drummer John Stanier — have released some of their best work in the positively manic Juice B Crypts. Like Gloss Drop, it’s heavy on the guest spots (including the likes of TuNe-YaRdS, Shabbaz Palaces, and Jon Anderson of Yes fame), to unanimously great effect. To describe it beyond that would be difficult, as Juice is a ridiculous journey through time and space, featuring confounding looping compositions, incredible performances, and plenty of moments that will get stuck in your head and force you to listen on repeat.
Read More: Review
Botanist – Ecosystem (avant-garde blackgaze)
Fact: no one in black metal sounds like Botanist. It’s not just the dulcimer; the approach to composition and production (even though it obviously draws from the tradition of lo-fi black metal) is singular in every way. Ecosystem is no different; go listen to it.
Read More: Review
Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿ (abstract hip-hop, hardcore hip-hop)
This is far from Danny’s best work, but god damn it, new tunes from one of rap’s most fun and elegant voices should be celebrated far and wide. And let’s be real, “bad for Danny Brown” still smokes 90% of what’s out there right now.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (chamber pop, ambient)
A few years back, Skeleton Tree both blew my mind and crushed my spirit as one of rock music’s most raw, depressing, and thrilling records of the decade. The band’s latest effort, Ghosteen, continues along this emotional trajectory, this time stripping the band’s sound down to its glistening, most singular essence yet. It’s a record that is no less tragic than its predecessor, but even more beautiful and, somehow, hopeful. How Nick Cave continues to write such incredible music this late in his career is beyond me, but such vulnerable and well-crafted art will never be unwelcome. Another late-career gem.
DIIV – Deceiver (indie rock, shoegaze)
DIIV’s Zachary Cole Smith has been through a lot the past few years. Soon after the release of their acclaimed sophomore album Is the Is Are, he checked himself into inpatient treatment for chronic substance abuse, and if Deceiver is any indication, the road to recovery and learning to live with oneself has been a long and bumpy one.
Deceiver is the band’s heaviest album to date by far, trading in the breezier, dream-pop stylings of their earlier work for much darker, grungier sounds. Think if Nothing collided with the off-the-cuff darker indie of Cymbals Eat Guitars channeled through Nirvana. It’s emotional, groovy, at times devastating in its vulnerability, and pretty constantly catchy and thoroughly satisfying.
Dysrhythmia – Terminal Threshold (math metal, prog metal)
Kevin Hufnagel and Colin Marston have released plenty of genre-bending, technically dazzling albums both together and separately. That’s what makes Terminal Threshold even more impressive, as it’s easily among their finest releases to date. Expect amplified influences from old-school progressive death metal, with plenty of focus still kept on dense technicality.
Read More: Review
Portico Quartet – Memory Streams (nu-jazz, downtempo)
In most other months this year, the latest from the UK’s futuristic jazz combo Portico Quartet would be my top pick of the month. Riding the momentum of their beguiling and heavily-electronic Art In the Age of Automation, Memory Streams continues the band’s journey forward into the great unknown of electro-acoustic jazz.
Featuring a slate of brilliant compositions and organic atmospheres, it displays the band at the peak of their abilities and confidence, producing immediately attention-grabbing tracks like “Signals In the Dusk” and “Offset” mixed in with slow-burners like “Gradient” and “Dissident Gardens,” and seriously pushing the limits of what this music can even sound like in the incredible “Double Helix.” It is a classic for a band that is quickly filling its catalog with an extensive slate of classics, and it’s further proof that they’re one of the most fascinating jazz groups out there currently.
Strawberry Girls – Tasmanian Glow (math fusion, nu-prog)
Looking for all the infectious noodling of a Dance Gavin Dance album with tighter musicianship and a lack of spotty lyricism? Then Strawberry Girls have just released your Swancore gem of the year. The trio blends math rock, nu-prog, and post-hardcore beautifully and craft some incredible hooks in the process.
Read More: Review
We Lost the Sea – Triumph & Disaster (post-rock)
What can I say about this album that I haven’t already? This is We Lost the Sea’s art mastered, their magnum opus, an album of the collapse, of beauty, and of sadness. It’s one of the best post-rock albums I’ve ever heard. Do the thing.
Read More: Review
Wilco – Ode to Joy (alt-country, indie rock)
Wilco will never make an album better than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. At this point, they don’t need to. But if you would have told me that they would write their best music since that all-time great record in 2019, I would have laughed in your face. Especially when considering the throw-away quality of their last two records.
But Ode to Joy is just that. It’s subdued, joyous, emotionally resonant, and expertly written and performed at a level that rivals or surpasses their very best work. I never thought we’d see this quality from Wilco again, but here we are, living the dream. One of rock music’s most consistently vibrant, mature, and enjoyable releases of the year.
Read More: Unmetal Monday
Billy Woods – Terror Management (abstract hip-hop, spoken word)
On Terror Management, Billy Woods dips into old school hip-hop and an excellent collection of lyrics and sample to conjure forth the terrible feeling of living and dying in the modern world. This album haunts me like few hip hop/rap albums have and you should it haunt you too.
Algebra – Pulse? (progressive thrash)
Caustic Casanova – God How I Envy the Deaf (post-hardcore, noise rock)
Chaos Motion – Psychological Spasms Cacophony (dissonant tech death)
Dawn Ray’d – Behold Sedition Plainsong (black metal)
Floating Points – Crush (deep house, progressive electronic)
Gatecreeper – Deserted (death metal, hardcore)
In Mourning – Garden of Storms (melodeath, progressive death metal)
Insomnium – Heart Like a Grave (melodeath)
Jacques Greene – Dawn Chorus (deep house, UK bass)
Jakub Zytecki – Nothing Lasts, Nothing’s Lost (prog fusion, nu-prog)
Jinjer – Macro (metalcore, groove metal)
Juggernaut – Neuroteque (post-metal)
Lindstrøm – On A Clear Day I Can See You Forever (progressive electronic, space ambient)
Mayhem – Daemon (black metal)
Mega Drive – 199XAD (retrowave, synthwave)
Noorvik – Omission (post-rock)
Omahara – Upsilamba (experimental drone)
Screamer – Highway of Heroes (heavy metal)
The Kompressor Experiment – 2001 (electronic post-rock, post-metal)
Thornhill – The Dark Pool (metalcore)
Wolves Like Us – Brittle Bones (sludge rock, alt-metal)
Zonal – Wrecked (post-industrial, trip-hop)