Welcome, Hellions, to Death’s Door. Pull up your stay-at-home bone throne and prepare yourself for some righteous sonic carnage. Which is a more fitting soundtrack, given the current viral garbage bin that is the world. COVID-19 has fundamentally altered daily life as we know it, and many of us have experienced life-altering changes in our work situations, family lives, and social dynamics over the past month. With all the uncertainty and anxiety that currently exists in our present state, music has become an even more powerful tool for us as a collective Heavy Blog family to create community and relief during an incredibly trying time. We can thank our infernal underlords that March provided such an outstanding crop of new releases to sink our teeth into, and we’re stoked to share our favorites with you.
Death metal as a whole, despite in my estimation getting off to a fairly slow start compared to the last few years, has begun to display its truest crimson colors this past month, churning out some premium death metal in the brutal, technical, progressive, and old school fronts. It was a veritable smorgasbord of quality releases, with multiple offerings that may well end up on some of our best-of lists come end of year. We couldn’t have chosen a better month for death metal to unleash its most fiendish delights.
As is tradition, Scott and Simon join me in highlighting the best releases (in our least humble and completely objective opinions) of March. We would love to hear from you as well. Which records have scorched your souls during the Great Dumpster Fire of 2020? Leave us a comment on your picks below. Stay safe, wash your hands, and stay death. Forever.
Cream of the Crop
Afterbirth – Four Dimensional Flesh
Devourment’s Obscene Majesty absolutely blew me away last year. It had been a very long time since I’d heard a record that went straight for the jugular with such utterly vicious energy. It’s a truly special collection of tracks that I didn’t think would be matched in the brutal death metal world for some time. So why am I writing about that record instead of the band listed in this section? Mainly because I want to set a baseline for how radically fantastic Afterbirth’s Four Dimensional Flesh is. Devourment may have buried a hatchet in my skull, but Four Dimensional Flesh ripped my soul from my body, shot it into space, then smeared it across the cosmos. It’s technical brutal death metal at its absolute finest.
For a band that’s been around for almost three decades, two full-length records to your name isn’t much of a discography to hang your hat on. But Afterbirth have taken the old adage of quality over quantity to heart, with their long-awaited debut The Time Traveler’s Dilemma ending up as one of the best death metal records of 2017. Four Dimensional Flesh ups the ante in every measurable metric over its predecessor, bringing an absolute smorgasbord of incredible riffs with performances that toe the line between frenetic madness and expert precision beautifully. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and Afterbirth pull it off here with enough energy and precision to make up for nearly two decades of lost time.
Just give opening track “Beheading the Buddha” a listen if you’re feeling skeptical about the praise above. The track drops multiple riffs that are so perfectly executed that they’re downright hummable. That’s not a compliment I often give a brutal death metal track, but here we are. The songwriting is simply superb throughout, and there isn’t a track on the record that doesn’t highlight the band’s prodigious talents. Artificial Brain’s Will Smith in particular delivers a fantastic vocal performance, undergirding each composition with a disgusting belch and gurgle approach that never allows the sometimes stratospheric songwriting to stray from brutal territory. If you’re even remotely intrigued by the album’s sensational moments, prepare yourself for a deeply rewarding death metal experience. If not… listen again.
I’ve given this record spins in the double digits, and I’ve yet to find a track or moment that isn’t utterly compelling. This is one of the most exceptional technical brutal death metal albums I’ve heard in a very long time, and one can only hope that Afterbirth continue their long-gestating rise to death metal stardom. We sure as hell have been waiting long enough for it. But hey, better late than never. Deliriously brutal stuff.
Read More: Review
Best of the Rest
Azure Emote – The Third Perspective
Within the first five minutes of The Third Perspective, Azure Emote unleashes a bricolage of retro synth, female choral vocals, and violin intertwined with grandiose death metal and symphonic black metal. All this occurs on “Loss,” the shortest track on the album which serves as a harbinger of what’s in store. While a decent summary, the remaining tracks on The Third Perspective take their own twisting trajectories through the broader avant-garde metal landscape, revolving around a steady, classic death metal core.
Helming the project is journeyman death metal vocalist and cover artist Mike Hrubovcak. While he enlists a crew of collaborators for most of the organic instrumentation, his electronic arrangements provide The Third Perspective with its distinct personality. What’s most refreshing about Azure Emote is Hrubovcak’s seemingly insular songwriting style, in the sense that his ideas seem focused on his creative interests rather than any particular trend or subgenre.
Frankly, I struggled to even name a specific band as a reference point for Hrubovcak’s music. Each song has a distinct death metal base which is amplified by strong elements of symphonic black metal, both in auxiliary electronics and piano as well as the guitar phrasings and the moods they conjure. Yet, it’s the distinct, retro synths and especially the prominence of violin that help drive the experimental spirt that runs through every track on The Third Perspective, each in their own way.
The drumming and and energetic violin performance on “Curse of Life” has an almost jazz fusion vibe, while the sweeping vocal duet on Negative Polarity” draws heavily from the world of goth metal. Meanwhile, “Three Six Nine” is a blistering assault of dueling synths and death metal ferocity that’s truly disorienting, in a good way. And that’s not even touching the album’s two 11-minute behemoths.
It goes without saying at this point, but The Third Perspective is one of the most adventurous metal albums I’ve encountered in some time, and I still don’t feel like I’ve fully unpacked what it has to offer. I highly recommend anyone with an interest in avant-garde metal to dive into this headfirst.
Earth Rot – Black Tides of Obscurity
The Swedish sounds of HM-2core in death metal are as pronounced a historical staple as those sickly sweet sounds that emanated from the boys of Florida back in the 90s. It’s a quintessential effect that has completely enveloped some of death metal’s most famous records from bands like At the Gates, Entombed, and Dismember, and has spawned an entire subgenre of worshippers. One of the most notable,though not without a unique twist, is Australia’s Earth Rot. While their albums make liberal use of the buzzsaw attributes of the HM-2 pedal, their music incorporates strong black metal elements that elevate their music beyond traditional Swedeath worship and into something more cold and sinister. Their third album, Black Tides of Obscurity, is their most complete and deeply enjoyable example of their unique style to date, and a record well worth spending time with.
Those unfamiliar with the band’s sound can use the album’s second track “New Horns” as a reference point for how the band blend their stylistic influences. The first two minutes of that excellent track bounce with seamless precision between death metal chugs and black metal blasts, mixing these styles into a sonically varied and violent whole that never feels disjointed. Here more than on any other record in the band’s back catalog, the synthesis of black and death metal, all drenched in that distinctive HM-2 bloodbath (pun intended), is as smooth as it’s ever been. Tracks like “Towards a Godless Shrine”, “Unparalleled Gateways to Higher Obliteration”, and “The Cape of Storms” (which also includes a hefty dose of black and roll) are among the most creative and brutal compositions I’ve heard this year, making Black Tides of Obscurity a record that should please death and black metal fans alike.
I love it when a mash of sounds comes together, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how Earth Rot is forming their unique sound with each new release. There isn’t a dud on this record, and those who have always wondered what a modern meld of Swedeath and second-wave black metal might sound like can look no further. Earth Rot have you covered.
Heaven Shall Burn – Of Truth and Sacrifice
As I wrote in my review of Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum’s epic collaborative record Wanderers: Astrology of the Nine in this month’s edition of Kvlt Kolvmn, I tend not to do so well with records that land well above the hour mark. When I heard that German melodeath/metalcore masters Heaven Shall Burn were releasing their ninth full-length as an hour-and-a-half double album, I audibly groaned. There are so few instances in my listening sphere where such bloated experiments have panned out, but given its inclusion on this list, it’s obvious that Of Truth and Sacrifice has proven itself another notable exception to an otherwise inscrutable rule. Not only is it a thoroughly entertaining and rewarding listening experience on the whole, there’s nary a track here that doesn’t belong. It’s an hour-plus of quality music that vaults itself among the band’s best work.
Picking out tracks to highlight here is a difficult task as one could spend a significant amount of time writing up almost every composition here. But if I had to pick an early banger that gives you a taste of the album’s diversity and intensity it would have to be “Thoughts and Prayers”, which mixes the trademark elements that Heaven Shall Burn have been stirring together since their inception to near-perfection. It’s epic in scope, melodic enough to give bands like Dark Tranquility and Insomnium a run for their money, and darkly intense enough to satisfy even the meatiest of death metalheads. It’s a great place to start when determining whether this extended journey is right for you. The answer to that question should be an emphatic yes, because those who choose to give Of Truth and Sacrifice the attention it deserves will be amply rewarded by tracks like the unusual “Expatriate”, the heartbreak of “The Sorrows of Victory”, and the sheer insanity of “Stateless”.
Proving once again that rules are made to be broken, Heaven Shall Burn have with Of Truth and Sacrifice unleashed upon the world a bold, towering statement of intent. These melodeath masters have plenty left in the tank after over two decades of mayhem, and if we can look forward to music of this caliber in the future, may they live forever. An outstanding achievement in a discography littered with them.
Read More: Review
SouphL – CommérageS
It’s been a long wait for the next Imperial Triumphant album, and at the onset of this year, I didn’t look like my thirst for new avant-garde death metal would be quenched any time soon. As if on cue, March responded with a vengeance. I just received the promo for the much anticipated new album from a blog favorite, right on the heels of discovering two excellent bands with innovative additions to death metal’s experimental landscape. While I praised Azure Emote’s unique, non-metal elements above, SouphL play with the soul of a death metal band haunted by deranged, impish ghouls. There’s a lot for death metal fans to latch onto here, only to be pulled in a myriad of different, unsettling directions.
For a simple overview, CommérageS is perhaps best described as Artificial Brain with splashes of maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot. Yet, that hardly does SouphL’s creative vision justice. The hendecet employs a broad array of musical motifs and instrumentation across a winding 40-minute track list. One moment you’re listening to absolute barn burners like “Avaler notre futur,” which trades biting, dissonant death metal for a psychedelic jazz jam at its conclusion. A couple songs later, you’re listening to mid-paced Colored Sands-era Gorguts spliced with Om on “Du vent sur nos tympans,” a 9-minute dirge that truly does feel like death metal performed for a spiritual experience.
It can be jarring on first listen, but the creativity on display compelled me to return time and again throughout the month. CommérageS definitely holds true to the heavier half of the “avant-garde metal” label, but it also demonstrates a keen devotion to seamlessly incorporating experimental elements early and often. SouphL may have been unknown to me before March, but I now plan on closely following whatever they unleash next.
Sutrah – Aletheia
Sometimes a debut album will sneak up on you well after you’ve first heard it, punching you in the back of the head and demanding further consideration. Sutrah’s Dunes is one such album, and as I’ve gotten more comfortable with its insanely proficient technical death metal charms I’ve come to consider it one of the more sterling opening salvos from a band on this branch of the metal tree in some time. It’s an assured, deeply creative, and expertly performed collection of tracks that I can recommend without hesitation. The band’s follow up to their delightful debut, Aletheia, is a far more compact but no less notable entry into a sonic canon that has the potential to be all-time great.
Clocking in at 28-minutes of music spanning four tracks, Aletheia most certainly has less time to deliver its message than its predecessor. Which makes “Variation I.I – Umwelt” such a fascinating opener. A lush, moderately paced and epically composed instrumental that ebbs and flows around a central riff that is both beautiful and melancholy, this probably wasn’t the first punch many listeners (myself included) expected a band with such obviously established technical chops to throw. But those who came for Sutrah’s technical and punishing sound need not fear, as subsequent track “Variation I.II – Lethe” uses that same central riff from its preceding track and turns it into a punishing technical hellscape, replete with manic drum work and impassioned vocals, that’s as intense as anything on Dunes. It’s Sutrah at the top of their game, which only builds as this EP continues. The second duo of variations follows a similar pattern to the first, setting a melodic motif in “Variation II.I – Dwell” and expanding into perhaps the most CinemaScope-esque levels the band have yet achieved with “Variation II.II – Genèse”, which runs through 14+ minutes of riffs with as much gusto and melodic heft as anything Sutrah have written previously. It’s a stellar end to a stellar recording.
If Sutrah’s outstanding debut gave you all the good feels, this follow-up EP should do nothing to dissuade you from continuing this epic musical journey. Aletheia does its predecessor justice, and further cements the band’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with in the technical death metal world. While many of us may be jonesing for another full-length recording, Aletheia gives us more than enough quality material to sink our teeth into while we wait for their next undoubtedly brilliant release. Great stuff.
Read More: Review
Sweven – The Eternal Resonance
While I most certainly enjoy the black metal gyrations of early Opeth, I’m not a deep hater of their most recent musical manifestation. 2019’s In Cauda Venenum may be my favorite record they’ve released in a decade, and was one of my top picks of the year. Still, I wouldn’t say that I don’t long for the heavier sounds of Blackwater Park or Still Life. And that’s where Sweven swoops in, filling the early Opeth-shaped hole in my heart with The Eternal Resonance, one of the most engaging progressive death metal releases I’ve been exposed to this year.
While the comparison isn’t perfectly apt, there’s a lot that Opeth fans will find to love about Sweven’s debut. Born from the ashes of the also excellent Morbus Chron, Sweven peddle a deeply atmospheric, often languid, always captivating style of death metal that leans heavily on progressive songwriting techniques to get its point across. “By Virtue of a Promise” delivers listeners a good overall example of the band’s general sound, stuffed full of great riffs, tempo and melodic changes, and enough reverb-heavy effects to make one feel like their swimming in a veritable sea of quality prog death. Speaking of Death, vocalist Robert Andersson channels an even filthier version of our dearly departed Chuck Schuldiner throughout, delivering what has to be one of my favorite death metal vocal performances of the year thus far. The performances are none-too-shabby either, with lead guitarist Isak Koskinen Rosemarin delivering riff after delicious riff with enough variety and energy to fill multiple lesser records. From start-to-finish, it’s just about all a progressive death metal fan could ask for.
I’ve been waiting for a record to give me the feels that early Opeth conjured all those years ago, and I’m thankful to say that Sweven have picked up the torch in that regard and carried into a deep dark place where only records like My Arms, Your Hearse live. Which is more than good enough for me.
Read More: Review
Temple of Void – The World That Was
There has been a shocking lack of quality death-doom over the past few months, in my estimation. While I’m sure that there are plenty of solid records I’ve missed or have yet to be able to give their proper due in this most nefariously menacing sectors of the death metal world, it seems like I can count on one hand the amount of records that have even dropped here that have made any sort of splash to my ears. But none of that matters now, because one of the biggest and best names in the business, Temple of Void, dropped their third full-length disasterpiece last month. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as it represents as fitting a soundtrack for the current moment as one could conjure. It’s a diabolically heavy masterclass of death-doom aggression that more than meets the lofty expectations placed upon it, and I can’t get enough of it.
The World That Was is in some ways a departure for the band, focusing more attention on melodic songwriting than the band has experimented with over their past two records. This is a more epic and less utterly dense affair that allows the band room to stretch their wings (and songwriting chops) in ways that are new but not at all unfamiliar. Opener “A Beast Among Us” is as gnarly as it sounds, channeling the heft of Hooded Menace without ever burying their excellent sense of melody beneath the maelstrom. This newfound emphasis on melody is even more apparent in the epic “Self-Schism”, which vacillates between slow and mercilessly punishing riffs and grand stretches of astral atmosphere that add a thoroughly ethereal vibe to the band’s established sound. The record is chock full of moments like this, making The World That Was a refreshing and surprisingly diverse listen.
Fans of the audio punishment meted out by Lords of Death will still find plenty to love here, but if you came only for the dankest and darkest of riffs The World That Was may well surprise you with its diversity and songwriting range. It’s the band’s most bold statement to date, and may go down as not only their most diverse release, but also their best. All hail the Lords of the Void. May their reign of terror endure.
Warp Chamber – Implements of Excruciation
In December of 2018 (two days before my birthday, actually), Pacific Northwest hellions Warp Chamber put out a demo tape called Abdication of the Mind. As all the best demos do, Abdication displayed in a short amount of time exactly what made Warp Chamber so special and different from other bands in this ongoing death metal upheaval. While others are busy slavishly attempting to forge onwards upon the bludgeoning low-and-slow path that Incantation and Autopsy started hacking away at so many years ago or worshipping at the buzzsaw shrine of Entombed, Warp Chamber are poring over the arcane songwriting of forgotten giants like Convulse and Adramelech, then splicing it with the arithmancy of the earlier works of Morbid Angel and the heart-stopping mosh parts that brought so much attention to NY death metal greats Suffocation.
Okay, that’s a lot of name dropping. But what the hell does that really sound like? Well, it sounds fucking awesome, I can tell you that for free. Warp Chamber have combined the pummeling midtempo sound of old Finnish bands with Azagthoth’s tendency for riffs that turn on a dime, and use that power to build up insane amounts of energy before letting loose with a nuclear riff or breakdown that is as irresistible as it is devastating. In the modern death metal revival, I’d say the closest thing you’ll find to the sound Warp Chamber explores is that of Tomb Mold, but even then, there isn’t much in common. They certainly share a bit of DNA in their expressed love for weirdness, but Warp Chamber is a faster, more agile, and altogether completely different beast than anything else in the scene right now.
Implements of Excruciation features both songs from Abdication and two new tracks, “Shadows of Long Forgotten Terror” and “Exultant in Chthonic Blasphemy.” Both of these songs are certainly on the level of the first demo, and show an exciting future for Warp Chamber. I can’t make you put this on, but I have to say, if you like old-school death metal in any capacity you would be a total fool to pass this up. Put on “Abdication of the Mind” and let the inferno of energy overtake you.
Aronious – Perspicacity (tech death)
Fange – Pudeur (industrial death metal)
Pestifer – Expanding Oblivion (tech death)
Rotting Kingdom – A Deeper Shade of Sorrow (death-doom)
Svengahli – Nightmares of Our Own Design (progressive tech death)