Editors’ Picks – April 2020

On the last episode of our podcast, Noyan challenged me with a question: is “The Golden Age of Metal” over? I had made the point that we’re living in the Golden Age of Metal back in 2016, although the idea was boiling around in Heavy Blog circles since at least 2014. He raised some good points on the cast: his most convincing is actually a combination of two points. The first is that there’s no clear “defining genre” for the metal community right now, at least not as defining as metalcore was for the mid-late 00’s or djent was the for the early 2010’s. That points to some sort of fracturing, a fragmenting of the scene into many disparate parts that each has their own zeitgeist, their own dominant, little main-stream.

The second point is that it seems as if the metal community is becoming more and more obsessed with the past. For anyone following my writing, my fascination with this idea shouldn’t come as a surprise; I’ve written at length on the blog about the ideas of formal nostalgia, the cancellation of the future, and how they manifest themselves in music. It seems as if these processes are now roosting within metal. Just look at the list below; it has two entries that are clear throwback music (Elder and Cirith Ungol) and another one by a major, established, and veteran band (Katatonia). If you look a bit further, it’s easy to see that movements like the traditional heavy metal revival or the old school death metal revival are everywhere in metal, perhaps the defining movements in our midst right now.

Naturally, the end of The Golden Age of Metal isn’t easy for me to accept. I’m still not sure I do accept it but it’s definitely not as clear shut of a case as it was in 2016. It’s hard for me to accept for two reasons: one, I’m a fan and being a fan of something that is undergoing a renaissance is a great feeling. But also two, it’s a narrative that has helped me make sense of my fandom, and my writing on the blog, a central tenet of my outlook on music in general and metal specifically, of course. It’s a good old friend, something I feel comfortable with.

But therein might lie the perfect reason to get rid of it. Forget questions of veracity like “is The Golden Age of Metal really over?”, endless bickering about the current state of the scene and how to define it. What if, instead, we realized that holding on to that narrative, even if it’s “true” (as far as something so crude being used to describe something so nuanced as a musical genre), is not to our benefit but rather to our detriment? What if I realized, and you along with me, that 2016 Eden was wrong to focus on The Golden Age of Metal and that the previous few years of my life has actually been about breaking down such grandiose gestures and narratives?

That would be wild, huh? Obviously it’s a process, not something which just happens in the introduction to a post. But actually, Editors’ Picks is a good crowbar to use in order to pry up the boards of this convenient narrative and, perhaps, air out the darkened chambers that lie beyond it. I mean, looking back on this column, I can see how many of its entries aren’t at all metal and, even those which are, don’t often conform to “what’s happening in the scene right now”. The point is not to laud our ever-so-unique musical taste (although I am proud of how eclectic this column tends to be) but to draw a conclusion: perhaps it’s not that I ever lived in The Golden Age of Metal. Perhaps it’s just that I love music so fucking much.

Yeah, what if everything I have been feeling for the past few years, as I dove deeper into multiple genres, sounds, and ideas, is just my growing elation at being able to listen to music? What if that very process, the interrogating of music, the learning of music, the appreciation of music, is what garnered that feeling in the first place? Were that to be true, the stark reality of my answer to the question of The Golden Age of Metal becomes clearer: who the fuck cares? And, deeper and more painful perhaps, why did I care, all those four years ago?

It will probably take me longer than a few paragraphs on a page to answer those questions. They’re probably the reason that I appreciate Noyan’s question so much, since it opens up new avenues of introspection for myself, new thoughts on the complex field that exists between what I feel about music and what I write about music. You might be surprised to learn (not really) that there isn’t a 100% overlap there. But for now, the answer is “who the fuck cares?” Look at all this amazing music! Whether any Golden Age is taking place or not, whether we are in decline or in ascent, whether we can even fit something as diverse as music into such boxes, look at all this amazing music! Every month we post this column (and others on the blog) and it’s chock full of incredible music, more music than I, or anyone else, will ever have the time to listen to. And is that not, at the end of the day, what matters? The music that is rather than our categorization of the music?

If it is, then The Golden Age of Metal is dead! Long live The Golden Age of Music! It always has, and always will, last forever.

Eden Kupermintz

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters (art pop, piano rock)

Whether you love or hate her (an even split among music fans), every Fiona Apple album is an event. Since she broke onto the scene with her excellent debut Tidal (1996), Apple has established herself as one of the most unique, powerful voices in contemporary music. She’s yet to put out a bad album along the way, following up Tidal with instant-classic When the Pawn… (1999), the underrated Extraordinary Machine (2005), and critical darling The Idler Wheel (2012). Granted, the structure of her music — piano, vocals, and chamber accompaniment along the way — isn’t especially unique. But it’s her approach to songwriting and commanding vocal presence that set her far apart from her singer/songwriting peers. She pulls from the worlds of art pop, piano rock, and vocal jazz to create awing tracks as intimate as they are overwhelming in their impact.

Apple has worked at her own pace since the relatively terse three-year gap between her first two albums. Just as The Idler Wheel floored listeners after a seven-year absence, Fetch the Bolt Cutters dropped with little warning nearly a decade later. And while the writing and recording process began in 2015, the album feels like it was created for our present moment. Fetch was largely written at Apple’s home and is her most raw and experimental album by a country mile, featuring extensive and varied percussion along with such oddities as a chorus of barking dogs. Yet, in a way, it’s exactly the kind of music Apple has produced throughout her accomplished, singular career. Her lyrics, delivery, and songwriting have always seem to reflect a musician more focused on being honest with her listeners and herself than any other compositional ideal. At a time where we’re all confined to our homes and inner thoughts, Fetch feels like Apple’s cry of solidarity.

Apple opens the album with a potent one-two punch. Opener “I Want You to Love Me” is a shockingly honest and insecure track featuring Apple musing over her lasting legacy over nothing but piano. She muses that “time is elastic,” and when “all my particles disband and disperse,” she knows that “none of this will matter in the long run/but I know a sound is still a sound around no one.” With that being the case, she croons that “while I’m in this body,” she wants someone to love her. It’s incredible to hear one of the most celebrated songwriters of the last several decades share her emotions and insecurities this openly.

Immediately after, the raucous Apple I love most jumps into full swing on “Shameika,” a self-love anthem that serves as the opening tracks’ perfect foil. Apple’s central piano line is intense, and the song’s consistent bounce and energy remains infectious throughout. Whether or not the character in the song was real or not is unclear to Apple (something she discussed on Genius). Yet, the crux of the song revolves around our own struggles to embrace our inner strength and talents, and the power that comes with fully embracing that inner dialogue (“I’m pissed off, funny, and warm/I’m a good man in a storm/And when the fall is torrential, I’ll recall/Shameika said I had potential”).

Once we reach the title track, our collective situation adds context to the album, perhaps intended by Apple and perhaps not. Regardless, it’s difficult to hear lyrics like “Fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been in here too long” and not relate to the sensation of containment and a yearning for total freedom. Of course, there are somewhat literal interpretations to this sentiment; it’s challenging to stay inside the vast majority of each week, and for some even longer. But the personal angle Apple takes — not belonging, dissolving friendships, isolation — are universal and constant, especially in an era of social distancing that will likely have more lasting effects than we realize.

With these thoughts in mind, and our lives as they are right now, the remainder of the album takes on new meaning. “Under the Table” details a classic marital dispute of clashing with a partner’s family or friends (“I told you I didn’t wanna go to this dinner … So when they say something that makes me start to simmer/That fancy wine won’t put this fire out/Kick me under the table all you want/I won’t shut up”). Today, we might crave for even life’s more annoying moments for the sheer sake of normalcy.

As the album progresses, and Apple explores darker themes of anger toward society and lost or disintegrating love, it feels like these emotions are festering in a bored, scared, isolated mind. She denounces image-obsessed bourgeois on “Relay” (“I resent you presenting your life like a fucking propaganda brochure”), conducts a fictional conversation with an ex’s new partner (“I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me/To make sure that we’ll never be friends”), and more, all over increasingly dark, percussive compositions. Even when she says a line inspired by a children’s gardening book on “Heavy Balloon,” the husk and power of her voice leaves you hanging on every word (“I spread like strawberries/I climb like peas and beans”).

Again, love or hate her, Apple is a force to be reckoned with, and there’s simply no way you can’t leave Fetch devoid of emotion. Those feelings might be revulsion, adoration, or somewhere in between. But with an album this open in its substance and visceral in its delivery, I challenge anyone to argue Apple hasn’t produced an essential soundtrack for 2020, and a record that will endure long after all her “particles disband and disperse.” Leave it to a songwriter like Apple to continue releasing “her best album yet” with each new addition to her discography. As a songwriter who releases music on her own terms, she couldn’t have picked a better time to drop arguably the finest statement of her illustrious career.

Scott Murphy

Cirith Ungol – Forever Black (heavy metal, power metal)

Any heavy metal fan worth their salt knows the story of Cirith Ungol: they were one of the greatest groups of musicians to grace the genre, but never could catch the break that graced similar bands like Dio or Manowar, or, hell Black Sabbath. Formed in 1972 in California, it took them almost a decade to release their first album, 1981’s Frost and Fire. From there, they would go on to release three more albums: King of the Dead in 1984, One Foot in Hell in 1986, and Paradise Lost in 1991. All of these albums are must-listens for fans of classic metal.

The band’s sound is a fascinating melange of heavy metal’s closest relatives; Cirith Ungol songs pull from the bluesy heavy psych of bands like Mountain as much as they do the tritonic metal tropes laid down by Black Sabbath on their first couple albums. Lyrically, they have a foot in both worlds as well, with song topics ranging from pursuing stardom and partying hard to epic homages to Moorcock, Tolkien, and other monoliths of fantasy and science fiction. This sort of dialectical nature in composition – the nerdy with the badass, the dorks with the motorcycle-riding tough guys – is certainly not unique to Cirith Ungol, but they bought harder into both sides than most other bands have before or since, creating a combination that genuinely felt of both worlds. (One could certainly make a reasonable argument that this truly chimeric nature played more than its fair part in Cirith Ungol’s seeming inability to rise to the stardom they so deserved, but no matter – that time is past.)

As we’ve seen with many bands previously relegated to metal’s graveyard of the almost-greats, though, the mere existence of the internet can be a reviving shock to the heart of a cult classic band’s popularity (one need look no further than Demilich or Abhorrence to see this in action). Cirith Ungol were certainly the happy recipients of this truly excellent phenomenon and reunited in 2015 with entirely original members, the sole exception being Jarvis Leatherby replacing Michael Vujea on bass (and without one of the three guitarists from before hiatus, Jerry Fogle, who sadly passed away in 1998). In 2018, they released the single “Witch’s Game” to a shocked and delighted audience. It’s an amazing song still, an eight-minute epic on par with their classics that has a clear, powerful, direct message: the kings are back.

Come 2020, and we have Forever Black. My god, what a comeback! What a stellar return for one of the undersung heroes of the traditional metal revival movement currently sweeping metal! Every song on Forever Black is great, and great in Cirith Ungol fashion as well. Tim Baker’s banshee-howl has aged immaculately into a wizened, experienced rasp, the guitarwork perfectly picks up where their reserved, mid-tempo style left off in ‘91. Production-wise, it’s probably their best album to date as well: one of the other huge reasons Cirith Ungol had a hard time ever breaking into the big leagues was their production, which was always thin and reedy, which, along with the vocals of Tim Baker, gave everything a very love-it-or-leave-it sound that does not lend well to mass appeal. Not so on Forever Black. The guitars are expansive and clear, the bass thick and stout, and the drums punch with gusto. I can’t know for sure what the recording sessions were like for Forever Black, but everything present emanates the aura of a band with a plan, a mission, and the power to get where they want to go.

However, Forever Black doesn’t just play as a collection of B-sides given new life. Songs like “Legions Arise,” “The Fire Divine,” and “Fractus Promissum” have a galloping, up-tempo energy that was never this present in the band’s previous work, colliding thunderous riffs with Baker’s vocals to make truly anthemic pieces. “Frost Monstreme” and “Stormbringer” are closer to the band’s typical affair, but even here, there’s a willingness to experiment with form and not just play it straight: the break into heavy psych riffs in the former and the reverberating cries of the latter are certainly not outside the band’s wheelhouse, but they are far more brazen diversions into facets of their sound than one would expect. For every moment on Forever Black that simply pays homage to the band’s past, there are two that are genuinely new and exciting directions, defying everyone who had tepid expectations for a new album from these guys.

I could go on forever about how much I love this band and this record, but I’ll leave it here: Forever Black is way, way more than just a comeback album. In fact, calling it a comeback album feels almost insulting, as though Cirith Ungol is only concerned with making a new record with nary a thought given to any sort of artistic merit in their enterprise. Sure, it’s been a long while – almost 30 years – since the last Cirith Ungol record, but listening to Forever Black, you’d swear it hasn’t been more than a fraction of that time. It’s a new and exciting step into the present and future for one of heavy metal’s hardest-working, hardest-rocking, cult classic bands, and I couldn’t be happier to witness it.

Read More: Review

Simon Handmaker

Elder – Omens (progressive stoner rock, heavy psych)

Back in 2015 (fuck, that was five years ago, wasn’t it?), Nick and I wrote a post about the way that the famous “Hero’s Journey” (a cultural idea still useful despite the fact that its main proponent, Joseph Campbell, was a probably not a nice guy) is expressed in metal. We used two albums to frame that discussion, Dreadnought’s Bridging Realms (one of the most underrated releases of the previous decade) and Elder’s Lore. We took a look at how the music (and the album’s artwork) communicated the idea of progress, myth, legend, and narrative, weaving in and out of musical ideas and lyrics to convey a sense of distance travelled, whether that distance be physical (like in Bridging Realms’s sci-fi concept), personal (like in the psychological changes which both albums discuss), or cultural (like the expression of the mythical in Elder’s work).

What the distance of five years has shown me is that the concept of progression and distance travelled are not “just” musical or conceptual ideas, for both bands. Both bands have grown and changed immensely over these years; Dreadnought, to which I’ll probably need to dedicate their own post, went from spacey, progressive, blackened metal through a hyper-evocative and expansive phase, and towards the introspective, restrained, and “deep” music they made on their latest release, Emergence. Elder on the other hand, seem to have “opened” up their music, exchanging the lightning focus and delivery of Lore first with the psychedelic and energetic Reflections of a Floating World. But then, they turned towards more progressive and “desert” sounds, channeling acts like Camel (interestingly also present on Dreadnought’s Bridging Realms) when they made the evocative and hazy The Gold and Silver Sessions.

Which brings us, on this little journey we’re taking, to Omens, their most “open” album yet. Elements from previous releases are certainly maintained on this release. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be Elder. The thick riffs on “In Procession” for example would certainly fit on Lore. But the mode is what’s changed, the flavor of the sound and the preference given to its different elements. Where, in previous releases, the more expansive, languishing segments (like the calmer, delay-tinged passages on “In Procession”) would be interludes or bridges, here they take up most of the runtime. The heavier segments are now interludes, or choruses, or bridges, or outros. The hero is the same: only their expression, their mindset, their mode, changes on the road.

In that sense, Elder is one of the most impressive bands of the last decade and the early (catastrophic in many ways) start to this one. Love their music or hate it, like this new direction or not, there is one thing no one can take away from Elder and that is their dedication to momentum, to growth, to the continued exploration of their music. Elder don’t need to explore what their music means; they have proven to us that they always knew, somewhere inside. Instead, quite like Dreadnought, they are exploring how that meaning is expressed. Omens, for those listening carefully, is only one direction in which Elder could have gone and it is the direction that felt right to then. Like the hero on their path, only their commitment to the journey is what guides them and that, if nothing else, is admirable to the highest degree.

Read More: Review | Genre Genesis

EK

Katatonia – City Burials (prog metal, goth metal)

I don’t often get transfixed by a piece of music. Sure, there’s a standard level of investment that is required to write about or critically evaluate music in any capacity, and I often find myself occupying that attentive, slightly more invested space frequently. But that feeling of music melding seamlessly, sinuously, into everyday life is a rare one for me. So when I write about Katatonia’s genuinely glorious 12th full-length record City Burials, know that my words are completely loaded with emotional bias. I’d been patiently awaiting this record for many months, checking for a promo regularly so that I could get my fix of the band’s legendary amalgamation of prog and goth rock, and finally getting my hands on the record was a cathartic moment. Especially given the strange time we’re in. It’s nearly impossible to write about this band without some level of experience bias, and this has never been more true than now for myself. Katatonia means a lot of things to a lot of people, and in our currently locked down world they have begun to mean even more to me than they did previously. City Burials is exactly the right record for this exact moment of my life, and lord I love it so.

Eden dropped a fantastic review of this record earlier in the week, and covered the complexities and triumphs of the record far better than I will ever be able to. So in an attempt to avoid too much redundancy, I’ll simply state that City Burials is musically fantastic. One of Katatonia’s great powers as a body of musicians and songwriters is their inherent knack for inserting genuine human emotion into nearly every sonic scenario. The Opeth-like melodic chops of “Behind the Blood” never overwhelm Jonas Renske’s emotive vocals, bringing the focus of each song in one way or another back to his magnificent voice, which is in top form throughout. The much beloved “Lacquer” is perhaps the best example of the band’s increasingly impressive ability to allow their lush musical arrangements to sink into the background without ever feeling insubstantial. After thirty years, Katatonia know what to emphasize and when, and there are few moments on the record that aren’t simply charming. “City Glaciers” is straight-up fantastic, bringing an orchestral, mid-tempo epicness to the proceedings, while “Neon Epitaph” channels an almost 80s vibe with its funky bass line and reverb-heavy percussion. It’s a bit all over the place, to be honest, but it all fits so well together that the variety in the record quickly becomes one of its many commendable aspects.

But these nuances honestly aren’t why I’ll remember City Burials for years to come. It’s the pitch black nights where I stared at the ceiling and just let a record fill my mind and heart with communal sadness and elation that have endeared it to me in a big way. In a global moment drenched in anxiety, depression, loneliness, and general isolation, there’s been no better soundtrack in my life for the current apocalypse, and the serenity this record has encouraged reaches far beyond the merits of its musicianship and songwriting. Each of these tracks has something musically interesting to offer, but the beating, bleeding heart of City Burials is its true claim to fame within an absolutely stellar discography. There are plenty of incredible, emotionally resonant releases in the band’s back catalog, but City Burials feels like it was designed just for me and this moment, and for that I am truly grateful.

Read More: Review

Jonathan Adams

Trivium – What the Dead Men Say (metalcore, thrash)

Apropos of the “Golden Age of Metal” discussion, we are in a golden age of Trivium. Trivium have never not been good, but every album of theirs has been pretty different from each other, oftentimes causing debate in the fanbase. 2008’s Shogun is generally accepted as their magnum opus, and ever since then, the narrative has been one of a declining band. I’d posit that they don’t need a Shogun 2.0, as there can never be such an album, and there shouldn’t be. Shogun is great, yes, but the band is constantly pushing in a different direction. 2011’s In Waves was great because of it. 2017’s The Sin and The Sentence was great because of it. And we wouldn’t have gotten What the Dead Men Say, their best album in over a decade, and probably their second best album, if they hadn’t kept pushing.

I’ve said more or less all that there is to say in my review. I can’t really offer much else here in terms of thoughts on the album as-is. What I can talk about instead is how my perception of it keeps evolving. I’ve been listening to it for about a month now, and I’ve been barely able to listen to anything else. Songs that I originally didn’t pay much attention to, like “Bending the Arc to Fear”, now are some of my favorites. Every new Trivium release throws me into a similar pattern, but this is their smoothest, most natural release in so long. Every moment is necessary, everything flows so well. This is a band operating on all cylinders, not trying to recapture a former glory, but to reach a new height. It’s pretty wild that 9 albums in they’re still able to surprise and stay consistent to every other album they’ve made.

Trivium are a great band to be the face of metal. Their music is approachable yet has depth. They have blast beats, shredding sweep solos, but also chant-along choruses and breakdowns. Their social media presence is positive and inclusive. Matt is one of the biggest streamers on Twitch, streaming twice every weekday, taking requests, doing covers, fooling around. They keep looking for new ways to engage with fans, while not being beholden to the parasocial downward spiral of attention. The reaction also speaks to this – the album has charted in high positions in many countries and has been among their most successful, 20 years into their career. Sure, metal journalists might be focusing on the past and more insular genres, but the numbers speak for themselves, and there is no better band than Trivium to be breaking these barriers and bringing people together. And What the Dead Men Say encapsulates all of that.

Read More: Review | Interview

Noyan

Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind (avant-pop, post-industrial)

It’s a rare occasion that I feel like I don’t possess the correct knowledge or vocabulary to speak at length about a release I love. Similar to the Fiona Apple record that Scott wrote about though, Sean Bowie, aka Yves Tumor, is someone who is out there just doing their own thing and not waiting for anyone else to define it. The first time I heard the cut up horn blares of opener “Gospel For a New Century” mixed in with Bowie’s laid-back and wry delivery, I was as confused by it as I was immediately engaged and taken by it.

For the rest of Heaven To a Tortured Mind I felt like I was playing catch-up. Tumor is the rare individual who possesses such a strong sense of self musically that even as they’re zig-zagging across a pantheon of sounds, chopped-up samples, wailing electronics, and styles ranging from 70s glam rock to modern soul and funk, garage rock, and beyond, they are never not in full control and owning it.

Tracks like “Kerosene,” for instance, truly plays up the campy and glammed-up rock side of things with soaring guitars, waist-deep percussive funk pockets, and a duet whose wild emotion plays the perfect foil to Tumor’s steady voice. It’s David Bowie, Prince, and Fleetwood Mac in one package. It’s a lot, and it’s awesome. Meanwhile, the exact next track, “Hasdallen Lights,” might as well be a Thundercat song if Thundercat played a disco. “Dream Palette” is another one that completely eludes me in terms of accurately describing the sound and what’s going on other than to say it makes me want to shout and get the fuck down.

And here’s why I felt reticent to write about this album in the first place. I feel reduced to simply writing about how it instinctually makes me feel rather than writing about any of the deeper mechanics of it because, frankly, I don’t have at all a good grasp of what those mechanics are. What am I supposed to say when an album goes from the hushed and bright 60s pop tones of “Strawberry Privilege” immediately into the deep space funk of “Asteroid Blues” and closes on a deeply sensual and touching soul tribute in “A Greater Love?” It’s scattered, but highly consistent. The scope is huge, but it’s also deeply intimate and personal.

Don’t ask me how any of this works, okay? Just listen to me when I say this thing is really damn good and I don’t fully understand why and am 100% okay with that.

Read More: Review

Nick Cusworth

Ulcerate – Stare Into Death and Be Still (dissonant tech death, post-metal)

The word “dissonant” gets bandied about regularly in reference to New Zealand death metal trip Ulcerate. Historically, that’s certainly been the case; pulling up 2009’s Everything Is Fire will yield guitars shrieking in a swirling chaos, in keeping with their stylistic lineage through Gorguts and Deathspell Omega. 2016’s Shrines of Paralysis also featured some of the band’s most oppressive work to date, with opening track “Abrogation” springing furiously into organized cacophony. In moments such as these, dissonant is certainly a fitting descriptor. 

However, with Stare Into Death And Be Still, it gets complicated. The band sought to reassess their relationship with melody for their sixth full-length, and as such, the band’s sound became much more expressive. Haunting chord progressions come in and out of play throughout Stare Into Death, and by the time the mid-tempo title track comes along early in the album’s runtime, it would be difficult to refer to the album as disharmonious. Even still, the band finds time to indulge in sonic violence; the guitars are creeping and technical and the bass grinds away under an indulgent but nuanced drum performance by Jamie Saint Merat, who is, without exaggeration, one of the absolute best drummers in extreme metal.

Somehow, Ulcerate have managed to craft a death metal record that is as imposing and oppressive as it is elegant and empyrean. Real weight can be felt on this album, heightened by cavernous reverb and larger-than-life production. Now more than ever, Ulcerate have earned their place as the forerunners of post-death metal, and Stare Into Death And Be Still might just be their masterwork. 

Read More: Review | Death’s Door

Jimmy Rowe

Honorable Mentions

Azath – Through a Warren of Shadow (death metal)

Do you want your death metal to go fast, chunky, and mad? Do you want it to be based on one of the best epic fantasy book series of all time? Of course you do! Then listen to Azath!

Read More: Review | Death’s Door

-EK

Barrens – Penumbra (post-rock, synth rock)

For those who like their synth rock deep, dark, and prodding, boy do I have the album for you. Sweden’s Barrens come out swinging on their debut album, threading together the best elements of later era Mogwai and 65daysofstatic while they still wrote like a rock band.

-NC

Caustic Wound – Death Posture (deathgrind)

Members of Magrudergrind, FetidMortiferum, and Cerebral Rot started a deathgrind supergroup called Caustic Wound and unsurprisingly, it fucking rips. This will be an album to beat in grind for 2020.

Read More: Grind My Gears

-JR

City Girl – Goddess of the Hollow / Siren of the Formless (chillwave, lo-fi hip-hop)

The best urban/ambient/dream/chill synthwave project is back with a double album, this time channeling a more fantastical, otherworldly vibe. If you want to feel the world fall away beneath you, these are the albums you need. And deserve.

-EK

GRID – Decomposing Force (free jazz, noise rock)

At the intersection of avant-garde jazz, free improv, and noise rock lies Decomposing Force, yet another excellent project from this super-trio out of NYC’s experimental music scene.

Read More: Review

SM

The Kraken Quartet + Adobo – Backdrop (post-math rock)

Percussive post-rock foursome The Kraken Quartet team up with songwriter Adobo, and the results are nothing short of magical. Soulful, groovy, and positively bubbling with kinetic and positive energy throughout, Backdrop showcases a side of the group I had no idea existed and am now aching to hear much more of.

-NC

Light Dweller – Hominal (dissonant death metal)

Damn Hominal is great. Noisy, technically sound, riff-obsessed and expertly performed. One of the more interesting and well-designed death metal records in this space released this year. The fact that this is only Light Dweller’s second record is wild. 

Read More: Death’s Door

JA

Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin kynsi (avant-garde black metal, psychedelic black metal)

I’ve written enough about this record. If you are in any way, shape, or form a fan of the far reaches of experimental black metal, Mestarin kynsi will be on repeat for a very long time. Just listen to it already.

read More: Kvlt Kolvmn

JA

tētēma – necroscape (experimental rock, industrial)

Consider this a new essential release from Mike Patton‘s storied career, as he and Anthony Pateras enlist a dedicated rhythm section to elevate their bizarre, intense bouts of industrial rock.

Read More: Review

SM

X – Alphabetland (punk, psychobilly)

Among all the truly horrendous shit that’s come our way in 2020, I’m glad we had this pleasant surprise amid all the not-so-pleasant daily developments. After a 27-year hiatus, legendary Cali punks X are back with a brand new collection of fun, spunky tracks. It mainly sounds like they’re trying to recreate the magic on Los Angeles, and you know what? It works pretty damn well.

SM

Further Listening

Barishi – Old Smoke (progressive stoner, sludge metal)

Black Curse – Endless Wound (blackened death metal)

The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous (melodeath)

Błoto – Erozje (broken beat, nu-jazz)

Dawnwalker – Crestfallen (blackened folk metal)

DRAIN – California Cursed (crossover thrash, hardcore)

Helfró – Helfró (black metal)

Hexvessel – Kindred (prog rock, psychedelic folk)

High Priestess – Casting the Circle (stoner doom)

Khôra – Timaeus (avant-garde metal, blackened death metal)

Lord Fowl – Glorious Babylon (stoner rock, heavy psych)

Marrowfields – Metamorphoses (doom metal)

Maserati – Enter the Mirror (post-rock, krautrock)

Million Lands – The Ochre World (space rock, post-rock)

Moor Jewelry – True Opera (indie punk, noise rock)

The Mountain Goats – Songs for Pierre Chuvin (indie folk)

Purity Ring – Womb (synthpop, electropop)

Savant – Void (electro-house, brostep)

Sinistral King – Sinistral Uncoiling (black metal)

Spell – Opulent Decay (heavy metal)

Thundercat – It Is What It Is (r&b, jazz fusion)

Traveler – Termination Shock (heavy metal)

Vampire Squid – Reinventing the Eel (progressive tech death, mathcore)

Vasudeva – Generator (post-rock)

Zopp – Zopp (prog rock, Canterbury Scene)

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