It’s been a bad year. We’re in a collective bad mood. There’s little that soothes a soul in tumult like bad music. You know the kind of “bad” I’m referring to. The type that rips your face from your body, that crushes your bones and grinds them to powder. It’s the kind of music that bolsters your spirit through a perpetually barrage of power that gives your rage a channel, a focus, an outlet of exultant ventilation. That’s the type of “bad” music that 2020 has given us, and I don’t know how we could have survived without it.
November was an extremely diverse month for death metal, with a veritable slew of premium releases that may well end up on year-end lists despite a depressingly short amount of time to digest comparatively. I’ve been hearing that 2020 was a bad year for metal in general, and I just don’t get it. The year was an absolute dumpster fire on nearly every metric, but quality musical output is not one of those factors. Death metal in particular continues to churn out quality content well into the end of the year, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down as we approach 2021. It’s a good time to be a death metal fan.
As is tradition, Scott and I are here to deliver unto thee the goods. Post your favorite albums of the year in the comments and let us know what big bad records you enjoyed this past month. Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay death.
Cream of the Crop
Countless Skies – Glow
Have you ever just stared at an album’s cover while its music fills the room? That’s one of the things that always appealed to me about vinyl; putting the needle on the record and staring at a large print of the artwork always seems to amplify the experience. I used to do this all the time with my dad’s vintage copy of Drama by Yes. Pairing soaring, melodic symphonic prog with a gatefold of a frozen, alien world just feels right.
Besides some of the best melodeath I’ve heard in years (ever?), Countless Skies leveraged this same experience with their sophomore album Glow. They’ve selected sublime, vibrant covers throughout their career, but this latest piece is truly at another level. It’s definitely low hanging fruit to use the term “transportive” or whatever, but seriously, just look at it; tell me that’s not one of the best covers you’ve seen in 2020.
It also happens to be the perfect embodiment of how Countless Skies approach melodeath. The band’s epic and progressive take on the genre manifests in ways that might seem obvious: sweeping melodies and solos, flourishes of acoustic guitar, a growling/singing dynamic, etc. But with Glow, it’s ALL about the execution. You might be able to predict the general sound and style awaiting you on Glow, but you have to press play to fully experience the highs Countless Skies reaches with each element of their sound. Picture the best aspects of Opeth, Insomnium, and Omnium Gatherum and launch them into the stratosphere.
Picking highlights among the four tracks (and three-part suite) was a challenge, but perhaps my favorite moment on the album is the dynamic between “Moon” and “Zephyr” at the core of the album. With “Moon,” you have the exact kind of sweeping melodeath epic the album cover advertises, except everything hits higher than your predictions. The dueling guitars glide around each other effortlessly, the acoustic accompaniment is perfectly placed, and the vocals soar beautifully above it all.
Suddenly, “Zephyr” opens with a surprising level of serenity and subtlety. A sliding bass line cushions delicate guitar melodies and vocals with almost a folkish narrative style. After a brief lull, the song bursts into full view, essentially completing an image of sunrise breaking the shadow of night.
This one-two punch would itself serve as an excellent EP, and yet there are countless more moments surrounding them on arguably the finest melodeath album of the year. Whether you’re a fan of the genre or the more melodic and progressive sides of metal, this needs to be the next album on your playlist.
Best of the Rest
Of Feather and Bone – Sulfuric Disintegration
I’ve been anticipating this album from the first time I heard “Resounding From the Depths” launch into full swing on Bestial Hymns of Perversion (2018). Not only was that one of the filthiest deathgrind albums I’ve heard in some time, it showed a band bringing new energy to the genre and positioning themselves to be a death metal staple for years to come. Candidly, Bestial Hymns has found itself in my rotation a bit more than the likes of Blood Incantation and Tomb Mold; there’s just something so immediate and intense about Of Feather and Bone that keeps me engaged spin after spin.
So what was the band’s strategy heading into Sulfuric Disintegration? Do everything they’ve already done well, except better. It’s really that simple. Once again, the band take a mini-LP approach with just six tracks, deprioritizing length for the sake of dense, multi-faceted compositions. Each of the songs on Sulfuric Disintegration would be a highlight track on other death metal offerings. The band blend speed, atmosphere, and riffs in perfect ratios throughout each track, swinging from deathgrind to death-doom and back again while making plenty of OSMD pit stops along the way.
This is true of particularly album centerpiece “Noctemnania.” An isolated blastbeat unleashes a torrent of intensity that twists and contorts as the song progresses, spending extended periods romping through grimy, mid-paced riffs. It truly is the riffs that drive the band’s success on Sulfuric Disintegration. As much as I love the breakneck speed on “Consecrated and Consumed,” it’s the way the band colors in the blur with massive riffs and blistering solos that keeps the song engaging throughout. “Sulfuric Sodomy” in particular has some of the nastiest riffs on the album, especially toward the backend; they channel the opening salvo on Morbid Angel’s “World of Shit” and amplify the heaviness and sinister vibes tenfold.
Closing with another barn burner is another aspect of Sulfuric Disintegration that proves Of Feather and Bone and comfortable and adept in their own lane. Instead of opting for a cliche “epic” closer, the band simply continue doing what they do best: aggressive deathgrind that truly does make you feel like you’re being “Baptized in Boiling Phlegm.” Cheers to one of the nastiest (and best) death metal bands on the modern circuit; may there be many more highlights to come, and hopefully sooner rather than later.
Bloodsoaked Necrovoid – Expelled into the Unknown Depths of the Unfathomable
Unlike its extreme metal cousin black metal, death metal has typically favored pure, unfiltered aggression over atmosphere as a fundamental tenet of its sound. Bands like Ulcerate, Blood Incantation, Altarage, and Portal are obvious exceptions to this trend, but they seem to be the exception in 2020 rather than the rule. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, just divergent elements of style. But being a devotee of all-encompassing atmosphere in my extreme music, it’s a rare delight when bands like Bloodsoaked Necrovoid join the fray as they do in their utterly engrossing debut Expelled into the Unknown Depths of the Unfathomable. Blending abject heaviness with meditative, often trance-like songwriting absolutely slathered in atmosphere, there’s little about this record that I don’t love unabashedly.
Though the above mentioned bands may be more familiar to those who enjoy healthy doses of atmosphere in their death metal, Bloodsoaked Necrovoid tread a notably different sonic path. Helming closer in songwriting structure and tempo to bands like Krypts, Hooded Menace, or dISEMBOWELMENT, Bloodsoaked Necrovoid plumb the depths of death-doom with meticulous precision and adventurousness. There’s a spirit of profound darkness that emanates from each track, with “Perverted Astral Intoxication for a Death Incarnation” serving as a near-perfect example of the band’s unique blend of extreme metal sounds. Vacillating between uptempo death metal obliteration and funereal riff-building, there’s a sense of unease and mercilessness that pervades Expelled. The dirge-like final minute of that track in particular, with its slow and deliberate pacing, feels neither dull nor unimaginative. It’s a menacing, unsettling stretch of music that only adds to the overall atmosphere of the record. Moments like this can be found throughout the record, keeping the listener constantly engaged. Which, for death-doom, is a feat in and of itself.
I really don’t have anything negative to say about this record. There are few that have reached the quality of its euphoric blend of death/doom/atmo intensity, and for that it deserves all the space you can give it. One of the most compelling, entrancing, and truly immersive death metal listens of the year. Look for more on this amazing record as we count down our favorites of 2020 in a couple months. I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t make at least a few appearances.
Omegavortex – Black Abomination Spawn
Ever hear those records that sound exactly like their title suggests they should? Omegavortex’s Black Abomination Spawn is one of those. Melding black and death metal tropes with an energy and sonic violence that few this year have been able to duplicate, this record is an absolute brights spot for Morbid Angel fans who want their Dominion-worship sprinkled with an extra helping of intensity. It’s chaotic, it’s riff-heavy, it’s amazing.
This record had me literally from its opening moments, where I was unsure if I was about to embark on a death metal journey or headbang to a modern thrash opus. The blending of styles and themes in Black Spawn Abomination is one of its defining features, but it’s the nucleus of sheer brutality that makes it all feel of a piece. “Void Possessor” is a perfect example of this, blending winding dissonant black metal guitar sections with an at times almost hardcore percussive aesthetic that careen wildly before diving headlong into raw death metal riff-worship and Slayer-esque solo work. It’s emblematic of the record as a whole, blending its styles with such ferocity and focus that despite the various motifs and obvious influences hovering over the record like decrepit specters, it never fails to sound distinctly like Omegavortex. It’s really something else.
Fans of the faster, more aggressive strains of OSDM should love Black Abomination Spawn. It’s relentless, diverse, and utterly filthy blackened death metal that seeps itself into your brain and doesn’t loosen its grip for even a moment throughout its runtime. I’ve had more fun with this record than most in this space over the past year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on a slew of year-end lists. Premium stuff.