Hello and welcome to yet another edition of Editors’ Picks! This time around we’re running things in a bit of a condensed format, as several editors are away dealing with life stuff. What’s life stuff? Well, just about everything is life stuff, when you think about it! Regardless, the amount of music we have for you this time around might be diminished but its quality certainly isn’t; from the weird neo-psych vibes of YĪN YĪN, through the somber post-punk of Fontaines D.C and all the way to the demolishing sludge of Pyrithe, we’ve got a little bit for everyone. And a little goes a long way, or so my mom always tells me. OK, what the hell am I writing? Let’s get to the music!
Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia (post-punk)
Post-punk has had a grip on me since I first dived deeply into music. The monotone haranguing of Interpol and The National’s adjacent mid-career game changers set me on a course of discovery that has yet to abate. Excitingly, there are quite a few post-punk bands making waves in the contemporary scene. Protomartyr, Algiers, Preoccupations, Ought, Iceage, and shame are just a few noteworthy acts (and though their style continues to evolve, IDLES also stands tall among such company), and it seems like every couple of years a new group emerges to widespread acclaim and recognition. But post-punk continues to, for the most part, remain in its own niche, existing like a haunted specter on the margins of indie music. Well, most except for Ireland’s Fontaines D.C. A Mercury Prize nomination, Grammy consideration, and their first number one album designation in Ireland and the UK have facilitated a meteoric rise for the dark, dulcet tones lyrically and sonically that Fontaines D.C. conjure, which is honestly both surprising and delightful, as well as deeply deserved. The band’s first two records were thoroughly excellent, with their sophomore release A Hero’s Death ranking high on my year-end list for 2020. Needless to say that expectations were high for the band’s third full-length Skinty Fia, and I’m happy to report that Fontaines D.C. not only met my lofty expectations, but in many ways exceeded them.
When viewing Fontaines D.C.’s catalog up to this point, it would be fairly easy to state that the band have focused mainly on the poetic convulsions of Grian Chatten, and that has obviously proved a winning formula for the band. But with Skinty Fia, the band moves into much more adventurous sonic textural territory that creates a more lush and rich musical experience than we’re used to hearing from them. That isn’t to say the music in their previous two albums was somehow lackluster, but always seemed like drapery around Chatten’s window into sadness and madness. Now, their music feels like an entire room, colorful, lived in, and a bit askew. This emphasis lifts Skinty Fia into more balanced and intriguing territory that serves their overall sound incredibly well. The guitars in “How Cold Love Is” and the drums in “Jackie Down the Line” aren’t just supporting players, but central components of each track that not only exist higher in the mix, but are written with intentionality and full recognition of their place within the track. It’s an impressive shift in direction that elevates nearly every track here to among the best sounding and most complete packages in the band’s catalog.
But for those who worry about the band sacrificing their melancholic edge for increased lushness in their musical approach, “I Love You” should put all of those fears to rest. Chatten unloads a forlorn and angry love letter to his home country that is among the most affecting and impactful strings of words he has ever strung together. The same could be said about “Roman Holiday”, which is a definitive highlight that provides ample proof that the band have only evolved as songwriters and deliverers of sad and passionate messages. In every aspect, Skinty Fia is a distinguished record that builds upon the incredibly strong foundation laid by Dogrel and A Hero’s Death, culminating in their most impactful and impressive record to date. If you have yet to give this band a go, I can’t think of a better place to start. Truly exceptional, adventurous post-punk.
Pharmacist – Flourishing Extremities on Unspoiled Mental Grounds (death metal)
There have been a deluge of excellent new metal bands in the last couple years, as spending far more time alone and indoors has allowed people to exercise their creative impulses to a much greater degree than previously capable. Pharmacist seem to be one of those bands; this semi-anonymous group slopped their way to the front of the goregrind phalanx in June of 2020 with the Forensic Pathology Jurisprudence EP and cemented their position leading the charge with their debut LP Medical Renditions of Grinding Decomposition in August of the same year. Since then, they’ve released a bevy of EPs and splits, and now come to us almost two years out from their first release with their second full-length record.
It isn’t particularly hard to tell that Pharmacist have a soft spot (read: Suppurating Lesion of Massive Cystic Disgustulation) for Carcass’ outstanding work on 1989’s Symphonies of Sickness and 1991’s Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious, but where most goregrind bands zig into the hyperspeed goreblasting territory lorded over by Last Days of Humanity and Exhumed, Pharmacist zag into the stranger and more melodic tendencies that Carcass didn’t fully excavate until Heartwork in 1993, without losing the overall pervertuosity and embludgeonmentation that their idols sacrificed in the transition. They’ve presented an interesting window into what could have been, sort of playing into being the most interesting and appreciable version of a band like Gruesome.
Flourishing Extremities takes another lurch in this general direction and brings in an influence that is as decidedly un-gory as death metal really gets: latter-day Death. There are numerous passages on this record that would feel right at home on any album between Human and The Sound of Perseverance, and the song structures echo these changes by veering even further towards the longform progressive tracks that characterized much of Chuck Schuldiner’s later writing. The addition of Andrew Lee of Skullsmasher and Houkago Grind Time as essentially a session soloist adds even more texture to the affair, as his bright and melodic soloing style turns parts of each song into an exercise in stretching out Mortalized-style grind guitar and brings the disparate melodic and crunchy influences behind Flourishing Extremities together in style.
That’s a lot of name-dropping to say this is a cool album, but Pharmacist are slowly evolving from an airtight but demonstrably unoriginal goregrind band into a unique force within the landscape of modern death metal. It’s rare to see a band that started off on such good footing grow so much and so rapidly, but Flourishing Extremities on Unspoiled Mental Grounds prove that they have the guts to make it work. Expect to see those guts on an album cover soon.
Pyrithe – Monuments to Impermanence (progressive sludge)
You know it’s going to be a good album when the first thirty seconds make you go “holy shit” and that is definitely the case with Pyrithe’s Monuments to Impermanence. Beyond the sheer heaviness and aural assault of the monstrously distorted riffs and incessant blast-beats of “Asurviance”, which opens the album, it also showcases the band’s expertise at playing around with the contrasting powers of noise and sound. The silence in between the explosive opening moments, as well as the contemplative gentleness of the passage which follows them before the track’s main riff emerges, is as pregnant and powerful as the music itself. It seems to draw you in, like a black swirl at the bottom of the sink, calling you with its respite from the brutality of Pyrithe’s music.
Once the album fully arrives with that first riff, there is very little of that respite. Monuments to Impermanence is, at its core, a sludge record, filled with impossibly thick guitar tones and unstoppable groove. But where other bands would rely “simply” on the force of their delivery, Pyrithe continue to mutate, augment, and experiment with their sound, creating a record that echoes the Caroline Harrison created artwork which graces it. That overall “fungal” vibe that comes with thick feedback, present bass, and loud drums continues throughout the album but it also shifts, waves, and surprises using more of that aforementioned “charged” silence as well as influences from black metal, noise rock, post-rock and beyond.
Check out the second track, “Glioblastoma”, for example and the sudden unfurling the track undergoes right in its middle. It’s as if the main, hefty riff which made up the track suddenly explodes outwards (like a blastoma) and we witness the wake of such an explosion. Fragments of the guitars fly everywhere, unspooling into the silence, haunting organs shimmer through the air, the drums become sporadic, staccato, and unexpected, and everything feels charged with kinetic energy. Of specific note are the excellent vocals which grace this passage, and, indeed, the album as a whole, moving from deeper, guttural growls through more harrowing, high-pitched ones (perhaps evoking, though never quite as emotional, the contrast between the vocals on skramz acts like Circle Takes the Square as well as some of the spoken word, poetic, segments).
At all points, the vocals add an extra emotional level to the music but on the fantastic, and demanding, experimental vagaries of “Glioblastoma” they truly channel something unique and exciting. By the time the track’s relentless outro arrives, the combo of those vocals with the dislocated instrumentation has done its work, driving the breath out of your lungs. But don’t worry, the rest of the album is super chill….sike! You’ve barely even begun to scratch the rollercoaster ride that is Monuments to Impermanence so I’ll let you go here. Take a dive into this one; it will demand that you pay attention but, if you do, you’ll find one of this year’s most intricate, rewarding, and punishing albums out there. Don’t sleep on this one.
Undeath – It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave (death metal)
The sophomore LP from one of the most hyped about up-and-coming death metal bands in recent years is unsurprisingly great. No sophomore slump here; New York’s Undeath conjure up a record that is an ode to 90’s death metal, pulling cues from Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, and Suffocation, among others, even taking a quick detour into heavy metal influences with “Rise From The Grave.” These songs are sleek and hooky, with masterfully written and performed riffs and grooves that’s likely to cement this band as one of the most important bands in death metal at the moment.
I’ve written up my thoughts already about It’s Time… To Rise From The Grave in our review, so I’m not going to retread those lines here. This is OSDM at its most fun and catchy form, with the care and attention it deserves. THIS is how you pay homage to genre classics; with great songwriting, original ideas, and just enough camp without self-parody.
YĪN YĪN – The Age of Aquarius (neo-psych, nu-disco)
I genuinely don’t understand the concept of a musical comfort zone. Sure, there are always staple genres in my rotation, and I love plenty of albums with a conventional approach to genre norms. But discovery is my favorite part of being a music fan; finding artists, subgenres, and stylistic combinations that I’ve never heard of before. YĪN YĪN and their sophomore album The Age of Aquarius are a perfect example of this. The Dutch quartet seamlessly blend nu-disco and neo-psychedelia with the music of Southeast Asia, making for a mystically danceable experience that somehow makes perfect sense as you bob your head to the beat.
After a brief intro, “Chong Wang” kicks things into gear with an early song of the year candidate. A “Thriller” bassline transitions into one of the most infectious hooks you’ll encounter in 2022. I can’t decide if it sounds like a traditional Thai folk band writing a disco track…or a nu-disco band who just returned from a sabbatical in southeast Asia. Either way, the results are as psychedelic as they are danceable, like soaring through wispy clouds over towering mountains on a sunny day.
The band can slow things down and still maintain the same unique, addictive songwriting. “Shēnzhou V.” sounds like the soundtrack to a space desert, with whimsical, celestial synths and samples swirling around a twangy, arid guitar hook. After a traditional Asian folk interlude on “Faiyadansu,” the band infuses the same palette with a space disco flair on “Declined by Universe.”
Yet, its the retro ’80s vibes on “Nautilus” that elevate arguably the best genre synthesis on the album. Who knew synthfunk and Asian folk would make such good bedfellows? The band pushes this formula further with title track and album closer “Kali Yuga,” with distinct Daft Punk notes ringing through the cosmos the band creates.
The Age of Aquarius is a refreshing listen, and not just because it’s a truly innovative approach to established styles. It’s also the kind of album that you can listen to from multiple angles and enjoy equally; whether you’re looking to dance or meditate, YĪN YĪN have you covered.
Black Matter Device – Autonomous Weapons (mathcore, chaotic hardcore)
The third LP from Richmond six-piece Black Matter Device plays like it should be titled “Now That’s What I Call Mathcore!” and I mean that in the most respectful way and with the highest of praise. This record has it all: fake grind, real grind, horns, noise, sass, and fucking RIFFS. Honestly, this record is so good, it should be up at the top with the rest of those main entries, but I can only pick one, sorry.
Cremation Lily – Dreams Drenched in Static (witch house, post-industrial)
I can’t say this thought ever occurred to me before: What if a cloud rapper used nothing but industrial beats drenched in atmosphere? Leave it to Cremation Lily to arrive at the intersection of modern hip-hop, noise, and ambient music and create an album I never knew I needed.
Crispin Wah – Bleacher Creature (instrumental hip-hop, shredgaze)
The Atlanta based guitar/loop/vibes wizards from Atlanta are back with another album of blazingly hot, yet alluringly introspective, tunes. What the fuck is shredgaze? Guess you’ll have to listen to Bleacher Creature, won’t you? Don’t be stupid; listen to this album.
Devil Master – Ecstasies of Never Ending Night (blackened hardcore)
You may recognize Devil Master as being the black metal band that’s somehow opening select dates of the upcoming My Chemical Romance reunion tour (good for them for having faith in their audience!), but listening to their latest LP helps to take the edge off of some of that dissonance. Devil Master blend black metal and hadcore punk in a way that approaches black n’ roll, with melodic and seriously catchy songs that would actually sit quite well alongside that early MCR material. I hope the audiences are receptive, because this rules.
Greyhaven – This Bright and Beautiful World (progressive metalcore, post-hardcore)
I’m filling in for Calder here by telling you to listen to this fantastic and emotive album. It really caught me by surprise; while I used to listen to lots of progressive metalcore, I haven’t really been moved by the genre in a few years. This changed that, doing what’s great about the genre extremely well.
High Pulp – Pursuit of Ends (jazz fusion)
Sometimes you stumble on an album cover and think, “I need this in my life.” Pursuit of Ends was one of those good “judge a book by its cover” moments, where the aesthetic perfectly represents what the band’s overall vibe. In some ways, Pursuit of Ends feels like You’re Dead! written in reverse; instead of FlyLo channeling his hip-hop roots into a de facto jazz album, High Pulp channel their talents as an excellent jazz fusion ensemble through the beat-driven lens of modern R&B and hip-hop.
Heriot – Profound Morality (industrial, hardcore, sludge)
When this album dropped in the last week of April, I read someone say that UK’s Heriot is what collaborative project between Leeched and Chelsea Wolfe would sound like. It’s an accurate description as any, as this band takes the atmospheric and gothic sensibilities of Chelsea Wolfe and marries them with fuzzy hardcore that is so unbelievably chunky and heavy. I’d kill for the bass tone on this album; it hits like a cinder block.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum (psych/garage rock)
The globe’s favorite psychedelic rock band have returned with yet another new record, Omnium Gatherum. It’s an hour and a half of genre agnostic experimentations going from groove metal and prog rock to hip-hop, trip-hop, and soul. There’s probably something here for you if you’re willing to wade into this hour and a half beast of a record.
Miseration – Black Miracles and Dark Wonders (melodeath)
This album fucking slaps. I could probably leave my ramblings at that. Fans of symphonic elements in their death and black metal may have found their album of the year here. Miseration do a fantastic job balancing lighter and heavier elements to create a record that feels unique and of-a-piece without feeling overly predictable. I’ve given it several listens at this point and can’t get enough of it. A fantastic, well-balanced melodeath record.
Satan – Earth Infernal (heavy metal)
Could this be the most successful comeback in metal’s history? It just might as Satan continue making some of the best, more furious, and most aggressive heavy metal in the genre’s history. From the deep history of this band’s genesis to their latter day contribution post-return, Satan rarely miss and they certainly haven’t on Earth Infernal.
Armory – Mercurion (speed metal)
Atoll – Prepuce (brutal death metal)
Clarent Blade – Return Into Forever (heavy metal)
Dischordia – Triptych (technical, dissonant death metal)
Epitathe – II (progressive death-doom)
Feral Light – Psychic Contortions (black metal, neo-crust)
Nekrogoblikon – The Fundamental Slimes and Humours (melodic death metal)
Neptunian Maximalism – Set Chaos to the Heart of the Moon (drone metal, avant-garde metal)
OK WAIT – Well (post-rock, post-metal)
Path of Might – Deep Chrome (progressive sludge, stoner metal)
Rivers Ablaze – The Black Hole Era (blackened prog death)
Seer – Vol. 7 (progressive black metal, doom metal)
Sumerlands – Ageless Life (heavy metal)
The Sun Burns Bright – A Hollow World (post-rock)
This White Mountain – The Final Sorrow (progressive black metal)
Tyrannus – Unslayable (black metal)
Bree van Reyk – Superclusters (modern classical, post-rock)
Vimur – Transcendental Violence (black metal)