Hello everyone and welcome to the first Editors’ Picks of the post-Missive era of Heavy Blog! If you have no idea what any of that means, it’s time to brush up on your blog lore. Or, you know, don’t, because who really cares? Suffice it to say that Editors’ Picks is, officially, the second-longest running column on the blog (Post Rock Post being the first one, having started the whole idea of blog columns in the first place) and for that I am very grateful. In fact, it was a lot easier and more enjoyable to get the column up and running without an entire Missive hanging over our heads. Hurray for progress!
Now, I know I always talk about the amount of great music in the column when I write these intros but it’s the truth, damn it, and this time around it might just be even truer. It’s also one of the weirdest and most blackened group of albums we’ve written about, with both Esoctrilihum and Bekor Qilish drawing on the depths of experimentation that black metal can contain while White Ward build on the beauty that comes with when you marry the genre with melody. Throw in the unbridled aggression of Knoll’s death-grind and sprinkle Thornhill’s bouncy goodness on top, and you’ve got quite an eclectic, and often challenging, bunch of releases on here.
Whoops, I just spoiled the entire post, didn’t I? Well, you’re not just here for a list (although the Further Listening section is also especially rich this time around) so read on down below for our thoughts on all of the above releases, and more. As always, thank you so much for reading Heavy Blog, in whatever format, intensity, or cadence you do. We really appreciate it.
Bekor Qilish – Throes of Death From the Dream Nihilism (blackened death, avant-garde metal)
Some albums grab you immediately while others grow slowly on you, demanding that you process them. But there’s a rare third type which albums that, somehow, do both? Bekor Qilish is such an album. On its surface level, though not at all superficially, it is an extremely aggressive album feeding from the traditions of blackened thrash to create a caustic and hyper-aggressive formula. But from the first listen you can already hear the underlying progressive, and even avant-garde, nature of the album. Whether it is the composition, prone to “dispersal” into hauntingly fragile and beautiful melodies, the instrumentation used, the time signatures, or something else, Throes of Death From the Dream Nihilism is an altogether unique, and addictive, beast.
The album can be experienced “simply” as a heavy piece of work but it is also so much more. Check out “Cryptic Hatred” which opens the album; sure, its first minute and a half is very overwhelming, fast, and heavy. But the back-end of the track shatters into this synth-heavy version of progressive metal that reminds of nothing else than Dream Theater’s early years. I’m talking the Kevin Moore years, where synths were not a platform for ever faster solos but for cathedral-like ambience, drawing on electronic music as much as it did on the role of synths in metal. Elsewhere, some of the echoing drum tones used during that era of the seminal band (like on “Self-Destructed Destruction”) also make an appearance.
All of which might hint towards influences on Bekor Qilish not from Dream Theater directly but from an oft-forgotten origin of Dream Theater: technical thrash metal. While Throes of Death From the Dream Nihilism is a lot more experimental, blackened, and avant-garde than stalwarts like Watchtower, Holy Terror or Vauxdvihl, it bears many of the same sort of weird sensations, convoluted riffs, and furious, acidic aggression melded with ethereal ambience that those bands are known for. As you dig deeper and deeper into the release, getting accustomed to the more flamboyant and thus “obvious” parts of it (though their technical complexity is anything but obvious), you start to uncover more and more of those unsettling and melancholy elements.
The true genius of Throes of Death From the Dream Nihilism is that any of the layers and touchpoints I mentioned above are all equally valid approaches to the album. It has a multi-faceted complexity and excellence to it that is rare to find; each part is built with equal care and equal attention, lending itself to closer scrutiny from the ear. In short, this is an album that will immediately capture your attention but which will also benefit from continued listens and further dives into what makes it tick. This formula should do much to propel it to the top of several lists in 2022, if people give it the time which it deserves and demands. I suggest you do so.
Esoctrilihum – Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh (progressive black metal)
By all accounts the manic productivity of Asthâghul, sole member of Esoctrilihum, is absolutely bananas. Over the span of five years, the project has unleashed seven full-length records, a handful of EPs, and literal hours of some of the most jagged and ethereal music the black and death metal genres have to offer. That sheer quantitative heft would be somewhat impressive by itself, but it’s made doubly so by the fact that each of the project’s records are actually quite good. It’s very clear that the creative font from whence Asthâghul draws inspiration is very far from dry, and Consecration of the Spiritüs Flesh is in my mind his most mature and stunning achievement to date.
While Esoctrilihum’s recorded work has been widely and rightly praised, that adulation hasn’t been bereft of hang ups. One of the most commonly lodged complaints about Esoctrilihum’s work is that it’s maximalist to a fault, often feeling halfway through a record like The Telluric Ashes that little to anything was left on the cutting room floor. While I would argue that part of Esoctrilihum’s appeal is this relentless assault on the senses, the critique remains salient. Not every track on an Esoctrilihum record feels essential or necessary, leading to an overall experience that can come across as bloated and self-indulgent. If you find yourself in that camp, it seems that Asthâghul heard your cries into the void, as Consecration is by far the project’s leanest and meanest record to date.
Clocking in at just over 40 minutes, Consecration is the most concise Esoctrilihum record by a country mile, a full 15 minutes shorter than the next closest runtime. This emphasis on concision feels very intentional, as each track here is filled to the brim with incredible musicianship and songwriting. It feels like the record Esoctrilihum has been working toward for five years, bursting forth from its opening seconds with a vitriolic passion that I’ve yet to hear with this level of precision and effectiveness from the project. “Spiritüs Flesh” is a world scorching opener, with manic blast beats, off-kilter harmonies, and a hefty dose of ass obliterating riffs. It’s absolutely relentless, which feels like an appropriate word to encapsulate this record as a whole. Spacy, atmospheric interludes are for the most part discarded here, cutting down the record to its most essential elements. And those elements are very much worth this brand of unfiltered exposition.
Asthâghul has always been an incredibly talented musician and songwriter, filling tracks with a mixture of precise instrumentation and borderline lunacy that is always unpredictable and delightful to listen to. But this time around the violence is much more concentrated and surgical, bursting ear drums with the heat of a thousand suns that only burn hotter and hotter with each passing track. “Shohih” is a great example of this more controlled style, absolutely decimating listeners in every instrumental department without ever losing its sense of tightness in construction. Asthâghul’s vocals lend a lot to a general feeling of erratic chaos, but the music itself never feels anything less than expertly controlled. It’s an insanely impressive feat of songwriting maturity from an artist whose growth trajectory at this point seems exponential.
Not since last year’s Plebeian Grandstand have I heard a record that came out the gate this insane and never let up through its final moments. Consecration is a coronation for an artist whose work ethic is thoroughly unimpeachable, finally resulting in a record that may turn into his defining masterpiece. Esoctrilihum has taken a bold step that pays off in every way imaginable, culminating not only in Esoctrilihum’s best record, but one of the best metal records of the year, period. A fantastic achievement.
Knoll – Metempiric (experimental deathgrind, grindcore)
2021’s debut full-length Interstice baffled and delighted everyone from the most putrid goregrinders to the odd hardcore kid now sporting a shotgun-wielding Dolly Parton shirt. Knoll’s nauseating brand of unhinged, breakneck dissonant deathgrind immediately caught the interest of lovers of the weird and aurally perverse, calling to mind acts like Full of Hell and Wvrm with their relentless, obtuse, hackles-raising salvos of disgust. Sophomore follow-up Metempiric finds the road-hardened young guns from Tennessee building on that legacy in bold, vicious new ways.
The Full of Hell influence is even more apparent, with the wailing and withering of brass either sunken into the sea of noise behind every anxiety-inducing riff or controlling the narrative in tracks like “Dislimned”. Their utilization in tandem with the bigger, broader, bottom-heavier sound engineered by the production dream team of Andy Nelson, Kurt Ballou, and Brad Boatright elevates Metempiric to a similar status as Fawn Limbs – audio terror as fine art. Jamie Eubanks’ shattered glass lungs atop a table of power electronics and the extended-range, triple guitar assault make mincemeat of your eardrums. Metempiric feels like being entombed in molten asphalt at 15,000 feet. Knoll’s sound is suffocating and extreme, but thanks to the dream team behind the controls, it’s perfectly balanced and coherent, making it all the more brutal to experience.
This ain’t no redneck stomp, either. The Southern grindmasters continue to tinker and toy with their wall of terminal dissonance, seeming to summon, reshape, and ritualistically slaughter this ghastly, cacophonous specter they’ve created in new ways through each track. “Of Troth to Adam” begins in a spellbinding, angular gaze passage the likes of which we’ve never heard, only to be unceremoniously blasted and pulverized into lurching, fuzzy oblivion. Tracks like “Marred Alb” and “Whelm” conjure visions of See You Next Tuesday and Misericordiam with their deranged tapped domino riffs and explosive grindcore beatdowns.
Despite this slab of concrete aural violence, Metempiric feels absolutely ephemeral. There is something keenly supernatural and otherworldly to their towering onslaught of annihilation, making it seem intelligent and inescapable. Indeed, Knoll are toying with forces none of us may be prepared for, awakening something eternally old and insatiable from the hollows beneath the mountains. That, or they’ve got ghost guitars. Both seem just as likely. Give Metempiric a listen right here.
Thornhill – Heroine (alt-metal, djent)
Look, I’ve been digging deep to find a better way to say this, but fuck it: Thornhill sound a lot like Deftones. Like, a lot. I’d totally believe it if you told me their pre-studio brainstorming session went like this.
“Hey, let’s make a heavier version of Diamond Eyes.”
“Yeah, cool, sounds good.”
I hesitated to open things up with that because of the sensitive nature of “influences” when it comes to music. How many times have you discovered yet another Converge clone, or the umpteenth millionth metalcore band that records some breakdowns around Slaughter of the Soul riffs? People have made Oscar Wilde’s “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…” quote into a cliche, but they forget that he ended it by saying, “…that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”
And yet, Heroine is the rare case where I love an album not in spite of it’s obvious influences, but specifically because of them. Thornhill combines all the best, heaviest eelements of modern nu-metalcore and djent with the moody, melodic alt-metal goodness of post-Around the Fur Deftones. From the chunky Carpenter riffs to Jacob Charlton making Chino’s delivery his own, Heroine feels like a beloved reboot rather than an unnecessary sequel.
This formula manifests in a variety of enticing ideas. “The Hellfire Club” is basically “Hole In the Earth” reimagined as a metalcore track, while “Valentine” ditches Deftones altogether for a Portishead inspired trip-hop break. “Casanova” is the “jumpdafuckup” highlight every proper “-core” needs, and fuck does it deliver. And if you’re looking for the anthemic Deftones moment with a touch of Muse, the title track closes out the album with that type of high note.
At the end of the day, who really cares what (or whom) Thornhill sound like? Heroine fucking slaps, and they do it while sounding both familiar and fresh with cross-generational appeal.
White Ward – False Light (progressive/atmospheric black metal)
Ukrainian progressive and atmospheric black metal band White Ward are a favorite around these parts due to their incorporation of jazz fusion elements, including saxophone and trumpet. The noir jazz-filled 2019 album Love Exchange Failure was our album of the year that year, perhaps the last record to carry that title at Heavy Blog unless we decide to bring back ranked lists (but don’t count on that any time soon, despite my advocacy of the practice), so expectations were high for False Light. That pressure to push the envelope, paired with the cultural and political unrest tainting life in Ukraine, certainly poised White Ward with an opportunity to make a statement for themselves, and they’ve seized it.
It’s hard to say if False Light tops Love Exchange Failure without some sort of distance, but it is absolutely as satisfying a follow-up as there ever could have been. False Light is a dense record at just over an hour in length and features several songs that extend beyond the ten minute mark, and is not in want of good ideas. It’s also incredibly ambitious; White Ward having a flair for heady prog and the avant garde isn’t new, but the band cue up a set of new tones and influences that expand their repertoire in fitting ways. Folk, goth, and post-punk litter the landscapes of lumbering sludge riffs, blackgaze crescendos, and soulful saxophone solos. “Phoenix” outright makes references to new wave with guest Jay Gambit providing clean vocals against bright guitars, and “Cronus” pays homage to Depeche Mode in very obvious ways.
No worries; the dark jazz persists as central to the band’s sound as ever, with the unmistakable wailing of horns gracing every track. But these new sounds are a revelation for the band as they continue to push ever forward to new heights. False Light is a stunning and monumental record to be sure, filled with passion and hunger, and while they have seemingly left the cityscapes in favor of the stark rural wilderness, their soundtracks are no less epic.
Artificial Brain – Artificial Brain (tech death, dissonant death metal)
The self-titled Artificial Brain record is looking to be this year’s token standout death metal record that reaches wider audiences. Anthony Fantano broke out the yellow flannel and Rate Your Music currently lists the album at number 13 for the year in all genres, just after the new Kendrick Lamar LP. That may sound like a frightening amount of attention for such a weird and extreme band like Artificial Brain, but rest easy, they’re as bizarre and grotesque as ever. In fact, it may be their best work yet. So why is it not in the section above when it’s our collective favorite death metal record from June (spoiler alert for the upcoming Death’s Door column)? Broadly, Artificial Brain may very well be every editor’s second favorite album (I did absolutely no polling on this), and we only get to pick one each. But placement be damned, this record is unmissable.
Astronoid – Radiant Bloom (prog-gaze, post-black)
If you know, you know. Gossamer threads stuck to a passing car on a bright, beautiful day. Ethereal, adventurous, transcendental – it’s Astronoid, baby. Better than 2019’s self-titled but perhaps falling just short of Air, Radiant Bloom is more of the same Astronoid we know and love. Stare into the big blue sky and b r e a t h e.
Burner – A Vision Of The End (metallic hardcore)
If you give any release from this genre credence this year, make it A Vision Of The End. Burner’s cleverly written, apocalyptic debut is tinged with mathy hellfire and pure UK hammer riffs guaranteed to whip everyone into a riotous frenzy. Be warned: this EP turns inanimate objects into improvised weapons.
Coheed and Cambria – Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind (prog rock)
I think this might be the best prog rock record of the era, I just don’t have the words to get into it. Claudio Sanchez is at the absolute top of his game almost thirty years into his career. I haven’t heard real arena-pounding rock & roll swagger done this well since the early 90s, let alone how it all culminates in a truly epic prog rock odyssey about, essentially, parenthood in space. This ain’t your white belt post-hardcore or sexless nerd music anymore. This is Yes for DILFs with nose rings.
Elucid – I Told Bessie (hip-hop/rap)
As one half of the utterly fantastic duo Armand Hammer alongside certified rhyme god billy woods, Elucid has unfortunately played Big Boi to woods’ Andre 3000. Unstoppable as a duo, woods has experienced more clear success in his solo projects than Elucid. I Told Bessie may change all that, though. This is an utterly fantastic record, easily the best of Elucid’s career, and on par with woods’ incredible Aethiopes from earlier this year. If you like your rap honest, superbly written, and always interesting, listen to this thing immediately. You won’t regret it.
Final Light – Final Light (synthwave, industrial, post-metal)
Final Light is a Roadburn Festival initiated collaborative project featuring the biggest name in synthwave Perturbator and Cult of Luna frontman and guitarist Johannes Persson. This sounds exactly how you’d expect and want it to. Sounds closer to Cult of Luna’s industrial side than a typical Perturbator record.
Unprocessed – Boy Without a Gun (prog-pop, djent)
Unprocessed have been in something of a cocoon over the last year or so, slowly unveiling their new form over several singles and music videos. It is evident that much of the sound that was “beneath” the Unprocessed sound, namely their electronic and pop leanings, has been unearthed and put front and center. The result, collected here in an EP, represents an extremely interesting and heartfelt direction for the band.
Darkane – Inhuman Spirits (tech thrash, melodeath)
Hereafter – This Life is a Beautiful War (post-rock, prog rock)
Bartees Strange – Farm to Table (art rock, indie rock)
Dir En Grey – Phalaris (avant-garde nu metal)
Exocrene – The Hybrid Suns (tech death)
Passionplay – Sinking (chaotic hardcore, metalcore)
Kardashev – Liminal Rite (progressive death metal, deathgaze)
Soreption – Jord (tech death, riff city)
Yatra – Born Into Chaos (death metal)
Hornwood Fell – Sgr A (avant-garde black metal)
Origin – Chaosmos (brutal tech death)
Tishina – Uvod… (melodic death-doom)