…and we’re back! You may already be privy if you’ve meandered over to our Facebook or Patreon feeds, but over the course of the last two weeks or so, we’ve been on the back end in an absolute panic due to a critical error taking us offline. In fact, the very day we had this month’s Editors’ Picks, a plugin error dragged us into the dark and shelving our monthly Editing Staff-curated roundup of must-listens. Eden is on a much needed vacation after this mess, so I’m stepping in for a hot minute to unclog the pipes and make sure that some of the remnants of our August content actually makes it out. This year is already an incredible year for music, and August was stacked like no other. We’ve had to make some choices this month on what’s included, so even in the Further Listening section, you’ll find some records that might just wind up in our Album of the Year deliberations (personally, I’m giving a hard, long look at Canada’s Wake, who would have made it to the main list if it had dropped in June or August).
Anyway, we’re so beyond stoked to be back online. Such a downtime could have spelled the end of us if we didn’t have such a dedicated community over at Patreon supporting us and keeping the lights on while being ad free. In case it wasn’t obvious, we aren’t paid for this; this is all a passion project, and we make enough each month to pay for hosting and squirrel some away for wishlist projects or insurance for a rainy day, in case WordPress decides it wants to shit the bed again. Give us a look, won’t you? While you’re there, check out my Patreon exclusive column (free on a one-week delay!) where I listen to a brand new album (to me!) every single day all year, and offer me some suggestions!
Without further ado, here’s what we believe to be the best albums we heard in the month of July. Let’s get it. Better late than never!
Asunojokei – Island (blackgaze, post-black metal)
I was woefully unfamiliar with Japanese blackgazers Asunojokei before this release, but it’s something I’m remedying as quickly as possible. I was absolutely not prepared to be as immediately blown away as I was hitting play with this one. What an incredible record. In its first couple tracks alone, Island delivers one of the most beautifully moving, perfectly paced blackgaze anthems in years followed by a dancy tricot-meets-toe ditty that’ll have you tapping your toes through the tears. It’s “Footprints”, however—an entrancing “Dream House”-esque journey that leaves you paralyzed with nostalgia for something you’ve never known—that really seals the deal early on. Powerful stuff.
It’s not the obvious Deafheaven influence that brings it home. It’s Asunojokei’s incredible fusion of styles that gives them so much depth and character. Their sound is firmly rooted in gorgeous, gazey post-black haze, but the incorporation of mathy j-rock and post-hardcore, especially on tracks like “Beautiful Name” put the group in a complex, well-executed niche. It all works together seamlessly. It’s impassioned, pensive, and heart-wrenching without over-indexing on a specific sound or mood. You’ll find as much joy and contentment in this album as you will lamentations, and what is an ardent, expansive genre good for if not all the curses and exaltations that make up the spectrum of human emotion?
I’ll admit I’m usually a little snobby when it comes to black metal. I tend to prefer the more melodic, post-influenced side of things, and as such really only enjoy a few albums each year. I don’t see anything topping Island anytime soon. It’s everything you could want from a blackgaze album and more, managing to be both exciting and enthralling in equal measure across its 52 minute runtime. Don’t let the anime album art dissuade you – enjoy Island below.
black midi – Hellfire (avant-prog, art rock)
It feels like black midi are addicted to upping the ante. Their third album in the last four years follows one of the most celebrated “kitchen sink” rock records in recent memory. While Schlagenheim (2019) was certainly an experimental record in its own right, black midi brought more of everything to the table with Cavalcade (2020) — a crazed avant-prog opus dabbling in everything from jazz-rock to zeuhl.
The lead singles from Hellfire suggested yet another hard left turn, which turned out to be quite the understatement. The jazz-rock undertones of their back catalog are now fully on display, manifesting with some delightful avant-lounge explorations. Imagine being abducted by Scott Walker and forced to watch his experimental theatre production soundtracked by This Heat. Alternatively, imagine King Crimson performing in angusih while being prodded by pitchforks through an anguished trek down the circles of hell.
The resulting tunes are all over the place, in the best way possible. “Sugar/Tzu” sounds like Thundercat playing bass for Naked City during their most melodic moments, while “Eat Men Eat” is the band’s bastardized take on Sketches of Spain. “Welcome to Hell” is perhaps the most “conventional” black midi track on the album, in the sense listeners encounter your typical angular, artsy post-punk fare.
The back half of the album is an equally inspired exploration of this “formula,” if you can label black midi’s output as conforming to any particular musical muse. The subgenres at play are all well-established, but the way they congeal on Hellfire is the most refreshing exercise of the band’s young career thus far. I’m not surprised that I enjoy the band’s latest album, but the success of Hellfire exceeded my lofty expectations.
Behold! The Monolith – From the Fathomless Deep (progressive doom)
While the moniker of “progressive” is often seen conjoined with “stoner”, doom’s more chilled out brethren-genre, it’s rare to see the term used to describe doom albums. In fact, I can only think of a few examples that might fit the bill here (like King Witch or Barren Earth). It makes sense, right? Doom is ponderous, direct, and slow, not exactly ideas you associate with progressive music. But there’s a way to make doom progressive, namely by being creative with the structure of the tracks and the album rather than focusing on play-by-play technicality or by introducing influences from other genres that are more adjacent, or receptive maybe, to the progressive sound.
And that’s exactly what Behold! The Monolith have done on From the Fathomless Deep. While the album is very clearly a doom release from the get go (opener “Crown/The Immeasurable Void” is an especially crushing and doom-tinged track) there is also plenty more hiding in the depths of the album. That aforementioned opening track for example hides interesting ambience that, while being doom adjacent for sure, does much to add atmosphere and unexpected structure to the track. You can also listen for some of the embellishment on the instruments, especially the bass guitar, for hints of other ideas starting to surface even here, at the onset of the album. By the time the track ends, running through a beautiful acoustic segment, and unbelievably heavy outro, it’s clear that there’s something more afoot here.
Further down the album, this suspicion starts to bear fruit.”Spirit Taker” for example injects a lot of death metal influences into the band’s sound, including some weird melody counterpoints that remind us of early Cynic or Atheist in the way that they are based on a thrash-y drum and bass line. That line unfurls further down the track, perhaps then creating a sort of Nile adjacent sound, still in the realms of death metal but from a different perspective. Other points in the album turn the dial the other way, running the music into groove rock territories where simpler riffs couched in an undeniable groove rule the day.
The album is not afraid to swing between these two influences while holding to the core of the band’s doom sound throughout. The end result is a truly thrilling album, since you don’t quite know what it’s going to hammer on next. It handles epic, slow, doom metal just as well as it does faster, more technical, death metal influenced sections and more melodic, groovier, rock infused passages. From the Fathomless Deep ends up being a lot of fun and an album that rewards continued listening, as you start to glimpse how all of the different parts of the album fit together into one, extremely well made album.
Chat Pile – God’s Country (sludge, noise rock)
I can’t help but to appreciate the scathing tongue-in-cheek title of Chat Pile’s debut album God’s Country. The title is affixed on the cover as if it were a caption against a photo of Oklahoma City’s prison, known to be one of the most violent prisons in America with a long history of riots and a disproportionate number of inmate deaths. In fact, Oklahoma is above average with its incarceration and crime rates, while ranking 48th in healthcare and 42nd in education. Oklahoma is also, unsurprisingly, one of the top 10 most religious states.
These statistics are not coincidental, and speaks to a cultural problem that Chat Pile are keenly aware of and address heavily across the disturbing and visceral God’s Country. From the promotional materials for God’s Country:
“There’s a sick irony to how a country that extols rhetoric of individual freedom, in the same gasp, has no problem commodifying human life as if it were meat to feed the insatiable hunger of capitalism. If this is American nihilism taken to its absolute zenith, then God’s Country, the first full-length record from Oklahoma City noise rock quartet Chat Pile is the aural embodiment of such a concept.”
What better soundtrack to a critique of a culturally pro-life, pro-gun, and pro-death penalty institution than the twisted noise of Chat Pile? The band marries Jesus Lizard-esque noise rock and songwriting with Godflesh’s industrial rhythms and Korn’s grooving, downtuned riffing for a sound that perfectly captures the dichotomy of moral virtue and social decay.
For example, in “Why?”, the band asks, to searing apocalyptic sludge metal, why people have to live outside when there are empty buildings with the heat on and an excess of wealth and space available in this country. In “The Mask”, the band paints the picture of a real armed robbery and mass murder that occurred at an Oklahoma restaurant in the 70’s. “Wicket Meat Puppet” tackles addiction, “Anywhere” depicts more gun violence, and “Tropical Beaches, Inc” appears to be a critique on how the media we consume provides us with a toxic sense of inadequacy and dysphoria. And that’s all ignoring the Purple Man in the room on the final track.
Chat Pile seems to beg the question that if these horrors are going on each day in God’s Country, what does that say about God? This thesis is reflected within the nihilistic, corrosive, and downright frightening musical performances by one of the most promising new acts within the last decade. God’s Country is an intoxicating and haunting force of a record, and may well be the kind of record that will be looked back on as being frighteningly prescient in years to come.
Imperial Triumphant – Spirit Of Ecstasy (avant-garde metal, blackened death metal)
I often listen to music while drifting off to sleep. Mostly albums that I’ve heard a thousand times that bring me comfort, regardless of their level of aggression. Lately it’s been the early catalog of Emperor that has propelled me into black, dreamless slumber. But every once in a while I’ll put on a new album I’ve been spinning to give it some extra engagement. I tried this with Imperial Triumphant’s latest offering Spirit of Ecstasy to disastrous results. Two nights in a row of me staying up past 2:00am just so I could finish the damn thing fully conscious, then getting so worked up by its batshit brilliance that it took me another half hour just to calm down enough to sleep. The moral of the story is this: Don’t listen to this album before bed, kids. It’s not meant for dreams.
I’ve been an enormous fan of Imperial Triumphant since Abyssal Gods, and have loved every single one of their full-length and EP releases thus far. But Spirit of Ecstasy feels like a true pinnacle of the band’s current, albeit slippery and nigh unknowable manifestation. Every aspect of the band’s music is here not only in full force, but with more clarity in concept and execution than ever before. The skronk is skronkier. The noodling noodlier. The freak-outs somehow even freakier. But within the madness resides a hard-earned and battle-tested concentration in songwriting that makes Spirit of Ecstasy by far the band’s most cohesive and streamlined work to date.
It’s this songwriting focus (along with some traditionally immaculate production work from Colin Marston) that helps Spirit of Ecstasy stand tall as a definitive statement in the band’s catalog. All the trademarks of IT’s sound are here, but it’s the way in which they’re spliced and executed that makes them feel simultaneously familiar yet oddly fresh. Many elements of the record feel distinctly IT, but I have a hard time placing exactly where in their discography I’ve heard them before. Take the warbly, waltz-like riff in “Tower of Glory, City of Shame” as an example. Moments like this are peppered through Spirit of Ecstasy, in addition to a revived emphasis in memorable, borderline headbang-worthy riffs. If the riff that kicks off the final third of “Metrovertigo” doesn’t make you want to throw some fine, vintage furniture from the 1920s across your living room are you even listening? Balancing the old with the new and the oddly accessible (Kenny G solo, anyone?), Spirit of Ecstasy is IT at their most musically stimulating, and it’s a glory to behold.
I’ve heard quite a few records this year, and few if any have transfixed me like Spirit of Ecstasy. It’s a blistering return for one of metal’s most distinct cast of characters, and a definitive statement of intent. Imperial Triumphant here sound only and exactly like themselves, utterly unique in the scope of metal and fully comfortable in their own skin. In a musical world where copycat culture is almost a quality expectation (“mmmm this doesn’t sound like Mayhem/Morbid Angel/[insert death metal release from 1992 here] UNTRVE” etc.), to have a band this fundamentally unique while maintaining a definable sense of performative and songwriting excellence is a gift. Love or despise their music, we’re lucky to have them. All hail foulest New York. All hail Imperial Triumphant.
Altars – Ascetic Reflection (dissonant/progressive death metal)
I really miss Convulsing. Good thing Brendan Sloan and friends are still kicking out great tunes to soothe my restless, uninhibited agony. This new Altars record is absolutely fantastic, blending jagged melodicism with angular death metal in a way that scratches all of my weird extreme metal itches. The performances are fantastic, the songwriting sublime, and the production pristine. One of my favorite death metal records of 2022.
Birth – Born (progressive rock)
No matter how far I go in my musical explorations, I will always love progressive rock with all of my heart. If you’re the same, then Born is for you, a love letter to the greatest, and most obscure, bands of the 60’s and 70’s.
Gospel – MVDM: The Magical Volumes Vol.1: The Magick Volume of Dark Madder or Magic Volume of Dark Matter (progressive post-hardcore)
Synth screamo legends Gospel returned this year after 17 years since their opus The Moon Is A Dead World with the much hyped-about The Loser, but the content doesn’t stop as the band have laid to tape a 20-minute prog epic that teeters between hardcore and post-metal.
Hissing – Hypervirulence Architecture (blackened / dissonant death metal)
Seattle’s dissodeath acolytes return after four years, as acidic and treacherous as ever. Chaotic blackened death metal for fans of Portal and crawling through razor blades.
Ithaca – They Fear Us (metalcore, post-hardcore)
I’ve already covered this one pretty extensively, and for good reason. London’s Ithaca explore the divine feminine through tantalizingly techy riffs and bright 90s pop production. One of the best core albums of the year.
Reeking Aura – Blood and Bonemeal (old-school death metal)
New Jersey / New York six-piece OSDM outfit Reeking Aura utilize three guitar players to craft ripping death-doom that doesn’t plod along aimlessly and isn’t afraid to pick up the pace and shred.
Scarcity – Aveilut (drone / black metal)
Hey guys, wake up; a new project from Pyrrhon’s Doug Moore just dropped. This time featuring multi-instrumentalist Brendon Randall-Myers composing avant-garde microtonal extreme metal that teeters between disorienting and anxious drone and chaotic black metal, complimented by Moore’s unhinged vocal performances. Colin Marston is involved as well, obviously.
Touccan – Full Sentimental (math-rock, screamo)
This one really caught me off-guard. Part contemplative, sentimental math-rock and part explosive, intense screamo, Full Sentimental is an intricate and complex album that manages to create an atmosphere I’ve not quite heard from other release in either style.
Tulip – Derangement, Exquisite Tenderness (grindcore)
I’ve seen this album described as “doom” or “post-metal” in some places and while I can see where that’s coming from, the album is primarily concerned with, and made out of, the basic and most important ingredient of grindcore: explosive derision. Derangement, Exquisite Tenderness is chock full with the defiance, anger, and anxiety that make grindcore the genre for our (post)modern condition.
Wake – Thought Form Descent (atmospheric sludge / blackened death metal)
It’s hard to really pin down Calgary’s Wake. Formerly a grindcore act, they still retain shades of deathgrind’s muscular fury, with elements of post-metal, death metal, black metal thrown into the mix to create a novel sound for extreme metal that is as devastating as it is emotionally resonant.
Antigama – Whiteout (grindcore)
Conjurer – Pathos (sludge)
Ernia – How To Deal With Life and Fail (grindcore)
Wormrot – Hiss (grindcore)
Cara Neir – Phantasmal (weird video game grind)
Krisiun – Mortem Solis (death metal)
Ernia – How To Deal With Life And Fail (progressive grindcore)
Battlegrave – Cavernous Depths (death metal, thrash)
Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature (indie rock, power pop)
Northless – A Path Beyond Grief (atmospheric sludge metal)
Greylotus – Dawnfall (prog death metal)
Lord Elephant – Cosmic Awakening (stoner doom)
The Dear Hunter – Antimai (art rock, prog rock)
GoGo Penguin – Between Two Waves (nu-jazz)
Satyr – Totem (progressive post-hardcore)
Mitch Murder – Selection 6 (chillwave, city pop)
Static Angel – Phantom Sense (wave, trance)
Fellowship – The Saberlight Chronicles (power metal)
Nunu – Status (hyperpop)
Voidward – Voidward (progressive stoner)
Christian Cosentino – High Rising Times (progressive black metal)