Greetings Heavy Blog readers and welcome to that time of the year wherein I start complaining about the fact that other outlets have already started publishing their end of year lists. While we were never quite as bad as other outlets at this, we also used to run our end of year content in December, effectively slicing off three whole weeks (and more, if we're being honest, because it took a while to write the stuff) off of the year. These days we run our end of year posts in January of the following year (reminder), to try and encompass as much of the year as possible which, incidentally, what I wanted to use this stage to talk a little about.
As you know, Heavy Blog is in what we're calling "Maintenance Mode". Two of our editors, the mainstays of the blog's daily operations, have recently become fathers and, as a result, we have a bit less operational power than we're used to. So, we're focusing on our columns, running premieres, our release day roundups, and reviewing albums when we can. You know, the core of Heavy Blog: telling you about great new music. But our other stuff, like deep dives, editorials, community content, and the such has to take a backseat because we just don't have the capacity to execute on it to the level that we'd like to. Not to mention all of the other, much more ambitious projects we've had planned for a while now.
Which is fine. If there's anything I've learned over the last eight (!!!) years of running this place it's that these comes and go; the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, if you'd like. It's more important to stay supple and move with the times, adapting to what can be done rather than sticking to an image of how the blog should work (something which has brought the blog to the brink of collapse many, many times over those eight years). And so, that's what we're going to continue to do, end of year content included. It's not completely cancelled, don't worry; we're still planning on running our Top 25 Albums of the Year post, alongside end of year column entries, and a few more bits and bobs. But that's about it; probably no industry aggregate list, and maybe only my Year in Review post to stand for the heady, longform content we've dabbled in.
Which, again, is fine! Winter comes and we go into hibernation, some metaphor here about spring's renewal, you know the drill. Heavy Blog is here to stay, yada yada yada, we shall await the hour of our renewed strength and so and so forth. In the meantime, there are still two whole months left in the year for crying out loud stop writing your end of year posts please! Instead, let us focus on the brilliant, moving, and excellent music that was released in October. There's plenty of it. Enjoy.
The 1975 - Being Funny In A Foreign Language (indie pop, new wave)
In years past, I might have relegated my Album of the Month pick for something more directly relevant to the common interests of Heavy Blog readers, but I’m feeling emboldened by not only a confidence in our readership and growing sense of genre agnosticism among our staff’s collective interests, but there’s also the growing consensus that nearly ten years after their debut self-titled record (featuring their massive radio hit “Chocolate” no less), The 1975 might actually be at their very best.
What’s drawn me towards The 1975 over the years is the way they capture and recontextualize so much specific nostalgia of the 80’s pop and rock aesthetic informed by both John Hughes and David Lynch films in equal measure, along with lifting musical cues from New Wave, synth pop, and post-punk, with more than a passing appreciation for shoegaze, all wrapped within glossy contemporary pop rock. The 1975 have pulled inspiration from Prince, Fleetwood Mac, Sonic Youth, Talking Heads, and Huey Lewis & The News, on up through Nine Inch Nails, Goo Goo Dolls, Oasis, and beyond. The well of inspiration runs deep, and even with this wide breadth of aesthetic choices and pallets they’ve pulled from notwithstanding, these guys know how to write an absolute pop banger.
Where the band have most faltered in the past is that their albums can become quite overbloated and self-indulgent. Wall to wall bangers they may be, but those 80 minute records could have used some finer editing and curation. For their fifth record, the quartet teamed up with Bleachers mastermind and the world’s most in-demand pop producer Jack Antonoff to shape the sonic direction, and the results speak for themselves; at 45 minutes in length, it’s easily the band’s shortest full-length to date, and because of that, the hits shine brighter. Hopping around the tracklist, we’ve got a glossy Phil Collins-esque ballad “Oh Caroline,” a Fleetwood Mac style love song, “I’m In Love With You,” the wonderful dreampop of “About You,” and a stadium-sized new wave romp about toxic masculinity and gun violence in “Looking For Somebody (To Love).”
Being Funny In A Foreign Language is also significant in that it is a new high mark in how self-aware the band, lead by frontman and lyricist Matty Healy, have become over the last decade. For a band that has a plethora of tunes about sex and the troubled relationships, they’ve repeatedly undercut earnest discussions of love with self-deprecation, cynicism, and dick jokes. Although that’s plenty of that on “Part of the Band” and the eponymous opening track in particular, the pandemic, recovery from Heroin addiction, and old-fashioned growing up have put The 1975 in a position where they’re not so afraid of sincerity. Songs about love, longing, and being home on Christmas are becoming as common as the cynicism of the past, and it’s a good look that makes Being Funny In A Foreign language that much lighter of a listen, buoyed again by the incredible pop songwriting within.
Cloud Rat - Threshold (grindcore, post-hardcore)
Close your eyes and imagine something for me. Got ‘em closed? Good. How are you reading this? Anyway, imagine you’re standing still and some force – unseen, unheard, without warning – pierces your back with enough force to drive a hook around your spine. Imagining it? How the steel feels digging around the curvature of your vertebrae, grating against bone, flesh tender and screaming? Good. Now imagine that same force begins pulling you at speed, as if you’re tied to the back of a runaway vehicle careening faster and faster away into the darkness. Your center of gravity leaves you with your breath, your mind races in ecstatic agony, your feet leave the ground and you’re flying. Imagine how that feels. Really imagine it. Is it there in the pit of your stomach, white hot? Is your pulse racing? A little delirious? You’ve just listened to Threshold by Michigan’s Cloud Rat.
If you’ve been paying attention to grind at all over the past decade, you should hopefully be familiar with the trio by now. Their brand of heartstopping grindcore is known to oscillate between full-tilt chaos and ephemeral tenderness that’s not far off from many blackgaze acts – especially on tracks like “Kaleidoscope” – if those acts had teeth at all. Threshold operates in much the same way as my (hopefully apt) metaphor above. The album is front-loaded with pain; many of the in-your-face tracks appear at the start of the record, like opener “Aluminum Branches” which terminates in a certified crowd killer to send the TikTokers home to their moms. That isn’t to say the album slows down in the back half. With an average track length of two minutes, it’s all grinding mayhem from start to finish.
We see that trademark post-tinged tenderness creep in around “12-22-09”. By then, the songs have begun to blur into themselves, becoming a seamless stream of consciousness unbound by track endings and beginnings. The maelstrom Cloud Rat create has such a unique quality to it; spiteful, hopeful, venomous, and nostalgic in equal measure, often playing off each other in perfect disharmony. It’s remarkable how much melody and character the band bring to the genre without betraying the grindcore approach for a second – and how easy it is to get lost within it.
Threshold is a grower. The first listen will leave you drunken with whiplash like a good grind record should. By listen three or four, your heart will begin to unfurl like a lotus in bloom. In a year rife with stellar grind releases, Cloud Rat have penned one of the undisputed best. Give Threshold a spin below.
Chrome Ghost - House of Falling Ash (doom metal)
We’ve spoken a lot about expectations on Heavy Blog and how they subvert, interact with, and sometimes enhance new music as we first hear it. This was definitely the case for me and Chrome Ghost’s new release, as I consider The Diving Bell, their 2019 release, to be one of the finest doom albums ever released. Emotional, sprawling, and at times unbelievably heavy and groovy, Chrome Ghost’s version of doom metal is a majestic thing to behold. Luckily, the melding of this weight of expectation with Chrome Ghost’s new release, House of Falling Ash, has turned out to be of the latter sort described above; something about the release of three long years of waiting has made me even more appreciative of the complex and challenging masterpiece that is House of Falling Ash.
If you were to play The Diving Bell and House of Falling Ash to someone hearing both albums for the first time, there would certainly be similarities they could pick on. Jake Kilgore’s unique vocal timbre is still very much front and center and hard to miss. So too the echoing drums and the balance between soft, fragile guitars and crushing, sonorous climaxes. But that latter balance has been pushed to its extreme, with both ends of the equation falling deeper into their respective gravity wells. This means that the quieter segments on House of Falling Ash become hollow, benighted caverns into which the listener is led as if by siren-song into oblivion. On the inverse, the heavy segments of the music hit like a fifty-ton hammer, crushing you not only with their own weight but with the momentum generated from their ballistic emergence from out of the previous chasms of deceptive peace.
“Rose in Bloom”, the majestic fourteen minute long track which opens the album, is a marvelous example of all of the above. The majority of the track’s runtime is devoted to those sable coated, honey-whispered passages of dark contemplation, quieter passages escorting us deeper into the album’s atrium. At times during them, and especially in the second half of the track, the music suddenly explodes into groovy, thick, muscular doom that wastes less time with intricacy than it devotes to absolute sonic annihilation, delivering the heaviest tone that Chrome Ghost have sported to this day. The cycle is completed then, the track’s build-up finally bursting into the night-surrounded conflagration that the album art depicts.
Interestingly enough though, it’s in the moments between these two polarities that the most noticeable additions to the Chrome Ghost sound are made. When Chrome Ghost are not exploring massive riffs or unspooling their seductive introspection, they inject elements of shoegaze, Americana, and even post-rock into their sound on House of Falling Ash, filling the album with brand new sounds for the band. On “Rose in Bloom”, there are several scattered and delayed riffs that would definitely have not found their way onto the previous release, while other segments of the album contain poignant nostalgia, almost post-punk levels of suede and verve, and other such creative outbursts.
This is, ultimately, what makes the release a step forwards; sometimes, on the (don’t doubt it) excellent The Diving Bell, it could feel like you’re either torn between delicate beauty or waiting for unbearable heaviness, with nothing in between. Here, the spaces between have been populated with all manner of sound, explorations, repetitions, and adventures in what Chrome Ghost are willing to create. This connective tissue amps up the challenge level on this album, as it requires not only the patience that such types of slow doom necessarily require, but also a sort of active listening to make sure that you’re enjoying and experiencing the album to its fullest.
Worm - Bluenothing (death/funeral doom)
Last year, Worm burst onto the metal scene like a slow-moving barge headed straight to hell with Foreverglade. It was (and remains) a deeply accessible and awesome slab of death-styled doom metal that I have returned to repeatedly over the past few months in particular. It was my first exposure to the Florida band’s discography, and further investigation of their catalog following my first exposure to Foreverglade has only heightened my excitement for where Worm will be taking us in the future. Our first glimpse of that trajectory comes to us in the form of Bluenothing, a stunning 26-minute EP that continues on the path established by Foreverglade but not without its own unique character. For those who loved that record, Bluenothing is a continuation of a triumphal sound. A sort of victory lap. For those pining for progression, don’t fret. Worm have plenty to offer your greedy ears as well.
The above kind of makes Bluenothing sound like an “all things for all people” sort of experience, but rest assured that it is far more nuanced and complex (and punishing) than all that. Sure, Worm continue on their trajectory of lacing immense doom metal with passages of ethereal beauty ala Crypt Sermon and Loss, but just like in their previous record the proceedings balance magisterial melodic doom highs and deeply punishing death metal. The record’s title track offers listeners a crash course in this method of songwriting, honed to near perfection as the track moves from straightforward doom riffing to death metal insanity, followed by blistering solos and a whole heaping helping of atmospheric synth work. If you enjoy any of these sounds by themselves, wait till you hear Worm’s personalized spin on them. The sound is truly majestic, with the record’s opening track establishing what listeners are going to get throughout the remainder of the record. Which is just a helluva lot more amazing death-doom.
For all its stomp and glorious heaviness, in my estimation it’s the emphasis on softer, more melodically impactful moments that provide a peek into the possible future we can look forward to with Worm. While there is a constant air of seismic intensity to every track, Bluenothing puts a megaphone to the band’s ability to reach the emotive, sacred highs of Mournful Congregation (albeit in a slightly grungier, filthier context). The band are showcasing themselves here as masters not only of song structure and technical execution, but also one of the most coveted skills within the world of the slow and heavy: patience. Take the beautiful and brutal emanations from “Centuries of Ooze II” as an example, with its restrained, languid unfurling of riffs and melodies reaching euphoric levels of ecstasy in the track’s final moments. Its build-ups like this that highlight Worm’s continued maturity as songwriters and musicians, rivaling the measured pace at times of band’s like Bell Witch without ever sacrificing moments of punishing aggression for the sake of atmosphere. It’s a brilliant strategy that pays off time and time again in Bluenothing, and I couldn’t be more obsessed with it.
What more is there to say? Worm have extended their win streak with an EP that not only captures the essence of their sound, but subtly expands it through shifted emphasis on melodic and atmospheric elements. It’s a move that pays off brilliantly throughout, and continues to highlight Worm’s precipitous rise from underground wunderkinds to established heavy hitters. Bluenothing is a triumph through and through and if you’ve ever enjoyed one of this band’s releases I strongly encourage you to give this one a listen. Exceptional stuff.
Anal Stabwound - Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference (technical brutal death metal)
Fuck, I love death metal, where you can hear a band with an ignorant-as-hell name like Anal Stabwound, and they’ll be some of the most technically proficient and big-brained music you’ve heard in years. This band is actually just multi-instrumentalist Nikhil Talwalkar from Connecticut, and the project follows in the Defeated Sanity school of thought, pairing vomitous gutturals and buzzsaw riffs with jazz-inspired transitions and fills, odd time and tempo changes, and guitars that are constantly moving and shifting. Quality stuff from New Standard Elite, a tastemaker in brutal death circles.
Brutus - Unison Life (post-)
I can’t sit here and pretend to be a Brutus historian, but new record Unison Life hits a very specific sweet spot. Imagine The Cranberries went full-send with powerful post-punk drums, gorgeous, floating melodies, and one of the most heartrending vocal performances of the year. Easily one of the most solid front-to-back post- records of the year.
Full of Hell - Aurora Leaking From An Open Wound (avant-garde grindcore)
I mean… it’s new Full of Hell, which is a celebration in and of itself. It’s also batshit, which is par for the course regarding what we’ve come to expect from the east coast grinders. It’s fairly astonishing that they only need about six minutes to utterly pulverize our brains, which is exactly what they accomplish here. If you have enjoyed any of Full of Hell’s previous releases, there’s plenty to love here.
God Alone. - ETC (noise rock / math rock / post-metal)
Noise rock and its adjacent movements are having a bit of a moment in recent years, with no shortage of new and interesting takes on the genre with standout releases from acts like Chat Pile, KEN Mode, and more. Ireland’s God Alone. is the latest act out of that sphere, and are playing up the hypnotic rhythms and melange of textures of noise rock with a more danceable approach. ETC is a playful kind of record, but it isn’t necessarily joyful. Music journalists the world over could concoct monstrous genre tags out of this release alone with all the post-whatever bastard-core you could ever want or need, but you’re just gonna have to hear this one for yourself.
Mal - Malbum (mathy saxcore? sexy mathcore?, jazz)
I’ve gone on record saying Ordovician Records is releasing some of the best, most intriguing and forward-thinking metal of the year, and the debut release by Minneapolis’ Mal might take the cake. There’s not much time left in the year, but this one is creeping up the Big List in a big way. There’s no way I can accurately describe their sound in a blurb beyond the Cowboy Bebop OST becoming sentient and doing its best The Number Twelve Looks Like You impression. That’s jazz, baby.
Psychonaut - Violate Consensus Reality (Sludge, psych doom, post-metal)
Any time I hear anything about Belgium’s Psychonaut, I’m immediately in. To me, Psychonaut is what Tool should be: a mixture of musical artistry and elevated songwriting but with a heavy dose of technical talent. I’m immediately hypnotized by every riff the band makes since first hearing 2020’s Unfold the God Man. This year’s Violate Consensus Reality is no different. The combination of artistic and technical ability blends incredibly well and shows that you can walk and chew gum at the same time.
The Sawtooth Grin - Good. (mathgrind)
The long awaited (two decades!) return of cult mathcore legends The Sawtooth Grin. Turns out, Good. is Great, and packed with enough seismic activity and weird nuance to keep things fresh and interesting after the long hibernation. The mathcore renaissance continues!
Sugar Horse – Waterloo Teeth (Post Punk, Prog Doom)
I had a lot of doubts when first listening to this release. For one, I wasn’t sure what to make of the broad ensemble of guest spots that the album is made up of. And then there was the “prog doom” label. But, to be frank, my worries were completely assuaged; Waterloo Teeth uses its varied lineup to create intricate, touching, and musically unique tracks that completely and utterly deserve the name “prog doom”. It’s one of the more daring and complete EPs of the year.
Obsidious – Iconic (Progressive Tech Death)
Psychonaut – Violate Consensus Reality (Progressive Post Metal)
Spell – Tragic Magic (Heavy Metal, Doom)
Thotcrime – D1g1t4l_dr1ft (Cybergrind)
Mountainscpe – Atoms Unfurling (Instrumental Prog, Post Metal)
Witch Blade – Månsken (Nwobhm-style Heavy Metal)
Catalyst – A Different Painting For A New World (Progressive Tech Death)
Birds In Row – Gris Klein (Post Hardcore)
Daeva – Through Sheer Will And Black Magic (Black Thrash)
Girih – Ikigai (Post-rock)
My Education – Emka (Experimental Post-rock)
Aenaon – Mnemosyne (Progressive Black Metal)
Dead Neanderthals – Metal (Avant-garde Metal, Drone)
Fucked Up – Oberon (Progressive Hardcore)
Grief Circle – Weightless (Post Metal, Doom)
Illyria – Take Me Somewhere Beautiful (Post-hardcore, Blackgaze)
Parius – The Signal Heard Throughout Space (Prog Metal)
Desbot - Pass of Change (post-rock/post-metal)
Terror Cell - Caustic Light (mathcore / sludge)
ZOMBIESHARK! - Born From A Wish (cybergrind)
Morgue - Lowest Depths of Misery (dissonant death / deathgrind)
Excresence - Inescapable Anatomical Deterioration (brutal death metal)