Lordi – Screem Writers Guild (horror metal, hair metal)
Lordi's seven-different-style-album imaginary career retrospective collection Lordiversity (2021) is one of the most outlandish and unlikely success stories in metal's sordid history, and it that box set proved they weren't just one-hit Eurovision-winning wonders (itself an unlikely feat), then eighteenth(!) studio outing proves they're more than two-strike triumphs as well, even if their spelling could still use some work.
Screem Writers Guild builds off the best parts of Lordiversity, blending the AOR-leaning melodic rock of standout offering Humanimal with the campy, heavy metal carnival of horrors imagery of its second-best collection Abusement Park while also throwing a few gestures toward surprisingly successful disco outing Superflytrap—which is maybe what Lordi has always been about anyway. The result is maybe Lordi's most consistent and instantly infectious album to date. Along with the refined direction, new guitarist Kone immediately makes his mark, consistently delivering riffs and leads that are far more memorable and dexterous than the majority of his new bandmates' monstrous back catalogue.
I'm not sure what "Dead Again Jayne" is doing out in front of the intro track (other than being a kickass album opener) but, otherwise, the sequencing and humour are on point. "The SCG Awards", wherein "The Dyslexorcist" and "The Evil Bread" face off for best screamplay, is wonderfully daft and the fang in cheek "Vampiro Fang Club" delivers a worthy sequel (prequel?) to Humanimals' spectacular "Supernatural". Screem Writers Guild won't be for everyone, but it is very, very (very) much for me.
The Ongoing Concept – Again (progressive metalcore, funky prog rock)
These guys are a bit of a thing, yeah? I recall there being a bit of buzz around Saloon (2013) and it not really clicking with me then (or now, upon revisit), but otherwise the band have completely passed me by. Now might be the best time to get acquainted, however. From what I can tell, Again sees the return of The Ongoing Concept's original line-up and is built around revisiting a bunch of ideas and motifs from their previous material, which—in my humble, honest opinion—it greatly improves upon.
Despite being based on previous material that sounds more like Maylene and the Sons of Disaster meets Protest the Hero, Again sounds more like Don Broco by way of Sikth, punctuated with reminiscences of letlive. (or perhaps what letlive. could have been?) and funky, electronic sections that sound like Greg Puciato fronting Jamiroquai or something. It's so good you guys! I have literally listened to it five times today alone (three of them in a row) and I expect there'll be plenty more to come.
Sermon – Of Golden Verse (progressive metal)
This might also be the best album I've heard all year. Sermon's 2019 debut Birth of the Marvellous was an extremely impressive offering to be sure, but this second outing takes things to a whole different level. From the outset, Of Golden Verse is a noticeably less sombre and more aggressive and kinetically charged than its predecessor. Comparisons to Kataonia and Tool still dominate, due to the ethereal emotive timbre of enigmatic main man "Him". However, there's an added catharsis and rhythmic complexity borrowed from those bands as well that's missing among many of inferior imitators, such as Soen, who I've seen Sermon get compared to a lot. There's also a ton of Gojira that comes through on the record, which may be due to the influence of current Decapitated and ex-Vader drummer James Stewart whose performance here suggests he may even be capable of going toe to toe with Mario Duplantier or even Danny Carey and hold his own. Of Golden Verse is a truly magnificent record and, for the first time in 2023 feels like a genuine AOTY contender.