Release Day Roundup: 9/29/23

Rounding up new releases from Steven Wilson, Blood Command, Harms Way, Code Orange, Wolves in the Throne Room, KK’s Priest, ’68, Gunship, Sinnery, Rorcal, Nervosa, Woe, Obsidian Tide, Bear and the (not so) triumphant return of Taproot!

2 months ago

Top Picks

Steven Wilson – The Harmony Codex (chill prog, electro-ambient)

I thought I was done with Steven Wilson. As much of a Porcupine Tree fan as I am, his solo albums have never really grabbed me and it seemed like he'd been on a bit of an electronica-induced downward trajectory, beginning with 2015's unremarkable Hand Cannot Erase and culminating in old-man-yells-at-cloud-core "masterpiece" The Future Bites (2012), which rubbed me all kinds of wrong ways. Add to that The Harmony Codex's trendy, faux-profound, "meta graphic" artwork and minimalist, TikTok-baiting, sad-prog lead single and my expectations couldn't be further through the floor. Indeed, I only really listened to the album at all out of morbid curiosity and a niggling sense of duty to this here column, but the moment I pressed play I was utterly floored.

The Harmony Codex continues Wildon's foray into electronics, often giving way to entirely ambient soundscapes and compositions that couldn't be further from the metal-leaning prog rock he made his name with or the more upbeat, pop-oriented route his previous records suggested. True to expectation, there's no real reason this album should appeal to me at all, except that it's composed and executed with the mastery and emotional resonance that made Wilson so remarkable in the first place. Along with all the ambient electronics comes a lot of sections that hark back to Porcupine Tree's (not-so) humble Beatles and Pink Floyd-aping beginnings, while the album's near-eleven-minute centrepiece, "Impossible Tightrope" cheekily quotes Led Zepplin's triumphant "Achilles' Last Stand". Wilson's sullen and notably more mature reflections on alienation and consumerism also feel like more of a continuation of Fear of a Blank Planet (2007) and The Incident (2009) than last-years surprisingly upbeat Porcupine Tree comeback record Closure/Continuation or the heavy-handed approach of The Future Bites.

The whole album is outstanding, but there are two major highlights. First is "Rock Bottom'' featuring Israeli singe Ninet Tayeb, who gets to "Great Gig in the Sky" out for the entirety of its extremely affecting four and a half minutes, to harrowing-yet-strangely-uplifting effect (and whose other work I will be promptly delving into at the earliest opportunity). Second and perhaps more impressive is album-closer "Staircase", which again feels like an extension (and possible culmination of) later Porcupine Tree, and is possibly the single best Wilson-led composition since Fear of a Blank Planet.* Instead of that late-career masterpiece though, the song more readily recalls the band's earlier and—I'd argue, greatest—triumph, The Sky Moves Sideways (1995), with its David Gilmour-style leads, and throbbing, electronic base. I truly didn't think he had it in him, but The Harmony Codex is a monumental effort that instantly earns a prominent place within Wilson's catalogue, if not that of progressive music as a whole.

*Someone should probably pipe up and tell me it's something off The Raven that Refused to Sing (2013) instead, but that album's always gone entirely over my head (when it's not dissapearing up other parts of Wilson's own anatomy).

Blood Command – World Domination (crusty crossover, sad cowboy-core)

My two top picks this week could barely be more different, but my experiences with them are strikingly similar. My once beloved Blood Command had me worried in the lead-up to World Domination. On top of coming only a year-after previous effort Praise Armaggeddonism (2022)—their first with ex-Pagan vocalist Nikki Brumen—the record was promoted via series of videos that saw the previously ravenous fairly reserved-looking band playing acoustic guitars while parading around as sad cowboys, or otherwise doing their best (worst?) 100 Gecs impersonation while dressed like Korn for some reason. Maybe it's because I have previous negative experience with people suddenly dressing "ironically" in Adidas gear (which is a weird thing to say/type out loud, but here we are...), or because, while many—including our own almighty editor in chief—heralded as Praise Armaggeddonism as a triumphant return for the embattled band, myself and resident underground hardcore ambassador Trent weren't all that impressed, but I had low expectation going into World Domination, to say the least. Concerns were raised even higher when, on top of doubling-down on their new (or should that be "nu"?) imagery, opener "The Band with the Three Stripes" began with a similar assortment of mariachi horns, which characterised Praise Armageddonism. I was prepared for the worst, but I shouldn't have been.

Instead of ill-fitting pop-punk and hyper-pop pastiches, World Domination is packed with anthemic, often sub-minute-long built around thrashy skate punk riffs that even border on grind at times. The first seven tracks form a perfect little hardcore EP of their own, book-ended by two of the band's best and most memorable tracks to date in "Three Stripes" and "The Plague on Both Your Houses". From there though, things get weird. While there's still plenty of rabid hardcore to come, World Domination's second half is characterised by ironic-yest-still-somehow-exhilarating hardcore techno and minimalist, lovelorn ballads. The obnoxious "Welcome to the Next Level Above Human" will have you big-fish-little-fishing harder than Kevin and Perry having it large and even provides a refreshing and memorable break from the surrounding chaos. It's the softer tracks that close the record out though that really shine. In isolation (and coupled with deliberately obtuse videos) songs like "Losing Faith", "Decades" and the title track showcase the usually snotty Brumen's strength as a melodic vocalist, capable of carrying a tune or few all on her own, and it would be interesting to see songs in this style more fully incorporated into future releases. Some might see it as a stopgap release, or a lesser effort in comparison to what came before, but with World Domination Blood Command seem to have finally hit their stride and I, for one, welcome our Swedish crust-pop overlords.

Release Roundup

Ashbringer – We Came Here to Grieve (post-black metal)

Asinhell – Impii Hora (death metal)

Atena – Subway Anthem (post-hardcore)

Atropine – Sanity Desecration (death metal)

Bear – Vanta (prog djent)

Besra – Transitions (proggy post metal)

Black Stone Cherry – Screamin' At The Sky (altish hard rock)

Blackbriar – A Dark Euphony (symphonic metal)

Blencathra – II: On These Shores Where Nothing Now Stands... (epic black metal)

Broken Vow – Anthropocene (hardcore, crossover)

Caged – From Roving About the Earth (death doom)

Castleumbra – Nammu Tammtu (funeral death doom)

Cloud Catcher – Return From the Cauldron (stoner metal)

Code Orange – The Above (industrial hardcore, alt rock)

Columbarium – The Morbidious One (deathish doom)

Cromlech – Cold And Stiff (posty black metal)

Dark the Suns – Raven And The Nightsky (goth doom)

Darken – Welcome to the Light (heavy metal)

Deathblow – Rotten Trajectory (the blow that eats people)

Deathfucker – God Devourer (the fucker that eats gods)

Desecresy – Deserted Realms (death metal)

Disguised Malignance – Entering the Gateways (death metal)

Dismal Aura – Imperium Mortalia (black doom)

Dwaal – Never Enough (post metal)

Dyecrest – Once I Had A Heart (heavy metal, melodic rock)

Empírium – Az élet nyomán (jovial power metal)

Exiting Mortuary – Alkaptonuria (shitty slam)

Fake Figures – From Within (alt-punk/rock)

Filth Is Eternal – Find Out (punk, hardcore)

Friendship Commanders – Mass (doom rock)

Gorehammer – Vapor Void (brutal death, slam[jam])

Graveyard – 6 (hardish rock)

Grove Street – The Path To Righteousness (crossover thrash)

Gunship – Unicorn (saxy synthwave)

Harm’s Way – Common Suffering (brutal hardcore, monotony)

Heavy Lungs – All Gas No Brakes (post-punk)

Helve – To Be Forgotten (post metal)

The Hirsch Effekt – Urian (progressive metal, post prog)

I Am Low – Uma (stoner doom)

Iron Altar – Promethean (metalcore, groove death)

Iskandr – Spiritus Sylvestris (post-doom)

Jacket Thief – Lights Out On The Shore (stonerish rock)

Just Before Dawn – A War Too Far (death metal, death doom)

Just Heroes – Heroes (heavy metal/rock)

Kadverfickr – Superkiller (doomy black metal)

Kambodsja – Resilient (indie rock, post-shoegaze?)

Karambolage – Pras (instrumental stoner doom)

Karras – We Poison Their Young (crusty grindcore)

KK's Priest – The Sinner Rides Again (heavy metal)

Konfession – Rural Hypostasis (black metal)

Lightlorn – At One With The Night Sky (black metal)

Maggot Heart – Hunger (blackened post-punk?)

Marthyrium – Through The Spheres of Darkness (blackened death metal)

Martin Simson’s Destroyer Of Death – Eternal Reign (heavy metal)

Moonlight Sorcery – Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle (black metal, melodeath)

Nervosa – Jailbreak (death thrash)

Nganga – Phthisis (dissoblack)

Night in Gales – The Black Stream (melodeath)

Nova Doll – Denaturing (doom punk?)

Obsidian Tide – The Grand Crescendo (prog rock/metal)

Of Virtue – Omen (I Prevail-core)

Omnivortex – Circulate (progressive blackened death metal)

ovEnola – Underwater (nu-metalcore)

Psychework – Spark of Hope (heavy meal, prog-power)

Rat King – Psychotic Reality (deathgrind)

Red – Rated R (nu/alt metal)

Rocky’s Pride And Joy – All The Colours Of Darkness (fuzz doom)

Rorcal – Silence (blackened hardcore, brutal doom)

Ruin Lust – Dissimulant (brutal blackened death metal)

Sacred Dawn – Dismal Swamp (doom metal, thrash)

Sacrifire – The Art Of Decay (goth metal, melodeath)

Sangre Negra – Sangre Negra (black metal, death metal)

Satanic Tea Co – A Celestial Beating (nu deathcore)

Satanic Worship – Satanik Overdose of Hell (death thrash)

Semprus – A Fractured Reality (deathcore)

72 Legions – What A God Could Be (death metal)

Sevo – Aurora do Triunfo Herétiko (death metal)

SiM – Playdead (the actual worst)

Sinnery – Below The Summit (thrash metal, death thrash)

Sins Of Shadows – Awake (power metal)

’68 – Yes, and… (imporvisational hardcore, grunge?)

Sleep Theory – Paper Hearts (butt-core)

Sol Negate – On The Verge Of Dreaming Again (symphonic death metal)

Speedtrip – Apocalyptic Killzone (thrash)

Sprengkopf – Sprengkopf (black metal)

Stam1na – X (prog thrash)

Stepmother – Planet Brutalicon (punk, garage rock)

Stoned – Rebirth (alt metal with death growls)

Superlynx – 4 10 (post rock, doom metal)

Svartkonst – May the Night Fall (blackened death metal)

Taotopia – Glitch (progressive/tech metal)

Taproot – Sc\ssrs (poorly produced nu/alt metal)

Terra Builder – Solar Temple (blackened death metal, death grind)

Tides of Sulfur – Apathy Chasm (black metal, dsbm)

Titanosaur – Echoes (sludge doom)

Torch It – Tainted Souls (hardcore, metalcore)

Transilience – Nervesaw (prog thrash)

Trest – Sorginak (black metal)

Trivax – Eloah Burns Out (blackened death metal)

Velocidad 22 – Alcohol y gasolina (heavy metal, thrash)

Waldgeflüster – Unter bronzenen Kronen (post-black metal, folk)

Wells Valley – Achamoth (post-metal, sludge)

The Wise Become Fools – Shadows On Cave Walls (bullshit philosophy-core)

Wizards of Wiznan – No Light Has No Shadow (death metal)

Woe – Legacies Of Frailty (blackened death metal)

Wolves in the Throne Room – Crypts of Ancestral Knowledge (proggish post black metal)

Joshua Bulleid

Published 2 months ago