And so, a new year begins! You might notice that this time around, we didn't take February off but instead bounced right off of our End of Year content and into 2024. Why? Probably because we did enough to slim down the fat and make things work better with the blog so we're not all extremely burnt out. Good stuff! Or it might be because 2024 is shaping up to be one of those years that just slaps us in the face with amazing music right from the get go; there are seriously several album of the year contenders on this list.
So, enjoy! Please insert here some metaphor about rebirth, cycles, and music. I've done so many at this point that I can't be bothered and you don't actually need it. Cue the music please.
Slift - Ilion (psychedelic rock, stoner rock)
I was in the business of lowering my expectations from this album as much as possible. Slift’s previous album, 2020’s UMMON, is one of my all time favorite psych/stoner rock releases. Expansive, ambitious, and wholly engrossing, it’s one of those albums which truly deserves to be called a journey. I was really doubtful that Slift could exceed it but here we are, with my jaw being firmly on the floor after listening to Ilion a few dozen times. Somehow, Slift has gone wider than ever before, turning their already expansive space-opera storytelling skills towards an epic album that is even more impressive than its predecessor.
Ilion is not just ambitious on the lyrical front; it also presents Slift’s music in its most grandiose form yet. The sound on Ilion is dirtier. The guitars are more “chunky”, filled with reverb and feedback, the same sort of reverb which paints the vocal’s timbre at every turn. The drums are deep and yet somehow “cold”, conveying the all encompassing presence of space on the album. And, of course, the bass, the underrated MVP of any good psychedelic release, is present and firm here, but also prone to sudden flourishes of warm licks and undeniably groovy riffs.
Smash all of that together along with a concept about a spaceship that is lost in the darkness of outer space, inject it with the band’s previously proven skill for groove and attack, and you get another powerful testament to the power of the French psychedelic music scene. Slift are leading that charge, blazing ever-forward in their career, continuing to push their trade and craft to new levels. If you like stoner, doom, or psychedelic music to any extent and you haven’t listened to Ilion - you are fucking up. Simple as.
Knoll - As Spoken (deathgrind)
Since the release of Interstice back in 2021, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the Tennessee avant deathgrind machine that is Knoll. Always on the lookout for my next Full of Hell-adjacent fix, the band’s debut record certainly scratched the itch for abrasive sonic tomfoolery. But then the band released their sophomore effort Metempiric, and the itch being summarily scratched evolved. It was here to my ears that Knoll came into their own, shedding the chrysalis of deathgrind and morphing into something more subterranean. Something more eerie. More than any other band in this space, Knoll kinda creeps me out (the instrumental horrors of “Dislimned”, anyone?), and Metempiric only offered a cursory taste of the sonic discomfort to come. The band’s outstanding third record, As Spoken, is an atmosphere-drenched wall of audio destruction that is both a bold sonic step forward for the band and a cementing of their uniquely unsettling and dark aesthetic. It’s fucking awesome.
While As Spoken sounds definitively like Knoll (more on that in a minute), it should be stated in no uncertain terms that this record is an obvious sonic evolution for the band. The songwriting is more spacious and atmospheric than either of its predecessors, showcasing the band’s move from a more rigorous and sometimes traditional deathgrind sound into something that feels more akin to Portal, Blut Aus Nord, or even Aeviterne. There is a blackened crust seared atop each track on As Spoken, creating a steadier diet of mid-tempo and disorienting moments than we’ve seen in Knoll’s previous work. This increased emphasis on dissonance and atmosphere pays off in spades, making the album’s most brutal moments feel that much more impactful and keeping the proceedings unpredictable and consistently uncomfortable.
That second point is where I find As Spoken to be most impressive when thinking about the band’s evolution and future. While the instrumental and songwriting components may be expanding beyond the deathgrind realm and into something more dissonant and avant-garde, the band’s unique aesthetic has only become more cemented. This SOUNDS like a Knoll record through and through, musical adventurousness aside. Like the best bands in this sonic space, Knoll has a distinct knack for creating discomfort and a sense of danger in their music, and the atmosphere of darkness and dread generated by As Spoken is even more prominent and titanic than in their first two records. Evolving your sound without losing the spiritual core of what makes your music distinct is extremely difficult to do, and Knoll have pulled off that minor miracle here in glorious fashion. The sounds may be more expansive, they may be different in approach, but the way they make you feel is the same.
Taken as a whole, As Spoken finds Knoll expanding into new sonic territory that suits their musical evolution brilliantly without sacrificing the vibes that make them so uniquely effective. Far from a standard deathgrind jackhammer, As Spoken brings a wild dissonance and spacious sonic texture to the band’s catalog that is equally unsettling and effective. It’s a fantastic record showcasing one of the most talented young bands in extreme music spreading their wings and descending full speed into a new sonic hell, and I’m here for the flames.
Vitriol - Suffer & Become (blackened technical death metal)
Portland extreme metal tacticians Vitriol have been honing their craft for over a decade, mining perfection out of some of the most intoxicating and punishing frontiers in death metal over the course of two EPs and a full length debut at Century Media in 2019. Through it all, Vitriol spun gold out of the best impulses from the likes of heavy hitters Cattle Decapitation and Behemoth and carving out a niche of their own by simply being better than the rest in their field. The hard work paid off, as the group are having a breakout moment with their sophomore LP Suffer & Become, marking one of the year’s earliest must-hear and most-hyped albums in extreme metal.
It’s easy to disbelieve the hype, but Suffer & Become is so immediately arresting and intense that one can’t help but be a believer in Vitriol and their command of brutality. The album’s production is proving a bit controversial due to how “modern” and thick it sounds, but let’s be honest; it’s because Suffer & Become sounds like a deathcore album. Make no mistake: this record is firmly not a deathcore record, but Vitriol have stacked their points into intensity and brutality in emphasizing attack and low-end. If you appreciate your death metal more on the cavernous side, Suffer & Become may not be the death metal record for you. Regardless of how you feel, it’s undeniable that Suffer & Become hits like a ton of bricks.
Despite its intensity and propensity towards excess, Suffer & Become is not without nuance or emotional depth. Opening track “Shame and its Afterbirth” utilizes haunting effects and melodies not dissimilar to Korn or Veil of Maya before upending it all with a flurry of maddened dissodeath a la Imperial Triumphant. “The Isolating Lie of Learning Another” features a well-earned melodic climax with a triumphant guitar solo soaring over the back half. The instrumental centerpiece “Survival’s Careening Inertia” demonstrates a more progressive side to the act, from the reverberating clean guitars opening the track bringing to mind Tomb Mold’s latest record, on through the symphonic elements playing against the buzzsaw riffs that bring the track to a close.
Deceptively versatile despite its devotion to pushing the limits of extremity for this style of death metal, Suffer & Become begs and rewards repeat listens if sheer exhaustion doesn’t become a factor. Vitriol have crafted an absolute thrill-ride of a death metal record in Suffer & Become, and they suffer not from the curse of the sophomore slump, and instead have became one of the most exciting and must-watch bands in death metal today.
Upon Stone - Dead Mother Moon (melodic death metal)
Arguably peaking over 20 years ago, melodic death metal’s popularity and praise has fluctuated over the past decade with many of the genre’s mainstays waning in quality or shifting to more modern and accessible sounds. But it may be time to ask, is melodeath cool again? The genre has had a bit of a comeback of late, between the revival of throwback melodeath influenced metalcore, brilliant fusions of progressive and doom influences from the likes of Countless Skies and Fires in the Distance respectively among others, In Flames taking a slight course correction towards their roots and touring more of their old material, and newer bands like Majesties last year and now Upon Stone really harnessing everything that made the early-years of the genre so iconic and memorable.
Make no mistake, Upon Stone wear their influences on their sleeves on their debut full-length Dead Mother Moon. In this case, very recognizably early In Flames (The Jester Race especially) and peak At the Gates. It’s hard not to hear a mix of them in both their riffs, the vocals and even the production done by Taylor Young, renowned for his work in the hardcore scene. The few complaints I have seen about this album have been about the drum mix, the garbage can snare might take some getting used to, but the whole package feels perfectly fitted for the general vibe they’re clearly going for. But that’s not where the ties to hardcore end, this young group from LA is fronted by Xavier Wahlberg, the vocalist of metallic hardcore band Vamachara, who yes, happens to be the son of actor Donnie Wahlberg. He has that sort of raspy not-quite-black metal-shriek that feels straight out of Gothenburg in the 90s. The airy despair in his voice echoes the melancholic guitar melodies, yet also blends into moments of empowering fury equally matched by the number of shredding solos. Part of what made that sound so memorable was them not forgetting that metal is allowed to be fun, and you can feel that in the energy carried by the instrumentation. You can just tell that this would be a blast to experience live.
For the album artwork, I love that they went all in on the old-school melodeath vibes by hiring Andreas Marschall, the artist who did the artwork for a number of In Flames’ early releases (and about half of the metal albums released in the 90s). It’s impressive how admittedly by-the-numbers late 90s/early 00s melodeath this all is, yet it’s still impressive and invigorating. It’s not a big surprise it caught the attention of Century Media Records. Maybe it’s the nostalgia, the lack of bands effectively filling this void over the years, but Dead Mother Moon just feels needed. It takes you back to a time when all we cared about was some passion and some god damn cool riffs. And there’s a comfort in listening to this that is a testament to how well it has replicated its inspirations without feeling like a cheap knockoff. Long live melodeath.
Resin Tomb - Cerebral Purgatory (dissonant deathgrind)
The relentless rise and rise of dissodeath continues into 2024 with Aussie punishers Resin Tomb, who honed their sound to terrifying effect on debut album Cerebral Purgatory. Their earlier EPs showcased the potential of the band’s caustic blend of dissodeath, sludge, and doom to an impressive degree, earning Resin Tomb a co-release with blog favorite label Total Dissonance Worship in 2022. But Cerebral Purgatory births an altogether more terrifying beast.
Cerebral Purgatory opens with a blistering howl that blurs into a mind-melting discordian cascade of guitars, landing a punishing blow with the opening bell. The onslaught is crushing and likely to cause hearing damage to naive audiences who left the volume up too high. Unlike the mixing on earlier releases that pulled vocals to the foreground, Cerebral Purgatory balances instrumentation with Matt Budge’s raw screams. The effect is massive, giving each player the space to breathe as Resin Tomb creates a dense, cold fog that surrounds and suffocates the listener. Though not quite as cavernous as death doom, the spacious soundscape allows different elements of dissodeath and sludge to intermingle dangerously. Rather than race headlong into breakdown after breakdown, Resin Tomb plot their assault carefully and with precision. Jagged, blistering guitars bleed into riveting bass lines that add doomy heaviness that’s both unexpected and brilliant.
Dissonant death metal sometimes feels like chewing a mouthful of glass; all sharp edges and no heft as the muscles of death metal are stripped away by acid. Resin Tomb strike the perfect balance with bruising guitars and bass that infuse their sound with a hint of groove, drawing the listener deeper into their enveloping wall of sound with irresistibly catchy moments that channel old school death metal or ponderously heavy doom. “Putrid Fluid,” quite possibly my favorite track on the entire album, builds spiraling guitars into a heady foundation for Budge’s harsh howls. The infusion of familiar stylings with discordant rage is shockingly addictive for a subgenre designed to alienate. As the song slows to an uncomfortable death march, Resin Tomb cuts sharply to a sudden end, creating a far more dramatic moment with silence than could ever be accomplished with breakdowns or blastbeats. The masterful songwriting showcases why Resin Tomb is a force to be reckoned with, even in the crowded realm of dissodeath.
Casey - How To Disappear (post-hardcore, shoegaze)
As the calendar pages turn and we shift focus from the year-end retrospectives to new releases, bands can leverage the relative lack of release-day competition in January to quickly rise to the top of charts on your favorite music website. Either strategically or by sheer luck, Welsh five-piece Casey did exactly that with their new LP How To Disappear, briefly finding themselves on Rate Your Music’s top 20 albums of 2024 charts. Lord knows they wouldn’t stay there long, but they’re here now! Fans of the shoegaze x emo crossover will absolutely adore Casey’s atmospheric and haunting songcraft, and despite how quick-moving those charts might be, if this album’s for you, you’re guaranteed to get a lot of mileage out of it.
Infant Island - Obsidian Wreath (post-hardcore/blackgaze)
Just when it seems like every band with a post- genre signifier could not for the life of them make a record clocking in at under an hour in length, Infant Island re-appear to remind the world that concision and excellence are not mutually exclusive in this musical space. Obsidian Wreath’s 36 minutes are overstuffed with fantastic moments, featuring some of the band’s most emotive and creative songwriting to date. It’s a fantastic record that fans of Portrayal of Guilt and Deafheaven should feast upon liberally.
Hoplites (Ὁπλίτης) - Παραμαινομένη (Paramainomeni) (avant-garde metal, progressive black metal)
Holy fuck, this album. Typically stylized as the Greek Ὁπλίτης, the young solo artist from China has now released four albums since their debut at the beginning of 2023, and they somehow keep getting better. Παραμαινομένη (Paramainomeni) is the most experimental and truly progressive to date, shifting between various moods and embracing a general avant-gardeness in songwriting and sound. Often taking on the frantic breakneck turbulence of mathcore, but played through more black, death and thrash riffs, depending on what the album needs. These barrages of complex intensity are connected through hypnotic clean sections and surrealist saxophone melodies, creating a sense of flow among what is an at times overwhelmingly rhythmic, dense and dissonant album. Hoplites is on another level right now, unlocking a higher level of song-writing to their already technical genius has elevated this project among the most interesting and compelling experimental music in the world right now.
BULL OF APIS BULL OF BRONZE – THE FRACTAL OUROBOROS (black metal)
The mysterious, otherwise-prolific, and intrepid members of Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze have returned into this configuration once again to prove that they are some of the most essential and talented voices working in black metal today. Expansive, challenging, harrowing, and heavy as all hell, The Fractal Ouroboros is somehow better than their previous (brilliant) release.
Cognizance - Phantazein (technical death metal)
This is how you start a new year. Enigmatic UK tech death conjurers Cognizance spare no detail in the construction of their proggy opus, Phantazein. The intricate concept album races from breakneck technicality to buzzsaw grooves to arcing riffs with calculated wizardry, dragging listeners into their dark world of obsession and art. Massive and dizzying, Phantazein proves that Cognizance are still masters of their craft.
CERULEAN – CARRION ANGEL (BLACKENED DISSO-DEATH)
EXOCRINE – LEGEND (TECH DEATH)
KAONASHI – THE 3 FACES OF BEAUTY: A VIOLENT MISINTERPRETATION OF MORGAN MONTGOMERY (PROGRESSIVE MATHCORE, POST-HARDCORE)
MOUNTAIN CALLER – CHRONICLE II: HYPERGENESIS (POSTY STONER PROG)
OLHAVA – SACRIFICE (POST BLACK METAL)
UNSOULING – VAMPIRIC SPIRITUAL DRAIN (WEIRD BLACKENED DEATH METAL)
BREATHS – MELT AWAY (POST METAL, PROG GAZE)
MODERN LIFE IS WAR – TRIBULATION WORKSONGS (HARDCORE)
SGÀILE – TRAVERSE THE BEALACH (PROG FOLK, MELODEATH)
VEMOD – THE DEEPENING (POST BLACK METAL)
ALLUVIAL – DEATH IS BUT A DOOR (PROGRESSIVE TECH-DEATH/CORE)
ESCUELA GRIND – DDEEAAATTHHMMEETTAALL (GRINDY DEATHCORE)
SPIDER GOD – THE KILLING ROOM ("HYPER-MELODIC" BLACK METAL)
AT THE PLATES – OMNIVORE (DEATH METAL, MELODEATH)
DUNWICH RITUAL – THE WEIRD TAPES SESSIONS (TRAD/SPEED METAL)
IMPERIALIST – QUANTUM (BLACKENED THRASH)