Editors' Picks // April 2024

Regardless of their level of uniqueness, each release on here, as per usual, is well worth your time, so let's not waste any more of yours and dive in!

a month ago

Hello my friends! It is time for the second craziest month of the year in music, the craziest being next month. As you can tell from the below, music has ramped up and is spitting out some of the best albums of this year. Death metal once again stands out, responsible for a sizeable majority of these excellent releases (exact number depending on your definition of death metal). But there are other genres in here as well, some of them even weird and original hybrids of styles. Regardless of their level of uniqueness, each release on here, as per usual, is well worth your time, so let's not waste any more of yours and dive in!

Civerous - Maze Envy (death metal)

By now, we should all know that if 20 Buck Spin is pushing a death metal band, it’s worthy of our time and attention. Those tentpole death metal releases out of this Pennsylvania tastemaker are often Album Of The Year candidates, if not in their respective genres and musical scenes. Look at the label’s catalogue: classics from Tomb Mold, Witch Vomit, Worm, Dream Unending, VoidCeremony, and Ulthar, among others, have blessed our listening habits in recent years, and you’re sure to find more if you go back deeper. The latest record to guarantee year-end buzz out of 20BS is the hotly anticipated Civerous sophomore LP Maze Envy, and it’s already making waves.

Billed as a death doom outfit, this LA five-piece offers much more than plodding rhythms and woeful tempos often associated with the genre. Raw and cavernous OSDM at its foundation, Civerous builds out with death doom’s introspective opportunities, yes, but prog and technical death metal creep through as well. Former The Faceless and current The Zenith Passage vocalist Derek Rydquest guests on the incredibly catchy “Labyrinth Charm”, and Rydquest’s voice isn’t the only passing resemblance to that scene in the song, or across the record. Comparisons to the type of “weird death” that Tomb Mold embody are more obvious to make, but everything you’d want is here, even beyond the clean guitar transitions. Look at “Levitation Tomb” as an easy highlight; layers of atmospheric guitars swell over palm-muted chugs and increasingly frenzied drums before exploding into a devastating and neck-snapping breakdown. Later, in the 10-minute finale “Geryon (The Plummet)”, the band meditates through passages of thick death-doom with the accompaniment of somber string sections. A fittingly cinematic end to a meticulous and creative death metal LP. 

Civerous have cemented their position as one of the most promising young death metal acts of the moment, joining the likes of Tomb Mold and Blood Incantation for a place at the table, and Maze Envy surely places them towards the front with not just an early highlight for the year, but as a potential classic in the 20 Buck Spin pantheon. 

-Jimmy Rowe

Frail Body - Artificial Bouquet (screamo, post-hardcore) 

While the foundations of this genre and sound were established over twenty years ago, it’s not a stretch to say that there is no better time to be a screamo fan than right. Sure, the “golden-age” of the screamo or “skramz” movement may have come with the likes of Orchid, pageninetynine, Saetia, etc. in the 90s/early 00s. Arguably the only knock on this album, and the genre as a whole right now, is that it’s been standing on the shoulders of giants. But it’s time to recognize that there are a number of bands right now such as Frail Body, a little 3-piece from Illinois, who are going head-to-head with the best the genre has ever had to offer, and Artificial Bouquet might very well be just that. 

There’s something just so purifying about this album when you fully give yourself to it. It’s dripping with this solemn passion that anyone with the ounce of angious inside them will feel purging from their chest. That sense of the entire band baring their hearts and entire beings out on every track. Vocally, you don’t even need to understand what they’re saying, you just feel it. This is what this music is made for. It’s the type of music that would still be made even if no one was listening. 

But it’s not just the raw passion that makes this such a powerful, connecting experience. Their sophomore album Artificial Bouquet builds on their debut, but isn’t necessarily doing anything especially cavalier, it’s the execution of every little detail that is just immaculate, which is fully realized through how dynamic the songwriting is. The slightly off-kilter blackgaze riffing brings this tension and sense of unease throughout that adds another layer to the overall bleak and funereal tone.

On tracks like “Berth” the dissonant melodies are especially reminiscent of bands like Liturgy, before shifting into metallic hardcore heaviness. Musical catharsis often requires these shifts and knowing when to stretch and ebb and flow aspects of a song, which is brought out brilliantly here through song structures that could be considered in the vein of post-metal. They really use their status as a three-piece as a strength, in particular the fact they only have one guitarist. In turn, the bassist becomes much more of an active entity both in the mix and the compositions, sort of filling in the second guitarist role, but lending to a greater range in their sound. As a whole, from the technical standpoints to the human elements, this is simply one of the best offerings of emotionally-charged hardcore you’ll ever hear. 

-Trent Bos

Defect Designer - Chitin (progressive death metal)

As the heavy metal gods have willed it, I am writing about two progressive death metal albums for this month’s Editors’ Picks. It’s not a part of a grander design but simply that death metal has had an excellent few weeks/months/years/decades. However, my journey with Defect Designer’s Chitin stands above even the rest of the excellent crop for death metal this past while. At first, I added it to my rotation on the strength of the first few tracks - filthy, dense, and tight progressive metal always gets at least a few spins from me. But as I explored the album more and more, many things begin to reveal themselves to me: there’s a Pink Floyd track in here (which I really can’t imagine is not a “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” homage since it is titled “Shine Shine” and sounds a lot like that legendary track); there’s a nursery rhyme in here, turned into death metal; there’s space death metal a la Mithras in here. There’s a fucking lot of things in here, OK?

And through it all, through the frankly insane, twisting riffs, progressive rock nods, fucking children rhymes, Defect Designer stay on course. The grimy production of the guitars (at time veering into Morbid Angel levels of stanky riffs), the equally massive drums, the whirling, redolent bass, they all stay cohesive to deliver an album that sounds a lot like its cover art looks - fucked up, weird, and immensely engaging. It really is impossible to send you to one track on this one; the whole thing works within itself, even as it almost tears itself apart with musical whiplash. But the important thing is that it doesn’t - on Chitin, Defect Designer go as close to falling apart as possible and then come back from the edge and if that’s not death metal as fuck then I don’t know what death metal even is. Listen to Chitin! And then again and again and again and again until you understand about 15% of what this album is doing.


Hamferð - Men Guðs Hond Er Sterk (melodic death-doom)

Holding the honorable distinction of being perhaps the most famous band from the Faroe Islands, Hamferð have been building their unique and rich catalog of doom-laden soundscapes since their debut Evst dropped back in 2013 to nearly uniform acclaim. Deeply melodic, patient, operatic, and emotive songwriting and performance has been the name of the game for Hamferð throughout their career, and their latest release varies little from that established formula. The vocals are still uniquely exquisite, the melodies take center stage and are thrillingly alive, and each performance is pitch perfect. Which all could be considered to be a fancier way of saying, even as a backhanded compliment, “same old, same old.” But while all of the familiar trappings that make Hamferð a beautifully singular band within the auspices of their genre(s) are present within Men Guðs Hond Er Sterk, the record just feels like… more. Lots more. Of everything that makes them awesome. It’s thrilling. It’s their best release yet. 

Well, perhaps the “more”-ness of Men Guðs Hond er Sterk isn’t quite universal. While the record certainly packs a punch, to my ears there seems to be a heavier emphasis on mid-tempo and melody-forward songwriting than in any of their previous records. Which, while creating what is easily their most vibrant soundscape yet, may be a bummer who prefer Hamferð’s riffier, angrier side. But to be honest I’ve never viewed them as a Conan-esque riff machine anyway, so on my end this feels more like a feature than a flaw. That isn’t to say there aren’t hard-hitting moments here, though. Opener “Ábær” comes roaring right out the gate with a sequence of doomy, crushing riffs that set a powerful tone for the record. “Í hamferð” piles on the riffs as well, featuring a more blackened tone than I’m used to hearing from the band. “Hvœlga” is the heaviest of the bunch, packing on riff after wildly aggressive riff in what might be the doomiest they have ever sounded. It’s a fiendish delight from start to finish, and a sterling example of the band’s ability to create audio punishment within the beauty. 

But, let’s be honest… if you’re here for Hamferð, you’re here for the beauty. And I can say with absolute confidence that this is the band’s most genuinely gorgeous sonic effort to date. Tracks like “Glæman” and the title track are among the most gorgeous tracks the band have yet written, but none of the record’s more melodic cuts come close to matching the absolute majesty of “Fendreygar”, which may be my new favorite Hamferð track. Blending every element in which the band excels to maximum impact and efficiency, it’s the track I would send to someone who wants to know in a nutshell what Hamferð is capable of. The slowly building percussion and guitar work crescendoing into the most explosive and genuinely powerful finale I’ve encountered this year brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it on a late-night flight to the PNW. Absolutely mesmerizing stuff. 

At this point, we should expect no less. In their decade of existence and across their three full-length offerings, Hamferð have not missed. As a truly unique property in the doom-adjacent world, no one is operating on this level of command regarding their sound. This is a group of musicians who fundamentally understand what they are trying to accomplish, and go about doing exactly what they need to do to create a fully arresting audio experience for those willing to close their eyes and be transported. One of the best metal records of the year so far. 

-Jonathan Adams 

Convulsing - Perdurance (progressive death metal)

Dissonant death metal does not exist. Or, to be more accurate, it does exist but the definition as it is wielded today makes no sense. Like in the heyday of post metal, where every slightly slower riff coupled with emotive vocals was dubbed the second coming of Tool, every death metal album that is produced slightly away from the standard of the genre has become dubbed as “dissonant”. This has actually also happened before within death metal itself when, a decade or so ago, any kind of death metal which was a little faster and more technical was dubbed “technical death metal”. As I claimed many a year ago now (here), this stems from the fact that listeners, journalists, and artists shy away (for many reasons, detailed in the article above) from using the term “progressive death metal”. This moniker more accurately describes many of the re-configurations of death metal that we see today instead of the overused and diffused “dissonant death metal”.

Convulsing’s Perdurance (and yes, I am finally getting to the point here) is a prime example of how this works. What, pray tell, is “dissonant” about this album? Some guitar tones for sure and, of course, death metal’s always present penchant for maximum force of delivery. But when you listen to this album do you really think Ulcerate or Ad Nauseam? I think of much earlier and more progressive influences, like Dan Swanö or even the very early days of Gojira’s weirdo death metal. Comparisons aside, I also don’t understand how the adjective “dissonant” even describes the music; Perdurance is complex, layered, and bathed in that maximalist assault I alluded to earlier, to be sure. But the music begs me to dive deeper into its swirling, rich embrace rather than pummeling me with a wall of sound or surrounding me with feedback and “angular” riffs.

Finally stepping away from the “meta” discussion and focusing on Perdurance itself, it is Sloan’s most focused, cohesive, and effective work yet. It presents Convulsing in a purified, knife-sharp mode that somehow shears away all excess while staying robust and varied. “flayed”, the second track on the album, is probably the best example (or, at least, my favorite); from the cries of “again, again, again”, through the absolutely captivating bass lines that inflect themselves across the track, and all the way to the whirling and muscular riffs, “flayed” arrests me my attention whenever I listen to it. It is progressive death metal effectively written to get rid of all of the needless flourishes and self indulgences which the genre is plagued with, re-engineered into a bleeding, direct, and violent device of aggression.

Alright. Enough words. More music. I don’t actually give a fuck what you call this album or this project; I just want you to listen to it (OK, and it is super fascinating how we keep making up words to not say “progressive”). Really; please listen to this album. Sloan is standing at the forefront of the death metal genre and has once again left most of the artists working within it in the dust, demanding that they step forward. Regardless if they will or not, Convulsing will (hopefully) march on, diving deep into the potentials and possibilities within death metal. Progressive, dissonant, or otherwise.


Weston Super Maim - See You Tomorrow Baby (brutal tech metal/core)

Another version of this album’s genre tags could easily be “mathcore metal with lasers” or “electronic brutal mathcore.” Both would be as correct as the label above, yet none fully capture the sonic assault committed by US/UK duo Weston Super Maim on See You Tomorrow Baby.

The band finds a fully embodied and slightly manic version of their mathcore-metal-electro sound on their second full length, twisting the already warped strain of mathcore propagated by Dark Trail Records into pummeling brutal tech death forms. The formula laid out by mathcore’s 20-30 second bursts of off-kilter beats is elongated and mutated with dysfunctional - yet still catchy - grooves and layers of electronics that morph from rapid-fire lasers to melodic walls of sound in the blink of an eye. There’s no room for comfort, yet moments of undeniable beauty that channel the gauzy guitar worship of shoegaze. 

See You Tomorrow Baby can be heard as both mathcore drum worship and tech death/shoegaze guitar indulgence. Grooves are rampant, but frequently thrown off their expected course by unexpected beats and dissonance. “Johnny Menomic” feels like it wants to be a heavy metal song as it cascades towards its end, but Weston Super Maim put their signature violence on the riff for an utterly unique sound. This is worship through suffering, faith through tragedy, and beauty through mutation. Comfortable sounds are shown affection through endless experimentation in ways that only Weston Super Maim and friends like Blindfolded and Led to the Woods, Frontierer, and Soreption could pull off. 

Oh, and did I forget to explain “mathcore metal with lasers”? Weston Super Maim overlay their entire audio frenzy with electronics that alternately channel a space battle and walls of sounds. Many bands would use these effects as a crutch to make boring music sound interesting, but Weston Super Maim only heighten the intensity of See You Tomorrow Baby by adding another layer to their extremity. Glitches and lasers play tricks on the mind with their furious pace, while electronic haze coats the ear to suffocating and almost-soothing effect. Crushing and chaotic, See You Tomorrow Baby stands alone as a blistering mathcore opus.

-Bridget Hughes


Aborted - Vault of Horrors (brutal tech death)

Has there ever been a band in the brutal/tech death world as supremely underrated as Aborted? I submit that there has not. Cranking out absolute bangers since 1999, the band’s talents and sonic intensity have only increased with time, culminating in their 12th full-length offering Vault of Horrors. I’ll keep it short and sweet: It slaps. Just like everything they’ve released in the past decade. Like your death metal relentlessly punishing with an unusual sense of groove and catchy licks? Give it a spin. You won’t be disappointed. 


Boundaries - Death Is Little More (metalcore)

This record is supposedly the metalcore album of the year thus far. Many people are saying this. We’ll see where it stacks up once Knocked Loose drops (it’s not a contest!!) but for those who love their metalcore flirting with beatdown hardcore, Boundaries have brought the ruckus.


The Sawtooth Grin - Jabberwocky (mathgrind)

Less than two years out from their triumphant return with Good., MySpace-era mathcore legends The Sawtooth Grin have returned with some new old songs in the form of reworked material from their fabled Jabberwocky demo, which was left incomplete and leaked upon their dissolution in the early 2010’s. What’s left here is about eleven minutes of wonky avant garde mathgrind that you don’t want to miss. 


Slimelord - Chytridiomycosis Relinquished (death metal)

While Civerous got lots of love in this post already, there’s another weirdo death metal release from March out of 20 Buck Spin that you shouldn’t overlook, and that’s the debut album from UK’s Slimelord. Specializing in psychedelic and shockingly technical death doom that often borders on prog and dissodeath, this record is filthy, brutal, and often absolutely bizarre. Case in point: the opening riff for “Tidal Slaughtermarsh” is in 5/4!  This monstrosity has riffs for days, so get involved.


Verwoed - The Mother (atmospheric black metal, psych-post metal) 

The not totally avant-garde, but still weird brand of black metal is becoming an increasingly difficult one to both define and stand out in. Strange scales and dissonance can only take something so far, but the incorporation of a “psychedelic” sound can turn enthralling. The Finnish Oranssi Pazuzu have pretty well mastered this approach, and if you’re a fan of them you may want to check out the new full-length from the Netherlands-based VorwoedThe Mother is the second LP from what I was surprised to find out is a solo-project.

This richly atmospheric and psychedelic approach takes on the traits of a hypnotic dirge. It’s ritualistic and deeply introspective with many instrumental moments including a guest solo from the guitarist of Dödsrit, while maintaining a surreal and otherworldly quality. The sparse but ominous vocals are slightly buried in the mix, but to their favour feel like a howling from some place beyond. Even the abstract painting of the artwork evokes a blurry, hallucinatory vision of some sort of occult demon spirit around fire. This is thoughtful, organic and meaningful black metal that fans of doom, psych and even prog may find inviting. 


Gost - Prophecy (blackened synthwave)

I honestly haven’t been Gost’s biggest fan; a lot of his earlier albums felt too same-y to me to really sink into. But Prophecy, to put it simply, bangs really hard. Gost has injected his sound with a lot of extra variety and aggression, creating a punishing but ultimately rewarding release filled with sick breaks, excellent use of samples, and a sense of cohesiveness that’s a cut above the rest of his work.


Savage Oath - Divine Battle (power metal)

Swords! Flags! Vows! Kings! Blood! Battle! That’s all you need to know; this is well made, powerful, and moving power metal that draws the line expertly between the faster mode of the genre and a more muscular, present sound. It slays!


Doodseskader - Year Two (noise-rap, post-industrial prog-sludge)

Doodseskader (death squad, for those curious) open Year Two by softly intoning “she says I’m pretty like a car wreck” over reverby beats and darkly melodic droning. The sentiment captures the spirit of Year Two, which pits gritty noise rap against post-industrial ambiance. Grungy anger drips across this twisted sonic hellscape, alternately screaming into the void and shouting at the inner self. 

-Bridget Hughes


Eden Kupermintz

Published a month ago