Editors' Picks // May 2024

Is this the strongest Editors' Picks ever? It's certainly the strongest entry this year.

Is this the strongest Editors' Picks ever? It's certainly the strongest entry this year; I sort of prepared you for it, and for June's edition, two months. Now, Spring's insane fever of amazing releases is in full swing and if you blink once, you miss five fantastic releases. While we cannot be the glue that tapes your eyes open, we can draw your attention to some of the brighter flickers in the photonic field of excellent albums we find ourselves immersed in (holy fuck what is this metaphor I have found myself in?) So, sit back, open your eyes wide, and soak in the magnificent blazes of light that are this month's picks. Let's end this metaphor right now and get to the music. Lights! Music! Action!

P.S - don't forget that list of albums at the bottom of the post. Some of these releases didn't make the main cut just because we plan to write them up for their respective columns. There are some phenomenal albums in there.

Tarot - Glimpse of the Dawn (traditional progressive metal)

Yeah, that genre label reads “traditional progressive metal”. This label, assigned by both myself and Josh to this album, makes sense only in the context of “traditional heavy metal”. This genre label refers to the still-popular trend of “reviving” the old school sound of 70’s heavy metal. This has an interesting inflection point with progressive rock because a lot of those bands were heavily influenced by it. Iron Maiden, for example, wouldn’t exist without Wishbone Ash, Rush, and King Crimson. But, interestingly enough, not many bands are making music in the vein of these bands, which is a damn shame because they rule. Or, when they do, contemporary progressive bands make “traditional” progressive music of a very distinct sort, the brighter, more playful version often associated with Yes and Genesis rather than the more muscular, groove based rock of the above cited bands.

Tarot do just that, channeling a more robust sound but never quite taking it all the way to heavy metal. The core of Glimpse of the Dawn, the “bottom” sound of it if you will, is definitely heavy metal. Second track “Winding Road” for example has a riff in its center that might as well be an Iron Maiden riff; galloping drums, roiling bass, and twin guitar leads included. But before the sound crosses all the way into “simple” heavy metal, Tarot add many flourishes that cause it to swerve into progressive rock territory. Wishbone Ash really is the best touchstone here; the more ambient or even slightly psychedelic passages on the aforementioned “Winding Road” sound like they’re straight off of Argus, not to mention the solos which I’m pretty sure are directly quoting “Throw Down the Sword” (AKA the greatest guitar solo ever recorded).

By the way, don’t get me wrong - all of these comparisons are not meant to imply that Tarot are just a homage band or that they have no cohesive sound of their own. In squaring the circle and aiming their thrust exactly between the two traditional genres, Tarot has created something truly unique on Glimpse of the Dawn. It just so happens to also be a hybrid of two of my all time favorite genres, leading to an album I’ve been having an extremely hard time staying away from. If you’re a fan of either the groovier, heavier vibe of late 70’s heavy metal but want to move away from muscular men with swords or historical allegories and long instead of the melodic nature of early progressive rock, this album was tailor made for me. And if you aren’t, first you are wrong and secondly, there’s some truly great musicianship and composition on this release. Check it out regardless!


Inter Arma - New Heaven (sludge metal, death doom) 

Not counting their COVID cover album Garbers Days Revisted, it’s been five excruciating years since Richmond, VA’s Inter Arma released a proper full-length. After all this time, it’s interesting how Inter Arma chose to open their fifth proper full-length with a mind-bending Gorguts-ian dissonant death metal masterpiece. No atmospheric or slow-burning introductions or folksy vibe-setters, just creeping, lurching guitars and an avant garde approach at death metal. Inter Arma have never been keen on sitting in place and being pigeonholed, but it’s encouraging to hear one of the most promising names in sludge come ripping through with some of their heaviest material in a decade after we spent the years since Sulphur English hearing the band take shots at Prince, Neil Young, and Nine Inch Nails classics.

It wouldn’t take long into New Heaven to hear Inter Arma demonstrate their breadth of sound; “Violent Seizures” deftly blends twangy folk, psychedelic rock, and black metal impulses in frightening ferocity. The band’s southern rock influences come to the forefront on the instrumental “Endless Grey,” which sees the band duel-wielding harmonizing guitar leads like something out of Lynyrd Skynyrd played on the wrong tempo, and its follow-up “Gardens in the Dark” hints at a Type-O Negative type of gothic metal.

“The Children The Bombs Overlooked” is propulsive and meditative post-metal, slowly churning and building into an explosion of atmospheric and blackened death metal, and “Concrete Cliffs” is epic death doom the likes of which we’ve heard from Worm and Dream Unending in recent years. It isn’t until the final track “Forest Service Road Blues” that we hear the band go full-in on their folk sound as a “credits roll” moment for New Heaven. The restraint is appreciated, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for these moments to be peppered throughout. Of course my favorite album is The Cavern, how’d you know? 

The most versatile band in sludge continues to impress eighteen years into their career, with a laundry-list of sounds that works well with the band’s southern gothic aesthetic tying it all together. New Heaven is a daring and adventurous showcase of the band at top-form, and hopefully it won’t be too long until we hear the act dip into dissodeath again. 

-Jimmy Rowe

Cistvaen - At Light’s Demise (atmospheric/post-black metal)

There's two things that atmospheric black metal metal does really well. One is the ability to be that transportative vessel to another place, another time, or just to the inner-depths of your mind. The other is its knack for just making you feel everything. It opens up your heart, your soul, your fucking pores to all of the emotions humans are capable of and lets you bathe in it like a cathartic cleansing. The opening lyrics to this impressive debut from UK black metal group Cistvaen really get things rolling on both of those fronts.

A disconsolate winter

The frost covered graves

Watch the dead roses wilt and decay

The phantoms that last

Loom over the past

In our funerary dreams

Yeah, did I mention this is an atmospheric black metal album? A wintery, sombre, walking through a forest with just your thoughts and the calm stillness of the wilderness kind of album. Cistvaen began writing during COVID lock-downs, and like a lot of music written during that time, sought to reflect the sense of loneliness and longing that many of us faced. That’s certainly here in spades, as melancholy is a central theme throughout. However it strikes a balance with moments of uplifting euphoria brought out through stimulating post-black tremolo riffs. While much of At Light’s Demise is mid-tempo black metal, they also break up the pacing with slower sections akin to some gothic-doom of acts like Draconian and the folk touches of early Agalloch

Speaking of them, one of the things that resonated with me here is the nostalgia it brought back to listening to Ashes Against the Grain for the first time. There’s a rare specific feeling it captures in its combination of atmosphere, bleak melodies, and despairing vocals. One of the riffs even had me anticipating a "cast these limbs into the water.” The vocals are primarily that raspy-but-not-quite-shrieking black metal style with some of the sort of guttural you find in a lot of death-doom and they compliment another towards the same end goal. 

By stereotypical black metal standards, the production here is tight and polished, yet the individual tone choices and mixing still give it a natural and raw enough sound to heighten the emotional connection and retain some of the illusion that this band could be playing in a foggy woods. A strong dynamic range throughout provides a very roomy and ‘full’ feeling, highlighted by an audible low-end which is annoyingly rare for the genre. These smart production choices tie together what is one of the stronger black metal releases of the year. Playing a style of it that is hard to stand out in, this is a debut that has left its mark.

-Trent Bos

Full of Hell - Coagulated Bliss (grindcore/powerviolence)

Full of Hell are one of those bands that I feel like I’ve grown up with. One of the first grindcore-adjacent bands that I ever truly loved, they’ve had an outsized influence on my musical development. So any new record from them is in my mind a cause for celebration. Their latest arc of solo records, at least to my ears, presented us with an outright classic in Trumpeting Ecstasy but then proceeded to become slightly less interesting and appealing with each subsequent release. It felt like the band was ready for a refresh, and that’s exactly what their sixth full-length album Coagulated Bliss brings. Combining all of the core elements that make Full of Hell the influential and unique extreme music entity they are along with some unusual and expansive sounds, the band’s latest is a stone cold triumph and one of the best and most uniformly interesting releases of their already storied career. 

You don’t even have to listen to the music to know that Coagulated Bliss is going to be different from the rest of the band’s discography. Eschewing the religious-figure-on-fire monochromatic aesthetic that has graced their artwork over the last several years, Brian Montuori instead brings to bear an absolute clusterfuck of a piece that is bright, colorful, wildly confusing, and as brash and perplexing as the music contained on the record. It really is a borderline perfect piece of art to adorn a record of this range, and sets the palate for the madness to come. 

And mad it certainly is. Opening track “Half Life of Changelings” kicks off the record with an unusually bright central riff that phases in and out of grindcore madness and almost pop sensibility. This sentiment bleeds into following and overall harder hitting track “Doors to Mental Agony”, which prominently features Dylan Walker’s still potent and maniacal vocals entrenched within some classically brutal FoH fare. “Transmuting Chemical Burns” heralds back to the band’s strong flirtations with death metal-adjacent sounds most prominently featured in Trumpeting Ecstasy. It’s core Full of Hell, but with enough unique flourishes to feel re-invigorated. 

Then “Fractured Bonds to Mecca” hits, and the whole record fucking opens up in ways that we’ve never heard in one of the band’s solo releases. Blending industrial percussion cues pulled straight from the Godflesh playbook with post-punk via a woozy riff that feels almost Protomartyr-esque in its simplicity and Death Grips-like in its intensity, this track presents a piece of songwriting that feels utterly unique within the band’s catalog. And that’s only the beginning of the strangeness, as “Mecca” is immediately followed up by a title track that feels like a stripped-down version of a Dillinger Escape Plan banger. Not enough uniqueness for ya? How about “Bleeding Horizon”, a straight up doom track that reeks of Bongripper worship. It’s a stretch of tracks that sounds little to nothing like anything Full of Hell has done before, and god dammit it works. 

The remainder of the record bounces between the styles established by these two chunks of music, creating an overall feel that’s simultaneously scatterbrained and all of a piece. By the end of Coagulated Bliss, all I wanted to do was play it again. Which I did. Several times. This record is complex, unique, and as vibrant and alive as anything Full of Hell have yet created. It may be their most polarizing release, but it’s also among their absolute best. I cannot recommend it highly enough, both for Full of Hell old timers like myself and those who need an introduction to what this band is capable of. A superb release and one of my most enjoyable listens of 2024 thus far. 

-Jonathan Adams

Replicant - Infinite Mortality (groovy dissodeath) 

The ongoing wave of blistering dissodeath continues to grow with another incredible release from Transcending Obscurity Records, this time emerging in the mutated form of Replicant

The band’s sophomore effort delivers a sonic acid bath in all the right ways. After all, dissodeath is a maximalist celebration of the ugly, the jagged, and the mind-melting. It’s unrelenting, uncompromising music that revels in the uncomfortable and the unexpected, a cacophony of sounds best suited for bad moods and antisocial tendencies. Replicant thrives in this feast of the unholy, delivering cavernous atmospheres filled with howling screams from the void, jarring technicality, and off-kilter song structures. 

And yet…there’s an unmistakable, undeniable groove undercutting the entire experience. As classically dissonant as Infinite Mortality is, the listener can’t help but nod along to the infectious bass fortifying the skittering guitars and chilling screams. The album is littered with moments of downright catchiness that demand attention, even as Replicant crushes your spirit: an arcing riff that commands attention as it cascades through the conclusion of opening track “Acid Mirror,” the eerily melodic passing of “Shrine to the Incomprehensible” that sounds downright funereal, or the bludgeoning chorus that greets you on “Pain Enduring.” These dramatic moments emphasize how artfully Replicant constructs their songs, using the harrowing canvas of perfectly executed technical, dissonant death metal to build an album that’s simultaneously brain-bending and addictive.  

 The ever-present bass complements the entire album’s discordant atmosphere, somehow hitting with the same heft as doom or sludge without ever undermining the punch of Replicant’s distinct brand of dissodeath. Infinite Mortality is the soundtrack to your darkest nightmares, yet you won’t want to wake up. 

-Bridget Hughes

Atræ Bilis - Aumicide (progressive tech death)

In contrast to the cavernous, dissociative dissodeath of Replicant , Vancouver’s Atræ Bilis puts death metal through a conceptual meat grinder on Aumicide, the follow-up to their 2021 debut. 

Given that the genre tag includes both “progressive” and “technical,” it should be no surprise that Aumicide is a commanding listen. Telling the story of a test specimen subjected to Hellish hallucinations that ultimately separate it from God and reality, Aumicide itself is a spiritual experiment grounded in the organic filth of humanity while mutating into a terrifying new reality. The essence of meaty death metal is here, including a few utterly satisfying slams, but Atræ Bilis run the thick sounds of death metal through a gory kaleidoscope, slicing buzzsaw guitars and animalistic growls into impressively strange visions. 

Harsh vocals descend into spine-chilling insectoid growls, while chunky guitars alternately dissolve into eerie droning passages and crash into jagged riffs. Atræ Bilis conjure their new era with engineering that infuses a glitchy feel into organic death metal compounds, blurring the line between experimental creations and the laws of nature. Atmospheric melodies distend their way into moments of contemplation, hints of dissonance betraying the chaos to come as howls break the reverie. Aumicide proves that no element of extreme music is safe in the laboratory of Atræ Bilis, defying all laws and logic in pursuit of a new reality. 



Bongripper - Empty (sludge/doom metal)

I mean… it’s Bongripper. You already know it slaps. The only real question is how hard? Well, how does as hard as anything they’ve released since Satan Worshipping Doom sound? If this appeals, you’re in luck. Empty bangs. The four tracks on this record are mammoth, focused, and sound absolutely fantastic. There’s genuinely nothing wrong with this release, and it’s by far my favorite doomer of 2024 so far. Long live RIFFS. Long live Satan Worshipping Doom. Long live Bongripper. 


Dvne - Voidkind (progressive metal)

In Dune: Part Two, just before Paul Muad’dib Atreides rides Shai Halud for the first time, Stilgar admonishes him to “Be simple. Be direct.” UK progressive metallers took this advice to heart with their third full-length release Voidkind, which is as punchy, forthright, and direct as anything they’ve released thus far. This songwriting approach works wonders, allowing each track to punch well above its weight in heft and accessibility. This is an infinitely re-listenable record that rolls all of the band’s best traits into a cohesive whole with little fat and nothing short of amazing riffage throughout. Might be the best of the bunch. 


Fierce Deity - A Terrible Fate (powerfully melodic stoner prog)

Fierce Deity is back with its wholly unique power metal/stoner combo. A Terrible Fate picks up right where Power Wisdom Courage left off, both in its concept and musically, driving the grandiose, hard-hitting, and incredibly groovy music of Fierce Deity forwards.


Amiensus - Reclamation: Part 1 (meloblack)

Watching Amiensus go from strength and strength over the past few years has been a joy. This is their version of melodic black metal writ even larger than ever before, a truly sweeping and expansive affair. With Reclamation: Part 1, Amiensus have situated themselves at the forefront of USBM.


Glassing - From the Other Side of the Mirror (post-metal, screamo, blackgaze)

If you want an album full of dense, cinematic walls of dissonant textures, visceral wailing vocals and dynamic shifts from eerie dread to triumphant joy, there’s oddly been a number of great ones recently. But this latest from Glassing might just be the best. This is a band that has been grinding away consistently putting out quality, and better yet, consistently improving with each release. If you’ve been sleeping on the hype, there’s no better time to jump in. 


Morgul Blade - Heavy Metal Wraiths (blackened power metal) 

Is it just me, or has 2024 become the year of trad/heavy/power metal? In an overwhelming wave of impressive releases, Morgul Blade set themselves apart with a high-octane power metal cut with the evil of blackened vocals, setting the stage for a thrilling journey into the dark kingdom of the Heavy Metal Wraiths



Eden Kupermintz

Published 7 days ago