We’re nearing the end of our dastardly journey! The following records honestly would have made it into my top 10… if the final contenders weren’t that great.
People who accuse death metal of being one-dimensional need to compare Gatecreeper to its contemporaries. The Arizona quartet just knows how that old-school sound should be, from the nasty guitar tone to the bulldozing beats. Deserted is another example of death metal as something other than the speed context it has become in recent years. The album revels in bulletproof Bolt-Thrower-style grooves, barrel-chested guttural vocals and riff after crushing riff. Not only that, but Gatecreeper draws from a wide breadth of death metal styles to refine its style. You’ll find Swedish melo-death, Floridian sludge and even traces of New York brutality in the mix.
19. Abyssal – A Beacon of Husk
If Portal provided some footholds within its whirlpool of suffocating noise, you’d probably get something like Abyssal. The U.K. act has all of the soul-burning ambience of Portal, but you can more easily discern head-banging riffs within the murk. The murk is thick, oppressive and monotonous in the best way possible. This album’s extended atmospheric interludes conjure images of cyclopean ruins, while the enormous riffs recall angry ancient deities. The sheer size of A Beacon of Husk is intimidating, but Abyssal uses its long-winded expression to sink listeners into pitch-black evil until they’re completely submerged. You won’t exactly be humming along to the apocalyptic odyssey, but you’ll be fascinated by the bottomless pit as it stares back at you.
One of the first sludge metal acts to get over with the hipsters, Georgia’s Baroness has made some definite steps outside of its comfort zone with Gold & Grey. The main difference is the production, which is far less beefy than before. Where guitar and bass used to unite on crunchy riffs, newcomer Gina Gleason and Nick Jost now separate themselves into growling low-end and explorative high-end. The results drive Baroness into some exciting new territory, from heartfelt ballads to galloping prog-rock. While the hard-hitting metal isn’t nearly as present, psychedelic textures and thoughtful grooves do an admirable job at carrying the album. Gleason and John Dyer Baizley also come through with some ear-catching vocal chemistry, rounding off a pivotal album for a veteran band.
With post-rock trending toward bigger-is-better, it’s refreshing to hear Illinois trio Russian Circles play music that sounds like it actually came from three people. Blood Year manages to match the size of an orchestra with painstaking build-ups and seismic riffs. Mike Sullivan’s guitar leads carry their weight, achieving an engaging yet hypnotic effect. The drum production, courtesy of Converge’s Kurt Ballou, is absolutely perfect, giving Dave Turncrantz’ dynamic playing the punch of a battering ram. Ballou also helps give Russian circles a live sound—unpolished yet flawlessly executed. Blood Year is staggeringly heavy and very, very memorable.
16. Archivist – Triumvirate
With members from Austria, Germany and England, this multinational supergroup has essentially become the Ray Bradbury of post-black-metal. The third and final installment of the band’s space opera Triumvirate’s sound captures the vastness of space itself. The six members, who go by their first names, blend celestial chord progressions, inexorable rhythm and passionate vocals within a compelling narrative. The narrative comes from the mind of Alex CF, an illustrious songwriter and author who takes just as much joy in vivid storytelling as emotive songwriting. It would be a disservice to spoil the story he and Anna tell through impassioned screams and delicate singing. Those who prefer lyrical, atmospheric metal and enjoy reading sci-fi novels can’t go wrong here.
15. Numenorean – Adore
Numenorean may have toned things down since putting a photo of a dead child on its debut, but the Canadian band has taken its songwriting to an entirely new level on Adore. It’s like listening to Explosions In The Sky played by depressed metalheads—a gripping listen, to say the least. The detailed beats, elegiac guitars and emotive vocals accomplish more than creating a scary vibe. These songs ebb and flow like the wind and bring elements of screamo or post-hardcore into their sound. That accessible foundation is especially clear during the mid-tempo syncopated sections, but those vocals are more pained than you might realize on first listen. It’s a great example of well-produced, even catchy black metal that doesn’t sound boneless or unthreatening.
The Body and Uniform, two of extreme music’s most exciting bands, have left the pack far behind with their second collaboration. With forays into hip-hop, ritual ambient and synth-wave, the two artists describe this album as a combination of Robyn and Corrupted. The pop music influence is certainly there, but those echoes of accessibility make the experience that much more unnerving. For every danceable beat or catchy sample comes a tortured squawk or a layer of harsh noise. Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back is pop and hip-hop through the filter of industrial sludge metal sadists. The fact its name comes from a Bruce Springsteen lyric might seem even weirder, but at this point, you just have to let it all happen.
13. False – Portent
This Minnesota quintet balances black metal in its Nordic tradition and its American expansion. It clearly studied groundbreaking Scandinavian sound—namely Emperor—but there’s also a definite influence from American experimentalists like Krallice as well. False has quasi-orchestral bombast within its melodies, but its crazed aggression has each song teetering on the verge of collapsing into chaos. Portent keeps you at the edge of your seat with this frenetic delivery and its grand atmosphere elevates the madness. This is largely because of the keyboards, which are impeccably placed in the mix. Implementing romantic melodies or overwhelming walls of sound, False is a rare example of American black metal capturing the essence of its European predecessors while remaining true to its own unique voice.
12. Dead To A Dying World – Elegy
From their unique style of “epic-crust,” this Texas collective continues to branch out with Elegy. Drawing from elements of dark folk, post-rock, sludge metal and cascadian black metal, Dead To A Dying World is at once spacious, intimate and monstrous. Dual vocalists Heidi Moore and Mike Yeager layer their harsh and clean styles over melodic yet gritty arrangements—ornamented by haunting viola. The band even evokes alt-country at times, through the filter of extreme metal. You might forget you’re listening to a metal record, even when the blast beats and black metal rasps kick into high gear. The band’s also not afraid to charge its elegant side with gravelly riffs, allowing it to transcend genre boundaries.
11. The Great Old Ones – Cosmicism
The band name alone should be a telling sign for anyone who knows their cosmic horror. The Great Old Ones create melodic, chilling black metal for Cthulhu and company. On one hand, the music’s pretty approachable for such an incomprehensible audience, as the actual riffs are relatively accessible. However, a palpable sense of creeping dread pervades the entirety of Cosmicism. You’ll be vibing with the mystical guitar leads and airtight rhythms but you’ll never not feel like an omnipotent being of pure evil is watching you from afar, waiting to wipe you from existence. Archaic malevolence seeps through the vocals at opportune times, like a cult leader preparing the sacrifice to the fell rulers of this world. It’s absolutely terrifying, but the riffs will stick in your head like “The Music of Erich Yann.”