by: Chris Rigney, KUCI Loud Rock Director
Anaal Nathrakh "Vanitas" (Candlelight)
Anaal Nathrakh have set the course for becoming the frontrunner in extreme music. They have excellent consistency and creativity in their songwriting, and the new release for this UK duo is fantastic. While industrial black metal will never become 'accessible' from a mainstream perspective, this is likely the most accessible release they have made to date. There are catchy riffs all over this album, and Dave Hunt's vocals span the range from unintelligble growls, high pitched screams, and operatic clean vocals ala Ihsahn or King Diamond. More palatable tracks for the uninitiated include "A Metaphor for the Dead" and "Forging Towards the Sunset," while other songs such as "Todos Somos Humanos" and "You Can't Save Me - So Stop F***ing Trying" are fantastic slabs of extremity. Very highly recommended for extreme metal fans.
Downfall of Gaia "Suffocating in the Swarm of Cranes" (Metal Blade)
This band is pretty awesome, and this is their first full length on Metal Blade records. Very visceral, doomy, atmospheric stuff. You can think of them sounding like Agalloch or Vaura but with a much rougher production, and the music contains less melody. Another key fact about the music on this album is that the drums drive the music almost entirely. The guitars are there, but they primarily provide an ambient almost drone type atmosphere to the music. The vocal are entirely in German, so they provide more 'instrumentation' than exposition for those of us who don't speak German. Tracks 1 and 7 are instrumentals but help provide additional, thick atmosphere. "Drowning in Wing Beats" and "In the Rivers Bleak" are the highlights on this album, although all of the songs are well composed.
Aeon "Aeons Black" (Metal Blade)
This is easily one of the best extreme bands in the blasphemous death metal arena (ala Deicide, Vital Remains, Immolation, etc.). The simplest way to decribe this record is Negation-era Decapitated meets current Cannibal Corpse. Unlike earlier efforts, this band has called out this album as unique because it contains many more hooks and catchier sections. I can assure you this by no means equals a commercial record or dumbed-down songwriting. Instead, the album simply contains sections where you can more easily shake your fist in the air and bang your head like a lunatic. Good stuff. With15 tracks (including three instrumentals), Aeon has pulled out all the stops in releasing a fantastic death metal record that really has something for all fans of the genre. Very highly recommended.
Demonical "Death Infernal" (Metal Blade)
This is the third release by Demonical, which is a death metal band featuring former members of Centinex. This particular release is reminiscent of early death metal acts like Entombed with a heavy 'death 'n roll' vibe. Their vocalist Sverker Widda Widgren sounds almost identical to Kyle Symons (Hate Plow, ex-Malevolent Creation) with a big, throaty roar. The guitar tone is also very similar of earlier death metal acts, and the songs tend to move between mid-tempo to faster death metal segments. I was not previously familiar with this band, and I like this new release very much, especially for their nostalgic sound.
The Sword "Apocryphon" (Razor & Tie)
The Sword continue to spearhead and lead the ongoing trend of psychedelic metal with heavy influences from 70s rock and eary metal acts like Black Sabbath. Bands like Black Tusk, Red Fang, and Baroness just name a few of the more recent groups, but The Sword have consistently provided a solid heavy metal offering that blends those earlier elements in perfect fashion. While their previous release "Warp Riders" was a sci-fi concept album, "Apocryphon" involves more introspective thought in its lyrics and offers less of a narrative approach. As the name suggests, the subject matter generally contemplates those things (and writings) that have historically been treated as taboo or heretical in theological or philosophical writing. The music is grittier this time around thanks to great production efforts on their new label Razor & Tie, and The Sword continue to delight fans new and old.
Daylight Dies "A Frail Becoming" (Candlelight)
If Novembers Doom and Katatonia had a baby and raised it by listening to Opeth, then you have a rough idea of what Daylight Dies sounds like. Very doomy, melodic metal abounds with a mix of clean and gruff vocals. Daylight Dies has continued to impress me and have more and more become one of my favorite modern bands. While bands like Novembers Doom and Amorphis have recently managed to steamline Opeth's earlier sound into shorter, more commercial tracks, Daylight Dies performs similar music with an undeniable bleakness that other acts in their musical circle can't match. The music doesn't fail to engage the listener, yet it remains catchy enough to keep you involved without forcing you to overthink the music. Very highly recommended.
Enslaved "RIITIIR" (Nuclear Blast)
"Progressive black metal" isn't a term you ever see thrown around much. However, Enslaved fit that moniker perfectly. Their songs tend to be longer than typical black metal fair with very intelligent and interesting songwriting. However, you would be wrong to think this band is pretentious in its approach. They continue to engage the listener very simply but mix things up with their clean vocal sections and memorable riffing. Unlike most black metal acts, Enslaved opts out of the standard 'wall of noise' approach and takes a less traveled path. "RIITIIR" continues Enslaved's same line of progression that started with "Vertebrae" and continued through their last release "Axioma Ethica Odini." Some have criticized Enslaved as becoming too commercial, but this new release benefits from a combination of great production and songwriting. It's hard not to enjoy this album.
Neurosis "Honor Found in Decay" (Neurot)
For a nearly three decades now, Neurosis have held a prominent position in the doom metal scene and for good reason. Their unrelenting and consistent approach to their doom metal formula have repeatedly resulted in excellent albums that continue to please and draw the listener into a moving experience of human tumult. This new album is no different and continues to perform at the same level of high expectations as previous albums. Doom is an artform that this band has mastered and helped sculpt in their own image. Many have heralded this album as the best release since "Times of Grace," but really this simply consolidates and solidifies Neurosis as owning their art and drawing from their best material as inspiration. Highly recommended.
Insomnium "One For Sorrow" (Century Media)
Insomnium are one of a very select few melodic death metal bands that have managed to weather the years and remain just as strong as they were in their early career. There are also another band that continues to mix wonderful acoustic passages with dark, heavy material for a fantastic breadth of music. "One For Sorrow" continues this band's consistency without sounding tired or rehashed. The production and mix on this album is a little less crisp and fuzzier than most, which has been puzzling to most listeners. However, if you can get over some fo the production glitchiness, then you have a wonderful album to enjoy.
Dragged Into Sunlight "Widowmaker" (Prosthetic)
This relatively new group had slowly begun to gain recognition for their unrelenting style and dedication to their craft. Their blend of doom and black metal is virtually epic in its delivery, and the strength of the songwriting and composition shines through even despite the band's intentional adherence to lower production quality. Their 2011 album "Hatred for Mankind" was fantastic in its delivery of black metal inspired, doomy destruction. However, the band has made it clear that this release, "Widowmaker," is by no means intended to be a compositional follow-up to their 2011 release. Instead, this album is closer to drone/noise than it is to black metal. Featuring only three tracks, the first of which is a sparse instrumental, the songs each clock in at a minimum time of least roughly 12 minutes if no longer. To further force the listener to focus on the songs instead of labels, the songs themselves are respectively named "Part 1," "Part 2," and "Part 3." Track 2 is easily the most satisfying of the three songs, and it condenses the general feel of the album in the course of its 11:48 duration. Terrifying, dark, and bleak only begin to describe this record.