Best of 2017: Non-metal records

Julie Byrne (Photo by Jonathan Bouknight)

We’re a metal site. In case you hadn’t noticed. We write about it all year long, and we’re about to launch into the rest of the month celebrating the best the genre had to offer us. But we’re not barbarians. Or I’m not. I don’t know why I always use we. Anyway, there’s lot more to what makes up a week of music other than heavy metal.

I did that silly Spotify thing where it shows you your most listened-to artists and gives you the top 100 songs you listened to all year long. My top 5 artists contain zero metal bands. Pretty sure my top 100 has only one metal song. That’s because I retreat to Spotify to get away from the metallic world and immerse myself in other sounds. I love all types of bands, and since I don’t have an outlet to explore those, here are some of my favorite non-metal releases of 2017.

JULIE BYRNE, “Not Even Happiness” (Ba Da Bing): Something weird happened this year with Julie Byrne’s excellent second record “Not Even Happiness,” in that a lot of folks I follow on Twitter who also are metal fans happened to sing her praises. The music is dark, lonely, and sensitive, and despite the hard-outer armor we often try to show, we’re vulnerable at heart. And that’s OK because we’re not afraid to explore that side. Byrne’s haunting voice and tender expressions get inside of you and take you along her rustic, quiet folk journey. This record peaks on opener “Follow My Voice,” “Sleepwalker,” and gorgeous “Natural Blue.” This is a perfect companion for a cold winter night. (Jan. 13)

For more on the band, go here: http://juliemariebyrne.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://grapefruitrecordclub.com/t/ba-da-bing-records

For more on the label, go here: http://www.badabingrecords.com/

CHELSEA WOLFE, “Hiss Spun” (Sargent House): This is almost cheating as this is a borderline metal album. This is the heaviest material of Wolfe’s rich career, and while it initially took some time to warm up fully to the material, I’m now deliriously hooked. Wolfe has a way of mixing metallic edges, haunting passages, and stuff out of fever dream nightmares as she teases you on “16 Psyche,” “The Culling,” “Twin Fawn,” and “Static Hum.” I’ll never not be enraptured by Wolfe’s music and playing, and she keeps getting better as her career progresses. (Sept. 22)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.chelseawolfe.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/chelsea-wolfe

For more on the label, go here: https://sargenthouse.com/

ULVER, “The Assassination of Julius Caesar”/“Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” (self-released): It’s pretty strange putting Ulver on a non-metal list, but this band has long since pushed past those boundaries. This year, they put out two captivating releases that are Euro-flavored pop records, and they are awfully good. “The Assassination of Julius Caesar” arrived back in the spring, and it delivered songs that felt like they were meant to be enjoyed after a hazy late night when your brain is cloudy, and you want release. It also mixes the parallels of the death of Princess Diana and the myth of Greek goddess Artemis, to add even more wonder. Then, a few weeks ago, they delivered the “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi” EP, consisting of songs developed during the same sessions, including a disarming cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love.” (April 7/Nov. 11)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.jester-records.com/ulver/

To buy the album, go here: https://ulver.bandcamp.com/

CHERRY GLAZERR, “Apocalipstick” (Secretly Canadian): Good pop records are timeless, and Cherry Glazerr certainly feel like a group that could have arrived at any time the past 20 years. With Clementine Creevy out front (you also may have seen her on Amazon series “Transparent”) and absolutely ruling, the band puts together punk-fueled, noisy, alluring, psychedelic-tinged rock that gets inside your head and never, ever leaves. Songs such as “Nuclear Bomb,” “Lucid Dreams,” “Trash People,” and abrasive “Sip O’ Poison” are so much fun and absolutely melt your ears and brain with their exuberant energy and sugary madness. Go get this and bliss the fuck out. (Jan. 20)

For more on the band, go here: http://cherry-glazerr.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.secretlystore.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.secretlycanadian.com/

HARVESTMAN, “Music for Monoliths” (Neurot): Steve Von Till’s influence on metal is unquestionable, considering his work with the mighty Neurosis. But on the side, he delves more toward folk regions with some of his work, including his Harvestman banner. This seven-track effort returned to nature and what’s pure about humankind, as he pays homage to his roots on these songs. This is music that is perfect for a campfire, even if you’re alone with some trusted spirits and your thoughts. Gaze into the cosmos and get in touch with your emotions while visiting “The Forest Is Our Temple,” “Ring of Sentinels,” “Levitation,” and “Sundown.” Von Till can devastate with you decibels or his spiritual journeys. (May 19)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.vontill.org/

To buy the album, go here: https://neurotrecordings.merchtable.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.neurotrecordings.com/

LAND OF TALK, “Life After Youth” (Saddle Creek): I missed Elizabeth Powell so hard. Land of Talk is a band that was criminally underappreciated during their first run that ended seven years ago. I wasn’t even expecting Powell to return, but when she did, I just hoped for a decent record from Land of Talk. Instead, we got an amazing album that picked right up where “Cloak & Cipher” left off and even pushed further. Powell is in great voice here, and songs such as “Loving,” “This Time,” “Heartcore,” and “What Was I Thinking?” are vintage Land of Talk material. This album gives hope that this is just the beginning of Powell’s second wind. (May 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/landoftalk/

To buy the album, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/collections/all

For more on the label, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/

BIG THIEF, “Capacity” (Saddle Creek): I’m saving the best for last, because this is one of my favorite records of the year. That Spotify algorithm? It found a ton of Big Thief’s music, fueled by Adrianne Lenker’s amazing songwriting, emotive singing, and from-the-heart storytelling that tells you that she’s has seen some harrowing things (“Mythological Beauty” is a gem and a heart ripper). I’ve seen the band twice this year (neither time were they a full four piece and still owned the room), and they’re one of the best bands playing any type of music anywhere. Take on “Shark Smile” (that song is a disguised crusher), heart-destroying “Coma,” infectious “Haley,” and show-stopper “Mary,” where Lenker delivers some of the best vocal phrasing of the entire year. This band is a leviathan. (June 9)

For more on the band, go here: http://www.bigthief.net/

To buy the album, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/collections/all

For more on the label, go here: https://saddle-creek.com/

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The worst of metal in 2017

A big ‘nope’ to Operation: Mindcrime

One of the questions we are most commonly asked is why we don’t run many negative record reviews. Answer is simple: There’s enough good stuff out there that we like to focus on who is making great records and pushing metal into stronger waters. Not that we don’t have records or incidents happen that piss us off. Happens all the time. But we like to shine light into the otherwise callous world.

Uh, except for today. This is the one time each year when we get the shit off our chest that has been piling up for 12 months. Get ready for some swears. Before we get into celebrating the best stuff of the year, we’ll unload on the bands and records and forces that have made us feel lousy and put us in worse moods. We have a government that’s slowly regressing this country into the Dark Ages. We need good stuff to combat that. Before that, here’s what we hated.

NO ONE NEEDED ANOTHER OPERATION: MINDCRIME ALBUM: Arguably, no one needed the first two, either. Geoff Tate used to be one of the great voices in metal. Used to. He hasn’t done anything worth anyone’s time since the “Empire” album, and ever since then, his voice and his decision making has embarrassingly eroded. Following his ouster from Queensryche, he released ungodly awful solo material, and now with his new band Operation: Mindcrime, he keeps wiping fresh feces all over his reputation. I interviewed Tate several years ago, by the way, and he couldn’t have been nicer. So, this gives me no pleasure. “The New Reality” is the final chapter of an artistically painful trilogy from this band that tried to resuscitate the darkness of the actual record “Operation: Mindcrime” and insert it here, where it should be as relevant as ever. There’s literally nothing good about this record. Tate croons and painfully delivers his words with his weathered voice that long since has abandoned him. Also, the fucking saxophone returns. Can we throw that thing into a volcano already? Look, the guy was lights out on classics such as “Rage for Order” and the record after which he named his band. But he’s a fading shell, and he’s only embarrassing himself. Please, stop.

NO ONE EVER LEARNS A LESSON (BLAKE JUDD VERSION): Nachtmystium are back. Try to remain calm. Apparently, you cannot kill your career in heavy metal because, if you could, guitarist/vocalist/thief Blake Judd would have been dead and buried long ago. His drug issues are well documented and sad, as are his practices of robbing his fans blind by taking their money and never responding with the goods and services ordered. His last label had to make good on a pre-order scam for an album that wasn’t even any good. There even was a situation where a girl he was dating died under very cloudy circumstances. How was that not it?! But he’s back. He’s making good now. Trust him. All that shit is behind him. You’ve heard this before, but no metal career truly dies. He’s even getting press every time he shits out an announcement, because we haven’t learned about the dangers of enabling. The revived project (they have a new record called “Resilient,” which just fucking pisses me off) even landed on Prophecy Productions. PROPHECY?! Are you kidding me? I hope the guy really is better now and never fucks over another fan again. I hope he stays clean. I hope Prophecy doesn’t regret this. But we know how this story likely ends, and if it does wind up that way, anyone left in this band’s wake must be considered a huge fool.

NO ONE EVER LEARNS A LESSON (BOBBY LIEBLING VERSION): Speaking of drugs and liars, fuck Bobby Liebling. Let’s not waste any more time on him. Ever again.

METAL STILL HAS A PROBLEM WITH MYRKUR, BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE HUGE BABIES: Amalie Bruun committed a cardinal sin against metal a few years back by having a vagina and trying to play black metal. I can’t believe the world still rotates around the sun after this. Undeterred, Bruun kept working at her project Myrkur, and this year, she delivered her second full-length “Mareridt,” an album that has her working more toward European folk and New Age than black metal, though it definitely has its dark edges. It’s pretty damn good, too. But she has some blemishes that some people just can’t fucking get over. Yeah, the initial marketing campaign behind her debut 2014 EP was a pretty bad idea. Especially in metal, where honesty is the policy of every single member of the entire genre. No one ever has lied or exaggerated an image. It’s never been done until Bruun. More seriously, she leveled some criticism toward the Muslim faith and their further emergence into European society. She has since clarified that she’s troubled by the treatment of women under that religion. And we all know in metal that criticism can’t be levied toward any religion on Earth, especially the Abrahamic ones. Another thing to remember is religion is regarded with a great deal of respect in metal (especially the Abrahamic ones), and records that have hinted at (or outrighted threatened) violence toward Christianity is banned from the genre, as no one ever has ever recorded a song about that. I don’t defend Bruun’s stance at all, but it’s a fucking hoot watching black metal bros question her over this while likely owning a Marduk “Fuck Me Jesus” demo. Bruun never is going to win this battle, and dudes always are going to trip over each other to cry and whine about Myrkur, who must have a staggeringly profound effect on their lives. She’s not ruining heavy metal, and some people need to learn to ignore artists they don’t like (for whatever reason, but the vagina definitely plays a major role).

SPEAKING OF GIANT BABIES, REMEMBER THAT “NO MORE SAFE SPACE” TOUR?: Funny, but when comparing resumes, I would argue Shining frontman Niklas Kvarforth is a bigger blight to metal than Bruun. BUT HE’S TRUE BLACK METAL. I never met him before, but considering his antics, he seems like a dick. Is that harsh? I don’t know. His behavior before a Boise, Idaho, date on the silly-ass “No More Safe Space” tour with Revenge and Wolvhammer found him and his band using homophobic slurs, allegedly trying to grab women against their will, using the wonderful seig heil hand gesture (what a hardcore maniac!), and other bullshit that led them to being canceled a few nights later at their Portland, Ore., date. I can’t figure out why anyone deals with Kvarforth anymore, other than the people who still support this behavior because BLACK FUCKING METAL. This is childlike behavior. This is trying too hard to look like a metallic warrior when, really, you just come off as an immature loser. It’s sad because Kvarforth is an excellent vocalist, and Shining have made some really great records. But his behavior has come to the point where I don’t even want to be bothered with his music anymore. If you’re cool with him, that’s fine. You’re probably writing a misspelled comment to the site right now filled with similar homophobic slurs and lame insults anyway. Knock yourself out, champ.

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER LIST OF WARRIORS WE LOST: Sadly, we lost some notable members of the metal community, some of whom possibly could have been saved. AC/DC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had suffered from dementia for years, and it’s even more tragic that he was only 64. He was the backbone of that band, the steady hand to his brother Angus’ crazy solos and ridiculous (in a good way) stage antics. It was nice to see so many people come forward and pay that respect to Malcolm. And it was utterly heartbreaking seeing Angus carry his brother’s guitar one final time at the funeral. Celtic Frost/Hellhammer bassist Martin Eric Ain died of a heart attack at the way-too-young age of 50. He was terrifying on record and on stage (I treasure the one time I got to see Celtic Frost live), one of the all-time greats who, in many ways, was unsung. It is only now we truly can close the book on Celtic Frost’s story. While not exactly metal, there’s no denying the impact Soundgarden have had on heavy music, and Chris Cornell’s suicide was a jarring loss that’s still felt to this day. Same with former Faith No More singer Chuck Mosely, who apparently fell victim to his vices. It’s truly sad we lost these great players, among many others who also passed. May they rest in power. And may anyone dealing with mental illness or substance issues find the help they need. Please reach out and talk to someone. It’s a hard thing to do, but it may save your life.

While we’re at it, we have a few musicians out there who still have a fighting chance, and hopefully the rest of this year and 2018 is kind to them. Vio-lence singer Sean Killian, who has one of the most unique voices in all of metal, is battling stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver. That’s a dire situation, as we wish him the very best that he comes out on top of his battle. Same goes for Warbeast’s Bruce Corbitt who is battling cancer though somehow found the strength to sing on the band’s final record “Enter the Arena.” Hopefully he keeps fighting and comes out on top of cancer, that piece-of-shit disease.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Eye of Nix look into the face of fear, anxiety on dramatic, violent ‘Black Somnia’

Eye of Nix in their current form (Photo by Briana Jones)

It’s a monumental day here at Meat Mead Metal, one that only comes once a year. It’s the final Pick of the Week and last review of the calendar year. Where the hell did 2017 go? Anyway, it used to be tough to find really strong material to cap off a year, but good shit comes out all through December, and this year is no different.

If you’re not yet familiar with Seattle’s Eye of Nix, see to it you change that soon, and you can start with their enthralling second record “Black Somnia.” It’s a shame we haven’t heard more from people about this record in the onslaught of year-end coverage we’ve already faced, because this six-track album is an absolute gem, a dark, morbid, mysterious piece that tackles fear, control, and anxiety in a way that’s enrapturing, heavy, and outright volcanic. The band’s 2015 album “Moros” was one of our favorites of that year, and, big hint here, this won’t be the last time you hear us going on about “Black Somnia” in 2017. Out front is vocalist/guitarist Joy Von Spain, an amazing singer who can go from operatic drama to guttural growls within the same song. She demands your attention and, instead of waiting for you to succumb, she seizes control. Alongside her on the record are guitarist Nicholas Martinez, bassist Gerald Hansen (he since has been replaced by Zach Wise), drummer Justin Straw (Luke Laplante now sits behind the kit), and effects wizard Masaaki Masao, who bring apocalyptic madness and breathtaking wonder musically, making this one of the most inventive bands in heavy music.

“Wound and Scar” starts us off with a slow, doomy path that’s interrupted by jarring, vicious shrieks from Von Spain and organs spilling in the horrors. The pace destroys for a stretch before working into a brief gazey storm that brings chaos on the other end. Wild cries increase the drama, while the band levels some massive thrashing to end this phase. “Fear’s Ascent” has an eerie beginning, as Von Spain lets loose her operatic range, letting the signing float before the bombs drop. Her singing belts you in the chest hard, while the sound wall builds, and after some relent, the song kicks back into high gear and goes to a high boil. “A Curse” is re-imagined from their 2013 demo, as noise wafts, whispers swirl in the air, and the song gains momentum. The music simmers as the singing swells, and the loose, mind-altering playing feels improvisational to an extent, as damaged rhythms and raw shrieks pave the way. Later, chaos erupts, the vocals stab, and the track comes to a traumatic end.

“Lull” starts with aggressive acoustic guitars rushing in, the singing going tornadic, and the band doing their best to haunt you. They delve into a prog corner, which is pretty interesting, and then the power explodes. Von Spain’s voice reaches for your lungs, while heavy acoustic lines sit underneath the thunder, with the band howling, “Your lies control!” It’s a killer track, arguably the best one on here. “Toll On” lets guitars wash in, as chilling calls make the flesh go cold, and Von Spain’s quiet, yet expansive singing gets into your head. The song goes echoey and moody before things rupture, and the volume reaches a new level. The drums rumble gloriously while the vocals let loose, and everything comes to a blasting end. “A Hideous Visage” is the 8:37 closer that takes its time, burning slowly over its first minutes. The track then deliberately stomps, with the leads cutting a path, the elements getting dark and gloomy, and singing mixing with maniacal screams. The tempo continues to kick hard, unleashing menace, as ominous riffs and bruising expressions bring the record to a mammoth close.

I know it’s late and you’re looking forward to a lot of good stuff in 2018, but don’t let Eye of Nix pass by you. “Black Somnia” is a heart-stopping experience, a record that combines all the shadowy forces we fear and delivers them in a moving, massive presentation. It’s not every day we get bands that truly stand on their own, but Eye of Nix is one of them, and they’re a force with which the world might not be fully ready to contend.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/EYEOFNIX

To buy the album, go here: http://www.scryrecordings.com/posts/discography/eye-of-nix-black-somnia/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.scryrecordings.com/

Stoner doom blazers Enhailer add space fuzz to their mauling sound on EP ‘Too Dumb to Care’

Trancing out to doom is an activity I fully support, though I can’t quite reach the heights many fans of the sub-genre attain. Nor for any moral reason. We know what I’m talking about, right? Anyway, while I do understand that’s often the ideal state of musical digestion, I tend to come at my experiences more grounded. Maybe I’m doing it wrong.

A band the ilk of Enhailer might find my method all wrong. After all, their new 18-minute, single-track EP “Dumb Enough to Care” surely must coat your brain far better if you were up in the clouds, surrounded by a comfort blanket of smoke or vapors, with your mind melting with the sounds. That said, I don’t partake, and yet I still found a shitload to like on this new effort, a late-year stoner doom boulder that might help you get super loose over the holidays. The Akron-based band formed four years ago, initially as an instrumental project, releasing their demo “In Waves” in 2015, then their first full-length “Grisaille” a year later. The band started with a lineup of guitarist Mike Shea, bassist Michael Gilpatrick, and drummer Chadd Bevelin (also of Mockingbird and formerly of Fistula), and later they added guitarist/vocalist Matt Snyder’s, whose howls and growls add a new element to the group’s sound. I saw these guys at this year’s inaugural Descendants of Crom festival, and they did a nice job converting some new people to their sound, including me.

The title track begins on the wings of adventurous space rock before it gets sludgy and gritty, pounding you with psyched weirdness. A clip from “Trailer Park Boys” adds to that strangeness before barked vocals rupture, and the band gallops into high gear. The song leaves blisters, with the low-end mauling and cosmic sirens entering the scene and drubbing your senses. Pretty sure I hear some deep bong hits bubbling as the track heads into buzzing intensity, with the pace picking up and unleashing some glorious ’90s-style rock in the vein of Smashing Pumpkins. That elevates the volume and fire before we’re back into the stars, with guitars soaring, Snyder crushing us with shrieks, and the melodies peaking. For the final stretch, the band turns vicious, massive wails strike, and the music scrapes at your psyche, letting you gaze into the depths of the universe forever.

Enhailer’s vision for doom is varied and enthralling, the type of thing you don’t have to be chemically enhanced to understand. Though it may elevate your level of understanding. “Dumb Enough to Care” is a strong trip, one that takes you into tons of different corners of doom, that’s it’s practically a tour of the dark islands. This is a step into the band’s future that, from this effort, looks to be smoke-filled and enough to keep you hammered for days on end.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Enhailer/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.blackseedrecords.com/store.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.blackseedrecords.com/

Chilean mashers Blood Oath add melody and savagery into death with debut EP ‘The Line Between’

It’s the final week for album reviews on the site for calendar year 2017, and we have a nice, eclectic mix of stuff to get out there before we dive into year-end coverage. Today, we have a bit of new blood, a band putting out their first official release in the waning moments of the year while most people already have looked ahead to 2018.

Don’t turn the page yet until you dig into Chilean death band Blood Oath’s killer six-track EP “The Line Between,” a record that’s savage but also incredibly creative. This effort reeks of youthful exuberance, as the music is fast, hungry, and explosive. These songs were released earlier in the year, but we’re now getting this remastered take on CD via the mighty Unspeakable Axe, and it’s just a hint at what could be ahead for this band. This nearly 23-minute package leaves welts on your body, but it also gets your blood flowing and perhaps even thinking back to the formative days of death metal. Guitarists Ignacio Canales and Cristian Fuentes are heroes on this thing, pulling in some classic metal to their leads and soloing but also going into the cosmos. Vocalist Kevin Inostroza does a killer job shredding his vocal cords, while the rhythm section of bassist Matias Canales and drummer Benjamin Soto leave ample bruising that will make it hard to move around for a while.

“Lunacy” is a quick introductory track with acoustic guitars, strange ambiance, and echoing voices and laughter, as if someone is being tortured. Then we’re on to “Lobotomy” that has a sludgy, doomy start before it picks up and begins pounding hard. Harsh growls splatter you, while the lead guitars head into sci-fi territory and begin exploring the atmosphere. The play remains fluid, while the bass rumbles, and then we’re onto “Putrid Mind” where guitars spill open, and the pace is slower yet still ungodly heavy. As the song goes on, the war erupts, as the band visits thrashy terrain, the guitars gush fury, and the back end is filled with grisly growls and chilling echoes. “Morbid Lust” leans into chugging guitars and vicious vocals, and as the song goes on, wild howls and maniacal laughs enter the fray, bringing more madness. The song completely clobbers you, as cosmic strangeness unfolds, the soloing is charged up, and the track burns out. “Rise of Cruelty” gnaws at flesh and bone, while the vocals sting the ears, and the playing fires up. Animalistic growls, that lead into Inostroza belting the song’s title over and over, feel gross, as the guitars splatter and launch into the stars. Closer “Watch Them Die” explodes and pelts your flesh, as raw growls lead the way, and the guitars trudge in a vicious circle. The band pulls out some prog craziness, exposing their odd creativity once again, and then it’s back to the death pit as they rain down blows, staying vicious until the odd choice of “Full Metal Jacket’s” Gunnery Sergeant Hartman poking, “What’s your major malfunction, numb nuts?” drops you off with an unexpected dash of humor.

Blood Oath have the makings of a band that can become a major force in the ever-evolving death metal world, and “The Line Between” is a massive opening shot that should make people sit up and take notice. The punishment and melodies are there, the savagery hits you right in the mouth, and these songs are a blast to absorb. This is a smasher that’s been bubbling under the surface for a while and deserves to have the wider reach this effort deserves.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/BloodOathChile/

To buy the album, go here: http://www.unspeakableaxerecords.com/purchase/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.unspeakableaxerecords.com/

Stuff we missed in 2017: Enslaved, Dreaming Dead, Botanist, etc.

Dreaming Dead in their current form.

We can’t get to everything. It’s just not possible. We publish a record review four to five times a week, and that equals 200-250 albums per year that get written up on this site. Yet so much stuff remains behind, because we just don’t have enough time in a year. It’s not a complaint, mind you. Just simply explaining the situation and why days such as today are necessary.

There are some records that passed this year that we never unpacked enough to write about here. Particularly, the “major” metal labels often get passed by because there’s already so many other outlets covering that, so we don’t really see the need to drop our voice in the sea of words. Also, many of those labels tend to release stuff that isn’t really our taste. No offense to them. Again, plenty of outlets are out there to handle those releases. They’re not being ignored. There also are records on smaller labels that we didn’t get to for whatever reason. In fact, in this piece today where we shine some light on these records, we’ll start with something on a smaller label. Also, this is by no means a comprehensive piece. This is a quick extra handful of records we want to mention before we wrap up this week and head into year-end stuff. If a record isn’t here, don’t get pissed. Just go find another of the thousands of sources out there who probably will give you a far more detailed view than we will. OK, let’s get into this.

DREAMING DEAD, “Funeral Twilight” (Hammerheart Records): It’s been five years since we last heard from this crushing, melodic death unit, led by guitar shredder Elizabeth Schall (also of Cretin), and “Funeral Twilight” did an excellent job making up for lost time. This is a band I never understood not having a larger following. Schall fucking kills on guitar, and her devastating vocals are not to be messed with. She’s reshuffled the lineup for the band since this record was released, but the group she assembled for this smasher does a fine job smothering your senses on these eight tracks delivered a tick under 29 minutes. There’s something to be said for that run time. Schall and her band trim off every bit of fat and just go right for your throat on killers such as “Your Grave,” “No Masters, No Slaves,” “Beyond the Black Moon,” and riveting instrumental “Remnants of a Time Long Forgotten.” This thing has been out there since February, so if you haven’t come around yet, what are you waiting for?

For more on the band, go here: http://www.dreamingdead.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://hammerheartstore.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.hammerheart.com/

ENSLAVED, “E” (Nuclear Blast): One of the unquestioned leaders of black metal and Viking metal over their nearly three decades together, Enslaved still manage to push all the right buttons on “E,” their 14th album. I’ll be honest: It took me a long time to warm up to this record, which is why I didn’t devote an entire review to this piece. I saw hordes of praise splashed down on the record, and the more I tried, the harder I found it to immerse myself. Maybe that was the problem. Later, I put on the record just to absorb the music and not for any critical means, and I found that really opened up this six-track effort (eight tracks if you have the version with the two bonus cuts, including a shocking version of Royksopp’s “What Else Is there?”). The music started to flow through me, and now I really love this thing. “The River’s Mouth” is a sudden and biting track, one of their shorter ones as well, while “Sacred Horse” and closer “Hiindsiight” also pour their brand of Viking magic nicely. I’m glad this finally sunk in, and it’s now on my post-holiday vinyl shop list.

For more on the band, go here: http://enslaved.no/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.nuclearblast.com/en/label/

IMMOLATION, “Atonement” (Nuclear Blast): So, confessional time is here. I never saw New York death metal legends Immolation live until late last week. Another admission: I’ve never been super into this band, and there’s no great reason why. They’re an awesome band, Robert Vigna is one of the great guitarists of our time (though I think the overabundance of pinch harmonics has held me at arm’s length), and they do nothing but deliver tried-and-true death metal every time out. It just never worked for me. Their live show and “Atonement” honestly haven’t changed that very much, but I do appreciate their workman-like approach to their craft and their stellar musicianship that once again is on display on this 10th record. It’s definitely a strong record, and the material translates live pretty well. They bring a lot of punchy chaos to the table on “The Distorting Light” (it opened their live show), “Fostering the Divide,” “Thrown to the Fire,” and “Epiphany” (there’s also a bonus re-recording of “Immolation” from their debut “Dawn of Possession”), and if you’re a long-time fan, you’re going to love this. I’m trying, guys. I definitely acknowledge their power, but not every band is going to turn every listener’s heart, no matter how good they are.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/immolation/

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.nuclearblast.com/en/label/

WORMWITCH, “Strike Mortal Soil” (Prosthetic): It’s easy for the bigger indie labels to rest on their past success, keep singing like-minded bands, and just rake in with their signature acts. Not naming anyone in particular here. But Prosthetic Records have been pushing their roster to include creative new bands such as Venom Prison, Dawn Ray’d, and British Columbia-based black metal band Wormwitch. “Strike Mortal Soil” is their first offering, a 10-track, nearly 40-minute display that demonstrates the promise the band has, even if there are small wrinkles to smooth over. They’re kind of on that same wavelength as Tribulation, Cloak, and bands of that nature, though these guys bring the heaviness and never relent. The first seven songs or so rip by and hint at serious future glory, with high points being “Howling From the Grave,” “Weregild,” and “Everlasting Lie.” Things bog down a bit on “…And Smoke His Ruin Upon the Mountainside” (the bluesy guitar riffs feel a little too “Load” era Metallica) and the record doesn’t fully recover from there (“Mantle of Ignorance” steers a little too close to metalcore). That said, this band only should get better from here, and I also think I’ll add this bastard to my record haul come January.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/wormwitch/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.prostheticrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://prostheticrecords.com/

BOTANIST, “Collective: The Shape of He to Come” (Avantgarde): Anyone who has followed this site for any length of time knows our affinity for Otrebor’s mainly vocals-and-hammered-dulcimer project Botanist and the records covering the apocalyptic goings on in the Verdant Realm. The fact we haven’t gotten to this one before now just demonstrates how easy it is to have something slip under the surface, as this record, where Otrebor employs the full band concept with Botanist, is a treat. This is the first in a series of recordings of this nature, and if this record is any indication, the concept should only blossom from here. We also get significant added voices to the Realm as Bezaelith (also of the amazing Lotus Thief and who also has worked with Palace of Worms) and A. Lindo have significant roles within these six songs. The vocal melodies are enrapturing on the tremendous title track and “The Reconciliation of Nature and Man,” and Bezaelith’s haunting singing transforms the short turn of “And the World Throws Off Its Oppressors” it into something magical. Another interesting note is that the dulcimer, typically front and center in Botanist tracks, gets to play more of a complementary role here, which actually gives it more life. This is a really pleasing, rousing effort, and I’m excited to hear what Vol. 2 holds.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.botanist.nu/

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: http://www.avantgardemusic.com/

MYRKUR, “Mareridt” (Relapse): 2017 would provide the answer to a very important question: Are dudes done obsessing and whining about Myrkur? Answer? A resounding, gassy “no.” Look, Amalie Bruun said some dumb things about Muslims in Denmark, though she tried to clarify that in that she meant that she’s upset with the way women are treated in that religion (pretty much every religion is guilty of this, by the way). But metal is a place where we don’t embrace people who say dangerous things, so obv it’s off to the trash heap for her. Too bad, because her second full-length effort “Mareridt” (translates into nightmare) is a real step forward for her creatively, a record that pushed her well past black metal and more into folk, New Age enlightenment, and atmosphere. It’s a collection that hints she’s going in a very different direction, away from the smelly dungeons in which metal’s edge lords hail, and toward something more expansive. Too bad she went against metal’s rules about saying something offensive and insensitive. She’s the first ever to do that.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.myrkurmusic.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords/

THE BODY/FULL OF HELL, “Ascending a Mountain of Heavy Light” (Thrill Jockey): In a world based in logic, there is no reason for this record to exist. These two bands already teamed up for collaborative effort “One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache” just last year, so what could these bands have to offer on yet another record? Turns out, a fuckload. To be honest, I have no idea how this record fell through the cracks. I listened to it a ton, took full notes, had it scheduled to run, and it just never happened. The cataclysmic doom of The Body and the frenetic grindcore of Full of Hell once again mix together and form something entirely different from their own worlds, creating a whole new entity. These eight tracks could have been listed under a different band name and passed off to the general public (though we’d know Chip King’s hoarse wail anywhere) and fooled everyone, that’s how chameleon-like this is. Oh, and it’s also one hell of a powerful, fire-breathing, psyche-melting document that, funny enough, it easily could spawn a sequel.

For more on The Body, go here: https://www.facebook.com/thebodyband/

For more on Full of Hell, go here: https://www.facebook.com/fullofhell/

To buy the album, go here: https://thrilljockey.com/products

For more on the label, go here: https://thrilljockey.com/index

PICK OF THE WEEK: Obscure Burial revel in death and rot on debut record that dumps blood, guts

Grim skullduggery is something that should appeal to the bulk of this audience. Old-style death metal that sounds like it’s right from the depths of an artist’s tormented soul and heading out to sicken those who also have a penchant for hell isn’t a given in this world, as death metal has been heavily diluted. But if you look under the decaying branches and bloodied soil, you still can find the good stuff.

In fact, if that forest in which you’re pillaging is found in Finland, you might run into Obscure Burial, a band that’s been sickening hearts for nearly six years now (their debut demo “God Abomination” landed in 2012). Their debut self-titled long-player finally is in our hands, and it’s chock-full of good, righteous death metal that sounds like it emanated from a crypt and, ghoul-like, entered in your headspace. Over eight tracks and about 37 minutes, the band delivers a perfectly sized portion to feed those of us hungry for death metal that’s ugly, raw, and prepared to set fires wherever their hearts desire. The quartet—guitarist/vocalist L.K., guitarist M.H., bassist R.A. (who is the newest member, having joined last year), and drummer K.S.—smear us with soot and plasma, giving us a glimpse into a morbid future where this band helps lead death metal back into the tombs.

“Lucilia Silvarum” opens the record with strange noises before stomping death comes looking for you, and grim growls make your flesh crawl. The guitars spiral and confound, before Slayer-like soloing tears open, the speed kills, and the track comes to a devastating end. “Imago Mortis” thrashes away heavily, while the guitars are riffy as fuck, and strange melodies enter the fray. Nasty growls meet up with doomy incantations, and from there, the band starts to gallop. Growls hiss, the guitars scream away, and the track ends in total violence. “Darkness Spawns” is fast and ugly, with guitars sprawling, the tempo exploding into a fury, and a numbing pace dragging you toward massive chugging and dark shadows. “Transcending Deity” has a raw feel, while the vocals are cried yelps, and the tempo suddenly hits the gas pedal. The band mauls you hard over the course of the song, mashing the senses, before an exploratory solo shows there are brains behind the brawn.

“I Spoke to Darkness” has a warped start, with whispered growls inserting grit, while the song lurches through the mud and grime. The music sets fires and stampedes into a monstrous haze before hitting hyperdrive, blasting away, and taking bones and flesh with it. “Necrophagous Ritual” has strings echoing in the front end as noise wells, and then the song erupts. The growls are menacing and accusatory, as the guitars get hypnotic, yet catchy, and the final moments send you to blistering pain. “Dweller in the Abyss” pounds mercilessly as it starts, as the song rips open, and the brutality spills forth. The old school death metal feel is thick and chunky here, as the song flattens you, and raw wails splash over the chaos. Closer “Death of Eschaton” races forward, letting guitars call out, and the delivery bombard. The leads go off and burn, while the growls pelt your flesh, and then everything flows into slow-mucking madness. The band chugs away for one final push, as the track burns off its last energy.

Obscure Burial’s pungent death metal is massive and deadly on their self-titled first opus, and while only at their first step, their tools already are sharp. This group should warm the hearts of those who have dined at death’s table any time over the past three decades, as they are nourished from the genre’s roots. Add to that, this band is adding to Finland’s wealth of great, dark artists, doing that country and this entire genre a whole lot of bloody good.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Obscure-Burial-347232682060598/

To buy the album, go here: https://invictusproductions.net/shop/

For more on the label, go here: https://invictusproductions.net/