15. DARKTHRONE, “The Underground Resistance” (Peaceville) — A quarter of a century after their incredible, influential, legendary run began, Nordic metal warriors Darkthrone show no signs of slowing down or adhering to anyone’s wishes but their own. Their 15th album “The Underground Resistance” is one of their best records in more than a decade, and certainly their finest since they started heading back in time, that being toward the mid-80s when metal was still in its formative stage and bands played for the love of the music and not just to sell millions of albums. So whine if you want that they’re not black metal through and through anymore, but you can’t deny the power and exuberance of their latest opus.
With just six songs–three from Nocturno Culto, three from Fenriz– you get a nice mish mash of styles. Culto’s work is meaner, nastier, and heavier, staying closer to death metal the way he prefer it be played, while Fenriz sounds like he’s trying to recreate old Agent Steel/Celtic Frost and other banner wavers of classic metal, with his bombastic, swaggering tracks. It all culminates in the incredible 13:49-long closer “No Cross Left Unturned,” an epic ode to heavy metal’s power and glory that is another one of the best metal songs of the entire year. Knowing how this band cranks out material, there will probably be a new Darkthrone record before too long. But if not, “The Underground Resistance” is more than enough to keep me full. (Feb. 25)
To buy the album, go here: https://www.burningshed.com/store/peaceville/collection/233/
14. WINDHAND, “Soma” (Relapse) — We already mentioned Richmond, Va., doom unit Woodhand in our best splits of the year roundup, and we’re giving them even more love now for their earth-shattering second full-length record “Soma,” an album that burns their name onto the map of great modern heavy music bands. This six-track, 75-minute beast hulks with smoky fire, drugged-out haze, and noisy melody, all driven home by the unreal voice of Dorthia Cottrell, who certainly established herself as one of metal’s brightest new stars in 2013. Not only was this a big step ahead for the band musically, but they also upped their profile signing with Relapse, who did a pretty super job getting the word out about this amazing record.
The front half of “Soma” contains songs that’ll drill a hole in your brain for their majesty and overall catchiness, from the excellent opener “Orchard,” to the kick-ass album highlight “Woodbine,” that has a chest-punching chorus that seems to have been playing on a loop in my head ever since getting the record. Then things change with the folk acoustic “Evergreen,” where Cottrell’s voice takes front and center, and the dual mammoth closers “Cassock” that runs 14 minutes and “Boleskin” that goes for a massive half-hour.This is another record that keeps on giving the whole year through, and what’s scary is Windhand and their albums only should get better from here. (Sept. 17)
To buy the album, go here: http://www.relapse.com/store.html
13. PORTAL, “Vexovoid” (Profound Lore) — There are none more black than Portal. One of the most bizarre, mysterious, churning death metal bands in existence proved that statement true yet again with the release of the massive fourth record “Vexovoid.” This gut-wrenching release by these shrouded Aussies was, strangely, one of their most obviously melodic to date, though it’ll still sound like a hornet’s nest of chaos to the untrained ear, and it’s a little easier to pull out the nuances and brilliance buried beneath all the madness. That or I’m just getting a lot better at deciphering the charnel noise this band puts out and their confounding approach to death metal that has spawned more than a few disciples. But none do it quite a well as Portal.
Pretty much perfectly paced at seven tracks and 34 minutes, this terrifying band will spin your brain for a loop, with the dizzying, yet virtuosically played guitars, the murky, cement-thick bass, and the mind-crushing drums, and that’s not to mention the hell cavern hisses coming from vocalist the Curator, one of the scariest figures in metal who continually spits his diatribes from behind a masked costume. If you never heard this band before and want to get it on the darkness, “Vexovoid” is a pretty good place to start. But be wary. Their music will damage you psychologically, almost like a strange voice that eats into your brain, forcing you to do unspeakable harm to yourself and others. They’re the ghoulish face staring back at you on your wall as you try to sleep. They’re the slashers in the night. And they’ve never sounded quite this deadly before. (Feb. 19)
To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/
12. AGRIMONIA, “Rites of Separation” (Southern Lord) — Gothenburg, Sweden, is known for its rich history in melodic death metal, not quite as much for producing bands as diverse and genre-defying as Agrimonia, who made a gigantic impact with their third full-length album “Rites of Separation,” released by Southern Lord. D-beat, hardcore, sludge, punk, thrash, and sure, death all make up this incredible record that never ceases to amaze no matter how many times I hear it. They do have a member of At the Gates, by the way, so that connection back to the town sound is still there to an extent. All of the songs get stretched to the very limit, with every detail they can muster thrown in for good measure, yet it all works so perfectly and fits together so magically. On top of that are vocalist Christina’s throaty, guttural growls and screams, giving this album an even more menacing edge than it already had. It’s like she just wants to punch you.
As mentioned, the songs are epics. The shortest on here is the 6:44-long “The Battle Fought,” and two of the tracks easily top the 15-minute mark. But they’re engaging experiences, the whole lot of them, and they go from sound to sound almost as if each song has a sequence of movements. That way, you’re never thinking about how long the song is (not that I would be anyway), and instead you’re wondering what colors they’ll splash at you next. Every crushing high has a textured low, and each burst of metallic energy has swatches of beauty that make everything whole. Agrimonia already were a band that intrigued me, but “Rites of Separation” made them one that demanded and grabbed my undivided attention. They crush. (April 30)
To buy the album, go here: http://www.southernlord.com/store.php
11. ALTAR OF PLAGUES, “Teethed Glory & Injury” (Profound Lore) — Talking about Altar of Plagues’ third record is something of a bittersweet affair. Yes, they released one of the most surprising, expectation-toppling metal records of the year. Hell, of the past five years. But with that came news that this band would be no more, and that following a group of live shows this year, this unreal group would dissolve. It proved to be one of metal’s great tragedies, because for the scary fact that bands that really make you think, really make your blood flow, and cause you to sit up and pay heed are growing shockingly scarce, we can’t really afford to lose the ones we have that do. Yet, that’s what happened following the release of the beast that turned out looking and sounding like nothing else in the Altar of Plagues catalog, and perhaps cements the road perfectly for singer/guitarist/keyboardist James Kelly to pursue his other band WIFE full time.
Many of us grew used to the band’s sprawling, epic doom/black metal dirges from albums such as “White Tomb” and “Mammal,” so surely heads turned violently when opening track “Mills” struck, setting into motion an industrial-laced storm that leads into “God Alone,” my choice for best metal track of the year and one of most brilliant examples of building terrifying momentum I’ve ever heard. If you’re not convulsing emotionally by the time this one is over, you just don’t get it. Over the rest of the album, the band hammers home anguish, terror, fury, and mental imbalance ideally over songs such as WOLD-like “Burnt Year”; the post-metal-style exploration of “Twelve Was Ruin”; and “Found, Oval, and Final,” that sounds like “God Alone’s” equally deranged twin sister. It’s heartbreaking as a fan that this band is no more, but this final epitaph is so stunning, it just might soothe that pain forever. (April 30)
To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/