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February 2017 Highlights – TO Staff

When I put up the post for the February 2017 highlights in the staff group, I honestly did not expect these many entries. My tunnel vision and assumption that February’s tend to have few notable releases, led me to believe that there were only a handful of records worth noticing this month. Good thing I work with a bunch of talented scribes that always turn my attention towards the stuff I overlooked. Here are the albums that we believe you must check out this month  ~ Shrivatsan R

Ancst (Germany) – Furnace (Black Metal / Crust Punk, Independent)

Ancst

The genre-blend of black metal and hardcore is a relatively new taste for me, but it’s one I’ve been gobbling up with almost reckless gluttony. Although I’ve helped myself to Bandcamp’s heaping buffet of choice crossover cuts, Ancst happens to be my go-to flavor of the month. With the aptly titled ‘Furnace,’ these Berliners serve up a burnt offering of crusty hardcore riffs so thoroughly blackened, you’ll sear the insides of your mouth as you chomp into this bite-sized EP. Ancst could be one of the standout acts of the year for me, and with the band promising more to come by 2017’s end, I fully expect to feature them again in a future installment of our monthly highlights. ~ Eric Seal

Benighted (France) – Necrobreed (Brutal Death Metal / Grindcore, Season of Mist)

Benighted

Long running french outfit Benighted are no strangers to shake-ups in the band’s lineup. But that has never been an issue for the band with regards to putting out quality death grind outputs. 2017 saw yet another shuffle within the ranks, leaving Julien Truchan as the sole original member in the group. Despite this, 2017 also saw Benighted drop their strongest output to date with ‘Necrobreed’. The album utilizes established brutal death / grind tropes and in my opinion is a tremendous step up from 2014’s ‘Carnivore Sublime’, which saw the band reign in some of the craziness. What sets these guys and this album apart are the brilliant little touches that elevates the straightforward tracks to new heights. Every second of this record is pure, unabashed fun (i.e. if your idea of fun is addictive, semi technical brutal death riffs paired with an aggression rooted in grindcore) and the album as a whole has tremendous mileage. Pick up this record and thank me later. ~ Shrivatsan R

DispersE (Poland) – Foreword (Progressive Metal, Season of Mist)

Disperse

When one says a band plays tech-metal / djent, one automatically thinks of the low-end palm-muted chugs and over technical riffs with no soul in them. It’s for this exact reason, calling DispersE a tech-metal band would be a grievous error, whose latest record ‘Foreword’ is a journey into some of the happiest and melodious progressive music one is bound to come across in 2017. The record brings out an amazing ‘dream-pop-metal’ (whatever that may be!) atmosphere from the get-go, as one is lost grooving to the tunes. Heavily inspired by the prog-jazz of the likes of Cynic and Devin Townsend, the fantastic riffs by Zytecki perfectly mingle with the vocals by Rafał and Mike Malyan’s drum beats. In short, this is the kind of record that will take the aforementioned tech-metal sound forward. While certainly not meant for every metal head out there, those that give it a fair listen will find them uplifted with positivity and feeling really happy! ~ Vidur Paliwal

Black Star Riders (USA) – Heavy Fire (Hard Rock, Nuclear Blast)

Black Star Riders

When we take a shortcut we could say Black Star Riders is a continuation of Thin Lizzy. The band around guitarist Scott Gorham pretty much sounded like Thin Lizzy on their debut ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’. On their second and this new third album Black Star Riders managed to create a more personal sound. Most songs were written by frontman Ricky Warwick and guitarist Damon Johnson. The result is an album that sounds modern but is timeless when it comes to the compositions. Top class hardrock with killer riffs and solos. ~ Pim Blankenstein

Exocrine (France) – Ascension (Technical / Progressive Death Metal, Great Dane Records)

Exocrine

I think my buddy Dan said it best: “Exocrine is what would happen if Dying Fetus and Necrophagist fucked on a MIDI keyboard and had a child that grew up to write Star Trek fan fiction.” Where the hell did these guys come from?! I’ve encountered a number of impressive unknown acts since I started writing, but few have come out of left field with such an outright slam dunk. This is progressive and technical death metal of the highest order. All they need to do is branch out a bit in terms of originality and the band could easily end up hot on the heels of growing acts like Wormed.  ~ FlightOfIcarus

Immolation (USA) – Atonement (Death Metal, Nuclear Blast)

Immolation

‘Atonement’ is the 10th studio album by Immolation from Yonkers, New York. Once again these guys prove they manage to sound unique. There’s no band like Immolation. They are able to combine utter darkness with interesting compositions comprising of weird changes and otherworldly riffs. That alone is an outstanding feature for a band within a style that can be considered as overcrowded and even stale to some extent. Definitely one of the most interesting death metal releases so far in 2017. ~ Pim Blankenstein

Infamovs (Chile) – Under the Seals of Death (Death Metal, Memento Mori)

Infamovs

Chile has become a nation that brings forth interesting extreme metal acts. Personally I think it is one of the most interesting scenes at the moment. ‘Under the Seals of Death’ is the debut full-length by Infamovs and is released by the outstanding Spanish label Memento Mori. Even when Infamovs can’t be considered as the most original band, they manage to spawn some dark and filthy death metal in the vein of bands such as Incantation, Immolation or Dead Congregation. Therefor it is an album that fans of this style should check out. ~ Pim Blankenstein

Lecherous Gaze (USA) – One Fifteen (Punk Rock / Psychedelic, Tee Pee Records)

Lecherous Gaze

Whether you’re a metalhead or a punk fan, you should be able to dig the gnarly rock and proto punk grooves Lecherous Gaze unleashes on their third full length ‘One Fifteen’. With every song oriented around the almighty riff, Lecherous Gaze hops between proto punk’s high energy and slightly edgier writing style and laid back boogie grooves, with a healthy dose of psychedelic leanings to tie everything together. Although there are plenty of bands out there trying to channel these same styles, these guys do it consistently and deliver one killer hook after the next while still varying things up. But what really seals the deal for me is the raspy singing of Zaryan Zaidi, whose voice comes through with a gnarly, sleazy edge that is reminiscent of those early days when punk was just starting to branch off from classic rock ‘n roll. True rock never lost its edge, you just have to know where to look, and Lecherous Gaze is more than happy to take you back to the good old days. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Nailed to Obscurity (Germany) – King Delusion (Doom / Death Metal, Apostasy Records)

Nailed to Obscurity

Nailed to Obscurity have brought the perfect mix of melodic death and gothic doom metal to the table, on their third full length ‘King Delusion’. With a grim atmosphere flowing through the record, it manages to pull the listener into a very beautiful yet dark and isolated corner. Moreover, by bringing in elements of post-metal and old-school rock, the band ensures the album never stagnates. But what really helps King Delusion stand above the rest, is the expert seasoned musicianship on display. This really shines out on the epic 12-minute Uncage My Sanity, as it manages to bring together conflicting ideas with perfect cohesion. All of this is further enhanced by the fantastic production by producer Victor Santura (of Triptykon, Dark Fortress fame) as the album sounds extremely heavy, without ever becoming jarringly loud at any point of time. One can only hope, that with a release as good as King Delusion, the band will finally transcend their moniker. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Neocaesar (Netherlands) – 11:11 (Death Metal, Self Released)

Neocaesar might be a new name, the band however consists of four death metal veterans. Better yet, they all were in Dutch legendary act Sinister at some time. So, it’s quite logical this self-released debut ’11:11’ has similarities to the old Sinister sound. But Neocaesar definitely has its own identity. The album was produced by guitarist Bart van Wallenberg and he has done a great job. It sounds clear yet heavy and has that classic 90s death metal vibe to it. A great debut! ~ Pim Blankenstein

Obitus (Sweden) – Slaves of the Vast Machine (Black Metal, Hypnotic Dirge Records)

Album art for Obitus's Slaves of the Vast Machine.

I’ve already gushed plenty about ‘Slaves of the Vast Machine’ by Obitus this month, but that hasn’t stopped me from revisiting this Swedish black metal duo’s misanthropic masterpiece again and again. A relentlessly performed release of blistering tempos, Obitus positively seethes with scathing black metal fury as they rip through a forty-five minute antagonistic audial odyssey. I try not to let albums overstay their welcome, but I could stand to listen to this one… more… time… ~ Eric Seal

Serenity in Murder (Japan) – The Eclipse (Melodic Death Metal, Oyster Brother Records)

This Japanese melodeath act is one I have been trying to expose to as many genre fans as possible since 2015’s ‘The Highest of Dystopia.’ But damn, man, they exceeded all expectations with this follow-up. With raging-yet-catchy hooks every bit as impressive as classics like Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, and synth compositions that could rival the epic flavor of Equilibrium, ‘The Eclipse’ is a powerful, well-performed, and highly enjoyable release that sadly seems to be flying under the radar. Hop on the hype train and get the word out there. These guys are going places, but only with your help. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Sinister (Netherlands) – Syncretism (Death Metal, Massacre Records)

Sinister

Dutch legends Sinister just released their 13th album and it is quite an interesting one. They manage to keep their primary principles intact as well as progress into new territory by adding lots of brooding synth parts. So basically Sinister still is that brutal death metal band that spits forth fast-paced death metal. They just added that extra bit to keep things interesting and to prevent they repeat themselves. So, ‘Syncretism’ is a great addition to the already sick back catalogue of these Dutchies. ~ Pim Blankenstein

Suicide Silence (USA) – Suicide Silence (Deathcore, Nuclear Blast)

Suicide Silence

Ahh, an apparently controversial record. Well, only controversial if you’re of a certain mindset, of course. For me, deathcore is one of those genres that is hard to do well. Much like djent, most bands playing the style tend to be quite one-dimensional. It’s very easy to do deathcore in a mediocre way, but very hard to do it well. I find that he best deathcore bands are usually the ones that stop playing the pure style and instead cut it with other genres and sub-genres. Which brings us to the latest album from Suicide Silence. Ignoring all of the nonsense, genre purists and special snowflakes who think bands make music just for them, what we actually have here is a band that have decided to play their music their way, and consequences be damned, which is to be hugely commended. Put simply, Suicide Silence are better now than they ever have been. Don’t agree? That’s fine – music is inherently subjective – there’s no wrong or right, just personal taste. Some people seem to forget this, it seems. Either that, or they never understood this simple fact in the first place. But I digress…The songs on this release are messy, sometimes seemingly half-finished, but always burn with a passion and intensity that’s just great to hear. The album comes across as belonging to a virgin band fighting for their place in the world, rather than the hugely popular and well-established band that they actually are. This is a great album, and I hope that Suicide Silence continue to go their own way and grow as a band over the next few releases. I can’t wait. ~ Nigel Holloway

Sunlight’s Bane (USA) – The Blackest Volume: Like All the Earth Was Buried (Black Metal / Grindcore, Innerstrength Records)

Sunlight's Bane

Though we’re only two months into the new year, I’m fairly confident in claiming that the debut Sunlight’s Bane record ‘TBVLATEWB’ is one of the most abrasive and caustic albums that you’ll listen to this year. This Michigan, USA based band is the latest in a slew of bands bringing together black metal and grindcore. While the first few tracks might leave the impression that the mix of the styles by Sunlight’s Bane is pretty straight forward, the band expand their sound through the course of the record. Opting to create an immersive and strangely emotive atmosphere instead of sheer abrasiveness, this band unleashes a sound that is fresh, innovative and absolutely raw at the same time by carrying over influences from doom, sludge and death metal. Records like these are the reason that black metal / grindcore is the most interesting micro-genre for me at the moment. Just keep them coming! ~ Shrivatsan R.

Unearthly Trance (USA) – Stalking The Ghost (Doom Metal, Relapse Records)

Unearthly Trance

Unearthly Trance returns from a hiatus with an album that fully encapsulates every element that makes them a heavy hitter in the doom/sludge genre. Though they never fully went away, with all three members joining ex-Electric Wizard guitarist Tim Bagshaw in Serpentine Path, it’s nice to see the band return with their take on the crushingly dense riffing and spacey exploration on ‘Stalking The Ghost’. The group kicks things off with some of their heaviest moments to suck you in with riff after riff, while the second half of the album heads off in a more exploratory direction that lets a haunting, darker atmosphere build. Ryan Lipynsky is once again at his best, delivering harsh vocal lines throughout much of ‘Stalking The Ghost’ but also heading into some cleaner wails that are reminiscent of both Neurosis and Electric Wizard. Crank this one up and let the crushing, dense riffs and harsh atmospherics take you away, as Unearthly Trance has returned in top form. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Wiegedood (Belgium) – De Doden Hebben Het Goed II (Black Metal, ConSouling Sounds)

Wiegedood

As you might know Wiegedood consists of members that are active in AmenRa, Oathbreaker and Hessian. Bands that are all active part of a collective called Church of Ra. This collective is one of the forerunners of a wider current uprising of underground music in Belgium, which is one of the most exciting scenes at the moment. This second album by Wiegedood shows exactly that. Just listen to opening track Ontzieling and be amazed by this brand of atmospheric black metal that refers to the masters of old and takes the genre to the next level. ~ Pim Blankenstein

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