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July 2017 Highlights – TO Staff

It turned out to be quite a mix at the month end list this time around. With equal parts big releases (Relapse, Prosthetic, Season of Mist etc) and independent outputs, there’s something here for everyone. Many of the releases highlighted here have a ‘name your price’ offer on their Bandcamps, so make sure to check out the music and buy the release if they please you. ~ Shrivatsan R

Abhorrent Decimation (UK) – The Pardoner (Death Metal, Prosthetic Records)

Abhorrent Decimation

After making a splash in the modern death metal scene with their very impressive debut album ‘Miasmatic Mutation’, Abhorrent Decimation have returned with their second album, and this time they’ve expanded on their initial promise with a wider sonic toolbox with which they work very well with. ‘The Pardoner’ sees the band take their extremity to another level entirely. Taking the base of their style as-was, they have injected lofty concepts into their new album, and further developed their music with increased progressive structuring, melodic prowess, and sophisticated metal elements. Although hinted at previously, ‘The Pardoner’ fleshes out all of these different aspects, so that even though there’s more than enough brutality and aggression here to satisfy their existing fans, these additional facets of their delivery are sure to win them many new ones. ~ Nigel Holloway

Atomçk (UK) – Every Room in Britain (Grindcore, SuperFi Records / Wooaaargh)


Packing in 21 songs in just 17 minutes of run time, ‘Every Room in Britain’ is the latest output from UK’s manic grinders Atomçk. If you haven’t done the math yet, the tracks here are extremely short and are akin to little concentrated bombs of chaotic riffs, pummeling percussion and vocals that defy description. They explode together, unleashing disorienting grindcore that bounces all over the place. Save for the few seconds of noisy dissonance, the record rarely eases up on the cacophony. It’s the unrelenting pace, constant assault of sharp-angled riff work and those tortured primate like shrieks that makes this record one worthy of visiting over and over. Atomçk deliver a shot of pure adrenaline straight to the heart with this release. ~ Shrivatsan R

A Stick and a Stone (USA) – The Long Lost Art of Getting Lost (Ethereal Doom Metal, Sentient Ruin Laboratories)

A stick and stone

In many ways, this album isn’t really metal. There are dream-pop influences, ambient influences, and mournful folk sound through much of the album. The way in which ‘A Stick and a Stone’ really do fit with the world of metal is in terms of heaviness. The duo, however, make their brand of heaviness nearly entirely emotional. In addition, the album is dramatically dark. There is an underlying sense of foreboding that runs like a surprisingly vicious thread throughout. The composition, instrumentation, and tone remind me of SubRosa, the recent Julie Christmas and Cult of Luna collaboration, and even some PJ Harvey, at least in terms of the above mentioned thread. Allow yourself to get lost! ~ Rick Jackson

Die in the Light (International) – Ataraxia (Blackened Hardcore, Orbiter Records)

Die in the Light

The result of a collaboration between members from seminal hardcore bands Chokehold and Spread the Disease, Die in the Light recently released their debut LP ‘Ataraxia’. The music here is not what one would expected from the colourful hummingbird in the artwork. This is a mix of second wave black metal and 90’s hardcore and it is impossible to ascertain where one starts and the other ends. Things can go from melodic to frosty tremolos to vicious breakdowns in a matter of seconds. It’s the seamless-ness of it all that impresses. With each track maintaining its own uniqueness, there is also a lot of fun to be had with this record. ‘Ataraxia’ is worth revisiting over and over just to discover the subtle nuances and observe the transitions in the song structures. Die in the Light has quickly become a band for me to get excited about. ~ Shrivatsan R

Dzö-nga (USA) – The Sachem’s Tales (Folk / Black Metal, Avantgarde Music)


‘The Sachem’s Tales’, a concept album about Algonquin folklore, is a haunting and beautiful listen. The compositions draw much from Native Algonquin folk sounds, Cascadian black metal, ambient, and even classical music. Though there remains a hint of danger, I find the album more mournful than anything else. The emotions brought about, especially by the dual vocal attack of multi-instrumentalist Cryvas (blackened screams) and and the gorgeous clean tones of Grushenka Odegard are magnificent. The result is a mesmeric listen which transports you to another time and place where life was full of loss and existence walked the razor edge of survival. I’m not generally one to gush about folk metal, as few bands get it right. This one man plus extra vocalist project by Cryvas is one that nails it. ~ Rick Jackson

Elder Devil (USA) – Graves Among the Roots (Black / Sludge Metal / Grindcore, Medusa Crush Recordings)

Elder Devil

Elder Devil released their debut EP ‘Graves Among the Roots’ digitally back in May. But I’m going to cite Medusa Crush Recording’s physical release in July as a reason it belongs in this list (plus, I really want to talk about this release). Elder Devil’s caustic soundscape can be compared to Vermin Womb, whose vocalist Ethan Lee McCarthy conjured up the twisted artwork for this release. Right from the start of Deep Vices, Elder Devil envelope the listener as the pained shrieks of the vocalist narrates about … life in 1600s colonial America? Huh, not what I expected. The elements of black, sludge and grind come together in the form of an oppressive wall of obliterating noise. This punishing music suits Elder Devil’s lyrics about the harsh, joyless conditions of life in the colonial days. It may not be for everyone. But if you’re ever curious about the limits to which the extreme-ness can be pushed in heavy music, then I suggest you take the plunge and let the abyss engulf your being. ~ Shrivatsan R

Expulsion (USA) – Nightmare Future (Grindcore / Crust Punk, Relapse Records)


I’d wager that most ass-kickings are over in a few seconds — but sometimes, they take about fifteen minutes. Expulsion doesn’t waste time raking your rear over an inflated run time — they throw punches first and never even get to the ask-questions bit. The seven songs on ‘Nightmare Future’ rarely hit the three-minute mark, but they’re stuffed with so many ripping riffs and bombarding blast-beats that if it were any longer you’d have to call an ambulance. The lineup might have something to do with ‘Nightmare Future’s succinct songwriting — Expulsion features luminaries from Repulsion, Exhumed, and Intronaut, all guys who know what they’re doing ‘cuz they’ve been doing it for years and years. But what it all boils down to is that you and everyone else in the world has time for this album. No excuses. ~ Eric Seal

Grave Circles (Ukraine) – Tome I (Black Metal, Self-Released)

Grave Circles

Ukrainian black metal band Grave Circles seems to have just appeared out of thin air with their debut EP ‘Tome I’, but they’ve definitely started off at a very high level. Comprised of three songs, this duo does pull from some familiar territory but they weave it together in a way that stands out to due to its thick atmosphere and powerful, precise playing. Opener Transfixing Inward the Human Essence has swirling, fast paced guitar work that are reminiscent of French bands like VI, with the other two songs pulling in additional French and Swedish black metal influences. Grave Circles takes these elements and writes songs that do a great job balancing fast, blistering riffing with slow, murky atmosphere, compelling you to explore beneath the surface to discover the smaller nuances. The vocals also hit as hard as possible with low growls and bursts of distorted chants that seek to overwhelm the listener. ‘Tome I’ may have an air of familiarity but the songwriting distinguishes it from the pack. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Hacride (France) – Chapter I – Inconsolabilis (Progressive Metal, Self – Released)


I had finalized my picks for this month and this new EP from the French progressive act released a couple of days ago without any hype or PR. I have been listening to it on loop since then. The first 3 tracks take forward the sound from the bands previous album, Back to where you’ve never been. The last track Red Oak Tree will leave you guessing where the band is going on the next release. The EP is digital only release and all money goes towards funding the next EP, so pick up a copy from your favourite digital music store/website. ~ Peter K

Impure Wilhelmina (Switzerland) – Radiation (Dark Rock / Post Hardcore, Season of Mist)

Impure Wilhemina

One of the best parts of being a music reviewer is discovering a long-running band for the first time, as it opens up an entire discography waiting to be explored. This is exactly what happened to me with Impure Wilhelmina’s sixth full-length ‘Radiation’, released at the beginning of the month via Season of Mist. Like me this might be your first exposure to the Swiss band, who has now been around for over twenty years. And it’s a hell of an introduction, as the group delivers soaring leads and powerful vocals that have the ability to appeal to fans of everything from post hardcore to dark rock in the same vein as Katatonia. Each song delivers sweeping melodies and driving rhythms that never fail to captivate, and the powerful yet melancholic vocals help to add that extra burst of power and emotion. It’s the type of album that hooks you almost immediately but encourages repeat listens to discover the details of each piece. I clearly have another back-catalog to go through, but for now ‘Radiation’ has plenty to offer. ~Chris Dahlberg

Integrity (USA) – Howling, For the Nightmare Shall Consume (Metallica Hardcore, Relapse Records)

Dwid Hellion and Integrity have been kicking ass since 1989, way before metalcore became a trigger word for elitists to disavow your musical tastes on the internet. It’s been 28 years and Integrity continues to demonstrate how to effectively bring together metal and hardcore punk, inspiring many metallic hardcore bands in the process. ‘Howling, for the Nightmare Shall Consume’ is the band’s ninth full length release, the first since the band took Domenic Romeo onboard as guitarist. His guitar work is one of the standout aspects here, skirting styles of thrash, stoner, power and traditional heavy metal to give the hardcore side a beautiful, emotional anchor. The album unleashes its high intensity hardcore energy in the first half of the album, with the mid portion going for a more somber, introspective outlook. Inspired by the works and life of Francis Bacon, this album has the perfect blend of dark, ominous melodies and skull crushing riff work. Dust off your air guitars, you’re going to need them here.  ~ Shrivatsan R

Judd Madden (Australia) – Cosmic Black Wizard Demon Horse Lord (Instrumental Doom Metal, Self Released)

Judd Madden

Years ago, I started my metal commentating journey with an online radio show and podcast. The show featured heavy music under a Creative Commons license only, so I spent a lot of time searching Bandcamp for these licenses. One of my enduring finds was the work of Australian musician Judd Madden, who creates fuzzed out, down-tuned tracks equally suitable for playing in the background or letting yourself get lost in, lights off, headphones on. He was also the second artist I interviewed on air. Playing all the instruments himself, Madden finds ways to help you zone out to the gloom. His latest release, ‘Cosmic Black Wizard Demon Horse Lord’, is no exception, with six intriguing tracks of fuzzy riffs and glacial pacing. ~ Rick Jackson

Neverending Winter (Russia) – Хиус (Black metal, Self Released)

Neverending Winter

A glance at the band name and album art of these natives of frosty Tomsk, Russia might give you the impression that you’re in for some sort of raw black metal assault of fuzz and fury, but it would be hard to be more wrong. Instead, Neverending Winter deal in an entrancing blend of black metal, progressive metal, and folk metal that successfully treads the line between aggression and elegance. Crystal-clear production and bouncy rhythms make this an instantly enjoyable experience, while ragged vocals and biting tremolo runs establish the extremity. Interesting and varied quieter sections featuring acoustic guitar, flute-and-bass duets, and in the closing track gorgeous piano, give the album the expansive feel of Agalloch or Opeth, without aping either venerable act. It’s rare to hear folk elements so well integrated into a recording, without overpowering the metal aspects. A short album at 28 minutes, this offering flies by and leaves the listener wanting more. ~ Wyeth Holman

Sangue Nero (Italy) – Viscere (Black Metal, Third I Rex)

Sangue Nero

The album starts off with sounds that seem to summon a gathering, horns and bells and chanting vocals to initiate or invoke some kind of ritual. Then a menacing, gloomy atmosphere is brewing and from here chaos is taking over with dissonant, unhinged melodies and chords and an absolutely unusual use of vocals. These vocals add a great deal to the dramatic and expressive sense and the intuitive and earthy feel of the album.

Doom and drone elements appear at times to add to the different build ups and ever changing soundscapes that evolve and create a shamanic and mystic vibe. Percussive, ritualistic drumming, bells, strong basslines and didgeridoo lend a psychedelic and hypnotic vibe. ‘Viscere’ is as unsettling as it is entrancing. The chaos is full of raw, abrasive, disturbing dissonance and tortured vocals, but it’s also utterly cathartic and cleansing, the shamanic ritual reassuring that despite all violence and confusion this is just a passage of our path we have to travel. This is Sangue Nero’s debut album and it is utterly intense and impressive. ~ Ulla Roschat

Scalpel (USA) – Methods To Delusion (Technical Death Metal, Independent)


July wasn’t quite as intense as some of the Fall months, but there was still some competition between bands like Expulsion, Cytotoxin, and the reissue of Elder Devil. But ultimately I need to give props to this independent release. New England progressive technical death squad Scalpel gave us a vicious and intriguing new album in ‘Methods to Delusion’. I looked at the cover and assumed this would be some 80’s/90’s throwback thrash or death metal, but this is some psychedelic, mind-breaking stuff. I have been dying to hear what Gigan are cooking up in their demented little kitchen this year, but Scalpel have delivered more than enough to hold me over until then. The guitar work is insane, and I love the energy and sound of the drums. Even the moody instrumental Interdelude is a masterpiece that adds an extra level of disturbed aesthetic to the album as a whole. For an album about paranoid delusions and violent hallucinations, Scalpel have utterly nailed the concept from a sonic standpoint. I don’t need a lyrics sheet to understand that I need a straight-jacket to listen to this album. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Serpent Column (USA) – Ornuthi Thalassa (Black metal, Fallen Empire Records)

Serpent Column

Serpent Column is a fresh and creative group utilizing the hallmarks of black metal on a structural framework lifted from Romantic-era classical music to produce a surprisingly unique sound. This duo’s stunning debut combines majestic, inventive melodic riffs with infectious rhythms that careen from furiously bludgeoning to righteously rocking at the drop of a hat. The songwriting is brilliant and memorable, and the tremolo leads stirring and heroic. The band’s style combines a modern approach to technicality and clear production with a firmly old-school form of black metal, a dash of angular death metal, and heavy metal guitar harmonies. Their ethos is even more archaic, utilizing lyrics partially written in the ancient Greek language to tell heroic and warlike tales of history and mythology. Not a moment is wasted in the album’s 37 minutes, as even instrumental interlude Theasis is evocative. One of the absolute best of the year for me. ~ Wyeth Holman

Sinmara (Iceland) – Within the Weaves of Infinity (Black Metal, Oration / Terratur Possessions)


Following a split with Misþyrming at the beginning of the year, Icelandic black metal band Sinmara has returned with a new three-song EP titled ‘Within the Weaves of Infinity’. Across these three songs you’ll find similarities to the group’s previous full length ‘Aphotic Womb’, but they’ve pushed themselves into new territory and provide an even greater level of depth. Where its predecessor was focused on overwhelming the listener with dissonant riffing and violent song structures, ‘Within the Weaves of Infinity’ balances slow haunting melodies that get under your skin with faster bursts of violence and madness. The two sides are blurred together in a way that sucks the listener right into never-ending darkness, and the way that the melodic elements twist into the harsh riffing results in Sinmara hitting higher peaks than ever before. It isn’t as outwardly dense and harsh as the band’s previous output, but the more nuanced approach to songwriting makes each of the three songs a journey into the unknown and the type of black metal that reveals more and more of its details with each listen. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Skyeater (USA) – The Maw of Time (Blackened Doom Metal, Baneful Genesis Records)


As soon as I discovered that this band featured members of the mighty Crowhurst’s black metal lineup, I knew I had to hear it. Bloody hell it didn’t disappoint! Whether you view this as black metal with a doom side, or doom with a black metal component, all that really matters is how enjoyable it is. Spoiler alert – it’s extremely enjoyable; this really is quite the accomplished piece of dark art. Fiery and full of textured content, the blackened aspects of this release are not to be taken lightly. As for the band’s doom proclivities, well, this is where the album truly shines for me. As you would expect though, there’s largely no clear divide between these two styles, and the vast majority of ‘The Maw of Time’ merges them together into a cauldron of blackened doom greatness. All four of the songs on here are long, well-written, and completely engaging in every way. I love this kind of grim, hybrid music, and Skyeater are one of the most impressive new bands I’ve heard in a while. You absolutely must check this out. ~ Nigel Holloway

Tau Cross (International) – Pillar of Fire (Punk / Crust / Heavy Metal, Relapse Records)

Tau Cross

With ‘Pillar of Fire’, Tau Cross (featuring ex-Amebix bassist / frontman Rob “The Baron” Miller and Voivod drummer Michel “Away” Langevin) proves their solid first album wasn’t just a fluke. In fact, for album number two the collective blazes an even brighter-burning trail that combines heavy metal, punk, and a pinch of dark folk. This is a mystical, textured release comprised of songs that rarely resemble each other yet retain a strong singular identity. And with this sophomore album, I’m happy to say that that identity is unobjectively Tau Cross. Come for full-bore bangers like Deep State and Killing the King, stay for the melancholy found in Pillar of Fire and What is a Man. ~ Eric Seal

Tchornobog (USA) – Tchornobog (Blackened Doom Metal, I, Voidhanger / Fallen Empire Records )


This is an absolute behemoth of an album. The songs are long and absolutely crushing, merging black, death, and doom metal together into a harrowing cocktail of terror-inducing blackened evil. With a wealth of dark delights and malevolent extremity on offer across this long and involving album, there’s so much to enjoy here for fans of the darker side of music. The songs are full of atmospheric hostility and dissonant, ugly distortion. This is not something to listen to on your own; so hypnotic is its black spell that you may become entranced, never to return from the dark void of its nightmare embrace. Despite this, I can’t help but firmly recommend everyone give this a listen and try its blackness on for size. This album is so, so good. ~ Nigel Holloway

Totengott (Spain) – Doppelgänger (Doom / Black / Thrash Metal, Xtreem Music / Burning World)


Totengott began life as a Celtic Frost cover band. They have come far in the days since. Here on ‘Doppelgänger’, incidentally their first full length recording, the trio sound like accomplished veterans. Musically, they draw from all the worlds of extreme metal and some outside of these realms, to create a sound inherently their own. In many ways, they remind me of Neurosis in their experimentation with sonic darkness. With only three songs, the album still clocks in at around forty-four minutes, and every one of those minutes is worth your attention. Spanish label Xtreem Music once again has my attention with their ability to find bands. If this is where Totengott is starting musically, then there is no telling where they will go. Essential! ~ Rick Jackson


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