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March 2017 Highlights – TO Staff

If it is possible someday, I would make a clone of myself to just keep writing about the music I listen to, without having to pay heed to any of the real world responsibilities. But since that is not possible at the moment, real life does tend to get in the way of writing. This month I had to focus my attention on other things in the real world causing me to overlook most of the releases that came out in March. But looking at this huge list put together by my colleagues, one thing  is clear. I have a lot of catching up to do. ~ Shrivatsan R.

Ascended Dead (USA) – Abhorrent Manifestation (Death Metal, Dark Descent Records)

Ascended Dead

Without a doubt, this is one of the most one-dimensional albums I’ve ever heard…but what a dimension it is! With their debut full-length, these death metallers from sunny San Diego summon a sound of filth and darkness brimming with brutality and two key ingredients: energetic, flashy drumming and an endless supply of totally badass slithering riffs. Topped off with raving, varied howls, wailing solos of a firmly old-school cast, and a drums-first production that shows off the mastery of the kit on display, this is the sound of Hell’s legions on the march. ~ Wyeth Holman

Allochiria (Greece) – Throes (Sludge / Post Metal, Art Of Propaganda)

Allochiria

With ‘Throes’ the Greek Sludge Post Rock/Metal outfit Allochiria present their second full length album. With atmospheric and climactic build ups, layered sound and contrasting elements there’s a constant ebb and flow and alternation of heavy passages and softer ones. Intricate structures confront pure slaughtering brutality. The contrasting elements are well set and add to the sense of dramatic suspense and the depth of the sound. Especially the raw, abrasive vocals never fail to turn even the most dreamy and melancholic guitar passage into a nightmare whenever they set in. These are six well written songs well executed, shining with an overall excellent musicianship. ~ Ulla Roschat

Buioingola (Italy) – Il Nuovo Mare (Sludge/Black Metal/Industrial, Sentient Ruin Laboratories)

Is it possible to be sold on atmosphere alone? I say yes – ‘Il Nuovo Mare’ by Italy’s Buioingola proves it. But they’ve got that going for them and then some. On my very first listen I was stricken with the album’s foreboding, brooding mood, driven by dreary midtempo beats, gurgling bass, and throaty, pained vocals. But a straight-up doom album this ain’t, as Buioingola plucks choice influences from a smattering of genres without sounding one bit derivative — guitars cut with post-rock clarity while the programmed percussion punches through with dystopian industrial momentum — making it one of the most effective, unique-sounding albums I’ve heard in a good long while. Believed to be Buioingola’s swansong, ‘Il Nuovo Mare’ sticks with you like slow poison — you don’t even feel its cathartic release until it’s all over. I can’t recommend this album enough. ~ Eric Seal

Consummation (Australia)- Ritual Severance (Black / Death Metal, Invictus Productions)

Australian black/death metal band Consummation made a strong impression with their self-titled demo back in 2012, and they’ve finally followed it up with a new two-song EP titled ‘Ritual Severance’. With both songs running over ten minutes in length, there’s plenty of substance to dig into on these tracks and anyone that has an interest in the denser, nightmarish variants of these genres will find a lot to like. Though they might not be quite as dense as Impetuous Ritual (which the band shares members with), the bottom heaviness of the production and the bleak tonality create a claustrophobic feeling that is sure to send shivers down your spine. The melodies find a way to get under your skin, digging themselves in like jagged blades, while the bottom end adds the heft that the Australian black/death metal bands always manage to nail down perfectly. There may be a lot of groups in this space vying for your attention, but Consummation provides the necessary twists and turns along with plenty of spine chilling melodies to be worth your time. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Dodecahedron (Netherlands) – Kwintessens (Avant-Garde Black Metal, Season of Mist)

Dodecahedron

‘Kwintessens’ is truly a devouring beast. Rarely is chaos so densely concentrated. I find that many experimental and avant-garde bands like to wander through soundscapes, but Dodecahedron prefers to focus these energies in a much more forceful and directed matter. Similar to groups like Imperial Triumphant and more recent Deathspell Omega, compositions have a pulverizing element. The highly technical and ever-changing drums and guitars grind you into a fine pulp: but mentally and spiritually rather than physically. A demanding and mentally taxing release filled with both powerful overarching concepts and technically rewarding individual elements. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Darkest Hour (USA) – Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora (Metalcore, Southern Lord Recordings)

Darkest Hour

Darkest Hour has been a hit and miss band in the past, while their early albums were the perfect, bringing in both aggression and melodic parts into the mix. Lately, they have been on a slightly different path trying their hand at the more metal-core end of the spectrum, without really hitting their mark. So where does ‘Godless Prophets & the Migrant Flora’ sit in this spectrum, one may ask? The answer lies in the best of both. On ‘Godless Prophets and..’, the band manages to bring back their old hardcore/thrash edge, and mix it up with some belter metal-core vocals to create a fantastic album! What helps the record really shine, is how all these influences create something extremely fresh and original. Every hardcore beat-down, every melodic moment to every classic death metal rip is struck with perfection. John Henry absolutely gives every inch of his energy into the vocals, while Carrigan and Schleibaum rip out some real crazy solo’s over the course of the album. This is definitely Darkest Hour’s most exquisite work till date, that perfectly blends the nostalgia of the late 90’s with the modern-metal sound. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Dool (Netherlands) – Here Now, There Then (Psychedelic Rock / New Wave, Prophecy Productions)

Dool

In Holland Ryanne van Dorst made quite a name with her alter-ego/band Elle Bandita. She felt it wasn’t all about her though and when she recruited musicians from renowned acts like The Devil’s Blood and Gold it was time for a change. Dool (pronounced as dole) was born. ‘Here Now, There Then’ is their first full-length and it totally delivers. The band already showed on stage they are a force to be reckoned with. With this album they only prove they are here to stay. Dark Rock with hints of New Wave and psychedelic rock. Just check it out. ~ Pim Blankenstein

Fange (France) – Pourrissoir (Blackened Doom Metal, Throatruiner Records)

Fange

With their second full-length this French sludge metal band has once again managed to demonstrate just how good they are. Crossing pitch-black sludge ugliness with a hearty appreciation for noise terrorism, ‘Pourrissoir’ swamps the listener in heavy grooves, harsh sonicscapes and oceans of vitriol. If you’re unaccustomed to this kind of thing then you’d probably better stay away; Fange play heavy, nasty music for heavy, nasty people. They also include no small amount of atmosphere in their sound too, but this is mainly included to terrify and unnerve the listener, before the band then properly wade in for the kill with some crushing heaviness the likes of which they wield with ease. Yes, this is an impressive display of sludge intensity. Listen at your own peril.  ~ Nigel Holloway

Fen (UK) – Winter (Atmospheric Black Metal, Code666)

Fen

Fen has been one of the best atmospheric black metal bands out there for the better part of a decade, and while others in the genre have started to stagnate they continue to push themselves forward. ‘Carrion Skies’ showcased a shift back towards a more aggressive and ice cold sound, while follow-up ‘Winter’ merges that with the mellow exploration of ‘Dustwalker’. This is more than simply a best of both worlds type album though, as Fen has written their longest songs to date and provide more twists and turns than ever before. With a tonality that’s a bit warmer and inviting than before, the melodic moments portray a sense of somber reflection and pause before the harsh waves of screams and guitar leads kick in. At seventy five minutes it’s a lot to take in, but not a second is wasted and you’re sure to find yourself entranced by the soaring leads and the layers of sound that wash over you.  ~ Chris Dahlberg

Gorephilia (Finland) – Severed Monolith (Death Metal, Dark Descent Records)

Gorephilia

Five years after the release of the first full-length ‘Embodiment Of Death’ Finland’s Gorephilia returns with a new album. This new one is released on CD by Dark Descent Records and Me Saco Un Ojo Records takes care of the vinyl edition, just as they did with the previous album. This album was worth the wait. In essence Gorephilia hasn’t changed much. You can however say that they have grown when it comes to the composing of the songs. Sound wise this is killer death metal that refers to the US sound we know of bands such as Morbid Angel, Deicide, Immolation or Sadistic Intent. ~ Pim Blankenstein

HIRS (USA) – TRANS GIRL TAKE OVER 2K17 (Grind / Thrash, Independent)

HIRS

So the angriest, most vindictive jams I listened to this month came from transgender grind/thrash group HIRS. Although they’re a relatively new discovery of mine, they won me over with ‘TRANS GIRL TAKE OVER 2K17’s punchy production value and solid songwriting that dragged me by the hair through every blistering second. Turns out the anger sounds a lot more authentic when the people who are angry actually have something to say. (Who’d have thought?) It’s short — you can run through the album several times on a coffee trip — but HIRS’s agenda is something you shouldn’t ignore, and judging by how obliterating their songs are, it’s something you can’t. ~ Eric Seal

In the Company of Serpents (USA) – Ain-Soph Aur (Stoner / Doom / Sludge Metal, Independent)

In the Company of Serpents

Denver’s In the Company of Serpents has been honing their take on the doom and sludge genres for close to five years, but on new full length ‘Ain-Soph Aur’ they’ve truly come into their own. Previous efforts took a lot of influence from some of the most abrasive sludge out there, but this time they’ve pushed outwards towards a hazier and atmospheric direction. There are still the crushing, dense grooves that you’d expect from this genre, but In the Company of Serpents incorporates some acoustic breaks and bluesy riffs that might catch you by surprise the first time through. Sometimes they remind me of Yob with the way the riffs twist and turn and create an otherworldly, spiritual type atmosphere, while others conjure up imagery of stepping into a smoke filled bar in a desert town somewhere far away. It’s a stylistic direction that not a lot of bands in this genre have touched upon, and the hazy desert atmosphere mixed with the crushing doom might draw in fans of Kyuss along with the usual sludge crowd. Highly recommended. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Jagged Vision (Norway) – Death Is This World (Stoner / Sludge Metal, Fysisk Format)

Jagged Vision

Now this isn’t something you hear every day, (unless it’s every day from now on, of course); metallic hardcore mixed with stoner sludge. How does that work? Well, imagine a snarling, rabid cross between Converge and Red Fang. Got it? Tough to pull off maybe, but Jagged Vision do so with style. Giant riffs, emotive reflection and blasting extremity all share space on this release, and the band balance the raging violent hardcore intensity with the rocking, feel-good nature of southern sludge metal with an ease that’s beguiling. Hell, it’s rare to find a band as individual and engaging as this, so make sure you give this one a listen – with catchy, memorable songs aplenty it’s well worth it. ~ Nigel Holloway

KÜRØISHI (Finland) – Poverty.Ignorance.Greed.Slavery. (Hardcore / Crust Punk, Fight Records/SPHC Records)

Kuroishi

I can name several reasons why these d-beating Finns’ latest album got so much love from me this month – the striking pencil cover art by renowned punk artist Akihiko “Sugi” Sugimoto; vocalist Kaitsu’s bone-dry death metal bark, amplified with punkish gusto gang shouts over razor-sharp riffing; or chunkers like Minefield and Bombraid, the latter of which brings it hard with blackened blasting. Well, spoiler alert — it was all these thing, but mostly it was KÜRØISHI’s raw, upbeat energy that had me pressing “play” again and again. ~ Eric Seal

Lantern (Finland) – II: Morphosis (Death Metal, Dark Descent Records)

Lantern

After the 2013 album ‘Below’ Finland’s Lantern returns with ‘II: Morphosis’. I was impressed by the compositions on the previous album, but the production left a bit to be desired. That problem has been solved on this new record. Dan Lowndes (Cruciamentum) took care of the mix and master. ‘II: Morphosis’ sounds like a smooth running clock. Musically I hear some differences too. The self-willed riffs and structures are still there, which is a major plus. The compositions are well thought-out. At certain parts there’s a bit more thrash influences to be heard. This is primarily on the songs the band already recorded on their 2008 demo though. As a whole you can hear Lantern loves 80s death metal.  ~ Pim Blankenstein

Lunar Shadow (Germany) – Far From Light (Heavy Metal, Cruz Del Sur Music)

Lunar Shadow

‘Far From Light’ is the debut full-length by Lunar Shadow from Germany. This five-piece self-released the EP ‘Triumphator’ in 2015, which became demo of the month in Germany’s Rock Hard magazine. That EP was reissued by Stormspell Records by the way. Lunar Shadow deliver a brand of epic heavy metal filled with killer guitar harmonies. They somewhat remind of classic acts like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. There are more similarities to Swedish bands from the 90s though. The folky guitar parts are reminiscent to In Flames and Dissection. The epicness of the songs refers to bands like Solstice, Atlantean Kodex and even Manowar. Despite the namedropping I have to stress that Lunar Shadow does have an own sound and character. As a whole this is a strong, varied album. ~ Pim Blankenstein

Morast (Germany) – Ancestral Void (Blackened Doom / Death Metal, Van Records/Totenmusik)

Morast

‘Ancestral Void’ is Morast’s first full length album, six songs and 36 minutes of monolithic riffs, unrelenting, raspy, brutal vocals, pounding rhythms with themes and moods revolving around loss, sorrow, despair, rage. With their mix of death, doom black and sludge, spiced with some dark and eerie post-metal sounds, they manage to create an atmosphere that’s drenched in negativity and darkness throughout. They don’t offer any light or hope. As if they paint a picture and dip their brush into the black paint pot exclusively and ever again, and they pile layers of black to make sure not even the tiniest beam of light would break through, they make it thick, dense and intense. “Black ‘n’ Doom groove” was a term I used to describe their demo album they released Dec 2015 and this fits here as well and it’s the combination of this special kind of groove and this special kind ultra thick blackness that gives the album its unique kind of hypnotic appeal, impossible to resist. ~ Ulla Roschat

Netra (France) – Ingrats (Depressive Black Meta / Trip-Hop / Ambient, Hypnotic Dirge Records)

Netra

If you like music that leaves the well-trodden paths to explore new ways to express its messages, you definitely should give ‘Ingrats’ a listen. ‘Ingrats’ is the 3rd full length album of the one-man project Netra, who ingeniously combines genres you wouldn’t necessarily throw into one cauldron. Do you know how a mix of of black metal, trip hop, darkwave, jazz and gothic rock sounds like? No? This goes together surprisingly well. The overall atmosphere of a depressing melancholy , the common theme of a pointless, disconnected and boring urban life, are the threads into which Netra weaves all the incredibly multifarious elements and ideas. The result is an overwhelmingly unpredictable, yet cohesive album. each song totally has its own focus of style and mood and, because of the enormous dissimilarities of the involved genres, is an independent and distinct piece of its own. ‘Ingrats’ is an exciting, beautiful and satisfying listening experience. ~ Ulla Roschat

Pallbearer (USA) – Heartless (Doom Metal, Profound Lore Records)

Pallbearer

If there has been one doom band, which has made a serious mark in the current decade, it’s Pallbearer. Their well-balanced mix of doom and prog tunes, have made them one of the fastest rising bands in the genre. Needless to say, I have been a close listener, right since the classic debut ‘Sorrow and Extinction’ came out in 2012. Over the years, they have shown that they knew how to add flair and beauty to the slowest down-tuned beat possible. On ‘Heartless’ the band once again pulls off the very same trick with perfection! While not much has changed from the classic ‘Foundations of Burden’ sonically, Brett Campbell’s vocals have once again gone a step further. From the high soaring shouts to the softest whisper, the maturity really shines out. The album title fells like bit of an oxymoron, metaphorically speaking, as it manages to pull at the listeners’ heartstrings throughout the play time. Pallbearer have nearly perfected the formula of contemporary doom metal music: marathon tracks that don’t just drag on, but bring in a bag full of emotions at every junction. A beautiful journey into the heart of sadness. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Peter Bjärgö (Sweden) – Animus Retinentia (Ambient, Cyclic Law)

Peter Bjargo

Arcana / Sophia member Peter Bjärgö has returned with his third full length ‘Animus Retinentia’, and it’s one of the most beautiful albums I’ve heard so far in 2017. Utilizing piano, guitar, and rhythmic percussion to create somber soundscapes that create a feeling of nostalgia and loss, ‘Animus Retinentia’ explores a wide range of textures that all tie together perfectly. One song might find Bjärgö stretching out a softer melody in a similar manner to dark ambient or drone artists, while another adds in sweeping orchestral elements alongside his booming voice. It’s hard to pin down exactly where to place this one stylistically, but its melancholy and beautiful textures are sure to appeal to a wide range of listeners that find themselves attracted to darker compositions. Each piece draws you in, and though some of the material takes a minimalistic approach the strength of the writing makes them all feel different. Peter Bjärgö has composed music you can truly get lost in, and it’s a journey worth experiencing. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Replacire (USA) – Do Not Deviate (Technical Death Metal, Season of Mist)

Replacire

I had never heard of Replacire before, but you’d better believe I won’t be forgetting their name any time soon. From the ferocious, no holds barred Horsestance all the way to Enough For One, these guys will surely light up every pleasure center of your brain like a goddamn Christmas village. Amazing talent and curious, original songwriting on display here. ‘Do Not Deviate’ is a stunning amalgamation of brutal death metal vocals, Dillinger Escape Plan riffs, thrash mentality, and a few surprises as well. If it were socially acceptable, I would do very bad things to this record. Unspeakable things. If you like your music proggy, technical, and with a variety of influences then you need to buy this right now. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Sloth Herder (USA) – No Pity, No Sunrise (Black Metal / Grindcore, Grimoire Records)

Sloth Herder

According to Metal Archives, grindcore/black metal peddlers Sloth Herder have been bumping around in the Maryland metal scene since 2009, and releasing several EPs and a split. Their debut album ‘No Pity, No Sunrise’ is my first encounter with this abrasive, noisy crew, and I can’t get enough. Not content to unleash the unmitigated chaos of Grimoire labelmates Dendritic Arbor, these misanthropes have an angular attack packed with fierce, buzzing, sideways grooves and clattering, blasting assaults. The guitars skitter and scramble in the higher registers, and grind like chainsaws when the chugs hit. The overall result is almost like Imperial Triumphant playing Botch, in the best possible way. Dissonant, unpredictable, and surprisingly fun, Sloth Herder pack 14 tracks into 35 concise, lethal minutes of feral heaviness, with nary a spot of filler. A unique and distinctive take on grind-focused black metal, with some of the best grooves anywhere. ~ Wyeth Holman

Svart Crown (France) – Abreaction (Black / Death Metal, Century Media Records)

Svart Crown

Haunting, aversive, and often perverse technical, blackened death metal from French band Svart Crown nearly a decade into their career. The guitar performance on this album is off the sadistic, brimstone-stinking hook. From the gigantic, atmospheric groove of The Pact: To the Devil His Due to the schizoid chaos of Upon This Intimate Madness, this is truly one for the books. And listen to those diabolical squeals on Orgasmic Spiritual Ecstasy. It gives me goosebumps. One could merit this album reaching a number of year end lists on that front alone, but there is so much more. The vocals are beyond powerful. They carry such presence and poise, but also aggression, torment, and spite. Masterful, textured, technical, progressive. A tour de force. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Windswept (Ukraine) – The Great Cold Steppe (Black Metal, Season of Mist)

windswept

Roman Sayenko has become one of the most prolific black metal artists from Ukraine, acting as the driving force in Drudkh and Blood of Kingu. While Blood of Kingu disbanded in 2016, recent years have seen Sayenko debut new projects Precambrian and Windswept. Windswept looks to be comprised of the same members of Precambrian based on the initials provided in the press materials, but the group heads in a fairly different direction on debut full length ‘The Great Cold Steppe’. On this release Sayenko and company look towards the second wave of black metal as well as some of the earliest Ukrainian material in the genre, channeling icy melodies and abrasive layers of sound that pummel you with as much ferocity as possible. You might be surprised to discover that the album was written and recorded in only three days, as the riffs are so strong that they outshine bands that spent years writing. With that familiar icy chill and songs built around specific riffs, Windswept boils down the traditional black metal style down to its core tenets and absolutely nails it. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Woe (USA) – Hope Attrition (Black Metal, Vendetta Records)

Woe

This New York band has been honing their ferocious brand of riff-heavy black metal over a decade of albums and splits, and they return after a four-year gap with ‘Hope Attrition’. The time spent crafting these songs have obviously been well spent. Each of the seven tracks (minus the tension release of soft instrumental A Distant Epitaph) is packed with razor-sharp tremolo riffing and melodies that stick in the memory. The vocals pack a paired punch of hefty roars and sharp shrieks, both delivered with sufficient clarity to follow the emotive, cathartic lyrics. The addition of Lev Weinstein (Krallice, Anicon) on drums brings an energetic, double-bass heavy presence to the kit, but the true star of this excellent album is the tight songwriting. These songs are memorable because they have melodic hooks, climactic builds, energetic, rocking rhythms, and crowd-ready moments galore. ~ Wyeth Holman

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