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November 2016 Highlights – TO Staff

We’ve almost made it! One more month and this wretched year of 2016 will finally come to an end (and we hopefully get there as a species, without blowing ourselves up). The last few weeks, whether you’re in Europe, the Americas or like  me, in India, have been tumultuous for different reasons. The one consolation during times like these is the endless amount of excellent releases in extreme music. So yet again, we have a highlights list for you, this time coming from the penultimate month of 2016. ~ Shrivatsan R

Aenaon (Greece) – Hypnosophy (Experimental / Progressive Black Metal, Code666)

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‘Hypnosophy’ is the third LP from this Greek progressive and avant-garde black metal collective; and hopefully the one that will break through to some real widespread acclaim. I am shocked that these guys are not a household name yet, because they are supremely talented musicians and songwriters. Great riffs, excellent use of keys and other instrumentation, strong and varied vocals…If you enjoy eclectic progressive music that runs the gamut stylistically from Sigh and Arcturus to Faith No More and Alice Cooper, this is something you need to hear. ~ FlightOfIcarus

Antaeus (France) – Condemnation (Black Metal, Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

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Not only did November see the release of a new Deathspell Omega album, but French black metal band Antaeus put out their first new full length in ten years. ‘Condemnation’ is the follow-up to 2006’s ‘Blood Libels’, and finds the group continuing their relentless attack that showcases some of the best of the more traditional approach to black metal. When it’s not assaulting you with lightning fast riffs and some of the most precise drumming I’ve heard recently courtesy of guest drummer Menthor (Lvcifyre, Nightbringer), the slower breaks have melodic leads that feel like daggers piercing through your skin with their darker, abrasive tonality. Like some of the other black metal that’s more traditionally structured, there are similarities to the song structures but the leads make every piece distinguishable and the album only seems to get more twisted with each song. MkM delivers another standout performance, and with the instrumentation not quite as dense when compared to his other group Aosoth his extremely low, gravelly screams steal the spotlight and pierce through your speakers. For those seeking the more violent and grimier side of black metal, ‘Condemnation’ is a mandatory purchase. ~ Chris Dahlberg

A Sense of Gravity (USA) – Atrament (Progressive Metal, Self Released)

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So, imagine a mixture of Dream Theater, Between the Buried and Me, Devin Townsend, Periphery, Sikth, Tesseract and The Faceless. Excited yet? You should be. This is a modern progressive / technical metal fan’s wet dream. Aggression and atmosphere beautifully collide across 68 minutes to produce a hugely impressive album that can knock your socks off and make you think at the same time. With some first-rate musicianship and a singer that has a cracking voice, there’s a lot to enjoy on ‘Atrament’. The album seems to unfold more and more with every listen too, providing the listener with something new to experience each time. Definitely check this out. ~ Nigel Holloway

Bölzer (Switzerland) – Hero (Black / Death Metal, Iron Bonehead Productions)

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Bölzer’s full length debut ‘Hero’ has certainly generated a considerable amount of debate in the time leading up to its November 25th release. There seems to be no middle ground for the material the Swiss duo has written, as it has generated critical acclaim and harsh criticism depending on where you look. I fell on the former end of the spectrum, finding the sweeping atmosphere and spiritual feel of the songs to have a lasting impact. Elements of Bölzer’s crushing black/death metal remain, but there are also sprawling sections that emphasize the spiritual, transcendent atmosphere and give off a bit more of a sludge vibe. One of the biggest differences is the increased focus on clean vocals alongside the aggressive screams and growls KzR utilized previously, and this is likely to be what pushes listeners into the love or hate camp. But depending on your personal tastes, if everything clicks and the sweeping atmospherics and muscular riffing put you under their spell you’ll likely feel ‘Hero’ is one of the most exciting and entrancing albums 2016 has to offer. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Deathspell Omega (France) – The Synarchy of Molten Bones (Avant-Garde Black Metal, Norma Evangelium Diaboli)

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It has been a few years since Deathspell Omega last released material, with 2012’s ‘Drought’ EP coming out two years after the French black metal band closed out their conceptual trilogy with the ‘Paracletus’ full length in 2010. After a few years of relative silence, the announcement for ‘The Synarchy of Molten Bones’ came quickly, with the album releasing shortly after it was unveiled. Though it is only eight minutes longer than ‘Drought’ at just under half an hour, this has been considered a full length and it crams a considerable amount of dizzying riffs and dense, unsettling atmosphere into that period of time. It may not be drastically different territory for Deathspell Omega, but the songwriting continues to set them apart and whether it’s the slower pauses that give way to chilling tones on the title tracks or the seemingly impossible speed and transitions on Internecine Iatrogenesis, there’s a lot of substance to sink your teeth into. Mikko Aspa continues to layer abrasive, biting screams over top of this madness with substantive lyrics to back it up, and while it may fly by a bit quicker than previous releases Deathspell Omega has once again demonstrated that they’re at a level above the majority of groups playing black metal. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Dischordia (USA) – Thanatopsis (Technical Death Metal, Indpendent)

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Dischordia are onto something special. Playing technical death metal with a brutal sound is interestingly reminiscent of the Willowtip bands (Commit Suicide and Sadis Euphoria) and going by the oft-kilter influences, the mighty Wicked Innocence come to mind as well. This is crushingly heavy and at the same time innovative with a fantastic bass player. To make a recent comparison, this can be likened to Seputus (who’ve released a killer album this year too!), and we’re talking about bottom-heavy progressive death metal leaning towards the brutal death metal / grind spectrum – which isn’t a bad idea at all. This is a great release and has desirable heaviness which the modern style of technical death often lacks. ~ Kunal Choksi (Editor-in-Chief)

Domkraft (Sweden) – The End of Electricity (Psychedelic Sludge Metal, Magnetic Eye Records)

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Being a doom fan is difficult. It takes months, sometimes years to find a good riff; you know a riff that really hits the spot and locks itself inside your head? Domkraft, in that regard, stole all my attention. Good riffs aplenty, ‘The End of Electricity’ is one gripping album. Building up on their excellent 2013 self-titled debut, the band has crafted an album that’s worthy of all the praise one can muster. If not anything, one must listen to it for Wegeland’s thick ‘n dirty bass tone. Seriously, it crushes.  ~ Anoop Bhat

Downfall of Gaia (Germany) – Atrophy (Atmospheric Sludge / Post Black Metal / Crust, Metal Blade Records)

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Are you ready for some real post-black metal splendour? ‘Atrophy’ easily creates dark and mystical atmospheres, with a slow-burning narrative that speaks of the band’s intimate relationship with the music. Post-metal texture and blackened melodies merge at the cellular level, resulting in a listening experience that’s as rich as it is deep. For fans of modern, sophisticated black metal art, this is a must. ~ Nigel Holloway

Setentia (New Zealand) – Darkness Transcend (Progressive Death Metal, Blood Music)

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Ulcerate drew the attention of the metal world towards New Zealand with it’s recent albums. Blood Music last month released the stunning debut album from another band from the islands, Setentia. ‘Darkness Transcend’ is 7 tracks of pounding dissonant riffs and growled death metal vocals with an overall dark atmosphere. Special mention to drummer Hugo Gravelle, just listen to the track Throne of Thorns to get a sample of his drumming prowess. If this album is any indication, Sententia are going to be a force to reckon with in the coming years. ~ Peter K

Spiritus Mortis (Finland) – The Year is One (Doom Metal, Svart Records)

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The last week of September and the beginning of November saw two of my favourite releases this year. Altar of Oblivion’s mini-album, and this beautiful LP; Spiritus Mortis’ resurgence into relevance after nearly two decades. This album is pretty much the textbook definition of mid-tempo, traditional doom and it is an absolute funhouse of an album for genre-loyalists like myself. It’s got the hooks, it’s got the vibe, it’s got the solos,  it’s got the riffs and above all it’s for Sami Hynninen’s beautiful vocals! This year has seen its fair share of heavy metal releases but this one year takes the top spot in my books. ~ Anoop Bhat

Stench Price (International) – Stench Price (Avant Garde Grindcore / Death Metal, Transcending Obscurity)

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Stench Price is a band that came from nowhere. Though I got the chance to glimpse into their tracks before most of the world (one of my favorite perks of writing for this zine), Stench Price’s out of the left field approach to grindcore floored me completely. This was even before I had looked at the stellar lineup of extreme metal greats involved in this project by Peter Shallmin. Each track differing wildly from the rest, this EP is an eclectic journey that occasionally forays into the territories of bossa nova and lounge music, while maintaining a grind aesthetic at it’s heart. The first few listens might feel a bit weird and spastic. But if you give it some time, you’ll find the EP drilling it’s way into your mind in no time.  ~ Shrivatsan R

Vader (Poland) – The Empire (Death / Thrash Metal, Nuclear Blast)

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As the old adage goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And, well, that’s basically what we have here. ‘The Empire’ only reaffirms that Vader is the Motorhead and Pro-Pain of the death / thrash world. Yes, The Army-Geddon stands as a little out of character and something wholly new for the group, but unfortunately it stands as more of a blemish than anything engaging. Thankfully it’s the only blemish on yet another solid blend of darkness, hostility, and attitude we’ve come to know and expect of Vader. If you’ve enjoyed anything they have unleashed since at least 2000’s ‘Litany’, you’ll find yourself devouring this one up and wanting seconds the moment Send Me Back to Hell wraps.  ~ Apoch Weiss

Wadge (Canada) – The End of Enthology (Grindcore, Mortville Noise)

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You may remember Wadge as the grind band that released a couple of surf rock infused grind albums inspired by all things Hawaii, a few years back. Wadge are back with a new full length and this time around, the band is less interested with doing the hula and are more concerned with caving your skull in. The band’s latest 32 track opus ‘The End of Enthology’ is a more focused and straightforward assault from Wadge and this album brings together everything good about these guys. Ranging from drum machine triggered onslaught that are borderline cybergrind (Gather up the Genitals) and groove centric anthems (Gaping Maws Hang Crammed) to the tongue in cheek tracks (Come here boy), this album’s got it all. Wadge retain many of their quirky song writing choices here, making this an attempt at a traditional (relatively speaking) grind record by a very unconventional band.   ~ Shrivatsan R

Xoth (USA) – Invasion of the Tentacube (Black / Death Metal, Self Released)

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Imagine a blend of Absu’s rabid nature, later era Death’s progressive / technical inclinations and heaps of sci-fi and Lovecraftian influences. Seattle based tentacle enthusiasts Xoth, have done just that and their debut full length ‘Invasion of the Tentacube’ is a tale of tentacles, sentient ooze and other sci-fi thingamajigs told with the aid of technically proficient black / death metal. The band’s fascination with shred guitars and slapped bass could have resulted in one of two things: an album that is way too pretentious or an engaging technical / progressive metal record. Considering the fact this album is on this highlights list, you can take a guess as to which one of the outcomes resulted. ‘Invasion of the Tentacube’ is a fun record filled with stellar performances and is one you must not sit on if you like a good Lovecraftian, sci-fi themed metal record. ~ Shrivatsan R

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