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September 2016 Highlights – TO Staff

Owing to my self imposed exile from civilization (or as many of you would call it, a vacation) during the first half of September, I ended up missing out on many of the kick ass releases this month had to offer. And judging by the struggle of my fellow scribes to pick only two or three releases, I can safely assume that this has been the best month yet in terms of quality releases. On a personal front, the last two weeks has been a mad scramble to find suitable releases for the list and oddly enough, I seemed to be coming across a lot of solid split releases, one of which actually made it to the list. So sit back, and enjoy this list as we bring you the highlights in one of the busiest months in music this year. ~ Shrivatsan R.

Barishi (USA) – Blood from the Lion’s Mouth (Progressive Metal, Season of Mist)


Holy crap. What a tough month for this list. September was an excellent time for metal music, especially progressive and progressive death: Inanimate Existence, Tardive Dyskinesia, Virvum…I could go on. But I think when it comes down to it, I have to give it to my boys in Barishi. I justify my vote in that there is no other band that sounds quite like them. In order to even come close to their sound you have to take some pretty disparate bands like Deftones, WRVTH, and Vattnet Viskar and blend them up real good. Blackened vocals, epic jazzy guitar solos, atypical progressive structures…this album is a trip. I have been a huge fan of these guys since they dropped the ‘Endless Howl’ EP, but now working with Season Of Mist I think they have topped themselves in every possible way. It’s a brooding beast capable of some nicely punctuated blasts of aggression. I had a free promo copy, but I liked it enough (along with the gorgeous artwork) to pick it up on CD. Excellent work ~ FlightofIcarus

Cara Neir / Wildspeaker (USA) – Guilt and his Reflection (Crust Punk / Black Metal / Sludge Metal, Broken Limbs Recordings)

Cara Neir / Wildspeaker

‘Guilt and his Reflection’ is easily one of the most interesting split records you’ll hear all year, which brings together two vastly different bands together to make one thematic album. The atmospheric, post black explorations of Cara Neir tied together with their crust punk / grind leanings is far removed from the sludgy blackened crust preferred by Wildspeaker. Yet the album as a whole makes for a very interesting journey with good dynamic writing and lots of memorable riffs. This record transcends a lot of different styles and is one that can be enjoyed by anyone who’s into fast, heavy music that has a sense of melody. It also does a good job of building up expectations for Cara Neir’s next full length which is slated for release this October. Color me hyped.~ Shrivatsan R

Cryfemal (Spain) – D6s6nti6rro (Black Metal, Osmose Productions)


Ebola dissolved the Cryfemal project in 2011, focusing on Muert and Stormvold before ultimately deciding to bring it back last year. For the past two decades the Spanish musician/vocalist has written and recorded all of the group’s material solo, but for Cryfemal’s seventh full length ‘D6s6nti6rro’ he brought in guests on bass and drums. The resulting effort maintains the raw assault of previous efforts, but the addition of an actual drummer makes the songs more diverse and nuanced than before. ‘D6s6nti6rro’ moves between all-out blasting that will pummel you into the ground and ominous mid-tempo riffs, with some well-placed slow melodies from guitar and keyboards filling in the transitions between the two elements. Where some of Cryfemal’s previous efforts fell into repetition, here there is always something to hold your attention and keep the instrumentals feeling razor sharp, and Ebola is as manic and forceful as one could want from a black metal singer. ‘D6s6nti6rro’ is the best effort yet from this reactivated project. Worship total death and blast the hell out of this one ~ Chris Dahlberg

Emma Ruth Rundle (USA) – Marked For Death (Ambient / Folk / Post-Rock, Sargent House)


I’ve always found myself drawn to singer/songwriters that take a noticeably darker, somber approach. Emma Ruth Rundle is a perfect example, and on her newest full length ‘Marked For Death’ she’s delivered a stunning collection of songs that encompass sweeping ambient textures and sparse, dreary melodies. Compared to her previous releases she’s expanded outwards, reaching for greater heights than before and hitting much fuller climaxes. But there’s also a sense of loss, uncertainty, and fragility that make these songs so easy for listeners to connect to. At times the instrumentals head towards the type of hypnotic melodies that were present in her work with Red Sparowes and Marriages, but Emma Ruth Rundle deviates enough from these endeavors to make her solo material truly stand out. Her voice also moves between soft, barely audible whispers to booming ranges that demand your full attention. At times it’s reminiscent of some of the softer moments from my favorite singer/songwriter PJ Harvey, and that’s drawn me back time and time again. A definite highlight of 2016. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Grossty (India) – Crocopter (Grindcore, Transcending Obscurity India)


The debut album from Bangalore grindcore squad Grossty is a shot in the arm of the barely existent grindcore scene in India. The aural assault starts from the first track, Brink itself and does not stop for the next 21 minutes. The grinding riffs, dual vocals and pounding drums are topped off with a in your face production which leaves you no room to breathe. A quick glance at the track listing reveals tongue in cheek titles like Burn Baby Burn, Saltie, Proud to be a Pevert. The band are not afraid to add a dose of humor to their music. The album is not everyone’s cup of tea (or beverage of your choice) but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Special mention to T Bare McClough for the ‘colourful’ artwork, it is unlike anything I have ever seen on the cover of a metal album ~ Peter Kotikalapudi

Inanimate Existence (USA) – Calling from a Dream (Progressive / Technical Death Metal, Unique Leader Records)


Colourful, sexy progressive/technical death metal. Ohhh, yes. This has a very seductively dreamy quality that seems to be getting more and more prevalent in modern atmospheric death metal. With added keyboards and orchestration, as well as some very lush female vocals, this is such a top quality album that it’s somehow hard to credit that the entire thing only lasts a mere 35 minutes. As the expression goes – all killer, no filler. ~ Nigel Holloway

Insomnium (Finland) – Winter’s Gate (Melodic Death Metal, Century Media Records)


Insomnium over their nearly two decades long run out have been fairly consistent in churning out some quality progressive melodic death metal. But, when the band decides to craft a single long track through the run of the album, it’s a completely new challenge altogether. In the age of 5-min hit singles, can Insomnium hold the listener’s attention for 40 minutes? While the answer to that is an individualistic decision, what is sure is that ‘Winter’s Gate’ is probably one of Insomnium’s best work till date. The band delivers by crafting some of the most despair filled melodic death metal music, that is laced with beautiful yet painstakingly sad melodies. The consistently varying tempo and flow, helps keep the listeners engaged without ever becoming tiresome. Though the Lords of Winterfell may have been warning you of the coming winter for a few years, it’s here now and it sounds like a masterpiece. ~ Vidur Paliwal

Morrow (UK) – Covenant of Teeth (Emo / Crust Punk, Broken Limbs Recordings)


When a band goes on to describe themselves as ‘emo-crust’, they are risking alienating a major segment of the metal-head community. But, I advise you against it, because your elitist brains are in for a treat! The UK based trio at Morrow, delivers a fantastically unique and complex debut record in ‘Covenant of Teeth’. The music is nearly impossible to classify, with a mix of sludge, traditional 80’s doom, some punk crust and a few traces of post black metal that together forms some of the most interesting music you are bound to come across. The unique use of cello in the music adds a layer of despair to the sludgy music that places ‘Covenant of Teeth’ on the high pedestal. With a whole bunch of guest vocalists on record, it stays fresh at every turn and fly’s through its run time. Overall, the album is the perfect mix of beauty and heavy, that most metal heads will be bound to appreciate! ~ Vidur Paliwal

Pain (Sweden) – Coming Home (Electronic / Industrial Rock, Nuclear Blast)


Pain is always known for doing things a little different from time-to-time, and ‘Coming Home’ is no exception. The eighties to nineties rock outer coating stands as more of a template for the underlying concept of fame and living that style of life that appears among the many subtle other topics thrown about in this release. It’s unfortunate it was initially marketed with a science fiction feel given the first single, but if you have heard Call Me then you’ll have a better understanding of what this effort brings to the table. The main problem this entry has is that as those wild times start to fade away, as does the appeal of the music. The more grounded ‘Coming Home’ gets, the less interesting it actually is, concluding more on a note that feels like a journey from amazing compositions to merely catchy yet acceptable ones. ~ Apoch Weiss

Serpent Ascending (Finland) – Ananku (Death Metal, I, Voidhanger Records)


What would you expect from the first solo album from one of the core members of bands like Desecresy, Cosmic Church and Nowen? If you’re thinking solid Finnish death metal that incorporates elements of black, doom and thrash metal, then Serpent Ascending is the band for you. The debut album ‘Ananku’ may not necessarily break new grounds, but that does not take away from the fact that this is a solid death metal record that carries the traditional Finnish flavor. The dark, occult imagery seen on the cover is captured well in the music aided by black and doom metal inspired elements. The riffs and the music are so meticulously crafted and memorable that it is kind of surprising that all of it is the work of one man alone. Finnish death metal done right ~ Shrivatsan R

Slomatics (UK) – Future Echo Returns (Sludge / Doom Metal, Black Bow Records)


This UK sludge/doom band has a lot to offer – yes, they might have all of the crushingly heavy riffs you could want, but they also have gorgeous melodies in abundance. This is the real draw of the album once you get past the more obvious charms of their heaviness. With colourful synths, melodies and vocals, the rising tide of distortion sort of fades into a pleasantly colossal backdrop to these other aspects of their sound, resulting in a listening experience that’s quite all-encompassing and very engaging. A very top-quality album. ~ Nigel Holloway

Sumerlands (USA) – Sumerlands (Heavy Metal, Relapse Records)


I was having trouble deciding what my final pick for September should be, and then realized I hadn’t checked out the debut full length from Philadelphia’s Sumerlands yet. One listen was all it took for that album to steal the spot from any of the other possible options, and not only is this one of the best heavy metal releases in recent months but it’s a serious contender for best of the year. With galloping guitar leads and solos that take equal influence from early NWOBHM and 70s hard rock, Sumerlands delivers one catchy riff after another without sounding like a mere retro retread. Add in the distinctive vocal style of Phil Swanson, who I don’t think has ever disappointed me on the impressive number of albums he has been involved with, and you have an album with a considerable amount of staying power. For a band like this to capture that formative 70s/80s heavy metal sound and still inject something fresh into it is impressive, and I hope this is only the beginning. ~ Chris Dahlberg

Unyielding Love (UK) – The Sweat of Augury (Grindcore / Black Metal / Noise, Sentient Ruins Laboratories)


When you absolutely, positively need every last motherfucker in the room to feel sickeningly crushed by disgustingly nasty grindcore, accept no substitutes. No, really. Along with the recent Nails album this has got to be one of my favourite releases of the style in quite a while. It’s so nihilistically bleak, so rawly nasty and so utterly horrible it’s just a pure depraved pleasure to listen to. Mix Discordance Axis, Nails, Full of Hell, thekevorkiansolution and Labrat together and you’ll have the right filthy idea. Essential listening for all fans of grim extremity, for sure. ~ Nigel Holloway

VRTRA (USA) – My Bones Hold a Stillness (Black / Doom Metal, Sentient Ruin Laboratories)


VRTRA are a quite new band based in Sacramento, California. At the same time they seem to appear out of nowhere with a debut album that is of a quality that makes every attempt to claim they were new to the art of creating music appear ridiculous. But what do I know, the four members keep their identities on the low. ‘My Bones Hold A Stillness’ is an EP of three songs and has an overall playing time of “only” about 30 minutes, but not one second of these minutes is wasted. At the end you think you had been listening for hours, because so many things are happening here you wouldn’t believe would fit into half an hour. Using elements of various genres and styles, but mainly black and doom Metal, VRTRA create three songs that rather feel like one song in three chapters or movements or whatever you want to call this kind of trilogy. Throughout the entire EP the atmosphere is hauntingly dark, horrific, depressive and driven by a relentless evil force that is as inescapable as it is hypnotic. A richly textured composition, bundled into a vortex of sound that is swirling and heavy at the same time, constantly moving, changing, full of dramatic excitement, inexorably washes and tears you into an abyssal darkness. The sound fabric is bombastic and sometimes with this cinematic sense that post / black metal is able to create.
If it wasn’t a contradiction, I’d call this a colorful pitch-black darkness. ~ Ulla Roschat


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