In terms of creativity, can death metal still hang with the other metal substyles? Anachronism, the Swiss death metal quartet, have a characteristically well-thought-out answer. “Metal is cursed with gatekeepers and dogmatic douchebags,” the band writes in an email. “Fortunately, not every metalhead is like that, and new mind-blowing stuff keeps coming up, whatever the subgenre, making the metal scene still interesting and relevant. I don’t think it’s up to us to tell if we qualify for the latter, but what we can say is that we avoid artistic boundaries as much as possible.”
What Anachronism’s newest full-length doesn’t avoid is feeling something. Over 33 minutes that are somehow both tight and expansive, the band’s third album Meanders draws listeners in musically and emotionally. You could say Anachronism orchestrate an aural adventure that feels as dynamic, unpredictable, and lived-in as the contours of the human experience. In fact, that’s what the album’s title alludes to. “It’s an allegory on relationships between our fellow human beings,” the band explains. “It flows a bit chaotically: sometimes you stick together, sometimes you split, always moving forward but at various speeds depending on the terrain you’re evolving through.” And, yep, that is a fitting way to define all aspects of Anachronism, too.
For instance, that description doubles as an explanation of Anachronism’s evolution as a band. Formed in 2009 with Lisa Voisard on guitars and Florent Duployer on drums, Anachronism worked through different sounds while settling on a steady lineup. The embryonic death metal years, culminating in 2012’s Senseless, are essentially lost, not even streaming on YouTube. So the earliest Anachronism artifact still findable is the 2015 EP Reflecting The Inside, a brutal but not quite BDM bruiser with a tech death, constructed-in-a-cleanroom preciseness to its chunkiness. It’s good, spotlighting the then-quintet’s potential. Is it Anachronism, though? No, not quite.
Anachronism’s breakthrough then is 2018’s Orogeny. For that session, the band slimmed down to a trio. Manu Le Bé entered as another guitarist. Voisard added vocals to her list of duties. And something clicked. The rip-roaring death metal remained, but a new creative spark was lit.
That iteration of Anachronism cleverly underlines the commonality shared between contrasts. Brutal sections that would typically thud with an inelegant heaviness are instead inflated with an energetic buoyancy. Quiet parts that would generally serve little purpose beyond transitions instead produce strong gravitational waves that are as engrossing as world-ending grooves. You start to notice these artful “instead” subversions throughout, such as how Voisard’s gruff vocal rumbles inspire catharsis and reflection instead of aggression. If you need a succinct descriptor, Orogeny has got one in the form of a song title: “Perfect Asymmetry.”
With that perfect asymmetry, Anachronism joined a cohort of similarly inclined death metallers uninterested in settling for conformity. Not surprisingly, those bands were also on the members’ playlists. “We listened to a lot of Artificial Brain, Gorguts, Ulcerate, Wormed, Hate Eternal,” the band writes. “In all these bands we can find brutal, prog, or even jazzy grooves that inspired us. With Orogeny, we found a great balance between brutality and quiet instrumental parts. We continued that mix for Meanders, and we took time to search for a new sound as we changed our guitar gear. Now we play on Kemper. We really played with a lot of different sounds before finding ours.”
Appropriately, the sound Anachronism found on Meanders feels like an extension of Orogeny while cutting ties to the tech death subgenre under which the band used to be grouped. Right, the mindless noodling endemic in the widdlesphere? Not here. Every moment matters. “We still have technical riffs,” the band notes, “but perhaps we dared more repetitions and tried to clear up some structures. We also abandoned the use of samples and had to work on guitar tones to achieve those aerial sounds.”
The aerial sounds, that ambient atmosphere that hangs over the songs like dust kicked up by a dirtbike, is a key trait of Meanders. It gives the music a layered effect. On top, there’s the overtone soup. In the middle, there’s Voisard’s impassioned roars and Voisard and Le Bé’s knotty riffs. Slightly below them is Alex Sedin’s bass. (Sedin, working here as a session player, also mixed and mastered the album. Julien Waroux, who played bass on Reflecting the Inside, is now back in the fold.) And underneath it all is Duployer’s powerhouse drumming.
What elicits repeat listening is that each layer in this heady mix registers as a lead. To put it more simply, it’s like four albums packed into one, that “various speeds depending on the terrain” approach transposed to music. And yet, all of these songs sound remarkably stable. Where some bands plow through songs in a straight line, Anachronism exhibits an atypical verticality since it feels like it’s constantly moving up and down the layers. Of course, the music is never inert. The title track alone can blast with the best of them. But Meander‘s flow feels so unforced.
That might have something to do with how Anachronism play with time. Their compositions feel endlessly elastic, stretching out into the available space. You could live in them. Be that as it may, these tracks rarely exceed five minutes, a comparative blip considering progressive death metal’s usual sprawl. As an example, listen to the first minute of “Prism,” how it ping-pongs between the hyperdrive propulsion of death metal’s aliens and an earthier, grounded riffing that’s more math rock. Goddamn, that’s a lot of data to process in such a short span. Nevertheless, Anachronism’s unlabored fluidity helps you focus on its intricacies. It’s like entering a listening flow state — time stops, and you just exist within it. Others have picked up on that, and their reactions have tickled the band: “My favorite comment so far about the album is: ‘it’s surprisingly relaxing.’”
Another thing people have noticed is a sentence in Meanders’ liner notes on Bandcamp: “All drums written/improvised by Florent Duployer.” So, how much of Meanders is improvised? While album highlight “Macrocosm” was generated via a jam, something the band would like to do more of in the future, Anachronism generally write from the riffs up. “We start composing on the guitar, and then we work with GuitarPro to keep our ideas,” the band explains. “Afterwards, we discuss possible changes in rehearsal and apply the changes to the song. Florent takes care of the redesign of the whole drum parts, inspired by the structure of the songs and the guitars. Usually, we write the music before the lyrics.”
Despite them coming last, Voisard’s lyrics are like another gear that helps Anachronism turn. “In Meanders, we talk about hypersensitivity, relationships, different points of view that people can have, the power of nature, a bit about meditation,” the band writes. Indeed, there’s no viscera splatter as Voisard pens lyrics that are more reminiscent of Lykathea Aflame’s existentialism with a strong focus on environmental concerns. There’s also no Death Metal English abstraction, as everything is stated concisely. “How to find some quiet when we have to cope with sixty thousand thoughts a day,” is the opening line of the instantly relatable “Insula,” closing with, “Must we always be in control? Maybe we should surrender to mystery.”
Reading along to the lyrics gives you an appreciation for Voisard’s growing skills as a vocalist, like how she wrings out extra meaning when she switches to her yell. It also unlocks some of the band’s instrumental choices. “Insula” is a busy song featuring some of Voisard, Le Bé, and Sedin’s best interplay, a virtuosic display of labyrinthine riffing. The quickly shifting intro sets up those “sixty thousand thoughts” beautifully. And yes, in case you were wondering, Duployer is playing at sixty thousand beats a second, absolutely drumming his ass off.
The 33-year-old has grown into one of the stars of the more brutal side of metal, making a name for himself for his skins flaying on three releases: Kakothanasy’s Dystomorph, Focal Dystonia’s Descending (In)Human Flesh, and Cenotaph’s Precognition to Eradicate. (Infiltrated Mankind’s Inside the Apelike is also good.) But Orogeny and Meanders feel like triumphs of a different kind because they’re so idiosyncratic, not just displaying Duployer’s skills but his perception of what makes metal engaging.
“Florent has developed his drumming style through the years of acquiring a huge ‘database’ of fills and tricks that he can use at will,” the band writes. “He knows the structure of the songs, where the accents are, what’s the bass groove, and from there he’ll just do his thing. It’s not always the same pattern, but it’s always serving the music.”
And that’s the thing: Meanders serves the music and its players. In other hands, those two aims can be mutually exclusive: the faceless entities enslaved by form and the shred-first flaunters who play like a LinkedIn profile. However, Meanders is as much its individual members as it is Anachronism. The players do some incredible things but also trust each other enough to function as a whole. To pull off something like the acceleration in “Insula,” the all-hands-on-deck fusion solo section that elevates “Source,” or the Rush-esque angularity of the breakdown in “Mirage” is a team effort. And it’s an approach best explained by how Anachronism found “Macrocosm” in the first place: “We recorded one hour of playing random riffs, and we found something that came from our hearts.” Our hearts.
So, you get why Anachronism aren’t so hung up on the “can death metal still be creative” question. It’s not a concern when you’ve got what they’ve got, a desire to do right by themselves instead of the nebulous idea of what death metal should be. “Our main goal is to have fun,” the band reiterates when asked if it felt pressured to deliver a successor to Orogeny, “and we don’t really work in terms of musical genre, so I wouldn’t say that there was any pressure.”
In the end, Meanders is an album that understands that while time will tick its tocks and continue to flow, our time here is marked and measured by the unexpected. Friends will become enemies. Dreams will become nightmares. Goals will become shackles. And oh yeah, there will be gatekeepers and dogmatic douchebags who will damn you with impossible expectations, telling you that anything fresh is false and there’s nothing new under the sun. You can’t control those things, though, just like you can’t control time’s chaos. So, instead of trying to get to the next checkpoint as quickly as possible with the least resistance, you could meander. You could avoid boundaries. You could discover how much there is to experience between the beginning and the end that will come sooner than you think.
“You’re real,” Voisard screams on “Mirage.” “Focus attention on – what you feel.” –Ian Chainey
FOUL EMANATIONS FROM THE VOID
10. Great Falls – “The Call”
Location: Seattle, WA
Subgenre: metalcore / noise rock / sludge
Great Falls’ Funny What Survives starts like unexpected turbulence: Suddenly, you’re just in it, pummeled by unseen forces. The track doing the brutalizing is “Misery Lights,” the what-if product of a fantasy pairing that splices the violence of Deadguy with the terror of Today Is The Day. “This is not my beautiful house,” Demian Johnston screams, “this is not my beautiful wife.” The Talking Heads reference would be funny if Johnston’s voice didn’t sound like a surface-to-air missile. But that’s the Great Falls experience, really: something so real and visceral that it feels surrealist. And, to that end, “Misery Lights”‘s breakdown is one of the heaviest juds I’ve heard on a core-adjacent record since Swarm Of The Lotus. (The HNW sizzle is particularly effective.) It’s like sitting in that turbulence-tossed airplane and seeing oxygen masks drop from the ceiling. Is this happening?
The Great Falls trio have been doing this for a bit and have an extensive CV stretching back even further: Playing Enemy, Kiss It Goodbye, and Undertow, among others. 2018’s masterful A Sense Of Rest, which would have made our year-end list if it wasn’t released in December, demonstrated how much gas this version of metalcore still has in the tank. While other bands were on their fifth farewell at festivals, Great Falls were still doing the damn thing, pushing the possibilities to the limit.
But I gather that Great Falls don’t concern themselves with thinking about the viability of the style or how to escape its restrictions. “Huh, I don’t know ’cause we’re a pretty punk rock band in the sense that so far we haven’t had any freelance sitarists show up and KRS-One isn’t throwing down any rap verses for us,” the band said to Decibel in 2015 regarding its evolution. “Everything on the record is just the three of us making noise with our instruments so we’re not exactly trying to show Porcupine Tree how it’s done or whatever.”
Still, the three tracks that comprise Funny What Survives, with only one exceeding two-and-a-half minutes, feel so intense it’s hard not to try and dissect them to figure out why. Then again, it’s not that complicated. Great Falls kick ass. [From Funny What Survives, out now via Total Dissonance Worship.] –Ian Chainey
9. Xysma – “Well Seasoning”
Location: Turku, Finland
Xysma’s newest album, No Place Like Alone, pulls off a miracle: It has made me care about straight-up rock music in 2023, and it has done it by soaking pumped-up jams in synth-y moodiness. Think if the Cult circa Electric came to their senses, locked Rick Rubin out of the studio, and hired Trevor Horn. Think if Bon Scott ended up in the Cars, Elvis lived to hear Achtung Baby, or Danzig ever told a single joke in his goddamn life. I think the Finnish quintet’s sixth full-length is one of the most unlikely things I’ve ever liked. Wait, I’m this person? Apparently! So, why are Xysma here beyond my extremely irritating impulse to foist the odd non-metal album on you? Because, in our corner, they’re best known as an influential grinder and early Sunlight Studio customer.
Right, Xysma have one of those discographies consisting of strange twists and turns…well, provided you believe metalheads should keep playing metal. 1989’s Swarming Of The Maggots is a classic of Carcassian grind. However, Xysma were already interested in diversifying. By 1991’s Yeah, the then-four-piece had already surrounded singer Janitor’s deep growls with stonery riffs. Album #2, 1992’s First & Magical, was a twist on the burgeoning death ‘n’ roll sound: doomier, like if Paradise Lost ditched Depeche Mode for Paw. 1993’s Deluxe, the last record with growls, had the mirage shimmer of desert inhabitants such as Fu Manchu. And then Xysma went full retro on 1996’s Lotto, huffing the same leaded gasoline that destroyed the Dwarves’ brain cells. The band had one final album in it, 1998’s pop-curious Girl On The Beach, and that was that. Ten years, a hell of a lot of ground covered, a band forever in motion until it wasn’t. It took a long snooze for 25 years. And now, a miracle that begets a miracle: Xysma have risen and are ready to rock.
Which track rocks the hardest? Curiously, the first song that takes a break from the sweaty garage to bask under neon lights: “Midnight Call.” Sure, it’s like something you’d hear in an AOR obscurities playlist between long-lost demos from bands trying to be Loverboy. But it’s also the best version of that because it’s a song-long version of what Xysma excel at: bridges. Holy heck, can this band write a bridge, flipping tracks on their heads by stitching in vibrant hooks right when the rock starts to spiral toward too stupid. But perhaps I’m just old, temporally predisposed to like rock songs with bridges and pre-choruses.
The logline for longtime fans is something like Girl On The Beach’s synthier excursions plus Lotto’s rambunctiousness, although there’s a touch of the more metal material that gives the guitars more bite. (The comparison that keeps flooding my mind is the psych-addled side of CSSO, but, to be clear, Xysma’s gory days are long gone.) But really, No Place Like Alone is clearly a band just feeling itself without caring if anyone else is on board, a trait that reminds me of ’90s Dickies. And maybe no one else is on board. No one I’ve talked to shares my enthusiasm for these songs. I’ve even forced people to listen to the aching synth swell of “Final Episode” with me, which is like if Kyuss conscripted the Alarm to help them write the credits music for a teen sex comedy. I love it. Didn’t think I would, but I do. Who even knows why we like the things we like? Music is a mystery. And that’s a miracle, too. [From No PLace Like Alone, out 3/24 via Svart Records.] –Ian Chainey
8. Trespasser – “The Great Debt-Strike I: A Pillar Of Smoke”
Location: Vretstorp, Sweden
Subgenre: black metal
Trespasser’s 2018 full-length debut, Чому не вийшло?, was a call to arms. Inspired by the writings of Ukrainian anarchist Nestor Makhno, the duo blazed through blast-heavy metal with a recognizable fury that ran counter to the typical themes. “The whole idea was to combine the political ideal of the punk scene with the musical know how of the metal scene. To create a project I myself longed to hear: left wing extreme metal,” multi-instrumentalist XVI said to CVLT Nation. “I’ve come to learn there’s a whole genre out there doing just that, that lesson is a really cool side effect of this. So yeah, I hope to save some metal heads from right wing indoctrination by bringing them music that walks like Marduk but talks like Crass. And I hope to inspire the punk community to listen to more blast beats, haha.”
Newest album ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ could’ve continued in that vein. And, in a way, it does. “Forward Into The Light!” has the unrelenting tempo of Panzer Division Marduk, along with stinging meloblack plus crust leads. But the sonic palette has expanded. Maybe there’s a nod to the cinematic heaviness of Nile, a frequent citation in Trespasser’s interviews. However, I think there’s a hopefulness present that shines down like the rays of light in ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ’s album art. It’s angry, it’s going to rage, but it’s for a better tomorrow.
“With TRESPASSER I want to conjure a sublime feeling in the listener,” XVI said to Occult Black Metal Zine. “A feeling somewhere between ecstasy and despair. A gut-wrenching and tear-jerking feeling that there is no point to anything, a feeling of nihilism if you will, and still inspire hope, faith and the will to fight. In that aspect it touches on traditional black metal songwriting and lyricism; it is deeply religious music in a sense.”
Naturally, ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ does to religious touchstones what Чому не вийшло? did to the Marduk walk cycle. “I came to the conclusion that I already made a record about historical armed struggle, so I went the other way,” XVI explained to Greece’s Rocking. “I started to think about the future, and about peace. That’s where John’s Apocalypse came in. I had just moved to a house in the woods to focus more on the music and to get away from the temptations of the city and started decorating it with icons and other religious art. Don’t really know why. At the same time I started reading David Graeber and the Bible simultaneously and was just hit by this revelation (ha!) that what we need to focus on in today’s socialist struggle, and get rid of, is debt. Debt is the big fateful question of our time.”
If debt is the fateful question, the two-part “The Great Debt-Strike” reframes it in the loudest possible terms. The first part opens with a “Ramses Bringer Of War”-type overture before going full blast ahead. Singer Dräparn alternates between a husky roar and desperate shout. Both approaches deliver the lyrics clearly, giving the song an almost musical theatre or operatic approachability, which is a funny thing to write about a high-BPM banger. But there is something to that comparison, especially when it’s applied to how XVI builds up and tears down sections. The song’s back half is gilded with Martyrdödian leads, illuminating the debtors’ victory. It’s rousing and anthemic, rerouting black metal’s traditional triumphantness to shine outwards instead of inwards. [From ἈΠΟΚΆΛΥΨΙΣ, out now via Heavenly Vault.] –Ian Chainey
7. Unto Others – “Over Western Shores”
Location: Portland, OR
Subgenre: heavy metal
It was nearly two years ago that we were talking about “When Will God’s Work Be Done,” the debut single from Unto Others’ second album, Strength. A few years before that, when the band was known as Idle Hands, I was raving about the band’s debut Mana, an album that was a near-perfect throwback to a halcyon VHS-era of goth metal, loaded with endearing hooks, nocturnal thrills, and frontman Gabriel Franco’s distinctive baritone and “OOGHs.” Mana was a really tough act to follow, and while a few tracks from Strength captured a similar blue-black magic, it didn’t quite stick the way its predecessor has.
When Strength was rolled out, a few tracks didn’t make it for various reasons, and they are now available on a new EP, Strength II… Deep Cuts. (Confusingly, this EP was available previously as a Record Store Day exclusive late last year.) A track that stands out is “Over Western Shores,” a song that captures some of both the more restrained, bolder stature of Strength as well as the surreal imagery and nighttime wonder of Mana. But most importantly, it’s got hooks, pulling you into another, black-leather-bedecked, shades-at-night timeline. [From Strength II… Deep Cuts, out now via Roadrunner Records, Lone Fir Records, and Eisenwald.] –Wyatt Marshall
6. Homeskin – “Mound For The Skin Golem”
Subgenre: black metal
Seventeen releases encompassing a wide array of styles. Hell of a career. Garry Brents’ Homeskin did it all in a little over one year.
So, this is it: End’s Daze Without Organs, the finale of Brents’ “daytime counterpart to Gonemage set in reality instead of dream realms.” And while the discography didn’t kick off that long ago, debuting with Subverse Siphoning of Suburbia in November 2021, the Homeskin project feels like it has been around the block because of how much stylistic ground it has covered. Though loosely rooted in black metal, each release packs the career-long evolution of a chameleon like Ulver into its runtime.
“I treat Homeskin with a very short gestation period between conception and final rendering of the songs,” Brents said to Invisible Oranges last year. Perhaps that process gives Homeskin its restless nature. End’s Daze Without Organs is no different, opening with “End’s Daze,” a 10-minute epic that has a first-wave thrashiness tempered by the string-bending delirium of Mighty Sphincter. By “Broken Shell,” Brents is a million miles away, working out a Police-esque rhythm underneath oodles of atmosphere reminiscent of Scatter The Ashes. But here’s the thing, Homeskin’s one cool trick: “End’s Daze” and “Broken Shell” sound like they’re from the same whole. What binds these songs, and Homeskin’s entire catalog, really, is Brents’ taste, playing, and compositional charisma. That overrides the incongruity, aligning the poppy post-hardcore bounce of “Fused Ephemeral” and the Sigh-like shred of “Mound For The Skin Golem.” Despite the all-over-the-place nature of any write-up trying to describe the material, these records are always unbelievably coherent, consistently imparting the same feeling through different means.
Anyway, shame this has to end. I’ll miss seeing that familiar splash of purple hit my Bandcamp feed. But it’s not like the music is going anywhere: I’m still trying to unpack Life’s Wishes To Tears and Itch Ecstasy, a pursuit that will probably take me much longer than the mere months that passed between their respective releases. That said, I understand the need to move on to other projects, especially for an artist this prolific and creative. Homeskin is dead. Long live Memorrhage. [From End’s Daze Without Organs, out now via Fiadh Productions.] –Ian Chainey
5. Mansion – “You Are Suspicious”
Location: Turku, Finland
Mansion’s two singers sound sinister. Osmo’s voice trembles as he fills the hole in his soul with zealotry. Alma exudes an off-kilter uneasiness and a false sense of protection, like someone telling you’ll be safe even though they’re splattered with blood. There’s a cultish intensity to their performances, one that’s matched by the band’s theatric musicality that slowly swells like an old-time revival. In that respect, the Finnish octet reminds me of a doomy Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, playing music that sounds both old and new. But it’s hard to take your ears off Alma. She’s in control most of the time, singing with a charismatic coolness. But when she sneers, lord help you.
If you believe them, Mansion’s members are some of the few remaining members of Kartanoism, an end-times-obsessed Finnish Lutheran sect formed around its namesake, Alma Maria Kartano, and the “sleeping preacher” Amanda Matilda “Tilda” Reunanen, in the early half of the 20th century. “We wandered in the doom scene surrounded by darkness, drugs and sin until the Lord turned on the Light,” guitarist Jaakob said to It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine in 2020. “It changed everything. When we saw things for what they really are, we decided to take doom metal back to its origins, Judgement. We are not interested in posing as evil metalhead sodomites.”
I mean, sure. One of the paths to good metal is a steadfast commitment to the bit. Ordo Vampyr Orientis have blarghon-rich bios about vampires shaded with Edward Gorey shadows, Nile delve deep into Hittite dung incantations, Crossspitter hock up loogies for every cross in the world, and so forth. Despite the ridiculousness, none of this stuff breaks character. Slugdge play music about slugs, and instead of being like “haha, slugs,” they write some of the best music and lyrics they can. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s establishing a fantasy and turning it into a reality via your music. If you do your job, you come out the other side with both a mythos and good tunes.
So, right, the idea that Mansion saw the light, converted to Kartanoism, a severe religion with a lineage of child preachers and abhorrence of sex even in marriage, and was like, “Well, the best way we can spread our message is by making creepy-ass doom that’s like Swans’ Children Of God but with Candlemass’ guitar tone,” is…absurd. But I’ll be damned if Mansion don’t sell the hell out of it on their second LP, Second Death.
The crawling closer “You Are Suspicious” is so bone-chillingly good the band blesses you with a bonus version on Bandcamp. And, you bet, it’s the epitome of Mansion’s vision, displaying all of the band’s strengths. For instance, listen to how the song’s angelic choir opening is quickly blown asunder by a downtrodden trudge. There will be no pleasure for you. Still, the composition oozes atmosphere. It also has multifaceted depth, making good use of its many members. And each player helps contribute to Mansion’s mission: calling upon all its influences to bring about Armageddon. (“Diamanda Galas, Joy Division, Portishead, Danzig musically,” the band said to Doom-Metal.com. “Bergman movies and non-fictional literature about our predecessors, the Kartanoists.”)
However, none of it wouldn’t land if Mansion didn’t possess a gut-punch potency. Hovering above the organs and distorted guitars, Alma operates as an omnipotent being, a powerful figure you can’t escape. And yet, her line reads contrast that power by playing up the austere delicateness of her voice. You don’t dare question the kayfabe. [From Second Death, out now via the band.] –Ian Chainey
4. Botanist – “Angel’s Trumpet”
Location: San Francisco, CA
Subgenre: post-black metal
Many bands in the greater black metal family tree take inspiration from woods green and dark and full of mystery, but few can claim to be as rooted in the forest as Botanist. Botanist mastermind Otrebor eschews electric guitars in favor of electrified hammered dulcimer to produce his signature take on the genre, one that downplays raw sonic impact in favor of the natural, warm thud of wood — Botanist songs emanate from some out-of-sight clearing, carrying past tree-trunks and over a covered, muted forest floor. Greenthumbs will recognize the track’s namesake, Angel’s trumpets, as the horn-shaped flower that they are, and the track pays homage to their beauty through airy, light-filled choral passages and whispered reverence for its mechanisms of toxin production that defend against would-be predators. If you’re unfamiliar with Botanist, more than a decade’s worth of unusual — “Angel’s Trumpet” is relatively straightforward alongside some of the tendril tree-speak elsewhere in the discography — and often gorgeous material awaits. “Angel’s Trumpet” is an excellent introduction to Botanist’s pantheon of flora and one of Otrebor’s most beautiful and catchy to date. [From VIII: Selenotrope, out 5/19 via Prophecy Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall
3. Pest Control – “Don’t Test The Pest”
Location: Leeds, UK
Subgenre: crossover thrash
Some people spent COVID lockdown miserable and looking out the window, others took up new hobbies, and the members of Pest Control started a bug-themed crossover thrash band. Pest Control occupy a mind space where superbugs (ha!), hangovers, and a commitment to partying and shredding take top billing, a Joe’s Apartment directed by Municipal Waste. (They’ve played alongside MW and Eternal Champion.)
That all rules, but the thing about Pest Control is they truly, seriously rip. Don’t take it from me. Take it from one of the two Bandcamp reviewers of Pest Control’s debut album, who wrote, “This fucking rips”; the other described Pest Control as “Détente meets Integrity,” adding, “I love Pest Control!” That kind of high praise for a bug band is very rad, and the super tight riff attack and wildman solo work back it up. Big grooves and perfectly timed thrashing are scientifically proven to result in invertebrate neck spasms, and the rabid raspy shout of Leah Massey-Hay is that of a pitch-perfect bug lord. Several members do or have done duty in death metal oozers Mortuary Spawn, and the chunky riffage serves testimony. Pest Control rock, big, and are a nice offering to the bugs who will roam the earth when we’re all long gone. [From Don’t Test the Pest, out now via Quality Control HQ.] –Wyatt Marshall
2. Majesties – “Our Gracious Captors”
Subgenre: melodic death metal
Majesties check many boxes on the Gothenberg-style melodeath wishlist. That’s not shocking considering who is involved: Obsequiae’s Tanner Anderson (guitars/vocals/drums) and Inexorum’s Carl Skildum (guitars) and Matthew Kirkwold (bass), members of two bands that have gotten closer than most to the classical melodeath ideal over the last 20 years. Still, there’s something so gratifying about Vast Reaches Unclaimed, Majesties’ full-length debut. Not to throw shade on melodeath’s myriad modern evolutions, such as the no-death power metallers in disguise or industrial-tinged Scandinavian Korn copiers, but hearing Majesties brush away the dust and expose the sound’s roots is as invigorating as a band breaking new ground. Vast Reaches Unclaimed is precisely what its title implies, exploring a land once thought to be lost when its trails were paved and turned towards different directions.
Songs like “Seekers Of The Ineffable” or its back-to-back homerun partner “Sidereal Spire” feel like you’re wrapping yourself in a velvet blanket while residing in a drafty castle the night before a big battle. Anderson and Skildum’s leads conjure a stately grandeur, melodies drenched with melancholy that will overthrow whatever earworm is currently ruling your thoughts. Truly, these three couldn’t have picked a better band name. But the music still has that ever-present bite of harshness that so many melodeath bands lack, a grittiness that balances the gorgeousness. And balance is a pretty good way to sum up Majesties’ power. Even when the rhythm section blasts or pokes and prods around the edges, it’s never hurried, percolating with the practiced patience and core strength of an acrobat.
So, why do Majesties succeed when so many other bands fail? The easy answer is that this trio is firing on all cylinders. But I also sense it doesn’t seem interested in slavishly recapturing a bygone sound. Remember how unconvincing most American bands sounded as Slaughter Of The Soul spread throughout melocore? All that stuff was like a greenhorn writer retyping Charlotte Brontë’s lines verbatim to understand how they felt. Instead, Vast Reaches Unclaimed stakes out its own territory within the early days of Swedish melodic metal. It might have the same accent as The Jester Race, but that’s because the two live in the same place. Majesties’ experiences are their own. They’re not caught in the OSDM trap of taking what amounts to a Buzzfeed quiz to decide what band it wants to be. No, Majesties’ personality shines through, especially on re-spins: Anderson’s lively growl, the neat sweeps that sparkle like a rural Minnesotan night sky, that thud of a drum that sounds frozen. As a melodeath fan, there are elements I want to hear. But I also want to hear how you’ll make them your own. [From Vast Reaches Unclaimed, out 3/3 via 20 Buck Spin.] –Ian Chainey
1. Blitzar IV – “Hipernova”
Subgenre: atmospheric black metal
Over the last year or two, two new forces have emerged in the world of obscure atmospheric black metal that deserve special note. First, Victoria Camilla Hazemaze rocketed out of nowhere (well, Mexico) to stage a Bandcamp blitz, putting out something like 50 releases across, by my count, at least 12 projects in that time. Metal Archives says this is the work of a do-it-all 20-year-old, putting this discography up there among the most insane of the insane in terms of sheer scale and speed in the Bandcamp era alongside the likes of Violet Cold, early Colloquial Sound Recordings, and Damián Antón Ojeda of Sadness et. al. That alone raises an eyebrow, but, the thing is, like the others mentioned here and the reason we’re talking about it, the stuff is always both quality and interesting, and it channels some weird melancholic black metal frequencies that didn’t really exist anywhere before, dabbling in everything from gothic romance to ethereal space haze.
Shortly after Victoria Camila Hazmaze started firing these off, Fiadh Productions got going. A label operated out of New York by Bariann Tuitte, formerly of Broken Limbs Recordings, Fiadh’s focus has been on unearthing and launching unknown gems from the corners of the internet into physical formats and greater renown. In that short time, Fiadh’s had quite the record, and has landed in this column several times, with bands like Bergfried (featuring Erech Leleth of Ancient Mastery) and Careus showcasing Fiadh’s ear for the underground and unusual, often gorgeous permutations of black metal. The label also is its own unique thing, female-run and explicitly antifascist, with a stated mission of supporting animal rescue, rights, and welfare, and a percentage of each purchase from the label going to support a charity aligned with those qualities (Tuite wrote the intro to the 2010s metal world sensation Metal Cats).
It makes sense that the two have found each other, and that Fiadh has put out some of Hazemaze’s best material, including the rain-streaked goth work of melancholy that is Oculi Melancholiarum and the blue-rinsed magical atmosphere of Cora’s Heart. Up next is Blitzar IV, a new Hazemaze project that sets a course for a distant nebula and relishes in the awe and horror of an interstellar trajectory, with beds of searing synths and the sounds of a techno-future melding with mournful black metal. It’s equal parts Alcest and Mesarthim, and entirely Hazemaze. [From Ayla, out now via Fiadh Productions.] –Wyatt Marshall