Fall is upon us at last. Here at my station, located far far away from AMG HQ due to my various injustices against the Score Counter, taste, and metal credibility over the past five years of writership, I monitor our minions’ progress scouring the headquarters’ overtaxed filtration system. As the leaves and cool mists infiltrate the guts of the machine to mingle with the stagnant refuse which lines the chutes and coats our poor, unfortunate laborers, I use my remote-controlled cattle-prod-equipped drone to motivate and maintain pace. We have a deadline to reach after all!
Ah, who am I kidding?! Deadlines are for poseurs, and we are well-known specialists of the late post. I just like torturing my subjects until they cough up the goods. And cough up they always do! So now, please, sit, and enjoy the spoils of not my labor, the best of the pretty good from September 2023!
Kenstrosity’s Mildewed Masses
King’s Rot // At the Gates of Adversarial Darkness [September 22nd, 2023 – Hypnotic Dirge Records]
It’s been a fairly mediocre year for standard black metal in the House ov Ken. Most of the time, the good stuff hybridized with other things like death metal (Úlfúð), psychedelia (DHG), or power metal (Moonlight Sorcery). Alberta, Canada’s King’s Rot doesn’t quite change that, but they make a valiant effort of it with their sophomore outing, At the Gates of Adversarial Darkness. Its production marks a good start, perfectly straddling the fence between murky rawness and sparkling clarity. This in turn bolsters the quality of the music, which straddles the fence between melodicism and wretchedness. I’m most engaged whenever King’s Rot kick into high gear, evoking bands like Vimur and Imperialist, except this material prefers to revel in the hellish flames of the underworld rather than the coronas of distant stars (“Blazing Winds of Torment,” “At the Gates of Adversarial Darkness,” “Last Dance for the Eternal Flame”). However, they could use more of that perilous verve and swagger in those areas where the band take their sweet time building up to a blistering fury (as with the Cloak-esque “Twilight Breath Incantation” and “Obscure Awakenings”) in order to keep my interest rabid from start to finish. In sum, you could do much worse than At the Gates of Adversarial Darkness for your fiery, but chilling black metal fix.
How many vocalists is too many vocalists? International supergroup Aortha bring a new scope and scale to the question with their groovy heavy/thrash/power metal project by employing six individuals for mic duty (Exhorder‘s Kyle Thomas, Adamantia’s Diego Valdez, Voivod‘s Denis Belanger Snake, ex-Temperance’s Alessia Scolletti, Laurenne/Louhimo’s Netta Laurenne, ex-Scar Symmetry‘s Christian Älvestam). Supported by Jacob Umansky on bass, Hannes Grossman on drums, and Predrag Glogovac on guitars, Aortha’s debut LP Monolit boasts insane levels of groove, hook, and swagger. Bangers like “Those That Should Not Exist,” “Last of Our Kind,” “Forging the Locus” and “Divine Future” are guaranteed to kick your ass and take your lunch money, while every vocalist gets their chance to spit in your face (although it can be difficult to pick out who is who with 100% accuracy). It’s nearly impossible not to bob my head along with these tunes, as transitions constantly reveal a new trick up the group’s sleeve, whether that be another ripping verse hook (“Keep the Dream”), a sharp riff that has no business being as fun or interesting as it is (“Last of Our Kind”), or some fancy percussive work that one would expect from the world’s most sought-after drummer. It might be cheesy in places, ESL is everywhere, and some songs can feel a little long after repeat spins (“When All Around You is Madness”), but Monolit remains one of my most fun, compelling, and deceivingly cohesive surprises this year. You owe it to yourselves to try it!
Dolphin Whisperer’s Trench Treasures
SATSURIKU ROBOT // NO THRASH METAL, NO LIFE! [September 8th, 2023 – WormHoleDeath]
No Thrash Metal, No Life!—demanding and straightforward. It’s easy to imagine that the untested Japanese act would have constructed this outing as an homage to the blue-collar hammer-on, hammer-off tunes we all love so dearly.1 And to a certain extent the opening riffs to the Slayer-touched “THRASH NEVER DIE” and the Sodom-grooving “MAD THRASHER” have a normalcy to them. However, that basic appearance dissolves rapidly against a cranked-out, clangy-ass snare and a vocalist who’s channeling both a cat in heat and a pig greased for the chase. Honestly, I have no idea what the fuck he’s doing. On tracks like “殺戮ロボット – SATSURIKU ROBOT ” and “CARRY ON” he drops character for brief moments while channeling a punky bellow akin to fellow countrymen SEX MACHINEGUNS, which gives a little respite to his madness. For the most part though, he squirts and squeals with a rabid conviction while his bandmates do their best to churn out solid sing-along gang shouts amidst mighty solos (“ROBOT IN THE PANDEMIC,” “NO THRASH METAL, NO LIFE!”). Similar to the out-of-place nature of the hokey, nursery rhyme infusions you hear in a Macabre album, much of what SATSURIKU ROBOT accomplishes throughout this thoughtful mess of a debut should not work, but it does and it’s catchy as hell. Though I don’t think these folks could pull it off twice with as much shock value, but that matters little when you can enjoy this sneakily not-thrash ode to thrash. So what’re you waiting for? NO THRASH METAL, NO LIFE!!!
Vibora // Zaldi Beltza [September 29th, 2023 – Zegema Beach Records]
Anthemic, throat-ripping, cathartic as a cold bath with the curtains drawn—Zaldi Beltza (The Black Horse) is the skramz you need in your life. With a bass overdriven for noise rock and a scrapped mic that reminds me of regionally-adjacent sadbois Tenue or ragers Crossed,2 Vibora’s brand of screeching metalcore comes with highlights that swing effortlessly between tough guy throw-downs and major swing crescendos (“Eraikin Zurie,” “Le Fleur”). Though Vibora drops tempo for a few melancholy post-hardcore romps (“DANA,” “La Casa, 20”), the burn through Zaldi Beltza’s nine tracks in twenty-three minutes never feels too long drawn on its less aggressive elements. Appropriate levels of hissing amp feedback and nut-shaking bass (“La Casa, 8,” “Ez Ziguten Maitatzen Irakatsi”) ensure that these Basque core-kiddies never stray too far from a forward-moving path. I gotta level with you though, this is true screamo, and if you’re not accustomed to the fuzz-filtered, nasally, digging yelp that typically accompanies this world, Vibora doesn’t do anything to change that. But Zaldi Beltza, in its close-to-roots expression of bright-chord Daïtro-flavored post-hardcore with extra hardcore delivers a modern sad-ggression that’s building a movement of its own.
Thus Spoke’s Tarnished Trinkets
Ash Prison // Future Torn [September 22nd 2023 – Sentient Ruin Laboratories]
Ash Prison are basically everything you want blackened industrial music to be—or at least they’re everything I want it to be. This weird, warpy, wacky work sees resonant, electrified bass wrap around jittery tempos, accompanied by echoing, snarling croaks, and a plethora of other strange sounds. You’ve taken the pill the shifty guy by the club toilets gave you, that you probably shouldn’t have, and now the gothic electronica is warping around you, and the walls are starting to melt. The come up was a bit aggressive (“Archangel”), but at the same time, incredibly, weirdly danceable, in a jagged sort of way, as is much of Future Torn. And the way groovy, boppy beats slide in out of the noise (“Death Reborn,” “No Return,” “Collapse”) is almost as unsettling as the heavier, actually scary stuff. This mood swing happens whiplash from song to song, “Voidhead,” “Black Horizon,” and “Weep in my Shadow” each smash onto the scene with fast, clipped tempos and a lot of static and distortion. And then there’s “Scorn,” whose skipping, echoing voice sample and scarily low hum create a spine-chillingly powerful sense of dread before the beat picks up to turn it into a mad, unhinged bop. This album terrifies me, and I love it. Why not give it a try?
Steel Druhm’s Seasonal Slashing:
Lord of Shadows // Echoes of Yore [September 1st, 2023 – Meuse Music Records]
Lord of Shadows is the work of one Mike Lamb, and on the debut full-length Echoes of Yore, the multi-instrumentalist tackles the Peaceville sound made famous in the 90s by My Dying Bride and Anathema. And to make sure you know he’s deadly serious about his passion project, he recruited none other than My Dying Bride’s Aaron Stainthorpe to handle vocals for him, alongside Heike Langhans (Remina, Light Field Reverie, ex-Draconian). Over 42 minutes, Lamb and guests paint the night pitch black with effective Gothic doom loaded with drama, pathos, and despondency. The man knows his chosen genre well and appoints it with a captivating array of forlorn riffs, weeping pianos, ethereal female vocals, and booming death croaks. The songsmithing is above average and the lengthy compositions keep you in thrall as they suck all the joy from your downtrodden soul. Cuts like “Faith of Thy Beloved” and “At the End of Our Eclipse” will win you over to the morose cause, and the nine-minute “Through Memories, I Gave Her Life” will carry you off to sadboi glory. Is it derivative of its source material? Naturally, but the adroit blend of My Dying Bride and female-forward Gothic doom like Draconian works well. With Winter banging at the door, this is the optimal time of year for what Lord of Shadows are selling, so stock up now! DOOM!