This year is nearing the end, but there is no stoppage of great tunes to go through. From Autarkh’s embrace of industrial and electronic immediacy to Xoth’s persistence in technical and execution excellence. From the old-school death metal fascinations of Cruciament, Vastum, and Left Cross to the post-metallic grandeur of Morne and Briqueville. There is something here for everyone, so do not waste and dig in!
Amalekim – Avodah Zarah (Avantgarde Music)
With members from Poland and Italy, Amalekim play the sort of glorious, high-energy black metal that seems as if it might have truly been recorded during some sort of satanic sex ritual. As if the black mass’s haunting spiritual fragments embedded themselves in the music, there is a sensual zest in the melodies, the shrieking, concentrically spreading tremolos, frenzied blast beats, and demonic growls. The group’s sophomore release Avodah Zarah is an album with very few faults and many outstanding passages, such as the Dissection-like melodic flavor of the awesome “Psalm IV – Tzel Hakarah”, the bittersweet, mournful undercurrents of “Psalm VII – Hallel LeQuayn”, and the hints of Viking/folk metal on the grooving “The Disease”. – Antonio Poscic
Autarkh – Emergent (Season of Mist)
Autarkh rose from the ashes of Dodecahedron, and they carried the avant-garde black metal vision of the dearly missed act, with 2021’s Form In Motion seeing them advance through electronica and industrial territories. Not being an act to repeat themselves, Autarkh craft a new path with Emergent. There are still fragments of the black metal foundation, first echoing through the howls in “Duhkha”, before the full-out assault of “Trek” offers a moment that would make Mysticum proud. Similarly, the mystical experience laid forth with “Strife” points towards masters of that space like Dodheimsgard.
However, there is a shift towards immediacy and catchiness. The second part of “Trek” stands in contrast to its furious kickoff. It brings together the industrial facade with a Genghis Tron circa Board Up the House informed sense of melody and progression. Similarly, the brutal aspects of “Refocus” are aligned to mirror the digitized fascinations of Fear Factory. But, it feels like beneath it all is the hand of Killing Joke that drives much of Autarkh in Emergent. This fascination with cold, mechanical progressions and yet the melodic underpinning define tracks like “Open Focus” and the fantastic closer “Ka”.
Autarkh are at a strange crossroads. On one hand, they embrace the immediacy and catchiness, and on the other end, there is the potential of being swallowed by a no-wave hole. Tracks like “Eye of Horus” and “Countless Kaleidoscope” speak to that latter mode. No matter what the path Autarkh eventually choose to follow, the result in Emergent is stunning. – Spyros Stasis
Briqueville – IIII (Pelagic)
While the mysterious masked Belgians Briqueville were never quite your run-of-the-mill, IIII sees them push even farther from shore and into their own territories. The five pieces on the album are all patient, minimal, cyclical cuts. At times, they even resemble Tony Conrad and La Monte Young’s compositions. Then, as if being built out of loops of bumbling bass frequencies, solitary guitar chords, and noise, they gradually intensify until reaching fuzzy, exalted post-metal plateaus, only to ultimately dive back into cacophonic weirdness. Any vocal lines that appear on the album are equally unusual, crunched up into unintelligible invocations and disembodied chants. Mesmerizing stuff. – Antonio Poscic
Cruciamentum – Obsidian Refractions (Profound Lore)
It makes sense for Cruciamentum’s new record to open with a song titled the same as their debut LP, 2015’s magnificent Charnel Passages, gesturing towards continuity where it might have appeared there were none. In the last eight years, the UK/US group’s lineup changed significantly, with founder/guitarist/vocalist Dan Lowndes the sole remaining member from those sessions. Listening to their new music, you’d be hard-pressed to figure this out. Similar to back then, Cruciamentum’s imposing, monstrous sound is rooted in old-school death metal and then blown up tenfold into a crushing and crunchy aesthetic that is as reliant on aural aggression and heft as it is on intricate songwriting and fascinating progressions. In a sense, we’ve been wanting more of the same from Cruciamentum, and luckily with Obsidian Refractions that’s just what they’ve delivered. – Antonio Poscic
Ex Everything – Slow Change Will Pull Us Apart (Neurot)
Formed by veterans from the likes of Kowloon Walled City, Early Graves, Mercy Ties, and more, Ex Everything dive head first into the fervent and urgent side of post-hardcore. Their debut record, Slow Change Will Pull Us Apart, sees them dig into a dissonant and unpredictable rendition as soon as “The Reduction of Human Life to an Economic Unit”. Math rock idealism and complex punk routines combine in “Detonation in the Public Sphere”, exemplifying the future vision of punk pioneers.
In that way, Ex Everything are excellent in projecting their emotion. In an obtuse way, there is a fragile aspect that comes through near the end of the opening track, reaching for despairing heights with “The Last Global Slaughter”. Similarly, an atmospheric leaning is present in moments like “Exiting the Vampire Castle”. It is understated and very thoughtfully applied over the harsher ideas, which are the modus operandi for Ex Everything. The frenetic energy in that case is unstoppable, not only reaching for fierce moments like “Slow Cancellation of the Future”, but also opening up this heavier grand presence. The groove of “A Sermon in Praise of Corruption” defines this approach, while the ominous tone of “Feral City” establishes the serious tonality of this work. – Spyros Stasis
Helga – Wrapped in Mist (Season of Mist)
Helga Gabriel set off on a journey through vast woods and ethereal planes. The actual destination seemed unknown, as The Autumn Lament drifted through various sounds and motifs. From the folk beginnings of “Prophecy” and the post-rock aspects of “Into the Light” all the way to punk with “Mörker”. Now, with their debut record, Wrapped in Mist, Helga takes on a similar overarching form, encapsulating a diverse set of influences across the spectrum.
The foundation is still found in the folk domain, with “Burden” and the title track opening up this magical scenery. Helga still move forward, reaching for a grand representation of that flavor, with “If Death Comes Now” before plunging into darkness. “Farväl” sees the folk application drift into the black metal domain, while “Som en trumma” calls upon Bathory’s epic vision to navigate a storm of extreme metal. Even though that would be enough, Helga still push through additional motifs. There is an ethereal doom-metal presence, tilting at times towards the post-metal sensibility that comes through with “Water” and “Mountain Song”. It points towards a Black Math Horseman feeling, but Helga still expand further.
Capable of morphing through these moments, they take on progressive elements with the rhythmic aspects of “Skogen Mumlar” and then dive into pop territory. “Alive Again” and “Vast and Wild” step fearlessly into this domain, resulting in some of the catchier moments of Wrapped in Mist. It is an extensive tour that Helga offer, and even though at times it feels like the grasp is loosened, the overall result is still quite something. – Spyros Stasis
Helms Deep – Treacherous Ways (Nameless Grave)
The scream of air raid sirens fills the air. The roar of fighter aircraft circles overhead, interrupted only by intermittent gunfire, which soon transforms into a barrage of sputtering riffs. This sequence—strangely reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “Aces High”—sets the stage for the enthralling, NWOBHM-adjacent scorcher “Fire Rain”, the opening cut of Helms Deep’s debut album. While the Floridians stay within the realm of heavy metal throughout Treacherous Ways, the influence of Iron Maiden and homage-like moments are scarcer than the opener might suggest.
Case in point, the title cut “Treacherous Ways” is significantly more aggressive, with the falsetto of vocalist, guitarist, and band leader Alex Sciortiono soaring over an instrumental track that feels made in cooperation with Judas Priest and Jag Panzer. Elsewhere, “Fight or Flight” finds a lovely groove and lets loose an armada of melodic guitar leads, “Medusa’s Requiem” is wrapped in thrash edges and rugged riffs, and “Mountains of the Scorpion” flies close to progressive power metal of European descent. Beyond these individual highlights, Treacherous Ways is highly cohesive and well-rounded—one of the best classic heavy metal albums of the year. – Antonio Poscic
Left Cross – Upon Desecrated Altars (Profound Lore)
Just look at this cover and tell me you do not feel the echoes of Bolt Thrower’s early days. For Left Cross, death metal is meant to be immediate, brutal, and unyielding. This motto fuelled the creation of Chaos Ascension, and it does the same with their sophomore record, Upon Desecrated Altars. The no-holds-barred approach takes off with “Blood of Mars” coming in full force and with no remorse. It is fervent and projected through a barbaric rendition, giving more weight to pummeling moments like “Inexorable March”.
Left Cross are informed by the past, and their sophomore work sees them bounce through various motifs. The Bolt Thrower element is obvious, but the act from Virginia also extends to the creeping visions of Asphyx, particularly felt in “Unhallowed Oath”, but also towards their Northern counterparts. Fragments of the tradition of Dismember find their way in “Buring Raids” and “Pyramid of Conquered Skulls”, while the US scene’s injections further elevate moments like the title track and “Celestial Wound”. It is a work dedicated to the glory days of the death metal scene, and Left Cross have a very healthy approach of being content with doing exactly that. – Spyros Stasis