It’s funny…up until June, I was kind of ready to declare Q2 a “lost quarter.” We had a handful of decent releases early on in April, but then the well seemed to run a bit dry. It’s not like NOTHING good came out; the gems just weren’t quite dropping at the same rate they’d done during the first three months of the year. Enter June, though, and that all changed. We had Vattnet Viskar. We had Vanum. We had two stellar black metal releases (on the same day!) from Gilead Media, and we had the latest hour-long kick in the ass from the riff lord himself, Matt Pike. All of a sudden, Q2 didn’t look too bad!
Indeed, the last month’s made this recap difficult for a completely different reason than I’d expected. Instead of a shortage of great metal, we ended up with an abundance. I’ve tried my best to whittle it all down to 10 for this list — five favorites and five honorable mentions, all unordered — so here goes nothing:
Vattnet Viskar – Settler
If you think about it, Vattnet Viskar didn’t really need to meddle with the great infinity of space to ensure their second album would catch our eyes. After the success of their 2013 debut, Sky Swallower, not to mention their killer live shows, they’d have earned our attention, regardless. But the New Hampshire quartet went for it anyway, and we’re all the better for it. A nimbler, airier, yet no less furious sophomore performance, Settler is a terrific listen that seems tailor made for a live setting. Having multiple song-of-the-year candidates (“Impact,” “Coldwar”) only boosts its credentials. It’s a tremendous 40 minutes through and through.
Ølten – Mode
This one really caught me off guard. I’d never heard of Ølten before listening to Mode, and after looking at that album cover, I surely wasn’t expecting one of the heaviest albums of the year. But dammit, that’s what the Swiss trio gave us, and was it ever awesome. To call this album merely “thick” or “heavy” wouldn’t be doing it justice; Mode feels as if it’s been conjured straight from underground and sent to bludgeon us all with a slab of pure devastation. That it does most of its work without vocals (the lone exception is “Gloom”) is even more impressive. Instead, the band builds sounds on top of sounds and layers on top of layers, and give us an endlessly re-listenable album.
Tribulation – The Children of the Night
Corey and I both fell in love with Tribulation after their opening slot for Behemoth and Cannibal Corpse earlier this year, and The Children of the Night effectively set those feelings into stone. Of the 30-40 albums I’ve absorbed this quarter, Children‘s the one I’ve revisited the most—it’s just too damn catchy not to go back to! Striking the perfect blend between classic, melodic heavy metal and its more aggresive successors, Tribulation forges a sound that’s both familiar and wholly their own. Just pick your poison—“Melancholia,” “Sjalaflykt,” “Strains of Horror,” you name it—kick back, and throw up your horns. This thing fully earns them.
Vanum – Realm of Sacrifice
What a late-breaking charge this was. The quarter had almost run out and I’d long since started putting together my best-of list, but then in came Vanum just last week with this absolutely stellar, 40-odd minutes of black metal. Realm of Sacrifice is raw, yet melodic, and handles a full range of sounds—from aggressive, blast-beat-driven mayhem to calmer, pace-changing moments of respite—with ease. It’s the kind of album where you’ll never be able to choose just one favorite song. I’ve currently settled on the titular closer, but who knows how long that will last? They are all gems.
High on Fire – Luminiferous
Will Matt Pike’s supply of ungodly awesome riffs ever run out? Not if Luminiferous is any indicator. On album number seven, Pike and High on Fire come roaring back with one of their best sets to date—a pummeling, relentless masterpiece. Whether ripping and roaring (“The Black Plot,” “Carcosa”) or taking things down a notch to let the band’s bluesy side take the wheel, (“The Cave”) the album’s never content to merely eat and drink of the genre. Instead, it devours and guzzles all that is metal, and sends listeners a swift kick in the ass all the while.
- False – Untitled
- Tremendous debut full-length from the Minneapolis black metal sextet. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. [full review]
- Pale Chalice – Negate the Infinite and Miraculous
- Another stellar black metal release from Gilead Media. The San Francisco crew’s a little more straightforward in their sound, but no less vital. [full review]
- Minsk – The Crash and the Draw
- One of the year’s most challenging—and rewarding—listens. A fantastic 75 minutes of sludgy post-metal from the Illinois troop. [full review]
- Clouds Collide – All Things Shining
- A stunning follow-up full-length from Chris Pandolfo, All Things Shining gives you an hour of the prettiest blackgaze you’ll hear this year. [full review]
- Unmothered – U M B R A
- Twelve tremendous minutes from the Austin trio. Raw and relentless throughout, this is an EP you’ll want to listen through over and over again. [full review]
That’ll do it for me. Enjoy the holiday weekend!
Keep it heavy,