Nine Circles ov…2019: A Mid-Year Report

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Anyone feel oppressed by the ridiculous heat blasting through the Northeast?  It almost makes you want to take a month off of writing for a website.  I kid, but in truth I needed some time because the amount of quality metal that has been coming out this year has been INSANE.  Label faves like Season of Mist and Gilead have been routinely hitting it out of the park, but great music has been crawling out of every nook and cranny, and it’s dizzying to be caught up in the middle of it.  I had a list of about 14 I wanted to throw on here, but in keeping with the nature of the column I stuck to nine, all released this year before 7/1, and all on Bandcamp, because dammit let’s support artists with dollars, not fractions of pennies (plus it makes the formatting nice).

So here’s a glimpse of where my head is currently at.  We’ll see where these land come end of year, but right now they’re red hot and in constant rotation in my ears.  Onward.

arch matheos - winter ethereal

Winter Ethereal is the album where Arch/Matheos stop sounding like a Fates Warning clone and come into their own.  Which is a weird thing to say when the majority of the band is made up of current and former Fates Waring members.  But as I wrote in my review, there’s a freshness and immediacy to the tracks that wasn’t there on previous albums, and John Arch is possibly even better than he was in his heyday with the band.  Jim Matheos remembers what it’s like to rage on a track, and it all comes together on a colossal album.

ghostlimb - the only measure is labor done not days

Ghostlimb is carrying the torch I crave from bands like Converge: brutally emotional metalcore that feels like a wave of force washing over me.  The Only Measure is Labor Done Not Days is their strongest effort to date, a roiling set of muscular despair clocking in just under a half hour, but whose repercussions on tracks like “After Virtue At Rest” and “Mangled Surplus Population” lingers for months afterward.

hawkeyes - last light of future failures

It’s probably the least “metal” thing on this list, but it’s also probably my favorite thing on this list, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to extol the virtues of the latest slab of mesmerizing rock from Ontario’s Hawkeyes.  Moving beyond the stoner doom of their previous releases, Last Light of Future Failure is a sublime haze of psychedelic rock that isn’t afraid to simultaneously stomp and dream.  Come for the fuzz rock of “Look At ‘Em Scramble,” stay for the essential 18+ epic “Full Of Secrets” that breathes with the best work of bands like Sleep and, well…Sleep.

Idle Hands - Mana

There’s so much in Mana, the debut full-length from Idle Hands that speaks to me.  The gothic metal crossed with the doom/pop sensibility of Type O Negative, the propulsive hooks that I loved in the band’s previous work in Spellcaster.  But if we’re being honest it’s so much that my son heard it in the car and fell in love with it, so all of our road trips are spent blasting this album and singing along.  I really can’t ask for more than that. For more glorious words on this album our man Vincent has you covered.

laster het wassen oog

Is “flexible” a proper way to describe the black metal contortions of Laster? I was impressed with their previous outing Ons Vrije Fatum but the dynamics in tone, melody, and structure built into new album Het Wassen Oog is something else entirely.   Without having a similar style, I get the same vibes from this album I do from Oranssi Pazuzu and Schammasch.  Once again my man Vincent has the Evcharist hookup, but just take a listen to opening track “Vacuüm ≠ behoud” and tell me you don’t fall under this album’s spell.

Moon Tooth - Crux

If “Trust,” the opening track from Crux doesn’t make you jump up and move, there is a fundamental difference in the way we are wired.  Moon Tooth take the speed and agility of my favorite hard rock from the late 80s and early 90s and give it a thoroughly modern, aggressive polish.  The guitar work is amazing, the melodies dig in like leeches, and Joe Carbone’s vocals are golden honey.  I say with the upmost respect and compliment that there are shades of Pornografitti-era Extreme on this thing and it is glorious.  Plus that riff on “Omega Days” or that riff on “Rhythm & Roar” and…I could go on forever.

numenorean - adore

After coming out with might have been my least favorite cover of all time, Numenorean jump back with one of my favorites for 2019, and a wicked sounding album to boot.  Adore scratches at the door of blackgaze bands like Deafheaven and more modern metal like Gojira but add just enough of that post DSBM vibe to really strike a nerve.  There are head-banging riffs on “Portrait of Pieces” that sidle up next to atmospheric interludes and tremolo fury on “Horizon” and the title track.  Moving between uplifting and punishing, it’s been a steady player all year long.

Sunn O))) - Life Metal

Look, I’m just as surprised as you there’s a Sunn O))) album on this list.  But Life Metal finally got me over the droning hump of the band’s style, and the weight the band brings to the monolithic riffs on “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths” expose a grace I never noticed before.  Chords fall in cascades, as voices intone ancient poems that get to the mysteries of the impermanence of the marks we leave behind, and I’m awash in a kind of bliss.  Crazy, I know!  But true for Life Metal, so much so I’m going to travel down the Sunn O))) rabbit hole and see where it leads me.

Uhtcearu - Madness & Creation

When I first started this list I was thinking about the lack of black metal on it, and how this year I found myself responding more and more to melody over pure aggression, and then I looked back and see that Madness & Creation from Uhtcearu is ostensibly the third black metal (-ish) album I have on my list.  Hailing from Wisconsin, the band wrangles melodic black metal to the ground and then shaves it down to better expose it to the elements.  I don’t know if that translates, but it’s what came out as I listened to the mad note fury in “Fervent Return” again.  I got turned onto the band after our Fearless Editor™ Josh listed their previous album in his Best of 2017 list, and as his review of this one implies, it’s something special.

wormwitch - heaven that dwells within

This is the story in which Wormwitch make good on their early recordings after kind of whiffing it on their previous album and Prosthetic debut.  More than make good, actually, because Heaven That Dwells Within is filled with moments that linger long after the rage stops, like pretty much all of “Dancing in the Ashes.”  The interplay between the folky elements, thrash, and blackened death metal make every track stand out, and finally fulfills the promise the band showed on their 2015 demo The Long Defeat.  Just one more reason to never give up on something.

This is literally just a scattering.  If this were Eighteen Circles ov… and I was including albums not on Bandcamp you would have seen me wax ecstatic about Gloryhammer, Darkthrone, Devin Townsend, Mono,  Tanagra, Pelican, Misery Index, Ithaca, and Big Brave, among others.

I guess we’ll just have to wait until the end of year and see what sticks, hmm?

Until then, keep it heavy.

– Chris





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