I’ve really been itching to do a mid-year round-up for a while now, but I have a little bit of reservation about it. Mostly, I don’t really want to spoil anything for the end of the year, because it’s usually around this time that I find the one or two albums that I KNOW are going to top my December list, and this year feels no different. You gotta wait if you want the goods, but in the meantime, this edition of Nine Circles ov… is a list, in no particular order, of albums that I have been really enjoying this year. Some are metal, some are non-metal, some may keep their position until the end of the year and some might end up as honorable mentions, but none of them are the absolute top. Sorry, no spoilers, but these are still fantastic albums well worth the repeated listens I have given them.
Inexorum – Equinox Vigil
Starting things off with a staff favorite, Equinox Vigil sees the gentlemen of Inexorum at their absolute peak. There is no filler on this album, at all. Every single track bangs from start to finish, and this has unironically become the soundtrack to my Hot Flesh Prison Summer. It is the perfect “windows down, volume up” vibes.
Did you miss the review I wrote for this album? Fear not, find it here!
Tómarúm – Ash in Realms of Stone Icons
BUDDY I GOT THREE WORDS FOR YOU AND YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE: FRETLESS! BASS! SOLO! What’s better than this? In a move that surprises no one, I really really like Tómarúm’s particular blend of melodic, blackened, progressive, melancholic death metal. It ticks all of my boxes while still managing to be wholly unique and charged with emotion.
Animals as Leaders – Parrhesia
I’ve always really appreciated Animals as Leaders for their technical skills and innovations to both playing guitars and just guitars in general, but I haven’t clicked with one of their albums this hard since their debut. Maybe it’s because Parrhesia is a lot darker and more metallic than their past releases, but whatever the reason, I’ve really been enjoying this one.
Tzompantli – Tlazcaltiliztli
Tlazcaltiliztli is not music for smart people. It is not sophisticated, progressive, melodic post-whatever. It is the nastiest, filthiest, most pants-poopingly ignorant death metal I have heard in a long time, and it is without a doubt one of the most fun albums I have listened to in forever. To quote another esteemed member of the site: “You don’t have to bring back the nasty riff when they’re all nasty riffs.”
Nechochwen – Kanawha Black
Kanawha Black really is an encapsulation of everything that Nechochwen has done in their career. It’s got all the folk elements, all the ripping black metal, all the deep historical dives in the lyrics, and somehow it manages to be more than the sum of its parts. The duo have perfected the way that all of these elements come together, and the end result is an album that begs to be spun again and again.
Wilderun – Epigone
Even if I (and Buke) stand alone, I (we) will still stand up for this album. It took me a long while to finally understand Veil of Imagination, but Epigone took no time for me to vibe with, and I continue to vibe with it, even as I sit and type this out. It is a fantastic slice of melodic prog metal, and it showcases the many versatilities of the members of this band perfectly.
Astronoid – Radiant Bloom
Is Radiant Bloom a metal album? Who knows, but regardless of its status in and around genre conventions, it deserves to be talked about because I find this album sublimely gorgeous. It is also a big summer mood, and even though the lyrics seem to get a little on the depressing side, the beautiful textures and melodic hooks are perfect for driving around in the sunshine, gas prices be damned.
Chris’ excellent writeup of the album can be found here, in case you don’t want to take my word for it.
Blood Incantation – Timewave Zero
Certainly not the album that many hoped for, but it is the album that we all needed. Timewave Zero sees the death metal heartthrobs expand their sonic palette in a way that really should not be surprising to anyone even remotely familiar with the band. It is majestic, ethereal, calming and totally enjoyable all on its own merits. Maybe the real stargate was the friends we made along the way.
Vince stole Rainbows from me for a week but I can’t even be mad about it because he wrote much more eloquently about this album than I would have.
Cremation Lily – Dreams Drenched in Static
Dreams Drenched in Static is like if sleep paralysis was actually a pleasant experience. Or, maybe it’s like if being exhausted but still unable to sleep made you hear colors. Or maybe it’s like dreaming on homemade, scratch-built instruments making sounds that only exist in the depths of imagination. Maybe it’s like none of that, but one thing is for certain: this album is unlike anything else I’ve listened to.
Here’s a Rainbows from me if you want more mostly unfiltered thoughts about this album.
If you want some actual spoilers about what my top albums in the metal and non-metal categories are, you can actually find them in the upcoming album of the month chat, coming soon™. Until then, please know that I have been spinning all of these releases relentlessly and you should too. We may be halfway done, but there’s still plenty to come and I’m pretty stoked to see how things are going to shake up (musically anyway, please stop shaking everything else in the world up) in the second half.