Nine Circles ov…Recent Albums Keeping Me Tethered to Metal

It’s been over nine weeks since I’ve written anything for the site other than the weekly playlists and – truth be told – I was feeling a little less than enthusiastic about the state of extreme music in the year of our (metal) Lord 2023. Most of my music explorations have been outside the genre or stuck in the well-worn alleys of nostalgia. Which is perfectly fine, and simply notes my connection to metal, not the state of the music for the rest of the world.

There have been rays of light here and there, though: the latest platters from VoidCeremony, Dødheimsgard and Liturgy – all reviewed by our killer staff – found a place in my rotation. But for this edition of Nine Circles ov... I want to focus (for what I think is the fourth time) on recent albums not covered by the site but found a way to break through the wall I’ve put up to focus on other avenues of interest. Maybe you’re in a similar place, and maybe you’ve found some of the music I’ve recommended in the past to speak to you like they do me. Let’s find out.

arrebol - simplicity of the moment album cover

Everyone has one of those bands that feels like a secret discovery, something you find and want to share with the world. For me that was Arrrebol, the one-man unit out of Spain weaving spellbinding blackgaze ever since his self-titled debut back in 2016. Six years from his last release we now have Simplicity of the Moment, and mastermind Asz strikes all the same chords he did with his previous releases. This comes closest to capturing the spirit I found with Alcestis debut, still my standard for how to do this music right: rich melodies buried in a maelstrom of emotional distortion.

crown lands - fearless album cover

Early contender for my AOTY, it’s incredible how big and expansive Crown Lands, a two-piece out of Oshawa, Ontario can be, especially when you consider they’re channeling 2112-era Rush in majestic fashion. Fearless sounds completely modern and completely retro, managing to soar past mimicry into a sublime and heady rock-prog album that feels like those albums I would play over and over again as a kid. Don’t be fooled by the whimsical artwork and fantasy-driven lyrics, either: Fearless has a lot to say about indigenous rights, capitalism, and the state of our society. heavy, heavy stuff indeed…

dozer - drifting in the endless void album cover

I know there’s a huge cry that stoner metal is overdone and overplayed, but honestly: all metal at this point is, so who cares as long as it makes your head righteously rock out? It’s been a decade since Dozer raised their shaggy heads out of the sand but not a grain goes to waste on Drifting in the Endless Void. I’ve had the vinyl for about a month thanks to their participation in the Post Wax series, but it’s time for the rest of you to catch up to mammoth tracks like “”Mutation/Transformation” and feel the weight of a revitalized titan.

I can’t quite put my finger on what it is OTTTO is doing, but damn is it good. Melodic hard rock that thrashes when it wants to, harmonizes when it needs to, and never forgets to inject at least 2-3 hooks per song. Life Is A Game was a complete surprise to the 9C offices but based on tracks like the start/stop tempo attack of “Skyscraper” and alt rock, nu-groove ragers like “Night Howlers” this is going to stick for the long run. Few bands are tapping this particular vein, and those that are don’t do it nearly so well.

raider - trial by chaos album cover

On the other hand, sometimes you want to know exactly what you’re getting, and in the case of Waterloo, Ontario’s Raider, it’s straight up death/thrash. The solos are plentiful, technical, and sweeping in both their scope and their, well…sweeps. The production of latest album Trial by Chaos is a well-oiled piston, slamming power-chord riffs and double kick rhythms like an old school veteran. Consistency is the name of the game here, so be sure to stay around for late album highlights like “Juggernaut Cerebrivore” – you’ll thank me.

smoulder - violent creed of vengeance album cover

Is this the best album cover so far in 2023? It might be, and the good news is – as expected – Smoulder absolutely deliver the goods. It’s been a few years but in between recording videos for BangerTV, vocalist Sarah Ann easily reminds the world that she has a set of pipes second to none in the traditional metal game, and her bandmates are more than up to the task of carrying her voice atop killer riffs on Violent Creed of Vengeance. The doom elements are still there, but my ears are really attuned to the galloping guitars, the inventive drumming and the copious amounts of harmony and melody that only accentuates the heaviness on tracks like “The Talisman and the Blade.” Expect to see this album getting more and more accolades and be a force to reckon with come end of year.

tanith - voyage album cover

There’s no secret about my deep abiding love for traditional metal and old school hard rock. Tanith delivers all that in spades on their sophomore release Voyage. The conceit of two lead singers works wonders on opener “Snow Tiger,” bringing a welcome dose of NWOBHM and prog elements that perfectly capture and complement the far-out imagery on the album art. Even as I’m looking in the future for new music, I’m finding fantastic bands that indulge in my love of the past. And the guitar tones on this are killer – not overly distorted, with just enough grit to recall the best stuff coming out the UK in the late 70s and early 80s. Their bio references Uriah Heep and BÖC…so I’m (obviously) sold but do yourself a favor and get on board with what Tanith are bringing on this record.

transgressive - extreme transgression album cover

I don’t think there’s any stopping Alicia Cordisco…and I am so glad. Since stepping away from Judicator she has been on a tear of incredible music all pushing forward perspectives and views that absolutely need to be heard. And it sure helps when the message is coated in some truly nasty thrash. Transgressive is her power trio dedicated to the proliferation of trans rights, and a staunch position of never backing down. Extreme Transgression is but the first volley of killer music, and if songs like “Stonewall” and “Bury Me in Rainbow Flags” has you stuttering like a fool about keeping politics out of metal, then this isn’t the place for you. Go back to your basement and your incel trading cards…I’ll be here rocking out and supporting righteous music paired with righteous views.

I remember the first time I heard Fishbone, and being amazed at the seamless blending of genres in service to a larger purpose. It’s similar to the feeling I had when I first heard A New Tomorrow, the new album from hardcore collective Zulu. Curtis Mayfield samples trade body blows with some of the most frantic, bone crushing hardcore this side of a late 80s most pit. The blend of styles and aggression remind me of black midi, with amazing technicality in service of something no one seems to be doing. This is another one of those albums I promise you will be coming back year end, and if there’s anything on this list I would prioritize for you to check out, it’s this. Check out the minute and twenty second assault that is “Fakin’ The Funk (You Get Did)” and hear what I mean.

Dig in the corners, folks. Find what speaks to you, and fuck anyone who tells you otherwise.

— Chris

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