Lunar Mantra – Genesis

This is a bleak, ominous black metal concoction by a band who seem to have an unusually strong sense of cohesion and identity at such a young stage in their career. A three-piece from Glasgow, Scotland, this is their very first release. Opening with haunting chanting, eerie percussion, the stage is set for a putrid ceremony. While the lyrics delve into occult themes, frankly the music itself is so menacing and terrifying anyway that reading the lyrics feels unnecessary. Dissonant, frenzied guitar riffs plunge into the darkness while terrifying screams and roars batter the ears, all kept barely under control by the impressive drumming of JR/O. The production feels warm and natural, rather than the tinny and flat sound associated with early black metal releases, and the band’s use of haunting choir vocals and other traditional instruments only enhance the coherence of the ritualistic sound this band are going for. A truly dark and haunting release.

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Trivium – ‘Silence in the Snow’

Trivium have long been a pretty controversial band in the metal scene for a variety of reasons, ranging from their image to their early metalcore sound. Yet one could never accuse Trivium of playing it safe: on every consecutive album they’ve taken very different directions, dabbling in metalcore, thrash metal, progressive metal, heavy metal, and others. But on their seventh album ‘Silence in the Snow’ Trivium undergo perhaps the most significant change in sound to date. The metalcore roots of this band are firmly a thing of the past, replacing those early influences with traditional heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden and Dio. The harsh vocals present on almost every previous Trivium album are entirely gone, with vocalist/guitarist Matt Heafy stepping up his clean vocal performance substantially to compensate, and taking a much greater role in carrying the songs.

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Nechochwen – Heart of Akamon

I hadn’t really heard of Nechochwen when I first listened to this album. I was aware of the sort of Native American themes they focus on but otherwise I was in the dark, having basically stumbled onto this album’s page on the Nordvis Records Bandcamp. But it seemed intriguing, and any album whose tags include “black metal”, “acoustic”, and “folk rock” definitely has my attention. But this album totally blew me away.

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Cruciamentum – Charnel Passages

Cruciamentum are a UK-based death metal act who’ve been around the UK metal scene for a good while now, forming back in 2008 and sharing band-members with a number of bands over their lifespan, including Grave Miasma, Deströyer 666, Crom Dubh, and Sarpanitum. Despite this, their last release was the ‘Engulfed in Desolation’ EP back in 2011, after they went on a kind of hiatus in 2013 to work on other projects, before rising from the ashes this year to show us how death metal is done.

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Lorna Shore – Psalms

Psalms is the debut full-length album from New Jersey-based blackened deathcore band Lorna Shore. But this ain’t your grand-dad’s deathcore as Lorna Shore are at the forefront of fresh-faced new bands aiming to push the boundaries of what deathcore can sound like, and restore some credibility to a much-maligned genre; massive tech-death riffs, brutal slams, ferocious vocals, frenzied guitar solos, all coated in some truly grim and frostbitten black metal influences.

There are a bunch of different elements to Lorna Shore’s sound, but their most intriguing is the immediately apparent black metal influence. Not only are vocalist Tom Barber’s high-pitched shrieks and wretches straight out of a First Wave black metal band, his range also extends to gurgled brutal death metal gutturals. Tremolo picked riffs backed by relentless blast-beats abound on this album. No track better exemplifies this than ‘Infernal Haunting’ whose first thirty seconds sound like something off Behemoth – Evangelion, before the many-headed beast that is Lorna Shore shifts into neck-snapping tech-death riffage.

Their ability to write openly compelling, heavy, and catchy riffs is one  of their greatest strengths, really making tracks like ‘Death Gowns’  and ‘Throne of Worms’ stand out. Riffs are often fast and punishingly heavy, and would hardly sound out of place on a Black Dahlia album, while at other times rivaling Black Tongue for their crushing heaviness. The strength of the guitarwork is not  just in their heaviness but also in their natural ability to create and sustain a menacing and foreboding atmosphere throughout this album. And, unusually for deathcore, Lorna Shore are not afraid to whip out some of the most evil guitar solos I’ve ever heard. Something about them just oozes malice and it’s fantastic.

I must also mention for praise the production on this album: it has a cavernous quality to it which makes every instrument sound natural but also gives them all plenty of room to breathe. I can practically feel the drums and bass reverberating around my headphones, so kudos to the producer on this album. And the bass is another highlight of this album for me: many bands see bass as an afterthought, a problem often exacerbated by poor production. However, on Psalms Lorna Shore give the bass its rightful place, and it really does pack a punch, masterfully filling out the lower end of their sound, particularly on ‘Grimoire.’ The drumming is likewise very tasteful: powerful and perfectly-executed blastbeats accentuate the frenzied, heavier moments of the songs, appropriately pulling back when the other instruments come to the fore for the more atmospheric moments.

It’s all very professionally done, without feeling overly-produced or fake. If I have any complaint about this album it’s the band’s use of breakdowns/slams. While a lot of them are incredibly brutal and well-used, sometimes they feel haphazardly structured, thrown in between two very fast-paced sections and killing the momentum the band has going. And as a more general point, some of the songs feel somewhat disjointed, occasionally feeling like various ideas stitched together. This is not a very widespread problem however, and only affected my enjoyment of one or two tracks here. And as one final minor complaint, on the chorus section of the  penultimate track ‘Traces of Supremacy’ there is a kind of vocoder effect on his vocals which I found quite jarring.

But all in all this is a rousing success of an album. Though many will dismiss it simply because of the ‘deathcore’ label, this album shows that there is still a lot of life left in the genre and that it is wholly capable of progressing and evolving. The influences Lorna Shore draw from, from black metal to technical and brutal death metal, mercilessly put to death the idea that deathcore has to sound a certain way.

Abominor – Opus Decay

Abominor are a black metal band from Reykjavík, Iceland. Formed back in 2008, this is their first release since their 2010 demo, and it left quite an impression on me. Iceland is having something of a black metal renaissance at the moment, with groups like Svartidauði, Sinmara (formerly Chao), and Misþyrming making huge waves across the metal scene over the last few years. Abominor do not entirely break with the suffocating, occult sound developed within the Icelandic scene, but they do enough to stand out that this EP is well worth a listen, particularly if you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned bands.

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Scarab – Serpents of the Nile

I do love a bit of Egyptian-themed death metal. This is Scarab’s second-full length album following 2010’s ’Blinding the Masses’, their sound is what you might  get if Italy’s Hour of Penance had the same Egyptian/middle-eastern influences as technical death metal heavyweights Nile, or perhaps a slightly slower, more nuanced Demigod-era Behemoth. While this is not the most original  death metal album of 2015, and this Egyptian band clearly wear their  influences (both musical and cultural) Scarab have a lot to offer  here for fans of death metal.

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Leviathan – Scar Sighted

Leviathan is the one-man black metal project of the controversial California-based multi-instrumentalist, tattooist Jef Whitehead, a.k.a. ‘Wrest’. Wrest made a name for himself with Leviathan’s early music which channelled the depressive suicidal black metal spirit better than almost any of his contemporaries, and 2003’s ‘The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide’ remains a classic within that subgenre. But as time moved on Wrest began to incorporate many more influences and styles into Leviathan’s music, culminating in 2008’s ‘Massive Conspiracy Against All Life’, to date (in my view) one of the best albums in the entire black metal genre. I remember listening to the album through my earphones on a long, late walk back from town and this album absolutely engulfed me. It grabs you and pulls you in in a deeply unsettling but gripping way with weird, psychedelic melodies and distorted riffs as well as long, progressive song structures.

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Ingested – The Architect of Extinction

The Architect of Extinction is utterly destructive. This fourth full-length album from the Mancunian brutal death metal crew Ingested manages to strike that fine balance between punishing heaviness, ferocious technicality, and still staying fresh and interesting. Albums in this genre often suffer from monotony, but this album is pretty much all killer, no filler, setting the standard for brutal death metal for the rest of this year.

To be quite clear, Ingested do not aim to pull at your heartstrings, they aim to put you six feet under with an all-out assault on your senses. That assault has five prongs: The first, and perhaps the single most devastating, is vocalist Jay Evans. On The Architect of Extinction, I would argue Evans makes a strong case for being the single best vocalist in the brutal death metal scene right now.  The reason for that is not only the fact that he has great variety, effortlessly pulling off seriously impressive gutturals, as well as some terrifying screams; but that the lyrics are very comprehensible. Evans spearheads this assault, but the rest of the band  are of course no less valuable.

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DIR EN GREY are a band whose past seems to haunt them. They formed in 1997 in Osaka, Japan as a visual kei band playing a sort of gothic-themed type of rock music. Visual Kei is “a movement among Japanese musicians, that is characterized by the use of varying levels of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, often coupled with androgynous aesthetics.” Their image from their early years has done them no favours with much of the western metal community, which in my view is an absolute tragedy. DEG have been on a continuous evolution as a band, moving from alternative rock to a unique style of metalcore. In 2008, with Uroboros, they continued their evolution by exploring elements of death metal, progressive metal, and avant-garde music. These elements were explored and deepened in 2011’s Dum Spiro Spero producing their most accomplished album yet with long, haunting, pieces, significant orchestration, and a level of unprecedented unpredictability. On ARCHE DEG continues that natural evolution.

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