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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Deafheaven – ‘New Bermuda’

Deafheaven, on the off-chance you are not already aware, are an American metal band. Their 2013 breakout album ‘Sunbather’ won over fans and critics alike with it’s powerful blend of shoegaze, black metal, and post-rock. Deafheaven have always had their fair share of detractors, often focusing on their modern image and general lack of kvltness, but carried on regardless. On New Bermuda they return with a much heavier, darker album than the polarising ‘Sunbather’, truer to their black metal roots yet still daring to experiment in brave ways.

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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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Forndom – Flykt

I wanted to remind everyone of Forndom’s EP ‘Flykt’ and put together a few thoughts on it. Forndom draw particularly from Norse culture and folklore, nature, and Scandinavian history. What this results in is music that blends elements of dark ambient music with tribal, ritual, folk and neofolk music (and even a tiny dash of black metal) to create a highly engrossing, meditative set of songs. There’s even a dash of black metal here, from the atmosphere to some of the harsh vocals on the track ‘Flykt’. That track and ‘När Alvkungens rike faller samman’ are the highlights for me, but every track on here is phenomenal and truly unique.

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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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Mgła – Exercises in Futility

Mgła (pronounced ‘mg-wah’) are a Polish black metal band that began back in 2000. Their very first release was as part of the legendary 2005 split/compilation album ‘Crushing the Holy Trinity’ alongside Deathspell Omega, Clandestine Blaze, and others. Since then Mgła have released a steady stream of EPs, splits and full-lengths, their last release being 2012’s fantastic album ‘With Hearts Towards None’, recognised by many as one of the top black metal albums of that year. Three years on, Mgła are back with another full-length, and in my view this their best release yet, improving on all aspects of their sound.

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the GazettE – DOGMA

In some ways I really don’t know what to make of DOGMA. There are moments and songs here of such undeniable quality that it’s difficult to believe that some of the other songs on this album were written by the same band. the GazettE are a Japanese ‘visual-kei’ band, veterans of that scene and one of the few Japanese rock/metal bands to even come close to the international popularity of Dir en grey. This is their eighth full-length album and it stands out in their discography as being distinctly more ambitious and mature than their previous albums. Sometimes, anyway, and that’s part of what frustrates me about this album.

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Thy Art Is Murder – Hate

Albums like Holy War exist to push the limits of extremity. The album name, the album cover (a child with a bloodstained shirt and a bomb strapped to his chest), as well as a band logo with a  take-no-prisoners name and prominent pentagram should give you some idea of what Thy Art Is Murder are going for here. This Australian band have long straddled the boundary between deathcore and death metal, but Holy War seem them developing their sound in much more of a death metal direction, drawing inspiration from bands like Behemoth, Hate, and Decapitated to great success, making Holy War by far their best album to date.

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Sorrow Plagues – An Eternity of Solitude

Much of black metal is a dreary, somber affair: dark, often self-destructive lyrical subjects and aggressive and often deliberately depressive music that doesn’t really leave much room for positivity; Not so with UK one-man black metal project Sorrow Plagues: like many recent atmospheric/post-black metal artists such as Deafheaven, Woods of Desolation, and others, Sorrow Plagues intends on challenging much of the genre’s long-held assumptions about what black metal can or should sound like.

The hazy, shoegazey atmosphere on this EP combined with the raw and  noisy production style are a very evocative combination, and under other
circumstances might have sounded totally at home in a far less extreme genre of music. Yet these mask the true feelings this music seeks to channel. It wouldn’t be entirely accurate to describe ‘An Eternity of Solitude’ as a positive album, yet the feelings it evokes are far from the often nihilistic, aggressive ones that black metal artists have traditionally sought to channel. It might be more accurate to say that An Eternity of Solitude channels feelings of hope, despair, and longing for something beyond reach. This is speculation of course, as the lyrics have not been published, but I am speaking to what the emotions this music draw out in me, and what I feel Sorrow Plagues is trying to communicate.

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