Surgical Steel is nothing short of an absolute triumph, and will stand up as one of the best reunion albums ever recorded in aggressive music. It locates itself somewhere between Heartwork and Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious in terms of sound and aggression, with artillery-like drumming, martial tempos and snarlingly filthy backup vocals. The sophistication in the song structures is still all there, however, polished and decadent in their richness. There's enough room for Carcass to move around and build something, narratively and emotionally, in each piece, while still cracking with intensity and aggression, like the air before a thunderstorm.
Jeff Walker's lyrics, which draw heavily upon the grim imagery of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Britain, are delivered with a wry, bloody-minded wittiness and confidence. He and Bill Steer helm the band expertly through the difficult waters of this rebirth, allowing Carcass to sound like themselves, identity wholly intact, only somehow more rich and deep.
Colored Sands is the first full-length album from Gorguts in twelve years. Luc Lemay has surrounded himself with a stellar lineup of musicians that consists of Kevin Hufnagel from Dysrhythmia on guitar, Colin Marston from Krallice on bass and John Longstreth from Origin (amongst others) on drums. Needless to say, with this pedigree of musicians in the fold, one would expect nothing short of spectacular.
And, that’s exactly what you get from Colored Sands. But, a word of caution: Colored Sands is NOT straightforward death metal and is even steps removed from both Obscura and From Wisdom To Hate. It is going to challenge the listener, as Lemay undoubtedly feels that his mature audience can handle complicated material.
With Soma, Windhand transcend the vintage chalice-and-black-candles doomy sound and moves the initiation ceremony outdoors to create an atmosphere that’s natural, cold and forbidding. You get a visual sense of that sound from the album’s cover artwork: a stark, black and white photo of a lonely, hillside barn. Even when punching you in the throat with a groovy, wah-drenched double guitar attack, the music evokes that same sense of isolation, coldness and collapse.
The songs on Soma (a double album on vinyl) fit together so well, and lead the listener on such a progressive journey from fist-pumping exhilaration to utter despair that it’s easy to imagine it as a concept album. Side one barrels out of the gate with two solid guitar-driven rockers, “Orchard” and “Woodbine.” Both songs build upon melodies that are heavy and smoky but still catchy, with a snare drum that sounds like a meat cleaver chopping through bone.
4. A Storm Of Light - 'Nations To Flames' (Southern Lord)
On Nations to Flames, A Storm Of Light have an intensity that burns with the fire of creativity and artfulness while still relaying the message of how seriously doomed mankind is. It may not sound like Cathedral or Pentagram, but it’s still all about the doom.
Nations to Flames ups the aggression from the previous album while still layering in enough aspects to create not just soundscapes but sound scenes. The soundtrack to our damnation. Add in Josh Graham’s brilliant lyricism (“In the darkness of night/We search for answers/With a coward’s heart/ And find only stars” from “Apostle of Hatred”) and Nations to Flames ends up as a show-er as well as a grower. A band that refuses to rehash the same formula has quite possibly brought us one of the year’s best releases.
5. The Ruins Of Beverast - 'Blood Vaults' (Van)
The last album from the Ruins Of Beverast took the raw black metal of the past, polished up the production a bit, and incorporated a doomy aura to the music. Blood Vaults... takes that approach in a more far-reaching measure, using synths, organ, choirs, and even female vocals. It helps that the production on this album is the best Alexander von Meilenwald has had on any album so far. Little nuances are now noticeable, especially after a multitude of listens, including a faint bass guitar lead in “Ornaments on Malice.” These things would have been hard to pick up on with past albums.
It’s tough to say if this is The Ruins of Beverast’s best album to date, but it’s fair to say that this has the top production values of any of the other releases. Some may long for the muffled days of Rain upon the Impure, though that would hinder the progression Meilenwald has made since he started this project. Blood Vaults... signifies yet another reason why The Ruins of Beverast have been a premier black metal group for years.