2018 Metal Midterms: Musicianship

June 28, 2018


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Given the impossible task of boiling down the hundreds of albums I reviewed in a year down to just 10, I always opt instead to make 3 lists for our 3 ratings scales and also break the year into two halves. This particular list is for albums that went beastmode when it comes to shredding and/or drumming. Be sure to also check out the other lists this week for Innovation and Enjoyability.  

10 Covenant See Details for Covenant

German djenty progressive metal band Unprocessed deliver a new concept album via Long Branch Records. I'm a big fan of bands that finely tread the line between metalcore and traditional progressive metal, and this release certainly hits a high point in that category. The headbanging crowd will appreciate the chunky riffs and Periphery-esque screams of the heavy parts, while fans of everything from Tesseract to Animals As Leaders are sure to fall in love with the jazz-ridden, technical musicianship and enchanting clean singing. The balance often reminds me of Texture's last album, but Unprocessed still manage to shift the prog to core ratio a bit more towards the former. FULL REVIEW

9 Designed To Disappear See Details for Designed To Disappear

Silent Pendulum Records debuts the latest album from progressive/mathcore/rock band Dead Empires; the first to feature maniacal new vocalist Jason Sherman of Torrential Downpour. Jason's deliveries are always fierce, and crank up the intensity of this record to the next level; not to mention adding a certain experimental element a la Mike Patton's work with Dillinger Escape Plan. But I can't give the new guy all of the credit. At the end of the day, this band belongs to the established musicians in the group. The raw charisma, talent, and energy of this crew could fill an entire stadium. FULL REVIEW

8 Solem Vatem See Details for Solem Vatem

Raleigh, Nc based progressive deathcore unit Krosis release their latest full length and Unique Leader debut, Solem VatemSolem Vatem has a similar ear as Born of Osiris when it comes to fusing groove-heavy deathcore with eclectic synth work. The band can get downright brutal as with the crushing Vulvodynia-assisted breakdown on "Apathos Vacant," but also stand apart from many traditional deathcore acts in terms of overall execution. Whereas BoO tends to have a very dramatic, punchy symphonic sound, Krosis are more focused on crafting a truly progressive journey. FULL REVIEW

7 Shadows of the Wasteland See Details for Shadows of the Wasteland

Melodic death metal band Silence Lies Fear out of Azerbaijan, Baku are back with a vengeance on Shadows of the Wasteland. Whereas Future: The Return had more of a meandering, melancholic atmosphere, Shadows of the Wasteland feels far more focused and direct. You still get the gorgeous backup vocal additions of Carolina Alexandra and that blissful layer of lush synth atmosphere, but much like Fallujah this is offset by some highly impressive guitarwork. The riffs, harmonies, and solos are much flashier this time around. At times it's more Irreversible Mechanism than Insomnium, though more emotionally driven tracks like "Undying Mind" still prove that focus on overall composition and a simple, heartstring-pulling hook can ultimately trump virtuosity. FULL REVIEW

6 Annihilated See Details for Annihilated

Incredibly consistent over its 43 minutes, Annihilated leaves you in precisely the state that the title implies.  All 13 songs on Sectioned's new album are worthy of 5 stars, and goddam they are heavy as f%$k. Mostly foregoing any bells and whistles, you can expect a relentless onslaught of noisy guitars, furiously fluctuating beats, and esophageal scouring vocals. Annihilated is sure to go down as one of the heaviest mathcore/hardcore albums of the year. It's fast, deviously destructive, and dangerously addictive. I had trouble putting Sectioned down and I'm quite confident that you will too. Download digital at the price of your choosing, or help an independent band out by picking up any number of physical formats. FULL REVIEW

5 Barbelith See Details for Barbelith

Chicago-based progressive sludge metal band Scientist self-release their third album, Barbelith. Here's another band to satiate those dissapointed by Mastodon's last few albums. Scientist possess the same technical, progressive song structures while bringing back the raging fury of Leviathan and Blood Mountain. The gruff, lumberjack vocals sound like they were directly ripped from forgotten early B-sides., and the spiraling riffs are are enough to make one motion sick. Whether grooving out of control or getting down and dirty with massive doom chords, the vibrations are inescapable. Furthermore, Justin Cape's work on the drums is easily one of the best of the year. FULL REVIEW

4 Revenant See Details for Revenant

Inferi was one of the year's most prominent surprise attacks for me so far. Possessing the finest qualities of The Black Dahlia Murder, but with a more progressive spin, Revenant is a highly enjoyable and addictive album. Every track on this album is bursting to the gills with amazing guitar hooks and general technical prowess. It's the perfect cross-section of progressive, tech, and melodeath. Even longer songs like the nearly 9 minute "Malevolent Sanction" seem to breeze by in no time at all thanks to clever, varied songwriting. So many evil little riffs have been woven together in a manner that is as seamless as it is destructive. Furthermore, the vocals pack a serious punch following in the footsteps of Trevor Strnad. FULL REVIEW

3 Vignette See Details for Vignette

Swedish progressive, technical metal act Letters From The Colony combine death metal, metalcore, and jazz to deliver one of the more interesting recent releases to come out of Nuclear Blast. This band has found an interesting niche position existing between Meshuggah and Sikth. They possess the heaviness, no nonsense vocals, and freeform jazz of the former, but also the more sporadic, modernized mathcore elements of the latter. Adding further to this diverse sound, I hear hints of Gojira seeping into certain chord progressions. If you really found yourself enjoying Car Bomb's Meta, or simply appreciate heavy, progressive music; Vignette is an absolute must-listen. FULL REVIEW

2 Savages See Details for Savages

French progressive metalcore band The Dali Thundering Concept often take the same infectious approach to songwriting as After The Burial, which is particularly apparent when listening to the djenty grooves and harmonics of "The Myth of Happiness." The guitars and drums are both highly accessible and impressively technical, drawing on plenty of other popular influences. These elements alone would have been enough to leave me ruthlessly addicted to this album, but Savages also throws a few curveballs to keep things interesting. This is a highly underrated album seriously deserving a lot more attention than I see it getting. FULL REVIEW

1 Ion See Details for Ion

Australian atmospheric blackened death metal legends Portal are back again for their 5th album, Ion, via Profound Lore. True to form, it's an album that challenges your senses and forces your ear to the iron in the name of progress. It is an album that demands multiple listens; and even as a fan my first runthrough left me with that same old feeling of inadequacy. Perserverance will be rewarded. Their approach to their instruments continues to be highly unique. Instead of going for deep lows, most riffs are focused on sharp, high-pitched tremolo picking. As a result, compositions feel spastic; once more drawing comparisons to swarming insects and consuming flames. FULL REVIEW