Part 2 of our February roundup continues with some great picks from Jangel, Kep, Espi Kvlt, Anna Pest and Valky, be sure to catch up on part one here. Part three will be entirely Melinda’s picks (thats me).
Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor
Blackened gospel – MVKA Records
For those unfamiliar with Zeal & Ardor, the music can be summed up as the answer to a question posed by band-leader Manuel Gagneux: what would a satanic spiritual sound like? Soulfully terrifying I’d say. Initially a solo project, Zeal & Ardor expanded to a full lineup in 2017 after Gagneux was asked to play Roadburn and are back in early 2022 with the band’s self-titled 3rd LP. Zeal & Ardor introduces some new sounds into the Swiss outfit’s signature blend of black metal and blues/spirituals. There’s more riffing and guitar driven sections on this album which excites the guitarist writing this review. Letting the guitar drive the bus more on this record makes the music feel more organic, like it was created by a band playing together as opposed to on a computer. There’s still plenty of electronic sounds for all you industrial lovers. And of course Gagneux’s soulful, rhythmic singing paired with his fierce screams permeate the record and is the driving force behind the music forward and lend Zeal & Ardor their signature sound. Zeal & Ardor is one of the most unique sounding bands in the scene today and the diversification of their sound on this record will only broaden their appeal.
Unreqvited/Sadness – Split
Blackgaze from Ottawa, Ontario and Oak Park, Illinois
Most of the time, a split is a chance for me to discover a new band thanks to a band I like teaming up with someone I’ve not yet encountered. But sometimes, a split features two of my favorite artists in the world, and it’s a magical experience. Such is the case with this split from two masters of blackgaze, Unreqvited and Sadness. Though each band only contributes one song to the split, they are songs of epic, long proportions. Sadness starts us off, and allows us to enter this album slowly, with soft ambient that slowly builds to heavy riffs. Those heavy riffs build stronger and stronger into black metal until an explosion of sound happens and a clean vocal can be heard layered over the rest of the sound. I’ll be honest, this moment made me a bit emotional. It sounded like it belonged in the soundtrack of an epic fantasy movie where the hero finally wins, and, as is the case with all of Sadness‘ music, I imagined myself as the hero defeating the demons in my head while I listened to it. It peters out and into a completely different movement that is some seriously classic DSBM sounds that were a joy to hear before fading into more ambience. The other track is from Unreqvited, a blackgaze outfit who has released both music and merch that have made me cry (check out the book for Mosaic I and II to see what I’m talking about). I expected no less here and was not disappointed. This track also opens slowly and delicately, bringing you carefully into the heavy riffs and blast beats. Unlike Sadness, which allowed me moments of triumph, there is no triumph to be found here. There is a section with vocals layered atop the rest of the music, though I would say they sound like a ghost and not like an elf stampeding into victory. This track is dark and gloomy and I loved every second of its painful existence. I’m glad this album perfectly balances the two emotions I want out of any blackgaze/DSBM output: the defeating of inner demons and the complete surrender to them. This album is a solid entry from both acts, and my only complaint is that I think the Unreqvited tracked should’ve been first for the “I beat these motherfucking inner demons” feeling on the second track. Still, a masterful split from two of my favorite bands.
Firebreather – Dwell in the Fog
Stoner doom from Sweden – RidingEasy Records
I’m gonna do that thing you’re not supposed to do and say that stoner doom isn’t really my thing. I don’t dislike it; I just don’t find myself wanting to dig in to more than a few exceptional bands in the style. I checked out Firebreather’s new record because of the artwork (“classic two-headed-octopus-horse situation” was the apt description from Ian of Sleeping Village) and found myself enjoying it immensely. This is that sweeping, monster riff type of stoner vibes, where the tracks are all substantial in length but also substantial enough in substance that they don’t get stagnant. Vocalist Mattias Nööjd has a damn satisfying approach that’s semi-clean and throaty as all hell, instead of that more nasal sound that lots of stoner vocalists employ. The guitar tone is thick with grungy muck, the bass fuzz is massive and meaty, and all six tracks have an infectious heavy groove built on the rock solid drum performance of Carl-Axe Wittbeck. It’s a more laid-back vibe than, say, High on Fire, at least tempo-wise, but there’s a hefty aggression that just hits the damn spot. Hardcore stoner doom fans don’t miss this one, and casual fans of the style give it a shot!
FFO: High on Fire, Yob, Monolord
Nihlum – Cascading Darkness
Black metal from Missouri, US
I’m always excited to see new cosmic black metal appear on my new releases feed, but it’s always a toss-up for whether it will end up being one of the best things I’ve ever heard or the same boring, monotonous sound that makes many cosmic black metal records fail to stand out among the crowd. Luckily, Nihlum‘s debut full-length, Cascading Darkness, is the former. The main trap cosmic black metal acts fall into is they get so wrapped up in the atmosphere of trying to make it sound spacey, it ends up sounding too spacey and not metal enough. Few projects can perfectly balance the two, such as Darkspace, and too many try to emulate this when what I mainly want to hear is some extreme vocals over intense riffs and blast beats. Nihlum‘s LP delivers heavy on that, providing a flurry of speedy, extreme metal that just happens to be about space. This thing will keep you head banging from beginning to end, and I especially loved the vocalist’s performance, switching it up between a classic black metal style and a deep, throaty noise that sounded like it kept from the depths of space itself.
FFO: Mare Cognitum, Hulder, Wormwitch
The Birthday Massacre – Fascination
Darkwave/synthpop from Toronto, Canada – Metropolis Records
The Birthday Massacre have a unique sound that blends heavy distorted guitars and light, poppy vocals with drums, synths, and verbed out production reminiscent of the darker side of 80s radio pop. They’ve delivered this signature sound consistently and faithfully from their debut all the way up to this latest release – and if you ask me, they’ve never done it better than they do here. While Fascination lacks a bit of the metallic edge and syncopated, chunky riffing that their early output had, it makes up for it with some of the band’s most spacious & hypnotic production yet, a remarkable variety of detailed, frosty synth sounds, and a plethora of candy-sweet, catchy melodic hooks. The smooth, swelling, almost ballad-like title track and the dancefloor-ready “Like Fear, Like Love” stand out in particular as two of the strongest tracks they’ve dropped in quite some time. Tracks like “Dreams of You” and “Precious Hearts” also stand out with their pulsing, lightly distorted basslines reminiscent of synthwave, which I don’t recall hearing the band employ before. They give these already banging tunes even more drive, and prove to be a fine addition to the band’s retro-flavoured sonic palette. This whole record is loaded front-to-back with hits, whose charm only seems to grow with repeat listens. If you’re looking for a fun, atmospheric spin with just the right amount of heaviness & darkness, definitely don’t miss this thing.
Bloodywood – Rashak
Indian folk metal from New Delhi, India
Independent release We’ve all pondered the age-old question: what if Linkin Park was from India? Well, now we have a band that gives the world a definitive answer! Bloodywood fuses the heavy hitting riffs and rapped vocals of nu metal with traditional instruments from India. But that’s the most surface level description of this band’s sound. Jayant Bhadula is a vocal powerhouse, delivering furious screams and soaring choruses in Hindi and Punjabi to match Raoul Kerr’s English verses. Karan Katiyar integrates the Indian instruments into his energetic arrangements and plays a mean guitar riff. The track that comes closest to an early 2000s nu metal track is “Zanjeero Se”, with it’s rapped verses trading with lyrical choruses. Lead track “Gaddar” perhaps best summarizes Bloodywood’s overall sound. Bouncing guitar riffs mix with traditional instrumentation seamlessly in a fantastic composition from Katiyar. Kerr offers up biting critiques of the right wingers in India’s politics that’s matched by the intensity and virtuosity of Bhadula’s voice. “Dana-Dan” is another banger of a track that starts with the lyric “I put a fist through the face of a rapist” and we need more fuckin songs like that. Bloodywood is making waves in the international metal scene with their debut album Rakshak and if you don’t hate fun you’d be wise to give it a spin!
VEONITY – Elements of Power
Power Metal from Sweden – Scarlet Records
I’m a sucker for power metal – music that dabbles in fantasy with magic, wizards, dragons and heroes that endure epic battles and take on some hair-raising journeys which VEONITY throws at us in full force with this album. Elements of Power features 10 tantalizing tracks that take us on a journey from a hero’s rise to wild adventure and the final battle against evil in a musical performance filled with back-breaking solos, crushing drums, and sky-flying vocals that leave you thirsting for more. Tracks like “Dive into the Light” are filled with blistering riffs, soaring vocals, and a head-banging melody that are sure to have you singing along in no time.
Avril Lavigne – Love Sux
Pop Punk from Malibu, FL – DTA and Elektra Records
This is a weird entry for both the site and for me, the black metal person who literally only talks about black metal. But I felt a need to do so because of how much this album meant to me and how good it is. Pop is my other great love. I listen to it in equal amounts as I do black metal and own just as much pop vinyl. And that has been the case all my life. This album came out on Feburary 24th, amidst a pandemic, a war, and horrifying anti-trans legislation happening all at once. I hadn’t felt an ounce of happiness or hope in days and had spent all my time doomscrolling, despite the amazing things that actually have been happening in my personal life. And just like in 2002, when I’d listen to “Sk8r Boi” and feel better about something I was sad about, I was instantly transported back to the exact same feeling. I was seven years old again, bopping along to Avril, forgetting the real world. Even during the Machine Gun Kelly song, I couldn’t help but be happy, dance along, and love it. While I’ve enjoyed modern Avril music well enough, this album goes back to her punk roots instead of being a straight up pop album, which she honestly has more of than her original sound at this point. But that’s why it was such a huge deal and why it had such a massive affect on me – this sounds like it could’ve come out in 2002. When the world is falling apart, sometimes you just need something like this to get through it.
Ultra Silvam – The Sanctity of Death
Black metal from Sweden – Shadow Records
Do you like black metal that’s so furious and intense that it feels like it’s sandblasting the flesh from your bones? Of course you do, and Ultra Silvam is here to skeletonize you accordingly. This extremely tight package of 8 tracks over 31 minutes is a concentrated dose of seething evil that takes no prisoners. The distortion on the guitars is violently saw-toothed and the riffs are fucking whirlwinds of terrifying malevolence, the vocals are full-throated and vicious, and the percussion section matches every bit of the rest of the band’s spiteful intensity. I’m a sucker for bands using chant themes for nefarious purposes, so while these guys are far from the first to use the “Dies irae”, I was 100% sold by the end of the first track, which uses chimes, an absolute ripper of a main riff, and spooky cleans on the chant. There are clever gradual tempo shifts. There are goddamn fireworks in the explosive guitarwork. There are multiple towering passages that are far more crushing than your average black metal album. With lots to offer and next to no fat, this one is worth your time.