April’s best metal on Bandcamp includes propulsive trad metal from Sweden, atmospheric black metal from Australia, megalithic funeral doom from Seattle, and much more.
The Conquest of Time
Stockholm’s Century have both the songwriting chops and the gung-ho verve to be true metal’s next big thing. The duo of Leo Ekström and Staffan Tengnér have collaborated before, in the black/death act Temisto and with speed metallers Tøronto, but Century feels like the band in which they were born to play. Their debut album, The Conquest of Time, hearkens back to some of the earliest salvos in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, when bands like Angel Witch and Diamond Head captured something that was rough around the edges but laced with an ineffable mystique. The riffs are mean and direct, the leads are melodic but a little chaotic, and the rhythm section gallops along the edge of a knife. (Killers-era Iron Maiden and Court in the Act-era Satan loom large here as well.) The center always holds. Whether they’re ripping through anthemic cuts like “The Fighting Eagle” and “Sinister Star” or constructing mini-epics like the title track and “Servants of the Iron Mask,” Ekström and Tegnér keep their NWOBHM freight train on the tracks. The Conquest of Time is one of the finest recent albums in its style.
Corrosion of Hearts
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
It’s been 14 years since Austere released their essential sophomore album, To Lay Like Old Ashes. The sound they perfected on Ashes was emotive and more than a little histrionic, a cousin of skramz as much as it was a descendant of early atmospheric black metal. Corrosion of Hearts marks the Australian duo’s long-awaited (but not altogether expected) return, and while their dispositions are as depressive as ever, the music has taken on a statelier bent. The vocals, once delivered in an unhinged howl and pushed to the top of the mix, are counterbalanced on Corrosion of Hearts by cleaner, more chantlike singing. They tend to settle gently into the heart of the mix, sharing space with the dense layers of guitar and synth. The songs are longer, on average, than earlier Austere releases, too; three of the album’s four songs breach the 12-minute threshold. Hypnotic repetition has always been a part of the Austere experience, but here, it’s the most important tool at their disposal. Austere’s emotions don’t sound as raw as they did all those years ago, but they’ve learned how to wield them even more effectively.
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP, Cassette
For the first four-and-a-half minutes of the new Bell Witch album, there’s only the sound of an organ, unaccompanied and droning into the void. It’s enough to make you wonder if you’ve wandered into a Kali Malone album by mistake. A funereal bassline eventually joins the organ drone, followed by a molasses-slow drum pattern. The first growled vocal, one of the few elements that tethers the album to the funeral doom tradition, shows up nearly 40 minutes in. Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman have long pushed against the boundaries of metal. With Future’s Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate—the first in a planned trilogy of hour-plus, single-song albums—they’ve finally transcended them. Future’s Shadow exists in geologic time, its changes small but seismic. Sometimes you don’t realize you’re in a new movement until it’s already been happening for several minutes, a sensation not unlike getting pulled by an undertow and seeing your beach towel on the shore a few hundred yards from where you’re sure you left it. Bell Witch are adept at blurring the specifics in favor of the bigger picture. At the end of Future’s Shadow, you might not be able to recall a favorite moment, but you’ll be sure you’ve been through something cathartic.
Vinyl LP, Cassette, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt
When I interviewed Blood Star for my Bandcamp Radio show, guitarist Jamison Palmer drew a contrast between the “sword-focused heavy metal” of Visigoth and the hard rock–influenced sound of his newer band. Without meaning to, Palmer invented a useful sorting mechanism not just for his own Metal Archives page but for all of traditional heavy metal. I love sword bands, but when I want to cut loose on a hot summer night, I turn to bands like Blood Star. Their debut album, First Sighting, sounds like it should be blasting out of a highlighter-yellow convertible. The Salt Lake City band are always careful to retain their metallic edge, but First Sighting’s sticky hooks and forthright sense of melody put it in a category with classics by Def Leppard and Dokken. Lead singer Madeline Michelle is a huge part of what makes Blood Star click. Her powerful mid-range vocals are the spoonful of sugar and the bitter medicine in one package, richly melodic and full of grit all at once. The album’s finest moment is “The Observers,” a duet that sees Palmer’s baritone taking over the lead part before handing the song off to Michelle for the climactic final stretch. It’s not quite a ballad, but with Michelle’s Lita Ford rasp and Blood Star’s ’80s pop-metal sensibility, you might think of “Close My Eyes Forever” anyway.
Songs of Abundance, Psalms of Grief
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt
Healthyliving is a new collaboration between vocalist Amaya López-Carromero (Maud the Moth), multi-instrumentalist Scott McLean (Falloch, Ashenspire), and drummer Stefan Pötzsch. The trio’s debut album, Songs of Abundance, Psalms of Grief, is the kind of curveball that can only come from a deep, shared musical curiosity. If it occasionally bears traces of Maud the Moth’s avant-garde chamber pop, that’s largely because it’s López-Carromero who’s singing. The album otherwise feels like new territory for everyone involved, and it’s accordingly tricky to pin down. The most obvious stylistic signposts come from ’90s alt-rock and its offshoots. Grunge, dream pop, shoegaze, post-punk, and even a sprinkling of trip-hop can be found across these nine Songs. (The closest contemporary comparison I can make is to Marriages, or perhaps to Emma Ruth Rundle’s collaborations with Thou.) But Songs of Abundance sounds guided less by outside forces and more by the act of collaboration itself. López-Carromero sounds liberated singing over these heavier compositions, and McLean is a natural at the bittersweet, Cantrellian melodies he’s only hinted at elsewhere in his discography. Thrillingly, it feels like Healthyliving are only going to get better at this.
Compact Disc (CD)
Somebody needs to go door-to-door, Jehovah’s Witness-style, telling Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, and Dream Theater fans about Vass/Katsionis. The glossy, virtuosic, melody-driven prog metal sound that those bands perfected in the late ’80s and early ’90s is a tricky one to nail, but singer Billy Vass and guitarist Bob Katsionis make it sound easy. (It helps that Vass is a vocal dead ringer for mid-period Ray Alder.) Cynical Silence keeps its songs short and sweet, which means each one is stuffed to overflowing with musical ideas that never overstay their welcome. That’s in keeping with the duo’s studious Parallels and Images and Words worship, and if Cynical Silence never quite transcends the sum of its influences, it at least creates the most convincing facsimile I’ve ever heard. Tell the prog dad in your life immediately.
Violent Creed of Vengeance
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt, Button/Pin/Patch, Poster/Print
Remember the stuff that Jamison Palmer called “sword metal” earlier in this column? Smoulder play sword metal. Technically, the barbarian women on the cover of Violent Creed of Vengeance are wielding a rapier and glaive, respectively, but I’m guessing they have a bunch of swords at home. The international band led by singer Sarah Ann capture the onward-into-battle vigor of sword metal progenitors Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road, affixing it to their sturdy epic doom framework like a set of chainmail. Smoulder are proficient at short, fast songs like “The Talisman and the Blade” and “Spellforger,” but the longer, knottier compositions are where they really shine. Legendary fantasy author Michael Moorcock lends a stentorian spoken word part (and plenty of gravitas) to “Victims of Fate,” while the nearly 10-minute “Dragonslayer’s Doom” deserves to have a hundred-dollar board game based on it. Raise your sword!
Threads of Unknowing
Vinyl LP, Cassette, Compact Disc (CD)
If you want to feel like your head has been removed, dribbled like a basketball, and placed back on your shoulders backwards and upside-down, listen to the new VoidCeremony album. Threads of Unknowing is a lot of things—dizzyingly technical, fearlessly progressive, deliberately confounding. But it’s also composed and performed by people who know how to write a song, and who are kind enough to leave the door open a crack for curious interlopers to peek inside. Threads of Unknowing isn’t all pitch-black inscrutability. Damon Good’s freewheeling fretless bass almost always provides a melodic line to grab hold of and follow through the song, and the tangled web of guitar interplay between Garrett Johnson and Phil Tougas recalls Chuck Schuldiner and Paul Masvidal’s team-up on Death’s Human. There’s also a fluidity to Threads of Unknowing that feels inviting even as it bewilders. It almost moves to the beat of jazz, to borrow a line from Detective Crashmore. VoidCeremony absolutely want to melt your mind, but they also want you to get something out of the experience.