January, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, often feels like a time to play the grimmest and most frostbitten black metal imaginable, bolt the doors, and wait for the sun to return. This year, supplement that standard listening with sweltering old-school death metal, sunny NWOBHM worship, and murky death-doom—just a few styles covered by the month’s best albums.
Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel, Vinyl LP
The third LP by Poland’s Embrional provides much-needed subversion of the common tropes of technical death metal. Evil Dead has all its genre bona fides in place, with plenty of chugging riffs in mind-boggling time signatures blasted out at inhuman tempos; but Embrional guitarist, vocalist, and sole founding member Marcin Sienkiel also shows off his keen ear for melody. On songs like “Ending Up on the Gallows” and “Day of Damnation,” Sienkiel and his bandmates borrow from Gothenburg-style melodeath, bolstering their tech-death gymnastics with a legitimate catchiness that’s uncommon for any death metal band.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
2019 is already shaping up to be one hell of a victory lap for Trevor William Church’s trad-metal outfit Haunt. The band’s debut album, Burst Into Flame, was one of the best of last year, landing them an opening slot on a huge Municipal Waste tour and a spot on the radar screen of metal’s mainstream. The Mosaic Vision EP precedes the already-announced next full-length, If Icarus Could Fly, and it hints at a more melodically sophisticated Haunt. It’s also clear that Church has made a leap as a singer. Across Mosaic Vision’s four songs, he gracefully wraps his honey-soaked rasp around vocal lines more complex than anything on Burst Into Flame. That bodes well for the forthcoming LP, but the snack-sized Mosaic Vision is a satisfying release in its own right.
The two songs on Finnish death metallers Lantern’s new 7″ showcase the band’s impressive range. “Lost Paragraphs” rumbles forward like a demented Motörhead tune, barely applying the brakes during its seven-minute rampage, while the spacious, off-speed “Invocation of the Fathomless” is a masterclass in atmospheric death metal. In both styles, Lantern sounds on top of their game. The duo of Cruciatus and Necrophilos has remained the core of Lantern since the band’s founding in 2007, and the decade-plus they’ve spent together has clearly allowed them to develop incredible chemistry. The next full-length can’t arrive soon enough.
Cassette, Vinyl LP
Charnel Altar hail from Adelaide, Australia, a short flight from Brisbane, where Portal, Impetuous Ritual, and Grave Upheaval rule over a scene of doomy, cavernous death metal. The influence of those Brisbane bands resounds throughout Charnel Altar’s crushing first demo. On the demo’s four viciously heavy tracks, Charnel Altar channel all of their energy into creating a suffocating atmosphere. Less confounding than Portal and buried in less production murk than Grave Upheaval or Impetuous Ritual, Charnel Altar’s interpretation of the Australian extreme death/doom sound is at once approachable and immediately impactful.
Québec City is the site of the most thrilling, creatively vibrant black metal scene in the world right now. Csejthe is just one essential band in a city that Cantique Lépreux, Forteresse, Chasse-Galerie, and a dozen more call home. Their new standalone single “Lycanthropie Misanthropie” is something few releases from their frozen scene can claim to be—fun! The band notes that the song was released “during an epic blizzard,” but it eschews the distant iciness of the Québecois sound for a more classic rock n’ roll approach. The rhyme of the title is inherently goofy, and the band isn’t afraid to lean into that. The result will warm your bones.
Dreaming in a Dead Language
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
My goodness, are Mo’ynoq ever on to something. On debut album Dreaming in a Dead Language, the North Carolina four-piece fearlessly probes the outer depths of atmospheric black metal with a thrilling disregard for convention. Rather than spending a lot of time building deliberately pretty parts into their songs, Mo’ynoq barrel ahead with riff after riff, the beauty of their songs revealing itself slowly but no less insistently than if they approached them more delicately. Dreaming in a Dead Language feels like the annunciation of a new force in USBM. Mo’ynoq is officially a band to watch.
Kiss the Ring
Compact Disc (CD)
It’s easy to fake the kind of groovy, bluesy doom metal that the Pacific Northwest quartet Mount Saturn presents on debut EP Kiss the Ring. Fortunately, this band is the real deal. “Dwell,” somehow the very first song in the band’s discography, is a tour-de-force of sultry doom excellence, and the remaining three songs on the EP live up to its promise. Frontwoman Violet Vasquez delivers throaty, impeccably controlled vocals across these four tunes, and at times, her presence helps elevate the band beyond its humbly traditional aspirations to a legitimately awe-inspiring plane of existence.
The prolific NYC black metal band Krallice took a rare year off releasing material in 2018, so it made sense when they surprise-released the Wolf EP on the ninth day of 2019. Like all of the band’s stridently experimental releases, Wolf is a total mind-melter. Nobody imbues their black metal with an exploratory spirit quite like Krallice. The four proper songs on Wolf are impressive showcases of the band’s growing prog tendencies, but most impressive of all might be “.:.,” a 15-second interlude track that somehow has a full, satisfying arc and serves as the pivot point between the EP’s halves.