The first Best Metal on Bandcamp column for 2024 includes melodic black metal from the UK, maximalist prog from Norway, metallic hardcore from Ohio, and much more.
The Killing Room
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, T-Shirt/Shirt
Since emerging onto the UK scene in 2020, Spider God have proven themselves to be audacious black metal world-builders. Amid a trio of EPs based on Ingmar Bergman’s “Faith Trilogy,” they found the time to release Black Renditions, a covers album featuring black metal versions of hits by artists like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. That mingling of the sacred and the profane, of the profound and the ostensibly disposable, typifies the group’s impish approach. 2022’s Fly in the Trap was the band’s first proper full-length, and it unveiled a new dimension of the Spider God experience. The album interrogated the case of Elisa Lam, whose mysterious death at an L.A. hotel in 2013 fueled a cavalcade of conspiracy theories. By considering a wide range of conflicting perspectives, Fly in the Trap transcended tawdry true-crime stereotypes, instead presenting a gripping, empathetic portrait of Lam’s story.
The follow-up to Fly in the Trap is the band’s most ambitious release yet. The Killing Room is the first half of a planned two-part concept album based on the purported disappearance of (possibly fictitious) former Spider God member Faustus. A cache of supplemental materials, from cryptic social media posts to an “evidence bag” included with collector’s editions of the record, fleshes out the world of The Killing Room and sucks listeners into its narrative. It’s heartening to see a young band so invested in the extratextual; the more time you spend obsessing over The Killing Room, the better it becomes. Musically, too, Spider God have added territory to their ever-growing universe. As always, the band weave splendid pop-metal finery to drape over the blackened skeletons of their songs. But new avenues open in unexpected places. “Silicon Witch” is a dancefloor-ready, eyeliner-clad goth anthem, while “s.p.i.d.e.r.g.o.d.” is a fanatical hymn of black ‘n’ roll devotion. The 10-and-a-half-minute title track might be the band’s finest song to date, a lush epic rife with haunted synths and vamping, melodic riffs. Spider God are now several years into one of the most fascinating discographies in metal. It’s worth following their every move.
Old Eyes, New Heart
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP
Madder Mortem started in the ’90s as something like Norway’s answer to The Gathering. Both bands added flourishes of dramatic goth-rock and prog to a sturdy doom metal framework, and both were led by charismatic female vocalists who didn’t sound much like typical metal singers. In Agnete M. Kirkevaag, Madder Mortem had their Anneke van Giersbergen, and her inimitable voice has guided them through a decades-long evolution out of doom and into bombastic progressive metal. The exquisitely sculpted Old Eyes, New Heart is the band’s first album since 2018, and it’s a rousing, lively suite of songs. Even its darkest (“Cold Hard Rain”) and most reflective (“Long Road”) moments are full of animating fire. The interplay between Agnete’s voice and the snaking, twitchy riffs played by her guitarist brother B.P. is as stunning as ever, especially on tightly wound rippers like “Master Tongue” and “Coming from the Dark.” Old Eyes, New Heart is dedicated to the memory of Agnete and B.P.’s father, Jakob Kirkevaag, who painted the hypnotic cover art but died before the album was completed. Madder Mortem has always been a family affair. The pairing of Agnete and B.P.’s sharply observed songs with Jakob’s bewitching brushstrokes is a poignant embodiment of that bond.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
The debut album by Brooklyn’s GUHTS is a satisfyingly scuzzy listen. Regeneration—about half of which has been re-recorded since appearing on 2021’s blood feather EP—has that ineffably grimy quality shared by a lot of NYC music, like it’s been baptized in sewer water and distortion. The scuzz isn’t the only thing here, though. These songs traffic in the moments of surprising beauty that the city also doles out, with lush synths and twinkling guitars frequently rising to augment or replace the band’s noisy squalls. Vocalist Amber Gardner, a delightfully chameleonic presence, bridges the expanse. She coos, croons, commands, shrieks, howls, and employs effects that allow her voice to disintegrate and rebuild itself. The way Gardner uses her range calls to mind Julie Christmas, especially her work in the late, great Made Out of Babies. GUHTS’s scintillating post-metal goes a long way toward filling the void they left behind.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Raleigh trad metallers Mega Colossus kick off their fourth album, Showdown, with a song about Indiana Jones. The supercharged anthem “Fortune and Glory” is not loosely inspired by Indiana Jones or in the general spirit of Indiana Jones—it’s about the rugged archaeologist himself, with frequent name-checks to drive the point home. Not since Aqua followed “Barbie Girl” with the sweetly dopey “Doctor Jones” in 1997 has Harrison Ford’s iconic character been invoked so lovingly in music. The song sets the tone for Showdown, an album whose first, second, and third orders of business are being fun as hell. Mega Colossus deliver a parade of tongue-wagging guitar solos, gigantic melodies, over-the-top vocals, and goofy-ass lyrics, nodding to bands like Slough Feg and their fellow North Carolinians in Walpyrgus. Showdown doesn’t take itself seriously, but the musicians do show off some serious chops, which help to elevate the album well beyond novelty status.
All of Heaven’s Luck
Vinyl LP, Cassette
Ohio boasts a robust and tight-knit hardcore scene these days, centered on venues like Columbus’s Dirty Dungarees and labels like Cleveland’s Delayed Gratification Records. The metallic hardcore unit Rejoice are among the best bands in the current crop. The hellish All of Heaven’s Luck is their first proper album after a series of splits and EPs, and it solidifies their status as rising stars. Across eight songs that unfold in a tidy 17 minutes, the Columbus band enliven their crushing hardcore with an array of elements borrowed from metal—charred black metal atmospherics; bone-crunching death metal guitar tone; frenetic, Power Trip-ish leads; even a cheeky Judas Priest riff-check on “Dancing on the Cross.” All of Heaven’s Luck is nasty, economical, and destined to get mosh pits across the Buckeye State moving.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Shirt
Somewhere between the emotionally charged hardcore of Converge and the world-leveling crust of Disfear, you’ll find the Spanish band Svdestada. Their third album, Candela, is a whirlwind of heart-on-sleeve vocals, pummeling D-beats, and squiggly guitar riffs, with a little bit of ghostly black metal ambiance thrown in for good measure. The closing title track clocks in at nearly 12 minutes—“Jane Doe,” anyone?—and it’s the best song Svdestada has released so far. “Candela” overflows with musical ideas, and it retains a sense of nervy, urgent intensity for its entire runtime, even in its requisite quieter moments.
I couldn’t let January pass without recommending some frosty, desolate black metal. Covenant of the Blackened Woodlands is the first release by the Illinois one-man band Ithilrå, masterminded by the same musician behind the similarly icy Sorger Ekar. Ithilrå’s sound hews pretty close to the hypnotic evil of the Norwegian Second Wave. The riffs on Covenant of the Blackened Woodlands are simple but entrancing, and lone member Lorian seems to play them with genuine malice, sometimes dropping into half-time or pinning them to a wavering synth. Covenant is a promising opening salvo from an artist who understands the power of this sound intimately.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
Despite the second word in their name, Escuela Grind aren’t locked into any one subgenre. Grindcore might be their bread and butter, but the Massachusetts band tends to zip between two-stepping hardcore, punishing powerviolence, and beefy death metal over the course of any live set. An ongoing series of EPs serves to highlight the individual corners of the Escuela Grind sound, and their latest has the distinction of being the heaviest release in their discography. DDEEAATTHHMMEETTAALL—stylized after Voivod’s Rrröööaaarrr, one imagines—is a 10-ton anvil of crushing low-end. That starts with the churning riffs and bass-heavy drumming, but frontperson Katerina Economou also sounds like they’re finding deeper, more guttural notes than they ever have before. (They hold their own next to Napalm Death’s Barney Greenway on the excellently titled “Meat Magnet.”) The songs here still move with the live-wire energy that’s made Escuela Grind one of the most electric live acts on the underground circuit. When I saw them last, they played most of this EP, and the whirling-dervish hardcore kids certainly didn’t seem inhibited by the fact that they were listening to death metal—sorry, DDEEAATTHHMMEETTAALL.