BEST METAL The Best Metal on Bandcamp: May 2020 By Brad Sanders · May 28, 2020

This month’s crop of the best new metal on Bandcamp includes arcane doom from the Netherlands, outer-space-obsessed death/thrash, a late-career gem by one of the original Peaceville Three, and much more.  

The Spirit Cabinet

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

For all their pseudo-intellectual babble about the esoteric arts, the spiritualist secret societies that sprung up after the turn of the 20th century were founded, in large part, as places for weirdos to get blitzed out of their heads on gin and laudanum. If ghosts and auras started appearing after the aforementioned indulgences, well, all the better. The Spirit Cabinet seem to understand this on a fundamental level. While the Dutch foursome are ostensibly named for the restraining box that purports to keep a medium from interfering with a séance, they could just as easily be referring to the place in the kitchen where the booze is kept. The fellow in their logo certainly seems to be enjoying the sauce. The doom metal group’s sophomore album Bloodlines reflects that dichotomy, oscillating between passages of magickal transcendence and the cathartic release of intoxication. It’s to their credit that the songs never play their hand too far in either direction. Despite the apparent seriousness of their interest in arcane subject matter, their compositions work first and foremost as heavy metal songs, built for raising horns and singing along. The histrionic vocals and goofy mysticism at times recall King Diamond or Messiah Marcolin-era Candlemass, but The Spirit Cabinet defy easy comparisons. Their spirits-fueled tour of black, doom, and heavy metal yields one of the freshest sounds in metal today, even as it nods to its distant past.

Cryptic Shift
Visitations from Enceladus  

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel,

Enceladus is a moon of Saturn—it’s mostly covered in ice, making it one of the most reflective bodies in the Solar System. It’s there that the Leeds death/thrash band Cryptic Shift would have us turn our attention when listening to their debut album, a work as alien and beautiful as Enceladus itself. Visitations from Enceladus opens with “Moonbelt Immolator,” a song that uses its nearly 26 minutes to take the listener on a journey through a vast cosmic expanse and into the midst of a battle between alien ships. It certainly makes a statement to start your first record with a song that ambitious, and Cryptic Shift want us to know that they’re very much that kind of band. On that song and the three that follow, they work through a cavalcade of ultra-technical, post-Vektor thrash riffs, stomping death metal parts, spacey atmospheric asides, and some surprisingly emotive melodic passages. When you write expansive, prog-infused death metal songs about outer space in the year 2020, people are going to compare you to Blood Incantation. The Denver band is unquestionably in Cryptic Shift’s DNA, but Visitations feels like the Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Hidden History of the Human Race’s 2001. The grand philosophical questions about our place in the universe are all there, for sure, but they’re not going to get in the way of crowd-pleasing fun.

Paradise Lost

Across 32 years of existence and 16 studio albums, Paradise Lost have gone through a not-insignificant number of stylistic evolutions. Lately, they’ve settled at something like a point of tangency between their dalliances with death/doom, gothic metal, and alt-rock. Obsidian might be the most successful synthesis of those eras. They haven’t fused arena-sized hooks to heavy riffs as brilliantly as they do on “Fall from Grace” and “Ghosts” since 1995’s Draconian Times. Just as effective are the more atmospherics-based death/doom songs like “Ravenghast” and “Hear the Night.” The early discography of Paradise Lost ensured that they will forever have a place in the canon of heavy music, but it’s heartening that the music they’re making 30 years later is every bit as inspired.

Blood Star
The Fear 

Merch for this release:
7" Vinyl, Cassette, Compact Disc (CD), T-Shirt/Apparel

There’s nothing better—or more frustrating—than a debut single this good. On the one hand, I’ve probably listened to “The Fear” and its B-side “Tortured Earth” 50 times each by now. On the other hand, I’m absolutely furious that there aren’t more Blood Star songs for me to listen to. Principally the project of Visigoth guitarist Jamison Palmer and vocalist Madi Smith, Blood Star is a proggy traditional metal band that shares more in common with dark, dramatic pop music of the ’80s than the swords-and-sorcery fare that’s been the basis of much of the genre’s current wave. Think Pat Benatar fronting Queensrÿche. Here’s hoping the next thing this band does hits as hard as their opening missive.

Couch Slut
Take a Chance on Rock ’n’ Roll  

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

NYC noise rock provocateurs Couch Slut surprise-released their third full-length late in the afternoon on the most recent Bandcamp no-revenue-share day. It was just the thumb in the eye that that day of unbridled positivity didn’t know it needed. While we were all patting ourselves on the back for our community spirit, Megan Osztrosits was preparing to drop “I’m 14,” a song where she screams “I just turned 14/ The manager pierces my clit … I’m on so much pills/ I get in exchange for sucking cock.” Are you having a good time? Couch Slut’s music is about exposing and turning the blade back on the fucked-up power dynamics that are inherent in being alive today. When Osztrosits spits bile at cops who slut-shame a rape survivor over squealing guitar on “In a Pig’s Eye,” or narrates a tour story gone dark on “Someplace Cheap,” it’s with an eye toward taking some of the power back from the creeps and abusers who made songs like this necessary in the first place. The band behind her provide the perfect canvas for her nightmarish soliloquies, with weaponized squalls of feedback, punches of bass, and the occasional splash of improvised horns. Take a Chance on Rock ’n’ Roll is a harrowing triumph.

Lamenting of the Innocent 

The Swedish doom band Sorcerer put out a pair of demo tapes in 1989 and 1992 before calling it quits. An unlikely second act began in 2010, when the band reformed and began working on new material for the first time in almost 20 years. Today, it might feel borderline unremarkable that they’ve just released Lamenting of the Innocent, the third Sorcerer full-length since 2015. Resist the urge to let it feel unremarkable! They’re on a three-album hot streak of stately, Euro-style epic doom, and for two decades it seemed like they might never make an album at all. Anders Engberg’s commanding vocals are the source of much of the album’s power, whether he’s flexing a dramatic falsetto or digging into a gritty baritone. There’s another pretty significant Swedish band known for their classicist take on doom metal, and while the inevitable Candlemass comparisons are warranted, there’s a particularly ostentatious approach to melody on Lamenting of the Innocent that makes it a cousin to classic power metal. Appreciate this band!

Años en Infierno 

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl LP

Since at least the heyday of Pantera, there’s always been a place in metal for bands that sound like they just want to beat your ass. Xibalba are the reigning champs of that particular milieu—with all due respect to Nails, who I am also afraid of. Años en Infierno is the sound of Xibalba perfecting the death metal/hardcore hybrid that they’ve been honing for a decade. They can now play like they’re working a speedbag, as on “La Injusticia,” or they can slow it down for marauding, doom-inspired numbers like “El Abismo I & II.”  But like most hardcore bands, they’re most effective in the midtempo zone. That’s where they can play riffs that will rip your heart out and stomp on it, and for most of Años en Infierno, that’s exactly what they do. Don’t piss them off. 

Cauldron Black Ram

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Pirate metal” has a fixed definition, and it involves dudes wearing the puffy shirt from Seinfeld and drinking rum onstage. Long before most of those bands started up, Australia’s Cauldron Black Ram were making cavernous death metal that held a lantern to the barbarous reality of ye olde pirate’s life—violence, death, shipwrecks, curses, slavery. Slaver is the band’s fourth full-length, and it confronts the reality that pirates were men of great cruelty and brutality. There’s nothing glamorous in these songs, just a bevy of caveman riffs and rumbling low end to soundtrack their misdeeds.

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