BEST METAL The Best Metal on Bandcamp, November 2023 By Brad Sanders · November 29, 2023

For the last Best Metal on Bandcamp column of 2023, we’ll dive into occult-tinged classic metal, brutal technical death metal, dark, furious grindcore, and much more.

Green Lung
This Heathen Land

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

London’s Green Lung began life as an Electric Wizard–worshiping doom outfit, but they’ve evolved over the course of three albums into something far trickier to pin down. This Heathen Land has its flashes of mushroom-gobbling psychedelic doom, but it spends more of its runtime evoking the primordial ooze of late ’70s hard rock, just before the moment it coagulated itself into metal proper. Influences like Rainbow and Blue Öyster Cult creep into the proceedings more than ever before, even as the band remain staunchly committed to their “wyrd Britain” lyrical themes. (This Heathen Land is subtitled “A Journey into Occult Albion,” and a map included with the vinyl edition denotes the approximate locations of the English sites referenced in the lyrics.) The one-two punch of “The Forest Church” and “Mountain Throne” introduces a Green Lung that has seriously leveled up its songwriting, as vocalist Tom Templar contorts his mighty baritone into a seemingly endless barrage of hooks. The interplay between guitarist Scott Black and organist John Wright is the album’s most sublime pleasure. They trade smoldering licks and burbling leads across the album, sounding as comfortable in its crushingly heavy moments (“One for Sorrow”) as they do in the mellower ones (“Song of the Stones”). Green Lung have made the mythical “leap.” Get on the bandwagon now, before it drives them to Ghost-style arena stardom.

Hymns from the Apocrypha

It’s foolish to underestimate Suffocation. In 35 years, the only remotely weak album they’ve made was merely marred by a bad production job. (The band immediately set about rectifying that, re-recording one song from Breeding the Spawn for every album since.) Still, the absence of guttural king Frank Mullen from Hymns from the Apocrypha was cause for some concern. Yes, the razor-gargling, hand-chopping frontman had been winding down his activity with Suffo for years, all but retiring from the live stage long before formally quitting the band. But he’d appeared on every record to date, and his shoes were big ones to fill. Enter Ricky Myers, longtime Suffo live vocalist and vocal dead-ringer for Mullen. The highest compliment I can pay him is that, on my first listen to Hymns from the Apocrypha, I barely noticed I was listening to the new guy. Myers’s paint-stripping bark ferries Apocrypha’s nine songs to brutal death metal nirvana while founding guitarist (and last original member) Terrance Hobbs delivers riff after riff of twisted, technical insanity. On hellish songs like “Descendants” and “Embrace the Suffering,” Hobbs sounds reinvigorated, like he could go another 35 years. Suffocation remain undefeated.

Closet Witch

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Closet Witch’s Chiaroscuro rockets by in a blistering 18 minutes. That’s probably for the best; any longer might cause permanent spinal damage to the listener. The Iowa band plays grindcore with an atmosphere intense enough to match its breakneck velocity. The churning drums and furious, wind-tunnel riffs might be the first thing you key in on, but there’s an unsettling darkness to Chiaroscuro that sneaks up on you. Vocalist Mollie Piatetsky has plenty to do with that; her presence on these songs feels clear-eyed but death-stalked, like one step off the lit path might find that darkness swallowing her whole. That makes Chiaroscuro a chilling listen, but its terror is always balanced by the bracing power of the band’s playing. Closet Witch announced the release of Chiaroscuro alongside news of an indefinite hiatus. Whenever they return to the stage, these gripping songs will be waiting.

High Spirits
Safe on the Other Side

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette

There isn’t much out there that sounds like High Spirits, “Professor” Chris Black’s AOR-inspired trad metal project. It’s relentlessly positive, rife with major key motifs and lyrics about love, friendship, and being the best you can be. High Spirits has always been the place where Black can play the role of motivational speaker—the project’s best album is even called Motivator. Safe on the Other Side, the fifth High Spirits record, is another uplifting suite of tunes that finds common ground between Scorpions, Dokken, and, like, the Pokémon theme song. (He covers Europe’s “Memories” here, for yet another example of the vibe High Spirits is going for.) Black has never reinvented this sound, but he does seem to steadily grow more confident in its capabilities. You can almost see the grin on his face as he works through countless ascending guitar lines and sings about how he’s going to “fly like the lightning across the sky.” He’s keeping those spirits high. Are you?

Managed Decline

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Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette, T-Shirt/Shirt

With their sophomore album, Managed Decline, Underdark weave the kind of generations-spanning narrative typically found in hulking, thousand-page novels. The Nottingham post-black metal band are interested in how UK politics and policy have bred cultural decay since the Thatcherite ’80s, and they explore that theme by telling the story of a fictional town in the Midlands. It’s a grim tale, and vocalist Abi Vasquez doesn’t spare any of her characters the indignities of life under austerity. The music, which on Underdark’s debut Our Bodies Burned Bright on Re-Entry thrillingly blurred the line between black metal and screamo, is a blazing beacon for the story. Managed Decline is a darker, heavier album than Our Bodies, though a few distant stars still twinkle in the blackness. For me, it recalls Deafheaven’s post-Sunbather pivot, New Bermuda—still probably the heaviest album by the California band. Underdark put a distinctively British spin on a style which, judging by this record, they’re nowhere near done exploring.

Overtures of Uprising

Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

The haunting Overtures of Uprising is one of two new albums by Exulansis. (The other, Hymns of Collapse, is an acoustic folk record that’s also well worth your time.) After having acoustic compositions and metal songs sit side-by-side on their debut, Sequestered Sympathy, the Pacific Northwest-based band has bifurcated their sound across these two albums, letting each style breathe at length. The four songs on Overtures of Uprising find Exulansis further developing their doom-encrusted black metal, stretching it to epic lengths on the title track and “Dawning” and whittling it down to something more surgical on “Of Nature & Hatred” and “A Movement in Silence.” In both modes, the band sounds better than ever, with Andrea Morgan’s violin typically playing the role of lead instrument amid the roar of guitars, drums, and shrieked vocals. The overall sound of Overtures lands somewhere between Mizmor and Agalloch, but for stretches, Morgan’s playing recalls Martin Powell’s violin work with My Dying Bride in its ability to weep and wound all at once.

Left Cross
Upon Desecrated Altars

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

A whole lineage of death metal bands, from Bolt Thrower to Dismember to Hail of Bullets, have infused the genre with a marching, martial quality. War is hell, and these bands have graciously stepped up to provide a soundtrack to its torments. Richmond’s Left Cross are relatively recent entrants to this canon, having released a smattering of EPs and two full-lengths since enlisting in 2014. Upon Desecrated Altars, their second LP and the long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Chaos Ascension, delivers all the bellicosity you’d expect from this corner of the genre. Drummer Scott Bartley (also of Antichrist War Machine) sets the tone for the band’s assault. His playing is pummeling and precise, and the full-bodied mix by Arthur Rizk makes sure each snare and kick hits with appropriately thunderous violence. Bartley leads the rest of the band into the trenches, where their molten solos and reverb-soaked vocals win the day.

Satan’s Fall
Destination Destruction

Despite their name, the Finns in Satan’s Fall don’t really sound like Mercyful Fate. Their hard-rocking, classic metal is a little more straight-up than that—think Judas Priest, Accept, or early Helloween. If you get handed the aux at a heavy metal kegger, you could do much worse than cueing up Destination Destruction, the band’s swaggering second album. It’s chock full of anthemic choruses, shredding solos, and powerful guitar harmonies. Satan’s Fall are at their best when they keep things concise, and the three-minute jackhammerings on offer here (“Garden of Fire,” “Afterglow,” and “Kill the Machine”) are the likely long-term playlist keepers. But the whole album delivers its cheesy ’80s glory with admirable aplomb.

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