BEST METAL The Best Metal on Bandcamp, September 2023 By Brad Sanders · September 27, 2023

The best metal on Bandcamp this month includes consciousness-expanding death metal from Toronto, grimy post-punk poetry from Berlin, fretboard-burning black metal from Finland, and much more.

Tomb Mold
The Enduring Spirit

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

As a rule, I try to limit the amount that I double-dip on coverage between Bandcamp and other sites. But it would be metal-critic malpractice not to lead this month’s column with Tomb Mold, my recent Best New Music review of The Enduring Spirit notwithstanding. The album finds the band returning from a four-year exile with the full realization of their most transcendental inclinations. They’re as adept as ever at churning, tangled death metal, but on songs like “Will of Whispers” and the 11-minute “The Enduring Spirit of Calamity,” they also tap into a gorgeously dreamlike mode, with nods to jazz fusion, dreampop, and prog rock. (It’s hard not to draw a comparison to another adventurous Toronto trio. If the sci-fi-obsessed Planetary Clairvoyance was Tomb Mold’s 2112, perhaps its more spiritual follow-up is their Hemispheres.) The resulting atmosphere, as vigorous and physical as it is otherworldly, is unlike anything else in death metal right now. With The Enduring Spirit, Tomb Mold have achieved nirvana.

Maggot Heart
Hunger

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

Within the first few bars of “Scandinavian Hunger,” the searing post-punk exorcism that opens Hunger, Linnéa Olsson has grabbed you by the collar: “So many hatchets buried/ My mind’s a cemetery.” She won’t let go for the next 40 minutes. Olsson launched Maggot Heart as a solo project in 2016, after creatively stultifying stints in The Oath and Grave Pleasures. In the years since, it’s become a laboratory for one of the most distinctive voices in heavy music. The Swedish-born, Berlin-based Olsson is a brilliant guitarist, as anyone who’s heard her past bands knows. But Maggot Heart proves that her greatest gift is as a lyricist—and as the only vocalist who could possibly deliver these lyrics. On Hunger, Olsson echoes the punk-poet grittiness of Patti Smith, running it through a filter of old Motörhead and Darkthrone records. Her severe, stentorian sprechgesang is more confident (and higher in the mix) than it’s ever been; when she sings about “fucking the world in that little black dress” or “glowing, growing, crying in the dark,” you can feel it in your bones. The arrangements on Hunger are also her biggest and most daring to date. A cavalcade of trumpets, saxophones, and pianos crash into Olsson’s skronking guitar, sounding at times like the Birthday Party halfway through their transformation into the Bad Seeds. The quasi-ballad “Archer” points a possible way forward for Olsson, its beauty caked in soot, like a diamond necklace recovered from a house fire. Wherever Maggot Heart goes next, rest assured it won’t sound like anyone’s work but Olsson’s. On Hunger, the onetime sidewoman is blazingly, unapologetically herself.

Moonlight Sorcery
Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle

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

Finland’s Moonlight Sorcery have only been releasing music since last year, but they’ve already established themselves as giants of the melodic black metal scene. Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle is their first full-length, and anyone who’s ever imagined themselves riding into battle on horseback should find plenty to love in its nine frozen anthems. With its crystalline guitars, roiling drums, reptilian vocals, and buoyant synths, the album calls back to legends like Emperor, Dissection, and Bal-Sagoth. Where it carves out a niche of its own is in the stellar lead work. Guitarist Loitsumestari Taikakallo rips ridiculous, virtuosic solos pretty much nonstop, making Horned Lord occasionally sound like Yngwie Malmsteen sitting in with Dimmu Borgir. (“More like Moonlight Shreddery,” the writer couldn’t stop himself from thinking.) The band’s corpse-painted bona fides are in order, but Horned Lord of the Thorned Castle is the rare black metal album I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to power metal fans. Let Moonlight Sorcery shred you to hell.

Baroness
Stone

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Stone is an unprecedented act of continuation for Baroness. It has the same lineup as 2019’s Gold & Grey, marking the first time that consecutive Baroness albums have shared all the same members, and marks a surprisingly clean break from the past. Every previous album by the Philly-based band has been a part of their “color suite,” a run that lasted from 2007’s Red Album until Gold & Grey. With Stone, Baroness leader John Dyer Baizley unburdens himself of the pressure to continue that series, looking instead to an unknown future. The ongoing presence of his co-guitarist and co-vocalist Gina Gleason makes that future look incredibly bright. Her solo on “Last Word,” the first proper song on Stone, is one of the best of the year in any genre. You can almost hear the new life she’s breathed into Baroness. Their road from post-ISIS sludge behemoth to proggy hard rock band hasn’t been without its bumps, and Stone isn’t perfect. But its highs are on par with the finest moments of Red and Blue, and curveballs like the gorgeous folk/country duet “Bloom” prove they’ve still got the capacity to surprise. Stone is probably best understood as another checkpoint on a journey that, with luck, will never end.

Fabricant
Drudge to the Thicket

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

Fabricant’s Drudge to the Thicket is a debut album 13 years in the making. The title track even came out as a standalone single back in 2010. Whatever the Bay Area band spent the last decade-plus doing to these songs was worth it. Drudge to the Thicket feels labored over but not overbaked, its twisting riffs and prominent, nearly Seinfeldian basslines swirling in a miasma of weirdo death metal that would make Demilich blush. There’s a playfulness to what Fabricant is doing, typified by those bass slaps and some madcap, Danny Elfman-style melodies that creep in around the edges of the riffs. It’s refreshing to hear a band with such serious chops having this much fun. Go be weird.

Dismal Aura
Imperium Mortalia

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

It’s instructive that Dismal Aura claim not Ottawa but the unceded territory of the Algonquin nation as their home. The band’s blistering black metal frequently deals with relationships between the colonized and their colonizers; between the individual and the state; between those who merely wish to live and those who would use violence to coerce. Imperium Mortalia draws inspiration from “Necropolitics,” the landmark essay by Cameroonian scholar Achille Mbembe. The essay posits that true sovereignty is in the hands of those with the power to decide who lives or dies. On Imperium Mortalia, Dismal Aura shine a light on the many ways that the state abuses that kind of sovereignty, with short, sharp black metal anthems that emphasize the link between the genre’s first-wave origins and hardcore punk. There’s a thrilling sense of urgency to the album, and its 30 minutes zip by in what feels like half that time. Dismal Aura don’t want to keep you long. There are battles to be fought.

Jute Gyte
Unus Mundus Patet

Merch for this release:
Compact Disc (CD)

Unus Mundus Patet is the third full-length to come out this year under the Jute Gyte name, following the electronic excursions Eclose and Krun Macula. While it’s fair enough to say that the album marks Adam Kalmbach’s return to black metal, what makes it fascinating is the way his electro-ambient interests worm their way into the proceedings. “Zweisiedler,” “Sema,” and especially the show-stopping “Mere” marry Krun Macula’s synth-driven warmth to the suffocating anxiety of Kalmbach’s black metal compositions. And if you’ve loved Jute Gyte in the past for the sheer density of psychotic riffs, songs like the 14-minute “Hesperus Is Phosphorous” should have you covered. There’s a whole lot of Jute Gyte music out in the world. Unus Mundus Patet contains some of the best of it.

Fossilization
Leprous Daylight

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

After debuting with the impressive He Whose Name Was Long Forgotten EP in 2021, São Paolo’s Fossilization became a band to watch for fans of cavernous, doom-y death metal. Leprous Daylight delivers on the EP’s promise, bringing a stockpile of dissonant chords, groaning vocals, and drums that sound like they were recorded in a tomb. Like their forefathers in Incantation, Fossilization make tempo one of their most effective levers. When they play at a crawl, they’re a snarling, stalking beast. When they kick things up to a sprint, you’d better run, too.

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