February 2020 Release Roundup
The second month of the new decade has passed. So far, the year 2020 has brought us instant classics and creative gems from all across the metal spectrum. As we recapped January 2020, we already knew that this month would continue a special streak in metal. Perhaps later down the road, we'll look back to this particular era of heavy music and be able to understand it more fully in context; for now, though, we're going to keep spinning our favorite releases and gushing about them until the end of time. Come along with us, if you'd like.
Beneath the Massacre -- Fearmonger
February 28th, 2020
The epitome. Beneath the Massacre have outdone themselves with Fearmonger. It's a triumphant return to the studio for the band and showcases exactly what they're made of: invincible granite and endless steel. Even though this album's technical complexity is nearly impenetrable, the songs still flow as effortlessly as butter melting on a hot day; Beneath the Massacre are the top masters of condensing so much music into pithy, physics-defying songs. This is music for ripping your own head clean off, or having someone rip it off for you, and I like that no-bullshit, all-guts approach to writing heavy metal.
Lugubrum -- Plage Chômage
February 1st, 2020
Welcome to the world of Lugubrum, where everything is Lugubrumesque. Though previous records boasted a vast black metal cloak which masked their avant-garde tendencies, Plage Chômage is a casting off of their warm, fuzzy coat. This new album is an adventure into the "Jamaican" and Polynesian influences which defined the "Lugubrum Trio" albums (Herval and Wakar Cartel). Rhythmic, clean, strange, and wondrous, Lugubrum's most Lugubrumesque effort is by far their most challenging.
Stallion -- Slaves of Time
February 28th, 2020
In the enduring tradition of Teutonic speed metal, Stallion's latest full-length Slaves of Time preserves the deadly trappings of the 1980s -- vicious guitar bite, manic vocals and breakneck drums -- but also trots out a few glossy, hair-metal-inclined ballads with some tambourine thrown in for good measure. That certainly came as a surprise to me initially, but it's no reason to put it out to pasture: less speedy tracks like "Time to Reload" (with quite a fitting name) and the first half of its follow-up "All In" provide a chance to take cover from the relentless barrage shortly before we're back in the thick of it.
It's not like Stallion couldn't have written a full album of gate-crashers, judging by the majority of the album's content, but this intermixing of tempos is a deliberate choice to return to the beginning of speed metal, when it hadn't yet separated from the traditional metal and rock-'n'-roll from which it originated. The high-pitched vocals might be a make-or-break element for some -- personally, I can't get enough of the tinges of madness and abrasion that creep into the wails, and they leave the mid-range open for more savage guitar crunch to fill up. On "Die With Me," coincidentally another more mid-paced track, the vocals really go off the rails and add emotional zeal.
Anachronistic at heart, Slaves of Time holds loving respect for the past (you may be left with an urge to listen to Accept's Restless and Wild next), but it's loaded with a fresh salvo of riffs that shoot to kill. Seconds out of the gate, this one will hook you -- there's some twists and turns throughout the course, but expect to be subjugated for its full runtime.
Fluisteraars -- Bloem
February 28th, 2020
It's not uncommon these days to hear black metal described as beautiful; blackgaze, after all, seemed to finally fatally burst open that door forever. But sometimes you hear a record and it reminds you of the very first time you had the thought, like the shale-like scales of cynicism fall free from you. You'll be hearing more from me very soon about Fluisteraars, but it's worth noting to you as soon as possible that this is one of the most beautiful and poignant releases I've heard this year from metal or beyond. Springtime black metal? Not since Bergtatt has it been this good.
Today is the Day -- No Good to Anyone
February 28th, 2020
"Anything goes at any second," said Today is the Day mastermind Steve Austin when talking about No Good to Anyone, the long-running project's first album in six years. And I don't know if there's a better way to sum up this album than those five words. Today is the Day was never easy to pigeonhole into one genre, but on No Good to Anyone, Austin's music sounds more like a hodgepodge of musical styles than ever. It can be black metal one minute and 1970s hard rock the next, and then it could sound like Swans-like dark folk, or it could sound like 1990s alt-rock -- the list goes on. Taken out of context, the songs can seem disjointed, but when listened to as a whole, No Good to Anyone takes you on a real trip, constantly surprising you even once you've come to expect the unexpected.
Cult of Fire -- Moksha + Nirvana
February 20th, 2020
There’s no one in the game right now like Cult of Fire. To prove this point yet again, they’ve just dropped a monster double-album of some of the most mature and clear-headed black metal being created today. Moksha and Nirvana comprise a twin-headed examination of two separate-yet-similar spiritual themes, and like they’ve done most elsewhere in their catalog, Cult of Fire look at these ideas not with shallow scorn and derision, as I imagine would many of their affectedly blackened contemporaries, but with reverence and sincerity. Moksha, paying tribute to 17th-century Indian ascetic Baba Kinaram, and Nirvana, referring to concepts in Hinduism and Buddhism, represent a release from earthly suffering, though in two distinct ways. And it’s the cathartic embrace of Cult of Fire’s black metal that can, at least for a time, help placate whatever temporal afflictions plague you as you make your way along whichever path through life you find most appropriate.
Kvelertak -- Splid
February 14th, 2020
Kvelertak has entered the next phase of their career, now being helmed by vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen in the absence of the owl-headed Erlend Hjelvik. Kvelertak seems to have taken a more punk approach to their music, replacing tongue-in-cheek retro rock anthems with more impactful and serious riff-fests that basically force you out of your seat. Admittedly, Kvelertak's music has always been on the cusp of interesting for me without ever getting there. Splid changes that. This is the record I simply cannot stop blasting in the car, the one that puts their guitar harmonies, riffs, structures, and basically everything they do in a new (and more appealing) light.
Psychotic Waltz -- The God-Shaped Void
February 14th, 2020
Long-dormant Californian progressive metallers Psychotic Waltz just released The God-Shaped Void, their first album in nearly 24 years. My progressive metal tastes were shaped by the likes of Queensryche, Fates Warning, and King’s X, although I cannot say I knew very much about Psychotic Waltz prior to this listen. This album is all about is classic, late-1980s progressive metal akin to the bands previously mentioned, featuring moving instrumental passages and expertly written lyrics: “Past the fringe of your perception (we are waiting), Just beyond your reach (how long we've been waiting)” acts as the chorus on album opener "Devils and Angels." This could be mirroring the fanbase’s feelings, which, while mostly European in their heyday, has become more vocal in their home country too. This is a meticulously crafted and well-executed album no matter your locale, and a solid jumping-off point for new fans as well.