January 2021 Release Roundup
The first month of 2021 was … not uneventful. It also happened to pack a ton of killer metal releases, which only slightly dulled the pain of more festival rescheduling, general COVID-19 suffering, and… oh, right, open insurrection here in the United States. Maybe not important to everybody else, but let me tell you -- shit got weird over here. Anyway, we'll get to those releases, but first, a few things from this month are worth bringing up as well.
For starters, myself and Jon Rosenthal are now the co-editors-in-chief of Invisible Oranges -- our diabolical reign has involved less wanton destruction than perhaps we'd envisioned, but we're definitely getting some killer content out this year. Expect more regular columns and more interesting perspectives!
Secondly, our podcast has now entered the double-digits with an episode covering heavy metal drummers with some more great conversations and interview-ish episodes coming up this year.
And, lastly, we now have our own curated collection on Brooklyn Vegan's new web shop, featuring limited (occasionally exclusive) vinyl variants, collectibles, and more. It's still in its infancy, but we've already got some great stuff up there, including two Haken re-issues that Langdon Hickman did an amazing dual deep-dive on.
With all that covered, let's get on to the releases that struck our fancy in January. Here's four picks from our staff, plus a special tri-pick from Langdon's reviews this month.
Molten — Dystopian Syndrome
January 15th, 2021
Molten's hybrid approach to metal is relentlessly classic and so, so catchy even as it goes about deconstructing your spinal column. The idea of metal being "fun" sometimes suggests that it can't also be vicious, but that's the scenario here, made possible through genuinely creative songwriting and a broad command of the heavy metal landscape.
The title track (and much of the album) shows off the band's strength at wrapping up clever riffs and lead work in thrash and death metal sonic trappings, but each song on Dystopian Syndrome is bound to surprise in some way or another -- including the closing track "Rising Embers," which serves up a whopping 10 minute slab of kinda-technical, kinda-melodic metal capped off exquisitely by a piano and organ outro.
Yoth Iria — As the Flame Withers
January 25th, 2021
I'll confess — I'm shamefully under-acquainted with the legendary Greek black metal bands. As far as metal writer qualifications go, I could be generously described as "floundering." So the fact that Yoth Iria features Jim Mutilator and Magus flew right over my head. Instead, based on a recommendation from a trusted friend, I dove in sans expectations. Not that it matters, as any expectations I might have had surely would've been blown to bits.
As the Flame Withers eschews the all-misery, all-the-time approach preferred by its frostier cousins to the north, instead barreling full-tilt in the fun zone. That same friend described it as, and I'm paraphrasing, "spooky Iron Maiden," and that nails it. Yoth Iria don't smother themselves in evil, they wield it as a seasoning. The record is sinister, but not dour. It's ferocious, but not malicious. It's powerful, but not oppressive. It's a far-reaching record tinted in black metal drab but not completely soaked through.
All I can say for myself is that, after ripping through this record on repeat, I've got plenty of homework to do — and I couldn't be more excited about what I'm going to hear.
Portrayal of Guilt — We Are Always Alone
January 29th, 2021
Not that I would usually advise arguing about a band's genre, but when it comes to Portrayal of Guilt, don't even bother trying. From the start, they've been just as much a screamo/hardcore band as a black/death metal band (and even those are too limiting), and as they continue to evolve, the lines just get even blurrier. Their sophomore LP We Are Always Alone follows their already-killer discography of one album, two EPs, and other miscellaneous releases, and it manages to stand out as the best thing they've done yet. Their approach on this album reminds me of the way Deafheaven broke down barriers between screamo and metal on Sunbather, or the way Inter Arma fused together as many styles of heavy music as they could on that same year's Sky Burial. But while those records were sprawling, lengthy offerings, Portrayal of Guilt get it all done in like 25 minutes. Like their debut LP, We Are Always Alone often squeezes three or four drastically different ideas into songs that clock in at around two minutes, and they've gotten even better at it in the two years since that first LP. They've pushed all aspects of their sound even further to the extreme -- the melodic parts are catchier, the heavy parts are more callous -- and yet, they blend everything together even more seamlessly.
Fortress — Waiting for the Night
January 7th, 2021
Hearkening back to the 1980s, Los Angeles’ Fortress dug deep into the vault and finally released their first proper album. Waiting for the Night was recorded back in 1989 but didn’t see the light of day until 2021—not a moment too soon, as this kind of keyboard laden hard rock/heavy metal hybrid is particularly en vogue these days. These are top-down-on-the-convertible driving tunes that sound fresh even with dated production, which only seems to add to the charm here.
The album opens strong with "When Will The Fight End," with guitar lines that pave the way for some excellent rocking vocals perfectly fit for the latter half of the 1980s. The keyboard is far from an afterthought here; it feels more integral than forced. Each member of Fortress does their part to get in on the fray, creating a very balanced attack. If you pine for the days of yore, why not take a trip back there from music that was recorded 32 years ago, unearthed for your listening pleasure today?
Langdon doesn't need to submit a pick for his favorite album of January, because he already reviewed all of them. Here's three reviews of three very strongly recommended albums for your perusal:
An Unexpected Reality [stands] as a tantalizing set of brush strokes showing that this band has more in its bag of tricks than mere OSDM [...] but instead can offer exciting and successful syntheses of styles.
What this sums to is a record that seems to describe the circle of death metal at its platonic ideal. Crypt of Ice situates itself not at the fringes of death metal [...] Crypt of Ice lives in its center.
These are death hymns, yes, and they maintain a fixation on the mystical and transformative aspects of death, but Where the Gloom Becomes Sound enacts its own name by inverting the stormy internalisms of Down Below into triumphant hymnals.