We're past the halfway point of the year, now -- whether or not what awaits us in 2021 is better than the current dumpster fire is still up in the air, but we're hurtling toward it nonetheless. The long-term reality of coronavirus is settling in -- personally, I just cancelled flights for an international vacation I was planning in October, as the country I wanted to go to is literally not letting Americans in. United Airlines was strangely nonchalant about that fact.

Of course, even if you've managed to find a strategy to manage pandemic anxiety, plenty of other things came up in July to worry about -- and it looks like August is shaping up the same way. Writing about music continues to feel a little bit silly, but listening to it is still one of the better ways to escape reality for approximately 40 minutes at a time. Here are seven monster albums that emerged from the blazing wreckage of July, all exceptionally suitable for wresting your attention away from whatever the fuck is going wrong today.

--Ted Nubel

Andrew Rothmund

Buried Realm -- Embodiment of the Divine
July 24th, 2020

Do you like solo virtuoso death metal that doesn't sound, well, extremely dorky and lame? Buried Realm is where it's at -- this album banks on the mighty primacy of the guitar riff, and is it ever groovy as all hell.

More thoughts from my premiere of "Overlord":

These songs go harder than most full bands can manage, and the licks are as downright compelling as some of the best tech-death bands out there. What sets Buried Realm apart, though, is the proggy infusion of both downright speed and complete instrumental dexterity all without any of the pretense that usually flows freely through these sorts of territories.

Jon Rosenthal

Old Nick -- The Vanitous Specter
July 30th, 2020

Black metal to get lost in a 16-bit dungeon to. Old Nick somehow manages to mix raw black metal and chiptune in such a way that it just... works. And it's fun! Yes, fun black metal. Plus, with song titles like "3 Ghosts In The Corner, One From The Year 1797 and The Others From 1997," you really get the idea that they don't take themselves seriously, which is refreshing in the face of today's super-serious underground.

Ted Nubel

Purification -- Perfect Doctrine
July 31st, 2020

As hinted at by the album art, a famous painting depicting the "Cadaver Synod" (in which a deceased pope was put on trial for dubious reasons), Purification strikes a tone that doom metal is particularly apt at expressing: a stately sneer at absurd institutions. Within their ecclesiastical doom, deep vocals and somber melodies aim to illuminate hypocrisy via austere mockery and awe-inspiring heaviness.

Perfect Doctrine demonstrates mastery of theatrical irreverence, and it's architected to maximize the number of majestic-yet-evil-yet-inebriated riffs sawing through your brain matter as the campy atmosphere delights your rapidly disintegrating neurons. When the band ramps up from the gloomy proceedings, things generally get stranger and stranger -- more expletives, unusual vocal delivery, and unexpected choir elements complement the highlights.

Every track on the album contains some sort of delightful surprise, some abnormal element that sets it apart from the rest -- so while some of the riffs here could have been thirty-minute exercises in riff-petition, the shorter format songs allow the band to pack in tons more of their strong suit: making things weird. I'm more than okay with "weird" right now, so jam this shit into my eardrums.

Joseph Aprill

Havukruunu -- Uinuos Syömein Sota
July 17th, 2020

As you hit play on this album a choir of voices cry out in a foreign tongue, but almost immediately you recognize beyond your linguistic unfamiliarity what you're hearing is the opening call of an epic poem retelling of legendary ancient battles. That battle then bursts forth in full force as the choir gives way to a cannon blast of drumming followed by galloping melodic riffs that transport you to a time of heroic deeds living as memories somewhere between history and myth. So begins Finland's epic pagan black metallers Havukruunu's third full length, Uinuos Syömein Sota.

The band became a burning hot name in the black metal underground after the release of their 2017 sophomore release, so expectations have been running high till now. Those expectations it can be said have both been met and confounded. Havukruunu continue on with a type of melodic pagan black metal that leans closer to the epic riff focus of Bathory and later-era Immortal while eschewing tendencies for symphonic indulgence or folk dance jigs. However, a noticeable change to their sound is now felt in an absence of minor chords and dark atmospheres often replaced with songwriting that is perpetually uplifting and triumphant.

Uinuos Syömein Sota is an emotionally soaring work of metal that uses all its elements, especially the exultant clean sung choir sections, to transport the listener to a time of battle and glory. Though perhaps the album should come with a warning for its potency as your dear writer was far too taken away while attempting to sing along to it on a recent drive home from work that he blew past a red light. Oops! So please enjoy some new Havukruunu, responsibly.

Andrew Sacher

Boris -- NO
July 3rd, 2020

NO is the followup to last fall's LφVE & EVφL, a lengthy, meditative, psychedelic double album that was rolled out over a five-month period last year. In contrast, NO was announced the week before it came out, and it's exactly the kind of album that's meant to just fall into your lap out of nowhere and set your world on fire. Boris have written fast songs before, but NO makes a conscious move away from the band's trademark psych/noise/experimental side and is almost entirely punk-informed thrash and speed metal. Music like this just hits harder when the world is in a critical state, and Boris are such masters of so many different types of music that it's no surprise to hear how well they pull this off. And it's not just a genre exercise in thrash; it's still unmistakably Boris. They eschew generic thrash tones and play this stuff with the same thick sludge tones that are more typical of Boris, and they work in a handful of snail-paced sludge breakdowns too. Thrash and sludge have long gone hand in hand, and this album fuses them better than I've heard any band fuse them in a while. They also eschew generic thrash shouting patterns and instead they approach the genre as Boris. They bring their usual aggressive/melodic balance to the vocals, which results in really memorable songs and genre fusions that you don't hear everyday. NO can sound like a shoegaze band covering Slayer, but really it just sounds like Boris, and it's pretty remarkable how good they are at sounding like Boris, whether they're doing ambient drone or mile-a-minute thrash.

Ivan Belcic

Draghkar -- At the Crossroads of Infinity
July 27th, 2020

There's a specific sound that, by now, has become the default connotation of the term "old-school death metal." I know what it sounds like, I know you know what it sounds like -- it's a very specific sound. But then there's Draghkar, who also want to make old-school–inspired death metal, but not that kind, and you get a record like At the Crossroads of Infinity. Instead, they're leaning hard into the melody-driven end of the death metal spectrum while cloaking their record in a Mediterranean black metal veil.

Draghkar's realm-bending psychedelia is evident in the album's maddening blend of harmony and dissonance, which leaves plenty of space for the bass to shine through -- and bassist Cameron Fisher is a consistent joy to behold across the record. The vocals on At the Crossroads of Infinity come courtesy of new member Daniel Butler, whose other band Vastum is very much that kind of OSDM -- and it's night and day to hear him stretching his range into the mid and higher registers in his work with Draghkar.
The production is at once sharp while also echoing and reinforcing the album's classic feel. "Dated" isn't the right word here, as Draghkar's take on their influences is contemporary, and the exposed production complements their songwriting aims. Similarly, Karmazid's stunning cover art would feel right at home adorning a fantastical sci-fi novel from the 1970s.

Together, these various components -- songwriting, performances, personnel, production, and cover art -- align for a debut full-length that knows exactly what it wants to be, and achieves it.

Tom Campagna

High Spirits -- Hard to Stop
July 31st, 2020

Chris Black’s solo endeavor High Spirits’ fourth album Hard to Stop is a hard rocking romp to be had by all, and it's awfully hard to deny its catchiness. Their first album in four years hits right from the outset with "Since You’ve Been Gone," a slow opener giving way to their patented brand of high energy music that feels like it was pulled from the late night radio waves of the 1980s. This is convertible-driving music of the highest caliber, a brand of which Black has a total knack for. The riffs are fast and fun, especially during the bridge of "Voice In The Wind" which features a series of stops and starts used to maximum effect. This is a cohesive, rollicking good time that just plain rocks from start to finish.

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