The second half of 2021 is feeling pretty similar to the first half so far, except now with less optimism. Shows were coming back, and generally still are, but now we're also seeing waves of cancellation amidst COVID numbers that look like a throwback to retro 2020 vibes. It's hard to tell where it's all going to end up, frankly -- please get vaccinated if able, and stay safe.

Amidst the chaos, there is still heavy metal, released in copious quantities this past month. While there's not a huge number of big releases right now, we are seeing a lot of stellar "pandemic projects" come to fruition and a lot of previously-delayed releases finally hitting the streets. Here's four of our picks from this past month for your consideration.

--Ted Nubel

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Ted Nubel

Spiral GraveLegacy of the Anointed
July 16th, 2021

In the finest traditions of Maryland doom, Spiral Grave is in no way afraid to pick up the pace while laying down some seriously heavy doom. The vibrant, swaggering songs on Legacy of the Anointed hum with vigor and grit, the product of a seasoned group of musicians--most of the lineup, save for vocalist Dee Calhoun, comes from the last formation of scene veterans Iron Man prior to Al Morris's untimely death.

Mostly structured around heavy, Sabbath-inspired rock, the band's debut record weaponizes a knack for catchy riffs and melodic prowess--interestingly, parts of this record start to remind me of late-era Iron Maiden, except that each song isn't unnecessarily long and actually gets to the point.

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Ivan Belcic

MesaCollapse
July 16, 2021

The one thing Mesa has in common with Marie McAuliffe’s other band Putrescine is its fearlessness. That, and expertly programmed drums. McAuliffe and Mesa bandmate Adam Heller are seemingly unable to hold themselves back when it comes to the ingredients in their steaming cauldron, and while the results are undeniably strange, there’s an alluring irresistibility to the sprawling dream-realms the duo create.

Collapse is at constant war with itself. I’ve been listening to this record regularly since it dropped, and I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. Even in its most dissonant, soupy morasses, you’ll find shimmering falsettos, rippling synth chords, and lovingly fingerpicked guitar leads. Mesa’s aggressively progressive post-metal flits between moods like a moth surrounded by a dozen porch lights — but unlike that overwhelmed moth, everything the duo does is brimming with clarity.

Nothing about the way the songs unfold and construct themselves is predictable, but all of it makes immediate and concrete sense in the precise moment it hits you. Of course the song’s just taken this wildly unanticipated turn, of course there’s a flute interlude here, because it's exactly what the moment requires, and it couldn't have gone any other way. It takes a magical brain to make all of this work together so smoothly, and on Collapse, Mesa’s clearly in no shortage of these.

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Tom Campagna

Stress AngelBursting Church
July 2nd, 2021

Straight out of Brooklyn, the blackened death duo Stress Angel have plenty of oomph present on their debut album Bursting Church. “Flaming Kingdom” hits with Possessed-esque fury and rips through various riffs, slowing down and then pummeling your eardrums once more. Fast and extremely efficient in getting to the point, Stress Angel lack flair—but who needs that when your riffs move at 100 MPH, breaking necks and everything else that stands within this album’s way?

The title track allows for the band to craft singularly great and heavy riffs amongst the fast-paced fracas, before kicking things back into gear. The album is also littered with hilariously titled tracks like “Angel of Stress” and “Life Alert” to bring a little tongue in cheek humor to all of these pyrotechnics that litter this album; otherwise this is chock full of evil. If you prefer to partake in the death metal of yore with a sense of the eldritch darkness to top it off, Bursting Church will welcome you with decrepit outstretched limbs.

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Tom Morgan

Year of No LightConsolamentum
July 2nd, 2021

I was blown away by Consolamentum. It’s the first Year Of No Light album that I’ve really connected with (although their Vampyr rescore is also excellent) and was one of those albums that came along at the right point in my life. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot on gnostic mysticism, and Consolamentum’s whole telos and sonic aesthetic shares much with the gnostic outlook. Like their worldview, Year Of No Light’s fourth studio full-length is murky, weighty and intensely spiritual.

The album’s title derives from a Cathar (a gnostic-inspried belief system) sacrament, usually performed before death, designed to cleanse the soul of original sin and allow entrance to heaven. Consolamentum possesses similarly transcendent properties. It moves from the bleak, intense mire of its early tracks, which mirror the gnostic perspective that Earth is a land of corrupt forms, far removed from the distant light of the Monad (the good God), towards something genuinely profound . The awe-inspiring blast beats that close final track “Came” are both agonising and ecstatic, and are among the most profound moments you’ll hear in metal all year.

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