June 2020 Release Roundup
There's clearly no eye in this storm.
Welcome to mid-year, and I hope everyone is doing alright despite such horrific circumstances abroad in the world. It feels like we're all dealing with an absolute overload of stimulation, information, and stress -- what little catharsis we can extract from things like art suddenly gains incredible value in its rarity. I'll be honest, it's been hard recently to listen to music on occasion. The focus just isn't always there: my mind is drawn between so many worlds with their unique considerations and micro-considerations and sub-considerations, and my god, where is an app that can just organize all this chaos into one slick feed?
But at least we organized eight really (and I mean really) ripping releases from June 2020 below. I've listened to each one of these, and I am impressed in so many different ways. I try to let myself sink into each album to feel, as close as I can, what the creator(s) felt when putting tunes to track. I hope that everyone who reads this is able to sink likewise into at least one of these below, but if you need even more than what we've presented here, you can always browse our curated Upcoming Metal Releases posts from weeks past.
For now, though, on to the music, the lifeblood that pumps through our bodies.
-- Andrew Rothmund
Dessiderium -- Shadow Burn
June 25th, 2020
Immediacy and proficiency describe Shadow Burn, the absolute melodic death metal masterpiece of this year, but the gut-punch of raw love (and loss) gifts Dessiderium with an emotional edge so few bands in this realm possess. As I described in my premiere of the album's fifth track "Cosmic Limbs" the sense-feeling of Shadow Burn:
The convergence of two things I love in metal but rarely find together -- blistering technicality and the gut-punch of real feelings -- really comes alive on this album. Haddad wrote it for a lost loved one that passed tragically in her early twenties, an experience rawer than anyone should have to bear. I will never claim to know his pain or understand his suffering, but it is plain that this music literally bursts from every seam with emotion of this extreme degree. Shadow Burn bleeds with it, actually, and the laid-bare love in Haddad's heart gives this album meaning beyond its artistic one.
Paysage d'Hiver -- Im Wald
June 26th, 2020
How can I describe Paysage d'Hiver's first full-length following a 23-year career without delving into the superlative and overstated? This is what black metal was always meant to be: a monochromatic, wintry deluge of epic proportion.
The two hours which comprise Im Wald are a cumulation of everything visionary musician Wintherr has learned over his many releases -- the clean vocals which herald "Stimmen im Wald" reflect the ambiance found within Das Tor, the violins on "Le rêve lucide" recall the self-titled demo, the coldness: Kristall & Isa. It's all there, everything on which Wintherr has meditated since 1997, and it truly is perfect.
This is the best black metal album you will ever hear if you have the patience for it, and it can only be listened to in its entirety. Do not skip through this adventure through the Alps from whence this project was born. Read more about Wintherr's philosophy and the greater meaning of Paysage d'Hiver in the interview I conducted with him throughout 2017.
Pale Divine -- Consequence of Time
June 19th, 2020
Until now, Pale Divine has been a band that I dug but never clicked with. I liked everything I've heard from them, but none of their work ever burrowed all the way into the center of my forgetful brain and claimed a permanent spot. Instead, despite being pretty damn good, they slipped away from my consciousness into amnesic nothingness, leaving me ignorant of what I was missing. However, Consequence of Time easily permeated the haze: it pushes the band to the next level, brandishing their strengths and adding new elements that feel like a natural next step. It's mandatory listening for even the most part-time doom metal fan.
While the band's last five albums sound good in terms of production, tone, and all that, Consequence of Time sounds downright delectable: the intricate guitar riffs that dominate Pale Divine albums hit extra hard here, with the rest of the band slotting into the ear-pleasing punchiness of the mix without losing any clarity.
Dana Ortt (ex-Beelzefuzz) joined the band as a guitarist/vocalist for Consequence of Time, creating the first four-piece lineup in the band's history -- an unusual change after 25 years, but it's only added to the creative power of the band. Joined with longtime guitarist/vocalist Greg Diener's powerful vocals, Dana's soaring voice adds new depth and emotion to the songs, while also allowing for added complexity in each of the densely-packed riffs and leads that fill out the album.
Honestly, in most cases, six albums into a band, you'd know exactly what to expect. Not only has Pale Divine proved that wrong here, they've also effectively evolved into a new sound that's a worthy successor of their storied quarter-decade of riffcrafting.
Ulthar -- Providence
June 12th, 2020
Ulthar’s sophomore album Providence is a savage death and black metal assault, not unlike previous April round-up choice Black Curse, calling upon the primordial ooze of 1980s extreme metal where genre distinctions had barely crystalized yet. The album’s monstrously thick sound almost deceives listeners from the fact it’s only a three-piece behind, but the group features a resume including Mutilation Rites, Vastum, and Pale Chalice. It's enough assurance that they know what they’re doing.
The songwriting on Providence relies heavily on ever shifting riffs that can phase from headbangable to disorientating to (at times) hook-laden. For extreme metal that slithers forth with lovecraftian force (the band after all named after one of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories while Providence is the home of the writer), Ulthar’s latest begs to be heard.
Special note has to be paid to the album’s cover art. At first glance from a distance it may not seem like much but closer inspection reveals a cacophony of the grotesque fully utilizing highly sexual imagery in a manner not unlike the work of H.R. Giger. While akin in melding images of the macabre and sex, this work has a more washed out pastel aesthetic giving it a distinctive appearance for a work of art, let alone a death/black metal album cover. Curious minds though might have already noticed the artist behind the piece is famed British illustrator Ian Miller, known for his work on illustrations of Lovecraft, Tolkein/Lord of the Rings, role-playing game books, and even for some of Ralph Bakshi’s films. Miller having never previously contributed in any official capacity within the realm of metal before, it's a tribute to Ulthar for bringing his work more explicitly (and oh how explicit indeed) into the fold.
Voidceremony -- Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel
June 26th, 2020
This kind of strange, sideways-brained progressive death metal feels so much like my spiritual home. There is a primal and youthful elation I feel when I come across this kind of thing, like a wizard unearthing an ancient and rotting tome of immense might. That kind of otherworldly and wild power has been increasingly necessary for me in my day-to-day life, where it seems like the constant serpentine hissing of anxiety and the depressive gloomy pallor that is descending over everything only feels like it deepens. I appreciate so much the celestial gestures of this record, which feels like a sonic map of an unraveling universe, some absent-minded god's hand tugging firm at an exposed thread on the edge of the map until there's nothing left. It reminds me often of that same tesseract-shadow shapeshifting psychedelia that permeated Tomb Mold's impeccable Manor of Infinite Forms. These live in the same world, conjure similar internal images for me. This is the kind of death metal that made me fall head-over-heels in love with the genre. Of course I love this. And of course I strongly recommend it.
Hum -- Inlet
June 23rd, 2020
It's impossible to overstate how much of an influence Hum had on the last decade of shoegazy punk, hardcore, and metal, so when they made a surprise return in June with their first album in 22 years, it was -- needless to say -- a long time coming for them to return and reclaim the throne. Inlet would've been a big deal regardless, but it's an even bigger deal because it's more than a good comeback album. It pushes their sound in new directions that Hum didn't go in the 1990s, and it's arguably their masterpiece. It's also one of the finest albums to come out of this whole current wave of heavy, shoegazy music. If you want to read more about Inlet, I wrote a full review of the album and you can check that out over at BrooklynVegan.
Inexorum -- Moonlit Navigation
June 26th, 2020
Since the release of Inexorum's debut full-length Lore of the Lakes in 2018, I've been hoping that then-sole member Carl Skildum wouldn't let the band languish and become yet another of the countless single-release projects preserved in perma-cryostasis on Bandcamp. Skildum's crisp melodic death metal here hits in much the same way as Void Ritual's black metal: savage but undeniably catchy, and full of combustive energy either way.
Now joined with bassist and supporting vocalist Matthew Kirkworld, Skildum is back with Moonlit Navigation, his second record under the Inexorum banner and one which solidifies the band's aesthetic while subtly prodding its breadth of focus. While Lore of the Lakes was all bombast, Moonlit Navigation maintains this fury but spreads it out over a much more dynamic topography.
Greyhawk -- Keepers of the Flame
June 16th, 2020
From the album art, you know exactly what you are in for: fantasy lore and an air of grandeur, both of which are worn directly on the sleeve of Seattle-based Greyhawk. Guitar pyrotechnics à la Exmortus (less the gruff vocals) with some interesting proggy sections combine to remind the listener of Rush’s 2112. It's essentially heavy metal with power metal leanings much like contemporaries Eternal Champion and Visigot -- songs like "Halls of Time" feel pulled directly out of the bedroom of a dedicated Dungeons & Dragons fan. It's fun at face value, but then Keepers of the Flame offers more beyond the surface if you are willing to give it that chance.