It’s a bit over halfway through the year, so I thought I’d take a quick look at the frontrunners in the perennial race for Album of the Year.
So far, the Top 5 is a battle between death metal (2 albums) and black/thrash (2 albums), with death/thrash staking out a piece of territory as well. Two of the bands are fairly new, one is pretty well-established, and two are *really* old-school.
Of course, it’s only August, so things are subject to change, but the fact that these albums are in the current Top Five is absolutely an indication of how good they are, and it’s just about guaranteed that some of them will end up in the final Top Ten at the end of the year. They are all available in their entirety on YouTube, so you can check them out for yourself and decide. Video links are in the shownotes for Old Man Metal’s Musings Episode 2.
In no particular order, then:
Ravenous Death – Chapters of An Evil Transition. Chapters of An Evil Transition is the first LP from Ravenous Death, a death metal band that was formed in Mexico in 2016 by an experienced group of musicians.
Generally up-tempo black/death metal that uses a lot of blackish tremolo-picked riffing as well as some more traditional old-school Swedish death metal riffs and the occasional thrash break, all driven by equal portions of d-beats and double bass, with some blastier sections and some thrashier drumming as well. There are lots of nice feel and tempo changes that keep things exciting, and plenty of riff changes, even within the verses and choruses. The vocals are cavernous, guttural bellows, with occasional blackish snarls and shrieks, and the production is also blackish in tone yet a bit big-feeling, and modestly dirty.
Standout tracks: Consistently good throughout, maybe Doomed to Exist and Initiation Ritual don’t stand out as much as the rest.
Okkultist – Reinventing Evil. This is the first LP from a new Portuguese death metal band that started in 2016.
Okkultist play really thrashy, blackish death metal that makes masterful use of groovish and thrashy feel and tempo changes to break up the mid-and-up-tempo tremolo-picked death metal riffing, as well as a few more traditional sections that range in feel from Nevermore to Danzig to Alice in Chains. Guitarwork includes some nice thrash and traditional leads and lots of pinch harmonics, and the drums utilize a lot of more traditional rock and thrash structures, punctuated by double bass runs and the occasional d-beat. Vocals have a black raspy growlish timbre and are spoken/spit; production has a nice, rawish, blackish feel.
Standout Tracks: I Am the Beast, Plasmodium Nocturnus, Rise and Reign.
Warfist – Grünberger. Grünberger is the third full-length album from Warfist, a Polish band that has been playing black/thrash since 2004.
Really well-done multi-tempo black/thrash in the vein of Toxic Holocaust. Excellent, well-varied mid- and up-tempo thrash riffs ride atop traditional thrash drumming, bolstered by d-beats and double-bass where necessary. Very nice use of crushing downtempo sections and breakdowns for build-and-release of tension, and nice placement of the occasional thrash lead, groove bit, gang chorus or crossover riff for variety. Production is nicely blackened, reminiscent of mid-era Toxic Holocaust, and the vocals are hoarse, gruff spoken bits and shouts that remind one of Deceased as much as anything else.
Standout Tracks: The Chapel of Death, The Burning Flames of Ignorance, Grünberger (Drinking with the Devil).
Legion of the Damned – Slaves of the Shadow Realm. Slaves of the Shadow Realm is the seventh LP from Dutch death/thrash masters Legion of the Damned, and the first in five years.
Primarily mid- and up-tempo thrash riffing, with the neck-snapping riff and tempo changes you expect from good thrash, played against the occasional tremolo-picked death metal passage. The drumming follows suit, again being primarily drawn from thrash, with double-bass runs and other death metal bits as needed. The song structures, importantly, have more in common with death metal than they do the verse/chorus/verse/chorus simplicity of thrash. Production aesthetics are blackish.
Standout tracks: Slaves of the Southern Cross, Warhounds of Hades, Black Banners in Flames
Usurper – Lords of the Permafrost. Chicago-based Usurper split up in 2007 after 14 years of black/thrash dominance, two years after the release of their last album Cryptobeast, and four years after the departure of original singer General Diabolical Slaughter. After more than a decade, it seemed certain that Usurper was dead and buried for good.
That changed in 2015 when original members Rick Scythe and Joe Apocalyptic Warlord (guitar and drums, respectively) reformed Usurper with vocalist Dan Tyrantor (from the Cryptobeast album) and bassist Scott Maelstrom.
March 2019 saw the re-united band release Lords of the Permafrost, their sixth full-length album, an amazingly solid re-union album by any measure, and one that reminds me of 2003’s Twilight Dominion as much as anything else— Twilight Dominion being my favorite Usurper album.
Usurper’s last three albums were uncharacteristically heavy-feeling for black/thrash; this, plus the vocal style and the “Motörhead meets NWOBHM, and they live happily ever after in Hell” tendencies of the music itself, have always drawn comparisons to Celtic Frost. Their latest release is no different: thrashy compositions that masterfully employ the full range of tempos, with classic NWOBHM sensibilities and some black riffing that combine to add an elevating sense of grandiosity. It is sure to please fans of their more recent work.