Published Dec 07, 2018
5. Outer Heaven
Realms of Eternal Decay
What is it about the Pennsylvania backwoods that inspires the most vicious death metal? Incantation, Coffin Dust, Rivers of Nihil and Goreaphobia have all lurked in William Penn's dark forests. Newcomers Outer Heaven smash forth like an ancient cyclops with its one eye trained on old-school blastbeats and hardcore-inspired breakdowns.
Lyrically, the band's incendiary debut, Realms of Eternal Decay, covers Obituary's tales of rotting ways, while their musicality taps the classic veins of Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse. Like Cist, Gatecreeper, Corpsessed and bands of their ilk, this snarling outfit proffer a freshly bloodied palette from young musicians weaned on gore-crusted godfathers Autopsy and Death. Ultimately, Outer Heaven raise the bar and a bruised fist for older, reuniting death-metal bands looking to record new material — either write songs of the most brutal quality, or stay dead.
You Won't Get What You Want
Daughters' comeback album is a game-changer. All of the raw, unbridled creativity and roiling aggression of their youth has had time to mature into a richer vintage; You Won't Get What You Want naturally trades a bit of the band's manic vigour for stalwart menace, but it's perfectly suited to their throbbing dissonance and the unhinged cadence of Alexis F.S. Marshall's insightful, conversational rants.
We know Daughters are titans of mixing hooks with experimental brutality — that they're still honing that formula and putting out peak material is exceptional enough — but the real stun factor on this album is the sheer breadth of musical growth on display. This band has evolved, and they don't give a fuck if you're along for the ride or not. They certainly haven't softened, though; they've become more sinister and cinematic, using a more expensive and dynamic array of sounds, textures, rhythms and warped takes on melody. Daughters are a singular force in the world of metal, and this is one of the year's most unique and exciting offerings, regardless of genre.
Scott A. Gray
3. Rivers of Nihil
Where Owls Know My Name
One typically knows what to anticipate from a tech death release: blast beats, guttural vocals and breakneck guitar clinics, all interspersed with the odd progressive passage — but Rivers of Nihil subvert all expectations on breakout release Where Owls Know My Name. The band creatively employ ambient elements not commonly found in tech death, resulting in a much more dynamic sound. Most notably, WOKMN makes use of saxophone and synth/keys, which offer much-needed reprieve following the album's heavier and more technical passages. Remarkably, this is achieved without sounding forced, pretentious or ever interrupting the album's stream-like fluidity.
Rivers of Nihil have made a name for themselves with this third full-length release, receiving widespread attention and much acclaim over the past eight months, but perhaps more impressively, they've breathed new life into a somewhat stagnant sub-genre that has seen many of its champions grow old. Where Owls Know My Name is one of the year's best — and might just become one of modern metal's most seminal pieces of work.
(Third Man Records)
It's fitting that Sleep's first LP in 19 years starts off with "The Sciences," a feedback-laden track that forces fans to wait three minutes before they can bask in the San Jose trio's plodding riffs. But it's precisely this patience that Sleep have fostered throughout their entire career — and it makes The Sciences a near-perfect album. When their former label, London Records, wanted to mess with their last LP (the immortal Dopesmoker), Sleep simply waited it out, choosing to disband rather than bend. And when they reformed in 2009, they continued to demonstrate their stubborn patience, taking a decade to make sure their reunion album matched the pure excellence of their back catalogue.
While metal has a unique legacy of honouring its elders — recent albums by stalwarts Behemoth and Voivod have been awarded excellent reviews — The Sciences never sounds like the work of a 27-year-old band. Even though "Marijuanaut's Theme" references their eternal love of the herb and "Sonic Titan" compacts the capricious peaks and valleys of Dopesmoker into 12 minutes, Sleep still seem poised to push stoner metal into the future with The Sciences — even if it takes them another 19 years and three minutes to do it.
(Closed Casket Activities)
We aren't far removed from a time in heavy music where the very mention of "nu-metal" would cause headbangers to recoil, but the incorporation of that subgenre's influence by a current crop of artists has become undeniable in recent years. The most tasteful fusions have come from young hardcore bands, a charge led by the likes of Code Orange and, in 2018, Vein.
On their debut full-length, Errorzone, the Massachusetts outfit go beyond their undying love of groove to incorporate sounds outside of metal and hardcore to immediate, devastating effect. That much is apparent seconds into the listen, when the dissonant guitars of "Virus://Violence" cut short to reveal a breakbeat pulled straight from the '90s. The familiar break calls to a different genre and era entirely, but remains no less chaotic.
These types of straining sonics rarely slow. Songs like "Old Data in a Dead Machine" and "End Eternal" find the band putting their riffs through the ringer with liberal use of pitch-shifting. Elsewhere, a siren initially buried under an onslaught of guitar provides an unsettling segue between "Broken Glass Complexion" and "Anesthesia." Errorzone's subtle instances of melody lean more towards restlessness than reprieve.
Vein do not directly imitate so much as effortlessly fuse the elements that best align with their chaotic hardcore roots, and that will only help push their potent blend to further experimental extremes. As vocalist Anthony DiDio told Exclaim! this year, "Nostalgia is great…but you have to take that nostalgia and move it forward."