Albums of 2023

Another year, another list of records that caught my ear. Most new releases I heard were death metal, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise. There were a couple big sophomores that hit this year after several years of waiting, and these ones truly delivered. In addition to my top ten, I’ve included an honorable mentions list, and the ones that I was able to write about most enthusiastically made the top ten (how’s that for methodology?). The usual list of releases that aren’t full lengths is also included, and since I bought a ton of reissues this year, I included a list of those. Enough banter, here are the ten records I enjoyed the most this year.

Ascended Dead – Evenfall of the Apocalypse

San Diego, CA – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

When it comes to absolutely ripping fast death metal, this Californian group have certainly been one of the most furious of the bunch. Their 2017 debut was like the fastest parts of early Morbid Angel combined with the evil atmosphere of Necrovore. They continue to blast everything to death with their follow up album, which absolutely lives up to expectations. Although this album is fast, it is not without dynamics, especially when it comes to the fluidity of the dual guitar work. They even go as far as to include some flamenco guitars in parts that work surprisingly well.

Autopsy – Ashes, Organs, Blood and Crypts

Oakland, CA – Peaceville Records – Bandcamp

Hot off the heels of last year’s “Morbidity Triumphant,” Autopsy strikes again with another full length. This is their tenth album, and Autopsy sounds as fresh as they ever have. New bassist Greg Wilkinson seems to have more input on this album, as he wrote a few more songs this time around, and put his skills as an audio engineer to use on this album too. The result sounds like classic Autopsy, and that’s all anyone could really ask from a band that’s been around as long as these guys have.

Cruciamentum – Obsidian Refractions

United States/United Kingdom – Profound Lore Records – Bandcamp

I’ve been a fan of Cruciamentum since a friend hooked me up with a copy of their demo many years back. Their debut LP from 2015 was a stellar display of cavernous (but well produced) death metal, so the anticipation for a follow up album has been high. With main man DL moving to the US, the band’s sophomore has finally been unleashed, and it lives up to expectations. In addition to their ripping brand of tremolo heavy riffs, there’s some gloomy parts throughout that really add to the overall experience. All things considered, “Obsidian Refractions” is the album of the year.

Death Knell – Taste the Bitter End of a Once Brilliant Dream

Calgary, AB – Self released – Bandcamp

Back in 2019, I went down to Calgary to record a new band that some friends started called Death Knell. I ended up coming down again at the onset of the pandemic the next year to do another EP for the band. Death Knell decided to go to a proper studio for their full length, and the result is fantastic. Combining elements of crossover thrash and crust punk, this 8 track LP will rip you apart in a mere 20 minutes. There are two re-recorded tracks from the second EP on here, and they sound as powerful as ever. Honestly, this is one of my favourite bands in Calgary right now, which is no surprise given how strong this debut LP is!

Disimperium – Grand Insurgence Upon Despotic Altars

Portland, OR – Sentient Ruin – Bandcamp

I first got to hear Disimpirium while I was touring with my own band this summer, and they opened the show we played in Portland. I was absolutely blown away by their approach to war metal, doing so with blistering speed and whirlwind riffs. Their live show was enough reason to check this album out, and it is pulverizing as I was hoping. Guitarist/vocalist JR also plays in the aforementioned Ascended Dead, who are similarly lethal in their blitzkrieg approaches to their given styles. As someone who doesn’t really bother checking out too much war metal these days, these guys are certainly a cut above.

Excarnated Entity – Mass Grave Horizons

Portland, OR – Nuclear Winter Records – Bandcamp

The Pacific Northwest region of the US has produced some incredible death/doom bands in recent years, and Excarnated Entity is another one that’s had my full attention since the release of their demo in 2019. After relocating to Portland from Seattle and retooling their lineup, the band finally dropped their debut full length. There seems to be a healthy influence from early Peaceville bands like Paradise Lost, minus the goth sounding parts. Much of the artwork and presentation of this album looks very similar to the demo, foreshadowing the fact that the music is very much a continuation as well. There’s a healthy amount of dynamics between the pure death metal parts and the slower doom sections that work together seamlessly.

Godflesh – Purge

Birmingham, UK – Avalanche Recordings – Bandcamp

I don’t have to express how much I love Godflesh, or how they are the absolute legends of industrial metal. Fans have had to wait 6 years since their last album, and “Purge” delivers on all fronts. JK Broadrick stated that this album saw them come back to some of the sounds they were going for on 1992’s “Pure,” and although that is certainly true, it also has some similar production and sounds from the last album, “Post Self.” These old influences work really well with their more refined modern sound, and tracks like “Land Lord” are among some of the most banging Godflesh songs in their vast discography.

Trenchraid – War Mentality

Sechelt, BC – Blown Out Media – Bandcamp

Nestled away in the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Trenchraid’s debut must’ve been quite the disruption for the rural coastal town. Featuring members of some beloved Vancouver punk bands, they’ve provided a dozen rocking d-beat tunes in the span of a mere 22 minutes. With anthem like choruses scattered throughout, each song manages to present a hook while still presenting an overall bleak message. Calling back to some of the earliest Discharge songs, they’re not afraid to have a bit more of a rock swagger at times, which really helps add some variety. When they hit the d-beats, they hit hard, and it’s hard not to get these stuck in your head.

Vastum – Inward to Gethsemane

Oakland, CA – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

Oakland’s Vastum is back again, with 2023 marking the release of their fifth album. I’ve been a fan of these mid-paced death metaller’s brand of brutality since their debut in 2011, and their albums generally have all maintained a very similar vibe. Their albums all contain six songs at about six minutes a piece, with each song going through a game of catch and release with slower sections and faster parts contrasting. The low, eerie clean vocals are there, and some real dreary atmospheres are conveyed alongside these vocals. I was a little disappointed with their previous offering, but this one caught my ear almost immediately, with giant hooks in some of the groovier riffs.

VoidCeremonty – Threads of Unknowing

United States/Canada/Australia – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

Every now and then, some really technical death metal band manages to grab my attention, and it’s usually because they’re rooted in the early 90’s style that I still have a soft spot for. VoidCeremony has been one of those recent bands for me, taking the jazz fusion approach, and doing so with quite the line up of musicians. With members in bands like Ascended Dead, Chthe’ilist, and StarGazer, there’s no shortage of chops. Everything is on full display, and it works so well with the jazz fusion approach to death metal. The bass playing stands out, the lead guitar has impeccable tone, the drums are playful and precise all at once. I liked their debut album, and I think VoidCeremony has outdone themselves with this one.

Honorable Mentions
Ceremonial Bloodbath – Genesis of Malignant Entropy [Sentient Ruin]
Fossilization – Leprous Daylight [Everlasting Spew]
Home Front – Games of Power [La Vida Es Un Mus]
Incantation – Unholy Deification [Relapse Records]
Phobocosm – Foreordained [Dark Descent Records]
Rotten Sound – Apocalypse [Season of Mist]
Seraphic Entombment – Sickness Particles Gleam [Everlasting Spew]
Static Abyss – Aborted from Reality [Peaceville Records]
Warkrusher – Armistice [Agipunk]

Archagathus/Cystoblastosis split 7″
Archagathus/Hacked Apart split 7″
Archagathus/Pulmonary Fibrosis – Grinders of Darkness
Blood Incantation – Luminescent Bridge
Extremely Brutal – Remaining Afterlife
Thanamagus – Lie in Wait
Spectral Voice/Undergang split LP

Finally, I wanted to take the opportunity to list some reissues of classic albums I picked up this year. Not only are these albums I love, but in many cases, they weren’t available for some time without shelling out big money on Discogs. Huge credit to these labels who put the time into ensuring these records can be obtained by fans for a reasonable price. Again, these are records I actually picked up the physical copies of that were reissued in 2023.
Ahna – Crimson Dawn [Phobia Records/Anomie Records]
Beherit – Drawing Down the Moon [Nuclear War Now! Productions]
The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge [Blue Apple Music]
Consume – s/t [Insane Society Records]
Disfear – Everyday Slaughter [Havoc Records/La Familia Releases]
Dismember – Like an Ever Flowing Stream [Nuclear Blast Records]
Dead Congregation – Grave of the Archangels [Martyrdoom Productions]
Dystopia – s/t [Tankcrimes]
Exhumed – Gore Metal [Relapse Records]
Exhumed – Death Revenge [Relapse Records]
Godflesh – Us & Them [Earache Records]
Grave – Into the Grave [Osmose Productions]
Napalm Death – Death by Manipulation [Earache Records]
Napalm Death – Diatribes [Earache Records]
Merciless – The Awakening [Osmose Productions]
Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity [The Crypt/Dark Descent Records]
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse [Agonia Records]
Pestilence – Testimony of the Ancients [Agonia Records]
Root – Hell Symphony [I Hate Records]
Sepultura – Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation [Cavalera Brothers are Wiggers Records – unofficial]
Sinister – Cross the Styx [Cosmic Key Creations]
Sinister – Diabolical Summoning [Cosmic Key Creations]
Skitsystem – Enkel Resa Till Rännstenen [Havoc Records]
State of Fear – Complete Discography Volume I [Sonorize Records]
State of Fear – Complete Discography Volume II [Sonorize Records]
Suffocation – Souls to Deny [Relapse Records]

Albums of 2022

2022 is just a couple weeks away from concluding, and there’s no better time to talk about some of my favourite records that came out over the last 12 months. I found that there was quite a lot of quality death metal albums that grabbed my interest throughout the year, so much so that I found myself shelling out money on more new releases than ever, especially those that were available on vinyl. In fact, I bought almost everything I listed here (and hope to grab the couple things I didn’t find yet). For this list, I’ve picked my 20 favourite full lengths of the year, plus a handful of other releases (EPs/compilations/splits) that I really enjoyed. As always, I’ve included links to listen to everything here via Bandcamp or YouTube.

Acephalix – Theothanatology

Oakland, CA – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

Anyone who’s kept up with death metal over the last decade knows that the Bay Area has been a hot spot for the genre, and Acephalix are one of the many stand out bands out there. I loved the crusty Entombed grooves of “Deathless Master” when that came out, and it feels like they haven’t lost steam years later with their 4th full length. It boasts some new members, and hits as hard as Acephalix ever has. There’s nothing too complicated about this record, but it keeps me coming back with its infectious sense of rhythm and punky approach to death metal.

Ares Kingdom – In Darkness at Last

Kansas City, MO – Nuclear War Now! Productions – Bandcamp

The masters have returned with their fifth full length and sound just as lethal as ever. Ares Kingdom have always exuded the spirit of metal, and have always delivered powerful songs with constantly improving DIY production. “In Darkness at Last” sounds just as crushing as ever, as their unique style of death/thrash delivers an endless supply of powerful riffs and venomous vocals. Some of the heavy metal influences that sneak into these tracks (such as in the latter half of the album) keep it fresh and dynamic. Ares Kingdom can do no wrong!

Assumption – Hadean Tides

Palermo, Italy – Everlasting Spew/Sentient Ruin – Bandcamp

Italy’s Assumption caught my attention with their 2018 debut, which was a brilliant display of death/doom with some ethereal atmospheres and creative use of unorthodox instruments like flutes. This was merely foreshadowing what would come with “Hadean Tides,” as we end up getting a double LP here. The heavy death/doom of the first half of the record is contrasted with some more experimental songwriting in the second half that adds a ton of dynamics and atmosphere to the experience. Crucial for fans of diSEMBOWELMENT.

Autophagy – Bacteriophage

Portland, OR – Pulverized Records – Bandcamp

Debut album from this Portland based death metal group, coming after a demo and major line up changes. I became aware of this band when Adam Wheeler (ex-Ritual Necromancy, ex-Weregoat, etc) joined the band, and it seems some of his song writing has seeped into this full length. Dual guitars simultaneously wreak havoc with one playing evil tremolo melodies on top of gut wrenching low tuned riffs.

Autopsy – Morbidity Triumphant

Oakland, CA – Peaceville Records – Bandcamp

The legendary Autopsy returns with their 8th (or 9th, pending on how you view “Skull Grinder”) full length, and first release that runs beyond 30 minutes since 2014’s “Tourniquets, Hacksaws, and Graves.” This is arguably their best album since they reformed in 2009, as it feels like a very focused effort. Although I have been a fan of most of their reunion material, some of those records are either far too long (“Macabre Eternal”), rushed (“The Headless Ritual”), or just too damn short (“Puncturing the Grotesque,” although I’ll take too short over too long any day!). Greg Wilkinson’s addition to the band appears to have been a perfect fit, as his bass tone is probably the nastiest one Autopsy has ever had!

Besieged – Violence Beyond All Reason

Winnipeg, MB – Unspeakable Axe Records – Bandcamp

A dozen years have passed since these Canucks first self released “Victims Beyond All Help,” and finally, they return with its follow up. The similarly named return is a mere 26 minutes, but wastes absolutely no time with some finger-twisting, ferocious riffs and thrash their way throughout without any bullshit. If you like thrash that is more on the brutal side like Sepultura, Incubus, Demolition Hammer, or Morbid Saint, this is mandatory.

Black Death Cult – Diaspora

Edmonton, AB – Nuclear War Now! Productions – Bandcamp

Quickly following up their debut from 2019 (wait, that was three years ago?), one of Edmonton’s strangest metal acts has graced us with another bizarre record. With only six songs, it’s considerably shorter than “Devil’s Paradise,” giving the rest of us simpletons more time for repeat listens to digest all the weirdness going on. Black Death Cult aren’t afraid to incorporate whatever they feel like alongside their bestial black/death metal sound, making them a truly unique sounding band.

The Chasm – The Scars of a Lost Reflective Shadow

Chicago, IL – Luxinframundis Productions – Bandcamp

After deciding to go fully instrumental on their 2017 album, the Chasm returns with one of their most ferocious albums to date, and it also marks the return of vocals. They get downright thrashing mad here, but not to fret, as the Chasm’s signature sound is in tact here, it just feels renewed and refreshed and isn’t afraid to keep it simple at times. The result ends up being a dynamic journey of killer riffs, and the few instrumental tracks shine with some fantastic lead work.

Dream Unending – Song of Salvation

Toronto, ON/Boston, MA – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

Following up their debut from last year, the death/doom duo of Dream Unending delivers another dreamy slab of music. “Song of Salvation” seems to have more focus on their more atmospheric side of things, especially in the middle 3 songs, showcasing a lot of excellent clean guitar work. The two longer songs that bookend the record definitely show that this is still a death/doom project, but do so with elegance. Derrick Vella’s (Tomb Mold) guitar playing is phenomenal throughout this record, and he uses a wide variety of effect pedals that really add to the whole experience.

Egregore – The Word as His Law

Vancouver, BC – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

The debut recording from Vancouver’s Egregore takes the form of a full length, and strongly delivers occult sounding black/death metal. The two piece band features members of other black/death metal bands, Auroch and Mitochondrion, and although there are some things in common with their other bands, Egregore carves out their own niche. The drums are a lot more primitive in nature, and there’s some focus on more atmospheric songwriting on the second half of the records via some neo-folk influences. Also, the artwork by Karmazid is among one of the best pieces of the year.

Exhumed – To the Dead

Oakland, CA – Relapse Records – Bandcamp

Oakland’s practitioners of Carcass worship have returned once again with their 8th album, and have managed to put out something full of catchy songwriting and heavy riffs. With the release of this album, I ended up binging their discography, and this feels like classic Exhumed through and through. I felt like “Death Revenge” was a little too bloated with the orchestral interludes, and I loved how “Horror” just went back to short grindcore songs. This is certainly back in death metal territory, but they definitely kept it lean, and even got some four former members to each contribute a song to the record.

Grave Infestation – Persecution of the Living

Vancouver, BC – Invictus Productions – Bandcamp

No frills death metal that sounds fresh without compromising its old school values. With former members of AHNA (in addition to many other killer Vancouver metal/punk acts), it retains a similarly sinister vibe but eschews the thrashy Sacrilege influence in place of more death metal. As always with this group of musicians (known as the Scum Division), it sounds sinister, evil, and relentless. Eerie lead soundscapes soar below the crushing riffage for an extra layer of evilness. Death metal should strive to be this dark, and I can only hope Grave Infestation follows this one up in the future!

Mortuous – Upon Desolation

Oakland, CA – Carbonized Records – Bandcamp

Another band from the Bay Area, Mortuous returns with their sophomore full length, which was released on the drummer’s own label, Carbonized Records. Like many of their peers, this was recorded at Earhammer Studio so it has quite a familiar production job. This record feels a lot catchier than their debut, and manages to stay clear and heavy despite the density and darkness of the material. Mike Beams (ex-Exhumed) is credited with the music on every track, and shows he’s capable of writing more than gore soaked metal.

Negative Plane – The Pact

New York, NY – Invictus Productions – Bandcamp

Negative Plane have been silent for many years, with their last album coming out in 2011. I never loved that album as much as their debut, but “The Pact” immediately had my attention by coming back to all the elements that made them great to begin with. Intricate songwriting weaved together with thoughtful riffs and occult storytelling make this album an absolute must hear, and one of the few black metal bands I actually give a shit about.

Predatory Light – Death and the Twilight Hours

Santa Fe, NM/Seattle, WA – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

If that Negative Plane wasn’t enough for you, Predatory Light has also unleashed an occult black/death metal album that will surely satisfy anyone looking for something similar. This west coast band’s debut from 2016 did a fantastic job filling in the void that Negative Plane left open for over a decade, so it’s kind of fitting they both released records this year. With only four songs on the LP, there’s some real lengthy songwriting, but seeing as it’s a single LP, it’s not an overwhelming listening experience.

Ripped to Shreds – Jubian

San Jose, CA – Relapse Records – Bandcamp

My friend and Azath bandmate Andrew Lee is one talented dude, and that’s no secret if you’ve heard Ripped to Shreds before. This is the third album by these San Jose death metallers, and their first for Relapse Records. Ripped to Shreds continue to deliver a furious death metal riffs soaked in the classic HM-2 buzzsaw tone, and pretty much destroy every riffless band that tries to rely on the aesthetics of being “Swedish death metal” with that classic BOSS pedal. There’s quite a variety of stuff here, from a 10 minute epic to a 50 second grinder. The band has grown beyond its solo project days and is even stronger due to a full line up of talented musicians, with the drums being tighter than ever, and also a better production job than they’ve ever had.

Sedimentum – Suppuration Morphogénésiaque

Quebec City, QC – Me Saco Un Ojo – Bandcamp

Disgusting and downtuned death metal from Quebec City, this is Sedimentum’s debut album. I quite enjoyed their 2019 demo, and they definitely delivered on the momentum they had going on. There’s definitely a Finnish influence on here between the ultra low tuning, the balance of midpaced and fast riffs, and the low vocals. It’s a lot like Demilich but not quite as technical, although it certainly has some jerky rhythms you’d expect with that comparison.

Static Abyss – Labyrinth of Veins

Oakland, CA – Peaceville Records – Bandcamp

Static Abyss is an Autopsy side project, featuring Chris Reifert and new Autopsy bassist Greg Wilkinson. With Reifert behind the kit and on the mic, it certainly sounds like Autopsy, but there are some unique differences. Wilkinson handles all the guitar and bass tracks, and layers in some really sinister lead work atop powerful death/doom riffs. Even when there’s already a creepy lead line going, he’ll throw in additional subtle stuff behind it that’s a lot more simple, but it really adds to the overall sinister atmosphere here.

Voivod – Synchro Anarchy

Jonquière, QC – Century Media – YouTube

It’s incredible to me that a band like Voivod, who put out their classic records in the 80’s, are still putting out albums that are worth listening to. Not only is their 15th album, “Synchro Anarchy,” worth listening to, it’s one of the best records they’ve put out in decades. Everything since “Target Earth” has progressively been a stronger record thanks to Dan Mongrain’s contributions in the writing department, bringing the band back to their classic sound and staying completely authentic to themselves. Furthermore, this record arguably has the nastiest bass tone of the year (and that’s quite the feat when up against the Autopsy/Static Abyss albums).

WAKE – Thought Form Descent

Calgary, AB – Metalblade Records – Bandcamp

The evolution of Calgary’s WAKE has been astounding, especially with their shift from grindcore to black/death metal starting in 2016. In this six year period, they’ve released four(!) records, and halfway through realized they have the ability to write songs longer than two minutes. “Thought Form Descent” adds a heavy dose of melodic leads, all while retaining the speed and intensity they’ve always had. These guys have been working extremely hard over the years, both with touring and their recordings, so it’s well deserved that they ended up putting this one out through Metalblade Records!

There’s no shortage of incredible music coming from both the Bay Area and Canada, as seen by this list. Some honorable mentions include Bloodbath – Survival of the Sickest; Fake Meat – 腐肉; Foreseen – Untamed Force; Immolation – Acts of God; Innumerable Forms – Philosophical Collapse; KEN mode – Null; Phobophilic – Enveloping Absurdity; and Vermin Womb – Retaliation.

Below are my top picks for things that aren’t full lengths. EPs, splits, demos, and compilations are all fair game here.

Bleed – Somebody’s Closer

Dallas, TX – 20 Buck Spin – Bandcamp

The first time I saw the cover art of this Texan band’s EP, I assumed they were something like early Nine Inch Nails. My assumption was incorrect, but they are a total throwback to 90’s (and maybe early 2000’s) alt rock, and dare I say a little bit of numetal influence too with its usage of groove. Bleed makes some pretty ethereal sounding atmospheres with some pretty engaging rhythms, and top it off with soaring vocal melodies. For me, this is a total nostalgia trip to my preteen years, when bands like the Deftones were breaking away from numetal to make something a little more substantial. 20 Buck Spin took a bit of a risk doing something like this, but I think it’s paid off, and can’t wait to hear a full length by Bleed.

Hedonist – Sepulchral Lacerations

Victoria, BC – Neon Taste Records – Bandcamp

This Canadian death metal band was formed out of the ashes of Iskra, which right away should be a clue that this is a quality release in both production and songwriting. Hedonist take Bolt Thrower style riffs and play them with the classic HM-2 chainsaw tone. They avoid sounding like a tired Swedish-death clone thanks to strong songwriting, and the vocal performance is also extremely savage. This demo was initially released digitally last year, but the physical releases didn’t hit until this year, hence why I’m talking about it now.

Incantation – Tricennial of Blasphemy

Johnstown, PA – Relapse Records – Bandcamp

To celebrate 30 years of death metal, Incantation and Relapse has teamed up to release this double CD/triple LP compilation. It contains non-album material, including all their 7″ releases, rare material from promotional tapes/compilation appearances, and even some unreleased songs spanning their entire career. Although I own a lot of these releases already, having them in one large, official release like this is nice. The high point is certainly the unreleased stuff, as I am particularly fond of the track they cut from “Diabolical Conquest.”

Napalm Death – Resentment is Always Seismic: A Final Throw of Throes

Birmingham, UK – Century Media – YouTube

Following the release of the fantastic “Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism” in 2020, Napalm Death offers up an EP of further material recorded in that session. Clocking in at half an hour, there’s a good amount of material here, including a couple covers that fit into their eccentric influences. Needless to say, if you enjoyed their latest full length, this will also satisfy. I personally love all the weird noise rock/post-punk/no wave influence Napalm have been injecting into their modern material.

Ritual Necromancy/Fossilization – Split

Portland, OR/São Paulo, Brazil – Everlasting Spew – Bandcamp

Somehow, this is the only split I got into this year, but it’s a damn good one. The first half features a single song by Ritual Necromancy, which appears to have been recorded during the same sessions as their 2018 sophomore album. It is the doomiest and longest song in their catalogue so far, but rest assured, they go into their signature whirlwind style of death metal here too. Brazil’s Fossilization takes up the other two tracks, which continue their filthy path of death/doom metal that was introduced to underground on their debut EP last year. This is a really great pairing of bands, and quite honestly, I wish there was a full 20 minutes from each band, because what’s presented here is just that damn good.

I hope that anyone reading this list found something that perks their interest. I’m sure, as always, that I’ll find some albums later on from 2022 that I end up liking more than some of the stuff listed here, but that’s the nature of the beast. One last note about 2022 was that Begrime Exemious’ 4th album, “Rotting in the Aftermath” finally dropped on Dark Descent this year, and I also did vocals on a punk EP with Suicide Pact’s “With the Earth.” Here’s to more music in 2023!

WAKE – Thought Form Descent

Genre: Black/Death Metal | Label: Metal Blade
Location: Calgary, Alberta | Listen: Bandcamp

Calgary’s WAKE have been working tirelessly over the years, as can be seen by their endless touring, and the release of their sixth album. “Thought Form Descent,” which is also their debut on Metal Blade Records, sees these Canucks taking the lessons learned from their last album, “Devouring Ruin,” and expanding on them even farther. That 2020 album saw the band shed a lot of their grindcore influences in favor of more black/death metal, and saw the band embellish their songs with more mature songwriting. “Thought Form Descent” keeps running with this style, but adds in a healthy dose of melody without sacrificing any of the extremity they’ve been known for throughout their existence.

No one really wants to write the same album twice, and sometimes bands will avoid that just by having line up changes between every record. “Thought Form Descent,” however, marks the first time that WAKE retained the same line up as the previous record. As such, it’s apparent this line up gels with each other well, as they’re able to craft some long and dizzying tunes, with song lengths generally sitting between 6 and 9 minutes. Gone are the days of the 2 minute songs where riffs whiz by at maximum speed, barely giving the listener time to digest them. Here, things are felt out, layered, and nuanced as they progress, showing a lot of thought with each song. The album opener, “Infinite Inward,” shows this well, as melodies from the more relaxed intro are reintroduced at the end to create something that feels complete.

As with “Devouring Ruin,” clean guitars pop up here and there to create a little breathing room, such as in “Swallow the Light.” Lead guitarist Arjun Gill (who has been with the band on the last 4 albums) has certainly found his voice with his playing. His sense of melody is stellar, and he’s able to add in a lot of musicality and dynamics with the lead lines that he adds in over the chord work that is prominent throughout the record. WAKE uses a lot of black metal inspired chord word, sometimes keeping it more traditional by just blasting through them with tremolo picking, but also opening them up with some arpeggios and adding in tension with some dissonance. “Mourning Dirge” sees Gill’s playing add in some extra atmosphere the way it’s layered in on this song, and when some of those chord progressions open up, bassist Ryan Kennedy fills the space up in interesting ways. As I stated with my review of “Devouring Ruin,” a lot of this feels similar to Deathspell Omega, but it still sounds like the guys in WAKE playing it. “Observer to Master” probably has some of the prettiest stuff on a WAKE album yet, as the melodic bit in the middle is rather elegant, and stands in contrast to the disgustingly dissonant part right after.

“Thought Form Descent” is the third album the band has recorded in Denver with Dave Otero, a relationship that seems to be very fruitful for the band. This is also drummer Josh Bueckert’s third record with the band, and if you’ve seen him live, you know he has some incredible chops. His playing sounds phenomenal on this record, as you’ll feel every blast beat, and his more creative playing comes through real nice with nuanced ghost notes (check out that drum pattern in “Venerate” before the blasting kicks in). There’s a huge amount of atmosphere to be found among the heaviness, with extra little layers of reverb behind the madness to create a really huge sound.

WAKE has really taken their music to the next level, not only from their initial metalcore infused grind of the earlier material, but from album to album, coming into their own unique style of dynamic black/death metal. “Thought Form Descent” is a wonderfully balanced album with all sorts of shades colours, but it still manages to sound extreme and powerful. The colourful artwork itself essentially foreshadows the dynamics played here, as it is a thing of beauty, and it is hauntingly powerful at the same time.


WAKE – Devouring Ruin

Genre: Black/Death Metal | Label: Translation Loss
Location: Calgary, Alberta | Listen: Bandcamp

Coming from the Canadian city of Calgary, WAKE have been on an absolute tear over the last six years, and have evolved a lot since they initially started grinding back in 2009. Seeing as Calgary is just a stone’s throw away from Edmonton, I’ve had the opportunity to witness this band’s growth first hand, and I’m always amazed at how far they’ve matured as songwriters and musicians, but still sounding uniquely like themselves. “Devouring Ruin” is their fifth album, and marks a major stylistic shift that sees them diving farther into black/death metal, and they do it in quite the artful manner.

Right off the bat, the band starts the album with a clean guitar strumming some chords, as if to bluntly let listeners know that this is a different beast than their last two magnificent grinding albums, “Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow” and “Misery Rites.” Those records had a lot more in common with bands like Knelt Rote or Infernal Coil, where here they start to chase things that have a little more breathing room, like Deathspell Omega. That being said, a lot of WAKE’s earlier influences are still present if you’re paying attention. The breakdown halfway through “This Abyssal Plain” sounds very metalcore-eque, but the way they let it play out is different. They turn it into a chord progression, and layer some leads on it, and the way it builds up is a perfect example of the maturity in WAKE’s songwriting.

Coming back to the Deathspell Omega influence, we can see that throughout the record in the way they utilize chords more thoughtfully. You can hear some dissonant arpeggios in their early stuff, but here it’s fully realized into a progression, which is on full display on tracks like “Mouth of Abolition.” Instead of grinding through everything in a couple minutes, WAKE takes the time to open some parts up, and on this track you can hear some active bass lines from former-drummer-now-bassist Ryan Kennedy. Kennedy’s return to the band may have very well been a catalyst in the push for a more dynamic record, and I’m sure he had something to do with book-ending the previously mentioned tracks with ambient interludes.

Looking at the song lengths alone is enough to know that WAKE really pushed for something more on this album than they had previously. They had been hinting at that kind of thing with the closing track “Misery Rites” (which is over 7 minutes), so it certainly was in their ability to push things further. There’s more lengthy songs here, and the overall album is about twice the length as previous records. “Torchbearer” exceeds 10 minutes, but by no means drags. This is another song I feel that displays some of the band’s early metalcore influences, as an earlier part in the song sounds very much like the title track of Converge’s “Jane Doe.” But make no mistake, WAKE still blasts their way through plenty of parts, as this song is full of tremolo chord progressions and powerful blastbeats. Furthermore, they do contrast these longer songs with some that are a little more concise, like “In the Lair of the Rat King,” which literally blasts off with some real janky grindcore riffs.

WAKE’s albums have had a huge increase in production quality over the years, and this is their second one they recorded with Dave Otero down in Denver. “Devouring Ruin” sounds rich, full, and heavy thanks to his attention to detail throughout the recording process. Josh Bueckert’s drumming sounds clear and powerful, and all the dynamics come out well in his playing. Vocalist Kyle Ball sounds monstrous, as his double tracked low vocals add an extra layer of demonic sound to the songs. It’s no wonder these guys have stuck with him, as they’ve also recorded their latest record with him as well.

“Devouring Ruin” is tremendous album that does black/death metal from a very different approach thanks to their background in grindcore/metalcore/crust punk. WAKE have managed to put out a record that’s both punishingly heavy and artfully creative at the same time, and there’s a lot to sink your teeth into here. At the time of writing this, the band are currently promoting the follow up to this record, which further pushes their new approach with a heavy dose melody and lead guitar work. If you’re reading this review because you’ve already heard “Thought Form Descent,” or you enjoyed the previous black/death/grind hybrid sound on the previous couple records, you absolutely need to hear “Devouring Ruin.”


Archagathus – Coffee Grinder

Genre: Grindcore | Label: Bringer of Gore
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba| Listen: Youtube

Canadian grinders Archagathus have been outrageously prolific over the years, so much so that some of their releases may have been buried only to be resurrected a few years later for completion. After releasing their first 12″ in 2010, Archagathus released two more in 2011. One of these was the incredible “Canadian Horse” LP, which I’ve given much praise in a previous review. The other one is what we have here, the “Coffee Grinder” LP. It contains 14 tracks that were initially recorded back in 2008, and then finished in 2011. These are considerably rawer than the “Canadian Horse” LP, and not surprisingly sound more inline with the many split 7″ recordings Archagathus were putting out around the late 2000’s.

“Coffee Grinder” contains the duo of Dan Ryckman and Joe Warkentin, with the former performing all instruments, and the latter supplementing the vocal department. Some of these songs, namely “Sad Together,” “Intelligible Happiness” and “Unrealistic Janitor” have appeared on previous recordings, and are possibly the earlier verisons of these songs. The other 11 tracks are exclusive to this release, with most of them getting the job done in a mere minute. Most of the songs revolve around fairly simple verse/chorus structures that pummel away between blast beats, polka-mince beats, and punky d-beats. This should not surprise anyone who are familiar with these guys.

Despite the simple structures and fairly predictable material, there’s no shortage of sick riffs, hooks, and nuances all around to keep it fresh and something worth coming back to. The longest track, “Functional Society System” actually has an intro that builds up for about the first half of the song. “Mince Bastard” provides a simple groove that makes it instantly likeable. The usage of all sorts of vocal styles also give these songs tons of character, which prove Warkentin’s value as a second vocalist on this record. Both guys can do tons of crazy things with their voices, and that’s been a strength of the countless projects both have done over the years.

As mentioned, this is a pretty raw affair, but it is earlier on in Archagathus’ career. I think it’s entirely listenable, and even genre appropriate, so it’s certainly not bad, but there’s things like a lack of crisp attack on the kick drum. The cymbals’ high end seems a little strange, and there’s guitar hums and feedback where most folks would just clean it up. All that adds into the charm of this record, and kind of feeds into the lore about how it was initially recorded a few years earlier before the band came back to it.

Out of all of Archagathus’ full lengths, this one is probably the hardest to come by, as it’s only been done in limited runs on vinyl and tape. It is their rawest of their four LPs (it does very clearly state “raw shit” on the cover!), but it’s one I come back to often because I usually prefer listening to their longer releases instead of going through a million 7″ splits, so I’m glad the band decided to dig these songs up and get them finished. If the early years of Archagathus interest you, this one is certainly worth hunting down, even if just digitally.


Misery Index/Commit Suicide split

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal | Label: Willowtip Records
Location: Baltimore, Maryland/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania | Listen: Bandcamp

Here we have a split between Baltimore’s Misery Index and Pittsburgh’s Commit Suicide. This is the second Misery Index release, and sees them adding a 2nd guitarist in Sparky Voyles (who also played in Dying Fetus with other MI members), meanwhile Commit Suicide had just released their debut album the same year of this split. Both bands fall in the realm of death metal, but one would kind of fade away to obscurity where the other continues to release music to this day. This split is now 20 years old and came out during the early days of both bands, and is still worth a listen.

As mentioned, Misery Index expanded to a quartet for this release after their debut EP came out the year prior. Out of the three songs here, two are originals and the other is a cover. The two originals are both short and fast grinders, having a little more punk influence shining through with some of it’s rhythmic approach and to the point structure. There’s still some intricate phrasing in their guitar riffs, as with the first few riffs in “My Untold Apocalypse.” Blast beats barrage away and give away to groovier double kick patterns. “Alive” features some simpler punk riffs in its verses as Jason Netherton barks away his grievances of slaving one’s life away. The Misery Index tracks finish up with a cover by the great d-beat/grind band Disrupt, and like with many early Misery Index releases, this cover turned me onto Disrupt. They absolutely kill this song and it fits really nice alongside their two originals.

Commit Suicide’s side of the split also contains two original tracks and a cover. They play a style that has a little more in common with brutal death metal, as they have chunky, palm muted power chords that plod atop blastbeats. In fact, “In All this Revelation” features a couple different blast beats the way through, and we’re not met with a single break between blasts until a third of the way through the next track. Once “With Not Distaste” comes back from its slow break, it features some quasi-quirky grooves typical of early 2000’s brutal death metal, before taking off into more blastbeats and chromatic tremolo riffs. It’s not the worst thing on earth, but I can’t say I’ve really ever been interested in busting out any of this band’s material for a long time. Their Death cover is at least pretty bad ass, and is an easy incentive to just listen through their two tracks just to get to the cover.

This split is an enjoyable listen, and I’ll probably always enjoy the Misery Index tracks. The Commit Suicide side (which rolls off the tongue awkwardly) is a decent affair of early 2000’s brutal death metal, and both bands do some really fantastic covers of seminal bands in their respective influences. The production on both sides reeks of the early 2000’s with its drum sound especially, but that’s to be expected, and it’s honestly not the worst example of it. Misery Index has had quite the career since this split, where as Commit Suicide terminated themselves at some point after releasing their sophomore album a couple years later. As mentioned in the “Overthrow” EP review for Misery Index, these non album tracks from their early years have been compiled on a CD by the band’s own label, and that’s certainly worth checking out.


Misery Index – Overthrow

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal | Label: Anarchos Records
Location: Baltimore, Maryland | Listen: Bandcamp

At the time of writing this review, Baltimore’s Misery Index have just released their seventh full length, which is an impressive feat. As such, there’s no better time to take a look back at their discography, and here we have their debut release, the “Overthrow” EP. It features two former members of Dying Fetus (and a third alumni would join them long term immediately after this EP) playing death metal with some punk and grindcore influences throughout. I’m particularly keen on early Misery Index, and still quite enjoy this EP all these years later.

Misery Index’s general sound at this era has some things in common with Dying Fetus’ earlier material, which makes sense as bassist/vocalist Jason Netherton was an original member, and drummer Kevin Talley was his bandmate there too. So not only is there some familiarity in the vocals, but some of the elements of groove are similar. Misery Index makes use of some NYDM-esque chunky power chord grooves, which are certainly easy to get into, but they balance them out with a variety of other riff styles and rhythmic approaches. They’ll often do full out blastbeat sections with tremolo picked lines that get into some melodic territory, but there’s a tension in these melodies that makes these riffs sound razor sharp. Blistering double kicks and fast beats in general dominate the parts of the songs that aren’t grooving, and giving them their own unique character, and one that’s downright explosive.

Lyrically, Misery Index is more firmly rooted in grindcore, much like fellow east coast death/grinders Brutal Truth. Topics like consumerism, class war, power and control are at the forefront here, and they’re very well done. I’ve alawys adored Jason Netherton’s lyrical abilities, as he has lots to say, but uses language in a thoughtful way. There’s no need to get a dictionary, as he makes his points painfully clear with relatable metaphors of struggle and hardship. His vocal delivery is bold, powerful, yet easy enough to understand, and he’s able to create hooks throughout the songs quite effectively.

One of the only things I can complain about when it comes to this EP (and early Misery Index in general) is how it’s a victim of early 2000’s triggered drum production. Namely, the kicks sound very obviously triggered, but that’s pretty much the standard for 2001. Everything is loud and clear, but the guitars at least have a little bit of grime on them that it brings it back from to sounding too clinical.

Along with the four original songs presented on this EP, there’s also a cover of Terrorizer’s “Dead Shall Rise.” Funny enough, I ended up checking out Terrorizer because of this cover, and as such I think it’s a great rendition. It’s a nice lean 15 minutes, perfect for a band’s very first release, and certainly something that takes me back to my teenage years when I was getting into more extreme music. The tracks on “Overthrow” have been re-released on a compilation CD with several other of their EPs/splits, which is also a great way to enjoy these early Misery Index tracks.


Nyctophobic – War Criminal Views

Genre: Grindcore/Death Metal | Label: Morbid Records
Location: Germany | Listen: Bandcamp

Nyctophobic were a grindcore band from Germany who I seldom see mentioned, even among fans of the genre. They were active for 17 years before calling it quits, and released two full lengths in that time. Their debut from 1996, “War Criminal Views,” is a crushing display of death metal infused grindcore that is sure to appeal to fans of all the classics, as it has plenty in common with the likes of Agathocles, Brutal Truth, Napalm Death, Excruciating Terror, and especially their fellow German grinders, Blood.

Blood is clearly the most similar band to Nyctophobic, as they fuse together death metal riffs with grindcore structures, and they even shared members between the bands at one point (although this record contains no member connections to Blood). The songs don’t waste any time pummeling the listener with riff after riff. There’s some primitive grooves that come through the downtuned guitars, which is certainly reminiscent of what Excruciating Terror was doing at the same time over in America (both bands’ album covers are certainly reminiscent of each other too). They’ll throw these groovier parts in between primitive jackhammer blastbeats, which are usually played underneath simple tremolo picked death metal riffs.

Lyrically, Nyctophobic focuses on themes that are fairly common in grindcore – sociopolitical topics, anti-war, anti-racism, etc. This is certainly in line with Napalm Death, Agathocles, and Brutal Truth. Songs like “Responsiblities” get into some Napalm Death “FETO” territory with both the riffs and pacing, which is some god-tier grindcore as far as I’m concerned. Speaking of Brutal Truth, the way these lyrics are delivered certainly remind me of “Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses,” as they’ll layer in high pitched screams and low death growls at the same time, and the highs sound a lot like Kevin Sharpe does on that record. They also utilize some pitchshifting effects, which also draws comparison back to Agathocles. The dynamics in these vocals certainly translate into a good variety for these shorter songs.

The production is fairly on point for mid 90’s grindcore, especially with it’s distorted bass that sounds absolutely grimy. The drums sound somewhat raw, but in a very appropriate way. The snare doesn’t get lost in the blasting sections, nor does the kick. The way all these rumblings come together is again very much like Agathocles’ “Theatric Symbolisation of Life,” which they even go as far to cover the title track on that album, as if to tell unsuspecting listeners what to expect. There’s a lot of samples of dialogue throughout this record that kind of sets the tone with the lyrical themes. Sometimes they feel like they drag out a little too much, but that is only a minor complaint.

If you like grindcore that leans more into death metal, “War Criminal Views” is a necessary listen, and honestly should be mentioned in the same breath as the bands I’ve compared this record to. It’s a pretty straight forward record that has enough dynamics between blistering fast sections and groovier parts to drive it home. It’s a full 40 minutes too, which by modern grind standards is a bit long, but the way Nyctophobic utilizes the time makes it feel very complete.


Grave Infestation – Persecution of the Living

Genre: Death Metal | Label: Invictus Productions
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia | Listen: Bandcamp

Grave Infestation are a new band out of Vancouver, but the way they play death metal makes it sound like they’re from the depths of hell. These Canucks put out a pair of crushing demos in 2019 (which have been compiled on a compilation LP and released alongside this record), and needless to say, they made a strong impression on myself and many other death metal fans. For those unfamiliar with Grave Infestation, they contain three members of AHNA, and continue the absolutely sinister style of death metal that resulted in the former band’s apex album, “Crimson Dawn.” There’s a clear refinement of sound and vision here, as Grave Infestation eschews the punkier elements of their old band’s sound, and dives further into morbid death metal.

If you were hoping to hear the Sacrilege influences that were prominent in AHNA’s later material, those are not to be found here. This applies both to those thrashy style of riffs, and the vocals. Drummer Anju Singh focuses entirely on drums and leaves the vocal department entirely to guitarist Graham Christofferson, who has some deathly low growls and bestial snarls that are perfectly suited for what Grave Infestation is playing musically. However, there are certainly lots of elements from the members’ previous band that show up here. The overall tone is still very sinister and hellish, and this is achieved in a variety of ways. The lead guitar work is especially at the forefront of this, as reverb drenched guitar abuse is peppered throughout each song, sounding more like torture than any sort of virtuoso playing, and I mean that in the best way possible.

The ebb and flow of percussive approach here also really adds to the evil feeling of this record. There’s a certain primitiveness to the drums, as they aren’t flashy, but they give the needed velocity to the fast parts like in the beginning of “Plague of Crypts,” and can let the creepiness of the riffs shine through by opening up a bit like on “Slaughter, then Laughter”. Even just basic cymbal-kick shots like midway in the title track add so much power by doing something simple. They utilize blastbeats too, but go for the more primitive “goat blast” style that works very well with the style of riffs here. Really, at the end of the day, each individual piece of this record is relatively simple, but it is greater than the sum of its parts. Again, there’s no flashy embellishment on “Persecution of the Living,” and everyone works together to make each song vile.

Much like previous output by the members of this band, this record was recorded at Rain City Recorders by Jesse Gander, and he’s managed to make sense of this downtuned filth. Each instrument is easy to spot in the mix, but much like the songwriting, they come together to form something greater than the sum of their individual parts. The way the grimy bass backs the guitar creates such filthy torrent of sound, and again, this is something that these musicians have put to practice with their other bands like AHNA, Ceremonial Bloodbath, and Encoffinate. Seriously though, scope that bass tone in the break in the title track – when the guitars come back in, it’s really apparent how complementary all the tones are with each other.

Coming back to the previous demos, there are a couple re-recorded tracks from the second demo that appear at the end of this record – “Human Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Eternal Oblivion” – and then none from the first demo. These re-recordings sound as savage as ever, and fit right into the rest of the record. For those keeping score, that means six of the songs here are new, as the other two are just short intro/outro tracks. It clocks in at about 37 minutes which is an ideal length to digest such a dense and evil album.

I’m having a hard time finding other bands to compare this too, because although this is certainly in the vein of old school death metal without question, it doesn’t have any obvious influences up front. Surely there is some Autopsy influence with the creepy leads and doomier sections, but I feel like Grave Infestation has done a good job mixing things up and never feeling like a worship band in any regard. This just further strengthens the case that death metal fans just need to hear this record – it does everything death metal is supposed do, and delivers a range of killer riffs in a powerful package. If you loved AHNA’s progression towards death metal, Grave Infestation will surely satisfy.


Besieged – Violence Beyond All Reason

Genre: Death/Thrash Metal | Label: Unspeakable Axe
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba | Listen: Bandcamp

It’s been over a decade – 12 years to be exact – since Winnipeg’s Besieged has put out a full length. They put out a couple songs on a 7″ in 2015, but the band has been relatively quiet other than that over the last while. Finally, these Canadian thrashers have released their sophomore album (which is technically their third album if you count the scrapped debut from 2005), and fans of the band will not be disappointed. Their signature style of ripping thrash metal with a little bit of death metal brutality is displayed in full force on “Violence Beyond All Reason,” and does so in relentless fashion.

First and foremost, Besieged have not strayed away from what makes them great in the first place, and that’s providing an absolute onslaught of vicious riffs. The obvious comparison is Sepultura, specifically some hybrid “Schizophrenia” and “Beneath the Remains.” There’s plenty of other brutal thrash bands or death/thrash acts from that era that are probably also a huge influence on these guys, but you get the idea. Besieged waste no time on their latest offering, as there are very few moments for one to catch their breath. The drums might drop back for a moment with some quick guitar build up, such as in the intro of “Paragons of Brutality” but other than that, Besieged push the pedal to the floor as much humanly possible. This speed is coupled with some impressive finger dexterity in the riffs, as they twist and turn around intricate patterns that are easy enough to digest, but are clearly creative and well thought out in their construction. In simpler terms, this isn’t some copy cat worship record, and these riffs provide plenty to chew on.

The guitar work doesn’t stop with the riffs, as the lead playing further displays some fretboard wizardry throughout the record. Another thing I’ve always liked about Besieged is their inclusion of solos that sound like they’re right out of the 80’s thrash era. Dive bombs fly into complex runs with the utmost smoothness, and are further enhance with tasteful bends and the odd quick arpeggio. The lead guitar tone is exquisite. It cuts through the mix with ease, is full of life, and is a shining example of what a lead tone should sound like. It doesn’t feel overly drenched in any effects, but there’s certainly something there to give it a little extra texture, such as in “One World Coma,” and there seems to be a wah pedal present throughout a lot of the solos. Again, very much in line with its 80’s thrash influences, and is executed at a very high level.

The production is generally really great on this record, especially with the way the guitars and vocals are done. There are some tasteful vocal effects thrown in here and there, as well as double tracking to give them some extra power. The drums, however, aren’t as satisfactory to my ear, and for two reasons. First, the toms are very boxy sounding, and they stick out a little funny because of this. Second, the kicks are very clicky. This isn’t much of a problem for most of the record, but there’s some parts in “One World Coma” where the drums become the focal point, and the typewriter kicks become so apparent. Otherwise, the drum performance is just as ferocious as the riffs, and the interaction between the riffs and drums is what propels this record the whole way through.

Clocking in at a mere 26 minutes, the 7 songs on “Violence Beyond All Reason” is a lean affair with zero filler. It is a little disappointing that it’s not longer, especially considering how much time there’s been between albums. Of course, it’s always better to have quality over quantity, and Besieged excel when it comes to what matters. “Violence Beyond All Reason” is without a doubt a worthy follow-up to “Victims Beyond All Help,” and is almost as if the similar album titles is a clue that they haven’t deviated from what made them great in the first place. Fans of late 80’s death/thrash like Demolition Hammer, Incubus, Morbid Saint, and of course, Sepultura need to get this in their ears immediately!