Archagathus – Canadian Horse

Genre: Grindcore | Label: To Live A Lie
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba| Listen: Bandcamp

archagathus canadian horse

Bursting onto the international grind scene in the mid 2000’s, Winnipeg’s Archagathus fostered a cult following with a series of split 7″ records throughout the rest of that decade, including releases with better known names like Death Toll 80k, Unholy Grave, and Agathocles. Staring in 2010, the band started to put out recordings in the 12″ format, starting with “Atrocious Halitosis from Nauseated Disgorging” that year, and then “Coffee Grinder” in May of 2011 (which was initially recorded in 2008). These LPs are much more on the raw side of things, in contrast to “Canadian Horse,” which dropped a mere 3 months after “Coffee Grinder.” I’m not sure what the band considers their first proper full length, but it might as well be “Canadian Horse” as it displays their brand of mincecore with much more focused production and sound. As such, this LP is what I would recommend to any grindcore fan who hasn’t heard the band yet.

The core of Archagathus’ sound unsurprisingly comes from the great Belgian band, Agathocles. They play old school grindcore with a focus on simple songs and engaging lyrics. These songs usually revolve around a relatively simple punk riff that gets backed by a polka-thrash beat, until it inevitably crescendos into the expected blastbeats and d-beats. With such a basic approach, Archagathus’ strength lays in their ability to construct each song with catchy/powerful riffs that never overstay their welcome, all while contributing to the infectious momentum of the record. These 17 songs last a mere 23 minutes, so there is no time wasted on bringing forth quality riffs, and the overall performances are really tight.

The Prince of Mince, also known as Dan Ryckman, performs the main instruments on here, and does so with a high degree of tightness and skill. There’s no time to show off in these songs, but it’s very clear that Dan can play, and play at a high level he does. He is not alone on this recording, as he is joined by his usual partner in crime, Joe Warkentin, who contributes vocals and guitar as well. Between the two, they employ quite a range of vocal styles. I’ve touched on this with previous Archagathus reviews, but this really helps establish a much needed dynamic across this record. There are moans, yells, screams, growls, gurgles, and all sorts of crazy vocal sounds coming out of these two grind freaks. Furthermore, their efforts are aided by guest vocalist Sébastien Dionne of Dahmer on a few tracks.

One of the things that really sets this apart from Archagathus’ discography is the quality of the production. Much of the previous Archagathus discography is appropriately raw for mince/grindcore, but there was obviously much more focus going into making a great sounding record with this full length. Dan has done a lot of killer recordings for bands in Winnipeg, and it’s easy to see why with the results of “Canadian Horse.” The drums are impactful and clear with no distracting tones, and the guitar and bass occupy their own space and sound nice and heavy. They’ve had some excellent sounding records since the release of “Canadian Horse,” but this one certainly feels like a benchmark for excellence.

As I mentioned, there are a lot of catchy moments throughout this record. Songs like “Brain: Dead?” with it’s roaring vocal patterns and blastbeat-backed riffs are hard to ignore, and the punky feel of tracks like “Sexy Grinder” are just so easy to get into. There’s an infectious bounce due to the polka beats used throughout, such as “Fuck the System,” which of course contains some pretty easy to catch lyrics that stick. The album’s closing track, “The Night Wolf,” also contains some insane vocals, and it’s Autopsy-esque doom intro gives it that extra little bit of something unique to make it stand out on the record that much more. Each track has something to grab onto, these are just some of examples of the stand out moments to me.

I really can’t say enough good things about this record, and it’s been on constant rotation for me since I first discovered Archagathus a couple years after this album’s release. I honestly think this band is one of the best Canadian punk/grind/metal bands, and I’d easy rank them at the top along with bands like Six Brew Bantha and Massgrave. Everything about “Canadian Horse” hits just right, from its improved recording, to its tight performances and killer songwriting. I’d even go as far to say that these guys are objectively better than Agathocles, with whom the basis of their sound is formed from. Their discography is pretty huge at this point, so it’s quite a daunting task to know where to start, so again, I would highly recommend this as a starting point as it just does everything right when it comes to grindcore.


Disciples of Power – Mechanikill

Genre: Death Metal | Label: MindtGash
Location: Edmonton, Alberta| Listen: Bandcamp

disciples of power mechanikill

Edmonton, Alberta is a desolate wasteland located in the Canadian prairies, farther north than all other major cities in Canada. It’s a working class city that has produced a lot of music throughout the decades, and there have been many notable metal acts that call Edmonton home, as I do myself. Disciples of Power were one of the first metal bands to make their mark from this city, and rightfully so. Their first three albums are all crucial listening for any technical thrash or death metal fans as far as I’m concerned, and deserve to be talked about when it comes to Canadian metal. However, in the case of 1996’s “Mechanikill,” I feel like the band lost focus and I really just can’t get into this record.

Disciples of Power initially started as a technical thrash band, but started to veer towards death metal as the 90’s began with their next two albums. “Mechanikill” steers itself in a different direction by implementing an almost progressive like feel to it. There are certainly a lot more mellow, atmospheric, and melodic parts throughout this album than previous Disciples of Power material. What makes this frustrating is that it’s just not executed very well in terms of songwriting. The songs often feel like they’re building up to something, but they just never get to that point of break-neck speed metal. As soon as they build a part up, they do some start/stop stuff into some other part that feels unrelated and disconnected to what just happened previously. This happens over and over in a linear progression with many of these songs, and the band never really comes back to any parts for any sense of coherence. Furthermore, a lot of these parts feel like I’m listening to someone just shredding over top of kind of generic moods and atmospheres. Don’t get me wrong, mainman Hart Bachmier is an incredibly talented guitarist, and his solos are pretty amazing, but some of the stuff that he’s playing over just feels like it’s there for him to play over, rather than being a powerful part unto itself. He utilizes tons of moods and effects to give these parts some identity, but I still fail to latch onto any even after repeated listens.

This album is over an hour long, and it’s just so unfocused. Bachmier seemed to really have the reigns on this album in terms of writing and playing, and I feel that may have been detrimental to the songwriting process. Perhaps if they had worked on this more as a band, or with a different producer at the helm, these songs could be worked into something that has a sense of purpose. As far as I’m concerned, a lot of the material here just feels like an excuse for someone to show off their technical prowess. Even in the first track, “Wings of Suicide,” there’s these random noodling parts that seemingly come out of nowhere, and it’s just the bass and guitars doing some things in unison. The title track gets into this territory, and by this point in the record, it’s a tired routine that desperately needs some energetic riffs.  “Symphonic Animosity” is even worse, and doesn’t even get off the runway. Quite honestly, the only memorable part of this record occurs at about 4:30 in “Inside (Circles of Sickness)”, as that lead melody is really catchy and will surely satisfy any heavy metal fan.

Not everything is bad about this record – Dean Relf’s drumming is phenomenal as always, and the way this record was put together is impressive when considering all the different kind moods and effects that are going on here. But this kind of thing can’t save the overly drawn out and linear songwriting, and it just doesn’t give me that death/thrash goodness that their previous releases did. Funny enough, I think bands like Blood Incantation have successfully done what “Mechanikill” tries to do – it employs riff after riff in a linear fashion, but each riff develops in some logical sense, and it also has all the crazy solos and atmospheric parts that could easily draw comparison to this weird little Canadian metal album. I know some of my older friends who grew up with Disciples of Power will disagree with my take on this album greatly, but as far as I’m concerned, this is just a frustrating album to listen to, and you’re much better off with their first three albums.


Hoopsnake – Snowmanmoth

Genre: Doom Metal | Label: Independent
Location: Squamish, British Columbia| Listen: Bandcamp

hoopsnake snowmanmoth

The western province of British Columbia has produced a lot of heavy bands, and there’s no shortage of bands within the doom metal realm over there. Hailing from Squamish, a town just north up the coast from Vancouver, Hoopsnake have been playing their own brand of Sabbath influenced riffs for over a decade. Their second full length, “Snowmanmoth,” may be their finest hour yet, as it perfectly captures the massive sound that this trio conjures up with a wall of amps and a drum kit with the largest kick and toms possible.

For those not familiar with the band, their sound is very much in the stoner metal realm, taking use of blues scales much like the forefathers of the genre, and playing them with focus on groove and slower tempos. The heavy metal influence feels a lot more pronounced on this record than their previous releases, and with the inclusion of a ZZ Top cover, it’s clear that Hoopsnake lives on a diet of classic rock too. They use these influences to their advantage and it really gives these low tunes riffs just the right feel in the rhythm section that make them instantly infectious. Dave’s solos are super bluesy and definitely have classic rock written all over them. The last track even features some really psychedelic stuff in the intro, pushing the band into more new territory, but never taking it too far where it doesn’t feel like a Hoopsnake record.

For a stoner band, Hoopsnake sidesteps tradition in the vocal department, and don’t use any sort of clean singing. They really push it to the extreme, as bassist Shane has a low pitched growl opposite of guitarist Dave’s high pitched screams. It’s such a classic dynamic more commonly found in extreme metal bands, and it further gives a contrast with the groovy music behind it. Their lyrics are just as dynamic as the songs themselves, as they feature tales of mythical beasts (the title track), life on the road (“Scorpion”), skateboarding, and obviously drugs.

As mentioned, Hoopsnake have a massive live sound thanks to an abundance of amplifiers, and thankfully that sort of feeling is reproduced on this record. This was recorded at Rain City Recorders by Jesse Gander, keeping tradition with their previous vinyl releases. Everything that comes out of that studio sounds full, clear, and genre appropriate, and “Snowmanmoth” is no exception. Seeing as the band are just a power trio, a clear and present bass tone is essential, and it’s certainly full and powerful on this recording. The drums feel as massive as they are physically, without any muddy interference.

The six songs on this record touch so many complementary influences but it all sounds cohesive and catchy, and the longer songs never overstay their welcome. If you’re into the usual stoner doom bands like Electric Wizard and Sleep, “Snowmanmoth” is a must buy record, and Hoopsnake’s discography is worth a dive into as well. You’ll have to buy the album directly from the band, as they put out their material independently, but it’s a worthwhile purchase. There’s a cool booklet filled with art, lyrics, and tour photos that really capture the spirit of this band. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them live on many occasions, and this record was an instant buy as soon as I was able to get my hands on it.


Anatomia/Grudge/Coffins – Doomed to Death, Damned in Hell

Genre: Death/Doom Metal | Label: Grindmind Records
Location: Tokyo, Japan| Listen: YouTube


Back in 2007, Japanese death/doomers Coffins were exploding in the underground, hot of the heels of their sophomore album, “The Other Side of Blasphemy.” Before releasing their third LP, they released a string of splits, including a three way split with two other Tokyo based death/doom bands. I bought this CD solely because of Coffins, but came to love the entire hour long duration. Anatomia and Grudge both brought complementary yet unique approaches to death/doom for their contributions to this split. Each band brings about 20 minutes of material, thus giving a nice representation of each, but a fully digestible amount at that.

Anatomia opens up the split with five tracks of Autopsy worship. This was only their third release at the time, and also my introduction to the band. While preparing to review this split, I ended up listening to their full lengths, and unsurprisingly, it has the most in common with their debut album. Simply put, there is a huge emphasis on the slower side of Autopsy here, complete with the same type of drum beats and riffs that established the seminal death metal band’s sound. There’s even some punkier midpaced parts like on “Necrocannibal Instinct” that reek of Autopsy too. The vocals are low and dark, and backed by a massively heavy guitar tone. The drums sound like they were recorded with a focus on a natural room sound, which gives these tracks a certain rawness, but that works well with the Autopsy influence.

The most mysterious band of the split, Grudge, appears in the middle. This was also my introduction to the band, and as far as I can tell, Grudge had previously released more grindcore oriented material prior to this. As a result, remnants of grindcore can be found all over their four tracks, but they are clearly aiming to play death/doom with these songs. To my ear, Winter sounds like the main influence for their death/doom approach, as they pound away and low tuned Celtic Frost riffs with similar feel punky feel, and dive into slow sections in the same vein as well. However, they throw in a healthy amount of sloppy blast beats, and utilize plenty of vocal styles that have Agathocles written all over it, especially some of the more drawn out “moaning” ones. The result is fairly unique, and the Agathocles influence is further pushed by the raw and heavy production.

Finally, Coffins closes out this split with three original tracks plus an Asphyx cover. As previously mentioned, Coffins had already released a couple full lengths, and put out three other splits the same year as this one. I always felt that Coffins were at their best around this period of time, and they struck a great balance between slower, crushing songs, and more energetic d-beat songs. “Cremated Remains” falls into the former, while “Stillbirth” is a straight forward example of the latter, really driving itself with a nice d-beat pace. The addition of the Asphyx cover is also great, and Coffins always seems to have excellent selection when it comes to cover tracks. There are no surprises here, just infectiously catchy and pounding death/doom.

Every time I decide to revisit this split, I’m always satisfied with it. Despite its length, it’s the perfect amount of time to showcase three bands playing the genre but with totally different approaches. Anatomia’s Autopsy worship is on full force here, and they’ve since gone on to have quite a successful career since, releasing a respectable amount of splits in addition to some full lengths on better known labels. Grudge hasn’t released anything since, making their grinding death/doom performance on here a standout in their small discography. Coffins, of course, has remained active over the years with many more releases, and this is one of many that cemented my fandom for them back in the mid/late 2000’s with their signature brand of d-beat laden death/doom. “Doomed to Death, Damned in Hell” is a choice split, and shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle of both Coffins and Anatomia’s large discographies.


Funebrarum – The Sleep of Morbid Dreams

Genre: Death Metal | Label: Cyclone Records
Location: Clifton, NJ| Listen: Bandcamp

funebrarum the sleep of morbid dreams

If you were a death metal fan in the 2000’s, there’s a good chance you stumbled upon New Jersey’s Funebrarum. This American death metal group eschewed all modern death metal trends of that decade – you wouldn’t be labeling this as brutal or technical death metal, nor was it melodic like many of their Swedish counterparts. Instead, Funebrarum were at the forefront of a wave of bands that were playing dark and cavernous death metal with its influences in many early 90’s bands. As the decade closed, Funebrarum released their sophomore album in 2009, “The Sleep of Morbid Dreams,” which has certainly stood the test of time all these years later.

Funebrarum is from New Jersey, so it’s pretty easy to attribute their sound to the NYDM scene, and to a point that’s accurate. It is comparably dark to bands like Incantation, utilizing doom metal sections and inhumanly low vocals. However, it is Finnish death metal that seems to be the primary influence on “The Sleep of Morbid Dreams,” as they share a common sense of dark melody, rhythmic feels, and knack for hooks with their Finnish counterparts. It’s easy to hear bands like Abhorrence, Convulse, Disgrace, and many others in these low tuned riffs. Often, they’ll utilize an evil sounding melody that’s over a fairly simple chord progression, and the kind of scales they use really relate it back to these Finnish greats. Hell, there’s even a quirky, Demilich like riff before the doom part later in “Beyond Recognition.”

Among many of the bands playing cavernous death metal around this time, Funebrarum certainly had a knack for having hooks in their songs, and they would do this by pairing a riff with plenty of identity, with a simple repeated vocal pattern. “Grave Reaper,” a track from a previous split with Interment, is a fan favourite due to its caveman bounce and recognizable chorus. Meanwhile, other songs will pair these absolutely flesh ripping tremolo riffs that carve out infectious patterns with yet another catchy vocal pattern. “Incineration of Mortal Flesh” is a prime example of this, you won’t miss the title of the track if you didn’t read it before hand. Likewise, the epic track “Nex Monumentum” gets away with doing this on a couple different parts, and they both really hit that sweet spot of where death metal should hit.

While a lot of these low tuned, cavernous death metal bands of this time would purposely present their music with raw or murky production, this not the case with Funebrarum. This is by no means a “modern” sounding recording, as there are no typewriter drums to be heard here. That being said, it is a fairly clear recording, and despite the low tuning, it’s not hard to distinguish the powerful bass and the heavy guitars from one another. The kick drums are present without being distracting, and the the toms are really in your face too. There’s some nice production touches like the keys in “Nex Monumentum” which add to that gloomy Finnish atmosphere even more. Overall, this is a fantastic sounding record that emphasizes the power of the riffs and performances without sucking the life out of it or making it too murky.

It’s been a dozen years since “The Sleep of Morbid Dreams” came out, and further established Funebrarum as one of the premiere bands in this era of death metal. By taking a huge amount of Finnish death metal influence and some remnants of NYDM, this record has a sound that just hits right when it comes to death metal. Many fans, myself included, have been anxiously awaiting the follow up record, as the few shorter releases they’ve released in the meantime have only heightened the anticipation. As such, there’s no better time to give this record another listen if you haven’t in a while, and I’m sure you’ll find it’ll set the bar pretty high for the follow up record that’s due out this year.


Ignivomous – Death Transmutation

Genre: Death Metal | Label: Nuclear War Now
Location: Melbourne, Australia| Listen: Bandcamp

ignivomous death transmutation

The trajectory of death metal has taken many twists and turns over the years, with many off-shots becoming popular, while other styles dying and later being revitalized. Back in the mid 2000s, you could find many “death” metal bands pushing the style further into melodic, technical, or brutal realms. The more straightforward and “pure” sounding death metal bands either died off or just weren’t as prominent anymore. Not to say it was entirely dead, as bands like Incantation never strayed too far from their roots, but it sure felt like its heyday was over. This was soon to change later in the decade, as a lot of new bands started popping up that were highly influenced by the likes of the previously mentioned Incantation, focusing on dark and cavernous atmospheres. Once such band from Australia, Ignivomous, was at the forefront of this resurgence, and their debut album has held up extremely well over time.

“Death Transmutation” had a decent amount of hype before it came out. Ignivomous had previously released a demo to critical acclaim in the underground, and they dropped a 7″ the year before the album. Needless to say, the hype was well deserved, as not only does it capture that brooding atmosphere that is so often associated with the “caverncore” bands that started popping up at this time, but the focus of quality riffs is really what made Ignivomous worth coming back to time and time again. A high level of musicality is executed here, with a variety of riffs and feels. Take the title track, for example – a doom laden mid section (complete with the expected pinch harmonics) gives way to some layered guitars that create a feeling of spiraling into the abyss as they interact with each other.

Of course, the main appeal of death metal isn’t just how heavy it is, because ripping tremolo riffs at high speeds is just as crucial. “Noneuclidean Maelstrom,” for example, displays these riffs against a variety of drum beats, which are further varied to keep the songs from being monotonous. Chris Broadway employs a jackhammer style of blastbeats kind of like Suffocation, as opposed to the scissor blast that you’d hear in Incantation. He does a lot of double kick beats too while avoiding dragging things out, such as during the solo section in “The World Upon Nihil.” Again, songs like this employ some dual guitar work to create some tension and depth to the song. The band originally featured two guitarists, but one quit before the album, so Sean Hinds essentially pulls double duty by playing both parts.

One of the stand out features of “Death Transmutation” (and Ignivomous’ discography in general) is its disdain for modern production. This recording feels really honest – there’s not a lot of emphasis on clicky drums, the guitars have a natural air to them, and nothing seems like it’s been overly squashed. Don’t confuse this for an amateur recording – they seem to have been conscious enough to EQ out the undesirable elements that any professional would normally take care of, such as the hollow boxy tones that are usually found in the drums. You can still hear the kicks and everything, but it just sounds very natural, as if the band consciously wanted to defy the overly clinical sound that plagued so many brutal and technical death metal bands throughout the decade.  Sometimes I wish the toms had a little more boom to them, but it’s by no means a deal breaker.

After all these years, I still find “Death Transmutation” just as enjoyable as I did when it first came out. Hell, maybe I like it even more now, because it stands as a cut above a lot of other cavernous death metal bands that were coming out at the same time, and that can be directly attributed to the strength of the music itself. Between the ripping fast tremolo riffs and doom sections, Ignivomous keeps a delicate balance in their songs, and the more raw approach to production gives it a suffocating atmosphere that is perfectly suited for evil death metal. I sometimes find myself forgetting I own this album because I have to store it with my 7″ records due to the extra large booklet, but whenever I do remember to bust this one out, the inner Incantation fanboy in me is completely satisfied. “Caverncore” often gets mentioned with an eye roll when discussing modern death metal, but I assure any curious readers that this album has stood up against the test of time and should be welcomed into any death metal fan’s collection.


Nokturnel – Nothing but Hatred

Genre: Death/Thrash Metal | Label: JL America
Location: Burlington, NJ| Listen: YouTube

nokturnel nothing but hatred

From the depths of New Jersey comes Nokturnel, a ripping fast death metal band that has ties to many other names in the death metal underground. Namely, it features Tom Stevens, who had been involved in death metal’s formative years since 1985 with the band Savage Death (which also featured drummer Erik Young). Eight years after starting his journey of pushing the extreme, Stevens’ finally released a full length with Nokturnel in 1993, entitled “Nothing but Hatred.” Pure speed and brutality take the forefront here, but they are steered by an equally wild force of creativity.

Everything is cranked to 11 on this record, and the songs are always verging into higher speeds as they develop. Stevens’ riffs are varied and pack a punch, as he plays lightning fast power chords that jump around along the fret board, but also incorporates quite a lot of quirky ideas. Much like fellow mid-Atlantic death metallers Deceased, Nokturnel has a knack for incorporating Voivod influenced sections throughout their songs. One of the best examples of this are the dissonant chords and jagged rhythms in the track “Global Suicide.” That song also features an excellent thrash break at the end that also reminds me of Deceased, and you could make the case that fans of “Luck of the Corpse” will find a lot to like about “Nothing but Hatred.”

Unlike Deceased, Nokturnel eschews heavy metal melody for much more chaotic lead playing. Quite honestly, Tom Stevens’ guitar playing is the highlight and overall driving force of this record. Much like his riffing, his lead playing is frantic and relentless. His solos are like a more virtuoso version of Slayer, as they’re pretty chromatic, but he employs incredibly smooth execution of tapping, sweeping, and even tremolo bar abuse. For a lack of a better term, Stevens is just metal as fuck on this record, and his bandmates are equally as skilled and unhinged as he is. The rhythm section is extremely tight, performing at full speed, but still allowing room to breath and build when appropriate. The bass sometimes simplifies the riffs without any tremolo picking, giving a more solid sense of rhythm. Furthermore, there’s some start/stop sections that are performed with absolute precision among all the madness, or things like quick shots and other nuances that give these songs a little something extra.

I’ve always found the production of this record to always be a little odd, but as each track goes by, I start to warm up to its sound. I think it comes down to the fact that the vocals are just too loud, as things seem to sit really well during some of the extended instrumental passages. The bass has a subtle overdrive that adds a mean edge to it, but it still maintains low end warmth. Meanwhile, the drums are standard early 90’s death metal affair, with lots of smack on the kick drum, but it seems to have a nice balance as the snare and toms retain a good natural sound and dynamic. Many of the lead guitar sections emphasize the fact the band is a three piece, as there will be no rhythm guitar under it, but it doesn’t sound empty, as the rhythm section is able retain a full sound with busy playing.

Death/thrash and NYDM fans who haven’t heard this record should do themselves a favor and give it a listen. Although it has plenty in common with their fellow New Jersey death/thrash bands like Ripping Corpse and Revenant, it doesn’t have the slamming breakdowns of the former nor the extravagant Morbid Angel moments of the latter. What it does have is Voivoid-esque fretboard wizardry, and an insatiable thirst for over the top speed. It’s a shame this record hasn’t been re-released at any point – maybe the cover is just a little too ridiculous for its own good – but as far as I’m concerned, this is up there with the other classic death metal bands mentioned in this review.


Favourite Releases of 2020

If there’s one positive about 2020, it was that I had ample time to listen to a lot of music. That being said, I still don’t check out new music like I did when I was younger. Hell, even just back in 2014, my year end list was huge (and thankfully most of it is still stuff I am listening to). These are the releases I enjoyed and listened to the most throughout the year. I narrowed it down to just ten albums and ten miscellaneous releases for simplicity, but there are plenty of honorable mentions. I’ve included links to each releases’ Bandcamp for ease of listening.

Top 10 Albums of 2020

AHNA – Crimson Dawn
ahna crimson dawn
The five year wait for AHNA’s death metal masterpiece, “Crimson Dawn” has finally ended, and it delivers the goods. Sinister, evil, and just fucking metal. The stenchcore and punk influences really play nice with the Autopsy and Bolt Thrower riffs. I’ll go as far to call this my favourite record of 2020.

Caustic Wound – Death Posture
caustic wound death posture
Grindcore featuring 3/4 of Mortiferum in the vein of Repulsion but with heavier production. Absolutely relentless and full of riffs, it’ll surely satisfy old school grind fans as well as metal fans who are usually apprehensive about the genre.

Ceremonial Bloodbath – The Tides of Blood
ceremonial bloodbath the tides of blood
Black/death metal that gets into war metal territory but never sacrifices the riff. Features members of Massgrave, AHNA, Radioactive Vomit, etc so it’s already rooted in tons of experience, no surprise it’s great. It’s the only thing this year that competes with AHNA in terms of how sinister it sounds.

Draghkar – At the Crossroads of Infinity
draghkar at the crossroads
Full disclosure, the frontman of Draghkar is my bandmate in Azath. But holy shit, this is a great slab of melodic death metal that never loses sight of the fact it’s still death metal. Plenty of Greek black metal influence too, and an insane amount of guitar solos courtesy of Kelly from Drawn and Quartered.

Gorephilia – In the Eye of Nothing
gorephilia in the eye of nothing
This band has always been on my radar, but now I can definitely say I’m a fan. Combining Morbid Angel riffs with the general heaviness of Finnish death metal, it was a must buy record for me this year.

Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
napalm death throes
It’s amazing how Napalm Death still manages to put out records that sound fresh but still like themselves. The increased amount of post-punk and noise-rock influences make for a dynamic album, while still giving us the grind we’d expect.

Necrot – Mortal
necrot mortal
Necrot’s sophomore album gives us more meat and potatoes death metal, but does it with all the right elements. With great sounding production and riffs galore, this Oakland power trio has earned every bit of hype they’ve got. The guitar solos really add a classy element on top of everything.

VoidCeremony – Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel
voidceremonty entropic
Weirdo death metal from Southern California that includes members that have been in bands like Ascended Dead. Features the Great Righteous Destroyer (StarGazer) on bass, who further adds to the progressive sound of VoidCeremony.

WAKE – Devouring Ruin
wake devouring ruin
Calgary’s WAKE finally went all in on the black/death metal direction they’ve been pushing on the last two records, and actually recorded a full 45 minutes. They hinted at some of their abilities of riding out parts and exercising musicality within, but they fully realize it here, and there’s really none of the previous grindcore elements present. They released an EP in the fall that is highly recommended if you like where they are going on this release!

Warp Chamber – Implements of Excruciation
warp chamber implements
This was recommended to me on the grounds that it’s similar to Blood Incantation, and with just 4 songs at 30 minutes, it looks like that on the surface. They have a very similar riffing style which also features a lot of variations on a theme, but they don’t pull back into any atmospheric sections or clean guitar parts. In other words, it’s a relentless riff experience.

Special mention to two Canadian post-punk bands, Spectres (Vancouver) and Paradise (Calgary). Both put out excellent albums this year, with Spectres releasing their 4th and most “produced” sounding record to date, where as Paradise’s debut album has a grungier approach. Do not miss Spectres – Nostalgia or Paradise – Pariah if you’re looking for something dreamy.

Runners up include: Black Curse – Endless Wound; Faceless Burial – Speciation; Goden – Beyond Darkness; Incantation – Sect of Vile Divinities; Intellect Devourer – Demons of the Skull; Internal Rot – Grieving Birth; Ofermod – Pentagrammaton; Primitive Man – Immersion; Question – Reflections of the Void; Siege Column – Darkside Legions; Ulthar – Providence; Undeath – Lesions of a Different Kind; Undergang – Aldrig I Livet; Venomous Skeleton – Drowning in Circles; Void Rot – Descending Pillars

Top 10 EPs/Splits/Demos/Comps of 2020

Anhedonist/Spectral Voice split 7″
anhedonist spectral voice
Two of the best death doom bands in the US, features an unreleased Anhedonist track that was recorded with their only album, and a new Spectral Voice song. The former was intended for an aborted split with Knelt Rote, where as the the latter gives us some really echoed out drums mid-song that sounds awesome.

Archagathus/Meat Spreader split 12″
archagathus meat spreader
Some of the most blast oriented Archagathus material to date, it sounds fantastic. Meanwhile, Meat Spreader sound like a combination of members’ former bands (Dead Infection and Squash Bowels) making for one mean slab of grindcore.

Atavisma/Void Rot split 12″
atavisma void rot
Void Rot’s album was pretty good but I was also enjoying this split quite a lot. The Minneapolis death/doomers teamed up with Atavisma from France who further supplement the style heard here with a little more weirdness (kind of like Swallowed but not quite as unhinged).

Auroch – Stolen Angelic Tongues EP
auroch stolen angelic tongues
After the incredible “Mute Books” LP, Auroch returns with 18 minutes of music which was initially intended for a split, but ultimately was released as a stand alone EP. The recording here is a little more cavernous sounding than before but musically they continue their odd path of technical occult death metal. They’re now a fully fledged five piece, and there seems to be a lot more depth here than ever.

Come to Grief – Pray for the End EP
come to grief pray for the end
Grief are one of the most important sludge bands of all time, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised by how solid Come to Grief is. The name change is for the best, but it’s quite obviously in the same vein, and ultimately is a satisfying 3 songs of heavy sludge metal.

Lykotonen – Only Our Eyes Are Alive demo
lykotonen only our eyes
A project featuring many familiar faces of the Denver metal scene, this is a strange piece of black/death metal with members of Blood Incantation and Wayfarer. The “interlude” track in the middle is a really well executed piece of atmospheric industrial music, and it stands out to me a lot.

Oxalate/Perpetuated/Blood Spore/Vivisect split
oxalate blood spore 4way
Four bands from the mid-Atlantic US teamed up for this split, each showcasing a track of their brand of death metal. All these bands are relatively new, but all seem to have a solid understanding of death metal. I’m already a big fan of Oxalate and Blood Spore, so this was kind of a no brainer to check out for me.

Scheme – s/t demo
scheme demo
Somewhat of a supergroup of Canadian punk bands, featuring members of Napalm Raid, Massgrave, Decontrol, and Phane. No surprise here, it’s catchy as fuck d-beat, presented with a professional sounding recording.

Spectral Voice – Necrotic Demos comp
spectral voice necrotic demos
Another entry for Spectral Voice this year, this comp is just too killer not to mention. It includes their demo and their contributions to 4 different split 7″ releases, one of which is listed here. They’re the best modern death/doom band, and having all these non-album tracks on a single CD was an instant buy for me.

Thou – Blessings of the Highest Order comp
thou blessings
These Louisiana sludge freaks released two compilations of covers in 2020, with this one consisting entirely of Nirvana songs. I never realized how badly I needed to hear these songs adapted to the sludge style – it’s seriously an awesome interpretation. I enjoyed this so much I ended up listening to a lot of Nirvana throughout the year as a result.

Fireign – Valley of Unrest

Genre: Power/Thrash Metal | Label: Self Released
Location: St John’s, NL| Listen: YouTube

fireign valley of unrest

St. John’s, Newfoundland is an isolated island city in eastern Canada that’s more known for its folk music (and distinct regional accent, for what it’s worth) than heavy metal. Yet, Fireign’s “Valley of Unrest” was the first metal album by a Canadian band to grace my ears, and I live all the way in the western prairies. As fate would have it, I knew some Newfies who were friends of these guys, and since I was a young teen getting into thrash metal, they couldn’t help but shove this down my throat. Although I don’t listen to this as much anymore, I still enjoy revisiting it from time to time, as many of the lead melodies are still engraved in my mind.

I feel like every young metal head starts a band that tries to do a marriage of Metallica and Iron Maiden, and that’s a good generalization of what’s going on with Fireign’s debut full length from 2002. Looking at the photo of these guys, they’re clearly no older than 21, but surprisingly, the songs presented here show a lot of musical depth and maturity for guys just trying to combine thrash riffs with power metal melodies. “Killer in the Night” establishes the album with a pretty hooky lead melody over top a simple galloped 4 chord progression. This is a formula that is present throughout the album, with some basic song structures to contain these ideas. Although this sounds fairly unremarkable, the fact that I’m still remembering these melodic hooks almost two decades later is a testament to their staying power. The next two songs really milk this approach, but have enough hooks with the vocals that they’ve got their own identity. The lyrics are kind of cheesy, and they’re done in a raspy black metal style, but it works.

“Deadtime,” after its intro, is the thrashiest tune on this record, and gets into some real riffage beyond the chord progressions. “Iron Stake” takes a similar approach with more emphasis on thrash riffs, and includes a solo that would make Kirk Hammett’s eyes pop. The highlight of this record perhaps lies in the title track, as it is the longest track on the record, and we really get to hear the full abilities of lead guitarist Trevor Leonard. His sense of melody and composition within his solos are brilliant, and really gives this album the majority of its character. He gets into plenty of interesting motifs here, and there’s even a second lead guitar layered in behind, playing harmonies or even filling in the spaces between. The clean guitar outro track, “What Lies Within Us” further demonstrates Leonard’s brilliant playing, creating mood and atmosphere on its own.

Despite their young age, Fireign were wise enough to get this recorded professionally, everything standing out pretty well in the mix. The drums have a nice amount of reverb on the snare, and when things get thrashing, they can really be felt. Everything is well balanced, and the lead guitars sound great, which is crucial since they play such a major part throughout the songs.

Reviewing this album has made me question if I’d like it if I was introduced to it today as opposed to 18 years ago. Like I said, this is a pretty basic album in terms of where it’s coming from, and there are some moments that kind of drag, like the snare roll section in “Soldiers of War.” The cheesy lyrics could very well turn me off, and maybe I’d wish it was a little riffier if I wasn’t already into this. But dammit, this was impactful to hear in my youth when I was convinced there was nothing better than the big four thrash bands and I didn’t know how cheesy power metal was outside of the first Blind Guardian record. There are plenty of other Canadian bands I’d recommend over Fireign, but “Valley of Unrest” is still a great record as far as I’m concerned.


Iskra – European Tour Demo

Genre: Black Metal | Label: Black Raven Records
Location: Victoria, BC| Listen: Bandcamp

Iskra euro tour

Another veteran group of the west Canada metal/punk scene, Iskra are band from Victoria, BC that are rooted in crust punk that plays very Scandinavian influenced black metal. The “European Tour Demo” release came out between the six year gap that separated their second and third albums, and contains songs that appeared on both. It marks the first material recorded entirely by drummer Cody Baresich, and was done so at the band’s rehearsal space. The results are great, and it was a great layover release between albums when it dropped in 2012.

The A side of this recording contains 4 tracks that would later appear on the band’s third album, “Ruins.” These songs continue in the direction set forth by the previous “Bureval” record, and eschew most of the thrashy crust punk influence that was present on the self titled debut. Here we are met with riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by Dissection or Marduk. There’s lots of tremolo picking around frosty black metal chord progressions, and they really flex their musicianship while doing so. Tracks like “Illegal” spiral around with the bass shining through nicely and further adding to the swirling feeling with some great lines in the outro of this song, as well as some pretty cool dive-bomb littered leads. There’s a pretty great sense of melody here as seen with the closing track “Traume” that balances out blistering speed of these songs. When this demo came out, it certainly added a lot of hype for the “Ruins” album, even though it would take another three years to come out.

Going back to the “Bureval” record, the B side of this demo contains three re-recordings of songs originally from that album. These tracks are kind of redundant in the sense that this is the third version of them, as “Bureval” also has its own demo version that was pressed to vinyl the year after this demo came out. However, these tracks do contain two different members (bassist JP and second guitarist Anatol), and the recording here is arguably better than the original album. “Kronstadt” stands out in particular with its sheer speed and catchy black metal riffs, but I could say the same of “Dubrovlag,” as it is also a choice song. The B side ends with a cover of Immortal’s “Cursed Realms of the Winter Demons,” and really fits in with the Scandinavian style of black metal that Iskra draws their sound from.

Despite being a demo, this is a really great sounding record. I gave praise to Baresich’s recording in a review for fellow Victoria band Six Brew Bantha, and although this is an earlier recording than that, it’s rather solid. Like I said, it’s arguably better than the “Bureval” recording, with the bass having a nice low end presence, and all the notes of the fast tremolo picking shine through from the guitars. The drums have a bit of a boxy sound to them at times, which is something that has much been improved in later recordings. This serves as an excellent bridge to the “Ruins” LP, which shows even further detail and improvement as far as production values go.

Even after 8 years, I quite enjoy this demo recording, and at 30 minutes, it’s more like a full length, especially with its quality recording. The Immortal cover being exclusive to it gives it that little extra something. There were an additional two tracks recorded with this demo – another new song and cover of Doom’s “Nazi Die” – which were later released on a split 7″. I often find myself listening to those tracks alongside this demo as they have the same production. This demo may not be essential for those who already have “Bureval” and “Ruins,” but it’s always stuck with me, especially because I gave it so many listens waiting for that third full length.