Blood of Serpents – Sulphur Sovereign (Black Metal)

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Blood of Serpents have been a rather unknown Swedish force but have slowly gained a following after some great live performances following their debut album Black Dawn. However to reach the next stage something needed to change for the sophomore album. In comes one of my favorite vocalists Thomas Clifford (Throne of Heresy, Abscession) ready to take them there and what a match it is. While I thought Black Dawn was a good debut it wasn’t that memorable, it missed some of that hard hitting edge I look for in this type of music. Now with Sulphur Sovereign I get a massive dose of onslaught coming my way. Where Black Dawn was a mid-paced black metal effort with some atmospheric parts to it Sulphur Sovereign is straight up Belphegor, Marduk and Dark Funeral style with it’s fast, powerful and relentless sound. While I personally love this style there is a thin line on creating an album that doesn’t become monotone due to it. The singles have been great for example but does 46 minutes of blast beats do the trick or become boring? That’s where the songwriting and having variation to it all is very important, so that the songs don’t feel like one big mass. In some ways this is where I think Blood of Serpents have not really found their way yet, there are a few songs that are simply too similar to eachother, which lovers the overall enjoyment somewhat.

The first few songs for example do tend to sound like one long track due to this. Whereas “As the Temple Burns” make a great job adding the variation I crave for in a full album of this sort if I want replay value. It’s bit funny really, track by track this album is close to perfect from what I look for in Swedish black metal but when listening to the album back to back then there is too much of the same candy so to say. Which to some will be just perfect though, and it is to me in some ways too mind you. If you like your black metal relentless and well produced like me then this is a must have, make no mistake. Just understand it can give you a feeling of having too much of the good things and it might have been good for the album to be a bit shorter, or have some more variation to it.

Blood of Serpents are better than ever though! This is exactly the path they should continue walking and I am certain they will gain more fans as they’ve taken a giant leap as a band (has to be said they had some line-up changes but hopefully found a stable one now). There are things they can do better but this is the type of core sound I want them to build on. I believe this is a new start for the band that will take them further than ever before. Fans of fast aggressive black metal that the likes of Marduk and Belphegor offers will enjoy this release a lot.

Label: Non Serviam Records
For fans of: Marduk and Dark Funeral
Release date: September 25th, 2018
Favorite song: As the Temple Burns
Score: 3.5/5

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Mordant Rapture – The Abnegation (Technical Death Metal)

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Ah The Artisan Era, a label that just keeps giving good tech-death to the world and they’re always improving by adding more and more great bands to their roster. Now enter Mordant Rapture and their debut EP “The Abnegation”. Is it yet another great release from the label or have they, for once, taken a misstep?

Reading the history of the band and how their debut got created is one that tells the tale of years of hard work, gallons of coffee, sleep deprivation, and doubts. The competition in this day and age is fierce so I can really relate with many bands having the same process before releasing something. The band started in 2013, which gives you an idea how long it’s taken the band to finally feel ready to release their first EP featuring five songs into the world. Was it worth the wait?

Yes, yes it was. One thing I really like with Mordant Rapture’s style is how they try to captivate a cinematic musical experience, somewhat in the veins of Fleshgod Apocalypse or Carach Angren. The sound is very different from those bands though as this is straight up technical death metal with a lot of symphonic elements to it, think Inferi (this is much better in my opinion though), Enfold Darkness or Spawn of Possession as examples. Already on the first track “Unsightly Beast” you get a flurry of great riffs, solos and get an instant feel on what Mordant Rapture are all about, delivering class symphonic tech-death heavy influenced by the grandiose nature of film scores. Meaning in other words this is epic stuff, who doesn’t like well written film scores? Having that as an influence in the technical realm of metal works great, it’s not something new but it’s not something I hear too often either. “Withered” is a shorter song than the opener, this is way more of a heads on approach and on this track their blackened death and black elements shine as you hear influences from both Emperor and Dissection. Great stuff right?

What cinematic album wouldn’t be complete without an intermission track with piano and violin, adding to the atmosphere for the follow-up track? That’s exactly what “A Plea Above Ashes” is there for and while I would want it to smoothly transition into the next track, it doesn’t which makes it feel a bit out of place to me. That also leaves the only negative part on the album for me. “Quell the Voiceless” brings up the pace, where the drums especially gets me going and are really dominant. This is also the track that I feel showcase all Mordant Rapture tricks on their debut. The symphonic elements, blackened tech-death, crushing drums and thundering riffs are all there at once to make it a go to song for me when I go back to “The Abnegation”. The finisher “Natal Trophies” is the longest and most symphonic track on the album, which just like the last scenes in a movie ends in an epic way. Here the vocals are better than ever where a wider range of growls and techniques are used. A great way to end this 22 minute journey into the world of Mordant Rapture which makes me want more of this.

Hell I love this music. It’s not something that breaks the boundaries of tech-death but this is insanely well produced symphonic tech-death that has very few flaws in it. Mordant Rapture displays great musicianship and a great range of aspects to their music. This is the kind of music that will make you miss Spawn of Possession and Necrophagist less or you Inferi fans out there forget they even existed. That’s something very few does on their debut album and I can only hope an upcoming full-length won’t take five years. The Artisan Era has done it again, adding a new band to their ranks that shows how hard work pays off. “The Abnegation” is not only one of the best debut albums of the year but one of the best releases overall.

Label: The Artisan Era
For fans of: Enfold Darkness and Spawn of Possession
Release date: July 13th, 2018
Favorite song: Quell the Voiceless
Score: 4.5/5

Unflesh – Savior (Technical Death Metal)

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It’s been some time since I listened to technical death metal actually, at least a couple of months when the Inferi album dropped. Don’t know why I waited so long to listen to Unflesh as “Savior” has been out since May 25th. Here we are though and I’ve finally given the album a few spins during the week. Lets start with some background on Unflesh, who are they? The band is located in USA and began as a solo project in 2014 by Ryan Beevers. The first album, an EP named “Transcendence to Eternal Obscurity”, came out in 2016 and featured Hannes Grossman (Alkaloid, ex-Obscura) on session drums. The EP got a lot of praise when it came out so this debut full-length has had some hype to it. What’s changed since the EP is that Unflesh has gone from a solo project into a fully fledged band where Ryan added Peter de Reyna on bass, Chris Dovas on drums and Chris Gardino on guitars. Has this change elevated Unflesh game to new heights?

What struck me first is that the influences are many on “Savior”. While it is at its core a tech-death album that will please fans of Arsis, Alterbeast and Revocation there are also loads of elements gathered from the melo-death and black metal genres. You can hear hints of The Black Dahlia Murder, Naglfar, Dissection and even Emperor throughout the album and that’s exactly what makes Unflesh stand out from most bands out there. It’s a pure joy to give this albums several spins and each time you notice something new, getting that feeling when you have a hard time picking your favorite song on the album as it keeps changing with each listen. It is that good. Personally there are only a handful of albums that’s better than “Savior” this year. If it hadn’t been for the insane release of Rivers of Nihil I would say this is the best tech-death you will hear this year. However when many will undoubtedly name Inferi, Alkaloid and Augury (all good releases mind you) as tech-death albums of the year I will name-drop Unflesh. A modern tech-death release with a touch of the old school, what’s not to like?

A splendid EP became an even better full-length release once Ryan got his band together. Unflesh is a band on the rise that can battle with the best of them already. The “Dissection goes tech-death” approach is one I can get behind and fall in love with. This is an album that will land high on my yearly best of list.

Label: Independent
For fans of: Dissection and Arsis
Release date: May 25th, 2018
Favorite song: Caliginous
Score: 4/5

Wormlight – Wrath of the Wilds (Melodic Black/Death Metal)

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Lets get straight to it. Wormlight plays melodic black and death metal the way it has been played for years. Nothing wrong with this at all! Not as memorable as the releases from Necrophobic, Avslut and Nekrokraft have been to me but Wrath of the Wilds is certainly a good album that I enjoyed. It’s 90’s melodic black/death metal worship the Swedish way and I get some Naglfar, Dissection and Unanimated vibes for sure. Seeing as we won’t hear any new material from those bands any time soon (or ever) I say this is a perfectly good album to get your fill! There is no need to reinvent the wheel and Wrath of the Wilds is not only a good debut album, it is also a big step forward from the band since their EP Bloodfields came out in 2015.

The mid-range death growls together with the energetic hellfire the band unleashes is enough to make fans of melodic black metal be pleased with this release. There isn’t really something to point out as bad on this album and the 55 minutes go past with a feeling of satisfaction. However if you do put Wormlight against previously named bands and the new releases from for example Necrophobic then it lacks that extra punch to become an album I want to revisit instead of those. Either way I know a lot of you are like me and can not get enough quality black metal and Wrath of the Wilds certainly does fall into that category. If you only want to try out a couple of tracks it should be “Vittramark” with its icy atmosphere, piano outro (which they do use on several occasions though) and overall a great sounding song. That song along with “Invocation (intro)” leading to “Feast of the Mountain Kin” is a perfect example how to finish an album on a high note.

Label: Black Lion Records
For fans of: Unanimated and Necrophobic
Release date: April 25th, 2018
Favorite song: Feast of the Mountain King
Score: 3.5/5

Nekrokraft – Servants (Black/Thrash/Death Metal)

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I was not overly happy with the Will O’ Wisp debut. It was one of the earlier albums I reviewed but looking back to it I was too nice, it lacked a lot and I’d almost forgotten about the album. How funny that a band can make such an insane leap and improvement in only two years though! The production is miles better than Will O’ Wisp and their mix of death/thrash/black works wonders this time, making you miss Old Man’s Child and Dissection less. You might even be wondering if this could be the new album from Dimmu Borgir at times when they add their more symphonic tracks. In all honesty I wish Dimmu Borgir’s new album had more in common with Servants than with their own album Eonian, because this is simply better and some songs even sound more Dimmu than Dimmu Borgir does themselves. “Lechery” is a prime example to that to name one song. Add the fact Nekrokraft hits as heavy as Necrophobic does and got a similar mix of styles then you know this is a top notch recipe for an album. You might even remember that Necrophobic’s latest offering Mark of the Necrogram got a stunning 5/5 by me, yet my only one.

What makes me love this album and give it such a high score is the fact it never gets dull and it grows with time. There are so many different elements put into this record with such fine craftsmanship that each song stands really well on their own. Doesn’t matter if you take the thrash inspired “Gateway to Damnation” or as mentioned symphonic Dimmu Borgir-like “Lechery” they are all great songs that will be spinning for months to come. Also have to say the vocalist Angst, who is also on vocal duty for Witchery, has in my opinion his best performance yet. There is next to nothing to complain about on Servants really, hence the score.

If you like your extreme metal crushing and unforgiving with some of the most memorable songs of the year then don’t sleep on this one. This will end very high on my album of the year list.

Label: The Sign Records
For fans of: Dimmu Borgir and Necrophobic
Release date: May 4th, 2018
Favorite song: Lechery
Score: 4.5/5

Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram (Death/Black Metal)

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What’s that sound? It’s the sound of a black metal tank coming in full speed. I’m not going to lie Necrophobic has been one of my favorite bands last years (I honestly didn’t listen to them much until a couple years ago) and Mark of the Necrogram was my most anticipated album for 2018. Thing is with having really high hopes it can crush your expectations completely leaving you unsatisfied and probably give the album more backlash than it might deserve (as I did with Origins album last year). However with the case of Necrophobic and Mark of the Necrogram it’s done something hardly any albums do. They live up to my high expectations and more! Hell here I am halfway into the album when I start writing this and I am ready to say this is the best album Necrophobic ever released. I will let that one sink in for me a bit first though since this album needs to grow on me a few months, let the hype die down a bit, before I go and say something crazy like that. Because you know what? Necrophobic got a discography worth dying for. Their full-length debut The Nocturnal Silence is considered one of the best extreme metal albums ever and even their “weaker” (I still think they freaking rocks) albums such as Womb of Lilithu and Bloodhymns would demand huge sacrifices to pull off.

From the self-titled opening track Mark of the Necrogram to Undergången this album never stops delivering. Be it guitar riffs, blasting drums or Anders incredible vocals nothing is left to chance as they all perform as if possessed throughout. This is almost 50 minutes of pure dark magic. I just need to add that the news of Unanimated making a return and releasing a new album later this year is the only album within the black/death mixed realm I can see being as good as this. That’s a big maybe too as I got no clue how well Unanimated will perform in 2018. We are only two months into this year but I hereby set my first perfect score of the year. This one will be hard to beat and we already got a strong candidate for album of the year. Hell I am quite sure Mark of the Necrogram will be an album the metal community talks about years from now. Sweden are off to one of the best black metal starts ever with Watain, Tribulation and now Necrophobic putting out some of their best releases ever. The black king that is Necrophobic is back and there will be no prisoners.

Label: Century Media Records
For fans of: Dissection and Unanimated
Release date: February 23rd, 2018
Favorite song: Tsar Bomba
Score: 5/5

Grafvitnir – Keys to the Mysteries Beyond (Melodic Black Metal)

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Boy oh boy do I like Grafvitnir’s latest offering Keys to the Mysteries Beyond. I’ve honestly not heard of the band before but a quick look at their discography I could see they’ve been very active, releasing albums almost yearly (counting the demo in 2013 they have even done it yearly) since the debut NâHásh in 2012. Not listening to them before I can sadly not understand how the band has developed over time. To give you an idea on why I really enjoy Keys to the Mysteries Beyond it’s due to my love for another Swedish black metal act, namely Naglfar. Naglfar was the band (together with Dimmu Borgir) that got me into black metal for real due to their melodic take and was a gateway into a whole new genre. Grafvitnir’s sound resemble Naglfar and early Dissection quite a bit, adding a touch of Uada and Ofermod into the mix makes this an offering to the darkness you shouldn’t miss out on.

The fine line between chaos and melodic black metal is met superbly and song after song you are left wanting more of this beautiful darkness. Some might think Keys to the Mysteries Beyond is a generic melodic black metal album however I say it gives the listener a well written album of quality occult music. It’s evil and cold as black metal should be. A good album doesn’t always need to reinvent the wheel, it just needs to be really well made. Oh and I am a sucker for black metal written in Swedish. Personally that gives me a lot of joy to hear lyrics like “I primordiala lågors sken skall uråldriga ögon blänka” (from Vargavinter). That’s an added bonus for me and I always respect bands who makes good songs in their mother tongue.

If you worship Naglfar and early Dissection like me then Grafvitnir is a band you need to check out today.

Label: Carnal Records
For fans of: Dissection and Naglfar
Favorite song: Vargavinter
Score: 4/5