Arna – Dragged to a Lunar Grave [Spain, Black] (2021)

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Self Released | 4-23-2021

2020 and 2021 have been the dual years of wampyric black metal. There’s been a significant uptick in bands releasing short LPs or demos themed around erotic death, moonlit nights, and star-crossed romance (and often, all three at the same time). They’re evocative themes and ones that have rightly been a constant presence in the sturm und drang of the popular consciousness. Who doesn’t love a good story about fated love, especially when so many have experienced or nearly experienced it themselves? Well, back to the music: “Dragged to a Lunar Grave” is four tracks of black metal in 28 minutes. Though from Spain, it kinda reminds me of Nachtmystium’s “Demise” and some other mid-2000s US black metal. Fast, riffy, and layered – not at all as raw as the cover art may impress.

Fōr – The Life Feeding Flame [?, Black / Death / Doom] (2021)

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Nihilstic Noise Propaganda | 5-11-21

Ah, another entry in the “dissolving” extreme metal tag. What does that mean anyway? I use “dissolving” to describe that kind of caustic black, death, or doom with hollow vocals, percussion that’s stilted or curiously laborious, and guitars with a precipitated limestone crust. Allegorically, it’s the “I’m being dipped in the acid pools at Yellowstone” kind of metal. (Not that I know what that’s like.) And here’s one of those: the anonymous Fōr from who-knows-where and their 23-minute, 3-track release “The Life Feeding Flame”. This combines black, death, and doom metal in a way that recalls a cavernous Icelandic black metal album – and it’s nearly as scary. Dissonant and, yes, dissolving. The shorter runtime does it a ton of favors in hookability with its tempestuous yet mid-paced drums. Everything about this adds to a slow, creeping dread that is accurately demonstrated through the smouldering lake on the album art. The bass is a steady rumble under every percussive pummel; and the lyrics echo, overlay, and roll off each other in a conflagration. Give me more fire!

Mephitic Grave – Into the Atrium of Inhuman Morbidity [Hungary, Death] (2021)

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Carbonized | 5-7-21

Originally formed as Mothrot, Mephitic Grave is a Hungarian death metal band – a scene I admit to having next to no experience with. This is their first release, landing on the California label Carbonized Records. Here we’ve got something that sounds like a lost Finnish or Dutch death/doom LP from 1992. “Intro the Atrium…” is full of chunky, half-wonky riffing and extremely deep vocals half-buried under the mix. There’s also that slight punky influence that characterized so much of early death metal, which is especially prevalent on some of those groovy mid-tempo breakdowns as on “The Vault of Strangling Fear”. This is death/doom in the sense of incorporating doom metal influences in death metal riffing, with those slow and hard pick-ups into 1.5-times hitters. It’s the kind of roughness I get down, and one of those strong releases that reminds me of my time first exploring early nineties death metal and learning about all these magnificent versions of extremeness. That’s a bit poetic, but hey, it’s what I’m feeling.

Batholith – Alpine Tomb [US, Death / Doom] (2021)

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Self Released | 4-23-21

A batholith is an igneous rock formation that extends deep into the earth, like Half Dome at Yosemite. Neat! What’s not neat is dying on a mountain. This is precisely the concept behind “Alpine Tomb” from Batholith, the Connecticut duo’s debut LP after last year’s EP. This 40-ish minute album describes the slow, harrowing process of experiencing hypothermia, starvation, high-altitude sickness, and psychological terror that would occur with having an immobilizing accident on an alpine peak. This is paired with dissolving death/doom with a hollow vocal aesthetic that might appeal to fans of Cianide’s “The Dying Truth” or Infester’s “To the Depths, in Degradation”. The album ends with appropriately mournful clean leads that demonstrate the ign(eous)ominious ending to the body being slowly encased in ice as the deep freeze sets in. Enjoy your summer!

Brainspoon – Monstrous Chains [Finland, Death] (2021)

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Self Released | 2-12-2021

Ah, this one almost passed me by. If Ye Olde Metal Archives are to go by, then Brainspoon has been around for almost a full decade with two EPs and two demos to their name. “Monstrous Chains” is the second emo – three tracks demo of monstrous Finndeath with slight crossover elements. Dirty and sloppy, but in the way I’m into. And with a name like Brainspoon, you know well what to expect: hoarse vocals, Autopsy-esque production, and punky rhythms that are firmly grounded in death riffing. This is a great example of a demo with more ideas in 12 minutes than what others do in 40; the nigh-3 minute “Graveside” swaps between Sempiternal Deathreign-style death/doom elements (read: not just quarter-speed riffs!), fast as hell switch-ups, and even a couple quick solos for good measure. There’s a slight hollow production to the sound that gives an extra paunch not usually heard in this type of death metal; I like it, beat the bloated corpse. The title and closing track matches cycling solos alongside chugging-engine rhythms. So come on! Do it!

Ritual Laceration – Putrid Womb [US, Black / Death / Noise] (2021)

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Life After Death | 5-18-21

Ritual Laceration’s “I” demo was one of my favorites of 2019, so hearing that this “dual bass bestial black metal” group had another one out was an insta-sell for someone who likes to blend his death metal with noise and whey protein. And wow, this is noisy. The first demo was a strong delivery of two bass guitars where each track steadily increased to maximum controlled cacophony (not unlike the Italians in Thecodontion). “Putrid Womb” adds shards of glass to the mix with a distinct overdrive that contrasts with the previous demo’s relative cleanliness. Not that this band was ever “clean” – maybe in the sense of how a wound can be clean in the hands of a responsible scalpel-holder. In that case, the metaphor here is the rats on the cover: an infesting mix of the harshest drive where redlining is a feature, not a bug. “Putrid Womb” also features some excellent Diocletian-sounding manic solos that are barely demonstrative of normal musical ability and instead have that wonderful “ready to explode” aesthetic. And indeed it does explode – the indistinct vocals samples come in and out of the mix at the most (in)opportune time, sliding in and out of varying levels of discord. If you’re into chaos (and I have a feeling you are if you read Tape Wyrm), then grab “Putrid Womb”.

Mortuary Spawn – Spawned From the Mortuary [UK, Death] (2021)

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Chamber of Emesis | 4-23-21

UK death metal has always had a strong history and its current scene is continuing a legacy that has already been written in blood. When I first heard the name Mortuary Spawn and saw the cover art for their debut EP, I had a feeling it would be craved by a certain fan of heavy metal. This fan might be undead and with ravenous claws which make their way out of cracked coffin. If all of this sounds silly and ridiculous, wait until you are sent down a rollercoaster of riffs with the tension gripping the back of your neck. For 15 minutes, you are at the whims of revenants who mean to entertain you with bloody magic tricks which ends in one person cackling and the other sickened. Mortuary Spawn worships at the altar of old school death metal with a tribute to its looming atmospheres which rolls over cemeteries like fog. This is a sound which will be familiar for some and pleasing to many as it focuses on the parts which makes death metal so successful. If the black and white cover that looks like old Dungeons and Dragons modules is any indication, Spawned From the Mortuary is going to be a party for some but those are going to be the ones chasing others down blood splattered halls.

Human – Delicacies of Extinction [US, Death / Hardcore Punk] (2021)

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Silence Is Death | 3-5-21

“Death metal made by hardcore kids” is a bit of a pejorative nowadays, but it’s also a pretty good descriptor for a select group of bands. It’s worth mentioning that “deathcore” may technically be an accurate tag, although whether it’s responsible to call it so might be more questionable. Human is a three-piece from the sunny (yet suffocating?) land of Orlando, Florida. The demo features a great smattering of punk-infused death metal, with potential appeal for those who have enjoyed recent releases from Fuming Mouth, Anthropophagous, and perhaps even Black Breath. Note that I am excepting Swedish death-n-roll hybrids; there’s a distinct Floridian riffing here that lurks beneath the punky aesthetic. Like if Obituary decided they were really into DC hardcore. Speaking of which, hardcore punk’s socially-minded lyrical themes are a huge part, lest the sardonically-named “Brown Scare” and “White Jesus” give it away. Protest songs for the death metallers, and that intersection remains in genre melding and proceeds going to black activist organizations. “Days of Rage” and “M.Y.O.E.” have short bursts of rapid-fire chaotic solos that recall early 80s thrash metal in their fall-apart charm. This demo ends on a hard mid-tempo groove and extended drums breakdown through the title track, finishing a powerful 20 minutes of bass-heavy death metal/hardcore. Oh, it was mastered by James Plotkin? Makes sense – the chunky depth of sound is impressive!

Vorvadoss / Magic Find – Moondrawn, Foul​-​Crescent Rapture [US / Australia, Dungeon Synth / Dark Ambient] (2021)

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Attic Shrines | 1-21-21

When I found Attic Shrines, I knew I wanted to highlight this tape label. Lucky for me, there was only one release this year which makes it easy to frame in terms of releases since this is the best Attic Shrines release in 2021. I have always had an interest in drone/noise/ritual ambient and find its relation to dungeon synth fascinating since this type of synth is always lying underneath other genres like some interconnected catacomb that anyone can enter if they get lost enough. Attic Shrines may release more infrequently to the average dungeon synth artist yet their tapes are from some of the more intriguing artists. This combined with a underground black metal aesthetic and one has dungeon synth that has been left in crypts for centuries. Moondrawn, Foul​-​Crescent Rapture is a split between Australian Vorvadoss and US Magic Find. both tracks which equal to around 30 minutes are a wonderful blend of depressive noise and dissonant memories which float through ruined cathedrals at dawn. I look forward to following this label even though they remain ghostly and elusive. Dungeon synth comes in many varieties and it is always wonderful to find more to be haunted by.

Skadalv – Demo II [US, Raw Black] (2021)

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Self Released | 5-4-21

In an effort to get focus on the the most horrid of black and death metal, I seek music that could come from the astral plane. Skadalv is from the US and with only two demos from the past few years, this act only has a few sold out cassette demos to their name. With the release of the second Demo, Skadalv continues to write a chapter in an apocalyptical book which is full of spectral hauntings and psychic ruin. Though the demo only totals about 11 minutes, that time spent with Skadalv is one that is oppressive with its noise and exhilarating with the energy. Not a lot of information is available regarding this band outside of Metal Archives page which lists the lyrical themes as “Death, Mysticism and Reincarnation.” I feel the elusive nature of the band combined with the abstract lyrical themes allows this release to be something special for some very weird listeners. It is a sound which is not for everyone but those of us who are here to worship at the alter of death couldn’t ask for anything more.