Here at Last Rites, we listen to a metric shit-ton of heavy metal—it’s just what we do. But even then, every year, there’s so much great heavy metal that gets released that we simply don’t have time to cover it all. And then, every year around the halfway point, we’re inevitably looking back on the first six months and knowing that we missed out on a few things, so here’s the first part of our attempt to wrap up the records we left behind for the first half of 2018… Read on, and in the comments, hit us up with some of your favorites of the year so far, so we can see if we missed anything else…
PANEGYRIST – HIERURGY
released: May 18, 2018; I, Voidhanger Records
On debut Hierurgy, Chicago’s Panegyrist doesn’t so much play black metal as they play black metal-by-association, sharing philosophical and sonic traits with Arcturus, Ved Buens Ende, DHG, and other progressive black or “avant-garde” bands. The key to their sound is an orchestrated, reverent showmanship that revels in all things pompous, with “pompous” in this case absolutely being a positive. It bristles with blackened energy through harmonized arpeggios and blasting, leaves as much time for uncomfortable dissonance as it does gorgeous melody, pushes the listener off balance with swooning, drunken passages, and offers a vocal delivery that is as well executed as it is varying. The vocals may be just one clean voice singing over those driftier passages (calling to mind Code circa Resplendent Grotesque), harsh vocals alone over the most intense moments, a combination of the two, or a style somewhere in between that emphasizes the desperation. The band may even employ layered clean singing for a bit of a church choir feel, lending an effectively spiritual vibe to the album that was absolutely intended.
The vocals aren’t the album’s only selling point; far from it, as every element feels meticulously crafted and refined (just listen to the swell and explosion of “Ophidian Crucifix” for a great example of their compositional deftness). The vocals are, however, the most instantly memorable element and the most obvious link to the band’s stated spirituality. And while that spirituality may be what inspired them to make their music, it is in how they communicate this intent, rather than the intent itself, that allows them to succeed.
Dynamic and frequently stunning, Hierurgy is a gem of a debut that shows potential for even greater achievements. A no-brainer for fans of wonderfully grandiose, unabashedly arthouse blackened metal. [ZACH DUVALL]
OVERKILL – LIVE IN OVERHAUSEN
released: May 18, 2018; Nuclear Blast
Quite a few bands have jumped on the trend of playing their classic albums in their entirety. But a band doing two classic albums… well, that would be Overkill…
Renaming the German city of Oberhausen to suit their own needs, New Jersey thrash kings Overkill rip through two (of their many) great albums in reverse chronological order, first 1991’s Horrorscope and then 1985’s Feel The Fire, the two monsters that bookend their golden era. Originally recored in 2016, these live versions mark the 30th anniversary of Feel The Fire and the 25th of Horrorscope. Of those twin titans, the first is their debut, one of the opening salvos of East Coast thrash metal, and the latter is the last strafing run the band undertook in the waning days of the first wave of thrash, before grunge and Pantera-n post-thrash pushed everyone headlong into groovier waters. Both are A+ records in their original form, the product of either the youthful exuberance of young punks on a mission or the well-honed skill of a band firing on all cylinders.
What’s most evident in these grooves is that, while only vocalist Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth and bassist DD Verni remain from the line-ups of either record, Overkill hasn’t lost a single flicker of the fire they felt in either 1991 or 1985. They’re still whipcrack tight and absolutely electric. Guitarists Dave Linsk and Derek Tailer have been in these ranks for almost two decades now, through Overkill’s creative resurgence of the past ten years or so, so both axemen are seasoned veterans, and both rip through these riffs and solos with appropriate energy and skill. Drummer Eddy Garcia filled in for this tour, replacing Ron Lipnicki — and in turn, both have since been replaced by Shadows Fall’s Jason Bittner — and Garcia certainly performs admirably, bringing that same crackling force that Lipnicki brought, the same spirit that helped push the band back to peak form on Ironbound and beyond. You know these tunes, if you know Overkill’s best, and here the band’s on fire, the whole of Overhausen punches like the high-quality, high-octane thrash that it is.
Overkill live has always been a powerful force, and it’s no different now, even all these years later. These old dogs still bring the bite. (Like Blitz says in his between-song chatter, “I feel like I’m 50 years old again!”) Long live the green and black. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
VOMITOR – PESTILENT DEATH
released: April 20, 2018; Hell’s Headbanger
In 1986, Queensrÿche and Iron Maiden released Rage For Order and Somewhere In Time, while Sodom and Sepultura released Obsessed By Cruelty and Morbid Visions. And therein lies one of heavy metal’s most dependable phenomenons: for every flower in the meadow, there is a discarded Andy Capp’s Hot Fries bag in the gutter where roaches gather to bang. I believe it’s referred to as Newton’s Law of Fuck You. Friends, Australia’s Vomitor is a discarded Andy Capp’s Hot Fries bag in the gutter where roaches gather to bang. You may not appreciate that it exists, and you may hear it and wonder how on earth it hasn’t yet been carted away to rot on a garbage barge (garbarge?) somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, but it is there and it looks up at you from the gutter every time you pass and mumbles, “Hey there, guy. Can I vomit a little right in your face? Just a little?”
Pestilent Death is a fitting album title from the equally accurately named Vomitor, and you will probably hate it. Some of you could perhaps grow to love to hate it, but you will still hate it. Some bands progress as albums get notched on the post, Vomitor’s brand of death thrash continues to regress into a crude blob that barely manages to survive on a diet of hacking riffs, half-baked leads, and a steady diet of barking out obscenities to video game nerds who think Rust In Peace is the greatest thrash record ever.
Eat shit, friends! [CAPTAIN]
GOLGOTHAN REMAINS – PERVERSE OFFERINGS TO THE VOID
released: February 8, 2018; self-released
The shadows of metaphysical horror have thoroughly eclipsed death metal within the last decade. While it could easily be dismissed as a trend that will, in all likelihood, fade with time, it continues to inspire quality contributions to the genre. Sydney, Australia’s Golgothan Remains offer their perverse debut the void, Perverse Offerings To The Void.
And the void accepts this offering.
The first track, “Vehemence (Through Pain Divine),” begins with a short, ambient intro that is completely obliterated as the band kicks in, instantly hurling the listener into their chaotic dimension of unfashionable terror. It is instantly apparent that Golgothan Remains have no problem locking into an airtight groove, as though it is the only thing protecting them from the vacuum created by their dark ritual. In fact, the entirety of the album is heavily leaning on the band’s rhythm-centric approach. The drum performance found on Perverse Offerings is superb, from the clear delivery of rapid-fire blasts to the groove-laden sections that really sell the songs. While extremely precise with plenty of flash and flavor, the drums manage to stay busy and interesting without taking away from other instruments and still serving the songs. The bass is extremely subtle and mostly buried behind the guitars, but serves its purpose well as a presence, solidifying the core of the band.
With such a powerhouse rhythm section, it is easy to lose sight of just how well-composed the riffs are. Imaginative and hooky, they carry the dark magic handed down from their predecessors – the chaotic guitar wielding of Immolation’s Robert Vigna comes to mind. Mind-melting intensity that pushes the strings to their limit to create an other-worldly sound with an uneasy sense of melody that loses its sense of humanity in a way that congeles with the dark vacuum of the record’s atmosphere.
Golgothan Remains may not be pushing innovation in death metal with Perverse Offerings To The Void (we all know the chorus here: “it doesn’t have to”), but they deliver with the vision and execution of seasoned vets, despite this being their debut release. Perverse Offerings is a criminally overlooked release, and remains a top contender for some of the best death metal to be released so far this year. [RYAN TYSINGER]
NECROPHOBIC – MARK OF THE NECROGRAM
released: February 23, 2018; Century Media Records
I must ruefully admit that after the first couple Necrophobic albums (particularly the ridiculously good classic tandem of The Nocturnal Silence and Darkside), they mostly fell off my radar. Mark of the Necrogram, therefore, is yet the latest piece of evidence in the lengthening chain of proof that I am, in fact, a mark-ass doofus. The key point, however, is that Necrophobic is absolutely on fire across the entirety of this disc. Their relentlessly melodic form of death metal doesn’t really pass for “melodic death metal,” and although there are slight hints of Amon Amarth gestures, you’re more likely to hear echoes of Hypocrisy or Edge of Sanity, along with more than a little blackened chill around the edges.
“Lamashtu,” for example, has more riffs than one can shake an extremely riffy stick at. The verse briefly does a bass-and-drums only feint, but at the 1:44 mark the guitars drop into a punishing triplet pattern before immediately rocketing off into a fist-pumping lead harmony section, which itself then opens to a blasting and melancholy section that’s far more Dissection than Dismember. At 48 minutes, things drag slightly, but no individual song is ever less than blistering; even “Pesta” redeems its slight overindulgence in slow, fiddly bits with an absolutely tremendous guitar solo in the last minute or two. All told, this is arena-ready evil death metal still suitable for the home-listening connoisseur. If you, like me, haven’t been paying close enough attention to Necrophobic recently (particularly after the ugly circumstances surrounding the firing of their long-time vocalist and bassist), now is the most righteous time to get right with them. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
ACHERONTAS – FAUSTIAN ETHOS
released: May 18, 2018; Agonia Records
If Dave Murray and Adrian Smith were to ever start a black metal band, I’ve always thought it would sound quite a bit like Acherontas. Nikolaos Panagopoulos, the group’s founder and lead songwriter, constructs songs with an overwhelming display of classic metal knowledge, and Faustian Ethos may be his greatest effort in displaying said knowledge since Vamachara was released in 2011.
Although the slow, interwoven tremolo melodies may be what keep listeners’ attention, what first attracts them is the overwhelming amount of Greek-ness on display. As is the case with many Greek black metal bands, something about the vocals and effects just sounds ancient, and in that antiquity, brooding. Many World Terror Committee releases may have too high a tendency to sound like the world is ending right now now now now now now now now RIGHT FUCKING NOW, Acherontas has generally reigned in the overly apocalyptic, contrived nature of the occult and instead used it to accent something much more classical.
After the disappointing Amarta from last year, Acherontas has returned to the formula that has always worked best for the project, even in it’s most experimental yet brilliant moments contained in Ma-IoN. Not unlike Ma-IoN, Faustian Ethos is an album truly worthy of an impressive yet expanding catalog. [KONRAD KANTOR]
If you couldn’t tell from this piece being sub-titled “Part 1,” there’s more to come, so tune in tomorrow to read about more awesome 2018 metal that slipped through the cracks…