Five picks from May

Tl;dr? This month’s playlist is here.
Oh, I’ve been away for a while. I’m not sure why.
Maybe it was the plague. Maybe it was other endeavours. Maybe it was the 30 hours of podcasts queued up. Or maybe I just lost focus and concentration. Whatever it was, only Loki knows.
Either way, the old trickster God has led me full circle back to new releases from the land of heavy metal. But what’s the best way to catch up on four months’ worth of new music?
My process is simple. I’ll look at a few different lists of new releases every Friday and check my Bandcamp wishlist for things I’ve been waiting on and copy and paste any that sound interesting – could be name, album art, impression from a short sound clip or whatever catches me. I’m obviously looking at genre, but not solely.
I joined a few different Facebook groups and Discords, and I’ve developed a taste for the slower stuff. It’s a different kind of heavy. At the start of the year I wouldn’t have predicted that Loviatar would be a band I keep going back to. But I also wouldn’t have predicted bubonic plague deaths in 2020 either yet here we are.
Anything that sounds promising goes on a playlist, anything on that playlist that ends up being guff gets removed. What’s left are by definition the best new releases I’ve heard for that month, and I’ll pick my top five from that. Easy!
This is written way after May, but let’s pretend it isn’t for a second. In only the first five months of the year, I have found some amazing artists I would never have heard if I hadn’t started this project. I’ve mentioned Loviatar already, but Garganjua, 殞煞 Vengeful Spectre, Ergodic, Wake, Earth Rot and Vástígr are some of the acts that I’ll be following from now on, as well as dipping into their back catalogues whenever I get the chance.
There are a few from May that I’ll also be keeping an eye on, so in no real order, here are the five best May releases I listened to.

Cryptic Shift – Visitations ftom Enceladus

Leeds are having some year, eh.
Not only are their football team back in the Premier League, but Cryptic Shift emerged from their slumber and put out an absolute masterclass in progressive metal with a first track clocking in at 25 minutes. Who does that?!
Cryptic Shift do. This was down as “progressive death thrash”, but who has time for that kind of description? It’s not wrong, for sure. But it makes them sound a lot less interesting than they really are.
You should listen to this if you like sci-fi concept albums and death or thrash metal. It’s really that simple. There’s more on the album’s themes and story over at Astral Noize.

Vader – Solitude in Madness
Vader have been putting out music for as long as I’ve been alive and if their consistency wasn’t amazing enough then the fact that they are so consistently good really takes the biscuit.
If you have ever heard Vader before, you will know exactly what you’re getting on Solitude in Madness. Some albums stretch out towards 45 minutes but this latest release doesn’t outstay its welcome, with a runtime of less than 30 minutes.
Maybe it says more about my attention span but this is the perfect time for me to warm up, run and warm down. Anyway, who doesn’t want a solid chunk of death thrash blasting in their ears while they run?
Protosequence – A Blunt Description of Something Obscene
This album’s name is actually a great way to start talking about the music of Protosequence. Perhaps with tongue fully in cheek, the title deconstructs a common death metal trope – that of scouring medical textbooks and dictionaries (we’ve all been there!) for complicated or gross sounding conditions or surgeries to name a song, album or band. It’s a good way to get a blunt description of something obscene.
The music is similarly deconstructed. First and foremost though, this is a tech death album, ok. There’s virtuosity on the fretboard and an octopus behind the kit.
A common trope in tech death is to play at 200bpm+, throw 20+ riffs at a song, change tempo here and there, and play with a few different ways of subdividing 8 bars. Protosequence do this, but they deconstruct it. Slower tempo passages are not just the previous riff slowed down, they are headbanging sections in their own right.
The songwriting allows for a progression of sorts to be felt, and no single instrument is allowed to dominate the mix, save for the heavy kick drum. It is death metal, after all…
My only beef is that this is far too short. Five songs, plus three instrumental versions. At the same time, I was left wanting more, so maybe Protosequence felt like they had done all they came to do and left it at that.
From Eden To Exile – Age of Fire
I love getting lost in an epic musical soundscape. When The Mars Volta released Deloused in the Comatorium I put on a big set of headphones, cranked the volume and lay on my bed in the dark with my eyes closed, soaking in the whole marvelous creation.
Deloused is not an album I’d stick on in the car though. Age of Fire is the kind of record I’d blast in the car. Unapologetic metalcore blasting from my VW Polo (complete with baby seats in the back…) might mark me out as someone stuck in their teenage years but I really don’t care and you shouldn’t either.
This 5-track EP is a follow-up to the band’s debut album from 2017. You can tell they have spent the time between releases perfecting their sound because, while I get deep Unearth vibes from both, the tracks on Age of Fire are far more cohesively composed, confident and give the overall impression of a band who are far more comfortable with their art.
I have no idea who drew it, but the cover art for this one is outstanding as well!
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Apparently this band have a very long history, including a period of being a completely different band. I’ve been away for too long and I was fairly insular before that so I don’t know anything about that. For most music I listen to now, it’s usually the first I’ve ever heard of them. Everything is a debut, so to speak.
This has positives for me in that I’m not going to judge material based on how strong it is compared to past work. But one of the negatives is that I have no idea if this is a good …And Oceans release or not, which is something that you, dear reader, may want to know.
Fortunately for me, this is that kind of blog. I won’t ever be rating albums. What you’re getting here is my honest feelings about the albums I enjoy the most in a given month. And Cosmic World Mother really impressed me, so here it is.
This is symphonic black metal, but the kind where the drummer is playing close to as fast as is humanely possible while also throwing hihat ostinatos in just for a laugh. And that’s a big part of why I enjoyed this so much.
Fast and heavy is good. I love brutal. But an entire album of fast and heavy will get boring after a few tracks. A lot of black metal falls into this trap. Sure you sound trve and kvlt but you’ve created boring music. Sure, the addition of symphonic elements makes you stand out but only mastery of your instrument and a deep understanding of composition and your genre will help you stand out.
…And Oceans have all of this. And they should because they have been around for fucking ever! I’ve listened to this album a few times now, each time when I’m running and afterwards, and there are flourishes in each song that make me smile every time I hear them. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Cosmic World Mother is like an onion, or an ogre. It survived multiple spins because it has layers.
Or something.
It does fade towards the end, and could have done with being a couple tracks shorter. I think this is because they don’t really stray from their strong recipe for this form of black metal. That’s not a bad thing if this is exactly what you want. But I genre surf so it was just a smidge too long for my liking.
Notable mentions:
Ara – Jurisprudence
Devangelic – Ersetu
Exgenesis – Solve Et Coagula
I, The Intruder – Hunger

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