The order is alphabetic.
Blooming Carrions – Sparkling Rotten Dreams (Demo)
Finnish death metal from beyond the grave, thick and sepulchral, with almost subsonic growling vocals and a hazy atmosphere. The subterranean guitar sound is an absolute win. Grotesque, pulsating music for Lovecraftian rituals, with a very matching cover art.
Chevalier – A Call to Arms (EP)
Epic speed metal holocaust steeped in the ‘80s. The guitars are just unable to stop their quicksilvery cascades, the choruses are akin to frenetic marches, and some Mercyful Fate occult vibes cross wands with pure Maiden galloping. One of the best classic metal releases of the year.
Cult Of Fire – Untitled (EP)
Apparently these Czechs are not in a hurry of releasing another full-length – they seem to have found their momentum in short EP releases. “Untitled” is their third one in 4 years and it continues an amazing streak of quality. Tightly packed black metal with beautiful leads and atmosphere that would not seem amiss in a mid ‘90s Norwegian album. Ten minutes of pure black satisfaction. Download for free from the band’s site here.
Daeva – Pulsing Dark Absorptions (EP)
For all those craving Aura Noir-ish black/thrash with a hint of debut-era Impaled Nazarene. The exceptional frontman follows up the Masters’ commands (even down to emphatic rasping and incessant repeating of syllables), the drumming is pure tight chaos, and the guitars snake through with coiled poison. The envy of losers they piss on.
Expulsion – Nightmare Future (EP)
All-star project done right. This gathering of death metal/grind exemplars manage to showcase in seven tracks spanning something less than 14 minutes how Repulsion-style extreme metal is done right. Special attention to the leads and the maniacal song structures.
False – Hunger (EP)
2015’s “Untitled” debut was a stellar release of dark and cryptic US black metal. Two years later False return with a short (8 minutes long) EP of stormy BM on the same wavelength. Early Dimmu Borgir with a higher density comes into mind, as well as a more serpentine version of debut-era Borknagar.
Gnipahålan – I Blodets Kamp (EP)
Ancient Records could not be absent from this list. Gnipahålan’s EP is (unsurprisingly) a homage to the snow-covered mystical forests of the ‘90s. 12 minutes of nostalgic, atmospheric black metal excellently executed. In here lies and burns bright the core of what drew me to black metal many years ago – nature worship, mythology and the not-human.
Katakomb – Chained To A Wolf (Demo)
That was probably the biggest surprise of this list. Weird, drape-covered black metal from Sweden, with an almost collage articulation logic, combining noise and atmospheric passages, as well as traditional riffs and folk moments. The highly intriguing growling vocals are oscillating beneath the surface, while the guitars build up ritual madness. The cover art (a painting by the Belgian symbolist Auguste Levêque) is amazing and fits nicely with the tape concept of the lay-out. My personal list favourite.
Skaphe – Untitled (EP)
The follow up to the excellent “Skáphe²” is a 22-minute EP which keeps treading on the desolate path opened by its predecessor. More cavernous wanderings from the American-come-Iceland group, which seems to be one of the few dissonant artists worth following nowadays. The cover-art is just the crown on top of this very delicious release.
Ungesehen – Unaussprechliches Entsetzen (Demo)
Instrumental records is not something usually associated with black metal. Yet these Germans’ first demo is a 45-minute vocal-less exploration of atmosphere. A rather courageous decision, which ends up emphasizing the natural aspect of the hauntingly beautiful soundscapes. Silent wanderings in cold inexpressible horror.