Magic Circle: Departed Souls (20 Buck Spin)
Massachusetts quintet Magic Circle, comprised of some of the state’s absolute killers, were on track as the true heirs of Pagan Altar with their NWOBHM-possessed doom metal. It’s a twist, then, that their third album Departed Souls feels more early ’70s than late. There’s more boogie, the drums sound rawer, Fender Rhodes and folky guitars drop by, and there aren’t as many soaring melodies. These dudes are pros at making the past sound more alive than ever (their other bands include Innumerable Forms, Sumerlands and Stone Dagger!), and leave it to them to excel at their most difficult task: breathing new life into Pentagram demo worship. An easy sound is difficult to make fresh, which makes Souls all the more sweet because it’s executed so well. They’re not just playing slower, they’re really laying into it, sounding more relaxed without sounding lazy. Vocalist Brendan Radigan certainly isn’t slacking; if anything, his voice is the star of most songs. His crotch must have been in some Jim Dandy stranglehold on “Valley of the Lepers,” because when the band squeezes he goes higher and braver. A psychedelic energy doesn’t calm him down on “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares,” a rare piece of Sabbath worship that takes more from “Planet Caravan” and “Solitude” than “Paranoid” or “The Wizard.” There is some NWOBHM spirit left in them though, as “Nightland” and “I’ve Found My Way To Die” are the real upbeat, tops-dropped rockers on here. “Nightland” ends with guitars battling like if the dudes in Angel Witch caught someone disgracing Phil Lynott’s great name, sweeping and yet so tough. With a band made up of hardcore dudes making top-tier metal, you gotta expect a brawl, and even if Souls is a bit of an unexpected turn, Magic Circle always brings the heat.
Mystifier: Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia (Season of Mist)
Unless you’re a diehard, the only off chance you’ve heard Brazilian black metal trio Mystifier is on the Gummo soundtrack, which is still more than a lot of black metal bands can claim. Eighties Brazil influenced ’90s Europe in some significant ways: Sarcofago and early Sepultura’s demonically raw performances laid the groundwork for Norwegian second-wave black metal, and Mystifer’s mid-paced attack carried on through groups like Switzerland’s Samael and Finland’s Beherit. They weren’t avant, but their penchant for bizarre, semi-operatic vocal entries and protruding keyboards stood in stark contrast to Europe’s more streamlined approach. Mystifer’s first album in 18 years, Protogoni Mavri Magiki Dynasteia, is as singular as anything they’ve done before. By maintaining their mid-paced style, they let the weird breathe; the bass in “Weighing Heart Ceremony” sounds like bumping into tree after tree under an inflicted blindness, giving way into an assault that’s as liturgical as it is bestial. Its progression is Gothic but also delves further into a more nebulous darkness, a missing link between Paradise Lost and Bethlehem. “Soultrap Sorcery of Vengeance” takes Sabbath’s muddy Born Again haze and translates it into black metal, with guitarist and sole original member Beelzeebubth channelling how even when lost and fucked up, Iommi could still rip something beautiful. The title track features contributions from noise lord Dominick Fernow and ex-Rotting Christ bassist Jim Mutilator, and “Witching Lycanthropic Moon” has Absu mastermind Proscriptor on guest vocals, which makes me salivate over the thought of all three being in a band together. Only a band like Mystifier, who are able to stretch the parameters of the kvlt, spiked-armband and bullet-belt underground, could bring them all together.
Triumvir Foul: Urine of Abomination (Vrasubatlat/Invictus/20 Buck Spin)
March has been a yellow month for metal: not only did Pissgrave release their AOTY contender Posthumous Humiliation (you can read my thoughts here, though I cannot stress enough the actual album art, not in the link but above, is far beyond NSFW), but Portland’s Triumvir Foul return with a new EP, Urine of Abomination. Split into four parts, Urine drags Teitanblood’s blurred blackened death and harsh power electronics for a 17-minute pain journey. Though the noise and metal remain mostly separate, they’re united in brutality. There’s differentiation, but no relief. When the noise is blasting, you’re wishing for blastbeats to ground you; when the metal is raging, your desire becomes to float off into freeform static. It’s a spiritual successor to Bone Awl and The Rita’s collaboration tape, where the lines between metal and noise was much fuzzier. Triumvir Foul have also pulled back on sounding cavernous, revealing a bit more of their teeth. It’s not just mesmerizing, it’s goddamn pounding.
Venom Prison: Samsara (Prosthetic)
It’s rare that a modern-sounding death metal album is fresh and free of contrivance, but the U.K.’s Venom Prison have done just that with their second album Samsara. Though their death metal has plenty of grindcore, it’s not ho-hum deathgrind, sounding more like adrenalized Slayer. “Uterine Industrialisation” epitomizes this, moving like razor blades in the breeze, complete with a bouncy breakdown that sounds like the best ’90s Slayer track Slayer never made. “Dukkha” also has some pretty beefy breakdowns if you’re the type who doesn’t turn down a slam riff no matter how enlightened you’ve gotten. Samsara appeals to base needs while offering up quite a bit of refinement, and Venom Prison are the band who could find a home with Dying Fetus fans — the opening to “Asura’s Realm” is if Dying Fetus wrote melodic death — while vocalist Larissa Stupor pushes them way outside their comfort zones (she ain’t here for your casual misogyny). It’s funny that the “elevated horror” discussion blew up on Twitter shortly after this record came out: Death metal doesn’t need “elevation” to prove itself worthy, because at the end of the day real heads know, yet Samsara is not a record for complacent gorehounds. (One final note: it’s funny that this isn’t the first Samsara in Prosthetic’s discography, as the great Chicago jazz-metal unit Yakuza also had a Samsara back in 2006!)