Have You Heard? The Top 10 Death Metal Albums of the Past Five Years

2020 has been one helluva year so far with new releases (not to mention other global issues). We wanted to go back and look at what really impressed us over the past five years – reminding us of easier, pre-COVID times. Given the vast nature of the death metal genre, we wanted to highlight some of what we felt were stand-out releases from 2015-2019. If you feel we missed anything, let us know in the comments below!

Outre-Tomb – Répurgation
HSP Productions, 2015

From Quebec, Canada, Outre-Tomb slam you down in their first track, L’antre de l’horreur and keep the pace up all the way to the end. Crisp production with an old-school vibe, Outre-Tombe’s debut establishes the band as a brutal force to be reckoned with. With incredible tempo-changing tracks like Psychose Toxique and thrash-influenced tunes like Mutation, Répurgation stands out as not only a solid debut but a must-listen to. Their 2018 album, Nécrovortex, should also be looked at (and spun regularly).

Aborted – Retrogore
Century Media, 2016

Seasoned musicians Aborted came out with a refreshing, almost up-beat album in Retrogore. With lyrical content based on the vibes the album cover gives, Retrogore is filled with blast beats, filth, and ripping guitars that makes us want to go back and listen to it again and again. Sven de Caluwé’s vocal versatility gives the impression there’s more than one singer on the album – and truly livens up the music. With its technical prowess and often-catchy hooks, Retrogore is hands-down one of Aborted’s best albums.

Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Season of Mist, 2016

Our second band from Quebec, Gorguts’ follow up from 2013’s Colored Sands is vastly different than anything the band has released before. This 33-minute behemoth speaks about the fall of the House of Wisdom. While both historical and introspective in narrative, the music is beyond outstanding. With ebbs and flows, peaks and falls, each movement in the song speaks for itself. This is also the first album where Gorguts leader Luc Lemay allowed creative input from the rest of the band. The song speaks for itself.

Rude – Remnants…
F.D.A. Rekotz, 2017

The second album from the California death heads, Rude’s Remnants… is a reminder of what got us here regarding death metal in the first place. With production strongly resembling early-Morbid Angel, the songs are fresh and the riffs are heavy. Songs like Blood Sucker and Sanctuary are real bangers, while Fracturing the Gates of Truth really encompasses everything the band has to offer. Their 2014 album Soul Recall may have established the band to many, but it’s with Remnants… that Rude really blew us away.

Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon
Profound Lore Records, 2017

The more this album is listened to the more there is to take away. Using technology to their advantage, there is always something that feels different on an Artificial Brain album. Bright, clean guitar tones mixed with a treble-laden bass guitar gives the band a truly unique feel. Their dissonant, diminished chords and song structures add a brilliant sense of drama to their music that is rarely encapsulated in the death metal genre. The beautifully sinister chorus from Estranged in Orbit is a testament to that. This is an album you must check out.

Ulthar – Cosmovore
20 Buck Spin, 2018

While we have just reviewed their 2020 release Providence, Ulthar’s debut Cosmovore is really something else. Ulthar manages to merge different genres together seamlessly on Cosmovore. The second track, Solitarian blends both screams and guttural vocals to give a wild impression to the music. The cool pacing of Infinite Cold Distance gives a plethora of different riffs and many crazy moments that absolutely impress. A debut album you definitely do not want to miss.

Augury – Illusive Golden Age
The Artisan Era, 2018

Yet another Quebecois metal band (believe us, the amount of bands from Quebec was unintentional), Augury returned from their nine year hiatus and did not disappoint. Incredibly brutal at times while still operatic during others, Augury provides a little bit of everything in their third album. Ripping scales and tempo changes galore, Augury still remind us on what Atheist would sound like if they upped the ante. With their mechanical prowess as strong as ever, The Illusive Golden Age is a triumph in technical death metal.

Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction
Nuclear War Now! Productions, 2019

Intense and thrashing, Ares Kingdom’s fourth album hits the mark with their blazing solos and thudding percussion. It’s a rough sounding album which offers the raw feeling you’d want in a death metal album. The Hydra Void kicks off a brilliant start to the album with the pounding drums on the low toms and double-kick. Burn, Antares (Scorpius Diadem) comes with incredibly catchy riffs, while The Bones of All Men is just a magnificent ride into what death metal has to offer as a genre with its ungodly chugging. Ares Kingdom proves that four albums in, bands can still release their best material (see Aborted – Retrogore).

Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
20 Buck Spin, 2019

While Manor of Infinite Forms put them on the map, Planetary Clairvoyance, Tomb Mold’s third album, is just brutally enjoyable. The horror from their previous two albums bleeds into the science-fiction and alien-filled world of this release. The real charm from the band was arguably how simple everything sounds, yet comes together cohesively as a technical achievement. While songs like Beg For Life and Heat Death may only offer a handful of riffs, vocalist/drummer Max Klebanoff keeps things fresh with his variations in percussion. The old school death metal sound with modern production doesn’t get any better than it does with Tomb Mold.

Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Dark Descent, 2019

As most bands honor the legacies of the bands who came before them, Blood Incantation celebrates them. From Death and Gorguts to Pink Floyd and King Crimson – Hidden History of the Human Race comes with a plethora of new ideas and an unfathomably brilliant atmosphere to make an outstanding record to end 2019 with. The band’s thought provoking and technically savvy songs are intense, ambient, and most importantly, heavy as all hell. Unlike many death metal albums, there’s groove and feel that comes with many of the songs, such as the stoner-riffic Inner Paths (to Outer Space). There’s many incredible moments on this album. It’s not only a must-listen, but a must-own.

Honest Review: John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity

John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity
Sound Mind Music

by Derek J. Smith

With the lockdown of COVID-19, Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci finally began work following up his 2005 debut solo album, Suspended Animation. In 2020, Terminal Velocity features a bit of everything you’d expect from Petrucci. Surprisingly, however, there’s a lot more throughout the albums various nooks and crannies that makes Terminal Velocity one of the best things John Petrucci has ever produced – including his prior solo effort and most Dream Theater albums. With the title track as an impactful first song on the album, the listener may feel overloaded: “What else is there could Petrucci have to offer? Did I just hear everything he could do?” The other big question asked: “That was just one song – will Petrucci and former bandmate Mike Portnoy recapture the feeling of working together?”

Put it this way: There were no expectations which could prepare you for the incredible song-writing and musicianship encountered on Terminal Velocity.

The technical versatility may feel daunting but is not at all over-stated. Petrucci said he had a lot of time to write this album over the lockdown from COVID and it absolutely shows. Terminal Velocity is not the technical showcase which one would come to expect from Dream Theater albums. Petrucci’s songs feel well-plotted out all the while produced and written with feeling and emotions in mind. While Terminal Velocity feels as if it crams ideas together similar to Devin Townsend’s opening track on his 2019 album Empath – everything works together and establishes tidbits of what the album will be presenting as the listener gets into it.

The familiar intro to The Oddfather is rather tongue-in-cheek and may put a smile on the face of the listener. The Oddfather features so many delicious riffs in the song, making it feel like an early Dream Theater song with styles somewhat mixed in-between Dream Theater albums Awake and Systematic Chaos. Bassist Dave LaRue is simply brilliant, laying foundation across the track and adding a solid level of depth to the song.

Happy Song delivers just what the title suggests – upbeat progressions with bright and cheery lead solos. Meanwhile, Gemini kicks off with heavy riffs and a hefty dirty bass tone from LaRue, reminiscent of heavy grooves from Liquid Tension Experiment. Yet the song continues its various fluxes with Spanish influences-turned-shuffle, and powers through with a wider mix of different genres in its six-minute existence.

Out of the Blue is a nice, mid-paced song which was unexpectedly needed in the middle of the album, giving the listener a breather and soothing them down from the intensity before it. The song does a slow and progressive build up at the end, making the mid-tempo intro riff to the next song, Glass-Eyed Zombies even that more appreciated. In Glass-Eyed Zombies, the gradual build up of from its introduction is a brilliant way to get the listener up to the speed that marked the first half of the album with a ripping solo and chugging thrash metal rhythms.

The bright, almost operatic The Way Things Fall, lets LaRue shine in a handful of moments while still showcasing Petrucci’s solos. Meanwhile, Snake in My Boot portrays a rocking country-metal hybrid anthem we didn’t know we needed.

In the final track, Temple of Circadia, it’s easy to compare to introductions of Dream Theater’s Bridges in the Sky or The Shattered Fortress, yet much like the entirety of the album, there’s lots for the listener to chew over – from the odd time signatures to the intense polyrhythms Portnoy throws upon the song.

Although it definitely feels like a John Petrucci album – and that Mike Portnoy is certainly a big-name draw – there’s a history between these two musicians which cannot be replicated. One can really tell how the two musicians have bonded together. Despite it being over ten years apart from writing music with one another, the melding of their two minds works brilliantly. The emotional impact of two old friends working together is something which literally cannot be replicated if one tried.

The brilliance the two musicians achieve between one another is not hyperbolic if one reminisces of their halcyon days together. Petrucci and Portnoy are musicians who understand one another and are on the same wavelength when it comes to performance and song writing. Terminal Velocity, even unconsciously, comes together as an album celebrating both music and friendship. It may not have been intentional while writing the album, but it certainly feels that way when listening to it.

If we could only get more honest albums like this from musicians, the world of music would most certainly be a better.

Uncanny Metal Score: 9/10

John Petrucci’s Website

Review: Moaning Silence – A Waltz into Darkness

Moaning Silence – A Waltz into Darkness

Into their second release, Moaning Silence’s A Waltz into Darkness features sonic familiarity which creates both a haunting and mournful album for fans of the genre.

Finding commonality with both early-My Dying Bride and Anathema, A Waltz into Darkness brings simple but dark and resonating riffs into their music – all the while, intertwining some melody for added ambiance and tossing in a few surprises along the way.

The opening track, Rite of Decay, builds harmonies with both male and female-led vocals to climax into a withering sound of despair. Listeners who let themselves get wrapped with the music will find themselves unexpectedly headbanging along; with the lyrical rhymes and drum beat by the end as the next song, The Silence of the Gods, keeps pounding the listener across.

Also surprising is how the keyboards feel like the unsung hero of the album: adding a sense of grandiose underneath all of the sadness. In the track Song for Winter, the piano takes lead among the female-driven vocals and bass tones. Especially near the end of the song, the keys act as a beautiful tie in-between both the sorrow singing and metal instrumentation. The keys can be heard again taking the charge in I Am the Sorrow – shining yet again with its ambiance.

Other surprising moments are the intensity of doom which ebbs and flows within different songs. With the ending of Stormbirds, chords become more uplifting than expected and almost pull the listener away from what had came before it. Yet some of the album’s heaviest sounds are shown in the middle of the track The Lights of Alexandria where the bass, keys, and slow-tempo drums create a tense march underneath a emotionally-driven guitar solo.

While the ebbs and flows within the songs work, one of the few drawbacks to the album was when vocal harmonies would occur as female vocals would tend to overshadow the male’s at some points. In some moments the guitars could have had some added oomph to their distortion, while the snare levels would vary from song to song – or sometimes even within the same song. Upon first listen, it felt as if the band was replicating Anathema’s Serenades in terms of production – which it almost does. However, Serenades was released in 1993.

Still, A Waltz into Darkness is a great album with plenty of introspective surprises for the listener along the way. From start to finish, the consistencies of both the song writing and performances keep the listener involved for the entire, brilliantly-gloomy ride.

Moaning Silence on Bandcamp

Review: Varus – A New Dawn

Varus – A New Dawn

After a lineup change replaced half of the band, the German symphonic folk metal group Varus return to the scene with their second full-length album, A New Dawn.

Bringing a medley of different instruments and styles to the table, A New Dawn is surrounded by familiarity yet still brings refreshing themes into each song. Throughout the album, each song brings its own set of elements to the table which work as standalone songs – almost showcasing the variety folk metal offers to those unfamiliar to the genre.

Songs like The Minstrels Chant brings about the common chanting/harmonic choruses one would come to expect from the genre. Yet a well-placed flute and guitar solo duel mixed into the middle adds some unexpected flair. The duel is then followed by heavy chugging of both bass and drums to keep the listener headbanging along.

Among the enchanting keyboards and symphonic sounds from Ein Lebewohl, the end of the song brings about a Baroque-style piano performance which both purposefully and eloquently add a subtle touch of a classical performance among the roaring music.

Die Letzte Schenke promotes itself with the stereotypical triumphant beer-drinking motif one would come to expect. Halfway through the death metal growls however, and brutality of the song pulls the listener down a darker path, only to be presented with a organ and guitar solo which surprisingly comes across as natural in the realm of the death metal.

That intensity of the genre continues to shine with the last two tracks: initially easing the listener in with operatic vocals, then pummeling the listener down with the ferocity of both riffage and thumping double kicks. As such, it feels that the album ends with a much more aggressive tone than how it started – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

Despite the wide ranging offerings from each song, the title track is the only one that suffers from stereotypes of the genre. It’s slow paced and generic anthem-like nature feels like it could have been better suited in the middle of the album rather than kicking the album off.

With a wide assortment of different instruments, styles, and offerings for listeners unfamiliar with the genre, Varus’ A New Dawn is an impressive second album with many promising moments to leave the listener craving to hear what the band will have to offer next.

Varus on Bandcamp

Review: Ulthar – Providence

Ulthar – Providence
20 Buck Spin

After the debut and well-deserved praise of their 2018 release Cosmovore, Providence ups the ante and solidifies Ulthar as a force of brutality to be reckoned with.

Swirling with a healthy mix of blackened death metal, Ulthar doesn’t just stop there: mingling with doom, thrash, and some psychedelic ambiance crafted seamlessly together forms an incredibly devastating album which makes the listener ask, “How can Ulthar think of this stuff?”

The opening song Churn hits the listener with full-force and keeps itself just around two-minutes, establishing the sound and feel of the music Ultar provides. Yet within the mere first moments of the second track, Undying Spear, everything previously listened to is turned on its head as a haunting ambient guitar medley plays before blasting the listener back into the chaos. And is it ever beautiful chaos.

Both vocalists, Steve Peacock and Shelby Lermo trade between two screaming styles which compliment each other well – similar to a call and response from early blues music. The riffage between the two is simply outstanding. The unison between both guitar and bass throughout most songs keeps the sound sharp and subtly emphasizes the complexity of the music. With so many variations in each song, the synchronization of instruments keeps the listener anticipating Ulthar’s next transition in the song or are made to hear the emphasis the musicians want to put on a particular riff. The bass and guitar will subtly rise and fall in the mix when there’s a transition to be listened to. It’s a clever way to make the listener focus on something distinctly.

Naturally, drummer Justin Ennis absolutely pounds the hell out of the kit. Keeping up with the variety of music styles throughout the album, one could assume they had a different drummer on different tracks. In a song like Through Downward Dynasties, the variations and subtle fills from Ennis are outstanding and really elevate an already crushing song.

One of the more noticeable things about the album is its production. Not only does it feel good, but the songs sound great. It’s not under produced like black metal or can be compared to muddy death metal. Nor is the album overly produced like some thrash or death albums. The sound of Providence is still havoc, but smart production makes it both clear and concise. As a result, the listener can appreciate the influences which came before the band while still absorbing something new and fresh from the genre(s).

Ulthar’s Providence is a complete package for anyone into the extreme. Providence comes with weight, brilliant songwriting, and production that should be envied. An absolutely solid second album by the Oakland, California band.

With newly established bands like Spirit Adrift and Tomb Mold, adding Ulthar to the mix, 20 Buck Spin have really solidified themselves as the go-to indie label for guaranteed up and coming bands in the metal scene.

Ulthar on Bandcamp

Review: Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota

Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota
Naturmacht Productions

With the release of their third album, the Finnish band Havukruunu prove once again why all eyes are on them on the forefront of pagan black metal.

Blasting right out of the gates, the self titled track feels like it throws everything you’d expect from the genre in one song – but it’s only the beginning. The triumphant melodies and searing guitar tones feel fresh and unique. The riffs are intense and dark, yet they are coloured with triumphant undertones. Enchanting vocal harmonies are intertwined with guitar melodies creating a brilliant, epic feeling.

The wonder of these moments can be heard in songs like Ja Vimein On Yö – where beyond the battery of the percussion, the uplifting darkness is built up during the chorus and then continues throughout. Among the call and response vocals in the song, guitar melodies shape the background and create a powerful ambiance ultimately transitioning into a impressive and moving solo. All of these efforts appear easy and natural but are certainly well thought out to achieve the presented effect.

The percussion intensity continues with Pohjolan Tytär – which is arguably the most straight-forward song on the album. Yet the beating of the drums vary enough, along with the haunting solos, and epic vocal harmonies, to create a wonderfully crafted feat. While the band may often be compared to others in the scene such as Moonsorrow and Mgła, Havukruunu manages to generate a particular feel and soundscape in their music which certainly makes them stand away from such comparisons.

In fact, Havukruunu almost makes themselves uniquely virtuoso with their guitar work. Varying guitar solos midway in the song Vähiin Päivät Käy stand out as some of the most pinnacle moments on the album. Transitions between the different solos are flawless and as the song goes back to its main riff, one cannot help but feel the chills go up their spine.

Meanwhile, the closing track features so much variation, fresh ideas, and feelings which seem somewhat unusual to pagan black metal. Havukruunu bring and transition modern concepts and technology to the genre to create an interesting final piece to the album that almost acts like a cliff hanger for their next release.

The dichotomy between Havukruunu’s pagan roots and modern concepts seam together flawlessly to create an absolute feat of an album. Uinuos Syömein Sota may be not only one of the best black metal releases this year, but one of the best albums released in 2020.

Havukruunu on Bandcamp