6 Admirably Ambitious New Metal Albums to Hear This Month

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Ulthar best new metal albums

Metal rarely has a problem with ambition, at least on some level. You’ll rarely hear a metal band that doesn’t at least try to hit those BPMs that seem beyond human capabilities, or to play those riffs that sound like you’d need a few extra fingers to pull off properly. The problem mostly lies in how that ambition presents itself. Technical abilities are great, but sometimes it’s the creative ambition that’s more important. Actually, it usually is—not that it isn’t a thrill to hear someone who can really shred. That’ll never not be fun, but bands who think beyond the rote tropes of metal as we know it and who seek to find something new within it, outside of it and along the borderline between the two will always be those that capture my attention.

This month, I’ve chosen six albums by five bands (you read that correctly) that have a vision I can get behind. Some of them offer more explicitly experimental takes, some of them are more subtly subversive, but they’re all amazing.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Land of Sleeper

First things first: It’s seven Pigs. Not five, not six, and you’ll probably see their name referenced as Pigsx7, because who’s going to continue to type all that out? Having an absurd and cumbersome name is a good way to get people’s attention, though, and over the past decade the British stoner metal/psych band have steadily built up a cult following. Then again, they’ve earned it on the strength of their riffs alone. Their fifth full-length, Land of Sleeper, isn’t about reinvention but magnitude. The band’s doomy, fuzzed-out guitars offer much more than a nod to vintage Sabbath but blown out and amplified to an even greater degree. They’re also comfortable getting a little bit more menacing on highlights such as “The Weatherman,” an eerie slab of disaster psych that cuts through the low-end with piercing highs and warnings that “A storm is coming!” But the reason to keep coming back is in highlights like “Ultimate Hammer” and “Mr. Medicine,” which layer on the resin-caked fuzz and let the weird times roll. (Rocket)

Theophonos – Nightmare Visions

Black metal and mathcore or screamo is a hybrid that doesn’t feel like it’s been explored enough. It’s not unheard of by any means—see: Plebian Grandstand or Mastery—though it’s also still novel enough to be in no danger of becoming cliche. The project of James Hamzey of the now-defunct Serpent Column, Theophonos continues that band’s intricate spiral of seething menace and technically intricate rhythmic arrangements that feel at once revelatory and mesmerizing. When the spin cycle hits terminal velocity, Nightmare Visions can feel like something far more aggressive and dangerous than black metal for its own sake. But it also harbors moments in which melody’s given the spotlight over the mayhem, like on the instrumental “At Rest in Turbulence” or the climactic closer “Of Days Past.” (Mystíkaos)

Blitzar IV – Ayla

Mexican artist Victoria Carmilla Crazemaze might not be a recognizable name just yet, but her Bandcamp archive is already pretty ample, much of it under different names. But it’s her latest recording as Blitzar IV, a cosmic black metal/shoegaze hybrid, that proved an arresting experience on first listen. Given how much blackgaze is beginning to pile up in digital spaces, much of it indistinguishable, it’s easy to become cynical, but Blitzar IV’s approach is less shoegazing and more stargazing, with Ayla a bright and wondrous set of music that recalls the likes of Alcest‘s prettier moments and M83’s more atmospheric sounds than simply black metal with slightly more interesting chord structures. Ayla is an album of genuine beauty, gorgeously layered and obscure only to the point that it compels you to reach through the fog and find the radiance within. It feels epic, but it’s really just one smaller sojourn on a much larger journey. (Fiadh)

Ulthar – Anthronomicon/Helionomicon

What karmic balance was achieved, what act of grace and benevolence accomplished that we should be so fortunate as to receive not one but two Ulthar albums this month? And to clarify: This isn’t a double album, but rather two discreet releases that you can obtain separately if you want to—though why would you? Each of these two sets of complex and driving death metal occupies a different role; Anthronomicon the set of more concise and immediate rippers, while Helionomicon features two 20-minute epics. Stylistically, though, they’re not so far apart—the latter simply offers a lot more of what the former already does so well. That’s perhaps understating the case: When the psychedelic opening chords of “Helionomicon” ring out, it’s clear that the Oakland death metal outfit are about to embark on a more mystical path, though they grind and gallop most of the way there, unrelenting in their aggression and commitment to sonic obliteration. One Ulthar album would be a gift, but two is a blessing. (20 Buck Spin)

Big|Brave – nature morte

I’ve already written a lot of words in the past month about the spectacular new album by Montreal trio Big|Brave (I also interviewed them about…all kinds of stuff), but I can’t overemphasize how much nature morte floored me on my first listen. In recent years, Big|Brave have increasingly proven themselves to be one of the best bands in heavy music, pulling off a tricky balance between big sound and a more minimalist approach to composition. Or perhaps put another way, a deceptive minimalism, anchoring their songs with a central drone while innovating and finding constantly unfolding spaces to explore around it. Yet where their previous album Vital, also an excellent record, felt more claustrophobic and tense, nature morte is more open and steeped in an ambience that gives the space within their massive nine-minute dirges an added sense of texture. Even so, there’s no diminishing the sheer power of a song like “the one who bornes a weary load” or “the fable of subjugation,” which feel like some of the heaviest music they’ve ever written. I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that this is my favorite album of a year that’s just barely shaken off the hangover from 2022, but check back with me three to six months from now and I feel pretty confident that it’s unlikely to go anywhere. (Thrill Jockey)

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