Every month, I put together a roundup of the best metal albums with the intent of finding a common theme that binds them together—whether they’re Epic AF, challenging the definitions of metal, or adhering to an old-school sound. The idea is not to make too narrow a path to one subgenre of metal, but rather to create a mood. Maybe one month it’s dark and haunted, maybe another it’s blazing and hedonistic, or maybe it’s just all riffs and dazzle. There are a lot of places metal can go, and I’m always excited to walk down that unknown path every month.
But when I was figuring out the theme of this month’s column, something stood out to me among the albums I’d been vetting: Many of them were the best metal records I’ve heard all year. Four months in, that’s not too unexpected, but to all arrive at more or less the same time? Well, that’s an interesting coincidence, maybe even careful planning on the part of bands and labels.
There are some reasons that April is an ideal month to open the floodgates, one of them being that the annual Roadburn festival just happened in The Netherlands, with a lineup that I’m truly bummed I missed out on (including two bands included below). In much the same way SXSW is the official beginning of festival season, Roadburn is pretty much the start of metal season. And next year I hope to make it there.
But on the other hand, I’ve had plenty to listen to, because like I said, it’s a great month for metal. I joked on Twitter that the theme was going to be “these albums are good,” but I wasn’t exactly lying. We’ve made it to the part of the year where the bar has been raised, and everyone else needs to work a little harder to reach these heights. Enjoy these six essential metal albums of the month, which include black metal, funeral doom, sludge, goth stuff and death metal—every flavor you can imagine.
Ultha – All That Has Never Been True
It seems like just yesterday, I was lamenting the fact that as of right now, there’s an abundance of black metal and very little of it is anywhere near above average. And then I queue up the latest album from German black metal outfit Ultha, and well, there’s still plenty of mediocre black metal bands, but brother, Ultha ain’t one of them. All That Has Never Been True finds the band offering a familiar hybrid of slow building arrangements of haunted instrumental nuance and surging moments of bombast, all tied together with an undeniable knack for melody. There’s also a wrenching emotional quality to these songs that makes All That Has Never Been True a fairly draining listen, if ultimately a highly rewarding one. To hear the majesty of “Bathed in Lightning, Bathed in Heat” is to bear witness to a band finding affecting and awe-inspiring ground to explore in black metal, even when it seems much of that ground has already been conquered. (Vendetta)
QAALM – Resilience & Despair
It’s spring! The sun’s out, the rain has—well, it hasn’t stopped, but the intervals between showers are getting longer, and the pollen is annihilating my sinuses. So you know what that means: Really slow, devastating, sludgy funeral doom! Los Angeles’ QAALM make their full-length debut this month with Resilience & Despair, an album that’s both as gut-wrenching and as beautiful as I really need a funeral doom album to be, because if it’s not, why are we even here? I could be listening to Undeath. Again. QAALM don’t give less than an award-worthy performance in annihilation, and they do it in epic fashion, with massive compositions that feel almost like albums unto themselves. I thought I was close to the end of the record when I realized I had only listened to one and a half songs; there’s a lot happening, but the sheer ambition and scope of what QAALM craft—gorgeously composed epics of emotional, elegant doom metal—means that at no point do these massive pieces of music ever feel as if they’re in need of an edit. That, naturally, comes with the territory—this is big music, meant to evoke equally big feelings. Feelings, perhaps, that the earth might swallow you whole. I mean, doesn’t get much bigger than that. (Hypaethral)
Pyrithe – Monuments to Impermanence
There’s a version of “Glioblastoma,” the second track on Pyrithe’s new album Monuments to Impermanence, released on Bandcamp on their debut WRCT under the name “II,” and it’s recognizably the same song. But also it isn’t—it sounds more like old-school noise rock that most certainly carries a certain heaviness to it, but more scraping than pummeling, more screech than thunder. On Monuments to Impermanence, the group sound like they’ve swallowed a few hundred souls in the intervening years and ascended to demonhood. (And the fire-throated vocal performance from Vicky Carbone doesn’t hurt, either.) This isn’t just heavy or intense, it’s downright intimidating. Pyrithe’s first release for Gilead Media is a leveling up in the best way, a bigger, denser, at times more terrifying and at others more gracefully crafted set of noise-addled sludge that packs one exciting surprise after another into these 47 awesome minutes. I’d call it “next level,” but I think they actually skipped over a few—they’re well past that. (Gilead)
Devil Master – Ecstasies of Never Ending Night
I’m a Devil Master fan. Face-painted, waving the big foam skeleton finger, can’t get enough of their ghoulish, blackened deathrock and won’t even bother to couch it. This band’s aesthetic is a pretty good summary of things that’ll both get me excited about music and keep me excited about music, and so naturally they’re among my favorites this month. Their 2019 album Satan Spits on Children of Light, despite being spooky goth metal, had all the makings of a great summertime record—hyperspeed rhythms, big riffs, super catchy melodies and an overwhelming tendency toward hedonism. Ecstasies of Never Ending Night slows things down just a little, incorporating more space and moodier instrumentals, and even a disco beat. Which is to say I’ll still be playing this throughout summer. But the Philly metalpunks are continuing to evolve and grow as a band, and there’s a lot more to sink your teeth into on this one, a richer showcase for their gloomy songwriting and malevolent melodies. (Relapse)
Mizmor & Thou – Myopia
The new collaborative album from Mizmor and Thou just dropped last Friday, and while that’s definitely not enough time to internalize a record this massive and dense, I did already give it my Album of the Week endorsement. Because while I might not necessarily have been able to fully process every nuance on this devastating hour-plus set of music, I do know this: It’s an absolute triumph. On some level, I think we all knew this—both Mizmor and Thou have a strong record of delivering the goods, and more recently, Thou have proven that something special tends to happen when they find a great counterpart, like with Emma Ruth Rundle on May Our Chambers Be Full. Myopia finds both acts performing at full strength, offering up some of their best songs, all of which pack a hearty wallop. Since it was a surprise release planned to coincide with Roadburn, vinyl copies won’t arrive until October, which is worth the wait by all means. I’ll just be watching my front porch in the meantime, until the day finally comes that I can drop the needle on all four sides of this behemoth and feel myself melt into the earth. (Gilead)
Undeath – It’s Time…To Rise from the Grave
You’ll be hearing a lot about Undeath this year. In fact, you likely already have—the Rochester, New York band’s sophomore album has been on the receiving end of some pretty hefty acclaim in this still-fresh year (like on this very website for instance), and with good reason. They make uncommonly spectacular death metal. I hesitate to use a phrase like “no frills,” because death metal as a genre is pretty high on frills, and Undeath are no exception. But they’re also a band that aims squarely for that sweet spot where death metal goes straight for the aggression, menace and hedonic thrills—no impossible mathematic equations, no excursions into faraway galaxies, no conceptual sagas. The concept here is playing the best goddamn death metal they possibly can and by god, they do just that, delivering an album that seems incapable of ever wearing out its welcome. Undeath’s innovations aren’t about the aesthetic qualities of death metal but in how they make something accessible and fresh out of a fairly simple idea. And that’s a lot harder than it sounds. (Prosthetic)
Support our Site—Subscribe to Our Patreon: Become one of our monthly patrons and help support an independent media resource while gaining access to exclusive content, shirts, playlists, mixtapes and more.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.