At the end of any given year, a narrative tends to emerge within heavy music. Maybe it’s the year that old-school death metal reigned supreme. Or perhaps it’s the year that prog ended up being surprisingly cool (that may or may not have been last year). In January, there aren’t really enough tea leaves to give an accurate reading, but based on the past 30 days, what I can say is that 2024 is off to a killer start. Here are my picks for the best metal albums of the month.
GUHTS – Regeneration
When I see the extra “h” in GUHTS’s name, I imagine that it’s meant to be pronounced more gutturally: Guhhhhhts. Yet the New York group’s sound is less of a filthy death metal approach than a more elegant, progressive, shoegaze-influenced sound that brings to mind both Oathbreaker and Cult of Luna’s record with Julie Christmas. There’s an elegant, gothic ornateness to songs like “The Mirror,” traced with gorgeous flourishes of piano, but the band is never far from a powerful wall of guitars, like that of “Handless Maiden,” the depth of their downtuned roar worthy of vintage Kylesa amid a set of songs that infuse a sludgy aesthetic with an unexpected dose of beauty. I wasn’t expecting to be so captivated by a metal debut this early in the year, but Regeneration has made me an instant fan.
Resin Tomb – Cerebral Purgatory
One of the fun and often underrated aspects of death metal is its malleability. It can be no-frills bonehead bashing, or it can be surprisingly elegant, art-house abstract or chock fulla rockin’ riffs. Australia’s Resin Tomb somehow combine all of these aspects in their intricate but accessible approach. The first thought that arose when listening to Cerebral Purgatory was, “What if Gorguts just wanted to rip?” And that’s exactly what Resin Tomb does. They build racetracks rather than labyrinths, twisting into curious shapes that aren’t always straightforward, but often sleek and thrilling, and the experience of discovering where they’ll end up provides nothing less than a full-fledged surge of adrenaline. It’s worth noting that half the songs on the album run exactly four minutes and 20 seconds long, which may or may not be a coincidence, but be warned that these barnburners sprint well beyond the pace of the average stoner metal churn.
Rejoice – All of Heaven’s Luck
A lot of faith-based records crop up on streaming services when you search for “Rejoice,” but anyone seeking some inspirational praise music is going to be caught by surprise when stumbling up on this brutal Ohio group’s debut album. Packing eight songs in 17 minutes, Rejoice bash their way through a menacing, malevolent and just plain mean set of melodic hardcore that drips with the misanthropy of noise rock. A song like “Bloodsucker” arguably has more in common with a band like Pissed Jeans than Poison the Well, though the disco beats that erupt halfway through only add strange, giddy details that muddy the waters even further. There’s no part of All of Heaven’s Luck that doesn’t feel bruised or bloodied, but Rejoice nonetheless seem like they’re having a lot of fun while causing as much mayhem as possible.
Dissimulator – Lower Form Resistance
It’s far too early to tell if 2024 is going to be the year of Voivod-inspired sci-fi tech-metal, but the debut album by Dissimulator at least gets us off to a good start. The Montreal group—featuring members of Chthe’ilist, Atramentus and Beyond Creation—construct intricate yet accessible monuments of dystopian fantasy and instrumental proficiency. Don’t let the latter part of that sentence fool you, however; Dissimulator know their way around an ugly-face groove, as heard on leadoff track “Neural Hack.” And even at their most dizzying—the knotty progressions of the appropriately titled “Warped,” the epic progression of “Cybermorphism/Mainframe”—the group remain committed to pushing the melodies to the front, rarely if ever shredding simply for its own sake (though let’s be clear, they most certainly can and do shred). With an arsenal of riffs at the ready, Dissimulator set their course for Dimension Hatröss and don’t look back.
Infant Island – Obsidian Wreath
The line between metal and screamo has been growing blurrier for a while, with bands like Svalbard, Cloud Rat and, yes, Deafheaven filling in the connections between them over the past decade. Fredericksburg, Virginia’s Infant Island is another group to add to that list, with their third album Obsidian Wreath building out the landscape surrounding their feral outbursts with graceful and gorgeous post-metal instrumentals and even more sophisticated and progressive songwriting. One need only hear the all-pistons-firing blast-beat transcendence of “Unrelenting” to behold the kind of scathing beauty this band is capable of, or in the case of “Kindling,” a dreamy, melancholy haze that slowly builds up to its scorching climax. We’re only a month into 2024, and there are countless more records to hear, but Obsidian Wreath already presents one of the essential listens in heavy music this year.
Escuela Grind – DDEEAATTHHMMEETTAALL
Escuela Grind’s Memory Theater made my best metal albums of 2022 list for a pretty simple reason: I enjoy the hell out of listening to it. There are bands in grindcore doing more experimental things, or perhaps more progressive things, but Escuela Grind tap into a physicality that’s made for the live stage, swirling in a bit of hardcore and death metal with their relentless grind. Their new EP DDEEAATTHHMMEETTAALL focuses primarily on just one of those elements (more or less), and while the approach has changed, the overall effect hasn’t: I am still very much enjoying the hell out of listening to this! As death metal goes, their take still circles back to grindcore, but there’s a no-bullshit, meat-and-potatoes beastliness that feels often aligned with a band like Undeath, whose own guttural roar is pretty irresistible to those of us who like our metal a bit nasty and grimy. That Escuela Grind can switch styles so effortlessly and pull off four songs of (mostly) death metal as well as they do suggests that there’s likely a few more tricks up their sleeves.
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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.