The task before a reviewer varies widely. If you want to be a big shot, you need to write about what the labels want, since they are the only source of top-down money coming into the genre. They will then reward your publication with advertising, it will then reward you with a promotion, and eighteen months later, you can ditch it and move up to the big leagues.
However, the underground metal operates not on fanatics — “a fanatic is always concealing a secret doubt” — but volunteers, or people who find meaning in things larger than themselves enough to dedicate time, money, and energy to supporting things which will bring them no personal glory, wealth, or power.
For those of us who simply like good metal, 2018 presented a troubling year: the death metal revival of 2009 has faded, replaced by a false metalcore boost, but also, a renewal of commitment to the principles of the underground at the fringes as it becomes apparent that across the board whatever is public is false.
With that in mind, and without further ado, let us turn to the metal of 2018:
Brutal death metal with mild technicality and distinctive staging of themes that are held together by a subtle sense of melody, Kever specializes in producing distinctive songs evocative of certain moments in time, and though this, creating an indirect atmosphere that maintains the intensity of classic death metal. Riffs work upward from the cudgel-primitive to a certain elegance like that of Russian classical, arching over their founding themes to reach a conclusion which was not evident from the starting point.
Starting out along with Blitzkrieg in the range of NWOBHM that verged on the edge of speed metal, Satan use varied riff shapes and more distinctive harmonic shapes to each song. These chord progressions allow them to situate their riffs on a topography which keeps them distinctive, even if on this album riffcraft itself seems more straightforward than on some of their more id-oriented earlier work.
Older Deceased had its glories, namely highly technical rhythms and songs which used more than the handful of five-note modes common to metal, but ever since its side-project Doomstone took off, this band has embraced its heavy metal heritage to make music with an inner melody that keeps up the linebacker-smuggling-meth rhythmic intensity of death metal. Ghostly White shows this band blending the past four decades of metal into one voice and achieving its musical peak.
Imagine a cross between Eyehategod and Terrorizer with modifications to make it sound contemporary to both war metal and metalcore-influenced grindcore, and you have Phosphore Blanc (apparently, French for “white phosphorous”). Looking past the obviously provocative teenage iconography, this band presents a series of talented riffs combined in songs that hold together through dedication to momentum but have an insightful internal binary monologue between riff and response. A fast, ripping grindcore riff runs straight into a mildly melodic sludge riff, and at the end, a melodic theme emerges that may not quite tie the two together, but more likely, directly answers them. No fat on the bones, and inertia serves the songs, which gives this a place in the evolving canon of grindcore-influenced metal.
Emerging from the proto-death era of metal, Master combined punk with heavy rock and the rising underground metal sound to make very basic riffs that emphasized slow chord changes with fast strumming, giving it a unique droning sound and conventional choruses. With Vindictive Miscreant the band incorporates more riffs and stacks themes against one another, keeping a high-speed approach that maintains energy without being too monolithic, while using chanted vocals that create a strong rhythmic hook which stays consistent across the shifting riff contexture.
The Dust and Darkness
Combining chaotic black metal with the flowing melodic styles of Gorgoroth and Abigor, this American band like to create ritual song structures based around a simple rhythm, and then drop in shimmering descents of notes strummed quickly in a wash of distortion, projecting onto the listener a sensation of vast movement around a single point of view that is moving through the pattern of the ritual.
Evoked From Abysmal Sleep
Looking for a way to infuse doom metal with a dose of doom-death, Runemagick relies on familiar riff forms and lots of strobing palm-muted power chords, but makes this formula stick together with a good sense of internal contrast and dynamic motion. This prevents boredom and makes the despairing atmosphere rise above itself, mutating in Protean forms to produce a song within the song formed of that which breaks from the overwhelming momentum of futility and darkness. The title needs a bit of work however.
With Doom We Come
Summoning does best when a concept inspires an album, but for now, they content themselves with upholding the style they have invented of slow long-melody black metal riffs in the Ancient or Graveland style accompanied by keyboards and medieval instruments, using the world music style drumming of their later albums. Songs seem to develop previous concepts and focus more on supporting vocals, which makes this music both more accessible and easier to integrate with multiple layers of instrumentation.
Intensifying the textural language of grindcore into a parallax of continuous perspective distortion, Retortion Terror stacks riffs in a linear order that then breaks to comment on itself, wrestling development out of the clash of forms that suddenly make sense as their context expands to include earlier references as pieces of later ones.
The Luciferian Crown
War metal evolved from the collision between primitive black metal and grindcore, taking what bands like Beherit, Blasphemy, Impaled Nazarene, and Sarcofago were doing and re-infusing it with primal hardcore and grinding simple riff-based bands. Archgoat operates on the double rows of lower five frets almost exclusively, but produces a number of distinctive rhythm and riff shapes which it then opposes with a handful of related riffs and variations, creating an atmosphere of Darwinian violence with enough variety to bring out depth and keep interest. Huge parts of this album are indistinguishable from a quality later model hardcore punk album or a more instrumentally competent early grindcore work.
Everyone wants to make Queensrÿche Operation Mindcrime for a new generation, forgetting perhaps that what made it an epic album was its complete lack of alignment to an answer, suggesting only a hopelessness and poetry to being adrift in an inevitably declining age. Therion, following up on its career of death metal and then power metal band, now shifts into rock opera territory with Beloved Antichrist, a three-and-a-half hour epic that is equal parts cheese, virtuosity, and old fashioned heavy metal with the subtlety of Mannheim Steamroller meets AC/DC at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show. And yet, this well-executed opus brings to mind the most ambitious days of metal.
Attempting to infuse some Celtic Frost styled thematic sensibility into war metal, Trenchant maintains the ripping riffs of that genre but fixes them into song forms that fit the black metal ideal of making opposites collide and then bringing them forth in an uneven synthesis which reveals the savagery and grandeur of nature that is present in all patterns upon Earth and in the heavens. Much of this sounds like early Graveland with double-speed Hellhammer or Beherit riffs worked within its clashes like gold thread woven into a rough blanket, with the glimmers of intrigue bringing the rest into an ambiguous, esoteric level which preserves its mystery.
The Passage of Existence
Searching for a hybrid between the new metalcore-infused “progressive death metal” and old school underground death metal, Montrosity alight on a mixture of progressive and death metal styles that uses riff techniques from the newer without going into its full randomness. This allows the band to showcase some powerful riffs, melodies, and a newfound appreciation for the use of distinctive frameworks of tones, like structural chord progressions, on which to hang those riffs. The result emphasizes the styles of death metal with its musicality understated behind the technique.
Burning The Decadent
Grinding death metal got absorbed by fans of Incantation Onward To Golgotha, which is entirely understandable given how great that album is, but Condemner approaches grinding death metal, war metal, and post-classic underground metal with the idea that patterns should arise that make sense, more in a Demoncy and Immolation sort of way, than that a pattern should be applied to everything sheerly for aesthetic consistency that then swallows meaning (much as modern civilization, in its adherence to the optics of radical individualism, has made everything into conformist uniformity with quirky “flair” for surface distinction only). Condemner adds a bit of epic confrontation, Desecresy-style, to the roaring monolithic attack death metal that inspired it, creating a good deal of appealing atmosphere and tangible vitality.
This restorative album brings back the days of Ram It Down Judas Priest, but mixes in a fair dose of power metal along with some touches from radio hard rock, tying together several audiences around an album that is not so much heavy as rockin’, in that every song has a driving energy, good melodic hook, and at least one moment of frisson when a melodic denouement turns into a clearer articulation of the hidden potential in its initial theme.
Bringing back the best of the early sentimental black metal which balanced a melancholic emptiness with an exuberant inner desire for adventure, Angantyr brings us an album in the rough style of Darkthrone Transilvanian Hunger but with a straightforward melody that unites a minor key theme with a wandering expansion that hints at a major key sensibility. The result feels like coming out of rain into spring sunlight and while simple, offers the hidden hope that black metal always nurtured.
This ambitious foray attempts to fold post-metal styling back into the spirit of traditional black metal, and achieves a temporary balance at least which provides a fragile emotional backdrop for classic underground metal song structures, even if the phrasal riffs are mostly absent. With more development, this could unite the flowing style of black metal with the ambiguous but portentous depth and suggestion of traditional black metal.
Picking up where Pantera and Meshuggah left off, slam metal like grindcore relies exclusively on sonic texturing through seemingly erratic rhythms that become coherent as their larger framework is revealed, and onto that Internal Bleeding adds a sense of melody that allows it to develop song structures to a rudimentary atmosphere in which it dangles uncertainty and a mental sensation of striving for order in an internally chaotic but externally organized time. This reminds me of 1950s outsider music which showed that underneath the chrome, glass, technology, and wealth, a deep organic rottenness pulsed at the center of modern society, in classic noir style. In fact, we might seem slam as the noir antipode to the surface-equals-core transparency of party music like Pantera, in which symbol correlated directly to content.
To achieve the obscure black metal atmosphere, one must introduce ambiguity with a sense of hidden potential, buried under layers of melancholia and nihilism, so that the emergence of a discoverable (opposite of universal) realm of possibility within existence can appear through the interaction of its parts, and not state explicitly in symbolic language as rock music, Soviet propaganda, and 1950s advertising jingles do. Iskandr bring out that ancient feeling through simple tracks that rely heavily on abrupt confrontation within otherwise balanced melody.
Drawn And Quartered
The One Who Lurks
Drawn And Quartered moved from a percussive bludgeoning death metal band in the Morpheus Descends and Cianide style to a mid-paced death metal band which explores different riff styles as the basis for songs, leading to highly specific song structures and styles within a rougher-edged, highly idiosyncratic outsider death metal style.
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- The Best Underground Metal Of 2012
- The Best Underground Metal of 2011
- The Best Underground Metal Of 2010 (Annex)
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- The Best Underground Metal 1983-1998
Tags: 2018, Angantyr, archgoat, best of, black funeral, Black Metal, condemner, death metal, deceased, Drawn and Quartered, Grindcore, Heavy Metal, internal bleeding, iskandr, judas priest, kever, master, monstrosity, nachtlieder, phosphore blanc, progressive metal, retortion terror, Satan, slam metal, sludge, Speed Metal, Summoning, Therion, trenchant, underground metal