Vast Slug – Misophonia EP

Release date: 20 July 2020. Self-release.

Just like with intimate encounters, you wish VAST SLUG songs lasted longer than 10 seconds. After months of teasing us with humorous song titles and NSFW music videos, the Norwich grindcore darlings (featuring Ed Bell of NERVEWRECKER and THE BOY WILL DROWN fame) are finally releasing Misophonia, and it’s well worth the wait!

Barking At Ants and This Song Will Be Long Finished By The Time You’re Done Reading This Title keep it obliteratingly short, but the genre has never sounded this good, thanks to the slick mix by Dave Klussmann (NERVEWRECKER and DEITIES). The songs that are given time to blossom, bloom with the intensity of concussion (see: Choked To The Point of Orgasm and It’s Not Me, It’s You), but any 90’s kid will have their childhood ruined with Shunt, Sgt Bash, Sir Killalot and Dead Metal In An Orgy With Matilda. Proceed with caution.

8/10

Figures – Operating in Unsafe Mode

Release date: 17 July 2020. Self-release.

It’s no secret the country currently with the hottest prog exports is Australia. However, just when you think you’ve heard it all, FIGURES come along and create the angriest prog with debut album, Operating in Unsafe Mode. FIGURES lull you into a false sense of security with the melodic opener Failure to React, but then blow all expectations out the water with Syntax, which borrows nu metal ideas from fellow Aussies TWELVE FOOT NINJA. FIGURES pile on more rage than their peers, giving the band one hell of an intense approach to their delivery.

Some tracks have a hardcore-edge to proceedings, such as the blistering Someone Uninvited and the GLASSJAW-esque closer, Pedestal. FIGURES sprinkle some synths into the mix, such as the irresistible Matrix Love, which erupts into a huge DEFTONES groove. The proggers chuck a lot of styles in the mix for Operating in Unsafe Mode, but unbelievably they make each song sound like FIGURES. This is no small feat for a band to achieve this with their debut album. Big things surely await.

9/10

Victim Unit – Hopeless Failure (EP)

Label: Affair Records/Hibernacula Records. Release date: 3 July 2020.

It’s probably trendy to call some of this year’s metal albums as the soundtrack to 2020, but VICTIM UNIT’s debut EP Hopeless Failure is literally the soundtrack to this hellish year; unpredictable, chaotic, scary, uncomfortable, with no direction… This EP features some of the most unsettling music released for a while and it’s hard to believe VICTIM UNIT are only a duo. Once you learn Hopeless Failure is an introspective look at the emotional damage of trauma, it all falls into place.

It’s hard to compare the duo to other bands but each song could easily represent a state of mind. The screams, the agitated spoken word and disturbing electronics on UMOJA is pure paranoia in digital form. Even the riffs on Vagabond sound like they’re screaming with frustration and despair. EP closer Crick sounds like the love child of ITHACA and THE BERZERKER, while IGORRR interferes and if that doesn’t give you a taste of the chaotic horrors VICTIM UNIT are capable of, then I don’t know what will.

8/10

Phoxjaw – Royal Swan

Label: Hassle Records. Release date: 3 July 2020.

This is one of the most exciting debut albums of the year so far. British quirky rockers PHOXJAW have offered something fresh and bonkers with debut full-length, Royal Swan. It’s difficult to describe how irresistible PHOXJAW sound, but imagine the mad rock of THE COOPER TEMPLE CLAUSE, mixed with the progressive tendencies of ARCANE ROOTS…and you’re still only scratching the surface. This is one album where you’ll want to read the lyrics booklet, as Royal Swan is pure wackiness (think along the lines of THE BLOOD BROTHERS). PHOXJAW cleverly use their eccentric poetry to brutally cover contemporary topics (see: the title track and the utterly brilliant You Don’t Drink A Unicorn’s Blood).

Their moments of genius (there are lots of them) will lead you to BARONESS-esque breakdowns (Trophies In The Attic), insanely catchy tunes (Triple AAA and Half House) and the highly seductive, BOWIE-inspired Bats For Bleeding. Their sense of fun provides the perfect contrast for dark tracks such as the BLOC PARTY-esque Teething and An Owl Is A Cat With Wings. Royal Swan is an astonishing feat, and one you will return to dissect, again and again.

9/10

Exocrine – Maelstrom

Label: Unique Leader Records. Release date: 26 June 2020.

French tech metallers EXOCRINE had a lot to live up to after their 2018 effort, Molten Giant. They’ve swapped lava for whirlpools for new album Maelstrom, and it’s always phenomenal how their complex arrangements brutally convey their monstrous themes. Molten Giant was packed full of fiery riffs and hot-foot pace, whereas Maelstrom focuses on colossal depth and the threat of evil at its core. Lead singles Abyssal Flesh and the FLESHGOD APOCALYPSE-esque title track sound even more ferocious nestled in their wider context.

Standout track Wall of Water perfectly executes the Lovecraftian concept, along with some well-placed jazz for good measure. EXOCRINE get fellow French metallers BENIGHTED on board for The Kraken, which sees vocalist Julien Truchan taking things up a notch to new extremes. Maelstrom is easily EXOCRINE’s most atmospheric album, with orchestration and electronics galore in places (see: Orbital Station and Galactic Gods), but their relentless delivery remains to be the very heart of every beast they create.

8/10

Zealand the North – Brightness of an Endless Light

Release date: 19 June 2020. Self-release.

Post-rockers ZEALAND THE NORTH have achieved something truly special with new album Brightness of an Endless Light. Sun-drenched, dreamy and downright nostalgic in places, the album channels the blissful riffs of MINUS THE BEAR and the summery vibes of CHON (minus the prog) into a glorious package of instrumental brilliance. ZEALAND THE NORTH let their twinkly riffs do the talking, but the band still manage to convey a sense of belonging and safety – or maybe that’s just the nostalgia they instil. Either way, listening to Brightness of an Endless Light feels like an embrace through the headphones.

The transition between opener Blood Stone and Spirit Home is sublime. Come Promise remains one of the most wholesome offerings and the shoegaze moments continue to inspire awe. Never Perfect harks back to Hole-era 65DAYSOFSTATIC, while Organic Structure continues to be one of the most beautiful songs of 2020. The build up in Searching For You, Pt.1 is a superb example of how post-rock build ups should be done. Just phenomenal! ZEALAND THE NORTH have the ability to transport the listener to calmer and happier places. Once they fully tap into this potential, they will truly become legendary.

9/10

Emmure – Hindsight

Label: SharpTone Records. Release date: 26 June 2020.

After 2017’s angry effort Look At Yourself, it almost seemed impossible EMMURE could top that slice of brutality. However, new album Hindsight is brimming with as much spite and bile as its predecessor. Opener (F)inally (U)nderstanding (N)othing has strong CANE HILL vibes with its filthy, nu-metal hooks amongst the devastating riffs. Trash Folder is a scathing attack on the music scene today and the accompaniment matches the aggression. Pigs Ear sounds like a glorious, djent version of THE AGONY SCENE, but nothing prepares you for the absolute carnage which unfolds in Gypsy Disco.

EMMURE continue to sound nastier than ever in Thunder Mouth and I’ve Scene God, but it’s tracks such as 203 and the DEFTONES-esque Action 52 where we really start to see EMMURE in a new light. Finale Uncontrollable Descent gives Hindsight the unforgiving send-off it deserves, with its colossal riffage and euphoric climax. Instead of growing stale like some of their peers, EMMURE continue to reinvent themselves as a steamroller of devastation.

8/10

Chaos Over Cosmos – The Ultimate Multiverse

Label: Narcoleptica Productions. Release date: 20 June 2020.

CHAOS OVER COSMOS is a Polish-Australian project of two musicians, Joshua Ratcliff and Rafal Bowman – who have never met. Considering The Ultimate Multiverse was written and programmed continents apart, it is a convincing slab of metal with a lot of heart. Opener Cascading Darkness can only be described as a sci-fi SOILWORK, with its beefy riffs, mix of screams, clean vocals and spacey electronics – it goes hard when Ratcliff channels his inner Jesse Leach. One Hundred continues down the melodic metal route, but it is the atmospherics and polished guitars which really steal the show.

CHAOS OVER COSMOS set the standard with the superb Worlds Apart, which is a delicious nugget of progressive metal and has strong, nostalgic, IN FLAMES vibes. Consumed is another bold effort and it’s a relief to hear an independent project know when to reign the ideas in, to avoid over-saturating their sound. Packed full of succinct beauty, The Ultimate Multiverse is an impressive album for what is essentially an internet band. Sci-fi and prog fans will go nuts for the aptly named closer Asimov, which an instrumental slice of genius. Promising stuff.

8/10

Kyros – Celexa Dreams

Label: White Star Records. Release date: 19 June 2020.

London’s synth-proggers KYROS have really ramped up the 80s vibes for new album Celexa Dreams. KYROS have always shown promise, but with this new release, they are finally putting their stamp firmly in the prog scene amongst the likes of VOYAGER and VOLA. Celexa Dreams has an extremely strong start with the instant bops that are In Motion and the phenomenal Rumours (one of the catchiest songs of the year). However, with the Howard Jones-esque (no, not THAT Howard Jones!) In Vantablack, some of the momentum is lost and too many ideas start getting thrown in, so some listeners may lose interest with this third track.

Phosphene sounds like a prog power ballad, whereas Technology Killed the Kids III is akin to a FAITH NO MORE nightmare. KYROS channel their inner VOYAGER with Two Frames of Panic, while UNO Attack sees the band at their most heavy metal, with a riotous ending that CODE ORANGE would be proud of. Closing with Her Song Is Mine, this track is as close to Disney prog as you could possibly get. Celexa Dreams gets better with each listen, but KYROS still have a little fine-tuning to do.

8/10

Chasing Ghosts – Bring Me Suffering EP

Release date: 12 June 2020. Self-release.

There is a severe lack of fresh, UK talent in the dark melodic scene. Milton Keynes rockers CHASING GHOSTS are threatening to be the new trailblazers, with new EP Bring Me Suffering. Fans of MY DYING BRIDE and PARADISE LOST take note! This is melodic macabre at its best. Opening track A Darker Place utilises the dynamic of the male/female vocals with immediate effect. The contrast of the dreary vocals (meant in the best possible way) alongside the metallic riffs and sombre strings, creates a striking, gothic atmosphere.

The title track is a modern anthem for fans of dark melodies, with its unsettling lyrics amongst sprinklings of piano and abundance of strings. The riffs faithfully churn away throughout the EP, but on the last track Until The End, they come to the fore alongside the dominating male vocals. CHASING GHOSTS aren’t offering anything ground-breaking, but Bring Me Suffering will be highly enjoyable for any child of the night. 

8/10