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

No Quarter – Drink and Conquer (single)

Release date: 6 July 2020. Self-release.

Think of Lincoln, and pirates are probably one of the last things you think of. Pirate metallers NO QUARTER have set off from the East Midlands, in pursuit of metal shenanigans and adventures galore. It’s probably no coincidence ‘No Quarter’ is also a song by pirate metal pioneers ALESTORM, but NO QUARTER are aiming their sights on creating a unique sound. Debut single Drink and Conquer does hint that the band are sailing in the right direction, but they still have a lot to prove to listeners that they won’t walk the plank to gimmicks and obscurity.

It’s a relief for once not to hear overly-scurvy-fuelled vocals, but the vocalist of NO QUARTER needs to decide on which vocal style to commit to, as it’s not consistent throughout the track. The riffs are equal parts nautical and hard-hitting and are one of the more promising aspects of NO QUARTER. At the moment, it sounds like the band are to ready to drink, but are not yet equipped to conquer.

No Notion – Masquerade (single)

Release date: 1 July 2020. Self-release.

Swedish metallers NO NOTION created one hell of a swagger of a tune with their last single It’s Not The End. Combining their love of thrash and heavy metal, with the melodic tinges of modern bands such as ALTER BRIDGE, the band is on a quest to find their own sound. Second single Masquerade sees NO NOTION as their own melodic counterpart, and it has the capability of winning over more fans than their thrashier stance.

The acoustic guitars and dreamy vocals would appeal to melodic prog fans, as Masquerade bridges the gap between the retro ballads of QUEENSRYCHE and the sombre, progressive melodies of JUROJIN. When electric guitar is introduced, it provides a rousing wake-up call and the song builds up to a beautiful climax. Vocalist Elias Isacsson is one to watch with his bewitching voice. If NO NOTION continue to work on originality with their heavier tracks as well, then they will capture more attention.

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

Unseen Faith – Downfall (single)

Label: Prime Collective. Release date: 12 June 2020.

Denmark is steamrolling ahead in the metal world, especially where prog, tech and death metal are concerned. What about metalcore and deathcore? Well, Aarhus metalcore troupe UNSEEN FAITH are slowly making their mark and new single Downfall will only strengthen their cause. Channelling bands such as THE ROYAL and CRYSTAL LAKE, UNSEEN FAITH expertly combine aggression and melody into a sublime mix of modern metalcore. The electronics beautifully contrast with the devastating breakdowns and vocals.

So much passion is screamed with every word and every note, it’s clear UNSEEN FAITH fully believe in their brutal sermon. Not as terrifying as their fellow Danes CABAL, and not as melodic or technical as GHOST IRIS, UNSEEN FAITH find an equilibrium between both with their solid metalcore. UNSEEN FAITH’s potential is huge. This is one band you can certainly believe in.

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