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

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

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

Avast – Self-titled EP

Release date: 8 May 2020. Label: Darkhan Music.

Norwegian blackgaze metallers AVAST released one of the best debut albums of the year in 2018 with their phenomenal release, Mother Culture. The band have reissued their self-titled EP and it is fascinating to hear how AVAST’s sound evolved from this self-titled to Mother Culture. The debut album is a barrage of blackgaze brilliance, whereas this EP shows AVAST at their most black metal. Opening track Declare is full of relentless energy, ferocious drums and gut-wrenching vocals. The expansive sound that ensues from the middle of the track, hints at the blackgaze leanings they will display later on. The riffs on Declare are monstrously dark and gritty and continue throughout the EP.

Second track Fire and Ice exposes AVAST’s ambition and their post-metal approach to black metal. Chilling and full of metallic riffs, it is the instrumentation that does the talking on this track. Considering this release is only two songs long, it holds more power and blackened magnificence than some full length releases. If you still haven’t listened to AVAST, then the EP will be the perfect introduction.

8/10

END – Splinters From An Ever-Changing Face

Release date: 5 June 2020. Label: Closed Casket Activities.

One of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year, it’s safe to say END have truly delivered the goods with debut album Splinters From An Ever-Changing Face. END’s brand of hardcore is equal parts powerviolence and devastation (think: CURSED). They’re providing the perfect soundtrack for our uncertain and violent times. Opener, Covet Not bludgeons you within an inch of your life, but keeps you conscious enough to receive a kicking from the remainder of the album.

The spite-filled aggression of Pariah and the blackened Absence keep the momentum going with blistering effect. One of the best breakdowns on the album can be heard on The Reach of Resurrection, while Hesitation Wounds is pure devastation. By the time album finale Sands of Sleep rolls round, you’re positively exhausted. Thankfully END close the album with their foot of the gas, but the end result remains to be the most crushing offering for 2020 so far.

9/10

Hanging Garden – Against the Dying of the Light EP

Release date: 5 June 2020. Label: Lifeforce Records.

Think of Finnish rock acts and you might think of H.I.M or LORDI, but bands from this country often take inspiration from their colder climate for their music. HANGING GARDEN are no different and new EP Against the Dying of the Light boasts haunting melodies and dark electronics amongst their alt-rock. Featuring male and female vocals, there are a lot of beautiful contrasts on the EP. Where there’s one track full of blissful moments, there’s another which disturbs the serenity.

At Close of Day (Into That Good Night) features the gentle HANGING GARDEN approach of haunting piano and with calm melodies. Perdition Melody (Rain) shows the darker side of the band and has a MANES edge to the structure which is always a good thing. It turns a bit industrial in places which is a stark contrast to the quiet opener. Welkin Aflame is another ‘heavy’ one which shows similarities to their fellow Finns CALLIDICE. More dark electronics ensue in Shadow Composite (Anamnesis), while the NORDIC GIANTS-esque A Song for Those Belated (Rain) forms a nice bookend for the EP to match the opener.

8/10