Mini Reviews From Around the Bowl (1/11/24)


November and December of last year were unusually strong release months in an unusually strong release year, so we’re catching up on some of the bangers that released a little too late for top 10 season. Dig into these mini reviews of gourmet treats.

Closed Casket Activies | December 4, 2023

Xibalba’s latest release takes its name from the mythical (?) homeland of the Aztec peoples; this diverse group is mirrored here by the band’s myriad influences, ranging from beatdown hardcore to the oppressive weight of doom metal. “The Place of Fear” (or, you know, Xibalba) acts as many self-titled songs do: it’s a statement of intent; a snapshot of the current moment in a band’s history; in the hands of these Pomona (CA) natives, it’s also a ceremonial dagger poised above our chests. As a particularly sludgy section comes to a close, vocalist Nate Rebolledo shouts “As the blood spills on the ground / You truly become alive;” I’m inclined to believe it, judging by the grotesque stankface and urge to destroy that follow without fail.

While Aztlán is hardly progressive (it’s hardcore, do you really want it to be?), the auxiliary percussion after said bloodshed is a sound I’ve never heard before. Surprises like these continue with “Death and Revenge”‘s  playful start-stop intro and slam stylings, but fear not—the title track is a return to the band’s punk origins, replete with d-beat drumming and politically charged lyrics. Xibalba has been here. Xibalba is here. Their roots run deep, maybe even piercing the Place of Fear itself. All hail the gods of death! –Roldy

Beyond Grace – Welcome to the New Dark Ages, Part 1
Self-released | November 24, 2023

Beyond Grace dropped a neutron bomb of a sophomore LP on us back in 2021, combining their own brand of melodic death metal with a heaping helping of prog (making nerds like me very happy). It should surprise nobody that they’ve increased the serving of progressive death metal in their latest EP, the first of three, with Welcome to the New Dark Ages, Part 1. The first track, “The Burning Season,” provides some of the most tremolo-y riffs we’ve heard from the band and the surprise inclusion of some melodic vocals courtesy of our friend Andy. But rest assured folks, his voice is spectacular and matches the music perfectly. “Buyer’s Remorse” starts out with some of the fastest riffs we’ve heard from the band, takes multiple detours throughout different styles of death metal, and treats us with a tasty guitar solo. Those are just some of the highlights of this jam-packed EP which rewards over multiple listens, and IMHO this is BG’s best work to date.  – D.F. (Jimmy McNulty)

Transcending Obscurity | December 15, 2023

By default, I don’t like black metal. There are exceptions to the rule but they have to be extra thrashy, deathy, or employ great songwriting… like Imperialist! (If you’re a regular Toilet dweller, you’ve heard premieres from this California quartet before.) I do have Cypher on vinyl, which is excellent, but Zenith didn’t quite go as hard. Well the good news is that they’re back with an EP that pretty much leaves all previous material in the dust, and it just happens to be a reimagining of their 2015 EP Quantum Annexation. The vocals are more aggressive, the riffs thrashier, and the gorgeous guitar solos are aplenty. Yes, there are moments of melodic black metal shuffled in the lot, but each of those sections transition into faster riffs in a wonderful waltz of varying styles that are consistently Imperialist. It’s my favorite release of theirs so far, with only one flaw: it continues their tradition of including an atmospheric intro track which I skip every time. – D.F. (Jimmy McNulty)

Hatred ReignsAwaken the Ancients
Independent | December 1, 2023

From the artwork to the production, nothing about the first impression this album makes is likely to blow your lid. Both are perfectly serviceable (in fact, better than you might expect from an independent release), but a revolution in technical brutal death metal this is clearly not. That notion is upheld by the opening track, every part of which ends up feeling just a little too generic, but while the record continues to not rock the boat too hard, compliments are nonetheless in order for the rest of the material. From the second song onward, Hatred Reigns prove a great sense for when to dial back the blasts in favor of interesting grooves, catchy riffs, or surprisingly melodic sections. Almost every track revolves around a very discernible motif or has some kind of hook to make it memorable, so even though the band consistently keeps up the pace, nothing ends up blending together or feeling like filler. It’s uncannily well-written given that this is only their second release, and I’ve no doubt I would have come back to this often had it come out earlier in the year. –Hans

Challenger Deep III. The Path
Independent | December 22, 2023

Shockingly, I didn’t have any post-metal on my list this year, so this one coming out so late was a huge bummer. The Belarusians add a little blackened sludge texture to break from the standard CoL clones, and it works very well. This isn’t your sit-around-and-wait post-metal either; this thing rips from start to finish. The production has incredible depth, which lets the highs come through clean above the prominent low groove that is critical in post-metal. Check out the closing track, “Joy” to get hooked instantly. — Joaquin

Krallice – Mass Cathexis 2 – The Kinetic Infinite
Self-released | December 1, 2023

The final release in a particularly productive year for Colin Marston and associates. Eschewing the aesthetic and compositional sensibilities of their more recent capital-p Progressive output, Mass Cathexis 2 initally follows in the dissonant, cavernous death metal influenced trajectory of both its predecessor and – to a lesser extent – 2015’s Ygg huur. An album very much of two halves – its second half being a much more visible display of technicality and proficiency.

The trademark melodic ear and pronounced, thick atmosphere of Krallice are most highlighted on tracks like “Liquid-Remembered Vessels,” where the interplay between syncopation and harmony is also at recent-career peak. An album that dropped super late in the year, and slipped under a lot of people’s radars. But honestly? It might be their best in almost a decade. –Aaron

Aterrima – A Name Engraved in Cold Soil
Fiadh Productions | December 8, 2023

Man, where to even start with this one? I touched on this album back on TTT the week of its release, and now that it’s all out, I couldn’t be happier with what it ended up being. I had initially mentioned Cormorant and Wilderun as musical touchstones, but the whole of the work is that and much more. It’s capital-P Prog death with a wonderfully organic earthy sound to it; huge props to Stefano Morabito for giving this a mix and master that gives the music the depth and feel that it deserves. The music does indeed cover a lot of ground, but it’s a very focused album in spite of that. It’s harshly dissonant at times, occasionally digging deep into the trenches with feral riffing, other times channeling an arboreal calm. It’s a phenomenal record that would have easily earned a spot on my top 10 last year had we run them a couple weeks later. You owe it to yourself to listen to this. –Spear

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