Here are our picks for February 2023’s best new metal albums.
1. Insomnium – Anno 1696 (Century Media)
Finnish melodeath veterans Insomnium turn back the clock a few centuries for their ninth full-length. Anno 1696 explores what was happening in northern Europe during that era, such as witch trials and cannibalism. Musically, there are elements of both their epic, single song 2016 Winter’s Gate album and 2019’s Heart Like A Grave.
The songwriting on Anno 1696 is outstanding. Opener “1696” sets the stage with an acoustic beginning before the metal kicks in. The melodic triple-guitar attack is contrasted by Niilo Sevänen’s potent harsh vocals. Rotting Christ’s Sakis Tolis guests on “White Christ,” which adds cinematic atmosphere to its blackened melodic death as its ebbs and flows from extreme to melodic. It’s an album highlight, as is the dynamic “Godforesaken,” which features Eye Of Melian’s Johanna Kurkela. Her delicate singing contrasts well with Sevänen’s bold growls. “Lillan” is more traditional Insomnium, while “The Witch Hunter” has melodic singing that takes it to the next level. Closer “The Rapids” also has melodic singing and a bit of a Ghost vibe. There’s not a weak track on the album, making Anno 1696 a wide-ranging and compelling listen, a master class in melodic death metal that ranks as one of Insomnium’s best efforts.
2. Big|Brave – nature morte (Thrill Jockey)
The latest release from the Canadian post metal trio Big|Brave is nature morte, which is a French phrase for still life paintings, which translates to “dead nature.”
The band composes lengthy songs, with three of the six on the album clocking in at more than nine minutes. Big|Brave have no problem making long tracks engaging, with numerous shifts in tempo and intensity along with Robin Wattie’s compelling vocals that shift seamlessly from reserved to cathartic. Sparse acoustic sections shift into heavy, doomy parts. The arrangements incorporate extended instrumental passages as well, such as on “the one who bornes a weary load” where it takes a few minutes before the vocals kick in. That’s followed by the fuzzy instrumental “my hope renders me a fool.” With nature morte, Big|Brave have painted their musical picture with emotion, depth and variety.
3. Memoriam – Rise To Power (Reaper)
Memoriam, originally a band formed from the ashes of the legendary Bolt Thrower, return with their fifth full-length Rise To Power. Heavy, riff-laden death metal from the old-school is what you expect from a core of Karl Willetts, Frank Healy, and Scott Fairfax, and that’s exactly as advertised.
Memoriam are one of the most active bands in death metal, putting out five albums in six years with what appears to be a limitless amount of material to draw from. Memoriam have proven to have removed beyond a shadow of a doubt they are not only their own entity, but something to be viewed as separately from the bands that helped to form this collective. Rise To Power is the next step in their impassioned yet herculean existence; a death metal album with enough intensity and variety, to keep fans coming back for more each playthrough.
4. Siege Of Power – This Is Tomorrow (Metal Blade)
It’s difficult to avoid high expectations when one’s band features current/former members of Autopsy, Asphyx, and Hail Of Bullets, yet Siege Of Power did well with their 2018 debut, Warning Blast. Its death/thrash brevity masked the looming doom that hovered over some tracks, but with This Is Tomorrow, the band bends towards the uneasiness. It allows for a dynamic album, with developments that offer these rugged musicians a new way to press on.
The self-control shown in “Deeper Wounds” and the title track has an impact on the unhinged frenzy of “Force Fed Fear” and “The Devil’s Grasp.” Then there’s the shredding going on during the latter, a top-notch solo that stands out as the group doesn’t typically unleash the guitars like that. If Siege Of Power were going for a five-alarm fire on their debut album, they now want to burn the world down with that same flame on This Is Tomorrow.
5. eMolecule – The Architect (InsideOut)
The Architect is the debut album from duo eMolecule – a partnership between Kelly Nordstrom and Simon Collins, former collaborators in Sound of Contact. I haven’t listened to Collins’ work since his 2008 solo album, U-Catastrophe, so it’s great to see he is still creating vital music. On The Architect the pair share vocal, keyboard, and programming duties, while Collins also focuses on drums and Nordstrom on guitar and bass. Both excel at their craft and it shows here.
Not every song hits the mark (we could do without the conspiracy-laden “Prison Planet”), and seventy minutes is pushing it length-wise, but for the most part The Architect is an excellent album, perfectly interweaving aspects of metal, prog, industrial, and more into an engrossing package which at times reminds one of OSI’s excellent output.
6. Hellripper – Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags (Peaceville)
Hailing from Scotland, Hellripper arrive with their third full-length, Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags. Hellripper, whose sole member James McBain draws influence from classic bands, and more recently Midnight and Tribulation. This speedy heavy/black metal affair isn’t afraid of melodicism, with opener “The Nuckelavee” being a perfect encapsulation of the album proper.
Seeing a song title like “Goat Vomit Nightmare” gives you an excellent idea of what is in store for you. Overt Satanism takes you at first glance but the rapid riffs make you pine for more. If you like scorching guitar playing on an album that praises Baal and takes no prisoners, then Warlocks Grim & Withered Hags is for you. This record is a ton of fun.