Every Time I Die, Low Teens [hardcore/metalcore/punk] (Epitaph)
These guys can do no wrong. Low Teens has the band at their most focused and impassioned. Musically, it’s about what you’d expect – a savvy blend of southern rock, ravaging hardcore, and beer swilling rock’n’roll. The shitty circumstances surrounding singer Keith Buckley seem to squeeze the best out of him; his highbrow wise-ass lyricism is still in tact, but now there’s an unprecedented level of emotional connection that takes this one to another level. The band is still pushing themselves, “It Remembers” is the first ETID song with only clean vocals, “Religion of Speed” clocks in as one of their longest tracks to date, and “Petal” is likely their most emotionally-charged and powerful song of their career – and likely of this entire year.
Key tracks: “Glitches,” “Petal,” “Just As Real But Not As Brightly Lit”
Inter Arma, Paradise Gallows, [sludge/death metal/black metal] (Relapse)
Inter Arma are like a fucking black hole, just eating everything up and spitting out something completely new every time. It’s unfair how they can make new elements fit so well within their (already boundless) sound, but they pull everything off so convincingly, it’s no wonder they’re always a year-end favorite. The clean vocals, the desert rock psych, the even more intricate arrangements; it all enhances their range of expression, authentically. Paradise Gallows might as well be a movie score, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this syncs up at the lion’s third roar to some gloomy western flick. It’s truly awe-inspiring, a front-to-back masterpiece of an album, and yet I’m still left feeling, somehow, that their best days are ahead of them.
Key tracks: “An Archer in the Emptiness,” “The Paradise Gallows,” “Violent Constellations”
Maeth Shrouded Mountain [psych/sludge/post-metal] (Minnesconsin)
If there’s anything that comes close to capturing the sonic scope of Inter Arma’s Paradise Gallows, it’s Maeth’s Shrouded Mountain. Listening to this takes me to a different headspace (like post-metal should), but the expeditious and constantly evolving nature of the songs put this head-and-shoulders above more popular acts in the scene. Crushing guitars meet with balmy, tom-heavy polyrhythms and ambient textures, encapsulating ferocious screams and layered vocals, all circumscribed by majestic flute lines that highlight an impressive sonic breadth.
Spirit Adrift, Chained to Oblivion [doom/psych] (Prosthetic)
There’s been swaths of doom records put out this year, and none of them come close to Chained to Oblivion. Nothing seizes the power and emotion that Nate Garrett captures on this album; he outclasses his peers that rely on tired tropes and stale conventions (and mediocre riffs), making them appear antiquated in comparison. The psych elements and the instrumentation alone put this one over the top, but Garrett’s lyrics and vocal performance take this to another level, drawing deep and personal connections with listeners, and ultimately cementing Chained to Oblivion as a modern classic.
Key Tracks: “Psychic Tide,” “Form and Force,” “Chained to Oblivion”