This is a monthly post where I share some love for new underground metal albums. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I try to focus on recordings from the past two to three months, but I'll add ones that are older if I've just come across them and feel they're particularly worthwhile.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts on these and let me know which new albums you’re currently listening to.
(Discover more in my NWOTHM playlist on Spotify)
I've been on a massive NWOTHM kick in the past few weeks, which has been incredibly satisfying because I'd become concerned that the quality of new releases in this style was tailing off. Turns out I just needed to pull away from death metal for a few days and do some exploring. There are a couple big notables here in Wolf and Hitten, but a couple more snuck in under the radar that I think are well worth hearing as well.
Wolf - Shadowland
It's always a joy to see a new Wolf album out, especially since the band has explored some different songwriting and production approaches over the years. I enjoyed the band’s ventures into more polished, melodic creations on Devil Seed, though I'm honestly excited to hear them venturing back into a more traditional metal sound on recent releases. Shadowland in particular nudges the production style back to the old school more than Devil Seed or 2020's Feeding the Machine, and it really hits the sweet spot for this long-time fan of the band.
Great songs abound, but standouts for me include "Dust," "Evil Lives," "Shadowland," and "Exit Sign."
Venator - Echoes from the Gutter
Easily one of the most surprising NWOTHM releases in recent history, Venator's full-length debut contains a mix of old school heavy metal and speed metal packaged with authentically '80s production vibes and a nicely identifiable personality.
The advance singles didn't properly represent the strength of this album for me, which I find is best enjoyed in its entirety in order to adjust to the distinctive vocal style and energetic songwriting.
Plenty of highlights on this one, including "Howl at the Rain,""Manic Man," and "The Hex," but the real standout is "Seventh Seal," which I'd rate among the most inspired and exciting NWOTHM tracks to date.
Tentation - Le Berceau des Dieux
This album really came out of nowhere for me, just one advance single and then bam, full-length heavy metal glory from France straight into my metal heart. As the name suggests, Tentation's Le Berceau des Dieux is performed entirely in French, and the singer enhances each track with rich vocal accents that bring out the language.
This also happens to be one of the tightest and most praiseworthy traditional metal albums to come along in years. It feels professional top to bottom with engaging riffs, powerful rhythms, and perfectly placed chorus melodies. The production lands in the sweet spot for me as well, feeling clean and well balanced while maintaining a legitimately old school feel.
This is such a great hidden gem among recent NWOTHM releases. If you struggle with traditional metal albums performed in languages besides English, you'll want to pass on this one, but if you're a friend to metal of the world, this is an outstanding album packed front-to-back with quality songs tailor-made for fans of heavy/speed metal.
Hitten - Triumph & Tragedy
Has this album been out for a while? Yep. Am I just now hearing it? You betcha. I can't say I loved past Hitten releases, but the band's style has evolved and this album has magic in it. Despite the obvious worship of '80s-era melodic rock, the songs on Triumph & Tragedy feel so specific to this band that it'd be hard to legitimately mistake them for anything else, past or present.
This recording leans much more toward a commercial rock sound than what I normally enjoy, but I just can't resist the hook-heavy songwriting, terrific song variety, and the clear passion the band put into every track on the album.
I love "Light Beyond the Darkness" and "Built to Rock," as they're probably the most straightforward heavy metal track on the album, but I'm also a sucker for the '80s FM vibes of "Under Your Spell" and "Hard Intentions (Secret Dancer)." This is the type of rare recording that instantly feels like a timeless classic.
(Discover more in my Thrash Metal / Speed Metal From the Depths playlist on Spotify)
Knife - Knife
The past several years have seen a healthy surge of old school lo-fi thrash metal, and unlike the more mainstream and homogenized revival led by bands like Kreator and Testament, these new, underground bands happily experiment with influences from rock 'n' roll, hardcore punk, black metal, and traditional heavy metal for a diverse and entertaining melting pot of new metal music. Into this world enters Knife, whose self-title debut is a real beast, providing 12 tracks of sonic mayhem with an authentic old school vibe.
This one took a couple spins to really grow on me, but I'm glad I stuck with it. I honestly can't find a bad song on it and it's been terrific company for me on a few recent interstate drives.
Favorites for me include "Behold the Horse of War," "Black Leather Hounds," "I Am the Priest," "Furnace," and the admirably self-aware "K.N.I.F.E."
(Discover more in my Death Metal / Brutal Death Metal playlist on Spotify)
Holy shit, there's a lot of death metal in the world. Is it the largest metal subgenre by volume? It has to be. I have been binging on death metal and closely related music for the past 6 months and it feels like every week there's something new worth celebrating.
Immolation - Acts of God
Immolation's Here in After came out when I was 13. It was one of the first death metal albums I owned, and I enthralled by the beautiful album art and atheistic lyrical themes. It reached me at a time when I was quickly developing my own opinions on religion and the supernatural, and although that album sounds sonically rough to me now, it holds a special place in my past. Acts of God taps into my nostalgia for that recording more than anything Immolation has done since then.
My love for Acts of God isn't hurt by the fact that it's loaded with terrific songs. There are so many great riffs on this thing they're practically spilling out of its 15-song tracklist. Each entry on here has its own unique character, delivering Immolation's brand of serious-minded OSDM with the band's signature guitar work and fierce guttural roars.
I typically load new death metal releases into my Death Metal / Brutal Death Metal playlist, curate my favorites, then go back to listening to the playlist on shuffle. But Acts of God was on repeat for me most of the month of March. It may not be forging new stylistic ground, but for longtime fans of Immolation, that's a great thing. This is a monstrous and awesome recording that I'd rate among the best in the band's discography and one of my personal favorites from any death metal band.
Analepsy - Quiescence
It's taken me some time to fully embrace the slamming side of brutal death metal. I typically prefer memorable melodies in music, and just as true for the extreme metal subgenres as it is for the traditional stuff. But I've learned to love the rhythmic, low-key savagery of the slamming style when it's done well, and Analepsy's new Quiescence album really hits the sweet spot for me.
Quiescence absolutely crushes at high volume, and the production sounds great enough that it's impossible to not crank it up. I enjoy putting the album on from the beginning and letting the whole thing rip, but standouts for me include "Locus of Dawning," "Elapsing Permanence," "Edge of Chaos," and especially, "Stretched and Devoured."
Deserted Fear - Doomsday
Speaking of melodic metal: Deserted Fear plays a perfectly melodic, old school style of death metal that somehow feels totally fresh and modern to me. It's also performed with such a high level of craftsmanship that it's almost soothing to listen to. I even played some for my 72-year-old parents and they liked it. Deserted Fear has to be one of the most accessible death metal bands in history, and Doomsday gives us more of everything that makes the band great.
Aside from the awesome "Part of the End," many of my favorites fall in the back half. The closing sequence of "Call of Emptiness," "Voices of Fire," and "Doomsday" is an amazing way to finish a terrific album.
(Discover more in my Dungeon Synth / Medieval Fantasy playlist on Spotify)
Yes, the following recordings aren't metal albums, but from a historical perspective, isn't dungeon synth ultimately a splinter style of black metal? There's also an enormous overlap between fans of old school metal and dungeon synth, dark ambient, and other medieval-fantasy themed creations, so I figure that's reason enough for me to include these here.
(PS: Shout-out to the dungeon synth creators like Torchlight and Morketsvind who have added most of their Bandcamp releases to Spotify. I know Spotify is a sticky wicket and there are plenty of good arguments on both sides about whether it helps or hurts small artists. Every creator has to make that decision for themself, but I'd already been adding those artists' albums to my dungeon synth playlist as local files, so it feels natural that followers of that playlist will now be able to hear that music when they listen.)
Ulk - Restoration Magic
Ulk released an incredible recording early last year called Shellbound and I have fond memories of listening to it in the pre-dawn hours of a very rainy spring while drawing before work. I even wrote a few words praising the album at the time. Almost exactly a year later, we get a follow-up that is every bit as good as its predecessor. In fact, after spending considerable time with Restoration Magic, I actually think I love it more than Shellbound.
This is the type of album that is utterly impossible to appreciate on a clickthrough or even by listening to one or two full songs. Total immersion and repeat listens are needed for the subtle brilliance of Ulk's creations to reveal itself. The title track perfectly represents this for me, as it was the least enjoyable entry on the first four or five playthroughs, but is now the one I respect the most. It's such a slow burn, but each new listen helped my ears memorize the understated melodies and shifts in the songwriting until it began to feel like a familiar and beloved place to visit.
"Restoration Magic" is followed by the equally wonderful and significantly more accessible "A Change in the Weather," and those two together are the real highlight of the album for me. "Sunken Paths, Towering Vines," "Glimmering Depths Below," and "Amidst Specs of Green" are also deeply rewarding.
A final thought: as I was listening to the title track I began thinking about the name Restoration Magic and how appropriate it is for Ulk's music. The songs are soothing and peaceful, but there is also a dark, tragic element in them that evokes a sense of sadness and loss. The concept of restoration magic naturally involves healing, but the healing is only needed when there's a wound that needs mending. In that sense, the name Restoration Magic is perfectly suited to Ulk's tragically beautiful style.
Morketsvind - Book of Tales
It's been remarkable to follow Morketsvind over the past six or seven years and hear the artist's style evolve from grim, old school dungeon synth to a richly baroque style with diverse instrumentation, prominently marked by the use of a harpsichord. It's clear that Morketsvind has worked passionately on developing nuanced songwriting skills and honing technical performances with each new release, a fact reinforced by 2019's unambiguously titled Highland Etudes.
A relative lightening in the overall tone and mood of the music has taken place over the years as well, to the point where Book of Tales occupies a place of majestic and neoclassical-minded high fantasy.
This ambition seems particularly notable in relation to the vast majority of creations with the broader dungeon synth genre. Where many creators are content to live within the worlds of lo-fi dungeon synth or purely ambient spaces where little musical training is needed for entry, Morketsvind has chosen to cultivate real artistry within the music.
The entire Book of Tales recording is terrific, though I'm especially fond of "Tale About Lady Niveria and Faun," "Legeng [sic] of Demon Knight," and "Story of Grey Town."
I'll be back next month with more new underground metal music. In the meantime, read full descriptions of my metal playlists and check out my other metal blog posts like the History of Heavy Metal. You can also follow me on Spotify to see what I'm currently listening to.