This is a monthly post where I show some love for my favorite new underground metal albums. December is always a slow month for new releases, so I decided to cast a slightly wider net than usual and pull in several albums from early 2022 I haven't talked about here before. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
Leave a comment below with your thoughts and let me know which new underground metal albums you’re currently listening to.
Kvaen - The Great Below
The Great Below has to be one of the most instantly exciting and appealing albums I heard all year. From the opening seconds of "Cauldron of Plagues" it's clear that Kvaen has committed to crafting a high-energy, brutal style of black metal with just enough melodic elements to give each song its own personality.
Unlike the majority of its contemporaries, The Great Below never descends into the white noise of interminable black metal blast beats. That fact is aided considerably by some of the most polished production you'll hear on an album in the genre. Purists may say it sounds "too good," but to me it sounds exactly right.
I love every minute of this album, but the title track in particular balances its many vicious moments with a highly melodic and memorable chorus for a perfectly balanced song that's exhilarating every time I hear it.
Arkaik - Labyrinth of Hungry Ghosts
If you're in the market for purely badass tech death, Arkaik has you covered with Labyrinth of Hungry Ghosts. This is savage music that impresses with its high degree of skill without losing its power or songwriting momentum to excess amounts of technical wankery, and that's a rare thing.
That's not to say the band doesn't dabble in melodic or progressive elements, as there are certainly moments of rich imagination and world-building at work here, but the band smartly allows those things to supplement the brutality instead of detracting from it.
All eight tracks on here are great, but particular standouts for me include "The Orphion Descent," "Abode of the Deceiver," "Broken Glass Apotheum," and "Eminence Emergence."
Allegaeon - Damnum
Metal bands have an unfortunate tendency to decline rapidly beyond their first few albums, either in the quality of their music, their overall output, or both. That makes it a joy to see an established group not only maintain their craft but actually elevate and reach a new creative peak. So it is with Allegaeon's latest offering, Damnum, which easily stands beside the group's 2014 Elements of the Infinite as their best effort to date, and it features a much fuller and more impactful production style to boot.
The thing that really surprises me each time I hear Damnum was how absolutely vicious it is. The intensity if the recording often reaches a fever pitch, transforming from thoughtful, melodic moments into unabated sonic fury. "The Dopamine Void, Pt. II" is an excellent example of the band's ability to contrast clean vocals and a sense of tranquility against unbridled aggression within a single track, giving each the space it deserves to feel meaningful.
This versatility helps Damnum stay fresh and unpredictable throughout its running time, and as a complete album it's remarkably well balanced. There's no sense in trying to pick favorites here, this album is worth playing start to finish multiple times and appreciating its many surprises and subtleties.
Terrörhammer - At Dawn We Attack
Each month I'm surprised at just how healthy and thriving the world of lo-fi blackened thrash metal is, and few things make me happier than getting a quality new full-length album in the style. Terrörhammer is the latest to make a valuable contribution with Gateways to Hades.
There's no guessing at what you're getting with this one. Gateways to Hades doesn't bother with any long instrumental intros or attempts at building atmosphere, instead opting to dive straight in with the suitably vigorous "At Dawn We Attack." Terrörhammer's music carries a notable influence from hardcore punk music, and it informs the brevity of the tracks as well as their wild energy.
Production on this album sounds amazing as well, nailing the deliberately old school, underground sound without compromising. clarity of the instruments.
Gateways to Hades is sonically well balanced and deeply satisfying to hear, and the band's raucous, to-the-point delivery makes this a perfect album to pick up and play without needing close listening or repeat plays to fully enjoy.
Xentrix - Seven Words
If the name Xentrix sounds familiar, it's because the band put out a pair of well-respected thrash albums in 1989 and 1990 titled Shattered Existence and For Whose Advantage. After a long hiatus, the band returned in 2019 with an album I personally love called Bury the Pain, and they're back now with an even stronger effort on Seven Words.
There are a variety of things I love about this album, but one of them is the authentically old school vibe in the songwriting and delivery. Seven Words contains two of Xentrix's original members on guitars and drums, and those deep roots come through in a way that simply can't be faked by younger bands. Seven Words has a truly nostalgic sound for me that feels like a classic from a past era wrapped up in excellent modern production.
That nostalgia is bolstered by the aggressive social and political-themed lyrics, which once again harken back to the early days of thrash. Like many of the thrash albums I enjoy and write about here, Xentrix isn't breaking any molds with this one, but that doesn't stop it from being a remarkably well-rounded and enjoyable album.
Tankard - Pavlov's Dawgs
Is Tankard an underground metal band? Considering they put out their first album in 1986 and are sometimes included as part of "The Big Four" of German thrash metal bands, I would say no, but the measurement I'm using for these lists is any band with under 100K listeners on Spotify, and by that measure, Tankard qualifies. Maybe more importantly, I love me some Tankard and will take any excuse to write about their new album.
For my money, Tankard has been incredibly consistent in the quality of their output since 2002's B-Day, and although I wouldn't categorize Pavlov's Dawgs as their finest work within that timespan, it's still a damn fine album that will hit the sweet spot for anyone who's a fan of the band or of old school thrash metal being in the 21st century in general.
As always, Tankard's lyrics are generally lighthearted and filled with puns and comical word plays, ie "Beerbarians," but beneath the playful exterior the band has some real songwriting chops and can tap into an aggressive edge when they feel like it.
(Discover more in my Dungeon Synth / Medieval Fantasy playlist on Spotify)
Tales Under the Oak - The Toad Folk
The suddenly prolific Tales Under the Oak has just released a third album in a little over a year with the thematically consistent The Toad Folk. I said a few words on this blog about the first album, The Toad King, back in June, and the follow-up Swamp Kingdom in August, so it's no secret I'm a big fan of the artist's dream-like production and bittersweet songwriting style.
Despite the artist's high output, Tales Under the Oak has kept the quality high for this third release, and it includes eight music tracks, which is actually more than either of its predecessors. I say "music tracks" because the album also includes four spoken word entries with the voice of a wizened old storyteller compelling us to tune in to his tales of the toad folk. It's classic fantasy fare and the voice actor does his job well enough, though I honestly trimmed these tracks out of my playlist immediately to focus instead on the music.
And what glorious music it is. I daresay the artist has improved in the short time since The Toad King, and these tracks retain Tales Under the Oak's exquisite atmosphere while adding a greater layer of depth to the songwriting. The result is a tranquil, immersive listening space that I'm more than happy to sink into for its duration.
As with past releases, you'd be hard pressed to click through The Toad Folk and find moments of immediate interest. Instead, the album reveals itself slowly, demanding that listeners allow it play uninterrupted before it shares its true magic. More excellent stuff from one of my current favorite dungeon synth creators.
I'll be back next month with more new underground metal albums. In the meantime, follow me on Spotify and check out my playlists to see what else I'm currently listening to.