This is a monthly post where I show some love for my favorite new underground metal albums. I mostly focus on recordings from the past two to three months, but I sometimes add older ones if I've just come across them and they're particularly exciting. 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.
(Be sure to check out last month's list here.)
(Discover more in my NWOTHM - New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal playlist on Spotify)
Stray Gods - Storm the Walls
Storm the Walls is hands-down the best Iron Maiden album since 2000's Brave New World – perhaps even 1988's Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Of course, this isn't actually an Iron Maiden album, but for anyone who loves the legendary UK band's classic material, the music of Stray Gods is a no-brainer recommendation.
Storm the Walls is such a beautiful album, and like all great music, it improves dramatically across repeat listens, growing from a "Hm, this sounds pretty darn good," to "I actually really like this album," to "Holy shit, this is legitimately one of the best NWOTHM albums to date." Storm the Walls is loaded with engaging, sweetly melodic guitar melodies, satisfying song structures, and deep, memorable chorus hooks that will linger in your ears days after you last hear it.
The rewarding nature of the songwriting on this album has transformed songs that I didn't particularly notice the first few times through into some of my favorites. "Black Horses" is a perfect example. Other standouts for me include "The Seventh Day," "Silver Moon," and the epic closer, "Storm the Walls." But really, the entire album is a delight – a gift from the metal gods for fans aching for one more great Maiden album.
Grey Wolf - Cimmerian Hordes
If barbarian metal were a thing, Grey Wolf would be it. Packed with conceptual themes about Vikings, Spartans, Conan the Cimmerian, and various other topics involving hacking and/or slashing, the band's music is an aggressive, no-nonsense form of old school, epic heavy metal. Blending bone-crunching guitar riffs with refined and powerful bass work and a guttural vocal style, the raw energy of the music lends itself perfectly to the lyrical themes of battle and barbarians.
The band's playing style and production work is reminiscent to me of a slightly stripped-down, more violent version of Running Wild's creations from the late '80s through the mid-'90s, and that is a wonderful thing.
Grey Wolf's latest offering, Cimmerian Hordes, is damn a fine one, easily on par with other modern heavy metal classics from the group including 2016's Glorious Death, 2019's The Journey of an Old Viking, and 2020's excellent EP, Funeral to a Brother of Sword. If Cimmerian Hordes hits the sweet spot for you like it does for me, you're in luck. The band never strays far from its signature style. Like one song? You'll like all of their songs.
PS: Great news for Spotify listeners: the band's full discography is on the platform for the first time, so you can binge on it to your heart's content.
Goatwhore - Angels Hung from the Arches of Heaven
How about the veterans delivering the goods on this one? Holy hell, I did not expect Goatwhore to drop one of their best albums to date in 2022. I've mentioned in past posts here how healthy and exciting the world of lo-fi blackened speed/thrash metal is right now, and it's largely populated by newer artists infusing the style with fresh blood. So it's terrific to see bands who have been carrying the flag for decades show they can run with the pups.
Everything feels right about Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven, including the epically dark album title. The production is spot-on with that gloriously old school, underground sound. The songwriting is engaging with plenty of high-energy riffs and haunting guitar melodies. The vocals are badass. Angels Hung From the Arches of Heaven is the real deal.
I'm not sure there's a single song on here that isn't awesome, but "The Bestowal of Abomination" is an immediate favorite for me along with the similarly aggressive "Death from Above." A special note of praise is also in order for the six-minute closer, "And I Was Delivered from the Wound of Perdition," which diverts from the band's signature audio assault and adopts a much more patient, slow-burn approach. The result is a remarkably immersive piece of music that displays the full depth and skill of the band's songwriting. "And I Was Delivered from the Wound of Perdition" is so well done that I wish the band would write in that vein more often.
High Command - Eclipse of the Dual Moons
Take old school thrash metal reminiscent of Slayer's first two albums, cook it slightly in the fires of post-millennium metal, and add a touch of hardcore punk to the vocals, and you'll have a feel for High Command's ferocious brand of old school metal.
The group's first full-length, 2019's Beyond the Wall of Desolation, marked High Command as a band worthy of equal notice as the stylistically similar (and sadly ill-fated) Power Trip, and Eclipse of the Dual Moons is every bit as engaging as its predecessor. There is a remarkable amount of fury in High Command's performances, and the serious-minded, epic fantasy lyrics lend the music its own singular personality.
The opener and title track, "Eclipse of the Dual Moons," is a high-energy, instantly accessible piece, giving the band room to explore and expand their artistry later in the album. The spoken word intro to "Omniscient Flail of Infamy" and the acoustic guitar work on "Chamber of Agony" represent this creative flexing, and those efforts contribute significantly to the world-building aspects of their music.
Eclipse of the Dual Moons is an intense and satisfying creation with plenty of nuanced tracks to explore, and it stands high over many creations in a similar style.
(Discover more in my Death Metal / Brutal Death Metal playlist on Spotify)
Graceless - Chants from Purgatory
Seems like we've been treated to a new masterpiece of old school death metal every month this year. I've talked about recent offerings from bands like Sentient Horror, Shed the Skin, Demonical, Paganizer, Katakomba, and others, and we can add this glorious work of dark art from Graceless to the list as well.
Chants from Purgatory has an absolutely monstrous sound, easily one of the biggest and best-sounding albums my ears have heard this year. The steely bass lines and thunderous guitar work combine with hauntingly roared vocals for a sonic experience that can be reveled in at high volume.
The album takes advantage of this incredible atmosphere with patient and understated songwriting. Graceless isn't interested in blowing your mind with ultra-technical performances or progressive song structures. Instead, they embrace a no-nonsense style that often ventures to the outer edges of doom metal. "This Ends with the World in Ruins" is an excellent example of how immensely powerful a track can be without any frills. Rock-solid songwriting and gorgeous production work do all the heavy lifting here, and it's tremendous to hear.
Other standouts for me include the "Giants" and "Saint" as well as the low-key burn of "Nyctophilia," which legitimately runs chills up my spine every time I hear it. Without a doubt, however, the best way to appreciate Graceless' Chants From Purgatory is to take it start-to-finish. This is a complete album with a diverse array of songs and an incredibly rich atmosphere that will pull you in deeper with each subsequent track.
Xaon - The Lethean
Melodic, progressive, symphonic. Xaon's The Lethean is a richly woven monument of modern metal that delivers a cerebral listening experience. Each song provides its own journey to undertake, filled with unexpected twists and turns and memorable pieces of unique songwriting. Naturally, this means the album is a bit opaque at first, and multiple listens are essential to unpack its layers and really appreciate the artistry of each track.
Clean vocals on these types of extreme metal are usually a miss for me, but Xaon's frontman balances the clean singing with the rough stuff in a way that flows extremely well in my ears. Unlike many bands in this vein who seem to lean on one member's middle school choir experience for the clean vocals, Xaon's vocals feel absolutely professional top to bottom.
Somewhat unusually for progressive metal album, The Lethean rarely delves into epic song lengths, instead keeping things tight and dialed in around the five-minute length. I think the album benefits greatly from it. None of these tracks feel bloated or drawn out, and Xaon is able to pack in plenty of detail and wrap up each track without burning it out.
For folks willing to venture outside the lines of old school metal into something more modern, The Lethean has plenty to offer.
(Discover more in my Dungeon Synth / Medieval Fantasy playlist on Spotify)
Arcana Liturgia - The Grey Wanderer
I only recently came across Arcana Liturgia's last album, 2021's The Ruins of Dalanh, and just as I was really settling into the album and remarking to myself how much I enjoyed it, the artist dropped a follow-up that builds on everything I loved about its predecessor.
The Grey Wanderer features a gratifying mix of elements, from dark ambient to orchestral, score-like pieces and touched of medieval folk music. All of these can and often do exist happily within a single track. Take, for example, "Black Opium Bazaar," which shifts from its quietly melodic opening moments to a dramatic string section to close its first section, a dark ambient section to close its second section, and repeating neither of them elsewhere in the song.
These types of songwriting decisions bring depth and singularity to the tracks in a way that is often absent from dungeon synth music, and it makes Arcana Liturgia's music much more than simple background music. Highly recommended.
Elyvilon - Full Moon Over Yuletide Eve
I wasn't aware that a dungeon synth Christmas album was anything I could get excited about, and yet here we are. I wrote some friendly words about Elyvilon's highly imaginative Drums in the Deepwood album back in September, and I'm an equally big fan of the artist's first release, Nimueh's Gift. The creator brings their elegant and multi-layered compositional style to this new wintry audio offering with similarly satisfying results.
Full Moon Over Yuletide Eve contains a mix of original songs alongside covers of Christmas classics. I'm personally drawn more to the originals, which capture the essence of the season in a medieval fantasy style marked by many of Elyvilon's signature production touches. This album is particularly magical during snowstorms, and I find it to be incredibly relaxing and suitable for listening, even when I'm not particularly "in the Christmas spirit."
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.