War, enslavement, Satanic rituals, and the hopelessness of existence are not topics one normally associates with summer. The albums below may not be the stereotypical soundtracks for a gorgeous summer day. They are perfect for when the sun goes down and the darkness of night kicks in, as well as those days when the sweltering heat feels so oppressive, a trip to hell would be a cool down. These are our picks for the best metal releases to look forward to this summer when you need a break from blue skies and sunshine.
10. Between The Buried And Me Coma Ecliptic (June 30th)
This North Carolina act was one of the first breakthrough bands of the new millennium to embrace progressive-metal song structures and seamlessly weave in aspects of the technical death metal that their peers were specializing in. The group's evolution has seen them develop into the best progressive-metal outfit in today's scene. New album Coma Ecliptic shows a band hitting the musically ambitious heights reached by acts such as Dream Theater on tracks such as "The Coma Machine" and "Turn on The Darkness." Hardcore and death growls are still found in a few spots, but overall the band is setting their sights these days on being a sleek progressive-metal machine.
Curious Volume (August 28th)
Anyone that has viewed the documentary Last Daze Here can testify that it's unfathomable that Pentagram vocalist Bobby Liebling is still alive after he lost so many years to drug addiction. That fact lends extra weight to every lyric uttered on the group's latest melodic doom metal opus. Guitar work from Victor Griffin sounds as warm as ever on catchy rippers like "Lay Down And Die" and "Walk Alone." It's the tortured vocals of Liebling--a man who has survived demons that have felled many a lesser and greater man--on moodier tracks such as "Close The Casket" and "Because I Made It" that makes us thankful that he has made it.
See also: 10 Best High-Pitched Metal Singers
8. Fear Factory
Genexus (August 7th)
This Los Angeles group's dystopian approach to industrial-metal on albums such as 1995's Demanufacture made them one of the most exciting acts of that era. After almost a decade away from the band, co-founding guitarist Dino Cazares returned to the band on 2010's Mechanize. Their newest record Genexus truly feels like the culmination of that return. The group's songwriting is the tightest and most focused it has been in many years, with tracks like "Autonomous Combat Systems" and "Dielectric" sitting comfortably side-by-side with some of the band's classic work. Tracks like "Battle For Utopia" feature the band's best synth orchestration in many years as well, alongside vocal work from Burton C. Bell that sounds fully rejuvenated.
7. The Sword
High Country (August 21st)
This Austin band worshipped at the altar of Black Sabbath to a fault on their 2006 debut Age of Winters. The rumbling heaviness of their early riffage is long gone on High Country. It's a good tradeoff for what is easily the catchiest--and most adventurous-- songwriting of their career. Album opener "Empty Temples" stands alongside some of the best songs put out by '70s rock greats like Thin Lizzy. More adventurous forays by '70s acts throughout that decade are given their own spin on synth-driven rocker "Seriously Mysterious" and a jamming horn section plays the band out on "Early Snow." The Sword have become a rock-solid outfit worshipping at the altars of many '70s greats, but the bits and pieces they've cribbed have been stirred into an infectiously wicked brew they can truly call their own.
See also:The 10 Best Brazilian Metal Bands
6. Lamb of God
VII: Sturm Und Drang (July 24th)
After a tumultuous period that saw Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe imprisoned and put on trial in the Czech Republic for involuntary manslaughter charges after the 2010 death of a concertgoer, fans would have forgiven Blythe if he retired to anonymity after his June 2013 acquittal. Lamb of God fans will be pleased to hear that the band primarily gets back to business as usual on their first album in over three years. The group reclaims their place on the throne of aggressive American groove-metal that was vacated by Pantera's dissolution in 2001. Guest spots from Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno on "Embers" and Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato on "Torches" are tastefully weaved into the framework of the band's abrasive approach. The band's newest work finds them continuing to find the fine balance between sinister thrash and metallic catchiness on standout tracks like "Overlord" and "Erase This."
Pathetic Scum (June 30th)
This blackened death metal acts hails from the mountainous forest region of Mammoth Lakes. On their newest record Pathetic Scum, they prove that the region can birth cacophonous metal that is as terrifying as that produced by the Scandinavian greats that took metal to new dark places in the mid-'90s. Valdur produces a sonic wall of sheer terror on tracks such as "Tank Torture." The vocal performance delivered by the performer simply known as "Samuel" evokes those scenes in horror movies where a possessed protagonist is swarmed by all of the voices in their head simultaneously. Drummer "Matthew" invokes a sense of fear with nonstop pounding and caustic cymbal crashes on tracks such as "Blessings of the Goat." The album art is a stark world of blacks and greys, but the venom spewed forth by the band musically and lyrically is one hundred percent black.
See also: The 10 Best Historical Metal Bands
Meliora (August 21st)
Much has been made of this band's theatrical image, led in videos, photos, and live performances by Satanic cardinal Papa Emeritus and his Nameless Ghouls draped in hooded robes. In all honesty though, this band would not have people caring up to the point of a third album if the songs weren't as great as they are. The melodic croons delivered by Papa Emeritus are as sinister as those delivered by any death metal growler. The band's songwriting on Meliora is not as catchy as it was on their first two records. The lack of Blue Oyster Cult-style nod-ability though is replaced by the group's heaviest - and proggiest - compositions to date. A heavier emphasis on keyboards makes almost every song a suitable soundtrack for '70s European horror flicks, with tracks like "Absolution" and "Mummy Dust" wielding organs and synths that sound more haunting than nerdy. A massive-sounding production makes every key pound and guitar riff reign down hard.
3. Author & Punisher
Melk En Honing (June 30th)
San Diego musician Tristan Shone is a mechanical engineer that builds his own instruments to create what is figuratively and literally industrial-metal. Watching Shone power those machines to generate intense industrial doom-metal that is a spiritual successor to '90s genre pioneers such as Godflesh is a purely sublime experience. On this newest record under the Author & Punisher moniker - and his first under the eyes and ears of producer Philip H. Anselmo (or as Beavis & Butt-head call him, "that Pantera guy") - tracks like "Future Man" and "Void, Null, Alive" are heavy doom-metal songs with synths replacing guitars. Shone's vocal performance here is the best he has ever delivered. Even the harmonized melodic vocals on tracks such as "Shame" sound tortured and desperate. Shone has put together a document of recorded work that is as emotionally satisfying as watching one of his live performances
See also: The 10 Best German Metal Bands
2. Infera Bruo
In Conjuration (July 1st)
This Boston black metal quartet expertly weaves the listener through a progressive black metal path of peaks and valleys on their second full-length album. The group expertly builds a sense of impending dread and terror on tracks such as "Formless." Vocal duties are traded off between three different members of the band. When all three of them are going at the same time on harsher moments, the shrieks are paint-stripping even for the accepted boundaries of the genre. On cleaner moments, they hit heights resembling those by cosmic black metal greats such as Arcturus on tracks such as "Proclamation Part III - In Conjuration." There are times where the more progressive elements of the group's work make them seem like a black metal re-imagining of Between The Buried And Me. In the end though the band's compositions never get lost for too long in progressive stargazing, coming back into the Earth's atmosphere just in time for blackened brutality to commence once again.
1. Vattnet Viskar
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Settler (Out now)
Black metal has gradually found itself becoming one of the most expansive and diverse forms of heavy metal music. Groups such as Portland's Agalloch have pioneered a hybrid of the subgenre utilizing neofolk and post-rock elements, and Bay Area group Deafheaven have perfected the art of mixing shoegaze guitars into a blistering black metal blueprint. New Hampshire group Vattnet Viskar is arguably the answer to the question of "what's next for black metal?" On their second album, the group contorts many of the more atmospheric elements of progressive black metal and compacts them into four-to-five minute bites of harshness--a far cry from the sprawl of many acts in the genre. On tracks such as "Colony," there are moments where the franticness resembles that perpetuated by Massachusetts hardcore acts such as Converge instead of those that dabble in the arts of corpse paint and band photos taken in a forest. This is a harsh metal record, but the well-crafted moments of atmospheric shoegaze, post-hardcore riffs, post-rock riffs, and other "post-" stuffs scattered throughout help make this one of the most engrossing and rewarding listening experiences of the year so far.