Mulla - هل تحتاج إلى. Every band that's promoted today boasts a return to the 90s scene but it's almost always an absolute lie. Mulla from Iraq (I think in truth France) have the genuine 90s feeling with mercilessly raw production and genuine fucking hate. In fact, this particular EP reminds me of a mix of German and Scandinavian black metal from those halcyon years before everything became sieved through Pro Tools. All of their stuff is good but (the 2nd track on) this EP is fucking glory.
Paganland – Galizier. Black metal in the ancient Slavic vein, out of sync with most of what is going on in the world and its trends and possibly their best album. The NS themes are cringeworthy but serve as a nice wall to keep people who think Akhlys is brilliant (everyone reading this?) far away.
Serment - Chante, ô flamme de la liberté. Latest project of Moribond of Forteresse. After Thèmes pour la rebellion and its flirtation with a more commercial direction and production I’m glad that Moribond came to his senses and returned back to cold and misanthropic minimalism.
Invoker - Towards the Pantheon of the Nameless. Aeon was a fine release but Towards takes things a step further with greater range and diversity... it's a release I've listened to numerous times and have yet to grow tired of, German melodic death/black done beautifully and right.
Faustian Pact - Outojen tornien varjoissa. Not very remarkable but has a superb feel to it, coming off as a mixture of early Abigor and early Thyrane... that it’s Finnish and doesn’t sound like Horna is a huge plus for me. It also makes up for another year without a new Ancestors Blood CD (another band that disappeared into the void).
Dawn of a Dark Age – La Tavola Osca. A masterful mix of Italian folk, ritual and dark metal that sounds unlike any other group thanks to an idiosyncratic use of clarinet and saxophone. Not a perfect album, feeling overlong in its final phase, but nevertheless daring, intelligent and, unlike other bands mixing these genres, completely unpretentious/uncontrived.
At The Gates of Mountains - Songs of the Pagan Lands. Beautiful low-fi atmospheric cross between dungeon synth atmosphere and black metal with a few flashes of brilliance. The band changed their name to Pesttanz and appear to have dropped the metal for future releases.
Visceral Mass – Visceral Mass/200 Stab Wounds – Piles of Festering Decomposition. Both these releases were really the only examples of old school death metal that I cared about this year among 10,000 death metal digital promos, and both aren’t that great. The genre is so saturated at this point that I really wonder how a single DM band can wake up in the morning and think their contribution means anything. Visceral Mass is at least vintage and has some cool, memorable song writing, and 200 Stab Wounds has also a great vintage sound and vocals.
Law of Contagion – Woeful Litanies from the Netherrealms. Powerful death/black of the bestial variety, nothing extraordinary, zero originality, but hitting to the bone with intelligent songwriting and strong production. Shows that bestial black/death does not by default have to be something completely stupid like something you’d find on the NWN label.
Celestial Season – The Secret Teachings. Returning back to their roots, Celestial Season have recorded a fine new album that I am still navigating through and trying to absorb. As of this writing I would say that it does not match the greatness of Forever Scarlett Passion or Solar Lovers but is a very decent return nevertheless. Worth hearing!
Convulse – Deathstar. A guilty pleasure for me, as this is essential a rock record, but it is so good and so odd that it automatically rises to the level, not to mention that this is not American rock, which sucks, but Finnish rock. I didn’t like any of the last few Convulse releases and was pleasantly surprised that they decided to return to the direction they took on Reflection which to me, back then, was something very special.