One of the greatest joys I get in life is increasing awareness in other people. When I think something is awesome, and tell someone else about it, and they think it’s awesome too, I get this weird sense of accomplishment; I feel like I’ve done something to contribute to humanity. So if you’re reading this, I’m assuming that A) you’re a fan of some subgenre of extreme metal, and B) you’re looking for something new to listen to.
I’ve included a variety of styles here, so there’s something for fans of all different flavors of extreme metal. But by all means, if you have a favorite band that no one’s ever heard of, let me know! More “Metal You’ve Never Heard” articles forthcoming.
Keep in mind, this isn’t a traditional “album review” article that analyzes a release and judges whether or not it’s worth buying—all of these albums deserve the attention of their intended audience—but rather, my purpose here is to (hopefully) shed light on something you’ve never been exposed to. I’ve spoken to many, many extreme metal fans, and these are albums and bands that, based on my experience, are unknown to most of those people. As usual, this list isn’t arranged in any particular order, because ranking art is bullshit.
Shape of Despair
Angels of Distress
For fans of: funeral doom metal
“To Live for My Death”
For the longest time, whenever anyone said “Doom metal?” I would say “No, thanks; my life’s boring enough as it is.” Then I heard Shape of Despair, and said to myself, “Well I’ll be damned (or doomed)…misery, hopelessness, desperation, and clinical depression can be enjoyable!” This music makes me want to go to the library, find some uplifting self-help book, cross out all the positive words, replace them with negative words, and put it back on the shelf.
While Shape of Despair don’t deviate much from the standard conventions of the genre—tempos that rarely push the needle past 70 bpm, droning and mournful stringed instruments, and a guitar tone so thick you could dig a hole and bury your late beloved wife in it—the feel of the music itself is what distinguishes them from other acts. This band is intent on reminding you of the fact that everything you love and cherish is not going to die, but is dying. Slowly.
The Project Hate MCMXCIX
Hate, Dominate, Congregate, Eliminate
For fans of: melodic death metal, industrial metal
I don’t maintain a list of my favorite bands anymore, because I always end up disappointed and depressed when my favorite bands release a turd of an album. However, if I were to hypothetically be required, for some reason, to list my top 5 favorite bands in existence, The Project Hate MCMXCIX (that’s 1999 for us uneducated Americans) would definitely be up there.
This band seamlessly transitions from massive head ‘sploding guitar riffs to melancholy and solemn piano passages, to entrancing ambient computer generated techno phrases, all while switching off between guttural death metal vocals and delicate and heart-wrenching female vocals. TPH isn’t the only extreme metal band to use female vocals and synthesized electronic beats in their music, but they pull it off like no one else ever has.
As You Drown
For fans of: brutal death metal, weightlifting, raw eggs and shots of whiskey for breakfast
“Ruins and Dead Ends”
This album is pure auditory devastation.
As far as “meat and potatoes” death metal goes, As You Drown’s Reflection provides pretty much everything one could possibly be looking for in a ridiculously heavy and brutal serving of devastating drums and crushing guitars. If you’re looking for the proper motivation to start punching everything in sight, this is your album.
Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice
For fans of: trve kvlt black metal
Si monvmentvm reqvires, circvmspice (full album)
It’s amusingly ironic that Deathspell Omega is probably the most “famous” outfit on this list, yet no one knows anything about them. They don’t play live, they don’t buy full-page ads in Terrorizer (or any other publication with any kind of distro), and they don’t do photo shoots. Www.deathspellomega.com (if that is their official webpage) consists of a .jpg of their logo, a Satanic prayer, and “Under Construction”. I think the only reason they’ve done a handful of interviews is to elaborate on the metaphysical aspect of their Satanic philosophy, which in case you’re wondering, goes way beyond your customary Anton LaVey brand of cookie-cutter Satanism. And yet, despite all the mystery and secrecy, Deathspell Omega have singlehandedly taken kvlt black metal to a whole new level. Perhaps there’s something to this “The message is more significant than the messenger” approach…
In America, you can purchase DSO releases through The Ajna Offensive, the same distributor from whom I got my copy of Qabalah, Qliphoth and Goetic Magic (highly recommended, if mindfucks are your thing).
Tyrant of Death
For fans of: industrial metal, chaos
Imagine if an army of terminators, a legion of borg drones, and a horde of zombies (28 Days Later zombies, not Night of the Living Dead zombies) all snorted a bunch of cocaine and engaged in a battle royal inside a WWIII munitions factory, and Tyrant of Death is pretty much what it would sound like. Frenzied insanity emanates from all the instruments, creating a unique wall of brilliant noise pollution that demands your attention. Pretty impressive, considering that this is mostly a one-man band. Though vocals are largely eschewed in this act, one play-through makes the listener wonder if there’s even room for any. Almost as if to say “Vocals? What are you…gay?” There are several spoken word passages which are distorted so much they’re almost unintelligible, but it definitely works for this project. The pandemonium and furor of the music create an atmosphere that would most likely be diminished by some lame-ass “lyrics” written by mere humans.
For fans of: melodic death metal
Occult Medicine (full album)
Logic would tell us that good bands succeed in the music biz, and not-so-good bands don’t. It’s a nice, simple formula, and while it works okay much of the time, much of the time it doesn’t. Sometimes we stumble across a band that defies all logic, making us demand “Why isn’t this band world-famous?!”
One shining example of this phenomenon is Yyrkoon, who released their masterpiece Occult Medicine in 2006. There isn’t a single dull song on this whole album, and the climax and dénouement of “Censored Project” are some of my favorite moments in all of death metal. Yet, for some reason, they missed the boat.
A New Shape of Desperation
For fans of: thrash metal(?)
“The Truth is Sold”
From the first foreboding arpeggios of this “It Starts Within” to the final dissonant notes of “Time is Running Out,” this record leads the listener, slowly but surely, to one simple realization: Reality can be a harsh, unforgiving bitch, and By Night is her accompaniment.
By Night is vaguely similar in sound to the Björler brothers’ The Haunted; however, it is much less cerebral, and much more primal in effect.
Of all the bands on this list, this is perhaps the one in which the recording production most accurately conveys the overall feel of the music. I highly recommend obtaining a “real” copy of this album, so that you can experience all the little nuances of sound that are compressed out of existence in the Youtube upload version.
For fans of: atmospheric black metal, “middle era” Samael
The term “dreamlike” is thrown around a lot when people talk about atmospheric music. While the ambiance and general mise-en-scène of this record is definitely “otherworldly,” I’d hardly call it dreamlike. The music on this album is more like that tiny moment of semi-consciousness when you first wake up; the transition from the abstract and wistful verisimilitude of the dreamworld to the nightmarish realization that the real world is nothing like the dream.
If you can find a copy of it, this album’s bonus track perfectly illustrates that state of mind when driving on a deserted highway in the middle of the night, the unwanted hypnosis that often occurs, and the worst-case conclusion of such a scenario.
Additional props go to this band for writing all their lyrics in their native language. Screw the western market!