Forget about the Final Four, March is really the Month of Metal Madness.
It’s well known March comes in roaring like a lion, and this particular March saw a clenched-fist of new albums: There’s Incarnate from Massachusetts metalcore mooks Killswitch Engage, The Black by likewise screamo-inclined Brits Asking Alexandria, and don’t forget Judas Priest’s live new Battle Cry.
This makes it an opportune time to run down the best metal albums released so far this year, many of which you might have missed. So here’s a dozen from 2016’s very heavy first quarter:
Voivod, Post Society
A half-hour’s worth of particle-physics metal from thrash’s most reliably innovative and super high-tech band, who still send riffs through uncharted wormholes. The title track worries about life after people are gone, “Fall” gorgeously ponders changing seasons, and they end riding out on Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine.”
Septagon, *Deadhead Syndicate *
These speed-metallic German rookies display plenty of prog power as well, galloping in on a fine Arab charger with “Exit…Gunfire,” then sneaking flamenco guitar into the provincial murder mystery “Ripper,” and making like cyborgs encountering Martians in “Septagon Conspiracy.” “Unwanted Company” could almost be Led Zep battling Big Brother.
Mother’s Finest, *Goody 2 Shoes & the Filthy Beasts *
Splitting the difference between funk and heavy rock for four decades, these six Georgians (and likely Living Colour/Bad Brains spiritual descendants) emphasize their metal side this time around, lamenting spousal abuse with a gothic Metallica mood on “Another Day.” But they also stir in jazz and gospel, and singer Joyce Kennedy remains one tough lady.
Hexvessel, *When We Are Death * Rustic folk-metal from the Finnish forest, with a mind-expanding appreciation for all the things that grow out of the ground (“Green Gold,” “Mushroom Spirit Doors”) and a lovely obsession with co-ed harmonies, droning, and the circle of life: “All flesh will turn to hay/Won’t you lay the earth over us?”
Holy Grail, Times Of Pride and Peril
A paradoxically celebratory album about battles and destiny, from Pasadena thrashers who increasingly seem to be embracing classic hard rock. In “Descent Into the Maelstrom,” the two guitarists turn somersaults while James-Paul Luna gets poetic: “When the maelstrom comes around, the world begins to drown, you’re floating upside down, you never touch the ground.”
Ravensire, The Cycle Never Ends
Clearly Iron Maiden-inspired, seemingly Odin-indebted, muscle-and-melodrama-flexing Viking power metal, concluding with an extended three-song epic called “White Pillars” about “the lion of Norway” — all by a band from Lisbon, Portugal, of all places. There be dragons there, too, apparently.
The Erkonauts, I Did Something Bad
These oddballs from Switzerland clearly have a sense of humor — how else to explain titles like “Hamster’s Ghosthouse” or “The Great Ass Poopery,” not to mention a joke-folk ninth track called “9 Is Better than 8”? Yet their metallized mix of street punk, heavy funk and whirling goth-prog sounds more serious than they let on.
Anvil, *Anvil Is Anvil *
Seven years after a documentarian put their hard-luck life in the movies, this long-running Canadian power-metal gang still aren’t big stars, but they have managed to keep their career going. Anvil’s 16th album has several really fast ones, a couple where they stand up to bullies and an opener where they dress up like pirates.
Oceans of Slumber, *Winter *
This Houston five-piece — fronted by a black woman, always an encouraging sign in Metal Land — put new twists on gothic mermaid metal. They draw on classical music and global rhythms; they do as many real short songs as real long ones and they even cover the Moody Blues.
The year’s most high-profile metal release thus far,* Dystopia*, finds Dave Mustaine facing a world of terror (“The Threat Is Real,” we’re told) with a couple secret weapons, most notably, guitarist Kiko Loureiro from the Brazilian power-prog crew Angra, who provides ethnic touches at opportune moments.
Magnum, Sacred Blood “Divine” Lies
These regal U.K. veterans let repeated, crunchy riffs carry “Gypsy Queen” and “Quiet Rhapsody,” but they also do some swirling organ stompers: “Princess of Rags (The Cult)” might make Deep Purple fans smile, and violin-counterpointed “Your Dreams Won’t Die” courts majesty like prime Procol Harum.
Gehennah, Too Loud to Live, Too Drunk to Die
Back after nearly 20 years, Sweden’s answer to Venom expectorate 13 supremely messy, if not particularly varied hairballs, the majority clocking in under three minutes. Most are about fighting, drinking, plagiarism, general unpleasantness and how crummy a lot of other metal is today. Hey, somebody had to say it, but luckily, the crummy stuff’s not on this list!