Obscura -- A Valediction

ObscuraA Valediction

✦✦✦✧ This is more like it! The album feels a bit more selective in its excesses than its predecessor Diluvium, which only serves to make the riffs and leads all the more special and memorable. It’s great to hear guitarist Christian Münzner’s energy and skill in this, his return to the band, as it is for bassist Jeroen Paul Thesseling as well.

Quicksand -- Distant Populations

QuicksandDistant Populations

✦✦✦✧ While this is the first full-length featuring the post-hardcore legends as a trio minus Tom Capone, Quicksand’s trademark street-fight swagger is still all over the album. The broodier and more midtempo side of the band takes greater prominence here, but that’s been coming for a long time now (I’d say it was always here).

Rivers of Nihil -- The Work

Rivers of NihilThe Work

✦✦✧✧ Ambitious and genre-defying, for good and for ill. RON are continuing their evolution from techdeath into full-on progressive high-concept auteurs. Without an outside editorial voice to help them keep focus, the resulting album feels uneven when taken as a whole. There are stellar moments here and there, and then there are moments that aren’t bad, but certainly feel like a setup to something else.

Converge -- Bloodmoon- I

ConvergeBloodmoon: I

✦✦✦✧ This is Converge (with Chelsea Wolfe and Stephen Brodsky) at their most brooding and contemplative. Not sure if that’s what anyone wanted from them, but that’s what they did with their pandemic; how about you? Shit talking aside, I really like this album, but if you think you’re getting “Axe To Fall II” here, you’re going to have a bad time.

Cynic -- Ascension Codes

CynicAscension Codes

✦✦✧✧ Moody, jazzy, unique… undeniably Cynic. Also, very navelgazey, twice as long as it needs to be, and (you had to know this was coming) barely metal. Seriously, this is in some ways pathologically  anti- metal. Like, any time Paul Masvidal starts getting close to groove or a riff, the band has to stop, change the tempo and cut the volume.

Exodus -- Persona Non Grata

ExodusPersona Non Grata

✦✦✦✧ Finally, a halfway-fresh-feeling album of rethrash from Bay Area veterans Exodus! You’d have to go back to 2004′s Tempo Of The Damned to find its equal. Guitarists Gary Fucking Holt and Lee Altus deliver the goods, and Steve Souza sounds as manic as ever. That said, the album does go on a little too long… there, I said it.

The Armed -- Ultrapop

The ArmedUltrapop

✦✦✧✧ Former Arsies winners The Armed return with yet another slab of performance art (noise) that is about as metal as The Mars Volta or Boris, which is to say: tangentially. Still, Ultrapop hits my ears as subjectively more interesting than its predecessor Only Love. Pitchfork loves this album, so there’s that.

Spiritbox -- Eternal Blue

SpiritboxEternal Blue

✦✦✦✧ Six years ago, I noticed that iwrestledabearonce were starting to “[trade] their goofy self-indulgences for unsubtle savagery.” Then that band broke up. Vocalist Courtney LaPlante (singer) and Mike Stringer (guitarist) went off and created Spiritbox. This album, their debut, is a continuation of iwabo’s evolution, with a sound that lands somewhere between Evanescence, TesseracT, and A Perfect Circle.