The EP, Split, and Single Post [Things You Might Have Missed 2020] Part II

This is Part II of the EP, Split, and Single Post, which began here.

The neglected, forgotten children; that’s what this post is about. Full-lengths albums are the proud first-born, strutting about with muscular arms and a beautiful face. But EPs? Spotty and malnourished. Splits? Siamese twins preventing the other from fully developing. Singles? A crooked arm sticking out of its mother. Demos? Malformed afterbirth. I’m an advocate for equality and its high time that we recognize those which were impaired from the womb. Please give generously. – El Cuervo

The Midnight // Horror Show – For those in know about synthwave, The Midnight was never a thoroughbred synthwave act. Always drawing on poppier influences and eschewing the driving rhythms which founded the genre, all of their releases have dragged the sound into the modern day. But Horror Show is a Halloween homage to the darker synth tones of 80s horror films, representing something quite distinct from their prior work. It’s far from the group at their most exciting and most creative, but The Midnight’s second-rate is still better than most synth acts’ first. The closer is a somewhat discordant but fun re-imagining of Patti Smith Group’s “Because the Night,” supporting this as an unexpected but singular addition to their discography. Fair warning: this shan’t be the last you see of The Midnight in the year-end round-ups. – El Cuervo

Front // Antichrist Militia – Redemption is a rifle butt to the teeth. I didn’t love Front’s 2016 debut, but Antichrist Militia is faster and more fierce. The title track’s blackened death metal assault is rife with blast beats and frantic tremolos, making these Finns sound like veterans of the Infernal War who served honorably in Marduk’s Panzer Division. Things only get better when “Venom & Salt” joins the firefight with groovy blackened thrash. Meanwhile “Machinegun Blasphemy” harmonizes blast beats and automatic gunfire, which is just as stupidly awesome as you’d expect. All told Militia is a furious EP that takes no prisoners (presumably because it used them all for target practice). I don’t know if “fun” was what Front were going for, but to me this is an absolute blast. – Mark Z

Beast Impalor // GoblinBeast Impalor hold a special place in my heart, as they played at the last show I attended before fun was cancelled. Best summarized as “Finntroll and Troldhaugen play the Banjo Kazooie soundtrack”, Beast Impalor delivered enough fun to last me for a year plus. I regret not being able to share their stage presence, but their personality comes through recorded just as well. Despite the fun and the swagger, they’re legitimately heavy with a strong undercurrent of menace. The vocals are deranged and maniacal yet comprehensible, the keyboards tight and never lost to pseudo-symphonic wankiness, the guitars solid and riffy, and the songwriting pulls it all together. This is their debut EP and comes highly recommended, and I eagerly await their future work. – Sentynel

Tribe of Pazuzu // King of All Demons – I have the impression that Tribe of Pazuzu got overlooked this year. Sure, the first EP was decent at best, but King of All Demons is a slightly blackened death metal clinic and a riff-driven tour-de-force. I can’t quite figure out if this is more akin to pre-terrible Behemoth playing Incantation riffs or Incantation playing Behemoth riffs when Behemoth still knew how to write heavy riffs, but I don’t care. Tribe of Pazuzu are their own beast, penning propulsive, memorable, and smartly structured death metal bolstered by thick n’ hefty production and a typically great drum performance by Flo Mounier. There are standout leads, salient hooks, and punishing midtempo beatdowns – and that’s just in “Summoning Rituals.” Don’t overlook this if you like death metal. Diabolus in Muzaka

Thrawsunblat // Insula – What could have been a mere stopgap EP in the requisite changing of course after the acoustic folk goodness of Great Brunswick Forest turned out to be a finely crafted expression of Joel Violette’s creativity and skill as a musician – he performed everything and programmed the drums on Insula. There’s a hint of Sweden in the trademark Thrawsunblat Maritime melodicism, but the core of folk and melodic black metal is still intact. “Until Ebb the Waters” is one of Thrawsunblat’s more energetic recent numbers and contains some of Violette’s best lead work in its midsection – no small feat given the man’s talent. The propellant chug of “Heave the Oars” fits its title, delving into Amon Amarth territory in spots effectively. This is just the right amount of time and material for the direction Thrawsunblat pursued here, making it a supremely successful EP. Diabolus in Muzaka

Zeal & Ardor // Wake of a Nation – I admire Zeal & Ardor and their hugely talented mastermind Manuel Gagneux, while patiently waiting for Gagneux and co to weave their mix of blues, soul, alternative rock and black metal into something truly immersive and consistent. The shorter format and deeply troubled current climate prove a winning combination on the superb Wake of a Nation EP. Tackling politics, racial issues, and police brutality, Wake of a Nation is a fiercely intense, emotion charged collection, featuring some of the band’s strongest work to date. The simmering tension, anguish and heart-wrenching melodies of subdued opener “Vigil” chills the soul. Elsewhere, while Zeal & Ardor’s non-metal components are often stronger than the heavier elements, here the balance is more harmonious, blackened surges hitting with greater heft and emotional impact, best exemplified on “Tuskagee” and the massive riffs of “Trust No One.” Hopefully, Zeal & Ardor can bottle this brilliance into their next full-length endeavor. L Saunders

Abyssal Frost // Antarsia – Thick, frozen blackened death metal about cannibalism in the Antarctic. It rarely gets more metal than that. “The Orphan” proves it with a hooky riff and a slaying solo. The drumming, however, seals the deal, blasting and exploding in vicious bursts of furiosity. “The Cronos” showcases some of the best Abyssal Frost have to offer, demolishing everything in it’s path with prejudice. The abuse continues on “The Surgeon,” which arguably takes the top slot song-wise thanks to the thrashy attitude it so coldly imparts, but closing epic “The Cannibal” comes damn close to that coveted throne as well. It might not be the most original material, but it’s vital and kicks ass in big ways. Satisfy your hunger as the season grows ever colder, and gnash your canines upon this sinewy offering. – TheKenWord

Battlemaster // Ghastly, Graven & Grimoireless Despite the band knocking around since 2003, output from Richmond, Virginia’s Battlemaster has been pretty sparse, with their last outing a full-length back in 2015. Now back to launch a renewed assault on all before them, Ghastly, Graven and Grimoireless is 23 minutes of raw and relentless blackened thrash. The five-piece deliver a whole horde of galloping riffs and searing leads, over lo-fi frantic drumming, while vocalist Andy Horn bellows and howls like a demented goblin about “ugly lurching battlefreaks” and lost grimoires – “Your hunt continues, where could your tome have gone?” Sounding something like Absu picking a fight with Bear Mace, while jacked up on speed, Battlemaster is a breathless, bruising and fantastical encounter, and you can’t tell me that cuts like “Hectored Bugbearean Wrath” aren’t serious fucking fun! – Carcharodon

Arkhtinn / Starless Domain // AstrophobiaI had a clear picture of 2020’s AOTY’s, then the Prava Kollektiv had to go and fuck that up (see for yourself). The most steady of this enigmatic group has been Arkhtinn, offering frosty and cosmic black metal in ten releases since 2013. And while 2020’s split Astrophobia with Starless Domain is more of the same, there is no need to fix what ain’t broken. Beginning with Arkhtinn’s mammoth “Astrofobi,” trademark crystalline synths, flourishes of electronic, raw tremolos, and fierce shrieks dominate in their most balanced attack of atmosphere and rawness yet. Starless Domain’s “MUSE” follows similar cues, locked into the cosmic concept with dense synths and empty atmospheres a la Darkspace or La Torture Des Tenébrès. Perhaps imperfect, as Arkhtinn’s take exhibits more precision and balance, Astrophobia is nonetheless a visceral and stunning trip to ice-crusted stars and a stellar 2020 outing. – Dear Hollow

Ixachitlan // Eagle, Quetzal, and Condor – American solo project Ixachitlan (brainchild of Y.E. of Yohuali, Mäleficentt, or Metztli) and debut EP Eagle, Quetzal & Condor carries with it a weight that feels organic and grounded. Like other Y.E. projects, its concept revolves around Native American pride and mythology, (“This Land Belongs to Us. Native Pride World Wide”) but it’s adherence to the symbolic meaning of the fowl alongside its tasteful uses of traditional instruments and haunting vocals elevates this scathing black metal palette above the standard and generally white-dominated scene. Eagle, Quetzal, and Condor utilizes blackened hallmarks of tremolo riffs, shrieks and barks loaded with reverb, and blastbeats, but its purposeful “less is more” songwriting and traditional flourishes communicate a heart and desperation that extends beyond labels. – Dear Hollow

Plaguemace // Primal Priest Plaguemace wield their malodorous mallet with startling efficiency. These Danes play a Swedeath-inspired brand of battery that puts heavy emphasis on riffs. Five songs of low-end, objectionable fucking fisticuffs that stomp and swagger with infernal immediacy. The virulent grooves present on Primal Priest have been remapping my neural pathways for some time now. If you have the audacity to call yourself a death metal fan then you are absolutely obliged to check this out. Primal Priest is easily one of my favorite releases of the year. This is burly, fun stuff. And who doesn’t like fun. – FerrousBueller

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