Fiends at Feast / Tragic Death – Purgatory Rites (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions, 2014)

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I’ve been following Santa Cruz’s Fiends at Feast ever since they self-released the excellent Shadows of Extinction EP back in 2011.  In that time, they’ve signed to up-and-coming metal label Horror Pain Gore Death Productions and released an impressive debut full-length in the form of Towards the Baphomet’s Throne, an album that saw the band building upon their already considerable strengths, sharpening their songwriting and upping the musicianship factor.  Continuing to capitalize on the momentum they’ve built for themselves over the past three years, the Fiends are back with what might be their most compelling set of songs yet on Purgatory Rites, a split with Madison, Wisconsin’s previously unknown (to me) Tragic Death.

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Belphegor – Conjuring the Dead (Nuclear Blast, 2014)

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If there is one thing metal critics hate, it’s consistency.  Satan forbid a band should find a sound that works for them (not to mention their fans) and stick with it, dooming their albums to forever be referred to in print as “more of the same” “a rehash” “nothing you haven’t heard before” etc, etc.  Luckily, I’m not a critic, and I love it when bands I enjoy give me exactly what I want. Such is the case with Austrian black/death heavyweights Belphegor, who’ve returned from an uncharacteristic three year silence with Conjuring the Dead.  To say that it’s everything you’d expect from a Belphegor record would probably be the understatement of the decade, but predictability isn’t much of a factor when what you’re predicted to do is kick ass.

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Harassor – Into Unknown Depths (Dais Records, 2014)

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One of my favorite things about digging into the metal underground is when one great band leads me to another great band.  That’s exactly what happened when Lord Time mastermind Andorkappen (aka Sandor GF) turned me on to Harassor, the LA black metal trio he plays drums for.  They’ve just released their fourth full length, Into Unknown Depths, via Dais Records and it’s a damn fine slab of bulldozing USBM if ever there was one.

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7 H. Target – 0.00 Apocalypse (Sevared Records, 2014)

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What the hell is going on over in Russia?  Over the past several years, the country has become a hotbed for slam/brutal death metal, as evidenced by the likes of Abominable Putridity, Traumatomy, Disfigurement of Flesh and Katalepsy.  But as good as they are, none of the aforementioned bands could have prepared me for the awesomely bizarre 7 H. Target, who specialize in schizophrenic/futuristic Tetsuo The Iron Man-obsessed slam that pretty much obliterates everything else out there.  Their latest album is titled 0.00 Apocalypse and it does a great job sonically of living up to that title, coming off like the soundtrack to an ungodly war of man vs. machine.

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Gloam – Vanquished (self-released, 2014)

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I first encountered Santa Cruz’s Gloam a while back thanks to the band sharing a guitarist with Fiends at Feast, another Santa Cruz-based outfit I’ve been shouting about for quite some time.  But in spite of this connection, Gloam is assuredly a very different animal.  The quartet’s debut demo was a rather stunning piece of atmospheric black metal, but with Vanquished they have surely surpassed it, pushing their sound forward while at the same time adhering to black metal’s time-honored traditions.

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Spü – Deluge (self-released, 2014)

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Brooklyn, New York’s Spü is a multi-headed beast; part molten sludge, part scuzzy black metal and part even scuzzier noise rock.  The trio recently self-released Deluge, a genre-blending maelstrom of filth that’s one of the most intriguing debut albums I’ve heard in 2014.  It’s rare that a young band emerges with their sound fully formed, but Spü appear to have done just that with this killer tape.

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Phalloplasty – Systematic Mutilation (Gore House Productions, 2014)

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Los Angeles, CA’s Gore House Productions has one of the most insane release schedules of any of the independent labels I regularly work with.  Seriously, they pump out such a constant stream of awesome slam, brutal death metal and goregrind that you’d think this shit grew on trees.  The latest GHP onslaught comes in the form of Systematic Mutilation, the second album from Vegas-based one-man wrecking crew Phalloplasty.  Taking bits and pieces of all the aforementioned subgenres and hammering them into a bloody slab of brutality, Phalloplasty in many ways sums up everything GHP is about.

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Killgasm – A Stab in the Heart of Christ (Moribund, 2014)

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I’ve always believed that there’s something to be said for staunch traditionalism, especially when it comes to black metal.  I often tire of the progressive tendencies the genre has picked up in recent years, especially here in the US; sometimes I just want to scream “cut the shit and get to the ear-raping already!”  Fortunately, Sacramento, CA’s Killgasm exists, and their second album A Stab in the Heart of Christ is the ultra-corrosive antidote to the overly pretentious, meandering mess that much of the current crop of USBM has degenerated into.

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Extremely Rotten – Zombification of the Masses (Gore House Productions, 2014)

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If you’re into brutality, Southern California’s Gore House Productions have been killing it in 2014, putting out a slew of excellent brutal death metal, slam and goregrind releases with no end in sight.  Among their latest is Zombification of the Masses, a quickie EP from Florida’s Extremely Rotten, featuring two tracks of slamming brutal death metal.  Clocking in at just five minutes, it is the very definition of all killer, no filler.

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Sons of Famine – Alcohol and Razor Blades (self-released, 2013)

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Just as I’ve started to settle into life on the West Coast, along comes a band from the Midwest to remind me that my home region can kick serious ass when it wants to.  That band is Chicago’s Sons of Famine, who’s stock-in-trade is pummeling oldschool death metal with a blackened edge.  Their debut demo, Alcohol and Razor Blades, is a musical battering ram of ungodly filth and fury that beats and bludgeons the living hell out of just about every other demo I’ve heard of late.

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