As the world stays home due to the coronavirus pandemic and live shows are cancelled for the foreseeable future, there are still a lot of excellent albums being released. April was a strong month that had both quantity and depth of quality. Here are our picks for April 2020’s best heavy metal albums.
1. Katatonia – City Burials (Peaceville)
Katatonia‘s eleventh offering, City Burials delivers a set of emotional, glistening dark prog, but this time around with a few classic heavy metal embellishments. Co-founder and singer Jonas Renske delivers the lyrics with the emotional heft that is his trademark, his deep voice reverberating with a mix of yearning and wistfulness.
Despite the songs on City Burials being written almost completely by Renske, Katatonia sound like a vital and invigorated band. A year off did Katatonia a world of good. While both Dead End Kings and The Fall of Hearts were strong albums, they had weak moments. Not so on City Burials. This is an album of beautifully dark progressive rock that will keep listeners glued to their speakers start to finish, and is our best album of the month.
2. Ulcerate – Stare Into Death And Be Still (Debemur Morti)
The New Zealand tech death trio Ulcerate have been around for nearly 20 years now. Over that time they have established themselves as a potent force in the underground. Stare Into Death And Be Still, their sixth album, explores the concept of death reverence.
While there’s still plenty of extremity and technicality on this album, Ulcerate bring more atmosphere and melody to the table this time around. Top-notch production gives the songs a powerful sound, whether it’s drummer Jamie Saint Merat’s rolling fills and powerful blasts or guitarist Michael Hoggard’s memorable riffs. Hoggard also brings a melancholy vibe to songs such as the title track. Dynamic is a good way to describe these songs, with tracks like “Exhale The Ash” shifting between crushing heaviness and glimpses of melody. By blending extremity and introspection Ulcerate have pushed their musical boundaries and reinforced why they are one of the genre’s best.
3. Oranssi Pazuzu – Mestarin Kynsi (Nuclear Blast)
For their latest album Mestarin Kynsi, the Finnish band Oranssi Pazuzu have signed with Nuclear Blast, one of metal’s bigger labels. Even with a larger platform, they remain as experimental and inscrutable as ever.
The six tracks are all lengthy, in the 7 to 10 minute range, each with a different perspective and vibe. Oranssi Pazuzu start with black metal, then expand their sonic palette by utilizing everything from prog to noise to psychedelia and even krautrock. Songs like “Tyhjyyden sakramentti” shift from subdued to chaotic to avant-garde. The music is constantly changing, twisting and reforming into something unexpected. It can be challenging listen at times, but a smooth and hypnotic experience at other times. It takes an adventurous listener to appreciate Oranssi Pazuzu, and if you haven’t immersed yourself in their music yet, this is a good time to jump in.
4. Cirith Ungol – Forever Black (Metal Blade)
Cirith Ungol are back with Forever Black, their fifth proper album and first new material since 1991’s Paradise Lost. They’ve always a bit of an oddity especially with Tim Baker’s unique vocal style that fits the band almost as well as the late Terry Jones fit Pagan Altar.
Toeing the line between doom metal and the fantasy elements of power metal, Cirith Ungol are a tremendously fun band with tracks like “The Fire Divine” and “The Frost Monstreme” immediately hearkening the listener back to the two strongest albums the band has released in King of the Dead and One Foot In Hell nearly 40 years later. This is career revitalization on par with the best comebacks of all time, this is Cirith Ungol!
5. The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous (Metal Blade)
The Black Dahlia Murder are easy to take for granted, releasing consistently good albums every couple of years or so, and always delivering the goods live. Verminous is their ninth full-length, and frontman Trevor Strnad makes the bold claim that this is the biggest evolutionary leap they have taken from one album to the next.
What’s immediately noticeable is how catchy the songs are, without sacrificing heaviness. Guitarists Brian Eschbach and Brandon Ellis bring the melodies that contrast Strnad’s harsh vocals. Slowing down the tempos a bit on tracks like “Sunless Empire” and “The Wereworm’s Feast” make them more memorable. There’s even a brief acoustic interlude before closing the proceedings with the diverse “Dawn Of Rats” that has both blastbeats and a glorious guitar solo. Verminous is streamlined at just over 35 minutes with minimal filler, reinforcing The Black Dahlia Murder’s position in the upper echelon of melodic death metal bands.
6. Trivium – What The Dead Men Say (Roadrunner)
For their ninth studio album What The Dead Men Say, they once again worked with producer Josh Wilbur (Lamb Of God, All That Remains). The album expertly balances extremity and melody throughout. Some tracks are on the more mainstream end of the scale, like “Bleed Into Me” and “Scattering The Ashes” while songs such as “Sickness Unto You” and “Bending The Arc To Fear” lean toward the heavier side, with larger doses of harsh vocals.
2017’s The Sin And The Sentence found Trivium hitting on all cylinders. With the same lineup, same producer and a batch of quality new songs, they’ve maintained that momentum on What The Dead Men Say.