Wasn’t independent music supposed to be dead by now? That’s what we keep hearing, and yet, year after year the best and most inventive music seems to be emerging from the dedicated folks of the underground. This trend is certainly not limited to metal, but recent years have seen a host of devoted new DIY metal labels spring up, blogs and publications finding more to write about than ever and a never-ending onslaught of quality music so dense that it’s honestly almost frustrating trying to keep up with it all.
2020 looks set to be another stellar year for heavy music. There will, as ever, no doubt be a ton of surprises, and hopefully countless new bands that burst onto the scene seemingly out of nowhere, but even if that somehow doesn’t happen, there’s already a shit-ton to look forward to. Here, the Astral Noize team has taken a look at the coming year and made a note of what’s exciting us most, from thrilling live bands set for hefty tours to scene veterans returning to the fold.
Holy Roar Records have fast become one of the UK’s most revered labels, thanks in no small part to an astoundingly consistent run of world-class releases throughout the entirety of 2018. 2020 sees the label kicking things off with new releases from Garganjua, Modern Rituals and Giver, so it’s safe to say we’re expecting them to weave their magic once again. Next week, they’re due to release the first of these in Garganjua’s Toward The Sun. We’ve been big fans of the band for a while now, but their latest offering is still a huge step up in quality, with a blend of cacophony and melodicism that could easily hold a candle to US prog-doom giants like Elder and Pallbearer. [GP]
In an era in hardcore where boundary-pushing acts can run shoulders with heritage bands and traditionalists at the top of bills, the South West UK’s Grief Ritual stand apart by offering the lizard-brain rewards of slaying riffs and beatdowns while effortlessly incorporating influences from the genre’s fringes. Bringing to mind contemporaries such as Cult Leader as much as genre luminaries Converge, Grief Ritual deal in a vein of emotional hardcore that, while mentally an physically punishing, still finds calm in the chaos on tracks such as ‘Eosophobic’ from last year’s Moments of Suffering EP. Existentially as well as sonically heavy and with a passionate and fully committed live show, expect big things from Grief Ritual in 2020.
Few bands stand out as exemplars of hardcore’s political and community-oriented heritage as much as Little Rock, Arkansas’ Terminal Nation. Incorporating Infest and Dropdead’s bottle-to-the-face powerviolence and ’90s metalcore influences, Terminal Nation turn the hateful energy of the post-Trump United States against itself, with tracks such as ‘Ice Watch’ from 2019’s split with Neckbeard Deathcamp absolutely not fucking about in calling genocide genocide, backed with riffs as hard as getting your head stomped on the curb. As quick to shout out local activists, charities and bands and themselves, Terminal Nation are either your best ally or your worst enemy depending on which side of oppression you stand on. With a full debut album lined up in 2020, Terminal Nation’s cop-hating, Trump-baiting hardcore is ripe and ready for the masses.
Often slapped with the all too tunnel-vision “thrash metal” tag, it is undoubtedly fair to say that Reading-based quartet Sylosis have long since transcended their eighties-worshipping roots, the band’s blitzkrieg metallic dynamism peppered with subtle flavours of cavernous extremity and melodic enterprise. Glorious musicality and progressive gusto have always made for ideal bedfellows, yet Sylosis manage to deliver works of artistry and character which remain remorselessly, thunderously metal throughout. The band went on hiatus five years ago now when guitarist/vocalist Josh Middleton joined Architects, but they announced their return last month, with a new record titled Cycle Of Suffering due out on 14th February. Single ‘I, Sever’ can be heard now. [TB]
Austin ragers Power Trip released what was probably the best thrash album of the decade in 2017’s Nightmare Logic, so three years on, we think it’s reasonable to start hoping for them to throw their hat in the ring for the 2020s. They announced they were working on their third full-length back in August 2019, so we’re hoping it sees the light of day this year. The band’s caustic blend of hardcore and balls-out thrash sounds, on paper, not too dissimilar to a ton of other acts out there, but in practise the band’s music is umpteen times more intense than any of their contemporaries. We included Nightmare Logic in our Albums of the Decade series last month, and ten years from now, we expect to be doing the same with the follow-up. If single ‘Hornet’s Nest’, included in a 2018 Adult Swim compilation, is anything to go by, the album is likely to be every bit as savage as its predecessor. [GP]
Up from the sludge covered depths of the swamps of Louisiana, WOORMS released Slake into the world in early 2019. It ravages the senses with its haunting calls upon the primordial beginnings of sludge with Melvins and their hometown experimental contemporaries in Thou, while maintaining a blisteringly unique soundscape. Slake is a beautifully harrowing cry from the blistering samples of audio to the choking waves of sound that intone the chilling roars from the bog. More recently WOORMS released a single ‘Silence and the Saints,’ and shortly thereafter news from Sludgelord records arose that the masters to a new album were being worked through. In 2019 WOORMS ripped off our the tops of our skulls, and filled our minds with the brackish water from the abyss. For 2020, it looks like they aim to sonically violate our very beings, crucifying us where we stand in shock and awe. [GT]
Where so many bands vaguely cite the world’s “instability” as an inspiration on their music, recognising that society’s a mess without really taking a stance, Svalbard’s no-holds-barred approach to sociopolitical issues has ensured that they’re one of the most important heavy bands of our generation. Of course, it helps that their strong and direct messages are backed up by some of the most inventive extreme metal out there. Their tracks barrel forward with a hardcore punk momentum, but the surging power of black metal is also ever present, but amongst the mayhem are cascading melodies that sprinkle post-metal flourishes into proceedings without ever halting the anarchic energy. The band came out of their “difficult second album” looking stronger than ever, so we can’t wait for the third – due this Autumn. [GP]
There have been rumblings of new music from everyone’s favourite nazi-hating grindcore veterans as far back as Summer 2017, but since then only drips and drabs of information have emerged in interviews. It initially looked like we might get new material in 2019, but in March last year, bassist Shane Embury confirmed that the album wouldn’t be released before “early 2020”. It’s now been five years since Apex Predator – Easy Meat, the longest wait between Napalm Death albums since their 1987 debut, so we’re hoping the album sees the light of day at least in the latter half of this year. With the bleak trajectory the world’s taking right now, a bit of politicised grindcore certainly wouldn’t go amiss. [GP]
Masterminded by Edinburgh-based Pedram Valiani, uniquely abrasive tech-metal noisemongers Frontierer have been relatively busy on the live front since Unloved’s physical release temporarily broke Bandcamp in 2018. The logistics involved for this cross-Atlantic project may limit the quantity of Frontierer’s tours but certainly doesn’t hinder the quality and the five-piece have further increased their DIY-built following with some ruthless sold-out shows. Unfortunately, it’s not likely that there will be any new material coming in 2020 but a newly announced vinyl repress of 2015’s crushing Orange Mathematics is due and there has been suggestion of at least one new album getting unleashed next year. In the meantime, expect a handful of fierce festival performances in 2020, including ArcTanGent and Tech Fest, and be sure to go witness the live bedlam doled out on their final tour of the Unloved run. [JH]
Third time lucky? We enjoyed these Welsh doomster’s 2016 LP II: For Mankind so much that we’ve included them in our past two Ones To Watch pieces, more out of hope than anything else. This time around though, the band have assured listeners that their latest record will see the light of day in 2020, though they’ve also promised that it “won’t be what you are all expecting.” That enticing proposition makes speculation somewhat asinine, but if their preceding efforts are anything to go by, expecting the unexpected should be the order of the day anyway. II: For Mankind was doom of the most eccentric variety, powered by both contemplative mellow periods and epic highs led by soaring vocals, inventive solos and gargantuan riffs. The understated jazz influence came to head on a particularly captivating saxophone solo, but even when the experimentation was less overt, the band were always seeking out new avenues. With this in mind, not to mention some lineup changes that have surely shaken up things up creatively, the follow-up will surely be more of the same – the same being something wildly unpredictable. [GP]
Edinburgh’s Dvne have been weaving intricate prog-metal compositions for a few years now but it was the 2017 release of the assured Asheran that caught people’s attention and rightly drew a lot of praise. Newly signed to Metal Blade, Dvne are sure to reach a much wider audience in 2020 when they reveal the as-yet-untitled follow-up to the Herbert and Miyazaki-influenced Asheran. Now a five-piece, the addition of a keyboardist hints at a more fleshed-out, potentially more atmospheric, and even proggier approach to an already elaborate and captivating sound. Dvne’s headline appearances at Leeds’ Yorkshire Riffer in April and Red Crust Festival in Edinburgh a month later, and hopefully a tour, will provide an opportunity for established supporters and new fans to catch these guys before they’re playing much bigger stages. [JH]
Who needs guitars when you’ve got a violin? This is the argument made by Canadian trio Völur, and they make it convincingly. Laura C. Bates’ violin operates in the space usually occupied by a lead guitar, adding an authenticity to their rustic atmospheres, whilst bassist Lucas Gadke (also of Blood Ceremony) provides the doomy riffs. The band’s latest full-length is the towering, majestic Ancestors from 2017, but if you want a more recent example of the band’s unique style, check out their half of Breaker Of Rings / Blood Witch – a recent split they did with Amber Asylum. We’re expecting the third instalment in a quadriptych of albums to drop sometime this year. [GP]
Following the 2019 release of their gorgeously melancholic debut single ‘The Longest Journey Yet’, this year looks set to see these talented Sheffield-based post-black metallers burst out of their home city and reach new audiences. Having already put on stunning displays supporting the likes of Inter Arma and Planes Mistaken For Stars, the band are swiftly earning themselves a reputation as a must-see live act. Currently recording their debut EP in Manchester with producer Joe Clayton, and with a sound that brings to mind Møl, Amenra and Alcest, this year will see Hidden Mothers win the hearts of fans yearning for more of their unique brand of shoegaze-infused black metal intensity. [AP]
If you find yourself complaining that too much stoner rock is derivative and uninventive, look no further than Beehoover, an eccentric German duo who owe almost as much to prog and jazz as they do stoner rock and doom metal. The band recently confirmed on Facebook that a new album, titled Low Performer, is nearing completion, so it’s safe to assume that it’ll officially drop sometime this year. The band’s simple drum and bass setup allows for a refreshingly minimalist style, but that doesn’t stop them from experimenting. Rumour has it they initially wanted to start a more traditional rock group with more members and a more “normal” sound – we’re glad they didn’t. [GP]
When Astral Noize spoke to Calligram drummer Ardo Cotones back in August 2019, the band were just about wrapping up the writing process for the follow up to 2017’s Askesis. Already an intense live experience, it seems the band are also intending to follow a heavier, darker and more aggressive route in the studio too as the band prepare to release their as-yet-untitled new album this spring. Indeed, with Cotones stating himself that “most of the riffs lean towards extreme black metal and grind” and that the band are “trying to do things we haven’t done before,” 2020 looks set to see Calligram continue to push themselves musically, resulting in what will surely be one of the year’s most exciting and visceral listens. [AP]
The Black Dahlia Murder
Back in May 2019, death metal stalwarts The Black Dahlia Murder confirmed that they were heading into the studio that Summer, so fingers crossed we see the fruits of that labour this year. The band’s most recent full-length, 2017’s Nightbringers, is arguably the closest they’ve come to matching 2007 piece-de-resistance Nocturnal, but even before that the band were on a fine run of form. We see no signs of that slipping, and simply can’t wait for what will be the eighth instalment in the band’s now nineteen-year career. Besides, the band will need some quality new material for those twentieth anniversary tours in 2021. [GP]
With another five years of Tory rule set to blight the UK, the time is ripe for a further dose of anti-fascist black metal to come screaming onto centre stage and tear apart the status quo. With a mission statement to “destroy NSBM”, Underdark, much like Dawn Ray’d, are exactly what the scene needs right now: a powerful opposing voice to the genre’s right-wing, fascist contingent. Brandishing a potent mix of anger and aggression coupled with dark, melodic guitar parts, the band will finally unleash their debut album this year which should see them receive the adulation they deserve. [AP]
The last several years have seen a seemingly endless list of new DIY labels spring up with varying degrees of success, but one of the most consistent and reliable outlets for all things creative and heavy is Tridroid Records. They had a fantastic year in 2019, releasing music from the likes of Ghostwriter, Bull Of Apis Bull Of Bronze and Grogus (to name but a few) and seem to be getting better with each and every release. They look set to continue that run in 2020, and are even kicking things off with a physical release of Putrescine’s debut EP complete with bonus demos and a remix. A hidden gem of a label run by truly dedicated people with an ear for brilliant music, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on what they’re up to. [GP]
Words: John Higham, Garrett A. Tanner, Adam Pegg, George Parr, Tony Bliss, Andrew Day