The Best Debut Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020




It's not often you hear people extolling the replay value of a funeral doom album; as extraordinary a genre as it is, you usually get through one session in a day and then you're dead. Atramentus is far from friendly to the senses, but something about Stygian demands back-to-back repetitions. Delayed for eight long years, Stygian is a true epic of funeral doom, an album of precious quality in its storytelling and atmosphere. It retains residual elements of dissonant death metal and Demilich influence from Chthe'ilist, which shares three members with Atramentus, and transforms them into a soul-tormenting journey that ebbs and flows with the changing of the seasons. Emphatic, ominous drum beats push the album ever onward, through deep, resonant chants and gurgling growls, through wailing synths and delicate piano, through destructive chords and anguished guitar solos. Stygian is a soundtrack to eternal isolation in a lightless world, not about death so much as being forsaken, and yet it possesses the pull of epic doom alongside the might of funeral doom; it demands to be experienced again and again.

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This debut album by Autonoesis from Canada is a successful blend of technical thrash metal with progressive and melodic death/black metal, and it is one of these rare cases in which the record gets better and better with every listen. Imagine Voivod, Coroner, Death, and Dissection jamming together and churning out invigorating and acrobatic riffs, as well as eclectic and emotional melodies, with a strong progressive undertow. This is a surprisingly good album, especially considering that it came from out of nowhere.

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Pounding blastbeats. Grinding, slow, down-tempo sections. Riffing. Solos that sound like cats getting their tails yanked. Gurgling, shrieking, and howled vocals that sound like they were recorded inside an empty bank vault. All played with reckless abandon and an absolute wanton disregard for human life. Listen and get rekt. If you don't like this album, fuck you. Simple as.

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The past: hand percussion, woodwinds, and coarse chanting. The present: blastbeats, harsh vocals, and blackened riffs. The future: heavy processing, unorthodox synths, and pulsating house beats. And that which transcends time, space, and being: the unification of all into a psionic whirlwind. Before you even notice that the guitar has joined the fray, you're flooded by torrents of fearsome black metal; before it hits you that the percussion has vanished, you're in the grip of a cavernous ambiance; before you're conscious of the chants having fallen away, the electronics are carrying you into the next dimension. Bríi has only just debuted and is already lightyears beyond the realm of terrestrial music, creating soundscapes that meld genres, textures, and instrumentation like tributaries joining a raging river. Entre Tudo que é Visto e Oculto's exploration of metal, electronica, ambient, and folk should be beheld by anyone who prizes the styles and believes themselves intrepid.

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Cryptic Shift spent nearly a decade ramping up to their first full-length release, and the 25-minute opener to Visitations From Enceladus is proof enough in itself that that time was well spent honing and refining a specific style, a style of strange keys, sudden time shifts, thrash breaks, periodic technical escalation, and frenzied death metal of the rare and prized outer-space variety. Some of death metal's great cult legends have arisen in this technical/sci-fi death/thrash sphere, and Cryptic Shift may well find themselves the next ones shepherded into that pantheon by spacefaring solos, jazzy bass, and frigid growls. Comparisons to Vektor, Nocturnus, Nucleus, and others will abound, but let's not leech too much focus from the chutzpah it takes to open your album with an entire half of your album.

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An emphatic debut effort by American group Fires In The Distance, Echoes From Deep November features a melodic doom sound combined with death growls and striking use of electronics/keyboards, resulting in something that sounds like a midway point between Enshine and Omnium Gatherum. Although mostly residing in the background, the electronics, which have a bounce and ring to them that is more commonly associated with space-themed black metal bands, are probably the element of Echoes From Deep November's sound that most immediately stands out. However, listeners that come for the electronics will stay for the reliably memorable and uplifting guitar melodies, as well as the warm atmospheres otherwise crafted by the band and the successful detours into melodeath territory ("Elusive Light").

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"Maximalism" is certainly the name of the game for Éons: three parts, two hours, and one paragraph for every song title. This self-described "drone orchestra" comprises a dozen members, multiple drummers among them (with two members credited for "soundscapes" and "black magic scenography," respectively), and the density of Neptunian Maximalism's sound finds its match only in its stylistic complexity. Jazz, drone, and dark ambient meet shades of doom metal and Indian folk, all infused with varying degrees of psychedelia and mysticism, continuously evolving in shape and form, ultimately defining one of 2020's most fascinating debuts; all of this may sound like a demanding listening experience, and it certainly does take éons to listen to, but the chugging bari sax and arsenal of percussion that open "Daiitoku-myōō No Ōdaiko 大威徳明王 鼓童 - L'impact De Théia Durant L'éon Hadéen" will pull you into orbit without a thought.

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An impressive debut record from New Zealand trio Pull Down The Sun, Of Valleys And Mountains sees influences from the likes of Gojira, Isis and The Ocean combined excellently within a progressive post-metal framework. The Gojira-isms (pick scrapes, tapping, syncopated rhythms) come on a bit hard on occasion, but there are also successful detours through metalcore and alt-metal territories on other tracks, and every different stylistic move is backed up by excellent songwriting, providing force to the heavier moments and a lushness to the cleaner sections. The integration of Māori culture into the band's music and image (right down to their name, inspired by Māui's feats) is something of a novelty for a global metal scene in which New Zealand is underrepresented, but Of Valleys And Mountains shines purely based on the merits of its outstanding compositions.

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Other than making you wonder how come the band name "Skeleton" was still available, Skeleton will most importantly make your bang you head like crazy. They were originally a hardcore band, and some of that hardcore past still seeps into the more blackened thrash sound they currently have, making sure that the punk ethos of simple, powerful d-beat drumming is not lost while riffs and riffs and riffs just come at you. It pretty much sounds like what Darkthrone have been trying to do for the past 15 years, but with even more riffs. So it's barely under 30 minutes of black metal shrieks over heavy metal riffs, crust punk riffs, thrash metal riffs, first-wave riffs, second-wave riffs, hardcore punk riffs. Uhh... riffs.

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It would be accurate to say that Sweven picks up where Morbus Chron left off, but that would also be to admit that The Eternal Resonance represents another great leap of style and ambition as there was between Morbus Chron's more conventional death metal debut and the album that gives this continuation its name. Death metal surfaces in The Eternal Resonance, but the dynamic and elaborately crafted atmosphere owes much to post-rock, and the album's most metal moments have more in common with doom and progressive metal than the OSDM-inspired albums that preceded it. How can an album sharpen from riffy doom to a post-hardcore soundscape and then collapse into smooth jazz without missing a beat (and, in fact, inserting several more of its own devising)? This question, and many more, can only be answered by listening.

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Write-in votes

ΛΔΛΜ - SUN
Across Antarctica - Across Antarctica
Ad Infinitum - Chapter I: Monarchy
Adamantis - Far Flung Realm
Aetherevm - The Beauty Of Chaos
Aprilmen - Heavy Hearts
Aqvilea - Beyond The Elysian Fields
Asarhaddon - Reysa
At The Altar Of The Horned God - Through Doors Of Moonlight
Bas Rotten - Surge
Bonded - Rest In Violence
Carnosus - Dogma Of The Deceased
Coexistence - Collateral Dimension
Counting Hours - The Will
Creak - Bitter Picture
Cult of lilith - Mara
Darkened - Kingdom Of Decay
Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full
End (USA) - Splinters From An Ever​-​Changing Face
Eye Flys - Tub Of Lard
Fires In The Distance - Eches From Deep November
Forlorn Citadel - Ashen Dirge Of Kingslain
Glorious Depravity - Ageless Violence
Greg Puciato - Child Soldier: Creator of God
Häxanu - Snare Of All Salvation
Hjelvik - Welcome To Hel
Icare - Khaos
Illumishade - ECLYPTIC
Imonolith - State Of Being
Induced - Coproporeal
Jonathan Hultén - Where Devils Weep
Kvaen - The Funeral Pyre
Light Field Reverie - Another World
Mögnö - Gaia
Marrasmieli - Between Land And Sky
Molder - Vanished Cadavers
Myth Of I - Myth Of I
Novena - Eleventh Hour
Nyrst - Orsök
Omega Infinity - Solar Spectre
Paralydium - Worlds Beyond
Pothamus - Raya
Psychonaut - Unfold The God Man
Rope Sect - The Great Flood
Rotting Kingdom - A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow
Sacred Outcry - Damned For All Time
Sepulchral Curse - Only Ashes Remain
Shadow In The Darkness - Erstwhile Befell
Slift - Ummon
Sons Of A Wanted Man - Kenoma
Stormruler - Under The Burning Eclipse
Tallah - Matriphagy
Thætas - Shrines To Absurdity
The Ancestry Program - Tomorrow
The Hu - The Gereg
The Last Renegades - Valley Of The Kings
Thecodontion - Supercontinent
ThrashWall - ThrashWall
Throne Of Iron - Adventure One
Tombstoner - Descent To Madness
Tomorrow's Rain - Hollow
Undeath - Lesions Of A Different Kind
Veil of Secrets - Dead Poetry
Virocracy - Irradiation
Voidfire - Ogień Pustki
Voracious Scourge - In Death
White Stones - Kuarahy