The Best Extreme Progressive Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020




Aseitas's self-titled debut was itself a highly unorthodox combination of extreme metal genres, but False Peace leaves no box unchecked in its quest to outdo its predecessor. Thus the album vomits itself into being with a noisy industrial stomp before lurching into a rancid slumgullion of spumaceous growls, piquant key changes, and abrasive bursts of rhythmic angst; halfway through the first song, Aseitas has already wandered almost by happenstance through more subgenres than many bands could hope to cover in an album, or even a career. This kind of progressive death metal doesn't adhere very stringently to traditional expectations for the genre, and that's because it is actually sludge. At least, it was. In the time it took you to read that sentence, it became black metal for a brief second before deciding that grindcore was the way to go - and that's only before the downers kick in and doom becomes the soup du jour. Far from a "false" peace, this groovy, grindy mess of unpredictable distortion is never even an attempted peace.

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The combination of prog and sludge is a thoroughly underutilized one, given the rewards reaped by the likes of Mastodon in the past; Barishi delivered Old Smoke in 2020 to remind everyone that this sound is being slept on. The vicious rasps and fiery riffs combine nicely with the complex, lengthy songwriting and convoluted song progressions to deliver something that rampages and intrigues in equal measure. Barishi go straight for the jugular on the more direct tracks here, but they can also shine in softer territory, adeptly channeling Crack The Skye-era Mastodon on the title track to nicely round off a great album, with the excellent album artwork the cherry on top.

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Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape sees Black Crown Initiate further emerge from the shadow of Opeth to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the progressive death metal scene in their own right. Whilst certain songs and segments betray their influences, there is plenty more that shines as evidence of the quality musicianship and compositional skills of this group, with equal ability to write hefty mid-tempo riffs and memorable chorus hooks, and the capacity to craft quality prog songs both short and long. Black Crown Initiate weave complexity subtly into their songs, managing to play around with time signatures and off-kilter rhythms without it being distracting, and the strength of both the extreme and clean vocals further elevates the already-strong instrumentals on this impressive record.

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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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After a decade of relative consistency in style for the ever-evolving Norwegian powerhouse, Enslaved shook things up on Utgard. In addition to substantially shorter songs, the band also threw in some surprises, such as the synths on "Urjotun" and the softness of "Distant Seasons", in addition to a greater clean vocal presence from Grutle Kjellson and vocal contributions from new drummer Iver Sandøy. One thing that hasn't changed from previous efforts, however, is the high level of quality one would expect from an Enslaved record, with Utgard being yet another strong addition to one of the most extensively flawless discographies in metal.

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Fleshvessel are so new that they only have one song, but hot damn, if it isn't an absolute beast of a song. It's rare for bands to get nominated with a debut (unless they were part of other established bands), even harder with an EP. But Bile Of Man Reborn is that impressive. Its 24 minutes start off as pretty unassuming death metal that gets more into the old technical sound (complete with fretless bass), getting more progressive, and then suddenly adding chamber music full with flutes, pianos and... Puerto Rican cuatro? It shifts from balls-to-the-wall death metal to acoustic to orchestral to evocative doom as if that were the norm in metal. And even if they stayed in usual death metal waters, they'd have a pretty bomb sound, but they just had to go all the way.

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Colin Marston has been a busy bee in 2020, having produced a shitload of albums (some of which we nominated) but also among his own projects, Behold the Arctopus, Edenic Past, Encenathrakh, Indricothere, Rejoice! The Light Has Come, and Xazraug all released albums. But the one that stuck the most with us was the new Krallice, which finds the band closer to tech death than they've ever been, though not as cacophonous as some of Marston's other projects. Mass Cathexis is quite the band going full circle, from introducing these avant-garde technical tendencies into black metal to diluting them to their essence.

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Also Sprach Futura is only a four-song EP, which means that each song has to be doubly progressive to make up for the lack of space. That's why the EP opens with an organ disemboweling itself over some unnecessarily but resolutely insane cavalry march, soon waffling between vampire castle theme music and warning sounds indicating that your spaceship has taken severe damage. The riffs range from blaring sirens to croaking doom chords to exercises for restless fretting fingers; the keys could belong to a carnival or a cathedral or a quasar, depending on where in the song they fall; the clean and harsh vocals frequently tag each other in and out, matching full-bodied growl assaults with low-pitched calm. All of this is in the name of sensory overload, which somehow congeals into a coherent sound over the course of 20 minutes; for all its many details, Also Sprach Futura flows incredibly well and almost resembles one fixed piece of music that lasts longer than its compact run. The EP is short, and that's exactly why Lychgate make sure not to waste any of their time.

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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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Surprisingly for a band named after an Isis song, Wills Dissolve are not an identikit post-metal band; instead, their second album, Echoes, is a one-song extreme prog odyssey into the depths of space. To bring this journey to life, Wills Dissolve utilize ambience, melodic guitar duets, Cynic-style vocoder, and other melodic elements alongside a myriad of extreme approaches, including Opeth-esque riffing, up-tempo blasting, dissonant solos, and trudging doom. Via musical alchemy, Wills Dissolve combine these various approaches influences into gold, with "Echoes" demonstrating a level of songwriting maturity far beyond what one would expect of a sophomore effort.

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Write-in votes

Anima Tempo - Caged In Memories
Breath Of Wind - Sakura
Bull Elephant - Created From Death
Exist - Egoiista
Ignea - The Realms Of Fire And Death
Ihsahn - Telemark
Lucid Dream - 2
Luna's Call - Void
Myth Of I - Myth Of I
Obsidian Kingdom - Meat Machine
Oceans Of Slumber - Oceans Of Slumber
Protest The Hero - Palimpsest
Rina Sawayatama - Sawayatama
Slow Fall - Beneath The Endless Rains
The Reticent - The Oubliette
Wayfarer - A Romance With Violence
White Stones - Kuarahy
Xeno - Sojourn