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Clandestine Cut Of The Year - Metal Storm Awards 2020

Issue #3 Winner

After a few seconds of ominous build-up, a sickening 'bleh' is the trigger for an onslaught of furious blackened sludge in "Caustic Light", the title track of this new EP from Tennessee's Autolith. "Caustic Light" alternates between frantic blasting and slow, grim, headbangable grooves, demonstrating the range of the band's vicious, crusty sludge sound. There's a decent amount of variety across Caustic Light's five songs; "Vice Blessing" somehow fits both hardcore aggression and atmospheric sludge moments into its 144 seconds, whilst "Void (Crawl Back To Nothing)" is a slow, meaty trudge with bouts of punishing violence. The moments of breakneck savagery serve only to further elevate the impact of the slower sections, such as the bludgeoning outro of "Sprawl", which has a hint of Remission-era Mastodon to it. Rounding off the EP is something of a stark departure in "Unyielding Loss", a lengthy post-metal cut with an atypically clean sound that further displays the range of Autolith, who have announced themselves as a name worthy of attention with Caustic Light.

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Issue #12 Winner

In addition to being a kick-ass Ulthar album, Cosmovore is also the name of a German death metal project (apparently it means something like "Universe eater") of lineup unknown, but it's got Beksiński cover art, so that should attest to its quality. And indeed with the cover art and the name in consideration, it isn't surprising that Cosmovore go on the more dissonant, cosmic (which is like the next level up from cavernous) side of death metal, with suffocating atmospheres, constant blasting, and guitars and vocals that sound monolithic and otherworldly, and definitely not the benevolent kind. Their sound may not be as original as it would've been a few years ago, but they already showcase a mastery in crafting vile dissonant death metal, so much so that you almost wish the 26 minutes would make a bit more of an effort and extend into a full-length.

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Issue #2 Winner

In Victory is an international power metal band and Ecstasy Of The Enlightened is their second EP. Guitarist and songwriter Víctor 'V M-M' joins forces with vocalist Mattias Lindberg (Royal Jester, ex-ReinXeed) and Topias Kupiainen (Arion) on drums for this release, which consists of three very uplifting and energetic tracks of European power metal with keyboards and all, but with fewer of these last ones than on their debut EP, Uplifting Metal, and more emphasis on the guitars. Clocking in at just over ten minutes, it is short, direct, self-empowering, and a great motivator for when you need something to inspire you to reach your goals and overcome any obstacle. Not for the lactose-intolerant, but highly recommended for fans of Sabaton, DragonForce, Gamma Ray, and the like.

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Issue #7 Winner

You probably already know that Lamp Of Murmuur is the underground act to follow right now. They may have released their debut full-length in the last quarter of 2020 but before that they had made sure to shake the black metal waters by releasing just demos. This particular one, The Burning Spears Of Crimson Agony, is mainly one song divided in two, and both parts of "A Burning Spear To The Heart Of Dawn" reek of black metal kvltness. The fact that anyone can record with equipment that sounds as if it costs less than $2 is common knowledge, but to be able to come up with so many catchy riffs, such hellish groove, and this malevolent atmosphere is not common. And these uniquely eldritch vocals - welcome to pure fucking Armageddon.

Issue #5 Winner

Coming from the grim and frostbitten kingdom of Wiltshire, Lungtoucher doesn't rush in setting the scene on Foolish Necromancy, committing the first track of this three-song demo to an introduction piece comprising spoken-word samples, distant screams, fluid synths, and steady, atmospheric drums. When the black metal is eventually unleashed on "The Frozen Morning Star", it's the classic mid-tempo shimmer of tremolo guitars one might expect from a one-man atmo-black act, propelled along by some rather emphatic-sounding drums; although the relatively lo-fi guitar sound takes a bit of getting used to, the fat sound of the bass drums adds some fire to the mix. The tone on both "The Frozen Morning Star" and the title track is pitched nicely between sinister and sorrowful, fluctuating closer to one and then the other. The more melancholic parts are aided by some nice atmospheric synths, but Lungtoucher can shift moods just by mixing up the guitar approach; the title track starts fierce and menacing, but becomes more and more depressive and beautiful without having to rely on synths or clean vocals, building to a really satisfying finale. Overall, Lungtoucher doesn't necessarily do anything the likes of Xasthur haven't already done this century, but Foolish Necromancy is a well-paced and compelling atmo-black journey.

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Issue #10 Winner

The demise of Mar De Grises was a real loss, particularly given the lack of major activity from most of its members after they disbanded. One of the more active has been guitarist Rodrigo Morris, who started up first Mourning Sun and now Montaña Sagrada, whose first offering to the world is The Living Green. Those coming into this expecting the next step after Streams Inwards are likely to be disappointed, however, as The Living Green is an entirely different kettle of fish to the doom of Mar De Grises. At its most basic, the sound here is rooted in death metal; however, it's a rather unorthodox spin on it, with off-kilter riffs, unpredictable song progressions, and quite flamboyant keyboards as part of the background. "First Flame" is a really eye-opening introduction to Montaña Sagrada, constantly in a state of transition whilst managing to retain some sense of cohesion as it moves between about a dozen different riffs. The title track calms down both the speed and the frenetic switches in riffs, but still has more than a hint of the unusual about it with its irregular rhythms and dissonant chords. The peculiarities in Montaña Sagrada's sound will help them stand out from the crowd early on in their career, but when they venture towards more orthodox approaches, they pull them off nicely, too, such as the rolling grooves in "Clearing". Coming from musicians with pedigree, The Living Green is a highly impressive first outing for Montaña Sagrada; although it doesn't represent the reincarnation of Mar De Grises, it suggests that Morris may be capable of creating something similarly impressive with this project.

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Issue #4 Winner

A bleak, groove-laden concept EP about a person's world collapsing around them, Red Sky, the debut EP from Portugal's Nada, runs for around 25 minutes, 5 of which are taken up by acoustic ("Desassossego") and dark ambient ("Inconsciente") interludes. The remainder of the EP comprises four beastly cuts of atmospheric deathcore with vicious breakdowns, whether groovy ("Doomed") or dirge-like (experience the end of existence towards the end of "Machine"). In addition, there are a number of tasty riffs, some leaning towards more tech-y territory, as well as quieter, more contemplative stretches, such as the midsection of "Doomed", to develop a more expansive vista and add contrast to the djenty crunch of the band at full volume. Deathcore can be a love/hate genre, but for those who enjoy the mixture of vicious aggression, atmosphere, and syncopated, complex grooves that the genre can provide, Red Sky offers plenty to sink your teeth into.

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Issue #11 Winner

Belgium gave us Bütcher's 666 Goats Carry My Chariot in 2020, but did you get a chance to listen to Voices? Schizophrenia's music brings to mind the Sepultura album of the same name (even the band logo is very similar) and it features the right aggression/melody blend that we find in the late-'80s Sodom and Kreator records, with savage vocals that outright destroy. However, the Belgians' most obvious influence is Demolition Hammer, which pretty much means skull-fracturing riffs and drumming of crippling velocity. Voices doesn't try to be atmospheric or original or progressive; it just combines high-speed aggression and mid-tempo groove with devastating intensity and constitutes a brutal thrash attack from start to finish. And it is so loud that, if you hear voices in your head, they will definitely shut up.

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Issue #9 Winner

Senkhara come from the gorgeous city of Riga, the capital of Latvia. They are a female-fronted doom metal band with a very distinctive sound that stems from their love for the dark and the grotesque. The songs are based on classic doom riffs but it is the voice of frontwoman Moriah Senkhara that really gives this band the extra boost they need to not go unnoticed among the numerous acts of the same style. Her voice gives off strong Diamanda Galas vibes, and you can imagine how this characteristic helps to make the music sound more passionate, obscure, and theatrical. They also have interesting lyrics about death, suffering, witches, metal, and religion. So do not hesitate; follow them to the lair of doom and sing along with Moriah as loud as you can: "My soul is made of metal / My heart is made of steel / High voltage fills my body / Metal is made of me".

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Issue #1 Winner

Having an extreme metal band named after a Pokemon isn't very commonplace (though apparently there is another band named after the exact same Pokemon), but something about the slothful giant makes sense as an inspiration. Snorlax, like Snorlax, is massive. Snorlax, unlike Snorlax, is a barrage of doomy death riffs with plenty of black metal in the mix, and the actual mix is also one of the many reasons why II sounds so menacing and gurgly, sounding so lo-fi but without having the mud cover all the other instruments. So not only is II slimy and evil, with plenty of changes of pace and and a pretty even mix of doom, death, black and sludge, but it's also mostly just the work of a single man, including the great mix.

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Issue #6 Winner

Melodic black metal + doom + gothic + death = already too many genres intermingled? The Peaceville Three + early Katatonia + Rotting Christ + Primordial + Tribulation = too many well-known and proven influences to work out and maintain your own musical recognition value? Not necessarily. Because the secret lies in taking only the best of all influences, mixing them, twisting them, and reshaping them - and creating something new with a distinctive character out of it. A homage to the "good old days" but without growing dusty and stale, possessing a reverential awe of the scene's big names without ever sounding like a mere copy of any of their paragons - that's exactly what the Greek one-man band The Sullen has achieved.

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Issue #8 Winner

Over 4 years after the release of their first EP, and with a revamped line-up, Boston's Winter's End return with Into The Sea, 30 minutes of impressive symphonic metal. Winter's End have clearly obtained some level of reputation despite their inactivity, as Jacob Hansen (producer/master of records by Amaranthe, Volbeat, and Kamelot, amongst others) mastered Into The Sea, and the record sounds very clear and well-produced for a young band, with a strong guitar tone and anthemic synths/choirs. Also given a fair chance to shine is soprano Jessica Frost, one of two members to have remained from their previous record. Frost takes an operatic approach on Into The Sea, ably supported by the inclusion of various choirs during the record's more emphatic moments (particularly on the Kamelot-esque "A Rose In The Ice"), but the metal side isn't left completely in the shadow of the vocals. The rest of the band finds itself competing at times to be heard through the keyboards and orchestration (like in many a symphonic metal band), but the riffs generally make their presence known, whether they are power metal-oriented or more mid-tempo and chunky, and guitarist Nevin Mychal throws an enjoyable solo into the fray from time to time. Into The Sea has a far more professional-sounding production than most records that feature in Clandestine Cuts, but it really is necessary to allow all the complexities on display here to shine, and it's nice to hear a band at such a nascent stage of their journey being able to deliver something so polished and emphatic.

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