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The Best Djent / Math Metal - Metal Storm Awards 2020





Born from Extol and The Dillinger Escape Plan members, Azusa infuses technical trash into mathcore, complete with a guest spot from Testament's Alex Skolnick. The approach sees plenty of moments of jazz chaos, and although the thrash brings a more streamlined approach that grounds it a bit, as much as mathcore can be streamlined, its bizarro atmosphere cannot be diminished, and it falls under the commanding presence of the sometimes beautiful vocals of Eleni Zafiriadou.

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Cloudkicker belongs to a strong djentsphere tradition of instrumental solo projects with mantelpiece-worthy guitar work and an abiding concern for mood, but Ben Sharp often takes his prolific project in a heavier direction than many of his peers. Sharp likes to sink his teeth into a good breakdown, and while he isn't necessarily more technical than similar artists in this category, the thick chugging and aggressive melodies have a way of linking Cloudkicker's skill showcases to more extreme variants of metal. Still, like any good Cloudkicker album, Solitude isn't all about heaviness or complexity for its own sake - it spends a lot of time exploring where each musical idea can lead it, with many tracks beginning to taste like post-metal after long stretches of big riffs and pummeling rhythms. Solitude was written and recorded in the solitude of last year's isolation, and it reflects this with its wistful aura, but Sharp is a keen riffsmith and never lets his writing or his feelings get in the way of each other.

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TesseracT frontman Daniel Tompkins takes a step towards the sound of his main project on his second solo album. Ruins is a re-imagining of his debut solo record, Castles, and whilst some of the electronic/art rock of that album is carried over here, Ruins is a darker and heavier beast, with plenty of sections with meaty djent guitar work, particularly on songs such as "Ruins" and "Stains Of Betrayal". Featuring guest appearances from Matt Heafy (Trivium) and fellow nominee Plini, Ruins is an emotionally charged and impeccably composed record that sees Tompkins benefit from taking advantage of aspects of the style he is most prominently associated with.

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In a sound that has been pushed forward by previous MSA nominees Frontierer, a more concise and direct version is brought courtesy of Fawn Limbs, with guest contributions and mixing from Frontierer members. Sleeper Vessels is mathcore that is balls-to-the-walls heavy, but imbued with just enough jazzy interludes, glitchy electronics, and sludgy feedback to make the damn thing a bit more than heavy and chaotic for the sake of heaviness and chaos. And all of it in 28 short minutes.

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Concept albums can be a tricky thing to tackle as an instrumental solo artist. Paul Wardingham, of course, has more than enough practice expressing his ideas without lyrics, as one of the most capable and accomplished guitarists in the world of instrumental prog metal. His baleful choruses, crushing industrial thrash riffs, and precisely calculated solo runs shape images of a futuristic wasteland, a post-apocalyptic world beyond repair and overrun by infected hordes. Maybe you feel like you've had enough of being a ragged survivor in a harsh nightmare world, but Paul Wardingham's incredible guitar marathon will teach you how to make this life worth living.

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"Do we still call these djent?" asks our review of Plini's Impulse Voices. Well, it's true that after a certain point we have to let go of our happy-go-lucky guitar virtuosos and let them lie in prog or math rock or wherever it is that they belong, but Plini, for one, knows how to throw down some heavy slabs of resounding, metallic riffs beneath all of the light, jazzy noodling that he delights in. And beyond that, it's still important to appreciate how much of a pillar he is for this corner of the music world; his eminently tasteful leads, relaxed sound, smooth tone, and instinctual musicality have made him stand out amongst his contemporaries. Impulse Voices is only his second full-length album, but it's proof enough that Plini is a beacon to the hip-shredder-led instrumental math rock/prog metal scene.

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The whole concept of "djent" and/or "math metal" can be highly ambiguous, and this quasi-genre's continuous divergence from and convergence with prog, math rock, post-rock, hardcore, and Meshuggah is well-documented, but there is far less precedent for black metal bands like Serpent Column getting in on the fun. Endless Detainment almost has to be heard to be believed, because the trebly, tremolo-picked, and vile-sounding riffs, wicked screeches, and high-velocity percussion of black metal don't seem to fit on paper with the bulky low end, obsessive technicality, and characteristic loudness of djent, but there it is: high-gain, polyrhythmic riffs that slam off-time into blastbeat-fed waterfalls of harsh noise, followed by sloppy, evil thrash outgrowths that accumulate temporal complexity and huge bass boosts - there's even some hardcore energy and slamming for good measure. Once again, metal is evolving right before our ears.

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More than most styles, mathcore/math metal is known for exuberance and unpredictability, and Kollaps lives up to that reputation. Yes, there are mind-bendingly complex rhythms, incredibly intricate guitar work, bursts of sharp-edged aggression, high-pitched shrieks, Einar Solberg-esque cleans (Leprous in general feels like a clear influence in some of the softer portions of the album)... but the rapping, death metal dirges, System Of A Down-style freakouts, and classical detours are perhaps less anticipated, and there's plenty more where that came from. Beyond the surprises, The Hirsch Effekt have songwriting talent to keep things interesting; the guitar noodling is regularly satisfying, the balance between aggression and softer detours is very well-judged, the cleaner moments are evocative, and the harsher parts of Kollaps find a good balance between intricacy and groove. Kollaps is wildly varied, joyfully eclectic, and yet very intelligently crafted.

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Frenetic mathcore at its finest, The Motion Mosaic jump from bludgeoning off-kilter grooves or thrashy bursts to blast beats or contorted guitar riffs at the drop of a hat. Ever-moving and ever-changing, Avant-Garbage is a dizzying listen, but is anchored by quality vocal hooks and an ability to write compelling clean sections to contrast the aural assault that comes in the heavier stretches of the album. Following nicely in the footsteps left by The Dillinger Escape Plan, amongst others, The Motion Mosaic can be almost overwhelming at times, but Avant-Garbage finds an ideal balance between their varying facets, both extreme and melodic.

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An impressive prog/math debut from German quartet Woomera, Caustics Of A Tidal Spirit ventures further into progressive metal territory than a lot of the math nominations in this category, with songs sprawling beyond the 10-minute mark; however, the technical, convoluted rhythms and hefty djent grooves that define the category it finds itself in are present throughout. There's a hint of Cedric Bixler-Zavala or perhaps Claudio Sanchez to the nasal high-pitched cleans of frontman Simon Besenthal in his louder moments, but he can also croon softly or scream when necessary, effectively matching the tone of the surrounding music as it shifts between bouncy bass-heavy grooves, down periods of quiet ambience or clean guitar work, and crunchier moments of aggression. Diverse but reliably satisfying, Caustics Of A Tidal Spirit is a delightfully vibrant album that promises bright things to come from Woomera.

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