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The Best Extreme Progressive Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2021





Using saxophone in a black metal context has already run the course from “avant-garde” to “cliché,” but Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa’s Corrupted Pillars Of Vanity does a lot more with the instrument than simply dropping it in for a dissonant solo during some downtime; sax is fully integrated into the band’s already weird brand of progressive black metal. You could expect from that description to hear notes of Ihsahn or maybe some more psyched-out vibrations a la Oranssi Pazuzu, and you will, but what you might not expect is a lot Gojira influence - the crushing, grooving, pick-scrape-and-harmonic-laden chugs are unmistakable and they play with unanticipated aptitude in this (and then don't forget about that saxophone). Corrupted Pillars Of Vanity is still not as avant-garde as the sound that results whenever anybody tries to pronounce Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa, but it's definitely one of the more unorthodox albums you'll hear in this year's MSAs.

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On Atvm’s debut, Famine, Putrid And Fucking Endless, every single note seems to be in the right place, and - while progressive - the album never gets self-indulgent. The musicians play their music technically, yet unpretentiously; from multiple tempo and time signature changes, to various rhythm choices, to breaks and chugs and melodic gorgeousness, they seamlessly combine all their stylistic elements into a sound that is predominantly death metal, but not exclusively. The album carries many thrash metal elements and boasts a lot of groove and headbangability, while also favouring melody in rather large amounts. While there is a hefty number of different riffs and impressive sections on display, they are all given enough time to unfold and be absorbed by the listener so that the technicality does not become overwhelming. It is old-school in the sense that it worships the riff but it also sounds modern and innovative.

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As far as bold moves in music go, sticking ‘2’ on the end of your most celebrated record and giving your upcoming album that title is up there with the best. Between The Buried And Me set expectations sky-high when they announced Colors II, but the outcome could not have worked out better. Exhibiting a gung-ho vitality that hasn’t quite been there for most of the past decade, BTBAM justified the album title, not only by including plenty of easter eggs and analogies to the original record on Colors II, but by assembling a gargantuan ensemble of music that is as eclectic, intense, and ethereal as the best work from the band’s catalogue.

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Damn, what a difference do three years make. Burial In The Sky came to prominence in 2018 with their album Creatio Et Hominus, a concept album that was pretty disjointed and half-baked, but that featured the same saxophonist (actually a band member here) from River Of Nihil's Where Owls Know My Name. Fast-forward three years and we have The Consumed Self, a concept album that is tight and beautifully orchestrated, with an extended roaster of session musicians performing everything from theremin to tuba, with the aforementioned saxophone being even better integrated in the album's soundscape. But all of this is fluff around the core, and the core is that Burial In The Sky create some amazingly hard-hitting prog/tech death. And the fluff is good, too.

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Canadian tech death legend Phil Tougas and his friends, Canadian tech death legends First Fragment, welcome Canadian tech death legend Dominic "Forest" Lapointe to their lineup for an album that has already become the stuff of Canadian tech death legend. It's impressive enough that such a huge percentage of all Canadian tech death legendry is concentrated entirely on Gloire Éternelle, and it gets even better hearing how Forest's sighing strings bless the band with a fretless festival of rich creamery butter - but even having the best bass work and some of the tightest instrumentation of any nominee in this year's Metal Storm Awards isn't all that makes First Fragment's second album stand out from the crowd, for they have moved far beyond merely technical death metal. This band of unearthly skill pushes its textural and tonal variety to the very limits, exploring fathomless expanses of instrumental opportunity with surgical sophistication and painterly delicacy. You may think you've heard all that metal can do, but you don't know the first fragment.

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For To Where The Light Retreats, Hannes Grossmann recruited his Alkaloid bandmates, bassist Linus Klausenitzer (ex-Obscura) and guitarist Danny Tunker (ex-Aborted, ex-God Dethroned), while Christian Münzner (who recently rejoined Obscura) also provided some solos. Vocals were handled by Dark Fortress and Triptykon member V. Santura. The impression one gets from the album is that a group of talented musicians got together to perform songs without resorting to wankery. The intricate leads are appropriately spaced out and give room for memorable riffs, groove, and hooks. There is not much of that chaotic element that tech death is famous for and, while the songwriting is progressive and creative, the album sounds cohesive and very well orchestrated. Fans of both extreme and progressive metal, waste no time; make your way To Where The Light Retreats and you won't be disappointed.

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Just because Jón Aldará was already the singer of two excellent bands doesn’t mean he couldn’t take on a third project – especially if that project is Iotunn, whose debut album is teeming with opportunities for the Faroese frontman to put his vocal versatility to great use. Much of Access All Worlds plays out like a rich, insulated melodeath album, pushed along by many-tracked lead guitar harmonies and thunderous drum beats, though the pace will sometimes dash forward into a hard rain of black metal or slow for the soulful swells of wailing doom, which is where Aldará excels the most thanks to his drop-dead gorgeous cleans. Iotunn also have their eyes turned to the stars (hoping to access all worlds, no doubt): cosmic synths and a smattering of soft, reflective passages elevate this album to a new plane of galactic contemplation.

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Once very much a tech death band, Rivers Of Nihil take the "progressive" part of "progressive death" to heart, as they’re onto record four and already trying their hand at acoustic prog. Of course, that’s only on a couple of songs; this is a weighty metal album, with bursts of tech death, djent, and other forms of extremity to contrast the increasingly melodic approach of Rivers Of Nihil. The album is dominated by its delectable guitar solos, as well as the return of the saxophone and some very tasteful electronics, all of which contribute to the unique musical vision Rivers Of Nihil exhibit on The Work.

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There’s not many tech death albums that open with an epic folk metal guitar melody, and there’s not many that place as much emphasis on melodic black metal as Impermanence. Still, when technicality has long since become normalized within extreme metal, these unorthodox combinations allow the Obscura-esque prog/tech death sound that has emerged on Stortregn’s latest album to forge a satisfying niche, one that prioritizes memorability and the epic whilst featuring a blistering workout on the drums and some delightfully theatrical guitar technicality.

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Who would've guessed that members of Horrendous and Crypt Sermon would form a band that sounds almost nothing like their original bands? It's not very easy to put a definite genre tag on Ward Of Roses, as The Silver create some Ihsahn-esque prog/post-black metal with some really strong goth rock undercurrents. There's a lot of interplay between the harrowing black metal shrieks of Nick Duchemin and the melodic goth cleans of Matt Knox, which builds upon the already expansive sound that moves between scorching black metal, goth-tinged melodies, and bass-heavy prog grooves.

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