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The Best Metalgaze Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020





Deciding not to rush things, Déluge waited five years after their debut to drop album number two, but Ægo Templo justifies the wait. Kicking off with the combination of shimmering post-rock tremolo and screamed vocals one would expect from a blackgaze band before transitioning into the onslaught of blast beats one would also expected from a blackgaze band, Ægo Templo offers a predictably charming blend of post-hardcore, black metal, and post-rock/-metal. The post-metal tendencies allow Déluge to sometimes venture into sections with more of a low-end punch, and the occasional burst of saxophone is an interesting touch, but most of what's featured here won't be surprising; it is, however, delivered in a very effective manner.

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Japanese screamo veterans Envy walk the line between post-hardcore and post-rock and end up falling into our metalgaze category with the blissful The Fallen Crimson. The math-y riffs and punky drums trade off with stretches of shimmering post-rock tremolo and otherwise dreamy soundscapes to produce something that nails the mixture of euphoria and aggression that blackgaze acts strive for, but that manages it in an entirely different manner. Envy fiddles with the balance between off-kilter intensity and melodic serenity in different ways throughout the album, enabling each song to develop its own unique identity whilst keeping what makes Envy so great at its core.

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The cover may be heretically colorful for a black metal album, but, well, we all know how much the Dutch love their flowers. And Fluisteraars have a right to parade their personality, too, for Bloem stands out even in a regional scene that has produced some noteworthy contenders of late. Bloem is a deceptively simple album: on the surface, a series of fairly orthodox black metal compositions, not too mired in instrumental overdubs, not so far removed from tradition that it would attract attention. But as its riffs loop and loop, as its foreground and background diverge, as its chord progressions achieve unexpectedly pleasant resolution, as its quirks begin to filter in through clean vocals and strange effects, Bloem reveals its secret: all that time, it was exactly as radiant and floral as its cover. It takes time and attention for any flower to blossom, but once it does, the atmosphere that it creates is unlike any other.

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Looking around at this year's MSAs alone, it's impressive to observe the numerous creative ways in which metal bands have incorporated synthesizers as a natural part of their sound, and even more so when you consider that there was once a time when artists like Dio and Van Halen sparked a debate as to whether keyboards belonged in heavy music at all. But even after having long outgrown this particularly outrageous prejudice, heavy metal has produced few musicians who have managed to weaponize their atmospheric tools quite as mercilessly as the infamous Mories. Golden Ashes tortures its synthesizers the way most black metal tortures its guitars, wreaking havoc with layers of decayed, distorted, blown-out sound that translates a soft, golden buzzing into a crumbling landscape of pain and fire. Paired with strangled shrieks and epileptic drums that fade into the background beneath the overpowering ambiance of morbid synthesis, these keys destroy as fast as they create. It's black metal, but more detached from the world; dungeon synth, only hellish and brutal.

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JJ Trainwreck's better-known involvement with Harakiri For The Sky is put through brief periods of delay in order for his focus to shift towards Karg, his similar-sounding solo project whose name has been attached to some incredibly well-received blackgaze albums in the past few years. Traktat continues this upward trend, employing the standard tropes and archetypal format that you know and love, but featuring his personal touch that appears to be incapable of replication, having mastered the art of repetition and boasting a keen instinct and adept feeling for when to push and pull on a given idea in each of his songs.

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If Black Line were a painting, it would contain all the visible and invisible colors of the spectrum. It would be a collage, an oil painting, a watercolor, a pencil drawing, and a chalcography - all at the same time. It would have been created by the common nephew of Dalí, Bacon, Gertsch, Warhol, and Munch. It would look completely different from every angle. It would stir, calm, enlighten, shock, soothe, and make the interested viewer think. The artwork would be displayed in the world's most famous museum, but also on the subway around the corner, for everyone to see. The painting would show the large Respire family, almost 15 musicians, performing their unique blend of post-rock, screamo, black metal, post-hardcore, and blackgaze. And you would see trumpets, a glockenspiel, a vibraphone, and a banjo. And musicians who are clearly having a blast doing what they do.

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The past decade has seen many metal bands focusing on black metal foundations when it comes to injecting the surreal, misty sounds of shoegaze. The Finnish one-woman band Shedfromthebody, on the other hand, throws us a curveball with what could only be described as a "doomgaze" formula that is all kinds of dreamy in its harrowing delivery. The slow-burning walls of riffs and hard-hitting drums achieve a melancholic atmosphere that is both tranquil and powerful. This is further enhanced by the vocals of Suvi Savikko, which are nothing short of ethereal in their gorgeous lullaby style. The end result is hauntingly bleak and beautiful and will serve as an ideal soundtrack for those days you desperately need to lie down, close your eyes, and float.

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A hybrid consisting of atmospheric sludge, blackgaze, and a shade of post-metal, Belgium's Sons Of A Wanted Man fit nicely with bands underneath the Deafheaven umbrella. On Kenoma, the guitar work and tone steal the show. When applied to riffs and melody, they equal very soothing aesthetics balancing gracefully with black metal's apprehension. Tremolo-picked guitar sequences slow down the pace just enough to flash post-black qualities. For a debut record, Kenoma is an acute and memorable listen featuring feelings high in melancholy and sorrow. Sons Of A Wanted Man are a band to watch for in the future.

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As We Wither is the sophomore album by the Swedish duo Together To The Stars, a band that already blew us away with their debut in our previous Metal Storm Awards. The band's heart-wrenching style of post-black metal has been amplified with even more hints of post-hardcore influences to add another emotional layer that won't leave anyone indifferent. The walls of riffs and busy drumming created by the talented David Steinmarck are nicely mixed with cathartic solos to further enhance the feeling of anguish and despair. The tragic aura of this release reaches a climax through the spectacular performance of Franco Fuentes behind the mic, who pours his soul out to the listener with his anguish-filled screams.

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The warm, tropical climate of Colombia is not one you'd normally associate with music this cold and melancholic. Urantia is here to break expectations by releasing its debut, a soundtrack to the unforgiving nature of city life. Vermis takes its sound from the first wave of bands that came in the early 2010s that mixed black metal with post-rock and shoegaze. While the songs can be very soothing during the gorgeous progressions of guitar melodies and detailed drumwork, the band certainly does not forget the black metal part of the equation once it gets going with very violent walls of riffs and pained vocal delivery. This is a tried-and-true formula, but one that works wonders for this promising new band!

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