DEATH PILL – Death Pill

Combining elements of hardcore punk, classic thrash metal, a little crust/d-beat intensity and the attitude of the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90s, Death Pill are genuine musical force. Throughout this debut full length, the Ukrainian three piece appear musically diverse, and although the way they jump between hardcore punk and thrash-based metal might sometimes seem as if they’re splitting loyalties between two audiences, in reality, their sound is a perfect crossover.

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BLACKLAB – In A Bizarre Dream

Blacklab’s debut album ‘Under The Strawberry Moons’ was – and remains – a brilliantly intense listen. By taking classic stoner and doom riffs and layering them with distortion, the noise making duo hit upon a sound that fused elements of Acid King and Boris with the ugly sonic textures of Melvins. By then layering that with extra distortion and adding a semi-detached, distinctly Japanese vocal, the album became bigger than the sum of its parts; a sludgy yet strangely alluring listen that really raised the bar for massive, dark – and sometimes ugly – riffs.

Their follow up, 2020’s ‘Abyss’, flaunted a slightly different guitar tone in places, but didn’t skim on the intensity. In toning down the bass in more than a few places, it actually made Blacklab seem even more uncompromising as they continued to wheel out their massive slabs of distortion. Also by cranking the speed in a couple of places (as with ‘Forked Road’, one of the record’s stand out tracks), it showed the band as being capable of tackling some seriously intense garage punk, which provided a superb counterpart to their doom laden core.

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SHOOTING DAGGERS – Manic Pixie Dream Girl / Missandra

Describing themselves as a queercore/feminist hardcore band and taking huge cues from the 90s riot grrrl movement and classic hardcore, Shooting Daggers pull no punches. Initially, their work seems to present something of a sidestep for the New Heavy Sounds label, whose main stock has previously tended to veer towards the doomy, but it really doesn’t take long to realise why they’ve signed this act. On this two track release, their riffs are massively intense; their personal views are as direct and important as the riffs themselves and the messages cannot be – and should not be – ignored. This is a burst of pure, necessary anger; a release that ups the ante for the style, and for the UK hardcore scene as a whole.

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EMBR – 1021 EP

On their debut album ‘1823’, US metal band EMBR wasted no time in introducing their talents with a heavy riff. Across its seven songs, there were strong callbacks to doom and sludge greats like Crowbar jostling with flourishes that suggested a love of the darker side of the grunge and goth movements. Unlike so many other similar releases was a strong melodic core, helped no end by some great vocal performances from Crystal Bigelow. The band closed the year with a surprise covers EP, ‘Idolatory’, which further showcased their natural abilities for heavy sounds, as well as a love for some of Seattle’s finest exports. After that release, there was no doubt that this would be a band to watch out for in the future.

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EMBR – Idolatry EP

Alabaman riff merchants Embr have been cranking out heavy grooves since 2015, but the release of their ‘1823’ full length on the New Heavy Sounds label really helped to elevate their profile. The album’s selection of intense riffs combined with a clean-ish female vocal presented a brilliant contrast between pure doom and great melodies, suggesting talents that could not only rival the UK’s own Witch Charmer, but possibly even help fill the massive void left by the much missed Black Moth. A filler free forty minutes, ‘1823’ is the kind of metal album that deserves to be heard by everyone.

The close of 2020 brought something of a surprise when, completely out of the blue, Embr shared a covers EP via Bandcamp. ‘Idolatry’ brings together four classic tracks from four classic 90s bands – a couple of which can be heard with new ears once redressed in Embr’s heavier clothes.

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