American War Machine
Boston
Unholy War | April 12 | Bridge Nine Records
RIYL: Squad goals. “The A-Team.” “M*A*S*H.”

“Some people see [our] name and instantly think [we’re] fascists,” American War Machine guitarist Craig Silverman notes. “Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s so much blind faith in a system that is proven to be corrupt. It makes zero sense to me. We touch on the silliness of the American political system without being too heavy-handed about it, as well as the horrors of war.” In that sense, they’re like a hardened, bitter version of “M*A*S*H,” rallying against the absurdity of war and politics yet not afraid to have a good time in the process. Founded by members of Blood For Blood, Agnostic Front, Slapshot, and more, American War Machine are every bit the East Coast hardcore punk A-Team, bringing together the best of the scene to form a band who aren’t afraid to kick ass and sound great doing it. Their debut LP, Unholy War, is hardcore at its most efficient: raw, relentless, and furious. Yet, the members’ collective talents show they are clearly having fun despite it all, and that’s where the album truly shines.

Asthma Castle
Baltimore
Mount Crushmore | March 15 | Hellmistress Records
RIYL: Sand. Beer. Metal family vacations.

We all could use a vacation to break free from the frustrations of the day-to-day—just some time at the beach with a drink in our hand. Asthma Castle is a metaphorical getaway for the band’s lineup; featuring members of Pig Destroyer, Misery Index, and Integrity, the project is like a sandcastle-building exercise for rifflords. “We just want use this [band] as a vehicle to escape,” guitarist Justin Ethem states. “We’re trying to be the sonic equivalent of day-drinking at the beach or something,” he laughs. Though their debut LP, Mount Crushmore, may not initially sound suited for beachside relaxation, there’s a sonic comfort that just oozes from the speakers. This heavy rock-sludge hybrid is the musical incarnation of that first sip of a margarita. Harmonized leads, driving rhythms, and delightful low-end riffs are the name of the game, and few bands can match Asthma Castle’s ability to exert a calm control over the proceedings. Mount Crushmore is a sandy altar to the almighty riff. Come one, come all—bow down and relax, dudes.

Cabana Wear
Philadelphia & New Jersey
Cabana Wear | March 15 | Sludge People
RIYL: Swim trunks. Tiki drinks. Self-awareness.

Photo by Gianna Vadino

When an album begins with a killer hook about throwing up, you know there’s quite the party afoot. Indeed, with a name evoking a beachside hut and stunner shades, Cabana Wear are the sonic embodiment of a relaxed yet incredible summer party. However, there’s much more going on within their self-titled debut LP than simple surface-level shenanigans. “The last song, ‘Where I Am,’ I think is a good culmination of the silly and soul-bearing,” vocalist and guitarist Brian Mietz states. “In the end, it’s about really just trying to be the best person you can be every day. Wake. Pray. Slay.” That’s a hell of a mantra, but it showcases the self-reflection and self-awareness that are the key to Cabana Wear’s success. This is a record imbued with sunny smiles in the way only the best power pop is—think an even cheerier version of Weezer’s Blue Album. Cabana Wear is peak summer jams.

Downhaul
Richmond, Virginia
Before You Fall Asleep | March 29 | Refresh Records
RIYL: Growing up. Getting down. Slappin’ da bass.

When a band have something unique and extra special, it’s typically at the forefront of their sound, not an important nuance. However, one of Downhaul’s best aspects is subtle—and delightfully out of place when compared with other like-minded bands. Vocalist and guitarist Gordon Phillips puts it succinctly: “Pat [Davis]’s bass parts are a huge component of our sound, and I think his playing is largely informed by punk and ska. Most bands that sound similar to us don’t have busy bass parts or actual ‘basslines’ as a core tenet of their music. Pat loves fills.” Davis stands out because his slaphappy yet tasteful approach really does feel like he’s playing in a ska punk band rather than an emotionally-resonant emo ensemble, which helps Downhaul’s heartfelt and exceptionally fucking fantastic songs about coming to grips with the person you’ve become avoid ever lapsing into sappiness. Their debut LP, Before You Fall Asleep, is emo punk for those who are willing to let their hair down while shedding a tear—or five.

Drug Apts
Sacramento, California
Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances | March 23 | Mt.St.Mtn.
RIYL: Midcentury modern. Mod punks. Balancing acts.

Photo by Cam Evans

Clean Living… is a rock ’n’ roll record, period,” Drug Apts drummer Mike Thiemann states matter-of-factly. He’s right in the sense that Drug Apts’ debut album is as bold and daring as the legendary rock ’n’ roll classics, but it would be completely unfair to lump anything on this lively and lovely record in with current rock radio. Named after the midcentury modern complexes in their hometown and having chosen a record title that references the Mod Father himself, Peter Meaden, this Sacramento act could be out of place in the modern world; however, one listen to Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances offers a complete picture of how impressive the band’s balancing act is. Whitney Kebschull’s dexterous and ambitious vocals only tell half the story, as Drug Apts’ blend of art punk, garage rock, grunge, and even ’80s hardcore is as wild as it is easy to love. They are a band who have a lot to say, but they’ve carefully considered their words before delivering this killer first speech. For those interested in visceral punk masterpieces, Drug Apts deliver.

Ioanna Gika
Los Angeles
Thalassa | April 5
| Sargent House
RIYL: Greek tragedies. Religious experiences. Being human.

Photo by Jordan Levy

Thalassa is moving in a way that only the best albums dare to capture, like a tide that takes you on a journey, though you only realize how far you’ve gone when you look back at the shore. The throbbing, shapeshifting soundscapes mixed with spiritually-resonant vocals creates a haunting soundtrack to the breadth of human experience. Calling Ioanna Gika’s debut solo album a resounding, rousing success minimizes the lengths to which the record goes to offer constant surprises. “The idea of change is a constant that runs throughout the album,” Gika says. “I wanted to reflect life’s way of taking sharp left turns through drastic sonic shifts, both between songs and within a single one in some instances.” Indeed, Thalassa—named after the Greek primeval spirit of the sea—is hard to pin down but easy to get swept up in. Through the sea of emotions and bold, shifting synth-pop beats, one can feel the loss and existential despair just as easily as the hope and perseverance. Gika’s debut is a powerful, crashing sonic wave.

Nightmarathons
Pittsburgh
Missing Parts | March 29 | A-F Records
RIYL: Basement shows. Upbeat nightmares. Community.

Missing Parts isn’t missing a damn thing. It’s one of those albums that transports the listener back to high school and those local Friday night shows, evoking the intensely fun feeling from those old haunts where you screamed along to loud punk songs with your closest friends. Nightmarathons feature a host of scene veterans trying to recreate that late ’90s, early ’00s melodic punk fever dream, but Missing Parts is no nightmare. Big riffs and bigger hooks are de rigueur here, but there’s a pervasive energy and enthusiasm that leaves you with the biggest shit-eating grin possible. “I like to party. I also have a lot going on in my brain all the time. Boom: Nightmarathons,” vocalist and guitarist Corey laughs. Missing Parts isn’t all fun and games; the album reflects on personal, political, and existential frustrations, but that isn’t what sticks with you after you’ve spun it 17 consecutive times—but who’s counting? These are expertly-crafted, nostalgic tunes by and for those who want to shout about the world in a basement together. It’s a punk party.

Red Mass
Montréal, Québec
Kilrush Drive | March 22 | No Coast Records & Label Etiquette
RIYL: Transformers. Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Charles Darwin.

When looking at art, we often focus more on our personal enjoyment of it than on how and why it was created. In essence, function is seen as more important than form. However, Red Mass excel in large part due to their visionary form—and the function happily follows. Created by Roy Vucino as part of the “Free Creative Enterprise” TA DA arts collective, the group purposefully transform, morph, and evolve over time. The goal is simple in theory but staggeringly impressive in execution: create art regardless of scene, genre, or even members. Each Red Mass record is imbued with a punk ethos and certain chaos magic ideals, so that the function stays the same, but the form is in constant flux. That freedom is liberating, making Red Mass a sort of mythical creature that takes on whatever structure it wishes. “Switching it up a lot keeps it interesting for ourselves,” Vucino states. “I think it’s beneficial to be flexible and allow change in oneself. It can push us to have a better understanding of others. Realizing how my tastes have changed over the years has allowed me to question and alter my own views and habits more readily as well.” The success of Red Mass’ first official LP, Kilrush Drive, is a product of this liberated viewpoint, but the invigorating potion of various punk styles is equally potent. Here, form and function collate into something magical.

SÂVER
Oslo, Norway
They Came With Sunlight | March 8 | Pelagic Records
RIYL: Philosophy. Being ice cold. Bad analogies.

The prophet André 3000 once posited, “What’s cooler than being cool?” SÂVER ponder a different question: “What’s heavier than being heavy?” So, what do Outkast and SÂVER have in common? Little except for the desire to push boundaries and deliver exhilarating music. At first blush, their debut, They Came With Sunlight, traffics in the kind of murky, grandiose post-metal that Pelagic Records specialize in. To be sure, this is gloriously crushing sludge of the highest order. However, SÂVER also utilize a greater sense of balance and atmosphere, and where they really push the boundaries of post-metal is in their fairly liberal use of background synth and foreground melody. In a post-“Stranger Things” world, everyone is bringing back the keyboard, but SÂVER’s wonderfully novel use of eerie, haunting synths only increases their heaviness tenfold. “We wanted to create an album that is challenging for the listener and to push the limits of what’s heavy, sound-wise,” bassist and vocalist Ole Christian Helstad notes. It’s this mix of the haunting and the harrowing that truly elevates SÂVER’s sound, resulting in an intoxicating immensity that is meant to be savored.

Section H8
Los Angeles
Phase One EP | March 29 | Flatspot Records
RIYL: Diversity. Free thought. Unity through hatred

Photo by Joe Calixto

Section H8: Population… Five, but they’re happy to accept immigrants. Applicants must be willing to think freely, embrace diversity, and H8 the state of the world. Also, and very importantly, they must love enraged, lively metallic hardcore. This storied land’s mission statement is clear: “Section H8 is about friendship and telling the truth,” vocalist Mexi says. “The five of us are very close friends, so doing this together feels good, because it’s more of a gang than a band. In a world full of manipulation, posturing, and phony nonsense, we are the band that will never lie to you.” The national anthems on Section H8’s debut EP, Phase One, traffic in a wild and varied style, mixing New York hardcore, grind, and Japanese metallic hardcore in equal measure. It all results in a riveting short burst of excitement—roughly eight and a half minutes in total—that will unite listeners through a shared hatred of humanity and a willingness to throw the fuck down in the pit.

Sermon
London
Birth of the Marvellous | March 22 | Prosthetic Records
RIYL: Being inquisitive. Obtaining balance. Warmth.

Everything about Sermon’s debut LP is centered on attaining perfect equilibrium. The anonymous collective have crafted a brilliantly balanced sound, birthed from varied ideas melded together masterfully. Katatonia, Porcupine Tree, and A Perfect Circle are all clear reference points, but Birth of the Marvellous is somehow more diverse, leaning on both aggressive extreme metal tendencies and wistful prog ambiance. It’s a religious experience in itself how Sermon speak their sonic symmetry into action, but their thematic gospel speaks even louder. Founded on the principle of preaching theological and spiritual balance, Sermon have no religious bias; they are simply staring into the abyss and searching for answers. This open-minded methodology leads to more questions than answers, but the collective are just fine with that. “I suppose it’s a kind of agnostic view,” they share, “a nondefinitive belief. I like this idea of everyone being born unknowing—i.e. until another human being has informed you of anything, you may never wonder about a god or you may wonder if there is. The ultimate view being that if you remember this starting point of unknowing, accusing someone of being right, wrong, good, and evil in terms of organized religion doesn’t really feel logical anymore.” If that sounds like a work in progress, that’s exactly the point, as Sermon’s mission is to stay open to being proven right or wrong based on experience. Ultimately, it’s about connection and warmth, and Birth of the Marvellous radiates that message vividly.

Skryptor
Brooklyn, New York
Luminous Volumes | March 29 | Sleeping Giant Glossolalia, Aqualamb, & SKiN GRAFT Records
RIYL: Meeting your heroes. Imagination. Childhood ghost stories.

Photo by Millie Benson


The tale of Luminous Volumes is like an onion, unfolding layer after layer of interesting details. The outer layer is Skryptor’s inception, when drummer Hank Shteamer was able to start a band with members of his favorite ’90s acts, Tim Garrigan of Dazzling Killmen and David McClelland of craw. Next is the eagerly anticipated visual component of all Aqualamb releases: this time, a series of illustrated horror stories from McClelland and friends, which are reminiscent of M. R. James and those enchanting tales of childhood terror, “Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark.” The next three layers, really, are how damn enjoyable Skryptor’s brand of instrumental prog post-hardcore is. Imbued with the playfulness of Led Zeppelin, Melvins, The Jesus Lizard, Yes, and Black Sabbath—just to name a few—their debut, Luminous Volumes, speaks volumes, even without a vocalist. It’s a shimmering, boldly visual album, and these aural pictures contrast with the aforementioned terror: Skryptor are more sci-fi action than horror at their musical heart. The songs are bluesy, punky, melodic, and introspective without ever trying to broadcast how intricate they are. It’s prog music for those who don’t want to do math while rocking out. “To me, this record is a little bit out-of-time,” McClelland mentions. “I think it could have come out anytime in the last 30 years, maybe. What I really wanted to do was make an album that resonates with listeners in the specific way that a handful of records have resonated with me since I was a kid.” He’s spot-on. This is one tasty musical onion.

Twin Temple
Los Angeles
Twin Temple Bring You Their Signature Sound… Satanic Doo-Wop | March 1 | Rise Above Records
RIYL: “Blue Velvet.” Black Mass. Turquoise kitchen appliances.

Twin Temple’s unique vision is carefully crafted for maximum cognitive dissonance. Their Satanic retelling of the ’50s is electric, playing upon images of the perfect nuclear family and the submissive, doting wife to wonderful effect. The playful, lively doo-wop of their first LP conjures a retrofitted version of the decade: a dainty wife committing glorious ritual sacrifice instead of preparing a nice dinner for her philandering—ahem, dreamy—husband. The strangeness, the otherness of their creation is just stunning, recalling the aesthetic of David Lynch’s classic “Blue Velvet” and the seedy underbelly that lies beneath the flawless veneer. It also helps that vocalist and Twin Temple High Priestess Alexandra James has a spot-on femme fatale voice. If you zone out from the liberated, feminist lyrics—but why would you?—you’ll feel completely transported to a different world altogether. “I think cognitive dissonance is a powerful tool to heighten reality,” James asserts. “We do take our art deadly seriously, but we also don’t take ourselves deadly seriously. Personally, I feel like it’s meant to be a pleasurable experience to enjoy art. We like to incorporate a sense of play, a subversive humor. Nothing is sacred nor profane to us. Nothing is true; everything is permitted. We try to demolish any kind of preconceived stereotypes and boring societal commandments, including those that dictate what art ‘has’ to be.”

Undead Prophecies
…The Void?
Sempiternal Void | March 22 | Listenable Records

RIYL: Summoning demons. Worshiping the Old Gods. Snazzy cloaks.

Without trying, Undead Prophecies are the Tenacious D of death metal: Their second album, Sempiternal Void, isn’t the greatest death metal album in the world… It’s just a tribute. That last part is unembellished. Literally cloaked in secrecy, Undead Prophecies consist of five mysterious individuals who have created a record dripping with the spirit of what made the ancient gods so special. Death, Morbid Angel, Possessed, Massacre, and even Edge Of Sanity could be namedropped, but none of that gets at why this album is so singular. Indeed, Undead Prophecies have conjured the actual souls of those Old Death Metal Gods, invoking and imbuing their retro-death with the feel of the classics while also coloring outside the lines. Sempiternal Void is an incredible tribute to the masters who birthed death metal and may even prove that earlier statement wrong: only time will tell if it is the greatest death metal album in the world. Regardless, it will easily go down as one of the most enjoyable and downright nasty examples in recent years. Wisely, Undead Prophecies’ lyrical concepts echo their musical darkness. “We want to illustrate the mortuary walk initiated by mankind with this album,” vocalist King Oscuro notes, “a hopeless and endless circle to the void.” Sempiternal Void may be circling the drain lyrically, but musically, it’s ascending to a new plane of death metal existence.

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