A deathcore band that often feels more "death" than "core," Whitechapel channel a sonic maelstrom of destruction on their eponymous fourth album, Whitechapel. Whitechapel is one of the few bands in the genre willing to break away from the tired riff-breakdown-rinse-repeat cycle in favor a more chaotic style that seems to throw things at you from every direction without giving you time to properly adjust. Their self-titled effort also marks the album debut of their new drummer, Ben Harclerode, who slots into the band seamlessly with drumming that's as ferocious as it is technically dazzling. For anyone turned off by deathcore in the past, Whitechapel is a band that is definitely worth checking out, and with its expansive and devastating sound, this self-titled album makes for a great jumping-off point.
Gregory Heaney, Rovi
When it was released in 1985, Slayer's second full album, Hell Awaits, seemed to many a nearly impenetrable cacophony of sound. However, it proved to be incredibly ahead of its time instead, and has since been confirmed as a mandatory item in the band's remarkable discography. Why? Well, despite its many memorable tunes, the songwriting on Slayer's 1983 debut, Show No Mercy, was firmly entrenched in blues-based punk/metal, and it wasn't until the following year's more excessive Haunting the Chapel EP that the band began adding the unusual arrangements, varying tempos, and dissonant nuances that paved the way to a wholly distinctive sound all their own. These experiments (rooted in the at once ingenious and ingenuous innovations of Venom's early work) were fleshed out even further on Hell Awaits; starting with the terrifying title track, continuing through the mesmerizing "At Dawn They Sleep," and arguably pushed over the limit of reason by the corrosive "Hardening of the Arteries." Here, the listener is introduced to a far more technical, almost progressive, side of Slayer -- a side never heard before and rarely since, for that matter. Meanwhile, comparatively straightforward thrashers like "Kill Again" and "Necrophiliac" made it plain that the group's love of pure speed remained intact, even if here, their sharp-edged riffs were often buried in overwhelming distortion. And perhaps most crucial of all, the musical backdrops unleashed by all the above (as well as equally worthy entries "Praise of Death" and "Crypts of Eternity") actually managed to inflict a true sense of horror and fear on par with their lyrics -- therefore marking Hell Awaits as the first album unmistakable as coming from anyone else but Slayer. True, it was ultimately eclipsed by its peerless successor, Reign in Blood (still largely considered the greatest thrash metal album ever recorded), as an irresistible force, but one could still make a confident point that Hell Awaits' uniquely daunting compositions arguably proved just as influential to future extreme metal acts.
Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi
Canadian hardcore punk band Cancer Bats release their fourth album Dead Set on Living, which takes a steer away from their heavier influences. Vocalist Liam Cormier revealed his lyrics for the record had been influenced by indie rock styles, notably Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues. However, this has not detracted from the band’s roaring riffs and brutal drumming, yet purveys a more upbeat feel than 2010’s Bears, Mayors, Scraps & Bones, with tracks “Bricks and Mortar” and single “Old Blood” touching postitive themes of friendship, as well as an underlying anger that nestles throughout., Rovi
With Scumdogs of the Universe, Gwar gave its followers exactly what they wanted: brutally aggressive guitars, abrasive vocals and gross, perverted lyrics. As twisted as songs like "Maggots," "Vlad the Impaler," and "Slaughterama" are, Gwar is never genuinely scary, but rather humorous and goofy. One of the most amusing tracks is the opener, "The Salaminizer," which finds thrash's equivalent of Spinal Tap doing a takeoff on N.W.A's gangsta rap anthem "Gangsta Gangsta." The whole thing is very tongue-in-cheek, and in fact, Gwar never intended to be anything more than a parody of thrash and death metal. But ironically, some headbangers actually took it seriously and exalted Oderous & Co. as the ultimate thrash band. Outrageously entertaining, Scumdogs is Gwar's crowning achievement.
Alex Henderson, Rovi
As I Lay Dying offer album number four with new bassist Josh Gilbert, who replaces Clint Norris (who left to get married and settle down). An Ocean Between Us offers several new aspects in the band's sound: the churning hardcore is still very much at the center of the band's sound, as are the twin lead guitars of Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso. Tim Lambesis is still the growling, razorbladed behemoth he always was, but Gilbert now offers melodic vocals on some choruses, effectively widening the band's reach even if it takes fans a while to get used to it. "Forsaken" will probably be the greatest shock, with its purely melodic, even majestic classic metal intro. The fury comes, to be sure, but not until a full minute in, and the opening riffs sound like outtakes from Metallica's Ride the Lightning LP -- by the time of the chorus, with Gilbert singing melodically, the listener will wonder whose record is on the spinner. There are far more trademark moments on the set as well, such as the title cut, which begins at 95-mph and ramps up to 120 and is pure pummeling power. "Wrath Upon Ourselves" will delight the faithful as well with its knotty stomp-and-start fury -- though the choruses, with the same kinds of melodic vocals, may disturb some. Change is inevitable in music as well as in everything else. The elements that made As I Lay Dying such a successful thrashing metallic unit are still in place; they are the marrow in the band's sound. These new developments reveal one thing: As I Lay Dying's members understand that progress is necessary for satisfaction and survival. The writing for this recording is an entire notch up -- more sophisticated yet utterly unpretentious -- and this new textural element in their sound feels natural and welcome.
Thom Jurek, Rovi
Out of control and savagely relentless, Hate Eternal continue to show why Florida is the undisputed home of death metal on their fifth album, Phoenix Amongst the Ashes. From the outset, the intro track, “Rebirth,” almost feels like a bait and switch, a false smile to reassure listeners that everything is going to be all right before the band pulls the rug out from underneath them with the suffocating heaviness of “The Eternal Ruler.” From then on, the album rampages to the end, taking no prisoners along the way and leaving no bit of sonic real estate unfilled. It’s this busy feeling that dominates the album, with the band cramming so much into every moment that the songs feel not only menacing, but inescapable. For the most part, the only respite that’s to be found on the album comes from the momentary gaps between tracks, giving listeners a second of stark silence to gather themselves up before the next assault comes. While it might seem like this kind of pacing would be exhausting, Hate Eternal have a deep enough bag of heavy metal tricks that the album never feels formulaic, placing just enough breakdowns and solos throughout the album to break things up, but not frequently enough that the songs become predictable. For those looking to bring a little intensity back into their lives, seek no further.
Gregory Heaney, Rovi