July was an excellent month for metal and hardcore new releases. Some of this new music came from long-running, established groups like Sevendust and Voivod. Other notable releases came from new artists surging on the scene, like black metal solo project Blackbraid and metalcore supergroup Better Lovers. Read on to explore some of the best heavy music had to offer, ranging from atmospheric black metal to melodic alternative metal.
The Zenith Passage – Datalysium
This Los Angeles band, whose lineup includes three former members of The Faceless, is back. Founding guitarist Justin McKinney takes inspiration from film scores, which gives The Zenith Passage its cinematic, guitar-centered sound. Their new album Datalysium has the sound of something bigger than itself. In particular, track five “Deletion Cult” conveys that massive, film score aesthetic. The fast-paced fretwork and technical skill has even drawn some comparisons to Necrophagist. (If you haven’t listened to that band yet, their only two albums, Onset of Putrefaction and Epitaph, are both death metal classics).
The Zenith Passage’s latest, titled after a combination of the words “data” and “Elysium”, explores science fiction themes and modern technology. From the beginning, the band’s instrumental skill and technicality is forefront. The opener “The Axiom of Error” is fast, brutal, and the shortest song of the album. Synths and slower measured atmospheric passages throughout complement the dual rapid-fire guitar onslaught and Derek Rydquist’s growled vocals. In particular, the middle section on the excellent third track, “Lexicontagion” reminded me of something off The Contortionist’s album Exoplanet. Overall though, the band’s atmospheric side is most prominent during the latter half. Justin McKinney occasionally incorporates some clean vocals of his own on songs like “Lexicontagion”, “Automated Twilight”, and “Datalysium”.
This new record has earned praise from many in the metal scene, including Periphery guitarist Misha Mansoor. Throughout all nine tracks, The Zenith Passage keeps things interesting. Overall, Datalysium is a “can’t miss” release of 2023 for any fan of technical metal.
Silent Planet – “Antimatter”
Founded at Azusa Pacific University in 2009, Silent Planet has built a dedicated and loyal following with progressive metalcore fans. For good reason – frontman and founder Garrett Russell is a top-tier songwriter and lyricist, and his band has continually moved forward and pushed boundaries with their sound. Despite Silent Planet undergoing a few lineup changes throughout the years – the most recent one being In Search of Solace guitarist Nick Pocock replacing Thomas Freckleton – they’ve stayed true to their identity. However, the band had yet to achieve a true breakthrough song that propelled them to a larger audience. Their latest single, “Antimatter”, may well be that elusive crossover song. After its July 21 release date, the song reached 1 million Spotify plays in less than a month.
In contrast to the heavy mathcore track “:Signal:” released one year earlier, “Antimatter” follows an experimental, yet accessible direction. Conveying a disassociated atmosphere reminiscent of “Terminal”, the song includes more synths and electronic elements, specifically taking inspiration from Los Angeles industrial/noise rock band HEALTH. While Silent Planet has traditionally split vocal roles, Garrett Russell performs all the vocals this time – both screamed and sung. He wrote “Antimatter” following the van accident the band experienced in November 2022 after the driver hit black ice on I-80 in Wyoming. When the van spun off the road and flipped, Garrett suffered a concussion and temporarily lost consciousness, awakening to find his bandmates thankfully alive and safe. He went into detail on how this scary experience inspired his songwriting:
“Temporarily under the effects of a concussion, strange visual distortions began to form, inspiring many of the themes in this song: The fragility of life, the way we make sense of it all, and wondering what awaits us on the other side. While this track is part of a larger story of our upcoming concept album, this one was specifically inspired by this moment… and the moments inside of that moment when I entered that timeless space. This song is our response to the greater Silent Planet community, who donated to help us stay on the road and continues to believe in this project.”
Blackbraid – Blackbraid II
Originating from the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Blackbraid is the one-man black metal project of Sgah’gahsowáh (which means “witch hawk”). Following the release of the first song “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil” in January 2022, Blackbraid quickly gained momentum leading up to a self-titled debut album later in August. Less than one year later, sophomore release Blackbraid II was unleashed. This new album is very stylistically similar, though considerably lengthier. Six of the ten tracks span seven minutes or more – the longest is the atmospheric black metal single “Moss Covered Bones on the Altar of the Moon”.
Like its predecessor, Blackbraid II explores themes of Native American heritage, wilderness, and spirituality. It should be noted that while Sgah’gahsowáh’s heritage is from a southern Native tribe, he was adopted at a young age and grew up in the rural New York mountains. He chose a Mohawk name in order to honor the ancestral land where he lives, saying, “There are so many displaced Native Americans all over this continent and it’s a very common misconception that all of us grew up in a reservation and had access to tribal communities. That’s kind of how I look at it with Blackbraid — I want to empower those people as well as all the people that are enrolled and living on reservations.”
“Autumnal Hearts Ablaze” opens the album on a Agalloch-influenced, acoustic instrumental, leading seamlessly into track two, “The Spirit Returns”. We now hear the same guitar line, but amidst the tremolos and blast beats and of black metal. This opening statement perfectly encapsulates Blackbraid’s dual sound – melodic acoustic instrumental guitar alternating with the chaos of traditional black metal. Later on, two similar acoustic instrumentals appear within the album. Native flute appears throughout the album as well. Blackbraid II maintains a consistent sound and identity, with the only sonic departure coming in the form of the closing track, a cover of Bathory’s “A Fine Day to Die”.
Johnny Booth – Moments Elsewhere
Looking for an exciting up-and-coming hardcore band? Expect nothing less than high-energy, eclectic metalcore from Buffalo, New York’s Johnny Booth. Their third album, Moments Elsewhere incorporates multiple styles and changes of pace, yet remains a unified whole throughout. Johnny Booth’s sound is incredibly diverse and catchy, making this album a fun listen. Not one moment comes across as redundant. They include different genre switches in multiple songs in a way that’s almost avant-garde in execution.
Johnny Booth’s list of influence runs deep. Metalcore icons like Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge, and Every Time I Die are groups all members of the band enjoy, but their sound leans into a variety of other influences ranging from shoegaze to punk. For example, track eleven, “Bright Future” should appeal to fans of similarly anthemic bands Beartooth and AVOID. If you’re looking for chaotic and aggressive hardcore for the pit, “Modern Dialogue” and “Ring Light Heavy” should satisfy. In contrast, “Why Becomes How” is the de facto ballad of Moments Elsewhere, incorporating shoegaze within a heavy guitar-driven sound reminiscent of Nothing or Loathe. Perhaps the best example of Johnny Booth’s versatility is the standout third single, “The Ladder”, which takes a few left turns while still maintaining a hardcore edge. This song starts off aggressive, later including a memorable, shoegaze-style hook, and is bolstered by an audible bass groove throughout.
Auras – “Somnia”
One less-heralded artist made a return this month – the Canadian djent band Auras. For a good introduction to this band, check out the song “Boundless” off their 2015 EP Crestfallen – or their new single “Somnia”. This track marks the first music from Auras since their 2019 full-length Binary Garden, which made it onto my year-end list in an incredibly competitive year that also featured albums from the likes of Slipknot, Tool, Northlane, Dayseeker, La Dispute, Killswitch Engage, and Fit For an Autopsy.
While vocalist Eric Almeida recently stepped down from the band (guitarist Josh Ligaya is filling his place), this song is a promising start for what will be more music ahead. “Somnia” is a dynamic single, with a bit of electronic influence and clean vocals that reminded me Northlane’s current sound. While still heavy, it’s more melodic and accessible than Auras’ earlier work, and should appeal to fans of larger bands in the progressive metalcore scene like Born of Osiris or Invent Animate.
Sevendust – Truth Killer
Some bands from the late 1990s/early 2000s alternative metal scene had a single hit, then dropped off precipitously. Others have stuck around for the long-term, and one shining example of that longevity and productivity is Sevendust. Truth Killer marks the fourteenth album from the long-running Atlanta alternative metal band. One major reason why they’ve outlasted the trends of this era is frontman Lajon Witherspoon. His distinct soulful vocals have given Sevendust an unmistakable, instantly recognizable sound. The band’s stable lineup is another factor to their long-term success. Remarkably, Truth Killer, in 2023, has the exact same five members as Sevendust’s 1997 self-titled debut. Since that first album, Sevendust’s only lineup change occurred in the mid-2000s when guitarist Clint Lowery left for three years. In the interim, Clint was replaced by Sonny Mayo (Snot/Hed PE) until his return on 2010’s Cold Day Memory.
Regarding the album’s lyrical themes, Clint Lowery said the title represents the ways “we gravitate to negative news and tragedy as entertainment. We don’t want the truth, we just want the entertainment value.” The driving, catchy “Superficial Drug”, a song about social media addiction and the desire for status and validation, reflects on how we often present a false reality online by only presenting the best moments of our lives. Another example of Truth Killer‘s overarching theme is “No Revolution”, which critiques the posting of “thoughts and prayers” sentiments without any actual action to promote change following events like natural disasters and mass shootings. Others are more personal in nature – “Sick Mouth” is about abuse Clint Lowery experienced from one of his parents’ friends and “taking power away from the predator and giving it back to the victim – myself, or anyone that’s gone through that.”
While some tracks like the opener “I Might Let the Devil Win” experiment a little, the album stays true to Sevendust’s distinct sound. Truth Killer‘s first single, “Fence” is an infectious and heavy melodic alternative metal song. Also the album’s closer, “Fence” is sure to be popular when performed in a live setting. Sevendust is currently playing live shows with Alter Bridge on their “Pawns and Kings Tour”. Following that, the band will be co-headlining a North American tour with Static-X this October.