Thornhill – The Dark Pool
Thornhill are a fast-rising Australian metal band who were picked up by the Australian rock & metal juggernaut UNFD a couple of years ago. With its expansive sound that harks back to the Node and Mesmer eras of Northlane as well as the later output of Deftones, The Dark Pool was one of my favourite albums of last year. It seems to have been a real sleeper hit amongst fans and critics alike and there’s a very good reason for that; it’s an incredibly ambitious album that actually delivered! Initial singles Nurture and Where Do We Go When We Die are absolutely fantastic songs, as is the lilting Lily & The Moon.
With the backing of UNFD and tons of approval from fans, critics, their peers and even bands higher up in the industry, expect Thornhill to become a serious force to be reckoned with on the international circuit within the next few years!
MXD – Endurance
MXD are almost totally unknown outside of their home country of Switzerland. That’s pretty crazy considering that guitarists Stephane Grand and Thomas “Drop” Betrisey are former members of the “death wave” band Sybreed (they’re coming up later…), who gained huge amounts of international attention in the metal underground with their proto-djent stylings. Endurance is their latest album and was released last year. Some of that Sybreed sound is actually present in the groovy, machine-tight death metal-inspired guitar work, but the foundation that’s underneath them leans far more into the realms of breakbeat and industrial music.
If you ever wondered what kind of sounds might happen if The Chemical Brothers decided to collaborate with a metal band, Endurance is probably the closest we’ll ever get to that. It’s a fantastic album and one that deserves a lot more international attention than it’s likely going to get.
Mobius – Kala
This French (by way of Reunion Island!) progressive metal band is one of the best discoveries I’ve had in recent years! Kala is their second full-length album and it’s a brilliant journey through all sorts of different musical styles. Vocalist Heli Andrea particularly stands out on this album with her ability to go from beautifully sung melodies to Indian and Mongolian vocalisations, perfectly complimenting the multi-cultural influences of the incredibly virtuosic music behind her.
Whilst Kala might be a challenging listen at times due to its insane levels of technicality, super long songs and stylistic lurches, that doesn’t mean that this band have the potential to become one of the biggest rising stars in progressive music. If anything, fans of bands like Dream Theater, Yes, Rush and Symphony X will probably really dig what Mobius is trying to do!
M.A.N. – Massive Audio Nerve
The crazy swedes M.A.N. (later known as Massive Audio Nerve) may no longer be around, but they’re definitely a band you should check out! Whilst they may very much sit in the nu-metal end of things (the Mudvayne end of that camp especially), that doesn’t mean that they were also a very progressive force to be reckoned with. Massive Audio Nerve was unleashed upon the world in 2010 and is definitely the peak of their musical achievements. On the hunt for something new and insane to try, they decided to go xenharmonic, having 48 fret instruments made for them to tap into the weird world of microtones. The result of this is one of the most alien-sounding nu-metal records you’ll ever hear in your life, yet it’s an album that’s still very much accessible for anyone who’s familiar with the stylings of bands like the aforementioned Mudvayne as well as the heaviest of progressive metal bands like Meshuggah.
Massive Audio Nerve was also their final album with their eccentric longtime guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Robert “Rob Guz” Ricthiesse before he dropped out of the music industry entirely for a while (he’s currently working on his second solo album, set to be released in November 2020). Whilst his solo material is definitely very much in the progressive rock, progressive metal and jazz fusion realms of stuff, it’s still worth a listen too!
Spiritbox – Singles Collection
Formed out of the ashes of Iwrestledabearonce by the husband and wife duo of vocalist Courtney LaPlante and guitarist Mike Stringer, Vancouver-based Spiritbox are right at the forefront of the underground of the metalcore and progressive metal scenes right now. Their music is expansive and cinematic, full of super technical yet incredibly satisfying riffs and Courtney’s incredible vocal diversity. Whilst their initial self-titled EP is fantastic, their second EP Singles Collection is the point where the band has truly found their own unique sound. From the hauntingly beautiful melodies of Trust Fall to the quirky heaviness of Belcarra to the Animals As Leaders-esque fast-flowing guitars of Electric Cross, it’s a short yet absolutely mind-blowing piece of work.
Spiritbox are currently in the process of creating their first full-length album and, judging by the two singles they’ve already released and a third new song they’ve already started playing live, it sounds like it’s going to be an absolute belter. Keep an eye on Spiritbox, because they have everything that it takes to potentially become one of the next big things in metal.
KANGA – Eternal Daughter
The mononymous singer, songwriter and producer from Los Angeles has become something of a phenomenon in the last year and a half. Despite not having an agent (or in fact much of any industry backing at all) she managed to end up scoring high profile tours with The Black Queen (we’ll get to them in a little bit) and the legend that is Gary Numan. Listening to Eternal Daughter, you can fully understand why. It’s a driving, industrial-pop masterpiece of an EP with fantastic production and brilliant songwriting. The pretty much entirely synth-based EP moves everywhere from Skinny Puppy and KMFDM-style industrialism to almost trap-like heavy textures and even slightly into drum and bass territory, all kept together by KANGA’s ethereal, haunting and even sultry California-accented vocals. She puts on an incredible live show too, as anyone who has seen her support slots with The Black Queen or Numan will testify!
KANGA is one of those artists that you definitely need to keep an eye on. Her momentum is only getting bigger and bigger and, with her second full-length album already in the works and due out later this year, she hasn’t even hit the tip of the iceberg of what she’s able to achieve. You should 100% go and see her whilst she’s still a support act on bigger tours or a headliner in small venues because, let’s be honest, it isn’t going to stay that way for much longer.
The Black Queen – Infinite Games
Comprising of Greg Puciato (ex-The Dillinger Escape Plan, Killer Be Killed), Josh Eustis (Telefon Tel Aviv, Nine Inch Nails) and Steven Alexander (who primarily works as a guitar tech for big artists), The Black Queen was Greg’s first post-Dillinger project. It’s a remarkable departure from the noisy metallic hardcore of his previous band, instead acting as an outlet for the enigmatic and eccentric vocalist’s softer side with its dark pop, trip-hop, new wave, RnB and industrial influences. Whilst their debut album Fever Daydream is also a record that could have appeared on this list, their sophomore effort Infinite Games is a more mature and more refined effort that feels much more cohesive as a whole. The poppier end of the record is infectiously catchy, carried by Greg’s distinctive and famous croon, whilst the more experimental and ambient ends of the record feel expansive and cinematic enough to justify the band’s lofty ambitions.
Whilst they did plan to write a new album this year (that was temporarily shelved in favour of Greg Puciato making his first solo album Child Soldier: Children of God), I have a feeling that whenever that new album does get created and comes into the world, it could propel The Black Queen into the stratosphere as one of the world’s best dark pop bands.
Sybreed – Antares
If you were seriously into metal and particularly the groovier and more electronic end of metal during the 00s and early 10s, there’s every chance you will have come across this banger of an album from the Swiss masters Sybreed. The two creative masterminds of the band frontman Benjamin Nominet and guitarist & producer Thomas “Drop” Betrisey mashed death metal and progressive metal influenced guitar riffs and grooves together with pummelling industrial and new wave electronics to create their own unique style they called “death wave”. Whilst some of those non-metal influences had shone through on their much thrashier sounding debut album Slave Design, Antares was the album where the Sybreed sound really developed. It’s still widely considered as their best album to date and that’s an accolade that’s well deserved due to how many catchy and groovy songs there are on there. It’s also no harm at all that the drums for this album were provided by the incredible Dirk Verbeuren (formerly of Soilwork and now of Megadeth), as the band didn’t have a permanent drummer at the time.
To me, Antares is a huge landmark album in the development of modern metal. Honestly, it could be argued that, with this album, Sybreed had created part of the blueprint of what eventually morphed into the djent movement. Whilst the guitar and bass tones are more along the lines of the typical death metal, thrash metal and metalcore sounds of the era, it shares the off-kilter, groovy guitar work and complex electronics of bands like Periphery, TesseracT, Monuments, Volumes and even the current era of Northlane. Sadly Sybreed are no more and have no plans to ever come back, but that doesn’t mean that their legacy of incredible music can’t be enjoyed.
Bilmuri – RICH SIPS
Bilmuri is the brainchild of former Attack Attack guitarist & clean vocalist Johnny Franck and it’s the first project he’s been involved in to have gained major momentum since he left the iconic Crabcore band. It’s a solo project where he plays almost all the instruments himself as well as self-produces every record in his home studio in Columbus, Ohio. RICH SIPS is the latest release of original music he’s put out under the Bilmuri moniker. It’s a beautiful and eccentric mix of post-hardcore, powerpop, metal and retrowave that’s equally hilarious as it is heart-wrenching. There’s also a brilliant guest appearance from Tillian Pearson of Dance Gavin Dance around the middle of the short but sweet record. I honestly think it’s one of the best releases of last year!
Johnny Franck is clearly super dedicated to this project as he’s consistently been cranking out multiple short releases per year since 2016 and it shows absolutely no signs of stopping. He’s also been taking the project out on the road for a couple of years now. Hopefully, thanks to the amount of internet attention Bilmuri is getting, it won’t be long before we see Johnny taking on international tours and big festival appearances.
Napoelon – Newborn Mind
It’s almost criminal that Napoleon never made it. The Devonian stalwarts of the UK’s underground post-hardcore, metalcore and progressive metal scene had a fantastic and unique sound where post-hardcore and metalcore tropes were blended with acrobatic fretboard-defying guitar workouts. Indeed, Sam Osborn was often heralded as one of the UK’s best guitar talents by those who knew about the band! They had a fantastic knack for creating technically brilliant yet incredibly inspiring and uplifting songs that emotionally hit you in the gut as well as got your brain going with how insane those gymnastic guitar and drum parts were.
Newborn Mind was their debut album and, in my opinion, it’s still their best. The emotive post-hardcore of Afterlife and Stargazer contrasts brilliantly with the gentle math-rock of Maps, all three of those songs delivering beautiful and inspiring messages that would probably be very welcome right now in these awful times. That’s a big reason why this album goes straight to the top of my list. Napoleon are one of the only bands to ever match emotion with brain-shredding technicality and make it work perfectly. Whilst they may be gone at the moment, I definitely think a return would be welcomed with open arms.
Written By: Robert Percy