CJ Lines is a metalhead, writer, podcaster, ninja historian, award-winning pie-maker and unrepentant Six Feet Under fan. Somebody has to be. He’s written two books. He lives in Sheffield, U.K. Find out more at http://www.cjlines.com/

1) Charlotte Wessels – Tales From Six Feet Under

Former Delain singer Charlotte Wessels retreated to her basement during lockdown last year and began writing and recording a song a month for her Patreon page. The results are collected on this incredible album that’s a long way from the symphonic metal bombast of Delain but unmistakably Charlotte Wessels. While the (self)production is expansive, this is an intimate, vulnerable blend of goth, pop, prog and metal that offers lyrical solace for outsiders and dark hearts.

2) Crypta – Echoes of the Soul

It’s 3 months old now, but Echoes of the Soul is still kicking my ass from here to Sao Paulo and back. This Brazilian four-piece came together through a love of old-school death metal and it’s been a while since I heard anyone capture the morbid spirit of the early Florida scene as well as they do on this debut. It’s wall-to-wall killers, sick lyrics, gargatuan riffs at every turn, and crisp Morrisound-style production, all punctuated by the howling banshee fury of Fernanda Lira (ex-Nervosa). Essential.

3) Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

On first listen, Senjutsu pushed me right out. The songs were too long, the production too muddy and I felt like I could hear too many familiar vocal patterns to really get much out of it. Somewhere around the third listen though, it proved me wrong on all counts. Yes, it took patience but Senjutsu now feels to me like the best thing Maiden have done in decades. This is a ‘mature’ record, a very different Maiden to the one that made Number Of The Beast, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. At its best, it’s epic, almost hypnotic in parts, and possesses a quiet grandeur that, without ever showing off, feels genuinely majestic.

4) Carcass – Torn Arteries

If you heard Torn Arteries without knowing who it was, you’d probably think it was a new and hungry band, loaded with the energy of youth, high on their own songwriting. Instead, it’s Carcass. 35 years into their career and the death legends are still ripping up the rule book and delivering the goods. While a long way from their goregrind roots, Torn Arteries is brutal, fast, heavy and instant. A shot of re-agent to the heart. Dark as Hell but with their trademarked wryness lightening the load (who can’t love a 10 minute song called Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment Limited?), Torn Arteries is a headbanger’s dream.

5) Spiritbox – Eternal Blue

It’s hard to believe the same band dealing out gorgeous fuzzed-up dreampop like Secret Garden are grinding and growling their way through a riff colossus like Hurt You but Spiritbox’s debut album thrives on these contrasting extremes. Experimental but never inaccessible, Eternal Blue is an ugly/beautiful journey through Courtney LaPlante’s fractured psyche; an incredible place to visit but you maybe wouldn’t wanna live there.

6) Hooded Menace – Tritonus Bell

Scandinavian doom merchants Hooded Menace drop in some traditional metal influences for their sixth album, to excellent effect. The songs still sprawl across lengthy runtimes and aim to crush your skull with their heaviness but there’s a bit more speed, some great guitar harmonies and even a few hooks that give the songs space to breathe (albeit to breathe in the fetid air of death). The album’s dungeon-dark gloom is addictive, wrapping up with a grim cover of W.A.S.P.’s The Torture Never Stops that, fittingly, makes you want to play the whole thing over again.

7) Rivers of Nihil – The Work

The Work is overwhelming. For real. If you sit down and listen – properly listen – it is lyrically, musically and emotionally A LOT. Building on the unpredictable intensity of 2018’s Where Owls Know My Name, Rivers of Nihil head deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of high-strung progressive tech-death. It’s like an anxiety attack set to music and can really take it out of you but, by the end, there’s a certain serenity, a feeling that you’ve been through something rough and come out the other side a lot stronger for it.

8) Vomit Bag Squad – Tales From The Bag

You’ll need the right kind of (damaged) mind to truly love this but if 80s horror films and crossover-thrash are your jam, Tales From The Bag will hit you right in the gut, pull out your intestines and gargle with your blood. In the best possible way. Every song is short, sharp, catchy and ready-made for the pit. The lyrics are hilariously blunt, compressing movie plots into singalong soundbites. Even an epic like Aliens gets condensed to straight-talking rhymes like “Kill the queen, kill it with fire / kill the queen before she lays more / kill the queen, kill it with fire / kill the queen with MAXIMUM GORE!” – and, frankly, what more do you need?

9) Jinjer – Wallflowers

Ukraine’s Jinjer have been honing their groove-metal/djent sound for a while and Wallflowers, their fourth full album, feels like the one where it’s all finally come together. The ferocious energy is still there but it’s matched with stronger songwriting than ever from them and a lyrical consistency that makes Wallflowers a powerful, cohesive album. Tatiana Shmayluk’s vocals are off-the-scale here, mixing hardcore screams, death growls and haunting clean vocals in a way that feels new and passionate, while the band scale technical heights in time signatures you’ll need a calculator to work out.

10) Doro – Triumph & Agony Live

The legendary metal queen celebrates the 35th anniversary of Warlock’s seminal Triumph & Agony album by recording it live in a different running order. Yes, yes, I know you could just listen to the original but honestly, whichever way you cut it, Triumph & Agony is one of the greatest records of all-time and what makes the live version special is Doro’s unwavering enthusiasm for the songs. She’s on fine form here and the excitement is contagious. If you’re not throwing the horns and singing along by the time she gets to the anthemic All We Are, then we’re very different people


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