O - Antropocene (Self-released)

As someone who likes their metal with a taste of hardcore, black metal sometimes presents a struggle. Too often I'm expected to settle for tired post-hardcore cliches played with extra reverb in mediocre atmoblack, or bands that take the source genres’ tendency toward simple compositions as an excuse to not put the effort in. Occasionally something inspired will emerge, like the blackened metalcore on TelosDelude from earlier this year, but unearthing quality hxc of a trver disposition is a far rarer and more exciting occurrence.

Enter O. Hailing from Northern Italy, this alluringly ungoogleable band has been dishing out quality black metal since 2011, flashing a filthy hardcore edge akin to European neighbours Celeste and The Secret. It took until 2020’s Antropocene for them to hit my radar, when I fell in love with its sulphuric grime befitting the cover’s volcanic imagery. Much of this grime stems from the thick, charred guitar tone, lending the more atmospheric sections on "Mare Morto'' and the intro to "Escluso'' a primal edge; alternately, its geologic heft blends perfectly with the slower tempo of "Nebbia," bringing to bear an inescapable tectonic weight that wholly buries the listener. The vocals are similarly powerful—see how the monumental ten-minute closer, "Era", summons raw and crackling howls to ride atop white-hot waves of feedback. These expansive post-black aesthetics dot Antropocene's nine tracks, but O never fall into the lifeless, faux-ritualistic ambience of all the Wolves in the Throne Room wannabes chanting on Bandcamp. Rather, the overall sense is one of genuine sublimity—of being overwhelmed by an uncaring and inhuman force of nature. It's a tall order for most bands to pull something like that off convincingly, but O invoke the transcendental with such effortless authority on Antropocene that it’s become one of my favorite black metal records of the decade so far. Some of those forest-dwelling druids better start taking notes.