Masters of sci-fi fantasy extreme metal, BAL-SAGOTH were on fine form on their third album, Battle Magic (Cacophonous) . Eighteen years on, it’s startling how little these preposterous tales of cosmic conflict have dated. It’s all barking mad, obviously, but so meticulously conceived that you don’t even need to be a Game Of Thrones nerd to revel in the madness (but it might help).
Ultimately, what’s not to like about a song called The Dark Liege Of Chaos Is Unleashed At The Ensorcelled Shrine Of A’zura-Kai (The Splendour Of A Thousand Swords Gleaming Beneath The Blazon Of The Hyperborean Empire Part II)? Exactly. CRADLE OF FILTH were enjoying a peak of notoriety when From The Cradle To Enslave (Music For Nations)  was first released in 1999. A sturdy stopgap, its title track remains one of the band’s greatest anthems, Of Dark Blood And Fucking is an underpraised gem, and a gleeful take on The Misfits’ Death Comes Ripping is a snotty riot.
DEMONCY are legends in the US black metal scene and their 1993 debut Faustian Dawn (Nuclear War Now!)  crackles with uniquely sinister intensity. Remixed and remastered by founding force Ixithra, it still sounds like it was recorded in a subway tunnel by madmen, but the band’s frostbitten riffs blossom afresh amid mildly improved sonic ugliness. INCANTATION’s Tribute To The Goat (Season Of Mist/ Underground Activists)  is as raw and sloppy as you might expect from a rehearsal tape, but few bands have the grotesque power of John McEntee’s crew and this rampage through classics like Profanation and Devoured Death is an electrifying snapshot of the band in their (relatively) youthful, mid-90s pomp. The rebirth of 1998 demo Alone In The Mist (Season Of Mist)  proves that funeral doom mavens SHAPE OF DESPAIR had a unique sound from the start. Although not as emotionally eviscerating as last year’s flawless Monotony Fields, epics like Woundheir and In The Mist have the same despairing magic in their bones.