Welcome to another tough contest! This one features two of the most well-regarded acts in their respective sub-genres, the Masshole metalcore of Unearth versus the industrial black metal of Anaal Nathrakh.
Unearth's Watchers of Rule represents another solid release from a band that has consistently delivered quality albums one after the other. After a Metallica-esque short intro, it begins with the pummeling rush of The Swarm and never lets up from there. Highlights among the eleven tracks include the somewhat adventurous and quirky From the Tombs of Five Below, the breath-taking run of excellence in the second half of the record (Trail to Fire-To the Ground-Burial Lines: the seventh, eighth and ninth tracks), which variously leverages Unearth's tried-and-true formula of mating brutal verse riffs with wildly melodious chorus riffs and/or crushing breakdowns, and the ridiculous guitar work on the title track. Lyrically, Unearth keep a consistent tone of anger-tinged desperation and frustration with both society and themselves. This consistency extends to both tempo and song length, with priority given to speedy, short tracks that pack punch. In a year when many of their contemporaries closed up shop, it is exhilarating to see Unearth make such a life-affirming statement for their sub-genre.
It seems almost unfair to compare Unearth's excellent execution of a familiar formula with the almost chaotic reaching and experimentation of Anaal Nathrakh's Desideratum. But such is The Arsies! Although I must admit that I am new to this band, this album has made me eager to catch up on their back catalog. Although using different tools than Agalloch, Anaal also show how black metal can be reinvigorated, in their case with industrial and electronic elements as well as surprisingly strong clean vocals. After a well-conceived instrumental track, the album begins strong with the appropriately-titled Unleash and then continues to amaze in its adventurous (to my ear) and varied combination of traditional black metal blast beats and atmospherics with the aforementioned industrial and electronic touches. One thing that makes this album stand out is how memorable and distinct all the tracks sound. I also am extremely impressed with the quality of the clean singing, which approaches power metal heights on the title track. Although Anaal do not publish their lyrics, an online Latin expert assures me the Latin used in a number of the song titles is correct (for those black metal elitists!). Overall, Desideratum is one surprising but thoroughly enjoyable ride.
Although I fear my decision is heavily colored by the fact that I am new to Anaal Nathrakh's sound while I have been following Unearth for more than a decade, I have to side with the eclectic Desideratum over the well-done but predictable Watchers of Rule. The former matches the latter with quality song-writing and performances but excels in just being weird and ear-catching in a way that Unearth does not. Although as a former resident of Massachusetts this hurts to write, Anaal Nathrakh advance, and will challenge Fallujah in three weeks.